19 August 2020

20 Theses on Covid-19, the Church, and Government

These are extraordinary days, during which the church must articulate a clear, biblical, and reasonable message that addresses the particulars of such times. The coronavirus pandemic has caused significant disruption, uncertainty and distress among people. It has challenged governmental leaders, locally and at the state and federal levels. It has caused widening divisions over tension between concerns for public health and the impact on jobs and the economy. It has raised questions about the extent and nature of religious liberty and the responsibility of the church to its community. The following is a theological and practical reflection toward a faithful response by the church. It certainly cannot explore every possible facet of the intersection of Covid-19, the church, and government. It only attempts to present some basic principles and convictions that I hope prove to be congruent with relevant biblical content. 


1. God is the creator and sustainer of all human life. But because of sin, our earthly existence is defined by our mortality (Gen. 3; Rom. 5). Death is inevitable for all people. Scripture teaches, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting on him” (Heb. 9:27-28). 


2. The coronavirus poses a real threat to human life, particularly to the elderly and to those who have pre-existing health conditions with some exceptions to these apparent norms. 


3. Every day we live with certain risks to our health and lives. Many of these risks we are neither preoccupied with nor take extreme precautions toward. We travel in our cars almost every day without contemplating the fact that around 38,000 people die every year in the United States from auto accidents and an estimated 1.3 million globally. According to the CDC, since 2010 there have been as few as 12,000 deaths in a single flu season and as many as 61,000.  People die every day from different kinds of accidents and sicknesses. At a basic level, coronavirus is simply one of a variety of means by which a person may die, albeit at this time we are still on a steep learning curve about its nature and effects.


4. However, just because death is inescapable, we do not live foolishly or callously. Life has an intrinsic worth and dignity because all people are created in the image of God. God has clearly stated that the taking of life or carelessness with life is an offense. Life should not be risked foolishly (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 6:9; Ex. 20:13; Matt. 5:21-22). Therefore, for example, we have laws to provide safer roads, and we provide a flu shot each year.


5. The onset of Covid-19 brought the entire country to an unprecedented clamping down on activity.  The original projections of over 2 million deaths sent the nation into paralysis. Projections of a 9% mortality rate of the estimated 81% of Americans that would become infected terrified the nation. Since then, although still a serious health threat, we have come to learn the danger is not so grave. 


6. Therefore, it becomes unconscionable to shut down church gatherings voluntarily, or for states to unreasonably restrict church gatherings, when people are shopping, eating out, riding on airplanes, protesting in large numbers, and willing to return to public schools and sporting events.           


7. The church by definition is a gathered assembly of believers, who come together physically to worship God, grow as disciples of Christ, support one another in fellowship, and contribute cooperatively in the ministry. 


8. If a congregation can meet, it should meet to carry out its purpose of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.


9. So-called online worship is a self-contradicting idea.  An assembly that does not physically assemble is not an assembly. I can no more enjoy the fellowship and experience with God and others virtually any more than I can enjoy the experience of the beach through a live stream of it on my computer.  


10. The ability to live stream or record and upload worship services is a modern tool that is helpful for those who truly cannot make a gathering. However, even though one can benefit from the instruction from God’s Word, a virtual experience cannot replace the interpersonal and spiritual dynamic that takes place in physical gathering. Furthermore, Scripture commands the Lord’s church to gather. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). 


11. The onset of the coronavirus on the world has occurred completely within the divine will of God. All things are not good from our point of view; however, our faith compels us to confess God’s control and power over the affairs of this world. His ultimate purposes through hard circumstances often remain unseen to us in this life. However, we can be assured that his children will mature in faith through the many trials of this existence, and God never ceases to be sovereign or good.


12. Covid-19 should not send the believer into a paralyzed fear.  We should declare with the Apostle Paul, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).


