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Back to Basic: Building your Spiritual Endurance

Back to Basics: Building Spiritual Endurance

Traveling Back to Basics

When facing a new challenge, it is common practice for us  to “return to basics.”  It is in the returning that strengths are honed and minds prompted to those things that never change.

In early March we introduced the series, Back to Basics.  Its intent was to help believers return to biblical principles that strengthen our faith and that guard our hearts—hearts facing the challenge of 21st century living (Prov. 4:23).

We are using the “ABC’s” as the framework for this series.  We began with the letter A—Accepting the Mind of Christ.  Today we will move to the letter B—Building Spiritual Endurance.

The Need for Building Spiritual Endurance

Living in this postmodern era, our faith is constantly bombarded by alternatives to the teachings of the Word of God.  The Apostle Peter warned of such assaults as he prepared young Timothy, the new elder of the church at Ephesus.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2 Tim. 4:3-5)

We are living in those same times today.

In addition, we are thrust into  challenges we have never faced before with the introduction of the coronavirus into our nation and into our communities .  Pandemic deaths, resource shortages, and economic upheaval are requiring us to restructure our institutions and traditions to fit this new normal.

Biblical basics for the new reality

It is also critical that we return to biblical basics in order to move through the challenges that lie ahead.  These basics will guide us as we create new realities based on the changes we are now experiencing.  For this journey, we will need spiritual endurance (Is. 40:29; Deut. 31:8; Matt. 19:26).

Noted theologian and teacher, Alistair Begg has often stated that, “Endurance is a key indicator of spiritual fitness.”  The world tempts us to take the easy way around our problems.  We are encouraged to “walk through them” so that we might be strengthened and become mature Christians (James 1:2-4).

Time to Strengthen Up

The author of Hebrews offers the following text to help us understand the need for spiritual endurance and our role in obtaining it.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!   (Hebrews 12:12-13, The Message)

Although there may be debate as to who authored this general epistle, there is little doubt it was written to people in need of spiritual endurance.  Much like us they were living in the midst of life threatening challenges and change.  They were thrust into situations which they, too, had never faced before.

In Hebrews 11, the author introduces his readers to Old Testament believers whose faith helped them to endure and persevere in spite of enormous obstacles.  He expands this teaching in Hebrews 12 by providing the ultimate model of spiritual endurance—“Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (v. 2) who endured the Cross in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation.  It is with these examples in mind that we are able to endure and push forward in faith (Heb. 12:3).  We can be assured that if we endure, then we will be rewarded (Gal. 6:9).

Running the race with endurance

Against this backdrop the author illustrates spiritual endurance with the metaphor of a race.  The writer warns that “holey paths” and “sprained ankles” might render the runner incapable of completing the race.  We are to “strengthen” our feeble arms and weak knees and “make level the paths” for the feet (NIV).   Then we are prepared to complete the race successfully.

The process outlined in our Hebrew text is not dissimilar to what we need to build spiritual endurance in the 21st century—especially if we are to navigate successfully through the coronavirus pandemic.

How do we building spiritual endurance for today

When adverse circumstances and difficulties occur in our life, instead of complaining, we are to accept the discipline it offers and be strengthened through it.  During those times, God has provided the resources we need to “push through.”

The first is God’s Word.  We are called to act on the truth that has been revealed in Scripture concerning spiritual endurance.  It has been commanded (Matt. 10:22; 2 Tim. 2:3), exemplified (2 Tim. 2:10; Heb. 10:32-33) and rewarded (2 Tim. 3:1; James 1:12).

Our spiritual endurance is predicated on the fact that God has given us everything we need to live in this present age (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Every promise of God is “Yes and Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).

We can be assured that God will give us the strength to endure trying times based on His faithfulness and the veracity (truthfulness) of His Word.

The second is the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who is there to strengthen and keep us.  With His assistance we are able to do all things (Phil 4:13) and complete the work God has designated us to do (Phil. 1:6).

The third resource is the community of faith.  The Holy Spirit has gifted both the universal and local church “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ep. 4:12). It is in community that believers find encouragement and support for spiritual growth and development.

Spiritual Endurance=Staying Power

Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit and in Christian community the believer is able to build spiritual endurance.  The writer of Hebrews gives sage advice as to how we can build spiritual endurance and in so doing increase our “staying power” for the Lord.  It is in God that we will find your “second wind” for the challenges of 21st century living.

Next week, we will continue with our Back to Basic series and explore C—Confessing our faith with confidence.

