“It’s Just a Thread” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brothers and Sisters,

We must be careful how we speak and think; or think and speak.  Have you noticed the dual mindset at work in our world at the moment?  On the one hand, we’re very ready to step beyond COVID-19 and get back to “normal.”  On the other hand, we have a sense – which we voice often, in many different ways – that the world will never be “normal” again. Instead, we speak of the “new normal,” a term I don’t particularly like.  Not to get off on a tangent, but I’m concerned that speaking of the “new normal” risks giving “experts” an outsized and inappropriate role in defining what life should look like post-pandemic.  No, I have no intention of wearing a mask for the rest of my life or staying six-feet from everyone else for years to come, vaccine or no vaccine.  It is right that we acknowledge the ways in which the COVID pandemic has transformed, is transforming, and will transform our world.  Certainly, there are events in history, usually cataclysmic, after which everything changes – the plagues of Exodus, the rise and fall of empires, the Black Death of Europe, and World War II, just to name a few.  But, as Christians, it’s important that we step back and consider the larger perspective.

The larger perspective reminds us that God rules sovereign over all things, all time, and everyone.  From the perspective of eternity, the COVID pandemic is, and will be, just one small thread in the grand tapestry of time.  It will appear bright and distinct in that portion of the tapestry which depicts the end of 2019 and the whole of 2020.  But, despite momentary clarity, move backward or forward in the tapestry’s illustration of history and you won’t be able to follow the COVID-19 thread for very long.  It will quickly become lost in all that God is doing.  Think of the millions, the billions, the uncountable different threads our Creator is weaving into the grand story of his glory on display; on display for all to see, and especially for his people to delight over.  COVID-19 is just one part, one small part, one brief part, of that masterpiece.

Finally, we must not forget that this tapestry God is weaving means something for each of us personally.  I don’t know all that God is doing with COVID-19, but I do know some of what he is about.  And that “some” is enough to sustain us through the long-haul, even amidst frustration at the bumbling responses of fallible human beings (ourselves included) to an overwhelming event.  Here’s what I mean…here’s what God is about in this pandemic for you who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior:

 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, NASB).

What is God about in this pandemic?  Well, in part he’s about working for your progressive, and eventually completed, glorification.  God means to glorify you together with Jesus in the day of Christ.  He’s about that work for you, and for untold millions of your brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world.  As we pray (and well we should) that God would end this crisis and our suffering in it, let’s also pray that he would not do so until he has accomplished all he means to do with COVID-19.  In the meantime, we can welcome each day as it comes.

Love in Christ,

P.J.

“A Bone to Pick” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brothers and Sisters,

I have a small bone to pick with myself this morning; with myself and, I suppose, many others like me.  It’s a hermeneutical bone, meaning a bone that has to do with my observation, interpretation, and application of Scripture.  It’s a very small bone, and so I’ll be brief.

In reading through Romans 3 this morning, I came to verses 21-31, which includes that ever-so-famous statement, Romans 3:23 (NASB) – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Now, I’ve used that verse many times (and will use it many times in the future) to make the point that all of humanity stands sinful before God apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  Indeed, I’m correct to do so.  It’s right that Romans 3:23 would find employment in making the point that all have sinned.  But, and here’s the bone to pick with myself, condemnation is not so much Paul’s emphasis in those verses.  He spends much of Romans 1:18-2:29 making the case for condemnation.  By chapter three, verses 21-31, he’s working again on the great theme begun in chapter 1, verses 16-17 (NASB): For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

Just as all men have sinned against God and stand guilty – without distinction as to Jew and Gentile – so God’s salvation comes to all, without distinction of persons, through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Apostle is not saying that God saves everyone (a heretical, universalist view of salvation), but that salvation by grace through faith is freely available to all who will come to Jesus.  There is, humanly speaking, no prerequisite to faith in Jesus Christ; no qualification of status, race, money, age, power, beauty, strength, virtue, action, knowledge, wisdom, or capacity.  What encouragement!  What exhortation!  Why stand apart from the one ready to save you when nothing prevents your coming to him?  All have sinned against God, yes.  God is judge, the one who condemns and will punish sin, yes.  But, grace conquers sin!  God is also rescuer.  Salvation is available to all who will receive it.  May you be such a person today.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Three Commendations” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brothers and Sisters,

By way of a short “devotional” email today, I want to commend to you three encouragements:

The first are these wonderful words from Psalm 95:1-7a (ESV): Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.  For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!  For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

The second is an episode from the podcast, “Ask Pastor John,” which posted yesterday.  If you click here, you can listen to John Piper address the question, “Is the Calvinist-Arminian Debate Really Important?”  I highlight this episode because it relates to our sermon last Sunday generally, and to our discussion in Sunday School particularly.  Especially if you were part of the Sunday School conversation, let me encourage you to give this 15-minute episode a listen.

