Now more than ever, as we are quarantined in our homes and unable to congregate together, we must embrace this truth. A wise person once told me that loneliness is a choice. Right now, it may not be wise to physically fellowship with others, but that does not mean that we have to be alone. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can still be there for one another providing conversation, comfort, encouragement, advice, and friendship. I think these are the most essential elements of companionship.
We met online as a staff this week, and we talked about how encouraged we have been to see the people of New City Church finding creative ways to come together in the midst of this public crisis. If it was Satan’s hope that this disease would somehow deprive God of the glory that comes when Christian people worship Jesus, come together in fellowship, disciple one another, or tell the world the excellent news of the gospel, he must be fuming in disappointment! The Kingdom will be built, and New City Church will continue to be a part of it. Praise be to God!
To that end, we are launching this blog – FAMILY MOMENT – as yet another way that the family of New City Church can stay connected. We hope you will join in the conversation!
This is where we will update you on church matters, such as when, where, and how we will meet for the worship gathering.
When I joined my first New City discipleship group five years ago, we began the process of memorizing Romans 8. Scripture memory was a new discipline for me, but over the course of two years I did commit that chapter to my memory. These words that are hidden in my heart have come to the surface over these past few days when I’ve felt tempted to succumb to fear and anxiety. Out of my meditations in Romans, I have been reminded of three disciplines that I need to practice daily when my feelings start run away with me.
First, I need to actively control my thoughts.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
We can choose where our minds are focused each and every day. The world wants us to panic, but those of us who know Jesus can choose a different path. When I’m not feeling God’s peace, I can consciously turn my mind from the things of this world, the flesh, and focus on the truths that God has laid before me. He is with us until the end of the age. I am not alone. I am loved. God is both good and fully in control.
Next, I must remember that as a believer I am to live as a person of hope.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
This verse reminds me that suffering is to be expected in this life. Jesus didn’t promise his people perfect health or lifelong prosperity. But more importantly, He has promised us an eternal share in his glory and a time when suffering will be at an end.
In the Lord of the Rings books, after much suffering, Samwise Gamgee reunites with his friend Gandalf, whom he had thought was dead. Sam asks him, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” I long for a time when all sad things will come untrue. I take comfort in knowing there will be a day when suffering will be no more; not in this life, but someday. This truth gives me hope when the world looks dark.
Finally, I am called to pray.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Every morning, before my daughters wake up, I sit on my couch and meet the Lord in the quiet. I confess that over this past week, I haven’t known what to say to Him. Do I ask that He keep all those I love healthy? Do I ask that He return prosperity to our nation? Do I ask Him to let me personally avoid the suffering that a terrible virus could wreak on my flesh? Yet after several days, I have felt a peace in my prayer time that only the Spirit can bring. I may not know what I need to pray, but if I show up, He will meet me. He promises that the Spirit of God Himself is praying for me. That truth strengthens me to persevere, to seek his will, and continue in prayer.
We don’t know what the days and weeks ahead hold for any of us. But the truth is, we didn’t know that before Covid-19 made its appearance on our shores. What we do know is that God is good. He is faithful, present, and in control. By keeping our minds focused on his truth, living as people of hope, and meeting the Lord in prayer, we can continue doing what we have always been doing: being his church, seeking his Kingdom here on Earth.
“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. This happens when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it’s simply not true. It’s a lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self- preserve, and ultimately self-serve; forgetting about others and forgetting about God in the present.
During our livestream worship gathering last week, we sang Sovereign Over Us and I was convicted that I’m not living as the song declares:
There is strength within the sorrow There is beauty in our tears And You meet us in our mourning With a love that casts out fear You are working in our waiting You’re sanctifying us When beyond our understanding You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper You have not forgotten us You’re with us in the fire and the flood You’re faithful forever – perfect in love You are sovereign over us
Sovereign Over Us | Aaron Keyes. Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring
In my broken, immunosuppressed body (that fights against my nervous system), I can choose to worship God no matter what. In brokenness, I can worship more deeply, fully, and beautifully. Yet, as I stood singing, my heart was unsettled and restless. “You have to be careful!” my mind shouted.
This is very true. The ramifications of getting sick while I have less B-cells to fight it off (taking forever to get over sickness and incurring permanent damage resulting from white blood cells attacking the covering of my nervous system) are very real. Yet, I can choose whether or not to abide safely in Jesus with this knowledge. My outward actions probably need to remain the same – safe – but my heart needs a heavy dose of the truth, stability, and safety found only in the One who is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
The reality is that even if I get sick, and even if my broken white blood cells go rogue and attack my nervous system, and even if my foot and leg (or eye, or hands, or bladder or whatever) stop working permanently, He is still sovereign over even that. Even if I am more permanently damaged, to God be the glory forever because that is what He has planned for me to love Him more deeply and proclaim Him more fully.
Nothing can touch us, as children of God, without God’s permission. Remember Job? Satan had to ask God for permission to take Job’s stuff, make him sick, allow his kids to die, and more. The book of Job is 42 chapters long but the story could have been told in merely 6. There are 36 chapters devoted to allowing us to walk with him through his questions, anguish, and pain. While knowing God is sovereign doesn’t take away the difficulty, or the grief, or the sitting in pain and suffering for a time, it does put those feelings in perspective with the eternal glory that outweighs it all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
I’m thankful for the words of another song, He will Hold Me Fast, that remind me of the truth:
When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.
He Will Hold Me Fast | Ada Habershon & Matt Merker
His grip is stronger than my lack of faith. This is encouraging to me as I am bluntly, yet kindly, reminded of my lack of faith in who God says He is and who He has proven to be, time and time (and time) again.
This body is what God has given me to worship Him in. Broken, and hurting, and not always working right – it is where I am. I can worship Him in my present reality – my strong faith or my lack of faith; my fears and insecurities or my deep and abiding trust. This is the body, the season, and the place in which He has called me to live, move, breath, and worship. So, I will trust that I am held fast by a sovereign God who is always good, loving, faithful, and in charge.
And when I forget, I will repent and believe again … with this body that will one day – on the day of God’s choosing – finally and forever be made perfect.
It is well worth your time this morning to read the encouraging words of Cartee Bales, a teaching elder within our church, about Martin Luther’s response to the Black Death that swept through Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg.