#207. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I have been a pastor and church planter for 30 years in Central Kentucky. During this time, I have seen God move, not only in the lives of longtime committed Christians, but also through  ministries to people experiencing homelessness and addiction recovery. 


How do I see God working in the midst of this pandemic?

 
The last time I remember feeling the things I have been feeling recently was the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But this coronavirus outbreak has been very different. When there is a collective tragedy, it’s almost like the Holy Spirit kicks something into gear. It seems like people are understanding the Holy Spirit in a new way, in spite of all of the anxiety and uncertainty.


During this pandemic, I have noticed a similarity in conversations with church members and non-church members in that their prayer life is deeper and more consistent. Many times, in the past, people have said to me, “I pray but I don’t hear from God.” Now people tell me, when they pray, they are hearing from God — and being comforted like never before.

 
There has been concern over the financial issues that have come with COVID-19, but many folks are feeling a peace about this. It’s been amazing to see how people want to give during this time. We have actually seen an increase in our giving, which we are using to help people who are struggling. There is a group who just raised $1,500 to make personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders. They are praying over this equipment before they send it to be used.

 
I’m also hearing a lot of things about kids. God is bringing them closer to their parents, and they are also spending more time with their siblings. We have become so independent in our culture and within our own families as well, even our young children. Everyone has their own community on their phone. Parents and siblings don’t know the friends of other family members the way we used to. It’s almost like we are being taken back to the olden days when families spent more time together.

 
I am seeing that families are growing closer to God as a family. Things are being pulled back to the things of God and the Spirit. Even in our own family, for the first time a few nights ago, we just knelt around the coffee table and prayed. It’s like COVID-19 is a loose thread that has been pulled, bringing us all together and closer to God. My prayer is that this closeness continues. 

#206. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Ellie and I were ecstatic when we got the text in February.


Do you and Ellie want to go with us to Naples for a long weekend in March?


Uh … yes! After a long and busy season of ministry and parenting, we were thankful that God had provided a space for us to refresh and enjoy some warm weather. We were counting down the days that we would be alone — without kids, obligations or calendar commitments. Just some good friends, delicious food, and Florida sunshine.


By March 13, the day before we left, the world had changed drastically. What feel like staples of American society — NCAA basketball, the Masters, and the NBA — were being cancelled and uprooted day by day. Churches would not be gathering. After a lot of prayer and trusting that God had gone before us to secure this trip, we boarded our plane at Blue Grass Airport and landed in hot and humid Florida.


To be honest, it was hard to settle down. It was hard to fully rest, knowing that our world was in such turmoil. Restful moments were interrupted by task force news conferences and reports on toilet paper shortages. It was clear to us that this brief pause would be followed by a return to a world that was anything but normal. In fact, a world that was even a little scary.
As it always does, God’s Word interrupted the turmoil in my heart, whispering as a father gently whispers to a crying infant, “Hush.”

 
But the Lord is in His holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20).
I wish that I could say I understand all that is going on in our world in this coronavirus pandemic. I have questions like, “Why?” and “Why now?” “What are we supposed to do?” “Is it okay to be afraid?”


I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning to embrace the beautiful reality of following Jesus — the One who does. This Scripture in Habakkuk gives me all I need to know. The Lord is still in His holy Temple. He is still on the throne! Just because society and human activity have been radically altered does not mean that our God has lost control. He is still there, still all-powerful, all-loving, working all things together for our good and His glory.


Because God’s still in control, we can be silent before Him. We can trust Him. Each day can be full of heartfelt worship, devoted prayer, and sacrificial service to our neighbors and loved ones. The thing that drives me most crazy about coronavirus is how little everyone knows. At times, I feel as if I am developing whiplash, listening to all the different voices competing for attention in my head. But because we follow Jesus, the One who is still in control, we can be silent, even in the face of a vicious enemy like COVID-19. We can simply listen to His voice and follow where He leads.


As we descended through the clouds into Lexington on Sunday, March 15, we landed in darkness. I’ve never experienced such darkness before in my life. As we left the sun above the clouds and entered the cool, gray night in Lexington, it seemed as if everything had changed. Yet, we knew that the One we love and serve hadn’t changed at all. Because our God is unchanging, we can face tomorrow with faith, not fear.

#205. How Pastors See God Working in COVID 19

I think the biggest lesson I’m learning, and maybe a lesson we are all learning in America right now, is the reality of ‘suffering for the Christian faith.

