(adapted from Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. ~1 Thessalonians 5:11
As humans, it is natural for us to be concerned about what is going on around us. Here are five things we can do in response to the ongoing COVID-19:
1. Pray earnestly and without ceasing.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
As believers, we look up, seek God through prayer, and trust in His sovereignty. Prayer is one of our most powerful resources. When we are at a loss for words in prayer, ask the Holy Spirit for help. He is our intercessor and pleads on our behalf before the throne of God.
2. Root yourself in God’s Word
Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. (Proverbs 30:5).
How do we find comfort and hope in this situation? God’s Word is our refuge and comfort. Let us look to the Bible for God’s mercy and faithfulness. Here are a few: Ps. 27:1; Deut. 31:8; Ps. 23:4; Job 5:11; Lam. 3:22-23; John 14:27; Ps. 46:1; 2 Cor. 1:3; Ps. 119:76; John 16:33; Ps. 139:11-12; Isa. 49:13; Matt. 5:4; Ps. 55:22; Rom. 8:37-39.
3. Guard your heart
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23)
It is important to recognize how what we view, read and hear can affect us; they can be physically, emotionally and spiritually damaging. We need to counteract them with God’s power and strength. If you are worried or need to talk, reach out to a brother and sister. Please know that as your pastor, I am available to talk to you.
4. Care for others
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)
Besides guarding your heart, you can also support your brothers and sisters as we are all experiencing this situation together. Let us share God’s hope and love with one another through this time.
5. Support Crisis Ministry
… not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil. 2:4)
No matter how helpless the situation gets, when we take action to serve others selflessly, we allow God’s perfect peace to fill our heart. If you cannot help in person, you can share hope with others through your giving. Your generosity matters as it enables God’s work to go on.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life…. (Proverbs Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
Here are additional truths about our speech from Scripture:
6. The Bible commends wise and informed speech. The way we speak is a recurring theme in Scripture. Words have power. Words can be life-giving or life-crushing. James devotes an entire chapter to the power of the tongue (Jam. 3). David prayed that his words would be “acceptable” in the sight of God (Ps. 19:14). There is great value in applying the right word in the right moment (Prov. 25:11). The Bible rebukes those who speak before thinking (Jam. 1:19; Prov. 17:28, 29:20).
7. The Bible says that the mouth is a good barometer of the heart. “… for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). Words are not neutral; they reflect either good or evil. When we misspeak, we should not say, “I didn’t mean that.” Instead, we should say, “Those words come from an unsanctified part of my heart.” Speaking my mind may not reflect speaking that is true or virtuous, because the Christian mind is in constant state of needing to be renewed by the gospel (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:5).
8. The Bible commends the wisdom of not sharing everything with everyone all the time. Trustworthy people keep confidential information confidential and it is a sign of low character to reveal secrets (Prov. 11:3). The Bible extols the “prudent man” who knows to keep information to himself and rebukes the “heart of fools that speak folly” (Prov. 12:23). Sharing everything all the time to anyone who listens is not a sign of “authenticity” but of foolishness.
9. The Bible commends humility as a sign of grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” is found 3 times in Scripture (Prov. 3:34; Jam. 4:6,1; 1 Pet. 5:5). What does humility have to do with speech? Graceful, measured, civil speech is a sign of God’s grace and proud, boastful speech is a sign of God’s resistance. Humility means speaking with recognition of our own fallenness, resisting the urge to speak out of turn. We need the self-awareness to know if we are the right person to speak on a particular issue at a particular time.
10.The Bible commends speech that edifies. Christians can speak words that destroy (carnal weapons of destruction) or words that build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:29). There is a difference between verbal and written engagement meant to crush and winsome polemics meant to inform or rebuke.
Let’s pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to seek after God in the way we use our words and pray for repentance when our mouths reveal as-yet unsanctified parts of our hearts.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen!” (Ephesians 3:20)
Last month, we reconciled our accounting books for year ending 2019. I am amazed and truly humbled by God’s faithfulness and favor upon us again! As many of you know, we approached the last half of the year with a very significant deficit. But yet, we ended the year with a slight surplus! GOD IS INDEED FAITHFUL! God has always provided for us in the past 32 years, He provides for us in the present time, and He will continue to provide for us if we follow His leading and guidance. And because He is Jehovah-Jireh, we can rely and depend on Him in every circumstance. His provision was in place long before we prayed and asked for it! Words of Hudson Taylor continue to ring true today: “God’s works done in God’s ways will never lack God’s supplies”.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to thank all the faithful brothers and sisters who have cheerfully, sacrificially, and generously given to the work of the Lord through the years at FECC. It warms my heart to hear of the many ways you have helped to defray our deficit. Some even took out their own retirement savings and gave it sacrificially to further God’s kingdom work. I pray that the Lord will bless you more than you can ever imagine. And let us be reminded that because God has been faithful to us, we MUST indeed remain faithful to Him. 2020 will be a tougher year for us, but we continue to trust God for His gracious provision and look to your continued faithfulness and generosity towards contributing to further the work of His kingdom. We pledge to be good stewards of all the resources that God has entrusted to us.
I also believe God wants more for His church than just meeting our “needs”. In Matthew 25:14-15, Jesus told a parable to teach us that God gives each of us kingdom responsibilities. As with the servants, He only asks what we can handle. Are we satisfied with status quo? Do we pass up opportunities following His will because of fear or intimidation? Do we cast doubts on people’s minds to discourage, intimidate, and detract them from doing God’s will regardless of how daunting the task ahead may be? Dear brothers and sisters, if we believe God has commanded us to follow the Great Commission, if we believe God has gifted us to serve others, if we believe God has prospered us to share our resources with the less fortunate, then we ought to follow Him in obedience and humility.
The path that honors God and follows His will is often not pleasant. At times, it even involves severe opposition from so-called friends and people with “good” intentions, and requires courage and self-discipline on our part, for the end may be uncertain. We don’t know what the future holds; but we know who holds our future. And no matter what we face, we know that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us on the hard path alone (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” (Deut. 7:9) God testifies in Malachi 3:6a, “I the Lord do not change.” His name expresses His eternality. God is always faithful. And Hebrews13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Christ has been and will be the same forever, even in this ever-changing world.
How will you choose to serve God today? What talents, gifts, or resources is He calling you to use for His glory? Do your personal financial goals and possessions hinder you from giving generously, loving others, or serving God? Laying up treasures in heaven is not limited to tithing, but is accomplished by all acts of obedience to God. How can you reflect kingdom values most accurately with your lifestyle? Brothers and sisters, let us strive to live in this world without letting the world control us. God has given us one life to live for Him. Make yours count!
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
In today’s culture, “speaking your mind” is considered a virtue and a hailed as a sign of good leadership. But is this trait something the Bible commends? Should Christians be known for “speaking their mind?” There are several truths about our speech we should consider from Scripture:
1. The Bible commends honest speech. God hates a “lying tongue” (Prov. 6:17). Lying is a sin, the product of a fallen nature. Lying is the work of the enemy. Truthful speech is the sign of a redeemed heart. (See Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25; John 8:44)
2. The Bible commends truthful speech for rebuke. The wounds of a friend are faithful, (Prov. 27:6), while flattery is the tool to leverage proximity for personal gain (Prov. 29:5). Nathan courageously confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:17). Jesus gives instructions designed to restore a sinful brother into loving community (Matt. 1815-17). Paul considers such a speech a sign of love, from one brother or sister, to another (Gal. 6:1).
3. The Bible commends speaking against sin and heresy. Jesus very publicly confronted errant religious leaders. When the heart of the Gospel message was at stake, Paul was unafraid to confront Peter publicly (Gal. 2:11-13). Much of the New Testament, consists of public letters that contain stinging rebuke of sin. Paul says that polemics are not only important within the church, but also without, as we are tasked with engaging the reigning worldview arguments and presenting alternative, biblical worldview (2 Cor. 10:5).
4. The Bible seems to commend the use of satire and other forms of creative engagement. Elijah playfully taunted the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus used parables, metaphors, and similes in communicating truth. Paul was often acerbic in his rebuke of the Corinthians. Sharply worded polemics, uplifting satire, and, at times, sarcasm, can be employed in a way that reflects faithful Christian witness. However, this must be done within the boundaries of what is considered civil and wise speech (more to follow).
