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!
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