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Article by John Piper

Almighty and merciful Father,

Hallowed be your name in Minneapolis. Revered, admired, honored — above every name, in church, in politics, in sports, in music, in theater, in business, in media, in heaven or in hell. May your name, your absolute reality, be the greatest treasure of our lives. And may your eternal, divine Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord — crucified for sin, risen from the dead, reigning forever — be known and loved as the greatest person in this city.

It was no compliment to the city of Nineveh, but it was a great mercy, when you said to your sulking prophet Jonah, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:11).

Oh, how kind you are to pity our folly rather than pander to our pride. Jonah could not fathom your mercy. His desire was the fire of judgment. And you stunned him, and angered him, with the shock of forgiveness..

And have we not heard your Son, crying out to the city that would kill him, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)?

Oh, how large is your heart toward cities in their sin and misery.

Yes, we have heard you speak mercy to great cities. Did you not say, to Jerusalem, “This city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 33:9)? They were not worthy — not any more than Nineveh, or Minneapolis. But you are a merciful God, “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

And what are we?

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By Christopher Ash

How to Pray for Your Pastor During Lockdown

If you pray for your pastor, as I hope you do, how will you pray for him during this coronavirus lockdown?

Of course, this global lockdown affects us all differently. We live under widely varying regulations in different countries or even in different counties within the same country. But there are some things you can pray for your pastor—regardless of his circumstance.

Consider these five ways to pray for your pastor.

1. Pray for him to entrust his flock to the Chief Shepherd.

Any pastor worth his salt cares deeply for the men and women under his leadership. He loves them, he watches over their souls (Hebrews 13:17), and he longs to lead them into maturity in Christ, laboring with all the energy that Christ so powerfully works within him (Colossians 1:28, 29). It is therefore deeply—deeply!—frustrating not to be able to visit them, hold their hands, pray with them in person, sit with them, and listen to their hopes and fears.

Oh, sure, the ubiquitous Zoom means he can speak to and “see” most of them, unless they cannot manage the technology. But video calls are tiring for all parties and, at the very best, second-best. There really is no substitute for face-to-face, person-to-person proximity. All the more important, therefore, for your pastor to remember that he is an under-shepherd and that the pastoring is both ultimately and presently being done by Jesus the Chief Shepherd. Pray that he will be given grace to entrust his people to the Chief Shepherd when he keenly feels this frustration.

2. Pray for him to bear up under the shadow of death.

Pastors often feel the shadow of death more keenly than others. They sit with the dying, they weep with the bereaved, they conduct funerals, and they visit the grieving for weeks afterward. For most of us, death is an occasional visitor; for pastors, it’s a familiar intruder.

These days, funerals are small, as the nearest and dearest are self-isolating and not allowed to attend. Gone are larger funerals, where mourners cheer and encourage one another as they grieve together. Pray for your pastor, that more than ever he will be deeply convinced that Jesus offers life and immortality to all who come to him in faith.

3. Pray for your pastor to sleep and take a day off.

Working from home makes it harder than ever to draw healthy boundaries between the day’s work and the night’s sleep, between the six days of work and the one day of rest. Work is everywhere. It shouts at you from your laptop, your tablet, your iPhone. It comes into the bedroom. Under normal conditions, you might spend your day off outside, or even a coffee shop. Not now.

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Based on an extensive study of a COVID-19 outbreak in a chorale in Washington state, churches that reopen should use caution when it comes to choirs and even congregational singing. This week the CDC issued a report about disease transmission among the Skagit Valley Chorale, which held two-and-a-half-hour rehearsals in Mount Vernon on March 3 and March 10. An alarming 87 percent of members later became sick, and two died.

On March 10, no cases of the novel coronavirus had yet been reported in Skagit County, about an hour from Seattle, and area schools, churches, restaurants, and other venues were still open. Local health officials issued the first social distancing recommendations—limiting groups to 250 people—on March 10, but officials say “widespread community knowledge” of the guidelines hadn’t yet occurred.

Practice Provided ‘several opportunities’ to Spread Germs

Only 61 of the chorale’s 122 members attended the March 10 practice, but 53 became ill, including the two fatalities. Thirty-three members had positive COVID-19 tests, and the other 20 were presumed to be infected. The singers’ median age was 69, and only one-third reported having underlying health conditions.

Singers don’t recall anyone sneezing or coughing, though one person later reported having cold-like symptoms days earlier. Some seats were empty, while others were less than a foot apart. Although members say they avoided physical contact, they conversed during a snack break and while setting up and putting away chairs.

Officials credit the group’s quick, responsible actions for preventing further illness. When symptoms emerged, the director emailed members as well as health officials, who conducted contact tracing. Members self-quarantined and fully cooperated with investigators, providing vital insights about exposure and transmission.

Singing Can Transmit Virus, Officials Say

In its report, the CDC notes, “The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization.” It also warns about the impact of people labeled “super-emitters,” who seem to “release more aerosol particles during speech than do their peers.”

Dr. Howard Leibrand, a Skagit County health officer, tells the New York Times, “When you project your voice, you can project more virus, so it seems like this would be a pretty good indicator we shouldn’t be going back to large groups singing in an enclosed space, i.e., church, because that would be the same sort of situation as this.”

The chorale’s experience, says the CDC, “underscores the importance of physical distancing,” as well as “avoiding group gatherings” and wearing face coverings in public during the pandemic.