5. The Bible commends civility and respect in speech. In the Scriptures, kindness, respect, and good manners are not simply “nice” things for people, but are considered Christian virtues. Peter, addressing the persecution and marginalization of Christians, exhorts God’s people to be courageous and civil (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter also reminds us to treat others with dignity (1 Pet. 2:17). Lastly, one of the cornerstone characteristics of qualified church leaders is gentleness (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3).
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24a
Putting off the old and putting on the new is the principle by which Christ can become evident in our experience. Paul’s admonition is to be constantly recognizing and rejecting these false, underlying assumptions that come from the old self, the old way of living. It is not merely deeds, but outlooks and attitudes. This is what causes the problem, and this is what we must reject.
Put off means to divest yourself of something, to take it off. Paul is using the simplest of terms to illustrate what we must do in the realm of thought, of the attitudes of life. We must reject those basic assumptions that have caused our trouble; taking them off just as you would put off your dirty clothes.
We must do this because the corruption of life comes from these wrong attitudes. Paul says the former manner of life is corrupt, decayed, dead, foul, selfish, unhappy, restless. These are the things that have made life unhappy or miserable. He points out we can recognize these attitudes by the way they operate. They are deceitful lusts. We invariably associate the word lust with something sexual. But this word is much broader than that. It means any urge or basic drive. These deceitful urges are constantly coming to us as we react to various situations in which we find ourselves.
The first step in experiencing what God intends for us is to put off the old. The next step is to recognize the wonderful possibilities of the new life. In that phrase, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, you have the fundamental difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. It is true that non-Christians sometimes realize that things are wrong in their lives, and so they change them. But they merely change to another expression of the same basic egocentricity. They change the outer form, but the problem remains basically the same.
But of all people, Christians alone have the possibility of doing something entirely different, living by an entirely different principle, because they have been renewed in the attitude of their minds. And that happens in the new life as the Spirit of God comes into the heart of the believer. When we believe in Jesus Christ and receive Him as our Lord and Savior, we are renewed in the attitudes of our minds. The new self is in the likeness of God: it is the life of God; it is the image of Jesus Christ; it is His life lived in you. So put on that kind of life, because it is available to you.
As many of you already know that the outbreak of respiratory illness brought about by the 2019 novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan City in China. Though presumably this virus is common in many species of animals and can infect people, it has been reportedly spreading between people. Thus, it causes concern to some of you, which is understandable.
Outbreaks of such virus infection among people are always a serious public health threat, however, we must not allow fear to control our lives. We need to understand the severity of the illness, the characteristics of the virus, how well it spreads between people, and the medical measures available to control the impact. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) risk assessment, excepting the healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients and other close contacts will have increased risk, for the general American public, the health risk from such virus is considered low.
Admittedly as of this week, there are 2 cases confirmed in Los Angeles County and Orange County. Our local public health agency announced that despite these cases, there is no immediate threat to the general public, no special precaution is required, people should go about doing their business as usual. The risk from the novel coronavirus to spread in Los Angeles County and Orange County residents is deemed to be low at this time.
The current situation in the U.S. is stable. Though a few imported cases of novel coronavirus infection in people have been confirmed in 4 states, no person-to person transmission has been detected with this virus except one from the wife to husband. Moreover, all schools continue to operate as usual. Nevertheless, our Church recommends that everyday preventive actions should be taken to stop the spread of germs and stay healthy.
1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
2. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
4. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
5. Stay home when you are sick.
6. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw tissue in the trash.
7. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
People returning from Wuhan City and its neighboring cities who have symptoms of respiratory illness (including fever, cough, shortness of breath…) should report to health authorities immediately. Otherwise, if there are no symptoms, a voluntarily stay home would provide a peace of mind to all concerned.
Prayer is the only antidote to all our fears. We must believe that God is in control and He cares for all our needs. I sincerely appreciate some of your anguish and concern, but please know that you are a beloved child of God and member of our church community. The Lord promises to be with us always. I encourage each of you to give yourself time to process and to offer love to each other. Be sensitive to the spiritual conditions of others, and pray for one another.
