Spiritual Care for First Responders During the Coronavirus Pandemic (or any time)

Spiritual Self-Care is Not Optional 

First Responder professionals are in a unique position during this worldwide crisis. The demands thrust upon us due to the need for our expertise are higher now than in “normal” times – especially because we face the same dangers as our patients with coronavirus. The stresses can be debilitating. We must take every precaution to mitigate the effects of stress on us as individuals so we can function at as high a level as is humanly possible during this pandemic. It is critical that we learn how to best care for ourselves so we can – to the best of our abilities – fulfill the responsibilities we have inherited by virtue of our professions.

It is important that we understand the best way to handle the stress. In a nutshell:

  1. Do your best to remain coronavirus-free
  2. Simplify
  3. Nutrition, exercise & sleep
  4. Support
  5. Be Flexible
  6. Know your limits
  7. Expression
  8. Talk about death
  9. Create a sacred space
  10. “Do”
  11. Pray
1. Follow health guidelines from the CDC and other trusted medical sources

Spiritual Self-Care includes caring for others. Healthy spirituality thinks of others ahead of oneself. Do your best to protect the health of yourself & those around you by implementing the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control, your healthcare institutions and other trusted medical authorities.

 

2. Simplify your life away from work 

You work long shifts and/or are on call many hours during the year. Home should be a place of respite. Yes, your family must be tended to & the housework must be done. Beyond that keep it simple. This crisis will not last forever.

Remember: You are a front-line first responder. You need down-time

 

3. Nutrition – Exercise – Sleep

Nutrition: Eat sensibly & healthily. Limit caffeine & other stimulants used to enhance performance. Limit your use of alcohol & other depressants for help in relaxing. You a;ready know the dangers if these things become habits.

Exercise: Structured & regular physical exercise promotes both psychological & physical health. It also fosters resilience. It relieves stress & releases endorphins. But exercise sensibly. Do not cause yourself injury. Schedule exercise time so it is not missed.

Sleep: Some of us need more sleep than others. In crisis you must be sure to get the amount of sleep your body, mind & spirit require.

In a crisis that might be more than usual

4. Support 
External & Internal support are both critical. Connect with trusted individuals who care for & who understand you.
Some first responders have partners. It might be that your partner can be trusted with your feelings about the things you both experience. Yet there is still that part of your being that your spouse/significant other can better help.
Be careful! You don’t want to vicariously traumatize your beloved.
Add internal spiritual support to your human interaction. You will this need for the times when you are alone or feel alone in this or any other crisis. This is to strengthen that spiritual part of you which can only be cared for by the Creator of your soul.
Spiritual self-care is not optional!
As a Christian, I rely upon God’s Word, the Bible.
If you are not of the Christian faith it would greatly benefit your spirit to explore the teachings of your faith-group or belief system regarding the things you feel as the result of serving in crises.
5. Be flexible – “go with the flow”

The “unwritten beatitude”: “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken.”

 

Be smart. Life is not a plan “written in stone.” It’s a journey with many surprising twists & turns. Know when to make adjustments – course corrections. Changing course or a habitual schedule does not mean that your original plans were wrong. It signifies that you are a creative and wise person who knows when to change gears in order to better survive whatever your present circumstance in life might be. A new “life-list” might be a good thing.

The most psychologically resilient seem to have a “take one day at a time” attitude. This is neither lackadaisical nor unfocused. They have learned to appreciate “the moment” for what it is – an opportunity to do what they are trained to do – help alleviate human suffering one moment, one person at a time.

6. Know your limits

Your age & fitness level play a part. So does your spiritual foundation. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits while stretching yourself to extend those same limits.

You are not invincible. Ask for help whenever you feel stretched too far. You are in the midst of this pandemic along with everyone else. Stick to your new life-list. If your life-list needs adjusting, do it.

           Burn-out is possible. Schedule time off.

 

7. Expression

There is evidence showing that keeping a written journal specifically for your reactions during crisis promotes health & resilience. Poems, prose, drawings or whatever you feel best expresses your feelings. There’s no pressure to journal all that you experience. Maybe everything. Maybe only those things that leave a deep impression.

You choose

8. Talk about death…but not morbidly

People will contract COVID-19. Some will die. Death is something that makes most people uncomfortable and creates fear.  When searching your religious beliefs/belief system, learn about it’s teachings on death. Others – especially children – have questions. You should have some answers. But you won’t have them all. Collaborate with your religious/spiritual leaders for guidance in this.

9. Create a sacred place

Do not neglect your spirit. Look deeply at your religious beliefs/belief system. Search for the wisdom contained therein which speaks to the important things of life. Then prioritize your life in our “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Start each day with quiet time. If you have children, this might be difficult. But it’s necessary. Get up earlier. This should be on your newly prioritized life-list. Use these quiet moments to pray, meditate, read your Scriptures or whatever it is that soothes your soul. Starting in this manner will strengthen you all day.

Your “sacred space” can be wherever you are. Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley, had 19 children, 9 of whom died. She was a woman of grief & so many children that her heart, mind & household were very busy. There was no Zen Garden to which she could retreat. It is said that her sacred space was under her apron. When she would realize that the hectic pace of life in her home was getting overwhelming, she would sit on a chair, flip her apron over her head, then pray. That was her sacred place. I suspect there were times she simply wept.

                                       Tend to your newly prioritized life-list with purpose of heart

10. “Do unto others”

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

Do because you love. Remember, love isn’t simply an emotion. Love is a proactive commitment to “do” for others – especially those nearest to your heart. Help your family & your community. “Doing” includes listening. Not only to their words, but to the unspoken words of their hearts. In crisis – or even when things are not critical – others want to be heard.

                                                         Just listening  shows that you care

11. Pray…for yourself, with & for others
It is not selfish to pray for yourself

“Pray” sometimes seems kind of nebulous. What does it really mean?
Many words in the Bible are translated by the English word “prayer”:

request, ask for favor or pity, beg, implore, earnestly desire, groan, demand mediate, wish, complain, whisper, discuss, interrogate, argue, hostile conversation [& others].

Your prayers need not be formal. They can & should reflect your heart.

In order to be effective, prayer should be organic & frequent. Just keep it honest & heartfelt.

You will be more comfortable praying for others if you regularly pray for yourself.

Pray with & for others. Especially those more fragile, more afraid, more susceptible.

Do you feel uncomfortable asking people if they would like to pray?
Here are 5 words you can memorize that will help.

                        “May I pray for you?”

A few will say no. Most will gladly accept your offer. It gives them an option and does not put pressure on them to pray. People need to feel that there is something in their control in the midst of this pandemic.

