A bit of commenting paraphrase on one of my favorite Psalms this evening. You could call it clarity therapy, perhaps. When the enemy attacks, keep your ears tuned to the voice of the Mighty Warrior, Commander-in-Chief of the Kingdom of Heaven. He speaks through His Word, through His Spirit, and through His saints.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Some days the cry sticks in the throat.
Other days the cry springs out of a throat full of emotion.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Yes, it is nice to have the young near your altar, Lord. Keep my children near your altar, please.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Sometimes praise is all one has left to do.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
It would be kind of nice to ride on perpetual strength, but I guess if we are to “go from strength to strength,” I’m thankful for the big strength times that see me through the little strength times.
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield,[e] O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
In the end, what better place to be than in the presence of our God?
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
And we are back to the starting point.
Through it all, I will trust in You, Lord.
Through the blessings of donors and a partnership with Anabaptist Covid-19 Response and Blessings of Hope, Believers in Jesus Church has both handed out food boxes ourselves and have been around others who have distributed lunch boxes and food boxes. I have given out more boxes of food in the past few weeks than I have given out in my entire life up to this point. God opened a door through ACR (Anabaptist Covid-19 Response) and we ran (did He push us?) through it. Eventually we should be able to slowly walk down this narrow path, but sometimes it feels almost like we are hurtling along on a turbo conveyor belt.
Up until a month ago, I was mostly ambivalent and sometimes skeptical of food pantry and soup kitchen ministries in New York City. I mean, this city has so much access to food, and there seem to be a number of food pantries scattered here and there. I discovered while at Followers of Jesus School and analyzing the income of school families that for a family with six children, the federal food stamp program gives several hundred dollars a month MORE than our family’s monthly food budget. By God’s grace, we never needed to collect food stamps, but it was my understanding that needy families had that safety net to apply for food stamps, so in my mind food was not a real need here.
These last few weeks of food distribution have brought me to a humbling new realization. There are definitely individuals and families in New York City who are living with food scarcity. Others do not have access to healthy and nutritious food options. This current COVID-19 crisis has accentuated the problem, but I’m afraid I have been out of touch with the dark underside of the food scarcity issue here in New York City. Especially for immigrant individuals and families who do not have access to the typical safety nets available for other low-income citizens, the teaching in II Thessalonians 3 is a harsh new reality “"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." You know the day laborers who wait outside The Home Depot? They aren’t getting work these days. They don’t work, they don’t eat. They don’t get ANY cash, day after day, and they don’t have access to unemployment benefits, and they probably can’t get back to their countries. Many of them have families they support here, or maybe “supported” is more accurate.
And then there are the lower-income working class American citizens. Here in New York, a man and his wife could each be working 40 hours a week on some entry-level job and just barely making enough to pay their rent, utilities, food, and other things. In too many cases, the entry-level jobs at “Non-essential” businesses have been lost over the past five weeks, and these missing paychecks are putting a hurt on households. From what I can see, those who were already on complete government assistance for rent, utilities, food stamps, and welfare checks before COVID-19 may be the least affected by this crisis—their checks will likely still be coming. It’s the lower income working class people, both those undocumented AND those documented, who are hitting a crisis of food shortage or food quality. Maybe they have food to eat, so it may not be always a food scarcity issue, but the quality of food and the healthiness of the diet is very poor.
Brianna did a report on homelessness for one of her college classes last fall, and we talked about the surprising statistic that up to 40% of American households (New York City and otherwise) are living paycheck-to-paycheck. For some, if they miss two successive paychecks, they face the imminent possibility of homelessness if there is no intervention.
I am sure this issue of food scarcity is showing up all across America and around the world. I’ve been reading Revelation again. Could it be that the horseman of Revelation 6:5-6, seemingly unleashing economic collapse, is upon us? That last question is not intended to make the Christian quake in fear, but at the least we can ask ourselves “How now shall we live?” What about the local town or city near you? What about your neighbors?
In the past month or so, Believers in Jesus Church has been given over $5,000 towards relief efforts in this COVID-19 Crisis. In the first week of the option to serve meals to medical workers and EMS workers, we were able to do that some as a local church. We also were able to financially assist a sister church in South Brooklyn to do this, assist a brother with rent whose business has taken a 70% hit in revenue, and partner directly with Blessings of Hope. Thank God, we still have funds available to continue serving our community, and thank God for the generosity of those who have given!
