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Scattered

Today, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday and not a single church in my area opened its doors to honor the Holy Day. They’ve all closed up their sanctuaries in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now all services and ministries are online, streaming from any and every device.

When the shuttering of churches first happened, I couldn’t understand why every body of believers rolled over so willingly to the government’s “strong suggestion.” As Christians in China risk their lives to smuggle Bibles into their country and hide in their basements to read them, Christians in American voluntarily capitulated. Only a few pastors put up a fight. Most barely even batted an eyelash.

What happened to heeding the words found in Hebrews 10:25-27: “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.”  Why didn’t anyone defend the sacred practice of meeting together? Didn’t they think about the message this sends to the enemy? Won’t shuddering the church shatter the mission of the church to minister to hurting, fearful, broken people? How can we be light in the darkness when we’ve turned out the church lights and locked the door behind us?

These questions and others were heavy on my heart when I opened the Bible and turned to my daily reading which just so happened to be in John chapter sixteen.

In this particular passage of scripture, just days before His crucifixion, Jesus gives His disciples a heads up, warning them about the trials and troubles that will soon come. After the men confirm that they believe what Jesus says is true, Christ tells them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered…”

It was that last word that caught my attention. “Scattered.” Until this time, Jesus’ followers had been in their own little comfortable clique. They went out two by two to perform miracles. They traveled together by boat. But a time was coming when they would be “scattered.” Spread out. Strewn about. Separated. 

Isn’t this precisely what’s happening to the church?  Connect groups and life groups have been spread out into their apartment complexes. Greeting teams and worship teams have been strewn about in their neighborhoods. Pastors have been separated from their flocks. The whole church has been scattered.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He then went on to explain that this scattering would be each to his “own home.” Now if that doesn’t sound like what’s happened to the church then I don’t know what would!

Can you imagine it? The disciples were about to experience the horrific crucifixion of their Messiah. They were about to be questioned and possibly persecuted for being followers of Jesus. They were about to have their faith in God tested unlike ever before. And right before all these trials arrive, Jesus warns them that they will be sent into the solitary confinement of their own homes to endure them.

In isolation is where the followers of Jesus would be still and trust in who God is. In solitude is where their faith would be solidified. It wasn’t on the boat. It wasn’t on the hillside with the loaves and fishes. It wasn’t while waving palm branches and singing Hosanna. Christians became “the church” of the resurrected Jesus at home and all alone.

Looking through the lens of previous Biblical history has transformed my perspective on the modern-day church and what God is doing within its scattered walls. By dismantling the familiar rituals and routines of church, a deeper and richer faith is being discovered. In the resting of small groups, Christians are being given the opportunity to relish the quiet and be refreshed in the stillness.

The enemy might think he’s winning but we, God’s people, know the truth. We have not been defeated but deployed. We have not been shattered but scattered.

And in this scattering, there will be sanctifying. In this shuttering of doors there will be an awakening of souls.

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Southern Hospitality

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard about Southern hospitality but have questioned whether or not the phenomenon is true. Does geniality really corollate with geography? I doubted it until I moved to Tennessee.

In just two short months, Tennessee has made me a Southern hospitality believer. What can I say? People are just plain friendlier in the volunteer state. They offer up kindness free of charge and provide service with a smile. Cashiers strike up conversation and somehow manage to find a topic that goes deeper than the temperature. The atmosphere in Tennessee is so welcoming and inviting that it’s easy to feel right at home in the buckle of the Bible belt.

Being surrounded by hospitality has caused me to question why. Why is the south known for their hospitality? After all, southerners are human beings, no different than northerners. Is it something in the water? Or perhaps something in the sweet tea? Could it have to do with the warmer temperatures? Maybe people are kinder when exposed to less cold air?

But then I looked up at the landscape and realized that southerners aren’t more hospitable on account of a beverage or the climate. They are more hospitable because of active belief in Christ.

You see, when I look across the landscape of middle Tennessee, I see an absolutely glorious sight. Steeples. Dozens of them in just a few square miles. Steeples in middle Tennessee are like Starbucks in New York City. They’re everywhere.

In the buckle of the Bible belt where churches are thriving, so is the gospel message of kindness, generosity and hospitality. People are hearing the words of Jesus and, the good news is, they’re practicing what He preached. The even better news it that anyone, no matter where they live, can embody this same characteristic because being hospitable isn’t dependent on where we live but on Who lives in us.

 

“…Always be eager to practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13

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Redeemed by Belief

December 2018 was a bust – well, almost.

