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Ministry Update: April 2020

Dear Praying Friends,

Thank you for praying for our family, and the children/families our ministry serves.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been able to provide groceries and hygiene supplies for the AOS migrant/mobile home community we serve regularly through our neighborhood programs. We’re also monitoring and responding to needs of households our KidVenturez and camp programs serve (a good number of which are elderly grandparents with custodial guardianship over the grandkids, and shouldn’t be going out into public places right now). The support of our faithful partners is helping us to serve these households in a time of crisis.

Experts predict that our nation will get back to relative “normalcy” sometime around June, coincidentally the time our summer camp ministry kicks off. Your Easter gift to Breakaway Outreach will help give at-risk children a life-changing, hope-restoring summer camp experience this year, at a very critical time when kids will need to be processing all that has unfolded during this worldwide tragedy. They will be ripe with questions about God, faith, suffering, grief, and loss (read further to see our strategy for serving any kids who may not be able to participate in a residential summer camp due to this pandemic).

During times of pandemic, the body of Christ has historically shined the brightest. If you want to know how Christianity went from an obscure and marginal movement to representing around 6 million believers by AD 300, historians will tell you that the way Christians responded to plagues was a huge factor. I wrote about these historical accounts in the fourth chapter of my book “Shapers: Leadership That Restores Hope, Rebuilds Lives.”

The Gospel doesn’t take a back seat in times like this; it remains our steering wheel. Reaching vulnerable kids with hope isn’t on hold. Shaping resilience in young lives, helping struggling families, and strengthening communities isn’t being postponed. Compassion isn’t canceled. Now, perhaps more than ever in this generation, souls are searching for hope and ready for spiritual answers to the world’s unrest.

As a dear friend, partner, and shareholder in this ministry, we want you to know that our outreach efforts are not paused during “social distancing.” We have been engaged in serving area families facing hardship in the midst of this pandemic, bringing essential food and hygiene aid to low-income households that our ministry serves throughout the year. We are also confident that our Summer of Hope 2020 is going to reach more kids and families with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ than we could have ever imagined before this global emergency.

Most of our friends understand that this is the time of year we are raising funds for kids to go to summer camp. Breakaway provides day camps and residential summer camps for at-risk kids all across our region. More than 95% of the kids who attend our camps in Tennessee would likely not be able to participate in a summer camp without the financial aid of a scholarship. Over the years, we have provided camp scholarships for kids affected by economic insecurity, family hardship, parental incarceration, domestic abuse, and various forms of trauma. Our camps have also been a place of refuge for foster children, orphans, and kids from migrant/refugee communities. We are driven by the belief that no child should have to face hardship alone.

What makes Breakaway camp so unique? It is one of the few camps built specifically for kids facing systemic hardship and high-risk social factors. Everything from our Bible curriculum to the daily recreational activities are structured around building social resilience and spiritual enrichment, taking into account the special needs of our campers. Because of the common struggles that our campers share, they know that this community is a safe place to talk about their problems without risk of being stigmatized, branded, or labeled.

This year’s camp curriculum for our residential and day camps is called “God of the Odds.” It’s based on the Old Testament life of Gideon. This resilient “overcomer” story will resonate with our kids in several particular ways—Gideon was born into family hardship, his future looked bleak, he struggled with injustices, his people were forced into “social distancing” due to Midianite oppression, he had feelings of insecurity and inferiority, he faced insurmountable odds, and yet he saw God come through despite those odds. What a powerfully urgent message for kids living in the middle of a global crisis!!!

We understand that Coronavirus could affect how we flesh out our camp ministry this summer, but it will not stop the impact or the creative ingenuity of our outreach. As we continue to prepare for our “normal” camp ministry, we are also implementing a contingency campaign to distribute “camp in a backpack” to any kids who may not be able to participate in a typical summer camp due to this pandemic or its ripple affects. The backpacks, delivered to children across the East Tennessee region, will include: Bibles, daily Bible lessons, games, crafts, nutritious snacks, a birthday gift card, and a personalized note from a “Breakaway Angel” who is praying for them. They will know that they are not forgotten! We can’t empower kids without your help. Any donation you can make right now will ensure that underserved children get a summer camp experience in one form or another. Thank you for standing with the children, struggling families, and us during this pandemic. We are all in this together, and we will prevail by the grace of God.

God has made us for such a time as this. These aren’t days for fear or trepidation, but days that call for bold faith and gritty courage in the face of an unseen adversary. Nobody understands the concept of an invisible enemy more than Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ, yet we know WHO wins this war. Easter is an occasion to celebrate and proclaim His triumph over every enemy—including the grave! HE IS THE GOD OF OUR ODDS, and He will never fail you, beloved. Let me encourage you with two unshakeable thoughts David penned in scripture: Psalm 37:25 “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread,” and Psalm 27:13 “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” He will provide, my friend. He always has. God bless you and yours during this trial.

Betting on the God of the Odds,
Jimmy and Cindy Larche

Holy Week Scripture Reading Guide

Holy Week, for the Christian faith, is the last week of the season of Lent before the celebrations of Easter Sunday, running from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. It is a time to commemorate, reflect upon, and reenact, specifically, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, though many liturgies expand that practice to include his entire ministry. Find some Holy Week resources for your family here (kids activities, crafts, recipes, etc.).

Holy Week refers to Jesus’ last week on earth as a man. These seven days are called Holy Week because without the crucifixion, there would have been no Resurrection Sunday. Had Christ not hung on the cross, taken on our sins, and defeated Satan’s power, His rising again would not have been as meaningful. We wouldn’t be singing hymns about it. The New Testament probably wouldn’t have been written. And no one would have eternal life.

