KDs are designed/developed/inspired/mused/auto-suggested/indigested to make folks think; an especially uncommon experience among Democrats, Republicans, and jingoistic mainline denominationalists who continue to discourage dissent with their ever-threatening thought police.
You have asked how I'm approaching these days as an undershepherd to the Good Shepherd amid the hyperbole, hysteria, and histrionics of CCP COVID-19 concomitant to increasing exasperations and volatility since 11/3.
Etiologically, America's increasing decline since early 2020 is fueled by spiritual distancing from God in Jesus according to Holy Scripture.
That's the real pandemic of our time.
This is unmistakable in government, education, media, commerce, and even churches with a relationship to Biblical Christology that is increasingly more coincidental than intentional.
God's promise/warning is consistent from Genesis through Revelation: "Return to Me and I will restore you. If so, so. If not, not."
The only thing that the big C Church - the one that is authentically not coincidentally related to Biblical Christology - must do that no one else does is point people to Jesus as our only Lord and Savior generating its indispensable activities of worship, soul-winning, nurture, and Matthew 25 ministries.
People have never and will never come together and overcome their class, culture, and color distinctives apart from Jesus.
Specifically, only by approaching each other through Jesus can peace be incarnational not just theoretical/mythical.
I think it was the Imperials that sang, "There will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table."
Currently, churches of all flavors and franchises are looking rather silly with their nanny efforts juxtaposed to CCP COVID-19. With so many organizations that do a much better job of telling people how to deport themselves during this unprecedented, fluid, and incrementally unfolding challenge with so many diametrically opposed "experts" regarding its magnitude and duration, it's nauseating (see Revelation 2:1-7 and 3:14-22) to watch churches concentrate on what everybody else is doing when only they - if they still believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior by the book - can be counted on to point people to the only One that really provides confident living as a by-product of eternal security.
I think of the colleague that criticized me for not shutting down in person worship on the corner of Lincoln and Main.
I responded, "I've never cancelled worship in my entire life and ministry and I'm not about to now. If people want to show up, I will be there for them. Ten feet of snow or a manufactured Wuhanese virus ain't gonna change that. I'm Pauline in a Matthew 16:24-28, John 10, and Philippians 1 kinda way with the first table of the big ten in Exodus 20 and Hebrews 10:19-25 in mind. Of course, if I have to explain that to you, as bikers like to say, you wouldn't or don't want to understand anyway."
She snapped, "Well, I'm following the science!"
I asked, "Which one?"
She snapped again, "The right one!"
So, my friend, as the emperor said to Wolfie, "There it is!"
We've known each other for decades; and you have often been more of a mentor to me than me to you.
Remember, as I have always told you and anybody paying attention, "I may be wrong. If you can show me that I am wrong by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense, I will confess, ask forgiveness, and pledge repentance. However, if you cannot show me that I am wrong by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense, our church may not be for you and I am definitely not the pastor for you."
So here are some specific recommendations off the top of my bald head for navigating these perilous times as pastor and pulpiteer:
1. Always remember the only indispensable activity of a believer is worship in a Psalm 22:3 (KJV) kinda way;
2. Don't be seduced or distracted by Godless politicians. Remember Acts 5:29! Being careful of posers in pulpits and pews in a Matthew 7:15 and 10:16 kinda way, always remember your focus must be worship, soul-winning, nurture, and Matthew 25 ministries. You are not a scientist! You are not a Democrat or Republican! You are not denominational, sectarian, or cultic! You are a Christian! You are a Psalm 62 kinda guy! Your raison d'etre for shaping your weltanschauung/beruf is personified in Jesus, prescribed in the Bible, and enlightened pneumatically;
3. Don't get into pissing contests with skunks! Trying to be rational with the irrational is illogical! Jesus never suffered fools gladly. Remember Nicodemus in John 3? Jesus proclaimed, announced, and declared rather than trying to prove, argue, or debate. Be a gospeler! As Paul warned repeatedly, don't get into useless discussions like a freshman religion or philosophy professor in such perilous times. People need shelter during this storm in a Matthew 7:24-29 kinda way. We no longer have the luxury of ineffectual intellectualism posing some almost gnostic ideology masquerading as theology. Your message is simple: "Start with Jesus and stay with Jesus to be sustained and saved by Jesus; and if you are saved by Jesus, you will look up to Jesus, stand up for Jesus, and speak up for Jesus with salt, light, and the good leaven that heavenates!" Frankly, or Shirley if you prefer, if you don't spend your time talking about Jesus and how only He can deliver during these or any times, you are no heaven good to anyone and I don't know why you're pretending to be a Christian pastor anyway;
