What’s It Going To Take?


Political upheaval in the form of an impeachment hearing back in January, and finally resolved in February, in time for the various state caucuses and primary elections to take place, started all the 2020 craziness.

Also in early February a spate of tornadoes took place. “Across the three-day outbreak, 37 tornadoes were confirmed, including several that were strong and long-tracked. In the pre-dawn hours of February 6, an EF1 tornado near Demopolis, Alabama killed one person. Total economic losses from the event exceeded $925 million” (Wikipedia)

A month later a pandemic that spread faster than anyone expected, reached the US and caused overcrowding in some hospitals, a shortage of ventilators, and a shocking number of deaths.

Panic buying followed. Sanitizer, rubber gloves, masks, bleach and other sterilizing agents, water and, for some unknown reason, toilet paper, all disappeared from store shelves. For about a week, so did canned foods and meat and cheese and fresh fruits.

No shortages, we were reassured, but because of high demand, the distribution grid was overloaded. Thankfully goods came back, but closures started. Schools, all but essential businesses, churches, restaurants and bars.

In March, the much anticipated college basketball tournament, fondly called March Madness, was cancelled. Soon after, professional sports came to a screeching halt.

Social distancing became the watch word, and incrementally the death rate of those contracting the deadly Covid virus, dropped, from 19 percent of those infected in the US, to the current rate of 5 percent.

In April, more Tornado events took place, the Easter storms lasting 2 days and hitting the southeastern part of the US. At the end of the month another collection of tornadoes hit parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.

May came and an African American died while being arrested by police. His mistreatment is caught on camera and caused nationwide protests, even some in other countries. Many protests in the US quickly turned into riots. In Seattle a group of people took over a six-block area they declared to be a police-free zone. The city allowed the group to continue for weeks, breaking into businesses, looting, leaving waste and graffiti everywhere. Until there were several shooting incidents and a march on the mayor’s home.

As part of the riots, a number of statues were either defaced or torn down most of historical figures the rioters did not approve of, but also including one statue paid for by freed slaves to memorialize their freedom and one of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg.

Reports began to come in that rioters were paid participants, moving from city to city to foment unrest.

Meanwhile, the US economy pretty much tanked, a number of essential workers walked off the job because of unsafe conditions, and grocery stores and pharmacies all began requiring masks (at least in some states).

June saw more of the same. Then in July, the National Football League opened training camps all around the nation and Major League Baseball resumed, the pro basketball league began to hold their playoffs, in a bubble.

At the same time, the first of the California fires started, and a less reported fire in Colorado swept through several counties and soon became the largest in Colorado history.

Intermingled with all the rest have been the hurricanes. “So far, it [hurricane season] has featured a total of 24 tropical or subtropical cyclones, 23 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. With 23 named storms, it is the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record” (Wikipedia).

In August, more shootings, riots, and fires. And now in September one of the Supreme Court Justices passed away. The fires in Oregon, Washington, and California continue. A protest that lasted for weeks in Portland finally ended. And the political animosity builds as we draw closer to the November election.

Believe it or not, these are only the high spots. The year 2020 has been . . . pick your adjective. Crazy, horrible, abnormal, abysmal, unprecedented.

The divisions in our nation are only becoming greater. There is the Cancel Culture movement and the dispute over wearing masks or not wearing masks, and the far left push for anarchy and socialism seems to have gained a foothold in the universities.

There is a #WalkAway movement that reports people walking away from the Democratic Party, often because they come to realize they have been lied to all along (Republicans are evil, hateful, bigots, racist, and so on, they have been told. And then they actually have occasion to talk to some Republicans).

Why have I taken so long to point out all the problems of 2020?

I want to make the point that what we are experiencing is not just like any other . . . sweeping illness or storm season or violence or fires or political unrest. For one thing, all these have happened all at the same time, within one calendar year.

The people who want to dismiss any or all of these as just something that happens, are wrong.

God moves through storms and riots and illness. Often these kinds of events, whether rooted in the sinfulness of humans or in natural events, comes for the very purpose of giving us a warning. Here’s what Jesus said about this exact situation:

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

No, Jesus said, those who died didn’t “deserve it.” But their deaths are a warning that all who do not repent will suffer the same fate. The clear point is, REPENT.

I’m not sure why American Christians seem to be slow to see God’s warning. It feels as if He’s writing it in the smoke that hovers over our land, in the storms that crash onto our shores and rip apart our buildings. And of course in the social distancing and the funerals which result from the illness that still takes its toll on people.

Now is the time for repentance. Now is the time for the US, for the world, to turn back to God. His message through it all, is, at a minimum, this: I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Published in: on September 22, 2020 at 5:48 pm  Comments (6)  
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Sidetracked


Becoming sidetracked—distracted, pulled off course, diverted—is something we all understand. I mean, how many times do we start one task and in the process see something that pulls our attention away and causes us to start a new task.

Facebook or social media in general is a good place for becoming sidetracked. Yes, we want to click over to read one article, but there’s a link that seems like it will give more information, so we jump over to a different site, then a notification comes which we have to read, which contains an important message we must deal with at once and . . . what were we planning to do at Facebook in the first place?

In some ways the issue is that we are bombarded by information. And options.

Of late, our society has bombarded us all with Problems That Need To Be Fixed. The current two, of course, are the Coronavirus and racism. Before those, we were told—or perhaps taught would be a better word—that the planet was at risk unless we got our act together and stopped using fossil fuel as a source of energy. THAT would solve all the problems.

Except, apparently, racism and Coronavirus.

Along with these issues, we’ve also been taught that we need to stand against sexual abuse in any shape, that women must receive equal pay and opportunities as men, that we should stand against Apartheid, fight a war on poverty, stop bullying, build up a child’s self-esteem so they don’t pick up a gun and try to kill as many of their schoolmates as possible.

I could go on.

The thing is, these causes and campaigns are not all wrong, though some have engendered a bit of controversy. So is the Coronavirus a real problem? Yes, as much as some people would like to say it’s a problem drummed up by government to control the population. Actually, people are getting sick and dying all over the world.

And racism? The very people who say “all ANYBODY are ANYTHING,” are racists. So all police aren’t racist. Nor are all whites. Those are actually racist statements (as is the statement that all BLM supporters are racist). So yes, the problem of racism does exist.

Apartheid was an issue in South Africa, but now it seems to have migrated to America where we have NAME-THE-RACE communities. In other words, we are segregating by choice—at least a number of us are.

And yes, the gender issues are real. Women should not be harassed, raped, abused, misused. Bullying is a real problem—no one should be shamed or coerced or mocked publicly, because of their beliefs, their looks, the way they talk, or think, for their background, or history. Of course mass shootings are a real problem, too, at least in the US. In South America, for decades the issue was bombings. And shootings. I guess the Middle East goes the bombing route. And of course the US has known a few of those, ourselves.

I could go on. The environment? Yes, actually God gave humans “dominion” of the earth—not to misuse it, squeeze all the goodness out of it, as happened during the Industrial Revolution in the West. When people realized that rivers were becoming so polluted they were toxic, that the air was so contaminated it was dangerous, measures began to come into practice to change the damage we had done.

I say “we” as a reference to humans, though none of us were even alive at the time.

But I don’t want to get too far afield from the main topic (although that would actually serve as a good example of what I’m saying). All the problems—and many more that I haven’t even mentioned—are only side issues. They aren’t the real problem.

But as long as we talk about these other problems in the media and with our children and in our schools, as long as we are writing books and signing petitions and participating in protests and pointing fingers about any of these issues, we are being sidetracked.

The real issue—the central issue above all else—is that we as a culture, as many cultures—have turned away from God. We show it by how we treat each other and by how we treat our world, but mostly by how we treat God.

Do we know God? Or do we buy into the “God is dead” rhetoric? Do we exclude Him from our schools? Keep Him locked in the privacy of our own homes rather than include Him as part of the public conversation about all these other issues?

After all, God knows the human heart better than we do. He knows my heart and He knows the heart of the guy in China who just lost his mother to the Coronavirus. He knows the heart of abusive cops and He knows the heart of criminals and He knows the heart of citizens who are just minding their own business.

God is mindful of us. “He knows we are but dust.” Jesus understands our weaknesses, because “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” God knows.

Do we turn to Him for answers? Or do we treat Him as an uninvolved spectator?

Do we live to make Him known? To turn the spotlight on Him as the One who deserves all praise and worship and honor?

Or are we focused on getting our lives back to normal?

What’s our mission statement, our assignment from God, and are we focused on accomplishing that or are we sidetracked by, oh, so many things?

