Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For two thousand years, Christians have regularly gathered together as members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Whether they gathered in secret, during times of persecution, or in public, in times of freedom, they gathered. Whether it was during a plague, or a time of prosperity, they gathered. Indeed, it was usually during times of persecution or plague that the church grew the most. 

Not today. Even before COVID-19, church attendance in America had been in decline. Since COVID, an even more precipitous plunge in church engagement has taken place. I’m emphasizing the word “engagement” here because this is not about whether one attends in-person or online. It’s about whether or not they are truly engaged with fellow believers in the church. For one can attend in-person and never fully engage with the worship, the fellowship, nor the ministry of serving others. Sure, actually attending in-person makes engagement easier, but not automatic. It takes more personal effort to engage online, but it is possible. 

However, by and large, online engagement isn’t really happening. Listen to these sobering results from The Barna Group’s latest survey of churches in the US (Barna’s survey refers to online attendance only):

“Amid the pandemic, churches were forced to shut their doors and begin streaming Sunday services online. The switchover was well-received by some, but unpopular with others. Research has revealed that one in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church services.

The poll conducted last week by the research firm found: 

    • 35 percent are still attending their pre-COVID church.
    • 32 percent are no longer attending church.
    • 14 percent have switched to a new church.
    • And 18 percent are watching worship services from different churches each month.

Barna’s research showed a pattern between the different generations of practicing Christians who attend church online.

    • 50 percent of Millennials have stopped attending church.
    • 17 percent of Generation X attend a new church.
    • 40 percent of Baby Boomers stayed at the same church.”

To many, online Church attendance has become like watching any other program. It’s a passive watching for the sake of personal preference and enjoyment. This approach is not engagement with other believers for mutual edification, but self-edification. Some choose their favorite worship music from one online site, then switch to a different site for their favorite preacher, and call it church. But it isn’t. Because while the church is not the steeple, it is the people. It doesn’t have to meet in a building, but it does have to meet together somewhere for the spiritual health and obedience of its members.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that church engagement has fallen severely post-COVID. Online engagement is harder. And as a result, church members are struggling not only spiritually, but emotionally and physically as well.

Active engagement means joining the online service while it is streaming live. It means actually singing the worship songs, taking sermon notes, completing an online Connection Card, making an online offering and engaging others on social media. It also means being part of a Community Group during the week where mutual edification can be practiced even more deeply. It means serving one another according to one’s gifting and the needs of others.

And the needs are great. In fact, they are growing because of the consequences of COVID stay-at-home orders, racial tensions, the caustic political climate, the economic downturn, etc. 

In a recent article by the Religion News Service, Jamie Aten, director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, is quoted saying that congregations must prepare to help people deal with a wide range of mental health challenges as never before. The article goes on to say:

“And the challenges that existed before the coronavirus haven’t just gone away, according to Aten. Those include depression, anxiety, grief and addictions, as well as child abuse and domestic violence. ‘The pandemic is compounding those mental health struggles and amplifying them, plus creating new mental health struggles that people may not have been experiencing prior to the pandemic,’ Aten said. 

The number of Americans reporting depression and anxiety symptoms has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from an emergency weekly Census Bureau survey.

Research has shown that spiritual support can reduce stress, trauma and anxiety amid crises, according to Aten. But that often happens face to face, he said, which is problematic when people are asked to stay at least six feet apart.”

The troubling statistics of declining church engagement combined with the increasing mental health challenges among the individuals and families in our communities, leads to the reasons why church engagement is all the more important now. 

Three reasons church engagement is all the more important now:

1. Because drawing near to God in corporate worship encourages our hearts.

Notice the three “let us” commands in Hebrews 10:23-25 at the beginning of this article. The first is found in verse 22,  which says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Notice the plural invitation, “Let us.” You can’t do “let us” by yourself. Combine this plural imperative with the phrase “draw near” and you have an encouragement to worship the Lord together. It is an invitation to draw near to God and to one another in corporate worship. 

The increase of depression and anxiety among our flock is real. So is the spiritual malaise and lack of passion among even committed believers. Yet, drawing near together in worship encourages our hearts. It helps alleviate depression and anxiety. It fans into flame our passion.