          Don’t know what to pray?

Memorized prayers are the easiest. But they are less personal and not often relevant to the person for whom you are about to pray.

It’s not likely that you will offer to pray for someone you don’t know something about. In compassionate conversation you will hear them explain the circumstances they are struggling with. I suspect your compassion is what led you to strike up a conversation with them. You will often be the initiator of the conversation. As the initiator, listen.

Here’s a word that will help you listen. Ting.

You might be wondering, what in the world is Ting? Maybe a graphic will better explain it.   

Ting is the Chinese symbol for the verb to listen. Verbs are action words. Listen actively with your undivided attention. Turn off your cell phone BEFORE you engage in listening.

By listening – even if only for a few moments – you will already know what to pray for the person.

  • What are they afraid of? Pray for them to be less afraid of that particular thing.
  • What are they struggling with? Pray for their strength to withstand & overcome in that struggle.
  • What are they in need of? Pray for God to meet their needs either via other people or miraculously.
  • Use the person’s name when praying.

Do not be afraid to address God in heaven!

You offered to pray, right? In this you introduced yourself as a person of faith. Don’t hesitate to publicly acknowledge that your faith is in the God of Heaven. All people need hope. When faced with a pandemic it seems that there is no hope on earth. Prayer supports mankind’s intrinsic belief that there is something more to existence than life on earth. There is Someone greater in control. Praying reminds both them & you.

 

In His Hands,

Pastor Fran

 

Fran Pultro, Ed.M., CPSP, ICISF

“Pastor Fran” has been the Staff Chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children since 2002. He is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department and an ICISF Approved Instructor.

 

Mitigating Child Stress During the Coronavirus Pandemic

“Isolation, physical distancing, the closure of schools and workplaces are challenges that affect us, and it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness at this time” – Hans Kluge, director of the European branch of the WHO.

Hans Kluge is correct. The long-term restriction of people from interacting with others or from simply taking a walk negatively affects their mental health. Add to that the fear of contracting a new & potentially deadly virus, and you’ve got a formula for serious negative mental health issues.

Even though too young to process all of the information about the current coronavirus pandemic, the mental health of children can still be negatively affected. Although not usually as obvious, children are also feeling it. What can be done?

What can we do to help the kiddos?

 

“WALK” WITH THEM EVERY DAY

Let them know that you will walk through this with them for however long it lasts.

 

   

 

Maintain a routine 

Routines help both children and adults.  Although difficult in our ever-changing coronavirus circumstances, do your best. God gave those beautiful children to you, so you are “the man/woman” for the job!

“This means eating meals at regular times, sleeping, waking and exercising at set times, and maintaining social (socially distant) contact. Unstructured time can create boredom, spikes in anxiety or depression, which can lead to unhealthy patterns of coping.” – Dr. Deborah Serani, Psy.D.

Be creative when you choose routines for exercise. You know your family & children best.

 

Make Time to Play

 

Children need to play. It’s good for them physically, emotionally, spiritually & psychologically.

Choose games that are age appropriate as well as games that are fun for everyone who is in isolation with you. There are plenty of choices.

AVOID computer games!!! Too much screen time isn’t good for a child’s development.

Help Others 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

“Do unto others” is the Golden Rule. There are many people in need at this time in history. If your children are old enough maybe you willl want to teach them how to sew buttons or another easy task. In this they will learn basic life skills. As a suggestion, you also might want to teach them how to use that life skill to sew buttons onto headbands or straps so nurses and other healthcare workers can attach their face masks. There are many needy people. Look around your community and observe what is needed and whether you & your family can meet any of those needs.

DISCLAIMER: Be careful!!! The age at which a child can safely use a needle depends on both the age & the maturity of the child. You know them best. They are yours.

 

 

Coronavirus-specific resources for children

I waited a bit to post these sites because early on in this pandemic these specific resourcs had not yet been developed.

https://www.kidshealth.org.nz/resources-help-explain-coronavirus-covid-19-children
https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comic-exploring-the-new-coronavirus

These resources include videos. Look at them before sharing them with your children. Use them liberally.  Use them to stimulate your own creativity. These are not the only resources available. You will find many by doing a Google search.

 

 

You & your beloved children are in my prayers.

In His Hands,

Pastor Fran

 

Fran Pultro, Ed.M., CPSP, ICISF

“Pastor Fran” has been the Staff Chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children since 2002. He is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department and an ICISF Approved Instructor.

Citations

Hans Kluge quote: https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/147903

Photo credits

Father holding child, iStock Photos

Unsplash: A father and son hold hands

Students Kids Clipart

Make Time to Play UK

 

Palm Sunday 2020

Palm Sunday as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 19:28-44 [ESV]

vv.28-31
And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'”

vv.32-36
So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them,”Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.

vv.37-40
As he was drawing near– already on the way down the Mount of Olives – the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying,”Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

vv.41-44
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,”Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Fear & Coronavirus
Today, Palm Sunday 2020, we are self-quarantined as most of the world does it’s best to avoid contracting COVID-19 during the Coronavirus pandemic. There hasn’t been a world-wide disease this frightening since the Spanish Flu of 1918. The Spanish Flu pandemic lasted about 2 years. We still don’t know how long the Coronavirus pandemic will last. It has certainly focused most peoples’ attention on the important things of life.The start of Holy Week 2020 is covered with the shadow of fear for most people. They are worried that someone in their families – or even themselves – will contract COVID19 and die.

Most of us are familiar with the big events that would happen during that week leading up to Jesus’ arrest (in the Garden of Gethsamane), the Passion (His torture), Jesus’ Crucifixion & Resurrection.

But were you aware that these things were prophesied in the Old Testament?

I believe this is relevant to consider because of what we are experiencing in our lives today. Why? Because many people see what’s going on in the world around us and talking about the things prophesied in the Bible about the end of the time.

“Is what we are experiencing signs of the end of the world?”

This is a question on the lips of many. But today’s message is NOT about whether or not the events of today – the extremely high number & frequency of earthquakes, the pandemic, hordes of locusts, etc – indicate that we are facing the end of the world.

The goal of today’s message is to give you hope no matter how near the end of the world might be.

In the midst of this fear we have great hope! Jesus is still alive and His promise to those who choose to believe in Him are still in effect. And Jesus always keeps His promises!

 

The original Palm Sunday
I’d like to point out a few things in the account of that first Palm Sunday as recorded in Luke’s Gospel which you read at the beginning of this article.

In verses 37-40, the Pharisees – some of the hypocritical religious leaders in Jerusalem – told Jesus that He should rebuke His disciples. This was because Jesus’ disciples – all of them, not just the 12 Apostles – were singing that Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied to come to Israel. The Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus’ answer is great! He said:
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Don’t you wish that for just 30 seconds every single one of Jesus’ disciples had decided to be silent? It would have been awesome to see the Pharisees’ reactions on hearing the stones cry out the same thing that the disciples had been singing!

 

Bible Prophecies of Palm Sunday
Oh, you don’t believe that would have happened? Why not? Jesus is God and God cannot lie. I hope you believe that. I say this because it’s important for those of us who are Christians to believe the words spoken by God. He has said many things to mankind. He has made sure that we have a written record of the things He wants us to know of what He said.

Some of what He has recorded for us in the Bible are prophecies. Prophecy always seems to intrigue people. Some disregard it. Some accept it. Others – most people in western culture – just don’t know & want to see proof.

I encourage you to follow along in your Bibles. You will find the books listed in the table of contents. The first number refers to the chapter. The numbers after the colon refer to the verses.

For instance the book of Zechariah, chapter 9, verse 9 is written like this: Zechariah 9:9

There are several Bible prophecies about Palm Sunday. Today I will only share two of them. The first is from Zechariah. It speaks specifically about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the reason for His coming.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is called the Triumphal Entry.

Zechariah 9:9, is the most obviously stated prophecy about Palm Sunday.
This prophecy was given about 500 years before Jesus’ birth!
We know this from the historical events recorded in Zechariah.

Now I’d like to share with you one of the most amazing prophecies recorded in Scripture about Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Remember Daniel, who was thrown into a den of lions and survived?
He also wrote a prophecy about Palm Sunday.

Daniel 9:25
Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.

The entire prophecy is included in Daniel 9:24-27. It spans many years. This part of the prophecy – verse 25 – specifically has to do with the prophesied Messiah’s coming into Jerusalem.

The prophecy refers to a “command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”
At that time, Jerusalem, had been destroyed. The Jewish people had been taken captive by the Babylonians. Daniel was in Babylon when he received this prophecy from the angel, Gabriel.

The command referred to is very specific. For this prophecy to be accurate the command must concern the city of Jerusalem specifically.

Next the prophecy refers to “Messiah the Prince.”
The phrase “Messiah the Prince” is a translation of the Hebrew words, Meshiach Nagid. So this prince is also a king.

Lastly for our study today, the word “weeks” in this passage is the Hebrew word shabuwa which means “week of years.”

1 shabuwa = 7  years, just like 1 decade = 10 years. Same concept.

With this knowledge we see that this part of Daniel’s prophecy refers to a period of 69 weeks of years.

7 (years) x 69 (weeks of years) = 483 years.

In Daniel’s time a year consisted of 360 days, not 365 1/4 days like our year.
We use a solar calendar. Daniel was in Babylon. They used a lunar calendar.
Using this knowledge we calculate by multiplying 360 days x 483 years.
The answer is 173,880 days. Keep this number in your mind for later.

Back to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday!

Jesus presents Himself as Messiah

During Jesus’ ministry there were several occasions written in the Gospel of John, where we are told that Jesus’ “hour had not yet come.”      [John 2:4; John 7: 6, 8; John 8:20]

Then, one day – Palm Sunday – He deliberately arranged things so that He would enter Jerusalem just as the prophecy of Zechariah foretold the Messiah would come.

In case you might be thinking that Jesus did NOT present Himself as king, re-read the words of the people who were cheering when Jesus arrived on the donkey; re-read the words of the hypocritical Pharisees. They felt that the people were blaspheming in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah the King. But Jesus endorsed it!

But if Jesus is the Messiah – which He is – and if Daniel’s prophecy is accurate – which it is – then Jesus must have entered Jerusalem as the Messiah exactly 173,880 days from the date that a commandment was given to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

The question is, did this happen?

 

The Command 

There were several commands given in history which permitted the Jews to rebuild their Temple. The Temple had been in Jerusalem, so we must be careful to determine which command is referred to here in Daniel 9:25. The command that concerns this prophecy must specifically order the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem was given by the historical figure, Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 14, 445 B.C. The emphasis in the verse on “the street” and “the wall” at then end of Daniel 9:25, was to avoid confusion with other earlier mandates confined to rebuilding the Temple.

Remember the date March 14, 445 B.C.

The Scotland Yard / Christian Police Connection
Sir Robert Anderson, was the second Assistant Crime Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, from 1888 to 1901. This was Scotland Yard. He was also an intelligence officer, theologian and writer. Anderson was a devout Christian.

The Criminal Investigation Department was then just starting the investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders. Anderson thought these crimes were grossly over-sensationalized. The press hasn’t changed!

Anderson put his police detective skills to use in researching this very prophecy we are reading today. It was his investigative nature that led to the math we looked at above. You can get a copy of the book he wrote about it called The Coming Prince.

By considering the number of days per year used in the Babylonian Calendar, then adding 173,880 days to the date of March 14, 445 B.C., and accounting for leap years, Anderson’s calculations bring us to April 6, 32 A.D.

Is that date significant? Yes. It’s the day of the original Palm Sunday.
Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled to the exact day!

 

                                     Hope

In this we see that we can trust God’s word on events before they come to pass. Therefore we can trust God’s word on things that have already transpired.

God’s word tells us that 7 days after Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus then rose from the dead. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That is where our hope lies – that Jesus truly rose from the dead.

Whether the things going on around us in the world today are indicators that the end of the world is nearing or not (I believe it is), isn’t as important as where we will go once our last day on this earth arrives.

God’s word is clear about how to be sure that your soul gets to heaven.

Romans 10:9 “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

If you aren’t sure exactly what that means please contact me at:
cckhwy@gmail.com

In His Hands,
Pastor Fran Pultro

“…the least of these…”

Pediatric Stress and the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Pastor Fran Pultro, Ed.M.

“…the least of these…” – Matthew 25:40

This phrase refers to those considered  least in size, least in importance, least in the estimation of men. My focus today is on children.

The media – social, mainstream & fringe – are flooded with information about coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

Some of the information is accurate. Some is inaccurate as this virus is new and still being studied. Some is simply false or fabricated. The overwhelming amount of information about this virus makes it extremely difficult for even adults to sort through and navigate.

The seemingly contradictory nature of some COVID-19 information given by trusted authorities causes fear & confusion.

That the entire body of this information is available to children is something about which we adults should be concerned.

Do you remember how children were traumatized by the repeated rebroadcast by news media of airplanes flying into the WTC in the wake of 9/11?

