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As followers of Jesus, we are people of the truth. Falling for (and spreading) conspiracy theories does not honor the Lord, but it does cause people to question our judgment.

On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift

Image: Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

The current global pandemic has created a bumper crop of conspiracy theories.

Sadly, Christians seem to be disproportionately fooled by conspiracy theories. I’ve also said before that when Christians spread lies, they need to repent of those lies. Sharing fake news makes us look foolish and harms our witness.

We saw this in the last election when some of the troll factories focused on conservative, evangelical Christians. Here we go again.

What now?

First, we need to speak up— particularly to those fooled yet again— and lovingly say, “You need to go to trusted sources.” Social media news feeds are not a trusted source. That’s why we created coronavirusandthechurch.com, to provide credible information for pastors. But, there are plenty of credible news sources— generally from outlets that do not have a track record of conspiracy peddling.

Second, God has not called us to be easily fooled. Gullibility is not a Christian virtue. Believing and sharing conspiracies does not honor the Lord. It may make you feel better, like you are in the know, but it can end up harming others and it can hurt your witness.

Yet now we are dealing with a new flood of conspiracy theories. Look at the list on Wikipedia, or just search for yourself using a few keywords. They are as diverse as they are strange.

And Christians are sharing them. Again.

Mistrust of Media and Government

I understand the mistrust many Christians have toward the media and government. Pew indicated that the most likely people to believe the virus was created in a lab were Republicans, who tend to be the most religious—and most distrustful of government.

However, this mistrust too often leads believers to become more gullible, rather than more discerning.

God’s Word calls us to be “wise, not unwise” (Eph. 5:15).

We need to be discerning and thoughtful in our beliefs—and in what we share with others.

If you want to believe that some secret lab-created Covid-19 as a biological weapon, and now everyone is covering that up, I can’t stop you. If you want to believe one of the dozens of conspiracy theories already circulating, that’s your call. But if you do, what will you do when people start believing that the vaccine is also part of this conspiracy?

Similarly, we see some Christian leaders hyped up the idea you are being persecuted if you ignore the current guidelines and try to gather a thousand people together for worship in the pandemic. We saw a few pastors making a spectacle of themselves at Easter when we should be making much of Jesus.

Are there some issues? Yes, some mayors and a governor or two have done and said foolish things. Those actions are already being pushed back in the courts. In a global crisis, some overreact and others respond to them, and they back down. This is not a deep state conspiracy.

Furthermore, China has neither been helpful nor transparent, and more details need to be demanded. Legitimate questions can and should be asked (and are being asked!), but there are stunning and bizarre conspiracy theories about biological warfare, nefarious vaccine plans, plots to wipe out religious liberty, 5G cell towers spreading disease, and so much more.

They fill up the social media feed of many self-identified Christians. Again.

One of the reasons I wrote Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst is because Christians are becoming outraged about things that are not true. The end result is they are being easily fooled and join into ideas that can bring real harm, particularly when we do develop a vaccine that can bring substantial help to our communities.

We who know Jesus as Lord ought to do better. A lot better.

For the rest of the post…

be the church

Even though most church buildings are temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, many pastors and members are busier than ever. Church leaders and volunteers throughout America are stepping up to serve their communities during a fearful time of unprecedented disruptions and long-term lockdowns. These churches are showing the world what it means to be the church.

At the outset, many congregations are providing food to schoolchildren, assisting homeless people, and coordinating with local relief agencies. And they’re emphasizing safety at every step, following advice about social distancing and reducing exposure…

For the rest of the post…

I was a youth pastor for two years and a senior pastor since 1985. ~ Bryan
Pastor Greg Laurie ministering at Harvest. | (Courtesy of Greg Laurie)

Being a pastor is hard.

Many churchgoers may not realize this because they tend to see us at our best. After all, our job is to encourage others, love them and give them hope. But our jobs are not always easy.

Recently, a reporter emailed me to ask for my thoughts on the intense stresses that clergy in America face. I told him, “People may think pastors simply preach sermons, do an occasional wedding and have a relatively easy life. That is simply not true. In reality, we often find ourselves dealing with some of the hardest situations imaginable: like trying to help save a marriage that’s on life support, attempting to give hope to a young person who is addicted to drugs or offering comfort to a family that just lost a child. Perhaps the hardest part is people find it easy to critique us each step of the way as well.”

Then I added, “Pastors are people, just like everyone else. We are broken people who live in a broken world. Sometimes, we need help too.”

These last few sentences were later quoted in an article that has gotten a lot of attention.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

The reporter also interviewed another pastor who said, quite frankly, “Had I known the ugly side of ministry – the hospital visits, burying the dead, being in the room when someone is dying  and trying to comfort their family… Had I known  all that,  I don’t think I would have accepted being a pastor.”

I understand how this pastor feels, because I have been in his shoes many times and have struggled with the same feelings. Yet my experiences have driven me to draw a different conclusion: I have found that the hardest times in ministry — the points when I have felt like giving up — have confirmed my calling as a pastor. It’s in these moments I have experienced the most profound expressions of God’s love and grace.

I have been a pastor for almost 50 years, and I consider it a great honor

Yes, I have been with parents when they heard the news that their loved one died.

Yes, I have presided at the funerals of, sadly, many children.

Yes, I have spoken to people on their deathbeds.

But I don’t consider that the “ugly” side of ministry — it is actually a great privilege. Because I, too, have been on the other end and needed a pastor’s comfort.

When my son Christopher died in an automobile accident in 2008, I was not the pastor called in for support. I was the person in need of a pastor.

For the rest of the article…

By Gary Thomas

Why Are Christians So Mean?

His answer was up to the task. He said that Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.”

It’s not enough to simply believe correct doctrine; as God’s chosen people, we are asked to behave a certain way, particularly as it relates to others: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:12-14).

The book of Romans also sets up a high standard for believers, telling us to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “never be wise in your own sight” (12:16) and keep in mind that “love does no harm to its neighbor” (13:10). No harm. To anyone. So, in our relations with anyone we are to be devoted to their overall welfare, to not be overly confident in our opinion, and to never do anyone any harm. There’s no room here for any “Bible-believing” Christian to be mean.

What a different world this would be if, indeed, we were “devoted” to everyone’s welfare, if we were humble in our own opinions, and committed to not do anyone harm—no gossip, no mean-spirited denunciation, no slander. Doesn’t that sound like a nice world to live in?

The new life of believers envisioned by Paul in Colossians 3 basically prohibits three things: sexual immorality, greed and being mean. Sexual immorality is denounced in many ways and greed with one word: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (v. 5).

This denunciation of sexual misconduct is perhaps what the modern church is known for. But in Paul’s way of thinking, we should also be known for not being mean. Being mean is denounced as extensively and vigorously as sexual sin: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips” (v. 8).

Put all this together, and Christians aren’t to be involved in any form of sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual immorality of any kind, but we are also to shun any aspect of being “mean”: domestic violence, emotional abuse, bosses mistreating subordinates, bullying or ridiculing gays, violent rioting, and social media trolling. Just as the #metoo movement is challenging the notion that “authority” gives someone the right to be predatory, so the Bible teaches us that “right theology” doesn’t give us the right to mistreat others even when we think we are in the “right” and they are in the wrong.

For the rest of the post…

“Scripture makes it clear through commands, promises, and examples that the Christian life was never intended to be lived alone. Those who have received are now wired through their new spiritual DNA to live in community. We must have a band of believers to walk alongside us, all pointed in the same direction—toward the Father. Only collectively are we the body of Christ. We need each to help us become like Jesus and consistently model his life.”

~ Randy Frazee, Think, Act, Be Like Jesus128.

Think, Act, Be Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ   -     By: Randy Frazee

If you know anything about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then you know he was no wimp when it came down to serving Jesus!

~ Bryan

10 Reasons Ministry Isn’t for Wimps

10 Reasons Ministry Isn't for Wimps

Pastoral Care Ministry Is Not for Wimps

Furthermore, always remember that God has called you to love His church—not merely His mature church, but His immature church, as well. Moreover, a call to ministry is a call to bleed.

Here are 10 things to remember if you enter pastoral ministry.

10. Not everyone will like you.

9. You will make people angry regardless of how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.

8. You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations.

7. You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jer. 17:9).

6. Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).

5. You will be criticized, rarely to your face and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and pastors and Christians that barely know you.

4. You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily.

3. You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).

Why the Christian Life Is a Call to Community

And Earl Roland. He was a hunched old man who loved to pray. In the absence of an acceptable singing voice, he’d mastered the art of whistling, and he whistled loud and strong through the hymns we sang in church. So to honor him we whistled “A Mighty Fortress” at his memorial service.

I remember little old women in polyester who fawned over me, and the wrinkled man in a wheelchair who had a big black Bible and said, “But God!” (Because he knew stuff the rest of us didn’t yet understand.)

But it wasn’t just the old and the weak that made a strong impression on me.Roland and Naomi were seminary students in their late 20s when I was a teen. They never missed an opportunity to encourage me. When I graduated from high school and no one else my age was left at church, they invited me to join their young married small group. Roland and Naomi wanted children, but their arms remained empty. I watched them navigate barrenness with quiet trust, and it changed me.

There were other friendships forged over food. My parents set the stage for rich and relaxed community by hosting myriad meals, even on a shoestring budget. Neighbors, newcomers to church, and out-of-town friends all gathered around our table and lit up our home. Missionaries on furlough ate pot roast and told stories from the field. Giddy newlyweds talked of love over casserole. Sharing meals with people seemed as natural as, well, eating, and left me with an incurable taste for joy.

And what I couldn’t have put into words then, but I understand to the marrow of my bones now, is that community gives life. It grows you up and anchors you down; humbles and heals; brings laughter and tears. It brings sturdy ground to our existence.

Fighting the tug away from community

Now I’m the one with a family, and we’re living in the fastest-paced generation in the history of mankind. Despite some physical limitations that naturally slow us down, our family can still find ourselves dashing here and there, squinting sideways at our calendar to see how we’ll squeeze in another birthday party or baby shower, and communicating instantaneously with dozens of people in the course of one day.

My husband and I have to regularly fight against the tug of too much. We keep asking, “How do we pursue authentic, consistent, unhurried relationships? How do we do this in a way that builds up our family and doesn’t splinter us in a dozen different directions? How can we make sure our son doesn’t miss rubbing shoulders with the Miss Mosses and Earl Rolands of this world?”

We haven’t stumbled upon any easy answers. Community looks so different for each one of us, in every new season of our lives. And as soon as we think we’ve found our groove and figured it all out, life changes. The mom with three small children, the overseas missionary, the 50-year-old caring for aging parents, the one who’s chronically sick—they’ll tell you there’s no cookie-cutter shape for community.

But one thing’s for certain: we need each other. We can’t work through our yuck, see our blindspots, grow in grace, and experience joy on an island (no matter how exotic it might be). And while God alone is more than enough for us—and he should be our first and greatest relationship—he knows we will love and understand him more when we’re living in authentic relationships with others.

So we should prioritize it: Be with others. Set food on the table, and open the front door. Tell each other our stories. Confess sin to a friend. Meet a tangible need. Laugh together. Pray together. Sit quietly with a grieving one. Seek the wisdom of older friends. Forgive each other. Say “yes” to an offer of help.

by  

I was a pastor, and yet I felt cynical about church.

I preached every week. I kept serving and loving the best that I could. But I had become an expert at spotting all that’s wrong with the church. I grew concerned over church politics, the way we spent money, how little we prayed, how little we seemed to rely on God’s power.

I had rightly identified some areas of legitimate concern, and yet my response was completely wrong. I had stopped loving God’s people and had started judging them instead.

The Danger of Cynicism

“Cynicism comes from a good place: high standards,” writes Peter Adam. “But cynicism is a dangerous way to express those standards. It gives us the luxury of being right without the responsibility of working for change … Cynicism is the worst response to high standards.”

Looking back, I’d been feeding on a diet of books critiquing the church. Cynicism is contagious. Hang around cynical people and read cynical books, and you will soon become a cynic yourself.

I’d also been hurt as a pastor. The right way to respond to hurt is to go to God for help, and to get help from others, confronting when necessary, and working toward forgiveness. Instead, I nursed those hurts. I became a cynic.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns what can happen when we respond wrongly to hurt. “The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community as if his dream binds men together.”

“When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

But such disappointment is also an opportunity, according to Bonhoeffer. “The very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together — the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.”

Disappointment with the church is an opportunity. We can choose to become cynics, or we can remind ourselves of God’s grace and enter into deeper community.

I’ve lived out both options. The latter is much better.

What’s Changed

Slowly I started to repent of my cynicism. I found help in two places.

For the rest of the post…

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

~ Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship

Nothing on Your Phone (Including TGC) Can Replace the Local Church

Theological content is easier than ever before to find. The internet has made resources for the Christian life ubiquitous—whether it be women’s Bible studies, commentaries, sermon podcasts, books, video summaries of biblical books, video reflections on tough doctrines, documentaries on apologetics questions, entire courses on preaching, or whatever you are looking for. Sure, there is also more bad Christian content than ever before—read the Christian book bestseller lists or top religious podcasts list and weep—but there is also a ton of helpful, trustworthy, doctrinally sound stuff. The world will always need solid theological resources and guidance for Christian living, and technology is making it easier to get these resources out. We should be thankful.

But as much as we should celebrate this age of abundance in Christian resources—what my colleague Sarah Zylstra calls “theological affluence”—I worry about some of its side effects. Namely: why is the rise in access to theological material coinciding with a decline in Christian church attendance? Could it be that our easy access to theological content is, in a twisted way, making us see church as unnecessary? Listening to a Christian podcast or devotional app, after all, is much easier than getting out of bed on Sunday morning and going to a church building. But is it the same?

It is not.

Two Perversions

Just as material affluence can keep us from church on Sunday because we have the means for all manner of distraction (globetrotting vacations, weekends at the lake, NFL games on our 90-inch flatscreen), theological affluence can keep us from church because we have umpteen resources to fill our theological “tank” during the week. Why would we be desperate to attend church regularly, listening to our so-so pastor’s Sunday message, when we can listen to John Stott and John Piper sermons on our commute, five days a week? Doesn’t that check the box?

Part of why this problematic thinking sounds reasonable to many evangelical Christians today is because we have long practiced a faith that is systemically corrupted by (at least) two perversions:

1. Consumer Perversion

We think of faith primarily in terms of “what I get out of it”—whether that’s a feel-good sermon, a “safe” friend group (especially for our kids), or an escape-from-hell ticket. Certainly there are gains in the Christian life (the ultimate gain!), but when we approach it as “what can you do for me?” consumers, our faith is fickle and fragile. What do we do when being a Christian starts costing us, when suffering comes, when church gets . . . uncomfortable? This consumer perversion (amplified by the overly individualistic tendencies of Western culture) makes church-hopping a thing—since there will always be a church with better coffee, better kids’ ministries, less annoying people, and so on. If church, then, is mostly about “getting” the best of whatever spiritual thing you’re looking for, you’ll always be unsatisfied—constantly trying new churches and perhaps eventually giving up or turning online. The “best” preachers and the “best” worship music are on iTunes, after all, not in your local church.

2. Gnostic Perversion

We think of faith mostly as a “content” experience. It’s in our heads and in our hearts: it’s the ideas we pick up from books, podcasts, and sermons that matter. We think of our Christianity mostly as a mental, disembodied experience. And this dovetails with the consumer perversion, since if Christianity is mostly “content,” then we can justify picky standards—demanding that a church’s preaching be intellectually stimulating, doctrinally rigorous (but not too rigorous), culturally contextualized, and so forth; otherwise, we’ll leave and search for better content at another church. You can see how this gnostic perversion might gradually convince someone that physical church (with its subpar “content”) is dispensable in an era where better-quality content is just three taps away on a smartphone.

What Only Church Offers

But Christians are not meant to be consumers; we’re meant to be servants. And Christianity is not merely content; it’s an embodied, lived community. Active, committed participation in the local church reminds us of this.

To be a Christian is to be like Christ: to serve rather than be served (Mark 10:45). You can’t do this by sitting in your car listening to a Christian podcast or gazing at a YouTube video about the Bible. In these activities you are being served. To be sure, you’re being served wonderful things! But it’s not enough. You also need to serve others, and the local church invites you to do this. The church is a place where Christians serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10), encourage one another (Heb. 10:25), love one another with brotherly affection, and outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). The church is a community profoundly oriented around loving others and serving the world beyond itself.

The church is also an embodied community, something that cannot be replicated through books and screens. In the disembodied digital age we have the illusion of “connection” with our many social-media followers, but we’re still lonely and unknown behind all the manipulative filters and layers of facade. The local church—an enfleshed community of tangible people in regular contact and close proximity—can be an antidote to our disembodied grief. It grounds us in reality and reminds us that we aren’t just brains on sticks. We were made for physical connection with people, not just informational connection through screens.

In a lonely, disembodied world, the church offers a beautiful alternative: an embodied community where at least once a week you are in physical presence with your church family. It’s a place where the manipulative filters of life online fall away and you can be known in a truer sense, warts and all. It’s a place where our real struggles and weaknesses are harder to hide; a place where healing—emotional, spiritual, physical—can happen. It’s a place where you can do physical things together: sing, stand, sit, kneel, hug, attempt awkward bro handshakes, even eat and drink the communion elements. You can get none of this from podcasts and apps and audiobooks.

No Substitute for Church

For the rest of the article…

July 2020
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