Photo by Mark Plötz from Pexels

Published in: on July 7, 2020 at 5:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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Racial Divide, 2.0


Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the racial divide in America. The catalyst for my thoughts was completely different from those today.

American has continued to experience protests all over the country, and now protests have emerged all over the world because a white police officer and three others (one Asian, but I’m not sure of the ethnicity of the other two) were involved in the death of an African American accused of a misdemeanor. I covered the details of the tragedy in an earlier post.

What disturbs me beyond the needless, horrendous death of a man is the way the protests tear our nation apart. Granted, the violence, looting, and killing have subsided, but this whole event—from the death of the accused to the speeches made by the high profile media and sports types—cements the idea that racism is “part of our DNA.”

God doesn’t say that. In fact His word says just the opposite: There is no distinction; all have sinned; go into the whole world and preach the gospel; love, the perfect bond of unity; and many, many more such passages.

Of course, the primary concerns in the first century revolved around Jews and questions about including Gentiles—Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, you name it; basically anyone who was not a Jew—in the body of believers following Christ. While Scripture was written to people in the first century, it was written for all the rest of us, down through time, in every place.

So it’s not a stretch for us to read Paul’s statement in Colossians 3 “. . . there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all [believers, whom he is addressing]” and to conclude that there is no distinction between a Christian Italian, a Christian Swede, a Christian Kenyan, a Christian Mexican, a Christian Middle Easterner, a Christian from India, or a Christian from any other part of the world, from whatever ethnic or cultural background they have come out of.

The truth is, again from Scripture, that there will be people worshiping God in the new heaven and the new earth from every tribe and tongue and nation.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

I love the part about God having made us all into a kingdom. Not a kingdom for each of the tribes or tongues or nations. One kingdom. United, because we have one God and Father:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6)

He is One and He has and is making us one. One body. One bride. One temple. One family. One nation. The Bible uses all these metaphors to describe the Church. Because, the simple fact is that what we have in common because of Christ is greater than any cultural difference or economic divide or language barrier.

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, (Eph. 2:14-19; all caps indicate a quote from the Old Testament while the italics are my emphasis.)

The Apostle Peter echoed this same message in his first letter: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

One nation, not many. One race. One people.

Therein lies the unity of believers. The fracturing and the divide in the world and in our nation come as a part of the upheaval created by sin. The only real, complete, long-lasting solution, is a Savior who makes us one.

A Matter Of Right And Wrong


On top of two, nearly three, months of coronavirus issues—panic buying, stay-at-home orders, masks, social distancing, school and church closures, businesses closed down, many people losing their jobs, not to mention the nearly 2,000,000 people who have contracted the disease and the 109,000 or so who have died—the US has now been experiencing protests in various cities, many of which involved violence, looting, and burning.

The trigger issue was another death of an African-American at the hands of a police officer. While previous incidents have contained some measure of uncertainty regarding the justifiable use of force—and many have led to no criminal charges brought against the officers—this latest event appears, from video evidence of the incident, to be a more egregious example of inappropriate force used by police.

First, the officers, based on the 9-1-1 call, expected to find someone who was drunk and out of control. From all appearance, the accused, George Floyd, did not resist the police until he was instructed to enter the police vehicle. Even then he was not striking out at the officers but was not entering the vehicle with a struggle.

Second, the complaint against Mr. Floyd was made by a convenience store clerk who said he’d paid for his purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill—certainly not a violent crime.

Third, when the police removed Mr. Floyd from their car and place him face down on the street, kneeling on his back, legs, and neck, he told them repeatedly that he could not breath. He even asked if the cop kneeling on his neck would take his knee away. The cop said he would if Mr. Floyd would comply and get into the car. Mr. Floyd said, “I will.” The cop repeated the instruction, and Mr. Floyd answered that he couldn’t move—quite obviously because the three cops were pinning him in place.

Fourth, when Mr. Floyd at last lost consciousness and the cops called for medical attention, no one gave the man CPR.

The point here is this: the incident was not a matter of black and white; not even cops against African-Americans. Rather, these officers do not appear to know right from wrong. Who would hear a man say he can’t breath, to please release the pressure being applied (yes, at one point Mr. Floyd used the word please), to actually lose consciousness, and DO NOTHING?

Perhaps those officers were blinded by hatred or prejudice. Perhaps they were exerting their dominance just because they could. But does anyone, anywhere, think what they did was right? That it was justified?

