Do You Truly Understand the Love of God?

Many people in our culture have a grave misunderstanding concerning the love of God. They attribute to God this squishy, all-encompassing love that never demands repentance, never addresses sin, and would surely never be expressed in righteous anger. What does the Bible say about God’s love?

            One of the most famous passages that describes God’s love comes from 1 John 4:1-7 which states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

            From this passage, John gives us some essential aspects of God’s infinite love that we would do well as Christians to embrace. First of all, God is love. He is the ultimate expression of love. He initiates love, He defines love, and He loves us first. Our capacity to love does not come intrinsically from within ourselves, but comes outside of ourselves through God. One of God’s chief attributes is love.

The danger many Christians make is to elevate the love of God as His one and ONLY attribute and fail to see that God is also holy, just, and righteous and cannot tolerate sin. Is God love? Absolutely! Is God holy and righteous? Absolutely. We cannot divorce these two attributes and pit them against each other. If we focus too much on God’s love, we can tend to drift into flimsy liberalism where anything goes, and God just winks at sin and loves everybody unconditionally. If we focus too much on God’s justice, we can tend to drift into rigid legalism where we never hold out the hope of grace for the sinner.

Another essential teaching from this passage about God’s love is that it is fully expressed in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way of salvation. God sent His only Son Jesus so that we might live through him.  Jesus Himself was very emphatic in John 14:6 that He is THE way, truth, and life; not one of many ways or simply a good way, but the absolute and only way to heaven.  It is not loving to give a person a false assurance that God loves them outside of Jesus.  When we downplay the exclusivity of Christ, we deny His Lordship and do not show love to those who will die in their sins without Him. The most loving thing we can do is to tell a sinner that Jesus is their ONLY way of hope.

In verse 10 of our text it says that Jesus was the “propitiation” for our sins. The word propitiation means that Jesus (while on the cross) absorbed the full wrath of God against sin as our Substitute so that we would not have to endure that righteous anger. Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin. The beauty of the gospel is that God punished sin in the body of Christ. 

God’s love is too immense and expansive to reduce down to this popular idea that He loves you “just the way you are.” God loves us too much to let us stay “just the way we are!” He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that by faith in Him we could be transferred from spiritual death to spiritual life to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

The Bible…on the Bible

What does the Bible say about. . .  the Bible? Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament entirely and totally trustworthy?

The Bible is breathed-out by God. It is literally the very word of God given to human authors. Theologians call this the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  The Holy Spirit moved upon the hearts and minds of human authors to inspire them to write exactly what God wanted written down. 2 Peter 1:20-21states, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Since it is the very Word of God, the Bible does not contain any errors in the original manuscripts and is therefore inerrant. Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Since the Bible is God’s absolute Word and it is error-free, the Scriptures have absolute authority in all matters of faith and practice.  We should adjust or align our lives under the absolute authority of God’s written Word. Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” This is a very emphatic construction in the original language to illustrate the fact that God’s Word is “THE” truth with a capital “T”.

Psalm 19 gives us great insight into the nature of God’s written Word—the Bible. Psalm 19:7-8 states,  “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

David gives four wonderful descriptions of God’s Word. First of all, God’s Word is perfect. This word means “blameless” in that it contains no errors, it is absolutely true, and as a result, it leads us to restoration and forgiveness—it refreshes us. The word for “revive” in Hebrew actually means “repent or turn.” In other words, the Bible leads us to repentance.

Second, God’s Word is sure which means it is “established and trustworthy” as a sure foundation. What results when you trust and obey God’s Word?  It gives us wisdom for living. Obedience to God is not a matter of intelligence or IQ but on how we saturate ourselves in the Scripture and are “Bible people.” Colossians 3:16 tells us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” conveying the idea that we need to saturate or immerse or marinate ourselves in the Bible.

Third, God’s Word is right which really means “straight” in that there is no deviation or turning in God’s Word. It absolutely right and true and it leads us to rejoice deeply in our hearts. Disobeying God’s Word brings heartache, a lack of peace, and turmoil while obedience brings joy.

Finally, God’s Word is pure. There is no evil or stain in God’s infallible Word, and as a result, it gives light to our eyes. The Scriptures open our eyes to truth, expose our errors, and show us the glory of God.

