The Path Forward

Directions For The Path Forward Acts 14:21-28

Every day in many different ways we ask ourselves about the path forward in our country as we battle coronavirus. No matter what opinion you hold, there is a longing not to stay where we are now. As have navigated now into Phase One in Louisiana, some loosening of restrictions is observed. There will be a Phase Two and Phase Three. How do we make our way through this as a family, as individuals, and as a church?

As Christian people we would like to hear words of wisdom from Scripture. The text today recounts the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They endured so many struggles, but kept going. Even at the end of this mission, there is a sense that there is much more to do. As we endure our lives in the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t we have a sense that there is much more ahead for us? We just need directions for the path forward.
I think we can find some directions in this setting of Paul and Barnabas ending their mission, with a knowledge that there is a big mission ahead.

Today I want to mention four slogans that we might hear as we read this text.

Spread the Word.

After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia

Acts 14:21, NLT

The Gospel is the only news that everyone needs to hear. We are hearing a LOT OF NEWS right now. Much of it is conflicting. Let’s be known for sharing the love of Christ during this time. Without the power of technology, Paul and his crew of missionaries headed out across dangerous territory to preach the good news. Dr. Bob Pierce – “Others have done so much with so little, while we have done so little with so much!” (via Wiersbe)

Today we have the ability to reach out across the globe with the gospel – and it is happening. But also we have opportunity to reach across our parish and bless others with the greatest news ever heard.

In this coronavirus pandemic, social media has become a place where people who love Jesus have spread the good news that Jesus Saves to anyone who would want to hear it.

Paul and Barnabas were interested in teaching about Jesus, but also making many disciples – helping people not only make a decision to follow Jesus but to give their lives to living the Jesus Life.

Stay the Course.

where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

Acts 14:22, NLT

Paul and Barnabas are retracing their trip, maintaining contact with the churches he has planted, providing ongoing counsel and encouragement. They encouraged the disciples to stay the course.

-They needed strength – to be strong is to be committed and knowledgable of the Christian faith. We sometimes forget what a strengthening resource our Bible is. When we feel weak, discouraged, or helpless – we should turn to
the strength available within our reach.

-They needed encouragement. We all get discouraged in life – and in our life with the Lord. Whatever it is that makes you discouraged in your walk, the key is to have encouragers in your circle of friends and family. One of the best ways to be encouraged is to be an encourager.

-They needed expectation – to know that there would be some suffering. The new believers have (known persecution and will know the pressure of Judaizers’ attempts to turn them from the “faith way”. Paul commands them to remain true to the faith. (Larkin) Hardship is not a reason to abandon faith, it is a reason to stay the
course, to stick with the plan, to never give up!

Strength, encouragement, and realistic expectations. Spread the Word, Stay the Course and…

Practice the Presence.

Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23, NLT

This verse tells us of the early Christians practicing the presence of the Lord. These words tell us of their awareness and focus on the presence of God in their midst.

They appointed leaders to lead the church in the ways of the Lord. The organization of the church included appointing elders to lead the church. The church of the New Testament was led by a plurality of elders, not by a single individual. These elders would ensure that the church functioned as they should in light of the gospel of Christ.

They engaged in practices that demonstrated their faith in the Lord. This important step was accompanied with prayer and fasting – which were common ways that the early church practiced the presence of
God in their lives. Notice Acts 13, the sending out of Paul and Barnabas:

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Acts 13:2-3, NLT

Fasting, praying, laying on of hands – these were practices that recognized two things:

*They leaned upon the presence of the Lord for the work of the church.

*They leaned upon one another in serving and loving the Lord who called them into the church. Christianity must be lived in fellowship.

John Wesley: No man ever went to heaven alone; he must either find friends or make them. (via Barclay)

Through Christian Leadership, Prayer, Fasting together, we demonstrate that we are practicing the presence of the Lord among us.

Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence,

Open the Doors.

Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

Acts 14:26-28, NLT

In their report of the work they did, they said that God opened the “door of faith”. The door of faith – opening up the doors of the kingdom to all who want to come and be a part.

Even when the doors of the church building are closed, the doors to the Kingdom are wide open and we should keep our eye on that truth!

What are some ways we can open the doors of faith?

*Pray for God to draw all people unto himself. Barclay: Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them.

*Be accepting of people where they are, knowing that we all had to grow from some point to where we are now. And we all have more growing to do. One church offered to pray for anyone in the community. One person responded and in an email confessed a sin he was involved with. The minister responded that he would be happy to pray for him. The man wrote back and said, “No church has ever been kind to me before. Thank you.”

*Do what we can to lift others up in ways that will help them know that God loves them and wants to live with them together in eternity .

*Interact with people, keeping our eyes open for opportunities to share the gospel. You never know who God has sent to you so that they can know Him.

Revelation 1:4a Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven…

Conclusion
Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence, Open the Doors.

Whatever challenges we face today, we have a path forward that we entrust to God. We may not be able to see what is ahead, but He can. He is already there. These are all strategies that helped Paul and Barnabas on their very successful missionary journey. They will help us in our journey as well.

Communion Thought:
When we get to the end of the book of Acts we find Paul under house arrest, welcoming anyone who would come.

Acts 28:30-31 He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

A beautiful testimony of a life that was lived Spreading the Word, Staying the Course, Practicing the presence, Opening the Doors.

He wrote to the Corinthians, “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

As we commune together we recognize the need to spread the word, stay the course, practice the presence, and open the doors. May it be so. Amen.


Resources
Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series: Acts.
Larkin, William J. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Acts.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Daring: Put Your Faith Where the Action is, Acts 13-28.

Finding Peace

One of the most popular Christian hymns, It Is Well, begins with the words written by Horatio Spafford after the loss of his family, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’.” How many of us have sent up a prayer to God these past few months asking for peace to attend our souls? I imagine many of us have.

Peace seems elusive for us. There are so many things running through our minds, so many relationships that have crumbled, so many financial troubles that disrupt our spirits. Prolific author H. G. Wells wrote, “Here I am at sixty-five, still seeking for peace.” Have you been in that same spot … searching for many years but still not being able to settle into a spirit of peace?

Peaceful Words from Jesus.

Some of the most comforting and peaceful words Jesus ever spoke are found in Matthew 11:28-30: 

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Jesus affirms 

We can Come to Him – he is not resisting us, turning away from us. He is welcoming us. 

Everyone can come to Jesus – “all of you” – no one is more important than you. Never feel that you are not good enough to come to Jesus.

Your burdens are welcomed by Him – weary and heavy burdened, come to Jesus. He is not waiting for you to get all your problems worked out before you come to Him. You can’t! You come to him to find relief. 

There is a promise – I will give you rest. No one else can give us this gift of rest and peace the way that Jesus can. He offers rest in the deepest part of our hearts. 

There is a path forward – Take my yoke upon you – let Jesus be the Lord of your life- Let me teach you – let Jesus be your teacher, rabbi.

There is a Savior who cares – humble and gentle. Let Jesus lead the way in your life. I pray that you have given your life to Jesus – that is the true path to peace, forgiveness, grace, and the promise of eternal life. When we decide to make Jesus Lord and we obey His teachings he promises to give us what we need most in our hearts. 

John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Peaceful Words from Isaiah

One verse in Isaiah is one we usually hear many times during the Christmas season, but it’s true for all seasons. 

Isaiah 9:6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Facing the struggles of life with faith is a key to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of the turmoil and unrest around us, God promises peace for those who trust Him.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.

Eternal Rock – the One on whom we can depend on forever. He is never going to move or shift. He is completely trustworthy. 

Isaiah 53 is the Suffering Servant – it is such a specific prophecy about Jesus, it’s really amazing. Hear what he says about peace here:

Isaiah 53:5 NIV But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

What Jesus did on the cross accomplished the eternal plans of God. Part of that plan was to bring us peace by relieving us of the burden of the guilt of sin. His wounds brought about our spiritual healing. We can now have peace with God because when we follow the teachings of Jesus we can experience release from our sins and freedom from our faults.

In Isaiah 57 there are two verses that talk about peace.

Isaiah 57:2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

This reminds us that our walk with God is a life-time commitment to Him. When we walk uprightly – that is following His will and the desires He has for our lives – then when the end of our life comes, we will enter into peace; we will find rest. 

The second reference to peace in Isaiah 57 is this startling truth:

Isaiah 57:21 There is no peace for the wicked,” says my God.

What a blessing it is to be a Christian and to receive from God the healing and grace He offers. On the other hand, if we refuse to follow God and choose not to listen to His teachings, we will not be able to find peace. 