Charting the Path Forward

Charting the Path Forward

Charting the Path:  The Challenge

What’s next?  Where do we go from here as we prepare to re-enter the world of the coronavirus pandemic?  I searched the internet to see what questions people might be asking during this time and was surprised by the shortage of current information as to what’s on people’s minds. 

I know as a nation we are divided as to when and how to emerge from sheltering in place.  We can’t even agree on “to mask or to unmask”.  And shamefully, people are even violent about that!

Businesses want to know when they can re-open and how to do it safely.  Employees want to insure their workplace is safe and that they will be protected from potential infection.

And the rest of us, want to make sure we have the basics for living (at least I just want the basics)—food, water, shelter, and protection (especially from people who feel their will is more important than mine).

Questions for the Charting

Now that the nation is reopening, how do we begin to chart a path forward, especially in the midst of frayed emotions and opposing opinions?  Can we move forward in the midst of this deadly pandemic? How can we balance public health with economic well-being?  The bigger question for people of faith in this crisis is, “where is God and what is He saying to us?”

Moral Courage needed for charting the path

Last week I introduced the topic of courage in the midst of the coronavirus.  I referenced two (2) types of courage—physical and moral courage.  Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, even death or threat of death.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.

To date, popular opposition has been fierce on every aspect of managing this pandemic.  It will further heighten upon re-entry, especially as we begin to develop strategies to move forward in this fight.  Shame and personal loss is being experienced by those of us who must do without or ask for help as roles have been reversed because of financial losses due to COVID-19.

Moral courage is needed if America is to successfully move forward.  To forge creative new methods to do their work, businesses with need moral courage.  Moral courage will be essential as cities manage our communities with fewer resources.  Individuals and families will need moral courage just to live one day at a time until a solution is developed.

The one thing we all must deal with is how to reconcile the loss of life and its further escalation as we no longer shelter in place.    In charting a path forward, that reality and the ability to act rightly will be among the biggest challenges we will face.

Moral courage and fear

While the definitions of courage tend to infer that bravery is “without fear”, I’d like to offer the view that fear, in some instances, can provide the motivation for courageous acts. For example, we might fear the negative consequence that might occur if we choose to do nothing.  In that case, fear of the negative consequence becomes the stimulus for action.  Some have said that the re-opening of America is only the end of the first chapter in this crisis.   Can fear of life with the coronavirus move us to exercise moral courage rather than choosing to do nothing?

Daniel Putman, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, in an article entitled, The Emotions of Courage, offers a similar opinion that courage can involve deliberate choice in the face of painful or fearful circumstances, especially if something of value is at risk.  Can the risks associated with the coronavirus move us to moral courage?

Choose moral courage

To close this teaching, I’d like to share five (5) commitments you can choose to make each day to begin exercising moral courage in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  I have added biblical texts to each for your reading and meditation.

Choose to…

Be faithful to God.  Let the world see Jesus in you,

Colossians 2:6-7

Be discerning.  Examine everything carefully. 

Proverbs 4:5-7

Be brave.  Speak up.  Show up.  Stand up.  

Psalm 118:5-7

Persevere.  Keep on even when it’s hard and messy.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Be generous.  Return to others what God has gifted you with.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11

This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive.  I invite you to add to them and share with us in the comments below or on the WordBytes Community Page.

Finally here is the answer to the question, “where is God and what is He saying to us?”

And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.  Deuteronomy 31:8 (KJV)

Courage under COVID-19

Courage under COVID-19

What does courage under COVID-19 look like?  We’ve all heard the term “courage under fire”.  It is generally used to describe one’s behavior under duress or when one is facing extreme danger.  It describes the heroic efforts of a person who defers their own personal safety for the betterment or life of another.  COVID-19 is definitely a fire that is consuming not only our nation, but also the world.  So what’s the connection between courage and the coronavirus?

A time for courage

Our nation is at a precipice (a very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one). Our public health systems are strained and our financial prowess has been weakened. The death count from the pandemic is growing exponentially.  This “cliff” is the coronavirus.

As we prepare to reopen our country, we need to position ourselves to make the hard decisions required to move our nation through this very dangerous period. When will businesses open?  Will I still have a job? When will our schools resume normal operations?  How do we reopen America safely?

To answer these tough questions, we will need courage; courage to create innovative and diverse options to navigate safely into a new world.  This new world will be very different than when we first began.  It will be a world that will also require God’s wisdom to succeed.

Critical decisions will be made by public officials both locally and nationally that will undoubtedly impact how we will operate for months—perhaps even years to come.   The question is this.  Do we have the courage to make the right decisions—decisions that are best for all the people?

