Hard Times Could be Right Around the Corner- Are You Ready?

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved- Matthew 24:9-13 NASB

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis? The piece generated an abnormally high volume of comments on the blogs Facebook page.  None of the comments were rude.  However, the vast majority were just kind of glib. Most commenters replied dismissively that “of course the church would survive”. At first, I responded to each by attempting to clarify my thinking.  By the second or third response I realized if I gave each comment the attention it deserved I would do nothing but respond to comments all week. 

 This was not the first time I was inadvertently unclear in a blogpost. Normally when this happens I just move on. I write another post and make every effort to do a better job clarifying my perspective in the future. However, I had a tough time letting this one go. Ultimately, I concluded my inability to move on was the Holy Spirit nudging me to clarify further.  

So here goes.

 I was very much on board with the plan to quarantine at the start of the pandemic.  The idea of placing a brief pause on normal activity so scientists could figure the virus out, prepare hospitals for an influx of very sick people and protect vulnerable populations made total sense to me. Still does. 

 That said, at some point the goalposts were moved and now it feels as if something malevolent has slipped into the mix.  In many places the “brief pause” has morphed into months or possibly even years of waiting for the virus to retreat and/or a vaccine to materialize. Political leaders worldwide have seized the opportunity to limit speech and movement. Food production and other commercial enterprise has all but ended.  It does not take a mastermind to grasp that placing the entire world on pause for months or possibly even years will likely end in economic calamity, political turmoil and food shortages.

 Christians were not winning many popularity contests prior to COVID-19. Many countries were attempting to or had already placed significant restrictions on what churches and Christian organizations could say and do. Now thanks to COVID-19 health departments and legislators alike tend to treat churches as nothing more than unnecessary germ spreaders.

 History tells us upheaval is rarely kind to groups already on the fringes of acceptability. It is possible we are only a couple of short steps away from Christians being unwelcome in all of society.  If this happens churches will be forced to shut down entirely.

The church is clearly not ready for this.

 When I say “church”, I am not talking about buildings. The church is not a building, the church is individual people who make up the body of Christ.  (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Colossians 3:11-12, Galatians 3:28). Just as a physical body can become sick and weak a spiritual body can become sick and weak.  Christians who live in the West tend to be weak.  Most have never experienced hardship or difficulty, too many are spiritually and emotionally unhealthy. Captivity to sin is an issue with many and some are even afraid to let others know they are Christians and far too many lack the knowledge base necessary to effectively defend their faith (1st Peter 3:15). It takes deep faith and tremendous spiritual discipline to keep on keeping-on in the face of suffering (1st Peter 5:10, Revelation 2:8-11, Revelations 3:7-13). Scripture clearly predicts there will be a falling away from the Christian faith in the years prior to the return of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 1st Timothy 4:1). Objectively speaking, the church worldwide is ripe for that prediction to come to pass. (Matthew 24:3-13).

 I don’t know if this is where we are at or not. I am NOT declaring myself to be a prophet. Nonetheless, I do believe our current situation is a wakeup call for Christians. Whether or not any of my concerns come to pass we must ditch our overconfidence and prepare for what could be a less than ideal future.  

 Preparation will require change. If you are a non-Christian who reads this blog I urge you to become a Christian now. You need Jesus. You need the strength, peace and forgiveness only He can give a person. He will get you through whatever the future brings if you trust in Him.  Believers must make every effort to build deep relationships with other Christians so we will have likeminded people we can depend on if life gets tough (Hebrews 3:13). Change means we stop using the Bible only to gain information or as a fun thing to debate and instead use it as a tool to reveal our sin and brokenness. Change means we get into the habit of repenting quickly when God graciously reveals our sin and brokenness to us. It means we learn to be still and quiet so we can hear His voice. It means we pray for the courage to boldly share the hope we have in Christ (2nd Corinthians 3:12). Change means we start viewing ourselves as soldiers in a battle rather than consumers seeking experiences.

 That is what I meant when I asked if churches would survive the COVID-19 crisis. The real question is: are you ready? Are you ready for persecution if it comes? Are you ready to lead others if need be? If not, it’s time to get ready.  