Peaceful words from the Psalms

The Psalms are a source of peace for many people. Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm , talks about being led beside still waters – it’s a beautiful word picture of the way that God desires to lead us. I wanted to mention two verses in the Psalms in particular that talk about peace.

Psalm 4:8 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

At night when we try to go to sleep, how many of us have a hard time because of the many issues we are facing? We replay the conversations of the day, ruminate over the dilemmas we are facing, and we think about the regrets we have in life. It’s hard to sleep when our mind won’t turn off. I think we could memorize this verse and say it over and over to claim the peace of God that is promised. God alone can keep us safe. That truth should sink deep into our hearts and help us to turn to Him. Say to your thoughts that the peace of God is yours because ‘you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.’

Psalm 85:8 I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying,  for he speaks peace to his faithful people…

When we listen to God we will not be in turmoil, distress, and unable to find peace. Instead, when we listen carefully to to God we will hear him speaking peace. He speaks peace to his ‘faithful people’ – we have to realize that when we live lives of sin and do not try to please God, we will experience a lack of peace. We all sin – we all have faults – we all need grace. But when we continually live lives of rebellion to God, we won’t find peace. It is when our hearts are faithful to Him that we can find the peace we so much need and desire. 

Peace From the Holy Spirit

One thing the Bible is clear about is that peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives within you and will help you. He will help you more and more as you yield yourself to His influence. Peace is something that God wants to give you through the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 8:6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

What does it mean to ‘let the Spirit control your mind’? I think it means letting God’s teachings become your beliefs. The world lies to us, and we sometimes believe those lies. We can believe that God doesn’t exist, or he doesn’t care, or he isn’t involved. We can believe that he loves everyone – except me. Or that his promises aren’t for me, they are for extra spiritual people. When we let the Spirit control our mind we seek to see things from God’s perspective, to believe God’s Word, and to trust God’s Ways in our lives. 

Paul says in Galatians 5:22-23 that “...the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

One of the fruits or results of the Holy Spirit in our lives is peace, along with many other wonderful gifts. When we focus on God’s perspective and God’s Word, we can have peace in our lives no matter what storms we are going through. That is because we do not manufacture our own peace – we receive it as a gift from God.

I read a story about a ship that was wrecked in a furious storm and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves onto a rock. He sat there all night long until, the next morning, he was spotted and rescued. Someone later asked him, “Did you tremble while you were on the rock during the night?” He said, “Yes, I trembled all night – but the rock didn’t.”

We may tremble and be afraid at all of the things that we are facing in our life, but if we build our hopes and lives on the Rock that is Christ, we will find Him steady and sure. He doesn’t waver. 

Too often people try to find peace in alcohol and drugs, in sexual relationships, in food, in a hundred other places. Some people believe that the only way they can find peace is in suicide. But peace can only be found in Jesus Christ – peace that lasts, peace that exists in spite of storms of life, peace that overcomes relationship problems, peace that helps us deal with financial struggles, peace that is our rock – even when we tremble, the peace that God gives us does not.

I want us to keep in mind a verse that many refer to during this coronavirus pandemic. It was written by the Apostle Paul from prison – a place where we would think it would be hard to find peace. Instead, listen to his words…

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Peace is an experience … it comes when we tell God all about our struggles and allow Him to guard our hearts and minds. What we think about and how we choose to think are so important. Fill your mind and hearts up with the Word of God, follow Christ, and experience peace. It cannot be found from any other source. 

Overcoming Worry

Worry is something that is common to most people. 

We worry about how the failures in our life have made things difficult.

We worry about the goals we wanted to achieve but never did.

We worry about marital problems and problems with our children.

We worry about what other people think about us. 

We worry because no one seems to care. 

We worry about the future. 

We worry about our health.

The COVID-19 virus has added a whole host of worries on top of our normal life concerns. Worry is closely linked to anxiety and stress – both of which can cause damage to our health and our well-being.

The Bible contains a good bit of information on the reasons why worry is destructive and how to overcome it. That’s not a surprise because God made us, He dwells with us, and He knows us. He knows every thought and every word before we speak it. God, who knows us so well, has given us many instructions about worry that will genuinely give us strength to overcome.

God understands how worry and anxiety can cause us harm. 

