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The Gift

“What are you giving up for Lent?” I overheard several chatting and saw some online conversations about this as the Easter season began several weeks (or several decades?) ago.

The answers would vary. Some would go to the stand-by sacrifices of favorite foods or beverages. Others were planning to fast from social media. And some (like me) were going to ignore it altogether.

I did not grow up in a liturgical church that followed the church calendar. Lent was something reserved for Catholics or Lutherans and, according to my upbringing, was not something Baptist folks observed (though we did often eat fish on Friday). Lent, I later learned in seminary, has long been observed as part of the Christian calendar. My observance of Lent became listening to the second part of Handel’s Messiah to remind me of the Easter season.

There are some healthy things about Lent we would do well to pay attention to, and, whether we like it or not, we have been participating in a rigorous Lenten season.

If we see God as Sovereign over all He has created, then that leaves little room for coincidence and luck. Things happen for a reason; some we understand and some are above our pay grade. My belief is it is not coincidence that the coronavirus crisis began in America at almost the same time Lent began.

As the coronavirus began to take hold in America, we immediately began losing things. We experienced having things taken from us that were precious to us as Americans: our freedom to travel around as we wanted, our access to stores that actually had what we wanted on the shelves, our ability to gather together in worship.

The list can go on. Now I said these things were “taken” from us. But let me suggest something to you. Things cannot be taken from you if you willingly surrender them.

Ok don’t click off yet. “What are you giving up for Lent?” Well, I am giving up my ability to come and go as I please. I am giving up my right to have answers. I am giving up my freedom and joy of assembling with my church family for worship. I am giving up access to restaurants, and coffee shops, and social gatherings, and face-to-face conversations with friends.

What if we started to approach this whole thing differently? Instead of griping and grousing about what we are having “taken away” from us, what if we simply said, “It’s Lent. I’m giving these up in remembrance of the One Who gave everything up for me?”

Jesus said, “No man can take My life from Me; I give it freely.”

What if we surrendered these things joyfully? What if we live in imitation of the One Who “though He was equal with God, did not consider (the rights) of that equality something to be grasped?” What would it mean if we were to say, “Lord whatever you want to do with me through these things I’m surrendering, then I give them as a gift?”

And as this mentality takes hold in us, we allow it to guide us as we approach Holy Week; the week where we remember Christ’s passion, Christ’s willingness to die for our sins, Christ’s willingness to die alone on a cross. Let the things we are surrendering draw us closer to Him in His dying, so we can also be drawn closer to His resurrection. What if we willingly sacrificed these conveniences and the blessings we have known (and often taken for granted) as a gift to Jesus?

What are you giving up for Lent?

A Choice

All of us, to one degree or another, are experiencing having things taken from us.  Things we have come to value, love, and maybe take for granted.

  • A visit with friends at our favorite coffee shop or restaurant
  • A gathering of believers in worship at our local church
  • A paycheck
  • A predictable future

I’m convinced that we aren’t at the end of that experience… at least not yet. Certainly some are sacrificing and feeling this more than others. A family in our church, the Moodys, experienced the painful separation of husband and father Evan who was deployed by the military to serve in one of the virus hotspots as a member of the medical team.

We don’t yet know where all of this will end. Some (ME!) are asked to stay at home due to age (ME!) or vulnerable health. But really, that’s a small sacrifice to make. Some will face some very hard days ahead. We can’t predict what it will be or who it will happen to. But we can predict how we will react to it should that time come.

We have a choice. A choice as to our attitude through this whole crisis, and personally… internally… a choice moment-by-moment how we are going to respond.

May we choose joy. I’ve tried to remind you in sermons and in other things I’ve written that, as followers of Christ, we are “infected” with a much more contagious agent than the coronavirus. Joy is catching. Joy is more contagious than ANY virus ever created. Joy is the only antidote to fear, and depression, and self-pity.

When Paul wrote, as he did in many places, that we are to “rejoice in the Lord,” he did two things:

(1). He wrote, in the Biblical language, with an imperative voice meaning it’s a command. We are commanded to be joyful! That means that joy doesn’t wait for our feelings to catch up. Joy controls our feelings, not vice-versa. We are commanded to be joyful.

(2). He showed us that joy is a choice we make, regardless of difficult or even austere outward circumstances. A Roman prison cell, an enforced lockdown, is a strange place to write about having joy, and yet he rejoiced!

We choose joy. We don’t know what God is doing in all of the things happening to us, but we know HE IS DOING SOMETHING! And so we rejoice in what God IS doing in this, not because it’s pleasant now, but because we will understand God’s purpose in it. And it will be a cause of joy.

