How to Handle the Virus of Worry

Worry. It’s the Christian version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Most everyone does it, but few admit it. And fewer still learn the lessons that worry, and fear can teach.

These days there seems to be a lot to worry about. The coronavirus has created a new normal. Church services have been cancelled. Entire cites are under quarantine. Some areas are more impacted than others, but even that adds to the uncertainty of it all. We are fighting the worst possible enemy, one that we can’t see.

And the sad reality is, the coronavirus is the least of the worries of many families across this nation. Deaths didn’t pause for a moment. Families are mourning the passing of loved ones without the support of relatives and friends who can’t safely attend the memorials. Cancer didn’t disappear. Drug addiction didn’t stop. Problems didn’t pause. In other words, life with all of its challenges continues with or without a virus.

And in the face of this mess, Jesus gives an almost unnatural command in Matthew 6:25, “Don’t worry about your life.” Paul was even more emphatic in Philippians 4: 6,” Don’t worry about ANYTHING….” Really? Don’t worry about anything in life. How in the world is that possible?

First let’s be clear what the Bible means when it talks about worry. In the Old and New Testaments there are a number of words that describe worry. Some are positive, most are negative. It all depends on the context. The primary word is merimnao. When it’s describing legitimate concern or Christian care, then the word is positive. But that’s not the “worry” that the Bible warns us against.

The worry that Christ commands us to avoid is a destructive anxiety, an over-concern. It literally means “distracted”, “divided”, “driven in different directions” Like fear, it’s a legitimate emotion that is functioning illegitimately. In Matthew 5 and 6, Jesus talks about worry in the context of His kingdom. The issue is primarily allegiance. Where is your citizenship? Which king will you trust? More on that later.

But there are a number of practical things that you should avoid, especially in this pandemic, if you want to fight worry. I’ll identify 3 and we’ll take a more positive turn in part two

Fake News

In times of crisis we should aggressively guard the avenues into our minds and emotions. People are struggling with a type of sensory overload of news in general. But this coronavirus has been Christmas in March for the conspiracy theorists. Here are just a few of the theories:

· The US with help of Bill Gates manufactured the virus in 2018.

· There is a vaccine, but the government won’t release it.

· It began with Chinese eating bats in Wuhan.

· The US weaponized it against China.

· The Chinese weaponized it against the US

Now, I’m sure that someone reading this blog has found a friend in at least one of those theories. And that’s the genius of many theories. They have just enough truth to cover you while you take the plunge. But it’s a black hole. Conspiracy theories by their very nature are impossible to prove, so they have an endless shelf life.

But if you want to avoid worry, better to take one of Paul’s most famous remedies for worry, “Whatever is true…noble…right…pure…lovely…admirable…excellent or praiseworthy-think about those things!” Phil. 4:8

Fatalistic Friends

I used the word fatalistic for alliteration. The word I wanted to use was NEGATIVE!! There are some people who are negative by nature. Under the best of circumstances, they carry a cloud. But in a crisis that cloud becomes a storm. Are there often reasons for their pessimism? Yes. Should you make their worry the source of yours? No.

I wrote on Facebook this week that I’m convinced that some folk must stay up at night thinking of “helpful” things to post that will frighten people…. well, I was a little more graphic on Facebook, but this is a family post. The point is the source of your worry might very well be your well-meaning friends. Be careful of your company online and in person.

False Prophets

I’m being kind. I generally call them Prophecy Pimps. Religious leaders who have made a cottage industry of end time speculation. At times they seem to traffic in the worry of well-meaning people. I have lived and studied long enough to remember the number of cataclysmic events that were supposed to be “proof positive” that the world is about to end. But we’re still here.

I’m not being cavalier. I’ve not seen anything quite like this virus. But God’s ways and times are impossible to control or fully understand. I don’t know what’s happening next, but I do know what’s happening now. People are praying like they’ve never prayed before. That’s a great remedy for worry. I’ll pick that up in Part Two.

What are your thoughts? Please share. Thanks!

