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4 Ways to Pray for Your Church during Self-Isolation

March 23, 2020
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Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

While the coronavirus continues its spread in the U.S. and we all continue to adjust to the new realities and rhythms of social distancing and self-isolation, as I mentioned in last week’s post, one thing the church can do in any situation is pray. Today I want to elaborate on that and share four ways you can pray for your church during this season of self-isolation.

Pray for the situation. The psalms are filled with the prayers of God’s people crying out for help and deliverance from hard situations. “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck” (Ps. 69:1). “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord” (Ps. 77:2). As we face a national and global crisis, it is fitting that God’s people would lift their voices to seek God’s help, protection, and deliverance from this dreadful disease.

Pray for spiritual fruit. Though it’s good to pray for the situation, we also recognize that God works through hard circumstances to bring spiritual growth and maturity to his people. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jms. 1:2-4). So don’t just pray that all this goes away; pray also that God accomplishes in and through his people all he intends through this hardship.

Pray for the saints. While it’s good to pray generally for these things, it’s even better to pray them for specific people in your church. “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Pray these things for your family and for your small group—those with whom you regularly share life. Pray them for the elderly and vulnerable, the lonely and isolated, who need God’s encouragement in a special way. Pray them for your leaders, who are making hard decisions about how to shepherd the flock in unpredictable circumstances. Pray them for your missionaries, whose life and work has been similarly turned upside-down, with even more unpredictable circumstances.

Pray for salvation. Finally, pray that God would use this season of disruption, sickness, and fear to awaken the hearts of the lost, that they might sense their need of Jesus and turn to him in repentance and faith. Pray that God, through the witness of his church, would “open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Christ]” (Acts 26:18). Pray specifically for those in your life who don’t know Christ, even those for whom you had all but given up hope, that God would do a great work of salvation in this time. And be ready to celebrate when he answers. Pray with expectation—that God will do it.

Being the Church in a Day of Social Distancing

March 16, 2020

flatten the curve 2We all know that the church is not the building—it’s the people. Specifically, the people of God who are united in Christ. Yet gathering together regularly is an essential part of being the local church. The word translated church in the New Testament means “assembly, gathering, congregation.” So in a day of social distancing, when loving our neighbors means staying home, what does it look like to be the church?

Because the details of our government’s guidance concerning crowd sizes and social activities are still unfolding, it’s unclear what the precise implications of all this will be. If you’re part of Stonebridge Church, we’ll update you as soon as things become clearer.

But here are a few ways we can be intentional about being the church for one another, even if gathering as a church in person is not advisable in the weeks ahead.

Pray. One thing we can always do in any situation is pray. And the Lord hears our prayers. Pray for protection. Pray for peace amid the panic. Pray for healing for those infected. Pray for wisdom for leaders making hard decisions. Pray for patience for everyone. Pray for the church to step up in gospel witness. Pray specifically for people in your church family that you regularly interact with. And pray specifically for those who are hurting in various ways. Then write them a note to let them know you prayed for them, and encourage their hearts.

Talk. While visiting one another in person may be limited, we can still connect with each other. Stay in touch with your small group. Check in with elderly friends, family, and neighbors. Encourage those who are having a hard time. God’s common grace has provided a remarkable variety of resources for communicating with people remotely: text, chat, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. And then there’s that old fashioned medium: make a phone call. And as you talk, remember to speak the truth of the gospel to one another. Encourage each other with Scripture. Pray for each other on the phone. We all need help keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Help. Watch out for those in need, both in your church family and in your community. With schools closed, some families are scrambling to figure out what do about their children while they still have to go to work. Consider pitching in to watch them if you’re able. Offer to go to the grocery store or run errands for church members or neighbors who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, so they don’t have to go out and be exposed. Take proper precautions, but be willing to step up and help out. As one church put it recently, “Yes, wash your hands. And then wash someone’s feet.”

