June 27, 2020--A Message from Steve Shelby
I came across the statement below this week. It helped me sort out some things. I have been humbled lately by the thought of how future generations will judge us, just as we are judging our ancestors. Will my great-great grandchildren judge me for complicity in the sin of abortion? Will they judge me for my racism? Will they judge me for participating in an economic system that allows many of our consumer products to be produced in sweatshops in Asia? Will I be judged for not stopping the rampant growth and ubiquity of pornography and it’s degradation of women? Will I be judged for participating in a system of taxation and public education that unfairly discriminates against poorer zip codes? These are just a few of the things I have thought. So I hope my posterity could look at my life (if they remember me at all) and say I, by the grace of God, failingly and haltingly lived in light of the Gospel. I hope and pray that some fruit of that Gospel would be manifest in that my life reflected some of what you read below.
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.
In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.
We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.
In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
-Article 15 Baptist Faith and Message, 2000
June 17, 2020--A Message from Steve Shelby
Given the advice, counsel, articles, and sermons you all have sent over the last several weeks (thanks by the way, I need all the help I can get), I have a few observations. This is long, I apologize.
First, my friend Changwok told me Monday what is happening in our church, city, commonwealth, and nation looks a lot like tribes going at each other. Tribalism, or as Kevin DeYoung calls it, ‘my-sideism’, runs rampant among us. I want my side to look good and the other side to look evil. Added to this is that it feels existential, like my very existence is hanging in the balance. Now, at WEPC there are folks on the far sides of this and then there is a spectrum spanning between the two tribes. These tribes are not racial as much as ideological, political, and sociological. We have lived with these differences for quite a while. Most of the time they are buried but now they are very much out in the open. We disagree on much, but allow me to outline the disagreements I see and the places where we agree.
All of us agree that racism is a sin. There is a huge disagreement over exactly what racism is, however. There are many ways to approach this, but it looks to me like our definitions fall along these lines:
- Racism is the failure to acknowledge and seek to redress systemic discrimination against minority populations (particularly African-Americans). It is a broad view that captures everything from unconscious bias to white supremacy to white fragility.
Racism is making assumptions about, or taking action towards, an individual or group on the sole basis of their race. It is narrower and generally requires belief, intent, and animosity.
Related to our differences over this definition, we disagree over the history of our nation, generally falling along these two lines:
- The history of our country is basically the systemic oppression of people of color by white people for four hundred years. The 1619 Project of the New York Times expresses this view. Our country was founded on racism, chattel slavery, and oppression. Though legislation has addressed much of this, there is still an unbridgeable gap of inequality. We are rotten to the core and we must scrap all of our institutions and begin again.
The history of our country is mixed with many bright spots full of hope and opportunity alongside of glaring blind spots that were terrible. Our founding documents are wonderful but we have not always lived up to them. We say, ‘all men are created equal’ but have often acted otherwise. But we want to live up to our ‘better angels’, and folks who have this view believe we have made tremendous progress and feel pride about being an American.
We are afraid. That is something about which all of us agree. Some are afraid for their lives and safety. My African-American friends are legitimately afraid. My white friends are legitimately afraid. African Americans see the videos of police brutality and white Americans see the anger of the mob. Add to this we are afraid that we might get sick with this scourge of COVID-19.
Still, in the middle of all of this, there are people of goodwill who give, who help clean up, who listen and cry. There are places and communities where good things do happen.
I think none of us wants to live like this for very long, so what can we do?
First, the Bible says to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even if you are right and they (whoever they might be) are wrong.
Second, stop allowing yourself to be discipled by a news media (both conservative and progressive) that wants to polarize and drive ratings.
Third, get back to the simple basics:
- Pray and lament with your brothers and sisters in Christ, even those with whom you disagree. Even in the midst our disagreements, we want Jesus to hear us and heal us. All of us have much to grieve and repent of.
- Remember these Scriptures:
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” - Luke 10:27
- “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” –Micah 6:8
Finally, these words from Kevin DeYoung helped me:
“Love God and love your neighbor. And we know as Christians, we know the definition of love. And it’s not unconditional affirmation. It’s not just warm squishy feelings. Love means you’re patient and you’re kind. You do not envy others. You don’t want to take away blessings that they have. You don’t boast like the blessings you have are because you deserved them. You’re not arrogant. You’re not rude toward other people. You don’t insist on your own way. You want to listen. You want to learn. You want to understand. You come with a posture of humility. You’re not irritable. You’re not resentful. You don’t rejoice at wrongdoing. You’re not looking for the other side to screw up because then it makes your side look better. And you don’t want to rejoice with wrongdoing because that’s a point for our side. But you rejoice with the truth, wherever the truth comes from and whoever says it. You want the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. But the greatest of these is love. And we know love because the Lord Jesus loved us first and gave his life as a propitiation, a wrath atoning sacrifice, when we deserved the Father’s just anger against us, when we deserved to be treated as criminals, when we had nothing to our account that we should be given a second chance or a millionth chance. Because of his great love with which he loved us, while we were yet sinners, Christ loved us and he gave up his life for us. And so we who have been loved surely ought to love one another.”
June 10, 2020--A Message from Steve Shelby
A Message from Steve Shelby
I wanted to take the opportunity to further address some of the issues we have witnessed in our country in the last few weeks. It has been timely to look at Nehemiah and see his prayerful and courageous response to the reproach of the people of God in Jerusalem. The city wall was broken down and the gates were burned. It was a dark and shameful time for God’s people.
In many ways, we see that we too as a nation and a church are an ‘object of derision’ for the spirit and fruits of racism among us. I wanted to express briefly how I think about these things as your pastor.
First, all of us are created in the image of God and are endowed with dignity. All human beings have this gift; indeed, this is who we are. Failing to see and treat anyone else without the dignity due to them is a sin. Not only am I to treat them this way, I am to be proactive in loving and defending them.
Our Larger Catechism says this about the Sixth Commandment, Thou shalt not murder:
The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence;… by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares… provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and: Whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
These are very convicting words. We as a church have often failed in the fulfillment of these words, especially in regards to how we view others who differ from us. We have not been as busy about the ‘just defense’ of our black and brown brothers and sisters as we should. Have we considered how our black and brown brothers and sisters have been oppressed? Have we prayed for and pursued justice as I think this commandment requires?
I know I have not been as faithful and proactive with this as I should be and I am ashamed.
We as a congregation need to consider as individuals and as a body how we have fallen short in obeying this commandment. As we do this and pray for repentance and clarity, we also know the goodness and kindness of our God.
For every sin there is a remedy and it is the atoning work of Jesus. We should be bold in facing our racism and selfishness because the grace of God in Jesus is greater than our sin, so I am free and bold to confess my sin. The very mission and currency of the church is the good news that Jesus died for sinners, of whom I am chief.
Would you join me in praying for Jesus to help us repent?
Would you join me in asking Jesus to help us pray and be instruments of justice and mercy?
Racism is a dark and powerful evil, but it is overcome by the light and power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
June 3, 2020--A Message from Steve Shelby
As an encouragement to respond to the mess that is our world right now, I came across some words from someone who has worshiped with us at WEPC.
Karen Ellis writes this:
People will mock those who prioritize prayer.
Gather and pray anyway.
Gathering to pray with people of peace is life-giving.
Kingdom-centered prayers are life-giving.
Healing prayers for the Church and her unity are life-giving.
Prayers for justice and mercy are life-giving.
Prayers for the fearful are life-giving.
Prayers for peaceful officers and soldiers are life-giving.
Prayers for business owners to be made whole are life-giving.
Prayers for those who lust and plan for violence and destruction are life-giving. Prayers for the looters and criminal elements and opportunists are life-giving.
Prayers for hearts in cities, suburbs, and rural towns alike are life-giving.
Prayers to see how God is moving in the midst of destruction are life-giving.
Prayers for civic leaders are life-giving.
Prayers to quell violence and destruction are life-giving.
This is something you and I can do.
God have mercy.
A Message from Lara Finnie
All My Hope is in Jesus
...Father, quell the riot in my heart.
At a well in Samaria (referencing John 4), women gathered in the morning, exchanging pleasantries as they retrieved water for their households for the day. But one woman, just one, frequented the well midday. The temperature was higher, the surroundings silent and unpopulated. She avoided the gaggle of gossipers because her life circumstances were mere fodder for their cacophony. Her safety was in seclusion. I can’t blame her. The opinions of that crowd scourged her heart.
Our hearts are scourged this week, if not by the news of the wrongful death of another black American then possibly by the reality that our cities are vandalized and on fire. Accusations and assumptions fill our thoughts and the media. Politicians point fingers at each other as our own soldiers deploy throughout the nation to keep the peace. Not a peace that passes understanding – merely a peace that dispels rioting and looting and arson. But what about the scourged hearts? No amount of tear gas can evacuate the unease – dare I say dis-ease (disease) – in the hearts of man. There’s only one remedy for that, and I know Jesus is that cure. But as we wait for changed hearts, how do we live?
How do I, a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman, married to a black man with children of both races live right now? Oh sure, in our 20 years together, we have dealt with some things indicating condescension: odd comments, flyers for the KKK in the rural parts of our county, an older woman at a grocery store hitting my husband because she thought he should carry her groceries instead of mine (well, that might have been racism, but it was pretty funny). But I was never afraid until now. I’m afraid to go downtown. I’m afraid to discuss politics with anyone. I’m afraid for my friends who are law enforcement officers and soldiers. However, the fear I sense now is nothing compared to how my husband must have felt when his school bus, attempting to deliver him (age 14) to the white school on the first day of desegregation in Memphis, Tennessee, was surrounded by white parents with baseball bats. (They did not get off the bus that day.)
How do I live? I live the same way many Americans have lived their entire lives – aware that this world is broken, and I have to be careful whom I trust, but I can go on anyway. That Samaritan woman felt the disdain and untrustworthiness of the world. Her fear and shame stopped her. But the story didn’t end there. It didn’t end at the unpopulated, midday well. Jesus interrupted the fear and shame. He illuminated the truth. He invited her to focus on Him to the point the world’s opinions became irrelevant.
Scripture doesn’t give us many details beyond the woman sharing with everyone she met her life-changing encounter with the Messiah. It doesn’t follow up with how many in the area still shunned her or how often she was harassed or dismissed. But here’s the truth: Her life changed not just for that day but for every day she walked this earth. The light of Christ changed her life, her perceptions, her ability to face scoffers.
The light of Christ has changed my life and the lives of my husband and children. Is this world scary? Absolutely. But we have the truth. If God calls us into a dark place, it’s to shine His light. If we encounter someone who hates us, we love them – praying they allow their hearts of stone to be changed to hearts of flesh. If we are aware of pain and suffering, we pray – we join the angels and saints in interceding for this broken world. We put all our hope in the only thing that changes this world: Jesus.
So, when I admit my fear, I pray. When I need direction on whether to reach out or not, I pray. When I worry for my kids, I pray. When I wonder if I should stay home or clean up our devastated city or share Jesus with a dark world, I pray. When I am ashamed my country is so far from God, I pray. And my God hears me. We need Him – individually, communally, nationally.
A Message from Katie Shaffer
I am not enough! As my third grader struggles to get through school work that I know she can do but her mind is racing, her body is rebelling in panic and I can’t find the words to help her settle.
I am not enough! As my lively, boisterous, tactile, and loud kindergartener overwhelms us with his non-stop, in your face antics.
I am not enough! As I search for time and energy to creatively be with my teenager who is often overlooked as I tend to her younger, “squeaky-wheel” siblings.
I am not enough! As I struggle to stay connected to grandparents, friends, church, and school because the phone conversations and zoom calls and messaging are just so draining to me.
I am not enough! As I become overwhelmed by trying to keep my children stimulated while my introverted self is so overstimulated by the constant noise, cooking, neediness, and togetherness in my house.
I am not enough! As I see suffering, contemplate how and where to help with effects of the coronavirus, racial injustice, food insecurity and I don’t know how to safely engage in efforts to help.
“I am not enough!” This phrase echoes in my mind and finally gets so loud that I can’t ignore it any more and push it aside for the sake of the task in front of me. I acknowledge it. I am not enough. It’s no longer a demand to be enough. It’s a cry for help. I feel a calm come over me. And a whisper. “Of course you aren’t enough. Did you think you needed to be? You aren’t enough, dear one, but I AM. I’ll lead you. I am all you need.”
And there it is - a rush of relief. As I confess my desire for independence, my desire to fix things that I can’t fix, my desire to be the shepherd rather than the sheep, my desire to KNOW something - anything - about the future, I feel the sweet relief of repentance. The panic recedes and the knot in my stomach unfurls just a little.