 

 

Keeping Your Marriage Together Even in Tough Times-

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore- Psalm 133:1,3b NIV

 No marriage is immune from tough times.

 This is true no matter how compatible the couple or how much they both love Jesus. Marriage is hard because marriages involve people and people are universally weird, sinful and lacking in self-awareness. People do things all the time without understanding why they are doing them. Because the other person in the marriage is also a sinner they tend to interpret their spouse’s behavior and motivations in the most negative way imaginable. This weird dynamic is the trigger for most conflict in marriage. Throw in an irritating virus, a long quarantine, home schooling, financial concerns and the uncertainty that goes along with those stressors and even the healthiest marriages can get bumpy.   

 I will not lie.

COVID-19 has created some challenges in my usually happy marriage. We have experienced more conflict in the last eight weeks than in the previous eight years.  We are not alone. Every couple I know has struggled with conflict or hurt feelings in recent weeks.  Thankfully, the lockdowns are beginning to end. However, Coronavirus is not going anywhere and neither is the financial and emotional stress it has brought to families and marriages. Marriage is critically important to the health of families, churches and all of society. Therefore, married people must find ways to keep their relationships solid under the stress we are all experiencing.  It has helped me to remind myself of the following four realities as we learn to maneuver the new normal. 

 Remember:

 Everyone is stressed-

 I get this is rather obvious but sometimes we forget stress causes people to behave strangely and stressed-out people rarely realize they are behaving any differently than they normally do. Stress changes how we respond to situations and stimuli.  Someone who is typically laid-back and very patient with noise may become outraged when the kids are loud. Someone who is normally okay with disorder and chaos may morph into a controlling clean-freak. A normally tidy individual may become a total slob in stressful times.  The situation we find ourselves in is far more stressful than any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. No one in our culture has a point of reference for a peculiar virus no one really understands, long periods of quarantine, political unrest, financial strain and the million different levels of fear and uncertainty this pandemic has produced. It is critical we take a step back when our spouse is behaving strangely. Ask questions about how the other person is feeling rather than simply walking away or responding to their unusual behavior in anger (Proverbs 15:1)

 You’re probably acting weird too-

 Self-examination is critical to relationship health.  This is especially true when life is challenging (Psalm 139:23-24, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). Take an inventory of yourself. Are you more withdrawn than usual? More aggressive? Less patient? Checked-out? Hyper-critical? Irritable?  Are you pretending everything is okay when it’s clearly not? Are you indulging in behaviors you normally avoid like drinking, cursing or fits of rage? If any of those things are true, spend some quality time seeking God and asking Him to help you figure out what is driving your behavior. Is it fear? Hopelessness? Anger? Putting a name to the feelings helps us to process our emotions in a healthy way. Once we understand why we are doing something it becomes much easier to stop doing it.

 Understand that everyone will come unraveled at some point-

 Everyone processes stress differently. Some get mad, others become despondent or enslaved to fear.  Some make futile attempts to avoid the thing that that’s causing them pain or worry.  I became emotionally unraveled the week prior to Easter. My private unraveling involved a lot of ranting and raving. I angerly questioned the wisdom of every rule and the motives and intelligence of the people making the rules. After a week of some shockingly aggressive behavior on my part and another week of the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. I spent some time alone with God and came out the other side with a level of peace. I still have bad days but I’m okay. My husband’s unraveling took much longer and looked entirely different from mine, but it was every bit as real and unsettling.  It helps to ne on the lookout for signs of emotional unraveling in yourself and others. Rather than becoming frustrated with your own or your partners response to the stress, take the time to pray for yourself and your partner. Give each other grace.  Look for creative ways to tangibly love your partner and care for each other right now.   

 Talking is always the answer-

 One of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is to make any topic off-limits. Talking through tough stuff is the only way to work through the issues. Push through any discomfort either of you feel and say what needs to be said. Say it in the kindest way possible and always be on the lookout for solutions rather than simply laying blame.

 Stress happens.

