A CASE OF PANDEMIC BLUES

A Fight for Joy Through COVID-19

Save us out from the darkness

I woke up depressed last Saturday. I mean I was down, really down. I was in a not-even-sweetly-joyful-Jan-could-bring-me-out-of-it funk.

I’ve always tended toward the melancholy–though I’ve grown over the years to be less so. But at times darkness still hides His lovely face and I succumb to gloom.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. I suspect a collection of stay-at-home-order suspects ganged up on me that day. Frankly, my emotions have taken a wilder rollercoaster ride through this time of COVID-coopedupness than I ever expected.

I feel relationally starved. My life revolves around ministering to others. Texts, phone conversations, Facebook messages, Zoom calls and the like get me only so far in my need for connection.

Then there is the ongoing privation of the ordinary means of grace that are not so ordinary to me. I miss singing with God’s people, hearing the word of God preached, feasting at the Lord’s Table, breaking bread with our church family, among other priceless things.

Perhaps I’ve got more ministry idols in need of exposing than I care to explore.

I wonder how many others struggle so?

It took a day or so, but I managed to come out of the nosedive. A week-long postmortem revealed some insights for me about the journey.

Asking Questions of Myself

My friend Ken Sande of RW360 has helped me with this aspect of relational wisdom. The “S” in his “SOG” plan stands for being Self-Aware.

It involves asking yourself things like: What am I feeling? Why do I feel that way? What am I inclined to do? What will I do instead?

David prodded himself similarly in Psalm 42:5:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.

Those last two questions in Ken’s list are crucial to a successful  upward climb out of the pit. What I was inclined to do was somehow veg the whole day. Instead by God’s grace I chose a healthier path.

Doing the Next Thing

Saturday was a work day for me. I was behind in my hours for the week. I didn’t want to do any of it. But I did anyway. Here’s why.

This counsel from Oswald Chambers has served me well over time:

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time (emphasis added).

Relishing the Surprises

I finished my work. I felt a bit better, but still lingered in my melancholy.

Then I got this Onesiphorus-like text “out of the blue” from a brother in our church:

“Happy Saturday night! Hope you both are doing well. I wasn’t sure how much you are going into town for supplies. If there is anything I can pick up and deliver for you, let me know. We are doing OK . . . learning to be thankful for things.”

Please understand. In this rural Idaho valley, nobody lives close by! This was a huge offer of kindness. I told him he made my day, especially as I was struggling with the blues.

And that last line of his text about learning to be thankful? What a great reminder to fight for joy with verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Self Care

It took me years in ministry to learn this lesson.

A counselor once asked me, “What does Curt do for Curt?”

This without-healthy-boundaries caregiver immediately dismissed the validity of the question for the fear of selfishness.

But eventually he came to his senses. He who cares for the interests of others without due care for his own needs eventually ends up unable to care for anyone’s.

Saturday night we ate a good supper. We got a great night’s sleep–still getting used as a preacher to sleeping in on Sunday mornings–way longer than usual! If food and rest were the Lord’s prescription for a depressed prophet, we best apply the same as needed.

By the time Jan and I made our way to an online service Sunday morning, my joy had returned and we worshipped the Lord.

It still wasn’t the same as gathering together with our church family, but it helped frame another week of fighting for joy in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question: What helps you fight for joy in this difficult season?

 

 

TAKE HEED OF A PRIVATE SPIRIT

A Puritan’s Exhortation to War Together for Church Unity

Afraid of the dark

In 2020, I’ve left Octavius Winslow behind–much good he has done me.

This year’s godly dead-guy reading turns to William Gurnall and his treatise The Christian in Complete Armor.

I’ve read some of this tome in the past. Time to finish the task.