Proverbs 12:25 Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Proverbs 14:30 A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body;  jealousy is like cancer in the bones.

Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

We all know how worries can weigh us down and keep us from enjoying the blessings of life. God knows this also. Let’s seek His wisdom in prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus devotes some time to overcoming worry. I want to notice some principles about overcoming worry in Matthew 6:25-34.

Our worries should not be a part of our everyday life. 

Matthew 6:25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 

These things are important – essential even – but when we spend our days concerned about them and letting our concern be the dominant thoughts in our minds, we are focused on the wrong things. There are more important things to think about – and we should have our thought dominated by those things – not always ruminating on the basic essentials.

Worry should be tempered by the truth that we are valuable to God.

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 

The point Jesus makes here is how valuable the birds are to the Father. He created the world and called it ‘good’. The birds live the kind of life that demonstrates trust in God. If God cares for them, how much more does He care for you? If we are that valuable to God – then why are we worrying excessively about the troubles of life?

Worry does not add value to our life at all. 

Matthew 6:27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Worry, by itself, does not accomplish anything. If it is so ineffective, why do we continue to be captivated by our worries? It is a habit – a way of thinking that we fall into and it is hard to escape.

Worry indicates that something is lacking in our faith.

Matthew 6:28-30 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

Faith is trust, belief in God. The beautiful things of the world do not accomplish their beauty by worrying … the birds, the lilies of the field … they are short-lived pleasures in this life. Yet, God cares about them. If He cares about them, don’t you know He cares for you? When we worry, are we expressing that we are uncertain of God’s care? This is not for us to worry about worrying – it is to show us the brightness and love of God’s ultimate care for each one of us.

Worry is replaced when God’s love and care and kingdom dominates our thoughts. 

Matthew 6:31-33 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

What is dominating your thoughts? You have control over what you think – how you choose to think about things – and only you can correct your thoughts when they go in the wrong direction. Above everything, think about how God reigns in your life and heart and how you can live into that more fully. When our concerns are His concerns, then what we need will be added to us. Jesus ends this section on worry with a reminder that should be of great value to us.

Worry doesn’t reduce tomorrow’s troubles, it borrows them. 

Matthew 6:34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

E. Stanley Jones said, “Worry is the interest we pay on tomorrow’s troubles.” We do not solve anything by simply worrying. So, we need to do something about worry if it has become a part of our way of thinking. Let’s begin by praying for insight into the teachings of Jesus.

Psalm 37

Let’s look into one of the Psalms of David to find some encouragements about how to overcome worry in our lives. Psalm 37 begins with the two words “Don’t worry” – so we already know there is something here for us. Some translations use the term “Don’t Fret” – and it’s used 3 times in the first 8 verses of this Psalm. Are we getting the message?  Psalm 37:3-7 reflects four ideas that I hope will encourage you today to abandon worry. 

Trust God, and Do Good. Psalm 37:3 Trust in the Lord and do good.  Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. These two steps are inseparable; neither can exist without the other. Faith and trust are VERBS; faith and trust are a lifestyle, and they involve action. Real faith always includes obedience, and obedience includes doing the “good” things God commands. That is why trusting God and doing good cannot be separated. (Vaughn)

Delight Yourself in the Lord. Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. We delight ourselves in the Lord when we are focused on His ways, His words, and His directions for living.

Commit your way to the Lord. Psalm 37:5  Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. Commitment is important. Deep, satisfying relationships—like marriage, friendship, and discipleship—require commitment. We commit to the Lord through praying to Him and also by actions that demonstrate our faith. We ask ourselves if we are making decisions from faith or fear!

Be still in the Presence of the Lord and Wait. Psalm 37:7 Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. The contrast here is between the practice of being still in God’s presence and worrying about other people. This reminds us of Psalm 46:10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,  I will be exalted in the earth.”

Think about these next time worry invades your thoughts!  These steps are not a one-time thing. Some days we need to go through these steps several times. Redirect your thinking and focus on God’s Eternal Word. God give us tranquility, serenity, peace, relief from worry and anxiety.

One more verse that I’d like to point us to is Philippians 4:6-7: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

What a great verse to memorize or write on a card and keep in your pocket. I can tell you that God wants us to have peace. He promises that that peace that passes understanding will guard our hearts. When our hearts are guarded, there is less to worry and be anxious about.

