It is Ok to Mourn: Good Friday and COVID-19

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We should mourn this Good Friday. The coronavirus has enveloped the globe in a cloud of black death. It has also reached into the church and overturned her basket of well-planned Easter events, sending Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Sunday morning services wobbling across the floor to cancelation. When the glorious Easter sunrise fills the horizon this Sunday, there will be no loud congregational singing, giddy children, or sweet hugs of friendship circulating though our church. We will remain home, isolated from friends. Though the world has suffered under the curse of sin for thousands of years, the isolation of holy week brings the sorrow of sin into our souls anew. For the first time in years, many of our hearts feel the words of Psalm 22:1 that Jesus screamed on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

During such times of profound brokenness, Christians should run to the Lord. Like the great King David who faced many piercing trials, Christians should confess their anguish to God. They should ask God,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day (Ps 13:1-2a)?

The Coronavirus’s ability to disrupt the church calendar should serve as a powerful reminder of how broken our world is and of how much we need Jesus. We should allow the cancellation of our services to lead our hearts to humble and persistent cries for deliverance. “O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Ps 22:19),” The Coronavirus is a problem of divine proportions than can only be solved by a divine antidote.

The antidote will come. The message of Good Friday is that Jesus conquers sin and death. For thousands of years, human culture has been trying to find antidotes to the brokenness of the world through education, feeding programs, and medicine. All of human efforts have failed. Men and women remain tied to pride, greed, lust, and selfishness. Sin is a problem of cosmic proportions that no person, nation, or culture can conquer. Yet, Jesus conquered it on the cross. He was forsaken by God so that we might be welcomed into heaven. Jesus died for our sins and then rose again on the third day to prove he had delivered his children from sin. Those who repent and believe can follow Jesus to love, generosity, and selflessness. But to get to salvation, men and women must wrestle with their brokenness. They must realize they are sinners before they can cry out for a savior and embrace his salvation. Only those who know they are drowning will let the lifeguard rescue them.

The pattern of Good Friday serves as a template for the Church as she encounters new symptoms of sin and death in the world. To find relief from this world, we must admit that we suffer and need God’s help. “Save me from the mouth of the lion (Ps. 22:21a).” When we take our grieving souls to God, we find deliverance. “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen (Ps. 22:21b)!” Friends, the Coronavirus is a cosmic problem that God will recuse us from.

While we wait for the virus to end, many of us will become more aware of how much we miss the gathered body of Christ. We will be tempted to find unscriptural antidotes for our pain. Though we should embrace biblical forms of encouragement, we must resist the urge to drink the hyssop, an ancient pain reliever, that was offered to Jesus on the cross. (For more on my view of online church click here). If we turn to virtual Lord’s Supper, sermon binge watching, and zoom calls to treat our feelings of loneliness, we will not solve our sorrows for we still remain physically apart from our brothers and sisters We can touch the screen, but we cannot touch the face on the screen. If we try to fix our sorrows through human ingenuity, we will commit the mistake of the neglected spouse who copes with her distant marriage through romance novels. She may feel less pain while reading them. But when the chapters end, her marriage problems remain, and her heart has moved further away from her husband. The believer who feels neglected by God does not need a drive-in Easter service, he needs divine deliverance. He needs God to mercifully end the COVDI-19 crisis. If he fails to cry out to the Father as David and Jesus did because he is drinking grape juice and eating Ritz crackers in his home, he will neglect the biblical means of hope: prayer. He will find himself further from God. Just as those who fast allow hunger pains to drive them to pray, Christians should allow the pain of missed hugs, Lord’s Supper celebrations, congregational singing, public Scripture readings, and preached sermons to drive them to their knees in prayer. Instead trying to mitigate our sorrow through increased Wi-Fi bandwidth and FM transmitters, we need to join Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and pour out our prayers of lament to the Father for he alone can help us.

If there ever was a religion that made sense of our lonely world and that gave us a space to mourn while we await salvation, it is Christianity. Christians have both the sorrow of the cross and the joy of the empty tomb. We can mourn our loneliness while we wait for our salvation from COVID-19.

