When churches shut down during the early days of the pandemic, many turned to the Internet to communicate with their congregations through livestreaming. These pastors and congregations were excited to see the metrics given for large online audiences. Local church worship services can now be seen all over the world. I had family in the Netherlands view my Easter sermon. Perhaps online worship could lead to another Great Awakening?

Unfortunately, the most viral sermon came from Malden, Missouri. You may have heard about it. A man named Stewart-Allen Clark preached a sermon that was inappropriate and unbiblical. He said if a wife does not maintain her weight, the husband will cheat on her. He said that was the way God made men. Did he forget what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27–28?“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” A man is not to blame God or women for his sinful choices.

Many world religions demean women. Although we may find some unfortunate examples within Christianity, the Bible teaches that we are all equal. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (ESV). A wife is not an accessory to make the husband look good. She is a person for whom Christ died.

Husbands are instructed in Scripture to love their wives like Jesus loved the church. He was willing to die to save her. Husbands are to put the needs of his wife ahead of his own needs. At some point Clark quoted Proverbs 31:30, but he missed the point. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

The Bible says, “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking.” Proverbs 10:19. Those of us who speak for a living run a risk of offending our listeners. The more we communicate the higher the probability of us saying something we regret. As church goers, we need to pray for our pastors that God would give them wisdom to speak in a way that brings glory to God.

Do you remember when, in 2014, the City of Houston wanted pastors to turn over their sermons to the government? Ironically, by streaming our services, we are putting them out there for scrutiny. The reality is that many sermons will be offensive to people who are not seeking biblical teaching. If sermons are based on the Bible and faithful to correct interpretation of the text, the pastor is obligated to speak the truth in love.

This may serve as a wakeup call. Pastors are not stand-up comedians. We are not entertainers who use foul language or insult people to get laughs. When we stand before people, we must remember that we will stand before God. This pastor used little Scripture, and what he did use was out of context. I pray that Clark will get the counseling he needs, that his marriage will be healthy, and that his church will recover from this public relations disaster.

The Apostle Paul’s words serve as a reminder for pastors today, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

Please do not let Clark’s viral message be the only sermon you hear this year. May God bless you as you attend the church of your choice.  

You may have noticed that I have referred to the deity of Jesus in several of my columns. As a Baptist pastor, and theologian, I was surprised when someone wrote to tell me I was misleading my congregation by teaching the deity of Christ. I do not know of any Christian church that would want a pastor who did not believe that Jesus is “fully God and fully man.” I thought it would be helpful to explain why Christians believe in the incarnation (God in flesh).

Sound doctrine has the Bible as the source. God’s word was originally written in Greek and Hebrew. I would strongly advise the reader to avoid cults who modify the Bible and only allow their version to be used. If someone tells you certain parts of the Bible are off limits, or not to be believed, that is an indicator that you should seek a different church. When I taught for Hannibal LaGrange University’s extension campus, I told the students that we should not avoid difficult topics and be prepared to give answers based on Scripture.

The first verse that comes to my mind is Colossians 1:19-20, For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” In John 14:9, Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The first chapter of the Gospel of John describes Jesus as the “Word” that was with God, was God, and came to earth. I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about Christianity to read the book of John.

I found a helpful article at desiringgod.org that was written by Matt Perman. The title is, “How Can Jesus Be God and Man?” He includes a list of resources in his notes if you are interested in further study.

When we want to understand a biblical position, it helps to consider what Christians throughout history have believed. The idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man is not a fringe belief. When Jesus was crucified, charges of blasphemy were made toward him. Even those who put him to death understood he revealed himself as God in the flesh. When Jesus was resurrected, he allowed Thomas to touch his wounds, to which Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God.” John 20:28.