Abraham Lincoln said, “I have often been driven to my knees by the circumstances that I faced.” “Going to our knees will help because then we have not only our strength but God’s strength as well.” (Bill Flatt)

We should not develop a great deal of guilt about worry – that only compounds things. If I worry, then feel guilty about worrying, then wonder if God will forgive my worry … we end up worrying about worrying and feeling guilty for it all.  “I expect that most of us will never completely stop worrying, but we can grow in faith. We can worry less and less. And when we do worry, we can repent… and try to better.” (Smith)

Let worry be a signal to  you to stop, identify what you are most specifically worried about, and then give that worry to God. you might have to do that repeatedly, but each time you are recognizing that you are choosing not to worry – but instead to give it to One who can do something about it. 

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

– 1 Peter 5:7  

James Cash Penney, coming from a long line of preachers, grew up with deep convictions. He was unwaveringly honest. He never smoked or drank, and he was a hard worker. But in 1929 when the Great Depression hit, Penney found himself in crisis. He had made unwise commitments, and they turned sour. Penney began to worry about them, and soon he was unable to sleep. He developed a painful case of shingles and was hospitalized. His anxiety only increased in the hospital, and it seemed resistant to tranquilizers and drugs. His mental state deteriorated until, as he later said, “I was broken nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for. I felt I had nothing to live for. I felt I hadn’t a friend left in the world, that even my family turned against me.” 

One night he was so oppressed he didn’t think his heart would hold out, and, expecting to die before morning, he sat down and wrote farewell letters to his wife and sons. But he did live through the night, and the next morning he heard singing coming from the little hospital chapel. 

The words of the song said, Be not dismayed what’er betide, God will take care of you. Entering the chapel, he listened to the song, to the Scripture reading, and to the prayer. “Suddenly – something happened. I can’t explain it. I can only call it a miracle. I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight.” All worry left him as he realized more fully than he had ever imagined just how much the Lord Jesus Christ cared for him. From that day J. C. Penney was never plagued with worry, and he later called those moments in the chapel “the most dramatic and glorious twenty minutes of my life.” (Morgan)

Resources
Smith, Vaughn. Sermon: Trusting God in Troubled Times

Morgan, Robert J. Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations

Flatt, Bill W. From Worry to Happiness

The Message of the Cross

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Facebook Live Video of the service that includes this message is HERE.

Introduction

We all have battles to fight, struggles to face, and questions that need answers – and we all have the power of God to see us through. No one gathered today has all of the strength within them on their own to face the struggles of life. Christians know this and confess it. The power that drives us to seek and serve God every day is the message of the cross.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Today I want to share four things we should do because of the powerful message of the cross.

Trust the Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ in your Life.

When we talk about ‘the message of the cross’ we are talking about what Jesus did and what He is doing. This will include:
-His life and teachings
-What happened at Calvary and three days later
-How the blood of Jesus redeems us and keeps us saved
-That Jesus is coming again one day

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.

That’s the message of the cross that is the power of God to those who are disciples of Jesus. The power of God demonstrated in the cross is what is giving you power today.

  • Power to resist temptation.
  • Power to produce the fruit of the Spirit
  • Power to pray and believe
  • Power to feel secure in Christ no matter what else happens
  • Power to begin again when we stumble

Rely On God’s Power, Not Your Own

  • It is not our own inward strength or power. Even the best of Christians struggles, fails, and has reason to express repentance to God.

Romans 1:16-17 NIV For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

-We believe God is at work in our lives and we have so much for which to be thankful.

1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Keep Jesus At the Center of Your Life

Keeping the cross of Christ in the center of our lives is key to staying centered in these turbulent times. The problem is that we place so many other things in the center of our lives – and it works against us. We have to be careful not to let other things find their way into the center of our lives.Other people who might have too much influence in our lives. We can easily put people up on a pedestal … we can do this in church … we can do this with religious leaders or even political leaders. Ourselves – attitudes, old habits, and dealing with our inward struggles. Anything that has a way of becoming more important to us than our walk with God can become the center of our lives.

Colossians 1:17-18 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

When we became Christians we gave ourselves away to Him, and when we keep the cross at the center place of our lives, we can experience the power of the message of the cross.

