Finding Joy in the Upside-down World of Coronavirus –

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance– James 1:2-3

 Last week, I was asked how Christians can live a life of authentic joy in the midst of the “new normal”. The person asking was not some unenlightened heathen nub, nor were they looking for an emotional short-cut out of the pain that is the prevailing feeling of 2020. This person is mature enough to know joy is not the same thing as happiness in the sense that it not something we can manufacture within ourselves or acquire from outside activities. They just felt, as so many of us do, that their capacity to experience joy has been challenged by our current political, spiritual, and moral climate.

 I had no words.

 Seriously. I have never faced a global pandemic or race riots or a government power grab or this level of social instability. So, I prayed. Hard. Over the course of the next few days I was overcome with the conviction that we lack joy when we look for it in the wrong places. Joy is not is something that grows out of serene conditions or easy circumstances. Joy grows out of love for God AND acceptance of His will. Whatever that may be. Following are some practices that increase joy if we are willing to make the effort they require.

 First, we must:

Stop being gross-

 A wise woman I know made a casual observation this week about how gross contemporary Christians can be. Her words hit hard. Many Christians are kind of gross, and I am no exception. Some have literally expressed gratitude “for the break from church” in recent months (Hebrews 10:25).  Others shy away from doing anything even remotely hard (Galatians 6:9). Most are guilty of viewing the God of the universe as their own private blessing machine. Too many pray trivial prayers requesting material blessings rather than pleading for moral and spiritual transformation. Then when God does attempt to produce change in our lives we run as fast and hard as we can from the pain that inevitably accompanies growth. We become gross by permitting wrong beliefs about God and the role He is to play in our lives to fester and grow. We become less “gross” and more joyful when we choose to cooperate with God rather than fighting the methods He has chosen to make us better, healthier, more Christlike people (1st Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 4:11-13).

  Learn to welcome the interruptions God ordains-

 About six weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic I had an ugly public meltdown. I have too much personal pride to share the unpleasant details of that event at this time. Needless to say, it was not pretty. As I was sorting through the “why” of my behavior, it dawned on me that more than anything I loathed the interruption coronavirus had brought to my sweet little life (Job 17:11, Psalm 33:10). That insight got me to the place where I accepted that Coronavirus and all the nuttiness that goes with it is just what we get to do right now. I don’t have to like any of it. Nor, do I have to go along with all of it. However, I must accept it if I want to stay sane and experience joy. Interruptions, whether they be an unexpected phone call, an unplanned pregnancy, a cross-country move, or a global pandemic are not really interruptions. They are God’s plan (Psalm 40:10). We have two choices when God’s plan differs from ours: we can lean in and figure out how God wants to change us and use us or we can fight Him (Proverbs 19:21). The first choice yields personal growth, unanticipated blessings and genuine joy. The second brings despair, resentment and stunted spiritual growth. Welcoming interruption does not mean we cannot or should not fight injustice or work for needed change. It does mean our personal happiness can’t depend entirely on having life the way we want it. 

 Pray like you’ve never prayed before-

 Nothing produces joy and emboldens faith like answered prayer. In my experience God loves to answer bold prayers that focus on the spiritual needs of others. There is no shortage of needs in this world we can pray for right now.

 Recapture time and give it to God-

  I borrowed this idea from Mark Sayers, Pastor of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia. He suggests Christians recapture time spent on random activities such as watching television and goofing around on our phones and give that time back to God in the form of prayer and Bible study.  This works because joy grows out of intimacy with God and intimacy grows out of time spent seeking God. This concept became a game changer in my life shortly after my COVID meltdown. I took an hour a day I’d been spending on my phone and began using that time to pray. That hour transformed my attitude, restored joy and undoubtedly saved the world from further ugly meltdowns.    

 Finally, and most critically, Christians must become people who seek to impart hope to others. Hope is what the world most needs right now and it is the thing Christians have to give the world (Romans 5:3-5). When we share the hope of Jesus with others it causes our own joy to grow. In order to be an agent of hope our own hope has to be in the right thing.  If our hope rides on “everything going back to normal” we are hoping for the wrong thing. Furthermore, we will likely be disappointed and we will never become the change agents God intends us to be.