It seems I previously missed this connection he makes between spiritual warfare and church unity:

Be sure you stand in close order amongst your selves; these times give us too many sad examples of such, who first fell from communion with their brethren, and then into the devourers hand; stragglers are soon snapped; you will find you are safest in a body. Take heed of a private spirit; let not only your particular safety, but of the whole army of saints be in your eye and care, especially that company (congregation I mean) in which you march. That soldier who can see an enemy in fight with his brethren, and not help them, he makes it but the more easy for the enemy to slay himself at last. Say not therefore, Am I my brothers keeper? God would not keep him that cared not to keep his brother. Watch over one another, not to play the critics on your brothers failings, and triumph when he halts, but to help him up if he falls, or if possible, to keep him from falling by a timely rescue. … Keep your rank and file.

There’s a word, Christian.

Your enemy hunts you and your army.

You are safest in a body.

Keep your rank and file.

We ARE our brother’s keeper.

Take heed of a private spirit!

 

CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (1)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

Religious celebrations of Easter Week, SpainConclusions matter.

From dessert and coffee at a restaurant, to the the climax of a story, to (this matters especially to pastors like me) how the sermon ends, the way things come to a close can make all the difference in the experience.

Lately in my study I’ve camped out a lot in Eph. 6:10-20. Paul’s treatment there of the challenging subject of spiritual warfare forms the focus of my church’s men’s retreat at the end of this month.

Think about it. He ends this exquisite letter to the the church at Ephesus on this note: we Christians are at war. We find ourselves in a never-ending conflict with formidable forces. Much opposition confronts anyone serious about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Among those things, and the first place he starts in Eph. 4:3, is doing our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Safeguarding the treasured gift of unity in your church means you have to go to war over it.

It’s a high-stakes, dangerous, but utterly worthwhile undertaking.

Here are four strategies (a preview of our retreat content) for waging the spiritual battle.

One, trust your God for His strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (10). This same power raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). We have everything we need in the way of strength for this ongoing struggle. We draw from the One who effectively disarmed the enemy at Calvary (Col. 2:15).

Additionally our powerful God has equipped us with impressive battle gear designed to protect us so that we may stand and not fall (11). More on that in strategy #3.

Two, know your enemy for his schemes. The objective in this fight is plain–that you may be able to stand (11). Satan and his minions deployed in the invisible realm (12) plot our undoing. We must give him/them no ground.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts: accusation (Rev. 12:10); deception (Gen. 3:1-6); sins like anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and withholding forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11); just to name a few. Luther said it well in A Mighty Fortress:

For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Lesson?

Don’t underestimate the foe. Arm yourself with a informed knowledge of his shrewd tactics.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The bulk of the passage focuses on the battle gear God supplies every believer for spiritual warfare (14-17). Paul repeatedly emphasizes our responsibility to put it on–take it up–all of it. We dare not engage this battle every day without every one of the six components.

What they are and some thoughts about them, plus strategy #4, will come with my next post and the second part on this subject.

In the meantime, take heed to this exhortation from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Do not relax. “Maintain the field!” You are always on duty in the Christian life, you can never relax. There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.

Peacemaking warriors! Maintain the field! Ever on duty, battle to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in your churches.

WEAPONS FOR WAGING WAR AT A HOUSE OF DEATH

Preaching at All Women's

Believers on mission for Jesus in the places where they live, work, and play wield weapons of warfare that “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). In the town where I live, right up the street from my church, exists one of the more formidable castles of destruction upon which we at OGC and other churches have declared spiritual war. I mean, of course, the All Women’s Health Center, an abortuary where babies perish regularly in the name of the right to choose. 

This morning a platoon of us gathered on the sidewalk to engage the battle for life yet another time. We employed three mighty weapons for the fray. First, we took up the weapon of praise. We sang Christmas carols within earshot of the waiting room where women prepare for their abortions. They heard carols like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Away in a Manger,” ” O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and other tunes as well. You could feel the Spirit of God come with power. 

Second, I took up the weapon of preaching. Originally I was asked only to pray. This I was only too happy to do. But then this morning the invitation came to bring the Word of God. I didn’t hesitate. I spoke from John 1:12. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten full of grace and truth.” Once again, I sensed the Spirit come with power as I exhorted the faithful to carry on the campaign for life until the abortion mills in our city close and that the saving of babies would occur through the sidewalk interventions day in and day out. 

