5 Things I Hope for the Church, Post-COVID

It’s been far too long since we met in person. Thankfully, due to technology, many of us haven’t ceased meeting, yet many of us can agree that the online environment just isn’t the same. It’s not.

As churches begin getting back to meeting again, pastors and staff are taking appropriate precautions. As time goes by, however, even those precautions will be loosened up as people get more comfortable and the threat of the virus has passed. That said, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we regain our footing as the church in order to do Jesus’ Great Commission work.

Here are five hopes that I have for the church, post COVID:

  1. People will appreciate and attend worship more often. The fact that we have not met together in person should be a reminder of how precious our gatherings really are. My hope is that believers will not forsake the assembling and worship God with their church more consistently.
  2. Pastors will continue to be creative. One thing that came out of the COVID period is that pastors had to be more creative in reaching out to their congregations and the world. The use of Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube was a new thing for many pastors, but my hope is that they can build on this medium and supplement (not replace) their ministries through these tools.
  3. There will be a return to one-on-one conversations about Christ. Many church leaders have encouraged church members to invite people to come to church. However, this kind of passive evangelism can unintentionally threaten to “professionalize” evangelism, overshadowing the believer’s need to have personal conversations about the gospel. I hope that the church will see how healthy and energizing it is when believers tell others about Jesus’ gospel.
  4. Groups will explode in a new discipleship emphasis. Groups somehow got deemphasized over the years in favor of worship. The thinking is that people can be led to groups after coming to a worship service. This is true to a point, but just like in my previous hope, focusing on outreach through groups such as Sunday School or home study groups will energize a group and create excitement as new people attend and come to Christ.
  5. The church will regain her mission of making disciples. It’s so easy to focus on the business of budgets and buildings, because these things aren’t as messy as people related issues. Yet, we are not called to buildings or budgets, we are called to the work of the gospel. While we need to be good stewards of what we are given, we must never let our attention be taken away from the best gift we have ever been given: the gospel. My hope is that we have a disciple making revolution, where everything is focused not on keeping the aquarium but on fishing for people.

There you have it. My hope is for a changed church, different than where we were and more like the church that existed immediately after Christ’s ascension. Is it possible? Yes absolutely, as long as we hold near and dear Christ’s calling and focus all of our attention on that.

Fran

I was once stuck on a rollerCoaster.

I was once stuck on a rollercoaster. Backwards. In an almost vertical position. And what I thought was fun was not. Nope, not at all.

The people around me on the coaster car started to groan, first in a reaction to the delay, but then quickly groaned impatient ones as the minutes ticked by. We waited, hopeful that the unexpected expected drop would begin, but instead there we were, stuck, with blood beginning to rush to each of our heads. More impatient groaning. Now some cursing ensued (no, not me, from others). We can hear the clicking of the coaster resetting itself, but still nothing. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Backwards, at a steep angle, hoping that a change in our circumstances won’t take too long.

Suddenly, after what seemed like hours (it was only a few minutes), the coaster let off a loud click and it finally started up again. The potential energy of our hanging backwards in the almost vertical position was finally released (as designed). We dropped quickly down the track, still backwards, going down each slope and around each curve, not knowing what each next turn will bring. The groans became screams of joy, a happy terror, and after a thrilling rest of the ride, the journey on the coaster was soon over.

It was fun and at times, not fun, but either way, it was an experience!

Life sometimes has delays, slopes, curves, and unexpected surprises. There’s groans, screams, laughter, tears, thrills, and plenty of memories. We might be able to predict to a certain extent of what’s next but we definitely can’t predict the far-off future with a level of certainty. Only God knows the future, controls the future, and plans the future.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven.” We have a finite amount of time and a whole life of experiences, and we don’t ever know what the future will bring. I mean, who would have been believed if they were to say a year ago that a worldwide pandemic would shut down nations, drive people indoors, and cause so much destruction? No one. And no, not even Bill Gates.

Our future is in God’s hands. David wrote that all of our days were written in God’s book, “planned before a single one of them began” (Ps 139:16). We don’t know the roller coaster that we are on, but we know the God who knows every twist and turn. And ultimately, when we devote our lives, our time, our gifts, and our passions to Him, we can be guaranteed that we will not be lost, but will be right where He wants us.

