BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL ATTRITION

BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL ATTRITION

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

25586779_10155207977480922_6214117991468108390_o

Neal Pollard

Life has dramatically changed for us on a daily basis. Whether it be liberties that have been restricted or routines that have been disrupted, we have experienced significant upheaval. Some of it has been dramatically better, as for many we have been given a slower pace that has produced much more time with family and projects done together that we will always treasure. There is vast potential for much better marriage and family habits to come from this experience, as well as a reshuffling of priorities on the other side of this quarantine.

Of course, for many this will be remembered as a season of trial. We are hearing of members of the church who have contracted and even died with this deadly virus. Church families around the nation have members who are part of the at least ten percent of those who have lost their jobs or been laid off. How many parents, grandparents, and other loved ones are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and residences where we cannot have physical contact with them for their safety’s sake? As devastating as anything, though, is the dreadful disruption to “church life” because we cannot assemble together for church services, fellowship activities, devotionals, seminars and workshops, and the like. There will be permanent, far-reaching impacts physically, economically, and socially, but what about spiritually?

Guard Against Social Disconnection

For the time being, we are more or less forced into social distancing. Hopefully, this can be modified soon and ultimately return to pre-virus levels. It will be important to return to the physical dimension of contact with each other provided uniquely through our assemblies. My prayer is that we will treasure fellowship like never before. We will zealously obey the command to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds through our assemblies (Heb. 10:24-25), being “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10) between our scheduled services (Acts 2:46). Don’t let the devil use this to form a permanent social wedge between you and the church.

Guard Against Stress And Anxiety

There are no psychological studies to measure the effects of mass isolation and sheltering in place on a scale like this has caused. No doubt, the more functional and stable the home environment and the more emotional support available to a person, the better he or she will fare. How many cut off from their normal routines are also constantly feeding themselves a steady diet of the news, which none can rightly classify as edifying? Conspiracy theories aside, there are the stressors like the ones mentioned above. Fears can eclipse faith and worry can lead to weakness. This trial is an excellent opportunity to build trust (Psa. 37:3-6), endurance (Jas. 1:3), righteousness (Heb. 12:11), hope (Job 13:15), and more. 

Guard Against Spiritual Doldrums And Self-Absorption

This has tested our time management skills. Having more time on our hands does not automatically translate into “making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). Will we have done more binge-watching or Bible reading through this? Will we have tended more to self-care or finding ways to serve (phone calls, texts, emails, cards, etc., to spiritual family and others we might influence and encourage)? Will we have focused more on how this has impacted us or how we can impact others?

The good news is that, for all of us, this is a story whose last chapters have not been written. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual growth and improvement. None of us would have wished something like this to happen, but each of us chooses what we will make of it. Let’s remain vigilant. Certainly, Satan would like to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11), and he could use our current circumstances to dislodge us from faithfulness. Yet, Scripture promises something that we can count on: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8a). May that be the end result for us all! 

social-distancing-4981230_960_720

Socially Distant from God?

Socially Distant from God?

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Raymond Burke, an American Catholic Cardinal serving in the Vatican, voiced his opinion about the novel coronavirus. He stated that one “cannot consider the present calamity in which we find ourselves without considering how distant our popular culture is from God.” He continued, “It is not only indifferent to His presence in our midst but openly rebellious toward Him and the good order with which He has created us and sustains us in being.” 1

Burke’s comments follow his observation that in times past when plagued by disease, people normally turned to God. Under our current circumstances of trying to mitigate COVID-19, however, we are forbidden from meeting in assemblies of more than 10 persons. Burke went on to say that our homes are “a little Church into which we bring Christ from our encounter with Him in the bigger Church.” Hence, he encouraged Catholics to pray.

From a purely doctrinal standpoint, I am unable to agree with Raymond Burke. Even so, I was struck by the quotation by him which I shared. Right now, we are isolating ourselves from one another to prevent the spread of a virus. Yet, people have been keeping themselves distant from God for years. And not only do they seek to stay distant from God, but they also promote an environment that seeks to distance others from Him as well. Burke sighted those sins like abortion and the perversion of God’s design for sexuality as proof of this distancing from God. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with that thought.

Yet, it is not just those sins that cause people to become distanced from God. For example, in Isaiah 59, Isaiah reminded those people in a covenant relationship with God under Moses’ Law that God was separated from them by their hands defiled with blood, fingers defiled by iniquity, lips speaking falsehoods, and tongues muttering wickedness (3). He further stated they conceived mischief and brought forth iniquity (4). He said their feet ran to evil (7). Consequently, they made crooked paths for themselves, which deprived others of peace when they traveled upon them (8). Frankly, modern America sounds no different.

