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.

 

 

Why Christians Still Need Corporate Church Services in the Age of COVID-19-

Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

 One unexpected result of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the emergence of two distinct viewpoints on the subject of church amongst church people.

 Many, including mega-church Pastor Andy Stanley feel there is little need for churches to meet corporately in light of the health issues our society is grappling with. They believe worship is more-or-less a private matter and online church is a perfectly adequate means for delivering a Sunday morning message. This group is convinced Romans 13:1 is the end-all-be-all in this situation. They believe STAYING HOME is the SAFEST and BEST way to honor God and be a credible witness to the culture at this point in history.

 Others believe CHURCHES SHOULD BE OPEN NOW.  Christians have a RIGHT to be in church and rights are meant to be exercised. Many of these same people feel it shows a lack of faith to wear masks in church or follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines.

 Never has there been a greater need for wisdom.

  If church attendance is a statement of your political values you are attending for the wrong reasons. Period. Furthermore, Christians should not abandon good sense when they meet together. It is not anti-faith to wash our hands and avoid close physical contact with people in the middle of a global pandemic. Seriously.

 That being said.

  Without private worship corporate worship devolves into a hollow exercise. Nevertheless, private worship is not a suitable substitute for in-person gatherings. Church attendance matters (Acts 5:12). When Christians meet together for the sole purpose of honoring God something sacred and beautiful takes place, therefore Christians should not be too quick to accept the online experience as the “new normal”. Christians should seek out some sort of corporate church experience (more on that later) for the following four reasons:

 People do not grow in safe, comfortable environments-

 It is human nature to seek out and create environments we feel completely comfortable in. Church at home is without a doubt the most comfortable church experience on the planet. However, people do not grow personally or spiritually when they stay in situations that are exactly to their liking for too long. God knows this. Therefore, He makes a practice of placing His people in situations that feel super uncomfortable and even unsafe. Joseph, Naomi, David, Daniel, Esther, Elijah, Peter and Paul all flourished spiritually when were thrown into situations they undoubtedly found personally challenging and even terrifying. The early church started as a near-perfect church experience (Acts 2:42-47). However, it did not take long for God to disperse His people into the unknown and uncomfortable.

 Online church and other exclusively private forms of worship give sinful human beings far too much control over their experience-

 In recent years Christians have had more choice about where they attend church and more access to spiritual resources than at any other point in history. Inexplicably, the end result of all this freedom has not been an overwhelming success. Christians are not exactly setting the world on fire. This is because people grow most when they are forced to do things and hear things they don’t want to do or hear. Internet church is fundamentally unhealthy because sitting in our living rooms alone does not require us to make a single concession to anyone else’s needs. It is also way too easy to give in to the temptation to fast-forward through music we dislike or the “boring” parts of the sermon. Corporate church is necessary because it forces us to sacrifice for others and challenges our thinking on critical spiritual issues (Proverbs 11:14).

 The biblical model is primarily one of corporate worship and learning-

 Corporate worship and study are the standard pattern in the Bible. This is true in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the future we are shown in the book of Revelation (Psalm 35:18, Hebrews 2:12, Revelation 7:8-9).

 The Christian life will get harder and community is vital when life is hard-

 Overnight it has become harder to be a Christian. It will not get any easier anytime soon. When life is hard relationship becomes essential. Online community is not wrong. I have formed some valued friendships online with people I will never meet this side of heaven.  However, online communities have some distinct disadvantages over in-person community. Christians who live in communist countries will tell you that online community can be undone in a few brief minutes by a determined government authority. Neither does online community allow for the meeting of other’s physical needs. Furthermore, it is all-too easy to “love” online community members who never have an opportunity to rub you the wrong way.

 Churches that refuse to take reasonable safety precautions do not love their neighbors (Matthew 7:12). They should be avoided. No one who is at high risk place themselves in a mega-church environment. That said, self-examination is key if you feel safe going to restaurants and malls you should stop making excuses, take some precautions and get your keister back in church.   

 Those who cannot attend a church service for legitimate health reasons should seek to create a small group of Christians outside their immediate family and watch the service with them. This should include participating in the worship portion of the service and there should be time set aside to pray for one another’s needs.

 No one should be doing the Christian life solo right now. We must find a way to participate in authentic Church community.