13. Nevertheless, trust in God in this life with our physical lives is not a call to foolishness in behavior. Since the threat of the coronavirus is real, common-sense precautions are in order for our personal lives and when the church gathers. This is not only reasonable for the protection of one’s own health, but to protect others.


14. According to health professionals, the coronavirus is primarily transmitted by personal contact through respiratory droplets. Therefore, working to maintain physical distancing between non-family members, wearing face coverings when distancing cannot be maintained, and sanitizing hands regularly are all reasonable precautions congregations should take when gathering during this health crisis.

15. Churches have a responsibility under God to take the current threat of Covid-19 seriously and thoughtfully and take measures to mitigate risk and the potential of its spread during its gatherings. Even the temporary suspension of in-person gatherings may be reasonable to prevent a spread, if a known case has occurred in the congregation.  


16. Christians will disagree on some matters regarding precautions and risk prompted by the engagement with the reality of Covid-19. But our call is to respect one another and be patient with one another in regard to matters of personal opinion.  


17. Christians, even in the midst of differing personal opinions, should be careful to respect and comply with the pastoral leadership of their congregation on these matters. This preserves unity and obeys Scripture when it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).  If you find an egregious lack of wisdom on the part of pastoral leadership and an unwillingness to listen to reason, then your prayerful consideration may regard your continued connection to that congregation.


18. The government is established by God to be the means by which people who live together in a society are protected from evil and harm and through which the good of society is promoted. Government has the right to collect taxes and to create policy and law that benefits and safeguards its citizens. Government is accountable to God for the morality and justness of its laws and policies (Rom. 13:1-7).


19. The government does not stand above the church, God’s divinely established institution, created by Him and for Him. The government does not have the authority to bind the religious conscience of the individual, who is part of the church, through arbitrary or burdensome laws. The government should not prohibit the church’s gathering or put conditions on its gathering that it does not equally require of all others in contexts where people gather.


20. Jesus Christ is the Lord of His church. While Christians have a posture of respect and submission to governing authorities, the church must courageously give priority to honoring and obeying God when government inserts itself inappropriately into the affairs of the church. 

24 June 2020

How to Save Complementarianism in the SBC

Maintaining a biblical worldview in a world in which most people have a cultural default of biblical opposition is not an easy task. It takes perseverance and strong conviction from the biblical Christian.

For those of us who take the Bible as the information that shapes our sincerely held convictions, we need to understand how to communicate our understandings about flash-point issues in a way that holds accurately to God's revealed truth while being saturated with Christlikeness toward those who challenge our sincerely held beliefs.  

The unbelieving world still overwhelmingly gives the amen to some biblical truths, such as the general idea of loving your neighbor, or not stealing or lying. However, other issues, such as sexuality, marriage, and gender become points of great tension with a culture that has pushed itself away from biblical teachings that run contrary to the emerging cultural consensus. 

Here, I want to speak to one of these difficult issues for the church to address within our secular world and increasingly with other Christians who appear to be increasingly succumbing to the constant pressure to side-step or obfuscate biblical teaching. I want to demonstrate here how I can hold to a complementarian view of gender and be nice to women. 

I know that sounds strangely obvious. But here is why I think it needs to be stated. Currently, a rhetorical inertia is creating the connotation that meanness and sexism is coterminous with complementarianism in the same way that intolerance and anti-intellectualism came to be synonymous with the label fundamentalist. This is happening within the wider evangelical world.  

Since I believe this is the trend, here is how I believe complementarianism must be saved among conservative evangelicals in general and within my beloved Southern Baptist Convention specifically.  

First, there is a need for clarity.

I want to take seriously the biblical content. I want to understand it in its context thoroughly, interpret it correctly, apply it appropriately, and be clear in my communication of it. 