 How we respond to stress has the power to make or break our relationship. If we work with our spouse rather than against our spouse and choose to see them as our ally rather than our enemy we will come out of this better people with stronger relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis?

 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

  I hate COVID-19.

  I hate the trouble, awkwardness and expense this idiotic infection has created for the whole world. I despise the suspicion I see in people’s eyes at the grocery store. I hate the look of panic I see when people realize they have accidently broken social-distancing rules. I hate that I feel the need to reassure people who are clearly terrified I am going to scream at them I am not afraid of them. I despise the cold plastic walls we’ve erected everywhere.  I hate that COVID-19 has made it clear to me that I am still in desperate need of sanctification as revealed by the level of aggressiveness and cynicism I feel about this whole thing.

 I also hate what the virus is doing to the body of Christ. In the early days of the pandemic I wondered if Coronavirus might turn out to be a net-positive for the church. In some ways, it has been. Many once apathetic Christians are seeking God on a deeper level and praying more and harder than they’ve ever prayed in their lives (Revelation 3:15-17). Sales of devotionals are up and Bible aps have seen a marked increase in users. The forced separation from church family has made many believers more grateful for their local Church and the community it provides. These are clear wins for the church.

 However.

 It’s not all sunshine and roses in church world. Online attendance of services was good early on but there’s been a sharp decline in recent weeks. Some have made online commitments to Jesus. However due to circumstances beyond their control leaders have been unable to follow-up on those people in a meaningful way. Sadly, most of those baby believers are MIA. Even some mature Christians have lost connection with their church family. Some have taken to bouncing from online service to online service. Churches are closed almost everywhere. In some areas they will stay closed for the foreseeable future.  Some Christian leaders have begun to hold what are essentially illegal gatherings. A few have even been arrested for doing so. More moderate Christians cite Romans 13:1-7 and contend it’s simply wrong to disobey government authority. Other Christians have decided that online church is just as good as meeting together in person. They believe Christians should be content to worship alone in their homes until the authorities give us permission to do otherwise.

 What is a Christian to do?

 The church is not a building (1st Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 3:6). The church is individual people from divergent backgrounds and races who come together to make up a living, breathing organism called the body of Christ. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).  No one has to attend church in a building to be a Christian.  However, it could be argued that one very effective, albeit slow way to kill a body, especially a spiritual body is to separate the parts.

 It is not healthy, wise or biblical to replace the freedom, fellowship, accountability and warmth of in-person meetings with technology. There is no accountability with a computer screen. Sin, bad doctrine and complacency all breed in secret.  Furthermore, the longer one goes without church the easier it is to forget that Christians are commanded to meet together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25).

 That being said, law-breaking should never be our go-to as Christians.

 Therefore, if you live in an area that’s prohibited church gatherings, it is imperative you exhaust every legal avenue available to get the right restored. Contact the office of your governor, state senators and legislators as quickly as possible. POLITLEY, GRACIOUSLY and RESPECTFULLY ask for an exception for churches on large gathering bans. Use Daniel’s interactions with Arioch in Daniel 1:1-8-16 as a guide for dealing with government officials. If your church is granted an exemption, members and leaders should cheerfully follow any and all rules mandated by the state (masks, hand-washing, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations). Every rule should be followed to the letter. Even if people believe the rules are stupid and/or unnecessary.  This isn’t about what we think or feel. It’s about the greater good.

 In the meantime, Pastors and church leaders must assume the current situation will continue for a while or will return sometime in the future. Pastors should develop systems to train lay-leaders so they are able to provide teaching, support, accountability, fellowship and pastoral care to groups of fewer than ten. Even if the system is unnecessary at this time this will not be the last outbreak of COVID-19, so it will probably prove useful in the future.

  Individual Christians should realize the current situation is part of a much bigger spiritual battle and do everything in their power to build themselves up in the faith. Bible reading, prayer and daily self-examination are not optional activities for Christians at this moment in history (Matthew 26:41, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 They are our greatest need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Went Wrong with COVID-19-

If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us- 2nd Chronicles 20:9 NIV

 I am by no means a flat-earther when it comes to COVID-19.

