Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV)
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
You probably know the back story to the above passage. The apostle Paul planned to go to Rome for a strategic evangelistic campaign. Well, he finally made it to Rome, but not in the way he had imagined. He arrived in Rome as a prisoner.
I’m currently reading “Winning the War in your Mind” by Craig Groeschel (a great book that I would highly recommend). In chapter 7 he imagines what Paul could have written in the face of having all of his big plans derailed.
“Now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me really sucks (Craig’s word, not mine). I wanted to spread the good news through preaching to government officials, but that did not happen. As a result of this hell I’ve been through, I have decided prayer doesn’t work, and I am never going back to church again.”
Instead of reacting negatively to the situation, Paul chose to believe that God’s plan was better than the one he had in mind and he forged ahead, sharing the gospel with the soldiers he was chained to 24 hours a day. Instead of giving up in discouragement because his plans were interrupted, he trusted that God was working out his sovereign strategy and actually viewed his chains as a blessing.
As I read that chapter, it caused me to think about how we have responded to the COVID pandemic. We entered 2020 optimistically, with our “2020 VISION” plans in place. Then our lives and ministries were disrupted by a word most of us had never heard before; Coronavirus!
Suddenly, in a matter of days, all of our plans and programs disintegrated before our very eyes. We could no longer have in-person worship services, in-person discipleship, in-person outreach or in-person anything. Like Paul, in Philippians, we were (and still are) faced with a choice on how to view this pandemic. Some pastors and churches viewed it like this:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, that this Coronavirus pandemic has made it nearly impossible to pursue our mission. How are we supposed to make disciples when we can’t meet for worship or Sunday School or small groups? I guess we will just have to tread water until this pandemic is over and we can get back to normal.
Other churches and pastors responded more like Paul did with his imprisonment:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, that this Coronavirus pandemic has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, we have learned to develop effective online worship experiences, we have turned to Zoom for discipleship and we have been forced to be creative in taking the gospel to people instead of expecting them to come to us. The truth is that COVID has forced us to make changes we should have made already anyway!
If Paul can thank God for how his chains actually advanced the gospel, then we can thank God for how COVID has helped us to advance the gospel. It’s all in whether or not you choose to believe that God’s plan is better than ours.
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
and do not give the devil a foothold. –Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV)
Is it my imagination, or is the overall level of anger in our culture at an all-time high? Along with living through the frustrations of the COVID pandemic, the political climate is more widespread contentious than ever and it all adds up to an environment that breeds anger. It seems like people are getting mad about anything and everything. Last week I hauled our trash and recyclables to the dump site (one of the inconveniences of living in the country) and the attendant informed me that the recyclable collection bin was broken. When I smiled and told her I would come back later she thanked me for my patience and proceeded to tell me that people had been blowing up in anger all morning long over being inconvenienced by the equipment breakdown. One man even threatened to dump his recyclables on the ground. REALLY???
I wish that this kind of anger was confined to secular culture, but unfortunately, Christian people are not exempt (Some of the heated arguments that have sprung up over wearing masks at church is proof of that).
Anger is something that is part of the human experience. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that God created us with the capacity to get angry. How do I know that? Because we are created in God’s image and the Bible very clearly portrays Him as a God who gets angry.
He gets angry at injustice, at rebellion, at evil. His anger is real, it is intense, it is a force to be reckoned with. As creatures made in his image, we have that same capacity to experience strong and intense feelings of anger.
So anger can be a good thing, but here’s where we get into trouble. God is sinless and perfect. His anger is a righteous anger. When he gets angry it is for the right reason, at the right time, it is never selfishly motivated and it is always directed properly.
Our problem is that, unlike God, we have a sinful nature and often our anger is not of the righteous variety. When it is, it can be an incredibly positive thing, motivating us to attack injustice or reclaim ground lost to Satan. But often our anger is tainted by sinfulness and, instead of resulting in actions that are positive and constructive, it results in actions that are negative and destructive. That’s why Paul, in Ephesians, didn’t say, “Don’t get angry.” Instead, he admonished us to be sure that our anger doesn’t cause us to do anything sinful.
So, here are three questions that will help us resist getting sucked into this angry culture that we seem to be living in:
I have always found a new year to be kind of a bag of mixed emotions. Certainly, there is something exciting about looking ahead to a year full of untapped promise, but there is a kind of ominous side to a new year as well. Like walking in the dark, we don’t really have any idea what lies ahead of us.
A year ago we were charging into a new year with all kinds of excitement and enthusiasm. After all, in ministry how can you not be excited about everything you can do with the number “2020”? Be honest, how many of you pastors preached a sermon last January titled, “2020 Vision”?
