Are you feeling anxious? Sing!

[Note:  the following is taken from a devotional I wrote to Wildwood College Students in the wake of COVID-19.  I include it here as its principles apply to us all]

Are you anxious right now?  Feeling unsettled or uptight?  Don’t know for sure how to label it, but right now you are just “off”?  

Yeah . . . me too.

Why?  Well, our lives have just taken a disorienting turn.  In two weeks an invisible virus has gone from a punchline to a monster devouring lives, plans, and economies.  Gone is graduation, spring break trips, and March Madness.  Gone are jobs and “in person” classes and time in the dorms or sorority house.  

Let’s be honest . . . it stinks.  You may be frustrated, afraid, or mad.  You may be anxious, nervous, or bored.  Whatever it is you call it . . . it does not feel like “it is well” with us.

So what do we do?  When the virus is “after us,” the world against us, and our plans crashing down around us, where do we turn?

Well, I turn to the Psalms.  And in the Psalms I see real and honest emotion.  I see people (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) tell God that things stink.  I see people cry out about the enemies they see thriving around them.  I see people afraid and anxious and raw and real.  In the midst of it all, they are turning to God.  

And guess what?  God can take it.  God listens and loves . . . and encourages through a proper perspective and His presence.  We can go to God and be honest with Him about how we are really doing.

Many Psalms begin with honest confession, but end with praise and adoration.  It is as if the Psalmist approaches God with the particulars of their ever-changing case, but are comforted by the presence of their never-changing God.

In Psalm 30, the Psalmist  (in this case David – whose life had plenty of hardship), makes a remarkable statement.  He says – “Sing praises to the LORD, O you  His saints, and give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5)”  David was able to worship God even in the darkness of struggle, because He knew that joy would come in the morning.  David praised God in hard times because he knew the sun would rise soon — that the goodness of God is always greater than our struggle . . . so we can praise Him no matter what struggles we are going through.

In this unsettling season of COVID-19, I encourage you to praise God even when you are anxious, afraid, or uneven.  So how do we do that?  Well, I have found it is helpful to do so with music.  I think David found that to be true as well . . . that is why he encourages us to “SING” praises.  In songs we take words that someone else has written, infuse them with the emotion that only music can bring, and as we proclaim them . . . something magical happens.  Our souls are lifted up.  I think the sweetest times of worship are actually when times are hard.  We are just a little more present, real, raw . . . and  in that state, the borrowed words of a song writer just mean a bit more.  We are reminded that even in the darkness, joy comes in the morning.

So, I encourage you to sing.  That’s right, sing.  Fill your apartment (or your parent’s basement, or wherever you are) with the songs of the Lord.  Be reminded of who He is and be encouraged by His presence and the perspective that a joyous morning is soon coming when the Son rises again.

Three specifics I might encourage you with to listen to today . . . go to YouTube and search for North Point Music.  This worship team out of Atlanta, Georgia is producing “house worship” sessions every couple of days.  They are phenomenal.  Listen and sing along.  Or make a Spotify or Apple Music playlist of songs that are encouraging you right now and share that list here so we can worship along together in this season.  Or third, join us for our livestream on Sundays at wildwoodchurch.org/live and SING (not just watch) with us from wherever you are.

We love you all, and can’t wait to sing with you again very soon.

In Christ,  Pastor Mark

Defeating Death (part 7) Preview

Imagine for a moment that we were able to achieve time travel.  Instead of going back in time, what if we brought forward in time a person living in Jerusalem in 30 A.D. Now, imagine that we were to take this person from 30 A.D. and walk them around Norman, Oklahoma.  What would surprise them?

Electricity, cell phones, airplanes?  Of course those would be amazing to the ancient . . . but those things also would be UNFAMILIAR:  items not found at all in the world they knew.  From what they RECOGNIZE, what would surprise them?  Maybe style of dress, size of home, or accessibility of running water.  But what else would be shocking?

Let’s say that our 2,000 year old friend arrived on a Sunday (and we were not under a “stay at home” order) so you took them to church.  You walk into the lobby, grab your bulletin, and head into the worship center.  At that point, the ancient Jerusalemite would SHRIEK in horror.  Why?  Contrary to what some might imagine, their jaw would drop not at the lack of a robe or tie on the preacher or the presence of drums and electric guitar on the stage.  What would shock them would be the presence of a LARGE WOODEN CROSS on the wall.  That’s right . . . the cross would freak them out.  

Why?

Well, we have not seen a crucifixion, but the ancient has.  In the first century, Rome had “perfected” this heinous form of execution.  It was such an awful form of torture that the Romans would not inflict it on their own citizens (unless ordered by Caesar himself!)  The famous Roman politician of this era, Cicero, commented that crucifixion was not something that Romans should even talk about  . . . it was so awful.

