The Unveiling

FILE – This Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 file photo shows the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Leaders of the SBC, America’s largest Protestant stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over almost two decades, according to a scathing 288-page investigative report issued Sunday, May 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

I am still in shock.  As I have read and reflected on the findings of the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force Report, I find a myriad of emotions swirling inside me.  Anger, disappointment, grief, relief, appreciation, and hope have each crept their way to the surface.  

As I have read a variety of responses (see links to responses and summaries below*) from different perspectives on this current SBC issue, a few important themes keep coming up. Repentance. Silence. Lament. Righteous anger. Decisive action. Follow through.

I don’t believe I’ll add anything new to the discussion, but I do know that this unveiling must change us.  The SBC must become different.  The local church must become different.  I must as well.

For me personally, the fact that the SBC Executive Committee had maintained a “list” of offenders and allegations but stonewalled developing an accessible database to protect future victims and churches was most difficult to absorb. In deed, I’m still not over my vitriol about that troubling revelation. The right actions were not done decades ago. More victims and more predators and more allegations mounted. And as they did, more liability mounted as well. A wake of broken lives – unnecessary broken lives – followed from a series of deliberate choices to hide rather than uncover.

May I say to victims of sexual misconduct, assault, and abuse, I am sorry for what has happened to you.  If you were victimized at the hands of a ministry leader, I am sorry for those wrongs you have endured.  If you were hurt by an SBC pastor or ministry leader, I am sorry, and we have failed you.  

Yet in the swirl of emotions of anger and grief, I am also growing in hope for the SBC. Key leaders, victims of sexual abuse, and abuse advocates did not back down. They fought tirelessly, selflessly, relentlessly to see the SBC do the right thing. They worked to see us pull back the curtain and unveil the hideous coverups. They deserve our appreciation and admiration. Truly, there are too many to name, but a few have made an unforgettable impact on me. Lawyer and advocate Rachel Denhollander, abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell, pastor and former SBC President J.D. Greear, and former ERLC President Russell Moore among many others continued to fight for the truth, and now we owe them all our gratitude for their fortitude.

It’s in their work I have seen hope sneak out from behind the curtain as well. It’s hard to do the right thing. It’s especially hard to do the right thing after doing the wrong things for so long. The SBC has just begun to act rightly on this issue. We have many more steps to take, and I pray as we do we will continue to stumble forward. But my hope rises because the SBC is doing the right thing now when the cost is so high. We have taken the first, hardest step. I believe the next right steps should be easier.

As an NC Baptist, I am already grateful that our Board of Directors, EDT Todd Unzicker, and convention leaders have been working proactively to prevent any of these same failures at the state level.  As a pastor, I am already grateful that my church staff has reengaged conversations and next steps to protect our children and students.  As a Christian, I am continually grateful that the Word is always true:

16 “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 

Luke 8:16-17

Thank God that He is unveiling what’s been damaging the SBC. Through His unveiling, may He forgive us, heal us, and transform us.

*SATF Report Responses and Helpful Summaries:

Russell Moore, “This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse.”

Albert Mohler, “The Reckoning of the Lord.”

Liam Adams, “‘Ignored, disbelieved’: Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse report details cover up, decades of inaction.”

Brandon Porter, “Baptist Press Apologizes to Survivors, Commits to Serve.”

Kate Shellnut, “Southern Baptists Refused to Act on Abuse, Despite Secret List of Pastors.”


What a Week…

I’m in quarantine. Covid’s come to our house. We’ve been mildly impacted with only minor symptoms. For that I’m grateful. It’s slowed the week down, but it’s not turned the week off. I’ve tuned in just like many of you. For those of us hoping 2021 would be far different that 2020, well, uhm well, not yet.

These few words will not be comprehensive. Much has happened, and much needs to be said. Many wiser than me have and will interact with these events and need to do so. I’m simply expressing three pressing thoughts I haven’t been able to escape.