This weekend, we received an incredible update from the Anabaptist Covid-19 Response team that outlines what they have done so far in New York City. The “Food Boxes for Families” have gone out to pastors and churches in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and also in Mount Vernon, NY (a city just north of us in Westchester County). This is way more than I ever imagined would happen. Of the total 1,908 Food Boxes given out, Believers in Jesus Church has only handled a fraction. There are currently four young men volunteering full-time to distribute lunches to healthcare workers and food boxes to churches around the city, and many others are helping as they are able.
Anabaptist Covid-19 Response numbers as of 04/19/2020
9,187 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,908 Food Boxes for Families
With New York State being on Shutdown Order to May 15 here are the ACR tentative plans:
*Next week starting 04/20/20*
5,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,650 Food Boxes for Families
*Week starting 04/27/20*
2,500 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing (more to come on that later)
*Week starting 05/04/20*
2,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing(more to come on that later)
Probably be wrapping up May 15 or so.
So that is somewhat of an update on the food distribution. Time does not permit me to tell of Pastor Felix in Mt. Vernon, New York, who has so many people coming by that the 10 boxes we give him a day he opens up and hands out items to people to “stretch” the boxes, or of Hafsa, Sandy’s Muslim friend who took 10 boxes last week to give to her friends (we just needed to take out some items that would not be Muslim-friendly, or of L, who took a box from friends who persuaded her in December not to abort her baby. If Christians are going to convince a young woman not to abort her baby, can Christians rise up to help her with food for her baby? Or our neighbor S, who lives in the house right beside us, has been so happy to give two food boxes a week to her sister F, who has lost her job in this COVID-19 crisis and is raising two children.
My refrigerator remains mostly full. We have more than we need to eat. I have taken food for granted.
My friend Ike took a box of food to his elderly neighbor. She stood on the stoop and said “I have been young, but now I am old, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken.” She paused for a moment to smile at him, and he finished it for her… “Or their seed begging for bread.” We will not be able to meet all the needs. But we will bless in the name of Jesus and do good to all people, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.
These last weeks of ministry opportunity have been an incredible partnership with the family of God. I wonder if God will lead us to start a food pantry here in The Bronx? That would be like God. Sending me through a door and pushing me down a road I never imagined. What did Rich Mullins say? “God is like the kid who punches you in the face and then gives you a ride home on his bike.” Something like that. When I was 14, it was “I will go live in the mountains of West Virginia or Kentucky with my cousin Joe because there are too many people in Huntsburg, Ohio.” Then I thought I would become an architect, then I went to college to become an English teacher, then God led me to become a pastor. Now I am a bi-vocational pastor, working as an insurance adjuster to pay the bills. Maybe “Food pantry guy” is somewhere down the road soon.
I’m going to reflect a little bit about government and experts and news, three entities which have recently received an inordinate amount of attention from the rest of us earthlings who are not in government, who are not “experts,” and who are not journalists.
On government, my position remains that Romans 13:1-5 still applies to me, an American citizen, even if we live in a supposed “democracy” and we do not live under the narcissistic, authoritarian emperor Nero. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Governors and mayors and presidents and their respective bureaucrats have been wrong before and they will be wrong again. I am a soldier in the army of the Kingdom of God, and that is where I receive my marching orders. I take the position that it is my responsibility to pray for my government, to try to extend honor, and to pay taxes. Sometimes it’s tough to honor the government, but that doesn’t mean I should throw away the instructions and move towardsdishonor. I just don’t think that is my calling, and I pray I can honor even when they are blatantly wrong.
On “experts,” I’ll pivot briefly to meteorologists. For about twenty years I have been skeptical of meteorologists, especially when big storms may be approaching. In New York, whenever a hurricane is predicted to land in the south and “may” work its way up the East coast, the meteorologists love the limelight and spend minutes on television and radio mapping out the scary models of what could happen. I turn them off. Radio, television, whatever, I figure these meteorologists love that they are finally considered important so they kind of rise to the occasion and their self-importance turns me off. We were in Ohio when Hurricane Irene was slated to hit NYC hard, and those in NYC canceled church much to my chagrin. A few trees fell and church could have easily been held. Oh well. But a year or so later, in 2012, the “experts” rose up and predicted Hurricane Sandy, and it was a devastating hurricane (superstorm) that hit NYC. It didn’t hit their worse-case predictions, but it was still really bad. So there we have it. 20 years of skepticism of meteorologists, and one big Superstorm Sandy that kind of validated their role.