 
For Christ-followers, the cross is not just applied to us for our salvation, but is the path we walk for our sanctification and growth in the faith. In the words of author C.S. Lewis, “The cross, comes before the crown,” meaning that suffering in the Christian life is not just followed by glory, but suffering produces glory in the Christian life. For a prosperous nation and a generally prosperous church, God is showing us that living a faithful Christian life is much more like a J, than a ladder. Like our Savior, glory and redemption come through suffering, not through comfort. Our call as Christians is to persevere in our suffering by focusing on Christ who overcame on our behalf through perseverance.

 
As a college minister, I have seen many ways students are suffering, particularly during this worldwide health crisis. Just in the last six weeks, I’ve seen students going through real suffering. I’ve seen how this suffering is producing in them a greater joy and dependence upon Jesus. God is not ‘on pause’ until this suffering passes, but is actually working in and through the suffering to produce something in these students, and in each of us at this time. I’ve noticed this suffering in our seniors who are missing out on their last semester of college and long-awaited graduation festivities. I have also seen this heartache in one of our students, whose mom has been fighting for her life on a ventilator, due to COVID-19.


As day-to-day suffering has increased, so has the glory of Jesus Christ in the heart of these students. This is something that we desperately need to learn and lean into. I’m thankful to minister among college students who have shown me over and over again that, in Jesus, glory and suffering always go together. 

#204. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I am a chaplain in a state prison. I cannot give names or places per policy. However, I can speak anonymously about what God is doing at my institution through the COVID-19 pandemic. As I told a pastor friend, the Lord has multiplied my ministry through this crisis. Now staff and inmates are gathering in the chapel every morning at 10 a.m. for prayer. This is something that has never happened! Normally staff would never come to the chapel for prayer. Nevertheless, they have been faithful to pray alongside the inmates. Numerous staff have contacted me about anxiety and depression issues. I have been able to openly and compassionately proclaim Christ as King over this entire situation. Also, once a week I send out a short devotional encouragement email to over 500 staff members in two different institutions. Scripture is included and Jesus is exalted in these emails. Again, this is generally not allowed. However, the staff want and desperately need hope, joy and peace that God’s Word brings, so these emails are accepted with thanksgiving.

 
Our inmate population also seems to be looking to me as chaplain more during these challenging times. The inmates also have received global JPay messages from me. JPay is an electronic machine in the inmate dorms. The inmates send and receive messages from friends, family and others through JPay. As a section supervisor, I also have a JPay account, which allows me to send messages to a single inmate or the entire population. One inmate stopped me recently to ask why I have not sent more messages. Those inmates who come to the chapel seem to be more dedicated and sincere after this crisis.

#203. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

I am the pastor of an urban church. Our congregation is made up of young members. The nearly 30-year-old members are the old people at our church!


I have noticed in people that there’s a real sense that life’s not right and that maybe, for the first time, they can’t make it right. People can’t plan their futures. Some have lost their jobs. Some have a deep sense of loneliness that they previously drowned out with constant busyness. We live at a crazy pace and people are coming to the realization that they are exhausted and very lonely. People are ripe for the gospel. The views for our online services are 10 times the attendance we normally have in church. The church members in our small groups are still meeting once a week (virtually), and some are meeting twice a week, with the second meeting being set aside for prayer. We have added people to the small groups who weren’t previously in a group. There is a profound sense of need in people — and that is what Jesus is after — people who are in need.

 
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (CSB)

#134. Beautiful Brokenness

 

Photo by Trevor Rapp

My life began from a chance sexual encounter between my mom and dad in between my dad’s prison sentences. He was already divorced from my mom at the time. My mom was addicted to drugs and my father was an alcoholic. My grandfather asked his brother to rescue me and my two brothers. He was dying and couldn’t take care of us himself. I was four years old when my great uncle obliged my grandfather’s request and adopted us. My grandfather had asked my great uncle to take us because he “loved children.” My great uncle was a pedophile. He had been caught on numerous occasions, but charges were never brought. 

After he adopted us, he moved us to a children’s home/school and he got a job there as a house parent. My great uncle sexually abused me from the time I was four years old until I was a teenager. While I suffered terrible abuse at the hands of my great uncle, the school was actually a wonderful place. God brought people into my life who genuinely cared about me and invested in me. 

My best friend’s mother was one of these people. She truly loved me and was very good to me. Another was the offensive coordinator at our high school football team. I was the quarterback on our team and this man mentored me. He was a great role model. He loved his wife and showed me what a healthy marriage looked like. He spent time with me, taking me hunting and fishing. He took me to church and provided guidance that helped keep me from going down wrong paths. These caring people played a significant role in God’s redemption in my life. 

