Prayer as an Answer to Prayer: 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5, Part 5
Hearts that remain firm through trials don’t depend on their own strength, but hang on the steadfastness of Christ.
Hearts that remain firm through trials don’t depend on their own strength, but hang on the steadfastness of Christ.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
—1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Doesn’t it seem that bad news is all around us? It’s always the top story on the news or the main headline in the paper.
But as believers, we know the best news we could ever hear… and we celebrate it this month.
Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave. This is the event that conquered sin… it conquered death… and it made it possible for you and me to have a personal relationship with God!
Perhaps, today, this is the first time you’ve ever heard or understood this Good News.
If so, I want to tell you something: Jesus died on the cross for you. He wore a crown of thorns and was nailed to a tree because He loves you… and He wants to have a personal relationship with you today.
Will you accept this Good News today?
THIS EASTER SEASON, SHARE THE GOOD NEWS WITH SOMEONE WHO NEEDS TO HEAR IT!
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A Prayer to Focus on Our Unique Assignment
By Laura Bailey
“When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” – John 21:21-22 NIV
“Let me see your chore list!” my oldest daughter demanded, yanking the small slip of paper from her younger sister. Stomping down the stairs and barging into my room, she protested, “MOM! Why does she have fewer things to do than me?”
It wasn’t the first time we discussed differing responsibilities and addressed the more critical comparison issue. Letting out an exhausted sigh, I reminded my daughter that her tasks were appropriate for her just as her younger sisters were for her; she would do much better just to get to work than wasting time complaining and comparing assignments.
Early that week, I confessed to a friend that I was frustrated with one of my ministry roles, feeling my talent was being overlooked and underused. I then went further, openly criticizing the other sister in Christ chosen for the position, questioning her credentials and experience. I felt that all too familiar conviction of the Holy Spirit stirring my heart as I admonished my daughter.
At the end of the book of John, we read of an interaction between Peter and Jesus. In the early verses of John 21, we read where Jesus reinstated Peter after his betrayal, commanding him to “feed his sheep” and telling Peter of the death he would face. After being wholly forgiven for denying Christ and given the immense responsibility of caring for God’s people, Peter looked up, saw John, another of the disciples, and asked, “Well, what about him? What is he going to do?” The first time I read these verses, I thought, “Are you serious, Peter? That’s what you took away from your time with Jesus. You wanted to know what was going to happen to John. How dense are you?”
Have you ever responded like my daughter and me, or Peter?
Do you discount your home while wishing you had a house like your neighbor’s?
Or do you find yourself discontented with work and wishing you had your coworker’s assignment list instead?
In Peter’s defense, Jesus shared some weighty news about how Peter would die so that Peter would wonder about John’s fate. Jesus’ response to Peter is not critical but doesn’t answer Peter’s question. Instead, Jesus responds with a question, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22)
Jesus was trying to make the point that Peter’s faith and God’s assignment for his life weren’t dependent on what would happen to John. The Lord has a unique plan for each of His children; our focus should be looking ahead, not from side to side, distracted by what God has planned for those around us.
What God has planned for someone else doesn’t change our assignment or call to obedience. Nothing good comes from comparing our circumstances to others; the Lord knew we would struggle with contentment, including “thou shall not covet” in the ten commandments.
May we be people so consumed with delighting in the Lord’s will for our own lives, focusing on our unique assignment, that we don’t have to waste our energy worrying about what others are doing. This is not to say that we don’t check in with our neighbors, ask about the lives of our friends and family, or touch base with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can happily listen and encourage others in their unique assignments and obey God’s calling on our life because God created each of His children with a plan he predestined before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that you are longsuffering with your children. We often neglect to give you praise and gratitude instead of cursing and complaining about our circumstances. Give us eyes to see people the way you do, choosing to rejoice with those who rejoice and encouraging one another as they seek to further your kingdom.
Forgive us when we compare our circumstances, desiring the gifts, talents, and resources of others. We ask that you fill our hearts with gratitude, reminding us daily of the infinite blessings you have bestowed in our lives. We love you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/DGLimages
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One of my favorite aspects of being part of an active church is the fellowship that we experience when we get together. And, if I am honest, during those times that we are together for small groups or other events, one of my main enjoyments is eating good food!
Of course, it is not just about the food itself; it is what eating together brings. Eating meals gives a group of people something physical to do (which is unifying in and of itself).
It gives us something to enjoy together, which helps us build positive feelings and even memories, it disarms us so we can bring our guard down, and it works as an ice breaker to facilitate casual conversation.