Share. Watch for opportunities to give of yourselves for one another. Consider how you can come alongside church members, family members, or neighbors whose jobs are put on hold during this season. Share resources with those who need them but keep finding empty shelves at the store. Keep giving to your local church, whether online or mailing in your offering, not just so they can stay up on expenses, but so your congregation can be mobilized for ministry during this unique time.

Learn. While binging Netflix is tempting, use the extra time at home to nurture your spiritual growth as well. Do it remotely but together. Select a book that you and your small group or a few friends at church can read together and discuss. Consider taking a class together (hint: right now you can take an online course from the Simeon Trust for only $9!). There are so many great resources available. But make sure you share what you’re learning with others in your church family.

Worship remotely. Don’t let yourself get out of the habit of setting aside time to “gather” with God’s people every Sunday. While it’s going to be tempting to treat the next few weeks like a snow day or a vacation, logging on to your local church’s livestream on Sunday morning (or whatever your local church is doing) is important not only for nourishing your soul during this difficult season, but nurturing a healthy commitment to gathering weekly with your church family. It may feel weird for a little while, but what a glorious reunion it will be when we’re finally able to come back together in person!

Goodbye

May 17, 2019

NOTE: This guest post was written by my wife, Carissa, as we prepare to leave Boston and move to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We lost our daughter, Ruby Kate, at 18 weeks of pregnancy in March, 2016. She is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Natick, MA.

*************

cemetery cropped

May 9, 2019

Today is beautiful. As I sit here at Ruby’s grave, the birds are singing, the sun is bright and warm, the slight breeze brushes my cheek, the trees have exploded with flowers. Yet in the beauty of life that is bursting all around me I am surrounded by death. And herein lies an ironic truth about the world in which we live. Surrounded by a beautiful glimpse of life when it was first born in perfection, yet clouded by the shadow of death and sin. And so as I sit in the reality of this paradox–my baby girl’s broken body in the ground at my feet as the colors and sounds of life that spring brings explode around me–I realize that, in this meantime we live in, goodbyes are part of the brokenness we must bear. And I am being asked to say goodbye again.

ruby's tree 3Not to Ruby herself, my sweet baby girl, who is being securely held in the arms of Jesus. That goodbye has already been said. But to the places around me that sing her name. The places where these mommy hands of mine can still be a mommy of sorts–caring for them, sitting at them, touching them. The Ruby tree in our yard that we planted for her and that erupts with ruby-red flowers each spring. This stone inscribed with her name and verses of hope–Ruby’s special place–where we come to remember, long for Jesus, and leave little gifts of beauty behind. This stone that I leave a Mommy kiss on every time I come (and my kids know that Mommy kisses don’t come off-ever!:)). And so I must say goodbye to all of the tangible things–what I can see, touch, and smell–that give me a small glimpse of my beautiful baby girl, my Ruby Kate.

And as I weep again and long for Jesus to come and make all things right, because of Him I can say goodbye with hope. Knowing that my faith in Jesus and the promises that He gives are not always seen, not always felt, not always heard, but always sure. I can leave these places with much weeping, but with great hope that all of this death will finally be brought to life. True, eternal, perfect life. A life that one day I will see, touch, and hear. And part of that life will be the sweet face of my baby girl (and the sweet faces of our other two babies we never held) whose face I will see and touch and whose sweet voice I will hear.

It’s really the same for all of our goodbyes this side of heaven. We weep because we’ve shared life and been loved. But we weep with hope that no “gospel goodbye” is forever, because we have the assurance of the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Through Him we can trust that any earthly goodbye is temporal and we will once again see one another–if not this side of New Creation, then when we are perfectly rejoicing in the presence of our Savior who defeated the reality of eternal goodbyes for us, and whose omnipresence gives us assurance that though we may say goodbye for a time, Jesus never will. He is with all of us, always. In that hope I am eternally thankful, through the tears. And so I will let Him bear my sorrow, leaning into Him with steadfast hope and say goodbye to one of the sweetest parts of my heart.

Mommy loves you, baby girl!

ruby's stone

Family Update: Candidating at Stonebridge Church in Cedar Rapids

February 1, 2019

IMG_0324 2I don’t typically use this blog for family updates (let’s be honest . . . I don’t typically use this blog lately). But it seems as good a venue as any to let folks know about some recent developments in our life and ministry.

