I’m afraid of the virus, is that normal?

I’m afraid of the virus, is that normal?

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.

Isaiah 41:10

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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Is the Coronavirus God’s punishment?

Is the Coronavirus God’s punishment?

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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Should Christians celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

Should Christians celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

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.

How should a Christian respond to COVID – 19?

How should a Christian respond to COVID – 19?

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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Why did Jesus turn water into wine?

Why did Jesus turn water into wine?

John, one of the disciples of Jesus, records this story of a wedding feast in which Jesus turns water into wine:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

John 2:1-10

 While this appears to be a miracle like the ones recorded in the other books about Jesus’ life, John makes clear that this is not just a neat trick, but rather has a very specific purpose. It is the first of seven signs that John describes to help his readers see that Jesus is God. In verse 11 he clearly states:

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:11

For John, sharing his eyewitness account of life with Jesus is all about showing Jesus as divine—the Son of God who was himself God.

As you read the story, you might miss the symbolism. This is not so much about great wine for revelers during a week-long wedding feast. Rather, it’s about how the containers that had been filled with water for making the Jews ceremonially clean were going to be filled with the best wine, a symbol of the blood that Jesus would shed on the cross to provide an eternal cleansing of the filth of sin.

This is the first of seven signs that John writes about so that all will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the savior of mankind.

 

Ash Wednesday isn’t in the Bible, so why do Christians observe it?

Ash Wednesday isn’t in the Bible, so why do Christians observe it?

Since the Apostolic period of the Christian church—the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus—believers have engaged in a period of focus on their sin and God’s forgiveness of that sin. This period of reflection is called Lent or Fortieth and is a period of 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, and in many church traditions is a time when Christians gather for corporate confession and individual repentance. At the end of the service, priests, pastors, or church leaders place ashes, in the sign of the cross, on the forehead of believers while saying “from dust you have come, to dust you will return.”

This is a reminder that one’s physical body is temporal, while the spirit is eternal. Therefore, a Christian is asked to reflect on his or her relationship with God and possibly set aside a habit or a pleasure for 40 days to help one focus on Jesus, his sacrifice on our behalf and on his commands to worship God and love and serve others.

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What does it mean to be ‘Poor in Spirit’?

What does it mean to be ‘Poor in Spirit’?

What does it mean to be ‘Poor in Spirit’?

The first recorded teaching of Jesus is found in the book of Matthew.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NIV)

This is considered by many scholars to be Jesus’ most important teaching. The requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven—to be with God forever—is being poor in spirit. This idea is contrary to what the world teaches, and in his day, in particular, this teaching of Jesus was revolutionary.

Many believed that being blessed was to be powerful, rich, and self-sufficient. People who were poor or lacked power, or were afflicted in one way or another were seen as not being blessed. Jesus flipped this script by pointing out that to be truly blessed one must first become poor. In order to be rich in things of the Spirit, one must become poor in things of the flesh.

The Biblical meaning of “poor in spirit” is to empty oneself. Before we can be filled with God’s blessings, we must first be emptied of our self-centeredness. We must recognize that our sin, our rebellion against God, and our pride makes us worthy of condemnation by the God who created us. When we confess that we are spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1) then we become truly “poor in spirit.”

We must understand that it is impossible to live the Christian life and to follow the teaching of Jesus on our own. If we think we are good and can follow Christ by our own strength, then we are not being poor in spirit. Now this doesn’t mean that we are to be fearful, or shy, rather poor in spirit suggests that we are to be inwardly humble.

God accepts into his Kingdom only those who truly humble themselves before Him. In the old Testament book of Isaiah, the prophet records these words of God:

I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. ( Isaiah 57:15).

Remember that in God’s sight we have nothing to boast about. We cannot boast of our wealth, our intellect, our education, our skill, our lineage or our station in life. All these things are worthless and vain. We can bring nothing to God. We can only come to God as empty beings relying on God’s mercy to fill us with spiritual blessings. That’s what it means to be poor in spirit.

Are you ready to humble yourself and submit to God, praying that in due time he will lift you up and make you truly blessed?

What’s the difference between Heaven and Eternal Life?

What’s the difference between Heaven and Eternal Life?

In one sense, they are the same. Heaven is a place where time will not exist as we know it on Earth. This means life in heaven will be eternal; no more death. Heaven is a destination Jesus promised for all who put their trust and faith in him as their Savior. He is the only way to that eternal place of peace, joy, abundant love and eternal life. In John 14:3, Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be also.” That is one of the greatest promises ever made to mankind. It’s called God’s grace. God giving us something we did not deserve and never could earn by our own good works.