Will the Church Please Leave The Building – Part Two

Yesterday was interesting. Seems like every church… and church member… with a wi-fi connection was online. Some of them were obviously not ready for prime time. It made for some funny moments. The old joke is that some people have a face for radio. I’m beginning to feel the same way about churches.

But I’m a fan. I’m excited that churches have taken the media plunge. I also don’t think churches need to apologize for scrambling to get their worship services online. Public and personal worship is the fuel of mission. The problem is that too many churches have emphasized their worship services to the exclusion of other ministries. Hopefully, this isn’t another example.

Which is why I said at the end of Part One, the question of the hour for me is not where your church is worshipping this weekend, but where your church is ministering this week.

The building may be temporarily locked for public worship, but the church is open for business! We are the church and this could be our finest hour for ministry. Quarantines and shortages have limited some ministry options, but two primary areas should be our focus:

Serving the Members

Galatians 6:10 encourages us to take particular care of the members of our local church body. Churches seem to be doing a decent job of getting online. Streaming has become a priority. But if you look at the average age of most of our congregations, it’s clear that many of our members are probably “technology challenged.”

Assume nothing. Know where your church members are and how they are doing. And don’t wait for some magical system if you don’t have one. Phone. Text. Pony Express. Carrier pigeon. I don’t care! By any means necessary. Find some willing workers and get it done.

I drove to Memphis to see my parents yesterday. Both of them are over 80. It was comforting to me and my sisters to know how many members had been checking in on them already. That’s ministry!

Servicing the Community

Churches are at their best when they are ministering to the needs of people. And as this pandemic grows, so does the need for churches to leave the building and go to work. And it’s happening!

• Churches are distributing “grab and go” meals for the homeless.

• Churches are using their online platforms for cooking classes and health tips.

• Churches are providing breakfast and lunch for out of school students.

• Churches are leading blood donation drives.

• Churches are paying off outstanding medical bills for the underprivileged.

The Church of the Highlands in Birmingham is using its church parking lot as a remote testing site. Members are volunteering their services and people are coming by the hundreds. That’s what happens when the church leaves the building, even if it’s only as far as the parking lot!

And don’t overlook the value of simple ministries that don’t cost a dime. Canvass your community to determine their needs. Especially the seniors. Conduct a prayer walk that could include asking your neighbors how you can pray for them. Prayer requests are non-denominational, usually well-received, and amazing ice breakers.

It’s time for the church to leave the building!

Please Share This Post. Thanks! So how are churches in your area ministering in this crisis. What about your church? Any more outreach or service ideas?

Will the Church Please Leave the Building – Part One

We’ve heard the clichés for years. “The church is not a building!” “The church is not the steeple, it’s the people.” Cute. But the clichés are correct. The church is not brick and mortar, the church is a collection of people.

So, it’s a bit ironic that when the church is presented with one of the greatest opportunities in history to minister outside the walls, many of them are fighting to stay inside the walls! This fast-moving coronavirus crisis has already pushed us into a new normal. But some of the chaos in our communities has been overshadowed by the chaos in some of our churches.

Because there is an ongoing argument about whether their churches should follow the government’s “social distancing” mandates and cancel worship services.

  • “How can the government shut down my church?!”
  •  “We should obey God rather than man!” 
  • “The government is out of line.”
  • “They are removing our religious liberty.”

 Not so much. It’s true that our highest allegiance is to God. But God has described an appropriate role for the government.

In Romans 13:1-7, the government is described as “established by God” to keep order and provide protection. The protection of public health during this pandemic is clearly an appropriate role for the government.

Can they go too far? Of course, they can. That’s why no matter how desperate the situation, government is still bound by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that forces them to have a “compelling interest” when restricting church activities. And even then, if they have a compelling interest in limiting the freedom of a church, they must use the “least restrictive means.” I think they’ve met that standard so far.

At some point in our prophetic future, the government can and will seize our religious liberties and freedom. I’m not a prophet, but my sense is that this isn’t  it. This virus is probably preparation for much larger challenges to come.