 

 

Five Paradigm Shifts Every Christian Must Have to Navigate a Post COVID-19 World-

Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith- Hebrews 12:1b NASB

 I do not know everything there is to know about everything. However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain, God never stops calling Christians to a higher level of functioning in every corner of their lives (2nd Peter 1:4-11, Philippians 3:12-14). God wants His people to move beyond the inclination we all have to live for our own pleasure into a level of existence that glorifies Him and blesses others. The topsy-turvy post COVID-19 world we live in makes obedience to this call even more critical. This is a time for believers everywhere to become radically focused on living out biblical truth and bringing others into relationship with Jesus. One positive benefit to the kind of civil and social upheaval we have recently experienced is it causes non-Christians to begin searching for answers to life’s biggest questions. We must endeavor to live at a higher level so that we can give those answers and lead people to Jesus. Living differently begins with the five following shifts in how we think about life and spiritual truth:

 Fear should never be denied or indulged it must be dealt with-

 No one can help anyone else when fear is the driving force in their lives. Furthermore, we cannot deal with anything we deny and we will never overcome anything we indulge.  If you fear dying from COVID-19 deal with it. If you fear persecution deal with it. If you fear government infringement on your rights, deal with it.  We overcome our fears by facing them head on and taking them to God in prayer until the fear subsides and we feel at peace with whatever situation we find ourselves in (Isaiah 41:10). 

 We are no longer the majority and most people do not think like we do-

 We live in a post-Christian world. This means Christians are perceived as irrelevant to the greater culture. The average non-Christian no longer processes life or their moral choices through the grid of Christian truth, Christian ethics and Christian standards. What the Bible says or doesn’t say about issues is utterly meaningless for most people. On a practical level this means becoming angry at people for not thinking like you do is a pointless waste of time that will only alienate them further from God.  We must look for ways to lovingly and logically explain to friends, neighbors and co-workers not just what we believe about God and life but why we believe those things (1st Peter 3:15).

 Life is about more than amusement-

 Recently, I overheard one Christian bragging to another about all the Netflix they had consumed over the course of the quarantine. The other Christian immediately began boasting about how many hours they were spending every day playing video games. Netflix, video games and other forms of entertainment are not inherently sinful. There is nothing wrong with decompressing with a little T.V. time or a good novel.  However, the wrong kind of entertainment dulls our spiritual senses and normalizes sinful behavior. The more time we spend simply amusing ourselves with pointless twaddle the less time we will have for activities that facilitate growth. Continuous intellectual, moral and spiritual growth is the only path to a higher level of functioning and sanctification (Hebrews 12:14).

 Nationalism must be put into perspective-

 There is zero shame in nationalistic pride. Every time I travel to another country I return to my own with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  That said, baby Jesus was not born with a copy of the Constitution in His hand and the Bill of Rights is not the same as the Bible. Christians should value the “rights” we have and work to preserve those rights because they have freed millions from tyranny and elevated human dignity.  However, it’s critical we remember our founding documents are really just societal constructs. They are not real in the same way Scripture is real. Our founding documents can only be enforced if the vast majority of people in our society believe them to be true and agree to abide by them. The Bible is real and true even if no one believes it or obeys it because it is the word of God not created by man (John 1:1, 2nd Timothy 3:16).  If our “rights” are lost because our culture is too stupid to value the wisdom of our founders we should grieve the loss but we cannot allow it to shake our faith in Gods goodness (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-15).

 We must learn the difference between a personal preference and a biblical command-

 Most Christians are egocentric and spoiled when it comes to their personal preferences. Many Christians have convinced themselves it is immoral for the government to ask them to do anything they don’t WANT to do (Romans 13:1-3, 1st Peter 2:13, Titus 3:1), even if what is being asked is not forbidden in Scripture. There will undoubtedly come a day when Christians will be forced to draw lines about what they will and won’t do because they will be asked to violate clear biblical commands (Exodus 20:3, Acts 5:29, 1st Peter 4:12-19, Revelation 13:17, Revelation 20:4). In the meantime, we must choose our battles wisely.

  It is critical at this juncture we stop focusing on the rights we feel we have. Instead we must focus on the responsibilities we really do have to grow in our faith, lead others to Jesus and honor and glorify God.

 

 

 

 

Could God be Attempting to Correct Us?

