Monday, April 27, 2020
Happiness Amid the Hellishness of COVID-19
Cliff Mansley is one of the most faithful pastors that I’ve ever met.
I’ll never forget how he jumped up in a clergy meeting in Pittsburgh during a hot debate about something and yelled, “Vote for Jesus!”
That’s been my guiding principle ever since.
Vote for Jesus!
Look at the candidates – what they have said, done and propose to say and do – and compare them to the red letters of Jesus.
It’s pretty easy to decide who to vote for after doing that.
Well, Cliff texted early Tuesday morning (4/21/20): “Bobby, in all of this madness, this is the first morning that I have awakened with a deep sense that things are about to spiral out of control in a way that we’re not prepared for. I hope that I am utterly wrong. At the same time, I have a deep abiding sense that I belong to Christ and I remain unshaken.”
After an emotional burst of amening to that, I wrote back, “Feel the same, amigo. I guess it’s time to brush up on eschatology.”
God knows I know I’m not an expert on theology about the last days with the rapturing of the Church, appearance of the Antichrist, great tribulation, millennium and all of the rest that we can read about in Revelation après spending a time with Jesus and His red letters in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 along with supporting texts throughout Daniel, Ezekiel and the Bible.
Still, I confess, I’m feeling a bit more expectant when I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
I guess that’s why I’m feeling compelled to urge us to prepare ourselves and point people to Jesus so they can prepare themselves for the coming back of Jesus to establish His Kingdom; like the Biblical metaphor of a wife preparing herself for the groom’s arrival.
God knows I don’t know when it’s all gonna, uh, come down; pero I know it will just as every other Biblical prophecy has in human history which, ultimately, is His story.
So remembering it’s no-one-knows-when-but-it’s/He’s-coming-sooner-or-later not if-He’s-coming-back-for-His-family-by-grace-through-faith, let’s take up the Scouting motto and be prepared.
Vote for Jesus!
Let’s take your temperature.
Are you happy?
“Pastor,” some may think, “Hellllllloooooooo! Aren’t you aware of what’s going on? The entire planet is shut down. The economy is going down the toilet quicker than poop through a goose. People are walking on eggs and more and more and more of ‘em are cracking.”
These are hellish days.
Unprecedented, fluid and incrementally unfolding.
Because just about all of the prognosticating models of the Wuhanese COVID-19’s magnitude and duration have been as accurate as political polling manipulated by prejudice not dictated by data, the reactionary extremes dominate news feeds.
You’ve got the-sky-is-falling-Chicken-Little crowd that’s melting like snowflakes in a sauna and you’ve got the it’s-all-been-overstated-and-overreached conspiracy theorists that think it’s odd that the whole world and even America shut down and sheltered up so quickly as if orchestrated by new world order globalists dancing to the tune of the WHO.
I don’t know.
That’s why I haven’t guessed in public.
That’s why I’m concentrating on praying to the only One who does know and trusting the red letters promise of John 3:16-17 rather than pretending I do know like all of those conflicting “experts” on the fake news channels.
Again, I don’t know what’s going on but I know who is on God’s mind – you/me/them/everybody – and I know there’s no doubt about our ultimate destiny in heaven that generates our confidently living through the meantime by grace through faith in Jesus.
So are you happy?
Has your happiness been detoured, disturbed, distracted, tabled, postponed or destroyed amid the hellishness of COVID-19?
Just like we don’t know exactly what’s going on and what ultimately good Romans 8:28 thing is coming from God while knowing who is on His mind and that He’s always loved us and will never stop loving us from here to eternity as delivered in Jesus and appropriated by grace through faith in Him, we know how to live as His in the meantime and live happily ever after.
Read the red letters.
Believe the red letters.
Follow the red letters.
That’s how to live happily ever after and overcome the hellishness of these times.
Never forget Jesus said, “I have told you these things…[the red letters of the Bible]…so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
Simply, Jesus wants us to be happy.
Really, what did we expect?
“I have come and told you to believe in me so that you’d be miserable and go to hell?”
I know some churches and churchgoers – people with a religion about Jesus without a personal relationship with Him – make Christianity look like a bad case of hemorrhoids.
That’s not what Jesus wants for us.
He wants us to be happy.
He said so right at the beginning of the most famous sermon of all time – The Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew 5-7.
He begins by saying, “Blessed are…” and then proceeds to list eight surefire ways to be happy.
It’s His supernatural how-to-be happy guidebook.
Robert Schuller referred to them as “The Be Happy Attitudes.”
First word of the sermon was blessed.
“Blessed are,” Jesus said, people who…and then He lists the 8 ingredients of living happily ever after.
The Greek transliteration of blessed is makarios and the Latin is beatitudo. Both mean “to be happy and fortunate.” Hence, “How happy and fortunate are people who live like this…”
Let’s take a quick look at God’s formula for living happily ever after.
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are the poor in spirit, knowing their poverty apart from God, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (5:3).
The key to a happy life begins with a declaration of dependence upon God; admitting we are impoverished emotionally, intellectually and spiritually without God. We need God to be happy, whole, safe, sane, serene and saved in time and throughout eternity. I like how Jesus put it later in the sermon: “Seek God first and foremost and God will take care of everything else (6:25-34).
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are those who mourn their sins and don’t make excuses for them; for they will be comforted” (5:4).
When we admit we have sinned – insulted God’s holiness and injured His people – we are comforted in knowing God won’t hold it against us forever.
Psalm 32: “How joyful/happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! I didn’t try to hide my iniquity from God. I admitted it and He forgave me!”
1 John 1: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our and sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (5:5).
Meekness is not weakness.
The Greek transliteration is praos and it means a humble disposition before God.
John MacArthur wrote, “Meekness means to be finished with me for good. It is to say, ‘Thy not my will be done.’”
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are those who hunger and thirst to be right with God. They will be satisfied” (5:6).
If you can’t wait to get into worship and Bible and prayer and sacrament and all of the ways God has given to us to get close to Him, you already know a peace that passes all knowledge and circumstances and overcomes every challenge.
If you are panting for God as a parched deer pants for water, as David sang in Psalm 42…
If you are like an immigrant man writing to his wife in Europe as recorded by Oscar Handlin in The Uprooted : “As a fish thirsts for water, so I thirst for you”…
If you are praising God and knowing/glowing Psalm 22’s promise about God “inhabiting” the praises and prayers of His people…
If you’ve got that kind of thirst and hunger to get close to God, Jesus says, you will be “satisfied.”
The Greek for satisfied means to feel like a contented cow in the field and doing what cows do as designed by God; or as Augustine confessed for himself as a suggestion to us: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You, O God.”
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
It doesn’t get clearer than this.
Unforgiving, well, uh, oops, sigh…
We don’t want to go there.
You know that part of the Lord’s prayer that comes in Matthew 6: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
It’s the only part of that perfect prayer that Jesus expounded upon immediately at its conclusion: “If you forgive others, God will forgive you. If not, not.”
For those who banter and moan that it’s hard to forgive, I recommend considering the options.
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are the pure in heart. They will see God” (5:8).
No one is pure and perfect in every way.
God knows that.
How do we know God knows that?
Uh, God is God.
God knows everything and knows who we need the most.
Jesus would not be necessary to save us by grace through faith in Him if we could leavenate and heavenate on our own.
Purity of heart means we want to trust and obey God or want to want to trust and obey God or want to want to want to trust and obey God or…
Actually, we will never be pure and perfect in every way.
We’ll always need Jesus to bridge the gap.
We’ll always need Jesus to deliver us to God’s side of life and eternity.
The pure in heart want to know God and make God known through their confession, conduct and countenance.
I think of Lloyd Ogilvie who was pastor of churches in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Hollywood, California before becoming Chaplain of the United States Senate.
Whenever we’d get together, he’s ask, “Bob, are you more in love with Jesus than the last time I saw you?”
An affirmative meant I was “seeing” more of God.
Feeling and experiencing God and being animated, revived, renewed and alive in, through and for Him.
Are you more in love with Jesus than the last time I saw you?
If so, you know what it means to see God.
It means, “He walks with me and He talks with me and tells me I am His own...and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are the peacemakers. They prove they are part of God’s family” (5:9).
Whether it’s the Hebrew shalom or Greek eirene, Biblical/real/lasting peace and harmony with others is the product of peace and harmony with God; or as the Imperials sang, “There will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table.”
There will never be global, national, church, marital, family, vocational, school, personal or whatever with whomever personal peace and harmony until we see each other through the eyes of Jesus with His love proven by grace, mercy and forgiveness.
“How happy and fortunate and blessed are people who get into trouble and suffer because they love God. They are saved for sure and will go to heaven and live confidently in the meantime” (5:10-12).