 I was one of “those people” warning friends and family about a “weird virus” coming from China way back in early December. I told anyone who would listen about the “weird virus” that would cause terrible problems everywhere. No one listened. Not even my long-suffering husband who is (and I remind him of this often) contractually obligated by our marriage vows to listen to me talk. Any and all talk of “the weird virus” was met with odd looks and fishy-eyed stares. 

  Turned out I was right.

 However, I was wrong about the types of problems COVID-19 was going to cause. I assumed Corona virus would cause a lot of deaths and some fear.  Instead Corona virus has caused some deaths and more fear than I could have ever imagined.  I have never seen a stranger response to anything in all my life.

 Educated journalists have hypothesized Coronavirus can “jump” twenty-three or more feet and is spread through farting though there’s little science to support such theories. There is a popular store where EVERYONE wears gloves but employees will not touch a customer’s card or receipt, however, they will touch the groceries the customer touched.  Zealous politicians have banned activities with little risk of spreading disease such as fishing, hiking and gardening but do encourage people to mingle freely in marijuana shops and liquor stores. A municipality in California prohibited church worship teams from singing on camera because expelling air “could” spread the virus. Church services where people sit alone in their cars listening to sermons on the radio have been declared “unsafe” and shutdown. I have seen with my own eyes people screaming at strangers for politely sneezing into their arms even though sneezing is not a symptom of Coronavirus.

 We’ve lost our minds.

 Four weeks ago, it felt as if there were some valid reasons to lose our minds. People were getting sick. Older people were dying. Italy was a disaster. Computer models were predicting 2.2 million people would die from Coronavirus in the United States. There was a shortage of medical equipment. Doctors were terrified the healthcare system would be overwhelmed and millions would die unnecessarily.

 Well.

 It turns out COVID-19 has a relatively low fatality rate (between 0.2-0.7 percent) in most countries. The vast majority of healthy people recover with few problems. The healthcare system was strained in places like New York but thanks to the valiant efforts of medical personal and the quick action of federal and state governments we came through just fine.

 COVID-19 is a real issue and a real threat to some groups. That being said, the whole world has gone mad where this thing is concerned. Churches are shutdown, millions are reduced to receiving welfare, once wealthy nations teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, children aren’t being educated and the rights to freely assemble and speak are being ripped out from under us.

 We are where we are because we dutifully obeyed a media class who have a vested interest in scaring people. In the beginning they assured us Coronavirus was no problem at all. Anyone who thought it a problem was branded a racist.  Then the press collectively switched gears and screamed in our faces 24/7 this was a level ten problem that required a level ten solution. It turns out COVID-19 more like a level four problem. Now we are left with a level ten mess to clean up.  

 Collectively we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we responded to COVID-19 out of fear and with little wisdom (James 4:10). We saw a spider and burned our house down.  At least now we know why God commands His people to be courageous and clear minded in the face of scary circumstances (Joshua 1:9, 1stChronicles 28:20)

 Perhaps, the saddest aspect of all this is we have allowed Coronavirus to change the way we see people. Somehow, we have managed to dehumanize one another in six short weeks. We no longer see others as prospective friends or individuals made in the image of God. Instead every human is treated as if they are a potential source of infection and a disgusting bag of germs.  Satan is rejoicing at our stupidity (Psalm 37:8, Isaiah 8:12, 1st Peter 5:8).  

 This cannot continue.  

 Christians must take the lead in fixing this mess before we completely lose what’s left of our humanity and culture. We have to educate ourselves on the real threats of COVID-19 and push past any fear we feel. The virus is a real problem but it’s a level four problem not a boogeyman with super powers. It’s critical we do what needs to be done to protect the older population, but the rest of the world has got to get back to work and to living life in a safe and sensible way before we implode. Everyone must make a concerted effort to stop looking at their fellow humans like bags of infections and go back to loving them like the image bearers they are. Most importantly we must get on our knees and beg God to give us the wisdom to make this mess right before it’s too late.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Should Christians Confront the Culture of Death in the Age of Covid-19?