Part of our problem in our discussions, debates and rants is a lack of clarity. We replace precision with passion and call it godly. We don't define terms well, or we cleverly dance around a topic with all the right buzz words without being specific. We can turn drawing attention to an issue into a personal attack, feeling sorry for the one attacked, without ever seriously asking if there might be a legitimate issue at stake. We circle the wagons to protect certain personalities without considering that dissent might actually have a point. Much of the fuel of ongoing debate is a lack of clarity among participants. We are in danger of reducing our concerns and disagreements to virtue signaling, rants, fears (real or perceived) and straw-man arguments on Twitter rather than finding ways to stay on point. I'm pretty weary of all that junk. I hope you are too.  

Therefore, let me be clear about my complementarian view of gender based on what I perceive to be the biblical content.

I apprehend that God has revealed that all humans are created as bearers of his image. This is what makes humanity unique within all creation. Furthermore, God stated that humans were created binary - male and female. And from this fundamental truth flow subsequent revelations about male headship in the home and church. Consequently, I believe men are called to lead in their homes and in the church. This is a calling of responsibility and authority, not authoritarianism. This leads me to a specific application that God calls men to eldership in the church. This leads me to apply that truth to the function of preaching. The role of elder is inseparable with the primary function of eldership, which is preaching and teaching the Word of God to the congregation. Therefore I am in complete agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Article VI "The Church" which clearly states, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." Additionally, differences exist generally speaking between men and women that are not designed to be adversarial, but complementarian. These differences do not constitute differences of quality, value or worth, but of nature, role and function. 

I'm well aware that the above paragraph is offensive to some simply because of what I have said clearly, not because of how I've said it. If you earnestly disagree with the content of my complementarianism, then we are surely at the very definition of an impasse, and there we will likely remain. 

Second, there is a need for charity.

I want to wield biblical complementarianism with conviction, patience and kindness, not as a club. If someone claims that my view itself is hateful, then all I can do is demonstrate my disagreement with a consistent, above-reproach kindness. But I can't allow shaming to cause me to soft-peddle biblical truth for the sake of improving my likability with the shaming crowd.

However, beyond disagreement on the issue, there is the matter of how we treat one another in our disagreement. This is the area within which we often don't take as seriously as the content on which we disagree. We have a tendency to excuse ungodly attitudes and words toward those with whom we differ. Sometimes, complementarian men are just not nice to women who they perceive challenge their views. This is sinful.

As a Christian, male complementarian, my theology should drive me always to treat women with the dignity and respect they should be afforded as image bearers. Therefore, my public or private comments must flow from a heart totally gripped by this truth from God. This is my aim. If I feel a freedom to express a belligerent attitude with sexist comments, then I've moved beyond disagreeing on the issues. I've revealed something deeper in myself that is far from God's expectation for me. There is nothing that can justify the denigration of an image bearer.

I know these are polarizing days on many fronts. We are debating important issues with practical applications for the church. Our debate about completarianism (strict, soft, or whatever) and egalitarianism is emerging more forcefully within the SBC. We can sometimes get overly excited by those who espouse the antithesis of what we may believe. We get more quickly heated when we perceive wrong ideas being expressed and promoted within our own tribe. We need less rant, rage and disrespect. We need more clarity by all and charity for all. Then we might have honest, productive conversations and debates that honor the Lord and each other.  

We, who hold to a complementarian view of gender because we think it expresses the biblical content, should remain strong to our convictions and be nice to women personally, generally, publicly, privately, theoretically, or any other way. These can and should go inseparably together. We can't allow ourselves to be the real personification of the caricature of the hateful, sexist conplementarian. 

We must follow Christ's example, who being a man, valued and esteemed women in a culture that tended to devalue and demean them. Jesus did not chose a woman to become an apostle who would lead the church, but he quietly, yet conspicuously included women as disciples and participants in the Kingdom of God. And he never disparaged a woman because of her gender. He was the model complementarian. 

