From Bad to Worse

From Bad to Worse

By now, surely we have learned not to ask, “how much worse can it get?”   With every news-cycle, the realm of plausible catastrophes expands.   While not to the level of the Biblical plagues, we can well imagine how the people of Ramses’ Egypt felt.   Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.    But as bad as the circumstances of this year have been, even worse are the downstream consequences.    Mental, emotional, and spiritual crises have produced greater impact than the events that triggered them.

A recent article in JAMA, makes some pretty startling observations.

Since February 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to at least 200 000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide. These numbers probably underestimate COVID-19 deaths by 50%, with excess cardiovascular, metabolic, and dementia-related deaths likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths.

This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders.

This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale. Focusing on the US, the number of deaths currently attributable to COVID-19 is nearly 4 times the number killed during the Vietnam War. This interpersonal loss at a massive scale is compounded by societal disruption. The necessary social distancing and quarantine measures implemented as mitigation strategies have significantly amplified emotional turmoil by substantially changing the social fabric by which individuals, families, communities, and nations cope with tragedy. The effect is multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

The events of 2020 have been bad.   And, unfortunately, for many, things may get worse.   As Christians, how do we respond when things go from bad to worse?   We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.”  We are instructed to “count it all joy.”   We declare that we can endure “all things through Christ who strengthens us.”   We have an expectation that things will work out because, “if God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives.

Jeremiah was faithful to his calling.   But for him, both personally and professionally, things went from bad to worse.  Speaking truth into the lives of hardened people is exhausting.    Scripture gives us a poignant view into both his sorrowful words and his sorrowful soul.   Jeremiah’s story is one of disappointments.   Four decades of preaching fell on deaf ears.  No one listened.  No one responded.  He was hunted by the authorities and hated by his own friends and family.   He was not allowed to marry and lived a life of solitude and sorrow.   He had no one to support him in his own grief over the judgment coming upon his beloved people.   His only refuge was the Lord, but even the Lord seemed sometimes deaf to his prayers, unconcerned about his persecution, and unappreciative of his ministry.  

Even as the threatened judgement of God unfolded with Nebuchadnezzar at the gates of Jerusalem, there is no vindication, no respect, and no response for Jeremiah.    His situation goes from bad to worse.  Accused of treason, imprisoned in a dungeon, then thrown into a muddy pit, he is abandoned to die a painful and lonely death.   But the Lord had not forgotten Jeremiah.   And in this section of Jeremiah, so characterized by contrasts, we see the difference that makes.   Things have gone from bad to worse, both for Jeremiah and for King Zedekiah.  But the faith of the prophet and the faithlessness of the King marks a dramatic difference.

How do you respond when things go from bad to worse?   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 37-38 and consider our response and God’s faithfulness when live goes from bad to worse.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

10/11/2020 | “Cathedral Builders” | Jeremiah 35

10/11/2020 | “Cathedral Builders” | Jeremiah 35

It is rare in scripture when men are commended by God for their faithfulness.  Yet, Jesus commends a Centurion in Matthew 8:10, saying, “truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  And in Jeremiah 35, the Lord commends to Jeremiah the example of the Rechabites – not for the particulars of their vow, but for their faithfulness in keeping it, generation after generation.  In faithless Judah, they are a remarkable example of steadfast commitment.    The Rechabites illustrate the power of one generation discipling the next.  Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 35 and consider the power of multi-generational faithfulness. 

“Cathedral Builders,” Jeremiah 35

Eradication

Eradication

Ah! Remember those heady days when we shook hands and inwardly laughed at the Asian tourists who wore masks?  It seems years ago, but it was only March 2020.   How we long to return, to undo all that Covid has done.   Some still look forward to the day when “all this is over.”  But will it be?  Will it ever really be ‘over?’ 

Epidemiologists define ‘over’ in two different ways.   First there is disease elimination.  Elimination means zero cases in a defined geographic area.   Elimination is ‘over’ with a small ‘o.’   Elimination does not mean the disease is gone, just inactive in a particular region.  Eradication is what we want.    Eradication means zero cases world-wide following deliberate efforts to prevent and treat a disease.   The only human disease considered eradicated is smallpox.  And it was only declared to be eradicated in 1980.   To be eradicated, a disease must be both preventable and treatable.   But we currently have no proven strategies for either when it comes to Covid-19.   As with smallpox, eradication, if it were to ever come, is a difficult and distant future reality.   Will we every be ‘over’ Covid-19?   

Eradication is unlikely.  Elimination is probably a distant likelihood.  But ‘over’ could come sooner in a different form factor.  Most probably being ‘over’ Covid looks like learning to live with it through lifestyle adjustments that become a permanent part of our social intercourse.   Practical eradication comes when, though still present, we by and large ignore it.   This kind of practical eradication through a willful apathy is probably the best we can achieve in the near term.   And while this may be a necessary coping strategy when it comes to Covid, it is deadly when it comes to Scripture.

Since the dawn of time, ungodly tyrants have sought to eradicate scripture.   Yet, no matter how often it has been confiscated or burned, God’s Word will not be silenced.  The Bible is eradication-proof and proves Newton’s third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.    Every attempt to forcibly eradicate the Bible only caused it to proliferate.   Though practical eradication does occur.  Like Covid, learning to coexist with the Bible, while largely ignoring it, provides a kind of practical inoculation against its truths.   Unfortunately, this is reflective of our society today.