The early church considered the incarnation to be one of the most important truths of our faith. The idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man is found in the Chalcedonean Creed. A large council took place from October 8 to November 1 in the year 451. They met in the city of Chalcedon and formulated this creed to state what we are and are not to believe about the Incarnation. Perman states that, all major branches of Christianity have taken this creed as their standard. There are five main truths with which the creed of Chalcedon summarizes the biblical teachings about the Incarnation:

1. Jesus has two natures—He is God and man.

2. Each nature is full and complete—He is fully God and fully man.

3. Each nature remains distinct.

4. Christ is only one Person.

5. Things that are true of only one nature are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.

I believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, I am monotheistic. When we think about the nature of God and the person and work of Christ, it is good for us to approach our study with humility. There are many things that are hard to understand about God, that is why it takes faith to believe.

When I am struggling in this life, I think about Jesus. As I pray, I know that my God is not distant or uncaring. Jesus understands what it is like to be fully human, yet he never sinned. When I stand before the risen Christ, I will say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Will you?

These have been challenging times for churches. Recently, the weather forced us to cancel services at Bethany Baptist Church. Our parking lot is a great place to go sledding, but not for parking when there is ice or snow. The elderly members are committed to church attendance, so they will not stay home unless we cancel the services. This is for safety like it was with COVID-19. Now there is a vaccine, and it is time to get back to church.

There are many factors that prevent people from attending church besides the above risks. Many people do not see a purpose for organized religion. Others may not have found the right church for them or their family. I know of some individuals who became disillusioned by immoral leaders or conflict within a church. They have difficulty trusting another leader or congregation. A lot of people get out of the habit, and it is easier to sleep in on Sunday mornings—unless they must go to work.

Church has been a vital part of my life since I made a commitment to Jesus as my Savior as a 12-year-old. This past year is the most I have missed church since then. I have heard many people praise online worship, but there is much more to a church than listening to a speaker or music. Many authors, such as Rick Warren, have identified at least five purposes of a local church. I believe all Christian congregations need to see to it that they are fulfilling these purposes. Most of us can use improvement in some if not all these areas.

First, Worship is a purpose of a church (these are not ranked in a particular order). When we speak of online worship, we may mean different things. I know some people listen to the sermon while they are doing other things. True worship is expressing our adoration and praise to God. We are the actors and God is the audience. It is hard to watch people onstage and not feel like a member of the audience, but worshippers are more than that. Worshipping with other people helps us to realize we are not alone in our faith.

A second purpose is Ministry. There are many ministries going on in our community. Some churches are partnering with other churches and organizations to meet the needs of the community. Local churches minister to the needs of their members as well as outside of their congregations. Few churches, if any, hand out money but most find ways to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. I consider weddings and funerals to forms of ministry.

A third purpose is Evangelism. For me, this, along with prayer, is a key to everything we do. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. A way to define the word is, “to tell good news.” A motivational message and good music are not evangelistic worship without key components. In Christian worship, the gospel or story of Jesus is central to why we gather. He cared for people, so we attempt to minister to needs. Jesus said that doing things for people who face difficult circumstances is like doing those things for him. Missions and evangelism go together.

A fourth purpose is Fellowship. For many of us, food is involved with our fellowship. I have heard Christian fellowship described as, “Doing life together.” Being with likeminded believers is good for our mental, and spiritual health. When we choose to avoid going to church, we miss out on relationships that can be beneficial. People usually go to church because someone invited them.

The fifth purpose is Discipleship. Sometimes we miss the difference between discipleship and evangelism. We tell someone about Jesus and how they can be saved (Romans 10:9-13), then we move on and do not maintain contact with that person. This often happens at evangelistic events although some try to connect the new converts to local congregations. A disciple is a lifelong learner. Jesus is the main example, and we help each other to be like him.

We need to go to church for worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship.

Most of us would be better off if we watched less television, limited social media, and read more good books. However, when it comes to what is being sold in bookstores, there is a battle for ideology. We hear of book deals being canceled because of unpopular political stands. We hear of actors and actresses being fired or written off shows for siding with conservatives. Many of us want to escape the current cultural crisis. The only thing we can control is ourselves. What mindset should we adopt to survive? How would Jesus handle our “Cancel Culture?”

Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV) says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I have often told my church that when pastors speak about moral issues, they are not being political. When we listen to a sermon, or hear someone espouse their philosophy, we should open our ears and Bibles. Everyone has the right to determine what he or she chooses to believe. Canceling people for their dissent is not a solution. We struggle with choices. Every day, when I look at social media, I must decide whether to defend my worldview or keep scrolling.

Last week I had an online discussion with a lady who had attacked Christianity on FCR’s (Family Research Council) Facebook post. I was careful to be kind throughout our conversation, and I told her that I hoped she would become a Christian. At the end of the discussion, I asked if she got on Muslim or Jewish sites to argue with people. She said she was only familiar with Christianity and for all the reasons she thought Christianity was bad, she only argues with Christians. I told her that I was sorry she felt that way. One thing I found interesting was that she said Christians try to force their beliefs on others. Yet was she not pushing her belief that Christianity is harmful to society?

Jesus is God in the flesh, yet he is humble. He has the power to crush, but he is gentle. He is willing to endure persecution, hostility, and unbearable amounts of pain to save the world. You may ask why we need to be saved. The answer is that sin cannot enter heaven, and we need deliverance from our sin nature. There will be a judgment day. Jesus preached about repentance and the kingdom of God, and for that he was canceled by his government.

Scripture is clear that no one was able to take Jesus’ life, he gave his life willingly. As we approach Easter, we remember how Jesus humbled himself while on earth. He died on the cross as a sacrificial lamb offered on behalf of our sin. God raised him from the dead. Jesus is exalted and he is the one before whom we will stand during the final judgment.

Remember that Jesus commands us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). You cannot force anyone to become a Christian. When people attack Christianity based on bad human examples, remind them that we are saved by grace. All have sinned, no one is perfect. Our only hope is to be forgiven. No one can earn his or her way to heaven.

How do we handle cancel culture? We do what we have always done, we preach the gospel and trust God to get us home.

Are you praying for a prodigal child? As a pastor, I talk to many parents and grandparents who are praying daily for their children and grandchildren to return to the faith. Along with parenthood comes the responsibility of protecting and teaching our sons and daughters. There is no question that there are competing worldviews. While followers of Jesus want their children to follow a biblical worldview, many forces pull them in the opposite direction.

There is a popular story in the Bible about a prodigal son and a righteous father. It is found in Luke 15:11-32. The man has two sons, and the younger son wants to break away from his family. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance, as if he cannot wait for his father to die. This son then takes his money and squanders it on reckless living. It is difficult to stand back and watch someone throw his life away. Many parents can relate to the father in the story.

As we read on, we see that there is a famine, and the young man is out of money and must work a degrading job. He is starving as he feeds pigs and considers eating their slop. Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience who considers pigs to be unclean according to their religious beliefs. This illustrates the reality that a person who indulges in sinful behavior will most likely end up living with shame and remorse.

An important phrase in the parable is that “he came to himself.” In other words, he had a moment of clear thinking. It is like you are in a dark room and someone turns the light on. He realizes that his father’s servants have a much better life than he does. Maybe he can return to his father and be hired on as a servant so that he can have enough to eat?

The young man rehearses what he will say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” As he approaches home, his father sees him, and feeling compassion, he runs up to and embraces his son, kissing him. The young man recites his lines but is interrupted by his father as he tells the servants to get the best robe, shoes, and a ring for his son. The father calls for a feast to celebrate that his son was dead but is alive again. Though he was lost, he is now found.

Parents of prodigals look forward to celebrating the return of their children. The Christian parents I know long for restoration and forgiveness. Some are tempted to compromise their faith and bend to the sinful desires of their wayward children. However, most godly parents pray and wait. By God’s grace, when their children “come to themselves,” these parents will run to them with open arms and receive them back from the dead.

Interestingly, the older brother is bothered by this celebration. Although he was faithful the whole time, he never received such a party. He may have felt that his obedience was taken for granted. Parents of multiple children face the challenge of fairness. Jesus made this point because the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, but there would be much excitement and celebration when the Gentiles came to faith.