Jesus, would you help me? Help me to know that I can trust you to lead? And help me to know that while I am not enough for my children, my husband, my work, my city, my family - Lord you are! And you’ll help me do what I need to do, and carry those I love and show me where and how and what to engage in. Lessons I’ve remembered from our study of Hebrews this year remind me:
- “He upholds the universe with word of His power”
- “He is a merciful and faithful high priest” (more merciful and more faithful than I am, for certain!)
- I can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that [I] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This is good news to my heart and my head! Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! He will prove himself, today as he did yesterday and will tomorrow. Amen.
A Message from Paige Berry
Generally, social distancing is not a hardship for me. I am an introvert and a mother of 4 children. It is very peopley over here being that we are a family of 6. We’ve a ratio of 2 introverts to 4 extroverts. We have two dogs. I’m guessing they would classify as extroverts too. And I’m the mom. So, there is that.
There are two mantras that my children hear from me on a regular basis:
- We all fall short!
- You can do hard things!
I personally really do not like to make mistakes (ask Tim, my husband) and I really don’t like hard things. Like R-E-A-L-L-Y!
Please note the exclamation points at the end of those statements. I am a passionate human being. I repeatedly say those truths, with all that I have for the listening ear; though, in all honesty I have a hard time actually believing them for myself. Yet, I passionately believe they are true. So, even here, I fall short of the truth to which I cling.
There is so much work to be done.
You can do hard things.
For several years, because I am a very slow learner, God has been teaching me about suffering. Church, let's be real, this life is HARD! It is H-A-R-D! Do you know this? As a family we’ve had a constant flow of hard (it is relative). Because of that, and because of who I am, I’ve spent a good deal of time by myself.
Sulking. Searching. Seeking.
Seriously, it has been hard! Maybe it shouldn’t have been? If I truly believed He is who He says He is and that, “we all fall short” & “you can do hard things” it wouldn’t have felt so overwhelming; but I did not and so it has.
I am slow to learn, He is patient. He is faithful, He is good. I ask, why is the suffering, hardness or difficulty such a surprise? Is that not the full experience of our Savior and Lord? We’ve just celebrated Easter, did He not suffer dearly on our account? Friends; we have a savior who KNOWS our suffering! Covid-19, social distancing, whatever is hard, All of it! What if we could remember all day long every day that HE went ALL the Way down for us! For YOU! For me! Every moment, of every day, that is TRUE! Whatever else may come. Whatever mountain is before us. Whatever hardship and suffering - HE HAS COME AND HE HAS ACCOMPLISHED HIS PURPOSE. HE HAS SAVED US. Because of His great love for us, one day we will be free of the pain, the hard. But, it’s not yet that day.
In Kevin’s welcome to us one Sunday he mentioned that he had been hearing from folks during the week that things had been becoming more difficult in various ways. I was admittedly surprised. It wasn’t a harder week for my introverted self. In fact, I had an easier than normal week. The immediate next thought I had is “oh no, is that coming for me?” (remember, I’m slow)
Monday morning the email arrived. I knew what it said before opening it. I wept. Not THIS! NOT this.
The summer camp that our boys have attended for the past 7 years announced the difficult decision to close camp this summer. This camp is a place that has transformed my boys, that still is, still NEEDS to! A place where they have had two weeks each summer away from mom and dad & the daily grind, away from TV and technology, in the outdoors, with godly men, hearing the truth of the gospel and being led and transformed into godly men. I have seen it happening. And now, they will not. WHY? Why would you take this from them? Insert honesty: (Why would you take this from me? From your Kingdom?) THIS, this thing that draws them to You in such a tangible way!
And I wept! I was so beside myself. I was undone. I wanted to run, to scream, to tear my clothes! Hard is relative. My hard doesn’t compare to Job’s but it is nonetheless hard for me.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:20-21
May the name of the Lord be praised? Even now?
The email began with Psalms 121:1–2
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
So it is my turn, again. I’m rubbing up against my faith, again. This is disappointment, loss, pain, struggle, suffering. This is hard, God. Why? In one breath I’m full of despair and fear and yet, I cannot deny the truths I know of our Lord. I cannot quiet the whispers of hope. Camp is not Jesus. But they find Jesus there. And they need to find Jesus. So where will you reveal yourself to them? Because I know you can. I believe you will, still. I am blessed to live two doors down from a sister in Christ - and in my floundering I called out to her, are you free? I need a friend! I need Jesus and He is not in front of me, can you take me to Him? Can you remind me? Can you speak the Truth to me that fails me now? Please, remind me that He is good when my eyes are failing me.
Friends, my eyes fail me. Daily. We have our brothers in the scripture, David, Job, Nehemiah who point the way who teach us to lament, show us courage and perseverance when life shows up hard. But even we introverts need our community to walk with us through it. I need you to be the hands and feet of God to me. I need you to press me to do the hard thing of being the hands and feet of God, every day. To offer forgiveness and comfort when I fall short and encouragement to remember His covenant promises.
When you are in need, I can encourage you (Hebrews 10:24). I can speak the truth to you. With His help, I will lay aside all that hinders me (Hebrews 12:1). Because I’m learning, you may need to ask me (Galatians 6:2). But you can do hard things, too (Philippians 4:13).
We have all we need in Jesus. Our brother, friend, savior. Let’s go to Him.
May the name of the Lord be praised!
A Message from Susan Wood
Much of my adult life was spent teaching mathematics, comparing numeric quantities, and speaking to students about variables and constants. There were many quantitative aspects of our lives in the early weeks of quarantine. Each day brought more handwashing; less handshaking; group sizes of 100, 50, and then 10; being labeled high-risk because of my age; stock in certain supplies at the store vanishing to zero; and the constant of staying at home. I share some personal reflections with you humbly, giving God the glory for sustaining me in every circumstance, and curious to know if your experiences compare to mine.
There seems to be less noise in my life. I notice how quiet my neighborhood is, even with most people at home all day. But then we were bombarded with so many voices telling us how we should survive quarantine: by exercise, yoga, self-help, meditation, cooking, humor, movies, music, and tv marathons of favorite shows – trying to fill our time and our minds with lots that is new and replacing the noise. I notice that my God-given leanings and preferences are still where I lean even in the midst of a pandemic. If I never made it a priority before to study Russian literature, learn to cook sushi, or earn a blackbelt in karate, I’m not likely to gravitate to those opportunities now. Brokenness in my life before covid is still with me during covid but some of my usual coping strategies have been interrupted. Disappointment, longings, and relationships in need of healing before covid are still disappointments, longings, and relationships in need of healing, though perhaps I feel them more acutely in my disrupted life. Unexpectedly, I have spent these weeks of quarantine nursing a leg injury – I have found comfort in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… I feel my frailty and look to Jesus to transform me. I have had opportunities to look inward, look upward, and look outward and offer some thoughts below.
Have you heard of the book Valley of Vision? Our pastors often include excerpts from it in our Sunday services. It is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions first published in 1975, with the title coming from Isaiah 22:1. Since January 1, I have used Valley of Vision for daily readings. Written in poetic form, the prayers give opportunities for pauses and reflections while reading.
Though I am regularly reminded already of my depravity and sin nature, these readings have made me more acutely aware of the depth and breadth of my sin and my need for a Savior. The language, though sometimes reflective of its century of origin, is stirring and I believe the Holy Spirit is using it in my life to confront my true nature. I often read them at the end of the day, when I can substantiate the sin focus in each prayer with examples from that day’s thoughts, words, and/or deeds. It made for an interesting and somber Lent to be reading these prayers daily.
Here are a few examples that lead me to introspection:
I come to thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus,
With nothing of my own to plead,
No works, no worthiness, no promises.
Destroy in me every lofty thought,
Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds,
Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness,…
Thou knowest my great unfitness for service,
my present deadness,
my inability to do anything for thy glory,
my distressing coldness of heart.
The reality that I am a sinner and cannot save myself leads me to look upward to God, Who has done everything for me. The Valley of Vision prayers are also saturated with beautiful descriptions of God’s character and holiness. As the hymn says, “Though great our sins and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth.” Here are some examples:
Thou hast made me what I am, and given me what I have;
In thee I live and move and have my being;
I thank thee for thy riches to me in Jesus,
For the unclouded revelation of him in thy Word,
Where I behold his person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection.
In a world of created changeable things,
Christ and his Word alone remain unshaken.
I have also been prompted to look upward to Jesus through our study of Hebrews this year in the Restore womens’ ministry. Hebrews 4:12 says “the Word of God is living and active…”; it has been just that in my life. I am struck by the many “betters” in Hebrews – how Jesus Christ is superior to… or more excellent than… or simply better. The writer of Hebrews points out these comparisons (chapter and verse are noted):
- The writer was sure of better things—things that belong to salvation—with regard to the Hebrews (6:9)
- Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, is better than the Aaronic priests (7:26)
- The covenant Christ mediates is better since it is enacted on better promises (8:6)
- Christ offered for all time a single (better) sacrifice for sins (10:12)
- Those whose property was plundered were joyful because they knew they had a better possession (10:34)
- Some of the cloud of witnesses rose again to a better life (11:35)
- Mount Zion is better than Mount Sinai (12:22)
- The sprinkled blood of Jesus speaks a better word (12:24)
- The city that is to come is better than the city that doesn’t last (13:14)
Being fully known and deeply loved, strengthened, and sustained by God frees me to share that love with others by looking outward. One prayer from Valley of Vision that was particularly meaningful to me was this one (emphasis mine):
Help me to honour thee by believing before I feel,
For great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith.
Nearly three years ago, my husband and I were enjoying a two-week vacation in Florida. Hurricane Irma moved our way soon after we arrived in Florida and each day, the reports became more frequent and more serious about the impending storm. By the middle of the first week, we made the decision to fly home early. By the day of our departure, a mandatory evacuation order affected our resort. Once in the airport, we felt a sense of safety until we realized that the airport was closing and everyone would have to leave, by airplane or other means, by midnight that night. Our flight was delayed repeatedly with little hope of departure and our choices were limited: rental cars were not available, gasless cars were trapped on the interstates, and getting to a hotel seemed impossible. I began to feel anxious and unsure how we would stay safe that night as the storm hit. I felt before I believed, unlike what the prayer above says. I have been reflecting on what it means to “believe before I feel,” to first acknowledge, affirm and be confident in the truths that I believe about God – that He is faithful, His love is unfailing, and He works all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose. In doing so, I honor God. And per the prayer, I need help from the Holy Spirit to do all that.
The Lord has been gracious and kind to us during this unusual season. Through small socially distanced weekly driveway gatherings, our relationships with our neighbors have deepened substantially. Though we have shared the same street for 18 years, we now share stories and our lives in new ways. We have had more opportunities to care for and pray for friends who are very sick. For me, this has been a season of greater awareness of my depravity, gazing up to the triune God who is All in All, asking the Holy Spirit to help me put into practice believing before I feel, and knowing that Jesus Christ is not only better, but He’s the best!
A Message from Stacy Shore
Back in early March, with the threat of the COVID-19 virus looming closer to America, I called my dad. Certainly, in his 60-something years he has experienced something like this. Surely, he had forgotten to share with me about the time he was quarantined in his childhood. When I asked him about it, his response was: “well, you know...this is unprecedented.”
This was the first of maybe a million times (give or take a thousand) since I have heard the word “unprecedented” to describe this moment in history we are currently living. To be honest, I have grown numb to hearing many, many things the media dispenses, but this one word stops me in my tracks almost every time. Have you considered this word...unprecedented?
“Unprecedented--never done or known before”.
Unprecedented--The definition itself allows for me (and every other person on the planet) to be diagnosed as “human”. It implies that we have a limit to our knowledge and our experience. Consider that for a moment.
My initial reaction is fear. Even prior to COVID, I would quickly classify myself as an affirmation seeker. I spend my time, my energy, and my emotions seeking assurance that “everything is going to be okay”. The problem with an unprecedented time is that there is no one and no thing on this Earth who can wholeheartedly attest that we will come out on the other side. Now consider that for a moment. How does that impact your soul?
Isn’t it freeing? Isn’t it a rich time for our souls to experience humanness on this level? And richer still for our souls to experience our Jesus in this way?
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:3
The evidence is clear, friends, in this unprecedented time--science and government and the economy and history and our daily schedules and our routines--they are clearly not upholding our universe. For me, an unprecedented time is just the right time to repent from all the people, the places, the things, the ideas that I have believed upheld my universe; and believe that it is Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8--very worthy of our meditation) and His word alone who upholds and sustains.
A Message from Ali Fogarty
When I decided to study art in college, I received my fair share of eye rolling from people. I quickly found myself defending my major’s importance and how I would survive in the “real world.” For some reason, people assume art is easy. How many times have you murmured, I could do that, while walking through a museum?
I have learned to find my self-worth as an artist in the scriptures. The very first story in the Bible is of God’s creation. He created the heavens and the earth and on the sixth day “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Gen 1: 31. It is not a coincidence that God’s people are creative. God has made us in him image (Gen 1:27)
During quarantine, I’ve appreciated seeing and hearing about the creativity of God’s people as they strive to continue with their businesses, schooling and their family’s emotional well-being. Here are just a few examples
- Birthday and anniversary messages with yard signs or car parades
- Virtual ballet classes and piano lessons, Bible studies and happy hours occurring, all over video conferencing
- Teachers connecting with students in a new format, re-creating lessons and games to work virtually
- Restaurants providing new services and donating food to front-line workers
- People dusting off their sewing machines to help make face masks
And most recently, RVA HS graduates will take “victory” laps around the Richmond Raceway instead of a traditional graduation. Talk about thinking outside the box!
When I hear these stories, or view photographs of God’s people using their creativity to help/survive/thrive it is a beautiful reminder that we are made in his image. We are bringing glory to God, as we combat this invisible enemy. We don’t do it perfectly and it’s often driven by the wrong motives, but He is at work in us.
On our home’s wall, we have a framed poster that I designed, with the words “All things were created by Him and for Him.” This is a permanent reminder to myself and my children that creating is from God. It is a GOOD thing.
Some people might be inclined to ask where God is during this Covid crisis, but I don’t think we have to look very far. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Col 1:16-17
A Message from Pam Hoade
Thank you, Lord Jesus for the rain today! I praise You for Your creation and how You care for it. I know that You love me and will provide for me and my family during this uncertain time. I pray for faith to trust You with tomorrow and to remember Your goodness.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]? Mathew 6:26-27
I try to start out each morning writing at least three things I am thankful for. When I have anxious thoughts and lingering worries I try to find ways to incorporate them into praise moments with the Lord. This helps me to remember His promises and love, it also allows me to unpack my thoughts and go deeper into prayer with Him.
During this isolation time, I have been classifying my days as “a good day” or “a bad day”. On the good day I get more accomplished, my house gets cleaned, fancy meals get cooked, I talk to friends on the phone, I am happy to see and speak to my neighbors - of course from a distance. John and I enjoy long walks, sometimes even twice a day. The bad day looks pretty different, isolation becomes my companion, the phone is a burden to me, I compare myself to others and fall terribly short. Something else stands out about the bad days, they tend to be rainy or gloomy days. It is amazing how my perspective, my hope, my joy can be controlled by my circumstances. But God ... He is still all things wonderful and good during the rainy days perhaps even more so. A sweet friend reminded me recently that these moments are where our need for Jesus is revealed. I will no longer classify my days in this way. Praise Jesus that I am given the blessing of another day and praise Him when He calls me to sit at His feet and cry out in need for His comfort. He is faithful, He meets me in those hard places and He is good to me.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you. Isaiah 41:10-13
Tuesday, April 28th - A Message from Becca Wethered
As I sat down to write this, I was reminded of the way I sat down to pray earlier this weekend – feeling like I don’t know what to say, that I haven’t had any ‘revelations’ these past few weeks, and that I ultimately feel restless and unsettled. I keep thinking if I sit down and focus, that I will have something meaningful to share.
Did you notice how many “I” statements are in these previous sentences? Nine. And how many statements about who God is and His promises? Hmm…perhaps there is something wrong here.
I recently looked at Hebrews chapter 12 focusing on fixing our eyes and considering Jesus who has endured the cross so that we may not grow weary and lose heart. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
As we’ve been studying these verses together in Restore, I was struck by the idea that if Jesus is the founder and perfecter of my faith, it means that I don’t have to create my faith and it doesn’t have to originate in me. How many times have I operated out of the mindset that if I can just produce a better faith, I will be closer to God? If I can just do better. Wasn’t I doing this when I sat down to write these words? My faith must not be good enough if I am feeling this restless. What comfort and freedom there is in resting in Christ as the One who produces this faith in me and is there to perfect it when I am weak! “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25). He is actively interceding for His children, perfecting our faith even in our weakness, and has been both before COVID-19 and today.
And so here I am, feeling weak, feeling restless with the uncertainty of these times, and sometimes feeling restless and fearful without being able to pinpoint why. But that is exactly why He calls us to draw near to Him and cast our cares on Him. Drawing near is responding in faith. I am not required to have the right words, an insightful revelation – that does not please Him any more than crying out “Help me Father, I am weak. I am fearful. I desire to rest in You.”
I have been meditating on the prayers and liturgies in Douglas McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy, and was ministered to by the liturgy written for Nights & Days of Doubt (below are various excerpts, for the full liturgy, look up Every Moment Holy – I highly recommend!). This prayer reminded me that our loving Father desires us to openly bring our doubts and restlessness to Him, and delights in comforting us with His presence and the assurance that He is faithful.
I would that my heart was ever strong, O Lord,
my faith always firm and unwavering,
my thoughts unclouded,
my devotion sincere,
my vision clear.
But it is not always so,
There are those other moments,
when I cannot sense you near,
cannot hear you, see you, touch you – times
when fear or depression or frustration
and I find no help or consolation,
when the seawalls of my faith crumble
and give way to inrushing tides of doubt.
And so, Jesus, I do now the only thing
I know to do.
Here I drag my heavy heart again
Into this cleared and desolate space,
to see if you will meet me in my place of doubt,
even as you mercifully met your servant
Thomas in his uncertainty, even as you once
acted in compassionate response to
a fearful father who desperately pleaded:
I believe, Lord. Help me with my unbelief!
This I know to be true, my Lord and my God:
You are not in the least angered
by my doubts and my questions,
for they have often been the very things
that lead me to press closer in to you,
seeking the comfort of your presence,
seeking to understand the roots of
my own confusion.
So also use these present doubts
for your purposes, O Lord.
I offer them to you.
O Lord, how many times have you graciously
led me through doubt into a deeper faith?
Do so again, my Lord and my God!
Even now. Do so again!
Monday, April 27th - A Message from Kim Johnson
It feels a lot longer than 7 months since I sat with my friends around my Wellspring table and began studying the book of Hebrews. Back in September I knew Hebrews would be a challenging study - the leaders had been prepping us for this fact, a sort of managing expectations almost. There is so much goodness in this book, and yet it was hard for me to access why this was stuff important for the Hebrew audience. Why did they need to be told these things - about how Jesus is better than all these old testament models? How he’s superior to Moses and the priests and the sacrifice and the temple? I know they were being persecuted but I found I couldn’t fully make sense of that in my suburban cul de sac. Still we were all in it together and I found encouragement as the study went along - both in the Word and in our joint endeavor to understand it.
But then March and COVID-19 came and everything went out the window. Being under a shelter-in-place order has exposed many things in my little heart. I’m an introvert and a homebody and thought that hanging at my house would be not so tough. Who knew an unseen virus could offer so many new opportunities to judge and be judged?
I need to support our local business - order take out!
I really need to be cooking all our meals at home.
Look at that lady out and about with no mask.
I need to wipe down my groceries when you get home, so we don’t get sick.
I should probably be buying my groceries online, I’m taking a big risk going to the store.
I really need toilet paper.
I worry that people will think I’m a hoarder if I buy a pack of toilet paper.
I need to close at least one activity ring on my smartwatch or today has been a waste.
I keep grasping for truths about God that will help me make sense of my daily life. God feels so distant, remote and less personal, mysterious and difficult to understand. Strangely, this is not unlike what the original audience may have been feeling when the author of Hebrews penned his/her letter. Quite simply, the world, our world, is upside down right now. And the original hearers of the letter likely felt the same. While we don’t face the same kind of political persecution, we share some similar experiences. Like the early church, I feel oppressed - my freedom has been taken away and my fellowship with friends and other believers is threatened. We’ve been scattered and separated from one another - not across the world but actually into the confines of our homes, where we face fear and uncertainty (mostly) alone.
I took a trip to the grocery store today (please don’t judge, see above) and managed to locate and purchase one of the last jumbo rolls of Brawny paper towels. I clung to this product and hid it deep in my sanitized cart so no one would see it, and the thought went through my mind that I might just make it. Because I now have more paper towels. In moments of great stress and trial it can feel like the floor below us has opened up and we, in our panic, grab and hold onto whatever we think might save us. In my case it was apparently paper towels.
My Savior met me in that moment and helped me see myself with a clearer vision. I was being tempted to drift. I was clinging to a hope that was not an anchor for my soul - it was a cleaning product that was part of the bigger lie that I am the one who will save my family. Even while not leaving my house I am feeling the stress of all that is happening and laying on myself a burden to make everything ok for the people I love who were trapped in there with me. And yet, Jesus exposed this in me so he could then cover me with his forgiveness and his even better cleansing provision.
Never before have I felt such a need for a high priest. I am blinded by what I think I need and Jesus, my high priest, points out my true needs and then provides for them in his own body. He mediates for me - when I feel God is distant my inclination is to remain distant myself and figure things out on my own. Jesus, my high priest, draws near to me and invites me to draw near in response. The world is still upside down, my church is still happening on my laptop, but I feel a little hope. I feel I might just make it. Because Jesus sees me, loves me, and is with me.
Sunday, April 26th - A Message from Sarah Tisdale
Is wearied eyes,
Disappointment and disguise,
And chicken noodle soup,
Friends keeping me in the loop,
Holding me together so I look whole,
Feeling more like a leaky bowl,
Where the broth drips unto the pages of fresh ink prayers,
And I begin to like to forget all my cares,
That numbness and tired mornings,
Great is every task I am performing,
And heavy shoulders try and then give up,
Grief is dark and scary and this dreadful cup,
The road to Jerusalem,
The road to Nineveh,
Depending on the day,
I run the other way,
The taproot of bitterness digs in,
Until the Lord makes die my sin,
I grumble looking over to everyone else,
All the apparent ease, health, and wealth,
“Why did you set this race before me?”
“So you would talk to me like this, honest and free.”
“Why is it so hard? Do you call this a plan?”
“Because sin and discipline. I love you. I understand.”
“I just thought it might be nice to have a break.”
“I know, dear one, come to me, it’s never too late.”
“It feels like dying to face my helpless estate.”
“Yes, but only the feeling for I made very sure of that,
Repent and believe and your estate will be great,
For the joy set before me to prepare you a place,
I paid the price, and it is all grace.”
So I feel the feelings of grief,
And finally look to the face of my true Relief,
“I’d do it again, my beautiful one,
For you to know grief will be undone,
For you, to be with you, so fair and true,
For you to know me and to be truly you,
I am love and I love you.”
Monday, April 20th - A Message from Deacon Luke Shrader
Ever since COVID-19 started impacting our lives, I have received comfort and encouragement from one of the most unlikely sources, the book of Exodus. How could a book about slaves, wilderness wanderers, and laws upon laws have much to speak to our current condition thousands of years later? Two things have struck me as I have been reading through Exodus in my quiet times, one about God and one about me.
The first thing is that God desperately wants to be with and have the closest of relationships with His people! We find God in Ex.6:7 saying, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What is perhaps even more interesting is what He says to Moses at the burning bush a few chapters earlier: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex. 3:15). How does God want to be addressed “forever”? Not the “God of the universe”, or “the creator of all things”, or “the king of glory” (He certainly is called all of these at different times!). He specifically wants to identify with and be known forever as the God of humans: broken, historical people who lived very normal lives and died normal deaths.
This sets our faith apart from every other religion. Who has a god like Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God who makes promises and wants to live closely with us? It also doesn’t stop there: He loves us and is leading us to a place where we can live with Him. “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode” (Ex. 15:13). Many years after the exodus, Jesus would come and, through His life, death, and resurrection, make the once and for all sacrifice to restore our relationship with Jehovah and unite us to Christ forever. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
The second thing that I have noticed is, if it is true that Jesus wants to be with me and always is by His Spirit, why do I not feel the comfort and peace of His presence all time? Where is He now? What is He doing for me today? As I read Exodus, I see that I am not alone in thinking this. In chapter 15, we find one of the most beautiful worship services in the Bible taking place on the eastern beach of the Red Sea. God had just reversed nature and led His people through the sea while destroying the strongest army on earth. Life after this would never be the same, right? Well, three days later, the people complain because of the water (God gives them water). In another few months, they will build and worship a golden calf right next to the smoking mountain of God’s holy presence. We certainly are amazing “forgetters”!
What is the solution to our problem of unbelief and forgetfulness? God provides this by giving us “ebenezers” or memorials that regularly remind us of His faithfulness. “This day shall be for you a memorial day…” (Ex. 12:14). Recently I have had the opportunity to interview and hire several new employees. In reviewing candidates, I dig deeply into resumes and want them to talk to me about what they have done that proves they will be a good fit for the role. In a similar way, the Bible is God’s great resume of what He has done that provides proof that He can, has, and will save us. As we read through the Bible, we hear over and over again what God “has done.” “Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Ps. 98:1). As we continue struggling each day with this new way of living, our family has found perseverance in reading God’s Word and setting up little “ebenezers” in our house (we have one of Rachel’s preschool crafts on the refrigerator—a rainbow that says, “God Keeps His Promises”). Oh, Jesus, help us to remember! “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Is. 40:28-29).
Sunday, April 19th - A Message from Lara Finnie
I’m Afraid of Bees
… and other things I didn’t expect to hear
“I’m afraid of bees.”
“I can understand that. I’m allergic to bees; so, I like to stay far away from them. Other than bees, has anything about this time being at home and out of school bothered you?”
“Wasps. I don’t like them either.”
Despite his mom’s request that I try to help him through his anxiety, this young client could only acknowledge flying, stinging insects as the source of emotional discomfort. Being home seemed weird to him, and he was tired of everybody always being around, but it was OK. I walked him through some ways to challenge his fearful thoughts when he saw a bee or wasp. Overall, for today, he was fine.
Did you read that, adults? Overall, for today, he was fine. What a gift! Completely living one day at a time. He wanted to go outside and play; so, he needed to prepare to encounter bugs with tempers. Oh, that you and I would have the same perspective!
What is the problem directly in front of us? What are our options for solving that one problem? And, most importantly, who is with us when we contemplate obstacles before us?
Our busy, cluttered thoughts do not easily simplify our circumstances. How, then, can we remember to go to the throne of grace for help? How do we remember to go when we don’t even think we need to go? We live one day at a time. This requires surrendering our need to understand, plan, control, manage, manipulate, and overcome. Reinhold Niebhur, 20th century theologian, penned this prayer:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
What have you been forlornly trying to change? The possible contamination of groceries and clothing and hands and faces? The impact of an economic downturn on your place of work? The limited space within your home, now constantly occupied by people who eat and make messes? A mood that keeps sinking and besetting panic?
Are you willing to pray for acceptance of life just the way it is? Can you say with confidence, “My God is working,” even when you don’t like the circumstances?
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi (chapter 4:11b-13, 19-20), “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Responding to that budding church’s support and care for him, Paul’s replies included testimony, exhortation, gratitude, and humility. Like my young client who shocked me by only stipulating concerns with bees and wasps, did Paul surprise these Christians? He was content! There was no trace of anxiety in his words – but that does not mean he was free of the temptation to fear. He did not dwell on the details of his circumstances – what was seen – but rather on the sufficiency of God in all situations – faith in the unseen.
So, where do you need God to meet you today? Do you need hope? Courage? Perseverance? Friendship? Peace? Health? A way to deal with bees? You have His attention. He is I AM. He will provide what you need today. Trust Him. One day at a time.
Father God, thank you that you hear us. Thank you that you are God of enough, and I have never lacked. Forgive my desire to force your hand and my tendency to instruct you on managing my life and this earth. Who am I to question you? Thank you that despite my egocentrism, you still call me “daughter (son).” I need you. May your Word be in my heart and on my lips, especially during this time of trial. I trust you, Lord. May your Holy Spirit dwell in my home and my family. Thank you for protecting us and loving us well. May we willingly serve the body of Christ to your glory. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Friday, April 17th - A Message from Joy Andrews
Do any of you find that you are listening to/reading more parenting and marriage podcasts and books since you have been stuck at home? Or is it just me? There is nothing like being forced to stay in a house, 24 hours a day, with my closest kin, to bring out my awareness of my sins and the sins of others. I am often looking to point out sin in others, without looking at my own heart.
An example of this is a little story that just happened the other day, but could be repeated in similar ways most days around my house. I had done some cleaning out and had straightened a drawer of craft supplies. Two of my children enjoy nothing more in life than getting out stuff that is put away (just for the fun of it). So it was not a huge surprise to find them pulling craft supplies out onto the floor. It was also not a huge surprise for me to express my displeasure in a not so calm and loving way. My rant was answered with, “But Mommy, we wanted to make you a pretty card.” And then it hit me. I had been looking to blame my kids for the “wrongs” that they were doing against me, but really it was me who was sinning at this moment because I was quick to anger. My anger was getting in the way of my kids blessing me.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7
Although I would not have chosen it, I found extra meaning in Easter this year. I do not find it a coincidence that we celebrated Easter while on quarantine. We have given up so little in comparison to the fact that God had to sacrifice his only son to pay for our sins. Even sins like being annoyed with those around us, being selfish, and being quick to anger. So friends, pray for me. Pray that this time makes me a better wife, mother, and friend. And even more important, pray that we as a family grow closer to Christ. And I will do the same for you.
Wednesday, April 15th - A Message from Heather Oberle
I came outside on my back porch to write this reflection, looking to enjoy the cool evening breeze and maybe a few less distractions. I began writing with the intent to share reflections I have been considering after Holy Week, but the Lord had another plan. My twelve-year-old son, Liam, came outside with Michael, red faced and distraught. He had just gone on a bike ride through our neighborhood, so I assumed it was from pushing himself too hard while biking. As Michael escorted onto the porch, I asked if he was okay. Michael’s parental look of compassion made my heart sink to realize something was amiss.
Through tears Liam, explained what had happened. He had been in our old neighborhood, just a mile away from where we live now. As he was biking, he saw an older woman walking with grocery bags from the nearby Kroger. It was apparent to him that she was struggling with the bags of groceries and he felt compelled to help. As he shares the story, the tears continued to flow. He wanted to help her, but he felt like he couldn’t. His own sense of responsibility to keep at a distance, to protect her from any sickness he may carry and himself from any sickness she might carry, was what kept him away. He was undone because he did not know what to do and he felt guilty for not doing anything. He expressed sadness that life looks the way it does and longing for a “normal” he no longer had. Through his tears he articulated, “It is so hard to not be able to help people without fear”.
As his mom, I ached to stop his pain. I wanted to protect him from the terrible reality of the brokenness around him, from wrestling with a pandemic that has reshaped his world and hopelessness over not being able to do what he felt compelled to do. Instead, Michael and I listened and cried with him. We affirmed his heartbreak and the tensions he was experiencing. We were with him in his heartbreak and grief. But most importantly, Jesus was with him!
As Jesus moved resolutely toward the cross, He wept over Jerusalem and wept with Mary at the death of Lazarus. I believe that Jesus weeps with my dear son. Jesus’ heart breaks as Liam navigates such fear, grief and tension. I wanted him to know that there was grace for him to be with Jesus, in his sadness and heartbreak. For Michael and I, Liam’s tears reflected Jesus’ tears. As the three of us stayed in the sadness, we experienced fellowship with Jesus.
I tell you this story, with Liam’s permission, because I hope his vulnerability might encourage you today. In the midst of the pandemic and social distancing, we will experience our weakness. While I do not know how that may look in your days, I know that Jesus does.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness, having fully experienced our brokenness. But He did not stop there! His resurrection means we have a high priest, who invites us to come, to receive the mercy and grace He died to make ours.
Tuesday, April 14th - A Message from Lori Bowman
One of the weirdest things so far for me during this time is that I am (almost) enjoying weeding in my yard. The beautiful weather has been an amazing blessing from ourLord, literally helping me and my household to endure. As I weed I am encouraged that the good gardeners in my life, my mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law would all be very proud of me and my time in my yard. The weeding in my borders helps to pass the time, is a very concrete task, very satisfying when I am finished with a section and actually satisfying while I am doing it because my progress is so visual. It also gives me a little quiet time by myself because no one wants to join me! However, I have
mandated a little bit of required weeding time for everyone just because my kids need something to do!
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was weeding and listening to the audio of my sweet Wellspring sisters discussing our study from Hebrews 11. Our Hebrews study has been very challenging this year. It is “meaty and chewy” as our large group facilitators remind us. Our table has worked hard together all year really just to show up and let the Holy Spirit lead us as we learn from the scriptures and each other. So listening to my sisters discuss Hebrews 11 was very helpful.
My testimony for you today friends, is simply to tell you that God put His finger on something in my life while I was down on my knees with my hands in the dirt and my heart and mind open to Him. The verses below from Hebrews are how He did it.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11: 1-3
These verses are at the same time comforting and confusing and really mysterious. As I listened to my sisters talk, God gently took me back in my mind almost 30 years, to around 1990, when I sat in an Anthropology class and listened to a professor whom I liked, tell me that there was no way that the creation chapters in Genesis were true. I don’t remember anything else from this class, only that it opened a dark spot in my heart and mind of doubting my God, of doubting that what He says is true and of doubting that He is trustworthy. This particular spot of doubt has remained and unfortunately it has been joined by shame as well.
So God put His finger on this dark, deeply personal piece of doubt and shame and provided His answer…”By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”. And so I confess and repent of my unbelief. This is His battle, His Word, a weapon of truth. This is Hope. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Cor 10:3-6.
Much of this walk with my God through this life is mysterious, especially right now! Praise God that the weapons we fight with by His Spirit have divine power to demolish strongholds and give Hope. Praise God that we have a living Savior! Friends, do you have your own areas of doubt and shame? Let us together listen to our God during this strange time. Let us together give Him our attention and draw near to Jesus in confidence. He is not ashamed to be called our God. Let us together repent and believe and walk humbly forward in Faith.
Monday, April 13th - A Message from Brian Bassett
A few weeks ago, Steve reminded us that we ought to guard ourselves against wasting time.
Wasting time?! Who has time for that!
Obviously, that exhortation was a Rorschach test for me — I had been busy:
- Time not wasted? ✓
- Savor a few sweet moments with the kids? ✓
- Good job Brian! ⭐
But in retrospect I was busy with the wrong things — despite my busyness I was still wasting time. I was relying on myself, my efforts, my cleverness. I remained in myself and NOT in Christ.
Why? I thought relying on myself would save me, save my family, save the company I had been so focused on building up over the last two years.
Our unity with Christ signals to the world where our peace and joy come from. I might have been “productive” but I was still wasting time because I was not remaining in Jesus like the branches do to the vine.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
A branch doesn’t think about from where its nutrients come — it just reaches out and grows. If we remain in Jesus we get to participate in the advancement of God’s work and kingdom! Wow!
A brother reminded me last week of Jesus’s prayer in John 17 — the one right before he is arrested — is about the unity of the Body of Christ. Something I particularly need to hear in a time of isolation.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Christ prays that God’s love for his people proclaims the gospel. In unity in Christ, we won’t, (maybe even we can’t?) waste time.
One of the best ways Christ has commanded us to not waste time is to love our neighbor. As we seek unity in Christ, I am convicted that I must pray for my neighbors, love them, sacrifice for them, and let them know there is a God who cares for them. I pray that as the church learns to love and pray for our neighbors, we can see this city flourish through our self-sacrificial acts of mercy and kindness spurred from our surety provided by remaining in Christ.
Friday, April 10th - Good Friday
Join us for the live stream of the Good Friday Service.
Thursday, April 9th - Maundy Thursday
Watch the live stream tonight of the Maundy Thursday Service.
Wednesday, April 8th - A Message from Joe Brown
Quarantine and the underlying stress of a pandemic is taking its toll on me and my family. I'm sure it's the same for you. I waver between the joy of having a slow life, and the stress of having to do my regular life virtually. One thing for sure, I have greater respect for those men and women who have to work from home regularly. I even heard, in passing, that this week is Spring Break. Interesting. What day of the week is it?
In the midst of this time, we have been praying for revival. It has been said that "revival is a matter of atmospheres." Well, no better atmosphere than full sense of worldwide dread, along with people having a lot of time. We need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to bring sinners to repentance, a flood of new believers, and a renewed sense of the kingdom-working King in our lives. Would you join us in this prayer? Charles Malik, a former UN diplomat and theologian, back in the 80s said, "The Bible is the source of all real and genuine revival.” If that is true, then our prayers for revival should be guided by Scripture. One good place for that is the second chapter of Isaiah.
"1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD...
20 In that day mankind will cast away
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats.
21 to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts of the cliffs,
from before the terror of the LORD,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
22 Stop regarding man
in whose nostrils is breath,
for of what account is he?"
Fellow believers, let us walk in the light of the LORD. And let us pray that the world may see this light of the LORD!
Tuesday, April 7th - A Message from Kim Greene
“See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.” This image of how Jesus entered Jerusalem was so vivid to me in our Palm Sunday service this week. I need the gentleness of this King right now. I’m thirsty for his lowly and humble presence. I mean, I know other people need it, and I would so like to reflect it to them. But I need it. My soul is out of sorts…troubled, sad, anxious, accused, disrupted, discouraged, and disoriented.
