The Latest from Christian UnionCU Today highlights stories from Christian Union's university and city ministries, news, trends, items of interest from culture, spiritual growth articles, and other types of content to inform, encourage, challenge, and inspire.
Repent of Loving Money
Friday, April 10, 2020
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. - 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV
“It is for our own good that we are warned,” a friend of mine quipped in response to my question, “What is it about the love of money that is so dangerous?”
Ministry in the Midst of a PandemicThe letter immediately below is the most recent coronavirus update from Matt Bennett, Christian Union's founder and CEO. At the end of his letter is a list of prayer requests. Please pray. If you'd like to see Matt's previous update, from March 17, 2020, click the link to jump down to the bottom of this page.
April 9, 2020 Update
Dear Friends and Ministry Partners,
I know that many of you who are reading this letter may be facing uncertain or difficult times. If you have suffered personal loss of some kind in this season, as so many have, my heart goes out to you.
My prayer for you is that you will draw near to God, knowing that He will keep His promise to draw near to you. Even if you haven’t suffered loss, but are facing tremendous uncertainty professionally, financially, or health-wise, I will pray you’d cling to Christ and that you’d cast your burden upon the LORD and allow Him to sustain you. This is His promise from Psalm 55:22: “He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”
God’s Promise: I Am with You!Thursday, April 9, 2020
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. Be still, and know that I am God. The Lord of hosts is with us. - Psalm 46: 1-2, 4-5, 10-11 (ESV)
It might seem like our whole world is falling apart around us. We are facing uncertain times; a pandemic, an uncertain market, isolation from friends and family, a shortage of medical supplies, to name a few. These realities cause real fear. It was in the middle of a similar upheaval that the psalmist wrote the words of Psalm 46. In the midst of disaster, the psalmist reminds the people that they do not have to fear because God promises to be present. When our world seems to be collapsing, we are offered the hope of turning our eyes to the God who promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock."
— Isaiah 26:3-4
Shock and AweWednesday, April 8, 2020
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. - Hebrews 12:25-29 (ESV)
As we fast during this time of global crisis, we wake up each morning to a world that is changing rapidly. The structures, the rhythms, and the pursuits that we all take for granted have been in many ways taken away. We might safely assume these are temporary changes, and yet there may be a lingering wake left behind. We have been changed, shaken.
Dress for Action and Wait with JoyTuesday, April 7, 2020
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” - Luke 12:35-40 (ESV)
When my wife was pregnant with each of our three children and as her due date neared, my job was to get us ready for the trip to the hospital. This entailed having our bags packed, gas in the car, and the house in order. Each night I readied our things for our eventual hospital visit. When it’s three in the morning and the baby is coming, no one wants to be caught unprepared, frantically packing, or worse, stopping for gas. We prepared because the birth of our child was certain and imminent.
Repent of Spiritual Complacency: The Call
Monday, April 6, 2020
“I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” - Revelation 3:1 (ESV)
The book of Revelation offers the good news of a triumphant end! It’s the projection of ultimate victory and the clarion call for every believer to persevere in faith, examine the heart with diligence and to remain watchful. The tenor and tone of the book leave no stone unturned as it even calls the most earnest of believers to address easily ignored stumbling blocks; snags, like that of complacency.
Walking in the Fear of the LordSunday, April 5, 2020
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. -Acts 9:31 (ESV)
When I lived in China, I heard a delightful story about a fox and a tiger. The fox goes to the tiger and says, “You think you’re so tough, but I’m not afraid of you. If you follow me around for a while, you’ll see just how everyone in the forest is afraid of me.” So the two go for a walk together, the fox strutting his stuff in front, with the mighty tiger just a step behind. And, wouldn’t you know it, everywhere they go, the other animals turn in terror and run away! Hence, the idiom: hú jiǎ hǔ wēi—fox borrows tiger’s impressive strength. (The near-identical pronunciation of “fox” and “tiger” in Chinese make this an elegant little pun.)