Most importantly, eating a meal with other Christians turns us more into the kind of family that God designed us to be for a few moments as we enjoy food that will hopefully lead to greater fellowship in the future.
Because if you know what it is like to be in a healthy church or if you are familiar with the model of church that the New Testament gives us, you will know that the Church really is like a family.
I was reminded of this reality recently when I was talking with a missionary friend of mine. As he described his church on the mission field in South America, he happily described a group of people that cared for each other, were affectionate toward one another, and that really wanted to be together.
That is not only how Jesus wanted the church to be, but that is exactly how he started it — like a family!
He was born into a family with parents and siblings, and he lived with and participated with that family for most of his life. Then in the end, he loved his family so much that with one of his last breaths, as he hung on the cross, he made sure that his mom would be cared for (John 19:26-27).
Jesus taught about the importance of family and marriage (the foundation of the family) as well. One of his most popular teachings can be found in Mark 10:6-9 when Jesus declared that:
“…from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ‘So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
But Jesus did not just teach about the importance of family and marriage; he actively endorsed it to the point that his very first public appearance (after his somewhat-public baptism, of course) was at a wedding that he attended with his mother and disciples and where he performed his first miracle.
And Jesus was not just a bystander at this wedding — he even got involved with “serving refreshments” (John 2).
But then, in that same passage where Jesus gave his disciple John the responsibility of caring for his mother, we get a hint about the kind of family relationship that Jesus also had with his disciple because the writer uses the phrase “the disciple whom he loved” (John 19).
This is because Jesus did not just focus on caring for his physical family, but he essentially welcomed all of his followers in and treated them like family, too.
Mark tells the story that one time when Jesus was ministering to a crowd, and some people told him that his mother and brothers were outside, he responded with,
“Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35).
As we read through the gospels, we find that at different times Jesus walked with them on trips, he road with them in boats, he reclined with them in homes, he attended feasts and celebrations together with them, he taught them lessons like a father teaches his children, he rescued them when they were in trouble, he allowed them to make mistakes and then used those experiences to teach them even more, and, my favorite part, he ate with them!
God himself, in the flesh, took the time to sit down and share a meal with his disciples — and like we already mentioned — that is such a keyway that he treated them like family.
One particular time when he did this is what we call the “Last Supper.” One important detail in Matthew 26:20-29 is that Jesus served the bread and wine to Judas Iscariot, who he knew was against him and that would soon betray him.
This is a perfect illustration of how families even care for members who they do not get along with or that they are even more like enemies with. Another important detail is that Jesus said he would do this again… one day. We will come back to that in a minute.
This family dynamic of Jesus’ ministry did not end with him.
Very soon after Jesus’ ascension back to heaven in Acts 2, the apostles gave the gospel to people from all over the world and invited them into the family of God — something that only the Jews thought they had claims to at the time.
Then, as a result, the picture that we get of the First Church is nothing short of the kind of “utopian” society that other cults have tried to mimic.
They loved to each other, meeting together regularly, and sharing resources in a way that makes even the tightest-nit family seem like sworn enemies! This is because the Gospel of Jesus brings people together like never before.
Then later, the Apostle Paul taught about this family mentality by teaching the churches he started that we must not allow our differences to define us or divide us but seek unity and agreement (1 Corinthians 1).
He taught in the “love chapter” that while faith and hope are important facets of our Christian faith, our love for one another is most important (1 Corinthians 13).
Paul also used the analogy of the human body with its many, unique members — that each has different functions but all serve one another to describe how the church is to view itself and treat one another.
This is important for us to study because the example of the First Church and Paul’s instructions to the churches he pastored “from a distance” gives us the standard for us today. One article that I recently read said that
I“f we are intent on trusting Christ to work in us as we gather and open to being Christlike as we gather, then — whether it’s for a meal or a church service or a golf game or a playdate for the kids — we share in that beautiful fellowship. We were designed for this kind of fellowship, this kind of connection in Jesus, and we cannot find it anywhere but the body of Christ. This is what finding true belonging in the church looks like.”
Lastly, the church “family” does not end here on earth.
Another important detail of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples in Matthew 26 that we mentioned earlier is that Jesus promised that in the end, after this current earth and heaven were said and done, he would again sit down with his followers and have a meal.
But this time, there will be no doubt and betrayal mixed in! John prophesied in the Book of Revelation: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
We get the impression from Luke that when Jesus returns for his “servants” (the Church) that “he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37).
