The Life I Live…

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV 1984).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20, NIV 1984).

My Musings – A couple well-known verses, with interesting paralells:

  • Deny Yourself – “I no longer live.
  • Come After Me – “Christ lives in me.
  • Take Up Your Cross – “I have been crucified with Christ.
  • Follow Me – “I live by faith in the Son of God.

My Advice – Christ gave up so much (denied Himself) to pursue (come after) us.  This took Him to the cross (crucified), so that we might live (by faith).  The cross we are asked to bear pales in comparison to the one He bore.  Let’s deny ourselves, our path, and follow Him.  Though it might lead through the “valley of the shadow of death,” it ends up in “green pastures.

 

Alone, Yet Not Alone

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Then Jesus’ disciples said,  “this makes us believe that you came from God.” “You believe at last!” Jesus answered. “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.  I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:30–33, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Where I live, we are beginning week two of being “scattered, each to his own home,” which we have “affectionately” come to know as sheltering in place.  Many of you around the world have been at it much longer than we have.  And while I work in an industry that has been deemed “essential” (but not nearly so noble as a front-line responder), I have been fortunate enough to work from home.  Fortunate, because my wife fits into four different high-risk health categories (you can read about her in “All About Eve”), and the less exposure I bring home to her the better.

We all deal with isolation in different ways, some of which are depicted in this Sunday’s “amusings” above.

  • Tom Hank’s in his movie Castaway created an imaginary friend Wilson. More recently, he self-quarantined with another Wilson, not so imaginary.  Coincidence?  Or life imitating art?  Whatever, it certainly was an improvement, despite having to deal with the coronavirus.
  • Some (the toilet paper hoarder) take isolation to the extreme, thinking only about themselves.
  • Some self-impose isolation within isolation (the cell phone communicators), not taking advantage of the opportunity to bond with loved ones.  Of course, this could have been just about anyone’s dining table before COVID-19.  How sad.
  • Others go into total meltdown (fear and hysteria), losing perspective, reason and common sense.
  • Not depicted are those who recklessly throw caution to the wind, putting themselves in needless danger. But more importantly, exposing innocent others by their selfish abandon.

For those of us with an eternal perspective, it is difficult to say at this point whether this pandemic is the express will of God as the “beginning of birth pains,” or the permissive will of God as Satan casts his evil “spells,” knowing that his time is short.  Either way, God is Sovereign.  And we know the end of the story, because it has been revealed to us (“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace“).  Revealed through another who was also spending time in isolation.  “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see.”  (Revelation 1:9–11, NIV 1984).  Is this the beginning of one of the things he saw?

My Advice – Whatever the reason, these are the circumstances that we are faced with.  We did not choose them (although they are one of the consequences of the choice made in the garden).  The question is how will we face them?  We’ve looked at just a few of the “faces” of isolation.  What will your “face” look like?  Will you be overcome, or will you be an overcomer?  Whether in isolation alone, or alone with loved ones, we are not alone in our aloneness. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Take heart, brother and sisters, and be at peace in this time of distress.  “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  (Revelation 22:12–13, NIV 1984).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

 

Where Many Have Gone Before

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Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”  (Matthew 10:17–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is the title of an op-ed penned by Katherine Stewart and published by the New York Times on March 27, 2020.  In it she writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”  Later she adds, “by all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction…But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.”

This reminds me of another story — the burning of Rome in 64 AD. “Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle [had not been invented yet] while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.”  (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/neros-rome-burns).  “The persecution of Christians because of the fire started about 250 years of Roman persecution of Christians, a practice finally ended in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan.” (https://www.historyandheadlines.com/july-18-64-ad-great-fire-rome-nero-blames-christians/).

These stories differ in that the Roman Emperor blamed the Christians for burning Rome, whereas one media story is blaming a certain segment of Evangelical Christians (referred to as “religious nationalists” and the “Christian nationalist movement”) for “fanning the flames” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  We do not know what “spark” will ignite the widespread persecution of the Church that Jesus spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. Perhaps “inflammatory” rhetoric, such as that used in the above referenced article, and which casts dispersions on all evangelical Christians in particular, will eventually spread to “engulf” all true followers of Christ in general.  When I say “true followers” I do not mean this as either a commendation or a condemnation of the any of the people or groups that are criticized in the article.  I do not know enough about any of them to pass any kind of judgment.  What I take issue with is how wide the net is cast in her criticisms.

We do know for certain that a day is coming when a “pandemic” of Church persecution will ultimately rise from the “ashes” left over from the persecution of early Christendom.  It many respects, it already has begun.  It may only be a “brush fire” now (at least in the United States — much worse in other countries), but soon enough it will become a “blazing inferno.”

My Advice – “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  Will you be prepared to follow in His steps? The cost of following Him may be high.  It was high for Polycarp, and others like him.  “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”  (Polycarp of Smyrna, Christian martyr and a disciple of the Apostle John, circa 160 AD).

Be prepared to “boldly go where [many have] gone before!” Just make sure that it is “on [His] account” you are persecuted and not on account any political agenda of this world that is not firmly established by the Gospel of Truth.  For our Kingdom is not of this world.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘”  (Acts 4:18–20, NIV 1984).

Be The Church

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42–47, NIV 1987).

My Musings – While these are clearly challenging times as the world comes to grip with this global pandemic, (perhaps unprecedented to most of the world’s population living today), they pale in comparison (at least to date) to challenges that previous generations have endured.  Our grandparents sent an entire generation of young men off to fight fascism and aggression in Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.  This came just a few short years after the great depression, where U. S. unemployment peaked at nearly 25% (probably much greater in other countries).  The Spanish Flu (probably not a politically correct name by today’s standards) infected an estimated 500 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million (some estimates go as high as 199 million) souls.  This was when the world population was around 1.8 billion.  During the 14th century, it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the world population of 450 million died from the Black Plague.

One might ask, how does the Church respond to the crisis facing the world we live in today?

I would propose that it should have very little to do with how we “dochurch and very much to do with how we “be” the Church.

In certain respects, the above text gives many a overly romanticized impression of the first century Church.  “Why can’t we be more like the first century Chuch?”  But we must remember, as persecution spread, the Church in Rome was driven underground into the catacombs beneath the city.  Then, of course, there was persecution in the middle ages where people like Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, More and Tyndale were put to death, not to mention the religious persecution the led to settlement in the “new world.”  Even today, in certain communist and Islamic countries, Christians constantly face persecution and death.

In light of all this, how we “do” church (worship style, time of service, length of sermon, systematic versus topical versus textual preaching, color of carpet, etc.) is fairly trivial compared to how those mentioned above were committed to being the Church.  As we reflect on the crisis facing the world today, our focus as well should be on how to be the Church in a world that needs the hope that only Christ offers.  Especially if we are just beginning (much worse to come) to experience the “birth pains” that Christ warned about in His Olivet Discourse and the tribulation to follow that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation.

My Advice – Be the Church.  What are some practical ways we can put into practice some of the following ways of being the Church to our neighborhoods and communities?

Love One Another – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35, NIV 1984).

Do Unto Others – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12, NIV 1984).

Live At Peace With Everyone –   “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18, NIV 1984).

Be A Servant – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV 1984).

Do For The Least Of These – “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”    (Matthew 25:35–40, NIV 1984).

Practice Pure and Faultless ReligionReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27, NIV 1984).

Be A Witness – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

Be Prepared With Your Reason For Hope Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV 1984).

What Remains? – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV 1984).

Here are some suggestions from my local church: (https://www.fbcsycamore.com/)

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What Keeps You Up At Night?

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“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”  (Job 38:8–11, NIV 1984).

So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”   (2 Samuel 24:15–16, NIV 1984).

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 6:25–27, NIV 1984).

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthews 10:27–28, NIV 1984).

My Musings – So what does keep you up at night?  What are the things that you worry and fret about?  Have they added “a single hour to his life?”  These are troubled times for sure.  Not as troubled as they will become as Christ’s return grows close, but troubled nonetheless.  But one thing we should never lose sight of is that God is still on His throne, He is still sovereign.  Troubled times come and go throughout history, a consequence of the fall.  But just like the “proud waves” God can say, and often has, “this far you may come and no farther!”  Or like the He commanded the angel afflicting Israel, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.

We may never know why certain troubled times come into our world.  And like Frodo, we may “wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkien).

So what do we do with the time that is given us, especially in such troubled times?  We need not fear the times or the trouble.  Concern yes, but fear, no.  For such things can only “kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

My Advice – Remember, no matter what we face, God is Sovereign.  If you know Jesus Christ you have nothing to fear, not even fear itself.

Sent Into The World

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I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.  My prayer is not for them alone.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:9, 15–18, 20, NIV 1984).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33, NIV 1984).

My Musings – It is a human trait that we often say things with equal passion and deep conviction that are contradictory.  A first impression of the two passages above, quotes from the lips and heart of Jesus, that they are also contradictory.  We might dismiss this as merely a manifestation of His fully human nature but not a reflection of His fully divine nature (perhaps we’ll discuss this apparent contradiction in a future musing).  But we would be missing the point altogether.

In the first instance, Jesus speaks about protecting us from (insulated in) the evil one, while not praying that we be taken from (isolated from) the world.  He is, in fact, intentionally sending us out into (included within) the world while not being part of (integrated into) the world.  In sending us out as “aliens” into the world, He us sending out into hostile territory.  There we will encounter natural dangers (curses of a fallen world) and be confronted by supernatural dangers (curses from a fallen angel).

Jesus does not pray that we be protected from natural dangers.  Some He will prevent and some He will permit, according to His divine will. But not without eternal purposes.  But He does pray for protection from supernatural dangers though a new divine nature (“if anyone is in Christ He is a new creation” – 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV 1984) and indwelling by the Holy Spirit (“I will not leave you orphans” – John 14:18).  This does not mean we will never give in or bow down to supernatural confrontations (temptation, persecution), but it does mean that we do not have to give in (“for the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and Godly lives in this present age” – Titus 2:12, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Just say no (by the grace of God).

What Good Will It Be

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Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  (Matthew 16:24–26, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The price of the ticket for passage is free (although it cost the Godhead plenty). The journey is not without peril.  The destination, is worth the trip.

  • Deny Oneself – To refrain from satisfying one’s own desires or needs. To put matters of The Kingdom ahead of all personal “empire building” desires or needs.  Just consider all that Jesus denied Himself. Afterall, “the world and its desires [the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does] pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  (1 John 2:15–17, NIV 1984).
  • Take Up One’s Cross – Today, the phrase is commonly understood to mean acceptance of some burdensome task.  In first century Jerusalem, it meant much more.  The scene of convicted criminals carrying their own cross to the place of execution would have been a common site.  Not long after saying these things, Jesus would be carrying own cross to pay for our crimes.  In his Gospel, Luke adds the word “daily,” meaning it was to be a continual process and not a one time trip. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices [take up your cross daily], holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NIV 1984).
  • Follow Jesus – To go or come after.  Follow His commands.  Follow His Teaching.  Follow His example.  And yes, sometimes to follow Him in death proclaiming the Gospel. “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  (1 Peter 2:20–21, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Keep your eye on the prize and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14, NIV 1984).  And take heart, because while “in this world you will have trouble, [you can] take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33, NIV 1984).