Fran

The Day Our Church Van went on a Beer Run…

It was the summer of 2006, and a group of members from my church and I were outside of New Orleans to help with the rebuild of the area, recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Our assignment was simple: replace a badly damaged roof of a home that week. The owner of the home was in the military, called out constantly to serve our country while his family’s needs remained. We were proud and honored to serve our Jesus as we served this family.

Over the course of the week, a neighbor kept checking in on us. Usually drunk in the middle of the day, he would shout out comments to us, asking us about how much longer we would be there, and even attempting to climb up to be with us (we stopped him from his climb up the ladder).

On the third day, however, he asked us for a favor. It was mid morning, and he needed a ride to go to the store and asked for one of us to take him there in our church van. I gladly offered to take him and we began to talk about him, his life, and the reason for us being in the community in the first place. We arrived at the store and he went in to make his purchases while I stayed in the church van.

When he came out, I was shocked to see him holding in his hand a 24-pack of beer. Essentially, I had just taken him in our church van on a beer run!

He got in and I reluctantly began to drive, but only after I protested a bit. However, picking up where we left off from our earlier conversation, I shared the story of Jesus with him, about the seriousness of sin, what Jesus did to conquer sin and death, and how he can be changed through his step of faith. We returned back to and parked in front of the house, and he began to share the pain in his life and how he had struggled with this pain during the time after Katrina. I listened, offered to pray for him, and, again sharing the gospel, I encouraged him to place his trust in Jesus.

That moment, in the church van, he prayed to receive Christ, finishing with a sentence that I will never forget: “I don’t need this beer; take it, I don’t need it anymore!” My heart skipped a beat as I realize what had just happened: this man’s life was changed forever that day!

What can we learn from this? That in the midst of crisis, there is a world hungry for the sweet, soothing words of Jesus Christ. People are scared and confused. They want to make sense of the world in order to find purpose and meaning beyond what they see. Sure, some turn to alcohol, drugs, or even pornography, but none of those things bring satisfaction and only make things worse. Instead, they need what we have: the truth of God’s Word and the love of a God who brings life through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this time of a world-wide pandemic, people are looking for answers. Be open to talk, be available, and be ready to help them see the heart of the issue. Most of all, speak the truth in love. People are in pain, and they are looking to fill a void in their lives, so show them that the only true satisfaction is found in Jesus Christ.

You never know how God will be using you next. Things are not always as they seem. May your interactions go beyond the surface and to the heart. May your conversations be Jesus-centered conversations!

Fran

3 questions to ask for your next Ministry

No matter what you do, any profession is something that God can use for His Kingdom. We are all ministers. All of us are called to something for some greater purpose in Christ (see Ephesians 2:10).

For me, to borrow a term that one of my former colleagues just used, right now, I am a free agent. Because of the revenue impact of the COVID-19 closings, my organization had to eliminate a significant number of positions, including my entire ministry team. No one did anything wrong, nor did I leave on bad terms. But the truth remains that like some of you, I am prayerfully seeking God’s next assignment.

During a time like this, it’s perfectly normal to do some soul-searching, trying to get guidance on what to do next. For me, I have chosen to look at my own life, aspects of my personality, and remembering the times that I had the most joy while I served Jesus. My process has been to ask myself three basic questions. And while none of these questions are earth-shattering or overly creative, they are still helpful:

1. What is my passion?
2. What are my gifts?
3. What is my calling?

First, what is my passion? I believe that a person’s passion is God-given. These are the things that cut the heart, that stir up excitement, that keep you up at night (in a good way). When I served in my last ministry, I would wake up at 5 am or sooner WITH NO ALARM CLOCK just to get into the office and get started. That’s an example of the type of passion for doing what you are supposed to do!

What are my gifts? When a person comes to Christ, God the Holy Spirit provides gifts to a believer to build up and multiple the church. I have gifts, you have gifts, but none of us have the same gift. It’s different for each person. The key is finding out which gifts you have and use them in the work of ministry.

What is my calling? We all have a calling from God. Christ has given us the general call, to make disciples of people (Mt 28:19), but how we exercise this can be different. And God will take that calling, use your gifts and passion, and guide you to the ministry that He has placed before you. This ministry can be across the street or across the world, but it is a ministry nonetheless.

Here’s a general example of what this looks like (I just used some terms at random as possible examples):

My encouragement: ask and answer these three questions prayerfully, carefully, and spend time with a trusted, godly counsel talking about them. When you do, I am confident that you will have a better direction for your sweet spot, allowing you a new freedom to serve with joy for Jesus.