Sometimes people in local churches forget that our purpose is to make disciples of all the nations. As new people come in, we may feel displaced. We may wonder why budgets and schedules are devoted to outsiders instead of the faithful members. The principle is that we need to be like a father who is patiently waiting for prodigals. Jesus tells us, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10.

Keep praying for those children and grandchildren who have strayed from the faith. If you are the one who has chosen rebellion instead of obedience, may God help you “come to yourself,” and realize that grace and forgiveness is available to those who repent.

“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” Matthew 8:23–27 (ESV).

I think about Jesus and his disciples during the storm. The disciples are people like you and me. They are afraid and looking for answers. However, Jesus is sleeping through the storm. At first glance we might ask if he is concerned at all. The master teacher knows how to use a crisis to advance his disciples’ education. Surprisingly, he rebukes them for being afraid instead of facing the storm with faith.

These men are familiar with being at sea, and this is a legitimately dangerous storm. Their lack of faith is in God. Jesus is in the boat with them, but they do not realize the extent of what he can do. Can you picture what happens next? Jesus stands up and yells at the storm. I wonder if he sounded like a shouting country preacher. To the amazement of his disciples, the wind and waves respond to Jesus’ command to be still. They realize that he is in control and could stop the storm.

I think it would be wise for all of us to take comfort in knowing God is in control. People are grabbing for power in all areas of life. Sometimes, when we gain the control we are seeking, we make a mess of things—have you ever wrecked a car? Have you ever made a poor leadership decision? The more control you shoulder, the more responsibility you will bear. You may even be blamed for things that are beyond your control. 

You may ask, “If God is in control, are people responsible for their actions?” The short answer is, “Yes.” This is where Isaiah 55:8-11 helps us. It says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

When we pray for people in leadership positions, we keep in mind that God is in control. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” When we are worried about the future, we take comfort in knowing, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 (ESV).

Are you in the middle of a storm? Have you forgotten that God is in control? Remember Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Have you realized how easy it is to find fault in someone else, but difficult to see the same traits in yourself? The Bible says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9 (NASB9). There are different Greek terms for love. The word used here is agape, and it describes the love of God. This is a grace-filled love. God’s love is not given to anyone because he or she is perfect and deserves it. He loves us because he cares about us. Our creator knows what is best for us. God offers us forgiveness and salvation through the gospel of Jesus (see John 3:16-18).

Instead of humbling ourselves and seeking God, many of us get consumed with pride and we see ourselves as superior to others. Morality is superior to immorality, but it can be difficult to discern the difference without studying the Bible. Many people struggle to maintain a sense of humility. Christians are reminded, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV).

Hypocrisy can be defined as, “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” (Oxford languages). Remember what Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?You hypocrite first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3–5 (ESV).

This is not to say that sinners cannot help sinners to sin less. What it is saying is that if you are not willing to confront your own failings, you are in no position to help other people overcome those same issues. I am thankful for helpful support groups and organizations. Unfortunately, the wrong groups can create destructive peer pressure. If we reject biblical standards of righteousness and replace those standards for what is right in our own eyes, we will destroy ourselves and those around us. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (ESV).

We have witnessed streets flooded with massive public gatherings over the last year. The way these groups are described says as much about the commentators as it does the groups themselves. With COVID-19 concerns, it is shocking to see the blatant double standard—”this behavior is okay for us, but not for you.” If we want love to be without hypocrisy, we must be consistent. If it is wrong to gather in crowds without social distancing and masks, then it does not matter why you are there. If it is wrong to break in and vandalize property, then whether it is private or public property does not matter—it is wrong. I am saddened, not amused, by all the people running around with logs sticking out of their eyes as they speak harsh words of condemnation to others.