The Greatest Threat to the Church Today is the Church-

Be sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame- 1st Corinthians 15:34 NASB

 The Church is in trouble.

 Churches worldwide have been banned from meeting while larger gatherings such as demonstrations and riots have been encouraged by bureaucrats. Christians are thought to be hateful, smallminded and bigoted. Christians are scorned by a substantial majority. Some countries have placed substantial boundaries on what Christians can and cannot say about sin and what is and is not okay from a moral perspective. Christianity is illegal in some areas and the execution of Christians has become common.

 That said.

 None of those problems are the biggest problems the Church is facing. The biggest threats to the Church are not oppression and persecution. Historically persecution and oppression has caused the church to grow and become more effective. No sane person wants persecution but it can have a positive impact on the Church.

 Our biggest problems are all coming from within the church. The Church is struggling to find its way through the cultural morass and mostly because of the following four problems:

 Christians who cavalierly quote Matthew 16:18 anytime anyone shares a concern about the direction of the church-

 Christians blithely quote Matthew 16:18 when they encounter false teaching, sinful leaders or any other problem that is clearly hurting the church. It is true Jesus promised Peter the gates of hell would never defeat the church. However, it is also true Jesus instructed Christians to be on guard against false prophets who would pass themselves off as Christians and lead many astray (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned elders in Ephesus that “ravenous wolves” (false teachers) would infiltrate the Church and destroy the faith of many (Acts 20:28-30).  Jesus prophesied false teachers will rise up and deceive many in the last days (Matthew 24). Jesus and Paul would not have given those warnings if there was not a clear and present danger to the Church. The Church will never be defeated but that doesn’t mean the church cannot lose its ability to effectively deliver spiritual truth for a season. When this happens, churches stop reaching the lost and lose favor with God and we all lose (Matthew 5:13-16, Revelation 2:5, Hebrews 6:4-8)   

 Christians who refuse to submit to the word of God-

 There are some attitudes and behaviors that are so wrong they keep people out of heaven (Galatians 5:21). Those sins include, but are not limited to lying, adultery, covetousness, bitterness, all forms of sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, fits of rage and selfish ambition (1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 9-11, Revelation 21:8). There is a grassroots movement within churches that seeks to minimize the importance of holiness and maximize the importance of making people feel accepted. This has led some to think they can be a Christian without actually submitting to God’s moral leadership in their lives. Christians who have not yielded every corner of their lives to God always end up fighting for the relaxation of biblical standards. These Christians have led others astray with the false doctrines of easy believe-ism and cheap grace.  

 Christians who are quick to publicly judge other Christians-

 Coronavirus has exposed the ugliness that exists in Church world. Some Christians struggle mightily with a rebellious spirit. These Christians flat refuse to obey any directive they do not like, regardless of whether or not it contradicts biblical teaching.  Other Christians are gripped with such a spirit of fear they have been rendered useless for Kingdom work. Other believers clearly put more faith in government orders than they do in God. But by far, the worst is the judgment Christians display towards one another. Take the public mask war as an example. Half of Christians call the other half “compromisers” and “bootlickers” for wearing a mask.  The other side uses words like “selfish”, “hateful” and “anti-science” to describe any Christian who does not cheerfully put on a mask or who dares to question the wisdom of wearing one.  The judgment doesn’t end with masks.  Nearly every day I come across a stupid social media post where a Christian takes it upon themselves to apologize for all the unkindness of all the other Christians in the world. As if they somehow cornered the market on kindness and moral goodness. Weirdly enough, they do not ever think to apologize for the prideful, self-aggrandizing tone of their post. Christians are not called to judge each other. Christians are called to love each other. It is biblical to confront a Christian on something that is clearly sinful. However, this should only be done after a time of intense prayer where you ask God to show you clearly if your perception of the situation is wrong in any way. If after you have humbly sought God’s correction and still feel the need to confront it should be done privately and in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17.   