Jesus was unmistakably candid about what will happen to people who behave like they believe in Him: “If you follow Me, you will have to deny yourself and take up your cross…You will suffer if you follow Me” (see Matthew 10, 16:24-28).
That’s the bad news.
True believers catch anything but heaven for trying to love Jesus by loving like Jesus with grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Now here comes the good news that lasts infinitely longer than the bad news: “If you follow Me, you will live confidently because you will live forever with Me in heaven” (again, see Matthew 10, 16).
Persecution is proof of being a Christian!
We are going to catch hell for trying to leavenate and heavenate.
Considering what happens après the last breath – one way or the other – it’s a no brainer to follow Jesus through the cross to the crown.
So there it is.
Are you happy?
If you are, you know why.
He’s in your head/heart/guts and He shows through your confession, conduct and countenance.
If you aren’t happy, you know why.
Here it/He is.
Simply, know Jesus and you’ll know happiness.
No Jesus and you’ll see in faces of joy and happiness and strong, calm and sane serenity through this COVID-19 challenge what you’re missing - Who you are missing to take away your fear and the hellishness in your life!
If you’re not happy, you’ve made the wrong choice - life and eternity without Jesus.
If you’re happy, you’ve obviously made the right choice.
When Don Norek was in the process of being ordained as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was asked to describe his relationship with our Lord.
He answered with one word: tight.
Being tight with Jesus is the only way to live happily ever after.
When we’ve got heaven in our heads and hearts and guts – when we’ve invited Jesus into our lives as personal Lord and Savior - the gates and agents and ambassadors and demons and antiChrists of hell will not because they cannot prevail against us.
Blessings and Love!
Monday, April 20, 2020
Exorcising the Days of Noah During Wuhanese COVID-19
If I die later today and social distancing is lifted, there will be ham and cole slaw in Fellowship Hall on Wednesday and folks will be lining up to be on the next Pastor Search Committee the following Sunday to get the kinda pastor that they really wanted before I arrived.
While some people think God or the church or school board or booster club or athletic league or women’s club or service organization or whatever can’t get along without them, that’s never been how God sees it/us.
Just like 45 who was preceded by other Ps and will be followed by other Ps if the socialists don’t succeed in using this crisis to advance their agenda from the pit of hell, there were pastors on the corner of Lincoln and Main before me and there will be pastors after me unless Jesus comes back first; and, though you may think you’re an exception to this rule, God already has your replacement in mind.
Yes, God loves you and your family loves you and maybe you have some real friends in your life.
Pero, no, the Kingdom of God does not depend on you.
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus.
You could write a song about it!
While we are like snowflakes to God – individually beautiful and loved by Him no more nor no less than anybody else – churches, schools, leagues, clubs, organizations and all of the rest predate and outlast us in time.
Read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 for more on that.
If we’re honest with ourselves, knowing we need Jesus as Lord and Savior just like everybody else because no one is pure and perfect in every way, we know we’re not as good as our moms pretend or as bad as our antagonists advertise.
Knowing that and knowing how churchgoers like to have their pastors for lunch between other servings of gossip, I’ve never felt the need or permission to compliment myself like those that are always telling us how God and the church and…could never get along without them.
Don’t get me wrong.
I have ego strength.
I know the good, bad and ugly in me that too often comes through me and I know I’ll never outgrow my need to confess sins, repent, ask God’s forgiveness and then forgive myself because I can because God does.
I’m no better and no worse than you.
Showing how sinful I can be, and I’ve never done this before, I’m going to tell you about two of the most treasured compliments that ever came my way.
First was last week when Sally Norek wrote to me: “You nailed Don’s personality and no bullllllloney…It was so nice to hear him remembered…It feels like no one remembers him.”
I wrote back: “I will always remember him…I will always bring him up as a glorious model of Someone better who knew his call to salt, shine and leavenate.”
Then there was Art from Winston-Salem, North Carolina who came and complained, “You’re always talking about Jesus. You keep saying I need Jesus to live peacefully and in paradise after I die. O.K., tell me how I can get Him.”
I replied, “Worship regularly, read your Bible, pray and hang out with Christians after confessing how you’ve hurt Him and hurt so many other people and promising to try harder to be a better man as you invite Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior.”
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s it.”
A few months passed.