Read HOW TO KNOW GOD

By reading select Scriptures each day, you can follow the life of Jesus during Holy Week. Even though you know how the story ends, you shouldn’t jump ahead in your mind, but put yourself in the moment each day, seeing through the perspective of the disciples, of Jesus, of the Roman soldiers, and if you dare, of Judas. Live it as it unfolds.

Below is an outline for your Holy Week devotions and daily reflections. Begin each day with a prayer for understanding and clarity. Ask the Lord to reveal himself to you through your reading. Next, read the appropriate scriptures slowly. Take a few minutes to process what you’ve read. Reflect on what it teaches you about the character of God as revealed through Jesus Christ. What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself? Reflect on your reading throughout the day. Let it seep into your soul and transform you from the inside out.

Saturday (evening before Palm Sunday)

Jesus arrives in Bethany, on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives, to stay with friends (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha) where He has dinner and is anointed by Mary. Soon, a crowd gathers.

Holy Week Scripture Reading: John 12:1-11, Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13

Reflection: Why did so much of Jesus’ ministry happen around tables? In what ways can meals shared together become enacted grace, community, and mission.

Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday)

On Palm Sunday, the disciples make preparation for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a borrowed donkey, an event that has come to be known as His Triumphal Entry. This account was a fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah. This is traditionally known as Palm Sunday because people laid the branches in His path. He arrived to much celebration, but it was the beginning of the end of his human life. Later, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (which He will do again Tuesday afternoon). Some Gentile God-fearers, in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, learn of His arrival and desire to meet with Him. Jesus enters the Temple court itself before retiring to Bethany for the evening (Mark 11:11).

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:20-36

Reflection: How, and under what circumstances, did Jesus come into your life? If Jesus were to examine the temple of your body this day, would He recognize it as a vessel of pure devotion/worship to Him? (Romans 12:1-2)

Go HERE FOR A PALM SUNDAY DEVOTION

Monday

According to Mark, the curse of the fig tree event likely occurred in two stages on Monday and Tuesday morning. Matthew compresses this two-day event (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14). Jesus asserted his authority by cleansing the Temple court of its commercial atmosphere, throwing out anyone and everyone who was doing business inside the Temple complex. Even though Matthew places this scene immediately upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Mark’s account indicates that it occurred Monday morning (Mark 11:15-18, Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-46). The Jewish leaders were enraged by this display of power and authority.

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 56:1-8, Luke 19:41-48

Reflection: Think about your body as the temple. What does Jesus need to clean or eradicate to be truly honored?

Tuesday

The lesson of the fig tree was continued (Mark 11:20-26, Matthew 21:20-22). Jesus teaches at length in the Temple court, largely concerning His own authority and judgment upon the religious leaders for discouraging the people from worshipping Him. The Temple leaders challenged Jesus by putting him to the test, raising a number of theological debates with him and questioning both his teaching and his God-given authority (Matthew 21:23-22:45, Mark 11:27-12:44, Luke 20:1-21:4). Again, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem before going out to the Kidron Valley to teach His disciples at the Mount of Olives, a small mountain just 3/5 mile east of Jerusalem. With a spectacular view of the Temple, Jesus delivers a prophetic overview to His disciples of the near and distant future. Due to the location, this challenging text is often called the Olivet Discourse.

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Luke 20:1-21:36, Psalm 118:19-27, Psalm 110

Reflection: Have there been times when Jesus’ truth has seemed harsh to you or hard to follow? In what ways has following Jesus cost you something in this world?

Wednesday

While we know that Jesus taught in the Temple every day, it is unclear from Scripture what body of teaching took place on Wednesday (Luke 21:37-38). The Jewish leaders continue to get riled up by Jesus’ teachings. The tipping point comes when a woman honored Jesus by anointing him with really expensive oil (Mark 14:1-9). Clearly, Wednesday was a day of wicked plotting on the part of the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Mark 14:1-2, Matthew 26:3-5, Luke 22:1-2). The plotting was not simply earthly, however, for Satan seizes upon the unbelief of Judas (Luke 22:3-6, Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11).

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Mark 14:1-11, Matthew 26:1-16

Reflection: What are some of the ways that Jesus’ authority collides with religion, legalism, and/or political powers? In what ways can moralism deflect from the saving gospel of Jesus Christ?

Maundy Thursday (the Day of the Last Supper)

Jesus shares the Passover meal (Last Supper) with His disciples and washes their feet as an example of humility and servant leadership. John’s account provides a lengthy section of teaching, as well as what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer (John 17:1-26). The church marks this evening as Maundy Thursday due to John 13:34: “a new commandment I give” (mandatum is Latin for “commandment”). After Jesus’ lengthy Upper Room Discourse, He then leads His disciples out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Here He would be betrayed by Judas and arrested by officers of the Temple, accompanied by a small band of Pilate’s soldiers (after midnight), and brought before the authorities as His night-time trial begins. Meanwhile, in the courtyard below, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 50:4-10, Luke 22:7-23, John 13:1-14-31, Luke 22:39-62

Reflection: Scripture says that when we take the Lord’s Supper together, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). How often do you approach a shared meal together as a proclamation of the Lord’s return?

Friday (Good Friday)

On this day, Judas dies (Matthew 27:3-10). Jesus first meets with Governor Pontius Pilate privately (Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:2-7, John 18:28-40). Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (region across the Jordan), and murderer of John the Baptist (Luke 23:8-12). Several years earlier, Pilate had instituted a custom of releasing an imprisoned Jew at Passover as a means of courting favor among the people (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 19:1-16). Jesus is crucified and, at 3:00pm, dies. Contemporary historian, Josephus, writes that this was the typical time for the evening sacrifice (Matthew 27:27-56, Mark 15:16-41, Luke 23:26-49, John 19:16b-37). The body of Jesus is buried before sunset by a wealthy member of the ruling council, Joseph of Arimathea (perhaps a city in Ephraim), along with Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin (Isaiah 53:9, John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56).

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:1-18, Luke 22:63-23:56, John 19:1-37

Reflection: Consider the suffering that Christ endured for you on the cross. He took all of your sins and absorbed the punishment for the wages of your sins (Romans 6:23). What kind of response does that warrant from you today?

Saturday

On Saturday, Jesus lies alone in the tomb. Scripture is mostly silent about this day, though we do know that the chief priests and the Pharisees campaigned for Pilate to secure the tomb with guards so that the disciples couldn’t take the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:62-66).

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12

Reflection: As you prepare for Easter worship, think of what Jesus is doing for your sake even though you can’t physically see Him.

Sunday—Easter!

On Easter Sunday, a couple of women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him for burial, but when they arrived, he wasn’t there. The tomb was empty, and an angel greeted them with the news that Jesus was alive. The women hurried back to tell the others, and Jesus surprised his grieving disciples by showing up in their midst. Jesus appeared in His glorified body to well over 500 people during a 40-day period (Acts 1:3, Matthew 28:9-10, John 20:11-18, Luke 24:13-48, John 20:19-23, Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:9-18, John 20:24-29, 21:1-23, Acts 1:3-8, 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

Holy Week Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-53, John 21:1-19, Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection: Awaken with a song in your heart. He is Risen! In what way did Jesus restore Peter after Peter had denied Him three times? What was Jesus’ affirmation to Peter (John 21), and His mandate for us (Matthew 28)?

Coronavirus: “The Bitterest Part”

Text: John 11:1-44

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” —John 11:25

In Italy, thousands of families have been devastated by Coronavirus. When infected patients are hospitalized, their loved ones cannot visit them due to the contagion. Multitudes have perished in seclusion without family members by their bedside. Proper funerals are not possible during the pandemic lockdown, as the deceased are piled up in coffins and quietly taken away. As well, grieving family members are left to mourn in isolation without the typical closure of a funeral accompanied by the support of other loved ones. “This is the bitterest part,” said one Italian.  

In John 11, Martha and Mary are having a bitterly grievous moment, devastated by the loss of their dear brother, Lazarus. “Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died,” they both cried (John 11:21, 32). To make matters worse, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he delayed two days before coming to Bethany. His lack of urgency might’ve mystified the disciples and the distressed sisters.

Have you ever felt this way? Lord, why did you delay in coming to our aid? If you had only showed up, this wouldn’t have happened? Why didn’t you get here in time?

When Jesus finally arrived, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, asking, “Where have you laid him?” Then we have the shortest Bible verse ever recorded: “Jesus wept.” In this moment Jesus hurts like we hurt. He grieves like we grieve. He suffers and mourns as we do. He steps into our pain, identifying with us that “the bitterest part” of our earthly journey is the human loss of our dearest loved ones. I’m so comforted that we have this moment in the Bible—Jesus pausing to grieve. He takes time to feel the pain. It shows that HE understands our suffering (Hebrews 4:15).

I’m also comforted in the fact that there is more to this story. Jesus has shown the disciples that he feels their pain, their loss, and their bitterness. Now he is about to show them that this chapter of agony is not the final chapter in life. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You know what the news is—in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” Martha and Mary are overwhelmed by bad news, but they are only moments away from being overcome by the good news.

Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” He told the disciples to take away the gravestone. Then he prayed to the Father, and commanded Lazarus to “come out” in a loud voice. “The man who had died came out,” the Bible roars. The next chapter begins with Lazarus sitting at a table with Jesus doing dinner church! (John 12:1-2)

What a glorious picture of the resurrection. We are just a few weeks away from Easter, a time when the church celebrates the resurrection life of our Lord and Savior. It’s a time when we proclaim over all of our present pain, loss, tears, and suffering that a better day is coming. Jesus didn’t just preach about resurrection and life, He dramatically hailed, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” He promised that whoever believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live.

Whenever we find ourselves in a chapter of sorrow and anguish, may we be reminded that there is still another chapter to come. One day we will sit at the King’s table during the marriage supper of the Lamb and we will have “church” like never before. Our ashes will be turned into beauty. Our weeping will be turned into laughter. Our grief will be turned into dancing—one day, beloved, one day. Let that resonate with your soul as you seek to abide in Him this week.

I have posted an audio message on my website from Francesca, our Breakaway Outreach Italia representative, about her EASTER HOPE. It’s a short voice message that I believe will inspire your faith in these days. LISTEN TO IT BELOW. If want to know the peace that comes with knowing Christ as Lord, go here.

PRAYER

Lord, sometimes it feels like you don’t understand our urgency. But we need to remember that our timing is not your timing, and your delays are not denials. There are things in our world and sufferings in our lives that we can’t understand in this moment. We may have the news, but it isn’t the whole story. We patiently wait for that day when our Redeemer will appear, redeeming everything that is lost and restoring everything that is broken. Help us to trust you in these times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of your greatest disappointments in life? When has God given you comfort in the middle of a sad time of life?
  2. What did Martha say to Jesus about His having come after Lazarus had died? (John 11:21-22) What did Jesus tell Martha that Lazarus would do? (John 11:23) 
  3. How did Martha misunderstand Jesus? (11:24) What did Martha and the others learn about Jesus’ identity? (11:25)
  4. What did Jesus say would happen to those who believed in Him? (11:26) How should that shape our faith in this present time?
  5. What attitude of disappointment do you need to confess to God and change to trust in His sovereign control? How can you be a comfort to a struggling or hurting believer this week?

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Coronavirus and Social Distancing: 5 Things to Remember

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 1:4

For this week’s Abiding In Him devotion, I want to share with you five things we can remember during an unprecedented time of social distancing due to the Coronavirus.

1. Remember how God defines His Church.

With church doors temporarily closing all over the country, it’s important to remember that the New Testament “church” was never defined as a building, a service time, or a particular denomination. Even though these may speak to aspects of how we gather “as” the church, they don’t define the church. Church isn’t something we go to, it’s WHO WE ARE as God’s body—practically His hands and feet in a broken world. The inconvenience of the Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to pause and remember WHO WE ARE as “salt” (a preserving agent) in the world today (Matthew 5:13). We are thankful for the technology of Zoom and WhatsApp that has helped us to continue to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we’ve also had time to have refreshing conversations about church as our identity, and not merely just a place in which we gather. Jesus is building His Church. HE is the UNCONQUERABLE King advancing an UNSTOPPABLE kingdom, of which the gates of hell will never prevail against. His throne hasn’t been rattled by this Coronavirus—it remains UNSHAKEN (Hebrews 12:27). Be encouraged by that, and remember WHO YOU ARE as His beloved.

2. Remember that discipleship begins in our homes.

According to scripture, parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children. In some ways, that idea can get lost in our Western Christian paradigms. This is a great time to be mindful that God never intended for you to outsource the discipleship of your children to “the trained professionals.” Take this time to get into God’s Word together. You don’t need to have all the answers to questions that arise from your Bible discussions together. In fact, your kids will respect your example more when you admit that you don’t have all the answers about the infinitely complex Creator of this universe. With such a BIG GOD, there is supposed to be room for wonder and mystery. It’s those who think they have all the answers that reveal their perception of God is very small, especially if God can be entirely explained by such finite human minds. The enigma of Isaiah 55:8-9 reveals that our God is so much bigger than our limited comprehension. David never considered the size of Goliath because he knew the size of his God was beyond comprehension. You are a disciple-maker right now, right where you are. That’s the mission of the Church. You can be about your Father’s business in your own home. Git-R-Done!

3. Remember the lostness of our world.

This week, I read that in Iran, a person dies from Coronavirus every 10 minutes. Let the thought of tens of thousands of people dying and slipping into eternity break your heart—especially as it pertains to those who are lost without Christ. Nehemiah’s heart broke for the things that broke God’s heart. I wrote a book about this called “Shapers.” When Nehemiah had his heart broken, he didn’t spring into his construction and renovation project immediately. He spent four months in isolated prayer. His social distancing prepared him for an unimaginable work that later contributed to reviving a whole nation. Once he was catapulted from that prayer chamber, in God’s right timing, all of the provision (the king’s throne) of the kingdom of Persia stood behind him. God gave him the favor of a pagan king with unlimited resources to do the job. Imagine the kind of gospel influence that can emerge from this present crisis when the church is catapulted back into everyday societal norms with a renewed missional focus. We have a much bigger throne behind us than a pagan king!!! Pray for God to break your heart for what breaks His, and to give you a renewed vision for how you can be His witness to gospel-destitute souls.

4. Remember that there are still ways to serve our neighbors and the marginalized, the underserved, and those at risk, even when we are “social distancing.”

Compassion hasn’t been canceled. Kindness hasn’t been canceled. Generosity hasn’t been canceled. As part of our normal programs throughout the calendar year, Breakaway Outreach helps to provide holistic supplementation (including meals, nutrition, and hygiene) for at-risk children affected by economic insecurity in our area. As Coronavirus affects closures to schools and after school programs, we are working creatively with others in our network to make sure no kiddos go hungry or get neglected of wellness resources. I’ve been inspired by many stories of altruism this week—churches utilizing their buildings to serve children of healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly around the clock, college students going grocery shopping for vulnerable elderly folks so they don’t have to risk leaving their homes, young people organizing donation centers to get food and supplies to low income families who don’t have the privilege of being able to stockpile goods. There are ways we can serve others without being exposed to large crowds. This requires getting quiet before God and letting Him speak into our hearts about how we can creatively flesh out compassion and generosity in such a time as this.

5. Remember to pray through a scriptural lens.

Many people have been asking, “Why is God allowing this?” Though our tendency may be to pray for God to just miraculously take away this plague and all of the inconveniences and suffering it brings, it’s also important to search the scriptures and pray according to God’s Word (the final authority in every aspect of a believer’s life). Dr. Roger Barrier has written a worthy response to why God allows plagues and how we should respond through the lens of scripture (our family had a great discussion and prayer time together while navigating this post). Sometimes it was to abolish idolatry, confront arrogance, reveal sin and disobedience, or lead people to repentance. Regardless of how we interpret the reason for this pandemic, and I try to be very careful about making assumptions, we should be earnest about praying for God’s purposes to be accomplished through manifold unknowns. We should pray for God to convict hearts, reveal sin, confront our personal and cultural idols, bring hearts to repentance, and draw people to Himself. We should pray for miracles. We should pray boldly for protection. We should pray for healing where there is infection. We should expect God to show forth His power, yet not to the neglect of spiritual introspection and biblical examination of ourselves. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to show us things we need to see about our communities, our nation, the world, and ourselves. If we do this, we may even see a major revival on the other end of this global crisis.