Finally, consider visiting and becoming familiar with The Gospel Coalition website.  This theological movement of believers from various denominational contexts is an important element of the church’s experience in America today.  You’ll find much through TGC that can edify your walk with Christ.  Incidentally, one of TGC’s two key founders, Don Carson, long stood near the center of theological education in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) through his teaching role at Trinity University.

Praying you are enjoying your Tuesday in Jesus…

In Christ,

P.J.

“Let’s Not Act Like Satan” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brother and Sisters,

It’s felt like a long week…and it’s just Wednesday night.  Not a bad week mind you, but long.  Much of my thinking, and no small amount of effort, has been consumed with questions of when we may be able to gather again as Felton Bible Church.  In light of Governor Newsom’s four-stage approach to reopening our state (and where churches fit into that plan) we have some challenging questions to wrestle with.  Those questions include (or may include) if, when, or how it might be necessary to take issue with that plan (Note: I’m not saying here that we should do so, but just remarking on the considerations at hand).  In thinking over these things today, I was also encouraged/struck by the reminder from a brother pastor in our valley with respect to this thought: “What is God about with us as Jesus’ church right now?  What is he doing to shape and change us for the future?”

In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus taught his disciples the hard truth of what awaited him, and thus them, in Jerusalem (the same truth we encountered on April 12th, Resurrection Sunday, with Luke 18:31-34).  What awaited Jesus and his followers was very hard, tragically hard even; nothing less than suffering and death.  Though he also said it would end in the glory of resurrection, Jesus’ men, evidenced by Peter, got stuck on the hard.  In fact, Peter pulled his Rabbi (also the one he had just proclaimed to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God”) aside “…and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord!  This shall never happen to You’” (Matthew 16:22, NASB).  Imagine, rebuking God himself in the flesh!  Oh wait…I’m pretty sure I’ve done nearly the same thing…more than once.  Jesus’ response to Peter was both swift and penetrating: “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23, NASB).

Now, consider our situation.  I don’t know exactly what will come of Governor Newsom’s plan as it pertains to Felton Bible Church (not to mention the many hurting folks in our community).  I don’t know exactly how we should respond as a congregation, other than we must (and will) begin with prayer.  But I do know this, I don’t want to respond like Peter.  I don’t want our Great Shepherd to have cause to say to us: “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to Me…”  Undoubtedly, we’ve walked a difficult road in the last forty-plus days (though, in God’s mercy, haven’t we seen much blessing along the way?).  It could be that we will walk through yet more pronounced difficulties before we emerge from shelter-in-place.  It could be that God’s call on us as people in submission to our authorities will mean weeks more of “virtual” church.  It could also be that we will need to take a particular sort of stand in response to undue restrictions.  I don’t know.  I do know that we want to be in lock-step with our Savior.  May we set our mind not on man’s interest, but God’s.  Beyond suffering and death, the glory of resurrection awaited Jesus and his disciples.  We too, as followers of Christ, hope – in a sure, certain, anticipating kind of way – for the same thing: life after death.  As a microcosm of that great hope, we hope now – in a sure, certain, anticipating kind of way – for the life God will give us on the other side of COVID-19.

So, hoping with you in light of what God has done…what he is doing now…and what he will do in the weeks ahead…

I remain yours In Christ,

P.J.

 

 

“Forty Days of Testing” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 40

Brothers and Sisters,

It’s Day 40…forty days since we in Santa Cruz County, California entered into life under a shelter-in-place order (assuming I have my count right).  We should mark today as something special.  Why?  Well, recall the prominence of “forty” as a symbolic number in Scripture, particularly as a marker of testing and endurance.  Here’s what I mean:

During the flood, Noah and his family endured rain that blanketed the earth for forty days (Genesis 7:4, 12).

Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai in the presence of God, eating and drinking nothing…twice (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9, 10:10).

The spies of Israel observed the land of Canaan for forty days (Numbers 13:25).

Israel spent forty years in the wilderness as a result of the people’s disobedience against God when faced with entering the land of Canaan (Numbers 32:13).

For forty days Goliath challenged the armies of Israel and insulted the God of Israel, before David killed him with a sling stone (1 Samuel 17:16).

David ruled as king over Judah and Israel for forty years (2 Samuel 5:4).

Solomon, David’s son, also reigned as king for forty years (1 Kings 11:42).

Elijah, after fleeing in fear from Jezebel, spent forty days and forty nights journeying to Mount Horeb to meet with God (1 Kings 19:8).

The prophet Ezekiel lay on his side for forty days in symbolic representation of Judah’s sin (Ezekiel 4:6).

Jesus fasted in the wilderness and battled Satan’s temptations there for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).

After his resurrection, Jesus ministered for forty days before ascending to the right hand of his Father (Acts 1:3).