And yet, here in 2020, featured in a prominent way on the wall of our WORSHIP CENTER, highlighted by lighting and sung about in songs, is a giant wooden cross.  The ancient would look at this item and assume we were both deranged and dangerous.  Why would we celebrate such a thing?

So, what happened to change the cross from something educated people did not talk about to something people wear as jewelry and hang on the walls of hallowed halls?  

Jesus happened.

“ [Jesus] who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:6-11

By going to the cross, Jesus changed the perception of the cross forever.  Not because crucifixion became less brutal, but because the crucifixion for ONE (Jesus) brought about forgiveness, hope, and eternal life for MANY.  Through that one crucifixion, Jesus not only changed the perception of the cross, but the eternal destination of us forever.

This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church in our 11AM Livestream, we will be continuing our “Defeating Death” sermon series by looking at Matthew 27:27-44 in part 7 of our series.  We hope you make plans to join us at wildwoodchurch.org/live  and invite all you know to join us as well!  There are plenty of “seats” in this virtual auditorium as we will explore the most important event in the history of the world.   “See you there!” for this Palm Sunday event.

Defeating Death (part 6) Sermon Questions and Audio

On Sunday, March 29, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church I preached a sermon based on Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2, 11-26.  This message was part 6 in the “Defeating Death” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to the message, sermon audio, and sermon video.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2, 11-26
  3. Make a list of as many things as you know about Jesus?  How do you know those things about Him?  What is the source?
  4. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Christ (Savior).  What evidence do you see that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world from the list you made in question 3?
  5. Barabbas was a criminal . . . Jesus was perfect.  Based on Pilate’s decision, the innocent One was killed, while the guilty one went free.  Jesus died in Barabbas’ place.  The cross that was prepared to Barabbas was used on Jesus.  Jesus offers to die for our sins as well.  Make a list (privately) of the sins you remember most in your life.  Spend a moment privately confessing those sins to God . . . and THANK GOD that Jesus died to pay the penalty for those sins if we trust in Him.
  6. How are you responding to Jesus right now?  Are you embracing Him as your Savior, rejecting Him like the mob in the Bible story, or trying to avoid Him like Pilate?  If you are embracing Him by faith, when did you start trusting in Him?  If you are rejecting Him or avoiding Him, why are you responding this way?  Would you consider trusting Him as your Savior today?
  7. What stands out to you most from this passage?  Any particular takeaway?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

 

To listen to sermon audio offline, click the link:

Defeating Death #6 3.29.20

 

To listen to sermon audio online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the video of the service, watch on YouTube online:

 

Defeating Death (part 6) Sermon Preview

Who someone is really matters . . . doesn’t it?  Just think of the past two weeks.  

  • Our Mayor or Governor issue instructions about the freedom of our movements and we listen to them.  Why?  Because of who they are, their words are both binding and influential.  We trust the wisdom they have because they have information and perspective we need.
  • The CDC tell us to “wash our hands” and “stop touching our face” and “stay at least 6 feet from each other” . . . and we do it.  Why?  Because of who they are.  There is science behind their recommendations.
  • The Superintendent of schools cancels classes, so we don’t show up.  Why?  Because of who he is.  He has the authority and power to make such a decision.

So, we are reminded again and again that who someone is really matters.  Now, let’s take this principle and apply it to our spiritual lives.  

Should we trust Jesus with our souls for all time?  Well, it all depends on who Jesus is.  If He is the Son of God who has existed forever . . . then YES!  we should entrust our souls to Him.  However, if Jesus were just some middle-eastern rabbi from two millennia ago, then we should not trust Him with something so important.  It matters who He is.

Should we trust Jesus as the Lord of our lives . . . obeying His commands and following His lead?  Well, it all depends on who Jesus is.  If He is the author of life and the creator of all things . . . then YES!  we should obey and follow Him.  However, if Jesus is just a moral man who lived a decent life as a “nice guy” we should not always obey Him because He could be wrong.  It matters who He is.