Think about these five things as you seek to abide in Him during times of social distancing.

PRAYER

Father, remind us that there is a purpose to every season in life. No matter what we face, we can be assured that You are on the throne, sovereign over all things. We trust Your heart, even in our constraints. We seek Your heart for the things that need to break ours. Holy Spirit, revive our prayer life. Confront our idols. Convict us of sin. Lead us to repentance. Bring healing through confession. Give us a healthy ecclesiastical identity and stir our missional creativity for discipleship. Show us our place in this moment, and remind us that we were made for such a time as this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been the hardest part of your social distancing during the Coronavirus emergency? What has been positive?
  2. Of the five things listed above that are worth remembering, which one most resonates with you in this moment?
  3. Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. What was significant about Jerusalem’s walls of protection being destroyed? How did Nehemiah react to the news about suffering Jerusalem and the exiles? (Nehemiah 1:4)
  4. How did Nehemiah describe God in his prayer (Nehemiah 1:5)? What are the benefits of focusing on the attributes of God?
  5. What is the major theme of Nehemiah’s prayer? On whose behalf did Nehemiah pray and fast? What specific request did Nehemiah ask God to grant him? What can we learn from Nehemiah’s prayer life that may help us during this pandemic?

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Coronavirus and “One Anothering”

Text: Hebrews 10:19-25

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” —Hebrews 10:24

In Italy, the entire country is on unprecedented lockdown due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The northern regions are seeing a “tsunami of patients,” and according to one spokesperson, the healthcare system is “one step from collapse.” Their Prime Minister has called it Italy’s “darkest hour.” So far, Italy has more than 15,000 infection cases with over a thousand deaths—the most of any country outside of China.

Churches haven’t been able to assemble together in weeks. I have been speaking with some of our Italian friends and the situation is quite demoralizing, as well as panic inducing. Francesca and her husband, Victor, are the Breakaway Outreach Italia representatives in the Veneto region, organizing our local sports outreach camps over the last three years. Francesca’s voice quivered as she shared from the heart the anguish of being in forced isolation.

“We are missing, like crazy, going to church and giving hugs to one another; talking personally, supporting one another, and praying together. It’s horrible. But we have faith it’s not going to last forever. When you have that freedom taken away from you, wow, it’s tough; but it’s useful, especially if you are a believer. When this time will be over, we will give more importance to the right thing and less importance to things that are not really important.”

Her message was edifying to our community here in Tennessee. Our privilege of being able to worship together, support one another, and flesh out God’s mission together is something we should never take lightly. Having people in our corner is something we can often underappreciate, until we are going through a season of suffering. As my heart breaks for what my friends are facing in Italy, I look around at the brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I have the freedom of doing life and serving on mission together. I value that privilege! I love my tribe!

God’s Word admonishes us:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” —Hebrews 10:23-25

The ecclesiological connection in this passage has a markedly deeper meaning than just surfacely attending a church assembly. It speaks of a shared spiritual intimacy entrenched in missional togetherness with others—think of the allegorical bond depicted in Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring.” All of mythical Middle-Earth hangs in the balance of that fellowship’s faithfulness to their mission. More poignantly, ours is a fellowship of the one-anothers, with real eternal consequences attached to our gospel faithfulness.

There are over 60 “one another” commands in the New Testament that reveal God’s passion for this fellowship of the one-anothers: love one another (John 13:34), honor one another (Romans 12:10), build up one another (Romans 14:19), care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). It’s quite clear: God has made us for “one-anothering.” We find two of them in Hebrews 10:24-25: “stir up one another” and “encourage one another.”

God didn’t wire us for isolation. That early church knew that they needed each other to carry out Christ’s mission in the world. My friends in Italy understand, perhaps now more than ever, how much they need one another. None of us were created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in humble dependency upon God and loving interdependency with others. As one writer described it, “Our lives were designed to be community projects.” Reflect on your need for this kind of missional community as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for the privilege that comes to those who have been brought into a right relationship with you, through the redeeming blood of Jesus. Holy Spirit, help us to remember that our privilege comes with many interdependencies and responsibilities to our faith community. Teach us how to one-another well in light of your Word, in the power of your grace, for the sake of your gospel, and to the glory of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Are you the kind of person who easily assimilates into community, or does your personality find it more challenging?
  2. Our modern culture lauds self-sufficiency and independence. In what “communal” ways has Jesus called his followers to be countercultural?
  3. Sometimes even our church cultures/models/structures can breed individual consumers over communities that share intimate life and mission together. In what ways might this be course-corrected?
  4. What privilege comes to those who are part of the “house of God” (Hebrews 10:22)? With that privilege comes responsibility. What kind of behavior should privileged Christ-followers exhibit toward one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)?
  5. Is there a specific person God wants you to encourage or “stir up” toward love and good works this week, especially on the threshold of a global pandemic?

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If God Is With Me, Why Did This Happen?

Text: Judges 6:11-13, Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” —Isaiah 55:8

Have you ever asked, “If God is with me, then why did this happen?” If so, you are surely not alone.

