holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

Jesus was not about being nice, or everyone getting along

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53

Seems like a popular view of Jesus is a soft, sentimental kind of like, “Why don’t we all just get along?” Jesus. Not the real Jesus found in the Bible.

That Jesus was about love is no doubt, more than anyone ever. But real love is also about truth. And that’s where the problem lies for the world, for society, for each one of us. We don’t want to face it, indeed on our own, we can’t.

That’s where Jesus’s redemption comes in, the baptism he speaks of, that of the cross. Through that, we can indeed accept the difference he makes with the division that brings. As we seek to follow him in a world in which we’ll no longer fit. But part of the new world now breaking in. In and through Jesus.

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

the cross first, then resurrection

In the Christian faith the triumph comes only after the tragedy (Mark 8). We call Friday of Holy Week “Good Friday” because God brought good out of evil, and indeed while human intent was bad, God intended it for good. The reality, hard for Jesus’s disciples, and not easy for us now, even after having the revelation from Scripture and the Spirit to help us understand and begin to enter into it– is that death in Christ comes first, then resurrection in Christ into the glorious newness of life in him pictured in baptism (Romans 6).

In this part of existence we Christians live in kind of an in between state in one sense. We will die, and we can be martyred now. Yet we partake of the eternal full life in Jesus now, as well. Which means for us a change of life, living in God’s kingdom in the present by the Spirit. So that we are turned in a new direction and can work on character issues to get rid of the old and put on the new in Christ.

And so during this Holy Week, let’s remember that our Lord did what none of us could even begin to dream to do, so that we too in and with him can, and actually must follow. But we do well to simply be quiet and meditate on our Lord’s suffering, crucifixion and death and just remain there, not being in a hurry to get to the resurrection. There is no Christian resurrection apart from crucifixion, there is no Christian life apart from death– all in and through Jesus.

 

the gospel ultimately destroys all division

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

We in Christ all belong to the household and family of God. We’re one. That doesn’t mean distinctions no longer exist, though the seeds of abolishing slavery are clearly in the New Testament, in this passage, in the book of Philemon, etc.

The gospel destroys all division in the sense of people not being united. We are “in Christ” and therefore united as one in him. That seems so obvious, a truism even, except that it hasn’t always been played out that way. African slaves were baptized when they responded in faith to the gospel. Yet they remained slaves, as if the family status was somehow only spiritual. That flies in the face of the meaning of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. It’s essentially a family, household thing, full heirs of God’s promise in Christ, as the above passage points out. Likewise females who were often either considered inferior to males, or treated as such are equal in being heirs and members of the family.

We are bereft with deep divisions in the world today. And they only seem exacerbated as people live more deeply and advocate their own common unity, or community. It would be good if by common grace people from diverse backgrounds: racial, religious, whatever could find common ground so that they could live well together. But that kind of unity could never approach the unity that is in Christ. It is good and important in its place, but it’s certainly not a full unity.

The unity in Christ does not destroy the diversity present. Women are still women, men, men, cultures, ethnicity is not changed. And such diversity will be a challenge at times. We are one in Christ, in one household, of one family in him, the family of God. Yet living in that one family will require humility as we learn to grow together. And surely the diversity is used by the Spirit to help us grow up in Christ in ways we otherwise would not. We can see diversity as all gifts from God for the whole, similar to the thought in Ephesians 4. To help us toward full maturity in Christ. That same passage tells us that though we are united in Christ, we’re to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So to live well within that unity, to not become divided is not automatic.

We have to let this unity have its full effect, and that is both passive and active. We receive all God gives us in Christ by the Spirit. And we contribute our part, in return. In love in the unity that binds us all together in and through Jesus.

Jesus buried

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Mark 15:42-47

Jesus dead and buried meant to the disciples that whatever it was that was coming, that they were anticipating, even if they would acknowledge that they had more questions than anything else, was now dead and gone. Ended. Period.

Unlike the Eleven, Joseph of Arimathea (along with Nicodemus in another gospel account) felt far enough removed from Jesus to not feel threatened by his sentence and execution. He did what needed to be done in honoring Jesus.

Metaphorically, I would like to think that whatever dreams I might have, or have had in my life are to be dead and buried with Jesus, so that what can arise is nothing short of God’s will in the new life raised with him. Baptism is a picture of that (Romans 6). It’s not like God doesn’t give us dreams, but the point is that they need to come from God. So much of the flesh, not to mention the world and the devil can get in.

I wonder if something like that wasn’t happening even to Jesus’s disciples on that day. Their dreams were dead and gone. They didn’t get what Jesus had told him at least three times: that he would suffer, be crucified, and on the third day rise. That made no sense to them. So they were surely in despair. It is hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ place, even impossible since we can’t escape the knowledge of what followed, and all that has come from that.

We need to be ready to let go of whatever dreams we have for the dream and vision God would give us. We are to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6). For nothing less than God’s good will in Jesus. In and through him: his death, burial, and yes, his resurrection. Amen.

God’s warning and provision in the face of temptation

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

1 Corinthians 10 is an interesting passage in considering how the Old Testament relates to us today. It is pretty drastically direct, actually. Of course there are important differences. The baptism of God’s people of old was through the Red Sea, their God-given escape from the Egyptians through that miracle. Our baptism is by water accompanying our faith in Jesus, or in infant baptism, anticipating such faith. They also ate the same spiritual food and drink, probably meaning all of them at that time, but maybe including us to some extent, since Christ is said to have been with them. But God was not pleased with most of them because of their sin. And they suffered the consequences of that sin.

And then our passage quoted above: We are not above this possibility, even though we live in a different time, and we could say the time of grace as opposed to law. But while the law was given during that time, grace most certainly was with God’s people as well. And it’s not like we live without boundary lines set, if I read the New Testament correctly, even considering Paul’s letters alone.

The crux of the matter is that we need to not only take sin seriously, but refuse to think we’re above giving into whatever temptation may come our way. Of course God could block every such occasion, but chooses not to. We would have to be removed from the world, or lose our respect from God as being moral agents at least as it seems required at this present time, for that to be the case.

But the promise seems to be that God won’t let it become unbearable, but will provide the way of escape for us, that we might be able to endure such. This suggests to me that escape is an important, even critical way of dealing with temptation, if we are to avoid falling into the sin that would ensnare us. We look to God, to God’s faithfulness, and while doing so, find our escape from that the allure of that temptation. And not just once, but the rest of our lives.

Nothing fancy here, but clear enough I think. And critical for us. As we remain in the word and press on together in the grace and truth that is ours in Jesus.

simply Christian

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1

It seems like it holds true to the present: there are a number of Christian denominations and traditions which remain essentially divided over this and that, sometimes what appears to be significant matters over the gospel, and yet in the end, they would acknowledge that the ones they are dividing from are likely in Christ.

What if we simply got rid of the idea that we have to be united over this or that nonessential? But for many, unless one believes that the bread of Holy Communion becomes Christ’s body, and the wine is blood, then they can’t be in any kind of fellowship and working relationship. Or churches remain divided over this or that. It seems impossible to break the division.

We need to center on the gospel, and live with our differences around that. Maybe challenge each other in the process, but make it a priority to be united, insofar as we possibly can for our witness to the world, as well as the good of our own faith.

Reports from China years back said that the church was growing exponentially until they began to get divergent directions from different Christian bodies in the free world. The simplicity of the power of the gospel, and God’s grace in that was disrupted by human made rules and tradition. The work of the Spirit was thus undermined, if not thwarted altogether.

When it’s not the gospel that is central, or when there are certain aspects of our participation in the gospel which end up dividing us, we have work to do. We need to make provision for all who are in Christ to be united as one in faith and practice.

That is what I’m coming to now. We might want to bring a believer along to understand and practice or even not think they have to practice certain things, arguably, but as long as they have faith in Christ, that should be enough for them to be fully united to us in our church body and witness to the world. The New Testament doesn’t know any believer who isn’t baptized, at least not as a rule, but differences there should not cause us to exclude each other.

What we need to press for is to maximize our oneness in Christ through the gospel. That needs to take priority over other matters. In spite of what differences we have, we ought to make provision for that. In the grace of God in and through Jesus.