1 Peter 3:8-9(NLT) “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.”

I want to take you into the war room with our executive staff at Echo Church. We had two significant days that will forever mark our church. This first of these days was Thursday, March 12, 2020. COVID-19 had begun to spread exponentially in our country. Our leadership team had several important decisions to make. Would we move services completely online? At this point, the local government had not given the order to shelter in place. We debated back and forth, prayed, and then made the call. It seemed like such a big decision.

The next Monday, we knew the shelter-in-place order would come soon. We saw the wave hit China, Italy, and several other countries. We gathered together around noon, prayed, and asked God for wisdom. We spent the next seven hours restructuring the whole church. We gave every paid staff member a new team, and we created new meeting rhythms and new strategies for accomplishing our mission. I could feel the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit in that room that day. I will remember that day with those special people for the rest of my life.

I share all of that for a reason. When we prayed, God gave us a very clear direction regarding a few things. We were to focus on generosity and do everything we could to serve both our community and everyone connected to our church. We created two new wings of the church called Echo Care and Echo Compassion. Echo Care would call and check on our people. Echo Compassion would love and serve those out in the community. In addition to these initiatives, we reached out to other churches in our area to see how we could help them.

In my 20 years of vocational ministry, I have not sensed a stronger urge from God than I did in that week to unleash insane amounts of compassion, love and kindness. It was clear the Holy Spirit wanted us to radically serve our community, our people, and other churches in the Bay Area. If you are a part of another church in the Bay, you are a part of that vision, too.

Where does this urge come from? It comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in His church as He places the heart of God inside of His people. We are different in crisis. We don’t hide in a hole during times of tension and trouble. We rise up, we love, we serve, we pour out our lives to bless those around us. We bless those who curse us. We give away our resources. We check on brothers and sisters. We drive groceries to elderly people who can’t get out.

I told Stacie yesterday, “I’m going to miss Peter after this time.” I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a lot better just reading and studying his letter. I am struck again by the change in his words during the later part of his life. I imagine him arguing with the other disciples as they fought over being in first place with Jesus (Mark 9:33-34). I’m reminded of the time Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” What also strikes me is that Peter made sure Mark included these incidents in the gospel stories.

Later in his life, his priorities had shifted. Peter was more gentle. He was more humble. He was concerned with blessing others, not just taking care of himself. He wasn’t cutting off ears anymore (Mark 14:47). Instead, he encouraged the churches to return evil with good and to bless those who curse you.

What about you? Has the way you treat people changed since you began to follow Jesus? Every one of Jesus’ followers is marked with love and kindness. If you experience God’s grace in your life, over time you will become more gracious. Students, how are your relationships with your younger siblings? What about that coworker who is a nag? What about the person who makes dumb comments on your social media feed?

When we go overboard to bless others, God takes care of us. When others go low, we go high. Those of you who are students should know that ten years from now you will only keep in touch with a handful of your classmates. What you will still have is the memory of how you treated the people around you.

So, let’s care for one another. Let’s show compassion to those around us who are hurting. Let’s find creative ways to bless people in our church. One family at Echo Church sticks out to me. Their last name is Parks. The Parks family is all over the place. If there is an opportunity to bless or serve others, they are out there. Their picture is in just about every social media post of people serving. I’m blown away by people like the Parks who live the love of Jesus everywhere they go.

What can you do today to bless those around you? Start with your home, and work your way out from there. Find one thing, and watch God bless as you bless others.

Father, today we thank you for your generosity. Thank you for the trust we can have in you. You will bless and care for our lives. Help us be the kind of people that bless others. Help us love each other and fight for unity. Please help us rise above our differences and represent you well to the watching world around us.

In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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