First, I’m reminded, convicted, and encouraged that the Scriptures will always ring true. The simple yet profound principles of Proverbs 15:1 have been shown over and over again by all sides of this political and media fervor.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Click baiting, race baiting, exaggerating, misrepresenting and lying have all been shouted in the form of “harsh words” from so many different sides. It’s become clear to me that in the world of social media snippets and grab-your-eye videos, we’ve lost the beautiful, mundane, non-pretentious peace of “soft answers” and all of us are paying for it. Christian, please return to the gentle and loving and gracious ways of Jesus in ALL your words.

Second, I’m grieved, concerned, and cautioned by the censorship of our president on Twitter. Regardless of your views of his tweets or words or positions, we enter a dangerous slide when censorship rules the day. We are watching freedoms erode right before our eyes. The loss of our ability to discuss our differences with candor, honesty, and gentleness (see my first thought), has led to the silencing of voices that aren’t wanted or respected. As Dr. Danny Akin wisely warned via Twitter himself,

“I also abhor censorship and any infringement upon free speech unless absolutely necessary. We must be careful and wise: today we applaud the censor of others. Tomorrow they may censor us.”

It’s only a matter of time until we see the the censorship police squelch out other voices they don’t like. That reality should make all of us uncomfortable.

Third, I’m excited, encouraged, and burdened with the responsibility to be about Jesus’ kingdom work. All this stuff tempts us to take our eyes off of the main thing. It’s important we wade through it, pray through it, and weigh it upon the scales of the Word and the Spirit. It’s important we don’t bury our heads in the sand. It’s important we live in the world and not of it. It’s important we are wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

It’s also preeminently important we don’t miss this front-and-center command:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Regardless of president, king, rule, government, context, culture, security, economy, season in life, health, or preference, I’m to be about making disciples. Those words were required of Jesus’ first followers when the religious of Israel sought to crush their movement. They were required of Jewish and Gentile Christians thrown to the lions and murdered by gladiators under Roman persecution. They were required of zealous missionaries like Carey and Judson and Moon who took the gospel to dark, lost nations where — in many ways — religious freedom was non-existent. They were required of slave-owning church members of a bygone day in the US who erred grievously because they were blinded by culture and economic pulls they couldn’t (or wouldn’t see).

These words are now required of Bible-believing followers who lean left on social issues or right on economic issues. These words are now required of Bible-loving Christians regardless of who you voted for, what skin color you have, or what language you speak.

I’m to be about the Great Commission — the work of Jesus making me anew as His disciple and handing that off to others in desperate need of His same transformation and His same grace. That’s got to be front and center. That’s got to have first importance. That’s got to grab—and keep— my attention.

These aren’t all the words needed about this crazy start to 2021. But for me, they are a therapeutic start to keep my eyes and heart in the right place, upon the right focal point, and with the rightly placed zeal. Perhaps you’ll find a little clarity or a little therapy in them too.

It’s Vital. Are You Resting?

Schedules stopped. Travel derailed. Businesses halted. Visits postponed. For many, this season of “stay-at-home” has turned our routines upside down and sideways. Dads usually away are present—now for weeks—around the house. Students at school have become students in school from home. Many moms who would normally scurry to work or the regular routines errands out and about to care for their homes are landlocked.

Certainly, these freezes of schedule aren’t true for everyone. Many essential workers are making the country go, keeping the rest of us well, or seeing the stores are stocked. Many are working harder than ever and need our prayers and encouragement.

What is true for all of us though, is life as we knew it changed a few weeks ago. Life stopped so much so that sports organizations walked away from collective billions to social distance. Governmental leaders closed all types of businesses. Limits have been placed on the number of people who can gather in one place.

All these changes have had an interesting effect on my social media feeds. I’ve seen post after post of hikes through the woods or card games at the table or projects around the house. Families are together more than ever before.

Here’s a question I’m pondering and striving to answer personally, “Did it really take a virus to make us slow down?” What I do know is that time with my family these past few weeks (and the next few) are a gift. What I do know is that God designed us to work and to rest. What I do know is this season is inviting—actually imploring—many of us to rest.