07 June 2020

An Open Letter from a White Pastor to the Black Community

The events of the last couple of weeks have once again drawn Americans into a boiling cauldron of outrage and heartache. Tragically, once again the spark that lit the fire was a horrific act of a deadly abuse of power by a white police officer perpetrated on a defenseless black man. That man was born right here in North Carolina in a bordering county to where my family and I live. Yesterday, my wife, my daughter and I attended the visitation in Raeford and paid our respects to a family we don't know, but for whom our hearts break.   

His name was George Floyd. Sadly his death was not an isolated travesty. Shortly before his death we saw Ahmand Arberry shot dead in a Georgia street in a senseless act of vigilantism. These are the most recent incidents caught on video of such a nature. A new tipping point was reached with Floyd's death, which sent people into the streets in mass, overwhelmingly to make peaceful protest. Of course, it didn't take but hours before a few anarchists hijacked peaceful protests, resulting in greater and more forceful police responses, which in turn escalated some situations. 

We have watched citizens and police behaving badly. It has been another excruciating experience for the black community and the searing of our collective conscience in regard to the reality of continuing racially-based injustice in America, specifically in regard to policing.

My purpose here is simply to share a word about who I am and how I wish to posture myself as a white pastor, who has been deeply affected by these events. This is just a quick note, certainly insufficient and incomplete. I hope you'll receive it with the spirit of good will with which I desire to communicate it.

I admit that the ongoing experience of those of color in this country regarding racially-based injustice pertaining to policing and the criminal justice system has never been in the front of my mind. For most of my life I have had a certain amount of naivety to this reality. And certainly, when I have observed it, I've wanted to believe it to be an aberration, not something pervasive and persistent. I now see this is a real, systemic problem worthy of all of our ongoing attention until it's fixed.

I admit that I do not know specifically what to do about any of this at this point. The problem is embedded in complicated policing and legal systems immersed in fear and mistrust. By myself I feel mostly powerless to do anything. But this cannot be a capitulation to passivity. Circumstances do need to change. And they need to start changing now.

I bring to this discussion a biblical worldview, ethic, and content for problem solving. I reject the term social justice, but not because I reject the idea of justice.  The term social justice is simply too loaded with an ideology that runs counter to concepts of biblical justice. This is easy to research and discover. For me, using the term makes dialogue confusing. I am aware that the common understanding of social justice has much in tension with my biblical worldview. Please let me explain.

The social justice movement as popularly defined and understood in academia and among activists groups focuses on the redistribution of resources and power from those identified as the privileged and oppressing group to those groups who have been identified as victims of oppression. 

The main oppressed groups, often referred to as minority groups, are women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. The privileged group is whites, particularly white males. The focus of any discussion in the social justice universe centers on to which group one belongs. Either you belong to the oppressor group or an oppressed group. It doesn't matter so much what is true about an individual.  

Social justice is fueled by identity politics, cultural Marxism and rooted in radical feminism. This is not a secret. It is there to discover easily for the one who looks into it. There is much in it that is completely incompatible with biblical Christianity. And if Christians adopt the language and reasoning of social justice in regard to race, even with the best of intentions, we will incorporate a way of thinking that will press us logically to affirm the ideology of feminism and the LGTBQ community. It's clear that this has already happened among many.

However, just because I reject the term social justice and the broader movement with its specific ideology, does not mean I am against justice. Just the contrary is true. I am deeply concerned about matters of justice because God has revealed himself to have such concern. And God reveals repeatedly that he hates injustice and exploitation. 

I desire to see a society in which we are striving to make sure everyone is treated equitably by the laws, policies and procedures we create and maintain to live together in regard to policing. I see the current racial inequity in regard to policing and our justice system, and I agree change is desperately needed.  

But here is where I, and I hope all Christians, approach the problem differently. I believe in the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all human behavior and in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible to guide us in issues of justice. When the Bible is properly understood in its context, interpreted properly to explain its meaning, and faithfully applied, it is totally sufficient to speak into our social ills and guide us. There has been abuse and twisting of the Bible in the past, but that is not the fault of the Bible, but the ones who perverted it.

