March 31 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 6)

Read Acts 7:54-8:4

Each of us continues to navigate his/her way through a global pandemic that has significantly altered the way we live and move about. If you have been following along, we are also identifying seven key words that enable us to regain balance in the context of the virtual vertigo we are experiencing.

  • Sovereignty
  • Community
  • Family
  • Intentionality
  • Indestructibility

Today’s word is “opportunity.”

I have heard of people dishonestly capitalizing on this opportunity as a means of personal gain. They were offering products not approved by the FDA that were reported to diagnose or cure the coronavirus illness. That is not the kind of opportunity we are discussing here.

To understand our opportunity, let’s remind ourselves of a first-century scenario. At that time, it was becoming increasingly dangerous to identify oneself as a Jesus follower. Christians were being threatened. On man had been killed for his faith. Believers scattered. Logically, it certainly would have been a great time to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit faith to private expression. But, they didn’t do that.  In a day when we would predict that the number of believers should have plateaued or declined as they went into hibernation, the number of Jesus followers grew exponentially. They recognized the opportunity.

As we stay at home with increased concern about personal contact, should we go into Christian hibernation? Is it time…even for just a few weeks…to put the Christian mission on hold?

Of course, the answer is “no.” This is a unique time in human history. I have never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. Likely you haven’t either. The sovereign God of the universe has allowed us to live “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) We must do as the apostle Paul encourages us by “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16)

Unbelievable as it may seem now, these events will one day be a timeframe referenced in history books. Will they also be noted in eternity as a time when God’s people recognized the opportunity and made the most of it? Will we step up and identify ways to meet the needs of others and share the gospel message in appropriate ways?

Steve Kern

Posted in Acts, COVID-19: Life in the New Normal | Leave a comment

March 30 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 5)

Read Matthew 16:13-20

We are examining key words that are crucial for navigating our way through this COVID-19 / stay-at-home world. We have already explored:

  • Sovereignty
  • Community
  • Family
  • Intentionality

Next up…

Indestructibility.

So many things seem fragile. Restaurants are only open for pick up or drive through. Stores that you once frequented are not open for business. Companies and factories have shut down production. Maybe you are even out of work. The financial impact of all of this is unclear. Will businesses come out on the other side unscathed? If you had investments, they may not be worth anywhere near what they were a mere six weeks ago. Things that we once took for granted seem tenuous.

Is there anything out there that is bullet proof, impervious to all that is going on? Is there anything that can, without a doubt, survive the unpredictable rollercoaster ride of the times?

Yes. The Church.

You may wonder about that one. After all, if you drive by a local church on a Sunday, you may see only a car or two in the parking lot. Of course, most of us know it, but the Church really is not a building. It is the body of Christ comprised of genuine followers of Jesus. Jesus said that “the gates of Hades will not overcome” the Church. If all of the forces of Hell cannot overpower it, I rather believe that the Church will not succumb to the COVID-19 virus.

Of course the global Church is reflected in local churches. Here is where church life is lived out. While it includes worship and teaching that speak to the value of “services” (even online), the local church is so much more. It includes people who are assuming personal responsibility to grow in faith (Jude 20). The local church is comprised of people committed to encouraging one another…even through creative means (Heb. 10:23-25). Our church is to be characterized by a love for God and for our neighbors (Matt. 22:34-40) that expresses itself in doing good to all at this unprecedented time in history (Gal. 6:10). Our church is to joyfully declare the message of the gospel of Jesus to a world that needs to hear the message (Mk. 16:15; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:16).

The role that God designed the local church to play cannot be replaced by any other individual or organization. Many of the needs represented just now are ones that the local church is best situated to address. Now, more than ever, Grace Church is one church in thousands of locations. You express the Church’s indestructibility by playing your part.

Steve Kern

Posted in COVID-19: Life in the New Normal, Matthew | Leave a comment

March 29 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 4)

Read Philippians 3:1-16

We are examining seven words that speak to our current situation in a COVID-19 / stay-at-home world.

  • Sovereignty
  • Community
  • Family

Today’s word is “intentionality.”

My wife can attest to it, but I am pretty predictable. I tend to do the same things, at the same time, and in the same way. Some might use the word “regimented” to describe me. If you aren’t like me, rejoice. Most days, I wish I was more like you!

Regardless of how much routine describes you, all of us have felt a huge disruption in life as we have known it. With our lives upside-down, we are scrambling to find equilibrium. We may feel like we suffer from vertigo as we desperately claw at anything to regain our balance.