What a beautiful thought that Jesus will once again serve us who have been serving him. But this will not be because he “owes” us anything, but because we will have nothing to offer Jesus, who has everything.
Then that same Jesus will welcome his children into a New Heaven and New Earth that he has “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (again — the family and marriage picture) (Revelation 21:1-4).
One writer summed all of this up by saying that the end goal of “God’s work and mission has been and continues to be a reconciled, intimate relationship with a people, his children, and the Church.“
The church is a family, not by blood, but by the Spirit.
If more people saw the church as a family with her fellowship and flaws, then fewer would be leaving it. If more pastors and church leaders saw their church as a family, fewer would treat her like a job or abuse her.
If more church members saw the church as a family, fewer would outsource the caring of each other to their pastor or deacons or the serving of one another to a paid employee.
Christian — let us go the extra mile and not just expect our church to act like a family, but to do everything we can.
For further reading:
What Is the Meaning of the Body of Christ?
What Is the Importance of Having a Spiritual Family?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/RyanJLane
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.
(RNS) — When the COVID-19 pandemic led governors across the United States to close places where people congregated, religious organizations were left scrambling. While some larger houses of worship had already been broadcasting their weekend services online, many had to suddenly and urgently master the logistics of streaming worship online.
The vast majority adapted quickly. In 2020, Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention’s research arm, indicated that just a few months into the pandemic, 97% of churches were offering some form of online worship, salvaging the best form of connection to their congregants they had.
Today, as a result, many religious leaders are facing a difficult transition: How do they nudge people off of streaming and back into the pews for weekend worship? And will they ever pull the plug on streaming services altogether?
Data from the Pew Research Center just uploaded to the Association of Religion Data Archives provides interesting insights into how religious Americans expected online services to reshape their religious lives. The American Trends Panel Wave 70 was conducted in July of 2020 — still early days of the pandemic, so it represents only worshippers’ intentions. But the survey provides some of the most wide-ranging and revealing numbers we have seen on attendance before and after the pandemic.
To begin with, it’s crucial to note that 43% of respondents, when asked about their possible religious attendance after the pandemic was over, indicated, “I did not attend religious services in person before the outbreak and will not attend when the outbreak is over.”
Thus, 2 in 5 Americans said COVID-19 had no effect on their attendance at a religious institution at all. The rest of the analysis included only those who said they would attend services online or in person after the pandemic was over.
In July of 2020, 41% of those surveyed responded that they were attending religious services exclusively online; another 14% said they were participating in worship both online and in person. Seven percent said that they were exclusively attending in person.
The real surprise of the Pew numbers is the 39% who planned to attend religious services in person or online after the lockdowns ended who said that they were not attending either option in July 2020. They had simply withdrawn from worshipping altogether.
One concern that religious leaders have had is that some of their congregation would find online streaming more convenient and would not return to worship in person when the lockdowns were lifted. The data provides some comfort on that question.
Among those who were exclusively streaming services in July of 2020, only 10% said they planned to attend services less often after restrictions were lifted. That’s not materially different from those who said they were not attending services at all during lockdowns. In other words, their behavior during the lockdowns didn’t seem to influence how frequently they intended to come to church, synagogue, mosque or temple after the pandemic.
But what about using streaming to attend religious services after the lockdowns have ended? Among those who reported that they were both attending services in person and watching them online in July 2020, 34% said they would stream services less often once the lockdown had ended. Among those who were streaming exclusively in July of 2020, 27% said that they would be watching online less often when the COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.
It seems clear from these figures that most people saw the online experience as a stop-gap measure, not a paradigm shift in how they connect with a religious community.
Nor does the quality of the online experience seem to have an effect on their return to the pews. Pew asked respondents how satisfied they were with watching a religious service through the internet. Satisfaction was high: 54% said “very satisfied,” 37% said “somewhat satisfied” and just 8% said they were not at all or not too satisfied with their online experience.
Across this range, about 90% of people said that they planned to attend in person about as often or more often when they were allowed to return to corporate worship.
Not surprisingly, having an unsatisfactory experience online did convince some people to expect they would be less likely to stream services after lockdowns were over. Of those who reported low satisfaction, 41% said that they would be watching services less often when they could return in person. Even among those who had a good experience watching online services, a quarter said that they would use the online option less often when COVID-19 was over.
