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

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

Wildwood March 15 Services . . . Update

March 13, 2020

Dear Wildwood,

This has truly been an unusual week, hasn’t it?  Each day, the story of COVID-19 has increased in intensity and scope.  Professional and college sports leagues are cancelling or postponing competition, the University of Oklahoma has moved to online instruction, conferences and work events have dropped off the calendar, and our news feed is being updated by the hour with more and more reports of the spread of this virus.

As a church leadership team (Staff and Elders) we have continued to monitor the situation and prayerfully consider how we should respond.  Just last night, we gathered to pray for our congregation, city, and nation.  At this time, we reflected and prayed over Psalm 46.  This amazing Psalm begins with this powerful thought, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way.”  I can confidently tell you that our church leadership is not living in fear over the COVID-19 situation, and we pray that you are taking your refuge in our God with us today!

Even as we take our refuge in the Lord, though, organizations all over the world are having to make difficult decisions regarding holding public gatherings.  On a typical weekend 1,500 people congregate at Wildwood.  As many states and cities around the U.S. have begun to issue restrictions on gatherings of over 250 people to slow the spread of COVID-19, we want to make a prudent decision about Wildwood’s practice.  After much prayer, consultation with medical professionals, and discussion, we have decided to cancel all “in person” worship services, classes, and events on Sunday, March 15.  We will evaluate the situation further after this weekend concerning future Sundays, and will let you know as soon as other decisions are made.  NOTE: Next week is spring break and normal programming was already not scheduled for Monday-Friday of next week.

When state and local officials in other locations have issued their bans on large public gatherings, they have often noted that all “non-essential” activities should cease.  I want to remind all of us that we do not view church involvement as “non-essential.”  After all, Hebrews 10:25 reminds us that we are “not neglecting to meet together . . . but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  There is a real power in gathering together and encouraging one another in the Lord – especially at times like this.  So, even though we are not meeting at a specific address this weekend (1501 24th Ave. NE), we will still be worshipping together as a church family at 11AM via our YouTube Livestream.  We strongly encourage you to gather your family together and pull up our broadcast of the worship service (the video will be live at 11AM, but available anytime after that as well).  Worship together as a family as our “virtual” service will include singing.  Open God’s Word together, as Pastor Bruce preaches from Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75.  Share comments together as the stream goes along via the comments section.  Though we are not meeting in one room, we will still be of “one mind” and “one heart” as we are members of the “one BODY of Christ.”  You can access that livestream here.

One last thought.  I know some of you are relieved we are not meeting as this decision lines up with your convictions about how society should respond to this situation.  Others of you will roll your eyes at this, thinking it is an over-reaction to the media hype.  We understand both sides of these concerns.  However, we feel a charge from the Lord to shepherd this flock in its well-being.  While many of you are young and carry no underlying health condition, many of us do deal with this . . . or regularly interact with others who are in more “at risk” populations.  Think of this act as one more way of “loving our neighbors” as Jesus instructs us . . . curbing our “preference” for another’s well-being.  Know that it is our sincere desire that our church (throughout this season) grows in our faith in God and love for others (2 Thessalonians 1:3).  Our desire in this response is to take refuge in the Lord as our strength (Psalm 46:1), while also demonstrating a loving response to our city by doing our part to reduce community spread of this disease.

“See you” Sunday at 11 in our livestream, and join me in praying for God’s protection on our church, community, and the nations during this time.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

(For the Elders of Wildwood Community Church)

Corona and Control

Just a couple of weeks ago, I gathered with a group of high school sophomores and local business leaders.  One of the topics of conversation was “what is the biggest news story of your life?”  Most of the business leaders referenced things like 9/11 or the Murrah Building Bombing.  Most of the high schoolers mentioned Kobe Bryant’s death or the teacher walkout.  Honestly, it was fascinating for me to think that the bombing and 9/11 were events that took place before these high schoolers were born (I’m older than I think).  I also marveled at the notion that the biggest news stories of these young leaders’ lives were these events.  Today, though, as I think back on that interaction (which took place on February 29 — just 12 days ago) it is shocking that COVID-19 was not on the list.  If we were to meet this weekend, no doubt, the developing situation of the corona virus would be on the lists of both young and old . . . things have changed that fast.

Now, I know as I write this, some of you are already getting worked up.  This issue (like most in America today) is dividing people into polarized camps.  Some believe this is an overly exaggerated issue being intentionally used to create chaos.  Others believe that this is a potentially catastrophic event, on par with the Spanish Flu of 1918  . . . or worse.  I am not going to wade into that side of this conversation. Though I have my doctorate, I am not THAT KIND of doctor.  Truth is, most of you aren’t either.  Even our medical professionals are still trying to understand what this pandemic really means.  If the educated and informed lack total clarity on this issue, then I am guessing your facebook feed is also a bit confused, even if it sounds confident.