The words and the life of the apostle Paul are especially insightful to people like us today. Here are three ideas that come from the reading above:

  1. Don’t let the accomplishments of your past define you (vv. 1-11).Paul had quite a resume outlining who he was in terms of things he had done. More important than all of that was knowing Christ and being found in him! The true value of your life before COVID-19 wasn’t found in your productivity and your long list of things you had done. No, rather than being rooted in your productivity, your identity is anchored in your identity in Christ, if you are one of His followers.
  2. Don’t let the disruption of the present confine you (from the context of the whole letter). Paul wrote these words from a prison cell. It is interesting, though, that he didn’t just surrender to what seemed to be the limitations of his situation. With your life upside down, don’t adopt a defeatist mentality and just passively surrender yourself to “survival” as the greatest goal for this timeframe.
  3. Allow “one thing” to drive you (vv. 12-16). Paul’s “one thing” was a passionate pursuit of Jesus. We could summarize it with his desire to “know Christ and to make Him known.” It was like his north star for orienting himself in spite of his past experiences and in the face of his present realities.

In the midst of today’s uncertainties, intentionally allow your “one thing” to drive you. What is your “one thing”? What will be the one, intentional, relentless pursuit that defines you during this COVID-19 / stay-at-home order and beyond? I like the summary of Paul’s life. Be intentional about knowing Jesus and making Him known.

Steve Kern

Posted in COVID-19: Life in the New Normal, Philippians | Leave a comment

March 28 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 3)

Read Ephesians 5:22-6:4

As people facing the realities of life in a COVID-19 / stay-at-home world, we are currently identifying an important, relevant word each day. We have already explored “sovereignty” and “community.” In total, we will explore seven key words that represent internal tensions in our lives in these challenging days.

  • Sovereignty
  • Community

Today’s word is “family.”

I have heard two prophetic statements related to this topic. The first prophet pointed to her expectation of a baby boom at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. The second predicted a rise in the divorce rate. Both of these seemingly contradictory prophecies are the potential by-products of increased time together in close proximity.

But, beyond the husband/wife relationships, there are other family realities that are front and center. Parent/child interactions also have the potential of growing or becoming increasingly tense. While home school parents may approach life in a business as usual” manner, others may be scrambling to figure out new norms and family rhythms. Parents may still be figuring out how to get their own work done at home, or they may be reeling in the new reality of being out of work. At the same time, they are making sure that children get their school work done without killing each other. Kids may be trying to understand boundaries and looking for something to fight the boredom.

These new realities force us to grapple anew with God’s plan for the family. If you read the Bible passage indicated above, you will be reminded of the following:

  • His plan for husbands – love your wife! Love her with your actions. Love her unconditionally. Love her sacrificially as you seek the best for your bride the way that Jesus does for the church.
  • His plan for wives – respect your husband! Respect him by honoring. Respect him always. Respect him by deferring to your groom the way the church does to Jesus.
  • His plan for kids – obey and honor your parents! Obey without complaint. Honor by serving. Honor them with your words and tone.
  • His plan for parents (dads especially) – instruct your kids! Instruct them in the things of God. Instruct them gently. Instruct them without exasperating them.

The present realities have the potential of catapulting families to become more of what God wants them to be or they can cause family relationships to slowly disintegrate. Our responses to God’s plan for the family will determine the outcome.

Steve Kern

Posted in COVID-19: Life in the New Normal, Ephesians | Leave a comment

March 27 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 2)

Read Hebrews 10:19-25

I am a handful of days ahead of you on this “stay at home” order. My wife, Celeste, and I returned to the US from ministry in Europe one day before a mandatory “self-quarantine” for European returnees went into effect. Nevertheless, we chose to self-quarantine. By God’s grace, we are healthy and showing no symptoms of COVID-19.

I don’t pretend to have learned all of what God would have me to learn. Nor have I perfected the few things that have already become glaringly obvious. So, as a fellow “stay-at-homer,” I invite you to journey with me as I ponder biblical truths in the face of our current realities. I plan to summarize each day’s lesson with a single word.

  • (Explored that yesterday.)

Today’s word is “community.”

The realities of the virus are causing all of us to practice “social distancing” in the context of the stay at home order. There are limits on where we can go, the number of people we can be around, and how close we should be to them.

I am not calling any of that into question. I trust, respect, and pray for medical experts, and government leaders.

Still, if we allow it, we can move beyond social distancing towards isolation. In the days of creation, the divine commentary on aloneness was “NOT GOOD” (Gen. 2:18). Maybe your stay-at-home experience is beginning to demonstrate that to you. In the New Testament, the admonition is that we pursue and experience community. The author of Hebrews describes the purpose of community as being encouragement…cheering others on to hope and to helping others in love.

