COVID-19 (A Christian Manual for Navigating Uncertain Times)

An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.

Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.

Gathering Still Matters!

While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.

To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.

Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.

Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis

I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.

It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.

Speaking of the Heart

If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.

We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.

We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.

Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.

The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.

Speaking of Crisis Moments

Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.

With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.

I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.

We Always Do Better Under Pressure

God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.

But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.

This Will Pass

We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.

The Danger of Demonic Distractions

C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:

“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”

Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:

“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”

Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.

I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.

How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?

I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.

I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.

That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.

Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:

“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”

But Jesus gently admonished her saying:

“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”

Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).

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9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing

Last week, I promised to follow up on the post entitled 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, and I’m making good on that promise today. Sometimes we are spiritually worn down, and we don’t even recognize there is a problem until it has spiraled out of control. The following is a series of warning signs that should make our internal alarms start beeping when detected.

1. Lack of Prayer

I could quote tons of Scripture about the importance of prayer, but in the end, prayer is about having a relationship with God. If you are failing to communicate regularly with the Lord, your relationship is not healthy. We instinctively understand this principle in our relationships with other humans, but we often fail to understand it in relationship to God.

2. Half-Hearted Praise

When Mary performed that beautiful act of worship by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, Judas expressed displeasure at her extravagance (John 12:3-6). Now that we have the advantage of hindsight, we can see that Judas was exhibiting a warning sign of weariness in well-doing. When we begin withholding praise and feel critical of another’s praise, we should quickly make some spiritual corrections.

3. Habitually Missing Church

I should clarify that we all miss services from time to time for legitimate reasons. However, I am referring to those seasons of missing for no good reason. We all know the Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) that commands us to stay faithful in our church attendance, and yet the assembling together of the saints is far more than a stuffy commandment; it is for our edification. Our carnal nature tends to pull away from the very thing that we need the most when we are weary in well-doing. Keep a sharp eye out for this vital warning sign.

4. Murmuring & Complaining

Whenever the Hebrews were about to do something really horrific that stirred God’s wrath, it was always preceded by murmuring (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 14:27; Numbers 17:5). We all become frustrated and need to vent once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, you have a severe spiritual condition that needs immediate attention.

5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness 

When Lot made that fateful decision to lead his family towards and eventually into Sodom, it began because of God’s blessings (Genesis 13:6-12); the trend towards Sodom began during the good times. We must frequently check our direction and our desires. Sometimes we need to desperately pray as the Psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”

6. Quick to Anger, Quick to Offense & Quick to Speak 

On at least five separate occasions, Scripture describes God as being slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). When we display the opposite characteristics of God, we should always take a spiritual inventory.

7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God  

1 Peter 4:10-11 clarifies that every Christian has a calling to be involved in the Kingdom of God according to their specific gifts. Refusal to participate or stay involved is usually indicative of a deeper problem.

8. Bitterness 

The apostle Paul acknowledged the defiling power of bitterness in Hebrews 12:15. The subject of bitterness alone could fill volumes and volumes but know that it is one of the most dangerous warning signs. Bitterness starts small and quickly grows into an unavoidable problem if left uncontrolled. It is possible to be right the wrong way, and one of the most common ways to be right the wrong way is to be correct and bitter at the same time.

9. Rebellion

Rebellion against God or God-given authority is never ok, and it never ends well; if you remain unconvinced, just consider King Saul, Lucifer, or Judas.

7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing

Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9 to not be weary in well-doing; I know, I know, easier said than done. I’ve identified seven culprits that can cause us to be weary of doing good even in good times. Next week I will follow up with a list of 9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing. Indeed, these lists could be much longer, but they are a good starting point. So, here are seven things that make us weary in well doing:

1. Discouragement 

I think it’s interesting that Elijah found himself in his darkest moment of depression immediately after witnessing fire fall from heaven (1 Kings 19:4).

2. Murmuring 

Time and time again, Moses had to deal with a murmuring congregation that would not trust God’s plan. It took a toll on Moses (Numbers 14:27). Be careful about spending too much time with murmurers and complainers because eventually, it will impact your spirit.

3. Giants (Obstacles)

The entire Israelite army was reduced to hiding in fear because of one Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Scary obstacles still paralyze people today, and they will keep us from living victoriously if we aren’t careful.

4. Hypocrites 

We all know them! And they wear us out if we get too focused on them. They often come and go as if they are genuine, and just the weight of knowing who and what they really are causes frustration in the sincere Christian’s life. Don’t allow hypocrites to distract you from the genuine.

5. Slow Moving Miracles

When Jesus healed the ten lepers, he told them to go and show themselves to the priest, but their miracle was not yet apparent (Luke 17:11-19). As they walked in obedience, it became clear that a miracle had occurred in their bodies. Sometimes miracles are slow-moving, and we have to walk in obedience for a season without any real proof of God’s power. This can be discouraging, but if we keep walking, we will see the miracle come to pass.

6. Strange Miracles

Jesus was often unorthodox in his methodology. It must have seemed strange when he spit in the mud and rubbed it on a blind man’s face (John 9:6). I mean, who wants to walk around city walls for seven days straight? But God sometimes does things in ways that seem odd to us. How many people have missed out on what God has for them because they faltered at His instructions?

7. Reoccurring Enemies & Familiar Battles 

The Philistines alone are mentioned 217 times in the Bible. Even after David killed Goliath and routed the Philistines, he had to fight them many times after that. Enemies and battles that seem to resurface over and over again will wear us down over time. That temptation that you keep beating down only to face it again will cause discouragement. But remember, if God delivered you, then He can deliver you now.