Then one Sunday, after worship, I spotted Art heading out to the parking lot without shaking my hand; and I went over to him and said, “Hey, Art, I haven’t seen you lately. I thought you’d get back to me.”
He said, “I don’t need you anymore. I’ve got Jesus in my heart.”
Ministry isn’t about building co-dependencies in which we need to be needed.
Gospel ministry that helps, heals and heavenates or provides the assurance of heavenly life in paradise that inspires strong, calm, confident and sane serenity in the meantime is all about pointing people to God so they are dependent upon the Father, Son and Holy Spirit alone.
True believers don’t want anyone dependent upon them.
It’s a Psalm 62 reality that we’re after for people: “God alone is our salvation!”
Of course, too many of today’s churches are so polluted by idolatries or distractions from the affection and allegiance due God alone.
I’ll never forget standing with Stimp in the sanctuary of WSNC’s First Presbyterian Church about an hour or so before the first service.
A florist came in and asked how we wanted the flowers to be arranged in the chancel.
So I asked Stimp, “Do you remember what they said about flower arranging in seminary?”
Granted, seminary should have spent more time on practical stuff.
I can’t tell you how many freshly ordained pastors of all franchises and flavors have called me over the years and asked how “to do” a baptism or wedding or funeral.
Though I’m still learning new things on how to be a better pastor by the grace of God, I have been around a while; and I have grown to understand much more fully why John Robertson, the pastor of Belvidere, New Jersey’s First Presbyterian Church, warned me while being my field education supervisor, “I am praying that seminary doesn’t separate you from God and His people by degrees.”
Truthfully, I don’t know who or what corrupted me more and caused me to enable incidental, sentimental, silly and stupid stuff for so long in every church that I served – the kinda stuff that Don referred to as bullllllloney.
Whether it was college, seminary or other ultimately worthless graduate programs or sitting in church meetings with people called “elders” and “pastors” that spent so much time deliberating over things like carpet color, wax or oil-filled candles, antependia, banners, vestments and…, I lost my zeal for the urgent and important in a maze of the mediocre, ordinary and ultimately worthless.
Then, as often happens when we’re ready by God’s providence, about 25 years after I was ordained and in a moment of profound confession and repentance, I remember something that Dr. McCord asked constantly when I’d get together with him at least yearly after leaving seminary, “What is it that the Church does that no one else does that’s most important in the end?”
Quick answer is worship, service and soul-winning.
We should all know that; but we often talk and act like we’ve forgotten, never learned or never really believed that.
We are tempted from God and what’s really urgent and important by the incidental, sentimental, silly and stupid.
We are seduced from God by idols distracting us from the affection and allegiance due God alone.
Really, it’s nothing new.
Jesus talked about it in Matthew 15 and 23: “You honor Me with your lips but not your lives. You worship Me in vain. You elevate your human traditions to an unGodly level. You act as if your incidental and sentimental traditions are commandments from Father God…You like titles: Rabbi, Doctor, Reverend, Bishop…You want thrones for your seats in worship…You’ve got to be first in line at potlucks…You spend so much money on church clothes, vestments, robes, collars, relics, trinkets, knickknacks and…”
I’ll never forget sitting on the shore of Lakeside, Montana’s Flathead Lake in October 2011, reading Matthew 15 and 23 like I’d never read them because God’s providence had orchestrated the right timing and thought to myself, “How did I miss this?”
First Sunday back in Belvidere, Illinois, I said, “I can’t do it anymore. We must simplify worship. We must simplify our ministry. It’s all about worship, service and soul-winning. I’ll wear a collar for weddings and funerals but I’m not playing church anymore. We are the bride of Christ. We are supposed to be preparing ourselves and each other and others for His return.”
People started leaving; and I realized an old truth that was just making sense: “Revival doesn’t always mean bringing people in but sometimes getting the people out that don’t really love Jesus and all of His children with love expressed through grace, mercy and forgiveness.”
Slowly, steadily and solidly, as my first mentor The Rev. Harold F. Mante taught and exemplified as the best way to renew or plant a part of the Church called the Body of Christ, we started moving forward as upward with Jesus as Lord and the red letters of the Bible as our manual.
Still, however, we were having a hard time shaking those incidental and sentimental idols that were often so silly and stupid.
It’s hard to shake ourselves free from the comfortable and complacent and ordinary and mediocre and mundane and ultimately worthless idols/traditions that distract us from the affection and allegiance due God alone.
