Hello F.B.C. Family!
2020 is coming to an end, and when we look back on what it has held, I think many would echo the sentiment that we are not sad to see it go. There were plenty of challenges, disruptions, profound losses, and even great difficulties that we had to navigate and overcome. It tested our patience, produced endurance, and my prayer is that as we look back with 2020 hindsight (see what I did there?) we can also look and see how God was and indeed is faithful! I’d like to spend some time sharing a bit about how we saw God’s faithfulness throughout this year, specifically in our Student and Children’s Ministries!
In the midst of cancelled/postponed events, one of the greatest opportunities was creatively holding new activities! We certainly missed our Easter Egg Hunt, but we had fun on social media having a “Digital Easter Egg Hunt” and on Mother’s Day, we got to drop off crafts and plants for kids to do together! We were able to bring back SONquest in the fall to meet the needs of families who wanted to attend, but needed that childcare. This allowed us to continue to provide more ministry and growth opportunities for our families! We have seen some new faces and familiar ones and been able to have moments of fun, study, and worship! An especially great highlight was our Birthday Party for Jesus!
Our IMPACT students were able to use Zoom so well to continue to gather, pray for each other, make some cookies, and even creatively play some games! We of course had our fair share of cancellations, from the Ski Trip to Summer Camp, but we are able to find some unique alternatives like our camp of evening activities and having our Wednesday nights out in the field! Through all this we have even seen some growth of our group as some new friends have joined and gotten plugged in! We even got to have our Christmas party, even though it looked a bit different, but still was such a special evening of fun, some silly games, and most importantly, looking at the Christmas story and what it means for us!
I want to take a moment and offer some vulnerable encouragement to any families reading this. This year has had so many moments that were discouraging. Cancelled events, disrupted traditions, and changing conditions seem to make this pandemic even worse as the very things which usually are so comforting seemed like they could not happen. Ashley and I certainly battled fatigue, wrestled with patience, and often have some very passionate, if sometimes frustrated, moments of prayer in our own personal lives! Yet through it all, I truly believe we can look back, and see how good God is in the most true sense of the word “good.” Maybe this sounds similar to your life, or maybe your family has had to deal with even more loss or pain this year. Maybe this season in particular we look at the stories in the Bible of how faithful people cry out to God asking “Where are you?” or “Why me?” and it resonates with us a little more. But as we approach a new year, let me end on the most eternal encouragement we have: God is still King. No earthly chaos, no matter how devastating, can challenge God’s goodness or His sovereignty. This was so often the life raft we clung to, both in our personal studies, ministry in general, and prayers for the nation! It is a truth that we can hold fast to, and while it may not end suffering or change the problems at hands, casts them all in the light of our Hope that we are promised riches far beyond any difficulty this world has to offer. So as we go into the New Year, it is with the same hope that brothers and sisters in faith have clung to for thousands of years: that God truly loves us, so much, that He sent His son Jesus to live the perfect life we could never live, so that when He died on the cross for our Sins, He could take our place and bear the cost of Sin while purchasing eternal life for us, and giving us access to God through relationship, so that we could partner with God in the kingdom work of discipleship! Let us truly celebrate this New Year with that same truth and go bold in 2021 excited about all that God has in store for us!
Hello F.B.C. Family!
The year is winding down, and while many of us may be disappointed at current rates, numbers, orders, and mandates, I hope we all found a few things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season! Truthfully, in these more stressful times, I think we have ample more opportunity to be thankful as we see how at work God is! I truly believe that the more out of control life gets, the more overwhelmed we may be, these moments are the chances to see how when our strength fails, God will always prevail. I want to share a quick story of how this lesson powerfully convicted me!
You may be familiar with a preacher named, David Platt. He’s written some really powerful books, preached incredible sermons, and a lot of his work revolves around his burden for evangelizing the lost. He has a stark critique of American culture that, if we are honest, is not all that inaccurate or overly harsh. The lesson in particular that made such an impact on me was David Platt talking about something we all should be familiar with: praying a blessing over our food! Now don’t worry, he wasn’t saying we shouldn’t pray a blessing before we eat. On the contrary, he was trying to emphasis the significance of what is so easy to take for granted! That is, a prayer of blessing over food begins with profound thanksgiving for God’s providence. David Platt drove this point home by saying that the people who are best at praying blessings over food are folks who have wondered where their next meal would come from. God provides for many of us, a job, income, and opportunities that give us resources to provide food, and so it seems to diminish how much God has done. But as David Platt traveled across the world, on mission to share the Gospel and minister to others, he saw the profound thanks that people would give to God when they recognized that by no other hand than His, are they fed. Platt was convicted and came back to tell his church of this, and I share it with you all as we have just passed this season of Thanksgiving, so that we might examine our hearts and understand more fully how truly dependent we are on God!
While Platt’s comments were more specific to food, meals, and blessings, I think the principle can be applied to so much of our life. When we diminish the role God plays, then the thanks we give Him is undermined. My prayer, as we approach the last month of 2020, is to examine my heart and my life, and ask God to give me clarity to see how I missed opportunities to rely on Him and give Him His full credit. I want to be more thankful for the moments God has blessed me with in SONquest and IMPACT, that came less because of our “preparedness” and more because of His blessing and protection. I want to be more thankful for our ability to worship together, that is less dependent on technology and more dependent on His Spirit. I want to be more thankful for the disruptions to routine and habits that leave me taking so much for granted and be thankful for all that God is doing to challenge us to grow and extend beyond our comfort zone!
So church, join me in looking back on 2020 to see all that God did for us, and is still doing for us, and giving Him thanks! Then we can share what we have seen with others, and build community that is blessed by hearing how God is at work in our community and how we can push others to grow with God as well!
Hello F.B.C. Family!
I am so glad to be writing this article to you as it means we have made it to the fall, my favorite season! It is so great to see the beautiful colors of the trees, breakout our favorite sweaters, and finally stops sweating whenever we go outside. In terms of ministry, the fall also is typically such a great time of relationship building, unique programs, and truly some of the most fun times! We ride the momentum of summer and get to be on mission as our lives return to routine, schedules, and normalcy. It may seem as though this fall, a lot of what was just mentioned may be unattainable. Extra-curriculars are returning although it is irregular and many of our seasonal traditions are happening in unique and creative ways. Schools are developing plans and right now so much of our life seems to occur online and over the internet. As life seems increasingly difficult, draining, and insurmountable, what I want to focus on this month is that in light of all these things, our God is so much stronger, able to empower, and at work for us. I want to share a small story of how, when our focus is primarily on the difficulties, often we miss the miracles God is doing right in front of our eyes.
Churches in this season had to be creative as they tried to balance the earnest desire to gather with the Christian command to love our neighbor and care for others and pursue safe measures. What many churches wisely pursued was drive-in churches, outdoor gatherings, and anything that allowed them to spread out and socially distance. As many events started to take place out side where the breeze and space allowed for much lower risks and to be more accessible to others! Much of this was necessitate simply because gathering indoors was no longer safe or possible. Focusing on the negative or what we were missing certainly is understandable. While we know the church is more than a building, we miss being able to gather and hold our usual events. As we long for those things and desire to return to normalcy, we run the danger of missing the miracle that God was doing for the church right in front of our eyes. Did you know that October 11th was the first Sunday of poor weather in our area and even into other states where churches were unable to gather outdoors? Since the beginning of this COVID-19 crisis, churches have gathered and met outside completely dependent on weather, and what an incredible miracle it is that for months there was no poor weather when they needed to meet. God is still at work among His people! God is still giving us the opportunity to gather, worship, and read His Word! On Sunday mornings we are now reading about the church in the book of Acts and the same power that is at work forming, protecting, and guiding the church is still present today! Church family we must be careful that in our desperate attempt to follow and pursue God that we remain aware of how God is at work.
Families, below I want to give you some discussion questions to ask to help create a culture of awareness so as to not to miss those miracles God is doing in our life, the lives of our students, or the lives of our families! These questions are aimed at generating some self awareness so we can identify where our own desires meet God’s will so as to better follow and learn from Him!
1. How has this season (Coronavirus, fall, online school, etc.) been different than what you thought it would be?
2. Is there anything you miss that you didn’t think you would miss? (Homework, church, eating out, etc.)
3. Do you think God knows how we are disappointed or sad during all this?
4. Do you think God can make good stuff out of all the bad we see around us? What do you think some of those things are?
5. What should we pray for if we want God’s help noticing all the stuff that He is doing for us?
These are just a few questions meant for you all to talk about together in the car, at dinner, during times of family conversation, rest, or worship! This is all aimed at beiginning conversations that help us grow in our self-awareness so that we can be more aware of what God is doing in our own lives! I am praying for you all families because truly I want us to see all the miracles God is still doing! From holding off the weather, to cultivating conversations, to bring families together, God has all powerful and does indeed work through all things for the good of those who love Him!