Lastly, let us devote some time to pray for the people in Wuhan. May the Lord show His mercy and compassion to all the sick, and may the spread of this novel coronavirus be curtailed as soon as possible. I encourage everyone to be in prayer over the next few months for our church, and for all those who are scared or hurting. My door is always open if you need to talk or pray with someone. May we all continue to love one another as Christ loves us.
May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding be with us all!
Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. Psalm 3:1-3
The subtitle of Psalm 3 sets the stage for the psalm: “A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.” David is, literally, running for his life. His handsome and charismatic son Absalom ran a successful political campaign to oust David and installed himself as the new king, his father’s replacement. Unfortunately for David, Absalom’s plan was not for his father to retire and write his memoirs. David had to be dealt with: he had to be eliminated. Political intrigue in leadership, corporate and otherwise, is nothing new.
So, what does David do in these extremely difficult circumstances? David prays. Learning to develop an integrated life of prayer and work (Ora et Labora, Latin) often begins in this way. Desperation turns us to-ward God. What we’ve learned about God in moments of quiet reflection become “flesh and blood” as we risk both “flesh and blood” in our work.
Psalm 3 reminds us that prayer is not merely a private spiritual discipline but an integral part of our public life and work. It also reminds us that prayer in life and work is complicated. David is not merely an innocent victim in his present circumstances. It is interesting that David quotes people around him as saying, “There is no help for him (David) in God.” Translation: David had it coming. Think of the backstory of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David’s own failure and sin contributed to the circumstance in which he found him-self. Likewise, we often find ourselves in difficult circumstances which we helped shape. When we realize that, our hearts sink and our heads drop. However, the psalm provides hope. God is always present and ready to pick us up to reengage our life and work. In David’s words, God “is the One who lifts up my head high.” (v. 3)
Finally, we are reminded that prayer is not an escape. Prayer is integral to our work precisely because we need to deal with and face the world as it really is. Prayer is not something for nice, Christian people to do as they retreat from real life. Prayer is not something that is out of touch with and irrelevant to work in the real world. Instead, as David reminds us, it is a battle-hardened discipline that equips us to engage the messy and difficult world of work with genuine hope, faith, and love. David teaches us how to pray by giving us words to pray. The Book of Psalms helps us as we learn to pray in just such a way: an integrated life of prayer and work: Ora et Labora.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the
calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1
Sadly, Christians today are a divided people, and it should not be so. The history of Protestantism, especially, is the story of dispute, disagreement, and division. We are Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox, pre- and post-millennial, Armenians and Calvinists, traditional and contemporary, conservative and liberal, and the list goes on. It's okay to have differences. That's part of being human. It's the way God made us. Husbands and wives have differences, but work hard at building on common ground, talking through differences, and maintaining a marriage, a unity, in the face of all sorts of situations and obstacles. Differences aren't the problem. It's how we handle the differences. This week's passage is the Apostle Paul's appeal to the church to be united, unified, and whole.
ONE CALLING – Eph. 4:1
Paul begins with a strong appeal. Paul appeals, he begs, not just as an apostle but as a prisoner for the Lord. He is appealing to his readers' sympathies. The idea here is that Paul is strongly urging, he is appealing to, he is urging them. He appeals to them to act with integrity, to live out their faith in everyday practice. He is asking the Ephesians to conduct themselves in a way that is worthy of their high calling as Christians. Often times, we use the term "calling" as a special calling to full-time Christian ministry. Here, however, it is the calling or invitation of Christ to follow Him. Paul reinforces here the idea of God's calling. It is God who calls us. We participate in God’s story, not as passive characters, but as active contributors to the narrative. We are to act so as to enhance the unity of God’s people, a unity based in the very identity of God.
I am still growing in my understanding of the unity the Spirit brings. God is gradually overcoming my prejudices. As I've grown older, I've had to change some of my previously-held positions because I found that the Bible didn't teach them. My religious upbringing taught them, but not the Bible. We can be trained to look only at a certain set of scripture verses that support our position and to underemphasize others. Sometimes, I can be an expert at finding fault with other groups -- and so perhaps are you. Read John 17:20-23 and listen again to Jesus’ high priestly prayer and realize that He was praying for you and me.