Therefore, to those who have a different color skin, different heritage, different challenges, and who are rightfully angry and frustrated over the pervasive problem of police brutality and harassment in the black community, this is what I want you to hear from me.

I will love you and want to defend your right for equal treatment by and under the laws of our land and to feel safe.

I want to stand side-by-side with you for biblical justice in audible, visible and tangible ways that advocates for needed change and roots out unjust double standards in our policing and justice system. I'm all in. 

I want to listen more intently. I need to hear from you.  

I will continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ because this is the only message than brings real transformation to people's hearts and moves them to desire to love their neighbors, according to God's standards. 

George Floyd's death was tragic. It was senseless. It was an egregious abuse of power. But I believe God can redeem it for good when we experience the transforming power of the gospel and seek to obey the principles of God's Word. I don't want us to lose this opportunity. It's time for God's people, black and white, to open up their Bibles together and be used by God to bring the change that is needed.   

11 May 2020

Unity, not Uniformity, During Church Reopening

Yesterday, here in North Carolina, churches were allowed by the governor's executive order to meet outdoors without a number limit as long as social distancing was observed. Our church gathered for the first time in 55 days on a beautiful Spring morning. And it was wonderful! About one-third of our average regular crowd participated. Although our county has had little health impact from the coronavirus, two-thirds of our congregation choose to stay home. Let me tell you why that's okay for now.

In Romans 14, Paul lays out a principle for the church that perfectly fits our current circumstances. In that chapter, Paul is directing believers to be gracious to one another over matters on which they may have differing opinions.  He mentions certain observances and dietary choices as examples. Over these kind of things, Paul says, "not to quarrel over opinions."  

You may think of the Apostle Paul as that guy who was always impassioned about his opinions, but Romans 14 (as well as 1 Corinthians 8), show that Paul (under the inspiration of God) didn't lump every issue into the same level of concern.  

If the matter at hand was a gospel issue, related to correct belief or Christian conduct, then the gloves were off! Paul would vigorously defend God's truth (see Galatians).  However, on non-gospel matters he urged understanding, compassion, and grace. He posed the rhetorical question to the Romans, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." In other words, in these secondary issues, each believer is accountable to God, the one he or she serves.  

The Bible teaches us here that these secondary, non-gospel issues become matters of personal conscience. The mandate is not for uniformity among us, but for each of us to behave in such a way that maintains unity.

As the church reopens, within the parameters that each state's governor will issue, church-goers will personally weigh out their circumstances and comfort level. Some of us are comfortable with more risk. Some of us are not comfortable with much risk at all. Some of us are not in that higher risk category. Some of us are part of the more at risk crowd. Some of us feel we can take our kids out and properly protect them. Some of us feel we can do that best by keeping them home for now.  With all of these variables in play, it's no surprise that people will have differing opinions about how and when to head back to church to physically gather with others.

As pastor, my commitment is to do all that I can to comply with my governor's reasonable restrictions to protect you and the public health as we reopen. Additionally, I want to encourage the whole congregation to posture themselves with humility and grace toward one another during the slow process of reopening.

First, don't judge one another over personal matters of conscience. We must all remember that our opinions are nothing more than our opinions. The more cautious among us should not accuse others of being careless. The more risk taking among us should not accuse others of being cowardly. To point fingers and say snarky, judgmental things creates disunity and causes stumbling. "Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hinderance in the way of a brother."  

Second, we should make this a time of congregational unity, focused on mutual support of one another.  We should love and respect one another, even if we don't agree about the speed or manner in which we all engage the church reopening. "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  
Summer is almost here, and many people enjoy the water during the summer heat. Some go to the swimming pool and run and jump in.  Some approach the swimming pool by first sticking in a toe, then the foot, then sitting on the side with both feet in, and then slowing sliding in the rest of the body. Which approach is right? You probably think that question is absurd and improper. If so, then you get the point.

