When one is cooped up in an apartment interacting with friends and family members via FaceTime and Zoom life feels very different. The happiness that comes from personal touch, freedom of movement, and worshipping with others can be drained away. Often, as happiness wanes, so too does joy. But it doesn’t have to happen that way.
Consider this, happiness is an emotion. Circumstances, like the current coronavirus crisis, can have a profound effect on one’s happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude or belief. Happiness is often dependent on external circumstances, while Joy comes from within. The greatest joy springs from a relationship with the God of the universe, and that relationship is secured by what Jesus did on the cross. When one accepts the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us, repents of their self-centeredness and asks Jesus to be lord of their lives, one begins to know joy that surpasses any measure of happiness that one might experience.
In his letter to the church at Philipi, Paul, an apostle who at the time was under house arrest in the capital city of Rome, wrote about joy—what it is, where it comes from, and how to get it. His circumstances were deplorable. Instead of a two or three-month stay at home order, he was well into a five-year stay-at-home order, with soldiers posted to make sure he obeyed. Yet he could write:
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
His joy sprung from his relationship with God and the assurance he had of spending eternity free from his physical pain and bondage. He wrote:
I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:18-24)
Paul’s focus was away from his circumstances and onto Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord. That focus led him to joy and will lead you to joy. Reading your Bible daily, and setting quiet time to pray is the best way to reclaim joy in your life.
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In times of uncertainty, knowing which step to take next can be challenging. It can particularly difficult for graduates who are not graduating because of the COVID-19 virus; for students not sure if they should return to college in the fall; for those whose jobs have been eliminated; for church, civic and business leaders struggling with decisions about when and how to reopen.
Christians, in particular, wrestle with the notion that God has a plan for their lives and the day-to-day reality that those plans seem to be in disarray. Following the example of Jesus is the best way to navigate through the uncertainty. Jesus had a mission and everything he did was focused on that mission to take the punishment for sin of all people, past, present and future, onto himself at the cross. He died so that those who accept what he did for them would become “clean” before God and know for certain that they would live forever with him. (John 5:19-24)
So determining your mission in life is an important first step in deciding what you should do with your uncertain future. That will take some work. Jesus was in regular communion with God, his father, to ensure he was “staying on course.” For you and me, regular communion with God through prayer and Bible reading will help you align your thoughts with his. That will help bring clarity to your mission in life.
In addition, as you meditate on God’s word, and learn to hear from him in prayer, your anxiety will diminish, and you will more clearly see a path before you. Ask God what he wants for your life and you may discover a future different from the one you had envisioned. Interruptions to education or a career opens new horizons.
Paul, the Apostle, went from being a persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:3) to the leading evangelist, church planter and pastor in the history of Christianity. It happened because he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9) and used his education, his speaking and writing skills, and his Roman citizenship to carry the message of Jesus throughout the Roman world.
As with Paul, once you align your thoughts with those of Jesus, you will find that the path forward will come into focus.
Jesus used a variety of ways to speak to people, but he didn’t use riddles. He spoke in parables and used illustrations to get certain points across, but he didn’t play mind games with those to whom he spoke. In fact, about the most important work he came to do, he was plain-spoken.
Early in his ministry, Jesus did not want to reveal himself to authorities as the son of God, because he had work to do to train disciples and give religious leaders time to recognize their sin and repent, so he used stories to allude to his work without being as clear as some wanted to hear, but the religious leaders understood what he was saying and didn’t like it. For example, when he spoke parables about sheep and shepherds, he wasn’t trying to get people to think about farmers out in the countryside, he was citing the revered scripture about the failure of religious leaders to lead the people in the way God directed them. (Ezekiel 34:1-6)
Sheep are woven into the fabric of the Bible story dating back to the first murder that took place when God favored the sacrifice of a sheep over that of grain. From the Passover lamb that was to be sacrificed (Exodus 12:1-30) to John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, who declared Jesus the Lamb of God, (John 1:19-34) sheep have figured prominently in God’s story. Jesus’ many audiences knew well what he was saying when he used stories about sheep (the average citizen) and the shepherds (religious leaders) who were leading them to slaughter (away from God).