And what was the consequence of being distant from God? Isaiah began by saying that God had become separated from them which prevented Him from hearing their prayers or helping them (1-2). Justice was far from them and despite their hope for light, they were ensconced in darkness (9). Indeed, the Israelites were blind men groping along the wall and stumbling during the day as though it were night (10). They were compared to dead men (10).  Truly, without God people are in a terrible position.

During this pandemic, I have noted more references to God on television. As I’ve heard the discussion of our mental health during this crisis, even news commentators have lauded the role of faith in preventing people from despairing. After all, hope is an anchor. Vice President Mike Pence, in commenting about the deaths from the coronavirus, quoted from 1 Thessalonians 4.13 that we do not grieve like those who have no hope. 2 As refreshing as all of this is, I am afraid that it smacks of waiting until the house has burned down to call the fire department.

If we truly want for God to bless us individually, as the church, or to bless our secular nation, we cannot afford to practice social distancing from God. We must allow for the only name given under heaven among men that saves (Acts 4.12) be always on our lips as we preach and teach to our neighbors (Matthew 28.19-20).

 

References

1 Chapman, Michael W. “Cardinal Burke: Consider Virus in Light of ‘Actual Sins,’ Abortion, Gender Theory.” CNSNews.com, Media Research Center, 27 Mar. 2020, 15:36, www.cnsnews.com/article/international/michael-w-chapman/cardinal-burke-consider-virus-light-actual-sins-abortion.

2 Foust, Michael. “’We Do Not Grieve Like Those Who Have No Hope,’ Pence Says of Pandemic during Easter.” ChristianHeadlines.com, Salem Web Network, 9 Apr. 2020, www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/we-do-not-grieve-like-those-who-have-no-hope-pence-says-of-pandemic-during-easter.html.

Cultivating Your Spiritual Garden 

Cultivating Your Spiritual Garden 

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Wisteria is beautiful. Despite its beauty, though, wisteria can be an invasive vine if it is not carefully cultivated, becoming genteel kudzu. As I had to go to a doctor’s appointment in Gainesville, Georgia, yesterday, I noted how much wisteria grows around that city. For the most part, it was not managed well. Thus, you would see azalea bushes or maple trees with purple flowers choking them out. However, if you take the time to train the vine, you can make a stunning addition to your garden with wisteria. One popular way of taming wisteria is having it run along an arbor creating a tunneled walkway through the blooms.

 We have other things around us that act a lot like wisteria. These are things having the potential to be something helpful or enjoyable, but which end up being deleterious to our spiritual health because we do not manage them well.

Becoming distracted by doing good is one such type of spiritual wisteria. When Jesus was with his dear friends in Bethany, Martha wearied herself seeking to be an excellent hostess. She asked Jesus to rebuke her sister, Mary, for not helping her prepare. Since Mary was listening to Jesus teach, He said she was doing what was necessary (Luke 10.39-42). It is a good thing to be hospitable. We note that the need to be hospitable is one of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8). However, one’s priority is the kingdom of God (Matthew 6.33). Thus, even in having a desire to do a good thing, one may be overwhelmed and end up missing out on opportunities for spiritual growth.

Social media is another type of spiritual wisteria. During this period of social distancing, I’ve noted how many more brothers in Christ are utilizing Facebook and YouTube to put out encouraging and convicting lessons from God’s Word. Congregations are streaming “virtual worship services” for homebound people to participate in. It excites me that we might be seeing the beginnings of the “Third Great Awakening” in the United States as people realize they have ways of expressing their faith which has nothing to do with a building. Even so, I note that with people using social media even more now (if such a thing is possible) it likewise gives rise to a lot of things that ultimately detract from spiritual growth. People are also posting depressing or rancorous things. You still see lewd jokes and double entendres. We need to ensure that our use of social media at this tend helps us to serve as salt and light in this world so God can be glorified (Matthew 5.13-16).

 You may have noted other types of spiritual wisteria I have not included. We want to emphasize that this “wisteria” in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is, rather, that a failure to discipline ourselves allows for this good thing to lessen its value.  You must put forward the effort to properly utilize and enjoy physical and spiritual wisteria. You must do the same thing when it comes to cultivating a beautiful, spiritual garden pleasing to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27).

wisteriatunnel