For me, this process has helped me to better hone in on my next steps. It’s good for me, but also good for the next ministry that God leads me to be a part of. And this is the key: to follow God’s leading to a place in order to serve Him joyfully, effectively, and faithfully, all so He can be magnified through me.

Fran

Keep on Pedaling…

Philippians 3:13b–14 (CSB), “…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

It was a muggy, hot summer day in South Florida. I can feel the sweat dripping off of my forehead and my legs felt like rubber. I was pedaling on my 10-speed bike up the Old Cutler road bike trail, going from my neighborhood to my destination almost 25 miles away. My best friend was riding with me, and there we were traveling up the trail, side by side.

To get where we needed to go, we had to get off of the trail at some point and make our way around town. A few things amaze me about that: 1) we had no GPS and 2) we had no cell phones, and 3) we had no clue! All we had was the desire to get to our destination, the energy to keep pedaling, and the happiness of our journey. Yet somehow, we got there!

In the Christian Life, we have very few goals other than to live a life completely and fully dedicated to Christ, making disciples along the way and glorifying God through our words, actions, and deeds. We do these things out of love, a love we have for both God and people.

Why? Because of God’s example of love. He created the world and the people in it, and His heart is for His creation. And despite our fall, He sought to redeem it. He sent His Son, knowing what price He would pay on the cross, and yet did it. Out of love. He did it.

And God’s heart should be our heart. His desires, our desires. His goal, our goal. We love what He loves and we pursue what He pursues.

That said, pursue Him daily. Follow His calling. Seek an intimacy with Him that you’ve never had before: a close, personal, prayerful, focused journey with Him. Not dwelling on the past, but joyfully pedaling in the present and excited for tomorrow.

Fran

Taking joy to a new level…

Over the past week, I started to read through and meditate on the Book of Philippians. My time in the book was so encouraging, and I am thankful that God led me in this direction for my devotion time as I was reminded of the joy that I have within me. There’s so much that Paul wrote that applies to us today!

Now for some news: just a few days ago, I found out that the team that I have led had been eliminated due to the negative impact of COVID19 at the ministry where I serve. Sadly, many of my coworkers also felt the effect as the cuts were widespread, painful, but needed. In a few weeks, I and many of my friends and coworkers will be looking for God’s next assignment to serve Jesus.

So I have, on the one hand, this incredible, fantastic dive into God’s Word and the reminder to be joyful no matter what the circumstances, and on the other hand, a radically changed circumstance which demands that I apply what I read. Wow, thanks, God!

So with that said, here’s what I see that God is saying to me as I apply this magnificent letter from Paul. First, despite my circumstances, despite a changing world, I have a God who does not change. This is a God who has made me His own, who has begun a good work in me and who has promised to complete it until Jesus’ return. Who has called me to His gospel, something to be preached through me, no matter what situation and no matter what the outcome might be. And even more, this God gave me an example for me of His humble obedience, an obedience that for Him, took Him to the point of death.

This a God who is present in my thoughts as I meditate on what is pure and holy. A God who knows my heart and speaks to it, even when I deceive myself. Who takes care of me so that I can be content because, most of all, I have Him, and even so, He will still supply all my needs.

And through it all, above it all, my heart fills with a joy that comes from my Savior. This joy, which serves as a reminder that Jesus is preeminent in the universe, and that the least that I can do is to point to Him as I demonstrate my life that has been changed by Him.

This is what I learned and continue to learn. I know that I am right where God wants me to be, dependent on Him. I am excited about the now and the future, and I am happy to do His will, whenever and wherever He will take Teresa and me.

Until next time,

Fran

The Answer to the Why

When crisis happens, “why” questions often begin. These are fair to ask, things like: Why would this virus, any virus, be allowed? And why the earthquakes, the tornadoes, the locusts, or even a set of asteroids whizzing by so, so close to earth, and all this week? And where is God in all of this?

The truth is, no event surprises God. Wars don’t. Famine doesn’t. Pestilence, earthquakes, even weather related events are known, seen, and allowed by God. Yet we have this wisdom from God in verses such as Proverbs 3:25–26 (CSB), “Don’t fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.”

So why the tragedy, the heartbreak, the fear? Why the wickedness?

