Hope in Dark Times

A recent Sunday morning service at Forefront Church in New York City closed with a time of open prayer.  It was a risky move.  Have you ever been in a group of a few hundred people and been invited to pray out loud?  It has the danger of going off the rails.  Will it make visitors uncomfortable?  Will one person dominate so much that no one else will want to participate?  Will anyone participate?

What happened was beautiful and surprising.  It was the powerful expression of a people heartbroken and frustrated, anxious about the state of the world but still trusting in the God who holds it all together.  A wide range of voices prayed for each other.  They cried out for justice for brothers and sisters living under oppression.  Voices lifted up those who serve our communities, whether as government officials or in law enforcement.  One voice asked God to intervene on behalf of the Christians being persecuted by ISIS.  Jesus’ final prayer for unity in the midst of diversity was echoed. The prayers were honest worship, transcending individual identities and pointing to the God who is greater.

Front-page news has only grown more complicated since that morning of prayer.  The unrest in Baltimore and the disaster in Nepal give the Psalms new urgency.

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?  -Psalm 10

And yet…

Signs of hope, of flourishing, of love poured out on the undeserving, and of growth and of change are evident. Every week, churches new and established gather to worship. Lives are being changed. People are introduced to Jesus. Cities are served. The hurting are treated with love and dignity.

The churches in the Baltimore area came together to meet some of the physical needs due to the rioting in the city.  The Foundry, Mosaic Christian, Restore, and Revolution all gave generously, gathering many bags of groceries to take to neighborhoods where grocery stores have been closed for a week.  Mike Winder, on staff at Mosaic, took the lead in coordinating volunteers.  He used to work at the school where food is being distributed.  The network of churches planted over the last decade is now uniquely positioned to minister in the area they love and serve.

Spiritual renewal is happening as well.  Last month, Restoration Church celebrated its launch Sunday in Philadelphia with 150 people in attendance! Lead planter Watson Jones shared, "The LORD met us as we launched our church. It was a very long journey but by God's grace and his provision of a very strong team, we made it. We are extremely excited to see what the LORD is going to do."

More pictures of Restoration's launch Sunday can be found here.

From NYC to California to Japan, many baptisms have been celebrated in the last month!

Baptism is a part of a life-long walk of following Jesus.  At Everyday Christian Church in New York City, staff member Wendy Bennett recently shared, “Over the past week I talked to several of our recently baptized members of the church and asked how they were doing. All of them told me of a recent increase in stress. Whether it was stress at work or with their health or with their family, they all noticed a difference since their baptism. One said, ‘I felt like Satan was attacking me as soon as I came up out of the water.’ I believe she is right. Satan hates when we make Jesus the Lord of our lives.”

Continue to pray!

Pray for the new believers, that their faith would be strengthened and that they would mature as disciples of Jesus.  Pray that especially in times of difficulty, they would remember Jesus’ love and grace for them.

Pray for our churches in the Baltimore area:

And be encouraged.

Psalm 10 concludes:

The Lord is King for ever and ever;
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.

May our lives and our churches bear witness to the One who holds the earth in his hands.

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Jamie Larson