This past week I have heard some say that the actions of a few represent the whole and they are, “unforgivable.” Since when do we categorize a whole group of people by the actions of a few extremists? Do you want freedom for yourself and restrictions on others? Do you want a voice while you silence the opposition? Remember to practice the Golden Rule— “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (ESV).  We need more love and less hypocrisy.

For the last several years I have heard much criticism aimed at any member of the clergy who openly supported or prayed for the President of the United States. I have been a pastor since the nineties, and I have seen both political extremes use religion to further their agendas. As a follower of Christ, I believe that we should use everything we can to promote the gospel. For example, if you are a professional athlete, an actor, a politician, or a businessperson of influence you can find opportunities to talk about your faith in Jesus.

When I heard what Rep. Emanuel Cleaver chose to do with his prayer, I was not surprised, but I was also not impressed. Cleaver is a Democrat from Missouri. Apparently, he holds a Master of Divinity degree from a Methodist school. He thought it would be wise to end his prayer with “Amen and Awomen.” Even as I type, my spellcheck does not accept the gender modified word. “Amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “So be it.” It has nothing to do with gender. Cleaver chose to use a public prayer to insert a socio-political point.

I have read that the Democrats are entertaining the idea of changing the meaning of words in the House to redefine gender or to exclude gender from their vocabulary. Even Mr. Cleaver cannot win at that game. By saying, “Amen and Awomen,” is he not being “cisgendered?” Another made up term to shame those of us who believe in two biological genders. If your statements align with the Left, you can say anything, no matter how inaccurate or unscientific without fear of being “fact checked.”

My family and I were playing a board game over the Christmas break in which there was a trivia question about the movie, “The Big Lebowski.” I have never seen that movie, but I was shocked to learn that you can get ordained as a “Dudeist Priest” online. There are more than 450,000 of these ordained ministers according to Wikipedia. Is mocking the role of clergy, or speaking irreverently during a public prayer not offensive to most people? Really? In a time when we are sensitive to everything, our pigmentation, our culture, our sexual preference, our gender? Everything is off limits except for religion? 

When I listened to Cleaver’s prayer, the ending was not my only problem. I have written about public prayer in the past. I believe that whoever prays has a right to express his or her prayer according to the religion that person represents. I expect a Rabbi to pray like a Rabbi, a Catholic Priest like a Catholic Priest, and yes, a Methodist pastor to pray like a Methodist. This person chose to invoke all the gods he could think of instead of sincerely speaking to his Lord. Maybe he has no theological convictions? If that is the case, then maybe someone else should have offered the invocation?

A couple of words we should add to our vocabulary besides “Amen,” should be, “Blasphemy,” and “Hallelujah.” I will start with the latter before the former. The word, “Hallelujah” means, “Praise be to God.” Part of God’s name is in the word, so this word is heavily abused in our society. I have heard it explained that “Hallelujah” means whatever you want it to mean. That is a poor explanation. The word does not translate, “Whoopie!” If you are not offering praise to God with your “Hallelujah,” you are misusing the word. Misusing God’s name is breaking a commandment.

The word, “Blasphemy,” in a religious sense, refers to great disrespect shown to God or to something holy, or to something said or done that shows this kind of disrespect (Merriam Webster). This word is of Greek origin, but the concept is throughout the Bible and is found in many world religions. There are religious terrorists who commit murder over what they consider to be matters of blasphemy. A word to the wise, be careful when you pray publicly.

Matthew 12:37, says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Amen.

We assume that everyone understands the restrictions that have come about because of the pandemic. However, as a pastor, I am concerned that our most at-risk people will feel abandoned by their families, friends, and their faith community. I am thankful for chaplains who work on the staffs of hospitals and nursing homes, but most people prefer a visit from their minister.

When I first started out in ministry, I could go to a chaplain’s lounge at the hospital and find a roster of patients listed with their church affiliations. HIPPA changed all of that by adding layers of privacy that prevent pastors from obtaining patient information. The younger generation calls to let me know they are in the hospital. The older generation expects the pastors to know who is in the hospital and make rounds like they once did. This is one example of how a policy change has forever affected the way pastors minister to people.