We choose joy. We can still pray. We can still worship. And we CAN choose joy because of the promise of what lies ahead, not because we’re having such a great time now. And we can rejoice because we know the One Who is in control of this…

…loves us.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, REJOICE”

An Unseen Enemy

It’s a strange time, and one that is testing each of us… our nation, and even the world, to the breaking point. An enemy has landed among us, like some alien force from a science fiction movie, and it’s great weapon is invisibility. We can’t see it.

The effects? Oh we see plenty of those. Empty parking lots at malls, restaurants, and churches. Full parking lots and shopping carts at grocery and big box stores, filled by fearful people. We see the stock market plummeting, the President floundering to know what to do next, and the medical system brought to its knees with overflowing patient need. This enemy is relentless, merciless, and all too real.

But yet invisible. How do we fight an invisible enemy? One we can’t see with our eyes, and one which can invade and assault our bodies through an airborne droplet or an infected surface or doorknob.

Yet as Christians, we should be the most familiar with unseen realities. We have been redeemed by a God we cannot see. We have been filled with a Spirit we cannot know with our eyes. And we have a Savior Who, “Having not seen Him, yet we love Him.”

And yes, we and this entire world are afflicted by a spiritual enemy we cannot see. Our adversary, like a roaring lion, roams about unseen in this world “seeking whom he may devour.” We never see him coming.

So how do we defeat these unseen foes? We are in a spiritual war as Christians. At all times. We are constantly barraged by “the flaming darts” of the evil one. The Bible is clear. We are either casualties in this war, or we are taking up the armor of God and standing firm in it.

We defeat the coronavirus threat with the same invisible weapon we use to defeat the enemy of our souls: Prayer. As the Christian prays, the enemy flees. As Christians across America and, in fact, across the world… fall to our knees and cry out to God the enemy will fall. Every time.

While we are “socially distancing” at home, or at least away from the fellowship of believers for a time, use this opportunity to wield this invisible weapon against the enemy.

Don’t let fear overwhelm you. Don’t let the icy grip of the devil choke out the vitality of your prayer life. Get on your knees. Ask God for grace and deliverance for us.

And though unseen, the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) will avail much.” Let’s unleash the unseen against our invisible enemy… whether that enemy is a microscopic virus… or Satan himself.


We are providing worship plans for families and a in-home Bible study guide to walk us through Easter Sunday. 

Philippians Sermon Notes Week 03

THE SECRET OF CONTAGIOUS JOY
Finding Joy in the Hard Places
(Philippians 1:11-21)

Few of us would expect to find joy locked in a prison cell for being obedient to God, and awaiting a death sentence. Paul’s location (as he puts it “the thing that have happened to me”) gives a lot of credibility to his words. When he shows us how he finds joy, even in the hard places, that gives us encouragement in “the things that have happened to us!”

FINDING JOY IN SPITE OF TOUGH CIRCUMSTANCES (vv12-14)

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

It isn’t a stretch for us to see that we have entered into one of the toughest seasons most of us have ever experienced. And I’m not just referring here to the NCAA or NBA seasons being cancelled or Disney World closing down. People are frightened. They are confused. They are lost and if they don’t know the Lord, they have nowhere to look for help.

If you’re listening this morning as a believer, then you can say with Paul, that in spite of our circumstances:

  1. We know God allows nothing to happen for us without a reason. Paul looked for the Divine purpose in everything happening to him.
  2. We know that things happen TO US so that God can make things happen THROUGH US. What was Paul’s optimism? That “the whole imperial guard has heard the Gospel.” Paul didn’t want to be in prison, even as you don’t want to be stuck in the prison of your tough circumstances. But he saw that, even through the inconvenience and difficulty, he God was using him to share Jesus with those whose job it was to be tethered to him by a chain. They learned that this Jewish prisoner they were guarding was really the free one, and they were the prisoner, and they knew he was imprisoned for the Gospel and was not a criminal.
  3. We know that as much as this ride we’re on feels like a downhill bobsled ride with no brakes, God is in control even of this. This is the time for us to answer the hard questions. “Where does my confidence really lie?” “What am I trusting in for my resources and provision?” “Who am I really looking to as my strength?”

We find joy when we realize that our tough circumstances have a purpose, that God isn’t going to waste a moment of what we’re going through, that HE is in control of everything happening right now…GOD IS GREATER…and we need to begin asking this question: What is God wanting to do THROUGH ME in this time as we wait out the coronavirus; as things are happening around us and TO us that we cannot control?