In two weeks, I will be candidating for the Lead Pastor position at Stonebridge Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Pastor Randy Scheil, who has served in that role for 27 years, will be retiring this year. And if God wills, it will be my privilege to succeed him in joining the elders and pastoral staff in leading Stonebridge in their passion to help each person they meet take their next step with Jesus.

For some of you this will come as quite a surprise. When we came to New England nearly eight years ago, we had no intention of ever moving on. And it has been an unspeakable privilege to share life with our Westgate Church family and partner with them in gospel ministry. We truly cherish the years God has given us here, and especially the people he has placed in our lives.

Yet being far from our family in Nebraska has been difficult. And with some recent health concerns among our family back home, and the increasing difficulty of making the trip back, the Lord brought Carissa and me to a place last summer where we felt we needed to be open to the possibility of relocating to the Midwest.

Little did we know that within a few weeks we would be contacted by Stonebridge Church. I had met Randy and several others from Stonebridge a few years earlier through the Charles Simeon Trust Workshops on Biblical Exposition. With the help of their search consultant, Greg Allen, we began getting to know each other more closely last fall. Through our conversations with the Stonebridge search team and leadership, and through the counsel and prayers of friends, mentors, and fellow elders at Westgate, the Lord recently brought Carissa and me to a sense of unity and confidence in his call to Stonebridge. We are thankful that our Westgate family, despite their sadness, has supported us in this call, and we are prayerfully eager for the Lord to confirm it through the candidation process at Stonebridge in two weeks.

Transitions like this are by nature bittersweet. There is a real excitement at the prospect of serving God in this new opportunity. Stonebridge is a healthy church, with godly leaders, humble servants, a heart for their community, and a gospel-driven approach to ministry. We have really enjoyed getting to know the leadership, and are excited for the days and years ahead. But it’s not without the sadness that comes from saying goodbye to our Westgate family, to dear friends, to our Veritas school community, and to life in New England. New England has been our home. We have seen God move here. We have been deeply loved here. One of our children is buried here. There have been many tears so far, and there will no doubt be more to come.

Several years ago, when we were coming to the end of our time at College Church in Wheaton and waiting on the Lord to see what was next, I sat down with one of our pastors, Wendell Hawley. I remember lamenting to him at the time how awkward it felt to think of serving a new church, and how I didn’t know how I’d be able to love them the way I loved College Church, or Oak Lake Church (where we had previously served in Lincoln, Nebraska). Wendell’s response went something like this: It’s kind of like having another child. When you have your first child, your heart is so full with love for them, that it’s virtually impossible to imagine having any more room for loving a second child. And then one day you meet that second child, and the love is just there. Not because you love your first child less, but because God has expanded your heart.

That was certainly our experience when we came to Westgate; we loved you as soon as we met you. And that love has only grown over the last seven-plus years. And so far, that’s been our experience with Stonebridge too in the time we’ve spent with your leaders—we loved you as soon as we met you. And we trust, by God’s will, it will be our experience as we meet the rest of you in the weeks ahead.

So we invite you to pray with us—for our family, for Westgate, and for Stonebridge, as we seek to follow God’s call. May his gospel continue to bear fruit and grow, for the glory of his name and the good of his people.

Brandon & Carissa

Do you even blog, bro?

November 26, 2018

As I’m drafting advent readings for the upcoming season, it dawns on me that I haven’t updated this blog since . . . well, last advent.

Not that many have really noticed, but here are a few reasons why:

The Priority of ‘IRL’ Ministry. This blog was always intended to serve and supplement my shepherding and teaching ministry in real life (‘IRL’). That is, my primary audience is my congregation at Westgate, and folks in the surrounding area (though it’s been nice to see the Lord use it beyond that scope). In that regard, I’ve noticed two things over the past couple of years: (1) my pastoral and leadership responsibilities at Westgate have left less time and energy for blogging, and (2) this blog is not a particularly effective a platform for our congregation. Hence, less time blogging.