Courage defined

The word courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, or pain, without fear.  Brené Brown, professor, lecturer, and author adds additional fodder for us to consider concerning courage.

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”  

Courage has also been described as the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, even death or threat of death.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.[1]

The question for America is, “are we willing to exercise moral courage in order to move us through this next phase of COVID-19?”

Moral courage in action

Jesus knew the Disciples would need both physical and moral courage.  In Matthew 10 he prepares his disciples for their missionary trip to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.  While Jesus equipped then spiritually to perform their duties, he also gave them specific instructions as to how they were to respond to the attacks they would invariably encounter.

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.   You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Verses 16-18, 21-22)  

Jesus knew that the Disciples He chose to build the Kingdom of God would be faced with establishing a new normal. As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, life as mankind knew it, would never be the same.  Relationships within families would change for those who would follow Christ (Luke 18:28-29).  Business practices would change (Luke 19:8).  Even worship would look very different (Acts 4:32-35).  It would not be possible to return to business as usual.   After COVID-19, we will not be able to return to business as usual.

The Disciples would not only need physical courage in implementing the Great Commission but also moral courage as they faced popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, and personal loss.

Jesus knew the Disciples might be tempted to return to the old way of living life, but He cautiously warned them to show their courage by doing the morally right thing (Matt. 10:28):  And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Just as Jesus prepared his Disciples for the new normal that would change the world, we too must be prepared for the radical changes that will be needed as we emerge from our shelter in place.  And how will we emerge?  Will we operate out of fear because of the potential scarcity of food, lack of jobs, and loss of income? Or will we be more aware, more compassionate, and willing to help others in need?    Will we have the courage to participate in the creation of something better than we had before?

What does courage look like under COVID-19?

As COVID-19 continues to move across this nation and shelter in place orders are lifted, we hear the cries of a fractured and divided nation.  Mask or unmask?  Life or livelihood?   Essential versus unessential workers.  Worker safety or food on the grocery shelves.  We need courage and God’s guidance to help us decide what is best for our communities, our country and our world.

Courage was once thought to originate from the heart. Courage under COVID-19 begins with the realization that the “greater good” supersedes any personal rights we may currently possess.  It describes a new moral model for understanding that we are inexplicably connected to each other not only by our desire to eradicate COVID-19 but also by our humanity. Join us next week as we continue our discussion on courage under COVID-19.

[1]  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

The Other Side of COVID-19

Other Side of COVID-19My view of the other side of COVID-19

Let me begin this WordBytes by thanking each of you for your feedback on the topics we have discussed during these weeks of sheltering in place (SIP).  It has truly been a new experience for each of us as we try to adjust to the awkwardness of staying connected while far apart.  Hopefully, we are learning more about who we are, our personal resiliency and about the tenderness God has for us as we “walk through the valley of death” (Ps. 23:4).  While some may not share my view, I believe with God, we will successfully make it to the other side of COVID-19.  The real question is, “what will be our testimony and our contribution on the other side?”

Pandemic and me

I have never personally experienced a pandemic of this magnitude—especially one that is claiming the extraordinary number of lives and decimating our world economy.  I was four (4) years old when I became a victim of the polio epidemic of the 1950s.  My mother often told me how many parents in our neighborhood would walk on the other side of the street from our house for fear that their children would also contract the disease.

But God protected my family.  None of my siblings became infected by the disease and I’m here today to share my story.  We too, will live to tell our individual stories about COVID-19 because I agree with the psalmist who wrote, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. (Ps. 118:17, NKJ).  Instead of declare, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) phasing is “and recount the deeds of the Lord.”  What will we recount on the other side of COVID-19?

Recounting God

There is a reason to recount our experiences especially during times of pain and struggle.  As the children of Israel journeyed to the Promise Land, they often left memorials along the way.  They did this to remember the mercies of God and to express their gratitude for God’s provision.  Whether it was an altar (Ex. 17:15) or a stack of stones on the other side of the Jordan (Deut. 27:4-7), it was important that those who had experienced God’s provision and intervention declare those deeds to future generations.  What memorials will we create on the other side of COVID-19 to declare the works of the Lord to future generations?

Throughout the biblical text, God has shown Himself to be a strong Deliverer.  He rescued His people from all types and various forms of dangers; whether it was “the snare of the fowler or the noisome (deadly) pestilence.” (Ps. 91:3) God honored His covenants and kept all His promises.