When looked at broadly, there is cause for concern and comfort in this data. It should be troubling for religious leaders that about 40% of people who were worshipping in person before COVID-19 were not attending worship services in July of 2020 (either in person or through the internet). They can take comfort, however, that no matter how an individual was connected to their local congregation (either online, in person or not at all), there is little difference in their desire to return to worship.
It’s important to remember that these questions were asked about future behavior. More recent surveys have indicated that religious attendance has dropped substantially from 2018 and 2022. Next, we have to better understand any disconnect between how people thought they were going to behave and how they actually participated in religious communities after the lockdowns ended.
(Ryan Burge is an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, a pastor in the American Baptist Church and author of “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going.” He can be reached on Twitter at @ryanburge. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles here.
(RNS) — In 2008, Shay Pilnik was a Ph.D. student living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, whose first university gig came in the form of a Holocaust course that nobody wanted to teach.
“To pitch myself as a candidate for that class was very easy,” Pilnik said about becoming an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “Nobody wanted to touch it. It has a lot of emotional, cultural and political underpinnings.”
Fifteen years later, Pilnik says many educators still fear teaching about the Holocaust. But the need is greater than ever. Just this week, the Anti-Defamation League found that 2022 had the highest number of reported antisemitic incidents since the group began tracking them in 1979, and a 2020 study by the Claims Conference, an organization dedicated to securing compensation for Holocaust survivors, found that 49% of U.S. millennials and Gen Zers could not name a single concentration camp.
“We see the rise in antisemitism, most survivors are gone, and we see a lot of clues that the Holocaust is being forgotten,” Pilnik told Religion News Service. “Now is the time, we feel, to step up and rise to the occasion.”
As director of Yeshiva University’s Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Pilnik is working to equip a new generation of educators with the pedagogical tools to effectively teach the Holocaust. Founded in 2019 by Holocaust survivor Emil Fish, Yeshiva’s Fish Center already offers a Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
This fall, it will begin offering a 12-credit Advanced Certificate in Holocaust Education specifically geared toward 6-12th grade English, social studies, history or humanities teachers in both public and private schools. And in early March, the center announced a new partnership with Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center based in Jerusalem. Though the alliance is still in the early stages, the institutions plan to partner “in curriculum building, resource sharing, educator training and event design” to promote Holocaust education. Faculty affiliated with Yad Vashem will be involved in teaching courses in the new certificate program.
Though there are plenty of Holocaust and genocide studies programs at universities across the U.S., Pilnik says the Fish Center’s approach is distinct because, while people of any spiritual background can enroll, its content is rooted in Jewish experiences.
“There’s a mandate in over 20 states in the union for Holocaust education. But having said that, it’s often taught in a diluted way, and in a way where, according to a number of scholars, the subject is being inadvertently or consciously de-Judaized,” Pilnik observed. “We call it, facetiously, the Holocaust without Jews.”
According to Pilnik, the Holocaust is often framed by general conversations about human rights and genocide prevention. He believes educators must emphasize the Holocaust is “the pinnacle of the persecution Jews have experienced for two millennia.”
The Fish Center’s master’s and certificate programs offer resources for capturing the agency, creativity and humanity of Jewish people who lived during the Holocaust. Rather than stopping and starting with “The Diary of Anne Frank” or focusing exclusively on horrific images from concentration camps, these programs equip educators to tell the stories of Jewish communities who formed choirs, wrote symphonies and practiced their faith in secret.
“These stories, they’re very important, because by diluting, you also dehumanize,” said Pilnik.
The Fish Center’s 30-credit master’s program has already attracted nearly 50 students. Unlike the certificate program, which is only open to educators, the master’s program includes students who are retirees, Ph.D. hopefuls, Wall Street bankers and anesthesiologists.
Both programs have course modules taught by experts from within and beyond Yeshiva University and are offered in a synchronous, virtual format. The certificate program has a more explicit emphasis on pedagogy, though participants can go on to complete the full 30 credits for a master’s degree, if they choose. And according to Pilnik, all of the Fish Center’s programs aim to cultivate genuine connection between participants and alumni. “The response to genocide is community building,” he said.
Anna Ecker, a high school English teacher in New York City’s public schools, enrolled in the master’s program in fall 2021. She says she already feels prepared to provide better context for the Holocaust literature she teaches.
“My generation, we grew up studying the Holocaust for two days in social studies watching a scary movie. That’s the extent of our Holocaust education. And maybe I took a course in college,” Ecker told RNS. “That’s not enough to adequately prepare somebody to teach the Holocaust in a way that’s going to be meaningful.”