In his article, The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy, Al Mohler concludes.

While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” 

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. 

We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.

In Jeremiah 36 we find the terrible picture of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, burning the words of the Prophet Jeremiah.  He was not open to what God’s Word had to say.   But he was not the only one.   The people of his time neither listened, nor inclined their ears to hear God’s word through the prophets.   “Neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”   When God’s people have little concern for God’s Word, disaster cannot be far behind.   The people of Jeremiah’s day only wanted positive messages.   Words of sin, judgment, and wrath, were not what they wanted to hear.   While Jehoiakim’s Bible burning shocks us, what should shock us more is that the people who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they think God’s Word applied to them.

It is easy to sit in judgement on Jeremiah’s generation, but how different are we?   How careful are we to hear and heed God’s Word?   We have more flavors of the Bible than Baskin-Robbins has ice-cream.   God’s word has never been more accessible.   Mao and Stalin and Voltaire tried their best to eradicate it, but could not.  But what Mao, Stalin, and Voltaire could never accomplish, the Church effects through growing ignorance.   We profess to be a ‘people of the book,’ but is the Bible authoritative and sufficient in our lives?   The response of Judah’s king and Judah’s people to the word of God offer a warning and challenge – how careful have we been to love and live God’s Word?

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 36 and consider faithful and unfaithful responses to God’s Word.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

10/04/2020 | “Waffling” | Jeremiah 34

10/04/2020 | “Waffling” | Jeremiah 34

Zedekiah was a waffler.   He went back on virtually every promise he made in Scripture.  At a moment of great danger, he committed to a course of repentance, going so far as to issue his own emancipation proclamation to the enslaved Jews in Jerusalem.   But his repentance was only a farce.   During a moment when it seemed that Jerusalem might not be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah waffled.   His repentance had been false.  It was a matter of pragmatism, not conviction.   But God takes seriously covenant breaking and false repentance.  Listen to “Waffling” as we examine Jeremiah 34 and consider the dangers of false repentance. 

“Waffling,” Jeremiah 34

Cathedral Builders

Cathedral Builders

One of the biggest challenges to space exploration is the sheer amount of time required to travel from one place to the next.   Given today’s propulsion technology, inter-stellar travel is, by necessity, multi-generational.   Project management in our digital age focuses on compressing the schedule, getting it done faster and more efficiently.  We roll out major technology platforms and build skyscrapers in months, not years.   But how good are we at project management spanning generations?   Can we maintain vision?  Sustain design commitments?  And keep our attention focused for three or four consecutive generations? 

As we turn our eyes to the heavens to think about traveling to Mars and beyond, our greatest challenge is the shortness of our life-span.    Here it is helpful to look back to our medieval past.    Men in the middle ages also had their eyes to the heavens.   But they planned to travel by building great cathedrals.    Projects that, without hydraulics and power equipment, took hundreds of years to complete.  

The cathedral in Rouen, France, took 735 years to complete and the great Münster in Cologne, 632 years.    On average the great cathedrals of Western Europe required 275 years to complete, three or four generations of craftsmen.  Andreas Hein has written a fascinating comparison between the challenges of space travel and cathedral building.  He concludes that “the products of our space program are today’s cathedrals.”

The sheer faithfulness of multi-generational craftsmen, to commit generation after generation of their families to build something they would never see finished, brings to mind the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for…. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40

How steadfast is our faith?   We often struggle to maintain “faith once for all delivered to the saints” in our own lifetimes.   Do we have a vision to see that all the generations of our family, love the Lord with heart, mind, soul and strength?   The promise annexed to the Second Commandment is that the Lord shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”   Is that our vision?  Do we have a multi-generational vision for faithfulness to Christ in our families?  Are we Cathedral builders?  Do we have our minds set upon things above?  And do we desire this to be the vision that animates every generation of our progeny?

During the reign of King Jehoiakim, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people to turn back to the Lord.   They were a faithless generation and they were training the next generation to be even more faithless.  Time and time again, Jeremiah points out that even Judah’s young ones were caught up in their parent’s idolatry.    They refused to listen to the words of the living God, or even incline their ear to what he had to say.    But in their midst, God had placed a ready example to rebuke His people.   

The Rechabites had been commanded by their forefather, Jonadab, not to drink wine or live in houses or cultivate fields or have vineyards.    They were to live a simple, pastoral life, avoiding the settled comforts of contemporary culture.   For over 250 years, they had carefully followed the instructions of their dead ancestor.   God instructs Jeremiah to publicly challenge their convictions.  Yet their commitment to Jonadab’s instruction was unshakable.   While the Lord does not specifically commend their commitments, He does commend their commitment.

It is rare in scripture for God to commend men for their faithfulness.  Jesus commends a centurion in Matthew 8:10, saying, “truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  And in Jeremiah 35, the Lord commends the example of the Rechabites.  In faithless Judah, they are a remarkable example of steadfast commitment.    They provide a powerful illustration of one generation discipling the next.   

What do our lives illustrate?   Can the Lord point to us in the midst of a faithless generation as an example worth nothing?  What will the world know of our faith by observing our descendants in 250 years? Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 35 and consider the power of multi-generational faithfulness. 

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.