Author Archives: BJ Funk

The Snake Still Slithers

While America watched the horrors at our United States Capitol building on January 6, 2021, hurting and crying over the awful scenes unfolding on our screens, tumultuous laughter could be heard from one who some of us deny even exists. One elected representative evacuated that day even described his experience with unusual words for a politician: “it was like looking at evil.”  If you don’t believe Satan is alive and well, believe it now. He is the prince of this world, and what a chance God took when he set that snake on the loose! He has already been defeated; Jesus took care of that on the cross. He has no power now, except the power we decide to give him. When Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished,” did you think he meant his life? But Jesus was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father.

So what did Jesus mean? What was finished? Satan’s power. Jesus meant, “He lost. We won!” But Satan failed to get the memo; he moves ruthlessly through his days, a wimp of who he used to be, trying in vain to continue his deception. As far as our lives are concerned, he is only as successful as we allow. His mission is to wreak havoc any way he can. He does not care who is embarrassed, hurt, mistreated, or slandered as he sets about to fulfill his purposes on this earth: turning every last one of us away from God’s glorious kingdom of light and pulling us into the destruction and darkness he loves.

Someone has said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” I bought into that when I was younger. I thought he was simply a wind of evil that floats among us all, influencing bad things to happen. A good friend of mine echoes my thoughts during those days. “I thought Satan wasn’t actually real – until I met him face to face during my divorce.”

Yes, Satan is real. He is alive and well, and if we know this, we need to get ourselves into God’s Word, where we can not only see him described, but  also recognize that he is a has-been. You and I have to stand against his spirit of self-destruction. Biblical teaching reminds us that, “Greater is He [Jesus] that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Satan is clearly our enemy, our adversary. He was dancing while the Capitol was being damaged, lives taken, injuries and trauma inflicted. “Be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Look at some of the horrific acts he has handled. You will not understand this unless you have made a decision that Satan is our real enemy. We can all point to names of those we consider to be the real problem, and we might be right, but look beyond those names and watch how Satan instigates every act of darkness. And remember that he is always a liar.

“Now the serpent was craftier that any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”’” (Genesis 3:1)

When Eve ate the fruit and offered some to Adam, they both willfully chose to listen to the liar instead of their Creator. Before that moment, they were happy. But on taking a bite, they lost the innocence with which they were born. Quickly, they made clothes of leaves to cover up. 

As glass was shattering, doors were smashing and anger was exploding at our Capitol building, Satan was propped contentedly on a tree near the Capitol, slithering from limb to limb and laughing hysterically as one by one, scuffling people broke doors and windows, feeling they had the right to do whatever they wanted. “It’s our building,” some chanted, excusing themselves from the mayhem they caused.

And the snake slithered on.

Of course, Satan had long been after America. I am appalled at the divisions in our country. I can’t imagine how I would feel if one I loved had been mistreated or killed on our streets. In fact, for a while, the only redeemable picture from the brutalization of our Capitol was the realization that for a short period, members of both parties were on the same side, binding together, helping each other escape to safety, fearing for themselves and each other – and praying. If we could have gotten into the hearts of our elected officials, we would have heard many prayers being spoken silently. 

The night of January sixth, Inside Edition anchor Debra Norville ended the evening with, “God bless America.” The message is not a subtle one. America needs to return to the God we ask to bless us.

Had we been able to actually see a real snake crawling on a tree near the Capitol, we would have noticed one very real, very telling detail. The snake’s head is bashed in. He slithers with a wound. He circles with a crooked head, smashed at the victory over death by our strong Warrior, Jesus Christ. God’s words to Satan after the fall in the garden are telling. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:16)

Yes, the snake still slithers. But he is defeated. When he starts attacking you, repeat the name of Jesus, for, “At the name of Jesus, Satan has to flee.” (James 4:7) God is the ruler yet! Live in these uncertain days in the clear and certain authority of your Redeemer, Jesus Christ.


Featured image courtesy David Clode on Unsplash.

Plans and Power: Our Limits and God’s Goodness

                            

“Plan your work and work your plan.” That phrase is great – in theory. Usually, it carries with it a practical application. But sometimes those plans are suddenly laid aside.

That’s where our churches found themselves in March of this year.  We planned our work ahead of schedule – but then weren’t able to work that plan. Coronavirus took the lead role in our play called, “Think Again…You Actually Thought You Were in Charge?”

Actually, yes; we did. If not us, who?

Well, that would be God, of course. Proverbs 16:9 makes that clear. “We may make our plans, but the Lord directs our steps.” (NLV)

James wrote about this when he said, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)

It could not be any clearer.  In this play, no one sits on the throne but God. It’s not that God is against our making plans. But God has always been the One in charge, and despite the feeble attempts of humans to control history, our choices ultimately fall under the good wisdom of God.