At no time were their own lives in danger. Clearly they understood the complaint against this man was that he had committed a non-violent crime. In many states this offense would be a petty misdemeanor and would receive nothing more than a citation. Was he drunk? Hard to say from the video. Certainly the 9-1-1 caller identified him as drunk, so that’s what the police expected. Was he disorderly? Not really. Not until he was instructed to get into the police vehicle. Supposedly he said he was claustrophobic. The cops tried to force him inside, and something must have happened that the film didn’t capture, because the next piece of footage shows Mr. Floyd face down.

The cops, all three directly involved in applying force to Mr. Floyd, seem to have created a mountain over a molehill. Was this because Mr. Floyd was black? Or did they simply not know right from wrong?

Right from wrong includes assuming a person is guilty because of his skin color. But it also includes a lack of compassion when someone repeatedly says he can’t breath and it’s within your power to help him breath. It includes withholding medical attention when you are a trained person who can apply your knowledge and ability to save someone’s life. Anyone’s life.

I don’t care if the person is green or purple, it’s not right to ignore someone’s calls for help or to refuse medical attention. It’s not OK. It’s never OK.

Clearly, Los Angeles has had our own experiences of inappropriate police force against someone they were trying to arrest. A lot of changes have resulted, including tools and training to help officers use non-lethal means to bring a suspect under control.

But I have to wonder if the bottom line has been lost among our law enforcement personnel—people need to be treated as people.

Yes, I understand, some are violent and dangerous. One stat I read said that 87.6% of police shootings were a result of an act to defend either their own lives or the lives of fellow citizens. There are also people who are drug-crazed. There are even folks who are mentally ill. In other words, there are situations that must be dealt with using extreme measures.

But somehow, it seems the officers involved with Mr. Floyd, lost a sense of what was right and what was wrong. Clearly, right to defend lives; wrong to apply deadly force against a non-violent person accused of a minor crime.

This should have been an easy call. There was something the officers could do that was right—actually a number of things come to mind.

Of course all the riots, the looting, the violence that has taken place since this incident, claims the motives of the officers was race. Was it? Would they have treated someone of a different race in some other way? We don’t know, but it assumes these officers, and others around the country where the protests are occurring, have one standard of right for the majority of the people in the US and a different standard for African-Americans.

The claim is that the assumption has been proven by the numbers of blacks who have died in confrontations with police, the number of incidents when African-Americans have been stopped without cause, and so on. But none pf these assumptions address the bottom line issue: doing right instead of doing wrong.

Racism is not right, but neither is abuse or bullying or taking advantage of power or position. Certainly ignoring people in need of help is not right.

How did we become a nation that would not collectively rise and condemn behavior which so devalues another’s life that the individual actually dies as a result of that treatment?

Published in: on June 3, 2020 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who Will Separate Us From The Love Of Christ?


Many Christians love the last portion of Romans 8, starting with verse 28. There just seem to be so many quotables in that passage.

Verse 28 itself is one of the all-time favorites, though too many people misquote it or misunderstand it. At one point the prevailing notion was, “All things work for good for people who love God.”

What the verse actually says is, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, there might be some “not very good things” that God causes to work together for good to those called by Him, chosen by Him, committed to Him, obedient to Him.

I think of big things like a death in the family, a disability, an unrighteous or unfair action by those in authority or anyone else who has power over us. Like Joseph experienced when his brothers ganged up on him and sold him into slavery. His conclusion: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good to bring about this present result . . .” (Gen. 50:20)

Back to Romans 8, other verses in the passage may also be misunderstood or taken out of context, but most people familiar with this section of scripture get the intent of verse 35 and following, when Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

The magnificent crescendo of the passage is that no, none of that, or any thing else we might imagine can divide us from the love of God in Christ:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38-39)

It’s a wonderful, comforting conclusion. Heartwarming.

But the Bible is much more than a book of feel-good statements or tee shirt slogans or greeting card text. The Bible is intended to reveal who God is and how He has, does, and will work throughout history.

Paul was convinced that a comprehensive NOTHING could stand between us and God’s love, and believers today give a hearty amen!

Suddenly, amid the routine of life—the fairly comfortable and trouble free routine of life most of us in western society seem to enjoy—true disruption inserts itself in the form of a pandemic. People are dying, losing their jobs. People have succumbed to fear, maybe even a little panic. Maybe some frustration, and now boredom.

