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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.

 

Back to 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”.

Spiritual Discernment: Then you will know

Spiritual discernment

Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. Hosea 6:3 (NKJV)

How do we become better at discernment?”  We now know that we have the means to be discerning.  We have God’s Word which establishes the standard for truth which is the cornerstone of discernment.  In addition, believers have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Deity within them to help (John 16:13-15).

Let me be clear to distinguish between personal discernment and the gift of spiritual discernment that is given to certain believers within a Church.  This discernment is available to all believers to assist them in navigating the error traps and poor choices presented in this broken and fallen world.

In Hosea 6:3 the prophet encourages the nation of Israel to “know” and to “pursue” the knowledge of the LORD. The literal translation is this:   “Then shall we know if we follow on to know”. The conjunction, “if” supposes that a certain condition is needed to accomplish the specific task.  In this case, to know the knowledge of God—His mind and His will—one must first “follow on or pursue” Him.  It requires action on pursuer’s part.  Such is the case with the pursuit of discernment; to have it you must be committed to pursuing it.

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT WHAT WE CHOOSE BUT ALSO HOW WE CHOOSE

The pursuit of discernment requires that we know “what we are looking for”.  It is not only “what to choose” but as importantly, we need to know “how to choose”.  This eliminates the need for checklists of “do’s and don’ts”.  How do we “follow on to know”?  How do we increase our spiritual discernment?

Spiritual discernment begins with the desire for it.

Watchman Nee, in his book Spiritual Discernment, puts forth the thought that believers already have within them the ability to discern rightly.  This is possible because of our new nature—the old man is dead and we are now new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  Man simply needs to be “trained” to obey the spirit man within him.

In addition the Holy Spirit is gifted to everyone who believes to help us discern correctly.  That is why the unregenerate, natural man, cannot discern the things of God (1 Cor. 2:13-14).  Watchman Nee further contends that the training in discernment begins with the “breaking of man’s self-will”—to bring him into submission so that he will choose God’s way versus his own.  This breaking is accomplished through our trials and tribulations (James 1:2-3) which help to reshape our wills for God’s purposes versus Satan’s and the world’s (Rom. 12:2).

Our intellect cannot help us gain discernment (Prov. 3:5). It is God’s discernment that is needed to “separate, understand, and make known the right choices”.  Nee offers the position that to discern God’s truth, man must die to self in order follow God’s way.  Spiritual discernment starts with our desire for it.   

Spiritual discernment requires BELIEVERS to be THOUGHTFUL and intentional.

In his book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Tim Challies urges believers to be vigil and steadfast in pursuit of discernment.

A lack of discernment leaves Christians unable to protect themselves and others, and allows sin to flood in.  God offers you the cure when he offers you spiritual discernment.  Empowered by His Spirit, you can be equipped to distinguish “light from darkness, truth from error, best from better, righteous from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics.

It is our responsibility as believers  to test and examine everything that comes into our sphere of influence and insure that it conforms to God’s standard.  This requires that we not only affirm and accept the accuracy and the sufficiency of Scripture but that we, as believers, accept its authority over our life.

Such spiritual conviction requires that we spend quality time with Jesus—receiving His instructions and directions.  It is in our quiet time that we can train our ear to hear His voice above the crowd and do the right things (John 10:27).  This will be critical as the sounds of the world cry out for our attention and for our loyalty.  We will “know in our spirit” when something is “not right” because we have genuine truth provided by God as our standard of excellence.    Spiritual discernment requires believers to be thoughtful and intentional.    

Spiritual discernment focuses on the goodness and excellence of God

I remember when I received my first pearls from my parents.  It was a single strand necklace with matching earrings (non-pierced).  I cherished those pearls because they helped in shaping my new identity as a young woman.  No more “plastic pop beads” (Am I dating myself?)  While the plastic beads were “OK”, the pearls my parents gave me, were “the best.”

Discernment not only helps us identify error but it also helps us to choose God’s best for our lives—the more excellent things in life. Jesus taught this concept in His parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:44-52).  Are believers settling for “OK” when “God’s best” is awaiting them?

Hannah Anderson in All That’s Good:  Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment, uses Paul’s final words in Philippians 4:8 to define what is good and excellent.  Recognition of God’s goodness and excellence can assist believers in their development of spiritual discernment.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.  

