Thursday, July 23, 2020

House Divided

It was during the Senate campaign of 1858 that Abraham Lincoln made his famous "House Divided" speech. His words are now well-known. "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free." Of course these words did not originate with Lincoln. It was Jesus who first coined the phrase, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25). It is a truism that can be applied in many ways. Of course, human beings have been divided since the fall. There is a constant enmity with God and with our fellow man. It is the ultimate cause of wars between nations, conflict in the home, and sadly, even division in the church. Too often today it takes little provocation for an individual or family to depart from their church.

We are witnessing a period where division is rising to new heights. They have coined a new phrase to describe just how fragmented we have become, "Cancel Culture." If you believe something or say something that isn't precisely in agreement with my beliefs you are to be deleted, removed, excluded, and rendered unworthy of any further consideration. Apologies are futile; forgiveness is out of the question. You have been cancelled. Many pastors live in fear of being cancelled. It doesn't matter that they have served tirelessly and taught faithfully. One wrong action will result in being cancelled. Employees of corporations fear losing their jobs for saying something that doesn't pass the social policies established by the company. Professors in universities have the same fears. If you don't tow the line you risk being cancelled.

We look across our nation and wonder how long our house can continue to stand. The political arena has become vicious. The words that spew from the lips of adult politicians are often appalling. There no filters. Civil discourse seems to have evaporated. The racial divide is worse than ever. Instead of seeking respect and equality among all, it has degenerated into bullet points of which if you don't tow the line you are to be cancelled. Rather than doing the hard work of seeking reconciliation, many have used this season to create havoc across the land--rioters destroying property and anarchists seizing control over the streets. If you disagree with their actions you are labeled a racist.

What is the solution to such division? On one hand we need to plead for God's mercies. Division is in the heart of man. The human heart is wicked and capable of every form of evil. Jeremiah wrote over twenty-six hundred years ago, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it" (Jeremiah 17:9)? God is merciful to restrain the evil intentions of the human heart. He does this through outward restraints such as family and civil authorities as well as the inward restraint of the conscience. Sadly, the consciences of many today are hardened and seared. This is why there is so little civil discourse and why lawlessness has become rampant. We need to pray that God would be merciful to restrain the sin in our nation. The ultimate solution is the transforming grace of the Gospel. In Christ, God unites us together as one body and enables us to be forgiving and forbearing towards one another. Even here, however, we need much grace. This is why the New Testament constantly admonishes us towards love and unity. May God grant us much grace.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Prayer When We are Afflicted

In Calvin's Commentary he closes each lecture with a prayer. In Lecture 179 on Malachi, Chapter 3 (Volume 15) he offers up this prayer. May it be upon our hearts and tongues as we go through our many afflictions--

"Grant, Almighty God, that since we continue to afford many and various reasons to induce You to withdraw Your blessing, and to show Yourself displeased with us, — O grant, that we may patiently bear Your scourges, by which You chastise us, and also profit under them, and so contend with all our depraved affections and the corruptions of the flesh, that we may become partakers of Your paternal kindness, which Your offer to us, and also so taste of Your goodness, which in innumerable ways is manifested towards us, that it may keep us in the pursuit of true religion; finally, may our tongues be consecrated to magnify Your judgement and to celebrate Your justice, that whatever happens to us, we may always serve You through our whole life as our Father, and declare also Your goodness towards us, and confess that we are justly punished whenever Your visit us with severity, until we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which is to be the end of all our evils, and an entrance, not only into life, but also into that full glory and happiness, which has been procured for us by the blood of Your only-begotten Son.—Amen."

Friday, May 1, 2020

Our New Normal


Our nation is beginning to come out of the Coronavirus lock-down as states are slowly rescinding their stay at home orders. All of us are looking forward to returning to normal. But what exactly does this mean? What is normal in a world coming out of the pandemic crisis? What is normal when the Coronavirus is still with us? As much as we long for the old days – old as recent as three or four months ago, a return to these days is not likely to come anytime soon. Too much has happened. Like it or not, our nation has been profoundly changed.

First of all, the virus is still with us and the threat of being infected by COVID-19 remains. The pandemic has made us wary of being too close to other people. How long will it take for people to feel comfortable in a crowded sports arena or theater? The airline industry is currently reeling from the pandemic. Flights are down by 80-90%. This isn’t the result of governmental control or regulation. It is because people are choosing not to fly. How long will it take before people feel comfortable sharing air on a jet with 150 other people and sitting next to people they don’t know? The cruise industry was booming three months ago. Over 100 ships now sit in port empty. How long will it take for people to feel comfortable sharing space with 3000 other passengers? This is the new normal.