The fact of the matter is that there really is a new viral outbreak in the world that we all are having to deal with in some ways.  It is impacting our world financially, personally, professionally, and socially.  In 2020, everyone feels like they need to respond in some way . . . the onslaught of information almost demands it.  Every business I am on an email list for is sending me their “response” to this crisis.  So, I wanted to reach out today, and as a Pastor share some perspective on this situation.  If you want to consider this my “response” . . . so be it.  This note comes from me personally, not from any particular organization or church.

If how we personally deal with COVID-19 were a tree, then different fruits are being manifest in different people’s lives:

For some, their response to COVID-19 is the fruit of BRAVADO.  This fruit takes different shapes and forms, but when it is peeled the fruit of pride lies within.  BRAVADO leads to people daring others to shake their hands to demonstrate their courage and self-confidence, and leads others to show their disdain for newly enforced hygiene regulations by publicly violating them in jest.  Sadly, BRAVADO also shows up in churches where some Christians are mocking others for taking extra precautions as this pandemic spreads — the subtle thought being, “if you were spiritual or smart LIKE ME, you would not be concerned.”

For others, their response to COVID-19 is the fruit of FEAR.  Not the healthy kind of respect . . . but the unhealthy kind of crippling anxiety.  Most of us don’t have to decide if the public school system will cancel classes or if the University will move to online instruction or if we should keep that business meeting scheduled in London for next week or when the NBA will resume games . . . but when fear is driving your bus, you are obsessed with decisions you don’t even have to make!  

If you were to follow the fruits of “BRAVADO” and “FEAR” to their roots, we would find a common core:  CONTROL.  Though bravado and fear look different on the outside, on the inside they both root in a desire to be in control.  Bravado thinks, “If I can control the situation with my confidence, then everything will be OK.”  Fear thinks, “If I can just think about this long enough or hard enough, I can stay in control and protect myself.”  The common root of both of these is a desire for your self to be in control.

The truth of the matter is, part of the great frustration of a situation like COVID-19 is that it reminds ALL OF US that we are not in control.  An invisible enemy is transmitting more than a fever and cough . . . it is taunting us with the notion that we are not in control.

Now the World Health Organization, CDC, and government officials are all attempting to slow the spread of the disease by putting in protective measures.  These are prudent and wise.  However, remember, their attempts are to slow down the spread of the virus to allow the medical systems of our country to not be over-run.  Slowing down is not control. 

So, who is in control?  Well, as a Christian, I am reminded at moments like this that God is in control.  God is sovereign over the economy, school and work schedules, disrupted vacations . . . even the NBA!  He is the “King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7).”  “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:36).”  The Lord “has this.”  He is the One who is in control. This does not mean that everything that happens is fun or enjoyable:  after all, in this life “all creation groans (Romans 8:22)” waiting for “the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).”  Knowing Jesus is in control reminds us that “God works all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”  

In this moment in history, instead of trying to personally gain control, let’s remember that God is in control.  When we remember that, and rest in His sovereign control, what fruits might we see produced in our lives?  Well, Galatians 5:22-23 lets us know:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Against such things there is no quarantine . . . uh, I mean law!  This reminds us that if we are resting in the knowledge that God is in control, we will not mock the person who is prone to fear, but will love them, offer peace to them in Christ, exhibit joy regardless of our circumstances, have patience with the changes in our world . . . and with others, be gentle and kind in what we say and our actions – on social media and in real life, do good deeds – like caring for those who are affected, exhibit faith in God through the storm, and be self-controlled in our behaviors and responses.  These are the fruits we should “test positive” for if we are resting in God and His Spirit.

Tapping into the root of God’s sovereignty does not lead us to hoard cleaning supplies OR be snarky about how serious we think this situation really is.  Resting in God’s sovereignty allows us to LOVE THOSE AROUND US in the midst of difficult times, and be a source of HOPE and LIFE in a world that is challenged.

While every organization, Wildwood included, is wrestling through what programming looks like in the days of COVID-19, every Christian individual can rest in Him and see His fruit of the Spirit win the day.  

One of the high school sophomores 12 days ago made an interesting observation.  She said, “I wish that the biggest news stories were not always something negative.”  I love her thought.  What if the news story of this era was the way Christians loved and lit the world around them during a time of global fear and bravado.  What a contrast that would be.  What a story that would be!  In Christ, this is possible . . . so let’s lean on Him and follow Him together to the glory of God.