2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis‬ ‭2:2-3 ESV)

8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. ‭‭(Exodus‬ ‭20:8-10‬ ESV‬)

Biblical rest (or Sabbath) has a variety of interpretations, and we don’t have space to address them all here. But we can draw a few practical implications from the Sabbath command to cease from our work that speak to right where we are now.

First, when we rest, we honor God by acknowledging His rest after creation. Rest is an act of worship when we chose it recognizing God’s rest. We can intentionally chose in portions of this season to “rest” worshipfully. In a walk around the neighborhood or on an open trail, take in the beauty of God’s creation and praise Him for it. Or write a prayer of gratitude for His ease on your schedule.

Second, when we rest, we recognize our limitations. God didn’t design us to burn the candle at both ends indefinitely. The Sabbath command reminded Israel that their bodies weren’t designed to go and go and go. Intentional rest honors our bodies as God’s gifts to us and cares for them with a healthy perspective on our abilities and limitations.

Third, when we rest, we refuse to make money or time a god. One of the reasons for the American pace of life is a chasing after money and success. Many in our nation act as if Wall Street never sleeps. And in doing so, they’ve traded worship of God for worship of the financial security or power or prestige that money can give. However, those are mere illusions. The halt to so many economic sectors in our nation and worldwide has unsettled many, and reminded us all that financial security is fleeting. When we rest from our work intentionally, giving away dollars to make, deals to secure, or connections that would benefit our bottom line, we realign our allegiance Godward affirming His place above our things.

Fourth, when we rest, we slow down to see one another rightly. Husband, do you know how hard your wife works to keep the house in order while you are at work? Child, do you see the effort your teachers are putting in to make school work as well as possible? Wife, do you recognize how diligently your husband longs to provide for your family well-being? Parent, do recognize the strengths (and limitations) of your student because you are watching them do school from home? Family, are you noticing the needs, expectations, and longings of one another because you actually have the chance to do so? Church member, do you see how important relationships are with one another when they are broken away?

This season is a gift to many. The change up in routine invites us to pause, reflect, rest. It’s vital. Are you resting?

Read more in this series:

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

It’s Opportune. Are You Giving?

It’s Opportune. Are You Giving?

Every spectrum of life and work has been affected by this virus. Our economy has been turned upside down. The U.S. government has taken unprecedented steps to stem the impact on our economy. Blue collar, white collar, unemployed, and retired collectively hold their breath with a “wait and see” on the long term impact on job security, flow of income, or retirement.

It would be easy, even justified, for many of us to pause our giving in a season like this. But I do not believe that’s what God would have of us. Many of our normal channels for “giving” of ourselves have changed. Generosity and stewardship also include how we give our time and energy to others. In a season of “stay-at-home,” those types of ministries must be relegated to the phone or computer.

As I write this, I’m grateful for a church body that faithfully gives—and gives generously. We saw a record offering to Lottie Moon this past Christmas season. We exceeded budgeted giving last calendar year. We quickly and joyfully give to mission needs put before us. I’m also grateful for our church leadership and staff that wisely steward our resources. They’ve helped us prepare for this “rainy day” and will continue to guide us through this season to its end.

I share this with you just to bring before all of us what I believe God would invite us to prayerfully consider. He longs for us to sow generously.

6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians‬ ‭9:6-7‬ ESV‬‬)

I read this quote the other day, and it’s stayed with me, “Generosity flourishes when we don’t fear loss.” The truth is, many have already experienced (or may experience) “loss” financially from this season. The question for us is, “Do we fear that loss?”