In this week’s sermon (part 6 of our “Defeating Death” sermon series) at Wildwood Community Church, we will look at two trials Jesus went through on the morning of His crucifixion as recorded in Matthew 26:57-68 and 27:1-2; 11-26.  In these two trials, the conversation shifts from what Jesus had done to WHO HE IS.  Sadly Pilate and Caiaphas never understood, but we might learn from their interactions who Jesus really is, so that we might entrust our souls to Him and follow Him forever.  “See you” Sunday in our 11AM Livestream as we unpack these passages together.  Looking forward to the time, and invite your friends to tune in with you at wildwoodchurch.org/live

Defeating Death (part 5) Sermon Questions & Video

On Sunday, March 22, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 26:36-56; 27:3-10.  This message was part 5 in the “Defeating Death” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to this sermon for personal application or group study.  Also (when available) the sermon video and audio will be posted here as well.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 26:36-56; 27:3-10
  3. What adversity are you facing right now?  Seriously . . . make list of all the things you feel like are pressing down around you.
  4. Jesus literally had the weight of the world on His back . . . so what did He do?  He went before the Lord in prayer!  What can you learn from Jesus’ example of prayer in the face of adversity?  How are you praying through the adversity you are facing right now?
  5. Seeing Jesus “in action” in 26:36-56, what stands out to you about His attitude regarding His progress toward the cross?  What does this tell you about who Jesus is and what He thinks of you?
  6. In the message today, we compared genuine “faith” with the “recognition” of the mob and the “regret” of Judas Iscariot.  Faith is something deeper than either of those reactions.  How would you describe the difference between genuine faith and the counterfeit responses of the mob and Judas?
  7. What stands out to you most from this passage?  Any particular takeaway?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen to sermon audio offline, click link to download:

Defeating Death #5 3.22.20

 

To listen online, use media player below:

 

To watch the video of the service, see online below:

 

Christ our Hope in Life and Death

A new song just released from the crew at Getty Music. The song, “Christ our Hope in Life and Death,” is an adaptation of the Heidelberg Catechism set to music.  The music is uplifting.  The lyrics are full of truth that every one of us needs to memorize in this current time.  You can listen to it on Apple Music or Spotify.  My sincere thanks to the songwriting team Getty Music has put together that still writes songs like this for a modern church.

The song is written like a catechism . . . with questions and answers. Check out the words below.  

“Christ our Hope in Life and Death” by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Matt Merker, Jordan Kauflin

What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone

What is our only confidence? That our souls to Him belong

Who holds our days within His hand? What comes apart from His command?What will keep us to the end?  The Love of Christ in which we stand!

 

O Sing Hallelujah, our hope springs eternal.

O Sing Hallelujah, our hope springs eternal.

 

Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death.

What truth can calm the troubled soul? God is good, God is good

Where is His grace and goodness known? In our great Redeemer’s blood

Who holds our faith when fears arise?Who stands above the stormy trial?Who sends the waves that send us nigh unto the shore?  The rock of Christ

 

O Sing Hallelujah, our hope springs eternal.

O Sing Hallelujah, Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death.

 

Unto the grave what shall we sing? Christ He lives, Christ He lives

And what reward will heaven bring?  Everlasting life with Him.

There we will rise to meet the Lord, then sin and death will be destroyed, and we will feast with endless joy, when Christ is ours forevermore!

 

O Sing Hallelujah, our hope springs eternal.

O Sing Hallelujah, Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death.

O Sing Hallelujah, our hope springs eternal.

O Sing Hallelujah, Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death.

Defeating Death (part 5) Sermon Preview

My son runs track and field.  Like many parents in my situation, that places me in the stands to watch meets during the spring time.  Now, I love sports.  I really do.  Almost every sport has great interest for me . . . except track.  I just don’t consider track meets the best sporting experience:  they are long, slow (for a sport based on speed, this is ironic), and repetitive (‘round and ‘round we go).

Now, that said, there are two things I do love about track:

  1. Watching my son race.  (I’m a dad after all!)
  2. Watching every relay.  (Relays, regardless of distance, bring an entirely different element into track that is far more enjoyable for me to watch.)

Some of you are irate at this point (I’m looking at you “track guy”).  You love this sport and my comments are offensive.  I get it.  Start complaining about the NBA, and I may question your intelligence as well.  We all have our interests and hobbies.  Whether you love track or (like me) prefer other sports, most of us do enjoy relays.

In a relay you have multiple “legs” to the race, each running equal distances, with a baton passed from person to person along the way.  This team effort adds drama and excitement to even the longest of relays . . . something new, yet connected is around every turn.

In a sense, history is a relay.  One generation receives a “baton” from those who proceeded them and then one day pass it on to those who follow.  But even in a greater, macro-level sense, history has unfolded and will continue to unfold as a relay race. Though human history is long, slow developing, and repetitive (nothing new under the sun), there has been a greater story unfolding from the start . . . and this Sunday at Wildwood as we look at Matthew 26 we will see the baton passed at a critical moment in history.  What do I mean?