Never Stop Bringing the Message of the Cross to the World

2 Timothy 1:7-8a NLT For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

It is our goal to share with others what we heard and followed – how the good news of the gospel was believed and obeyed.Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and nothing should stop us from sharing that love with others when opportunity arises.

Romans 6:3-4 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

1 Corinthians 2:9 What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him (Isaiah 64:4)

If have not experienced life in Christ, I invite you to contact us and have a conversation about giving your life over to Jesus Christ so you can experience what many of us have.

Conclusion
The Message of the Cross is a Powerful Message. There are four things we do as a result of being people who believe the message of the cross:

Trust the Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ in your Life
Rely on God’s Power, Not Your Own
Keep Jesus at the Center of Your Life
Never Stop Bringing the Message to the World

The power of God is found in the saving message of the cross.

The Cross Made The Difference For Me – song

There’s a room filled with sad, ashen faces
Without hope death has wrapped them in gloom;
But at the side of a saint there’s rejoicing
For life can’t be sealed in a tomb

And the old rugged cross made the difference
In a life bound for heartache and defeat;
I will praise Him forever and ever
For the cross made the difference for me

(Video of the song)

We Can Only Go Forward

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14

For this post I have in mind my fellow ministers, church leaders, and elders. But anyone is welcome to read along. I’m in several Facebook groups with ministers and church leaders of all brands, listening to their terse conversations. There is a universal question in American churches today. When and how can we go back to church? I’ve read many answers and predictions. Not everyone, but many ignore the essential truth that pains us all.

We can’t go back. We can only go forward.

I would love to wake up tomorrow, hear that the virus has been defeated, and we can all return to life pre-March 2020. Just a few months ago we were not even talking about this virus. Then like a tidal wave it crashed over us and changed our lives. As a Louisiana resident, I watched as we became a fixture in a ghastly top ten list of the most infected states in the country. I’m not interested in mulling over whether the government did the right things or which ‘experts’ are the ones to whom we should be listening. Like everyone I’ve got my thoughts and opinions – but those lead nowhere and have no bearing on what we must do from here. We can only go forward and we must go forward.

Our church leadership team, like all church leaders, is in a fairly constant discussion about following the phased-in guidelines while also caring for the congregation during this time of uncomfortable adjustment. I’ve appreciated that they were not so anxious to go back that they failed to think about what it means to go forward. Phase One limits are so complex that they actually discourage churches from meeting. I want to see my church family gathered as much as anyone, but I also want them to be safe. When the church assembles it should be a place of security, joy, and fellowship. That’s not going to happen in Phase One, just to be frank. I think Phase Two isn’t looking spectacular.

So, what does it look like going forward? How can churches prepare for the future when the future remains so unclear? If prevailing theory is correct, there are future shutdowns ahead with the resurgence of the virus in the Fall. That’s hard for me to think about. But what about the things we can prepare for as a church?

A Significant Focus on Mental Health

While there is discussion about what recovery looks like for COVID-19 patients and how this will affect the economy in the future months and years, I’m concerned about our psyche. There is no question that this experience will leave its mark on our thinking. Some will struggle more than others. We can draw a wide circle around the virus victims themselves and include those who lost income, jobs, homes, confidence in food availability, and a general fear of a spreading invisible nemesis. If you spent too much time in front of the nonstop news cycle, I have no doubt that there are some mental issues that will need to be ironed out. Pastors are not usually mental health experts, but the Bible is inspired by one who knows our inner workings well. Beyond that, we need to engage counselors and those who are well trained in mental health issues in the life of our churches. I think we should be preparing now to take advantage of video resources and study resources by qualified individuals who can help us support one another through the recovery that is yet to come. It’s not too soon to be thinking about that.

A Focus on Grief Recovery

This is certainly connected to the previous idea, but more specific. We are mourning the losses we have experienced now. (I wrote about that HERE. I have compiled a list of grief resources HERE.) In Louisiana as of the date of this writing, over 2,000 people have perished due to COVID-19. That’s 2,000 families and sets of friends who have suffered significant losses. Adding to their pain, were the inadequate funerals that were far less than the deceased deserved. Groups like GriefShare and Compassionate Friends will offer a great deal of comfort and help to those who lost loved ones. I think we need to be able to talk about the reality of grief and mourning that will be a part of our lives going forward. We all lost something of our lives here for a few months (longer?) and the impact of that will stay with us.