And frankly, it’s not the church that has been suspended, it’s the public worship of the church. I would never minimize public worship. I think we were created to worship God. And public worship is central to our growth as disciples. But worship is not just what we do, it’s who we are. We are not bound by bricks!

I love worship. I teach Christian Worship and Black Liturgy. But my fear is that the mission and identity of some of our local churches are almost totally tied to their worship services. That’s not good.

How are we caring for our members? How are we reaching out to the community? The question of the hour is not where your church is worshipping this weekend, but where your church is ministering this week?

I’ll pick this up in Part 2. Your thoughts?

Non-Adventists in Adventist Pulpits?

Got a text last night. Another online prophet was blasting PELC for inviting non-Adventist speakers. Rolled over and went back to sleep. Since E.E. Cleveland and the committee initiated the annual invitations 30 years ago, the push back has been predictable. At times, almost comical.

Listen. We should be cautious when inviting ANY guest into our pulpits. Adventist or non Adventist. For the local pastor who has the liberty to invite non-Adventists into the pulpit, be careful. You should be super critical about whoever feeds your flock. Period. Adventist or non -Adventist. Some churches are not mature enough to handle a non -Adventist voice. You shouldn’t allow your liberty to become a stumbling block, even as you are helping them to mature.

But let me give 5 quick, common-sense reasons it’s dangerous to prohibit non Adventists from preaching from our pulpits.

Because Relationships Matter

Ministers have incredible influence. Even in this age of suspicion and leadership distrust, pastors impact the lives of millions in our communities. As Christians, we are in the people business. It makes sense for us to establish relationships with people who influence people. When pastors forge friendships across denominational lines, they not only discover common concerns, but the potential for theological dialogue is real.

A number of years ago I was able to share my understanding of glossolalia – tongues- to a group of prominent Pentecostal pastors in Southern California. They initiated the conversation because they trusted me. I was a friend. And there is probably no greater sign of trust, than when a pastor invites another pastor to share the pulpit. I had preached for them and they had preached for me. All of them? No. Just the ones I trusted.

Because It’s Arrogant

“Some of them (ministers of other denominations) who have rejected the light may be dishonest, critical and sharp…… but there are others who have lived up to the best light they had upon the scriptures.” (2)

Interesting insight from Ellen White over 130 years ago. Spoiler alert! Adventism is not the only faith community that trusts and believes the word of God.

Adventists are not the only ones who love Jesus.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in holiness.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the Sabbath.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe that worship can get out of hand.

A quick glance at our fundamental beliefs reveals very little that is not shared by most mainline denominations. Our history and theology have a prominent Methodist influence. When a godly minister of another denomination preaches on a belief we share, it’s a blessing.

Because It’s Dangerous

Something interesting happens when the only voices you hear are familiar voices. You don’t realize it, but you go through life talking to yourself. You live in an echo chamber. You say something and the words come right back at you. No opposition. No contradiction. No change. That’s dangerous!

Adventists face the dangers of living in a bubble. We have our own everything. Adventist academies. Adventist universities. Adventist television. Adventist music. Adventist hotdogs and ham!

But its’ difficult to see the problem when the problem is you. Outsiders can be our salvation if they help us appreciate our strengths and confront our weaknesses.

Because It’s Inconsistent

This Saturday morning, Adventists across the world will gather in local churches and sing hymns that have strengthened their faith through difficult times. Some will complain that the problem with the church today is that we don’t sing enough of these great hymns. They not only inspire us but teach us. We’ll sing:

Amazing Grace

How Firm a Foundation

Lift up the Trumpet

When We All Get to Heaven

All written by amazing musicians. Not one Adventist in the bunch.

Now, I’m not equating a 5 minute hymn with a 40 minute sermon, but they both teach. Hymns teach. Books teach. Teachers teach. Preachers teach. We must be careful and use our judgement with them all.

Because It’s Judgmental

For many, this opposition to non -Adventists in Adventist pulpits goes to the idea that we don’t want false unity and weakening distinctives. I get that. But what I don’t get are Adventist Christians who claim that ministers of other denominations are false prophets- all of them. It’s insulting, judgmental, and frankly incorrect.