But have we been separated from the love of Christ?

I’ve heard some oft repeated phrases meant to encourage people, things like, we’re all in this together or this will all pass or we’ve got this. One phrase I haven’t heard is, this virus can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

That’s really the only thing that matters. We might be in distress because a loved one is on a ventilator. We might be in peril because of the spate of tornadoes bearing down on our community or the earthquake that jolts the very ground under our feet.

God’s love reaches through all those temporal events. His love reaches past the discouragement or doubt Satan and his forces try to bring to bear on our lives.

Of course, it’s easy to say or read these verses. But putting our faith in God’s love is a lot harder when we can’t see the end of a trial or the good that can come out of it. Yet maybe, just maybe we should be thinking about trials as sign posts of God’s love, saying in essence, This thing is just one more thing that cannot separate you from God’s love.

Why is this hard? Because we are so dependent upon ourselves and our senses. If what we see is financial distress, fear, danger, illness, and death, we can’t see the way God is working all that stuff out for our good. We think of good as healthy, comfortable, at ease, surrounded by those who love us and who we love.

God has a higher standard for good. He tells us in v 29 that He’s working things together to conform us to the image of His Son. His ultimate plan is to fit us for an eternity with Him. That’s a kind of good we may have a hard time imagining.

But here is where faith comes into the equation: God has told us in His word that nothing separates us from His love. Do we believe it? Do we live in light of the love He pours on us or do we live in the fear, the uncertainty, the disappointment of the moment?

If God’s word is only providing heartwarming memes to post on Facebook or Instagram, the reality of His love will not actually be a comfort, I don’t think. But if we use His word to preach the truth to ourselves every day, maybe all through the day, then God’s word will be life changing.

Because the truth is, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 5:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening


A year ago, almost to the day, I revised and re-posted an article entitled “Does God Speak Through Nature?” The premise was simple: God used “natural” phenomenon in Egypt to pry His people free from Pharaoh’s grip. Could He not continue to use the world around us to speak to us?

So many people today—and this includes many Christians—say, No, floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and pandemics have known, scientific causes. They occur because of natural law.

But my question is, Who created and controls natural law? Did not God hang the stars in place? Does His hand not maintain what He created? Scripture indicates He is the One who makes DNA coding and tides and mutating viruses work the way they work—and keeps them doing so.

And He [God’s Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3a; emphasis mine)

Then there’s this passage in Colossians:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (1:16-17; emphasis mine)

All this to say, I don’t believe things happen in the world for no purpose.

God hasn’t sent a modern day prophet to tell us why things happen as He did during Israel’s history before their exile. But we don’t actually need a modern day prophet because we have the ancient ones.

Someone has to be pretty blind not to see parallels between the world today and the world of the ancient Jews. Including this passage:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.
For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20-21)

But who knows? Maybe the Coronavirus is just your run of the mill viruses and we shouldn’t think twice about it in spiritual terms.

Then again, maybe it is the wake-up call to remind us that God will bring judgment on the earth one day. Not today. Maybe not in five years or ten or fifty. But assuredly, God will bring judgment. Again, something—in this culture—that’s uncomfortable to say. I mean, we’ve heard from the likes of Rob Bell and his Love Wins best seller of nearly a decade ago. He clearly lays out his belief that no matter what a person believes, he’s on his way to paradise with God.

Well, for one thing, I know a lot of atheists who would be horrified if this were true. They don’t want eternal punishment, that’s for certain, but neither do they want to be with God for eternity.

But more importantly the “everyone’s on his way to heaven” idea is not what God revealed. Pretty much the opposite:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE . . .
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Rom. 3:12-18)

Which brings us to God’s warning and the need for repentance.

At one point God sent the prophet Jonah to the main city in Assyria, Nineveh. I won’t get into Jonah’s issues here, but the people there were known to be a warlike nation, violent and cruel. They seemed to devise ways of killing people that would cause the most pain. Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He apparently didn’t even offer them any hope.

Still, the people knew what was the cause for this judgment, and they bowed before God and repented.

God’s response? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Those people in that place and for that generation, were spared God’s judgment.

The prophet Joel brought the same message to the people of Israel:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Revelation echos this idea of “destruction from the Almighty,” which Christians know as the Tribulation. Are we there yet? Not close. Jesus Himself when asked when He would establish His kingdom went into some detail about the things that will take place first, including this:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matt. 24:6-8)

The beginning of birth pangs, not yet the end. I think that’s where we are. And these events that seem so out of the ordinary (because they are) serve as reminders that “the wages of sin is death,” that God will bring His judgment to bear on this world.