If I’m honest, I’m tempted to fear that loss. I’m tempted to do more than just wisely save and steward. Fear of loss would tempt me to hold resources with a vice grip or hoard them for my own selfish benefit alone. God knows this temptation with me so He frequently pricks this part of my life and asks for me to let go of more. My wife and I evaluated and reset our finances beginning this past January. As a result, we have saved more of our monthly resources this year. As soon as we saw our monthly savings, God nudged us to increase our regular giving. Then, once this pandemic began, He nudged again. I can say with joy, we are giving more and eager to see what God will do.

I am answering the question, “Do I fear loss?” I encourage you to answer it too. The answer to that question will reveal if our trust and confidence resides in our bank account, our 401k, our job security, or our retirement disbursements. The answer to that question will reveal if we truly believe that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and the hills to boot (Psalm 50:10). It will reveal if we trust in the “riches of His glory” to care for us and sustain us (Ephesians 3:16).

If you’ve hesitated to mail in your tithe or give through your church’s online platform, I encourage you to take that step. If God has nudged you to give more, listen to Him. If He has placed on your heart a ministry or a person or a church or a missionary or a neighbor in need, listen to His direction and give. Maybe you are reading this, and you’ve fallen out of the habit of giving regularly. God may be saying to you right now, “Give and watch me provide for you and demonstrate my faithfulness to you. Trust me with your money.”

Don’t fear loss. Give. Trust God with your today. And your tomorrow. He’s got you.

*For my PGBC Family, you can click here to give through our online platform. Our family set up our giving as recurring. We’ve found it to be the simplest route to giving obediently.

Read more in this series:

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

“Stay-at-home” in our area has had a revolutionary impact in only a few days. We live in the same neighborhood as one of our church members. He’s walked past my house a few times, and each time this week, I happened to be on the phone. Apparently, my front porch has become my “new office” as he put it.

It’s not just the front porch we’ve rediscovered. It’s the back yard and brush needing to be cleaned up. It’s sorting and organizing the garage. It’s kitchen cabinets in need of some tlc. These chores that are sometimes hard to get around to because of scurrying schedules have reminded me that we can easily put them off until later. Sometimes though, we realize we’ve put them off too long.

The lessons in these chores against the backdrop of the “stay-at-home” order has also revealed an even more important truth. We’ve got to connect with our family intentionally. The past few weeks have been marked by a number of reengagements with my wife and son. Card games. Board games. Movies. Walks together. Cuddles. Fishing. Laughter. Joy.

Our closeness has also exposed some of our buttons we sometimes push (or get pushed). Our presence with each other almost constantly means we get each other’s best moments and prickly moments. Marriage and parenting always have their challenges, but when you mix in A LOT more time with each other along with the uneasiness and anxieties this season has birthed, it’s a recipe for some interesting “moments.”

While I’m sure Peter didn’t have my home in the midst of this virus outbreak in mind, his words have been sweet balm and a helpful corrective:

8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter‬ ‭4:8-9‬ ESV‬‬)

Those words must start with our family. The truth is, I desperately need my family. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for them. Many are cut off from grandchildren or children or even spouses because of all the social distancing restrictions or certain careers that force separation. On an even more serious note, some are cut off from loved ones because they are sick. Close hospitality cannot be accomplished right now with many, which makes it all the more important that we get those expectations right with those under our roof.

Those words also press the importance of the “now.” Peter says, “Keep loving one another earnestly.” Earnestly pleads for a zealous effort. A press upon the immediate. In this season where our peace of mind about our health is so fragile, we better be loving those we are living with “earnestly.”We are well right now. I’m going to praise Jesus for that gift! I’m also going to try to live with my wife and son in such a way I don’t take it for granted.

Furthermore, he gives instruction for those interesting “moments.” Love covers our sins and an earnest love helps us ward off grumbling. My guess is, your home has had its share of tensions, complaints, or outbursts. In Jesus, we’ve been given the power of God in us to teach us to bite our tongues, extend generous grace, and reset our emotions before we pop off in unfair or unkind ways at those we love the most.

While you may not be able to be with all those you would like to connect with, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay in touch. Make a call. Send a text. FaceTime with a friend. Zoom with your Bible study group. Send an email, or go really old school by writing a letter. Check on a neighbor. And while you do, be sure not to miss those right in front of you.