Now, here we are, forty days into a time we never anticipated.  Haven’t we been tested?  Do we believe that God is faithful?  Do we believe he is sovereign, in control, purposeful, doing all things out of love for his children?  Do we believe he is judge, the one who does not allow sin to go unchecked and unaddressed?  Think back over the last forty days and consider: What has God done during this time to get your attention in a particular way?  What dark corners of your heart has he exposed to the light of his Word?  How has he shown you love in a manner you never experienced previously?

As you reflect, take a moment and be thankful, deeply thankful, for God’s preserving grace in your life.  Listen to what Moses told the Hebrews as their forty years came to an end and they prepared to receive the inheritance promised to Abraham: “…the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness.  These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing(Deuteronomy 2:7).  In the last forty days, you and I have not lacked anything necessary to glorify God, enjoy him, and love others.  We have been tested, and God proved faithful.  Will he fail to be faithful still in the forty days to come?  Certainly not!

On that note of God’s faithfulness, I am going to end this series of daily devotionals.  The test of this COVID era will undoubtedly continue still, but we’ve found our stride for as long as God means for us to endure.  It’s been a privilege to meet with you each day.  There will be more devotionals to come in the weeks ahead, but they will be periodical rather than daily.  May the Lord bless you and keep you until the next moment I’m prompted to write.  Who knows, it might even be tomorrow!

In Christ,

P.J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Sound Mind” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 39

Brothers and Sisters,

I’ve had cause today to be thankful for a “sound mind.”  Consider, just for a moment, what a wonderful gift is sensibleness – self-control, wisdom, reasonableness, a solid grasp on reality.  Yes, we’re frail human beings, but in Christ our birthright is a sound mind.  Sometimes we fight to realize that birthright; sometimes we battle to defend it; sometimes we struggle to enjoy what’s ours…but it is ours.  It is ours not by anything inherent to us, but by what belongs to Jesus; by who he is, and by what he won.  Of course, what’s Christ’s is only ours if we’ve been united to him; if what Paul told the Galatians is also true of us: “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20, ESV).  It’s this truth that allowed Paul to write the following words to Timothy (words for which we can, and should, be profoundly thankful tonight):

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control [or, in the NKJV, a sound mind]. – 2 Tim. 1:7 (ESV)

May you enjoy tonight the resting peace that comes with the exercise of such a mind…

In Christ,

P.J.

“God Saves for Glory” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 38

Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday I prompted us with this question: What is God’s ultimate goal in saving human beings from sin and death?  In other words, why did Jesus come to die on a cross?  We’re prone to answer that question somewhat glibly – “Jesus died on a cross to save me (or us) from my (our) sins.”  We follow that statement with something like John 3:16 (ESV), “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Now, it’s not that speaking like this is in any sense wrong.  In fact, it’s wonderfully correct.  But, it’s correct without being sufficient.  It’s correct without going far enough.  To say that Jesus died on a cross to save us from our sins is true, it’s just not true enough.

Why did Jesus die?  What is God’s ultimate goal in saving human beings from his own wrath and our own enslavement to sin?  Let Psalm 79:9 (NASB) give us the answer: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.”  Do you see the answers here?  God works salvation for the glory of his name!  He forgives sin for his name’s sake!  The bottom of the cross is not us, but God.  The decisive reason for the cross is not our salvation, but God’s glory.  Read John 17 and consider how Jesus’ language right before the cross reflects this truth.

Now, I must immediately caveat myself.  And the fact that I must do so is the stunning beauty of the gospel message!  My last sentence above suggests a dichotomy, or a distinction, between God’s work to glorify himself and his work to save us; as if one could be without the other.  In fact, there is such a dichotomy; one does exist without the other.  God’s glory is not dependent on his work to save me or anyone else.  He exists apart from, and independent of, anything in all the cosmos, and I add nothing to his essence.  But in practice (if I can speak like this) God has chosen something mind-bogglingly different than holy aloofness.  He determined, in eternity past, to link the experience (the manifestation, the appearance, the enjoyment) of his glory in creation with the life of human beings he would choose to save from their sin against him; people he would rescue from wrath and bondage.  Thus, in practice the God of the universe has so allied himself to me that his glory is at stake in my rescue from sin and death.  The bottom of the cross is God’s glory, but God’s glory involves my rescue.   I cannot truly explain the cross without reference to the glory of God, but I should not presume to consider God’s glory without remembering that Jesus died for me.

What love is this that God should condescend to be merciful to me?  I cannot, I do not, deserve such favor.  No, it is all of grace!  No wonder that David exclaims with such amazement in Psalm 8:4-9 (ESV):

“…what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Dear Christian, may you wonder and rejoice at the mystery of your salvation tonight.

In Christ,

P.J.