2. Because holding fast to our confession of faith together encourages our minds.

Notice the second “let us” command in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” This is an invitation to hold on tight to our faith by holding on to one another, declaring the tenets of our faith through song and Scripture and mutual confession.

During this time, many are struggling with fear and doubt. Gathering together as the church helps overcome our fears and defeats our doubts. It encourages our minds.

3. Because stirring one another up to loving service encourages our hands.

Finally, notice the third “let us” in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

This is an invitation to “consider” ways to keep one another active in being the hands of Christ in this world. It is not an invitation to consider yourself, but others. It is a command to come together to “stir up one another,” to motivate one another, to get busy loving and serving others. Indeed, the best way to help yourself, is often to take your eyes off yourself and to help someone else.

The Scripture mentions the fact that many fall into a bad “habit” of “neglecting” the fellowship. So in response, a better habit is proposed, namely, to meet together “all the more” with even more intensity and regularity for mutual encouragement and sharpening, especially as we see the “Day” of Christ’s return approaching.

Psychologists suggest that it takes four to six weeks to make a new habit. A lot of believers have fallen into a new habit of isolation and doing life without the church during COVID. They have become inactive in attendance and in service. It will be challenging for them to break this habit of neglecting the fellowship and return to the flock. Their habit of neglect is affecting their minds and souls and especially their hands. For as the needs in our community grow, the number of available loving hands has greatly declined. Yet, thinking of ways to stir one another up, whether online or in-person, will increase the number of loving hands available for service.

How are you doing in this?

Your personal engagement with the church is needed now more than ever. Where is your heart, your mind, and your hands today? Are you out there isolated and alone? Struggling with fear and anxiety? Doubting your faith? Losing your passion? Declining to serve others? If you’re struggling as a believer, just imagine how others are doing. 

Will you let us know how you are doing and how we can help you stay engaged with the church? Will you join us in obeying the “Let Us” commands of Scripture?

Please follow this link to respond to our “How are you doing?” survey.

Our current plans for reopening . . .

“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” –– 1 Peter 2:13-14 (NKJV)

“You can make many plans,  but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” –– Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)

In our current plans for reopening, we are doing our best to interpret and follow the three phases for reopening given by our governor. These plans must be somewhat general and flexible as the details for each phase are revealed.

For instance, we posted in our last blog on reopening that there would be no change in our worship meetings during phase one. However, we had no sooner posted, when the governor’s office gave a clarification that outdoor gatherings of unlimited size would actually be allowed in phase one. Therefore, we began outdoor worship services in our parking lot at both campuses on May 10th. This is an example of how our plans may change at the last minute based on a more detailed understanding from the governor’s office. With this in mind, here are our current plans for reopening for the next few weeks…

Phase 1

This phase began on May 9th and will last a minimum of 14 days. During this phase our plans are as follows:

  1. Outdoor worship services will be offered weather-permitting at both locations at 9:15 AM on Sundays. Bring your own lawn chair and practice social distancing. All worship lyrics, sermon notes, and giving options will be offered via our Church Center app.
  2. Online streaming of the 11AM worship service will continue (We can’t stop now. It’s become too important to our ministry).
  3. Our Community Groups, men’s and women’s ministries, and youth ministries have the option of meeting at outdoor gatherings. Whether they meet online or outdoors will be up to the leaders of each CG and ministry. Again, CDC guidelines for social distancing and hand-washing remain in effect.

We hope to follow this plan through Sunday, May 28th, Memorial Day weekend.

Phase 2

According to the governor, the earliest this phase may begin is May 23rd.  The major feature of phase two that affects our church is this: “Gatherings at houses of worship and entertainment venues will be allowed at reduced capacities.” Assuming it does begin on May 23rd, and assuming that the governor will give us further clarification as to what these “reduced capacities” are, we plan to do as follows:

