Real and Lasting Hope

Megan DunnDevotional1 Comment

“So be careful how you make sense of your life. What looks like a disaster may in fact be grace. What looks like the end may be the beginning. What looks hopeless may be God’s instrument to give you real and lasting hope. Your Father is committed to taking what seems so bad and turning it into something that is very, very good.”

Paul David Tripp

I don’t know about you, but these words stopped me in my tracks. Found in the last paragraph of the March 31st entry of Tripp’s New Morning Mercies daily devotional, I was struck with how fitting these words are for such a time as this. With a global pandemic occurring, how fitting it is to be reminded of my need for hope.

I normally avoid most popular news sources, but it feels like certain updates are unavoidable during this time of crisis. Each time my Apple News provides a new alert or notification on my watch or phone, I feel my anxiety levels rise. My body tenses and my heartbeat quickens. When will this end? Some sources are saying America is only in the beginning. Will 2020 really be consumed by COVID-19? What will this do to our economy? What will this do to my job security at an organization dependent on donations? Will my husband start the next school year remotely, not even being able to meet his students in person? Can I stay sane using Zoom for all of my “face-to-face” interaction? (My heart protests, “NO!”) These questions continue to bombard my thought life and quickly snowball, creating a sense of hopelessness and despair. The statistics are not good. Large quantities of death seem inevitable. Reality is bleak. How can there be hope?

Yet the Holy Spirit reminds me that all of these thoughts are not grounded. The things of this world are shifting, like sinking sand on the shoreline. Biblical truth has been (and has to be) my anchor. I need Truth to ground me during the days where I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster –one minute I’m fine, praising the Lord for his provision and mercies in my life, and the next moment I’m spiraling in despair about how crazy and sad our world is right now. And if I’m truly honest, this is reflective of my heart every day. Hebrews 6:19 tells us that we have hope “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” I don’t know about you, but my soul needs to be anchored. I need to be grounded in Christ, our solid rock (as we sang this past Sunday). I need to be reminded that I am anchored. Christ is the solid rock on which I stand.

But … how do I hold these truths in my hand in light of all of the bleakness in the world around me (literally around me as I quarantine in my own home)? I think this is where Tripp’s words offer tremendous comfort, “What looks hopeless may be God’s instrument to give you real and lasting hope.” Real and lasting hope sounds amazing, especially during a time where my hope can diminish so quickly. I’m not saying COVID-19 is all about me or the development of my own hope. However, I think Tripp’s words invite us to view our current situation as an opportunity to recognize how the Lord is working in our lives. My faith has been tested through trials in the past and one particularly difficult season actually brought about some of the sweetest time I’ve spent with the Lord. Maybe this season will spur me on to develop greater hope –an eternal hope that gives me hope for the present. I can hope for the end of this virus, but I think even more than that God is teaching me to hope for his eternal Kingdom. My soul can long and hope for the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This is not to dismiss all of the suffering and loss that is occurring as a result of COVID-19. I’ve experienced the cover-all comment of Romans 8:28 at the wrong moment when someone offers these words in an attempt to comfort, but it falls short when they say, “God works all things for our good.” Don’t get me wrong, these words are a Biblical promise to cling to, but sometimes they can feel shallow because of the intensity of suffering or hardship I may be facing. If that’s where you are at, reader, please know that I am not intending to say the same to you. I can’t fix the loss or suffering you’re experiencing. I don’t know what you’re facing. All I’m saying is, I do know that the truth of these words offer a different perspective. If I take a step or two back from my current quarantine situation, I can see that somehow in God’s goodness and sovereignty, He will work this situation for my good. It may not look like what I think is “good” right now, but that’s where I have to trust that God is sovereign and works all things for our good. He’s inviting us to trust Him in that and to hope in Him.

May He produce in us a real and lasting hope.