With today’s COVID-19 crisis, I have friends who have doubted the epidemiologists from the beginning and have been largely correct in their skepticism, at least in most of America. The dire predictions of the experts have not played out, at least not yet in most of America. (Side note, if we take the rate of NYC deaths per capita from COVID-19 as of 04/12/2020 and translate that across the country per capita, we'd already be at 270,000 deaths, so they are not as off as people think when you look at our region here in NYC). I’ve only listened to Dr. Fauci maybe 5 minutes total on two separate reports he gave, and I have never listened to Dr. Birx. It sounds like their scary models and possible scenarios are being down-graded weekly. So it seems they have been very wrong, and the skeptics may have been proven right. We are not through the crisis yet, so I’m reserving my analysis until it’s over. I actually hope that the experts are proven wrong. I’m very grateful to God if the numbers of deaths from COVID-19 come in at a much lower rate than was expected. And today, I do not feel any compulsion to reject or defend the “experts”. We need experts. Sometimes they are way wrong, and sometimes they are dead right. I don’t feel the need to find another “expert” to prove the “experts” were wrong, so I don’t share news feeds and citizens reports and “Dr. _______” reports that expose the “experts.” Hey, it is even possible that the experts were in line to be correct, but the prayers of God’s people downgraded the threat and God heard from heaven, forgave sin, and healed the land. I honestly don’t think that scenario is a far out, implausible theory. So there you have it. I am grateful for experts. They DO get it wrong many times. In the case of COVID-19, if the USA is able to get out of this crisis with only 60,000 deaths, I’ll spend more time praising God than petitioning for new “experts” or new government or new ____________.
On news, I don't have much to say. I have a suspicion that whatever was considered my primary sources of trustworthy news BEFORE this crisis probably became even more my primary sources, and I am even more skeptical of the underground alternative news sources than before. And I have a suspicion that many of my friends who only went to alternative news sources and decried the “lame stream media” before have now only had their fears and suspicions confirmed. We have to intentionally engage one another in this time, especially as Christ-followers, or we will miss each other and may end up making the dangerous mistake of calling each other the enemy.
A long monologue, I know. These are some of my thoughts on this. I was going to post this on Facebook and open it up for others to respond. People certainly do not have to agree with me. And you do not have to only present cogent, lucid, logical arguments one way or another. Emotion is fine because emotion affects all of us in this. But it would be helpful if the comments would remain civil. In fact, if you have something to say, I request that civility and love be higher motivators than proving yourself “right” and the other “wrong.” I don't really trust Facebook for civility and love right now, so I'm just putting my thoughts here.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
My Dad told me Friday that he is beginning a 14 day quarantine. His first cousin was hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday and is on a ventilator. Dad worked with a relative who was exposed to the virus, so Dad is taking the responsible step to wait it out at home for fourteen days to see if he escaped transmission. He seems okay with staying at home: “Hey, I have three trees I have to cut down and then cut up which will take me three days, then I have garden plots to repair and other jobs to do at home. I have more to do than I’ll get done in two weeks.” This from a man looking to turn 70 years old next month. It looks like he is making the most of the opportunity to stay at home.
Make the most of every opportunity. Yesterday Sandy and I cried. I texted condolences to two former students, brothers whose Dad just passed away from COVID-19. He had been hospitalized and on a ventilator for about a week, but he died yesterday. We have been good friends with his wife, the mother of my two former students, for twenty-plus years. She has definitely been making the most of her opportunities to pray for her husband every day these past decades. Sadly, she and her sons could not be with her husband as he slipped away from them, and sadly, as far as I know he never professed faith in Jesus Christ. I hope his sons, my former students, make the most of this opportunity to give their hearts fully to Jesus today.
Make the most of every opportunity. This passage is on my mind today. The KJV line is perhaps more familiar to “old” Christians. “Redeeming the time.” Use time well. Buy it back. Don’t waste your life. Take full advantage of what’s before you. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. I’ve noticed that a phrase attributed to Rahm Emmanuel “Never let a crisis go to waste” has been said to be traced back to Winston Churchill. Upon further review, I doubt that Churchill said it, but Rahm Emmanuel undoubtedly did say it. Anyone who was decidedly against the politics of President Obama and his then-chief of staff seems to think this is an odious quote to lambast and ridicule. But I say it has huge implications for this season. We are in an existential global crisis that has upended, among other things, our economy, our churches, our government, and our sense of civility. Christ followers have, today, greater opportunities and more open doors to love God and love others than any era in recent memory. Let us not let this crisis go to waste! Let us make the most of every opportunity.
Make the most of every opportunity. In NYC, three young men have traveled in to help distribute lunch boxes to health care workers, and 40 pound boxes of food to churches and persons requesting food assistance. I call them the UFA (Underground Food Agents); they carry a letter with them from “Anabaptist COVID19 Response” that authorizes them to: provide PPE and pre-packaged lunches to health care professionals, provide prepared Hands of Hope food boxes to out-of-work and/or low-income individuals and families, conduct surveys of individuals and facilities involved in the above effort, and coordinate logistics, supplies and transportation to effect the above projects. When these guys leave on April 26, they will self-quarantine at a remote undisclosed location for 14 days. It has been good seeing them serve the NYC community with selfless, compassionate care during this season. If you are interested in donating to the “Anabaptist COVID19 Response” network of Plain Compassion, Kingdom Channels, Blessings of Hope, and other businesses and ministries, the website link is https://www.anabaptistcovidresponse.org/ . There are people making the most of this opportunity! Last night, Sandy took 10 boxes of food to her Muslim friend who asked for 10 boxes. We took a salad out of each box, because the salad had bacon in it. When they opened the boxes in front of their friend, they realized that what they thought were bags of chips were actually pork rinds, so those were taken out as well. We live and learn. I am hoping to get in touch with the Imam at the mosque that’s about seven blocks from our place and see if we can bring them some boxes of food as well.
Make the most of every opportunity. Our friends in Georgia, Gary & Anne Swartzentruber, posted last week that their hospital and surrounding EMS station and nursing homes are facing a crisis of mask shortages. So they were organizing local Georgia neighbors to make masks. They have received masks from Ohio and Pennsylvania and I think from Colorado. This is an example of making the most of every opportunity, and not letting a crisis go to waste.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Search your heart. Ask God to cleanse you from sin. Confess and renounce sins. If necessary, seek reconciliation with others, and forgiveness from others. We received a private message this week from a friend who is so excited about what God is doing in her daughter, who has pursued reconciliation with a former friend and is moving back towards God. This was exciting news! Take time daily to ask God to show you opportunities to serve. He has been gracious in opening up the windows of heaven with boundless opportunities to love and serve here in NYC. Will you join the Kingdom of God in service to the King wherever you are?
Make the most of every opportunity. This Facebook fast of last week was a good thing. I realized that I was tending towards Phariseeism in the news. I tend to gravitate towards news that gives figures, charts, graphs, doctors reports, and a smattering of main-stream outlets that I more or less believe. Yes, I’ve noticed that the New York Times has sunk to new lows to criticize every response of our current administration. And yes, I’ve seen misinformation from the New York Post. And yes, I’ve hear of that travesty from the one outlet reporting on the NYC crisis that included an “editing error” by adding video from a hospital in Italy. Yes, there is “fake news,” but I tend to more or less discount the shared alternative news with titles like “Deep State Exposed” or “What the Main Stream Media isn’t telling us about COVID-19”. I realized that I have been over-reacting in all of this misinformation and kind of looking down my nose at the conspiracy theorists and alternative news believers. For one thing, I know COVID-19 is real. It is too far-reaching and too global in its effect to be a conspiracy of some evil cabal of sinister maniacs. But I still have a responsibility to extend love and grace to people who think differently than me—especially if they profess to be followers of Jesus.
Sandy’s niece Teresa spoke with a woman outside of Planned Parenthood in NYC in late January and convinced her not to have an abortion that day. Teresa was in and out of touch with L, the woman who was considering saving her baby, and we put L in touch with our friend AnnaMarie Salyer. The communication has been sporadic, but just two days ago Mrs. Salyer got back in contact with L and delivered a box of food to her. She took a picture of this pregnant lady with her food box. It’s one thing for a single woman to decide to keep her baby. It’s another thing entirely if she already has a 12 year old daughter and is supporting her parents as an Uber driver. I was so glad that she at least got a box of food. Now we pray for her spiritual rebirth. So this food distribution reconnected L with our Christians friends, and now our Christian friends want to do a baby shower for the baby that would have been aborted.