WE CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF DIFFICULT PEOPLE

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
This is also a tough one. All of us have experienced a person, or multiple people, who have just made it their mission to make life harder for you. Maybe it’s an unsympathetic boss at work, or an annoying co-worker, or someone who says unkind and untrue things about you online, or an irritating neighbor. We will all encounter difficult people in life.

John Ortberg has a book he entitled, “Everybody’s Normal ‘til You Get to Know Them.” Everybody’s got a little dysfunction in them; well… some have more than others… and it’s tough if the difficult person in your life is your mate, or a parent, or even a child.

So I’m not going to give you three simple steps in how to pray that person out of your life…they may be there to stay. Paul was continually hounded by people whose mission in life was to frustrate his. Let’s be honest. Those people can suck the joy right out of you, can’t they?

In some settings, Paul had to deal with Jewish teachers who were jealous of his success, or angry at his teaching that disagreed with theirs. Some thought they were doing God a favor. Clearly they were enemies of the Gospel.

But I think it was a lot tougher on Paul to deal with those who claimed to be on his side. I heard of a guy who was permanently injured in a game when he was tackled by his own teammate. You can brace yourself from a hit by the opposing team. But when it’s coming at your blindside, from a person wearing your uniform, you can’t get ready for it.

Paul was being tackled by those who claimed to be on “Team Jesus.” But he chose joy. Let me offer a paraphrase of what he said:

“So what if some preach Christ with wrong motives? Furthermore some may be overly impressed with themselves. Who cares? What really matters is this: Christ is being proclaimed…and that thought alone intensifies my joy! All the other stuff, I leave to God. “

Now Paul never allowed the message of the Gospel to be compromised. He said in Galatians,

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

God is able to accomplish His purposes even through people we may see as difficult. And even though we may not rejoice in that troubling person, we can find joy knowing that the Gospel can go forward in spite of them!

FINDING JOY IN SPITE OF UNCERTAIN OUTCOMES

“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (vv 19-21)

Paul truly didn’t know how the situation he was in was going to turn out. There were no lawyers representing criminals in jail cells in Rome. Paul could be set free…or he could face the executioner’s axe.

I think by far one of the most frustrating things for many of us in dealing with this virus crisis is the uncertainty of it all. How long are we going to have to wait? Will someone I know be infected? Will I? What about my job? My business? My children? My future? The economy?

And no one can tell us the outcome. All the entities we have come to depend on in times like this: government; economics; health care; nobody seems to know what to do.

So clearly the government can’t save us; our money can’t save us; the medical community is overwhelmed. But it leaves a big question that needs to be answered: What are you really trusting in?

Paul could say, “For me, to live is Christ…and to die is gain.” In essence he was saying, “If the worst-case scenario, physically, happens to me it won’t be a loss, but a gain.” That’s confidence, folks. That’s trusting Jesus above everything else. He was saying, “Don’t cry at my funeral. I haven’t lost…I’ve gained everything!”

If I live on physically, I live for Christ. If I die, I go to live with Christ. Either way, you win. Either way, there is joy.

So where is your confidence and ‘earnest expectation’ today?
For me to live is….______________? And to die is…____________?

Will you think about that for a moment with me? How would you fill in those blanks? For me to live is…money? Fame? A relationship on earth? Success in business? And if that is how you would honestly fill in the blank, then how would you fill in the second? “To die is……

If nothing else, this coronavirus gives us opportunity to truly ask ourselves some hard questions. Where does your trust lie this morning? Is it in something that death can take from you? Or do you know a relationship with Jesus that makes life worth living NOW, and death no longer something to fear, but something that will bring gain?

It’s time to think hard about these questions folks. Until we have this settled, something like the threat of this virus will continue to terrorize you and rob you of joy.

  1. We can choose joy in our difficult circumstances if we know Christ.
  2. We can choose joy in spite of difficult people if the Gospel is being proclaimed
  3. We can choose joy in spite of uncertain outcomes in life is Christ is our life, and our victory. Even death is gain!

A Prescription for Anxiety

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

  1. Read twice daily:  Once in the morning and once in the evening.
  2. Read it to your children.  Every day.
  3. If you choose to watch the media, read before and after each broadcast.
  4. Believe what you read.  This is God’s Word.
  5. ‘Nuff said.