4. Fear is not a Christian character trait. Fueling fear is not Christian ministry. If you are afraid, you need to get closer to Jesus. If you are fueling fear, you need to get out of the pulpit. Psalm 20. 1 John 4. Increasing intimacy with Jesus decreases fear. It's axiomatic. More Jesus means less fear. Increasing intimacy with Jesus is punctuated by supernatural Galatians 5:22-25 character traits. Read the January 7 devotional in OC's My Utmost for His HIghest that I gave to you;
5. Paradoxically, worship has become better than ever in churches that have not shut down and shut out people that want to gather to worship in a Matthew 13:24-30 kinda way. BS liturgies, Halloween outfits, distractions, and dissonance and other things that Jesus disdained in Matthew 23 have decreased dramatically; allowing the authentics to worship with greater focus and fidelity. It's a Matthew 18:20 thing. While we always want to plant seeds of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit is overwhelmingly "warm and thick" in worship that has more purity and less pollution;
6. This is a good time to get up to eschatological speed. Before going to John's Apocalypse and supporting pericopes in the epistles, spend a lot of time in study, reflection, and conversation on the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21); and
7. In summary, wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus with salt! Shine for Jesus! Leavenate! Heavenate!
You may also want to Evelyn Wood through Thom Rainer's recently released The Post-Quarantine Church: Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. His counsel is compelling: "The pandemic was a wake-up call like none other. The post-quarantine era is an opportunity to make the necessary positive changes to move our churches forward...Our churches had busied themselves trying to do too many things that were not essential to the core mission of the congregation...Focus on those areas that are primary to the church's mission and eliminate everything else...Focus and eliminate...Healthy churches in the post-quarantine era will be focused churches. They will do a few things well."
I really like Rainer's guiding declarative for post-quarantine churches: "Here is what is not changing in the post-quarantine church...The Bible is still the Word of God. Christ is still the only way to salvation. Prayer is still vital. Evangelism is still a mandate."
While I've always said I would have been a better man, son, brother, husband, dad, friend, citizen, pastor, presbyter, and everything else if I had spent more time reading the Bible than reading books about the Bible with a heavy regular dose of the red letters, I know you're not an emotional hemophiliac so easily bruised by commentaries that stretch your wineskin, gender studies, art therapy, and identity politics. So, gulp, take a look at Stefan Aarnio's Hard Times Create Strong Men. It's really raw with some inappropriate graphics and stings like salt on an open wound; but as Bernanos wrote in The Diary of a Country Priest, "Salt stings on a open wound but saves you from gangrene."
Stay in the franchise for better or worse! It introduced you to Jesus, helped pay for your college and seminary educations, and, never know, it may confess, repent, and embrace its Godly heritage in the BO and BC (especially) so deeply rooted in Holy Scripture. Besides, since Luther, we haven't felt called to monasteries of spoon-fed consonance. Iron does something to iron and anyone who has an academic gene in 'em knows nothing is learned by only hanging out with those who mindlessly affirm/coincide like those ridiculously disingenuous "likes" on Facebook. I often revert to Hans Evans who said this to me shortly before he died in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1979, "Stay in our denomination, Bob, it's the best mission field open to us today! Be a missionary not a monk!"
Again, you're not a scientist; so don't pretend you have anything smart to say about CCP COVID-19; unless you're talking about how it's been used as an instrument to incite fear to manipulate, incapacitate, demoralize, and divide with the dark intention to destroy with Ephesians 6:10-20 in the front of your mind.
You're a Christian pastor.
That means you're a John 14 kinda fellah.
That's why you were ordained.
The best you have to offer is Jesus.
Let those who know more about that other stuff than you do do their thing.
You do His thing.
Help people to wake up, look up, stand up, speak up, and act up for Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book.
Salt! Shine! Leavenate! Heavenate!
I love and miss you so much.
Thanks for asking.
If it helps, praise the Lord!
If not, well, you know I'm running about a trillion to one behind in sales to that toothy guy from Texas; so just ignore me like...