The Lord’s Table

Brandon DeanChurch News, Vision, Mission, ValuesLeave a Comment

Serving communion to the body of Christ is one of my favorite things to do at New City Church. Early on, we decided to observe The Lord’s Table every week and, despite the repetition, this moment in the Worship Gathering has never grown tedious or stale. It is such an honor to be able to say a blessing over the people as we share in a meal, together remembering the amazing work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Thus, our time apart over these past few weeks has been especially sad for me.

But this coming Sunday is Easter! And we are not going to let this holy day pass without observing the Sacrament as best we can considering the circumstances. I hope you will join us online for the Worship Gathering and also partake of the Lord’s Supper when the moment arrives.

Here is what you need to know (and do) to be prepared:

THE ELEMENTS OF THE SACRAMENT

  • BREAD | The Scripture tells us that Jesus broke bread when he instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Most likely he had a loaf of unleavened bread. Any loaf of bread will do, or you can use crackers (especially if you are avoiding gluten.)
    • Before the Worship Gathering, set aside a small portion of bread for each person who will be partaking. This should be the size of one bite.
  • WINE | Jesus instituted the sacrament using wine. Many people prefer to use grape juice instead, but any drink made from grapes would be sufficient.
    • Before the Worship Gathering, set aside a small portion of drink in any kind of glass for each person who will be participating. Just one swallow’s amount is sufficient.
  • That’s it. The preparation of the elements should be done with the reverence and honor due to the sacrament, but there is no special blessing or ritual necessary.
  • When we take communion the Holy Spirit is present and He communicates Jesus to us, and makes us present with Him in Heaven, but Jesus remains at the right hand of the Father and does not come and “hide” within the bread and the wine. Something very real and very profound occurs spiritually, but the bread and wine do not actually change; though we call them the body and blood of Christ.
  • After the worship gathering, if you have bread or wine left over, you can dispose of them as you normally would. Again, they remain simply bread and wine.

PREPARING YOURSELF SPIRITUALLY

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

1 Corinthians 11:27-28
  • Whenever we know we will be coming to the Lord’s Table, it is very important that we have prepared and examined ourselves spiritually. The sacrament is intended as a means of grace for those who believe, but Scripture warns us that we bring judgement upon ourselves if we partake in an unworthy manner.
  • Sin does not make us unworthy to take the Table. Indeed, only those who know they are sinners saved by grace, are worthy. The Heidelberg Catechism says that “those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins” are welcome at the Lord’s Supper.
  • We examine ourselves by acknowledging and repenting of our sins, and determining to seek reconciliation with others when possible, and relying upon our Savior Jesus for forgiveness.
  • If you find that you are unwilling to repent, it would not be wise to partake of the Sacrament. Instead you should pray and ask God to help you to truly hate your sin and to give you the resolve to recommit yourself to obedience.

WHO SHOULD TAKE COMMUNION?

  • In your household, only those who are believers in Jesus Christ and who have been examined by the elders of the Church and found to have a credible profession of faith should partake of the sacrament.
    • If you have not-yet-believers staying with you, they should not take communion.
    • If you have young children who have not yet been baptized and have not yet made a profession of faith, they should not take communion.
  • Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, and has examined themselves and can partake in a worthy manner, should take communion.
  • Those who are unable to participate are encouraged to spend the moment in contemplative prayer, perhaps asking God to reveal Himself to them in a new way.

HOW IS IT DONE?

  • Pastor Ryan will walk us through this time of communion, explaining each of the elements and then giving you a moment to eat and drink each of them.
  • We recommend placing the elements in a spot where everyone can reach them, and then allowing each person to serve themselves as Ryan leads.

This Sunday, know that I am excitedly anticipating this moment together, and that I yearn to be able to serve you in person very soon.

Is Everything Sad Going To Come Untrue?

Cheri RyanDevotionalLeave a Comment

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

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.”

Romans 8:5-6

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.”

Romans 8:18

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.”

Romans 8:26-27

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.

Even if …

Megan JohnsonDevotional3 Comments

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

Joni Eareckson-Tada

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.