Faith in a Pandemic (part 2)

We live in uncertain times. The coronavirus. A plunging stock market. Cancelled flights. Closed borders. Schools and workplaces shutting down. Empty grocery shelves. It can feel like this is a new thing, but it is not. The truth is, life in a broken world is always uncertain and disruptive. While most of us have never experienced these dynamics before, the fact is that unexpected and upending disasters have been a constant of human history. I was talking to Doris Green on the phone and she reminded me of some of the things her generation has faced. We get frustrated about low supplies of toilet paper. She remembers rationing food as a child to survive during WWII.

When his disciples asked him what the future held, Jesus warned them of sudden and calamitous events to come: “wars and rumors of wars,” “nations will rise against nations,” “famines and earthquakes,” “tribulations,” “lawlessness,” and “false prophets.” It didn’t take long for Jesus’ followers to experience these very things.

Some sixteen years after Jesus said this there was a massive famine that hit Judea and so affected the early Christian community that Paul carried out an extensive relief effort among the new Gentile churches to help the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28). Forty years later rebellion against Rome broke out among the Jews which resulted in Roman legions destroying Jerusalem and slaughtering large swaths of the population, just as Jesus predicted. Sixty-two years after that a second Jewish revolt resulted in all the Jews, including the followers of Jesus, being driven out of Jerusalem by the Romans.

While Jesus warned his disciples that these kinds of experiences were coming, he repeatedly told them that there is no way to predict exactly how and when disaster will strike. What he did tell them is to prepare for these challenging times by being focused on doing the Father’s will no matter what is happening in the world around us. Here’s what that needs to look like:

1. We are a “non-anxious” people: Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. (Matthew 5:25) The followers of Jesus are by definition people of faith which means we are certain of things we cannot yet see. Although we don’t know what specific events will happen or when they will come to pass, we do know our future destiny and that the One who will bring it about is incredibly good. This means, in the face of unexpected challenges, we can live in peace and hope as fruit of the Spirit, even if we feel fear or dread in our flesh.

2. We are a gathered and scattered people: From the very beginning believers followed Jesus’ pattern of gathering and scattering. The first church in Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts to hear the teaching of the Apostles and then scattered to extended family homes to share life and carry out the mission of Jesus. When persecution hit, the followers of Jesus were scattered out of Jerusalem to Samaria, Cyprus, Antioch, and north Africa just as Jesus had foretold before he ascended into heaven. This is how the movement of Jesus began to spread. For many of the first three centuries Christians were not able to gather in places larger than an extended family home and yet the movement was unstoppable! Why should it be different in our time? Maybe the current restrictions on large group gatherings will help us to recapture this healthy and fruitful rhythm of a decentralized church that knows how to function in both large gatherings and in extended spiritual families that we have begun calling Missional Communities (MCs).

3. We are an abiding and fruitful people: Jesus was very clear that good and lasting fruit comes from intentional connection to him. He also explained that those branches on his vine that bear fruit will get pruned in order that they might bear more and better fruit. The frenetic pace of our modern western culture often keeps us from the consistent abiding that would dramatically increase our fruitfulness. As public institutions shut down and we practice physical distancing it is clear that this is a season of pruning meant to give us an opportunity to slow down, rest, and take more time to connect with God and the people closest to us. We will squander this opportunity if we simply isolate ourselves, nurture fearful stress, and try to escape by binging streaming and social media.

4. An “others-first” people: When we are subjected to threats, our natural survival instinct turns our focus on ourselves and our own needs. When Jesus was on the cross, his moment of greatest crisis and disorientation, he comforted a dying criminal and ensured his mother would be recognized as part of the spiritual family. The Antonine Plague of the second century and the Cyprian Plague of the third century wiped out a huge part of the Roman empire, but the followers of Jesus became known as those who courageously cared for and ministered to the sick and dying. What are the opportunities for us to love our neighbors in this pandemic even as we exercise wise discernment?

I believe with all of my heart that times of challenge and suffering are when the true church of Jesus shines! I am so grateful that we don’t have to live in fear even when we feel anxious and don’t know exactly how or when challenges are going to come. I am so glad we don’t have to face it alone when the crisis hits.

Faith in a Pandemic

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I know how anxious and stressed a lot of people are. I know how disappointed you are right now with life in general. This virus has caused us to make a lot of short-term changes that seem…painful. It’s not just a viral pandemic but in this country and community it’s a pandemic of human disappointment. Things that folks have planned for, worked toward, got excited about are postponed or worse, cancelled. I feel awful for the students who couldn’t do planned trips to Europe or compete in state tournaments. I’m sad for my daughter who was in the middle of her last semester at Centre College and now feels abruptly pushed out of her community of friends who are all having to leave campus. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see a classic University of Kentucky vs. Michigan State Spartans championship basketball game!

But seriously all that pain is real for a lot of folks. Those cancellations brought the viral pandemic to reality for a lot of people. So more than ever, we need to show grace to each other. I’m sure anxiety and fear are much higher today than a week ago.

I don’t speak as an expert on science. I don’t know exactly where this is going. But I’ll try to speak into it from a faith perspective, while also mindful of what health experts are telling me.

I’m not going to make any long term and permanent decisions today. I’ve found in times of crisis and panic it’s best not to project out into the future. It’s always best to make wise decisions based on what we know today.

As disciples of Jesus, the filter that forms our decisions is different. Why? We are not of this world! We are not to be conformed to this world! Do not live like those who have no hope!

There are 3 ways we are not like this world. #1, We live by faith, not fear. God’s not sitting in heaven thinking, “I didn’t see this coming.” Our God is faithful—He’s in control. Our God is good—He has a plan. Our God won’t leave us or forsake us. He’s working in all things. Do you belioeve it?

We live by fear, not faith. #2, we are sacrificial, not selfish. The Christians of the early church faced extreme persecution, even losing their lives for their faith. The first century Christians didn’t hoard their goods! They weren’t rushing the Jerusalem Mega-Mart to grab emergency supplies. We are the body of Christ—We put others ahead of ourselves.

We live by faith, not fear. We are sacrificial, not selfish. #3 We shine the light, we do not hide it. During this time, people are afraid, unsettled, anxious, looking for hope. We are the world’s hope dealers. We are the light shiners. We are the love givers. This virus may be highly contagious. I’m praying for some Christians to be more contagious. Spread hope. Spread love. Spread life in Christ. I’m believing that the love and hope of Jesus spreads faster than any virus.

In many ways, I think there’s a good chance that some will look back at this time in history and call it the “lost” months of our lives. I hope that’s not true. Because Christians from the very beginning of the early church have sought the opportunities in the most difficult times, and made them into Kingdom building opportunities.

Listen to God’s word, which is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 4:2-6, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains [or maybe in our day we might say, “Pray for us that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in social distancing.” He continues,] Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversatation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

I know we’re disappointed to say the least to cancel Spring Break vacations. I know that pain is real. I also know that there are a lot of people who have had to deal with the real health complications of this disease. We pray for them. And because we value the health of the most vulnerable in our community, I support the decision to limit our meeting together. But this does not mean that we hole up in our houses, under our blankets or tucked in our backyards. No, we’re called to be the peo. who love their neighbors. Now is the time to check on those people in your cul-de-sac or apartment bldg. This is an opportunity, not just a burden.

The church isn’t a gathering on Sunday morning. I’ve been saying that for years! Let’s prove we are the church by how we respond outside one hour a week with how we manage this issue. WE are the church, you and me, the body of Christ in the world. How do we show this world what it’s like to follow Jesus? Is it by showing up for that hour to try to prove the experts wrong? No, it’s being a good citizen. We practice keeping distance in order to love our neighbor. But distance isn’t separating ourselves completely from others. It’s checking on each other & helping each other get things from the store or pharmacy or wherever. It’s checking on our neighbors & seeing how we can help them.

It’s also important during this time, especially for those of us with children, to continue as many of our routines as we had before or create new ones. There is a comfort in routines

When I went to Haiti two summers ago with a group from my church along with my then 16 year old son Micah, we got stuck in Port au Prince. Our plane arrived at the moment that the government made an announcement that effected the livelihood of every Haitian. It was a silly and even ridiculous announcement to make and so the people got angry and began protesting on the streets immediately. And when I say protest, that’s putting it mildly. There were some looting and closing of streets. And here we are, Americans far from home and far from the safety of the Mission in northwest Haiti.