Really, you should know how to use the delete function key by now.
Yes, you can forward this to encourage friends and aggravate posers; or as I said when teaching homiletics as taught to me, "Your preaching should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Blessings and Love!
The preceding was sent to a mentee that's become more of a mentor to me over 30 years.
Our Lord has provided a redemptive theme from Genesis through Revelation: "Return to Me and I will restore you."
As people that love Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book, an etiological diagnosis of America's decline concomitant to the aforementioned has been dominating the prayers and conversations of the faithful.
Frankly, or Shirley if you prefer, I've always understood Revelation 2:1-7 as descriptive of any culture's decline and prescriptive for redemption.
While that theology has dominated my noodle and undershepherding, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has provided existentially prophetic conjecture.
Certainly, as Christians, spending more time in the Bible than books about the Bible provides, uh, Christian grounding, perspective et weltanschauung.
Moretheless, a book comes across my desk every now and then that prompts me to entertain expanded possibilities.
When it comes to our efforts to understand the etiology of America's decline and search for a redemptive prescription, a gumba gave Stefan AArnio's Hard Times Create Strong Men to me for Christmas.
Confessing AArnio isn't as OCD as I am about Biblical Christology and embracing the first paragraph of this note as prescriptive for what's killing the country, he said, "You will be surprised by how much he lines up with what you've been writing and preaching."
I was stunned.
More articulate than I have ever been in my six or seven non-bestsellers trailing the toothy guy in Texas by a trillion to one in sales, this book, in my estimation, is etiologically and prescriptively spot on.
Here is a recurring theme: "As the cycles of history prove over and over again: Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. Weak men create hard times."
Here's a sentence that caught my attention: "Too many people would rather be popular than discuss the truth."
Here's a paragraph that caught my attention: "Men of 18 years of age stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in WWII with bullets flying past their faces. These men brutally killed Nazis in close-quarters with rifles, pistols, bayonets, shovels, helmets, and sometimes their bare hands in the name of service and freedom to their families. In contrast, today's 18 year-old kids need 'cry spaces' because their feelings are hurt."
That's a sampling of the mild stuff.
Even more raw and real than I Just Wanna Ride (FTW), the book comes with a warning that should repel fainthearts as it compels bravehearts: "This book is raw, real, and offensive, and it should threaten and challenge you. After all, being a man and facing the frontiers of survival...is threatening. If something in this book threatens you, then work through my argument rationally. I have done my best to back up my arguments with examples from history that have worked, and I contrasted them with examples from history that have not worked."
As we salt - sting to alert and heal a la the old priest to the young priest in Bernanos' The Diary of a Country Priest: "Salt stings on an open wound but saves you from gangrene!" - we will be accused of being mean and offensive when our love to heal and redeem and save in a John 3 and 14 kinda way exceed our pathetically weak need to be liked.
My academic background in the states and Europe goes back to when liberals were liberals and conservatives were conservatives and they weren't offended by engagement in rigorous conversation. Today, we've got "progressives" and "traditionalists" that aren't searching for truth or reconciliation or even conciliation because of their egocentrically condescending my-way-or-the-highway arrogance.
Truthful academics and believers search for intersecting verities. They don't just read what they like and listen to what tickles their ears. They read left, right, up, down, and all around. They watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Newsmax, NPR, the corporates, and all of the below. When they find agreement - like Biden and Trump and Fauci agreeing that our children need to be back to in person education now - they push forward. When truth eludes 'em with diametrically opposed "experts" like we have on CCP COVID-19's magnitude and duration, they keep studying, consulting, conversing, and...praying.
I like how AArnio puts it in quoting Marcus Aurelius: "Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness - all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil...If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed."
It's like Luther has guided my pastoral ministry: "If you can show me my error by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense, then I will confess, ask your forgiveness, and repent. If not, then you can..."
Or as Daniel Boorstin observed too much of today's lack of seeking intersecting truth, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."
In short, if you've got the guts to engage someone who may offend, uh, whatever keeps you from addressing nakedly this moment of daunting challenges pregnant with gospeling opportunities, pick up a copy.
It's really raw...and real...and redemptive.
It's stretching me.
Didn't Jesus tell a parable about that?
Blessings and Love!
P.S. Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, and Luke 5:36-39.