  1. On Tuesday, May 26th, we will reopen our church offices. Church staff will return to regular in-person office hours.
  2. On May 31st, we plan to begin “reduced capacity” indoor worship services at both campuses.
    • We may ask attenders to register for a particular service and time in order to manage capacities. This will be announced later.
    • The church building will be cleaned before services and doors will be propped open to avoid touching surfaces.
    • There will be no bulletins, no coffee service, and no Lord’s Supper during this phase to limit touching of surfaces.
    • Attenders will be encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer as needed. Anyone choosing to wear masks or other personal protection equipment will be welcomed, but not required.
    • Active seating by ushers will be required of those attending. Attenders will be asked to sit where the ushers tell them to sit in order to manage social distancing (Please make this easy for our ushers).
    • Special preparations are being made by our children’s ministries for indoor gathering. These will be announced by our children’s leaders very soon.
  3. Our Community Groups, men’s and women’s ministries, and youth ministries will now have the option of meeting indoors. Again, this will be up to the leaders of each ministry and group.

Phase 3

The earliest possible date for Phase Three to begin is after June 20th. At this time, greater indoor meeting capacities will be allowed for churches. However again, the governor has not given a number for this capacity. Assuming this phase lasts as long as phase two, then the earliest that phase three will end will be after July 18th. We are not ready to offer any details at this time about how we will respond to this phase. But we will keep you informed as we are able.

We’ve been amazed at your faithfulness during this season. You’ve shown us over and over that what we’ve been saying for 28 years is true: “The church is not the steeple. It’s the people!”

We’re believing the best days are ahead for the Church!

How is our church preparing for reopening?

We want you to know that we are already preparing for reopening our church worship services according to the phases that our government leaders have announced. I still remember the last minute work we had to do on a Saturday evening in March after our governor announced his executive order that afternoon, limiting the size of mass gatherings. We had to contact our members, cancel our in-person services, and then stitch together a live streaming worship service the very next morning. This was something we had never done before. And we don’t want to do that kind of last minute scrambling again if we can help it. So as the phases for reopening are announced, we want to have already planned for our response.

With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago, we appointed a reopening team. Their job is to stay abreast of the governor’s reopening phases and to make appropriate plans for each phase. We have also asked this team to stay in touch with other local church leaders, so that we can learn from each other. On this reopening team we have representatives from our worship team, guest services team, children’s ministry team and housekeeping team. This reopening team will be looking at how each phase impacts each area of our in person worship services and our other gatherings.

We can’t give you a lot of detail today as to how we’re planning, but there is one area that we can be certain about. When we do reopen, our online live campus will remain. In the midst of this chaos caused by COVID 19, we have realized a great opportunity to reach more people with the gospel by offering a live worship feed. This will essentially be our third campus when we reopen. And it will need new ministry teams, like online shepherds and online tech, to support it.

As I said, we can’t give a lot of detail yet, but we can remind you of what the three phases to reopen are, and what the implications for each of these phases are for our church.

Phase One

Our governor has announced that the earliest that Phase One could begin is May 9th. This phase really doesn’t change anything about our church gatherings, as the limit of no more than 10 people remains. Each phase will last a minimum of 14 days.

Phase Two

The earliest that Phase Two can begin is after May 23rd. When this phase is announced, the stay-at-home order will be lifted and mass gatherings will be allowed at reduced capacity. The governor has not given a number for that capacity as of yet. Assuming the phases work in reverse of the former phases for closure, we are guessing that the capacity will be limited to 50. Again, this won’t change anything for our Sunday worship services. But our Community Groups, Men’s and Women’s ministries and Youth ministry may decide to begin meeting in person again. Of course, social distancing and hand-washing practices will remain in place, as will advising those over 60 years of age and those with health problems to continue staying at home.

Phase Three

The earliest possible date for Phase Three to begin is after June 20th. At this time, greater capacities will be allowed for public venues, restaurants and churches. However again, the governor has not given a number for this capacity. If he follows the former closing phases, then the capacity will be limited to 100 people in a gathering. Assuming this phase lasts as long as phase two, then the earliest that phase three will end will be after July 18th. We are not ready to offer any details at this time about how we will respond to this phase. But we will keep you informed as we are able.

I hope this information concerning our preparations is helpful to you. But please don’t hold us to details and dates. We are only able to prepare our response to what our government leaders order, and that can change at any time. So, please keep us, and all of our local, state, and national leaders, in your prayers during this very challenging time.