Where Jesus was very direct in teaching, some, even his closest disciples, refused to believe or accept what he was saying. On three occasions Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be killed and would be raised from the dead. (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:30-32, Mark 10:32-34) But when that came to pass, they had trouble believing it.
While the Bible can sometimes be hard to understand, once we ask God, through the Holy Spirit, to open our spiritual eyes, we will gain insights and understanding that will lead us to acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God whose sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead offers us assurance of eternal pardon for our sins and an eternity in God’s presence free of guilt, pain, suffering and death.
In the biographies of Jesus, authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tells of numerous instances of Jesus healing sick people. Though these authors don’t explicitly say so, we can assume that some sick people who lived in Jesus’ time did not get healed.
For example, when Jesus went to the pool of Bethsaida, he entered a portico where many sick, lame and blind people sat beside a pool of water that they believed had healing qualities. They believed that when an angel stirred the water, the first to enter would be healed. (John 5:1-15) They did not seek Jesus’ healing, nor did he offer it. Rather he came with a specific purpose.
Jesus used the healing as a sign. He was demonstrating that he was Lord of the Sabbath. He was seen by the religious leaders of the day as violating their “law” since he was doing work (healing) on the Sabbath, a day set aside for rest. But Jesus explained that his father, God, is at work at all times, and therefore the son must work, as well. In this case the “work” was to heal a paralytic.
People who have only a cursory understanding the Bible, believe that Jesus came to earth to teach morals and perform miracles. Actually, the teaching and miracles were designed to establish Jesus’ credentials as God incarnate. His perfection allowed him to go to the cross as a perfect sacrifice to substitute his death for the deserved death of every man and woman.
Jesus didn’t heal everyone because that was not his mission. In fact, his healings were temporary. None of the people healed went on live disease- and pain-free forever. They all eventually died. This again suggests that the “miracle” Jesus performed at the pool of Bethsaida was for a reason other than to provide temporary relief from pain. His focus was on forgiveness of sin because his desire is that we will accept the sacrifice he made on our behalf and join him in heaven for an eternity of joy, forever relieved of pain and the fear of death.
All of Christianity hinges on the answer to this question. If there was no resurrection, there would be no Christianity. So what transformed 11 scared and dejected disciples into fearless ambassadors? It was Jesus’ return from the dead and subsequent ascension into heaven. There were over 500 witnesses to Jesus’ return to life after being crucified dead and buried.
Was he really dead? The Romans made no mistakes when they killed someone. They were experts at the art of death. So when a soldier wanted to hasten the death of a man who had already endured a terrible whipping and was bleeding from wounds in his hands and feet, an upward thrusting spear through a lung and into the heart would do the trick. So certain of his death were the soldiers that they didn’t break the legs of Jesus. That was the usual way Roman soldiers finished a crucifixion. They knew that once a man could no longer support himself with his legs, he would suffocate since he could no longer breathe. The soldiers also knew that Jesus wasn’t coming back to claim his robe, so they gambled to determine who would get it.
To ensure that Jesus would stay dead and that his disciples would not try to steal his body and claim he came back from the dead, the tomb was sealed and soldiers were tasked with guarding it. To fail to do so could result in their executions.
Yet, three days later, Jesus appeared to his disciples, to several women, to two men walking on the road to Emmaus, to a doubting Thomas and two others. Jesus was definitely dead and he was definitely resurrected.
His disciples witnessed his ascension into heaven. So yes, Jesus is definitely alive. It is his power and authority that holds every atom in the universe together. One day Jesus will return to earth just like he left it to rule and reign as King of kings. Given the events of these times, it could be soon. Are you ready? (see Matthew 25: 30-35)
He didn’t have to die. However, he loved you and me so much that he chose to die in our place so that we would not have to suffer the punishment for our sins.
The concept of a blood sacrifice as atonement for sin goes back to the time that man rebelled against God and the perfect creation he made for human beings. This sacrifice was codified by God when he set apart the Israelites and provided them with guidelines for living. That law included a system of sacrifices to atone for different sins. Among the sacrifices were those of animals without blemish, signifying perfection. (Leviticus 22:20) These sacrifices had to be repeated over and over since people kept sinning against God. Through the death of Jesus, God provided a once-for-all way, for the sins of men and women to be atoned.
In the New Testament, we read that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This is a reference to the perfect, sacrificial lamb that was called for in the Old Testament law.
Another John, the disciple of Jesus, who wrote an eyewitness account of the three years he spent with Jesus, explained the ultimate sacrifice that was made by Jesus, the Messiah. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) This made Jesus the ultimate sacrifice —satisfying for all time the requirements of God’s justice.
The apostle Paul wrote that “Christ died for our sins, according to Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This simple statement of fact reminds us that our personal sin, our rebellion from God, has us heading to judgement and eternal separation from God.
However, we do not have to suffer throughout all eternity.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross shows the depths of God’s love for us. (Romans 5:6-8) But it is through his resurrection that we can see God’s triumph over death. When we acknowledge that we are sinners deserving of death and accept the gift of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, we can be set free of the condemnation of sin and begin a journey that will culminate in everlasting life in the presence of God.
Yes. Fear is part of the fallen human condition. When we are confronted with something that may alter our future, we become fearful. With the 24-hour news cycle reminding us of ever-increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19, blasting out stories of deaths and body bags, and reminding us of our dire financial straits, fear is inevitable. As the disease enters our communities and we hear of a friend or neighbor that has taken ill or died, we wonder if “I’m next.”
We’re also asking how this event will change the lives of our loved ones. And we’re probably wondering why God has let this happen. Contemplating these questions leads to anxiety and fear.
Fortunately, God knows us better than we know ourselves and wants us to turn our focus from our personal situation and our inward focus to an upward focus on Him and an outward focus on others.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The Bible has a lot to say about fear. We read of great men of God who became fearful. And, we saw how God turned fear into Joy. When David was being pursued by men who wanted to kill him, he cried out to God. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you,” he wrote in Psalm 56:3. From the many Psalms David wrote we see a man who was regularly afraid but knew that God was there for him, no matter the outcome.
The apostle Paul encountered many life-threatening situations and shared what he discovered with others. In his letter to the Church in the Greek City of Philippi he wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Paul knew that we all fear, but he wanted people to understand that fear did not have to control us. He reminded his disciple, Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
In 1 John 4:18, Jesus’ disciple, John, reminded readers “that perfect love drives out fear.” Here for what is translated as “perfect” John used the Greek word, teleios, a word that means complete, finished or fully grown. He is reminding Christians that when we refocus on God’s love, a love so great that He was willing to sacrifice his own son, that we might know peace in this life and a fear-free eternity with him. It’s a journey, not a destination.
As you meditate on scripture, sing songs of joy and hope, and seek ways to help those around you who are fearful and suffering, you will find your fears receding into God’s love. In a 100-year-old gospel hymn, we are reminded that “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through; My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” COVID-19 is part of this world, not the next. It may make you sick. It may result in your financial ruin, and it might even cause your death. But don’t let fear paralyze you. Don’t be afraid to tell others of your fears and even seek professional help if necessary. But right now, stop and direct your thoughts to God. Tell him your fears, ask for his help and listen quietly for the Holy Spirit to begin guiding your thoughts.
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Since the beginning of time, plagues have altered the course of history. Some were definitely by the hand of God to punish people for their sins and to bring about a change in behavior. (Exodus 7:14-11:10) Others have been through the natural course of a fallen world. Every living organism eventually dies. Our bodies are giant chemical factories that are continually destroying cells and replacing them with new ones.
Dangerous organisms continually test our body’s defenses. Viruses live within us all the time. Sometimes a virus mutates and our body struggles to recognize and defend itself from the mutating virus that may attack and destroy other cells. All these chemical and biological actions have been created by God. He designed them for good, and created mankind in his image so that he could commune with us. But man rebelled against God and that’s where the perfect harmony between man and God broke down. (Romans 5:12)
The resulting chaos on earth and the death that accompanies it are
the punishment for man’s sin. So, in that sense, the current COVID-19 crisis is
a result of God’s wrath. But God’s chief adversary, the devil, the embodiment
of evil, has been given temporary dominion over the earth. He is responsible
for the pain, loss and fear that billions of people are now experiencing.
People are suffering and dying from the virus, but people are also suffering and dying from other diseases, wars, famines, and accidents. Death will always be part of the human condition, but Jesus came to give life. (John 10:10) His death and resurrection opened the doors to a pain-free and death-free life everlasting with God.
Whether or not the Coronavirus is a direct punishment sent by God for the sinful action of men and women around the world, we know that through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can know peace in the midst of uncertainty and fear. (Isaiah 41:10 and John 14:27) As with plagues in the past, people are searching their hearts looking for answers. Many are calling out to God for His mercy. (Revelation 21:4) He stands ready to extend it to all who trust in Him. (Revelation 3:20)
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It depends on what you mean by celebrate. There may be little harm in drinking green beer, eating corned beef and cabbage, and dancing an Irish jig, but a better celebration would be remembering who Patrick was and what he did for God.
Most people know that March 17th is a day for
celebrating Irish national heritage and a man who is said to have rid Ireland
of snakes. Many may assume because the title of Saint* precedes his name he was
a religious fellow, but few know the real story of Patrick and the role he
played in bringing Christianity to Ireland.
Patrick’s story begins sometime in the 5th century. From some of his writings we glean a story of a boy who was raised during the Roman occupation of the British Isles. His father may have been a church leader and a minor community official in Scotland or Wales. When Patrick was a teenager, he was captured by Irish marauders and sold into slavery in Ireland. There, he spent 5 years tending sheep and using his solitude to pray and sing and develop a close relationship with God. He also mastered the Celtic language that became vital for his missionary work later in life.
He escaped from slavery, returned to England and began formal study. Later he traveled to Auxerre in present day France and studied religion under St. Germain. Eventually he was promoted to the priesthood. He believed that an angel told him that the pagan people of Ireland were calling out for his return. With the blessing of the Pope in Rome, he sailed for Ireland and began telling the Druids of the true God and redemption bought at the cross by Jesus. Legend has it that he used the three-leaf shamrock to help explain the Trinity. Legend also says that he drove the snakes from the island, though scientists tell us that there were probably no snakes on the island since the end of the previous ice age.
It is not the legend we celebrate, but rather Patrick’s
boldness and fearlessness in preaching the Gospel among a very hostile, pagan
people. His missionary efforts led thousands of non-believers to give up their
idol worship and become followers of Christ. By the time of his death at the
end of the 5th century, the majority of Celts had become Christians.
So Christians and Irish Christians in particular, have good cause to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, because they are celebrating the life of a man that God ordained and commissioned to carry His good news to a spiritually dark corner of the world.
*Ironically, St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and one
of the world’s best known saints has never been canonized by the Catholic
church and therefore is a saint in name only.
At a time when Coronavirus dominates the headlines, and our
economy is disrupted with travel restrictions, closures, cancellations,
Christians must be proactive. We are not called to withdraw and distance
ourselves from others.
Sure, it is prudent to take precautions that slow the spread
of the virus, but Christians must remember that we have been called to care for
others. In the book of Matthew, we read these words of Jesus:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’“ Matthew 24:34-40
In practical terms, this means looking out for our
neighbors, particularly those who are already ill, or those who may be
quarantined. Are the elderly and infirm in your neighborhood being looked
after? Are their families that need child care because the schools are closed? Are
there individuals who need food or medicine but are unable to get it? Are there
others who can’t afford their rent or mortgage payment because they have been
laid-off? What about the students that are supposed to be engaged in online
learning, but don’t have internet connections in their homes? Each of these
situations provide opportunities for Christians to serve.
In addition, we should be praying; praying against the fear that permeates the hearts and minds of many, praying for the healing of bodies and hearts, praying for the protection of healthcare workers, emergency responders, people providing transportation and serving the public in stores, gas stations, and restaurants. And, we should be praying for the grieving—those who have lost loved ones, and those who are cut off from loved ones.
Finally, as Christians we should be praying that we would be drawn closer to God so that we will hear and respond to his call to us during these difficult times.
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