But then March hit and with it the Coronavirus pandemic. Most of us had never heard that word, but within a matter of a few days we had to pivot and try to figure out how to BE the church when we couldn’t MEET as a church. Besides navigating Coronavirus, several of our churches (and their congregants) were blasted by the Derecho storm (also another word most of us had never heard until 2020).
No doubt about it, it has been a difficult year, one that has tested our trust in God and his sovereignty. An interesting trend I’ve noticed recently is that people can’t wait for 2020 to be done because they assume that 2021 will be easier. Maybe… Maybe not. I don’t know what the new year holds, but I do know that you’ll need to trust God just as much in 2021 as you did in 2020. Let me give you a little primer on trust from Proverbs 3:5-6.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
There are two distinct parts involved in this decision to trust. First there is total reliance on God. Notice that little three letter word, all. All your heart, all your intellect and will. Not part, all. Nothing held back, no back door exits. This is a total reliance on God.
Secondly, in order for that to happen, you must go on to the second part of this decision, which is the total renunciation of self. “And lean not on your own understanding.” You are not trusting with all your heart if you are depending on your understanding. In other words, if you are using your solutions, you’re not trusting. Charles Bridges, a Christian leader who lived several hundred years ago, said in reference to this scripture, “The trust called for here is not only entire, it’s exclusive.”
Let’s take it a step further. Verse 6 tells us, “in all your ways acknowledge him.” The word “acknowledge” means to bring pleasure. To acknowledge the Lord means to bring pleasure to him in everything I do. That means the little things as well as the big things.
So what is the result of all this? The last part of verse six says, “And he will make your paths straight.” The term “make your paths straight” has an interesting Hebrew meaning. The same phrase is used one other time in the Old Testament, in Isaiah and there it is translated, “He shall make a highway.” In other words, he doesn’t just give you a hint of what his will might be, he makes a highway.
Corrie Ten Boom was a World War II prisoner of war, who God used in an incredible way to spread the message of how, in the hands of God, even the most terrible things can be used for good.
She had an embroidery of a crown that she took with her to her speaking engagements and she would hold up the embroidery and show the beautiful picture of a crown, then she would turn the embroidery over showing the tangled, confused mess of all different colored threads on the back side of the embroidery. Then she would quote this poem she had written.
My life is but a weaving,
between my God and me.
I do not choose the colors,
He worketh steadily.
Oftimes he weaveth sorrow,
and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
and I the under-side.
Not till the loom is silent,
and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas,
and explain the reason why,
The dark threads are as needful,
in the skillful weaver’s hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
in the pattern he has planned.
2020 has looked like a mess in many ways and who knows what 2021 will look like. But I do know this. You can trust the Weaver…
In the District Superintendent’s report at District Conference last summer, I announced that the District Board of Administration would be exploring the possibility of merging with the Northwest District. If you missed that report, you may want to watch it to get the full context of why we are considering this merger. You can watch the report here:
Or you can read the report in the District Journal, which you can download here:
Since District Conference, the following meetings have taken place:
Through our many meetings and conversations, the following timeline has emerged:
We want to be as open and transparent as possible during this process, so please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or other comments you may have. I really believe this merger has the potential to launch us into a new season of Kingdom growth and expansion!
Your Partner in the Gospel,
Wow! What a year 2020 has been! As if dealing with the challenges and uncertainties of COVID-19 for the past 6 months wasn’t enough, many of you reading these words have had your lives upended by the derecho storm that cut a massive swath through Iowa on August 10. The fact is that dealing with the challenges of 2020 is taking a toll on us. Some of you probably feel like the circus performer who posted an ad in the paper reading, “Lion tamer seeking tamer lion.”
Recently, as I wrestled with the temptation to succumb to discouragement, I recalled something that Chuck Swindoll called, “The 50/20 principle,” so named because it flows out of Genesis, 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Years earlier Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery and, after a long, challenging journey with lots of detours, Joseph ended up as second in command over the entire nation of Egypt. That placed him in position to save untold numbers of people from starvation during a 7-year famine. When Joseph’s brothers feared that, at long last he was going to seek revenge for what they had done to him years earlier, he reassured them that their sovereign God had it all well in hand the entire time.
The 50/20 principle is simply this: “In his sovereignty, God gets good results from bad circumstances.” No one would ever say that a pandemic or a destructive storm is good, but our sovereign God will use it for good if we let him.
Having said that, however, there are three really important factors in the 50/20 principle that we need to remember: