Life Beyond the Pandemic

Over the past year and a half, the effects of the pandemic on our culture and our individual lives have been significant. Our days have been clouded by any number of fears and disappointments, along with a hefty dose of confusion.

Fear has endeavored to rule in our hearts and through the media. We have had a heightened fear of death, fear of catching the virus, fear of losing a loved one, fear of getting vaccinated and fear if we did not. Then there has been the fear of lack. What if we run out of toilet paper? What if my business takes a downturn? And when some of our greatest fears became all too real, fear’s close cousin, disappointment, stood tall and claimed a victory.

With so many conflicting sources of information in the news media about everything related to the world, politics, healthcare, education, and social justice, it is easy to feel a heightened sense of chaos and confusion. Even viewing these things through the lens of the pandemic has shaped our internal thought patterns in ways we may never have suspected.

Looking back to the Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s, historians have noted that it took several years before people’s behaviors gradually returned to some sense of “normal.” Even though people were safe to live again, they did not believe that they were in the wake of so much fear and death. I wonder for us in the 21st Century, if we will remain stuck in a pandemic mindset ruled by fear, disappointment and confusion, or if we will purpose to emerge stronger and wiser, having learned some important lessons along the way.

Lesson #1. Perhaps we learned the answer to the question, “What satisfies?” While everyone has become really proficient at Zoom and Face Time, we realized that God hard-wired us to be in genuine relationships with Him and with others (John 17:11). The greatest dissatisfaction that we felt was the lack of human contact, the inability to spend in-person time with our most precious ones, and a general sense of disconnect. We grieved deeply those who have died from the pandemic, and we grieved the forced separation as we purposed to shield one another from contact with the virus. Perhaps we will emerge from the pandemic more intentional than ever to foster and nurture the relationships entrusted to our care with purpose and lovingkindness. In so doing, we are blessed with moments to spread the love that God has for each of us. To love and to be loved by God and others is what our hearts most need in order to be genuinely satisfied. Everything else we strive after in pursuit of satisfaction is a poor substitute for abundant, unconditional love.

Lesson #2. Life without hope is no life at all. Hope is “faith future.” Hope is the eager anticipation of joy. Satan, the hater of mankind, would love nothing more than to leave us face down in the ditch of frustration and shattered expectations. And he is just as happy to leave us in the ditch on the other side of the road, 100% complacent, believing that there is nothing good left to pursue. But God promises that whoever places their hopes in Him will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). Whatever despair you are struggling with, I want to encourage you to give God the benefit of the doubt. Ask Him for an upgrade of hope with the restoration of the dreams you have given up on because they now seem impossible. Remember, with God, all things are possible (Mark 10:27)!

Lesson #3. Eternity is what matters most. We were created as unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal purpose in God’s Kingdom. When the pandemic knocked the legs out from under the earthly systems we have relied on for our security, provision, and joy, the frail and fleeting nature of our humanity was blatantly exposed. Oh, how we despise feeling our vulnerability! In light of our temporary sojourn on this planet, my personal heart cry for mankind during the post-pandemic era is that we will shift our focus towards understanding the power and purpose of our beings throughout eternity with God. May we accomplish that by living and working wholeheartedly to build the things that will last for forever in Christ!

2 Corinthians 4:16-17 captures it best saying, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Through our fellowship with God, we find strength and hope to persevere through the trials of earthly life with the peace, hope, and joy that comes from knowing that there is still much more to come! God promised that He would complete the good work that He began in you, in me, and in the world (Philippians 1:6). The best news is that He is trustworthy, so give yourself over to the process without confusion or despair, and rejoice in Him, the only hope that will never, ever disappoint!

May our lives beyond the pandemic reflect the lessons learned through the experience with a renewed focus on those things that will last for eternity with the LORD. May the exposing of our humanity, our fears, and our doubts lead us to consider that God offers a better way! “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).

Faith Hall

Now that we’ve wrapped up our 40 days of prayer & fasting as an ACMin community we’re excited to unveil some plans for our future campus and want to say a few thank yous as well.

A big thank you to Jason & Lisa Bernstein for hosting a lovely dinner with fellowship on July 10th!! The dinner marked the midpoint of our 40 days of prayer.

Thanks to some help from local friends we have recently created the rendering for the first building that will go on our future campus! “Faith Hall” will be a 36,000 square foot building that will serve multiple functions as our administration building, classroom, conference, library and prayer center space. It will be at the center of ACMin’s work on our future campus.

Praise be to God that over $30,000 has been given or pledged over these past 40 days towards Faith Hall and our future campus!! We welcome your prayers, your participation, and your partnership as we continue to trust God to provide for the construction of Faith Hall and our future campus. How is God calling you to partner with the Athens College of Ministry?

#promisedland #faithhall #acmin #athenscollegeofministry

A Case For Joy

It would seem that opportunities for despair and depression far outweigh any amounts of “good news” as we navigate through the stuff of life these days. In my own family, we’ve experienced chronic sickness, abuse, death, betrayal, estrangement, theft, loss of employment, slander, and injury, just to name a few. How is someone to bear up under a soul-crushing experience or personal disaster, much less choose joy in the midst of searing pain?

Either Romans 8:28 is true or it’s not; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The seed of joy must be found in a confidence that God is always working things out for our greatest good. But it’s a challenge to confront our own broken spirits when the outcomes we had hoped for never manifest.

They first key to living a joy-filled life lies in the ability to effectively steward our emotions, given that the heart is the seat of our personal desires. Do we take time to ensure that our desires are aligned with God’s? Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord and HE (emphasis mine) will give you the desires of your heart.” Often times, disappointment is birthed out of failed expectations—when what we want never seems to come true. And if we’re being honest, most of our desires have to do with earthly circumstances, our comfort, and most certainly the absence of pain and hardship.