Make the most of every opportunity. Christ-followers have joined an upside down Kingdom. Moses was told to put up a bronze serpent so that people could look at it to stop the plague. But they had previously been told not to make a graven image. I don’t get that. Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross. Such an amazing, upended, God-became-man reality that has changed everything about my life and my future.
This Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the Risen Lord. Let’s make the most of this opportunity. I do mourn the reality that I can’t meet with a gathered assembly to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. I wish I could sing “Lift Your Glad Voices” with other believers. That is a loss. A part of me aches at the loss of gathered fellowship right now. But I thank God that he has me alive for such a time as this! Now, more than ever, the call to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves rings out so loud and clear that I cannot escape it. The message reverberates through this season in undulating, persistent, passionate waves.
Make the most of every opportunity.
Christ is Risen!
We sang Darlene Zschech's "The Potter's Hand" as a family and recorded it on a cell phone video, the videographer gliding in and then gliding out. It would be fun to record sometime with real microphones and a mixer. The link is below.
Then he told a parable to a 2020 audience who trusted in themselves as purveyors of truth—those convinced that they were called to expose false reports and share the real truth about this crisis:
“Three men went to church to pray, two of them truth-tellers (Pharisees) and the other an introspective sort (publican).
The first truth-teller stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank you that you have given me better discernment regarding the news and the times than other people—conspiracy theorists, fear-mongers, and talk show crazies. I listen to the government, I do what the experts say, and I don’t call main stream media “lame stream media.” I thank you that, if the virus gets worse or if it goes away, I can still prove that I was right and all other doubters were wrong. Please bless my truth-telling mission, dear Lord, to win my battles for You.”
The second truth-teller stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank you that you have showed me that I can never trust anything from main stream media. All of their content is lies, and anyone who believes the mainstream media, the “experts,” and big government is just wrong. Thank you, God, that you have revealed to me that this crisis is a hoax from the deep state, and thank you that You will show me who the deep state is so that I can expose them. Thank you that, if the virus explodes, I can blame it on the deep state, but if the virus is contained soon, I can prove that all this stay-at-home stuff was bogus. Either way, I win and the other clowns lose. Please bless my truth-telling mission, dear Lord.”
The introspective sort, standing away from the other two, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but closed his eyes and put his hands on his chest, saying, “God, some days I don’t even know what is truth regarding all this news out there. But I need you. I confess I have gotten angry at others, I have been confused sometimes over what is truth, and I have lashed out wrongly. I’m turning back to you, because I know you are truth. Jesus said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I’m running back to You. Your Kingdom is an unshakeable Kingdom, so I’ll major on the truths of your unshakeable Kingdom. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Today's Perspective, loosely modeled after Luke 18:11-13
Polarization on this matter is real, even in the Christian community. I believe God is calling us to focus on “the knowledge of Him (Jesus) who called us by his own glory and goodness.” His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness! And how so? “Through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness!” Let us know, let us listen to know the Lord. Some of the news is fake, at both ends of the spectrum. Even the real stuff is scary and fearful, so we will do ourselves and our family a favor to greatly limit the intake of news during this season. Focus on knowing Jesus.
Sure, I have opinions. We all do. I may be right about some of my opinions, but I may also be wrong about some. I come to this discussion with a particular bias and perspective that colors my viewpoint and has the capacity to fuzz what should be clear.
So I’m heading back to the ultimate message of truth. This is the time before Resurrection Sunday to think about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. A sacrificial Lamb died for me and for you. And then on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He is now seated at the right hand of the majesty on High! We are called to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now.
Christians, our full focus should be on the Kingdom of God now! If there is any “deep state” we should consider and study, it is this: “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7.
It’s time to say “Father, forgive us.” We have been focusing on the less-important truths that we will not be able to change anyway. It is time to again repent and believe the good news of Jesus, the everlasting gospel for all people everywhere!
Also he spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:12-14)
My heart is full. I cried more over the Word of God today than I have in a very long time. It was a cathartic, soul-cleansing kind of cry. Psalm 69. Deuteronomy 9 and 10. Luke 8-14. It seemed everywhere I turned in the Word of God a sword cut deep, piercing even to the joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intents of my heart. In Psalm 69 I thought of the suffering ones in the hospitals, alone and apart from their families: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.… I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; And for comforters, but I found none.” They are alone in their suffering. No visitors allowed.
