Archive for April, 2020
“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).
A literal translation of “perfect peace” in Hebrew is “peace peace.” It is a double measure of peace extended by God to those who fix their minds upon him as the object of their faith and trust. Most think peace, contentment, and a sense of well-being is dependent upon a perfect storm of favorable circumstances. For these, life is wasted upon a constant state of wishing—wishing things past could have been different; wishing things would line up for the future. Peace and contentment, however, is reserved for the present tense; those who choose to live where their feet are; who embrace the realities of today and seek to honor Christ in them.
“When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).
Deterred and denied access to the places he wanted to go, Paul, now in Troas, has a vision for an opportunity nearly 300 miles away in Macedonia. We have all been to Troas—that place in life where we don’t really want to be. The greater question, however, is one of vision. We have either a nearsighted faith, focused on our own narrow concerns, or we have farsighted faith that concludes we are to go further than the circumstances that seek to restrain us.
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).
It’s unfortunate that so many perceive God as a heavenly killjoy, and His moral codes as the means by which He deprives us of the pleasures to which we think we are entitled. A more appropriate understanding is to see His Laws and precepts as an efficient guide to how life is best lived, and the means by which we function together in community. Even under grace, we cannot reject the moral absolutes that God deemed basic to human existence. When society rejects the absoluteness of moral law and embraces, instead, moral relativity, it cannot then complain about the want of virtue. Relativity emasculates the human spirit and then wonders why it doesn’t produce character.
“Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Revelation 3:2).
When the World Health Organization decreed the spread of the COVID-19 virus to be a pandemic, and the subsequent recommendation that large gatherings, such as church worship services, be avoided, I have had not only a sense of peace but, much more so, the strongest conviction that the Lord is going to use these times to awaken his church on a global scale. The wake-up call in today’s text was to a church the Lord had pronounced as dead. In the gospel, the church holds the key to the life of permanence, security, and well-being that all desire, but only Christ can offer. We can ill-afford to be found sleeping, or resting on our laurels, when this global crisis ends. We must be found awakened and prayerfully prepared.
“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
To act for the common good of all is not a loss of civil liberties but an exercise in responsibility. Freedom is a God-given right that becomes secularized when it is twisted for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, and selfish gain, at the expense of others and their well-being. Whether church (1 Corinthians 12) or community (Jeremiah 29:7), God’s people, in contrast to self-consumed individualists, have a long history of setting aside personal rights and privileges; that they might better serve the greater good of those around them.
“And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place” (Luke 24:14).
In this resurrection day account of two perplexed disciples returning to the village of Emmaus, the word “things” occurs six times. That “things” happen is as redundant a truism for life as it is this narrative. We are blindsided by “things” we didn’t see coming; “things” we wish had never happened. Like these two, perhaps it’s helpful to discuss and ponder these “things” when thrust upon up us. Ultimately, however, we each one determines what “things” the Lord is going to accomplish in us and through us because we have endured all these “things.”
“For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10).
In a phone call with one of the senior adult ladies in our church, I commended her for having discovered the key to overcoming the pangs of isolation experienced by so many—reaching out to others through calls, texts, emails, and handwritten letters. In so doing, she has brought encouragement to many. Avoiding the preoccupation of the “I” in isolation is vital to transforming these days of pandemic sheltering into days of productive service. Thinking of others and reaching out to them is a work of ministry not forgotten by our Lord.
“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Luke 24:44).
This post-resurrection comment by Jesus reminds his disciples that the things they are now beginning to understand were the very things he had been trying for three years to teach them. The difference is, they now have eyes to see and ears to hear. An experience of seismic proportion, like a resurrection or, maybe, a pandemic, has a way of removing the scales from our eyes; that we might better see, understand, and experience the purposes of God. Sadly, this seems a prerequisite if God is to be unloosed from the earthly aspirations, preconceived notions, simplistic formulas, emotions, and intuitions we utilize to define and, thus, limit him.
“So Pilate then handed Him over to them to be crucified” (John 19:16).
That Jesus was “handed over” is a common thread in John’s gospel. Judas handed Him over to the Jewish authorities. They handed Him over to Pilate and the gentile authorities. Pilate handed Him over to the soldiers. The soldiers handed Him over to death on the cross. Being “handed over” gives the appearance of being a victim. However, there is a larger story being written: “For God so loved the world that He “handed over” His only begotten Son.” Anticipating death, Jesus said of his own life, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I “hand it over” on my own initiative…and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Jesus was no hapless dupe being handled. He was, at every stage, the Victor handling everything as it had been intended. Because so much has been “handed over” for our benefit, might our Easter response be a determination to “hand back” our lives to Him as a living sacrifice.
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which our fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
As he left for college, the parting conversation with my youngest child included a challenge regarding his relationship with the Lord. My counsel was that in the coming days, he would soon discover if his faith was truly his own, or if he had only a borrowed faith from his mom and dad. As the crowning achievement in God’s created order, we are designed to both choose and worship. It is in our DNA to make something the object of our affection. Will it be the God or gods of your family that, maybe, you don’t really know? Will it be the gods of your culture? Or, will it be the Lord our God, revealed and known in the person of Jesus Christ? It is a pass/fail test. Choose well.