Hello Church Family!
I am actually writing this newsletter article from vacation! I took a week towards the end of September for a wedding in Virginia of some of my closest friends from college! I lived in a house with eight other guys and they are some of the greatest influences and encouragements in my life. As I got to spend a week with them, hearing how God was growing them and at work in their life, it burden my heart to write this month’s article on relationships! For many of us, this time of social distancing and stay-at-home has been particularly stressful, crazy, or frustrating because of how disrupting it was for our relationships. The close friends we see regularly likely was interrupted; casual friendships that were growing possibly may have fallen by the wayside. Maybe we used phones and technology to stay in touch but it cannot replace the impact of being able to spend time in the presence of friends and loved ones! To whatever degree this change has been felt in your life, I wanted to pause for a moment and address how fundamentally difficult this can be! As humans, created in the image of God, we were made for community and relationship! The chief relationship we were made for of course is our relationship with God, but when God made Adam He said “It is not good for man to be alone!” and certainly that truth holds still unto today! That is why so many of us are hungry to return to gathering together physically, not just across screens. That’s also why so many of us are hesitant because certainly that gathering poses risks to those who we deeply care about! So as deeply relational beings, how do we navigate a culture that is actively discouraging and limiting moments and opportunities for relationships?
As Christians I think we have the most fundamental hope: our relationships are united in nothing less than the Spirit and Glory of God. In fact, people should be able to tell the uniqueness of Christian bonds by the profound love we have for one another that could only come from God Himself! But what does that mean for us? That doesn’t eliminate the reality that we are gathering in limited capacities, wearing masks, and maybe even abstaining for social events all together! The journey to take the knowledge in our head of how Christians have relationships to our heart and why that is significant rests on how we pursue relationships. I’ll end this article with some insight into how we could incorporate this into different developmental stages but for that to be effective for our children this must be something we have internalized ourselves. The way we invest in our relationships is going to communicate the condition of our heart and what we actually believe about how we relate to other people. For example, I am constantly convicted and humbled about how easily I can find a connection with someone over superficial interests: tv shows, books, hobbies, etc., but it can take so much time for me to find a spiritual connection or investment with them! Of course we would all say, our relationship with God is more important than football and movies but living this out requires discipline and practice. It means forgoing the easy superficial “hey how are you?” and asking questions of more substance: “what has God been doing in your life?” or “what are you currently reading about in the Bible?” These are must weightier questions indeed, but these are simply one example of how, the more we internalize what it means to be united in Spirit with one another, the more we seek to invest spiritually!
So what can this look like with our children? For starters, it is us modeling this in our own lives and investing in theirs! Its seeking, as parents/primary influencers, to clearly communicate to our students that the most important facet of our relationship with them is the spiritual one! This means asking them spiritual questions, having times of study and worship together, and seeking to be active in discipling them! Next, its helping them find a balance in their own relationships between people who are investing in them/building up and people that they can pour into and invest in! This is a difficult balance and as parents our goal should be helping our students into self-awareness to see how they need to be engaging with those around them. Lastly, this means finding community as a family. Whether it is the church, family friends, or our neighborhood, finding spaces where the family unit is active and on a mission of discipleship is so incredibly powerful at communicating to our students the value of relationships that are based in nothing less than the power of God uniting His people!
The weather is starting to cool, school is beginning, and it’s only a matter of time until the leaves change color! Yet as life seems to roll on we still are dealing with the frustrations and complications of life in the midst of stay at home orders, social distancing, and maybe even some heightened anxieties. I want my Newsletter article to not only have a practical component this month, but also a greater emphasis on encouraging you parents! This is a stressful and trying time. No matter how many lists I can think of or “4 ways to read the Bible with you children” advice pieces I can formulate, that doesn’t change the overwhelming sense of uncertainty I see around us or the added stresses you all may be enduring. After all, Stokes county and Forsyth county are both online for the first nine weeks! That is such a huge pressure for you as parents and a significant strain on our family systems. So I want to try and give some insight into helping establish new family habits to accommodate and totally new lifestyle. But before that, I want to share my heart, as more and more I see how difficult it must be to parent and lead in these circumstance.