We love you and miss being with you in person. But as the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And our hearts are bursting with anticipation of worshiping together with all of you very soon!

Overwhelmed by Depression

“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.” –– Psalm 143:6-8 (NLT)

This coming Sunday, we are continuing our sermon series entitled, “You Can’t Handle This.” Ironically, we planned this series at the end of 2019 when we were planning our sermon calendar for 2020. We didn’t know how timely it would be. But God surely did. 

The truth is that many of us are feeling that life has become nearly impossible to handle these days. We often feel that we can’t handle one more thing. But perhaps this feeling has brought us to the realization that we were never really in control anyway. We were actually under the illusion of being in control. We just thought we were handling life, when in fact, it was handling us. With our illusion of control stripped away, many of us are feeling completely overwhelmed. We are crying out just as the psalmist did in Psalm 55:2, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.”

Last Sunday, we talked about how many of us are overwhelmed by fear and how the Lord can help us overcome our fear. This week, we want to talk about what psychiatrist and author, Dr. Frank Minirth, calls America’s number one health problem. Is it COVID 19? No. Dr. Minirth says that America’s number one health problem, affecting 15% of Americans every year, is depression. 

In his book, Happiness Is a Choice: New Ways to Enhance Joy and Meaning in Your Life, Dr. Minirth writes, “As psychiatrists we see more people suffering from depression than from all other emotional problems put together. A majority of Americans suffer from a serious, clinical depression at some time during their lives. At the present time, one American in twenty is medically diagnosed as suffering from severe clinical depression. Of course, many, many more are depressed but never receive help.”

Of course, I think most of us would say that COVID 19 is America’s number one health problem right now. Yet the anxiety and fear caused by this pandemic is increasing the symptoms of depression today. 

Depression is a vague term. Laymen use it to describe a wide spectrum of behavior—anything from a mild swing of sadness to a deep and disabling psychosis. Some use colors to describe it and its degree, like gray, blue or black. Some use directions, like up or down. Some compare it to drowning or even dying. 

Circumstances are often the cause. What I like to call “D-Day events” often lead to “D-Day emotions.” Events like death, divorce, delivery, displacement, and disease often lead to emotions like: despair, disillusionment, discouragement, disappointment, and ultimately any one of these events or emotions can lead to depression.

Some have called depression the common cold of emotions. And it may be like that for some of us. It starts with a few sniffles, but eventually goes away after 3-4 days. But for others, depression is more like arthritis, it hurts to move, meds may help a little, but the dull pain never really goes away. 

Depression causes symptoms that affect how we feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, and working. Signs and symptoms of depression include persistent sadness and anxiety; feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, and guilt. Those who are depressed may lose interest in everyday activities due to a decrease in energy or an increase in fatigue. Thoughts of death or suicide are often signs of depression. 

The Bible is filled with those who struggled at times with the symptoms of depression.  Job, Moses, Naomi, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter, Paul and many more showed signs of depression as they faced various trials. Even Jesus was often afflicted with sadness and grief. As the prophet Isaiah described Him, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

And may I confess, I have often struggled with depression.  I was born with a happy, optimistic, cup is half full, kind of personality. And at heart, that is still my general state. But when I was eight years old, a change in my family’s circumstances, changed me. My father died of cancer. He was only thirty-nine years old. All of a sudden, I became the oldest of four children with a widowed mother. From that day forward, my mother and siblings struggled off and on with various degrees of depression. 

Yet difficult circumstances aren’t depression’s only cause. Research suggests it’s caused by a “combination of genetic, biological, environmental, psychological, and spiritual factors” (Minirth, Happiness Is A Choice).

Yet, no matter its cause or its degree, those who suffer from depression, need mercy not judgment. And perhaps more than anything, they need hope!

How many of you are struggling with depression today? How many of you have had more trouble with depression because of the pandemic? Tell someone else about it. Even better, tell Jesus about it, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

You don’t have to try and handle depression alone. Admit that you can’t handle this and give it to the Lord Jesus.


If you’re not sure where you stand on this issue of depression, please join our worship service this coming Sunday, April 26th, when we will offer a link to a self-rating depression scale and when we will offer real hope to those who often struggle with depression.