In another sense, eternal life is much more than heaven. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life; that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” ( John 17:3)  What this simply means is that when you have an intimate personal life with Jesus as your Lord and Savior you have eternal life here and now. Then you will experience an abundant and exciting adventure with the one through whom God created the entire universe. 

As you let Jesus transform your life into his image you will see and experience life as you never could have imagined. Then you have eternal life and your spirit/soul will never die. It will go to heaven where one day you will get a glorious new eternal body. That is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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How tolerant should a Christian be of other viewpoints?

How tolerant should a Christian be of other viewpoints?

Understanding what you mean by tolerance is an important first step in answering this question. Tolerance once meant a free and open discussion in search of the truth. Modern science is based on searching for the truth. Tolerance used to be a respectful discourse open to “all points of view”.

Today, however, the word has taken on a new meaning. Many in Western culture today view tolerance as accepting any and all viewpoints as being equally valid so long as those viewpoints comport with their worldviews. They no longer view truth as absolute and reject scientific reality. As a result, they are no longer tolerant of traditional systems that provide guidelines for moral living and governing

For example, many today deny God’s truth, as found in the Bible, a gold standard for morality and reason that has guided mankind for thousands of years. The result is the moral decline of society. That decline includes, but is not limited to, lying, fraud, failure to protect the sanctity of life, immorality, infidelity, disrespect for authority, selfishness, greed, and much more. Secular tolerance has become a new god where people offend no one and stand for nothing. The only thing they don’t tolerate is Christian and biblical truths. This new notion of tolerance is leading to chaos and loss of freedoms.

Interestingly, Jesus, God’s son, entered the world during a time when many of the so-called faith leaders showed no tolerance for those who did not strictly subscribe to their way of doing things. That intolerance was couched in religious terms so as to suggest that one group of people, the elite, had it right and everyone else needed to live by their standards — their version of truth.

In his Sermon on the Mount, and throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated by words and deeds, that he would not be tolerant of the beliefs or behavior of others who had a warped view of God’s teaching. He turned the system upside down by restoring a right-reading of scripture and calling people to give up their sinful ways. He went so far as to go to the cross to die in the place of you and me so that our wrongdoings could be paid for and we could become Children of God.

This truth has had a profound impact on world over the last two thousand years. Yes indeed! If Christianity is not the truth, then the Christian faith does not matter. History suggests strongly that Christian faith and the truth do matter. Western civilization is rooted in the Christian experience and worldview. When Christian truths are replaced by the god of tolerance, America, as we have known it — it’s virtues, values and freedoms will no longer exist. Jesus said,  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Yes, Truth matters! Our democracy and our freedoms depend upon it. Never be afraid to defend the truth that makes you free.

So. does that mean that Christians should not be tolerant of other viewpoints? No. But Christians should not mistake tolerance as acceptance. When other viewpoints go against the expressed teachings of God, Christians should challenge them. For example, God’s clear teaching on marriage, sexuality, the sanctity of life, divorce, the role of the government, murder, lying, and stealing represent truth on which a Christian should stake out a position when confronted by others who demand acceptance of their positions under the guise of tolerance.

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Why did God let Job suffer?

Why did God let Job suffer?

The book of Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible and is considered by scholars to be the oldest piece of literature to survive into the present. Some say it is an allegory, but many Biblical scholars note that Job is spoken of in the Ezekiel as a real person like Noah and Daniel, and in the book of James, Job is cited as an example of patience, suggesting a real rather than a fictional character. That’s important, because if Job was a real person, then then the gravity of your question increases significantly.

Job is about how a man’s trust in God is greater than Satan’s ability to tempt him to give it up. God allows Job to endure hardship and loss. And that hardship and loss is well beyond that which most of would endure, but he does not allow Satan to take Job’s life.  

What we observe is life not being fair. Job’s story is an object lesson for all of us.  Life isn’t fair, but God is just. He gives us all equal amounts of grace and mercy to allow us to grow through the circumstances that this unfair life causes us to go through. For Job those circumstances were terrible. Nonetheless, God’s grace and mercy shine through when Job does not turn his back on God. God restores Job’s health and his riches—not because Job was good, but because God is merciful.

Matthew reminds us that God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45) God loves all of His creation equally and is not a “respecter of persons.” He knows that we may make bad decisions and suffer as a result. He also knows that we may suffer through no fault of our own. While Satan reigns on earth, evil and death will infect it. However, God’s desire is for every one of us to be saved and live with Him forever at peace, secure in his love for us.

Jesus comforts us through his words:

“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

The circumstances of this world can get us down sometimes, but take heart and anticipate Christ’s return!

Illustration by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0