As I’m writing this, the novel coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill. Nearly half of humanity is confined within their homes and apartments; streets and public places are empty, businesses have been shuttered for weeks; and governments are trying to cope with medical and economic disaster. So far, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of about 70,000 people. It appears that tens of thousands more will ultimately be left in its fatal wake. This virus is obviously designed to spread, and there is no stopping it.
As I am writing this on March 13, 2020, the novel coronavirus, which originated in China in December of 2019, dominates the headlines. It has now spread to 70 nations, infecting some 146,000 people worldwide, of which about 5,500 have died and at least 71,000 have recovered.
All those numbers continue to rise as COVID-19 spreads exponentially. Hospitals in the U.S. are now bracing for a rising tide of the virus that might overwhelm our heath care system, as it did in Italy. Mass hysteria has now become the norm. Politicians are shuttering all non-essential businesses and in some cases, telling everyone to stay home. Yet the data from around the world shows that only a small demographic is at risk of death. Most people, if infected, are not going to die. (For a reasoned article that questions the current shutting down of the U.S. economy, see https://thefederalist.com/2020/03/19/will-the-costs-of-a-great-depression-outweigh-the-risks-of-coronavirus/)
By comparison, the seasonal flu kills as many as 650,000 people worldwide annually. Of course, the coronavirus is just getting started.
Also by comparison, in the 14th century, the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) took the lives of 75 to 200 million people over a span of 8 years in Europe, Africa and Asia. Europe lost 60 percent of its population.
Finally, and also by comparison, about 57 million people worldwide die of all causes annually.
So there are at least two things we can say with certainty: Most likely, you are not going to die from the coronavirus. There is little doubt, however, that you are going to eventually die from something. (It is much more likely that you will die of heart disease or cancer.)
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the word “cult” seems to have been derived from the word “culture.” A cult, in a sense, is a little culture, and a culture, in a sense, is a large cult.
Webster’s defines a cult as, “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Of course, what is “small,” “religious,” “strange,” and “sinister” is quite subjective. Even atheists, for example, who possess an extraordinary faith that God does not exist, can be considered religious. And I have neighbors who think I’m strange, but I think the same about them!
Regardless of the accuracy of any labels, we’re all members of cultures and sub-cultures. We’re social beings, and we crave affirmation and love. Gaining those two things requires some conformity, and so we join groups, formally and informally. Let’s face it, we’re all “cult” members, in a sense, on some level. And therein lies an inherent danger, one that I want to explore in this article.
This month, I’ve sensed I should republish an e-teaching I authored back in April of 2008. It is just as relevant today as it was then. It is based on clear, biblical truth, vitally important for every professing Christian to understand. It is simply about loving Jesus. It is convicting. Once you’ve read it, I encourage you to share it. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
May 2020 be your most fruitful year yet!
The greatest crisis I faced during my two decades as a pastor was not the result of a disagreeable deacon, a financial deficit, an egocentric worship leader, or a church gossip. Rather, it was due to an encounter with the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
It all began when I read the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation, which contain Jesus’ opinion of seven churches in Asia Minor. I noticed that His opinion of some of those churches was considerably different than their opinion of themselves. The congregation at Laodicea, for example, considered themselves to be “rich” and in “need of nothing,” while He considered them to be “wretched and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). Quite a contrast.
It seems people either love or hate President Donald Trump. Few are indifferent. I’ve lived through 12 U.S. presidents (beginning with Dwight Eisenhower), and I can’t recall any who have been more polarizing.
Personally, I love Donald Trump. One reason is because his obvious flaws remind me so much of myself. He seems to be living with the same fleshly nature as I am.
I also love Donald Trump because I believe God expects me to love him. And I think I can say with some degree of certainty that God also loves him (if I’m reading John 3:16 correctly).
Incidentally, I also loved Barack Obama, and I still do. And I believe God also loves him.
Over the past few decades, I’ve found myself often addressing the large segment of professing Christians whose lives reflect very little validation of a genuine, saving faith. Just like Paul, I’ve challenged such professors to “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5a). There is no shortage of New Testament scriptures that specifically speak about the kind of fruit that always grows from the hearts of those whom Christ has genuinely come to live within. As Paul wrote in his very next sentence to the Corinthians: “Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5b).
“Christ in you” is what true Christianity is all about. He not only died for us, but He lives for us, and He also lives in us and through us. And He doesn’t come to live inside believers just to be a spiritual hitchhiker!
Surprise! God actually wants Christians to follow traditions. Here’s the biblical proof:
Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you (1 Cor. 11:2, emphasis added)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us (2 Th. 2:15, emphasis added).
Best not to argue with the apostle Paul. He expected his converts to stand firm in the traditions he taught them. So…are you a “Christian traditionalist”?
One of the most tragic statements I’ve ever heard was spoken from the mouth of a woman who had encountered some people whom she considered odd, folks who had identified themselves as “born-again Christians.” She rolled her eyeballs as she mocked them, saying to some family members, “Watch out for those ‘born-again’ Christians! They’re out to convert you!”
What made her warning so tragic is that she had attended a Methodist church every Sunday. Not only was the founder of her denomination—John Wesley—fully persuaded almost 300 years ago of the necessity of being born again, but even more persuaded was the founder of all of Christianity—Jesus Christ—about 2,000 years ago! Jesus once said to a very religious man, a highly-respected teacher and Pharisee named Nicodemus:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).
These words, spoken by the eternal Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the One who holds the keys to God’s Kingdom as well as to death and Hades, and before whom everyone must one day stand in judgment to give an account, would seem worthy of our consideration (Mark 1:1; Col. 1:16; Matt. 6:19; Rev. 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:10; Acts 10:42). The only people who will enter heaven are those who were converted, and in their conversion, became like children (in some way).
You have, perhaps, heard of the “tiny house movement.” If you haven’t, a quick search on the internet for “tiny house” will yield about 55 million results. One could say that tiny houses are quite big these days.
The folks who are living in tiny houses seem to love them, elated over the benefits of simplified living. They speak of how nice it is to live in just a few hundred square feet of space and being free of debt, clutter, major maintenance and so on.
Of course, as much as those of us in the “not-so-tiny-house movement” (still the majority) might admire tiny-house enthusiasts, we can think of a few disadvantages to tiny houses. Like “you can’t have any kids,” and “it’s kind of nice to live in more than one room,” and “forget about having friends come for dinner during inclement weather,” or “can’t let visitors stay overnight.”
In any case, there are definitely “different strokes for different folks.” And although I’m an unlikely candidate for scaling down into a tiny house, I have surprised myself by scaling down into a tiny church (which meets in my not-so-tiny house).