There are a couple scriptures we quote often about gathering together.
The first one that comes to mind is Matthew 18:20 where Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them."
There's something special about gathering together. It's inspiring. There's even a sense of the Lord's presence when believers are in each other's presence. When I surveyed our congregation last week you confirmed this. We're ready to gather again for worship. Many of us just can't wait.
I'm sure you're aware that this Monday, May 4, Florida officially enters Phase One of the reopening plan. For us to open we need to be able to maintain strict distancing protocols. We're also mindful that half of us are supposed to continue sheltering in place until after Phase Two. We will try not to make any last minute decisions, but I don't see us needing to give more than a week's notice so just stay tuned. And we will continue to meet online at https://sarasotacommunity.online.church.
Our decision is to be prudent and patient, but our desire is to gather! "Where two or three are gathered" Jesus is in the midst of us! So gathering is like a "gravity" that affects our decisions, as it should.
But did you know that comment in Matthew 18 was about prayer? One verse before that, in verse 19 Jesus says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." And then he says, verse 20, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The context is prayer. As we desire to be together, let it move us to pray not only for, but with each other. We can gather in the Spirit, even when far apart. But there's something about being able to agree together in real time about what we're praying for, so let's do that.
We've been hosting noon prayer meetings via Zoom. Next week, rather than just having a noon prayer meeting I want us to meet in groups of two and three for prayer. In its simplest form, call someone just to pray with them. If you haven't done that before, you might start with a text, "Hey, can I give you a call just to pray with you for a few minutes?" And then do it. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
If that was true, what would you ask for? Talk about what you'd like the Father to do, find agreement, then ask him together.
In our noon prayer meetings we've been agreeing in prayer about individuals who are sick or have lost income, but also that the gospel would reach into every home, and that people would come to faith. Agree about that together!
But don't be afraid to get personal either. The context of this Matthew 18 passage is actually about helping people get rid of sin in their lives. In verse 18 Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." And that's when he says that if two of us agree it will be done, and if two or three gather he is here with us.
It reminds me of the other "gathering" passage we think of. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Together, those two "gathering" passages call us to prayer and encouragement. Invite someone to pray with you. And if someone invites you, accept their invitation. Encourage each other by praying together. Pray that whatever needs to be bound would be bound, and whatever needs to let go would let go. Ask God for it. Pray it for each other individually, but also for us as a church, and for the people of our community here.
We will gather again, and we are deciding what all that means. Who will we be and what will we do when we get together again? Surely we will not be the same, will we? Surely this is a time to bind what should be bound, and let go of what should be let go of, isn't it?
Encourage each other. Pray for each other. The Lord is right here in our midst, and the Father will do what we agree upon in prayer.
How are you staying spiritually healthy?
To grow spiritually you need to apply yourself to several things. And in this shut in and slow down we can allow it to disrupt our healthy disciplines, or we can actually choose to refine our disciplines.
Worship Weekly. As followers of Jesus we are worshipers of God. As God’s people we gather. Like I wrote last week, we are a congregation. We congregate. And when we do, we praise God together, we pray together, we study the scriptures together, we break bread together. I know it’s different to come to church online. If all we could do was meet under a big Mango tree at a local park wouldn’t we do that? Even if the acoustics weren’t the same? Even if the seats weren’t as comfortable? Make it priority, even if it’s not “really” meeting together. We’ll gather again. In the meantime, I am thankful for the opportunity to get together and think about the same things at the same time, pray our prayers and singing (or listening to) our praises as the same time. To worship weekly is good. Make it a priority. Stay spiritually healthy.
Give Gratefully. Like I wrote last week, I am so thankful that so many continue to give. I can tell it’s in your heart to do so. And without telling people’s personal stories, some have been able to give considerably over and above their normal contributions during this time. Praise God. I usually talk about “generosity” in the area of giving. Sure. But cultivate a grateful heart. Then give out of that. Not reluctantly or out of compulsion, but joyfully, gratefully. Even if your income just dropped and your expenses didn’t, I understand that you may not be able to tithe (10%). But is there an amount you can give gratefully? Even if it’s $10? You may want to hide behind a non-gift rather than only give a few bucks. But cultivate a grateful heart that doesn’t want to hide at all, even if all you can give is a few bucks. Stay spiritually healthy.
Devote Daily. Did you read your Bible yet today? Did you stop to pray? Life competes with the discipline of a daily quiet time. Even though it’s my “job” to teach the scriptures and to pray (Acts 6:4), and even though I love doing that, there is always something else that seems more pressing! But a daily diet of learning and praying the scriptures is so much better at nourishing your thoughts and affections than just bingeing every now and then. Devote yourself to the scriptures daily. Read them and pray them. Yesterday I challenged you to read Psalm 131 to learn contentment. The reading part of that will take you less than a minute. So do it three times. Let it sink into your soul. Then pray the confessions I gave you. I learned them from that scripture. Remember, we don’t apply the teachings to our lives, we apply ourselves to the teachings. If you need a Bible Reading Plan, try the four-chapters plan I use. But devote yourself daily to the practice of scripture and prayer. Stay spiritually healthy.
Practice Peace. This is a spiritual discipline of choosing peace in your relationship with God, with others in your life, and even with yourself. It’s easy to see when we are not at peace with others. Either we feel they have wronged us, or they feel we have wronged them. Either way, peace is restored through a soft heart, confession, and a conversation where we drop our guard to be reconciled. Romans 12 says, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” Jesus said in Matthew 5 that if you’ve wronged someone, drop whatever it is you’re doing and go be reconciled to them. As a matter of spiritual discipline, practice peace with the people in your life. But also do it with God. Do you need to confess to him anything that stands between you and him? Do it. Ask him to forgive you. Then do the same thing with yourself. Sometimes we won’t let ourselves be forgiven by God. Pop culture talks about this as “forgiving yourself” but a better (biblical) understanding is to give God’s forgiveness authority over your conscience. Seek God’s forgiveness and then be at peace with it. Practice peace by asking yourself three questions (or finding a friend and asking each other): 1. Are you at peace with God? 2. Are you at peace with others? 3. Are you at peace with yourself? Practice peace as a spiritual discipline. Stay spiritually healthy.
I pray that as you practice the above disciplines you will stay spiritually healthy and experience much love joy and peace. I'm confident, that is God's desire for you.
Till we meet again,
“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NIV
I trust that you have food and clothing, that your basic needs are met. We are here for you, as I’m sure you are available to others. Please let us know who is in need so that we can discern how best to help them.
Also, thank you to everyone who continues to support this church financially. I believe tithing is an expression of “godliness with contentment” that honors God. And some of you have been able to bless over and above your regular giving. I can only assume that God put it on your heart to do so. God always takes care of his church. Amen.
Jesus said to not worry about tomorrow, “what you will eat or drink.” The most practical part of that is trusting God enough to live within our means. That is our goal personally and as a church. We will need to make some difficult decisions if we do not replace the offerings that were lost when our winter crowds went home early. Right now our immediate needs are met, but we will feel the pinch in coming months. But I am confident that God can lead each of us in supplying the needs of the church that he wants supplied. I am content with that. Amen.
Thank you for your many prayers. We plan to follow the governor’s lead in entering Phase One, and let each person to govern themselves about what applies to them personally. Please also pray for wisdom and newness of vision about what church should and shouldn’t be when we are allowed to gather again.
So much love for you,
I usually talk about our church as a “congregation.” But what is a congregation that can’t congregate? What is an assembly that can’t assemble? What is a gathering that can’t gather?
I miss gathering. I miss being together. I miss singing together. I miss studying and learning together. I miss congregating. The old adage that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is true, if the heart starts out fond. And my heart is growing fonder for the church in this absence of physical social interaction.
I recently posted a video on the church’s Facebook account of our congregation singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness. It sounded wonderful. It’s from February. It’s hard to believe how quickly things can change. I look forward to experiencing that again. I have great fondness for the congregation.
But there’s another fondness that my heart is actually enjoying: Solitude. Perhaps, like me, absence had made your heart grow fonder for that too? Granted, I don’t have complete solitude. I share my home with Wendy and Bekah. But this quarantine certainly isn’t the same level of social interaction that I had been living with. Have you allowed this slow down to create a healthy solitude? We can admit the need without undermining our desire to be together. I pray that you are able to rest during this solitude.
It doesn’t look like we’ll be congregating anytime soon. We plan to follow the government guidelines and re-congregate when it’s prudent. In the meantime we’re looking for how to create connection opportunities without interrupting the healthy aspects of solitude.
In Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas went back to the places where they had preached the gospel, and where people had believed. In verse 22 we read that they went around “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” And their message was, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s tempting to look for proof that this Covid19 crisis is persecution against the Church. I don’t see it that way. I see it more like when Hurricane Irma shut us down for a weekend in 2017. Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” I think those in leadership are trying to be prudent, not trying to persecute the Church.
That said, I’m sure there are people in leadership whose eyes are clouded with hatred for the Church, and are using this as opportunity to “defavor” the Church. I’m sure some are overstepping. But that’s nothing unusual, right? A longer, more considerate perspective is that the Church is always being pushed at and prodded by the Enemy. In times of war and catastrophe we notice it, but it’s also true in times of peace. In fact, you could make the case that in times of peace it’s more threatening because we don’t think about it. In fact, the greater threat against the Church is the battle for love and faithfulness in our homes, not for places to meet publicly for worship.