Millions of people have been laid off due to the shut-down of our economy. Unemployment has gone from historic lows to historic highs, all in three months. They are off work and anxious to return, but for many there is no job to return to. The shut-down of thousands of small-businesses have forced many to close permanently. They will not return. This is the new normal.

And then there is the sudden political power that has fallen into the hands of our politicians, power that is hard for them not to seize. Over two and a half trillion dollars has suddenly been pulled out of thin air and they are salivating for more and more. The sad thing is, this is what America wants—give me more and more. It reminds me of the words of Solomon: “The leach has two daughters, ‘Give,’ ‘Give’ (Proverbs 30:15). It is a temporary salve. It seems wonderful, until this influx of cash causes inflation to explode. There is a term for a managed economy. It’s called socialism. But this is our new normal.

We should expect many efforts by politicians seeking to exert their control. More and more we are finding ourselves under the “direction” of our leaders. They have decided which businesses and products are “essential” and which ones are not. Liquor stores are essential while barber shops are not. And a single governor has the authority to mandate whether or not his or her state is open for business or which products should be sold. In our new normal we should expect many other mandates. For example, enforced mandatory vaccinations are probably on the horizon. I am a great proponent of vaccinations. Not only do they help protect me from infection, just as important, they help protect others through herd immunity. I feel I have a duty to care for my neighbor. So, I get my annual flu shot. But I recognize this is my decision and others may not hold the same position. The government should not mandate this decision for me, and they should not infringe upon the authority of parents over their own children. Vaccinations should be left to the liberty and discretion of individuals. Of course, we could debate endlessly about this. The point is, our new normal will see many infringements upon our freedoms.

How long will it take for hospitals and nursing homes to be open to visitors? This is important to me as a pastor. It is hard to care for the sick from a distance. I’m not blaming the healthcare industry. They are acting out of prudence. This is just our new normal.

We’ve been reminded how fragile the supply chain is in our nation. Overnight, toilet paper became a precious commodity. There are many common products we use daily that are hard to get. Try to find a package of baker’s yeast right now. Because of COVID-19 outbreaks among workers in meat-packing plants, some meats shortages are occurring. While these issues will hopefully be resolved in the short term, they are still a part of our new normal.

And then there is life in the local church. What will this look like? Will we immediately return to the way things were before the pandemic, back to the “old days” of 3-4 months ago? Churches, too, will have to be flexible as they adjust to the new normal. While we are all looking forward to getting back to normal, we must be patient and realize we live in a world of change, all under the direction of our God who rules all things.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic


We have completed 6 weeks of the stay at home order due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. As a congregation we have taken the Coronavirus seriously and have cooperated with the order, limiting activity outside our home and maintaining social distancing. We’ve maintained a humble heart of submission and love for our neighbor and our duty to protect the vulnerable in our church. We have been conscious of the watchful eye of our neighbors and have demonstrated our willingness to temporarily give up our rights for their well-being. We’ve recognized the reality of the personal sacrifice of healthcare workers as they’ve cared for the sick and dying and have done our part in trying to reduce the number of hospitalizations. The good news is the curve has been flattened and the number of deaths are considerably lower than that predicted weeks ago. The number of U.S. deaths as of April 25 stands at just over 52,000, about half of the predicted total. There is no way to determine what the number of deaths would have been had no action been taken, but it is always good to be prudent and cautious.

We can always argue that the cure has been more detrimental than the disease. The impact upon life and the economy has been devastating. In hindsight we can always question the risk/reward balance. We could apply the course of action to the pandemic to many aspects of our life. For example, if we all parked our cars and quit driving, we would avoid the 38,000 annual traffic fatalities, but who would be willing to take this course of action? Also, in hindsight we know that 80% of the fatalities have been among those with preexisting conditions. It would have been far wiser to have quarantined them instead of applying the quarantine universally. But, of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

In the next few weeks, we’ll see a progressive rescinding of the stay at home orders across the nation. But we must maintain vigilance to protect our right to worship and measure our own caution/wisdom/prudence balance. The stay at home orders have been largely applied equally across the populace. But there have also been grave examples of governmental overstep and unequal application of the quarantine, with assaults upon religious liberty. Our president largely believes in the Constitutional limitations of government, but we’ve seen examples of governors, mayors, and judges grossly denying our Constitutional rights of worship and assembly. The Bible gives us the balance we must maintain. On one hand we submit to our civil authorities (Romans 13). On the other hand, we maintain our priority of obedience to God (Acts 5). The door has been opened to the progressives who desire absolute control over our lives. There is a growing wave of socialism across our nation. This was true before this crisis, but the pandemic has given them greater opportunity to exert control. As God’s people we will need to exercise great wisdom and courage to maintain the balance between humble submission to authority and bold determination to obey God rather than men.