            I pray that you are connected to a church family that faithfully upholds the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. May we be like those in the town of Berea in Acts 17:11 who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

The Joy of Parenting

I’m the first to admit that parenting is sometimes hard work!! Most of us never attended “Parenting for Dummies” and find ourselves clueless at times when it comes to raising our children. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul gives parents a simple charge filled with amazing implications. He writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

            Let me give you seven exhortations that you as Christian parents can embrace that will help you not enrage your children.

            First of all, we must ourselves as parents be under control. We need to be submissive and yielding to the Spirit’s work in our lives. We need to be saturated in the Word and allowing it to dwell richly in us so that we are Christ-like. We cannot punish or discipline if we ourselves are out of control.

            Second, discipline must never be arbitrary or unpredictable. There’s the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As parents, that won’t work. We can’t ask our children to behave in ways that we ourselves are blatantly ignoring in our own lives. Children see the inconsistency in our own conduct and it brings confusion to them and there is no legitimacy to our discipline.

Third, we must never be unreasonable as parents in that we are unwilling to hear our child’s case. We must never punish capriciously or illogically. We might not change our punishment or change the consequences, but we must honor the dignity of our children and allow them to speak in their defense. We must remember that our children are not automatons, or robots, but precious souls that the Lord has entrusted to us.

Fourth, parents must never be selfish. We must never put guilt trips on our children where we require them to love us through sacrifice, but instead we seek self.  This could be a mother who pushes for a child’s success to affirm her own worth, or when a father punishes to enforce behavior that serves his own reputation or convenience. We must not be crushing the child’s personality to compensate for our inadequacies and insecurities. We must remember that we are only stewards of gifts entrusted to us by the Father. Our children are not our own. We are not absolute owners, we are stewards. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

Fifth, we must never discipline in purely mechanical ways. There must be logic and reason behind the punishment. The punishment must fit the crime and we must explain to our children why their behavior was wrong and why we are punishing them. Again, we are not dealing with animals or robots, but individual persons.

Sixth, we must never humiliate our children. We must never demand respect at the expense of individual dignity. A mother should never shame her child into obedience–especially in front of others. Parents, never play the comparison game by shaming your child that he or she isn’t a good little boy or girl like so and so. Never compare to other sibling, friends, or whoever. This diminishes the dignity of that child.

Lastly, never fail to recognize the growth and development of your child. Two-year olds act like two-year olds and 12-year olds act like twelve-year olds. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on children when they haven’t grown in certain areas.

As parents we must bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The word “bring them up” carries the idea of fondly cherishing and nurturing our children to maturity. We must discipline our children. Proverbs 13:24 states, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  Contrary to popular opinion, you’re not going to hurt your child’s self-esteem if you discipline them. They need boundaries. Children need protection and direction and discipline.

As parents we are to nurture our child to maturity through godly discipline as well as instructing them in the Lord. This means to strongly warn them about the dangers and consequences of sin. And ultimately the raising of our children must be “in the Lord.”

In other words, our goal as parents is to mature our children to godliness in keeping with a devotion to Christ. Our ultimate goal is not to crank out moral, good, obedient children. Our goal is to lead them to maturity in Christ so that they have a passion for Jesus and a love for His truth so that they see that their chief end is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We’re not after “good little children”—we’re after transformed children who live under the power of God’s grace and who have a deep personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Parents, you can do it!! But it is only by the grace and power of Christ alone. Keep your eyes fixed on Him!

A Biblical Response to Racism and Riots

In light of the tragic and brutal death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots across our nation, I want to give a measured and biblical response. In times like these, we can be tempted to be driven by emotion or by politics. Instead, I want to address this issue with a biblical worldview. More than ever, Christians need to think biblically with godly discernment and filter everything through His authoritative Scripture.

First of all, racism in any form is evil and should be condemned. God created all humans in His image and therefore every single person has inherent dignity and worth.  The Bible teaches that there is one human race, not multiple races. We have all descended from the one man Adam. Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”  This does not mean that there are not different ethnicities or skin colors, but fundamentally, all humans share the same heritage from the one man Adam and we are all created in God’s image. Any form of racism, whether ethnic bias, discrimination, segregation, and hostility toward a person or group of another ethnicity is patently sinful, wicked, and has no place in the heart or actions of those who claim the name of Christ.

Tragically, our nation has a terrible history of racism most grotesquely expressed in both slavery and Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s under the leadership of Martin Luther King made excellent strides in bringing equality among all ethnicities. Since the emancipation proclamation to the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, the United States has passed laws in our nation that ended systemic racism. Yet, due to the sinfulness of the human heart, some people in our nation still have racist attitudes and actually practice outright racism.

I do not believe that America is fundamentally a racist nation nor was founded on racism as some claim, but I do believe there are some individuals who practice racism and they should be called out, condemned, and silenced.

Second, brutality (whether by a policeman) or by any person in authority over someone who is weaker or helpless is evil and criminal and should be condemned and prosecuted. Police officer Derek Chauvin acted with malicious brutality that showed no regard for human life. He used his position in authority to murder another person. The issue is not whether Floyd was innocent or guilty. The issue is that Floyd said he could not breathe, did not resist arrest, was helpless on the ground in handcuffs, and Chauvin and his fellow officers held Floyd down for 9 minutes. This is not only sinful but criminal. Chauvin has been justly arrested and charged.

Any person in authority who brutalizes, oppresses, hurts, or abuses another person who is weaker or helpless acts sinfully and criminally and should be arrested. This includes an adult who abuses a child. This includes a husband who abuses his wife. This includes a teacher or coach who abuses a student or athlete. Brutality, abuse, and subsequent death in the case of George Floyd is criminal and justice demands conviction. Psalm 106:3: “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”

Third, we should empathize with those who have been disenfranchised, ostracized, oppressed, discriminated against, and marginalized, and who sense that there is injustice whether we have experienced it or not. It’s very easy for me as a white, middle-class male who has grown up in the suburbs to be clueless when it comes to discrimination or oppression. I have no idea what other ethnicities in other areas with different backgrounds have experienced in their lifetimes and are going through right now.

More than ever, we need to take time to listen to those with whom we disagree. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and try to empathize. We may not agree politically or socially or theologically, but human decency and Christian love motivates us to listen and try to understand their point of view. Ecclesiastes 4:1: “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. “

Oppression is real. Racism is real. Police brutality is real. I do not have the statistics to prove that it is widespread or systemic or that our nation is inherently racist, but I do know that many people of color have shared that they have experienced these travesties in America. I can choose to not believe them, or I can try to empathize and learn from them.

Fourth, there are appropriate ways to protest injustice with civility and respect. We have a First Amendment right to gather peaceably to express grievances and outrage at what we perceive to be injustice.  We must make a distinction between individuals who are exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably protest and others who have taken this to another step and instigated rioting, violence, vandalism, destruction of property, physical brutality, and in some cases murder. The current confusion lies in trying to distinguish which group is which. Thankfully, many African American leaders across our nation have decried the rioters and violence. These rioters have betrayed any sense of civil disobedience and peaceful protest that occurred under Martin Luther King in the 60’s.

Fifth, looting, stealing, rioting, destroying property, berating law enforcement, beating and killing other people is sinful and criminal and against the Ten Commandments. The most fundamental human right we have is the right to life and personal property. When persons violate those rights by stealing, vandalizing, destroying property, beating others, and actually committing murder, they are acting in the height of lawlessness, sin, and rebellion against Almighty God. Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder. Leviticus 19:13:  “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him.” The looting and rioting in these inner-city areas is actually destroying the businesses and livelihoods of predominately minorities and those with lower incomes.

This lawless unrest and criminal behavior should be immediately stopped by law enforcement and the national guard. Unfortunately, many mayors have tied the hands of law enforcement and told them not to act swiftly.

Sixth, this is the truth that no one wants to readily admit; but the events in our nation is evidence of God’s judgment. When a people wholesale reject God’s laws, God will give them over to a depraved mind to do lawless deeds. 1 Timothy 1:8–9 says,Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers. 1 John 3:4 reads,Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

God can executive His wrath in active and dramatic ways like pouring down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. Or. . .  God can executive His wrath in passive ways by letting lawless and sinful people continue to do what they want to do by giving them over to a depraved mind. In other words, God can take His hand of restraint of a nation and allow the people to get what they deserve. For people to rebel against God and go their own way. The tragic reality is that sometimes God allows this to happen as an act of judgment.

