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If it’s all the same to you…

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Setting outside this morning, I am struck at how beautiful, calm, and peaceful it is here. The sun came up just as it always does, rising above the treetops in slow motion as it unveils an endless kaleidoscope of color. All around me butterflies are darting from flower to flower, gathering the nectar that ensures their survival. The colors and patterns of their wings give evidence that God’s imagination and creativity far exceeds our own.

Flying about are birds of all kinds, each singing their uniquely beautiful song. One can’t help but be envious at the incredible variety of sounds they make. It’s almost like attending a concert, where every song is different and if you hang around long enough, you will eventually hear that special one that thrills your heart. Occasionally, all the birds will start screeching at once, and we have learned that this is the signal that a Bobcat is hiding in the grass or under a shrub close by.

Squirrels, of which there are many, are chasing each other in an endless game of tag. Only the heat of the day slows them down, yet the evening finds them once again running all over my back yard.

In the dead palm tree that I intend to make a weathervane post out of, several birds have taken up residence in the holes the Woodpeckers have created in their search for insects. I’m pretty sure at least one nest has babies in it, so the weathervane post will just have to wait a while longer.

On top of that, a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk has recently taken a liking to the top of this palm tree. From atop this perch it watches for the slightest movement on the ground, and its arrival sends every playful squirrel on a mad dash to the safety of the thick cluster of gnarled Oak branches all of us have in our yards.

There is enough here to make this now retired country boy feel like there is no place I’d rather be. Unfortunately, I cannot stay here forever, as my increasing list of ministry responsibilities calls me out into the world to do what I know God has called me to do.    

Leaving this idyllic scene, I step out ever so cautiously into the world where I am immediately greeted by noise and chaos. I am confronted by people who are scared, angry, apprehensive, and uncertain. “When are we going to get back to normal” they ask. Shouts of “I can’t take any more of this” are heard on a frequent basis. The difference between my backyard and the outside world could not be more dramatic. I cannot wait to get back to my sanctuary.

Everywhere I go, the prevailing topic of conversation is COVID-19. For reasons I am not completely sure of, this virus has paralyzed most of the world. Yes, of course it is serious, however it does not mark the beginning of the end of the world as many in the media would have you believe.

If there is one thing this pandemic has revealed about us here in America, it is that we do not handle uncertainty well. Uncharted waters throw us into a frenzy of apprehension and uncertainty. We need to feel as though we are in control of our destiny, and right now control has slipped through our fingers leaving us dazed and shell-shocked.

Disease frightens us in ways that few things do, especially disease that there is no rational explanation for. The unknown tends to either frighten us or make us angry. We are fearful of that which cannot be explained to our satisfaction, angry at our inability to eradicate it by throwing vast sums of money at it, or even angrier at the level of distrust that exists among those who should be united in leading the efforts to solve this current crisis.

As I reflect upon the scene unfolding before us, I cannot help but think of the number of books I have read about other periods of hardship in America. Two World Wars, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, Polio, Poverty, etc.

Any one of these events could have brought America to its knees and prevented this nation from ever rising to the heights of prosperity it has become accustomed to. 

Yet none of them did, and the question begs asking “why didn’t they”?

I believe it was because of two primary reasons:

  1. Americans come from the hardy stock of immigrants who asked only for an opportunity. They supplied the hard work and “can do” spirit that enabled them to overcome adversity and misfortune. These hard-working men and women forged a nation out of prairies, forests, and mountains, willing to pay the price of endless pain and suffering to make a better life for their families. In short, nothing would deter them from taking full advantage of the opportunities before them.
  2. During past times of severe crisis, Americans always turned to God for help. Acknowledging their own inabilities, they looked to the One who could pull them from the depths of despair and hopelessness that often attempted to crush their dreams. They knew, as did their own ancestors, that survival meant they had to stare down adversity and press forward.

Today, I hear very little in the way of pleading for help from the Lord. I hear no cries for mercy, no repentance for the way that we have rejected the Almighty. It is as if God has been erased from our consciousness.

What I do hear are the voices of fear and uncertainty. As if on que, the TV newscasters cannot wait to tell us of the next shortage of meat, toilet paper, or hand sanitizer. Followed immediately, of course, by a camera shot of an empty grocery store shelf to prove the validity of their story.

I see the fear in some of the faces of the elderly at Walmart. You can always tell which ones have endured hard times before. They quietly go about their business and get on with their lives. They don’t hoard because they’ve been here before. They understand that any extra, unneeded purchases mean someone else who is in need may have to do without.

