Some (hopefully) helpful thoughts.
As a kid I was a pouter. I would pout about anything and everything. It is a trait that I am not proud of and that once identified, have spent years correcting. Pouting about this, that, and the other was a mainstay in my life up through my college years. The routine was the same: I would feel slighted, ignored, or mistreated and would recoil into an emotional fetal position. 'Why me?', 'Poor old Jordan', 'Life is so hard' were all things I would say to myself.
I remember one case in particular when I was a senior in High School. I temporarily lost my position as a starter on the basketball team and, as usual, I threw a pity party. I was subbed out in practice one day, and I went all the way to the other end of the court and sat pouting against the wall. I am ashamed to even write about it. The coach's wife was there that day (who knows why?), and she came down and basically scolded me for being a child. Told me to get up and go take my spot back. I sulked a little longer, and then I did as told. I didn't pout the rest of the season. I got my spot back and went on to earn First-Team All-District honors. I thanked her at the end of the season for speaking truth to me. The pity party attitude has reared its head from time to time in my life since that day, but I learned something valuable back then: Adversity is not the end, it's the beginning of an opportunity.
Adversity is upon us all now. It has knocked on all of our doors as if to say, "It's your turn." And here we are. Isolation. Job loss. Fear. Anxiety. Worry. The unknown. And one major thing I want to communicate is this: Opportunities abound. We have a choice to make. We can sit around and bemoan our current situation and essentially cry out 'Woe is me!' or we can make the most out of the situation we've been given. I have been thinking about just a few of the opportunities that the Lord has presented us with through this crisis. Here are some thoughts:
1. Husband and Wife Have an Opportunity to Reconnect.
No matter what the barrier was that had been erected between the two of you, chances are it is somewhat gone now. Perhaps it was too much sports-watching--that's gone. Perhaps one of you were becoming a workaholic--that's gone. Perhaps it was just a really busy schedule--that's gone. You have an opportunity to reconnect now. To save a once-thought-lost marriage. Use this opportunity.
2. Parents Have an Opportunity to Reconnect with Their Kids.
It is no secret that typically, the closer a kid gets to 18, the more he/she distances himself/herself from parents. Cellphones, cars, school, and extra-curricular activities are all good things, but can often serve as barriers between parents and kids. Not to state the obvious, but most of that has been put on hold. Parents, you have your kids back for a time. Reconnect with them. Make them sit down and play a card game. Sit outside. Go on a family walk. The first few minutes will be awkward and some will feign disinterest, but they will soften. You are mom and dad. Underneath the bravado and nonchalance, they really do love you. Become a family again during this time.
3. We all have an opportunity to get finances in order.
Many will (some already have) lose their jobs soon. That is inevitable. Money will get tight. For all of us, though, our expenses are being lowered. If you do not have a budget, God could not be more clear than he is right now: It is time to take control of your money, and stop letting it control you. Money is a great servant, but a terrible master. This is an opportunity for all of us to make money a servant again rather than a master. If you are not good with money, then seek out someone that you trust who is good with money and ask them for some guidance.
4. Men have an opportunity to lead their families well.
I was thinking about this today while I was filling my wife's van up with gas. I was holding the gas handle with a napkin to protect myself from germs as best I could with my limited resources. I noticed a young guy (high school or college age) smirking at me. I know exactly what he was thinking, because fifteen years ago I was him. "What a loser. Taking this virus thing way too serious. A napkin? C'mon, bro." That's fine. I was not mad at him. Here is what I prayed for that young man as I drove away, "Lord, I pray that one day you would give that young man a wife to cherish and little kids running all around the house that you have tasked him with protecting and leading and taking care of in difficult times. I pray that one day he would feel the weight and the joy of being asked by you to lead his family well even in small things like making sure he doesn't bring any dangerous germs home with him. In Jesus' name, amen."
Men, this is an opportunity handed down from heaven for us to lead our families well. Husband, live with your wife in an understanding way, as 1 Peter 3 tells you to do. Seek her well-being. Constantly make sure she is okay. Give her a break from the kids. Help with household chores. Lovingly check off some of the honey-do list she has for you.
5. Christians Have an Opportunity to Put our Money Where our Mouth Is.
We talk all the time about Christ being enough. Here is an opportunity to show that he is. We talk all the time about how he will provide for our every need. Here is opportunity to trust in that. We talk all the time about loving our neighbor. Here is an opportunity to show them love. We talk all the time about all sorts of things. Here is an opportunity to actually do those things.
These are just a few of many opportunities we have. How beautiful, church, would it be to come out on the other side of this crisis with stronger faith, stronger families, and stronger finances? Stronger not because we have finally learned to stand on our own two feet apart from Christ; stronger because we have finally learned how to completely rely upon him and to give him honor and glory in all aspects of our lives.
Dear Church Family,
We are in living in uncertain times, but we serve a God who is the author of certainty, is never surprised, and is always in control. We look to him during these times.
As Christians, we are called to seek the welfare of the places where God has placed us. Jeremiah 29:7 says, "Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive." Just like the Israelites in exile were called to pursue the well-being of the city where they found themselves, we also are to seek the well-being of our community. And we are to pray that our community would thrive, because when our community thrives, we thrive.