Last Words from the Cross

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” – Mark 15:37 (ESV)

“It was most fitting that every word of our Lord upon the cross should be gathered up and preserved. As not a bone of him shall be broken, so not a word shall be lost. The Holy Spirit took special care that each of the sacred utterances should be fittingly recorded. There were, as you know, seven of those last words, and seven is the number of perfection and fulness; the number which blends the three of the infinite God with the four of complete creation. Our Lord in his death-cries, as in all else, was perfection itself. There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.” – C. H. Spurgeon

On this Good Friday let us meditate upon the seven last words of Jesus from the cross:

1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

3. “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26).

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34).

5. “I thirst” (John 19:28).

6. “It is finished” (John 19:30).

7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

These seven last words are like seven diamonds on a necklace, each perfect in color, clarity and cut, but varying in caret. They hang in three groups, three sayings each in the first and last group and one saying of greatest weight hanging prominently in the middle. 

In the first group of three, Jesus expressed his concern for those surrounding the cross. To the Jewish leaders who had condemned Him and the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him, He said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” To the thief hanging on the cross next to Him, He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And to His mother He said, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple John, “Behold, your mother!”

In the last group of three, He expressed His determination to accomplish His purpose, saying:  “I thirst,” and “It is finished,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

In the middle, He cried out in despair as He experienced the weight of sin fall on Him and separation from His Father, so that He called on Him as God, saying: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Notice that Jesus’ last statement from the cross before He died was similar to His first. Like bookends to His seven last words, these two are prayers and in both, He addressed them to His Father, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” 

This last saying is like a child’s prayer, a cry for reunion. The Son is ready to go home to His Father. “Father, I’m ready to come home!” He cried. “Come and get Me, Abba!”

In 2017, we preached a seven week sermon series entitled, “SEVEN WORDS: A Study of Christ’s Seven Last Words.” If you’d like to watch those seven sermons, you can click on the link above. In preparation for our series, we worked to verify the last sayings of Christ, discover which gospels reported them, and place them in the best chronological order. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart that we made: “A STUDY OF THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS.” You really should take a look at this chart because it will help orient you to the way the four gospels together give us a fuller picture of Christ’s last words from the cross.

Earlier today, we offered a Good Friday devotion on the seven last words. If you’d like to watch it, follow this link: “Passion Week Devotions with Pastor Gary.”

The great British expositor, C. H. Spurgeon has said on this subject, “There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.”

Yet, we would invite you to join us this day, as we endeavor to try and fathom them, diving deep into these seven last words of Jesus to meditate on their meaning.

Passion Week Devotions

Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19

Monday – Clearing the Temple

Matthew 21:10-19, Mark 11:12-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-22

Tuesday – Teaching in the Temple

Matthew 21:23-24:51, Mark 11:27-13:37, and Luke 20:1-21:36

Wednesday – Anointed in Bethany

Matthew 26:1-16, Mark 14:1-11, and Luke 22:1-6

Thursday – Last Supper & Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:17-46, Mark 14:12-42, Luke 22:7-46, and John 13:1-18:1

Good Friday – Trial & Crucifixion

Matthew 27:1-56, Mark 15:1-41, Luke 22:66-23:50, and John 18:28-19:37

Saturday – In the Tomb

Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42

Easter Sunday – Resurrection Day!

Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-31

Daily Devotions for Passion Week 2020

Visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

“And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15 ESV).

This coming Sunday begins what many Christians call Holy Week or Passion Week. It is called “Passion” week because of its connection to the Greek word πάσχω (pas’-kho), which means to feel heavy emotion or passion, especially due to suffering. This is the word that Jesus used to describe His coming crucifixion.

A wonderful way to remember Christ’s passion is to visit the Holy Land. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel several times. In the attached photo, I’m visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which traditionally contains the empty tomb. Here, I’m touching the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps. It commemorates the place where the body of Jesus was laid, anointed, and prepared for burial.