I want to share what is ultimately one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and what I often turn to when life seems to be increasingly out of control, stressful, and disorienting. Turn with me to Job chapter 38. To set up context a little bit, Job is in the extreme throes of grief. He’s lost everything: wealth, lifestyle, family, health, etc. His friends seem interested in helping but ultimately only serve to judge and condemn Job of some hidden sin. Job’s own wife calls of him to abandon this God who has seemingly abandoned him. The wrong interpretation here is to say we don’t have a right to be stressed because certainly Job goes through something worse: instead we see a clear picture of God’s children being able to cry out in frustration and grief to him! Job certainly comes from a place of deep loss, but in our own moments of aggravation, fear, and uncertainty, surely we can echo the cries of Job and ask God what is His plan for us is! And God, out of the whirlwind, answers Job, with a rebuke, but ultimately an incredible picture of God’s Sovereignty and Power: “Where were you when I established the earth?” (38:4) “Who enclosed the sea…” (38:8) “Do you give strength to the horse?” (39:19) Then God calls on Job: “Adorn yourself with majesty and splendor” (40:10) God compares all of creation to Job and points out the insignificance of humanity. Job, out of profound humility, recognizes the beauty of God’s words, and the majesty there. After all, if this were the only piece of Scripture we had, we might assume God values other aspects of creation over us or delights in lording His might over us. But with a holistic view of Scripture, we are reminded of the verse that says God feeds and cares for sparrows, the lowliest of birds: how much more does he care for us? (Matthew 6:26) God’s power is beyond our imagination and for our own well being! God has complete control and sovereignty! The glimpse Job gives us into the magnitude of God ought to be so encouraging for us to revel in how mighty or God is because that is the very God fighting for us! While that may not seem directly applicable to the parent juggling work, homeschooling, shifting rules and standards, kids are fighting, etc., but ultimately this is a fundamental shift in how we ought to see ourselves, as best articulated in Romans 8:37: in this world, we are more than conquerors. We are children of the living God, co-heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and we can live boldly in hope and joy!
So with that encouragement, let me suggest three expectations families should set to help the return to school be as seamless and manageable as possible!
1. Schedules. When our children and students know what to expect and have routines, this creates larger systems of accountability and structure! Bringing our children into this can create a sense of ownership as they have a hadn’t in establishing a schedule, they will build confidence as the keep to the standards they’ve helped set, and it creates clear goals and expectations!
2. Personal Study/Prayer. As families, we want to consistently worship and study together, but cultivating in our children the discipline and desire to regularly spend time reading God’s Word and Praying, we demonstrating the value that God’s Word has in our life! As children what they want to study, set reading goals, verse memorizations, etc., to push our children deeper into their love for God’s Word.
3. Habits of Worship. This is something that God is increasingly showing me the value of. Finding moments of worship as a family can be difficult, so setting expectations for when our families are going to gather for worship, not only on Sundays, but maybe even having moments throughout the week where we sing praises to God, share our highs and lows together, and spend time in prayer before God as family.
These are just three ideas of ways that we can establish some habits together that aim at combating the stress and anxiety that seems so prevalent around us! IF there is anything more I can do for you please don’t hesitate to give me a call! I am praying for y’all!
“Christian, wear your mask.”
On the horizon is a potential for conflict and division: different localities are passing different mandates but a universal trend is appearing that requires individuals to wear masks. There many differing perspectives and pros and cons, but I want to share my perspective of how I believe Christians should act. Let us begin with a parallel argument that I often heard in my evangelical/Christian circles growing up. Made by a seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Paschal, the argument is as follows: If a rational person believes in God, they should live as though that belief were true. If God does not actually exist, there is only a finite loss. If God does exist, there is infinite reward. This has been simplified and popularized in modernity by a different sort of philosopher, Christian rap artist Lecrae as such: “If I’m wrong about God, I have wasted my life. If you’re wrong about God, you’ve wasted eternity. “Paschal’s Wager” is an apt name as this catches the idea of basing belief in God as a prudent choice and smart bet. The cost of being wrong is far outweighed by the potential reward of being right. I want us, as believers united in Christ, to weight the cost of wearing a mask.