Our beloved kiddos weren’t considered in the race for ratings.
I see the same thing happening today with the news about coronavirus.

Please don’t misunderstand. The advent of world-wide, real-time mass communication is a great tool in helping spread news that can teach people how to better behave in order to effectively keep the spread of coronavirus lower than if we didn’t know about it at all.

But that same world-wide, real-time mass communication is something with which the children of this generation are very familiar. They have access to it – and likely know better how to use it – than those of us in my (Boomer) generation.

Therein lies the problem.

The information we are receiving on a 24/7 basis is not contained to the media. We speak about it at home, in school and in our social circles – limited though they might be as a result of safe social distancing.

Children are also talking about this.

Children are smart. But they are still children. They see the world very differently than adults. Keep this in mind when determining how to handle this pandemic with your family, especially with your children.

The way you speak about and behave in the face of this pandemic plays a big part in helping keep the anxiety of your children at a safe level. Their emotional stability is crucial in this stressful circumstance.

Children need age-appropriate information, not the “whole ball of wax.”
They also need the information to be factual.

I know from conversations with my young patients that they are hearing rumors, opinions and “what -ifs” from other children, parents, family members and the media all of which are raising their levels of anxiety. And they are worried.

It’s important that we dispel rumors and false information. But know this – some information that is false in the minds of children is based in fact.

Who is an “elderly” person? They are an at-risk group for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. The age group being mentioned by reliable medical sources is usually “65 and over.”

But who is an “elderly person” to a child? Their parents? Their grandparents?

Many parents are in their 20’s. Many grandparents are in their 40’s.

Children worry that the adults in their lives are in danger of dying.

Children need this clarified. They need to know that elderly people are at greater risk. But this doesn’t mean those elderly people will necessarily die. If the elderly people in their lives are 65 & over let them know that proper precautions are being taken to protect those elderly people.

Just be careful to provide information that is age-appropriate; information that children of their age group are able to assimilate and comprehend so their still developing psyches are not emotionally over-loaded. This can elevate anxiety and cause emotional distress.

But don’t keep from discussing COVID-19 with children. If they perceive that coronavirus is an off-limits topic it can raise their anxiety levels when they hear your whispered discussions about it.

If your children are now home as the result of school closures I recommend that you limit their access to TV news & internet media. This includes limiting their use of smart phones. If you cannot control the type and/or amount of information they receive you aren’t protecting them to the best of your abilities.

At certain ages children do not have the maturity to distinguish between news reporting and commentary. Their young and imaginative minds are able to conjure up ideas based on misinformation that are far more disastrous than the reality.

You are the expert on your children!

Are your children extroverts or introverts? Do they tend to externalize their emotions in play, sports, music or other active ways? Do they tend to internalize their feelings? You know best.

Watch them closely for changes in their behaviors or moods. Just the extra attention you pay to them will help ease their concerns as they are  reassured of your love for them.

And what about you?  How are you handling the oceans of COVID-19 news?

Are you appropriately concerned and taking prudent measures to provide safety for your family? Are you panic-stricken and frozen not knowing what to do?

Just as the airlines tell us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before tending to our children in the seats beside us – something counter-intuitive to our internal parental protective instincts – it’s important that you learn factual information about COVID-19, so you can effectively care for your family, including your children.

Your children are watching how you handle this crisis. It is a crisis. Reassure them by your behavior and in your choice of words. “Do as I say and not as I do” is always a poor way to teach children. “Practice what you preach” is always better.

If you are overwhelmed, reach out to someone in your sphere of friends for reassurance and counsel. Discussing things with other trusted adult friends is of great value in helping lower your own stress/anxiety levels.

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14

Children – “the least of these” about whom I write today – rely on you completely. As parents we are in that frighteningly responsible position. Let’s handle it like adults and with an others-centered loving approach to all we say and do.

If the schools are closed your creativity will be greatly challenged and exercised during this time with your children. Many out-of-the-house activities and gathering places are closed; sporting events, recreation centers, movie theaters, malls, et al. The list is ever-growing.

Your time is not your own. But it can be blessed with your beloved children present!

Teach them the basics of proper hygiene for the umpteenth time.

Especially young kids who tend to touch and lick things they ought not!

As guidelines and recommendations from the CDC are released, build on the basics your children already know. It’s a learning experience for all of us. You are now their teacher. Learn the curriculum.

Make a game of teaching safe social distancing. Create a safe way of greeting others that is peculiar to your family. Be imaginative. Ask your children to help develop that greeting. They are creative little beings!

Overall, remember that the COVID-19 pandemic will one day end. Yes, it might flare up again. Yes, someone you know might die as a result of COVID-19.

But we are not without hope.

As a pastor and chaplain, whose calling is to remind people that there is more to life than the physical world, I am duty-bound to point out the spiritual.

I am a Christian. As a Christian, I believe in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of my heart-felt belief in Christ, I take great comfort in the promises of God as found in the Bible.

Yet this essay is not meant to evangelize.

COVID-19 is affecting people all over the world regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

The information I share with you today is not mine alone. It can be found in many places in the internet.

I share that I am a Christian simply to point you to look to something – or Someone – other than the resources of this world in order to find the peace of heart and mind that you desire in the midst of this or any crisis.

Peace

Pastor Fran

Fran Pultro, Ed.M., CPSP, ICISF

“Pastor Fran” has been the Staff Chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, since 2002. He is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department and an ICISF Approved Instructor.

Photo Credit: Ashawire

The Goose & the Swan – 500 years later

Luther was ordained literally “over his dead body” – just as that bishop had prophesied!