I thank God for His kindness. If he marked our transgressions who would stand?
I thank God for heroic doctors, nurses, EMS workers, and other public service workers out there helping our friends and neighbors, and all the random strangers in this city. We are palpably needy. Emergency vehicles sound what seems like a perpetual wail of sirens.
I thank God for the good work He is doing in and through our friends Gary and Anne Swartzentruber in Georgia, whose hospital is currently over-run and under-sourced. Gary, a doctor, cares for his patients each day, while Anne, his wife, is organizing a community-wide effort to sew masks.
I thank God for David Wilkerson who, though he is no longer alive, has a prophetic voice that lives on. Someone shared on FB a prophetic message from Mr. Wilkernson: “I see a plague coming on the world, and the bars, churches and government will shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless believers into radical prayer and into their Bibles, and repentance will be the cry from the man of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world.”
-David Wilkerson in 1986 (Can anyone confirm if this is from “Set The Trumpet To Thy Mouth”?)
I thank God for His Kingdom that will never be shaken.
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven." Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
I thank God for trials and troubles and crazy times that help us to draw near to God, and He to us.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
Eternal weight of glory. Ah yes, I knew we were created for something more heavy than temporary amusing fluff, more real than fake news, more deep than these fear-based, mindless conspiracy theories floating, unbidden, all over the web.
I’m in, God. Weigh us down with your glory. Glorify your name in and through your people, who are called by Your name. Put your finger on the places we need to change, and change us, Lord Jesus. Cleanse these jars of clay to be useful for the Master.
Quick report on today’s opportunities to deliver Subway/ DD/deli sandwiches, sodas, box of Joe (DD) and box of hot chocolate to the ER workers at Jacobi Medical Center. Our contact, the director of communications at Jacobi, asked us to meet her at the ambulatory entrance to the trauma center, so we pulled up there and offloaded our food and drinks, enough for about 60 people. Our friends Stan and Sharon from our church made these cool little cards with verses on one side and “If you need prayer” contact information on the back and we taped the cards on the sandwich wrappers. Sandy prayed with our hospital friend who received the food with gratefulness. She said that her father has just been admitted to the hospital this morning, and she talked about the stresses of this time at the hospital. She also took a small packet of masks that our friend Sharon had sewn and told Sandy that they could definitely use these masks for patients and other people who come to the ER.
Our friend Brendan got the Subway sandwiches, so it was a neat team effort. Our daughter Bri was closing down the Eastchester Dunkin’ Donuts this afternoon because the owner (he has seven Dunkin’ Donuts) needs to consolidate his dwindling work force. So the owner told Bri to give the doughnuts and bagels to her parents to give to the hospital. Sandy returned that afternoon to DD to pick up those items and she spoke with a police officer in line. She had the opportunity to speak with that police officer and pray with him, and he recommended that she take the free doughnuts to the EMS station. Sandy thought to herself that this is what she loves to do, pray for people. J She took the doughnuts and bagels and headed off to where she thought was the local EMS station, but the GPS took her back to Jacobi. So there she was at the Jacobi Medical Center. Sandy sat in the car and prayed about what to do. She saw an ambulance pull up and decided to go up and offer the food to the paramedics. A male nurse came up behind her from getting out of his car and said “May I help you?” She said “I just came to encourage you today.” He lifted his glasses to look at her and told her “I had to step away from the madness for a little while and take a break.” The man started to cry and Sandy asked if she can pray for him. She stood there, praying for this big male nurse, with tears running down his cheeks. The man told her that he and his coworkers had just stepped outside earlier that afternoon and held hands and prayed, because there is so much stress. Here is this big guy, broken up and crying, telling her “I just had to step away from it for a while.”
Brianna has two coworkers who have each lost family members to COVID-19 in the past week. One of her co-workers lost her Grandpa, and they couldn’t even go to visit him while he was in the hospital. Another of her co-workers lost her Uncle. The co-worker who lost her Grandpa is now at home, sick.
Our friend up the block on Corsa Avenue is perhaps a few years older than us, and she has been hospitalized since Friday with COVID-19. Today they had to put her on the ventilator, which seems kind of like her health is headed in the wrong direction. Please pray for our friends and neighbors around here, and pray for us. The “news” out there gets more real when it is the news right here in our community.
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.