In the South, where southern fried chicken is a staple, we grew up knowing that if you have a pulley bone – a wish bone – at the dinner table, then two can pull that v-shaped bone with all their might, but only one will get the long part when it snaps. That one gets to make a “wish.” Silly little nonsensical talk. However, be very sure that no wish – no plans or intention – can override the power of God. If we can understand this, we can move forward with a sense of security and deep thankfulness.

How this actually works – how God directs our steps – is often a mystery. Let’s consider what it is not. God does not direct your steps if you are willingly walking away from your Creator. God does not direct our steps into sin. That comes under your free will, an unbelievably generous gift from our sovereign, loving God. God is not directing your steps if you decide to purposefully hurt someone.  

Napoleon, at the height of his career, is reported to have given this cynical answer to someone who asked if God was on the side of France: “God is on the side that has the heaviest artillery.” Then came the Battle of Waterloo.  Napoleon lost both the battle and his empire. Years later, when he was in exile on the island of St. Helena, completely humbled, Napoleon was reported to quote the words of Thomas à Kempis: “man proposes; God disposes.”

During this time of a far-reaching pandemic, it is easy for us to throw up our hands and completely give up, with questions like, “Why is God doing this?” or, “Why did God let me put all that work into my plans?” or even, “Is this the beginning of the end of time?”

In answer to the first question, God does have purpose in allowing this virus to infiltrate our lives. Not one person on earth, even the wisest of scholars has the perfect answer. God’s power to weave tragedy for good is far too wide and too high for our finite minds. In answer to, “Is this the beginning of the end of time?” the answer would be, “Absolutely not. It is a continuing of the beginning of the end of time that entered our lives 2,000 years ago. Jesus ushered in the last days. Since we are 2,000 years into that ushering, it seems that God is not in any hurry to bring this truth to its final purpose.”

Maxie Dunnam captures this in succinct explanation: “The coronavirus is not the will of God; this is not his deliberate judgment upon a sinful nation and an unfaithful church, and it is not any sort of announcement about ‘end times.’ Listen to me now, listen carefully. I am not questioning God’s power. Even the winds and the waves obey God simply through the word of his Son. This is not God’s will, but God has a will in the midst of it.” (Where is God in this Raging Coronavirus? March 27, 2020)

And one more thing. When our plans go out the window and upheaval stirs anxiety, recognize who your enemy actually is. The very real ruler of this world is out to steal and destroy. Don’t let him. If you are a believer, then the Power that created the world lives – in you. The enemy has already been defeated. Read this truth in the following scripture: “Greater is he that is in me than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

What do you see as God’s will for you right now, today, in the midst of this virus? Maybe God is pointing out a need for a recharged moral compass or sense of discernment. Somewhere in these past years, have you lost yours?

Our solutions are fairly simple when we search for God’s will when our plans come to nothing – simple, yet decidedly difficult to carry out: Open our eyes. Speak out against injustice. Make our presence known to others.

Where we find our limits, we also find God’s power and goodness.


Featured image by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Visits through the Distance: Pastoral Presence

Raise your hand if you are a pastor who inwardly rejoiced when hospitals closed their doors for pastoral visits because of Covid-19. If only a fleeting moment, did you whisper a sigh of relief because Covid regulations meant you did not have to (a) make an already long day even longer with an afternoon stop by the hospital before heading home, (b) make small talk with a sick patient you hardly knew, or (c) enter a life or death situation where the family counted on you to say words of comfort? Maybe the coronavirus took away the “have to” of hospital visits, freed you from a late day of work, and released you from any perceived pressure to enter the room of a very sick patient and pray “the right words” for the family.

Raise your other hand if you inwardly rejoiced because finally you were given permission not to enter nursing homes. Covid stopped that, too. And hold up a foot if you relaxed, free from having to visit in anyone’s home. Quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing became your favorite vocabulary words as you stayed more in your office, inwardly loving the extra time to study or write your next sermon. And what about that particularly annoying church member who wants visits every day, often, and most of the time? Now you have a medical excuse. Just put on your mask, hold up a bottle of hand sanitizer, and tell her, “it’s for your own good.”

And actually, it is. It’s for your own good, too. If we listen to anything at all on the news, we recognize that Covid-19 is not something for you to ignore. It promises not to ignore you.

However, before we ever heard of this pandemic, there were pastors who felt the call to preach but not the call to reach. Visiting members and guests can be a treacherous journey outside of one’s comfort zone, into a new and frightening place. It can feel so intimidating that you want to run, so scary that you question your calling. After all, God does not give you multiple choice questions of what you would like to do or not do in ministry.  For most pastors, there is a divine and very real pull from God, so strong that it cannot be ignored. It’s a call to preach.