How To Encourage Hurting Christians

hurtingHow do we help those who are hurting? When the phone rings and the voice on the other side tearfully reports that their house has burned to the ground, that their son has died, or that their spouse has left them, what will we say? How do we help those who are hurting?

Jonathan faced this dilemma in 1 Samuel 23:15-18. His best friend David struggled with fear because Jonathan’s Father, King Saul, and his armies sought to kill David. While David jumped about the caves seeking to remain a step of ahead of Saul’s sword, Jonathan sought out his exhausted brother-in-the-Lord. to David and encourages his . The Scriptures recounted , “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God (1 Sam 23:16).” How did Jonathan encourage David?

He went to David, reminded David of his identity, and he befriend David.

To encourage others, we must go to them. When we hear that someone is fearful, when we learn that someone is struggling, and when we realize someone has experienced a trial, we should seek them out. We should not wait for them to make the first move. Those who possess the heart of Christ, go without being asked. Remember Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” The apostle John reaffirmed this sentiment in 1 John 4:10 writing,

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God did sit in heaven waiting for us to ask for help. No, he sent his son to seek the lost while we were still at war with him. Those who love God will seek out those who hurt. When Christians get the midnight phone call, they ask if they can come visit. They go to the hospital to see their sick friend; they drop by the depressed man’s home. They go because their savior has come to them.  They go to their David.

But what do we say when we go? How do we encourage others? Again, we can learn from Jonathan. He tells David,

Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this (1 Sam 23:17).

Jonathan reminds David of God’s promises.

Fear is driven by misconceptions of God. We fear because we believe house fires, bad medical reports, and broken relationships reveal that God has stopped being good. We think our circumstances say more about God’s love for us than what God says about his love for us.

In Psalm 54:3, a song written during David’s flight, David laments that

For Strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves.

He is being hunted and so he fears. David doubts that he will live and be king. He doubts the promises of God.

The solution to doubt and worry is meditation upon our identity in Christ. Jonathan tells David to remember that God has promised him the kingdom. Saul will not kill David because God is on David’s side. Even though circumstances indicate that David is more likely to die than be king, God’s word remains true. David will be king.

When we talk with the hurting, we should take the same approach. If we can alleviate pain or suffering, we should do so. But we should remember our greatest weapon against fear, depression, and anger is the promises of God. The WWII era pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us,

Our salvation is external to ourselves. I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.  

Like Jonathan we need to tell our hurting friends that they are children of God who will reign in heaven with God. Paul reminded the fearful Thessalonians,

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thess. 5:9-11).

We need to tell the weak of how God saved them from their sins and how that nothing including death, sickness, and loneliness can separate them from the love of God. We need to remind them that God’s love, care, and compassion for us never falter or fail.

As Lamentations 3:21-24 says,

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

In Psalm 54:4a, David concludes,

Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.

David will be king because he serves a great God. You will be with God in heaven for you serve a great God. Remind the hurting of their identity in Christ.

And last, we need to reaffirm our friendship for the hurting. Jonathan reaffirmed his covenant with David in verse 18. Instead of fleeing from David, fearing that David’s bad mojo would rub off on him, Jonathan embraced David as his friend. We should do the same. We should be quick to reaffirm that sickness, tragedy, and broken relationships do not affect our love for our friends. We should affirm the faith of the hurting. We should sit next to them at church. We should reach out to them, inviting them into our homes and going to their homes when appropriate. We should befriend them.

How do we help the hurting?

We go to them. We remind them of their identity in Christ. And, we befriend them.

Are you ready for your next late night phone call?

Trials Don’t Excuse You From Ministry; They Demand It

lonlinessChristians tend to withdraw from church, ministry, and relationships when trials flood over the dykes of happiness that guard their hearts. They fly to their basements of isolation, believing distance from God and from others will help them float atop the waves of adversity. But instead of safety, they find ruin.