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there.   And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.                                                                                                 (Joshua 21:43-45)

God expects right relations

Even in the administration of life in the Promise Land, God expected Israel to live in right relationship with others—even those who were subjugated through conquest by Israel.  Consequently, systems were put in place to care for the needs of all people (Deut. 33).  These systems were to emulate the same oversight God had extended to Israel.  God’s love, grace, and mercy was evident from the day of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to their final conquest of Canaan.  How will we express God’s oversight for all people on the other side of COVID-19?

God will contend for us

God will bring us through this pandemic. HE will contend for us.  It is His nature as our heavenly Father to provide for and to protect His children (Ps. 103:13; Matt. 6:26).  As God made provisions to care for all the people in Canaan, on the other side of Egypt, He will do the same for our country.  And who will be the conduit of God’s provision?  It must be each of us.  “As good stewards of the manifold blessings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:10) let us prepare to serve on the other side of COVID-19.

As I read my paper and listen to the various news broadcasts, there is much being said about the current state of COVID-19 in our nation and in our cities. Living in these times feels surreal yet I know these times are very real—requiring “serious and watchful prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).

Praying for the Other Side

Let us begin to pray TODAY over many areas that will need God’s love, grace, and mercy on the other side of COVID-19.  Here is my short-list.  Feel free to develop and share your list.

  • Our children, our teachers, and our schools—they need a future.
  • Our healthcare systems, our social systems, our justice systems—they need an advocate.
  • Our communities, our families, and our parents—they need connection.
  • The aged and the young—they need to be valued.
  • The poor, the homeless and the disenfranchised—they need a voice.

Let us begin praying today for a better life for all, on the other side of COVID-19.

Post-COVID-19: In God’s Presence

Preparing for Post-COVID-19

Last week we spoke of the emotional toll being inflicted on our nation as we move through COVID-19. This pandemic has dominated social media, all the news channels, and all the talk shows.  Whether the topic is sports, theatre, or fine arts, the question that people seek an answer for is the same.  “Will life ever be the same?”  “Will we ever return to normal?”  “What will post-COVID-19 look like?”

Early days of COVID-19 global pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves throughout the world Some countries have been affected more severely than others.  What started with a few deaths in Wuhan, China, in November 2019 has now become a full-fledged outbreak.

Life with COVID-19

It’s been 30+ days since we obeyed the initial mandate to shelter in place.  We have donned the appropriate protective wear—our gloves and our masks.  We now adhere to social distancing guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  In the grocery store and in the post office, we stand behind the yellow line and growl, appropriately, at those who get too close to us.  “Will life ever be the same?”

Unfortunately we’re not able to influence the federal government’s plan to combat this disease nor are we able to provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) that nurses and doctors so desperately need.  We haven’t the financial resources to employ those who now are without jobs nor can we comfort the 40,000 families who have lost loved ones due to the virus.  “Will we ever return to normal?”

How are you?

With all that’s happening to and around us, I have one question for you.  How are you doing?  I mean really, what are you thinking and feeling in this moment as you read this WordBytes?   While the news addresses the global view of COVID-19, it fails to fully understand the emotional and financial stain on our households.  They cannot enter into the four-walls in which we live and listen to the dialogue we are having with our children and our friends.  It is within these four walls that real change and creation of new norms must begin.

It is natural and appropriate that we attempt to focus our efforts on those things that can affect; those things that will add some sense of normalcy for our families in a world that appears to be spinning out of control.  What can we do?

Begin building spiritual resiliency

We can begin to combat the effects of this pandemic by strengthening our spiritual resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability of an object to “rebound or spring back” to its original shape after being stretched or compressed.  Spiritual resiliency, however, is more.  It is about not only bouncing back but also gaining greater strength and capacity than originally possessed. 

As believers, we understand that it is God in us (1 John 4:4) that provides us the ability  to not only bounce back, but to come back even stronger than before (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  God > COVID-19!

Life in God’s Presence

To build spiritual resiliency, we must put ourselves in the presence of God.  The psalmist understood this when he confidently wrote:

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  (Ps. 139:7-8)

God’s presence offers extraordinary benefit and impact for believers during COVID-19 and beyond.

First, knowing God is everywhere offers us great comfort.  If we have learn one thing from this pandemic it is that we must be ever vigilant—watching for potential risks and dangers that may threaten us physically, financially, and/or socially.  To know that we are never out of the presence of God should settle the faint-hearted.  God alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).

Secondarily, believers living in the presence of God possess great confidence knowing that He is ever-present. In these critical times, recognizing that the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comforts our hearts and eases our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).

Finally, living in God’s presence provides us great clarity as to how we are to live during these tumultuous times (Titus 2:11-13).  This acknowledgment requires that we live obediently according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Yes, even in the midst of this pandemic! (Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 1 John 2: 16-17)

It is in the presence of God that we will find our way through COVID-19 and ultimately, to the other side—mentally resilient, emotionally strong and spiritually fit.