But Take HeartSaturday, April 4, 2020
One of my favorite attributes of God is His sovereignty. It has brought not only a deep sense of comfort in hard moments, but provided a lens to see all of life through. I think back to conversations I had with my unbelieving dad about what God was doing in my mind and heart when I first became a Christian at age 24. He would listen and often say, “Well, that’s great to hear, Pumpkin.” As time went on, he began to ask questions about eternity, salvation, morality, science, etc. He was being drawn to the things of heaven. For his 58th birthday, I felt emboldened to purchase a large-print (he liked anything large-print) Bible. I went through this Bible and highlighted answers to many of the questions and conversations we had. I put tabs that said topics like heaven, suffering, hope, salvation, science, and miracles.
Maintaining Our Emotional Health in a Hazardous WorldFriday, April 3, 2020
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)
Dear Praying Friends,
This is the fourth anxiety-addressing devotional thus far, with yet another scriptural trail to God’s peace in a hazardous world (see also Days 7, 10, and 14). The passage above is my personal favorite. Committing it to memory many years ago has paid off as the Apostle Paul’s aim is much higher than merely reducing our heart rate.
Giving Self-Indulgence a Rest
Thursday, April 2, 2020
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
- Col 2:20-3:2 (ESV)
What’s so bad about a little cookie?!
How many of you have sworn you’d only eat 1 cookie, but 10 minutes later you had lost count somewhere between 5 and 10?
The reality is the appetites of our flesh are ravenous and relentless in their demands. They want to be satisfied now! In one of my favorite novels, A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde malevolently quips, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself …”
Pray: Relent of Anger and Revive Us AgainWednesday, April 1, 2020
Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
- Psalm 85:1-7 (ESV)
Does your understanding of God allow for Him to be angry at you or other Christians from time to time? Just because God is incredibly gracious, and the blood of Jesus covers the sins of Christians does not mean He does not get angry sometimes. Take a look at Jesus’ life when he got mad at the businessmen in the temple and overturned their tables (Matthew 21:12, 13), condemned whole cities (Luke 10:10-16), and threatened judgment on Christian communities in entire cities (Revelation chapters 2 and 3). Both before the cross and after the cross, Jesus demonstrated his anger in certain circumstances. Revulsion at sin is part of God’s character, which is seen in the life of Jesus, but also by God in the Psalms as well.
Cast Your Anxieties on Him, Because He Cares for YouTuesday, March 31, 2020
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)
Dear praying friends,
Thank you so much for banding together to cry out to God. The plague is in our cities and the overwhelming, global ripple effects are challenging even seasoned prognosticators. As we continue to consider what our godly response should entail, I am grateful that following Jesus does not mean we are amazing all of the time (yes Google, I am not a robot). I have personally been grappling with an undercurrent of anxiety in the past week that has been as relentless as the tide. On the contrary the Apostle Paul, in a refreshingly transparent way, recalled a time when he and his ministry companions “were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). It was only after this admission that he framed his experience within God’s redemptive purposes.
Teach Us to Number Our DaysMonday, March 30, 2020
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
- Psalm 90:12 (ESV)
Reflecting back to January 2020, I don’t recall anyone’s “Word for the Year” being “quarantine,” “pandemic,” or something similar. I saw most blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets claim goals and themes revolving around the notions of happiness, self-care, growth, and transformation. And yet, within a matter of weeks, here we are, experiencing a global hardship that very few saw coming. What words will our current culture cling to for hope and inspiration now?
If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you’ve probably read the journey of the Israelites being brought out from the slavery of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Because of their lack of obedience and faith in God, their quest was much longer than they anticipated with more trials than they imagined. In a rare psalm written by Moses, he gives his fellow Israelites a reality check as he laments to God. He reminds them in the midst of difficult circumstances who God is, how powerless we really are, how quickly life goes by, the weightiness of God’s anger, and the hope that is found only in Him. After Moses reminds the audience of these truths, he transitions into an ask. He pleads with the Lord to “...teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In many Bible translations, the titled authorship of Psalm 90 acknowledges him as “The Man of God.” Moses had a direct, personal relationship with God. It’s interesting to note that with this type of access, he does not petition God to change their circumstances in the wilderness or meet a physical need. He asks for something much different; much greater. He asks for help to live in light of eternity.