  Christians who foolishly kowtow to the culture

Being a Christian and being liked by non-Christians is quite often mutually exclusive (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, Mark 13:13, John 15:18). Christians should never be needlessly unpleasant or mean. However, there are times when sticking to biblical convictions causes non-Christians to become angry at the truth we standup for and at us because biblical truth makes them feel uncomfortable. Many Christians are embracing organizations, ideas and moral standards that are antithetical to Christianity, because they are persuaded it will help them reach the lost. It won’t. It just muddies the message and leads people to believe they can become Christians without being transformed into the image of Christ. They can’t. Christians must stop fretting about being liked and instead focus on being like Jesus. Jesus loved people but He never compromised truth to reach them (Luke 3:6-8, Matthew 23, Mark 10:16-22, John 8:11)

 The Church is critical right now because the world we live in has never needed Jesus more than it does right now. In order for the Church to be the church Christians have to live holy lives, recognize that spiritual truth matters and stand together in love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satan’s Diary- June 21st 2020

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes- Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV

Dear Diary,

 Life is GOOD!

 I just finished perusing second quarter reports. I literally could not be more PLEASED. I will not bore you with all the glorious details but that stupid planet is a magnificent mess.

 Seriously.

  The humans who have rejected God and biblical truth are rapidly losing touch with reality. They have bought into the lie that evil is good and good is evil. Ideas and behaviors that were once considered immoral and dangerous to society are now considered to be mainstream and even healthy. Millions have been damaged, some irreparably, by the lies that have been adopted as truth. Hate, violence and looting have taken root in cities all over the world. It’s all happening in the name creating a more peaceful, just and fair society!  People who ought to know better are fully deceived into thinking hate and destruction is acceptable because it’s being done for the “right” reasons.  Those not deceived are too panic-stricken by the mere thought of being labeled intolerant or racist to say anything about anything.

 YES!

 Decades ago, I began cleverly convincing parents that discipling their children was futile and mean. I made them think any kind of correction or disapproval would stifle their child’s creativity and damage their self-esteem. With the assistance of exquisitely misguided “child-rearing professionals” I encouraged parents to allow their children to do whatever felt good to them. Because children are little-tiny sinners it felt really good for them to mindlessly express rage anytime their feelings were hurt, something was unfair or they didn’t get their way. My hard work has paid off. That generation is now fully grown and the outcome is beyond beautiful. Those “adults” have zero self-control and even less sense.  They want society to bow to their infantile and feebly thought-out demands. Full-grown adults scream, blubber and destroy property until someone finally caves. Politicians are just as terrified of their tantrums as their parents were. They are being given everything they want in hopes they will eventually just quiet down and play nice.

 As if.

 However, it’s the Christian community I am most pleased with right now. I have spent decades convincing Christian pastors and leaders that being popular, tolerant and “cool” is the key to effective evangelism. Most Christians are so used to hopping onto every inane, secular bandwagon that they have been sucked into endorsing a organization that promotes evil, unforgiveness and hatred. They are sanctioning sinful ideas in the name of loving their neighbor and repairing race relations!  Christian leaders are too afraid of being disliked to tell anyone Jesus is the only way to bring peace and healing to fractured hearts and lives.  No one is calling anyone to repentance or to forgive their enemies. Those fools have all but forgotten forgiveness is the only cure for bitterness.

 My greatest triumph has been in the area of prayer.

 I have worked hard to convince Christians prayer is a dreary waste of time. It is paying off. Now Christian leaders read books and strategize rather than praying for wisdom. Regular church attenders have followed suit.  Old people are the only ones who attend prayer meetings. Most of prayer the warriors are dead or will be soon and most younger Christians don’t even know how to pray. Others believe that if God doesn’t give them what they want when they ask for it He is being callous and unjust.  So, they give up, they just stop. Apparently, none of those fools have read Luke 18:1-8. Some have even turned their backs on God because He had the nerve to tell them “no” to a request. 

 OUTSTANDING.

 Most Christians don’t think Ephesians 6:10-17 applies to them so they don’t ask God to show them truth about themselves, God and other people. So, I use lies to keep them in bondage to sin, unbelief and suspicion of others. Many are so distrustful of their fellow Christians they do everything possible to avoid meaningful relationships with other Christians, this ensures they have no accountability in their lives and therefore never move beyond spiritual infancy. I have skillfully convinced Christians that righteous behavior is legalistic and unnecessary for Christians. They don’t ask God to empower them to live by biblical standards. As a result their hearts become defiled by sin. This is a beautiful thing because makes them unfit for spiritual work AND they are unable to see life the way God sees life. Their lack of insight and wisdom leads to more sin which leads to more bondage.   They don’t ask God to give opportunities to evangelize so they are to fearful to speak up and they remain silent when opportunities do present themselves. They don’t ask for faith so they live in fear. Because they lack faith they consistently rely on worldly methods to achieve spiritual ends and fail every time. Christians don’t pray for each other so they don’t experience the community that develops when they routinely pray for other Christians.