This threat is always before us, and will remain before us after this temporary crisis is over. Use this time to learn to pray with greater focus. Take time to pray for the people in your circle. Start with your inner circle of family and close friends. Then build out from there. Think about your neighbors who live near you. Remember your church family who worships with you. Think about the people you work with. And remember the leaders who make decisions that affect these circles. Take time to pray for them by imagining their fears and hopes, describing their sorrows and joys to God and asking him to bless them. Ask specifically that he would fill their lives with love joy and peace as they learn to open their lives to the Holy Spirit. Is this not his will?
Prayer is a great work, and it accomplishes much. But then look for opportunity to live out your prayer. Look for practical ways to be that ministry of love, joy, and peace to them, however the Lord inspires you.
We are not alone if together we are in the Spirit. He has not forsaken us. He is with us if we are in him.
Yesterday was a glorious day in many ways. It’s always good to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. And I’m still moved by the symbolism of a resurrected church or sorts, how we were shut down on a Friday and had church by Sunday. This is our testimony, but not just about having church services. This is our testimony as followers of Jesus Christ! We serve the risen one, and he gives us life. Amen.
Yesterday 12 more people indicated that they were committing their life to Christ. God is moving! Understand the joy and magnitude of what I’m talking about: In the past four weeks 45 people have “raised their hand” in our interactive chat forum to say they were committing their life to Christ! We understand that this could be first time or a return to faith, and either way, we celebrate it! Amen. Hallelujah.
With our online gatherings, it’s difficult to follow up with people unless they contact us. We are doing what we can to prompt that so we can help get them started on the right foot. Please join me in praying for them.
Yesterday was also glorious for another reason. Dave Kniss was the interim pastor who welcomed me to this church ten years ago. He was dear to many of us. He became my friend and mentor. In recent months he had received a terminal cancer diagnosis. We thought he had more time, but yesterday, on Easter, at just the right time, he suddenly and peacefully went home to be with his Lord. We are sad, but we also rejoice. He was very clear that he wanted his memorial to be a Celebration of Death. He was convinced that his death would be victory! He was not eager to leave here, but he was eager to see Jesus. He made it, so we celebrate. Yet we also mourn our loss, and pray for Esther and the family as they grieve.
We will let you know the plans for his service, along with Joanne Miller’s, Marge Christner’s, and Hertha Kornhaus’s, when restrictions are lifted and plans are finalized.
God is good all the time. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His promise is good and true.
Holy Week, 2020 will be remembered as the year when a virus closed the Church on a Friday, but the Church rose to its feet by Sunday. Even robbed of its ability to assemble, the Lord's Church is alive and well in the Spirit, and powerful in word and deed all around the world.
The Lord hears our prayers, and meets with us in worship. And so we assemble however we can. We lament not seeing each other's faces and hearing each other's voices, but we know that one day soon we will see each other again, and one day soon we will see Jesus. This is our Easter hope, and it carries us.
This Easter, more people will hear the gospel in their living rooms than ever before. Not only are "churched" people tuning in to multiple worship services, but dechurched and unchurched people are searching for inspiration and hope in these uncertain times. Since we canceled our public gatherings, our online worship services have resulted in over thirty people indicating that they were committing their lives to Christ. Hallelujah.
Pray with me that this "shut down" will be an "open up" as millions of people hear the Easter message this weekend and open their hearts and minds to receive Jesus! May it be as a modern day sign and wonder. Amen.
Our Weekend Services:
In the hope of engaging more and more people, we are offering our Good Friday program four times, at 5pm, 7pm, 9pm, and 11pm. The gospel will be presented in scripture. And I will ask each of us to participate in the communion by preparing bread and juice in our homes. (Note that since the Good Friday service is reflective, we will not have live chat as with other services.)
Saturday we will quietly reflect as part of our worship, praying that the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of our neighbors and friends.
Then Sunday we will host our Easter worship service twice, at 10am and 4pm, and then again Tuesday at 8pm. This is our worship. And so is inviting our friends, as an act of faith, to watch with us from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Please do not pass up the opportunity to invite your friends. The gospel will be presented.
All services are hosted at https://sarasotacommunity.online.church.
Thank you for your prayers. I am so proud of our staff and the worship team as they pour extra creative time and energy into serving you all. Please pray blessing over them and their families, even as they pray for you in the gift they give. May the name of the Lord be praised! Amen.