Romans 1:28–31 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

Is this not what we are seeing flash before our very eyes in America. In cities across our land, mobs are acting in covetousness, murder, boastful, heartless, and ruthless ways. God has given them over to a debased mind. I can’t say this any clearer: God has given America what it truly wants—a nation without any concern for His law or standards of righteousness. God has said to America: “If you want a nation without Me, then go for it and see where that leads you. I’m hands off! I’ve given you over to your own lawlessness as an act of My justice.”

So, what then is the answer to this tragic unfolding of events in our nation? Let me suggest a few responses.

First, only the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He has won for us through the cross and resurrection can overcome human evil in all forms. Hearts have to change first, before society can change. Politics cannot change hearts. Laws cannot change hearts. Social programs cannot change hearts. Economic policies cannot change hearts.

I am not saying these things are not important for our nation and we need to have some healthy discussions on public policy, but only Jesus can change hearts. More than ever, let us be bold in our witness to Jesus and His power to forgive and cleanse and make all things new. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Second, please take personal responsibility to listen, empathize and communicate with those with whom you disagree. Don’t engage in reposting memes or posts that are shallow, inflammatory, or simplistic to a very complex issue. Take the time and the risk to learn, listen, and educate yourself on what others believe and why they feel the way they do. You may not ever agree with them, but as a Christian, our obligation is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Be a peacemaker. Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Romans 12:17–18: ‘”Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”.

Third, if you are in a position of authority or decision making (whether at your job or in some capacity) please take personal responsibility to address injustice and do what you need to do to change it. You may not be able to change things on a huge scale, but you can change what you can change. You can address what you can address. You can take leadership and make sure you’re acting with biblical justice.

Fourth, please pray for wisdom for our leaders. Pray for mayors of these cities. Pray for governors of these states. Pray for our president. Pray for leaders. Pray for police officers, fire and rescue workers, national guard troops and others who are on the front line. Pray that God would grant them patience, wisdom, and courage to do what is right. Pray that they can protect life and property and that they would be protected as well.

Fifth, pray for God to relent His wrath and judgment if that be His will for our nation. Unless God intervenes in His sovereign grace to restrain evil, we will experience dark days ahead as a nation. God is under no obligation to relent His judgment upon us as America is getting what it deserves. Please pray for spiritual awakening and revival. Pray for repentance and contrition among believers across the land. Pray for churches to be lighthouses of hope and love in a cruel and heartless world.

Pray like Jesus taught us to pray: Matthew 6:9–10: “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

False Conversions?

Do you have a category in your mind for a person who professes to be a Christian, but actually possesses no genuine faith in Christ? Is there such a thing as a false convert?  In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus gives two parables that clearly illustrate the fact there are indeed those who may appear to be a follower of Christ, but in reality, have not been soundly saved.

            In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus tells the story of four types of soil which represent four types of people who all hear the word of the gospel. The first three soils hear the word, but it never takes root and therefore produces no fruit.  These are people who may appear to receive Christ for salvation or make a public profession of faith, but in actuality, have never been saved. They may have gone through a religious exercise or undergone some type of ritual, but did not experience the transformational power of the gospel deep within their hearts.

            For example, just because a person walks an aisle, goes forward at an altar call, gets baptized, goes through confirmation, or joins a church does not necessarily mean that he or she has actually been converted.  We are not saved by these rituals as important as they be in our spiritual pilgrimage. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

            In Jesus’ parable of the soils, only the fourth soil represents one who was truly saved because that person heard the word, understood it, and it bore fruit as a result of deep roots.  In other words, there may be many who appear to love Jesus and say that they are a Christian, but when the temptations and cares of this world press in on them, they quickly fall away showing evidence that they were never saved in the first place. Only those who repent and trust Christ alone through being born again are truly saved.

            In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells another parable to further magnify this truth of false conversion. He pictures a field with both wheat and weeds growing side by side showing that in the visible church where many profess faith in Christ, there are those who are truly saved (wheat) and those who are only pretenders (weeds). On the final Day of Judgment, the pretenders will be exposed and will experience separation from Christ in hell.

            Some of the scariest words in the Bible come from the lips of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 where he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

            There will be many on that last day that may have gone on a mission trip, or walked an aisle, or got baptized, or joined a church, or went through confirmation that were never saved in the first place. Jesus never knew them in a saving way through repentance and faith.

            So if you’re reading this today and you are pierced in your heart with doubts or concerns what should you do?  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…”.

            The Bible is very clear that one does not go to heaven based upon church attendance, the faith of parents or grandparents, being a good person, or going through a ritual like baptism, confirmation, walking an aisle, or saying a “sinner’s prayer.” You are saved when you confess your sins and repent and trust in Christ alone and by grace, He radically changes you from the inside out by giving you a new identity.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Stop pretending and playing games! Instead, repent and trust in Christ today so that you can experience this new life of grace and a future home in heaven!

The Human Heart is an Idol Factory

John Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory. There are so many things in our lives that we elevate to the position of “god” because we think those things will give us meaning, purpose, and satisfaction. And many of these things may be good things such as a spouse, family, a career, or a worthy cause. Ezekiel 14:3 says, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.”

            If there is one theme that we see repeated over and over again in the Bible is that God will not share His glory with another, and that idolatry represents one of the gravest of all sins. When we think about idolatry, many of us picture a pagan person worshipping a statue or bowing down to a carved image.

But for us in America, what we worship is more subtle. I want you to think about those things in your life that consume you. Those things that you are obsessively passionate about. Those things that if they were taken away, you would have great fear, dread, and major disappointment. After a close analysis, those things may have become an idol in your heart.

Psalm 39:11 reads: “When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!” The imagery in this verse depicts God as a moth coming to devour or consume what is dear to us. The Hebrew wording for “dear to us” comes from the root word “to covet or to lust after.” In other words, there are some idols deep in our hearts that have become dear to us in a very sinful and lustful way. King David the Psalmist prays that God in His disciplining love would come like a moth and consume those idols out of our hearts.

So let me ask you a question: What are you holding onto in your heart that is an idol? What has become so dear to you that you have elevated it above God as the foremost of your affections and desires? I encourage you to be like David who desperately wanted God to come and consume that idol—that thing that was dear to him.

But ridding yourself of an idol is only half the battle. In the end, it doesn’t go far enough. Since our hearts and minds are idol factories, we will just replace it with another idol to satisfy us. We not only need to expel or have God get rid of our idols, but we must replace it with a greater affection and desire. We were created by God to have passionate desires and affections and there is nothing wrong with that. Where the real problem lies is that in our sin and selfishness we prize, desire, seek after, and are passionate about the wrong things. Jesus Christ and His gospel should be what we prize and value the most.

We must expel the affections for idols in our hearts and replace them with a greater affection–the Person of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The point is very clear. Jesus Himself is the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value. He is the One to be prized, enjoyed, valued, treasured, and desired above all else. We are hard wired as humans in our sin to look at self. We desire self-fulfillment, happiness, and a pain free existence and have elevated idols in our hearts to a position of “godhood” to satisfy those inner cravings.

Instead, let us pray that God would come like a moth and consume those out of our lives and replace those desires with a greater desire in Jesus Himself. Hebrews 12:2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Would Jesus be the treasure of all treasures and your ultimate satisfaction!

COVID-19 and Comfort

As Americans we love to be comfortable! We don’t like to have to suffer, experience pain, or endure hardships. We want an “our best life now” where “every day is a Friday!” I remember the days of my youth where I actually had to get up from the couch and turn the knob on the television to change the channels (back when there were only about 5!)

When Christ called us to Himself in salvation, did He ever promise us that life would be comfortable?

Many of you probably have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German pastor during World War II who was very vocal against Hitler’s Nazism and genocide against the Jews. He was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo and spent a year in a German prison awaiting his execution. He was hanged in April 1945 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered. He wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship and you’ve probably heard his famous quote: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. . . we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. . . When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

This COVID-19 pandemic has been an affliction of epic proportions. We are tempted to lose heart. We are prone to despair. We give into fear. Listen to the words of Paul in 2Corinthians 4:16–18:“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

In the midst of this crisis, we pray for the coronavirus to go away and for life to go back to normal. But what if it doesn’t go back to “normal?” What if God’s plan is to purify His church and to make us endure hard times to grow our faith in Him.  I know it may hard to believe, but this pandemic is a light momentary affliction. I am not minimizing the detrimental impact this crisis has had on people’s health, the economy, and the social issues surrounding it. This is a real time of tribulation we are enduring. But compared to eternity, COVID-19 is light and momentary.

What we are going through right now is God’s way of preparing us for an eternal glory beyond all comparison. Our hope is on Jesus and the eternal life we get to spend with Him in heaven. That future reality is our ultimate home and desire. Yet, in the midst of trying times, our gaze often turns to the negative circumstances around us. We look down instead of up.

Are we living ultimately for the temporary comfort of the “here and now’? Does our heart’s affection reside in the temporary, transient things of this world? Or are our eyes and hearts fixed on things eternal where our ultimate joy is located—namely in Jesus Christ Himself.

We pray for an end to this coronavirus and all of its debilitating effects. We pray for families who have been affected medically, economically, emotionally, and spiritually. We pray for strength and grace and peace from our Lord. And we pray that He would give us a real sense of hope in our future. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus!

COVID-19 and Psalm 46

Many of you are very familiar with Martin Luther who launched the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. He wrote one of the most famous hymns of all time and has Psalm 46 as its foundation.  

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing; For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe 
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate; On earth is not his equal. 

Martin Luther uses the imagery from Psalm 46 to paint this picture of God being a mighty fortress, a helper amid all the floods and evil things that this world will throw at us—a timely message during this COVID-19 crisis. 

Psalm 46 teaches this main point: We can rest confidently in the supreme power of our ever-present Lord. King David, the hymn writer, gives us three primary ways we can do this. First of all, in verses 1-3, we can rely on the strength of God during times of anxiety or turmoil. This COVID-19 pandemic has caused great fear, insecurity, anxiety, and depression among many in our community.  God is our refuge and strength and ever-present help in trouble.

The Psalmist uses this graphic imagery of mountains crashing into oceans and powerful hurricanes and earthquakes and natural disasters.  This is poetic language to describe what will happen when God comes in judgment on the earth on the Day of the Lord, but it is also metaphorical language for the turmoil that we experience in our everyday lives—especially all the issues surrounding the coronavirus.  

We live in a shaky and chaotic world. We live in a world of broken promises. We live in a world of fractured relationships. We live in a world of disappointment and pain and struggle and we see it all over the place. Often we feel like the world is this huge ocean that swarming over us and we are about to drown. This Psalm tells us not to fear. Don’t be anxious.  RELY on the strength of God.  He is a refuge.

Second, in verses 4-7, we can rejoice in the supremacy of God because He is on His throne! So why can we be glad and rejoice in times of trouble? He is the Most High, which means He is the supreme One. He is highly exalted as King above everything. In verse 7 He is called the LORD of hosts, which conveys the idea that God is surrounded by this huge military force of angels! He is a fortress.  

In other words, God is supremely reigning on His throne and that should bring us great joy to know that He is in control no matter what happens and that we can rejoice in the Lord as our strength. The nations may rage and kingdoms totter and there may be both economic and social repercussions from COVID-19, but we are not a people who lose hope. We can rejoice in the supremacy of God who rules and reigns on His throne.  

Third, in verses 8-11, we can remain in the security of God because He will exalt Himself above all earthly powers. This section speaks about the future judgment of God upon the nations where one day He will make everything right and there will be a new heaven and new earth. In light of God’s plan to judge the nations and bring about His rule and reign, we can now be still and know that He is God.   

It may seem like right now that the coronavirus pandemic has taken over our world and all seems hopeless. But behind it all, God is still on His throne and He gets the final word.  We can remain in His security. We can rest. We can be still. We can have the confidence that God is in charge. Lamentations 3:22–26 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” 

We can rest confidently in the supreme power of our ever-present Lord through the salvation of Jesus Christ—especially during unprecedented times such as these!

COVID-19 and God’s Sovereignty

There’s grave concern across our globe right now concerning the imminent threat of the coronavirus known as novel COVID-19 virus. I’m a huge basketball fan. I can’t wait until March Madness every year to fill out my bracket and predict who will win the “big dance!” I also love watching the NBA Finals. The NBA season has been suspended because Rudy Gobert, of the Utah Jazz, has contracted COVID-19. The NCAA tournament has also been canceled. During an unprecedented time like this, there’s more to life than basketball.

            What has the coronavirus revealed to us? How is God sovereignly working behind the scenes to orchestrate His divine plan? We cannot answer this because the secret things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). As I was doing sermon preparation this week, I came across Isaiah 1:5-6 which reads, “Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.”

The prophet Isaiah addressed the nation of Israel for their rebellion against God. I want you to notice how he describes the sinful condition—as a sickness. He likens sin to an infectious disease that covers the entire body from head to toe. The graphic imagery Isaiah uses here shows the corruptive nature of sin that is pervasively embedded deep in our hearts.

            If anything, the coronavirus should make us pause as we think about a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 is highly infectious and has caused the stock market to go bonkers, cause major sporting events to close down, and has impacted the entire globe. I wonder if people are more concerned about contracting COVID-19 than they are concerned about the sinful state of their souls. If anything, the coronavirus should make us pause and think about how sinful we truly are from head to toe. We should contemplate how this depravity has infected us deeply within our souls.

            What is the only answer to this sin sickness? To this “coronavirus of the soul” as Isaiah would probably describe it if he were living today! If we continue reading in Chapter 1, we find the cure in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Only through the precious blood of Christ can we have complete forgiveness of sins. Only through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross can the infection of our rebellion be cleansed comprehensively.

            Right now all we can do is wait and see what happens concerning COVID-19. We should pray for our leaders on all levels to use wisdom and caution. We should pray for those who have been infected. We should pray against a worldwide spread of the coronavirus. But most importantly, we should be soberly reminded that there’s more to life than basketball or even our comfort.

The greatest threat to the globe is not the coronavirus, but sin and rebellion. If you die in your sins without repenting and believing in Jesus, the consequences are eternal punishment in hell. The greatest news in the world is that we can be forgiven through Jesus Christ. He alone is the cure! He alone is the answer! May God grant us His grace and peace in this time of grave uncertainty.

Be Joyful!

As Christians, we should be the most hopeful and joyful of all people on this planet because we serve a sovereign God who is still reigning on His throne. What is joy? Here is my best attempt at a definition: Joy is that deep sense of peace and confidence in the Lord in where we trust in Him no matter what our circumstances and He produces a settled delight in our hearts that rests in His sovereignty and love.

            Notice first of all that joy is deep. It is not a surface emotion like happiness that is fleeting, but a deep confidence and sense of peace in Christ alone.  Secondly, joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. We can be joyful in times of trials and sufferings and we can be joyful in times of great blessing.  Thirdly, this joy comes from the Lord where He produces this settled or satisfied or contentment in our hearts that is solely based upon His sovereign love.

            As Christians, it is an affront to the very gospel of Christ to walk around mopishly, sad, depressed, and defeated without the joy of the Lord. Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Have you put your hope in this sovereign God who rules and reigns in absolute sovereignty?

Have you prayed to the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit deeply in your soul—especially joy? Can you say like Ezra in the book of Nehemiah 8:10: “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Is the joy of the Lord your strength?  Do you have a deep, settled contentment in your soul because our lives, our nation, this universe, are in the hands of all sufficient and sovereign Saviors?

Brothers and sister in Christ, may we be the voice and face of hope and joy in this culture? May a lost and confused and dying world look to us as those who have a deep sense of joy because we know that Christ has overcome and won the victory? Jesus has come to give us joy that is full in John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” In John 16:22, Jesus gives us an indestructible joy that cannot be taken away: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

May we be lights shining in the dark shadows of this confused and befuddled world as we hold out the hope of Christ in the gospel of salvation?