 WINNING!

 Life will stay good until those fools start praying like they mean it.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Advice for Christians Living in a Crazy World-

 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others- Philippians 2:3-4 NASB

 It was another crazy week in a world gone mad:  

 Protesters and looters are still doing their thing. Politicians on the left have fallen all over themselves applauding their thing. Politicians on the right don’t seem to be doing much of anything. Cities are on fire. Churches are shuttered. Schools are closed. Business are shutdown or operating at partial capacity. Health care officials have thrown their support behind BLM protesters despite earlier insistence that EVERYONE should follow all social distancing guidelines at ALL TIMES. Then just when it felt as if we had finally reached the apex of violence, hypocrisy and absurdity people began suggesting in all seriousness that cities defund police departments. A few days after that discussion began in earnest protesters took over a large section of the Capitol Hill area in downtown Seattle and declared it the “capitol hill autonomous zone” otherwise known as CHAZ.

 Sigh.

 This blogpost isn’t about any of that. I briefly contemplated sharing some thoughts on defunding the police. Then I remembered society has been divided into two groups. The first consists of people who don’t need to be told defunding the police is the worst idea since well ever. The second consists of people who don’t read this blog. Needless to say, that topic was quickly tabled. Instead, I want share some thoughts I have had on how we, as followers of Jesus can live life, respond to the growing madness and behave in ways that are redemptive, wise and healing in times that seem determined to test us all. This is no easy task. It takes a blend of constant self-examination and prayerful action. The following five ideas are a place to start:

 Shut your pie hole till you have something helpful and lifegiving to say-

 No one loves a snarky, antagonistic meme more than I do. Nonetheless, this is not the time for that. Nor is it the time to argue stridently for perspectives we haven’t considered all sides of. Our world needs healers and truth-tellers not firebrands who passionately scream half-baked ideas at the sky. Christians must get in the habit of seeking out as many well-thought-out opinions as possible from as many wise, humble, God-fearing people as possible (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 19:20, Proverbs 24:6).  Before we actually share our thoughts, we should study, pray and be certain our thinking aligns with the Bible rather than the current culture. There are no words for how much I appreciate every reader of this blog. It humbles me to think that anyone would seek my views on anything. That said, I sincerely hope I am not anyone’s only source of information on any issue. There really is wisdom in an abundance of counselors.

 Pick the side Jesus would pick-

 Here’s the thing. Jesus was on the side of the weak and marginalized but He was also on the side of obedience to authority structures (Mark 12:40, Matthew 18:6, Mark 12:15-17, John 4, John 8:1-11). He loved all races enough to die for them (Matthew 15:22-28, Matthew 8:8-13, John 10:16). And He loved the sick and hurting every bit as much as He loved the rich and those in positions of authority (John 3:1-2, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 9:12). We live in a time where placing dividing lines between people has become standard-operating-procedure. Christians can’t do that.  Jesus taught that our greatest need as people is not to have our “side” validated but to have our souls saved. This truth must be the driving force behind our interactions with all people of all races.  

 Grow up-

 I am working together with a small group of smart people to establish a discipleship program in our church. This has got me thinking about what it means to be a mature Christian. I have concluded spiritual maturity is less about what we know in terms of academic knowledge (although knowledge is critically important) and more about BEING in Jesus and modeling our lives after His. Jesus modeled self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others first. Therefore, our religion is not truly Christian if our life becomes hyper-focused on having our individual desires catered too. Being a mature Christian at this period of history means we must seek to glorify Jesus first and look out for the greater good of others second. Our own preferences must come a distant third.

 Find balance between being an encourager and a truth-teller-

 Christians should be encouragers (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13). God’s will is for every person to become a better, healthier version of themselves. Everyone needs human encouragement to get to where God wants them to be. However, it is equally as important we tell people the truth. This means that we should never encourage sinful thinking or behavior (as defined by Scripture) in the name of making people feel good about themselves or their choices.