This current crisis, and the fear and precautions that goes with it, will eventually pass. At some point, we will all gather together again. In the meantime, whether you are the jump-right-in kind or the gradual-slide-in kind, please know I love you and respect the manner in which you will choose to engage reopening. Do this for one another.      

Romans 14     

14 April 2020

Why Our Sad Hearts are a Good Sign

The COVID-19 crisis has cause most churches to get on a steep learning curve to leverage technology to keep their congregations connected. Some large churches on the top of the technological pyramid were already poised to jump into production because they were already swimming in that pool. However, the vast majority of pastors, who shepherd the more typical small flocks, scrambled to figure out live streaming options and how to utilize Zoom for smaller virtual gatherings. Now, that we are several weeks into this temporary, new normal, we have figured out how to record and upload, go live online, or preach to folks in the parking lot, while they stay in their cars like attending a drive-in movie. 

I am grateful for the technology that does allow us to see and speak to each other on a screen for a small group. I am appreciative to have the means to record some Bible teaching or sermons, so that the congregation can still be under the instruction of the Word of God. I am delighted that our music ministry can record a set of songs and upload it to our website for folks to enjoy. Being forced to be innovative and think about what is truly important can be one of the blessings in this whole ordeal. 

However, this experience has affirmed what I already believed. Even though we have all this technology that can keep us virtually connected, it does not and should not mitigate the natural grief of physical separation or ever be an alternative for actual, physical gathering.  

Online broadcasts, even if live, are a one way street. There is nothing wrong necessarily about that. Reading a book is similar, and much profit intellectually and spiritually can come from reading a good book! Watching a good movie or documentary can be entertaining and informative. I have benefited greatly by listening to or watching recorded sermons. But that is not the point. 

The point is that a church cannot worship this way.  Whether a congregation is ten people or a thousand people, corporate worship is a group activity that requires physical presence. If you find yourself truly growing more sad each week because you can't physically gather with your church, then you are in the right emotional place. We need to be reminded that this is a time to lament the temporary loss of what we typically take for granted - our gathering. 

In the New Testament the underlying assumption, hardly worth expounding on, was that a congregation was by definition a group of people that physically gathered. As they gathered, they were instructed in the Word of God, worshipped together, prayed together, and served and gave together. When they came together they baptized new believers and shared in the Lord's Supper together. They guarded their membership, supported the work of the gospel, and protected the integrity of the message. All of this and more was done eye to eye, voice to voice, and heart to heart with the conjoining of leadership, the congregation, and the power and presence of God's Word and Spirit.           

Yesterday, I came across one of those typically pragmatic articles that are put out to encourage pastors with 3 tips about that or 5 ideas about this. The title of the article was, "5 Principles for Avoiding a Drop in Online Worship Attendance."  Although the content of the article was fine - simple reminders of ways to stay connected and still be fulfilling purpose during these days of social distancing - the title itself was like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.   

For evangelicals to think that online worship attendance is even a real thing shows how deeply we have drunk from the well of the consumer driven, shallow, darkened room, spotlighted singers, hipster preachers, highly produced, made-for-spectators church.  

If I have convinced myself that going to worship is essentially a passive event, then it is an easy transition to watch from my own kitchen table or living room couch. The only thing I lose is the energy of the crowd. I may benefit from watching and listening. Once again, that is not the point. But to worship corporately requires my presence with others.  To think that I can worship with my church while physically distant is like thinking a square triangle is a real thing.

Corporate worship by definition assumes an in-person participation.  When we sing together, we are making confession together of our faith and our gratitude and love toward God. When we hear the Word of God read and preached we enter into a dynamic moment of corporate discipleship in which the Word rightly divided, empowered by the Holy Spirit, works in the mind and heart of the hearer. In-person, corporate worship allows us to look each other in the eye, to offer the warmth of a handshake or hug, and to exchange words of encouragement. 

