Is an empty church obeying men rather than God?

A corollary to that question is: are we actually assembling when we do it virtually?

At least one pastor has been arrested for insisting that his church remain open when the government has decreed that no groups of over ten people should meet—except in hospitals, stores, and other critical places.

Many can see this pastor’s point. After all, the Bible says, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

Shouldn’t we gather? Are Facebook Live and Zoom services actually assembling ourselves?

Or, should we defy the government guidelines and sit in pews or chairs, all together, as usual?

Let’s look at the other side of the issue, okay? The government has shut things down in order to flatten the curve and save many lives. If this advice is heeded, they say literally hundreds of thousands more people will survive the coronavirus scourge than would if these measures were not heeded. If people go about normal life, the peak of the curve means hospitals are not able to cope—which is true—and many more deaths will ensue.

The Bible says, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

God says to fear God and honor the king (government). Can we do both in this situation, or do we have to choose?

Let’s consider another ethical question: is it right to value life? Almost every Christian would say yes. Life is God-given. No one has the right to take another’s life in murder. We’re against abortion, killing embrios, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.

I want to paint a scenario for you. Pastor X decides his church ought to obey God rather than men (lifted from Acts 5:29, about stopping the preaching of the gospel). Pastor X has services. His congregation comes on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evenings. Men, women, children, and seniors are together. They sing in worship. They hold children’s classes. People shake hands and greet each other. They even divide up into intimate, small prayer groups on Wednesday night.

Two weeks later, half of the congregation is infected with Covid19. Several of the seniors are in Intensive Care, and even some of the teens and children are finding it difficult to breathe.

They keep meeting, carrying on as before. Seniors are dying. So are younger people. Children with asthma and immune deficiencies are in Intensive Care.

After five weeks, there are very few people in Pastor X’s church who are not self-isolating or in the hospital. In fact, Pastor X himself is very ill and unable to preach. It’s all he can do to breathe.

Now, this is a totally hypothetical picture, and I pray it doesn’t happen anywhere. But, it’s realistic, if people do not take extreme precautions in the face of a virus with no known cure, that’s extremely contagious and dangerous.

Is it right to expose a congregation to sickness and death when it’s in your power to protect them?

Is it wrong to hold services online for a limited time in order to save lives?

Are we assembling if the assembly is virtual? Is it truly corporate worship?

And finally, what do you think God thinks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Maybe this includes temporary, online church.

What’s your opinion?

Proverbs 10: wise and foolish

Proverbs 10 seems at first glance to be a mish-mash of teachings and disjointed. The recurring theme, however, is the contrast between wise, righteous, blessed and a foolish, unwise person. It also divides itself into three themes: speech, business practices, and general behavior.

The first verse is about parenting. It begins with the author’s name: Solomon, the king whose name is synonymous with wisdom. And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt (1 Kings 4:29-30).

This parenting statement is a curious one. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother (verse 1). Why does it say the father is glad and the mother has heaviness? Because it’s true. Have you ever seen a proud father of a wise son or daughter? My! He sticks out his chest and almost pops buttons with pride. He loves that his child is wise. In contrast, when a son or daughter is foolish, who sorrows the most? Who blames herself? Who takes it to heart? The mother.

I’m going to divide the rest of the verses into the three categories we mentioned above:

1. Speech

What does this Proverb have to say about one’s speech? We have wise persons’ speech and fools’ speech. Let’s start with the fools and end with the wise.

  • Violence covereth the mouth of the wicked (9).
  • A prating fool shall fall (10).
  • Violence covereth the mouth of the wicked (11).
  • The mouth of the foolish is near destruction (14).
  • He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool (18).
  • In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin (19).
  • The froward (perverse) tongue shall be cut out (31).
  • The mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness (32).

Wise speech:

  • The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life (11).
  • In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found (13).
  • He that refraineth his lips is wise (19).
  • The tongue of the just is as choice silver (20).
  • The lips of the righteous feed many (21).
  • The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom (31).
  • The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable (32).

2. Business practices. In this section, we have the contrasts between good and bad, wise and foolish. I will leave the sentences intact, as I think they are easy to understand this way. You will read what God thinks about laziness, taking advantage of the poor, and how He provides for His own.

  • Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death (2).
  • The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked (3). God is always the Perfect Judge.
  • He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich (4). Several of the verses in this chapter are about laziness.
  • He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame (5).
  • The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty (15). This verse is sad. The rich person has wealth, and that’s all he has. The poor are brought down by their poverty. I know you’ve seen this in society.
  • The labour of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin (16). I like that a righteous person’s labor is for life. I think of 1 Corinthians 15:58, Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
  • As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him (26). Vinegar on the teeth and smoke in the eyes—two powerful uncomfortable feelings that everyone can relate to. One thing about the Bible that is so cool is how God uses illustrations that anyone in any culture worldwide can understand. Who likes a lazy messenger or worker? No one. The meaning is clear.