  • Human history began in a Garden (the Garden of Eden), where humanity first sinned (Genesis 2-3).
  • Human history turned in the Garden (the Garden of Gethsemane), when Jesus stayed the course and went to the cross (Matthew 26:36-56).
  • Human history finishes in the Garden (the New Heaven and New Earth), when Jesus returns people who trust in Him to their full, right, and eternal fellowship with God (Revelation 21-22).

Another way to look at this relay:

  • Humanity fell  at a tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3).
  • Humanity is saved when Jesus hung on the tree (the cross) to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 27).
  • Humans who trust in Jesus will one day experience eternal life around a tree (the tree of life) living in fellowship with God forever (Revelation 22:1-5).

In both of these relays (“Garden to Garden” and “Tree to Tree”) the middle “leg” is where the race is won.  This Sunday at Wildwood we will look into the Garden of Gethsemane together to see how the rest (of us) are won as Jesus confirms His decision to hang on the tree.  Make plans to join us on our livestream at wildwoodchurch.org/live this Sunday at 11AM in part 5 of our “Defeating Death” sermon series, looking at Matthew 26:36-56, 27:3-10.

Psalm 46 Devotional Video

Tonight, I shared a devotional on Wildwood’s livestream.  Below you will see the video (via YouTube online) of this devotional that encourages us with how we can respond when we are “under siege” . . . like in this COVID-19 crisis (using Psalm 46 as our guide).

March 18 Wildwood Update

March 18, 2020

Dear Wildwood,

Hello Church!!  Are you dizzy yet?  I feel like my life is a merry-go-round where every few moments another piece of news comes my way to spin my reality further into chaos.  A troubled economy, closed schools, increasingly restrictive directives from governing officials, and the ever-present specter of contracting illness . . . round and around and around we go . . . Given this reality, wouldn’t it be great to find a place to shelter in the midst of the storm?  

Good news.  I know of such a place!  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!’ (Psalm 91:1-2)”  Friends, this refuge and fortress never closes, is never overwhelmed, and always welcomes you to take shelter inside. While our public meetings are no longer “in person” for a season, we can shelter TOGETHER spiritually under the protection and provision of the Lord our God.  Let’s place our hope in Him together!

Now with that reminder, let me get to some specifics regarding Wildwood Community Church’s program plan in this current climate.  Effective immediately and until further notice, Wildwood will not host any “in person” gatherings (large or small, meeting in the church or in homes, for all of our ministry areas).  This also applies to all programming that meets in our facility (whether hosted by Wildwood or a partner organization).  As soon as we believe it is safe to return to normal, “in person” programming we will let you know.  Until then, we strongly encourage – even admonish – you to continue to meet together with us in our online platforms.

Wildwood livestreams our online worship service each Sunday at 11AM.  Make plans to join us each Sunday in this format at wildwoodchurch.org/live .

Additionally, Wildwood’s staff and ministry leaders are meeting right now to consider how best to equip and encourage you during this season.  We love you and are praying for you!  Instead of just thinking of this moment like a “snow day,” where we check out of life for a weekend, think of it as a “winter” . . . a new season to reset the rhythm of your life on what matters most.  As always, Wildwood is for following Jesus together to the glory of God.  Let’s each renew our commitment to do that at this time!  What if your goal for this period of “social distancing” was not just to survive, but to thrive spiritually?  What if our goal is to come to the end of this “quarantine” with a greater faith in God and love for others?  We think this is possible!  After all, Jesus is always growing His church and the gates of coronavirus will not prevail against it!

To help encourage us during this time, our children’s ministry, student ministry, and adult ministry teams are putting together plans to guide us in spiritual growth this season.  We will reveal a number of these plans (and how to access them) during the livestream of our worship service this Sunday.  Hop on board with us!  These are extraordinary times . . . but we know an EXTRAORDINARY GOD who works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Thanks friends!  “See you” Sunday!  Oh . . . and for those who are interested and available, I will be live-streaming a devotional Wednesday March 18 at 6PM central time at wildwoodchurch.org/live focused on Psalm 46, and the hope we have in God in troubled times.  We know the Truth which sets us free from fear in the midst of an otherwise “scary” time.  Join us in praying for those around us as we all look for opportunities to share the reason for our hope – now and always.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Companion Links for March 15, 2020 Worship Service

Hello friends!  If you are joining us for the Livestream of Wildwood’s services today, here are a few links that may prove helpful.

 

To watch the service, view via Youtube:

 

 

To let us know you would like to be added to Wildwood’s email newsletter, click here to fill out a form.

 

To let us know a prayer request you would like for us to be praying for, click here.

 

To access the questions for discussion, click here.

 

To learn more about our “Stream Team” click here.