So what are God’s desires for us? At the top of the list is that we would have faith in Him. In James 1:2 He tells us, “My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested, it stirs up in you the power of endurance.” God’s goal is not only that we would believe in Him, but that our lives would be fueled by rock-solid, persevering, overcoming trust in Him alone. That kind of faith is only produced in the dark valley of trials and tests. When we truly believe that God is working all things out for the greatest good, then we can confront each trial from a joyful perspective, knowing that God has a good plan to grow us up into maturity of faith.

Consider Jesus’ death. It appeared to His followers that His death was the greatest ministry disaster ever. But God knew the victory He had planned for all mankind for all time! In John 16:19-24, Jesus explained to His disciples that they would grieve when He died, but also said, “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” I wonder how often we allow our circumstances or other people to steal the joy that is already ours in Christ?

The next key to sustaining our promised joy is in the verse above—the joy of seeing Jesus! He is the utmost best source of joy. So often, I find myself staring headlong at the confronting challenge as it becomes larger than my head and heart can bear. But when I purpose to turn my eyes to look at the Lord and ask Him about what He’s accomplishing in the midst of the trial, I stop fighting for the outcome that I want and begin to surrender to His plan through it.

The third key to sustaining real joy—not the fake kind that is fueled by happy circumstances—is to live a life of thankfulness. Isaiah 61:3 tells us that God will give us “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” God is always in the business of upgrading our thoughts and our trust in Him. So the question is really about our willingness to wear that garment of praise in the midst of a heartbreak. There is always something to be thankful for – the very breath in our lungs, sunshine, and most certainly, His overcoming love. As we begin to praise God for the good things He has done and take our focus off the crisis, He upgrades us with His peace and ultimately restores our joy.

The final key to owning a joy-filled heart is in fact our willingness to live a life of love. In John 15:9-12, Jesus tells us if we keep His command to “Love each other as I have loved you,” that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. In our culture, we have affixed our greatest desires on the things of the world and hinged our joy on the whether or not our earthly desires have been met. God’s very essence is His successful, unfailing love. When we come to understand the incredible gift of that love, and allow the overflow of His love to spill out, even to those who oppose us, we find the true source of uncrushable joy.

As Christ-followers, if we meter our joy through the lens of “good” or “bad” circumstances, we’ve fully missed the bedrock of God’s Kingdom and the priceless gift of His love. Why would others want to be a Christian if we ourselves haven’t yet come to appreciate and rejoice in the greatest gift that lasts well beyond life on this planet? In the midst of any trial, joy is always a choice. How will you choose?

Faith For 2021

I received an email around January 8th.  The subject line said, “Unsubscribe.” The first line of the message explained, “I have concluded the 7-day trial of 2021 and would like to unsubscribe.” With the pandemic still raging and hatred across political lines punctuating the first week, the usual hope with which we ring in every new year was swiftly demolished.

My prayer for you is that God will renew an uncrushable hope in your heart for 2021 as you fix your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2) and the true source of every good and perfect thing (James 1:17).  

What exactly is the substance of faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” If we’re being honest, despair seems like the most logical response to what we see in our world right now. And to be sure, there are many ungodly actions in the earth that grieve God’s heart—not because they are out of His sovereign control, but because mankind is abusing His gift of free-will choice to promote and protect self over others.

We are able to stand strong in faith when we first recognize that, on our own, we have no faith! Faithfulness is a gift from God (Galatians 5:22)! Trust is our response to the gift of faith as we stand in confident assurance that the One who promises to never leave or forsake us is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). In other words, if we are wringing our hands right now, we need reminding that God works “all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  “All” means everything, and God is most assuredly working out His purposes to finish the good work He began in Christ to redeem all things (Philippians 1:6). It can be difficult to discern how good can come from pain and suffering, but when we pin our hopes on God and not man for the best possible outcome, we will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). 

The exercise of our faith muscle occurs when we trust God for the unseen blessing and thank Him for His great goodness even in the midst of every fiery trial. Working out faithfulness in God’s gym requires obedience to His clear direction, even when trusting Him seems absurd to our logical minds. Abraham exercised faith when he left his home and ventured forth to an unknown destination (Hebrews 11:9), just as missionaries do.  We see faith in the prayers of a grieving spouse who thanks God for the gift of eternity, or in the elderly neighbor who prepares meals for a much younger family going through difficult days. We thank God for the couple who, by faith, sold their beautiful home to live expectantly in a small, temporary space, in hopes of moving soon onto our college’s campus to minister to the brokenhearted from that place. Then there’s the retired couple who left their home, family, friends and comforts behind to serve across the country, accomplishing construction projects for Christian ministries. 

Faith is evidenced every single time one of God’s beloved eagerly says “Yes!” to opportunities to be His light and love to the watching world. Faith is doing the hard thing for the good of others in obedience to God’s nudge. Faith is refusing to speak negatively about others and instead, praying for their blessing of faith and forgiveness while loving them with the Father’s heart. Faith is not about offering grand public gestures of doing good. Faith is a lifestyle of quietly trusting the God of the universe and walking in step with His direction, moving as He moves, and hoping with eager anticipation for stunning answer to prayer.

Jesus tells us that He will return, bringing rewards to each person according to what he has done (Revelation 22:12). And He also asked in Luke 18:8 if He would find faith in the earth when He comes back. Great question! What act of faithful obedience is God calling you to right now? Where is He stretching your faith muscle to hold onto hope and even to stand with joy as you trust confidently in Him? Know that God “is good to those whose hope is in him; to the one who seeks him!” (Lamentations 3:25). As we stand together with the Almighty—prayerful and hopeful—we can trust Him for great things in 2021!