God’s Reality lived in Post-COVID-19

The believer’s life and reality is derived from living in the presence of God.  As believers, we seek His will—the divine purpose of the all-knowing and ever-present God.  Our reality recognizes that God is the center of our universe and it is God who sustains us and keeps us (Ps. 3:5; Heb. 1:3).

In the presence of God we will find not only what we need to survive today but also prepare us for tomorrow.  Even in a post-COVID 19 world.   Will our lives ever be the same?  With God, I pray that our lives will be better!

Mental and Emotional Health during COVID-19

 

mental and emotional health during COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic has centered on both its physical and financial impacts, let us not fail to also focus on the mental and emotional health of Americans.  Mental health during and after COVID-19 is the new crisis we must begin to address for all people—even the people of God

Real-time trauma

The novelty of SIP—shelter in place—is growing old.

The strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic now threatens the mental and emotional health of  our homes and our nation.  Viewed from a variety of platforms—newspaper, television or internet—we are experiencing trauma “real-time” as it moves across this nation.

Trauma is the emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury.  COVID-19 is trauma that continues daily and will continue to impact us long after it ends.  We begin our day with the latest death toll for our nation and the world.  We end our day with questions as to if we, our family members or friends will be added to that count on tomorrow.

Trauma also occurs when there is a denial of something needed by an individual i.e., the lack of nurturing for a newborn child.  There is no doubt emotional trauma incurred as we are hindered from the two key things God has created us for—purposeful activity and relationship with one another.

And what of the economic trauma being felt by all Americans?  Shattered retirement accounts.  Shuttered businesses.  Unemployment of millions.  Cars lineup for miles as people seek food and other necessities for their families.  Many local pantries have been emptied while those that remain are strained by unrelenting requests for help.

Trauma now and trauma later

A recent interview with Dr. David Kaplin, president of the New York State Psychological Association explored how people are coping with anxiety, sadness, and grief.   How are they handling their  mental and emotional health during COVID-19?  He had these key thoughts to share.

I don’t think the world’s going to be the same.  I think with the loss of jobs—even after the virus is gone, people are still going to struggle.  They’re going to struggle with “How am I going to pay my rent, my mortgage? How am I going to feed my family?”  So, it’s going to be an ongoing stressor for many people in this country. What do you do when a person had their identity taken away from them because they no longer can work? 

Anxiety, sadness, and grief

Anxiety, sadness, and grief accurately describe the range of emotions we are feeling as we move through this pandemic.  Psalm 55 captures these same emotions as the psalmist describes his “fight or flight” response to the pending threat he faces.

My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.  And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.  (Psalm 55:4-6)

This individual lament reflects the unbearable frustration of being in a situation “outside” of one’s control.  Is that not how we feel with regard to the COVID-19 virus?  Like the psalmist, it would be so much better if we could be “somewhere else”.

“Cast your burden…”

After much trepidation, the psalmist ends his cry for help.  Emotionally drained and exhausted, he realizes that there is only one way—the best way to release himself from this dilemma and the trauma that it is creating.  He must remove himself from the situation and “cast his burden upon the Lord”.

To cast is translated to mean “to throw, hurl or fling”.  To cast anything upon God is to relinquish control to God for His “providential disposition” (Neh. 9:6).  This same meaning is conveyed in Psalm 37:5 when the righteous are reminded to “commit their way to the LORD, trust in him, and he will act on their behalf.”

As God’s people, we must trust and believe that our burden is God’s burden.  God is for us and He cares about everything that keeps us awake at night—our family, our provision, and our future.  To cast our burden upon God is to anchor our lives on His providence and His promise.

“God will sustain you.”

God will sustain us.  While we have no forecast as to when this pandemic may end, we have the blessed assurance that God will sustain or “hold us up.”

In this context, the psalmist conveys the assurance that God will defend our cause, as though we were before a tribunal.  Regardless of the forces that attempt to negatively impact us—forces seen or unseen—God will hold us up and intercede on our behalf.  How does God sustain?  God gives us hope while we are in our circumstance.

I have hope when I see the kindness of others being extended to individuals during this time of crisis.  I see God’s hand moving on our behalf.

    • National banks allowing forgiveness of debt while people are out of work
    • Local landlords giving free rent
    • Young people volunteering to shop for their elderly neighbors, and
    • Individuals donating millions to replenish food banks

When I see these things, I see God is sustaining us.  Look around you, where do you see God sustaining you?  Where do you see God sustaining this nation?