In 1 Samuel 23:1-5, David’s troops advocate for such a withdrawal. They are being hunted by the vengeful King Saul who commands an army intent upon their murder. While they hide in the mountains, news reaches David that the men of Keilah face an existential threat.

The Philistines have begun to move against the city of Keilah at the conclusion of the harvest season. The Philistines intend to steal the newly processed crops, leaving the people of Keilah with no food, no income, and no means of remedying their situation. The raid threatens financial ruin and even death. When David heard of the imminent attack, he asks God if he should rush to the aid of Keilah? God tells David to “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah (1 Sam 23:2).” Though God says yes, David’s men say no for they are “afraid.” They feared that saving others from the sword would expose them to the sword.

David’s men like so many Christians today believe that trials excuse them from coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many believers think hardships such as new medical problem, a death in the family, or a financial crisis absolve them from their Christian responsibilities. They fear that singing in the choir will exhaust them because their new illness threatens to lower their energy level. They worry that volunteering to work in the kid’s ministry will be too much because they are still grieving the death of a loved one. They stop tithing because they fear living on one income will be hard. In short, they assume that their trials excuse their fear and sanction their withdrawal from ministry.

Yet when David goes back to the Lord to make sure he heard God correctly, God reaffirms his message, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” Why does God still send David? Why does tell the hunted and the abused to go help other people with their problems? God sends David and his men on a mission because God knows that evil circumstances have a divine purpose. Cancer, the death of a loved one, and the shrinking checking account down are not signs of God’s neglect. They are not mistakes. B.P. Power reminds us that,

The good God, who has sent you your sickness, is the one who has ordained that nothing shall be useless. God has made you and put you in your present position; and he meant you to be useful in it, of importance in it too.

God’s reigns over both the good times and the bad; and, the bad times have a purpose. God tells to rejoice in our trials, our sickness, and our hardships “knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

41HH4orqGPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Suffering crashes over the walls of our happiness because God wants us to be fully satisfied in him. Illness, grief, and hardships exist to strengthen and enrich the faith of the Christian. When their hearts are covered with the murky flood waters of suffering, Christians should seek to live out their faith with earnest and zeal. Instead of withdrawing in fear, they should go liberate the men of Keilah. They should serve in the choir, help with the kids, and visit the depressed.

Some will counter the above plea, talking of how their presence in choir will discourage the body of Christ. They fear that other believers will look at their sickness, their tears, and their poverty and conclude that God is weak, uncaring, and unloving. Paul says suffering servants have the opposite effect upon the church. The hurting who suffer inspire the spread of the gospel. Paul writes in Philippians 1:12-13:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

The command to love God and to love others can be accomplished by both the blessed and the hurting. Christians should go liberate their Keilah.

Despite the evidence, hurting Christians may doubt God’s promise of victory. They fear that obedience to God will end poorly. Such fear flows naturally into the heart of the believer, because Adam fathered them all. P.B. Power warns,

As soon as Adam fell, he become suspicious of God; and all his posterity have inherited this suspicion from him…Now here is an evil, plain and well defined, against which we must fight. We must not be always be suspecting God. If he says one thing to us, we must not think he means another. We must not suppose that he is doubleminded in any of his ways.

Christians should not be doubleminded about their God. Their loving God who calls them to serve and to do hard things will give them the power to achieve victory. The Philistines will be destroyed and the men of Keilah will be saved. Obedience to God always results in victory.

My bride, April and I, have witnesses this reality over and over again in our lives. We have come to end of day exhausted by parenting, marriage, and church issues. If we had our way, we would go pull the covers over our head and be done with life for the next few hours, but we have had to press on because someone is scheduled for dinner or a ministry at church is about to begin. Every time we have pressed on, we have experienced amazing blessing and victory. The people and ministries that threatened to drain our souls enflamed our souls. The people of God reminded us of God’s faithfulness, goodness, and power. And the issues that seemed to define the day as a waste only moments before become small and insignificant by the power of God’s grace. Those who fight on in faith never lose.

When the next wave of suffering hits your hurt, will you go to Keilah?