As churches prepare to reopen, leaders face a variety of challenges to safeguard worshipers and communities. The increased risk of germ transmission through singing means that music will be one of the many aspects of in-person services requiring adjustments.

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

New Beginnings

Tim Raglin

Tim Raglin

Founding Partner, VP of Operations

I’m dating myself a bit, but there was a one-hit-wonder song in the late ’90s by the band Semisonic called “Closing Time”. It’s one of those really catchy tunes that you occasionally hear on 90’s music stations…anyone 40 or older would instantly recognize it and probably sing along. Anyway, there is a line in the lyric that has always struck me as meaningful…which is ironic since the song is about closing time at a bar and is anything but deep or moving. The evocative line is: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Think about that – every time something new starts, something else must end.  Whether its career, relationship, business strategy, or culture the “new normal” replaces the “old normal”. In fact, oftentimes, it’s necessary to end something for something better to start.

Dr. Henry Cloud, an acclaimed leadership expert, clinical psychologist and New York Times bestselling author, wrote a book on the topic called ‘Necessary Endings’. In the book, he provides a guide to change that helps you eliminate unwanted behaviors, change processes, and even alter relationships by ending the bad behavior and simply starting something new. I saw Dr. Cloud speak on this topic at a virtual leadership seminar this past week and I found it quite relevant to the times we are in today. He started out his presentation by saying that “today may be the biggest enemy of your tomorrow”. In other words, the comfort of the known versus the fear of the unknown keeps many people from moving on to bigger and better things.

This is not to suggest that quitting or giving up on a difficult relationship or challenge is the path to happiness. Instead, his assertion was more about taking a hard look at that which is non-productive and letting it go for something better. He used the term ‘pruning’ to describe this process and identified three areas where pruning may be highly beneficial

1.   Things that are good/healthy, but not the best. For example, expert rose gardeners will prune back 80% of the blossoms to get to the best 20% of the blooms. So, in a personal sense, focus your efforts on where the greatest value for tomorrow lies, get rid of the things that may be good today, but will not be great tomorrow. Ask yourself, ‘does this thing align with and help me achieve my ultimate vision or goal?’. If not, perhaps letting it go now is the prudent move to make.

2.   Things that are “sick” will not get well. This maybe your current job, a personal attitude, an activity, or even people. These are black hole type things that drain energy, time, and passion from your life or business. They are things that have proven time and again to never get better. Dr. Cloud suggests pruning these things out so you can focus on better or healthier alternatives. Reminds me of the old adage that says the first step in getting out of a hole is to stop digging. The assertion is that if you are unwilling to do so, it may lead to the third area he pointed out…

3.   Things that are dead – These are those things in our life that we hang on too well past the time when they are positive, productive, or edifying. Dr. Cloud used the analogy of the Pontiac automobile brand. This brand lost money for GM for 40 consecutive years and it finally took bankruptcy for them to let it go. Why? Because they were unwilling to cut it out years earlier. Sometimes, cutting the dead wood away is the only thing you can do to save the tree.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption to our lives has been monumental in many ways, but it’s not all bad.

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georgia shooting

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this article, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, have been arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.

A graphic video has emerged this week of a Georgia shooting. Two white men, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, cornered a black man named Ahmaud Arbery and shot him at point-blank range. The incident has provoked widespread outrage and grief from many, including Christian leaders, particularly from those in the African American community.

“To be black man in America is, still, to live without liberties,” tweeted Pastor John Onwuchekwa. In a separate tweet, he added, “And in the off chance that we ever forget, or begin to daydream that we’re somehow in less danger, we’re always reminded. Never gently, but forcefully. There’s no way to gently remind someone of horror. Lord, remind us of your goodness!! Please!”

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From our earliest days, our dependence upon God has brought us to seek His divine counsel and unfailing wisdom.  Our leaders have often encouraged their fellow citizens to seek wisdom from God and have recognized God’s power to lead our Nation ahead to brighter days.  When the prospects for our independence seemed bleak, General George Washington proclaimed a national day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God.”  Following the devastating destruction of the Civil War, President Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address and invoked the power of prayer to “bind up the nation’s wounds.”  And more than 100 years later, President Reagan noted our long reliance on prayer throughout our history, writing that “through the storms of revolution, Civil War, and the great world wars as well as during times of disillusionment and disarray, the Nation has turned to God in prayer for deliverance.”

Today, as much as ever, our prayerful tradition continues as our Nation combats the coronavirus.  During the past weeks and months, our heads have bowed at places outside of our typical houses of worship, whispering in silent solitude for God to renew our spirit and carry us through unforeseen and seemingly unbearable hardships.  Even though we have been unable to gather together in fellowship with our church families, we are still connected through prayer and the calming reassurance that God will lead us through life’s many valleys.  In the midst of these trying and unprecedented times, we are reminded that just as those before us turned to God in their darkest hours, so must we seek His wisdom, strength, and healing hand.  We pray that He comforts those who have lost loved ones, heals those who are sick, strengthens those on the front lines, and reassures all Americans that through trust in Him, we can overcome all obstacles.

May we never forget that prayer guides and empowers our Nation and that all things are possible with God.  In times of prosperity, strife, peace, and war, Americans lean on His infinite love, grace, and understanding.  Today, on this National Day of Prayer, let us come together and pray to the Almighty that through overcoming this coronavirus pandemic, we develop even greater faith in His divine providence.

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May 2020