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account- Hebrews 4:13 NIV

Coronavirus is generating tremendous chaos throughout the world. Not since God put the kibosh on the Babel building project have so many individuals been so greatly affected by a singular event (Genesis 11:1-11).

People are anxious and going to pieces in ways rarely seen in our modern age.  Full-grown adults are fighting over toilet paper and tuna fish with no outward indications of shame. People are openly aggressive towards anyone who sniffles in a public place.  An Arizona man died from ingesting fish tank cleaner because he believed it would protect him from Coronavirus. Economists warn of impending doom if economies don’t return to some semblance of normal soon and yet some leaders are advocating quarantine orders be enforced for six months to a year. 

Some of the fear connected to Coronavirus is reasonable and even wise. Coronavirus is dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health problems, it is also highly contagious. Large groups of people get it all at once and it overwhelms healthcare systems. That being said, some of the fear is clearly out of bounds with the level of danger. There are seven-billion people on earth, 33,841 people have died from Coronavirus. That number is relatively small in comparison to the world population. Please don’t misunderstand, none of the people who died from this awful virus were insignificant or unimportant. They were all real people with stories, each was loved by someone and all were image-bearers of God. The loss of an image bearer is always a tragic event. That said, it could be argued that locking down the whole world indefinitely over the Coronavirus threat is a form of insanity that should be closely examined. 

So, a couple of things: 

Coronavirus could have been contained if the political will had existed when the virus first emerged. With few exceptions world leaders simply ignored the problem. The few who did act to contain the threat were condemned as bigots. Additionally, each of the nations (and regions) hit hardest by the virus displayed a high level of foolishness concerning the virus. Washington state (where I live) is a hub for air travel to China and yet little attention was paid to the virus until it started killing large numbers of people. Italy caved to political correctness and sponsored “hug a Chinese person” events even after it was clear the virus was being spread from Chinese tourists.  New York gave into greed and refused to cancel parades even when it was clear the virus was a looming problem (Isaiah 57:17, Luke 12:15). Iran refused help from other nations even when it was painfully clear they needed it to contain the virus (Proverbs 16:18). 

It is simply a fact that wisdom, common sense and good judgment are indicators God’s Spirit is present in the life of individuals, leaders and nations (Proverbs 9:11-12, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Jeremiah 4:22).  Conversely, willful foolishness is a clear sign a person, leader or nation has no fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

 Now that world leaders have finally decided to take this virus seriously, the whole world is in a mad panic to stop it using any method deemed necessary, even if it destroys lives and brings about abject poverty and suffering.  I know Christians aren’t supposed to use the J-word anymore. Nevertheless, I feel compelled by the Spirit to point out that in the Bible confusion, fear and overreaction to circumstances is one method God uses to bring judgment on obstinate people (Jeremiah 51:34). The Israelites were promised that if they persistently rebelled against God they would be afflicted with “madness and confusion of mind” (Deuteronomy 28:20). There are many instances in the Old Testament where God used confusion to defeat Israel’s enemies when they refused to turn from their sin.  (Joshua 10:9-10, Judges 6, 1st Samuel 14:20)  

This virus could very well be a corrective judgment brought on by a lack of human wisdom. Corrective judgments are warnings given in love.  God brings trouble, misery and hardship in an attempt to get people’s attention and bring them to a place of repentance and obedience (Jeremiah 15:19). In a corrective judgment God is always quick to forgive those who are eager to repent (Psalm 103:2-4, Jeremiah 15:19. Considering the state of our world it would be strange to think God is not demanding people everywhere to turn away from the sins of pride, sexual immorality, greed, abortion and unbelief (Psalm 50:4).  

Let me be clear:

I do not believe people who get or die from Coronavirus are under God’s direct judgment. God is not singling out particular people, nations, or people groups. The whole world is being negatively affected by this calamity.  God is always slow to judge partly because the righteous and the wicked all suffer equally under judgment (Ecclesiastes 9:2, Matthew 5:45), this reality breaks the heart of God.  Christians should not despair that life is hard right now. Instead we should rejoice that we know Jesus and have a secure future in Him. Christinas should be leading the way by examining ourselves and repenting of any sins we have in our lives.  We should seek God on behalf of our world and ask Him to show mercy by bringing a spirit of repentance and revival (1st Peter 4:17).