Now, we were being well cared for at a hotel in PAP but we couldn’t safely leave the hotel for several days. During that time we could hear gunshots and smell the smoldering remains of burnt tires.

Now, I can put on a pretty brave face for a group of people amd I did. I needed to. But I’m not going to lie to you now…I was a little scared. Just a little. But I was more disappointed because we were basically quarantined from our mission. I mean I hadn’t seen my daughter in two months, and she was already in NW Haiti serving and I’m in the country and unable to see her. I was disappointed because we couldn’t get to NW Haiti to break bread and serve with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the small village of Mayette. Those Haitian Christians depend on us for encouragement. I was devasted a little more each day we were delayed.

It also gave me a lot of time to pray and read the Scriptures and think. Every morning I would wake up to the sound of this older employee of the hotel who was sweeping the walk ways. Sweep, sweep, sweep. And there was a comfort in hearing that noise. Sweep, sweep, sweep. It meant that the sun had risen and that he had gotten out of bed much earlier than me despite the economic conditons of that impoverished country. And he went to work. Sweep, sweep, sweep.

And about the third day I heard that sweeping, it would make me smile. On the fifth day I heard that sweeping, it made me cry. Because I knew God was good. He is faithful as the sun rises each morn. And was the routine of that man, who has overcome much more than I have in my life, it was his daily faithfulness, that brought ME hope.

We will get through this, but it will be much easier together. Remember. we can’t do life alone. We need each other…more than ever, but for now let’s keep six feet apart.

Peter’s Advice on Sharing Your Faith

Peter (in 1 Peter) says that as we live a holy life; as we pursue faith among the Gentiles; as we respond to marriage, authorities, and even suffering in the power of the Gospel, people will be curious. As we shine the light of Christ into darkness of unbelief, people in the darkness will see the light. So at some point, someone will ask about your life and your faith.

Peter tells us to prepare in advance. 1 Peter 3:13-16: Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

He gives us some advice on how to do that: make it hopeful, personal, succinct, gentle, and respectful.

A hopeful, personal defense: The defense is of YOUR OWN faith, so it will be personal. It’s not a list of objective facts; it’s about God’s work in you, which gives YOU greater hope than anything else does.

A succint defense: People won’t listen to us for too long. Keep it short and sweet, depending on their interest.

A gracious, respectful defense: Not argumentative. Gentleness and respect asks us to humble ourselves and consider the perspective of the other person. Our ready defense should disply the gospel, even as we declare it. We demonstrate the character of God, even as we stand up for our faith.

Christmas Blues

For most people Christmas may be a time of joy and expectation. But not for everyone. I know too many people who get depressed at this time of year.

Carol Nelson said,

Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.

I’ve known that feeling some years, particularly those years immediately after the death of a loved one. What about you? Or what about those around you? Friends and family and co-workers?

If you’re having a Blue Christmas please talk to someone. Call a professional, cry to a friend; just don’t hold it all in and let it reach a point where you find there’s few options.

FAQ: Will Catholics Go To Heaven?

Catholics who trust in Christ for salvation will go to heaven, just as Protestants who trust in Christ.

Catholics or Protestants or even people who are a part of my church family who trust in religion or their good works and NOT in Christ will not go to heaven.

 

FAQ: Is purgatory a real place?

A lot of our Catholic brothers and sisters believe in a place called purgatory, where the soul goes after one dies to be purged or to be cleansed and prepared for heaven.  To be honest, the Bible doesn’t mention purgatory anywhere.  The Bible does say in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”  No mention of purgatory.  Hebrews 9:27, “Just as a person is destined to die once and after that face the judgment.”  Purgatory is not a real place.

FAQ: Why are there so many translations of the Bible? Which One should I use?

There are many translations of the Bible because if you’ve studied ancient languages, it’s difficult to take foreign words and phrases and translate them into another cultural context. Plus, our language has changed just over the last 50 years in this country.  So the King James Version was the most popular English translation for centuries. But most people, even with a college education, find it difficult to understand it today. So scholars have created new translations so that we can understand the original Bible.