“…the righteous will not be moved.”

God’s faithfulness will “never suffer the righteous to be move”.  What does that mean?

The psalmist encouraged himself and all people to commit themselves to God, with confidence.  God does not promise that He will immediately deliver us from the trouble that causes our cares and fear; but He will insure that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to handle (1 Cor. 10:13).

God has promised that He will never suffer the righteous to be shaken by any trouble as to quit either their duty to God or their comfort in Him.   For He that began a good work in us is able to complete it (Phil. 1:6).   And if we, in our humanism should falter…if we should fall…God will lift us with His righteous right hand (Ps. 37:23-25).

Starting today, release the burden of COVID-19.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.  Do you believe in God?  Then cast your burden…your anxiety, your sadness, your grief, your fear on God.  Let us as believers in the Resurrected Christ cast COVID-19 on the Lord.  He is the only One who can do something about it!

Shelter in Place, Part 2

shelter in place
Where is your focus during COVID-19?

As we continue to shelter in place, how are we Christians to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?  Do we respond in fear or in panic?

Fear while you SIP

Fear is usually an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  It also is an emotion gifted to us in order to protect us from danger and harm.  It is good when it accomplishes this purpose.

COVID-19 is something that we have reason to fear—for ourselves, for our families, and for our friends.  It threatens to impact the health and the very life of individuals.  As the numbers affected by this disease continue to rise, it could also impact the future existence of our communities and cities.  But is COVID-19 something that should cause us to panic?

Panic with social distancing

Panic is the sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.  Left unresolved,  it can lead to serious physical side effects such as panic disorder.  This type of fear serves no good purpose to those experiencing it.

COVID-19 has, in many instances, caused us to panic—as seen in the stampede to buy and horde toilet paper, rubber gloves, and facial masks.  Unsure of the future, investors panic—quickly selling off their once valuable portfolios as the once bullish market falls to record lows.  While panic may be the common response to circumstances we feel are out of our control, it is doubtful that it is the best response.

The Best Response while you shelter

I’d like to use wisdom drawn from the chronicles of the nation of Judah and its King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-4, 12, NKJ) to illustrate the “best response” to fear.

It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat.   Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).  And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.

“…For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Jehoshaphat feared.  Much like us during this pandemic, Jehoshaphat had no solution nor could He offer any protection for his people—at least not in the physical realm.  Jehoshaphat immediately set Himself to seek the LORD—Jehovah, the God of his Father, the God of heaven who rules over all kingdoms (2 Chron. 20:6).

The Geneva Bible Notes communicates what 2 Chron. 20:3 can teach believers about fear during this time of COVID -19.

This verse declares that fear for the godly is that which pricks and stirs them to prayer and to depend on the Lord, while it moves the wicked either to seek after worldly means and policies or else to fall into despair.

The Ultimate Solution

While fear is designed to protect us from those things which may harm us, fear for Christians should serve as stimuli for prayer and for dependence on God.  God is the primary source of our strength and confidence in the time of trouble (Prov. 18:10).  God alone holds the Ultimate Solution for the COVID-19 threat.

As Jehoshaphat prayed, he demonstrated a humble spirit and acknowledged the limitation that every “created beings” must confess—we cannot solve our problems without the intervention of God.  We like Jehoshaphat, must first humble ourselves and acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic exceeds our intellectual capacity, our financial resources, and our political influence.  We need God’s intervention.

God’s response to Jehoshaphat was instructive and “crystal clear” (2 Chronicles 20: 15, 17-18).

Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.   Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you. 

And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD. 

Jehoshaphat and his people were not to fear because “the battle was God’s”.  God would be the one to deliver them from the danger they faced.  Their belief was witnessed by their praise of God before the battle was ever fought.  They were sure that God would do what He said He would do.  They trusted and believed that God, not only COULD deliver them but that God would deliver them.   Are we as believers ready to praise God now for the victory over COVID-19?

Jehoshaphat and his people were to only “take their position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on their behalf” (verse 17, RSV).  God promised that He would be with them.  Jehoshaphat and his people would trust God and place their confidence on one thing—God’s presence. 

Do you believe?

Do you believe that God will deliver us from the COVID-19 pandemic?  God stand ready today to be our Deliverer.    God’s presence is with us and He will never leave us (Matt. 28:20).  In addition, even in the midst of this threat we have Jesus’ peace—not as the world gives—but a peace that will sustain us and strengthen us for whatever lies ahead (John 14:27; Phil. 4:6-7).