How can I be an answer to Jesus’ prayer as I “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”? (Eph. 4:3)
For this reason I kneel before the Father. (Ephesians 3:14)
What is significant about bowing your knees? It does not mean that you are any more or less spiritual than somebody else if you are standing and they are kneeling. There are several places in Scripture where they stood with their hands raised to heaven, just as humble in their hearts as anyone is who kneels or bows down before the Father. But when we down, it signifies the attitude of our heart as we approach the Father.
Bowing our knees before the Father signifies, first of all, a submission to a higher authority. Paul called himself a prisoner, a bondservant of Jesus Christ. It shows that the one who bows down and prays is in the presence of the ultimate authority. Psalm 95:1-6 shows us the attitude of someone who comes before the Father and realizes who He is. V. 3-5 says, “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Since God is all of these things and since He is absolutely sovereign and absolute authority, v. 6 concludes, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." It is an attitude of the heart. When we bow our knee before God, we are bowing in submission to the highest authority. We are saying, "God, whatever You want is what I want." That is what bowing the knee means: our heart is overwhelmed with Who it is we are talking to.
Secondly, it signifies an intense passion, an intense emotion in prayer. When-ever Paul prays, he is very specific, and he is very passionately, very emotionally involved in his prayers. When a person falls down on their knees, it is always a picture of that intensity, of that passion and of that emotion (see Ezra 9:5-6, Daniel 6:6-10, Acts 20:36-38). So the whole posture of prayer is not in what your body is doing. It is in what your heart is doing before God. You may not be kneeling. You may be in a crowded subway, on a plane, in your office cubicle, or on your bed. Wherever you are, if your attitude is filled with awe and submission and you are intensely concerned with what God has burdened your heart, that is bowing your knees before the Father. For Paul, this is not some trite prayer he prays while in prison. This is something that is deeply, intensely burned into his heart. He wants the believers in Ephesus to be able to live it out in front of the people. There is passion and submission. There is awe, and emotion. Paul’s prayer posture then is very clear. It is an attitude of his heart.
Finally, notice the person to whom Paul was praying. He says, "I kneel before the Father." In Eph. 3:15, Paul says that he prays to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” There is a sense that God is Father of all creation. Nothing was created except that He created it. God is not only the Creator, He is also our Father. This is family talk. Paul is interested in the family. Paul knows God’s will for the family of believer at Ephesus, the faithful saints, is not only to know their riches in Christ, but for them to live in those riches and to experience the riches of their salvation every single day.
“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
The Pastoral staff has adopted the theme of “Discipleship: Be like Jesus” for 2020. We would want to focus ourselves on learning, imitating, and following our Lord closely. Disciples literally means learners or students. Oftentimes, we are so proud of ourselves thinking that we are above the teacher who teaches us. Jesus warned his disciples with this parable, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? On the other hand, when we are humble enough, we may after a period of being trained, become like our teacher; a true follower who thinks like Jesus, feels like Jesus and acts like Jesus.
The night before Jesus chose and called his disciples, he went up to the mountain to pray, spending the night praying to God. Then when morning came, He chose twelve apostles from among the many disciples: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Jesus did not pick the cream of the crop like Nicodemus the scholar, or Joseph of Arimethea, the wealthy patron. He recruited a strange mixture of people, Simon the zealot belongs to the party violently opposing Rome, while Matthew the tax collector has recently been employed by Rome’s puppet ruler. In your mind, you may wonder whether Jesus could have done better.
Why did Jesus choose these disciples? Their most obvious trait seems to be their bone headedness. Jesus asks, “Are you so dull?” “Are you still so dull?” Much of the time, a fog of incomprehension separates them from Jesus. When Jesus was teaching them servant leadership, they were fighting and arguing about who deserves the premium position. After Jesus performed miracle after miracle, they fret anxiously about the next; Jesus restores the demon-possessed, raises the dead, heals the sick, feeds the 5,000, they asks how about 4,000?
Why does Jesus invest so much in these apparent losers? Mark mentions Jesus’ motives were “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mk 3:14) Jesus wants to train them to become more like Him and to carry on His mission after He had left. Because Jesus did not choose His disciples on the basis of talent, perfectibility or potential for greatness but rather on their ordinariness, it gives us tremendous hope. Praise God, all but one would become prominent leaders of their time. From such a ragtag team, Jesus founded a living church. Are you willing to follow their footsteps, and be trained?