But you don’t have to go to Israel to remember Christ’s suffering and resurrection. In fact, all the church buildings, slabs and memorials added through the ages by well-meaning church folk can be a distraction. I’ve found that reading the Scriptures that describe the Lord’s final week leading up to the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection to be just as moving and beneficial to my spiritual life. With this in mind, I offer this daily reading plan for Passion Week for your edification.

  • Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry. Read Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.
  • Monday – Clearing the Temple. Read Matthew 21:10-19; Mark 11:12-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-22.
  • Tuesday – Teaching in the Temple. Read Matthew 21:23-24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37, and Luke 20:1-21:36.
  • Wednesday – Resting In Bethany. Read Matthew 26:1-16 and Mark 14:1-11.
  • Thursday – Last Supper & Gethsemane. Read Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23, and John 13:1-30.
  • Good Friday – Trial & Crucifixion. Matthew 27:1-56; Mark 15:1-41, Luke 22:66-23:50, and John 18:28-19:37.
  • Saturday – In the Tomb. Read Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42.
  • Easter Sunday – The Resurrection. Read Matthew 28:1-13; Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-31.

In addition, I plan to offer a daily devotion on the above readings each morning at 9:00 AM on Facebook Live on our Eastgate and Wilson Community Church Facebook page and on our Eastgate and Wilson Community Church YouTube channel

There are two weeks in the Bible that the Lord inspired its writers to make daily diary entries. They are the seven days of creation and Passion Week. In the first week, He made the world, and in the second, He brought its redemption. God must have thought these two weeks important enough to keep a journal…

… And one worth our reading and meditation.

Conference call with our President and Vice President today

Today at 4:00 PM, I joined with 500 pastors across America on a one hour conference call that was set up by Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council with Vice President, Mike Pence. I’m thankful to Pastor Joe Shakour for sharing the information to join the call.

I thought that many of you might appreciate reading my notes from the call:

Tony Perkins welcomed everyone and called on Chris Hodges, senior pastor at Church of the Highlands, to open in prayer. After a few opening comments, Tony introduced Vice President Pence.

VP Pence welcomed all the pastors, thanking all 500 of us for our efforts as a faith community. Then he surprised everyone by introducing President Trump. He said that when the president heard about the call, he volunteered to briefly join it.

President Trump greeted us and said he just wanted to say hello. He said that he knew that we were going through tough economic times, but insisted that, “We’re going to get over this!”

Tony Perkins prayed for the President. Afterwards, the president thanked him for praying for stamina for him, saying, “Thanks for praying for our stamina. We really need it.”

VP Pence talked to us at length. One of the topics he covered was the importance of churches doing what they can to encourage our health care workers. One of the ideas he offered was setting up childcare at the church for health care workers. He said that his main purpose was to say, “Thank you pastors for all you do.” And that we should tell everyone, “Do not be afraid. Be vigilant.”

He encouraged us to understand that the Coronavirus is three times more contagious than the flu. He asked that we share the president’s information on the virus at:

VP Pence further asked pastors to take special care of our seniors and those at risk. He thanked us for keeping our country in our prayers. He repeated the plan: “15 days to stop the spread.” He quoted the pastor from his church saying that he thought it was a good word, “The gospel was made for times like these.”

Before he left the call, he took questions. Of interest was a comment he made that the president is asking Congress to include helping non-profits in the proposed economic recovery package. VP Pence said he knew that churches would be impacted financially by not being able to meet in person. He promised to encourage people to not forget to give to their churches when he speaks.

Carter Conlon, pastor at Times Square Church prayed for Vice President Pence.

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, also spoke. He gave a very inspiring message on the memory power of the brain and the beauty of the creation. He said, “God is merciful. Imagine what would’ve happened if our economy had not been strong.” He asked for us to pray for God’s intervention and power. He said, “God still has His hand on this nation.”

Paula White prayed for Dr. Carson.

Tony Perkins introduced Pastor Chris Hodges again to talk about ideas for being the church during this time.

Pastor Chris said that his church had been working with their local health clinic to use their parking lot and volunteers to do drive thru Coronavirus testing. He said they played worship music on the radio as the cars waited in line. They helped test 2000 people in 4 days. He said that they had volunteers praying for people as they waited in their cars. He offered to  pass along details to those of us who ask. He encouraged us to pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers with our fellow pastors.