I know many of us want this pandemic to end so that we can return to “normalcy”.  This is our desire and a typical response to fear and pain.  However, now is a good time to ask, “What is God’s desire for me during and after COVID-19?”   This same question can be asked of this nation, our communities, and our churches?  What “position are we to take” as we prepare to see the victory of the LORD manifested during this pandemic?  AND what does “victory” look like?  A bustling economy or saved souls?  The return to spectator sports or the revival of family worship?  Partisan politics or a united country?

What’s Your Response to COVID-19?

What is your response to COVID-19?    Where will you focus your eyes?  On man’s restricted resources or God’s infinite power, unlimited grace, and enduring mercy (Exod. 15:11).

Yes, we need a solution—we need support for those on the frontline battling for our lives.  But more than anything, we need God’s intervention and God’s strength for the days ahead.  With God as our Protector and Provider, we have no need to panic.  “Fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you.” 

Shelter in Place, Part 1

shelter in place

Shelter in Place–part of the new normal?

What has been your response to the shelter in place order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? As I check with friends, I find they are all over the map and rightly so. Children must now receive their educational instruction at home. Parents are expected to step into roles they never planned for as teachers and activity coordinators.

Also read: What makes a spiritually vibrant household?

“This doesn’t feel normal!”

And even greater impact is the disruption to our jobs and incomes. Will we still have jobs when this is over? How are we to manage if this crisis extends beyond 30 days (and it possibly will)?
We all know the reasons why this shelter in place order has occurred. It’s for our safety. It’s for our protection. So how do we begin to accept our present reality and move forward into this “new normal”? I’m not talking about—“sucking it up and keep it moving”—oblivious to the reality of the threat we are experiencing, but garnering the courage to live each day with the expectation that we will get through this because we are God’s children and God will direct our path (Prov. 3:5-7). The key question is, “are we in the right, spiritual position to receive what God has for us while we shelter in place?” (Ps. 46:1)

Getting the Most Out of Today

Shelter in place has made me aware of the need to fully focus on the day at hand. In the weeks before I was like everyone else who tried to anticipate what would be needed to stay in for a few days. My focus then was on “tomorrow”.

Now sequestered in my home (I thank God for having a home), I am tempted to regret what I didn’t do. I am bullied by “should have” and “could have”. “I should have picked up two more cans of tuna or I could have gotten my hair colored (yikes—there’s gray everywhere!).” Now, I had fallen prey to focusing on the “past.” Who will save me from myself?

Jesus Gives Great Advice

Jesus gave excellent advice to a group who joined Him for an impromptu lunch on a mountainside. They were anxious. Much like we are today as we shelter in place.  They were worried about their families, their current needs, and their future. Jesus offered them their first lesson in mindfulness—giving full attention to the present moment.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. Matthew 6:34 (RSV)

I’m a quick learner and am going to follow Jesus’ advice and practice being more mindful about my time with Him, with my family, and with my friends. It’s so much better than eating my way into a hole for the next 30 days and binging on Law and Order reruns.

I am finding that this time—though extremely difficult—can become a period for spiritual exploration and personal discovery. There is so much to learn about God, His faithfulness, and His direction for our lives. God is in control and God is moving—and when God moves things happen.

Just Ask!

Each day I ask myself a series of questions, which creates “intentional space” in which Jesus can “re-align” me with His will and His purpose. Afterwards, I journal what God impresses on my heart.

How does God want to mature me during this time? While we attempt to educate our children remotely, God is also extending His wisdom and understanding to each of us. God has, through this event, developed a specific “IEP”—Individual Educational Plan—for each of us.

If I had to determine the IEP for this nation, it would include the need to learn how to LOVE LIKE CHRIST—do good, extend mercy, and practice compassion (Acts 10:38). And what might we need to learn? Selflessness. Moderation. Simplicity. Patience. Humility.

Living in this multigenerational world we might also learn to be more long-suffering and kind with our children and with the elderly.

How does God want to use me during this time? Now this may seem like a silly question seeing we are unable to move freely during this time of shelter in place. However this is a great time to look beyond our spatial limitations and move into the spiritual realm.

Begin each day with intercessory prayer. Start a card ministry (the postal system is still available). Use your technology to serve others—develop an outreach call list. Volunteer to teach a ZOOM Bible study. Start a daily prayer line. Plant those seeds, knowing that God will multiply them. (Eph. 2:10)

What does God want me to learn during this time? My first response to the pandemic was that God is punishing the world for its sinful ways. Is that correct? I don’t know if that is what God is doing! “Who has known the mind of God or who has God asked for advice?” (Rom. 11:34)

But I DO KNOW that God is sovereign and nothing comes to us that is not first been filtered through God’s will. COVID-19 and its economic impacts did not take God by surprise. God is still in CONTROL.

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said: “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? (2 Chronicles 20:5-6)

But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Next week we will continue our discussion on sheltering in place and how God is moving in the world. In the meanwhile trust God, live by faith, and know that God will take care of you.

Visit our FaceBook Community page and let us know how you are handling this “shelter in place” period. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Bible Basics: Accepting the Mind of Christ

 

bible basics

WE NEED BIBLE BASICS

It’s time to get back to Bible basics.  With the entrance of each new century, breakthroughs occur which seem to amaze mankind and contribute to exponential growth and possibilities for mankind.

However, even with the advent of new thinking and extraordinary technology, as Solomon once stated, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).  We continue to be plagued with the difficulties of managing relationships, occupations, and our own “inner demons.”  We cry out for a “new way” of living when all we need is to get back to Bible basics.

We can see this playing out in our communities as people seek homeopathic and holistic options for managing their health needs; ultimately realizing that what they are doing is “what grandma use to do.”

We are desperately seeking ways to reclaim our lives through simplification, some even becoming minimalist.  We are realizing that the “basics” provide the best quality of life rather than the 21st century’s claim to the “best life”.

THE NEED TO RETURN

This same trend is occurring with people of faith as we return to Bible basics—prayer, Bible study, practicing the presence of the Lord, and scriptural meditation, just to name a few.  Enamored with new practices and the “repackaging” of old disciplines, we forgot the basics we learned when we first fell in love with Jesus.  Mindfulness is really nothing new.

It is because of this trend that we will be focusing on getting back to Bible basics.  We will begin with A—“Accepting the Mind of Christ”.

In today’s text, the Apostle Peter writes to God’s persecuted “elect” who were scattered throughout what is now modern Turkey. In this broad statement, Peter describes for those early believers what Christian living should look like. This would be of great benefit to them as they deflected attacks by those who challenged their “good conversation in Christ” (1 Pet. 3:16).

Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet. 4:1-2)

Since Christ suffered in the realm of the fleshly existence, Christians are to arm themselves with the same attitude that guided Him. To arm metaphorically means to “take on the same mind”. Christ “who suffered in the flesh” by way of the Cross dealt with the “sin issue” once and for all.   Paul reminded the new believers that Jesus Christ “has once suffered for sins…that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit ” (1 Pet. 3:18).

CHRIST’S POWER AGAINST SIN

As a result of Christ’s action, we have been released from the power of sin and can, by appropriating Christ’s power, cease from sin. Through the sanctification process, the believer is transformed and conformed into the image of Christ, turning from sinful behavior and activity.

The Apostle Paul describes this process in Romans 6:6-8 (Phillip’s Translation):

Let us never forget that our old selves died with him on the cross that the tyranny of sin over us might be broken—for as dead man can safely be said to be free from the power of sin. And if we were dead men with Christ we can believe that we shall also be men alive with him.

 THE WEAPON OF CHOICE—THE MIND OF CHRIST

Peter gives a two-fold purpose for arming ourselves with Christ’s attitude.

First, we  are not to spend the rest of our life chasing after evil desires. Although we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, we must continue to deal with the reality of living in our physical bodies or “unredeemed flesh” (Rom. 7:17-19).

While we remain contained in our unredeemed flesh, we can, however, arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. The believer’s life is not to be lived in satisfying the urging of their old flesh but we are to “reckon themselves dead to sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).

OBEDIENCE AND LOVE NEEDED

Second, we are to be governed by the will of God. Christ was obedient to all God directed Him to do (John 4:34; 5:30). Obedience to God goes beyond issues of “time, talent and treasures”.

Obedience begins in the heart (Ps. 40:8).  Jesus loved the Father and show that love by following His instructions and commandments (John 14:31).  There are occasions when our love is divided—still tethered to this world. Such division results in “love breakers” more often than “law breakers”.

If we truly love God, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Furthermore, if we love Him we will also love others (1 John 4:20-21). This love will be evidenced in our service and our desire to share the Good News of the Gospel.

RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

Today we are under attack by a society who challenges the authority of God’s Word as well as the authenticity of our faith.  Peter’s message speaks to 21st century believers as we strive to live lives that honor and glorify God.  As we face these affronts, let us arm ourselves with the mind of Christ.  Remember Peter’s counsel to the persecuted elect:

…even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. (1 Pet. 3:14, 15)

Join us next week as we continue with back to Bible basics with “B—Building Spiritual Endurance”.