What difference does it make that our victorious king rides in so slowly? I feel like I can’t keep up right now: with the news, with how to make a mask, with my neighbors that need help, with the people whom I long to love even as I am simultaneously consumed with my own needs, with my work, with the chores that I thought I could surely do by staying at home.... And here Jesus comes, riding in on a donkey. I’ve been thinking about why a donkey would symbolize peace. It is so disarming—so vulnerable, so slow, so meek, so open to wounding, so accessible, so…unimposing….
Our Lord Jesus is making His way to the agony of the cross this week. He doesn’t even rush there, to get it over with. Don’t you just wish this was all over with? Doesn’t it feel like time is crawling by, and also that everything is accelerating day by day in a scary way? Don’t you wish we were all on the other side? Here comes Jesus, not racing into battle on a war steed, but gently, slowly, riding on a donkey. He looks out over Jerusalem, and weeps over it (Luke 19:41-42). He says, ‘Now is my soul troubled.” (John 12:27). And down He descends, walking deliberately through each step on his way to the Cross.
So this Holy week, I am practicing keeping pace with this King, this Man of Sorrows. I’m letting myself slow down, on the inside. I’m letting myself feel sad. I’m letting myself be troubled. I’m considering how His soul was troubled, that somehow my own troubled soul might be shaped by His. “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.” Blessed is He.
Monday, April 6th - A Message from Lara Finnie
What About Me?
I would really like to share something uber spiritual that transcends the theological discussions of our time. But, aside from not being gifted in that manner, I’m sad to confess, my thoughts seem only to focus on myself rather than on Jesus or serving the body of Christ or loving the least of these. Why am I so wrought with sin? What about discomfort and change tempts me to ego worship?
I have often shared in recovery meetings that I can gage how involved I am in a conversation by checking my gut. If I am listening to someone but all I can hear is this inner moaning, “ME! ME! ME!,” then I know I am not concentrating on their content, I am bowing down to my favorite idol. In typical situations, I can tell “ME!” to take a break. I can tell “ME!” to repent and remember how deeply I long to be like the Jesus I love.
This season of quarantine and grief differs from any storm I’ve weathered. Sometimes “ME!” is my only company. Sometimes “ME!” doesn’t have a reason not to rumble and sputter. “ME!” brings me to tears. “ME!” dwells on the fears of scarcity and loss, loneliness and rejection, depression and despair. So, where are you, Jesus? If you had been here, “ME!” wouldn’t have so much space in my brain. If you had been here, my hopes wouldn’t have died. If you had been here, I wouldn’t have to grieve right now.
Praise God for pastors who love us so dearly they hold us accountable to the truth of the Gospel. This morning, Steve preached from John 11. Lazarus was sick. Lazarus died. Martha’s anguish growled, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” (John 11:21). She was saying, “If you had been here, ‘ME!’ wouldn’t hurt! It’s your fault! Where’s my comfort?” She quickly regained her composure and acquiesced, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). I get that! “ME!” roars, and I regroup to profess what I know I am supposed to say. The truth still stands. Jesus sees my heart. He knows the difference between my attempts at repair and “ME!” embracing the sin of victimhood.
David argued with his “ME!”
Psalm 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.
Psalm 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Psalm 43:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
That’s my battle! “I’m such a victim!” (Put your hope in God.) “I’m still a victim!” (So praise God.) “I will feel so much better when I can satisfy ‘ME!’” (Everything you have ever needed is in your salvation from your God.)
So, Jesus? You see me? (Not “ME!” but me?) You still want me to come to you even after my ugly self-indulgence? Even after I have craved attention more than I have longed for you? Even after I have wallowed in self-pity and victimhood? Even when I have looked at my fear and said, “Well, that makes more sense than my faith,” you still want me?”
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Can “ME!”?) Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Or a pandemic or loneliness or fear?) As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors (But, I don’t feel like a conqueror … keep reading) through him who loved us. For I am sure (Listen up, “ME!” – this is the truth!) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including my idol of self), will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39, with my inner thoughts).
May I reiterate our pastor’s guidance when we struggle to find what is appropriate to do right now? Romans 12:12-13 - Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
From a counseling perspective, I would add: Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can. We have never been in this place before. We are wired to fall back to our old patterns, which is our sin nature. So, when you rejoice in hope, write (don’t just think through, but write) a gratitude list. Help your brain enhance neuropathways that promote happier (and minimize depressive) thoughts. To understand being patient in tribulation, think of the first time you overcame something really hard in your life. What or who was it? What did you feel during the situation? Were those feelings facts? No. They were only feelings. How did the situation end – because I know it ended, you’re here now. If you could reconsider how you view your current feelings and situation, what would change? What would you take to God in prayer? How would you look for the needs of others and intentionally deny “ME!” attention? Finally, show hospitality through your words. Connect with a friend. Connect with someone whose name you have seen in the church bulletin or on the website but you have never actually had a conversation with.
Lastly, at Easter, celebrate the truth that our Heavenly Father makes all things new – even those of us who hold onto “ME!” really tightly. He breaks through!
Will you pray with me?
Heavenly Father, you are mighty. You are holy. You are more than my mind can even fathom. As unworthy as I am to come into your presence, I hold to the promise that Jesus said I could come. My heart is broken to accept the truth that I keep putting myself on your throne. Forgive me, again. Would you restore to me the joy of salvation? Would your Holy Spirit lift my eyes up to you when I am tempted to stay earth-bound? Thank you for never leaving me – especially when my soul feels so downcast. Thank you that my hope rests in you alone, and you will fulfill every promise. Lord, I lift up our pastors. Minister to them. I life up all our church staff: May they have the wisdom and stamina they need to continue the call you have placed on their lives. Give the heads of our households wisdom in leading their families. Heal our land. Guard our leaders. Bring revival. In Jesus’ great name, AMEN.
Sunday, April 5th - A Message from Colleen Jacoby
The spring of 2020 was to be a season full of celebrations for our family. We were looking forward to our youngest becoming a teenager, our daughter finishing middle school, our other daughter getting her license, and our oldest graduating from high school. Plus, our twenty year wedding anniversary!
Gathering with friends and family to celebrate only seemed natural - and then a pandemic occurred. I'm sad and frustrated with all the recent changes in our lives- school and work closings and social distancing rules, all set against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty. But I know I'm not alone. We are all dealing with different challenges and disappointments and I am so grateful to have God's word in my heart at this time:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace. Philippians 1:3-7a
It is my privilege to be among you, walking this path together and trusting God. I love that God has placed me here and allows me to spend time getting to know you and your families and praying for you. And I love that we get to point each other to Jesus. There is nothing better than knowing that we have a church family that will encourage us and remind us of what is true.
During this season of Lent, we are called to examine our hearts. We pray that God will uproot those sins and distractions that keep us from experiencing His fullness. We are reminded that we have a compassionate and merciful Savior who knows the worst parts of us, and gives us an abundance of grace:
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:5-9
Jesus is always faithful. And God will use our suffering, His promises, and ordinary discipline to bring about real change in the lives of those waiting for Him. These times have brought a heaviness to our lives. Much seems to have been taken from us as, daily, our own kingdoms fall. When I reflect on what seems to have been forfeited to these days, the Holy Spirit asks me- what have you really lost? I am not dismissing the grief and pain that can accompany job loss, sickness, and even death, all of which may come. But were any of these things we have clung to really ours to begin with? Weren't they always His? Is He not the one who rules? And if we have Him, what should be added to that?
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." Lamentations 3:22-24
May joy and peace surround you,
What a time to be alive, my friends! I have always considered myself to be the queen of extroverts. However, as time went by I learned to enjoy time on my own and the opportunity for self-discovery that it brings. Because of that, I now let out my extrovert side to its fullest when I’m with people, and very much enjoy my introvert side at home.
In these last few weeks I have had to learn to give my energy to people while being home. That looks like bursts of mental energy on FaceTime and Zoom calls, physical energy on long walks and balcony workouts, and the desire to hide under a rock to find rest. It’s all very up and down. In that mixture of scenarios I find myself confused, frustrated, and (to be honest) exhausted. I now go on with my days knowing that I have a job to do while being physically in the place where I normally find rest. Am I doing either of those well? Probably not.
On top of all of that is the fear. The fear of being THAT person who tested positive, of putting those around me in danger, of not doing enough at my job, of not loving my husband well in the midst of all this, of not resting my mind enough, of not having a quarantine life that looks like as perfect as others on Instagram, of making comfort an idol, of being blind to my sin… So I remember King David. Yes, that King. The one who would praise God and beg for help in fear all at the same time. The one who thanked God for delivering him while asking for more deliverance. That David. That David is now teaching me to praise God for who he is while asking him for help with my fears.
My favorite thing about David is his ability to pour his heart out and Psalm 34 is an amazing example of that. Reading it has given me words to attach to my constant confusion. Shane & Shane made a song about this Psalm (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qCAF5-FpB8) and singing it has brought me a lot of joy and opportunities to cry out to God.
In verse 4, he says the Lord delivered him from all his fears. I am not sure if that means God put down his enemies or if God simply took away his fear of those enemies. But what I do know is that while I read this Psalm and sing that song, I ask to be delivered from my fears while trusting and praising the Lord for who he is! I now go on feeling the depth of both of those realities without any answers or anything else to say except “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
I am an extrovert. I love people and groups. It is a challenge for me to be alone, even though I see, know, and believe the value of that. My natural inclination is to move towards people, both emotionally and physically. So, as you can imagine, our current situation in our country and the world has deterred my typical patterns of behavior.
I tend to think of myself as a fairly positive person, able to see the good with the bad in a situation. However, this scary time has left me paralyzed and joyless on some days. I have to limit my reading on the virus situation and only get the highlights each day. I waver between “yes, my God is good and I trust Him”, and “why won’t God annihilate this virus?” How can a microscopic entity (the virus) have so much power over people’s lives? Isn’t God more powerful?
I have had to keep my prayers very simple, or my brain wanders, I get overwhelmed, and then typically I just stop praying. Praise God for His Word that I can simply and clearly pray back to Him.
I’ve been encouraged by Psalm 18, written by David. Two themes have emerged as I have been reading: 1. God is our Rock, Redeemer, and Refuge AND 2. God’s breath alone is powerful.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
6In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
I love how David states WHO God is (v.2), and therefore he is encouraged to CRY to God for help (v. 6a) and be assured that God HEARS him (v.6b).
Then, the next set of verses amaze me. It is a remarkable picture of what happened on Earth as God personally responds to David’s prayer:
7Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
What a powerful Lord we have. God not only reacts to David’s plea for David to see, but for the whole world to see. Notice too how God simply breathes in order to lay the foundations of the world bare!
Here are two more examples of God’s powerful breath:
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” -Psalm 33:6
“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
We worship the Lord in heaven who sees everything, every day, and is not idle in His response. His response to our prayer and His rescue of our world can be as simple as taking and blowing a breath, or as intense as shaking and bending the core of the Earth and all of nature. Regardless of His response, He remains our loving Rock, Redeemer, and Refuge.
Why wouldn’t the very God who made us, who created the world and everything in it just by speaking and breathing things into being, not continue rescuing His people? I pray for faith each day, mostly just saying, “God help me!” to believe that God is in control of this pandemic. I need His Spirit to encourage my heart every hour.
Continue crying out to our Stronghold—for yourself, our church, our community, and the world. The Lord is for His people and will answer our prayers.
Finally, please continue sending the staff your prayer requests. It is a joy and honor to take those requests to our loving, gracious, and powerful Father in Heaven who hears us, sees us, and is certainly our Rock, Redeemer, and Refuge.
I am not one to normally create New Year’s resolutions, but the past couple of years I have been spurred on by my roommates to pick a ‘word’ for the year – a theme I would like to focus on or give to the Lord to pray for Him to grow in me. Last year I picked the word ‘Longing’ – I desired to long for God and His will above all else in my life – and it was good to dwell on this word throughout many events of 2019. This year on January 1st I picked the word ‘Surrender’ – God sure does have a sense of humor, doesn’t He?
As I have been talking with friends and family about how they are doing during these challenging times, I have seen that the rapid succession of cancelled plans, disrupted lives, anxious thoughts have come in waves. For some it was when schools officially closed for the rest of the year (praying for all of the parents out there!), for others it was when they realized they would not walk for their high school, undergrad, or law school graduations – something they have worked incredibly hard to accomplish. For me, it was actually early on in the unfolding of this pandemic. On Sunday March 15th we held our first live-stream church service, and our last opportunity for church members to come into the sanctuary to worship if they felt comfortable/healthy. As I got out of my car and walked into church, I said hello to a dear friend, and we walked in the church doors in silence. I was incredibly sad. Sad that this would most likely be the last time I would physically be surrounded by this body of believers who has loved me so well these past two years. And I couldn’t even say an encouraging word, because I felt guilty for my sadness, feeling it was selfish compared to the health-related and economic hardships that many others were going to face much worse than I.
As I began to examine why this was so difficult for me, I realized that I had been putting much of my identity in the events I was going to, the places I was serving in, and the people around me. All of these are good gifts from God, but I have been convinced that they are what make me grow, feel loved, feel that I have a purpose, make up my identity – and that is not true. My fearful gut reaction when realizing that most (now all) events would be cancelled was “How will I be able to grow during this time – who will I be – without being able to be with my dear friends who point me to Christ?”
I have been studying the book of Hebrews with Restore this year, and I have continued to dwell on Hebrews 10 when the writer exhorts us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart.”
“And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:21-23
I have often operated with a “busy is good” mindset (even though when I talk with friends I lament the lack of time I have). And a consequence of that is it is incredibly difficult for me to sit down and “draw near” to my Father with full assurance and faith in Him. I wish I had the time to draw near to His presence and surrender my anxiety and tears, but going to Bible study, church, worship practice will have to suffice.
In these past few weeks, I have had to surrender a lot of parts of my life I considered necessary. But I have never felt Christ’s invitation to draw near so strongly. He is showing me that He is enough, and He is working in my life, even while I “shelter in place.” So instead of grasping at every other possible outlet, I am praying to accept His invitation again and again, and am confident that He is faithful to extend that to you, too.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” - Psalm 27:14
Steve’s call for Congregational Prayer and Fasting on March 16 was a frightening challenge to me. I have been a believer 40 years, raised in a Christian Home with generations of Christians as my legacy. I am familiar with idea of fasting but have never desired to fast. It seemed like lonely deprivation. However, I know when the Spirit is tugging on my heart, that sneaky feeling of fear and thoughts of failure wash over me. He was calling me to lay down my comfort and join the Body in submission to beseech Him. Not in a transactional way, as I have seen fasting practiced in the past (I will give up eating this and at the end of it The Lord will give me that). No, this Corporate Fasting gave me a sense of being with Daniel and his prayer in Daniel 9:18 - “O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.”
This day was a feast day for my heart to taste and delight in communion with my Savior, our Almighty God. The Spirit led me in a way that focused all on Himself and put me at the foot of the cross. I visited verses throughout scripture that declared Gods’ sovereignty and character. I was led to a posture of seeking, pleading, praise, and confession, recognizing the Cross and my need for the Gospel. Because of His intervention, because of His mercy, He heard me, He showed me my gaps and how his blood floods in to fulfill my needs. The lack of food was not deprivation; rather it offered freedom to spend my focus and set my focus (when my stomach growled) on Him alone that day. Our sweet Triune God stepped into my uncertainty and my fears. He assured me that He was enough.
He brought to the forefront of my mind that I blaspheme the Cross by my perversion of the gifts He gives me. I use my extroversion as a way to “help” Him offer peace to a stranger; I turn my gift of organization into an idol of routine to gain order and feed my comfort level. That day showed me the shame of my sin and reminded me of His Love, opening my eyes to see His Cross as the perfect place to find my routine, comfort, and order.
The opportunity to write this has been a process; subtracting, adding, editing huge portions. It has been a daily conversation with the Lord. At the heart of this process is the Spirit’s work to show me my sin and God’s Mercy.
My eyes and heart are being opened in new ways and I find myself (strangely) enjoying this total shift in our lives. Christ is being worshiped anew and enjoyed by His bride. I find myself praying that I will remain on this Mountaintop and praying that the Lord prepares me to recognize the temptation to flee and hide at the next sign of trouble. I need His manna every day to rejoice in His Goodness.
“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”
- Psalm 116: 12-13
God has made me in His image and I am a feeler. (If you are not a feeler, please bear with me, we need each other.) I feel my own need a lot and I feel the needs of those around me a lot. I believe that God intended this part of me as a beautiful part of His creation and design. However, with all of this need swirling around inside me on a regular basis I am daily tempted in two main ways - 1. tempted to think that I can and should be able to handle and fix the needs and issues I see and feel around me and/or 2. tempted to be overwhelmed and give in to despair. I ping-pong between these two temptations a lot. In this current situation where each day seems to spiral more and more out of control, where we face a health crisis and financial crisis that we have not seen before, my mind and my heart feel extraordinarily weak. In anxious times like this it is harder for
me to pretend that I know what to do, and thus I face my neediness so much more often. Having to tell God that I am needy for Him is a mercy, but I won’t go there on my own, The Spirit has to draw me even there, to tell God what He knows.
The more I read the Bible the more I see and understand that God’s word is very descriptive of what I feel inside and what I see around me in the world. Philippians 4:6-7 is fairly familiar - it says "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This scripture stood out to me this week because my heart and my mind need guarding like never before! It is good for me to tell God that my heart and my mind need His Peace. I can come to Him for Help! In fact, Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Oh my goodness, this is a time of need. Let us together ask the One who can help us!
My worship team was up to lead worship 2 weeks ago. It was our first week of live-streaming which was strange, but we were still able to meet in crowds less than 200, so we were still together physically as the church, which felt normal and good. This was my last regular activity that was familiar and purposeful. I knew the coming week was uncertain, that our ESL program was on hold, and that my 3 teenage girls would be home from school for at least the next two weeks. When I arrived home from church that Sunday I was hit with the first palpable wave of hopelessness and despair. Two of my tween/teenage daughters were annoyed with each other for the 100th time already that day. We were facing the first week of no school. I decided to walk my dog. I reached out to my neighbor and sister in Christ to walk with me, confessing I was feeling low. She wasn’t available then so I ended up walking the dog with one of my daughters. It was good to be out in the fresh air and do something normal.
Later that evening I received the text below from my friend. Just hours before I had helped lead her in worship over the live feed. Now she was giving the words of one of our songs back to me plus her own faithful encouragement to find shelter in our Brother Jesus. He knows us and knows the way and suffered for me and was tempted to want another way forward other than the one God was providing. That is what I wanted too, (and am still tempted to want) another way forward other than the one God Is Providing. Her words are below. I hope they encourage you as they did me. God has truly given us to one another to care for during this time and always.
Praise and Glory be to our God.
We will say in that day, “To the Lord, give thanks!”
We will NOT BE AFRAID, for HE comes to SAVE.
We will SHOUT; we will CALL every tribe and race,
“COME and JOIN in the song of the Lord!”
We Will Say in That Day by Wendell Kimbrough
Sister, the days ahead look long and feel heavy, to our eyes, to our earthly eyes. But HE is mighty, and Just and trustworthy and so Very full of Love! And Hope and redemption! All of our unknown is known to Him. All of our despair is known to Him. All of our fear-He has faced! Just like us He wanted another way! He pleaded to our Father for another way. But He was faithful to follow, more than He was afraid.
Let’s take our fear and dread and all of “it” to our Brother, and Our Father and lay it before Him and plead for Mercy and Wisdom and Grace and Faith enough for this day. And let us do it together. Today, and tomorrow, and all of the tomorrows that we have left. And when we are too sad or too weak or too desperate to ask for ourselves let us hope and pray for the Holy Spirit to have voice enough for us all!
Brothers and Sisters let us use this time to agree with our Creator that we need Him, that we are frail and rebellious, and that we need His Son Jesus, that we need the help He offers. Thanks be to God for His Son, His Spirit and His Church!
Good morning, or is it? There have already been eyes rolled and screams at computer screens by my children as they navigate this new learning style imposed by this insidious virus. I struggle to act calmly when this happens. It evokes such anger in me. Why?
I want all things to be right.
I want my children to smile and be excited about this drastic change in their education.
I want people to keep their negative emotions to themselves.
I want to be able to go to the store whenever I want and buy whatever I want.
I want to hear laughter and kind words ALL THE TIME.
“One thing that impresses us is how little God has promised that faith would be free of difficulty and danger. It would be as easy for God to prevent the enemy from coming as to give the victory over to him. To do this would be infinite loss; faith would never be called into exercise; man would never learn to know either his God or himself as His child….Without trial, there could be no school of faith, no growth of spiritual character, no strenth of will given up to God and clinging to Him.”
Why do we want faith in God to eliminate the need to suffer? I believe it’s multi-faceted. It’s actually painful (physically and emotionally) to suffer. It shows us our frailty. It lays us bare. It exposes our fears. I don’t like feeling frail. I don’t want to be reminded of my fears or expose them to others. I’d rather remain safe and have God stop all difficulty.
And yet, I want my faith to be strengthened. I am so grateful that God already knows all these things about me. I’m grateful that God showed us people in the Bible whose faith was exercised by suffering. I’m thankful that Jesus suffered so, I can know that a faith filled life doesn’t mean lack of adversity.
Lord, we need your deliverance. Since difficulty will come, please give us courage. Help us to believe that we are a student in the school of faith until the day we see Him face to face. Lord have mercy on us.
This is a link to my latest favorite song. (I Shall Not Want - Audrey Assad)
From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God.
From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God.
Deliver me O God.
And I shall not want
And I shall not want.
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.
From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial.
From the fear of humanity
Deliver me O God.
Deliver me O God.
And I shall not want
And I shall not want.
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.
I shall not want.
Sunday, March 29th - A Message from Joy Andrews
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. -Matthew 6:31-33
If there was an Olympic sport of eye rolling, then one of my kids would be the world record holder. Every time I have said “that is postponed”, “that’s cancelled”, or “it’s closed”, an eye roll has been the response. I am sure anyone who has parented a pre-teen can commiserate with me. But, if I look closely at my heart, that has been my response to God over that past couple of weeks.
When I could not go to the grocery store and buy the things that I wanted because they were out of stock. (Eye roll)
When I want my kids to diligently do their school work instead of wasting time. (Eye roll)
When I think about how this crisis affects my schedule or the way I had planned out the next few months. (Eye roll)
When my family has had too much “togetherness.” (Eye roll)
When I think about how much more productive I could be if only….. (Eye roll)
When my fear and anxiety plague me. (Eye roll)
And the list could go on. Just typing this points out to me how focused I am on my own agenda and that I thought I had some control. I am also learning that I have no idea how to slow down. Everything is canceled and closed, yet I still try to fill each waking hour in a day, and my anxiety levels remain high. In normal life, it is so easy to lose perspective because I can just stay…busy. It is often hard to tell if something is important or just urgent. Friends, I urge you and myself, to take this time to redirect our thoughts toward God and set a new agenda, to take the time to pray and to truly worship. What a blessing it could be, that God has given us this opportunity to lean on Him, focus on others, and take time to slow down. Perhaps this crisis is giving us the opportunity to determine what is really important.
Since I listen to a lot of children’s music, here are a couple of good songs on the above Bible verse from Seeds Family Worship and Randall Goodgame (Slugs and Bugs).
From my house to yours,
Saturday, March 28th - A Message from Changjwok Deng
And Jesus stopped…
Today would have been our fifth year running the Monument Avenue 10K with the WEPC Good News Can’t Lose team. We have trained, organized and planned for eleven weeks. Then two weeks ago, we got the news from Sports Backers that the race was postponed until the fall. I was disappointed even though I knew that it was bound to happen. After it was confirmed that the 10k was postponed, reality kicked in. All of a sudden, I questioned if all the training, the organization and planning had gone in vain. I know that was not true but this tells me how easily I forget the truth. Finally, we pulled together and decided to have our last group run on Saturday, March 14 on Monument Avenue. As I thought about what Gospel message to share with the group, the story of the Bartimaeus kept coming to mind.
If you have been to the Good News Can’t Lose training, then you have heard about our three components: Running, Team and Jesus. That is what we do. We run with people we love every Saturday and we talk about Jesus. That Saturday, I talked about Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus teaches us how shamelessly, despite his circumstances, he could call out to Jesus. I think we can learn a lot from Bartimaeus, especially these days. Bartimaeus reacted when he heard Jesus was passing by and seized the opportunity to call out to him, despite his personal challenge of being blind. Despite disgorgement from the people that made it difficult for him to approach Jesus.
Regardless of all of that, he finds a way to draw Jesus’ attention. Apparently, Bartimaeus has heard of Jesus’ reputation as a healer. This was his opportunity. Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho and were passing by while Bartimaeus was sitting. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself in this crowd. We are talking about the first century. You are walking the dirt roads of Jericho with Jesus. Think of the excitement of being with Jesus! Hear the noise from the crowd. People shouting, screaming and yelling so many different things.