That Holy Place

mother grieving minne
Pastoral Reflection
Pre-death
A mother is crying, wracked with sobs, grieving as she cuddles her dying daughter.
No one can help. Not even the baby’s father. She has come to that place where she is alone with the Divine – only her grief between them.
During the course of my career as a pediatric hospital chaplain, I have been honored to be present many times when that Holy Place appears. I’m not the only one. Often there are others in the room. But most do not understand.
Why do I say this? Their words and actions betray them. When others on the team prod the chaplain to “say something” (words of comfort) or “do something” (pray, anoint, baptize, etc), I wonder – do they see it? No. Do they sense it? Maybe. Probably. But they don’t know what it is or what to make of it. Neither did I the first time.
This time it happened again. That Holy Place – the intersection of human grief and the Divine – had arrived in the room like a portal into another dimension.
It doesn’t always happen. But when it does the Divine touches a grief-stricken heart.
Others are not always present when this holy meeting takes place. Sometimes it occurs in an ambulance, in the back seat of a police car, at a crime scene, in a bedroom, on the street or maybe even in a cab…anywhere a heart is grieving.
But sometimes others are present. In the ICU…or the NICU…or the ED.
Though her daughter had special needs and this mom knew that she would one day die as a result of these special needs, mom was not prepared for it to happen today.
Sure, all of the spiritual prep had been done. But can anything ever prepare a parent for this?
“I want to be with her,” cries the child’s mom.
This is not an indication of suicidal ideation. It’s the expression of a grieving heart.
In using these words we learn that mom knows what has not yet been affirmed by the medical team. Her child has died.
There is nothing more to say even though the eyes of all the other team members are looking to you, the chaplain, to step in and say or do something to help.
They silently mouth their thoughts or gesture about what they think you might do:
Hands folded in a prayerful clasp along with a nod of the head in a direction that leads from you to the crying mother while their lips move saying “pray with her.”
Mouths forming the words “baptism” with a shrug or a questioning tilt of the head as they “ask” if that is something you, the chaplain should offer at that moment.
I wonder if they ever read my notes in the chart?
But I know the hearts of this staff. These gestures are simply the expression of their helplessness in not knowing what to do, but wanting to do something to assuage the grieving mother’s pain.
Yet this is not a time for words. There are no words that will help. This is not a time for rituals. There are no rituals that will help other than raising the dead. What can anyone say or do that could possibly ease the pain of her grief? This mommy’s beloved daughter has just died.
This is when “doing the work” of a chaplain is replaced by “being” a chaplain – being that which some are “called” to be. The time for clinical work is past. The time for “being” is here. To me, in this circumstance the ministry of presence is nowhere else more obviously needed.
When the Holy Place arrives most people sense it. They have an idea that something is up but don’t understand what “it” is. Many of the team paid only lip-service to spiritual things throughout the entire time of serving this family. But when the moment turns on the spiritual pivot of the presence of the Divine, their understanding of what is or isn’t spiritual care is unmasked as powerless.
Strong words? Yes. But true.
Don’t misunderstand. Everyone is powerless in this circumstance. Even the chaplain.
Understanding what’s going on does not empower anyone in that particular moment. This isn’t the place for medicine, or counseling or religion. This is the place of relationship.
Mom is in THAT place – the place where the Divine has entered the circumstance and has touched her grieving heart. The Divine is both present & gentle.
I learn much about the ministry of presence in these moments.
This is a Holy Place. Holy ground. And it is for mom alone. Anyone else would be an intruder. To step into that place, no matter how well-meaning, would be a violation of that which is holy.
The particular family’s religion is Christianity. They understand what their holy book, the Bible, says about physical death.
“we are willing to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” [2Cor 5:8]
But spiritual truth does not assuage grief. Even with the peace found within those truths, that Holy Place where the Divine has just arrived is deep in mom’s heart. It is too deep a place for cognition to reach. It does not rise to a more visible level. It is where her grief is rooted – that place where a mother’s unchangeable & unconditional love resides. It is the foundation of this woman – and grief has overwhelmed that space.
Until now. The Divine has arrived.
As Christians this family believes that death is the ultimate healing. But everything in this present circumstance, in their bodies – yea, in the whole world – screams just the opposite.
In this world we often see physical death but rarely see spiritual life. This dichotomy underscores this grieving mom’s struggle as she does her best to “walk by faith and not by sight” [2Cor 5:7].
What will she do?
Not everyone who enters this Holy Place reacts in the same way.
Not everyone accepts the invitation extended by the Divine when He arrives.
When face-to-Face in that place, some – most – surrender to the truth their hearts already know. They know because the Divine has already been at work preparing them for this moment.
But others continue to fight against it, allowing the unmitigated intensity of their raw emotions to suppress and try to ignore what the Divine has already spoken to their hearts.
Yet He does not leave alone even those who try to ignore Him in the abyss of their grief. He shows up to walk with them through the darkness. But they do not reach out to the only One Who can touch a grief-stricken heart. They choose rather to hold onto that which the Divine has already said shall not be.
Though help is freely offered, they have chosen not to accept.
And so the moment passes. The door closes on that Holy Place.
One reaction is not more “right” than the other.
Yet the ability of one heart to receive heavenly peace is far greater than the other.
Post death
Then the inevitable happens – the child has been pronounced dead. Regardless of whether or not the grieving parent was receptive at the moment when the Divine touched his/her heart, every one is for a moment the same.
– overwhelming grief
– tears
– body wracked with uncontrollable sobs
– expressions of love and regret
All of these & more…and all are “normal” because grief has no format.
Hours later I weep silently in my office. It has been a long, long week.

Spiritual Self Evaluation – part 7 (of 7)

7-rev-churches

Revelation 3:14-22

What is your favorite sport? Is it football (aka “soccer”), American football, baseball, an Olympic-style sport? Whichever you prefer, at some time the competition gets to where the best in that sport meet to decide who is the champion. Maybe it’s a fight for the Olympic gold medal, or the Premier League championship, or the MLB World Series or maybe even the Superbowl.  In that competition the winningest teams or individuals meet to see who will, well, win!
Every player will wear the uniform of his team. The jerseys have the name & logo of their respective teams, the player’s number & the player’s name. I’m sure the players are proud to have been chosen to wear those uniforms.
What does this have to do with our spiritual evaluation? I simply want to remind us about part 6 of our evaluation which was taken from Revelation 3:7-13, the letter to the church in Philadelphia. In Rev 3:12, we read that the faithful believers of that church – whether of the city of ancient Philadelphia or the faithful believers of all ages whom they represent – will at some point in the future be chosen to wear the name of Almighty God, the name “New Jerusalem” & Jesus’ new Name.
All believers will be humbled & proud to be part of that team!
But the choice to be on that team will be ours. Will we choose to be like the believers from the church in Philadelphia, or will we choose to be like the believers from whose testimony we get the 7th part of our Spiritual Evaluation, those in the church of the Laodiceans.
Laodicea, was a city of great wealth, commerce & Greek culture. Cicero held court there. It had an excellent (for that time) medical school. It had an amphitheater which seated 30,000 & was filled almost every day with people wanting to be entertained. Laodicea, was very affluent.