The prophet Joel said it to his generation in Israel, but I think it is just as true today:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

I admit the word “evil” has troubled me. I looked it up and in the original, used as a noun as it is here, evil means distress, misery, injury, calamity. In other words, it does not mean wickedness. The idea is clear: repentance alters God’s judgment. His nature is to be slow to anger, to have heaps upon heaps of lovingkindess, and turn away from bringing His judgment.

Of course the New Testament paints the entire picture for us. God turns away His wrath from those who bow before Him because Jesus accepted that wrath, poured out on Him. And those of us who accept this free gift of grace? We have peace with God through Jesus.

Even in the midst of a pandemic. We’re not facing His angry judgment. Ever. We may die from the virus or from something else, but we will enter into His presence, the way the thief dying beside Jesus, did. That’s something far different from judgment.

So in one way (there are others), this virus thing is a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to face our mortality, and to repent for turning our backs on God, for living for ourselves instead of living for Him. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak—an eternal lifetime.

Covid-19


We are currently in the midst of a pandemic—a worldwide crisis caused by a deadly disease. There has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to Covid-19.

Though not a common word today, pestilence is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Covid-19 virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading throughout the world, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Covid-19 virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US are in the fight against Covid-19.

But we Christians know. If not Covid-19, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

This article is modified from a 2014 post entitled Ebola.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:23 pm  Comments (6)  
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God Or Satan?


Without trying to be too dramatic, and yet wading into controversial waters, I think it’s accurate to say we are in the midst of a pandemic. Most of the countries in the world are reporting verified cases of The Virus, along with a percentage of deaths. The number is growing exponentially, which is why the US has a “shelter in place” policy and some counties have shut down places like the beach or hiking trails. It’s all with the intention of keeping people from infecting each other.

The natural question is, why? Is God bringing this pestilence upon the world? Is Satan using this virus and the near panic that spurred the hoarding we’ve seen in order to close down churches and prepare the world for the anti-christ? Or is this just a result of the laws of nature and the inevitable mutation of the virus, of humans living in close proximity to disease-carrying animals?

I think the answer is, Yes.

Yes, I believe God works in and through things like earthquakes and wars and pestilence. We see this in Scripture. The first occurrence of God saying that He would do something cataclysmic that would cause devastation is in Exodus when God lays out His plan to free His people from slavery in Egypt: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” (Exo. 7:5; emphasis mine) This phrase is repeated throughout the period of the plagues, either to Pharaoh or to Moses or to the people of Israel.

At other times, of course, God told Israel that they were delivered from an enemy so that they would know He is Lord, or that they received needed food or care, and even His choice of them as His people, the apple of His eye.

But when we reach the books of prophecy, God begins to declare His judgment upon His people, and upon other nations, all with the purpose of letting them know Him. Take this passage in Ezekiel:

“Behold, I Myself am going to bring a sword on you, and I will destroy your high places. So your altars will become desolate and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will make your slain fall in front of your idols. I will also lay the dead bodies of the sons of Israel in front of their idols; and I will scatter your bones around your altars. In all your dwellings, cities will become waste and the high places will be desolate, that your altars may become waste and desolate, your idols may be broken and brought to an end, your incense altars may be cut down, and your works may be blotted out. The slain will fall among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.” (Eze. 6:3-7; emphasis mine)

There are many other such passages throughout the book and in other books of prophecy. Besides these explicit statements, we have an example when God brings judgment to Israel because of David’s sin. God actually gave him a choice between a period of famine, war, or pestilence. David chose pestilence because he said he wanted to be in God’s hand. Yes, in God’s hand:

Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. (2 Sam 24:14-15)

Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I think it’s safe to say that God can send pestilence.

But what about Satan? Well, the most obvious example of this from the Bible is Job. First Satan destroyed his belongings, then he killed his servants and his kids, and finally he gave him an illness—something horrible like boils spreading all over his body.

Satan’s plan was to bring Job to the place his wife tempted him to go: “Curse God and die.” He wanted Job to be an example of a person who only worshiped God when things were going well. As soon as life was unbearable, Satan reasoned, Job would turn against God.

I dare say, the majority of people today don’t think either God or Satan has anything to do with the rapid spread of a mutated virus. Rather, it’s just the natural course of things, and all we need to do is “flatten the curve,” which we can do with social distancing.

Of course there is some truth to that way of thinking. We can and should be careful and wise, but in no way can we bypass God’s plans. Satan’s? He may mean evil for us believers, but God means good.

This was the case when God put Joseph in place to deal with a seven year famine.

I can’t help but think God has put each Christ-follower in place for “such a time as this.”

Bottom line: God is a righteous Judge. He may well be bringing judgment on the world—not in flood proportions, but in a way that we will know He is God. All the plans we had—for March Madness or attending conferences or even graduating from school or buying toilet paper in the grocery store—are as nothing. All are changed, and we are foolish if we don’t understand that God’s hand is behind it.

He actually may use Satan’s schemes, or the work of evil men, such as Joseph’s brothers; He may even use the natural way things work—the way viruses mutate and spread. But be clear: God is at work in the world. He wants us to see Him and to know Him.

It’s almost become a politically incorrect thing among Christians to say that God is a Judge, that He exercises justice against people. A pandemic gives us the opportunity to recognize God and His role as a just Judge, that His justice is real, just as His love and mercy is.

Featured image by Our World in Data, dated March 19, 2020.

This article is a reprint of one I wrote at Speculative Faith this past Monday.

Published in: on March 24, 2020 at 5:00 pm  Comments (23)  
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Facing Our Fears


Recently a good friend of mine posted a quote from C. S. Lewis on my Facebook page. He wrote about the reaction many in the mid-twentieth century had to the atom bomb. Living under the cloud of possible annihilation was something no one had known before, and it engendered fear.

I found what Lewis said to be quite interesting because I saw similarities, too. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw any number of people installing bomb shelters and storing up dried foods. I don’t remember anything like the run on grocery stores we are seeing today, but the emotional reaction is so similar.

Here’s what Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

(“On Living in an Atomic Age,” 1948 in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis)

Fear is pretty much always with us. I had a personal experience that taught me a lot about fear when I was a young teacher living in Southern California. One summer we received report after report of a serial killer the press dubbed, the Night Stalker. We were informed that many of the victims lived near the freeway and that the killer entered through an unlocked door or open window.

This was summer, and hot, so I was sleeping with open windows and even an open door, albeit a locked screen. I lived a mere two blocks from a freeway. And one of the killings was in my town. Night after night I had to face the fear that this killer would take advantage of my circumstances and I would be his next victim.

It seems a little silly now, all these years later, realizing how slim the odds were that he would actually attack me. But the very random nature of his crimes created greater fear.

I was forced to face what I believe. Either I could trust God in the face of what felt like dangerous circumstances, or not.

This was not something that was an easy fix. The killing rampage went on for months. And each hot summer night I had to decide if I should close the windows and bolt and lock the door—which would mean a sleepless night amid the high temperatures—or do what I would normally do, which was to lock the screen and go to bed.

I’m still fearful of many things, but that summer I came face to face with the choice of trusting Jesus for my life—or not.

I didn’t write down my thought process, so I can’t be more specific. Did God use a sermon? Some passage of Scripture? Counsel from a friend? I don’t remember. But I know that I had to choose to trust God.

And I’ve chosen to trust Him time and time again when I’ve been face with dangerous things or hard things or new things and unknown.

Yes, I was scared as a young person during the Missile Crisis. I remember asking my mom what our family would do if the air raid siren sounded. At that point I was looking to the adults to have answers. I knew the fear, but I didn’t need to act to change what I was feeling. I needed to trust that they’d make the right decisions for me.

But my parents were trusting God and His promises. Ultimately I figured that out, and I suspect that served me well when I was faced with my own fear that fateful summer of the Night Stalker.

What I’ve learned since only reinforces what I learned then: God is faithful. Which doesn’t mean that I will automatically be spared hard things. I haven’t been. But even in the hard things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He watches over His people like a shepherd does his sheep. He gathers the lambs and carries them close, right next to his heart.

That’s the same God who will walk with us through this virus thing, and the ensuing panic and fear our friends and neighbors, and even we ourselves, may be tempted to display.

Published in: on March 17, 2020 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on Facing Our Fears  
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What’s The Answer?


Lots of people are now talking about the latest virus spreading around the world, in part because of the measures the governments are taking to stem the spread, and in part because of the overreaction of people who apparently think toilet paper is a sanitizer.