God provided for me in other ways. I got a generous football scholarship to the Citadel. This was a full-ride scholarship that the Citadel provided specifically for someone from a children’s home. But this didn’t turn out as I expected. I redshirted my first year, but my second year I felt confident—I was playing well and had made the first team on many special teams. Citadel had promised to add me to their roster, but before the first game, I found out they had not added me to their roster and I was ineligible to play. This was so difficult for me. I felt rejected, betrayed, and sensed of loss of identity. I tried out for the baseball team and made it, but I wasn’t good enough to play. It was this dark season of my life that created fertile soil for the truth of the Gospel to grow in my life. 

My junior year, my now wife invited me to a Campus Outreach event. It was here that I heard for the first time about a personal relationship with Christ. I accepted Christ and was baptized. The Campus Outreach director began investing in me and mentoring me. When I graduated, I became a staff member for Campus Outreach. When I was a team leader at a Campus Outreach retreat in Florida, I found out my biological father was living nearby. I went to visit him. I hadn’t seen him for nearly 20 years. He didn’t recognize me when he answered the door. When I told him who I was he became nervous and started shaking. He smoked one cigarette after another and talked non-stop, telling me all the bad things he had done in his life. As I was driving away, I began sobbing. Years of pain came pouring out of me. I couldn’t stop crying. I drove to see the director of Campus Outreach and shared what had just unfolded. Until this moment, I hadn’t told anyone about the abuse in my past. I felt God opening my heart to come out of hiding and share the whole story. He listened without judging but with acceptance and love. He hugged me and he and his wife prayed for me. A new trajectory began for me this day. A journey of healing had begun. 

I went to see many counselors but none really connected. I was in seminary, married with a three-year-old daughter and a son on the way. Life should have been good, but I was falling apart. It was at this time that God provided a counselor that truly helped me. She forced me to wrestle with my story, voice my deepest fears, and access my rage. It was difficult, but over time God revealed important truths to me and empowered me to become a man. Through counseling, God brought great transformation. God has healed the brokenness of my past and brought restoration to my identity and my relationships. 

God is using the pain of my past to help others. I now serve as an associate pastor at an inner-city church. Because of what has happened in my own life, I have a special ability to sense pain in the lives of others. This sensitivity, combined with the empathy that comes from the deep knowing of pain in my own life, opens up conversations and creates connections with people. I can share my story… my brokenness and God’s plan of love and redemption. God can make the brokenness in our lives the most beautiful parts about us. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#121 Divine Intervention

Photo by Ashely McKinney Brown, Shining Light Photography 

I grew up in Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1963, I graduated from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminar. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a call to pastor a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  After 50 years in ministry, I still enjoy being a pastor very much.

Last month, I was preaching on Sunday morning. It was like any other Sunday morning except that particular July morning, I was having some chest pains. After the service, I blacked out for a little while. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, my wife and I joined our son and his wife for lunch after church. I continued to have some chest pain through our lunch. When we got ready to leave the restaurant to go home, I got into our car to drive my wife and I home and our car wouldn’t start. Our son then got into our car and he couldn’t start the car either. This was very curious because it was a new car and we had never had a problem with it before. So, our son and his wife drove us home from the restaurant. When we got home I still wasn’t feeling well. They checked my blood pressure and it was very low – something like 80/38. They called 911. When the EMTs came, they checked me out and took me to the hospital where I was admitted. Meanwhile, my son-in-law went to check our car at the restaurant and it started right up the first time he tried it. Since this time, the car has always started just fine on the first try.

The next day there was a time when I was alone in my hospital room. I had no visitors and there were no doctors or nurses around. I began to have a very difficult time breathing. It was at just this time that our daughter came to my door and seeing that I was having this episode, she went to get help. The doctors and nurses came quickly. The cardiologist told me I was having a heart attack. The next day I had three stents placed because I had three blocked arteries in my heart. Since that time, I have been recuperating and now I am doing much better. I have resumed preaching on Sundays. I am thankful that I can continue serving as pastor because God is blessing the church in many ways. It is prospering and good changes are taking place in the lives of the people.

If my car had started at the restaurant, I could have blacked out or had a heart attack on the way home, causing a wreck and hurting my wife or other people. Because our son and daughter-in-law drove us home, they were able to check my blood pressure and call 911 to get me to the hospital before I had a heart attack. If our daughter hadn’t come to the hospital at just the right moment, I may not have gotten the care I needed in time to save me from the heart attack. Everyone we know – including me – believes that God intervened. God is faithful and He promises never to leave us or forsake us. He has demonstrated this to me many times in my life. This was only one of many occasions.  There are many other stories I could share!

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.