This city was famous for 4 things:
1- its wealth & banking
2- black wool
3- Phrygian powder (used to mix an eye salve)
4- two aqueducts

Unusually for a city in that part of the world, Laodicea was not militarily defensible. They were constantly threatened by other cities. Like Switzerland today, the Laodiceans were always making deals & compromising in order to ensure their existence.
Laodicea was leveled by an earthquake about 60 AD. When the Roman government came with help, due to their wealth the Laodiceans said  “We have need of nothing.” They could afford to rebuild without government money.
But this self-sufficient attitude had crept into the local church. The believers of Laodicea thought their material wealth was an indication that God was blessing them for their spirituality. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Jesus hit the nail on the head in His address this congregation.  To them He says, “to the church of the Laodiceans.”
“the church OF the Laodiceans” as opposed to ‘the church IN Laodicea’
This is an important distinction.
Laodicea comes from 2 words:  laos = the people & dice (dee-kay) = rights of
Laodicea means ‘the rights of the people’ or ‘the people rule’
At least in the first six letters we understand that the Lord is addressing His Bride, the Church.  Not in this letter. He calls it what it is – their church, not His. The people in this church had usurped leadership from Christ. This church was led by the people, not by the Holy Spirit.
Somewhere, somehow the Laodiceans had gotten their eyes off the Lord.
Laodiceans, wherever you may be, this is addressed to you.
In Deuteronomy 8:11-17, the Lord warned national Israel not to allow material wealth cause them to forget the Lord, and not to rely upon their material wealth instead of God.
The Laodiceans had not heeded this warning. Their hearts had wandered. They trusted in their material riches. This materialism led to deeper compromises of the truths found in God’s Word.
They forgot about the Lord. Since this is an issue of the heart, Jesus, speaks to their hearts.
To their hearts Jesus says, “You have no passion.”
v.16 –   “YOU are lukewarm.”  The Laodiceans  had no passion one way or the other regarding the Lord.  Their religious practice was clinical, sterile, mundane.
Though their works might have been very philanthropic or humanitarian in nature & helpful regarding the social needs of needy people, those works were spiritually distasteful to God.  He will spew the lukewarm Laodiceans out of His mouth.
“spew” is a Koine Greek word that means disgorge; vomit; hurl; a violent expulsion of something that is not good for the body.
Yet the Laodiceans  didn’t recognize their own spiritual condition. Why?  Because they no longer looked to God’s Word for absolute truth. They looked at the world & took direction from what they saw with their eyes. They walked by sight, not by faith.
They were in need of a Spiritual Self-Evaluation!
On the outside Laodicea looked great.  It was wealthy & busy. But material prosperity – large congregations, many outreach ministries, nice church buildings, money in the church bank account & physical health – are not accurate indicators of spiritual condition.
The truth about the Laodiceans is that they had no spiritual passion for Christ. From Heaven’s point of view they were: wretched, miserable & poor. Though they had wealth for their flesh, they had no provision for their own souls – and they didn’t even know it.
In a city that produced eye medicine, this church was spiritually blind.
In fairness, none of these 7 churches had an accurate estimate of themselves.  We too must be careful not to overestimate our spirituality.  We must continually measure ourselves by God’s standards as found in His Word.
The Laodiceans of the 1st c AD, were not only prosperous. For the sake of being friends with everyone & in order not to invite attack, Laodicea was a politically neutral city like the modern nations of Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland & Ireland.
Political neutrality might be helpful at times. But spiritual neutrality leads to spiritual death.
Matt 12:30 “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”
For the sake of your eternal soul, spiritual neutrality is not an option.

Self Evaluation Time!

Do you find that your passion for Christ has waned? Is it difficult to get motivated to attend church services regularly? Do you struggle with mid-week Bible study or being active in church activities?
What can you do?
Our “Wonderful Counselor” [Is 9:6], does not cast off or reject the lukewarm, Laodiceans. He teaches them how to “heat up” – how to rekindle their relationship with Him again.
If your relationship with the Lord has cooled off what can you do?
#1 – Get into the fire.
Lord Nelson, Admiral of the English Navy, knew that the Battle of Trafalgar would determine the fate of Europe. Before that battle he assembled his men and said, “Gentlemen, in case you cannot read the signals in the heat of battle (semaphore), know this: No captain in this fleet can do wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”
“Captains, if you can’t read my signals & you don’t know what to do, then do this – engage the enemy in battle.”
Get in the battle! Go for it! If you are not certain of the Lord’s marching-orders for you today, you can’t go wrong if you share your faith with others or take a stand for what is right against what is wrong according to God’s standards.

“But people will get mad at me.” Maybe. Probably. So what? Do it even if it means you will have trouble, because it is in the trials — in the fires — that you will heat-up again for the Lord.
#2 –  Be clothed with white raiment.
Rev 19:8, tells us that the Bride of Christ, the Church — comprised of those who believe in Him — has been granted (given) “linen, clean and white” & that this “fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

But many people, including believers, are “going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Here’s the problem: all the good works we do for the purpose of being righteous are unacceptable to God.
Isaiah 64:6  “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”

Have you reverted to doing things that seem good to you without verifying with the Lord, what He wants you to do? Like the Laodiceans, have you usurped the Lord’s leadership of your life?
#3 – Come to Jesus & allow Him to anoint your eyes with eye-salve.

The ‘Great Physician’ is where we start & end. He can & will open the eyes of your heart & soul so that you can see clearly.

Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran

Spiritual Self Evaluation – part 6

7-rev-churches

Revelation 3:7-13

In these 7 letters, Jesus typically describes Himself using images that come from the description given of Him in chapter 1. But not always. This is one of those times when He uses a descriptor not found in the first chapter. This should cause us to ask “why?”
Every self-description Jesus uses is important to the people in the church to which the letter was addressed. In this letter to the believers in the church in Philadelphia, Jesus describes Himself as “he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens.”
“The key of David” is a phrase from Isaiah 22. Why?
In Isaiah 22:12-13, God called for humble repentance. Instead, Israel, trusted in their own defenses & partied with an attitude of “lets eat & drink for tomorrow we die” – sort of like Western culture today.
In Isaiah 22:15-25, we read about Shebna. Shebna, was the guy “over the house” – the steward entrusted with the “key to the house of David.”
In that day, the chief royal steward would have the large master key of the palace fastened to the shoulder of his tunic. Shebna wore the keys to David’s kingdom on his shoulder – the keys to the treasuries of the kings of Judah. This also refers to the responsibilities of government held by a man in that position. The government, like the heavy key chain hanging from his shoulder, was said to be metaphorically “upon” him.
But Shebna misused the money, building for himself a grave [v.16 “sepulcher”] & buying chariots. He was busted. The keys were taken from him & given to a faithful man whose name was Eliakim.
The same prophetic promise was made about the coming Messiah.
Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder”
Isaiah 22:20, starts by speaking of Eliakim, but moves ahead in time to speak of Messiah.
The key was a picture & demonstration of the authority of the chief steward. Here, the LORD gives Eliakim the authority to open & shut as God’s representative, which no man can oppose.  The name “Eliakim” means ‘God raises up; God establishes.’
In this, Eliakim becomes a “type” or symbol of the Messiah, because Jesus told us this passage spoke of Himself:
“I have the key of David. I open and no man can shut. I shut and no man can open.”
Jesus already has the keys to hell & death [Rev 1:18]. Here we see that He has taken up the keys to the authority of all Earthly governments. This authority was given to Him in the past [see Matt 28:18, where the word “power” is the Greek word exousia, meaning ‘delegated authority.’
Jesus has the authority to open & shut doors in our lives as He pleases.
Job 11:10 “If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?”
Job 12:14 “Behold, he breaks down, and it cannot be built again: he shuts up a man, and there can be no opening.”
Jesus’ self-description tells me that regardless of what our eyes see in the last days, it is He, Christ, Who is in control.
HE is holy
HE is true
HE controls the world’s governments & finances
HE opens & shuts & no man can change the choices HE makes
In Rev 3:8, Jesus says, “you have a little strength…” He opens & closes doors for us – then keeps then open because we don’t have the strength to do so for ourselves.
Believers in all ages are characterized by a great desire to be holy & true in their lives. Yet they fail like every human does. Believers in every age fail. We must always keep in mind that it is upon HIS holiness & the truth that comes from HIM that we rely, not in or of our own selves – not even in our newly regenerate selves.
But this is comforting! In these last days we believers sometimes live with guilt that we aren’t as strong or as faithful or as effective movers-&-shakers (spiritually speaking) as believers in past ages. We think the reason for this is a lack in us.
It may well be that we are lacking in ways that render us spiritually ineffective. So we work to create better spiritual habits so our flesh isn’t a hindrance to our spiritual effectiveness. But once that’s done, once we’ve committed & made all the earthly changes possible for us to be better servants of the Lord, we might still find that we are lacking.
What are we to do?
Believers in every this age must rely on HIS holiness; HIS words of truth; HIS authority; HIS ability to open & close doors, trusting that no man can shut or open doors that HE lays in front of us.
Yes, to me this is comforting.
The believers in ancient Philly only had “a little strength.”  But Jesus gave them an open door because of that strength!
“I have set before you an open door…FOR you have a little strength” (caps & italics mine).
What was their strength?
1- they kept His Word – the word “kept” is translated from a Greek word that means both ‘to observe’ & ‘to guard’
God’s Word is critically important. It is so important that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write:    Ps 138:2 “You has magnified Your Word above all Your Name”
Philadelphia represents the church that has returned to the Word of God.
2- they had not denied Jesus’ Name
Acts 4:12 “no o/er name under heaven whereby we must be saved”
There is power in Jesus’ Name.
Did you ever wonder why people don’t shout out the names of other religious figures when they smash their thumbs with hammers? As they hop around in pain, you don’t hear them yell “Oh, Allah/Buddha/Krishna” or any other name. But they DO yell out the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Name is crucial. The name”Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” Joshua & Jehoshua are the same in Hebrew. Both names mean ‘Jehovah is salvation.’
Yes, Jesus’ Name is very important!

Self Evaluation Time

Do you diligently guard God’s Word?
Do you not deny the name of Jesus, including what His Name means?
Sometimes the pressure put on us by our societies, jobs & friends make it difficult to guard the Word of God & to be bold in our belief in the Name of Jesus. Some circumstances can shake us to our core. Hold on when that happens. If you fall, get up & hold on again.
The historian, Strabo, who lived between 64 BC & AD 21, said that the ancient city of Philadelphia was “full of earthquakes.” He may have been there in AD 17 – the year of the great earthquake that destroyed the city. Unfortunately that was only one of a series of quakes which kept the citizens in a state of fearful expectancy.
Strabo wrote: “Philadelphia has no trustworthy walls, but daily in one direction or another they keep tottering and falling apart. The inhabitants, however, pursue their original purpose, ever keeping in mind the writhing pangs of the ground, and building with a view to counteracting them.”
He was amazed that a city would ever have been founded in such a place & questioned the sanity of the people for re-entering the ruined city & planning to rebuild. He felt when people were driven from a city by earthquakes they should be wise enough to not return. He wrote that the walls of the houses were continually opening. Sometimes one & sometimes another part of the city was experiencing damage, so the citizens lived in constant dread of quaking earth & falling buildings.
Because of this situation the people often fled to the open country living in tents or booths. This kept them out of range of disaster during earthquake season.
This constant fear of the day of trial when the citizens had to run for their lives gives us some insight into Jesus’ statement in v.12 – “I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” Jesus encouraged His people with the promise that if they were faithful they would one day enter the New Jerusalem – the city of God, where they could dwell safely and “go no more out.”
That day is soon approaching. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
In His Hands, Pastor Fran
 

 

Spiritual Self Evaluation – part 5

7-rev-churches

Revelation 3:1-6

When I think of stars, I think of them shining in the dark night sky. I don’t typically think of them as shining during the daylight.
Astronomers tell us that even though light travels 186,000 miles per second, or  5,878,499,817 miles per year, the light from stars takes many, many years to reach earth. This means that the stars we see tonight could have been extinguished years ago but we wouldn’t know it yet. Tonight those stars could shine in the sky as brightly as if nothing had happened, but they could actually be dead.
Does this have any bearing on Jesus’ next words – “thou art dead”? – v.1
The church at Sardis, had a reputation for being spiritually alive. But that wasn’t true. Their rep  was leftover luminescence from a brilliant past. It was spiritually dead.
At one time it had been a strong, vibrant, Christ-honoring congregation. They still called themselves Christians. But their spiritual life was gone. They were merely going through the motions of religion – just like many churches today.  At some point in its existence, the spiritual light in Sardis, had been extinguished. In the present it was dead. So Jesus, Who is the Truth spoke the truth: “you have a name that you are alive, and you are dead.”
Ouch! I often worry about this on a personal level for myself. I worry about this for my  congregation. I don’t want us to be spiritually dead & not know it. I don’t want us to be like Samson, from whom the Lord departed but “he wist not” [Judges 16:20].
This church might have been doing a great number of good works. They were surely doing works on some level because Jesus said that He knew their works. But then Jesus adds that although this church appeared to have spiritual life, in actuality it is spiritually dead.
When the world sees a church filled with programs that help with the social problems that plague people, the world deems that church to be spiritually fruitful. But God sees things differently.
This is not an injunction against the Church doing works that help people with earthly problems. The Church should be helping people. But the primary mission of the Church is to share the Gospel. If the Church neglects its primary mission for the sake of providing social services, it becomes no different than any other philanthropic organization.
We as the people of God have the deposit of the Holy Spirit within us. We have been tasked with sharing the truth of eternal life with an unsaved world. How much more valuable is this than any amount or type of earthly social work!?!
Eternal life is something for which all people are looking. Anti-aging tactics, creams, medications, health foods, gym memberships, the Fountain of Youth… you name it & the world is doing it for the sake of staying alive – all to no avail. Everyone will one day “go the way of all the earth” & physically die unless they are taken from earth in the Rapture.
Into this life-seeking world the Church has been planted with the answer. Eternal life!  We have what everyone is seeking, and we were commissioned by Jesus to offer this free gift to every creature & to all nations.
The problem is that we are human. The Bible calls us “earthen vessels.”