In today’s text (Judges 6:11-13), we find a young man named Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress. This is indeed a strange scene. It would be akin to practicing your golf swing in a closet. This was both difficult and humiliating for Gideon. Wheat was not normally threshed in a sunken place like a winepress. There wouldn’t be much room to do the work in such a confined space, as winepresses were vats sunk in the ground. Wheat would have been threshed in wide-open spaces, typically on a hilltop so the breeze could blow away the chaff. Yet this was Gideon’s little hideaway, his escape. He did his work here, for fear of the Midianites, who were accustomed to stealing the wheat once it had been threshed. Gideon’s daily grind is governed by fear, hardship, and humiliation.

Why such dire straits? Well, Gideon’s people had betrayed the Lord. They had turned their backs on God in a downward spiral of apostasy. God had not abandoned them, but they had abandoned Him. Consequently, their enemies—the Midianites—were crushing them. Though they were makers of their own demise, God was still faithful. He wasn’t done with Israel despite their failure, and He wanted to get their attention once again.

In his routine toil one day, Gideon gets an unexpected visit from the angel of the Lord. Some Bible scholars refer to this angel as the Lord’s designated messenger, while others describe it as a theophany—an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ, in human, bodily form, before His incarnation. What’s most significant is that God shows up in this time of distress and despair. Note that this visitation comes as Gideon is laboring diligently. He isn’t idle, fatalistic, or reserved to apathy because of the tough times his people are facing. Even though he questions the reason why all this misfortune has unfolded, and his faith might be staggering, he hasn’t given up. He is hard at work.

The angel says to him: “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Sounds a bit out of place, being that Gideon doesn’t appear very lionhearted. He’s struggling to believe how God could be for him in all this drama. Maybe he looked back over his shoulder to see if there was another person to whom the angel spoke. We see his trepidation in his response: “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

I’m sure there has been a time or two when you felt like Gideon. If God is with me, then why has He allowed all this to happen? It feels more like He’s checked out and left me to my own survival instincts. There couldn’t be a bigger picture to all this madness; all that’s left is for me to just cope. You’ve been here, haven’t you? I sure have.

So what do you do when you find yourself in the winepress and it seems that God is very distant? Gideon was a simple man living a very ordinary life, going about the daily grind while facing a ton of adversity. As discouraged as he may have been, the angel apparently found him going about his daily duties with much diligence. Some of the most dynamic God-encounters in scripture happen when people are hard at work. They might not be expecting anything out of the ordinary, but their character and work ethic is setting them up for a divine appointment. Consider that Moses discovers his burning bush while keeping the flock. David was tending the sheep. Elisha was plowing the land. The apostles were fishing, washing, and mending their nets. As David Trapp says, “He usually appeared to the busy in visions, like as Satan doth to the idle in manifold temptations.”

I think the most important application in these precious few verses is not looking ahead at what God is going to do through Gideon in the extraordinary chapters of life (as we see further in the story), but Who God is in those very ordinary chapters of life. He is nearer than we think. He hasn’t checked out. He hasn’t abandoned us to ourselves. Thank you, Lord!

Gideon doesn’t have all the spiritual answers in this moment. He can’t understand how God could still be for him when his circumstances are shouting that God is very, very far away. We are left to a mystery of what the Almighty must’ve seen usable in this guy. We see fear. Trepidation. Doubts. Questions. In himself, Gideon sees inferiority and victimhood. But God saw something we, or Gideon, can’t see. He always does. Let that sink in as you seek to abide in Him this week.”

PRAYER

God, You haven’t left us to face this drama alone. You are faithful despite our failures and fickle hearts. You pursue us despite our trepidation, fears, and inhibitions. You never change, though our faith can sometimes feel like shifting sand being pulled out by the tide of doubts and uncertainties. The one constant is Your presence, Holy Spirit. Thank you for Your nearness, regardless of what my circumstances roar. I trust You with the unknown, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you had a Gideon-like “If God is for me then why…?” moment?
  2. In what ways can you relate to Gideon’s circumstances, doubts, or wavering faith?
  3. Read Isaiah 55:8-9. What does this tell us about God’s perspective on our lives?
  4. Why do we tend to feel we should have all the answers to life’s drama? What says more about our faith, having all the right theological answers or trusting God’s heart when we don’t?
  5. Where might you need to stop searching for specific answers to certain circumstances and trust more in God’s ever abiding presence in the those circumstances?

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Prone to Wander

Text: Psalm 119:9-16

“With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!” —Psalm 119:10

Robert Robinson was a fatherless teenager when the powerful preaching of George Whitefield first influenced him to surrender to Christ. This uneducated barber-turned-poet preacher, described as a perpetual wanderlust, often wrestled with his beliefs and frequently moved between denominations and theological camps. In his twenties, he wrote the hymn “Come, thou Fount of every blessing” (1758), in which he confessed that his heart was “Prone to wander… Prone to leave the God I love.”

The hymn as a whole is a great testimony to the grace of God that had saved him, notwithstanding his nomadic heart. It has resonated with many a heart for more than two hundred and fifty years, attesting to God’s faithfulness in times of distraction, doubts, and drifting. Robert Robinson wasn’t alone.

In ancient Israel, the psalmist cried out: “With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!” (Psalm 119:10)

Though we may not deliberately choose to wander, our hearts do tend to drift. Like Paul, we sometimes find ourselves doing what we despise (Romans 7:19)—lusting after the things of this world, judging others though we ourselves don’t want to be judged, gossiping rather than edifying, losing our cool and getting caught up in the moment, doubting God is going to come through for us though He has never failed us in the past. It’s in these times that we desperately need a Rescuer from our wandering. How grateful we can be for a God of mercy—a compassionate heavenly Father—whose grace is all-sufficient and never exhausted.