 Be careful about jumping on popular bandwagons-

 PLEASE. Just because an organization believes one thing that is true it does not mean it’s a group Jesus would endorse or involve Himself in.  For the love of all that is good and decent at the very least do a sixty second google search and read the organizations statement of beliefs before adding its hashtag to your newest social media post. 

 We are blessed to live in scary times. They are unlike any I have experienced in my lifetime. We are blessed because God has historically done His best work in the darkest of times.  It is our responsibility as believers to align ourselves with Him in everything so we can be the redemptive presence our world desperately needs right now. 

 

God Gave Us a Crisis- Why We Can’t Waste It


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways- 1st Corinthians 13:11 ESV

The popular quote “never let a good crisis go to waste” is nearly always attributed to Saul Alinsky. Mr. Alinsky may have taken the concept to new heights, but it was Winston Churchill who first said it.  But, in my view, it is God who deserves the credit for inventing the whole notion of never allowing a good crisis to go to waste.  We need look no further than the last ten weeks to see clear evidence of this reality.

 Think about it.

 Until recently most people have spent their entire existence enveloped in a never-ending haze of frenzied activity.  COVID-19 brought a hasty end to our frantic way of doing life. The pandemic has allowed individuals to see clearly, some for the very first time the lives they built in the midst of all their busyness. Much of it is decidedly not pretty. Many have been left staring at emotionally detached marriages, mountains of debt, shallow community, poorly behaved children, addictions, meager coping skills and myriad of other nasty issues that were easy to hide or ignore in a world without shelter-in-place orders. The result has been a deep sense of discomfort and distress for many. Everyone has been affected in some way. Many Christians have realized they lack the personal theology and relationship with God to effectively deal with their personal fears and answer the questions that arise when life suddenly gets difficult. Many non-Christians are seeing that every human life will have an ending point and that there are questions that cannot be answered by science or reason alone.

 God has used this crisis to bring all people to a place where they are asking the hard questions about life, death, and what it really means to have faith in God. I do not know if God caused COVID-19 or is simply using it for His purposes. I hate those kinds of debates (1st Timothy 6:3-5, 2nd Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9). Silly arguments no one knows the answers to do nothing but distract from the things that really matter. There are two questions we have to be really real about right now if we want to make the most of what God is doing:

 First, what strikes fear in you post-COVID-19?

 Is it fear of death? That fear reveals something critical about our faith. Is it fear of government encroachment of your rights? If so, then perhaps, you have bought into the notion God is good because He allowed you to be born in country where you have rights. Are you afraid of losing your faith in persecution? That fear indicates something about the level of faith you have in your faith.   Do you fear poverty, loss of control, being alone or maybe you’re just scared spitless of losing the sweet little life He’s blessed you with?

 The second is a bit different:

 What is it about you or your life that makes you want to turn your head away? Is it your screwed-up kids, anger issues, shaky marriage, lack of faith, poor self-control or a past that haunts you? Maybe it’s the addiction you developed in an effort to ignore those things. 

 Here’s the thing.

Whatever IT is that keeps you up at night or makes you want to turn your head away, that’s where God wants to meet you. He wants to help you root-out the sin that is creating the fear so He can heal you. He wants to take your weakness or fear and turn it into strength He can use for His glory (Hebrews 11:32-35).  God can transform anyone into a stronger, braver, healthier and more faithful version of themselves. But God can only do that if they come to a place of decision and humility. To be changed we have to want to change. We must also be willing to admit our fears, weakness and problems. God will not heal us if we choose to run from our issues with busyness, drown them in alcohol, numb them with porn, pretend they’re not real or blame our choices on outside forces. We must take fears and problems to God as many times as necessary until we get to a place of freedom from sin and to where we can accept in faith that if our worst fear were to come to pass it would be okay because God is in control of whatever scares us.  

 God is using COVID-19 to make Christians and non-Christians aware of changes that must be made in their lives. He is stripping people of the coping mechanisms they have depended on in the past. This realty has resulted in personal discomfort, but discomfort is not the end goal. With God the end goal is always to bring people to a place where they are more dependent on His power and His strength than their own. God does this is to prepare His people for deeper relationship with Him and for new opportunities to serve Him with greater power and success.   

 Our responsibility is to cooperate with the process and then wait patiently for what’s next.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.