The simple answer is that the world is fallen. Sickness, sorrow, and death are all conditions that we have experienced ever since the first day that sin had entered the world. Cataclysmic phenomena, wars and rumors of war have always been with us, even if we have closed our eyes to it. The truth is, pain is a part of our fallen world, and we hate it.

But so does God.

This is why God brings hope in a fallen world. That in spite of the sin which introduced all of this, He has provided a way to eternity where “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev 21:4, CSB).

God is here, with us, comforting us, leading us to a better way. Yet we can’t miss the fact that the events of today are a reminder that there is hope for tomorrow. That all who trust Jesus and His free offer of salvation will receive eternal life and the guarantee that all will be well one day, that soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. King Jesus awaits!

So let me encourage you to have hope, because Jesus brings hope. In fact, He is hope. His love for you and for the world will never fade, even when things look bleak. Hold on to His promises that He is with us, even to the end of the age.

For those who don’t know consider yourself a Christian, let me tell you: come to this hope. No matter where you have done, He lovingly forgives you and invites you to a better way. He proved it when He paid the price for you on the cross, becoming a substitute for your life, exchanging His death for your life. Your response is to ask Him to be your Savior, your Lord, your God. That begins your new life in Him, a life that is all about Him, a life of worship to Him.

And that new life is freeing from the circumstances of today or any day. When you live in a closeness to Him, He is your guide. So that even in the midst of a confusing time or a cycle of seemingly endless tragedies, Jesus is your “why,” your new purpose in life. He is here. Always.

Stay holy and healthy, my friends.

Fran

Making the Imperfect, Perfect

Life is messy, at least it is this side of glory. We as sinful humans are really good at making a mess of ourselves. We blow it. We screw it up. We step in it. Well, you know what I mean…

And while life isn’t perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect. Nobody is perfect. We’re full of imperfections. We are broken, and we as broken people in a broken world need that perfect, merciful Savior who can take us just as we are and make us new in Him. It’s all grace, and it’s wonderful, and it’s offered to us freely.

This is why I’m so grateful. I mess things up and Jesus forgives me when I repent. I deserve nothing, but God offers me everything. And it cost Him everything, because it was on the cross that Jesus died, all to make the imperfect, perfect in Him. It’s all Jesus, all the time.

How about you? Have you received that gift Jesus has bought for you? If not, it’s never too late: “for all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).

Fran

The Day Between the Days

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.”
Mark 15:43

It was a toiling day and a grueling night. The Savior had died, confirmed by the Roman centurion. Jesus’ followers, distraught and scattered, had no plan, no focus, no unity, and little hope.

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Yet one unlikely man would be bold enough to lead out. Joseph of Arimathea, a man who Mark called “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin,” courageously asked for the body of Jesus for His burial. Pilate granted his request.

The place where Jesus was buried, a tomb cut in a rock, had never been used before. The clothing, linen freshly bought and carefully wrapped around Jesus, was His attire. Roman soldiers sealed the entrance and then guarded it against intruders. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead and there in the tomb He was buried.

This was the day between the days. It was a day of silence, a day of waiting between the first and the third days. For the disciples, it was likely the longest day of their lives as they waited and wondered about what was to come next in their lives. But God was still in control, His power ready to be miraculously displayed the next day. As we now know, the best was yet to come!

Fire From Heaven

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Luke 9:54 CSB

What would cause these followers of Jesus to want to call down fire from heaven? Was it anger? Hatred? Pride? Yes, to all of the above. Add in the fleshly, prideful racism that existed at the time, and such a request was certainly possible, even likely.

They probably thought that those Samaritans, those “half breed” “semi-Jews,” well, they had no right to refuse to give a place to Jesus in their town. This ultimate insult, a violation of the courtesies of the day, was the worst possible slap in the face. Someone had to learn that this was unthinkable! Someone had to be taught a lesson!

Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg on Unsplash

Yet while the Sons of Thunder (that is, James and John) wanted fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans into submission, Jesus did something even more unthinkable: He turned the other cheek! He was not worried about the squabbles over protocol and custom, the blow to the ego, or the mean spiritedness of clueless people. No way! Jesus was more concerned about the work He was doing for the Father. He came to serve, after all, not to be served. And yes, to give a ransom for many, including those “pesky” Samaritans.

Today, let me encourage you to imitate Jesus in this way. Forget those petty, ego crushing words of poison from others or a perceived lack of respect from a person without a clue. After all, does all that REALLY matter in the big picture??

Serving Jesus. That is all.

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