3. General behavior

  • The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot (7). This is a strong statement, but it’s true. What do we think of when we hear the names David Livingstone, Charles Spurgeon, and Isobel Kuhn? We smile, remembering their faithfulness and example. How about Charles Branson, Billy the Kid, and John Dillinger? We remember them for their crimes, their evil, and their lust for killing. Their names actually rot.
  • He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known (9).
  • Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins (12). This last phrase doesn’t mean that we ignore sin. It means we don’t keep drudging up old faults. Once sin is dealt with, we forget it in love.*
  • He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth (17).
  • The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich,* and he addeth no sorrow with it (22). This is talking about an enriched life, not material riches.
  • It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom (23).
  • The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him: but the desire of the righteous shall be granted (24).
  • As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation (25).
  • The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened (27).
  • The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish (28).
  • The way of the LORD is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity (29).
  • The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth (30).

Isn’t it fascinating to read God’s practical Word? I know I want to be on the wise, righteous, and blessed side of things. Don’t you?

God bless you today!

*William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary.

Encouragers I know and 7 ideas for being one

When I think of encouragers, the first people who come to mind probably don’t have any idea how much good they do. Let me introduce you to a few of them.

Barbara, Sandy, Lenora, and Diana post beautiful flowers and nature scenes on social media. Many of these include Bible verses or positive messages.

Ellen types a Bible verse and just leaves it there for people to think about.

Maribel posts a series of ladies’ Bible studies in Spanish, free and accessible.

Karen, Adam, and Holly are my funny friends. They put clean, wholesome comics, personal experiences, and hilarious faux pas out there for everyone to laugh at. Holly poses for selfies, where she dresses up as an animal, usually using only a change of hair and facial expression, displaying the inspiring animal photo beside her. Adam posts Far Side comics, which have something to do with real life at the moment. They’re wry humor, but more than once I’ve laughed out loud.

Tim, Jess, Barbara, Patti, and Jonathan write thoughtful, helpful, and edifying blogs. They always encourage me in some aspect of my walk with the Lord.

Lisa, Vicki, Luba, Patti, and Ruth take pictures when they’re out on walks. They find beauty wherever they go.

And, there are those people who make the most of any situation. Ester and her family held a special picnic on their tiny balcony—since they can’t leave home during the quarantine.

These are some of the real people who make my day.

How can you encourage others?

Your choice will depend upon your particular personality, familiarity with technology, and talents. Let me offer some ideas. Since we can’t leave the house these weeks, I’ll try to make these practical for now. Maybe some of these will spark you into adding some sparkle to your online presence.

  1. Spread the Word. Think of different ways to share Bible verses, thoughts, and messages (maybe your church’s streaming) with your friends.
  2. Share happiness. I guess it’s obvious, but just in case: happiness means happy news, positive thoughts, and pretty things. What makes you happy? You can start there. Think of options like: memes, photography, quotations, poems, sayings, praise verses.
  3. Show beauty. This means sharing God’s glorious creation, a beautiful garden, any scene from nature, your pet being cute, a lovely family photo, colorful travel scene—anything that will inspire others to smile.
  4. Write about themes that are appropriate today. I had a few blog posts all ready to go about subjects that were rather dark and serious. I’ve put them off for at least a few months. Today, people need peace, security, laughter, and of course, the gospel of salvation. Write about Truth. By the way, the Psalms are a wonderful place in which to dwell for these few weeks.
  5. Play music for others. I don’t think you have to be Pavarotti to sing or Van Cliburn in order to play the piano. However, I do prefer that the musician on social media would display at least a minimal level of proficiency. Don’t post your kid singing along with a howling dog, for example–even if they’re both cute. I can hear that in a back alley. Share music that uplifts the spirit, especially Christian music, encouraging the soul. Last week, one of my friends shared Ethel Waters singing, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Brought a happy tear to my eye.
  6. Share clean humor. The Bible says, A merry heart doeth good like a medicine (Proverbs 17:22a). If it’s funny to you, it’ll probably provide a chuckle for someone else.
  7. Avoid negative stuff. Especially now, when much of the world is quarantined at home, we don’t need to hear about deaths* (*unless in your family. We want to pray with you and for you.), accidents,* the virus,* murders, and horrors. I personally don’t enjoy reading about those things at any time, but now is the time to encourage. Avoid the rottenness, and present Truth, beauty, fun, and happy.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Be an encourager today!

For more articles about encouragers, consider these: Joses Barnabas, the Encourager, here, and Five Ways to Encourage Others Using Social Media, here.

Fiction Review: Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar

Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar is the first book I’ve read by Carol Guthrie Heilman, but it won’t be the last. It’s quirky and fun, but there’s heart to it, too.

Agnes Hopper is a widow, who, after several years of living on the farm after her husband’s death, is consigned by her daughter to a retirement home. The first day is enough to tell Agnes something is desperately wrong—and it isn’t only the residents. Agnes resolves that day to leave that place as soon as possible.