Third, and finally, we picked up the weapon of prayer. We pleaded with the Lord of life to save children from destruction. We begged Him to bring down the fortress of death upon which we had descended. We asked Jesus to convict the doctors and nurses within its walls. And we asked for fathers and mothers to choose life over death for their children in the womb.

One never knows just how any of these firefights will go. On this day, the Lord scored a major victory for life. During the battle with its praise, preaching, and prayer, one couple hearkened to the counselors invitation to come over to the sidewalk and talk. They listened to the passionate and informed pleas of the trained advocates for life. AND THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS! They turned back. They chose not to abort their baby and left the premises. And we rejoiced at the goodness of God to hear our prayers and grant such a merciful encouragement in response to our feeble efforts to subdue evil. 

The One who abhorred not the womb nor the cross, King Jesus, showed up in the fight for life today and granted us a victory. May He be inclined to do so all the more as we carry on the struggle into 2014 and beyond, as long as it takes. 

With Whom Are You Fighting?

The apostle Paul calls the Christian life a fight in places like 1 Tim. 6:12.

J. C. Ryle devotes chapter four of his book Holiness to this notion.  You can read an online version of the book here.

HolinessEarly on he asks a crucial question that reminds us of the paramount importance of practicing biblical peacemaking in the local church.

With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy! He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, faction and faction, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. No doubt it may be absolutely needful sometimes to appeal to law courts in order to ascertain the right interpretation of a church’s articles and rubrics and formularies. But, as a general rule, the cause of sin is never so much helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another and spend their time in petty squabbles.

Let us fight the good fight with our mortal enemies the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-16; Eph. 6:11) but let us eschew any strife among one another in the family of God.

Are You Weary in the Battle?

HolinessAnd make no mistake about it. The Christian life is a struggle, a battle, a war.

Paul made clear to the church of Ephesus that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).

In light of this perpetual warfare Paul exhorted Timothy, Fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12) and Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:3).

As I prepared to start another work week with our early morning prayer time as a staff, I read a word of encouragement from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness that gave my prone-to-be-weary soul a burst of strength for the fight. In stressing that the Christian’s fight must be one of faith, Ryle urges special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office as the life, heart, and mainspring of the Christian soldiers character. He writes:

He sees by faith an unseen Savior, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him, and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. He sees Jesus and clings to Him. Seeing this Savior and trusting in Him, he feels peace and hope and willingly does battle against the foes of his soul.

He sees his own many sins, his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them, he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Savior, an interceding Savior, a sympathizing Savior—His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood—and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him, he cheerfully fights on, with a full confidence that he will prove “more than conqueror through Him that loved him”  (Rom. 8:37).

So if you are weary this Monday morning as you reengage the battle fronts before you, I remind you with Ryle’s help to do so by faith in your unseen Savior casting your whole weight on Him.

Puritan Power & Perspective on Waiting

GurnallFor some reason I’ve made it a habit to turn to the Puritans first thing each morning this year in my abiding in Christ time.

Moody Press published a collection of daily readings in spiritual warfare from the writings of William Gurnall called The Christian in Complete Armour (1994). Numerous times the meditations within its pages have framed my perspective for the day and boosted my reserves of spiritual power and strength.

The entry for November 21 this week proved particularly meaningful for me and I thought I would pass it on.

Wait on God as long as you have to, until He comes according to His promise and takes you out of your suffering. Do not be hasty to take yourself out of trouble. . . . The fullest mercies are the ones we wait for the longest. Jesus did not immediately supply wine at the marriage of Cana, as His mother had asked, but they had the more for waiting awhile.

Hope assures the soul that while God waits to perform one promise, he supplies another. This comfort is enough to quiet the heart of anyone who understands the sweetness of God’s methods. There is not one minute when a believer’s soul is left without comfort. There is always some promise standing ready to minister to the Christian until another one comes. A sick man does not complain if all his friends do not stay with him together, as long as they take turns and never leave him without someone to care for him. . . .

The believer can never come to Him without finding some promise to supply strength until another is ripe enough to be gathered.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (Isa. 40:31).