And the reason even modern translations look different is because the teams of scholars behind each translation have different philosophies on how to translate the Greek and Hebrew. Some teams lean toward “dynamic equivalence,” which means translations that fit the idioms of our language today. Others lean toward more “word for word” translations which make the translation more accurate but more difficult to understand. So the goal is to find a happy medium.

Example, if we were translating the phrase “I ate a hot dog,” into Chinese would we translate that literally, word for word? Thank about it. I ate a hot dog. Your reader might think that you light canines on fire and devour them. Or would you translate it so that the reader understood that you were eating some kind of “cooked sausage?” And those are the difficult choices translators have to make.

For all practical purposes, all of the English translations that are readily available are good. In other words, they reflect what the original languages meant. But depending on what you’re trying to do with the Bible, that may impact which translation you use. So I would choose a translation that is easier for you to understand. So the Revised Standard Version and the New International Version have been popular in the last generation. Recently I have seen a huge swing in the usage of the English Standard Versaion. I often recommend the New Living Translation because it’s easier to understand.

I typically use the New American Standard Bible if I want a word-for-word translation and I’m really going to just a study a verse or two. But I don’t do that often. So for sermon preparation and devotional time I use the NIV & NLT. But if I want to read big chunks of the Bible at a time, like reading through the Bible in a year? Then I use something even easier and different like The Message. So what I’m saying is that you ought to own more than 1 translation and consult them from time to time so that you can keep God’s word as fresh as possible.

Jesus is WITH US!

One of the lynch pin verses of my ministry is the Great Commission that Jesus gives at the end of Matthew (28:18-20).  I believe it is our (the church’s) marching orders.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Uhhh…seems cut and dry.  What’s our job?  Make disciples.

But what I love even more about this passage is what sandwiches it.  One day I was reading this and not really “with it” spiritually speaking.  Might I say I even had some doubts about what God’s purpose for my life was?  So maybe you need to pull out your Bibles out but look at this:  28:16-17, “Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”  What?  Some doubted?  After they saw Jesus raised from the dead they doubted?  Pretty much.  Isn’t that how I am sometimes?  God comes through again and again for me.  And yet, I sometimes doubt.

But look what happens immediately after that phrase, “but some doubted?”  “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore….'”  In other words, we can only accomplish the mission Jesus set out for us because He is with us.  Moreover, we don’t have to doubt because Jesus is with us.  Surely Jesus isn’t with us 2,000 years later!  Yes, He is, because it ends in the same way, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Don’t you love God’s Word?

What Amazed Jesus?

We are easily amazed by things but what amazed Jesus, Son of the Living God?

Twice the Scriptures describe Him as being amazed. In Matthew 8:10-13 Jesus is amazed at the incredible faith of a Gentile. And in Mark 6:6, in Nazareth, Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith of his own countrymen and home townspeople. It is a paradox that the religious people of the day, who had the Scriptures, would lack faith, while the Gentiles should demonstrate faith.

Jesus lays out a paradox of his own. The religious, who would expect to participate in the heavenly banquet, were kicked out. But the foreigners were allowed in. The simple lesson is that Jesus respects faith, not ethnicity, background, religiosity, tradition, or other truly external things.

2 Ways People Seek Happiness and Fulfillment

According to Tim Keller, there are 2 basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment:

  1. Moral conformity: Living “RIGHT”
  2. Self-Discovery: Living “FREE”

Everyone chooses one of these two ways and everyone thinks those in the other group are the problem in the world.

Those people are “immoral.”  NO!  Those people are “bigoted.”

Some go back and forth or hide behind one even though they are part of the other. And BOTH of these approaches are WRONG!

Actually the 2 ways are more similar than they appear. Moral conformists have the sin of pride as a barrier. It’s how they CONTROL life. If I am “good,” then I will be blessed.

But it doesn’t work that way.

This means you can rebel against God by breaking the rules OR by keeping all of them diligently.

You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. Then God OWES you answered prayer and a good life. Religious people try to get leverage over God, to control Him.

They obey to get things. They don’t obey God to GET GOD HIMSELF. Sin is not just breaking the rules. It is putting yourself in the place of God as Lord.

So both ways are wrong and lead to Hell.