Spiritual Evaluation Time

Though our message is directly from Heaven, the problem is that we are “EARTHen vessels” & not HEAVENLY vessels. This includes the brains in which our knowledge & understanding of the Gospel resides.
As our hearts grow more like Jesus’ heart & we begin to love the world as He does — “not willing that any should, perish but that all should come to repentance” [2Peter 3:9] — our earthen-vessel-thinking leads us to do good, but less-than-eternal-life-giving things as we try to help people with the problem issues with which they struggle. Social work. Good works. But earthly – not works that lead to eternal life.
“Be watchful…”
Sitting on a plateau, Sardis, was virtually impregnable. But twice in its history the city fell. Once when Cyrus the Persian conquered the city in 549 BC, his men scaled a crack in the cliff wall by night – entering on a wall where there was no guard posted. The 2nd time was the army of Antiochus the Great, which used Cyrus’ strategy to take the city.
So when Jesus said, “Watch,” the people in Sardis knew exactly what He meant. On both occasions an enemy had snuck in.
“Be watchful. Keep your eyes open. Look out. Don’t think that just because you have all the right doctrines that you are safe. Don’t rest on your past accomplishments. Strengthen the things that are about to die. I have not found your works perfect before God.”
Oh how different the advice of Jesus is from that of the devil! When we are finally aware that we have drifted away from the passion of our early lives as new believers we are filled with remorse. Into the darkness of this emotion the prince of darkness comes & whispers, “You’ve blown it. You might as well quit being a Christian. You can’t hack it. You’re not worthy to continue in the ministry. You’re not worthy to witness to the lost. You’re a loser. You were never really a Christian. etc, etc, etc.”
Since we as believers know that we are unworthy, these things feed our remorse & can turn us towards long periods of gloomy & dark thinking, freeze us in our spiritual tracks or even drive us into depression where we might experience suicidal thoughts.
Rebuke those thoughts.  Then do what Jesus says here is the remedy. “Remember…hold fast…repent.”  This remedy is the same for all believers who have drifted from the vibrant & passionate love that characterizes the new birth in Christ.  Just as He said in the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus exhorted the church in Sardis, to remember back to an earlier time in their relationship with Him when their love was fervent & their communion with Him was open, child-like & intuitive.
You might think that “repent” should be first on the list. But you cannot repent until you remember.  You cannot repent if you do not know that you are doing something wrong or wrong in not doing something which the Lord has commanded.
You must recall what things were like in the past in order to know how far you have drifted here in the present. Think back…take stock.  Once this happens, remember that you ‘RECEIVED’ – you didn’t earn or purchase these things on your own. All are gifts from God.
“Remember therefore HOW you have received…” – v.3
Not only remember THAT you received, but remember HOW you received.  How? Freely & with joy.  How?  By faith.
Following the Dark Ages, the Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of men like Wycliffe, Luther, Latimer, Zwingli & Knox. During the Reformation, Protestants recovered the authority of the Word of God & the doctrines of the total depravity of man & justification by faith.
But today many churches & entire denominations champion things from homosexuality to a woman’s right to kill her own unborn child. Yet they have lost the authority of the Word of God. They have turned their backs on repentance from sin — something they don’t even mention for fear of offending — teaching instead psychology & education as the cure for man’s evil. They have exchanged the doctrine of justification by faith for ‘community service’ in order to reach heaven.
We must remember. One thing about humans is that even though we are “earthen vessels” and are weak in many ways, we tend to remember our own stories.
When you are faced with the truth that you’ve reached a point in your walk with Jesus where you have become dry & spiritually dead, think back to the time when you were first born-again. Remember the joy that came from having the burden of your sins rolled off of your heart. Recall the sweetness of the fellowship with the Lord in those early days. Remember how you were so attentive to His voice & responsive to His direction. Then hold onto the memory of you as that person. Childlike. Trusting regardless of the circumstances.
Then repent. Turn from whatever it is you are doing in the flesh — the work of an “earthen vessel” — & rekindle those things in your life that still retain a spark of those early days with Christ.
Jesus hasn’t changed. He’s the same “yesterday & today & forever.” In practicing those things that still have a spark of spiritual life in them you are fanning that spark & helping it grow into the flame it once was – and which  can be again!
But don’t miss that this is tied to watching for the soon return of the Lord. “If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief…”
Have you given any thought lately to the promise Jesus made about returning to earth?
No man knows the day or the hour. But those who are in close, heartfelt fellowship with Christ, whose love for Him has not grown cold, who are doing their spiritual best to serve Him in a childlike manner, will not be surprised when He arrives because their eyes are open. They are aware of the events which signify His return. More than that, because their hearts are focused on Christ, they yearn more to be with Him than to be in this world.
This is the remedy for religious routine & spiritual lethargy is to become reawakened to the nearness of Jesus’ return. Long before this time Jesus, told His disciples:
Matt 24:42 “Watch therefore: for you do not know what hour your Lord does come.”
As time goes on the probability that Jesus will return becomes greater. Therefore the urgency to be watchful intensifies.
Individual believers & churches that are almost dead must remember that He promised to return, then look back to their own conversions when they walked in newness of relationship with Him, repenting of their indifference.
Are we in danger of catching the “Sardis Syndrome?” Could even modern, unconventional churches relax into ritualistic religion?  Is it possible that we, either as a church or as individuals, could rest on past accomplishments & live on old reputations yet become spiritually dead? Are we in jeopardy?
Yes. It can happen to us just as it happened to Sardis.
Remember…hold fast…repent.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran

 
 
 

Newsletter Sign Up