Then God shook us.
God’s providence allowed the Wuhanese COVID-19 to shake us up and force us into a pausing and pondering Selah moment on who we are and what we’re doing.
Forced by the Wuhanese COVID-19 to separate the urgent and important from the incidental, sentimental, silly and stupid, we discovered, or at least I discovered, we/I had regressed from October 2011 like I had regressed from the young man who just wanted to be an undershepherd to the Good Sheperd, know Jesus by the book and make Him known for existential relief and eternal salvation.
As my eyes were opened wider again like the first time that I invited Jesus into my heart in 8th grade and then went to college and seminary and beyond to nurture an undershepherding call and then experienced a renewal of zeal for worship, service and soul-winning along Flathead Lake in October 2011, I read these lines from Matthew 24: “The Son of Man…[Jesus]…will return when the times remind the faithful of the Days of Noah.”
The Days of Noah were marked by wickedness – like days before and after it.
Genesis 6:5: “God saw the wickedness of people. Every inclination of the human mind was evil.
Here’s what galled Jesus more than anything about those days: “They were eating and drinking and marrying and doing all of the ordinary things when something/Someone extraordinary was about to happen.”
In this part of the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus told the disciples about the increasing frequency and intensity of signs signaling His return to judge and establish His Kingdom, Jesus is saying people will be distracted from the urgent and important of worship, service and soul-winning to prepare themselves and everyone else for the end of time and commencement of the eternal Kingdom by idols of the ordinary, mediocre, mundane and ultimately worthless.
The Days of Noah are when we long for the old ways and old habits and same old same old; longing for the way things never were or maybe were but are no more.
The Days of Noah are when we take heaven off of our minds for navel-gazing.
The Days of Noah live on in people and churches that shuffle along as totally oblivious to the coming judgment of God and conduct themselves with business as usual.
We elevate the incidental and sentimental to the important and urgent and choke off the animating and invigorating and refreshing and renewing and newing winds of the Holy Spirit with His new wine that tastes better than anything ever before imbibed.
We go back without God instead of going forward with God.
Being a Romans 8:28 kinda guy, I’ve been wondering what God has on His mind during this Wuhanese COVID-19.
Surely, we know who God has on His mind – you and me and the whole world – is more important than what God has on His mind.
We know that.
That’s why we’re not being seduced into those conversations about this challenge being the unleashing of God’s wrath upon us.
I/we don’t know.
Certainly, we deserve His wrath when considering our insults to His holiness and injuries to His babies from womb to tomb.
Yet we know God wants everybody saved by the testimony of the apostle and Savior Himself over and over and over again as recorded in Holy Scripture.
So while I’ve just been scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus since 8th grade, I believe God is working in our lives to return us to the essential reasons for the life and ministry of His Church best described with incarnational intention as the Body of Christ.
Make no mistake about it.
The Wuhanese COVID-19 is fixed in time.
It will end…and then be followed by another challenge.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit last forever.
He deserves to be worshipped for loving us from here to eternity.
We serve Him by loving like Him through love best expressed in grace, mercy and forgiveness because He loves us from here to eternity.
We point people to Him so that their souls may be saved and their anticipation in time through every challenge will be characterized by strength, calm, confidence, sanity and serenity.
Nothing else that we say or do is remotely as important as worship, service and soul-winning.
Everything else is fixed in time.
Dust in the wind.
I believe God has used the Wuhanese COVID-19 to shake us up and force His remnant of true believers to look up, stand up, speak up, act up, salt, shine, leavenate, heavenate, renew or new, renovate or build or whatever is necessary to move us out of the Days of Noah for God’s sake and the saving of souls drawn to Him.
Pastor William Lukesh, the uncommonly faithful franchise pastor of the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania wrote to the congregation entrusted to him on March 31, 2020: “Corona means crown. The Coronavirus looks like it has crowns. But Jesus our Lord wears the victor’s crown; and as the King of kings and Lord of lords, He has authority over all distress, sickness and tribulation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! God will see us through this.”
Or as we say at the beginning of the most important thing that we do to start the week: “Before you were born, God knew you. Then God made you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. God loves you very much. So He sent His Son to save you. Now God wants you to be His.”
God wants you to be His!
You/we/they are His by grace through faith in Jesus!
There’s nothing sentimental or incidental about God and His family.
God and His family are essential and urgent.
Blessings and Love!