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart- Ecclesiastes 7:2 NKJV

 I have seen some crazy stuff in recent weeks.

 I have seen individuals so committed to sanitation they wear face masks driving alone in their car. Last week I saw a store clerk with a weed sprayer filled with what I can only hope was hand sanitizer shooting it into the air and at shoppers who happened to be passing by.  I have concluded there are people who believe germs die instantly upon hitting the surface of a glove of any kind. It’s the only reasonable explanation for the people I have seen wearing plastic gloves and sticking their fingers in their mouths.

 Just wash your hands people.  

 On a more serious note the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought our culture’s deeply conflicted attitudes concerning death to the surface.  On the one hand, our culture embraces death (Proverbs 8:36). Over half of all Americans consider abortion and euthanasia to be inalienable human rights. Over the course of the past month many critical medical procedures have been declared “unnecessary”. The reason given is those procedures “waste” valuable medical resources like masks and PPE’s.  However, in some states including my own, abortion clinics that “waste” those same resources have remained open for business. Even more shocking, there is an active campaign within academic circles to place a thirty day “waiting period” on the lives of all newborns (Psalm 127:3-5). Parents would be free to end the life of their newborn son or daughter anytime and for any reason within that thirty-day period with no earthly penalties or consequences.

 Conversely, many of the laws passed in recent decades expressly forbid adults from doing stupid things that might cause them to accidently take their own life (seatbelt laws, helmet laws, warning labels on tobacco products). I, like many people my age was taught growing-up that open casket funerals were icky and wrong because it was “cruel” to force funerals-goers to look at a dead person for an hour (Ecclesiastes 7:2). No one says “died” anymore. Instead we’ve developed dozens of idiotic euphemisms like “expired” “passed” or “moved-on”. Even a casual perusal of social media clearly indicates many people, even some Christians are absolutely terrified at the possibility of dying from COVID-19. The most persuasive argument that’s been made for the widespread quarantine of healthy people is that it is “unacceptable” for anyone no matter how old or sick to die from Covid-19.

I am not suggesting we allow anyone to die without a fight from Covid-19 or anything else. Nor, am I suggesting human life becomes less valuable at its end. That being said, there are no words for the horror I felt at the macabre hypocrisy of Andrew Cuomo losing his mind over the prospect of even one unnecessary death from COVID-19, just fifteen short months after he gleefully signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country.

 Covid-19 is forcing our culture to examine its view of death. For that reason, this is a good time for individual Christians to do some soul-searching concerning their views concerning death. Christians should never do anything to cause death before God wills it and it is perfectly reasonable to feel a certain level of fear over the possibility of something we have never experienced before. However, it is not natural or reasonable for a physically healthy believer in Jesus Christ to be so terrified at the prospect of their own death that they cannot live life joyfully (albeit somewhat more carefully) during the outbreak of an illness with a relatively low death rate (Revelation 12:11) such as the one we are experiencing.  Any Christian who has an excessive fear of death should carefully and prayerfully examine that fear (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1stJohn 4:18). 

In a culture where life expectancies have shot up in recent years it is easy to forget that we will all eventually die of something. Christians and Christian leaders must become more comfortable gently confronting people concerning their fear of death. It’s time for all of us to stop avoiding the subject of death and what happens after we die. In a very real sense death is the best evangelistic tool we have in our toolbox and it’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus to use it.  

 It is critical Christians be willing and able to articulate the hope that we have in Jesus Christ (1stThessalonians 4;12-14) 1st Peter 3:15). It is our high and holy responsibility as believers to tell the world that death is not an end. Death is a beginning. For those who choose to put their faith in Jesus Christ death is the realization of hope and the beginning of every good thing imaginable (Romans 5:1-5). That said, it is every bit as critical we tell others the hard truth that death is the beginning of eternal punishment for those who foolishly refuse God’s free offer of salvation (Matthew 13:24-36, Mark 9:43-47, Hebrews 9:27).

 God loves people enough to force them into situations where they must decide what they think about key issues. It’s clear to me God wants people everywhere to think a little harder about what happens after they die. Christians should be ready to give answers.