This begs the question, then: How do we make sure our community can thrive during these times? One major way we can help our community thrive is by following sound, wise advice from medical and government authorities. The spread of this virus is happening quickly and rampantly, and we do not want to contribute to the spread of the virus. In light of guidance from our Governor and also from the CDC.gov as well as leaders at the Greenville Baptist Association, we have made the decision to cancel all services and gatherings at the church through at least Sunday, March 29, with a re-evaluation to take place the week of March 30. The only gathering that will go online is our Sunday morning gathering; all other gatherings are canceled and will not be held in person or online.
Here are a few items to keep in mind:
1. The Sunday morning sermon will be either broadcast live on Facebook Live at 10:30 am or recorded on Sunday morning and posted on the church website by 10:30 am. We will let you know which of these options we choose, once our media team has figured out the best option or if a combination of both will work.
2. We are not making this decision out of fear, but precaution. We want our community to thrive, which means we need to do our part to not spread the virus unknowingly.
3. Continue to tithe. This cannot be stressed enough. Our Kingdom work will continue. The best way to give during this time is online through our website. Here's a link: https://onrealm.org/StandingSprings/Give You can give a one-time gift or you can set up your tithe to draft out of your bank account each week without ever having to worry about it. This is the most efficient manner through which you can give to the church.
The next best way to tithe would be to mail your tithe to the church. Please do not bring your tithes up to the church. We want to minimize contact and people in the building during this time.
4. The staff will continue to work in a hybrid format through the next two weeks. Most work will be done at the office, some will be done at home. There will always be someone here during office hours, though, to answer phones, etc.
5. If you need ANYTHING during this time, do not hesitate to call the church office. We are the church and we have been commanded by God to care for one another always (especially during these times).
6. Check on each other. Try to remember if you haven't seen a particular person in awhile, and reach out to them. See if there is anything you can do to help them.
7. Show grace. Leaders are under a tremendous amount of pressure right now. Whatever decision they make will be liked by some and disliked by others; they will not be able to please everyone. Unfortunately, those who dislike something usually are louder than everyone else. Be sure to pray for your leaders and encourage them; their burden is heavy during these times.
8. Do not give in to a spirit of fear. Be wise. Be cautious. Be gracious. Be loving. Be joy-filled. Be prayerful. Be accommodating. Be servant-hearted.
We will get through this time by leaning on our great God for strength. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week.
It's the end of summer 2009 and I am three days away from driving across the country to start seminary when my phone rings. On the other end of the line is a guy named Dan Wooldridge, pastor at Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas. We had spoken a few times over the course of the summer about their open youth minister position. He asked me if I wanted to come down that Friday to Georgetown to interview for the position, because the guy they were planning on hiring had backed out. I told him that I was heading to North Carolina on Saturday for seminary, but sure, why not? I ended up taking the job and for most of the past 10 years I have been in vocational ministry. On the 10th anniversary of that first job, here are some reflections.
1. God is gracious to us--always
Truth be told, that was one risky hire Crestview made. I had a degree in Practical Theology, yes, but I had next to no experience. I was 23 years old, single, and a bit of a shoot-from-the-hip communicator. (If you think I'm a shoot-from-the-hip communicator now, you have no idea!) But God was gracious to me. He knew the plan he had for me. And Crestview was the exact place I needed to be, and I had 7 wonderful years there. Never doubt God's grace to you. He is always working on behalf of those he loves.
2. You Probably Aren't the Next Spurgeon
Yes, I know your grandmother and her friends think you are, but you just aren't. Most of us will labor in ministry and never be known by people outside of the congregations we serve. And that is okay. God has called you to serve where you are. He's called you to be you. Trust me, I know the pull to mimic the latest and greatest podcast preacher, but you are not him, and the effort to imitate him is making you look silly. Be faithful where God has you, shepherd the flock that is among you, and for the sake of those you shepherd, be you.
3. The People of God are Great
I cannot even begin to describe all of the ways that my family has been blessed by the people of God. Sure, there are always some who profess to be God's children who are mean-spirited and have left you with scars. That is to be expected when people don't really know the Jesus they say they do. By and large, though, the people of God have been--and continue to be--a great encouragement to me. In many times, they have been a family to me when my biological family was far away. I am forever grateful for the people of God.
4. Jesus Will Build His Church
What a promise. What a relief. I don't have to build it myself. I know I can't, but that has not kept me from trying in various ways these past 10 years. I am stricken with that same desire to disbelieve God that Adam and Eve had back in the garden. I am hobbled by the same mistrust the people of God displayed in the wilderness. That is why I am constantly grateful that when Jesus had the opportunity to disobey God in the wilderness, he refused; and when he had the opportunity to do his own will in the garden, he chose to obey and to take the cup of God's wrath instead. Jesus' obedience covers my disobedience. His obedience to the will of his Father ensures that he and he alone can and will build his church.