A word from Pastor Tim regarding the Coronavirus

Fruit Cove family, we are aware of and up to date with the precautions and measures we should take to be a clean, healthy, and safe campus in light of the Coronavirus. We care deeply about our guests and our church family. We have an opportunity to show our neighbors and the world what it means to live our lives trusting God and not in fear. To our knowledge no member or attender of Fruit Cove has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, and our prayers are with the 14 Florida residents that have. Our plan is to gather every Sunday and Wednesday (per our schedule), unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Here are a couple of simple notes about the Coronavirus in regard to what we are doing and what we are asking of you:

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
  • Stay home if you are sick. Watch Fruit Cove online at fruitcove.com or Facebook!
  • If you have been exposed to anyone with the coronavirus, the flu, or any other contagious condition please stay home for 14 days (per the CDC).
  • If you have recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea please stay home to watch your symptoms 14 days (per the CDC).
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
  • We are instituting the “fist bump” as the official greeting on campus. No more “right hand of fellowship” handshakes until this situation clears. For reference and a lesson in proper technique see the Sunday morning message from March 8 at fruitcove.com/sermons.
  • Our Facilities Team will continue to make sure our campus is clean and ready for use. This includes a plan for regular sanitization.
  • Beginning this Sunday we will be sanitizing highly touched surfaces before and after every service such as doors, handles, tables, water fountains, check-in stations, and sinks. This includes a heavy focus on our preschool and kids ministry areas.
  • Offering time will be moved to the very end of the worship service where congregants will be able to give their tithes and offerings as they exit.
  • Our staff and volunteer teams will wash their hands frequently and will stay home if they are sick.
  • We will be providing additional hand sanitizer stations around campus for everyone to use. These will be located in ministry area welcome centers and The Pavilion.
WHAT IS OUR SPIRITUAL RESPONSIBILITY?
  • We need to remember that followers of Jesus do not need to live in fear. He has power over all things, and we are eternally secure.
  • Our calling is to love our neighbor, whether they are sick or healthy.
  • Pray for God’s mercy and wisdom for US and global leaders as they deal with the crisis.
WHAT ABOUT MISSION TRIPS?

 In conversations with the International Mission Board and our church planting partners on the ground in London we have decided to postpone the HS Senior mission trip to London. This was a hard decision to make but we feel it is the right decision. You can read the full IMB statement here https://www.imb.org/2020/03/09/imb-recommends-volunteers-postpone-travel/.

At this time we are evaluating that status of planned trips to Jersey City, Miami and Puerto Rico over Spring Break. We will continue to maintain contact with our partners on the ground and unless our partners think it is not safe for us to come, the state of Florida recommends no travel, or the US State Department issues a travel warning we will proceed with all trips as planned. Participants of these trips do have the option of cancelling by contacting the Missions Office at 904-287-0996.

A SIMPLE TO-DO LIST TO PREPARE FOR THE CORONAVIRUS

  1. Don’t panic. Wash your hands. 20 seconds at least. A lot.
  2. Don’t watch/listen to the media. You might want to really limit your intake of Fox News and your favorite ABC or CNN news shows. You are keeping your mind and body on high alert because this stuff doesn’t stop 24/7. Use the time instead to pray for people around you. The time you would spend chewing your nails in front of the TV might better be used in a family Bible study!
  3. Adults…parents…your kids are watching you. If you panic, they’ll panic.  Answer questions they have if you can. Help them learn to access the Bible so they can calm themselves when everybody else is running around like Chicken Little. The truth really will set you… and them… free!
  4. Deal with your fears and anxiety head on. Don’t walk blindly into the devil’s den. He is the author of fear and a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour…and he’s already been snacking on some of you. Don’t give fear a foothold in your life. Ever. The enemy will exploit it every time.
  5. There is nothing contradictory to your faith or testimony in simple, wise preparation as that is needed. Just as you would do during a hurricane season, prepare for the possibility that the early stages of the virus may lead to short supplies and shutdowns. But don’t panic purchase. Think through what your household needs for an emergency. (Proverbs 27:12)
  6. Bear witness well to your faith. Be distinctive in your response to this. You have a God Who is real… a God Who is Sovereign… a God Who is watching over you. Sleep well tonight knowing that He’s got this!
  7. Trust the Lord with all your heart… and you’ll overcome the enemy’s assault… every time.

