IMG_6418

Today marks the tenth day of what seems like a weird new normal here in South Carolina and across the country. For many people on the other side or our globe it has been a much longer journey. The COVID-19 pandemic has literally turned the world upside down. Before now very rarely were words used like, pandemic, quarantine or social distance. There is much anxiety, fear and confusion swirling around our town, on the news and on social media. So, how do we as the church respond? If your church is like ours, you’re probably starting to settle into the fact that this may last longer than we had hoped. So, what do we do now? If we can’t gather as “the church.” How do we BE the Church?

Scripture teaches us that the church gathers and scatters. We are called to gather often for cooperate worship, small group discipleship and authentic community, but then we scatter throughout the week to do the work of ministry and mission in the world. In recent days there has been alot more scattered than gathered. And to be honest, it’s ok.  Though I love the opportunities we have to gather as a family of faith, we are not without hope simply because we can’t “go to church.”

I’m convinced that during these days of being scattered we will learn more about God’s purpose for us as his children. We can’t be comfortable simply being in the four walls of a church building. We’ve been given a unique opportunity during these weeks to BE the church and spend extra time in our homes and neighborhoods? How can we use these days to take ownership of our faith? How can we leverage this gift of time to glorify God, grow closer to our families and point others to Jesus?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. PRAYER – I’m guilty of finding lots of time for “ministry” and not enough time for prayer. If you’re like me – maybe you find that prayer too often falls at the end of your list. These days of shorter to do lists are a good opportunity to flip your list.  Use this extra time to pray. Let it not just be at the beginning or end of your day – but as part of every aspect of your new routines. My hope is that as we pray more during these days in isolation – we will continue that habit long after this virus is gone.
  2. HOME ISN’T CANCELED ( #homeisntcanceled ) This is a hashtag that was sent out by FamilyLife this week.  What a great reminder that though nearly every event and activity is canceled – home is not canceled. How can we as husbands, wives, parents, siblings and grandparents leverage this free time to grow together and grow as disciples? Isn’t this what we always wish for…more time?  How many times have you said, “If we had more time, we would eat supper as a family at the dinner table.” or… “If we had more time, we would do a family devotion.” Well, now is that time.  Never before have we had so much free time. Don’t let it slip away scrolling Facebook. Home is not canceled. Take time away from devices to engage with those closest to you. Talk with each other, read God’s Word together, memorize scripture and talk about your personal relationship with Jesus.  Do other fun things together like: playing together in the backyard, cooking lessons with the kids, reading a good book together, playing a board game, even practical skills like learning to do laundry or home improvement projects. We’re called to train up our children – now we have nothing but time to do it. Seize these days for your family and your faith.
  3. NEIGHBORING – Though many of us live in neighborhoods, most of us are far too busy to really know the people that live next door. Depending on your level of quarantine it might not be possible to go visit your neighbors, but you can still make contact. Write them a letter, stick a note to their front door or even make them a meal. Even a simple act of kindness like rolling the trashcan to the street for an elderly neighbor could mean the world to someone. So often we see missions as something far away – but it begins in our own backyard. Use this time to be a good neighbor. Share love and share Christ with those who live closest to you.  In addition, because we live in a world where people who are very far away are just a click away online – use this extra time to reach out to them too. Create a prayer list of your Facebook friends. Pray daily for them. Make a list of friends who need to know the Lord and set up a virtual lunch date to share your testimony and the Gospel. Pick one person per day that you could FaceTime or meet in a Zoom meeting to share your journey together. Be creative and use the time wisely.

One day very soon this whole COVID-19 ordeal will be behind us and things will return to “normal.” The question is, what will that normal look like? My prayer is that we will have used this time to recenter our lives on the things that are most important. Rather than seeing all this social distance and isolation as bad thing – what if it’s a fresh opportunity. An opportunity to begin again in our faith, our family, and community.  Being scattered isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of our calling as disciples. The church “gathered” is a great blessing – and we should gather often, but it’s not our only purpose as the people of God. Church was never meant to simply be a place to go.  It was meant to be a people to be. Lord, teach us to scattered well.  …and, when we get to worship together in one place again – may we never take for granted the gift of the gathered church.

1471386072This semester I’ve had the privilege serving alongside Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on the campus of Francis Marion University.  FMU BCM holds a special place in my heart because it’s the place I attended occasionally as a teenager with my sister when she was in college.  It was my first experience seeing college students on fire for Jesus.  I still remember the great leadership of Dena Lucy who was the pioneer campus minister at FMU.  It was that experience as a young teenager in the late 80’s that left a lasting impact on my heart.  It helped lead me to get involved in BCM during my college days at Anderson.

This semester I’ve enjoyed getting onto the campus at FMU.  During this semester I’ve learned a few things:

  1. Francis Marion University really is a solid hometown college with a great team of faculty and staff who are providing an affordable – top quality education.
  2. The BCM is a bright lighthouse at FMU.  It’s an inviting and exciting organization that welcomes ALL students and introduces them to Jesus.  It’s not only the largest campus organization at FMU, it is also making an eternal difference.
  3. God is not dead on university campuses.  College students are seeking now more than ever and they want a real relationship with Jesus.
  4. I’m more grateful now for the work of Kendal Danford.  Though I’ve served for six years on the FMU BCM Council, I never fully understood what it took to make BCM great.  Thank you Kendal for your intentional effort to reach the entire campus for the glory of Jesus.
  5. We have an awesome team of campus ministers (missionaries) across our state who are doing vital work.  They are working to reach 275,000 students with the Gospel of Jesus.  They need our prayers, financial support and words of encouragement.