The residence home’s rulebook must be never-ending, since Agnes, after only a couple of weeks, has racked up quite a rap sheet of offenses.

Agnes’s high school best friend and roommate, Pearl, doesn’t even remember her. But Pearl has enough presence of mind to hoard Nyquil so she can sleep at night.

Some of the residents are hilarious, while others are very fragile mentally and physically.

Agnes makes friends and tries to help. When a woman named Alice is on her deathbed, some of the problems begin to come to light.

You will love Agnes. She is a gutsy lady who “consults” with her late husband much as she did when he was alive. She pursues right and truth and allies with some unlikely characters to find out what is going on in Sweetbriar’s residence home. She even gets into trouble with the law.

Author Carol Guthrie Heilman paints delightful characters that are fresh and fun. The writing is very good, and I enjoyed the developments. This is Christian fiction, and it refers to the Lord, prayer, and church. Beyond that, the Christian factor stays in the background. The book is clean, fun, and poignant.

I would sincerely have enjoyed it more if I weren’t getting to the age that I understand too well how Agnes feels.

There are some references to bodily functions. (It is a home for the elderly, after all.) Also, one person appears naked—not described, and she is unwell. There’s some alcohol and drug abuse, and one character is a single mother. I personally would recommend it for adult readers only, though the book is clean. The subject matter and setting don’t seem appropriate for teens.

I look forward to reading more Agnes Hopper books. Delightful.

Truths and fallacies

Wow! What a change in the world since a couple of weeks ago.

As many of you know, we live in Spain. This country has been officially locked down since last Saturday evening, and people are only allowed to leave their homes for food shopping—one per family—communication, pharmacy, and hospital. Some important jobs are being done, but almost everyone is at home, trying to be careful, and waiting for the virus to pass.

Since then, I’ve heard all kinds of reactions, most of them not realistic.

Some say the virus isn’t even real. Maybe they don’t live in a part of the world where people are sick and dying, but to say it doesn’t exist is silly at best.

Others say it’s a hoax or a conspiracy. I always question these reactions. Seriously? Everything is a conspiracy? Mysterious persons—always unnamed—are pulling the world’s strings? Well, there is a master plan, and I will get to God’s plan later in this post, but to think that every world event, great or small, either is a hoax or conspiracy is narrow-minded. Consider that the doctor who first reported this virus was a Christian and was ridiculed for making it up. Conspiracy? I don’t think so. Hoax? I hope everyone in the world understands the coronavirus is real and extremely contagious. If you don’t, you obviously don’t live where I do.

Some people say it’s exaggerated. Who knows? The non-exaggerated fact is that thousands have actually contracted this virus, and they can infect others merely by touching things or coughing. Thousands have died worldwide. As I write this, over 300 died from coronavirus yesterday, in Spain alone. Exaggerated? I have no idea, but I personally believe the statistics from health officials in Spain, and I actually know people who are sick.

Similar to those who believe it’s all a joke and not real are those who are apathetic. They don’t want to wash their hands, stay inside, or avoid personal contact. I heard that, at the beginning of this crisis, people from the center of Spain decided to travel to the coast and party on the beaches. Now, the hotels are closed and some are outfitted as adjunct hospitals. I also heard that those of differing political persuasions don’t want to listen to the government. I get that, but this is a health issue, folks. Take care of yourself, and think of others.

Some of my Christian friends think it’s God’s judgment. Only God knows whether that’s true or not. I remember when the Divine-judgment label was put on other pandemics: AIDS, for example. When hemopheliacs and other innocent people got HIV from simple blood transfusions, I hope those labelers changed their tune. Only God can proclaim actions as His judgment. We need to be careful about mis-characterizing Him. By the way, in the Bible, judgment and mercy go hand-in-hand. And, if this is His judgment, why are lovely people like two of my Christian friends sick with it?

I’ve heard these are the end times. This is one of those terms we can always agree with. The first part of Jesus’ Second Coming is imminent, which means it could happen at any time. The disciples knew this, and we do, too.

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left (Luke 17:34-36). To me, this sounds like everyday life in different parts of the world. That encourages me, as this coronavirus quarentine is anything but normal. I think it will pass, but if not, I am glad I’m ready for Jesus to come and that I know I’ll be caught up with Him.

The Apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote these words to comfort Christians: But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep (dead believers), that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come (2 Timothy 3:1). After that, it lists many sins we are familiar with today.

A similar prophecy is found in 2 Peter 3:3, Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.

The times we’re living in certainly fit this description, but the Bible advises against date setting and foolish talk. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:36-39).

I sincerely believe this pestilence will pass, and we will go on living. But, not even the angels know if the Lord is coming today or tomorrow or three weeks or a thousand years from now.

He (Jesus) which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).

Are you ready?

If Jesus should come today for believers, would you be caught up in the clouds with Him?

You can make sure today. (See “Is your truth the Truth?” here.)