You see, I’m I’m bound to my family. I’m one flesh with Diana. Joseph is our child. We are linked at the hip. We are in each other’s personal space. We are close. Extremely close. I’ve got to be connected to them.

So, are you connecting? It’s important. Especially right now.

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

In this quiet, unusual season, I spent time out by our fire pit in the backyard the other evening. The only noises to ripple the silence were a few humming bugs and the crackling fire. As I sat, I prayed. I prayed for my church family. For our local responders. For our national leaders. For our church’s stability. For our health physically. For the church to seek God.

After some time taking in the fire and spending time in the Word and prayer, I made my way back to the house. Our fire pit is located just inside a wooded area of our back property. We hadn’t turned any lights on in the back, and it was already dark. When I turned from the fire, I couldn’t see the ground, the grown up roots, or the old stumps between me and the backdoor. What I did next, I did without even thinking. I pulled out my phone and clicked on the flashlight option to guide my steps back to the house. I needed to see. Otherwise, I might’ve stumbled or tripped.

Darkness makes us desperate to see. It prompts us to seek out light. It urges us to take care with our steps.

The dark, shadowy veil of this coronavirus has done the same for many. Like a cloudy, thick haze, it’s hindered our sight and blocked out the light for us to see what’s next. It’s put our routines in pause, our resources at risk, and many of our relationships on hold. It’s made us desperate to see.

As I’ve pondered that short walk back to the house, the Holy Spirit whispered a series of verses to my heart:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalms‬ ‭119:105‬ ESV‬‬)

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalms‬ ‭119:11‬ ESV‬‬)

29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. (Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:29-30‬ ESV‬‬)

When our situations turn desperate and dark, we must turn to the Word to light our way (Psalm 119:105). The Word is the breath and truth of God that gives power to us to obey Him in trying circumstances (Psalm 119:11). It’s the tool God has given us to seek Him desperately when our circumstances have turned upside down (Deuteronomy 4:29-30).

The words of Deuteronomy were given specifically to the children of Israel on their wilderness journey from Egypt. But it’s important we remember that the character and nature of God hasn’t changed toward His people. When tribulation presses us and frightens us and limits us, God beckons us in desperation to seek Him through His Word and obey Him.

Are you seeking Him? Are you listening to His prompts to your heart? As He directs, are you obeying His Word? Have prayer and the Word become your lifelines to His truth, peace, power, and guidance?

God wants our attention. So He’s turned out the lights. He longs for us to long for Him. Desperately. He beckons us to ignite the lamp of the Word to give light to this dark path.

It’s quiet. Are you listening. It’s unsettled. Are you praying. It’s desperate. Are you seeking?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

The world is unsettled. Everything is different than the “normal” of a mere few weeks ago. In the county and state where I live, we’ve gone from gathering limitations of 100, to 50, to recommending 10 or less, to staying at home. Each decision has been marked with a great desire to stem the pace of this virus’ spread.

What it’s signaled to us: don’t do many things you normally would. Among others, we’ve been told to stop touching our faces, stop visiting one another, stop traveling, and stop gathering together.

I’ve never seen such unsettledness. I’ve never heard such limitations and concerns from our government officials. And I’ve never been more hopeful for what God can do in the midst of all of it.

Why you ask? We can pray. Our schedules have freed up. Our typical confidences have been shaken. For many, financial stability, job security, entertainment/leisure, and good health have been rocked. We must pray.

At Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, we’ve been praying. Before our gatherings paused, we had collected nearly 600 answers to prayer in Prayer Jars across the front of our altar throughout our series on prayer to begin this year. It’s no coincidence we’d been led to focus on prayer. Just this week, as my family has reengaged with each other more intentionally, we’ve seen God answer two specific prayer requests we have prayed together.

