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?