Your part is a simple yes or no.

God sends no divine list with that divine calling. He does not ask if you are shy or bold, happy or melancholy, a “people person” or not. God doesn’t ask if you have counseling skills, if you know how to keep a confidence, or if you know how to laugh and cry with your sheep. God  doesn’t ask if you would like to do a funeral. You will do a funeral. God doesn’t ask if you can speak before a congregation. You will speak before your congregation. He doesn’t ask if you can handle late nights or early mornings. All of this is tucked inside of those initial words calling you to preach the Gospel.

I have my own reasons to be grateful that I don’t have to go into hospitals or nursing homes right now.  Though I’m not the pastor who does not want to visit, I am secretly thankful for permission to stay out of the heat: the burning-South-Georgia- summer-heat that falls all over me, ironing itself to my clothes and burrowing into my skin, pulling the life out of me. Covid saves me from a hot summer car that I would drive to my hot summer pastoral visit. (You’re the first person I’ve told, so please don’t tell.)

Actually, if we are truthful, there has been a sliding away of pastoral visits in recent years. I don’t know exactly when it started, but I do remember two conversations I had a few years ago with two elderly women. Both women’s comments moved into my heart and left a memory that gave me impetus to grow in my own resolve about visiting.

The first woman told me that years ago her pastor went out visiting church members’ places of business when their doors opened in the morning.  She was a hairdresser, and she looked forward to the many days her pastor stopped by just to say hello and offer a prayer before he went to the next member’s workplace. I was impressed, and she was too. The pastoral visit at a business or in a home was expected and welcomed. I felt a little tug at my heart when I recognized pastors used to make in-person visits a priority. What changed?

But it was the second lady’s question that has stayed with me, sitting down in my heart and refusing to budge. I come back over and over to what she asked me, and if my heart could shed tears, I would keep a puddle in my heart’s lining. She was in my denomination but not in my church. In her 70’s, she sought me out at a store, and asked, “BJ, are they teaching at seminary that the pastor does not have to visit the older members?”

I was floored.  She was kind, but serious. Had things gotten so bad in her church that she supposed not visiting was actually on a syllabus and would be covered in class?

She added, “We are the ones who give the most money. Many of us know about tithing, whereas many of the younger members don’t. Yet, we are the ones who are neglected.” There was no self-pity or anger in her voice. She was serious and very concerned. The look in her eyes and the sincerity of her question went home with me that day. I ate her words at supper. Every now and then, they appear on my dinner plate again, and I question if I am part of giving this wrong impression to our older adult members.

God have mercy.

Who will stand up for those who feel unloved and uncared for in our churches? That would be you, the one called to preach and proclaim the message of Christianity.

However, this is nothing new. Ignoring certain groups goes as far back as the beginning of the church in Acts. The Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Every human being feels unnoticed and left out at times. I love my John Wesley Study Bible notation for John 4: “Somewhere in the courts of the outcasts, Jesus is always waiting.”

When pandemic closings caused pastors to look for innovative ways to stay in touch, we were offered many. You, like me, are now likely able to Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live, and You Tube. I’ve learned how to tune in to an online Sunday School class and to teach an online Bible study. I must admit – I feel a little smug standing before our congregation and listing the several ways they can have church now – virtual church, of course.  (I wish just one person from Generation X, Y or Z would hand me a gold star for my efforts or even better, send someone to me to model these new technological endeavors.)

But as good as technology can be, there is nothing that takes the place of one on one, eyeball to eyeball, ear to heart listening when someone is hurting, lonely, sick or facing isolation that can lead to panic and depression. Pick up the phone. Sit down to write a note of love and appreciation.

Our congregants are lonely for their church family. They are frightened over news reports. They long for a pastor to reach out with warmth and love over the phone or through email, text or regular mail. Be that pastor who feels the loneliness in your congregation. Be the pastor who reaches out to help those who are missing church.

It’s a great time to educate your sheep that church never was a building, anyway. Church is made up of warm souls coming together to know more about a very warm, very alive and very loving Christ who wants to sit by your side and give you a great big hug. Not a virtual hug. A real one that sends waves of peace into your heart.

The Holy Spirit also has something to say during this pandemic. God wants to remind you of his dynamic power in the first few verses in the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2, NIV)

That actually describes our current situation. There is an emptiness that causes divisions and strife in this earth. There is darkness due to what we have done to God’s beautiful creation and darkness inside of us due to our questions and fears with this pandemic. Yet, the Spirit is still hovering over you, and God says: “Let there be light…”

There will be an end to this current dilemma.  You will find the light. Get still and sense the Spirit hovering.

Lord, hear our prayer.