In that hymn, Robinson also wrote: “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.” He knew that though we turn to our own way again and again, God keeps bringing us back. We must daily bind our wandering hearts to Christ. Psalm 138:8 speaks of His constant shepherding as the remedy to my drifting nature: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

PRAYER

God, you know my wandering heart. You know it better than I know myself. Thank you for pursuing me even in times of drift, doubt, and distraction. Holy Spirit, teach my heart to align with you more, and to wander less. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What causes friendships or other relationships to deteriorate?
  2. What advice does this psalm give to its readers? (Psalm 119:9-16)
  3. What do you think is meant by “storing up” God’s Word in our hearts? (v.11)
  4. What benefits can we expect from disciplined meditation on God’s Word?
  5. In what ways will you aim to store up God’s Word in your heart this week?

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When Facing Your Red Sea

Text: Exodus 13:17 – 14:14

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” —Exodus 14:13

Dr. George Campbell Morgan tells of a man whose shop burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The next morning he arrived at work carrying a table, which he set up amid the charred ruins. On it he placed a sign that read, “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business as usual tomorrow morning.”

It’s been said that the acid test of character is determined by how much discouragement you can take without giving up. God may allow hardship into our lives to shape something in us, but never without the aim of showing off His power and might.

When God led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, He didn’t lead them by the shortest route, or most convenient, but the one that would shape their hearts the most. Unmovable from their side, the Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. He led Israel into what seemed to be a trap. There was no way of escape except the way they had come in, and the Egyptian army had that path blocked.

At one point, God even commanded the Israelites to turn backward as if to bait Pharaoh into pursuing them. Seems a bit strange if God was only in it for Israel’s good. But there is more to the story—and to our story as well—God isn’t just in it for our good, He is in it for His glory. God promised that through this seemingly counterintuitive move “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:1-4). God would prove Himself to them throughout every uncertain twist and turn of this journey.

God is not just working for our good and wellbeing (Romans 8), but chiefly for His glory to be demonstrated through the entire process of our lives. Each day that we live and breathe is an opportunity for God to flex His muscles in every circumstance, from our most disheartening setbacks to our most rousing victories. The Almighty is shaping our heart to love Him and trust Him.

We tend to spend much of our days striving in our own strengths, abilities, and sufficiency. God certainly gave us talents and abilities to use for His glory, but He wants us operating and functioning in a dependence on Him. He wants us to learn to trust what He can do through us, as our cloud by day and our pillar by night. We often yearn for the easy path, the most convenient. Yet we frequently find ourselves on an inconveniently rugged, agitating and adverse path toward our promised land. What’s the deal?

Nature itself teaches us that it’s impossible to succeed without going through adversity. If a seedling tree has to struggle its way up through rocks to get to sunlight and air, then wrestle with storms and frost to survive, you can be sure of one thing: its root system will be strong and its timber resilient. If you’re successful and haven’t experienced hardship, you can be sure someone else has experienced it for you. And if you’re experiencing adversity without succeeding, there’s a good chance somebody else will succeed because of the price you paid. As Brad Pitt says in the film Moneyball, “The first one through the wall always gets bloody.” In any case, there’s no achievement without adversity.

It made sense for Israel to be afraid. They could see Pharaoh’s armies on one side and the Red Sea on the other. Maybe you find yourself facing similar disheartening odds. Just know beloved, your God is up to something that transcends your human understanding. Though Israel’s situation looked bleak, God assures them that the coming events, regardless of how they are perceived, are governed by his power and purposes. The Lord does tell Moses that he will “get glory over Pharaoh,” but He does not tell him just how that deliverance will be accomplished. It requires faith with every step and trust in every moment.

Between the time of the plagues in Egypt and the journey to Sinai, the events at the Red Sea show Moses as a maturing leader who learns to trust in the word of the Lord (Exodus 14:13–14), as they also illustrate Israel’s need to do the same (Exodus 14:10–12). How about you, my friend, are you maturing in your faith and trust in God’s providence for your life? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Lord, You are in this for my good and Your glory. Therefore, You will never abandon me. Your love will never fail. I rejoice in your salvation alone. No matter what stands in front of me, You have already gone ahead and You will faithfully take me through. I praise You for Your goodness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What was God’s reason for directing the Israelites toward the Red Sea? (Exodus 13:17-18)
  2. What did the Israelites cry to Moses when the Egyptians came after them? (Exodus 14:10-12)
  3. How do you imagine God felt when the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt?  
  4. What do we have to do to be obedient to God even when we don’t feel like it?
  5. How can you give your fears to God this week?

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Update: West Africa Baseball Initiative

The 2020 West Africa Baseball Initiative for Ashanti region of Ghana

This project is in commemoratory of the late W.L. White (native of Lindale, GA), who was a longtime partner with Breakaway Outreach (20+ years) and passed on to his heavenly home last October. Our missional focus with this partnership is threefold:

1) To empower vulnerable children with the gospel while building resilience skills through baseball clinics and sports training

2) To train indigenous coaches in West Africa, equipping and resourcing them to be disciplers and mentoring shapers of future generations

3) To strengthen communities by fostering cross-cultural partnerships, creating sustainable youth sports programs, and providing tangible resources for development

baseball africa mission

🇬🇭 ⚾ West Africa Baseball Initiative

• 207 kids attended our gospel-centered baseball camp
• 11 schools partnered together for this outreach project
• 24 new coaches trained and equipped for sports ministry

We established the foundation for the very first baseball league in Ashanti region of Ghana, commissioning a head baseball coach and a staff of assistants. Coaches will continue to meet monthly for training together and developing multiple youth teams. We believe that God is going to use baseball to empower kids with hope, bring about gospel transformation, raise up next generation leaders, and further His kingdom through this sports ministry for years to come.