In the swirls of uncertainty and change, those two answers have felt like a lighthouse on a dark, foggy night. Those answers have brought reassuring peace in a stormy gale. Those answers have signaled again and anew that God sits on the throne, cares about the needs and burdens of His children, and answers our prayers as we cry out to Him.

We hope many of the don’ts we’ve been told to abide by will shorten the timespan and effect of this virus. It’s likely they will affect it some. For followers of Jesus, prayer is something we’ve been commanded to do that invites us to engage this virus—and everything else for that matter—in a spiritual realm.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ (‭ESV‬‬)

In all of this unsettledness, a few truths are sure. Prayer invites us to trust God’s hand and seek His peace. I can bring every form of worry and uncertainty to Jesus in prayer. While I have no ultimate control over my circumstances, I have direct access in prayer to the King of Kings, the Sovereign One, the Ruler over all.

In truth, this unsettledness can be a gift if we will realize it’s an invitation to pray to the One who has the whole world in His hands. In prayer, we can trust our days and our direction to Him! We can seek Him for our health and our homes. We can bring to Him both our fears and follies. We can pray!

Practically, I encourage you. Add five minutes to your routine of prayer. Or add fifteen. Take a favorite passage and pray through it. Matthew 6:9-13, The Model Prayer, would be a great place to start. Pray with your spouse. Pray with your children. Sign up with a resource like Bless Every Home. Whatever you do, pray. Just pray.

It’s quiet. Are you listening? It’s unsettled. Are you praying?

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

Quiet. It’s early. I’m awake. There’s no bustle of schedule this early. No loud news updates. No wordy articles. No jostling conversations. Just quiet.

I find my soul craves the quiet. I find my schedule resists it. I find my spirit needs the quiet. I find my pulls fight it.

In the quiet, my mind and heart have been listening. Two sources of peace have been refreshing and reassuring in these past few weeks of uncertainty: reading the Word and praying. He’s been close. He’s been kind. He’s been encouraging. He’s been captivating. His dwelling place—His presence has been the most important need.

Just this morning, in these following words the God of heaven whispered peace, grace, and closeness in the quiet:

2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah. 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed! 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

Psalms‬ ‭84:2, 4-5, 9-12‬ ‭(ESV)

I need Him. His presence. His closeness. His strength. His protection. His favor. His honor.

I’ve found only one way to all those blessings. I must soak upon the Word of God and seek Him in prayer. My lips must be sweetened with the Scriptures. My heart must be full with prayers seasoned perceptibly and regularly with the Bible’s comforting truths.

I must dwell with Him.

For my Pleasant Garden Baptist Church family, I want to share with you a gift from the Bible app, Dwell. Their tool—normally a subscription app—will be free for the next 60 days for all those from our church who use this link.

Dwell PGBC Group Dwell Bible App

I can think of no better way to be quiet than to listen to the Word. I can think of no greater need than to have it comfort us and renew us. I can think of no greater way to address the worries, fears, or anxieties of this season than to seek Him in the Word and through prayer.

Befriend the quiet. In those still moments, God speaks. His Word resounds. His closeness beckons. Will you listen?

What Are You Afraid Of?

Uncertainty. Fear. Confusion. Doubt. Worry. Panic. Words like these have landed on us heavily in these past few days and will likely continue to settle on many of us in uncomfortable ways.

I don’t know what’s going to unfold, and I won’t pretend to be able to do so. I’m as uncertain as many of you navigating this unusual season. But what I do know — what I’m certain of — is that the sovereign God rules over these uncertain times.

So let me ask you an important question: “What are you afraid of?” Some may say death. Others loss of income. Still others may say the unknown. My guess is all of us have had an array fears grip us in recent days.

In Mark 4:35-41, seasoned fisherman found themselves trapped on a boat in a storm that caused them to fear their own death. They shook Jesus awake crying out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38). For the disciples, this moment was a life-or-death moment. This was a serious fear. A crippling fear. A legitimate fear. The storm had raged so powerfully, they thought the boat would fill and capsize sending them all to their death.

