In times like these, remember this. Jesus loves you. The shifting sands of State-mandated edicts change with the wind, but know this. Jesus loves you. Yes, there are matters of great import facing heads of state all over the world, with vast networks of disinformation, as well as disparate and wild conspiracy theories. Jesus loves you. Someone shared with us a 9 minute video of a pastor warning his listeners that God told him to tell other to not take the Coronavirus vaccine, “Because the Coronavirus is in the vaccine.” I asked her for the pastor’s name, because I would like to call him and tell him what most of the rest of the world knows: “Uh, brother, you may want to rethink your message. There IS NO VACCINE just yet. You are getting ahead of yourself.” His theory extended to the “fact” that 200 US Generals decided to start a world-wide revolution after 911. Apparently, according to this conspiracy-mongering pastor, what we are facing with COVID-19, is the result of 19 years of planning for a revolution by 200 US generals. Gnostic “secret” teaching is still alive and well in modernity.
Jesus loves you. I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother. Oh church, put your trust in the Lord.
As we face the days ahead, let us ask God for the grace to walk in humility. Psalm 131 has inspired me not to “concern myself with things too great for me.” I find some items in the news really weird. Things like “Wait, Russia has 149 million people and only 300 confirmed cases of coronavirus, yet a recent spike in “pneumonia-related deaths”? Rich, you have enough to deal with in your zip code, your church, and your family. Pray for Russia, but you are not in a position to expose that disinformation.” Or things like “Wait, China is where COVID-19 started. They have 1.4 billion people, and last Wednesday they had “no reported cases that day.” In all of China, no more COVID-19. I don’t believe it.” Pray for China, Rich, but you are not in a position to expose that disinformation. Jesus said “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I should certainly pray for Iran, for Italy, for China, for Russia, for Bangladesh (our friend Bethanie Burkholder posted about Bangladesh), our US leaders, our governor, our mayor, etc. But there is only so much emotional energy and time that we have in the day, so I cannot concern myself with things too great for me.
I need to, by God’s grace, calm and quiet my soul, like a weaned child with its mother. A calm soul can minister out of a loving, humble heart. Saturday an out-of-state friend called and asked if we could take food to a friend in the Bronx who is recently out of his job and doesn’t have food. So I took over a bag of food that Sandy prepared, and that new friend joined us for church through Zoom videoconference on Sunday, also inviting his 83 year old friend from Virginia who has been a spiritual father to him. That was neat. During our Zoom meeting, a neighbor joined in and participated throughout the video conference. We have known her for over a year, and this is the first time she attended a Sunday service. She’s out of work as of last week. We were able to bring her something last night. Our church has suspended receiving offerings for the past two weeks, and I asked the congregation to ask God to show them as households how to give to others during these times. For now, the Believers in Jesus Church offering basket could be the neighbor’s mailbox, the homeless person’s hand, the brother in the church whose job options just changed in the past two weeks, or anyone else who has a need.
In times like these, remember. Jesus loves you. Oh church, put your trust in the Lord.
We have opportunity to rise up and work for the Kingdom, at least as prayer warriors, in times like these!
Psalm 131… My heart is not proud. My eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with things to great for me. I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Oh Israel, put your trust in the Lord. (Oh church, put your trust in the Lord.)
Something twists and churns inside me, causing an actual physical reaction to the stories I am hearing. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee had been on my to-read list for years, and it is just this year that the tragic stories of the USA subduing the Native American tribes are working their way deep into my soul. The book chronicles the American take-over of the Native American tribes and their lands, mostly focusing on 19th century treaty-breaking and the associated broken promises, lies, and carnage. This evil was sometimes overlooked by the Washington-appointed commissioners and army leaders, but often they were the sinister master-minds. It would not be so tragic if, early on, the manifest destiny believers would have just told the Native Americans outright: “Look, we WILL take all your land, so we are not going to promise you anything. We will come after you, your wives and children, and your land. Your best option is to fight us to the death.” Instead, broken promise after broken promise led to death, destruction, and taking of land. Tribes all over the Midwest, west, southwest, and northwest faced lies, broken promises, death, destruction, pillaging, and starvation. It is a historically documented tragedy. How can people dare to call the USA a “Christian” nation with this awful historical sepsis lingering in our sordid past? Father, forgive them (us), for I’m afraid they knew what they were doing.
30-60 minutes at a time is about all I can take from Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, so I switch to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Book 2, and listen for a while. This is a kind of memoir/documentary account of communist Russia (USSR) and the prison labor camp atrocities. Stalinist thugs and self-righteous proletariats come to power after the Bolshevik revolution, basing their “revolution” on the compelling call to depose the Czar and the bourgeoisie so that the peasants and working class can rule “fairly." The communist/socialist call for equality and unity fuels the revolution, but from 1919 on in Soviet Russia there are thousands and then millions who are arrested and forced into prison labor camps. Solzhenitsyn estimates that 20 million people died in the prison camps between 1919 and 1960. That in itself is a tragedy. The unspeakable horrors and deprivation that others faced who did not die are also reported in this book. For example, a 17 year old girl who happened to ask the wrong question to a prison guard is made to stand outside barefoot in 12” of ice water all night for her “violation.” This is in sub-zero temps. She gets sick from this, does not die, but her lungs never fully recover from the forced deprivation. Or the bedbug tortures. In some camps, they keep 3’ wide by 7’ long by 4’ deep prison “chambers” infested with thousands of bedbugs. And those who “deserve” tough treatment are made to go to these bedbug chambers. The first hour or two they swat at the bedbugs, but eventually they just lie there as the bedbugs do what bedbugs do. I wonder if Bernie Sanders has ever read this book and considered the negative realities and unintended consequences of forced socialism. Forced socialism has historically led to communism even if it did not begin with communism; communism has always been propped up by totalitarianism and repression of speech. Father, forgive them and us, for I’m afraid they (and we) know what they (we) are doing.
Maybe I should read Pollyanna's memoir. My digestive system will thank me.
Closer to home, this year I have blocked phone numbers from two NYC friends I have known for years. It has taken a long time for me to come to this decision, but Titus 3:10-11 provide timeless instructions for dealing with divisive people, and that passage provided some of the rationale for blocking those numbers. I won’t go into the details, because that is personal and private information for me and for them, but in making these decisions I have grappled with I Corinthians 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Yes, Rich, your warnings have gone unheeded. Yes, Rich, those two men have been contentious and divisive. Yes, Rich, you are probably right to block those numbers. But remember, watch yourself and your doctrine. You have been shown much mercy. You have been forgiven much, Rich. As I mull these matters, I say “Father forgive us. We may not know what we are doing, but we still need forgiveness.”
The evening of my 45th birthday a few weeks ago brought a wave of gratefulness into my heart as I considered the amazing mercies extended towards me through the grace given by Jesus, the Lord of the universe. Those sure mercies of God have been extended to me, a sinner. I have had to confess my own mistreatment of others, I have had to confess my own self-righteousness, my own divisive and contentious spirit, my own tendency to try to be number one. And our Father in Heaven has graciously extended his hand of mercy, his healing touch of forgiveness. Father, thank you for forgiving me. There have been times I did not know what I was doing, and you forgave me when I confessed and repented. There were times when I absolutely knew that what I was doing was wrong, and you still extended forgiveness to me when I confessed my sins to you and and repented. Your gifts of repentance and forgiveness are treasures that I never want to lose. Father, please keep on forgiving me.
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner