The Heartbeat
"Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name." – Genesis 2:19

While attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I went with some other students to New York City to meet with a Chinese Christian pastor. That pastor (whose name I do not recall) arranged for us to see a Broadway play and also went with us to the top of the World Trade Center building while we were in town. While on the observation floor of that building and looking out over the city skyline, I entered into a deep conversation with this Chinese pastor. Along the way I made the comment, "I'm not very creative." This man immediately rebuked me (and rightly so) reminding me that I was a son of Adam, made not only in his image but also in the image of God. "Our God is a creator, and he made Adam in his image, making him also a creator. You also were meant to create. Never say you are not creative." Adam's creativity is seen in the very earliest of acts that we read of him: the naming of the animals. That may seem like a simple enough task except that there were and are literally thousands of different animals (Wikipedia suggests that there are currently 8.7 million species!). Okay, so I got it: don't ever suggest that any person is not creative. We may be disobedient to what we were meant to be, but we are all sons of Adam, meant to reflect the likeness and image of God.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived of the things that God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

Last Saturday night I had a most amazing dream…

In my dream I don't know where I was, but there were a number of people around, talking, laughing…in generally a really good spirit. And then, among the people I saw my dad. My dad is now a very old man (age 92): he looks old, he walks like a very old person. He is very much alive in his spirit but his body…well, that's a different story. But in my dream when I saw my dad, he was about 20 years old.

There are few things as enjoyable as driving a golf ball 225 yards or more in the correct direction. That can happen when one finds the "sweet spot" on the club. Hit the ball too much with the toe of an open-faced club and the ball will likely slice to the right; hit it with the heel of a closed-face club and it will likely pull hard to the left. The sweet spot is that middle spot…the middle of the club, meant to be hit square on.

To go down the road we started last Sunday (and this will be the end for this trip), there is a sweet spot that we, as followers of Jesus, need to find between understanding and conviction in regards to what is going on in our world these days. Let me explain.

"And I have other sheep that are not of this fold." – John 10:16a

By the time you read this, I will have already stood with (or even marched with) my good friend, Ed Bailey, pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster. You see, I wrote Ed last week, following days of rioting across our country. I asked him, "Is there anything you believe I should be doing? I am open to your input." In response he asked me to come join him and some other pastors at the Lancaster Square in a "silent protest" on Friday, June 5, at 4pm. I wrote back, "I will plan on seeing you then, Lord willing." And so my assumption, as I write, that by the time you read this article I will already have stood with Ed.

It was back in early February when the elders at Burning Hearts met for our monthly Elders' meeting. News of the COVID-19 coronavirus had just started to circulate. Based upon how many people (at that point) had come down with the virus and died, it seemed much more likely that one might be killed by a lightning strike or a falling meteorite. A month later, as the elders again met, the threat of the virus seemed much more ominous. And so it was that by the fourth Sunday in March, Burning Hearts, like nearly every other church in America, was "closed down." It was only after many weeks that I learned that the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster City had never closed. As I know that church's pastor (Ed Bailey) well, I corresponded with him about what they (at Bethel) had been doing. Feeling increasingly more and more uncomfortable with the idea of staying closed, and knowing the May Elders' meeting was coming up, Ruth and I decided to attend Bethel to see what was happening. There we saw a small attendance (of 20 or so), with some wearing masks, everyone keeping social distancing, and the pastor not wearing a mask. The singing was so-so (not many singers) but the preaching was terrific. We then attended the next two Sundays as well. And now, as of last Sunday, Burning Hearts is also meeting.

"I have longed…to come to you…" – Romans 15:23

Back in the late 1970s, while attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I got a job one summer working at a Baptist Church near Pontiac, Michigan. I was hired to be the youth pastor and the custodian. (These two jobs were in diametrical opposition to one another: encouraging teenage youth to come out and have a great time while trying to keep the building clean and neat.) That same summer, my close friend, Gene Johnson, was working for his brother who owned an A&W Root Beer stand. As I recall, customers could come into the A&W and order a drink or they could simply wait in their car and a teenage girl would come to the car, take the order and then deliver what was ordered. Many times, after some evening youth group event had ended, I would drive over to the A&W and help my friend and his brother close up. That always involved getting a free root beer. That was a treat. After that, Gene and I often headed back to his parents' home where, in the basement, we would watch Fernwood 2 Night. I have only the fondest memories of that entire summer.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" – Matthew 23, five times

If there is any charge against the church that really bothers the church it is that the church is full of hypocrites. We have all heard the charge. Generally our response is that the world is full of hypocrites, so it is no surprise to find them in the church as well. But the recent pandemic has highlighted an area of hypocrisy in the church that I have yet to see addressed. Here it is…

From my earliest years, I recall people praying for those "behind the iron curtain." As a young boy I did not know what that meant. Later I would hear prayers for those "behind the bamboo curtain." These were, as I eventually learned, prayers for the saints that lived in either the former USSR or in China (and its neighboring countries): Christians who were living under oppression and who were meeting in secret.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." – 2 Corinthians 3:18

In this most strange era of wearing masks (or veils), the above verse comes to mind. Here Paul is talking about two things that have happened to us because of Christ:

  • The glory that we have in Christ is an unfading glory. This is UNLIKE the glory or presence of God seen on Moses' face when he visited with God. Back then, when Moses left the presence of God, the glory faded so much that Moses chose to wear a veil so that the people would not see how the glory was fading. But in Christ we have a glory that will not fade away: it is the glory of his eternal presence in us – a presence which is ours to inherit, by grace, through faith.

Following lengthy prayerful discussion, the elders of Burning Hearts Community Church have reached unanimous consensus on the following guidelines for Burning Hearts to again begin meeting. All that you read below is based upon the idea that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak will remain neither significantly better nor worse than it is at this time.

1. We will reopen on June 7. Should there be a significant spike (worsening) in the coronavirus in our area, as evidenced over a 2-week period, prior to that date our reopening will be delayed. Should such a worsening take place after we have begun meeting, we will discuss returning to our current status of having no public meetings.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21

It is interesting how there are different sides in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is some history of previous Christian responses to pandemics over the past 2,000 years. These times of plague also helped spread the Gospel.

The Plague of Cyprian, during the middle of the 3rd century A.D., was a lethal pandemic that, at its height, caused upwards of 5,000 deaths a day in Rome. During the plague, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Romans "pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt ... " During the same time...

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generation. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." – Psalm 90:1-2 (ESV)

Recently I have been reading The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, written in the mid-1700s. The writing style is old; Edwards is extremely verbose; I highly doubt a publisher would print the book if presented to him today by an otherwise unknown writer. Yet the book continues to be printed and read because…well, because it was Edwards who wrote it. Cornelius VanTil spoke of trees that bear fruit that only giraffes can reach. The rest of humanity waits for the overripe fruit to finally drop to the ground. Edwards offers fruit that is high…way up high. And for those who are willing to try and get it while it is still ripe, the benefits are great. But boy is it hard!

The story of Marie Antoinette's aloofness from and callousness towards the starving masses of France, just prior to the French Revolution, is well known. Informed that that many were starving for lack of bread she infamously said, "Qu'ils mangent du gateau." That is, "Let them eat cake!"

It was this story that came to my mind when I recently was talking on the phone with the wife of a millionaire (they live in the southwest). She was highlighting how wonderful life has become since the advent of the coronavirus. She mentioned seeing more of her neighbors out for walks, having additional time to work on house projects, and more time to play tennis or lounge around the pool. She said that she had seen a survey in which the vast majority of those from England said they had no desire to return to their former lives. She took this to mean they were enjoying the lockdown and the personal benefits that have come from it.

The following are random thoughts/reflections on life at this time due to the coronavirus…

1. Like some of you, I have been keeping an eye on the stock market. In this time when some families are truly broke, the stock market continues to be very active – reflecting the investments of many. It is a reminder that while the coronavirus has been called the great equalizer (showing no partiality as to who may be stricken with it), the stock market is a sign of very observable inequality.

2. While Burning Hearts has continued to pay both Nate and me our salaries, I have wondered what is happening in large churches. Sure, the senior pastor may be doing broadcasts (online) and communicating to the body, and the one overseeing praise may be working out ways to creatively lead the church in family praise to God, but what about all the other staff? What is an assistant youth worker, an administrative assistant or the head of small group development doing? Will churches continue to pay them? And pity the churches that have huge mortgages to pay. I saw an article how it is estimated that the coronavirus will result in at least 5% of all churches closing their doors (because of financial hardship).

"Greet one another with a holy kiss" – Romans 16:16

I violated our governor's order on social distancing this past week. Indeed, I violated it not once, but twice.

Lenny Torres and I go way back…back to the late 90s when his wife was killed in a car accident. Lenny and his wife had begun attending LEFC (in Lititz) where I was pastoring and though I had not come to know them before the accident, once the accident occurred I came to know Lenny fairly well. Lenny had been driving the car at the time that he was taking his wife to work and hit the patch of ice that resulted in the car going off the road. Lenny suffered severe injuries – to the point that he was not even conscious when his wife's funeral took place. His road to recovery was a long one due to terrible bone fractures. Eventually Lenny recovered to the point that he could walk and with that he made plans to return to his native Puerto Rico.

"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" – Hebrews 9:27 (KJV)

When I was growing up we had two televisions in the house: one upstairs and one in the basement. Both were black and white sets and, as I recall, we received about 5 stations. My parents, at that time, were opposed to attending the movie theater but they seemed to have no qualms about watching movies (that had previously been released at the movie theaters!) on television. On occasion we would, as a family, watch a movie together and if it was a particularly old movie – say, something from the 1930s – I can recall my dad making the comment, "Everyone you see in that film is now dead." He made that comment many times through the years. It stuck with me and these many decades later I find myself having the same thought when I see an old film.

"…Be subject to the governing authorities…" – Romans 13:1

You have likely read of the pastors and churches that have refused to close down during this national emergency. Supposedly one or more of these pastors have been arrested and threats have been made to permanently shut down the churches. Like most of you I wonder what is really going on here. Is it a pastor and church attempting to preserve their "God given right to worship" or is it a case of trying to bring attention to themselves…of becoming the talk of the country? One article described the church as a "mega church" but then went on to suggest about 500 attend the church. That alone may have made that pastor's day: "Wow! We're now a mega church!" (Usually a figure of 2,500 or more is used to define a mega church, not 500.)

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." – Ecclesiastes 1:8

In his novel Brave New World Aldous Huxley envisioned a world in which people are produced in hatcheries and conditioned to belong to one of five castes. It was to be a world unlike the world we have known – this world of freedom and choice. Huxley's novel was of a world we will never completely know but which includes parts that are already becoming reality.

With the advent of the COVID-19 coronavirus we have, globally, taken a giant step in the direction of a new world. There is coming a day when we all will be back to work, but for some industries (cruise lines, entertainment, sporting events) there may never be a return to what they had prior to 2020. Indeed, do you know of anyone now desiring to go on a 10-day cruise with 5,000 strangers? The cruise lines are doomed.

"After two whole years…" – Genesis 41:1

That line – "after two whole years" – comes from the story of Joseph, Jacob's 11th son who was unjustly sold into Egyptian slavery and then, again unjustly, thrown into prison in Egypt. Joseph spent YEARS in prison – more than two years. It was two whole years between Joseph's interpreting of a royal cupbearer's dream and his interpreting of Pharaoh's dream. But just how much time he had spent in prison before the cupbearer had his dream we do not know. Can you imagine spending YEARS locked up?

As of today, we are two weeks into what might be called a "lock down." But now we have been told that the limits on social gatherings is being extended to April 30 – nearly 5 weeks away. Assuming this new date does not change, that means we are about 30% of the way there. If you are like me, I think in percentages all the time.

"…but the God in whose hand is your breath…" – from Daniel 5:23 (ESV)

As I understand it, those who die from the COVID-19 virus usually die as a result of organ failure. The coronavirus causes the coughing and shortness of breath – both pulmonary issues – but that in turn causes the liver and kidneys to fail. Septic shock often sets in. The use of a mechanical ventilator is an attempt to force more oxygen into the ailing person's body and bloodstream. The ventilator gives the ailing person possibly just enough time for their body's immune system to better fight off the virus. They say that in New York City, right now, one person is dying from the coronavirus every 17 minutes. This underscores the seriousness of the situation.

"…what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” - Micah 6:8

The Chinese have a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Certainly, the times today could be said to be “interesting” or “accursed”. The times were not much better in Micah’s day either, with evil kings in Israel and Judah, Micah described as cannibals:

“…you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people…” - Micah 3:2-3

Devoured by their own government, with worse still waiting in the wings; the Assyrian Empire deported Israel in 722 BC and the Babylonians carried Judah off into captivity in 586 BC. It is so like people then and now to contemplate the misfortune of their neighbors without considering we live together in that same neighborhood.

Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly. – Proverbs 13:16 (NIV)

I was texting with a friend this past week and he informed me of the near record sales the company he works for has been having online. This is good news for my friend (good for job security) but is reflective of something that may not be so good.

Back in 2008 our country experienced an economic recession. Many people lost their jobs. I recall, during that time, meeting regularly with men who were unemployed. I also recall reading an article back then on how to best manage such difficult times. In that article the author pointed out that most people are slow to make economic changes within their homes quickly. That is to say, the main bread earner in the home may suddenly become unemployed but it generally takes months for the family to slow down their regular spending habits. The family should immediately change their ways but that seldom happens.

Upcoming Events

Prayer Meeting
08 Jul 2020 - 07:00PM
BraveHearts Breakfast
11 Jul 2020 - 07:00AM
Prayer Meeting
15 Jul 2020 - 07:00PM
Prayer Meeting
22 Jul 2020 - 07:00PM
Prayer Meeting
29 Jul 2020 - 07:00PM