Our conversation takes place in a different context. In an age of Fake News, competing narratives, and shifting advice, it seems that skepticism is becoming a popular perspective in the public setting. So when a decision comes down that wearing masks is mandated, whether by a private store, government directive, or maybe even a church, the human instinct to balk at authority seems only fitting. But let’s entertain objectivity and weigh our options in a manner that is parallel to Paschal’s Wager. So Christians, wear your mask. If we are wrong about this virus, you have lost personal comfort only so long as the mask is worn. But if we are right, masks might be tools that ensure the health and longevity of those around us. Christian, when you wrestle with the decision to wear a mask, weigh the cost. What if you are wrong; what if you are right?
There may already be some opposition to these conditions. After all, wearing a mask may be considered to be more than simply sacrificing comfort. Wearing a mask may be symbolic to some of government overreach and tyranny as the government seeks to control people or a struggle for individual liberty and personal agency. What right does a democratic authority have to dictate such specific and truly limiting decrees for individuals? I am more than happy to have that conversation about personal liberty, greater good, principled convictions, and civil disobedience. But if you are a Christian, all of those are framed within the Greatest Commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love others in the same manner (Matthew 22:37-40). That is the preeminent condition to which all other Christian obligations are due. Before a Christian can fight for individual liberty, it must be shown to also be a fight for God’s love and love of neighbor. Before a Christian can protest civil injustice, it must align with a deep love for God and outpouring of that love onto our neighbors.
Within this framework, I do not see a convincing argument for not wearing a mask. Once again, let us assume we are wrong about masks: all that is lost is a secondary priority for Christians: personal comfort, individual liberty, and personal rights. But if those who advocate for wearing a mask are right and we as Christians chose not to wear masks, what is the cost? Are our own inalienable rights worth the well-being of our neighbor? Is our personal comfort level more important than loving and serving our neighbor? Again let me say, unequivocally, for Christians, I cannot imagine a convincing argument for placing our personal preferences, comfort levels, political inclinations, and/or individual freedoms over the possibility of hurting others, damaging our witness as ambassadors of Christ, actively defying wise counsel and prudent guidance, and being a poor steward of Christ’s Gospel, which compels us to actively look for opportunities to give of ourselves for the sake of others growing closer to God.
Christ warns His followers a time is coming of danger, persecution, and death to those who earnestly seek to further the kingdom of God. Christians we cannot mistake perceived affronts to liberty and our own comfort as the most pressing need of our age. That is only for those ignorant of what it means to follow Christ. It means weighing the cost of potential homelessness, abandonment, and genuine danger, as being nothing compared to the cost of Discipleship (Matthew 8:18-27). To follow Christ is to seek the promotion of God and others before oneself. Of course this task is truly daunting: yet that is why the church ought to be a bastion of grace and wellspring of mercy, to remind others of what a community that is solely based on the glory of God and prospering of others ought to look like. That is why, Christians, I beg you to wear your mask. If we can sacrifice our personal comfort to show to our neighbors we care about their physical well-being, that earns relational equity to communicate our concern for their spiritual health. If we value others spiritually but neglect their physical well-being, we will be offering the Bread of Life to closed mouths. We must use the values of the world around us to show our willingness to undergo suffering and discomfort in order to be bearers of good news that this finite life is not the end. Let us shed our hollow masks of self-sufficiency that we have worn so many Sundays before with empty smiles and cute quips about how fine we are. Instead let us put on physical masks to show to our neighbors and communities that we value the most vulnerable among us and seek to be an example of loving our neighbors regardless of the cost because that is the manner in which God first loved us; ignoring the cost of His own Son, Jesus Christ, so that a wretched and sinful creation might have hope of infinite perfection in Him.
Every Christian must reconcile their self with the Holy Spirit. That is a messy business but it is the work of being sanctified. As we look at the wager before us, how can anything outweigh the duty of a Christian? Paschal had the right of it: no sacrifice here could ever match the richness of eternity with God. If we remove our hands from the scales that way self-interest and Kingdom interest, the conclusion is inescapable. Even the Apostle Paul himself presents this truth: “I consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ.” The logical next step then is be an active part of helping others to this same Spiritual maturity. Paul certainly seems in coherence with Paschal. So Christians how do we count the cost of this wager? Will you wear your mask?