Ellen White again. “Ministers (of other denominations) have been treated by some of our laborers very much as if they were heathen-and they feel it.” (3) It’s wrong.

Of course, everything rises and falls on the preacher you pick. And frankly, some Adventist churches aren’t interested, prepared, or mature enough to hear a different voice. That’s fine.

But I’ve been blessed over the years to hear giants like Gardner Taylor, Charles Adams, and Sandy Ray bless Adventist congregations. The tradition continues today with the likes of Ralph West, William Curtis, Marcus Cosby and others.

Frankly, on the rare occasion that I’ve had a problem in my pulpit, it has been an Adventist preacher. And I have never had a problem with a non-Adventist guest. They have always taken pains to familiarize themselves with our beliefs and to be appropriate.

Perhaps it’s because I vet them all. Outsiders more carefully than insiders. That’s good counsel and an even better place to stop.

So what are your thoughts?

The Man who Saved the Adventist Church from Obscurity

That’s how Elder Charles Bradford described Dr. Earl Moore at his funeral, “the man who saved the Adventist Church from obscurity.” He was right.

The Sixties were tumultuous years in America. Presidents and pop stars alike were being murdered in the streets. The assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin King only made a bad situation worse. Cities from Newark to Detroit to Chicago were regularly in flames because of racial tensions.

But as bad as it was in the industrial north, it was considerably worse in the deep South. But it was in the South that black leaders like Charles Joseph, Randy Stafford, and others fearlessly led their communities and literally forced the Adventist church to confront the civil rights crisis.

Earl Moore led the charge. A graduate of Oakwood College and Loma Linda University, He pastored and later became the Community Services and Health and Welfare Director for the South-Central Conference. Moore was an amazing activist who was always pushing his community and his church to confront racism, injustice and poverty.

He Defied the General Conference

President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, but it was clear by 1968 that his heart wasn’t in it. Martin King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s response was to organize the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign demanded economic and human rights for poor people. They set up a 3000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, and stayed for 6 weeks.

Dr. Moore, Dr. Charles Joseph and the South-Central Conference had created a mobile medical unit that was offering free medical and dental care in the deep South. They brought relief to thousands. They decided to take the van and offer those same services to the crowds gathered for the Poor Peoples Campaign in D.C. But when the General Conference was alerted of their plans, they sent clear instructions for them not to go.

When Moore and his associates got word from the squeamish General Conference that they should not participate in the Poor Peoples Campaign, they sent back a response that I’ll always remember. Moore and his friends simply responded, “We’re going to Washington because our people are there.” And with that simple but straightforward response, they did what they had to do.

He Put The Church On The Map

Despite his defiance, or better, because of his defiance, the Adventist Church benefitted. Pictures of that mobile unit that defied the General Conference are currently on display in the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C. The van is also mentioned in the television documentary, “M.L. King: The Assassination Tapes.”

Earl Moore went on to become a recognized and respected civil and human rights leader. He worked alongside leaders like Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and others. For 20 years he was the vice-chairman for the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. He brought much needed attention to the church for his local and national efforts.

He Supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Throughout his life, Moore was a strong supporter of Christian education in general and black educational institutions in particular. His son Wayne was one of my roommates at Oakwood and he is currently an emergency medical specialist in Gallatin, Tennessee. As a matter of fact, because of the influence and encouragement of Moore and others, 10 Moores graduated as physicians from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee.

We Don’t Know Our History

There are few things that irritate me more than leaders who speak as though community activism began with them. It’s inaccurate and fundamentally disrespectful. And worse, it misses an opportunity to learn from those who worked under worse conditions than we can imagine. The years that I spent listening to and observing Dr. Moore, Dr. Joseph and others, were as valuable as any university education.

We owe an incredible debt to Dr. Earl Moore and other Adventist civil rights giants. We can make a dent in that debt with recognition and respect. But more than that, we can continue their amazing legacy by making a difference, right where we are.

What do you think? And how can we impact our communities…today?!