Preaching to a camera is still pretty awkward for me, even though I am grateful some are going to listen and watch and receive instruction from God's Word. I miss what God does among and through his people when they gather. I grieve the loss of that. As we come together and we place God center-stage of our worship and submit to the Bible rightly explained, interpreted and applied, and love and encourage one another from sincere hearts, God does his work among his people for his glory. I miss that!

If that is what your heart aches for during these days of physical separation, then let me affirm your loss. Your sadness caused from not being able to gather with that Sunday school class or small group in person is to be expected. If going week after week and not gathering is creating an increasing heaviness in your soul, then let me assure you of the appropriateness of your restlessness and longing. Be encouraged that the sadness of your heart is a good indicator of the place of your soul.    

However, if you are finding that as the weeks roll on in COVID-19 that your thoughts have been very little of your church, then you may want to pause and ponder. If your heart hasn't truly longed for the gathering of the church so that you could greet fellow believers, sing together, give together, listen to the Word together, and just be together, then maybe Christ's church is not truly that important to you. If you think that online options are viable replacements for actual gathering, then most likely you were already merely approaching church as a spectator activity, and you have been missing the point and the blessing.

I'm looking forward to that first Sunday back. In my mind's eye I see familiar faces that are singing, greeting one another, showing hospitality to guests, listening and receiving God's Word and being the church - an assembly of sinful people saved by God's grace, striving to greater faithfulness now, and looking forward to that blessed hope. Until then, my heart remains a little out of sorts, and that's okay.  

P.S. If this experience has a positive for the church, it may well be at least to help us empathize more deeply and sincerely with our homebound members.  For them, social distancing was a reality long before the coronavirus. We should remember this and do better to alleviate the burden of their isolation from their congregation.

06 April 2020

Facing the COVID-19 Uncertainty

Artwork by Libby Cornett (acrylic on black canvas)
The world is simmering in a pot of uncertainty as I write this morning. Here in the U.S. the deaths from COVID-19 reached 7,616 by 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 5, according to the CDC. That number is expected to continue to climb.

On top of the pandemic, we are feeling apprehensive about the economic impact. The situation feels as fragile as a house of cards that may come crashing down with catastrophic consequences for many people.

People are heroically pulling together and doing what they can. Nevertheless, just barely below the surface lies an uneasiness. We have become keenly aware how fragile are matters of health and economics. People, who have normally felt secure, are now dealing with an anxiousness about the uncertainty of the day.

As hard as all this is right now, especially for those in our larger cities, we can find peace of mind. When matters are threatening our well-being, a genuine reliance on God can bring confidence. Fear and despair can overwhelm us, if we feel alone and powerless in a threatening situation. However, when we know we are not alone, and we have confidence in the One who is with us, then we find peace that encompasses our fear.

The prophet Habakkuk lived in uncertain and hard days in the late seventh century B.C. Judah was on hard times. Enemies threatened them, and their society was plagued with wickedness and injustice. God revealed to Habakkuk that He was going to send the Chaldeans as an instrument of judgment. This was distressing news, however, Habakkuk prayed at the close of the book,

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

The prophet didn't know exactly how matters would unfold, but he had an idea that tough days were ahead. Yet, he spiritually dug in his heels to trust in God. He chose not to despair, but to place his confidence genuinely in the God of his salvation. He knew, even through the rocky and rough terrain of hard times, God would give His stabilizing presence. The difficulties would be real, but God would be present. The prophet knew what was certain in his uncertainty. We too can have that same assurance.  

Although we can be sincerely grateful for the contributions of those in government and medicine, our joy, peace of mind and assurance that all will be well can only come from the One who is really in control of us in life and death. 

We have this confidence through a saving relationship with our Creator through faith in Jesus Christ.  And when this relationship is real, then we can say with the Apostle Paul, "to live is Christ and to die is gain."  In life we trust and obey Christ; in the face of death, we are assured of God's favor.