5. Your Plan is Cute
I have lost count of the plans I have had for ministry in the past 10 years. But I have not lost count of the number of times my plans and the plans of God have lined up. That number is easy to remember--it's zero. God is gracious so he hasn't beaten me over the head with my bad plans. But I can't help but wonder if he hasn't chuckled a few times at my half-baked ideas. I have come to the point where I rarely verbalize what I think my future will look like. I am learning to trust God with the future. He has called me to be faithful to him, that is success. He will handle the rest.
AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE
In the Fall of 2016 I visited churches for the first time in nearly a decade. It wasn't that I had been out of church for that long and was just now making my way back. No, I had been on staff at a church for nearly a decade and therefore never had to visit any other churches. But in the Fall of 2016 my family moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina in order for me to finish my Masters degree at Southeastern Seminary, so naturally, we needed to find a church.
After a month of visiting around, Katelyn and I were discussing one big takeaway that we had noticed in the church search process: It is really easy to get comfortable at church and forget that every Sunday is someone's first Sunday at your church. You see, for seven years I didn't have to think about where to park or where the kids go or how to find a Sunday School class; I effortlessly did all of this, because I had become used to my church. Sadly, this is the case in many churches today.
At one church we wandered around aimlessly for five minutes (a long time) searching for the nursery, because there were no signs, and everyone we passed just kept on walking as if we were invisible. At another church, we had already decided we wouldn't be coming back before the worship service had even started. Why? Because the nursery drop-off process was chaotic and felt unsafe from the start. Teachers didn't rise from their seats to greet us, and it seemed like our children were more of a nuisance to them than a joy. At some churches, the signage is so bad and the halls so twisty and narrow that you start to worry that you accidentally walked into a corn maze and not a church. Still other churches have more entrances than church members, and you have to simply cross your fingers and hope you choose the right door, because the only sign you can find is one that says "NO TRESPASSING".
CHURCH ISN'T ABOUT YOU
Oftentimes when someone voices a concern about something in the church not jiving well with them they are scolded. They are usually scolded by someone feigning spirituality, and the scolding goes something like this: "Church isn't about you. Don't worry about stuff like that." I get it. And I agree wholeheartedly. We gather weekly as the church to make much of God, not ourselves. But a parent being scolded because they worry if their kid is safe down in the nursery can't be what God had in mind. And for someone suggesting we get better signage in the church to be scolded as "majoring on the minors" doesn't seem to line up with the heart or nature of God.
THE MOST HOSPITABLE BEING IN THE UNIVERSE
The issue here is hospitality. As Christians, we should follow the lead of our God who is the most hospitable Being in the history of the universe. After all, have you checked out the world around you lately? The mountains, the ocean, beautiful lakes, the trees currently changing colors. God is serious when it comes to hospitality. And he expects us to be as well. As a church, we are called to be hospitable to those guests that God brings our way. This means making places such as nursery, Sunday School classes, and the sanctuary easy to find. This means having on smiling faces each and every Sunday. It means having the courage to ask someone you don't recognize and who looks a little lost if they need some help. It means making our children's area safe and orderly. We don't have to be Disney World, but we do need for people to feel safe and loved here.
So this next Sunday will you commit to not just showing up, but to being a greeter no matter where you find yourself? Will you commit to look for someone you don't know and go introduce yourself to them? Will you commit to pray that God would continue to bring guests to our church?
Remember, every Sunday is someone's first Sunday.
A wise man once said that some books should be blog posts; some blog posts should be tweets, and some tweets should never be tweeted. Now, for some of you, that sentence flew right over your head, and that's okay. For others of you, you know all too well what I mean. Most blogs are pointless and if ever read out loud would sound like so many cats dying. The last thing I want to do with a blog is contributed to the cacophony of noise on the internets. So please allow me to give three reasons for starting a Pastor's Blog.
1. It is an Opportunity to Educate
I am all about getting good information into your possession. Granted, that sentence implies I have good information to impart. Hopefully, I do. But seriously, there is so much for us all to learn about God, his Son Jesus, and the gospel he brings. So why not use as many tools as we can to learn? Perhaps some days I simply share a great article I read about gospel ministry. Or perhaps an article on discipleship or growing old well or parenting or Alabama football. I'm just kidding. No one cares about parenting. A blog (done well) is an opportunity to educate.
2. It is an Opportunity to Expound
One of the most difficult parts about preaching is not having the time to say all that needs to be said about a given passage. A blog is an opportunity to expound upon a certain point or idea that arose during the sermon. Or perhaps an application point can be further unpacked on the blog. Certainly, a sermon should always be complete with an explanation, exhortation, and application, but a blog is an opportunity to go a little deeper in a specific direction.
3. It is an Opportunity to Extol
'Extol' is an old word, and I will admit that I only half knew what it meant before I googled it to make sure. But I am a good Baptist, which means that coherence is sometimes sacrificed at the altar of alliteration. To extol means to "praise enthusiastically". Of course, it does. We knew that, right? Anyways, a blog is an opportunity to praise God enthusiastically. In other words, it is another opportunity to make much of him. That is my primary hope for this blog--that God would be made much of. If it ever ceases to be that, if it ever ceases to be useful, then it will be discontinued.
I look forward to many years of fruitful blog posts. Remember that I love you all very much.
Standing Springs Baptist Church