Joyful Praying

“…making my prayer with joy.”  (Philippians 1:4 ESV)
Is your prayer life joyful?  Is joy one of the first words that come to mind when you think about praying?  Or are the main words:
  • Drudgery
  • Duty
  • Boring
  • Rushed
  • Mechanical?
Many people find praying difficult or guilt-inducing rather than freeing and empowering and, well, joyful.  In Philippians 1, Paul shows us the secret to a joy-saturated experience with prayer.
One of the secrets to being a joyful Christian is learning to see our time of prayer, not as a hardship, but as time we hesitate to leave.  We are reconnecting our lives to the Lord of all Creation when we pray.  There is nothing of drudgery, or dullness, or boredom in that.
When we pray, our prayers should resonate with Heaven’s joy.  Yes, there are times we come to God in prayer with the sacrifice of our tears and pain.  Yet, the joy of the Lord should be our entry into His Presence…
… and the gift with which we leave.

Joy in Giving

During a visit to Korea, two American businessmen were surprised to see a young farmer hitched to a plow that was guided by his father. Later they learned that both father and son were Christians who sold their only ox to provide money for a new church building. “What a stupendous sacrifice!” said one of the businessmen. “Not really,” replied a missionary accompanying them. “They were only sorry they had but one ox to give to the Lord’s work.”

As Americans we often give what we can afford to Kingdom work, but only infrequently (if at all) give a gift that costs us dearly. Jesus commended the widow who came and gave “all that she had to live on” to the offering at the temple. Others gave out of what they had and still had plenty. What we don’t see is the look, not of austerity and suffering, but of joy since “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.”

Those who cannot imagine smiling while giving a sacrificial gift have never given one.
There is a joyfulness in generosity that getting and keeping cannot match. But the only way to know that joy…

…is to give.

The Fog of Anxiety

For more than 70% of us in America, anxiety is a choice.  It is a trickle of thought that now has cut a channel in our brain and thought process, and every thought flows into it.  It takes some effort to extract ourselves, even if you are a Christian.  It fogs our thinking.  The moisture required to create enough fog to shut down a city block or, as we learned tragically last weekend, to crash a helicopter, consists of less than two teaspoons of water.  Philippians 4:6-7 were the most highlighted verses recorded in Bible apps in 2019.  They give us a formula for clearing the fog of anxiety from our lives.

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which passes understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”      Philippians 4:6-7.

We must first REJOICE IN THE LORD.  We have to recalibrate how we find contentment, satisfaction, and even how we define happiness, and it begins here:  REJOICE IN THE LORD.  Rejoicing in the Lord presupposes that we KNOW Him.  Is that true for you?

The second thought is we must intentionally, even ruthlessly RELEASE OUR ANXIETY.  Some of us have a death grip on anxiousness.  And yet, it is a poisonous serpent that is killing US!  We just don’t know how to let it go.

Jesus addressed this very problem in Matthew 6… Jesus ends His approach by assuring us of this one thing:  God will provide the strength we need for ANYTHING life brings to us WHEN WE NEED IT but not before.  Like the Israelite’s gathering manna in the wilderness, they could only collect and keep enough for one day.  Then they had to depend on and TRUST IN the Lord to bring them their supply for the next day.  This is a principle that follows God’s dealing with people throughout the Bible.  Give us TODAY… THIS DAY… our daily bread.  It keeps our face turned toward God, and not our own strength to survive.

The third principle is this; we must make our REQUESTS KNOWN to God.  God wants us to pray!  He wants us to pray for everything… with THANKSGIVING.  “God I’m taking my child to the doctor today but I am making request to You to help the doctor find the right medicine or treatment.”  “God I have a meeting today with a prospective client… help me to have the right approach to gain their business.”  “Lord, I am lonely and need a husband or wife.  I am going on a date, but I’m asking You to lead me to know if this is a person You would want me to relate to.”  “God I’ve got a test today… lots of stuff on it I’m not sure I understand.”  Do you pray like that?  Is your prayer life vital, real, ongoing with God or is it just, “Oh by the way God, would you bless this or that?”  We are to “pray without ceasing.”  We are “in all things to give thanks and pray.”

And the fourth and final piece of the puzzle is to RENEW YOUR THINKING.  Let’s go back to a fundamental place:  Anxiety is a battle in our minds.  It’s about how we think, but also about what we think ABOUT.  Our thoughts sometimes make God much too small.  We make God smaller than He really is.  We make it seem as though God isn’t aware of our issues… or He isn’t smart enough to fix them… not strong enough to handle them… not big enough to know our future… not compassionate enough to care what we’re going through.  Yet Jesus said, “the very hairs of your head are numbered.”  How much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror fixing your hair?  Some of us don’t have to spend much.  But others do… a lot.  Yet as much time as you or your stylist spend looking at your hair, tell me how many hairs you have right now?

God cares about us… a lot!  The smallest details do not escape His notice.  He sees what you’re going through right now.  Can you trust the One Who knows you best… and loves you most?

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