I understand that some politicians have spoken up for patent’s rights during the COVID-19 situation. There are probably some members of the clergy who can break barriers to visit parishioners, but I am not convinced that it is a good idea to visit if there is a risk of spreading infection. I also do not want to take the place of a family member when there is a strict limit of the number of visitors who are allowed. Still, church attendees who are expecting a drop in visit from the pastor may be disappointed.

I have been able to visit many members over the telephone, and I have been able to write cards and letters. The younger generation takes for granted the ability to instant message. We are not accustomed to waiting for letters to come in and go out through the postal service. Very few elderly church members communicate with their pastors via text messaging. We are having difficulty finding a substitution for weekly in person meetings.

Another challenge is email and social media. Even though most of our members have some form of digital communication, it is hard to be sure if they are getting the messages. We have successfully adapted to a livestream format of our Sunday morning worship, but it is hard to know who you are reaching how much are they feeling connected to the ministry?

I read a recent article where pastors expressed concern that their members were no longer watching the online broadcasts of the worship service. There is fear that church members will feel disconnected to their local church and will be unwilling to return to in person worship. It is possible that our churches and worship services will get smaller. This will create greater challenges in the areas of evangelism and discipleship.

Throughout my time in ministry, I could always count on the core of the church membership to be ready and available to do the work of the ministry. Now, it seems as though we can no longer effectively minister with the most committed members because of physical separation and isolation. Will we lose our churches? Is everyone just going to stay home and watch church on television? Will this crisis turn us from disciples who serve to consumers who seek to be entertained?

Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV). We believe that the confession that Jesus is the Christ is the foundation of Christianity. What God has established will not be destroyed. Hell cannot destroy the church, and neither can COVID-19.

We were created for community and worship. I believe the church is indestructible until the Lord returns. We have had difficult days in the past, and we survived. Do not give up on the church—you need your faith community, and your faith community needs you.

There have been good things that have happened over the past year, but for the most part, 2020 has been one of the most difficult years in American history. How do we deal with people who are discouraged? Do we tell them they are not allowed to complain and that they are not owed an explanation? Does the church handle controversial topics like the large tech companies—with censorship? I hope not. The Bible has a lot to say about difficult circumstances that challenge our faith and cause us to ask tough questions.

A good starting point for me is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” This passage reminds me that God is willing to help us have peace amid chaos. Believing that we are on the path God has set for us helps us when we do not understand why certain things are happening. A previous generation would say, “All’s well that ends well.” In other words, if everything is going to work out in the end, I can accept the disappointments that come along the way.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This was God’s word to the prophet, and the principle is that people who put their trust in the Lord will not be defeated by evil. Our future is filled with hope because of our faith. Christians believe that heaven is a real place, and that eternal life is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless his people.

There are times when it seems that the culture is turning against Christianity. Many people of faith are intimidated to keep silent on social issues even though the biblical position is clear on most matters. We do not want to be unkind to anyone who is struggling in this life, however, Christians should not be bullied into silence. We have just as much of a right to engage in our society as any other group. I am skeptical when people claim to be outraged by Christian beliefs. Christianity has been around for two thousand years, the only thing that is alarming is the rapid moral decline of our society.

God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9. It is easier to leave leadership up to someone else. When you take a stand, there will be people who will show you no mercy. What empowered Joshua was knowing that he was on God’s side. We are not abandoned, though it may seem like it at times.

During difficult circumstances, do not neglect the discipline of prayer. Whether your tradition is to recite memorized prayers or to “have a talk with Jesus,” prayer is beneficial. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 to “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” In other words, take it to the Lord in prayer, give the situation to him and trust him to take care of it. Someone will say, I would like to pray, but I do not know what to say. Romans 8:26 informs us that, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

We can choose to remain calm while all those around us are panicking. Trust God with your life and future and make the most of each day. Remember the words of Jesus, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” If we put our trust in the Lord, we can overcome discouragement. May God bless you in 2021.