Those who have lived a life of relative ease are just as easy to spot. They are the ones who buy as much of a given product as allowed, because fear of the unknown grips their hearts. They have never done without or had to ration what they had in order to make it last. They are the ones with a grocery cart piled high with toilet paper and frozen dinners.

These are trying times, of that there can be no doubt. As for returning to normal, whatever that is, I’m not convinced we will ever see that again. I feel as though we have turned the page in the book of God’s prophetic timetable. To be perfectly honest, I believe we are on the threshold of the days Jesus described as the “beginning of sorrows”.

Even though it’s not possible, if it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon hang around my back yard and watch the coming events unfold. I much prefer the birds, butterflies, squirrels, and hawks to the anger and uncertainty “out there”.

Take care everyone, and remember: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble“. Psalm 46:1

Ron

 

 

THIS is what Jesus would do!

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Well, life is certainly different today than it was just a few short weeks ago, isn’t it? Emotions are running high, fear and worry dominate the daily news, and Americans are dealing with the unnerving reality of being told what they can and cannot do and where they can and cannot go.

Yes…these are difficult days, are they not?

In addition to the countless businesses being forced to shut down, many churches have been forced to close their doors as well, at least temporarily. 

For those determined to conduct church services, this has necessitated a move to more creative methods of ministering to our congregations. Facebook Live, radio, YouTube videos, even ‘parking lot’ church are all examples of how churches have had to think outside the box.

Here in Florida, our Governor has included attending church services in the “essential” category, meaning that houses of worship may remain open as usual, with the caveat that worshipers stay a safe distance apart from one another.

Naturally, this decision has been received in either one of two ways. On one hand, you have those who are cautiously elated at the prospects of assembling together again for worship. Then there are those who think this was just about the worse decision that could have been made. Like most things in life, I guess it depends on which side of the fence you happen to be standing on.

While I readily admit that the current environment has thrown us all for a loop, it is a curious thing to me that so many in the church still cling to the notion that the church is the building that they attend services in.

The truth is, that is simply not correct. The church has never been a building, a temple, or a cathedral. The Church has always been you and me. It has always been those people who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

All of this gives me reason to suspect that what I’ve longed believed is true: the Church has lost its identity. We have supplanted the truth that we are the church with the error that the church is a building.

Looking at it another way, the church has adopted the very same mindset that the citizens of this country have adopted when explaining the nucleus of our government. “We The People” has been tossed aside in favor of the government being more readily identified as a conglomeration of buildings in Washington D.C.

This isn’t a mere play on words, nor is it a simple issue of semantics. This is a very important issue for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Church was never intended to become an institution, or a building.

Institutions are typically cold, lifeless, bureaucratic entities that exist (hopefully)to serve the greater good of society. This does not describe the Church that we read about throughout the New Testament!

The Church is a living extension of the Lord Himself. As such, we ought to be asking ourselves if Jesus were here today, how would he respond to the current worldwide crisis?

Would Jesus shutter himself behind locked doors and close all of the blinds? Would He sequester himself apart from every person on the planet?

Would he refuse to heal the sick out of fear on contracting COVID-19? Would he turn away the hungry mother who cannot feed her children? 

Would he turn out into the streets the struggling family who suddenly find themselves without a steady stream of income? Would he run to the store and hoard as many necessities as possible?

Well, the Good News is that Jesus is here today! He lives in each and every one of his children. So the question of WWJD, is actually a question of what are we doing to respond to this crisis?  

Since it is an established fact that you and I are the Church, the hands and feet of Jesus, and not some ornate building, wouldn’t you agree with me that right now the Church should be leading the efforts to minister to and provide for those who are in dire need today?

Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to release some of the excess funds in our church treasuries in order to make a difference in the lives of people, the people that Jesus died for?

Perhaps you have heard about the church in Cincinnati that recently paid over $46 million dollars of medical bills for 45,000 families? Why should this be an aberration? Shouldn’t this be the norm?

As I keep reminding people whenever I can, as Christians we either are what we claim to be or we are not. There is no middle ground here. Either we are Christ’s representatives here on earth, or we are not. 

We cannot be Christian only when everything is going well in our lives. We cannot say we are followers of Christ and not follow Him wherever he may lead us…and that includes the current crisis we are experiencing.

Please understand me, I am certainly not advocating that you run straight to your nearest hospital and expose yourself to this virus. Absolutely not! We must be wise in times like these. We must follow the mandates of our local leaders. We must not do something that will prolong the crisis or put others in jeopardy.

Neither can we live in fear and torment however. We cannot be The Church if we are hiding behind closed doors. No, it is time for the true Church to arise. It is time to cast off the spirit of fear that is paralyzing our churches and leaving us incapable of serving others.

My prayer is that all of us would consider the needs of others during this time, and that we would remember that Jesus has called us for such a time as this to go forth and minister to them.  

That’s what Jesus would do.

Ron

Help in trying times

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I sincerely hope that this post finds all of you safe and as well as can be expected during these times of unrest and uncertainty. 

It seems that all of us are impacted in one way or another by COVID-19, and the staggering toll this virus is taking on the entire world leaves many wondering how much longer they can endure the restrictions, closures, quarantines, lockdowns, and empty grocery stores.

Of course, none of these temporary hardships can begin to compare with the loss of lives, those still hospitalized, and the hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases.

By actual count as of 3/28/2020 @ 3:16 PM EST the numbers look like this:

  • Coronavirus Cases = 650,926
  • Deaths = 30,299
  • Recovered = 139,555

Source = https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

All of this says nothing about the impact to families, businesses, schools, and even churches. The financial impact alone is almost incalculable. No one has a clue as to how long real recovery will take or even what that will eventually look like. 

Now that certain states are contemplating the closure of their borders, one has to wonder if we won’t soon see armed military guarding all entrances to states in an effort to stem the tide of this deadly pandemic.

If all of this seems more than a little surreal, you are not alone in thinking that. Americans all across this nation are now confronted with an enemy that strikes at will, and to date has met little resistance.

That being said, and contrary to the 24/7 NNN (Negative News Networks) portrayal of hopelessness, we know that we can go to our Lord in prayer for help and support during these trying times. All throughout the Bible we have examples of God’s people turning their hearts toward Him in their hour of distress, and we are afforded the very same privilege today!

Wanting to encourage our church family, yesterday I recorded a message for our church’s radio broadcast and entitled it simply Strength for These Uncertain Times. In this message I recounted the story of David and his army, who upon returning to their home base of Ziklag, found the city burned and their wives and children taken captive.

So distressed were David’s men that they talked among themselves of stoning David to death. Knowing he was outnumbered and that his life was in peril, David did the only thing he could do; he strengthened himself in the Lord his God. [1]

I love this particular story because it points to the fact that when we are at the end of our rope and out of options, God is more than able to help us if we will turn our hearts toward Him. David found this to be true when he recovered all of their families that had been taken.

For many of us however, God is always our last resort. We will try everything in our own power to fix, overcome, or otherwise do it on our own before as a last resort calling upon the Lord.

I would like to encourage all of us to tackle the challenges we are facing today in a different, even radical manner. How about we look to the Lord first instead of as our last option?

If we would just remember that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, it is my firm conviction that He will give us the strength we are all going to need for the days to come. [2]

It is true that we are facing an uncertain future, a future that is changing at such a rapid pace that few of us can keep up. 

Just as true however is the certainty that none of this has taken God by surprise. The very One that knew us while we were yet in our mother’s womb is also the One who holds the future in His hands. What is uncertain to all of us, God has already seen.

I end this post with a final thought from the Psalmist of Israel:

The Lord is on my side. I will not fear. What can man do to me”? [3]

Take courage beloved, God is still God, and He always will be God!

Ron

 

[1] 1 Samuel 30:6

[2] Psalm 46:1

[3] Psalm 118:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cold, hard truth is that this COVID-19 virus is unmanageable for a President, a Prime Minister, a Chairman, or any governmental powers. If anyone says otherwise, or that they could have reacted better or faster, or that they have the solution, to them I say you are either a liar or you have no conscious. Otherwise you would have stepped forward and made your case.

This is the worst possible time to be pointing fingers, but the nauseating debacle of getting the stimulus package approved was a classic example of a childish game of “it’s all your fault”.

How disheartening that the politicians on both sides of the aisle made it clear that the 2 Trillion dollar relief bill wasn’t really about you, it was about them getting their pet projects approved.

Any rational person understands that every cent of that 2 Trillion dollars should be earmarked for costs directly associated with this virus, not more pork from Washington. Under the guise of a $1,200 relief payment, politicians from across this nation have once again shown us that they are not worthy of our trust.

I bring this up dear reader, because regardless of your political affiliation, what has just happened here shows you once and for all that you and I simply do not matter. We are merely pawns in this diabolical shell game between warring factions of arguably the most corrupt political system the world has ever known.

And that is a bitter pill to swallow. It didn’t start out this way. It was never supposed to be this way.

Unfortunately, it is, and no upcoming election will change things. The lines have been drawn in the sand. The word “compromise” has been stricken from the vocabulary of this current crop of politicians.

You want to know the real tragedy in all of this? What we are currently witnessing is mild compared to what awaits us.