A Reduction of Time Online. Added to that, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of time I’m online over the last year or so. I don’t spend near as much time reading blogs as I used to. Not because there isn’t great content; for whatever reason I’ve spent more time with podcasts. Nothing particularly strategic or intentional to this, but less time reading blogs has also translated into less time blogging.

An Assistant who Oversees Communication at Church. I’ve also been blessed this year by adding an assistant who now oversees our communication at church, including our online presence (i.e., website, social media). In the past, I did a lot of the social media communication, which I no longer have to spend a lot of time thinking about or doing. And less time thinking about using social media to communicate, has meant less time generating content to be communicated. Hence, less blogging.

I still expect to post here from time to time in the future (i.e., see the upcoming advent readings). And I plan to keep the resources here available for the foreseeable future. But for anyone, these are the main reasons for less traffic.

A Reading for Christmas Eve

December 23, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the three purple candles and the pink candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. On Christmas Eve we celebrate God’s faithfulness to redeem his creation and save his people by sending his eternal Son, Jesus, into the world.

Scripture

John 1 says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1-5, 14)

And Jesus says in John 8:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

Light the white candle in the center.         

We light the final candle of Advent to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, our Savior and King, the true light of the world who gives light and life to all who believe in him.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Faithful Father,

Thank you that you have not left this world in darkness, but have sent your Son to show us your glory and give us new life. Anchor our hearts in Christ this Christmas, as we follow him and wait for his glorious return, that the earth may be filled with the knowledge of your glory as the waters cover the sea.

Amen.

A Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 22, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the first two purple candles, and the pink candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The fourth candle reminds us that sometimes we have to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Scripture

Psalm 13 says:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.    (Psalm 13:1-3)

And 2 Peter 3 reminds us:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.      (2 Pet. 3:8-9)

Light the last purple candle.           

We light the fourth candle of Advent as we wait with faith for the Lord to answer all his promises in Christ.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Sovereign Lord,

We confess to you that it is hard to wait. Yet we know in Christ that all your promises are sure. As your ancient people waited centuries for the arrival of their King, give us patience and faith this Advent season, to wait for the light of Christ to dawn again and fulfill your promise to make all things new.

Amen.

A Reading for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the first two purple candles.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The third candle reminds us of the promises of God through the Prophets to send light into our dark world.

Scripture

The Prophet Isaiah said:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. . . .
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Light the pink candle.

We light the third candle of Advent to remember God’s promise to send his Messiah, our Savior and King.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Merciful Father,

Long ago you said of your Son: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”*

Thank you for not leaving us in the darkness. Thank you for the promise of your Messiah, our Savior and King, who brings light and joy to all who trust in him. Prepare our hearts to receive him this Advent season.
Amen.

*Isaiah 49:6

A Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2017

advent-1348639

Relight the first purple candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The second candle reminds us of our need for God’s light due to the darkness of sin.

Scripture

Isaiah 59 says:

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. . . .
Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.
Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
(Isa. 59:1-3, 7-9)

Light the second purple candle.     

We light the second candle of Advent to lament the darkness of this fallen world, as we wait for the light of Christ to dawn.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”* Heavenly Father, we lament the darkness that fills this world—the grip that sin has on so many, the pain it causes, and the offense it brings to your holy name. Forgive us our sins, and let the light of your gospel shine into the darkness this Advent season. Amen.

*John 3:19

A Reading for the First Sunday of Advent

November 30, 2017

advent-1348639

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The first candle reminds us of God’s purpose in creation.

Scripture

Genesis 1:1-4 says:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”

1 John 1:5 says:

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

And Revelation 4:11 declares:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Light the first purple candle.           

We light the first candle of Advent to remember that God is light, and he made this world to reflect the light of his glory.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Heavenly Father,

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”* You made this world that you might fill it with the light of your glory. You promised to accomplish your plan and redeem this world by sending the light of your Son. Prepare our hearts to receive him this advent season. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”**

Amen.

    *Ps. 24:1; **2 Cor. 4:6