As you can imagine, almost everyone seemed distracted. Except for one person, a blind man. Talk about active listening. Bartimaeus has every reason to be among the people who might have missed Jesus that day. Yet, he added his voice to the voices of the crowd and shouted an uncomfortable truth that irritated the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” His cry got me thinking of what I am adding to the voices I hear around me these days. How are we shouting to Jesus these days? Here is a man who despite his circumstances knew the power of calling on the name of Jesus amidst a discouraging situation.
The crowd did not appreciate Baritmaeus’ loud shouting and tried to silence him, but he shouted even more. Even though he could not see what was going on, he could hear the noise and commotion that was going on as waves of people passed by him. He inquired and they told him that Jesus was passing by.
After hearing that Jesus was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, son of David have mercy one me.” At first, Jesus did not hear him. Bartimaeus had to scream louder. The crowd heard him and rebuked him telling him to be silent. Bartimaeus knew what was at stake and could not be silent. He cried out the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me”. This time, Jesus heard him and called for him to be brought to him “Jesus stopped and said, call him”.
Immediately, he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him what he wanted and he said I want to see again. Jesus told him “Go your way; your faith has made you well. And immediately, he recovered his sight” and followed Jesus.
Friends, are you tempted to believe that Jesus does not hear you today? Are you tempted to believe that Jesus is too busy for you today? “Take heart”. Bartimaeus just showed us that nothing, not even his shortcomings or an angry crowd could encumber Jesus from hearing, stopping and healing him. How about us? I hope that you take comfort in the fact that our Jesus has time for us just as he had time for Bartimaeus. Friends, I encourage you to call out to Jesus.
Friday, March 27th - A Message from Evelyne Rusagabundi
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us .2 Corinthians 1:10
Paul saw the hand of God in a desperate situation- a deadly peril. In other words God is his source of deliverance and he trusted that he will continue to deliver him again in the future.
The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 17 how David defeated Goliath, a champion from the Philistines. Goliath was defiling the armies of Israel and they were very afraid. David, a young man who has been tending his father’s sheep said to king Saul that he was going to fight him. Saul didn’t believe him because David was only a young man and Goliath has been a warrior since his youth.
David knew how God has been with him when he was tending the sheep and said these words: “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (V 37)
In this challenging moments of social and physical distancing it can be easy to feel discouraged and helpless. When fear / frustrations invade me I reflect on what God did for me and have confidence that he will rescue me again.
To fight Goliath, David chose faith over fear. He didn’t focus on how big Goliath /problem was, he rather focused on how big God is and what he can do.
God knows everything, he even knows about the future. Nothing surprises him.
During this time we are facing COVID-19 my prayer is that we experience God’s presence and power in our daily life. He doesn’t change; he is able:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Thursday, March 26th - A Message from Tim Cornwell
Over the course of this past year, my family has spent a good deal of time together laughing, crying and reflecting as we shared memories and perused photographs of years gone by. All of this has been part of processing the transitions of seeing our oldest begin her first year of college while another navigated the hills and valleys of her senior year of high school. Over the last two weeks, much of the hopes and dreams that we had anticipated have been upended. In fact, just a few days ago, our high school senior has seen her K-12 academic career come to an abrupt end. No prom, no senior skip day, no celebrations of achievement, no beach week and no graduation. It all just seems so deeply disappointing. Certainly none of this is what we had envisioned.
While there is still much more processing to be done, the Lord has been good to give us a glimpse of how He has been preparing us for this season of disappointment and uncertainty by teaching us to lament, that is, living between the realities of life in a difficult, broken world and trusting God to be all that He has said He is. Lament not only dares us to hope because of who God is, but it also reminds us why we need hope. While we live now in this moment, we recognize that there is more to the story.
As I reflect back on the specific moments and circumstances captured by our shared memories and photographs, I am reminded that so very many of those were not part of my plan. I didn't intend or expect for those bends in the road to be part of our life journey. While disappointing at the time, I can look back now and see that there was a bigger story that God was writing for us all. It was through those unexpected bends in the road that God proved Himself faithful and gracious again and again. Right there in the middle of my mountain of memories has been raised up a modern day ebenezer; a very present reminder of God's goodness and faithfulness to me and my family.
And now, as I stand with a newly arrived senior portrait in hand, I am reminded that in all of this, God has never been taken by surprise. Each memory and each photograph is more than just a reflection of what has passed, it represents a quiet trust and expectation that God will continue to show up at just the right time as He has done many, many times before. For now He has given my family the gift of lament, inviting us to enter into the disappointment and darkness while continuously pointing us to His ultimate Ebenezer, the cross of Christ. It is there, where God, not surprised by my sin and rebellion, at just the right time, raised up His Son to bring salvation and life to me, you and the entire world. In that is hope. Real, tangible, palpable, life-giving hope.
"And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." Romans 5:5-6
During these days filled with all sorts of 'space,' let me encourage you to take some time to reflect on your own personal ebenezers. I pray that God might use them to give you eyes to see His faithfulness to you in the journey and well up in you a fountain of hope; hope not that things will go according to your plan in your timing, but the kind of hope that comes from catching a glimpse of God's love and tender mercy in Jesus as He works out His story for you, in you and through you as you hold up your ebenezers before a watching world in need of hope and life that only Jesus can give.
Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
Wednesday, March 25th - A Message from Heather Oberle
I may be unique in that I often crave time at home. My family tends to have fuller days. Before social distancing, the Oberle Half Dozen spent time with friends, active in sports, enjoying church activities, and school commitments. But in it, I would often long for quiet and time at home with my people. I thought that if I got a “break” from life, it would be an antidote to my heart’s struggle, anxiety, and stress. It is strange to have what I crave, in abundance, and realize I do not know how to do these days.
Throughout this year, the women of Wellspring and Restore (should we be “Wellstore” or “Respring” right now?) have studied Hebrews. Together we will “look at” Hebrews 11 over the next two weeks. As Brice, Kim, and I have prepared these studies, what I appreciate is how Hebrews 11 has equipped me for these days. The phrase “by faith” is found 19 times in the chapter! It is “by faith” that Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses engaged with God and their days. Not perfectly, but by faith. And I am encouraged to do the same.
It is only “by faith”, that I walk through my days, no matter what they look like. By faith, I am home. By faith, I mediate arguments between my children. By faith, I go for a run. By faith, I wash my hands. By faith, I engage with my neighbors at a “social distance”. By faith, I encourage my kids to do online school. By faith, I go to the grocery store. By faith, I watch Netflix with my daughter. By faith, I read a book. By faith, I wait. By faith, I pray for God’s will to be done.
Much of the past week will be repeated in the weeks ahead. In it, I ask God to help me trust and believe: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” -Psalm 118:24
Tuesday, March 24th - A Message from Kim Greene
On Friday, I took a walk with my sister, my 12 year-old niece, and a few of her young friends. We were somehow trying to stay relationally connected, and socially distanced, all at the same time. My sister asked the children in our group if they were missing school. “A little,” they said. My niece replied, “I miss my friends….And I miss knowing what to do.”
For some reason, that sentence, “I miss knowing what to do,” resonated with me so deeply. Isn’t that what I had been feeling, in one form or another, all week? I realized that all that day I had found myself saying “Now I don’t know what to do about…,” or “I can’t figure out how to do…,” or, “I just don’t have a category for…..”
I miss waking up in the morning and generally knowing what I need to do for the day. I feel disoriented. Many of the basic things I used to know how to do—grocery shopping, visiting a friend in the hospital, planning a social event, attending a Bible Study, hugging a crying person after worship, clasping a hand in greeting, counseling a client in grief--all these things have been disrupted, and now need to be reconsidered, recalibrated or let go of completely. I’m not sure how to do my job now. I don’t know if I should make plans, even long-term ones. I also don’t really know how to do life without making them. I don’t know if, or how, to plan my two children’s weddings, which are scheduled for this summer. Does Amazon sell a bridal checklist for planning a wedding during a pandemic? (This is a rhetorical question- please don’t send me a link… :)
I also don’t know how to vigilantly submit to the directives handed down by medical professionals who I trust and value, without then going the other direction and completely putting trust in my own vigilance: what begins as washing my hands faithfully seems to turn in to washing my hands fretfully, scared that I missed a spot, or later worried-that-I-just-touched-my-counter-which-I-haven’t-washed-in-the-last-two-hours, etc., etc. I seem to keep falling off one side of the horse or the other. I don’t know what to do, but I have a vague feeling I’m doing it wrong. Also, one of our main directives right now is to stay home and avoid “doing things” outside our shelter. I keep looking fretfully at the news: is our strategy working? Is it stemming the tide? I really hope so…. but then I wonder, when will it feel like my ‘not doing anything’ is ‘doing something’?
When I left the park on Friday, that phrase ‘I miss knowing what to do’ stayed with me. Something about it sounded vaguely familiar. I arrived home and looked it up (I’ve got time). Sure enough, in 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat the king of Judah receives word that ‘a great multitude’ of Moabites and Ammonites are coming against Judah. It is an overwhelming and dread-full situation (it would be in all caps as the headliner on my news feed). I was struck by what Jehoshaphat did next:
3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.”
Jehoshaphat’s alarm becomes a path for him- he resolves to inquire, he fasts (which in its own way is a great example of “not doing” something), and he invites others to join him in seeking help from the Lord. He “stood in the assembly.” I am so moved by what he prayed, and also by who was praying with him:
“’O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? ….we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’ All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:12-13)
In a stunning demonstration of “not knowing what to do,” Jehoshaphat’s dread and desperation become the community’s entry point for acknowledging how little they knew, and turning their eyes to God, (even the “the little ones”!).
God says in response, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde….see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” (Vs. 20:15). I am so encouraged that as they turn their eyes to God, God in His grace invites them to “see” something about His presence in the battle. In fact, the battle is His. It doesn’t rest on their doing at all.
I am so surprised by God, time and again. He gives me permission to not know what to do. He gives me a place to go with my not-knowing. He gives me a Person on which to put my fretful, distracted eyes. And He invites me to see, by faith, that He is in fact doing something. He is with us, He battles for us, and He has accomplished our salvation.
Monday, March 23rd - A Message from Ann Long
Most people who know me well know that I struggle with anxiety. What you may or may not know is that my struggles with anxiety and panic started when I was a senior in college and have continued to be a “thorn in my flesh” for the past 20 years.
By God’s mercy, I’ve sometimes gone years between bouts of anxiety and dark valleys. But off and on for nearly two decades, I have wrestled rational and (mostly) irrational fears, imagined worst-case scenarios, and pre-worried about things that almost never happened. So when a global pandemic strikes, in some ways I feel like I have been training for this! Put me in, Coach! I’m not sure why local news stations haven’t reached out to me for a “Worry Expert” opinion.
All kidding aside, this is an unprecedented time for our world and there are many unknowns. For most people, including me, unknowns create anxiety. I want to encourage you, dear Brothers and Sisters, with what has gotten me through the darkest patches of my war against anxiety over the past 20 years:
I look for signs of life. As I’m writing this, I see the pink dogwood tree at our house about to bloom. I hear hawks and crows squawking at each other. As Pastor Shelby said so eloquently in Sunday’s sermon, our perspective on life changes when we emerge from a storm. We are still IN the storm for sure, but we can already see things through a new lens, can’t we? Time has slowed down and the new pace has brought into focus what matters. I find myself listening for the birds, staring at the buds on the tree, checking my seed starters every day for signs of growth. God is the One doing the work, but we can’t see behind the scenes. He is sustaining the universe by His powerful word. We just have to look.
I remember my Home. I have loved the live stream option because it helps me feel connected to WEPC and all of you. But yesterday while our family watched, a battle erupted between my kids over Cheez Its. I lashed out with harsh words because I was trying to sing “Be Still My Soul.” The irony was not lost on me. Even though I am in my house with all of my worldly comforts, my sin is still here with me because I’m still a sinner. But this isn’t my eternal home. We are bound for the Promised Land, Friends! And in the Promised Land, I don’t lash out in anger, no one has COVID-19, and everyone has a bowl of Cheez-Its.
I remember where my help comes from. Some mornings when my eyes are just about to open from sleep, the dark shadows will roll in and tell me, “You can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s too scary out there.” But when I remind myself that the same Spirit that brought Jesus from death to life LIVES IN ME, I can get up and face the day. The Lord is interceding for us all the time and He is ready and willing to help us. I believe, help my unbelief.
I think about you all, the Body of Christ. You all give me courage. Each of you have struggles...chronic pain, disease, depression, addiction, poverty, job loss, job uncertainty, wayward children, unfulfilled desires. The list goes on and on. But when I think of the great cloud of witnesses at WEPC and around the globe getting up each day and facing our struggles together, it gives me courage and hope to press on. I think of the countless saints who have gone before us and faced much darker times. God has been faithful. We are not alone!