Even in their fearfulness, the disciples did the best thing they could do. They cried out to Jesus. They “prayed” and pleaded for their lives. And in an instant, Jesus with a gentle word said, “Peace! Be still” (4:39). The storm, wind, and waves stopped so instantly that the disciples were filled with a “great fear” at Jesus’ power (4:41). Their fear for their lives was replaced with a greater fear, a holy fear, a reverential fear of Jesus and His power.

Let’s not miss the lesson for us. This virus has overturned our schedules and threatened our lives. Like that frightening storm, cautious fear of this virus is not illegitimate. But the same Jesus who calmed that storm has not relinquished His seat on the throne. This virus hasn’t caused Him to quake or shudder or fret. He can guide us and protect us and heal us. Our greater fear must be of the one “who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Place your trust in Jesus. Stand in fearful awe of Him. No disease or disaster can overturn His authority. No difficulty can thwart His control. We may not have this, but He does. Why? Because He’s a sovereign God in all kinds of uncertain times.

New Year’s Resolutions

January invites us to “resolution season.” We’ve just concluded the “holiday season” between Thanksgiving and Christmas (also known to many of us a feasting season). Likely, many of us have already set new goals to shape 2020.

  • Goals for a healthier lifestyle.
  • Goals to be more pleasant, or more kind, or more restful.
  • Goals to lose weight.
  • Goals to guard our words.
  • Goals to grow closer to Jesus.
  • Goals to manage busyness.
  • Goals to love family better.
  • Goals to take in less media or entertainment.
  • Goals to sharpen our minds.

My guess is, even if you haven’t written them down, announced them on social media, or told a family member, most of us have looked back and glanced ahead to identify at least an area or two of our lives that need a recharge or a renewed effort to place in check.

In my time of reflection entering this New Year, I’ve identified a few areas to “resolve.” Here’s one. In reality, they three resolutions in one. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul links three thoughts together to shape our spiritual “actions and reactions.”

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I find myself frequently reflecting on these verses. I have them written down in a portion of my daily prayer time. What’s come to the surface as I’ve contemplated these verses recently is their overarching control over my actions and reactions. God longs for our actions (our intentional choices) and our reactions (our responses to the choices of others and the situations of life that come against us) to please Him. I’ve found these three commands from Paul to be a powerful recipe for keeping both my actions and reactions in check.

Paul commands, “rejoice always.” It’s easy sometimes to rejoice, isn’t it? At Pleasant Garden Baptist Church where I’m pastor, our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will be our largest ever.* When I found that out, I started bouncing. My heart was giddy! I couldn’t help but want to tell everyone! But, that’s not everyday, is it? An unexpected trial, a frightening diagnosis, a toilsome season at work, or a difficult relationship may tempt us to words or reactions far less than rejoicing. Yet, the Word instructs us in all these moments to rejoice.

Paul further teaches, “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer should be as natural and common to my spiritual life as breathing is to my physical. I must be taught—again and anew—to pray. That’s one of the key reasons we are kicking off 2020 at PGBC with the series, “Jesus on Prayer.” For nearly 3 months, we will weave in and out of His instructions in the gospels regarding how we are to pray and what we are to pray for.

Finally, he implores, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” I’ve found this command to often be the link for obeying the other two. How do I rejoice when my circumstances tempt me to be discouraged? I thank God for His never-ceasing faithfulness. How do I keep pressing into prayer when I’m so busy that I’ve got to jump into the next priority? I slow down to praise God for His generous and wise guidance in the past. How do I hold to Him when His answer seems delayed? I thank Him for the last time His answer came through when it seemed delayed.

Pray. Rejoice. Give thanks. Three simple, powerful, and direct commands. For me, they’re resolutions too. How about you? What’s one of your resolutions for this New Year?

*For Southern Baptist churches, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is one way we actively support our missionaries all around the world. At our church, we anticipate our 2019 offering to exceed $105,000!

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