Confronting Casual ChristianitySunday, March 29, 2020
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” - Revelation 3:14-22 (ESV)
The story is told that an Apathy Club was formed on a college campus. The officers for the club advertised a meeting of membership. Not one person showed up! Now that might make you laugh. Too apathetic to attend. Yet that same attitude is not all that funny when we consider the dead and listless form of Christianity. The dictionary defines apathy as “lack of feeling or emotion; impassiveness; lack of interest or concern; indifference.” Maybe you've heard it summed up in the expression: “whatever.”
When Disaster Looms, Our Eyes Are on YouSaturday, March 28, 2020
“[W]e are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” - 2 Chronicles 20:12 (ESV)
Jehoshaphat spoke these words as the armies of Ammon and Moab came against Judah. It was too much. Against an unstoppable foe, the King of Judah was afraid. God’s people assembled together and sought the Lord. And this was their King’s prayer. This is repentance: turning to the Lord.
Earlier in Jehoshaphat’s prayer, he says “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you…” (v. 9). “Pestilence” is defined as a fatal epidemic disease. In facing COVID-19 we are in a season that could be described as unnerving. Unsettling. Weird. Many people are afraid. Most people are confused. What is this coronavirus and what is the cure? Why is this happening?
The Perfect Peace of God
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”
- Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV)
Ever since our expulsion from God’s Garden of Eden, humanity has always lacked perfect peace. We strive, we groan; we are hurt and we hurt others. As sinners, by nature and choice, we regularly fail God, ourselves and one another. We feel far from God, the earth yields thorns and thistles, and life disappoints us.
We do sometimes experience moments of calmness; work is temporarily finished, our day of rest is here, and maybe life’s demands settle down. But how fickle is that kind of peace? Because, truly, there is always more work to do, more people to help, more demands on our time, more things to get done and more chores to be finished.
We need real peace. One that can’t be stolen from us the next time we hear bad news. The kind that can’t be shaken when life gets hard. We need the perfect peace that comes only from God.
Confronting Casual ChristianityThursday, March 26, 2020
“[F]or my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” - Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV)
One of my guilty pleasures when I have nothing else to do, is to mindlessly watch survivalist shows on the nature channels. I love to see how people will respond and survive when dropped into a foreign environment. As a contestant, you must get your bearings, find and build shelter, and maybe the most critical, you must find a water source. Food can wait for a time, but water is essential for life. And water that is fresh and will not make you sick is of the most importance.
Now, imagine if a contestant was dropped into an area, and right beside where they made their shelter, they discovered a crystal-clear spring flowing from the earth. Now imagine the survivor walking past the spring and instead opting to gather water from the large watering hole where the animals gather to drink, bathe, and relieve themselves. If we are watching the show, we might find ourselves yelling at the television, demanding that they return to the spring to drink. Why would anyone give up a fresh, life-giving water source in order to drink from a stagnant, sickness-inducing water hole?
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
— Joel 2:13
The Doctrine of Tolerance: Quenching Its Hellfires with the Burning Eyes of the Son of GodWednesday, March 25, 2020
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 'The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. "'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. - Revelation 2:18-20, 24-25 (ESV)
The Son of God has eyes like a flame of fire, and His eyes are not deceived by the false mirage of culture. His holy eyes burn with accurate judgment. Though the Beloved Disciple had spent years in close friendship with Jesus and had reclined on His earthly chest, when John glimpses Jesus in His glory, he tells us in Revelation 1:17 that he “fell at His feet as though dead.” The eyes of Jesus that wept tears of compassion in the Garden of Gethsemane are now looking upon us as flames of fire.
The “virtue” of tolerance has become one of the foremost idols of western culture. Surprisingly, Jesus does not hold judgment out only for those who participate in sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols (other forms of cultural influence).