  • Truth stands under the scrutiny of God’s Word and God’s truth. “Only in the light of truth can we be safe; only in the light of truth can we know what is truly good.”
  • Noble or honorable requires that we respect and regard the life of our fellowman, created in God’s image. “When we fail to honor those whom God honors, we will miss goodness because we lose access to their unique gifts, capacities, and experiences.  As we pursue honor, we become honorable people.”
Justice is more that kind words.
  • Justice requires fairness. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”   
  • Purity judges things against the standard of God’s holiness and faithfulness—it seeks out deceitfulness and unfaithfulness. “The solution to impurity is not simply abstinence or ignorance; it is to pursue what is pure.”
  • Lovely requires us to seek those things worth being loved. The primary thing in the life of the believer that is “worth loving” is Jesus.  When we consider “things that are lovely” we lift our eyes above this world to the things of heaven (Col. 3:1-2).  “We find goodness binding our hearts to Him, drawing us on, ever pursuing, ever seeking, ever searching until the beauty of the Lord finally rests upon us.”
  • Good report (commendable) deals with “speaking well” and refers to speech that is thoughtful, appropriate, considered, and careful. What we talk about says a lot about who we are.  “We are all curators, collectors, and exhibitors of information.  How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  If we spend our days sharing trivialities, life will be trivial.  If we spend our days focused on fear, life will be filled with anxiety.”  Spend your days talking about good, worthy, glorious things and see your life change.

Spiritual discernment focuses on the goodness and excellence of God.

HOW DO WE BECOME BETTER AT DISCERNMENT?

Gaining spiritual discernment is not only about what we choose but also about how we choose.  It begins with having a true desire to discern—even in the midst of resistance and persecution from the world.

Spiritual discernment requires believers to be thoughtful and intentional—committed to unearthing the truth through the filter of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.

Lastly, spiritual discernment focuses on the goodness of God including the excellence of His character outlined in His ways and His works.

Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD.  Let us pursue spiritual discernment.

Spiritual Discernment: What is It?

What is discernment?  More specifically, what is spiritual discernment? We’ve described it as our error detection system and something that is needed to lighten our darkened eyes.  Today we will explore in greater detail the definition of discernment and how it fits in the life of the believer.

What Is It?

John MacArthur in his book Reckless Faith:  When the Church Loses its Will to Discern, describes discernment as “the ability to understand, interpret, and apply truth skillfully.” Let’s begin our study with this basic definition and how discernment is used in the New and Old Testament.

The Language of Discernment

In the Old Testament (written in Hebrew), there are three (3) key words used to describe discernment.  The first (ben) refers to intervals or spaces placed between different objects. It implies a judgment that is needed in order to make the proper separation. This word is used in an earlier scripture we studied in which Solomon requested from God the ability to judge or make the proper separation between right and wrong.  (1 Kin. 3:9)

The second (bina) translates to mean understanding; it refers to intellectual understanding.  The warning is Proverbs 3:5 to “lean not to you own understanding” highlights the use of this translation of discernment.  Daniel’s ability to understand dreams also illustrates this word in Daniel 10:1.

The final use (tebuna) implies skill or cleverness for determining the right course of action.  In Deuteronomy 32, the central theme is the prophecy of Israel’s future apostasy as a result of their inability to discern the right course of action: “They are a nation void of sense; there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern what the end would be.” (Deut. 32:28-29)

The Greek word for discernment (diakrino) in the New Testament carries similar meanings as in the Old Testament but introduces the concept of making a distinction or judging.  Paul uses this translation in 1 Cor. 2:14-15 as he explains the inability of the “natural man” to accept (or make a distinction between) the things of God and the world because they must be “spiritually discerned”.

Truth:  The Standard for Spiritual Discernment  

Recognizing the various descriptions of discernment, how are we as believers to separate right from wrong?  On what are we to base our understandings?  How do we choose the right course of action?

On what do we base our spiritual discernment?

At the heart of discernment is truth.  That is why the Church and Christians, in general, are concerned with the definition (and decline) of truth in our current society.  Without a standard for moral conduct and behavior, man constructs his own definition of truth which, many times, is influenced by his personal beliefs and individual preferences.

In the absence of a reliable standard, counterfeits fill the void.  These counterfeits deceive, distract, and ultimately destroy those plans God has designed for individuals and for the furtherance of His kingdom (Eph. 2:10).  So how does truth work with discernment?  Truth operates as a “counterfeit detector”.

To Catch a Counterfeiter

One would think (at least I did) that to identify counterfeit money, one need only be trained to look for errors or mistakes on the fake bill.  To the contrary, agents of the government are trained instead to recognize what a genuine bill looks like.  The approach used for distinguishing a genuine bill is summarized in the phrase “touch, tilt, look through, look at”.  In each step, the examiner knows the characteristics of the genuine bill   Thieves are continually at work to improve their counterfeit techniques so the fakes often “change”.  However, the genuine bill never changes—it always the same.