I can guarantee that more toilet paper will not stop the virus from encroaching. So what’s a person to do?

I’ve thought about the fact that experiencing an illness with no known cure and which is highly contagious, is new to the twenty-first century. A hundred years ago there was an influenza in the pre-antibiotics days that killed thousands. My mom’s older half sister died of it when she was 15.

In centuries earlier, people dealt with the Black Plague and cholera and yellow fever and any number of other deadly diseases. People in those times understood that life didn’t come with a guarantee. You lived with hope, but you held your life loosely, viewing it as God’s to protect or to move “across the river.”

But in this new technological era, we know nothing about incurable, fast moving, deadly illness. AIDES came close, but the general population wasn’t necessarily at risk. You had some control over being exposed. Not so with an air-born virus. Or one that stays on a surface an infected person (or a carrier who has the virus but not the symptoms) has touched.

Suddenly life seems out of our control. The only way we can “fix” things, apparently, is to buy lots of toilet paper! And canned goods. And now, today, produce, as if that will not go bad within a week or two.

The problem, of course, is that our lives are not our own. We did nothing to bring about our birth and can do nothing to stave off the enemy of our soul and body: death. We don’t like having to face our mortality, but there it is.

So, what’s the answer? When the deadly virus stares us in the face, do we panic buy? Climb into our bomb shelters and pull the sanitized curtains around us?

I’ve seen some people act out of panic and buy things they clearly don’t need simply because they are trying to build a hedge against the desperation they feel. I’ve seen others mock the very problem, as if it is no problem at all. Most people have made some small concessions, a change here or there to their life style.

Some changes, of course, are foisted upon us by governments shutting down schools, the NCAA cancelling March Madness, the NBA bringing a halt to their season, and MLB putting a stop to spring training.

Other changes have come as people in leadership make decisions to cancel conferences or meetings, including church gatherings.

These changes must be dealt with and they can bring more fear along with them. They make the seriousness of this virus seem more real, more dangerous. I mean, a National Emergency? Various counties mandating quarantines?

Are these changes the answer?

Not to the fear people feel. Not to the reality of our mortality. That’s still there, whether we avoid contact with others or not. Whether we panic or self-quarantine or mock or make small concessions.

Fortunately, God does not leave us without counsel for such a time as this. Here’s a key verse from Psalm 16, though there are more great verses following. This one makes the point I think we need most:

I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

I read that and thought of Peter, walking on water, heading toward Jesus . . . until he looked away at the wind and the waves.

In a traumatic situation such as a spreading virus, it’s tempting to look at the “wind and the waves,” and consequently start to sink into fear. It’s a temptation for us all, I think. But, God lets us know that He’s beside us. Whatever He calls us to go through, He’ll be right there with us. He will not now, or ever, leave us or forsake us.

Of course, for that to be true, He has to be part of our lives to begin with.

For anyone who puts his or her trust in Jesus, we have an anchor, a Father who holds us by the hand, in times of joy, sorrow, danger, peace. He does not leave us or forsake us.

It’s up to us to keep our eyes on Him. As Colossians 3 says

if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (vv 1-2)

Here are three practical things, based on Scripture, that we can or cannot do:

  1. Christians should behave in a way that marks us as Christians. We should still be kind to our neighbors, to the people in the never-ending grocery line.
  2. We should resist the urge to take over for God. We can’t hedge ourselves against death. Our times are in God’s hands. Buying extra canned goods will not extend our lives a single day beyond God’s plan for our lives.
  3. We should remember that God is faithful, not just in good times. He is faithful even when the storm swamps the boat, even when we’re pushed into the fiery furnace, even when we’re trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. He’s faithful when we face a giant and all we have is a sling. He is faithful when we’re beaten and imprisoned for our stand for Jesus. He is not faithful in fair weather, only to abandon us in foul.
  4. We should pray. Pray for God’s comfort for the fearful (and that might include us), for protection, for His mercy so that He would stay His hand, even when we deserve His righteous judgment.

I’m sure there are lots of other things to talk about in regard to what we can do to be good neighbors and friends and family members. Already I’ve had several people check up on me just to be sure I’m doing OK. That’s kind and caring, and it’s a cool thing to do for others.

Who knows what else God might direct his people to do if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Published in: on March 16, 2020 at 5:47 pm  Comments (9)  
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