Pastor Carter Conlon talked about the Drive In church idea. He mentioned that we could broadcast audio on Facebook, or set up a sound system in the parking lot.  He encouraged live-streaming services, Facebook Live, posting daily encouragement videos. He said to ask our young people to give ideas for getting the message out. He said, “Actually we’re growing. We need to cast our inter-nets on the right side of the boat.”

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, with the Southern Baptist Convention and LifeWay offered resources, such as: Webinars on streaming sermons. Online giving and others.

Dr. Floyd closed in the call in prayer.

All in all, I appreciated that our national leaders took the time to talk specifically to the concerns of America’s pastors.

Our Prayer On this Day

The Coronavirus Pandemic has led our president to declare a National Emergency and he has designated today, Sunday, March 15, 2020, a National Day of Prayer. In view of this, we offer this prayer . . .

Dear Heavenly Father,

Your mercy is wonderful and Your grace is amazing! According to Your mercy, we ask You to stop this pandemic and save lives –– not only in our communities but around the world, particularly in places that are unequipped medically to deal with the virus.

We pray for our leaders. Your Word says that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). With this in mind, we pray for our president and other national leaders. We pray for our governor and state leaders. We pray for our local leaders. Father, give them the wisdom to direct us in the best courses of action for prevention and care.

We pray for our medical workers. For doctors, nurses, lab workers, and other first responders, we pray for Your strength and protection. Lord, we give thanks for them, for they put themselves at risk to help heal and comfort our sick. Father, be with them and their families.

We pray for our elderly and those who are most susceptible to disease. Father, protect them and heal them. Give us strength as a church to look out for them and offer them help in Your name.

We pray for our children. With school cancelled, many may be at home alone and without adequate food. Lord, care for them. Many families will have trouble caring for their children and going to work. Give us wisdom on ways to help them.

We pray for our churches, pastors, and missionaries. Help us to be faithful in supporting our spiritual leaders, so they are able to lead with joy. Protect our missionaries and their families around the globe, as they seek to advance Your Good News to the whole world.

We pray for ourselves, Lord, that we will walk by faith and not by fear. For as Your Word says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). May we walk in Your love and power and wisdom as we face these difficult days. 

In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

I’m Bound for That City

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ESV).

My morning reading from the One Year Bible turned into a day long meditation on God’s heavenly city, The New Jerusalem. We’re only two days from finishing our annual practice of reading through the Bible in a year. The OYB offers a daily reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. The New Testament reading today was from Revelation 21, which describes John’s vision of God’s holy city, the home of the Bride of Christ, which is the Church. I’ve read this passage many times before. I’ve even written a devotion on it before. But today was different. I was really drawn to John’s vision of this great heavenly city where all the saints of God will one day dwell.

Of course, as usual, my meditation led to a remembrance of an old hymn. In this case it was “I’m Bound for that City” written and composed in 1954 by Albert E. Brumley and the Brumley brothers: Bill, Tom, Bob and Jack. I heard the song many times sung by the Willow Branch Quartet, of which my mother Wilda Dillon Combs was the lead singer. I don’t have a recording of the quartet doing it, but I’m happy to have a recording of my mother singing it solo on her 1975 album, “Wilda & Mom.” I’ve included the recording on this blog below, along with a montage of photos of my mother, her family, her childhood home and church. I’ve also included the lyrics below. May it bless your soul as it has mine today!

I’m Bound for That City
There’s a city of light
Where cometh no night
And the sun never sets in the sky
In the Bible we’re told
That the streets are pure gold
And a cool gentle river runs by
I’m bound for that city
God’s holy white city
Oh yes I am
I’ll never turn back to this world anymore
No matter how rough may be the way
No matter how oft I stop to pray
I’m bound for that city
On that ever green shore
Little children will play
And our hearts will be gay
As we stroll through the city of gold
No more dying up there
No more sorrows to bear
For nobody will be feeble or old
I’m bound for that city
God’s holy white city
Oh yes I am
I’ll never turn back to this world anymore
No matter how rough may be the way
No matter how oft I stop to pray
I’m bound for that city
On that ever green shore