The first twenty-three days of my December were short on Christmas spirit and high on Christmas angst. The dominating thoughts in my mind revolved around shopping and sulking. If I wasn’t on a frustrating hunt to find the perfect present for every person on my list, I was most likely in a depressive funk. My mood was more melancholy than merry. Sadly, I must admit I was more prone to crankiness than cheeriness. To those who had to share a roof with me this Christmas season, I’m sorry.

Sadly, I know I’m not alone in experiencing a depressing December. When Christmas lights come on and jolly tunes are turned up every sadness and heartache gets magnified. Smiling Santas betray the despondent, mocking them at every festive turn. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” doesn’t ring true. “I’ll have a Blue Christmas” sounds more appropriate. For those who have an identifiable “reason” to be sad it’s easy to slip into a season of sulking come Christmastime.

And so, on December 1st, that’s precisely what I did. I entered into a twenty-three day season of sulking.

While out shopping I was hopeless, unable to find the perfect gift for the loved ones on my list. While at home I was discontent, trapped in the sadness of my not-so-perfect life. Staring me in the face was the heavy weight of grief born out of a life sidelined by sickness. Although there was much to celebrate since last Christmas – more healing, vitality, improved health – I was blind to the many healing victories. All I could see were a lifetime of dreams and plans destroyed by a decade of sickness.

But then the light of God pierced into my darkness on December 23rd by way of a simple children’s Christmas play.

At New Life Community Church, the home of my church family, a small group of children performed a short and sweet Christmas program that shared a powerful and profound message. With bed sheets for costumes and a simple Bethlehem set, the kids told the story of Jesus’ arrival into the world. Mary and Joseph entered the manger scene followed by angels who appeared to shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. After telling them the good news about the Savior’s birth the young shepherds excitedly declared their desire to travel to Bethlehem and see the promised King of Kings.

As the play came to a close the audience’s attention was drawn back to the narrator as he said, “In believing, they found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, their Savior. And tonight, just as it was in Bethlehem so many years ago, God has chosen you to hear the good news and believe.” That one line changed the spirit in the room – or at least it changed the spirit in me.

Belief transformed my heart.

Belief in Christ, who He is and what He came to do transformed my December bust into a beautiful time of celebration. By returning to Jesus Christ and fixating on His life from the cradle to the cross, my depression lifted and quickly disappeared. In the Savior’s presence the sadness I had experienced all season long was replaced by abundant joy and overwhelming peace.

Whether it be Christmastime or the middle of July, when we approach the manger throne believing in Christ and the salvation He delivers, we will encounter His peace, comfort and joy. By seeking the Savior and entering into His presence our hearts will be renewed by redeeming love.

Come to God bearing your bust of a month. Surrender your sadness and sorrow so He can transform it. God is faithful. He will redeem and restore you. Come to the manger and God will revive you with an eternally abiding Christmas spirit.

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For the Love of Donuts

The donuts are different. For the first time in my life the Sunday post-sermon donut selection has changed.
For the past twenty four years the church donut selection has always featured the exact same sugary delights. The “random assortment” ordered from the grocery store bakery is never random. It’s the same each week. There are always cream-filled, jelly-filled and coconut-topped donuts. There are always plenty of glazed and a few apple fritters. For the children, and those young at heart, there are always doughy treats featuring sprinkles and chocolate frosting, too .
But today the decorations on the donuts were different. On one particular donut pretzels adorned the chocolate-frosting while gigantic California walnuts were atop another. A few of the chocolate eclairs were drizzled with pink frosting.
Since I haven’t tasted a donut in years and haven’t had a single craving, you might wonder why I care so much about the church’s donut selection. Although it’s true that my appetite no longer desires donuts my heart still craves them because donuts have played a very special role in my life.
You see, church, donuts and I go way back, all the way back to my very first church memory. It was 1994 and I was a toddler, still small and short enough to hide behind my Mom’s flowing skirt, which is precisely what I did until the end of each service. After the sermon, pastor would give a word in benediction then dismiss the congregation into the fellowship room for a time of conversation, coffee and, of course, donuts.

And so it began, my love for donuts.

As a young child I reached for puffy glazed donuts and cinnamon twists. As a teen my taste buds were tantalized by the dense cake donuts that were covered in sweet maple frosting.
Over the years my choice of donut has changed countless times and now I don’t eat donuts at all. But the unconditional love and grace serviced at during the post-service fellowship hour hasn’t changed a bit. The compassion and care of my church family is as sweet as ever and as plentiful, too.
Although the decorations on the donuts are different the beautiful offering of the Savior’s love served and shared in that blessed fellowship room is still the same.