Let me encourage you to be in God's Word now more than ever. In it's pages, we discover God's truth for our lives, which are always filled with uncertainty. But we will learn in it what is always certain. We will find the steadiness for our souls in times like these. Charles Spurgeon is credited with saying, "A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to a person who isn't." 

Here are few encouraging places to read during these days.

  • John 10
  • book of Ephesians
  • book of Philippians
  • Romans 8
  • Psalm 19,23,30,34,46,73,91,139    

31 March 2020

COVID-19: Is This God's Judgment?

I have had several Christian people over the last couple of weeks ask me if I think it's possible that God is judging America through COVID-19. I suppose that is a natural question for those who are familiar with the Bible. We do find God clearly judging sin on a national level in its pages.  A walk through the Old Testament makes this abundantly clear, whether considering how God sent plagues on Egypt to demonstrate his authority and power or how God repeatedly disciplined Israel for her unfaithfulness.

Of course, answering this question is not so easy. We know from biblical precedent that it is absolutely possible God could be using a microscopic virus to express his displeasure and to prick people's consciences over their sin. We also know that we do not have the ability to know with certainty if that is the case. Job's friends were dead wrong in assuming Job had sinned and deserved his suffering. We know as well that the world is under a curse from sin; it's fallen and broken. We learn this in the Bible's opening chapters. We read in Romans 8:22 that "the whole creation has been groaning." And it will continue to groan until made new.

Therefore, although the question is a fair one, it is also impossible for me to give a definitive answer. However, all is not lost. I think there is a way that we can direct this question toward a more beneficial end.

I believe Jesus always directed his disciples away from judgmentalism and self-righteousness and toward self awareness and personal repentance. The church should have a prophetic voice in regard to speaking truth into its culture, even when that truth is unreceived or offends. And certainly, there are societal evils that are willfully contrary to God's standards.  

However, I think it would be more helpful for those of us in the church to reflect on how God may be trying to get our attention through COVID-19, rather than to throw stones at lost people who act like lost people. It seems that Jesus had much harsher words for self-righteous, religious hypocrites than for the sinners he encountered. Paul's harshest words were for those who claimed to follow Christ, but who were missing the mark of true discipleship.

And when I am thinking of the church, I'm not suggesting the easy exercise of all those other churches.  It's always safer to think of examples of the higher profile pastors and churches that engage in extreme, worldly gimmickry and the shallow, unbiblical prosperity message.  And we would be correct in assessing them as unfaithful.  But such assessment, even if accurate, tends to keep our focus off ourselves.  There is a time to speak to such issues, but let's use this time to take a serious look closer to home.

I am part of my local congregation. I am a part of God's church in a specific place and time in the church's history. It is more helpful if I allow this COVID-19 question to sear my conscience and draw me to deeper self-awareness of my congregation's faithfulness to the Lord. Here are some questions that I believe each of us in our church would do well to ponder honestly and humbly:

  • Are we faithfully proclaiming and guarding the biblical message of the gospel?
  • Are we faithfully upholding God's standards by the guidance of the Bible as the measure for our membership?
  • Are our methods of evangelism rooted in the firm belief of God's sovereign ability to draw people with the proclaimed gospel and save them without our manipulation or innovation?
  • Are our methods of worship fitting, reverent and honorable to Almighty God?
  • Are we committed to congregational accountability that expects believers to obey Christ's commands and pursue holiness and not be a reproach with sinful lifestyles to our Lord's name and his church?
  • Are we engaged in proclaiming the gospel in our community and committed to help it reach the nations of the world?
  • Are we generous to the poor and seeking to alleviate suffering and demonstrate the compassion of Christ?
  • Are we walking humbly, boasting only in Christ alone, and seeking the welfare of all without prejudice?

There is no doubt that our country needs a spiritual awakening and a significant turn to God's truth. And there is no doubt that the church needs revival to greater faithfulness in all these matters. But revival happens when enough people in one place understand that it begins with me in my church, not everyone else out there.  

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