God’s Truth and Discernment

This is also the case with God’s truth (which includes His character)—it never changes (Malachi 3:6).  God’s truth is found in two places—His Word (the Bible) and His Holy Spirit.  These two “truth standards” remain unchanged—regardless of time, circumstance, or social deviations (Heb. 13:8; Isaiah 40:8).  God’s Word and Spirit allows us “to separate truth from error”, providing us a foundation on which “to base our understanding” and equips us “to determine the right course of action.”

When we spend time with God and become familiar with His Word, we will be able to quickly identify His truth and His will for whatever situation we may encounter in our life.  Truth, God’s truth, is the ONLY STANDARD by which spiritual discernment is possible.

Truth or Error

Take a look around the world we live in today. Whose truth would you say is being followed–Satan’s or God’s? It is evident that we live in a broken world.  However, that does not negate our ability to recognize and utilize God’s truth and authority in guiding our choices and lifestyle.  With God’s truth and the Holy Spirit, spiritual discernment is possible.  Without these two, spiritual discernment is impossible (remember 1 Cor. 2:14-15).

When we choose to disregard the authority of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are inviting chaos and disorder into the world.  We become willing participants in Satan’s plans.

Have we, as a nation and Church suppressed the truth in exchange for political influence?  Have we chosen social correctness and financial gain over that which honors God?  Have we exchanged the truth for the lie?  (Rom. 1:18-25)

So what is spiritual discernment?

Spiritual discernment is the ability to recognize and use God’s truth and authority to guide our life.  God’s Word and His Spirit is the “standard for truth” and help to identify error and deception.

Discernment: Light for Darkened Eyes

Image of Discernment text

If you haven’t noticed, In The Word Ministries has dedicated at least one teaching series each year to the general topic of truth.  We’ve delved into truth through series on the whole counsel of God, seeking truth, and the wisdom of God, just to name a few.  And now, in support of  this year’s theme, 20/20 VISION, we are focusing on the topic of discernment.

Why discernment?

So what!  Why should we care about discernment?  Without spiritual discernment we risk “the light within us becoming darkness”.  There are many factors that affect our ability to know truth.  For purposes of this teaching, I’ll share two that immediately necessitates the need to cultivate a spirit of discernment.

Truth redefined  

In the 21st century there is little understanding or agreement as to what truth really is.  As defined in the postmodern world absolute truth does not exist. Supporters of postmodernism deny long-held beliefs and conventions.  They maintain that all viewpoints are equally valid.

Political posturing and social jockeying have taken the pursuit of truth to new levels.  Individuals and organizations utilize misinformation (the unintended sharing of false information) and disinformation (the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false) to influence advocacy and individual agendas.   Even institutions once deemed guardians of truth—media, government, business, and non-governmental organizations—are now viewed suspiciously.[1]

[1]  The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report

The Heart wants what the Heart wants

People reject a standard for truth because of their greater desire to do “that which seems right in their own eyes”.  But what is right?

A recent Barna Research study, The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code, found no agreement on the definition of morality today.

What is it based on? Where does it come from? How can someone know what to do when making moral decisions? According to a majority of American adults (57%), knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. This view is much more prevalent among younger generations than among older adults. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%) agree strongly or somewhat with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know,” compared to only 38 percent of Elders. And Millennials (31%) are three times more likely than Elders (10%) and twice as likely as Boomers (16%) and Gen-Xers (16%) to strongly agree with the statement.  

People want “what they want” including freedom to choose what fits their preference and life style, even if it means disobedience to God.

The Need for Discernment

Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.    Luke 11:34-35 (RSV)

In our text Jesus teaches the “Parable of the Lighted Lamp” to the Pharisees and the crowd.  Jesus uses the metaphor, the “lamp of the eye” to describe the use of the eye for more than “sight” but also for “light”.   Jesus explains when the “eye is bad”, the problem is not due to a lack of light—but due to a lack of perception or how they see truth.   Even with light, only those with eyes to see will see it.

Discernment is needed to provide “light” within us to contrast error with the goodness of God.  The lack of spiritual discernment is like color-blindness–it may not seem that important initially but its harm become evident when your life depends on it.  Error paints the world, not in terms of black and white, right or wrong, but in dangerous “shades of gray.”  Be careful lest the light in you be darkness.