Press on, Brothers and Sisters!
Sunday, March 22nd - A Message from Karen Howe
Isaiah 26:8 “Your name and renown are the desire of our heart.”
One week ago, Paul and I stood among a small (compliant at the time) gathering of WEPC for worship. We sensed that it would likely be the last sanctuary gathering of our church for corporate worship for some significant time. It was sweet to be together with one of our daughters, and we met some folks (without shaking hands) who told us they’d been visiting our church for just a couple of months. It was also fun to experience unity with those who were watching the service online. Having watched a bit of the preparation for that, I was so thankful for technological advances, for our devoted pastors and staff, and for the hope I have for today as all of us join the WEPCrva-watchparty-worship.
Our adoration hymn last Sunday touched my heart so deeply. Facing this pandemic, we were calling ourselves to adoration of our Lord as folks with life and breath who know Him to be our health and salvation! And, when we sang those last two lines, I let myself imagine being together, sounding the “Amen” again, filling our sanctuary again whenever that first Sunday back will be…
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him,
for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
join me in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord!
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath,
Come now with praises before Him!
Let the “Amen” sound from His people again;
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
I did a little research to clear up the meaning of “aye” in that last line. It’s vintage for “forever”. Then, I may have found Neander’s fifth verse which is harder to sing, but I really like it. Neander suffered with tuberculosis, and his singing out loud was not cancelled.
Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee!
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.
One day in the office this week, I caught a longer look at the poster we displayed in 2018 for our 25th Anniversary celebration as a church. On that poster is Isaiah 26:8, “Your name and renown are the desire of our heart”. I remembered again how purposely our pastors and our missions partner, Phil Davis, encouraged us that the reason to celebrate and remember and give thanks for 25 years, was to look forward in faith for the coming years of worship and service. Today, from a screen in our home, I join with you in worshiping our Lord who has us together in this way for such a time as this.
Saturday, March 21st - A Message from Joe Brown
How are you guys doing? Is everyone safe and healthy? Is everyone leaning into Christ to figure out how to love people in this quarantine life? Personally, I'm trying to balance between being wise and socially distant, with the need to love people who are in need. How about you?
A few of us have been praying for renewal and revival for months now. Is it crude to think that this could be an answer to that prayer? Don't get me wrong - a virus that kills people is despicable and is an enemy to God's designed creation. God hates death, and so do we. We need to continue to pray for healing for those who are sick, and protection for those who are on the front lines (nurses, paramedics, health care workers, pharmacists, etc). But we also need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to bring sinners to salvation in droves! And praying for the Holy Spirit to guide His church in how we are to love people and stay connected. Holy Spirit, help us! As the author of Hebrews reminds us: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:23-25). In that vein, let me ask you four questions that stem from Hebrews 10:23-25.
(1) Believer, how are you using your time to hold fast to your confession?
Just because you believe something on Sunday doesn't mean you believe it every other day. :) What do you believe? Where is your hope? Who is your stronghold? These are questions to ask yourself each day. Idols love to creep in (and we love to let them creep in). So, each day ask yourself: What do I believe? Where is my hope? Who is my stronghold?
One practical suggestion is to encourage you and your family to memorize the four fixtures of the Gospel: The Apostles Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments. Challenge your family to memorize all four by the end of the quarantine. You won't be disappointed.
(2) Believer, how are you stirring up one another to love and good works?
We should be cautious and wise and careful. But we should not be afraid. In fact, the opposite of fear is not stoicism, but love. We should be working for the good of our neighbor and loving people. Radically ordinary hospitality is built for this time! I know of someone who is volunteering to watch the children of a nurse so that she can go to work. This isn't just a sacrifice of time and effort, but is a risk too. This volunteer is putting herself closer to high-risk people (nurses) because she loves this family and is showing Gospel love to her community. I praise God for this volunteer, and for the nurse. How can you stir up one another to love and good works and show radically ordinary hospitality?
(3) Believer, how are you continuing to meet together?
Not only our neighbors, but fellow believers need each other. Home Group Leaders are now working on ways to stay in each other's lives. Zoom meetings. Text message chains. Tiny group gatherings when possible. If you are not in a Home Group, I pray that you are in community somewhere that can point you to the hope we have in the Gospel. Do you? Don't hide away in quarantine, but step out in love to each other. Do your brothers and sisters in Christ know your needs - both physical and emotional? Are you someone who is high-risk and needs a phone call or supplies? Or do you know someone who is? Reach out.
(4) Believer, how are you encouraging one another?
As you see the Day approaching, encourage one another in the Gospel. Not with platitudes ("everything will be ok"), or the over-spiritualization of things like "COVID stands for 'Christ Over Death and Infectious Diseases'". These are useless at best, and dangerous at worst. But we can encourage people by pointing them to the fount of the Gospel. Again - we pray that RENEWAL AND REVIVAL will come to this land. This only happens through the work of the Holy Spirit and God's people crying out in prayer and need. Let's do that together.
Friday, March 20th - A Message from Brice Bowman
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
At Wellspring & Restore this year, we have been studying the book of Hebrews. While the writer of Hebrews has a lot of deep theology to share with his readers, one thing I’ve noticed is how simply he encourages his readers to respond to the Gospel. The writer often entreats his readers to “draw near” to Jesus, to “hold fast” to Him, and “consider” Jesus and all that He has accomplished for us by his coming to Earth and dying for us on the Cross.
During this new and confusing season in which we find ourselves, a way that I feel tempted in weakness is to believe that God has left me alone. In our current environment of social distancing, we are encouraged to keep our distance from others (i.e. - to be alone!) While I generally enjoy spending time by myself, I like to choose to when and how I spend it alone. I don’t like being forced to spend time by myself because it makes me feel like God is leaving me alone - alone to bear the responsibility of caring for my family, schooling my children, taking care of friends, family and neighbors, etc.
Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” This verse is bringing me a lot of hope, comfort and strength right now. This is a scary and uncertain time and there are so many questions to which we have no answers. In this verse, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging us to “hold fast” to our hope, that is the blood of Jesus that atones for sin. I don’t have to know how this virus is going to unfold or what the coming days will bring and how God will provide for us. I don’t have to muster up the patience to love and care for my family while we are all home together for the foreseeable future. I can simply “hold fast to my confession,” which I have made and will continue to make: Jesus loves me and died for my sins! His grace is sufficient for me (and my family and friends and all those in need) on this day and every day! “He who promised IS FAITHFUL.” He does not abandon me or leave me alone - He is there for me when I call on Him for help. He is there when I call to Him in repentance (because I have forgotten to ask for help because I have been tempted to believe I am alone!) I can hold fast the confession of my hope because he who promised is faithful.
If you are struggling to believe that God is for you today, I hope this promise of Hebrews 10:23 will be an encouragement to you - He is faithful and He will see us through!
Thursday, March 19th - A Message from Lara Finnie
I Don’t Know the Way, But I Know Who Does
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 (ESV)
Saturday, I explained to a tween client that none of us knows what we are doing with this global health situation. We are listening to experts and following the best suggestions we can. Parents are making decisions about whether to allow friends to come over based on how high the risk would be for someone in their home who could experience significant consequences from a virus. We have never been in this situation before. But God. But God has seen His people through historical catastrophes time and time again. But how? When my faith is weak, my heart down, and my spirit lonely, how do I get through?
For me, I find comfort in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah preached to sinful, dearly loved people. God saw His people and their tremendous needs. He knew one of their greatest enemies, besides sin and death, was fear – fear of the unknown; fear of real, undesirable possibilities; fear of losing control. I identify with these people! To calm my own anxiety, I have to ask myself when I have struggled in the past with fear, how has God met me? I have been on many dark paths in my life: a failed marriage and single parenting, my (step)daughter’s near fatal car accident and long recovery, months of unemployment and past due bills during the 2009 recession, my son’s diagnosis of Autism, losing my dad, and so many other events.
God used my failed marriage to lead me to a recovery program for hurting families. I gained confidence and friends only He could have provided. He used my daughter’s accident to turn her to Him. She and her girls now testify to Jesus’ work in their lives. During that season of no income, God helped me discover talents that led me to a job I absolutely loved for seven years. When I found out my son was on the spectrum, I was initially devastated. Then God began to show me how unique He had made my child and opened doors for amazing help and advice. Losing my dad rather suddenly shattered my heart. It was the last piece God used to lead me to change careers and go into Christian counseling.
This Isaiah passage reminds me of the times I feared and God met my needs beyond what I could have imagined or asked for. Was I scared? Yes. Was I doubtful? Absolutely. Was I sinful? Everyday. Was I forgiven? Yes. Was I abandoned? Never.
This virus has had a devastating impact on our world. I pray it turns our nation and our world back to our Maker. In my moments of despair, I begin to list what I am grateful for. I force myself to get my eyes off my situation and serve or pray for others. Psychological research has proven practicing gratitude and serving others improves mental health. Our Heavenly Father knew that all along!
So, if you are worried, talk with someone who is emotionally and spiritually healthy. Our load is lessened when we share it. Identify the appropriate amount of information to share with your kids. Our kids respond to our reactions. If you are calm and trusting God, they will be calm and trust too. Begin a gratitude list in your house. How have you seen God work in your heart? Your house? Your community? Our church? Our nation? Pray for others. Text encouragement to others. Share with those who don’t have enough.
Finally, (Psalm 95:6-7) Come, let us bow down and worship him! Let us kneel before the Lord who made us. He is our God, and we are the people he cares for, his sheep that walk by his side.
Grace and peace,
Wednesday, March 18th - A Message from Kevin Greene
"Christ is all, and in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:11-12
For years as a young believer, I thought about "being holy" as essentially taking your medicine. Holiness was having to do the things in the Christian life that you rather not, just because it was good for you. A friend of mine recently challenged me, "What if holiness is first and foremost about being loved & loving others?" Jesus has used this question as seed for revival in my life lately.
I checked it out. My friend is right. When God speaks of holiness in Scripture, the point is so often not our thoughts, words, and deeds. The point is that we are set apart and loved by the Living God Himself. This gets God great glory. This has always been the Lord's purpose in declaring a people to be holy. We are set apart to be loved.
Because Christ has died for sinners, we can know we are loved.
- When we are afraid, we are loved.
- When we are hungry, we are loved.
- When we suffer loss, we are loved.
- When we are sick, we are loved.
- When we die-- and we all must die-- we die as the dearly loved of Jesus Christ.
And so we are set apart to love. I am so grateful for God's church at WEPC. Jesus dearly loves His church.
Friends, we've likely got months to go in our new way of life in response to COVID-19. When I look at our church this past week, I've seen people who trust that Jesus loves them. I've seen visits to elderly neighbors in His name. I've seen small groups offer to run for groceries. I've seen a local supported ministry of WEPC forgoing monthly support in hopes that another one of our missions partners might put it to greater use in this season. I've seen people telling their friends, kids, and co-workers about the Good News of Jesus. I've see followers of Jesus gather to cry out to God for mercy.
Press on friends, Christ is all and in all. Believe that we have been set apart to be dearly loved. We have no reason to hold hold back His compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Because you are loved people, you can risk loving people.
Tuesday, March 17th - A Message from Steve Shelby
It is the joy of my life to live and pastor among you. Seeing the generosity on display the past few days has been so encouraging. Our Food Pantry is well-stocked and well endowed, thanks to your response.
In light of that, our Mercy Ministry team and I are asking you to direct any gifts that you would have given to the Food Pantry to the Deacon’s Fund of WEPC. That money will get to those who need it for food, utilities, rent, etc. This is especially necessary now that we are likely at the beginning of an extended time of disruption. What a gift it is to be a part of the people of God.
Starting on Wednesday, we will include daily news updates, needs and prayer requests, and an encouraging thought or word each day from one of the members of our staff here. You hear from me all the time, but Jesus has put together a remarkable group of people to shepherd and serve here at WEPC. We want to save email for important announcements so instead, please check here daily.
Life for me often is like a merry-go-round: I feel that I am moving but seldom see or experience progress in my struggle against sin and my joy in the Gospel. Well, God in His providence has stopped the merry-go-round and imposed a time of slowness, stillness, even. Pray that He uses that.
How awesome would it be that folks would look back on the Pandemic of 2020 as the time that revival and renewal broke out in the people of God.
A few practical notes:
- Sunday's (March 22nd) Service will only be available via live stream. We will provide a link to the live stream later this week. Additionally, we will provide an order of worship for folks to follow/read/sing/pray along with at home.
- All regular ministry activities in the building are canceled through March 28. The office remains open so feel free to call (741-6562) or email. If there is an after hours urgent issue, please call 608-9372.
- If you or someone you know needs groceries or items picked up or delivered, please call or email us.