This morning as I spent time in scripture, my Bible reading plan put me in Proverbs 20, 1 Chronicles 18, Acts 4, and then Titus 1. It’s wonderful how when we read scripture with our current context in mind, God so often causes it to speak into our context.
I read this morning how the Lord gives us wisdom for victory for whatever we undertake (Proverbs 20:18). He gives us stamina and strength for victory over his enemies (1 Chronicles 18). He calls us to prayer and gives us victory over those who would mute our witness — and even amplifies our witness by calling us to selfless acts of love (Acts 4:23-35). And he calls us to establish churches in each city (Titus 1:5) and to gain victory over the rebellious who lead people astray (Titus 1:10-16).
One would think that killing the whole world’s church gatherings would kill the Church. But wow, not at all! To the contrary, the Church has risen to its feet and is alive! Our services were killed on a Friday and alive by Sunday! What a resurrection story! And now, suddenly the entire social media sphere is flooded with the gospel, in every tribe and tongue, from every slant and perspective, to every audience, at every time. Truly, what the enemy meant for evil the Lord has used for good!
And not only are each of the churches proving that they are still a “church,” but all the churches together are proving that we, together, are THE Church!
From an “insiders” conversation, I just want to give witness that the churches are working together, sharing information, cheering each other on! Sure, there are some who have made a public spectacle of themselves, taking a rebel’s stance to defy advice and keep meeting, but they are very few — and I believe it is revealing a stark contrast, even if mockers like to lump us all together. But all the thousands and thousands of churches are rising up as the Lord's Church, and I believe he is being glorified in this. He is giving victory through counsel, strength and stamina, amplifying our witness through selfless acts of love, and calling us to recognize the “elders” of our churches as all working for the same cause. This is good. Is this the end times? Sure. It’s been the end times since Jesus ascended! And his return is nearer now than when we first believed!
This week we enter not only Holy Week, but week one of a 30 day stay at home order. What an opportunity. May your home become holy, set apart for godliness. May you forever be refined and the Lord honored by how you conduct yourself and choose to worship him. May this Easter stand out as a time when God refined your worship of him. He desires that we would take time with our families to bow in worship, and to pray together. Worship him where you are. The Lord is near.
This weekend we plan to bring our Good Friday service as well as an Easter service. Your prayers are appreciated as we work hard at these preparations with our new restrictions. Visit https://sarasotacommunity.online.church for the schedule of events.
We also are hosting a noon prayer Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday again, by Zoom.
Thank you to the many who continue to support the church with prayers and finances. What an encouragement you are. And for those in need, please let us know. We are family.
Love and prayers for you all!
This Sunday will be one month since I first communicated with you about the Coronavirus. At the time we were monitoring the situation and encouraging different ways of greeting each other. We met together a few days later, not know that it would be our last public gathering until all this is over. But we have not stopped worshiping. We thank God that the technology has stabilized, and that many are receiving encouragement as we gather online around our common love for Jesus.
Tomorrow the governor’s executive order to stay home goes into effect. He has exempted religious services as essential and so, with appreciation, we will hold our worship service this week as we have been, with the worship team gathering in a reduced capacity. That said, my heart is to go the extra mile. I don’t want to take advantage of the exemption unless it’s absolutely necessary. To that end the worship team is exploring ways to lead worship from our homes. Pray for wisdom as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter in that capacity.
But like I said early on, being church is not just about holding worship services. It’s also about loving each other, and loving our neighbors. In times of tragedy, this love causes our hearts to become very heavy. And my heart is heavy with love these days. In Tuesday’s briefing the President said that the next two weeks will be very difficult as the death toll is expected to see a dramatic increase. As I write this, our own Hertha Kornhaus is hospitalized with Covid19 and fighting for her life. We are thankful that Harold is allowed to be at her side. As many have noted, this is a cruel disease that not only takes the life, but takes it in loneliness. As we grieve those who succumb to the disease, we also grieve our own loss of mobility in comforting them. How do we show love without leaving our homes? It often feels like prudence and compassion are at odds with each other.
The answer is: we call, we text, we send notes, and we pray. I am encouraged to hear that you all are checking in on each other. This is good. Love generously. Do for others what you would have them do for you. When we can’t “go be the church” we can still “be the church!” So, be the church.
Part of being the church is loving God together. Worship is the foundational expression of that love and the declaration of our hope. So we gather to raise our prayers and declare our praises together, even while confined to our homes. Worship and the preaching of the gospel are an essential ministry of the church, so we will continue to apply ourselves to that. This coming weekend we will again host the service three times: Sunday at 10am and 4pm, then again Tuesday at 8pm. I will be talking about hope. Please message a friend and invite them to watch with you at the same time. Just have them go to https://sarasotacommunity.online.church.
Love and prayers for you all,
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.