The stay at home order dare not lead to isolation. Don’t allow COVID-19 prevent you from experiencing COMMUNITY-2020.

Community may look different now. I have heard of neighbors gathering (albeit at a distance!) outside at a specific time each evening to update one another on needs, and one person actually prays. I have heard of people in an apartment complex sticking their heads out of their back windows at the same time to connect and update each other. Groups are connecting on all kinds of digital meeting platforms. As my wife and I take a daily walk, we have found an unprecedented readiness among others outside to engage in encouraging (and, sometimes, gospel) conversations.

Make a call. Send a text. Write an email. Connect on Facetime. Pursue community at a time that could lead to isolation!

Steve Kern

Posted in COVID-19: Life in the New Normal, Hebrews | Leave a comment

March 26 – COVID-19: Life in the New Normal (Day 1)

Read Habakkuk 1:1-6; 3:17-29

I am a handful of days ahead of you on this “stay at home” order. My wife, Celeste, and I returned to the US from ministry in Europe one day before a mandatory “self-quarantine” for European returnees went into effect. Nevertheless, we chose to self-quarantine. By God’s grace, we are healthy and showing no symptoms of COVID-19.

I don’t pretend to have learned all of what God would have me to learn. Nor have I perfected the few things that have already become glaringly obvious. So, as a fellow “stay-at-homer,” I invite you to journey with me as I ponder biblical truths in the face of our current realities. I plan to summarize each day’s lesson with a single word.

Today’s word is “sovereignty.”

I must admit, that I have found myself posing some of the same questions in my mind that the prophet Habakkuk posed 2600 years ago.

OK, I will concede that his situation was different. Rather than a pandemic, he and his people faced injustice, oppression, strife, conflict, and opposition. Still, like all of us have done, he called out to God for help.

How did God respond? Silence…The prophet could hear the crickets chirping in the background. It seemed that God neither made an effort to rescue or even to listen.

Fast forward back to our situation. The daily COVID-19 reports seem to give greater cause for concern than reassurance that we have turned the corner. Has God not heard our cries? Is this outside of His awareness? Is it somehow beyond His control? Does it pack more clout than His power? Is God ignorant, uncaring, or impotent?

  1. In our hearts we may know the answer, but in our minds, we may still pose such questions.

Rewind back to the prophet. Did God ever respond? Yes, He did. He offered assurance of His awareness and activity. God was still at work. In fact, He was working in astounding, unbelievable, and (from a human vantage point) in unwanted ways. Although Habakkuk didn’t recognize it, God was at work. By the end of the book written by this prophet, he was finally surrendered to that truth. He trusted God even if he was unable to see visible evidence of change in the moment. Will you trust and rejoice in the sovereign God of the universe?

Friends, keep in mind:

  • The presence of pain does not mean the absence of God.
  • The reports of calamity do not negate the work of God.
  • The volume of our questions need not drown out the reality of the sovereignty of God.

God is loving and sovereign!

Steve Kern

Posted in COVID-19: Life in the New Normal, Habakkuk | Leave a comment

March 25 – Jesse Tree – The Ladder

Read Genesis 27:41-28:22

“He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Genesis 28:12

Adam, Abraham, and Isaac. Maybe you remember Adam and the apple; Abraham and the stars, Isaac and the ram. They are all important men who are part of the family tree of Jesus. They were all men who learned to look to God for direction and help in their lives.

Next we have Jacob and the ladder. Jacob was out on his own. His parents were not around to help him or to give him instruction. At some point, that happens for all of us. The important people in your life are not always with you. You go away to school during the day. When you get older you move out of the house. During those times, you have to make your own decisions or you will have to decide if you will invite God’s help or not.

Jacob had to make that decision. Without his parents around, God gave him a vision of a ladder stretched between heaven and earth. Angels were going up and down the ladder. God was showing Jacob that He was very much at work in this world. He was pointing into the future to Jesus as the One who would make it possible for men and women, boys and girls on the earth to connect with Him in heaven. And the Lord gave Jacob the promise of great things that He had planned for this man.

This vision and message from God were important to Jacob. They caused Him to begin to look to God as the One who would guide His life…even when his parents weren’t around.

Questions and Activities:

  1. Who are the important people you look to for help and direction?
  2. How can you look to God for that kind of help?
  3. What was it that God was saying through the vision and the words?

Steve Kern

Posted in Genesis, Jesse Tree | Leave a comment