Tonight is my last official night serving with the BCM as a staff member and it’s bitter sweet.  As I look back on these last few months of late nights at FMU, I look back on it with a grateful heart.  I’m grateful one student accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord.  I’m grateful for the dozens of students who came to BCM for the first time.  I am thankful  for the awesome student leadership team as well as our fantastic co-director, Mary Cross.  I’m grateful for local churches who showed up each week to feed students.  I’m also thankful for the countless people who showed up to move students into dorms, make cotton candy, bring carnival games, cook hotdogs and everything in between that helped us connect with students who need the love of Jesus.  I’m grateful for Chad Stillwell and the leadership team at our State Convention.  I’m thankful that Ebenezer now has more students than ever going to FMU BCM.  In addition, I now have great relationships with campus ministers all over our state.  This will help personally connect our current and future Ebenezer college students with local campus ministers at a variety of colleges.

So, today I say – Thank You!  Thank you FMU BCM for letting me be your 43 Year Old Semester Missionary.  Thank you for welcoming me and letting me serve with your team at the local and state level.  It helped me far more than you’ll ever know.  Thank you Ebenezer for allowing me to serve outside my normal ministry duties.  And a very special thank you to Ashley for always keeping things together at home and for being such an encouraging wife and ministry partner… even on the nights I came home at 11:00pm.

Welcome back Kendal!  Keep making much of Jesus at Francis Marion University.

Identity.  Wether we admit it or not.  Whether we even recognize it.  Identity is at the center of our lives and our journeys as humans on this earth.  Who am I?  It’s a question that plagues us all.  It’s not a new question.  It has been on the hearts and minds of ever person that has ever walked on this planet.  I have often asked this question of myself.  But honestly, the question has always become bogged down in less about who I AM and more about what I DO.  As humans, we tend to define ourselves by what we do.  How good we are at something.  Whether it’s a sport, an artistic talent, a job performance, a grade in school or even the number of likes or shares on social media – we compare ourselves to find our worth.  For me when asked who am I – I often say…I am a husband.  I am a father.  I am a youth pastor.  I am a singer.  I am a tech junky.  But who am I really?  Who are you really?

The Lord’s sovereignty is absolutely incredible.  Let me explain.  This week I’m helping multiple students and families through the question of who they ARE.  So many of my students seem to be struggling more today – than ever with this question.  Partly because of the culture and partly because of the effect of social media and comparison.   As a 43 year old man – I’m not immune.  I’m struggling a bit with my own questions of life purpose, calling and at some level with burnout and seeing fruit in ministry.  So, it’s in those times that I get off center…making it easier to question and consider who I am.

So, as I sat down at my desk today to begin my day in God’s Word – I was blown away at what the Lord showed me.  He put three completely separate Bible studies in front of me today to remind me who I am and especially who HE IS.

  1.  Tomorrow’s youth sermon for Wednesday is called BIG WORDS: ADOPTION.  We are going to talk about what the word “adoption” means for a follower of Jesus.  We are adopted by the Lord into his family.  We are rescued out of sin and shame.  We are taken in and called children of God.
  2. Today in our youth D:Group lesson we are reading DEFINED Week 1 – Day 2.  The title is WHO AM I?  The reading includes passages from Genesis 2 about being God’s creation.  We are made in the image of God.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  Isaiah further reminds us of our true identity in 43:1 by saying, “I have called you by your name; you are mine.”
  3. Then to add to that – my regular daily devotional in the HE READS TRUTH app is currently in a series called, “I AM: Statements of Our Savior.”  Today’s reading is in Day 2.  It is all about how before even Abraham was, I AM.  The focus passage is John 8.  It’s one of the conversations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leaders.  He told them that they were not really children of Abraham.  They were speaking to Jesus as if they were something special simply because of their heritage as Jews.  Jesus boldly told them that they had no real right to the family of God simply through Abraham.  Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (John 8:44).  Jesus then clearly tells them in vs 58, “I tell you the truth…before Abraham was born, I AM.”

In just a simple moment at a youth ministry desk on an ordinary day, the Lord brought so much together for me all at once.  We do need to know who we are.  But before we can know who we are…we must know whose we are.  We were once children of the devil because of our sinful nature and complete disobedience.  But, because of God’s great love for us…we can be saved by Jesus.  We can be brought near to God and ADOPTED into a new family…with a new name…with a clear purpose and plan for life.  We can be set free and be children of the most high God…the great I AM.

So, if you’re struggling with who you are…know that the great I AM already knows who you are.  Run toward Him today.  He will be faithful to reveal WHO YOU ARE.  There is hope.  God really is there.  If God can connect all these dots through three totally different devotionals in a single moment at the desk of an ordinary guy in Florence, SC on October 1, 2019…he can do anything.  He is sovereign. He is good. He is God.  He is the great I AM.  Put your faith and trust in Him today.  He’s my only hope.  I pray he is your hope!  I pray that he will reveal to you how much you are truly loved and how valuable you really are to Him.