A Renewed Emphasis on Prayer

While prayer has always been important to the Christian community, healing and hope will need to be reinforced and strengthened through prayer as we head into the future. I’ve appreciated the times in my life when prayer seemed to take on a more prominent role. I’m also ashamed to say that at times I did not pay as much attention to prayer as I should. Maybe we all have that experience. I hope that the experience of a pandemic has driven us to greater prayer, but I think sometimes worry and uncertainty cloud our desire to pray. As Christian leaders, we should pave the path toward a renewal of prayer ministry in our churches. This connection with our Abba will benefit us in more ways than we can enumerate. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many prayer ministries already in place and perhaps many of them are here for such a time as this. We are facing an invisible enemy that is taking many lives and changing the rest of our lives. We need a strong Defender and Refuge upon whom we can lean and find reassurance and help.

New Practices in the Assembly

Prior to the emergence of the virus in our country, our worship assembly would be a place of warmth expressed by hugs, handshakes, invitations to lunch, and conversations around coffee. How far into the future can you look to find a time when you will shake hands with a stranger and not break into a sweat until you can get to a hand sanitizer? Will we ever look at passing a communion or offering tray throughout the auditorium as an acceptable practice again? I don’t know. I’m a hugger – is that gone forever? For the short term, yes. How will we make people feel warm and accepted as we go forward? We will have to have some creative conversations about that. It will not likely be in large gatherings, though.

The impact of the church must shift to smaller gatherings. House churches? Small groups? Bible Classes? Neighborhood cookouts? These smaller gatherings will not exist by government mandate, but by the feeling that if I’m around a smaller group I can manage social distancing better and I can have a closer connection to those who are there. Some small gatherings will need to replace Sunday School, particularly for children. Though parents have been overwhelmed with suddenly taking on homeschool duties, there is also the responsibility of teaching your own children about God. I don’t know when children will gather in enclosed small classrooms again. Creative backyard Bible clubs have been around a long time. They just became much more important, I think.

We Should Prepare to Receive Guests

I would think that in some quarters of the country there might be an uptick in the number of guests who visit our assemblies. For some, the coronavirus impacted their lives in spiritual ways that have them searching for answers. For others, just the need to be around other people in an opportunity that is non-threatening. Perhaps those who have wandered from their faith might have been reminded of the need to come home. People have heard a lot of voices during this pandemic and I hope that they have heard some Christian voices that pointed to Jesus as One who promises peace, calm during the storm, and hope for the future. There could be a resurgence of interest in spiritual matters. If so, we should be prepared for those conversations. Will we meet at the service but connect more extensively online later? Will those seeking faith be more likely to respond to an invitation to a small gathering rather than the larger church gathering? Likely.

We Are Online For the Foreseeable Future.

We have to face the truth that many elderly people or people with health that is compromised will not ever come back to an assembly in the church building. They have grown accustomed to online services and classes and are able to engage without risk. Even when there is a group at the church, the larger community will be watching online. Many articles have been written about whether or not this is good or bad, but it is a reality and that’s all that matters. Unless the internet breaks and we go back to smoke signals, our churches will have some kind of online offering. That is a big challenge for smaller churches. In other ways, it is a big challenge for larger churches. Special attention will have to be paid to two groups in particular. One, the unseen crowd who are exclusively online church attenders who do not anticipate gathering in the physical church building. Two, the elderly who are not online.

Everything written about the future is short-sighted.

It is simply true that there are too many unknowns in the future for concrete plans. We will see if my thoughts here age well. But I do affirm that we are never going back to church life in all the ways that existed before coronavirus. We can only go forward. We will adjust and accommodate our ways. The reason I think we can’t go back is that COVID-19 has a permanent place in our thinking and memory. We might not wear face masks forever (I hope we don’t!), but I can’t imagine not wondering if the person who just sneezed a few pews back has projectile delivered a virus into our setting.

You may disagree with my positions here, and I may disagree with them in a few weeks. But for now, our time is best invested in looking forward. An abundance of caution is to be exercised because we love our church family and our neighbors. Jumping the gun to get back into the same room would potentially create tragic results. We lost some innocence in this episode of our lives. I don’t think we are going to shake it anytime soon.

We can’t go back from here. We can only go forward.

____________________

Further Resources: Carlus Gupton’s ReOpening Resources for Churches