Coronavirus: A Pastor’s Response From China

Jason Seville is the senior pastor of an international church in China, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and four daughters. This is his resonse to the Coronavirus outbreak.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 

As I sit in my apartment in coronavirus-laden China, I’m hard pressed to think of a better prayer than that one, uttered by a desperate but confident Judean King named Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:12).

The eyes of an anxious world are on this global health crisis. Companies and schools in China are delaying operations. Borders are closing. And in recent days many airlines have suspended all travel in and out of this great country. As an American who pastors in China, our decision to stay now feels like a clear “burn the ships!” moment.

Our prayer? We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you, Lord

Jehoshaphat’s ancient perspective is more apropos for February 2020 than we might think. In his context, a dangerous delegation from Edom was closing in on Judah. But his faith was all-encompassing. He wasn’t just trusting the Lord in the face of potential military defeat, but for any disaster that may come! 

If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:9, emphasis mine)

Jehoshaphat had a disposition of trust, regardless of danger. Even in the face of pestilence or plague, he cried to God.

And, given the current threat of pandemic, we must learn to do the same. Here are five aspects of his trusting in God that can help us today.

1. Trust God with your fears.

Jehoshaphat was “afraid and set his face to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 20:3). He wasn’t superhuman; he was normal. The initial step of anyone trusting in God’s help—in his day or in ours—must be an admitting of weakness. It may be good medicine right now to go before the Lord and honestly tell him how you’re doing. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m lonely. I’m wounded. I’m exhausted. 

The point of airing our pain isn’t to shake a finger at God; it’s to be honest as we trust him with our deepest concerns.

Jehoshaphat chooses to trust the Lord, which is what we’re called to as well. Trust is always a choice. And it’s one we’ll have to make over and over again.

2. Encourage others to trust God.

After Jehoshaphat seeks God, he proclaims a national fast: “And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 20:4). The king knows whence true help comes, and he leads others to go there for their hope as well.

When everyone around us is freaking out and our neighbors fear the sky is falling, we must remind each other that we serve a loving, merciful, and sovereign God, who is himself untouched by pestilence or virus (Ps. 91). 

As we take our anxieties to the Lord in prayer, we can experience peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6–7). And as we experience such peace, the countercultural—and often counterintuitive—hope that we have in Christ is put on display (1 Pet. 3:15). Our faith, after all, is personal but not private.

3. Call out to God.

Jehoshaphat offers a model prayer in verses 5–12. He appeals to God’s character, his promises, and his actions in the past. The prayer then culminates: “[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.” 

Maybe you feel that way in light of nCoV. Perhaps you feel powerless against a virus to which you can be exposed even when there are no visible symptoms. Maybe your anxiety rises as specialists still aren’t sure all the ways this virus can be transmitted.

You might feel discouraged as you watch the infection and death tolls rise. If so, join with Jehoshaphat in declaring that you are helpless, but your hope is fixed on God Almighty.

How many of our prayers should end with a line like this? This is the posture of the Christian. Appeal to God’s character, confess your inability, and put your eyes on the Lord.

4. Remember God’s salvation.

In the 2 Chronicles narrative, God responds by sending a prophet to remind Judah that the battle doesn’t belong to them; it belongs to God (20:15). They won’t even need to fight; they can just sit back and watch his salvation on their behalf (20:17)!

This story is a small example of a bigger, spiritual battle for everyone in every age. We have a lethal problem we can do nothing about on our own (though we try!). We must trust another, because the battle isn’t ours to fight. As we trust the One who can battle on our behalf, we’re invited to sit back and watch the salvation of the Lord! 

The coronavirus may plateau over the next week. Or it may worsen. My family may be spared from this epidemic, or we may become a statistic. Still we look to God’s salvation! Not because he’ll necessarily prove his love to me by protecting me from illness, but because he’s already demonstrated his love by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16)! 

I pray for this virus to be eradicated and for my family to be healthy, but God is good regardless of what these next weeks bring. I wear a mask outdoors and wash my hands frequently, but my hope isn’t finally in these efforts. I desire long life for myself and my family, but I also know the goal of life isn’t to escape physical death. That’s a fool’s errand. The goal is to be prepared when physical death inevitably comes, glorifying and enjoying God until that day.  

5. Worship.

Jehoshaphat trusts God, and he leads others in trusting God. But note the end game: worship. In 2 Chronicles 20–21, before victory had even come, the king leads the people to praise: “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against [their enemies], so that they were routed” (2 Chron. 20:22). 

How is this final scene part of trusting God? Because if God is good and we know he can be trusted, we can worship him even amid suffering. We can praise him even under the threat of danger. We glorify him even as viruses spread. 

God didn’t tell Jehoshaphat to do this. He wasn’t instructed by God to call together a worship service.

Worship isn’t a strategy for getting God to act; it’s a response because we know he has acted and he will continue to act. This is what it looks like to seek the Lord.

The Judeans go out the next day, and their threat is gone. I’m not saying God will miraculously solve all your problems if you’ll only start worshiping, but I am saying your biggest problem—the problem of disbelief—will be solved if you’ll only start worshiping.

In the face of the coronavirus, may Christians in China and around the world have an unshakeable confidence in the Lord—even when we don’t know what comes next.