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.

what does God’s promise to never leave us mean?

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Repeatedly in Scripture we have God’s promise not to forsake his people. And Jesus made that clear at his ascension (Matthew 28), his presence being with them (John 14) through the soon to come outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,2).

We need to take it in that Scripture tells us that we are in God through Christ, and God is in us. What we’re referring to here is like living in a sphere, even a bubble. Our struggle comes in part because we don’t understand this and therefore we’re not expecting closeness to the Lord, nor to be guided directly by him through the Spirit, and the means the Spirit uses: primarily Scripture and the church.

This makes all the difference in the world, the difference between night and day when we begin to act as if this is so, and to do that in the beginning will ordinarily be quite apart from our feelings. And this all really is not a matter of emotions. That will always come and go. But to have a sense of the Lord’s interactivity with us is indeed encouraging.

For us Christians, Christ is central in every way in this. We know it’s because of his life, death and resurrection and ascension that this new life is available to us. And it’s a life in which Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3). Our only hope is in him.

And like the Scripture above tells us, he promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever we have to go through he’ll intimately be there with us through it all. What we must do is act as if that’s the case, applying Scripture, like Philippians 4:6,7, etc., etc. And we’ll soon find out that this is indeed the case. But something we’ll have to do again and again, so that over time it can become more and more second nature to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

settled, but not set

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Much is swirling around in response to the pandemic and the problem of systemic racism against African Americans coming to a head. There’s a lament, and I am lamenting myself about the evangelical church’s lack in all of this. I feel like I’m a part of that, even if I am on the side that would roundly critique perceived deficiencies within that tradition. It’s certainly not like I don’t fall into something of that critique, myself, even if the only thing I’m aware of would be my probable reading of Scripture in an overly individualistic way, though I do attempt to read it as it is.

But through the storm we have to return to what we have learned and have become convinced of. We can build from there, making modifications, maybe even dismantling some things. But we must stay strong in what God is teaching us. And not despise that. In and through Jesus.

be attentive

What is God teaching me, or trying to teach me? A good question to ask. Better, just part of what we need to be attentive to.

We need to be in the word, in prayer, and pay attention to life, and to ourselves. We especially need to check our attitudes, and keep a tight rein on our actions, especially what we say.

What is God teaching me? We probably have to look no further than the nose on our face. What about ourselves is wrong? What can we do better? What should we quit doing altogether?

In and through Jesus.

against fear

One wise person years ago said that we should never act on fear. All too often in my life, I have. And while I may think I did what I needed to in order to alleviate it, it would invariably not lift the cloud that was over me. I’ve learned that only God can do that.

Yes, we need to redirect our sight, as my wife has often reminded me, getting our eyes off our trouble and onto the Lord. And as she also has often said, it’s Satan. Yes, we’re in spiritual warfare no doubt. Good, important reminders.

It is interesting that the most often repeated command in Scripture is “Don’t be afraid” or words to that effect. I find in my own experience it’s like going on an interesting, but terrifying roller coaster ride. You hang on and hang in there. What choice do you have? The exhilaration may kick in at a certain point, or you may simply be glad that the ride is over. I did learn in my days of roller coaster riding, to enjoy the ride. But I think sometimes, depending on the ride, that would be quite impossible.

For me, I’m sorry to say, and sorry to disappoint you: there’s no easy quick fix. What change that may help us would surely be incremental over time through taking good steps like being regularly in God’s word, in Scripture, and doing what God has called us to do. I have found that it’s like a process one has to go through. Different stages come along like denial or trying to get rid of it, whatever. But when we come to accept it, and just do the best we can with God’s help, sooner or later the fear will subside.

Of course this includes trying to apply the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6, getting someone close to you to pray for you, being in God’s word and prayer.

We need to hang in there. God will see us through, giving us the wisdom we need, and ideally, a new lesson learned. God is at work in the mess. In and through Jesus.

God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

understanding one’s weak points

I remember Jesus expressing disappointment, maybe even consternation at times over his disciples’ lack of faith. There are general areas we need to keep growing in, some weak spots we need to shore up. There are weaknesses common to us all as humans, then there are especially vulnerable points peculiar to each one of us.

It seems to me that it would be good to have some understanding of our vulnerabilities so that we might not only be aware of such, but somehow work on trying to understand how we can do better.

There’s a whole list of the possible weak points we might have. One can think of the so-called “seven deadly sins” for a start (see Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung). We would do well to learn from the tradition of the church, wisdom God has given the church through the ages.

We often react more than anything else, and our reactions usually aren’t helpful. We often fail to get to the root of our problem, much less deal with it in any effective way.

We need wisdom from God gathered, yes by the Spirit and the word (Scripture), but within that we’ll find that we need the help of the church, counsel from others. In the meantime we need to do the best we can with what we have, where we’re at.

This is not a snap of the finger, quick fix. Such a remedy is more like a bandage which might be good to stop the bleeding, but may fail to deal with the cause. We need to take the long look, to patiently work at finding what our problem is, and what Scripture prescribes for that. We need to quit jumping with our limited knowledge along with lack of knowledge, even misunderstanding, trying to solve the issue ourselves. Otherwise we’ll never get very far, and we’ll always struggle in certain areas, susceptible to the enemy’s attack.

This will be a lifelong endeavor. We’ll be making progress in some things, only to find we need to work on something else. Part of the journey we’re on here and now. In and through Jesus.

returning again and again to the source

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

Psalm 119:105-112

My default practice is to turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. Since I believe Scripture is God’s word written, I keep returning to it again and again throughout the day, to gain whatever it is that God wants to give me. It’s not like I do this very well. There are all kinds of variations in it. I might go real slow for a while, then pick up speed and keep moving through, whether anything seems to be getting through to me or not, then slow down again. As I stay at it, sooner usually than later it seems like God might somehow be getting through to me. I’ll begin to pick up a better perspective than I have.

God’s word is our lamp for life, but we’re also to be intent in being shaped and transformed, our lives directed by it. Oftentimes to be honest, I really feel at a loss, maybe hurt over this or that, or tired of whatever, at a loss. So I just keep going back to Scripture, and I find help, but help in God’s way, not my own. Going through Scripture slowly gives one the opportunity to pause and reflect and pray. Or simply realize how we don’t get it. That has value too. An important part of what Scripture is intended to do: help us turn to God, hopefully seek him, and find his will. Indeed turning to God’s word can be our way of turning to God. And find our lives more and more shaped by that. In and through Jesus.

Christians ought to love science

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

In Christian theology there is what is called “general revelation” and “special revelation.” This Psalm nicely includes both in that order. The heavens and creation is part of God’s general revelation. Modern science marked by ongoing observation, hypothesis and testing delves deeply into this revelation, yes for utilitarian reasons to some extent, but also with the sense of exploration and wonder. When we look at the night sky in an area not flooded by “light pollution” from humans, or enjoy a state or national park, we can begin to take in this revelation from God. It’s remarkable how even in a crowded urban or suburban, trees and birds can still leave their mark on a landscape humanity has pummeled with bricks and concrete.

General revelation points to something beyond it, in Christian terms, a Creator. And its scope and wonder suggest something about that hidden reality. Revelation of course means something revealed, and Scripture tells us that creation reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Again, it points to a Creator.

What is termed “special revelation” refers to what God directly reveals to humans. Through God’s written word, Scripture, and what is revealed there, especially with reference to its fulfillment in Christ and the gospel, or good news in him. It needs to be seen in terms of Story, meant to intersect our story, and whether we choose to accept that or not, eventually will.

I would like to highly recommend an organization that seeks to mediate the two revelations: BioLogos. There’s much helpful information to read with videos and a podcast. There’s an emphasis on science, although never cut off from Scripture. Founded by Francis Collins, a person of faith,

BioLogos invites the church and the world
to see the harmony between science and biblical faith
as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.

I realize for many within my tradition, this is controversial. I used to try to share with others my appreciation of science with the mainstream evolutionary aspect, but then decided to steer clear of it, since I’m no authority on science myself, but like classical music, simply have a love and appreciation for it, especially from those who are gifted in its understanding. I don’t believe Christians have any reason to fear honest science, and believe properly done, without trying to delve into meaning (“scientism”) which special revelation provides for us, we can appreciate more fully the remarkable wonder God has made. As we look forward to the new creation to come. In and through Jesus.

BioLogos  Core Commitments
We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over billions of years.
We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

realism and relief from the Psalms

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.

Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.

As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
But you, God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

Psalm 55

I love the psalms in part because of their unflinching realism. The psalmists tell it like it is about their own experience, understanding, and faith. Of course it is part of God’s word, and gives us revelation concerning God and God’s will for humanity, and especially for God’s people, either directly, or more indirectly like in this passage.

This psalm is lively and stirring, and a bit of a head scratcher when comparing it to Jesus’s teaching, such as his command to love our enemies. But inherent here is the concern for justice to be served. We know the bigger picture now, Christ providing the means in which both justice and mercy together are fully revealed and offered to all.

I love how one of those precious promise verses appears in this passage. So good to see its context. And that can help us realize that whatever we’re up against (for us, not physical warfare, but spiritual), whatever we’re facing, God is present for us. That we can cast our cares completely on him, that God will see us through everything. In and through Jesus.