“Home is Coming” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 11

Brothers and Sisters,

I sat down this afternoon to address the Davis family’s tax filing for this year.  The world may be reeling from a pandemic virus, but taxes don’t go away!  That’s actually something we can be thankful for – a government that is still functioning, still providing services, and still requiring taxes of us (even if we may not enjoy all the ramifications of the prevailing tax policy…and no, that’s not a hint as to my personal politics).  As I’ve thought about taxes this evening, I find Matthew 17:24-27 coming to mind.  Here it is in the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’  He said, ‘Yes.’  And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon?  From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’  When Peter said, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are exempt.  However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel.  Take that and give it to them for you and Me.’”

 Now, there’s a great deal happening in these few verses – much that is cultural, much that is deeply theological, all of which pertains to the Gospel.  For tonight though, I only want to point us to the reality of “sons” vs. “strangers.”  Why do you and I pay taxes each year (Note: Just for accuracy’s sake, our reality of income, or social security, or Medicare taxes is different than the sort of taxes to which Jesus alludes in this passage)?  Beyond all the requirements of law, civic responsibility, and even duty, we pay taxes because, fundamentally, we are strangers on this earth.  Or, to change the metaphor, no one pays to sleep in their own bed, but a hotel will charge you by the night.  In short, the fact that we pay to live in our world ought to remind us that we’re not home yet!

We’re not home yet, but home is coming.  For followers of Jesus Christ, Christians, home is what Jesus speaks of in John 14:1-3 (NASB):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Home is heaven.  Home is the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1, 10).  Home is face-to-face with Jesus Christ, in the presence of God, unhindered by any vestige of sin.  Home is the place of which God himself declares: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3b-4, NASB).

When we get home, April 15th (or July 15th) will cease to have any meaning, and the Great Coronavirus Plague of 2020 will simply be part of the historical backdrop against which the saints of God sing his praises.  Until we make it home safely, kept by Jesus, let’s persevere well, even through death and taxes.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Plagues, Spears, and Sunday Morning” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 10

Brothers and Sisters,

Today is Thursday, the day on which it’s generally my privilege to write a sermon, the last step in a process I typically begin in earnest on Tuesday.  This Sunday I anticipate preaching at least one more message in the mini-series that has interrupted (by God’s design) our walk through Luke’s Gospel, a series I’ve called “Shelter-in-Place Sermons” (okay, I know, zero points for originality here!).  My purpose in tonight’s devotional is simply, and quite briefly, to start our minds thinking together toward God’s Word proclaimed on Sunday morning.

Last week we grounded ourselves in Philippians 4:4-7, and Paul’s arrow-like exhortation against anxiety.  I trust doing so means that we’re well prepared to stand firm while we lift our heads up, take a look around at our situation, and begin (or continue) to ask some deep questions.  This week I’ve been captured by thinking about plagues in Scripture, and by the account of Numbers 25:1-17.  Take fifteen minutes to read the text (or listen to it read by clicking here), and then just sit with this passage for a bit.  As you do, ponder questions like this:

What is the coronavirus event in God’s eyes, as we understand his perspective from Scripture?

How would we describe the coronavirus in biblical language?  What terms would we use?

Does using biblical terms to describe this virus-event affect our thinking about God’s purpose(s) during this time?

Why has God brought COVID-19 into our world, our community, our own individual lives?  What is he about?

How should the people of God respond to the coronavirus?  Does a text like Numbers 25:1-17 tell us anything in this regard (Hint: The answer is not, “Go out and buy a spear!”)?

Our passage for this week is dramatic.  You’ll catch the drama a little better if you expand your reading backward to the beginning of Numbers 22, where we find Israel poised on the borders of Canaan, ready to finally enter the promised land.  It may be that through the drama of this account God will illuminate for us truth about how to live in our dramatic present.

Until Sunday then…

Yours in Christ,

P.J.

“Let’s Not Strike the Rock” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 9

Brothers and Sisters,

I’d like to return this morning to the devotional from two days ago, March 23 (COVID lockdown day seven), and the account of Moses striking the rock in disobedience to God’s command.  If you’ve read the portion from Numbers 20 that recounts the event (vs. 1-13), or if you take a moment to read it right now (hint…hint), perhaps you’ve found yourself wondering, “What’s the big deal?  Why so harsh a response from the Lord, especially given Moses’ obvious reasons to be angry and frustrated?”  We dealt somewhat with that question, albeit implicitly, in the March 23rd entry.  But I’d like to add another thought to the discussion.  I’d like to add some additional reflection because this morning I read a portion of the song in Deuteronomy 32 that God commanded Moses to write at the end of his life (not long after the events of Numbers 20).

Consider the first four verses of that song: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.  May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.  For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!  The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.  A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. 

Did you catch that?  God names himself the “Rock”; the Rock whose “work is perfect,” whose “ways are justice,” who is himself full of “faithfulness.  His work was perfect in bringing Israel into the desert and to a place without water.  His ways were just when giving Moses to lead a quarrelsome and complaining people.  He was faithful when commanding that Moses should speak to a rock in order to bring forth water.  Here’s the point: On that Numbers 20-day, God intended to display himself in Israel as the Rock; the Rock from whom would spring rivers of living water to sustain life.  When Moses struck at the rock with his staff, he struck not an impassive object of stone, but rather the symbolic presence ofGod himself.  He assaulted Yahweh.  This is why God subsequently said to him: “…you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel” (vs. 12), or, later, “…you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes” (Num. 27:14).

If we dig just a little bit further into Scripture, Moses’ action takes on an even more serious hue (if that’s possible).  In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul applies the imagery of Exodus and Numbers in light of Jesus Christ.  Here’s what he says: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-3).  Wow!  Paul draws a line from Christ backward to the experience of Israel in the desert, including the experience of Moses and Israel in Numbers 20.  It’s not that Jesus was himself, literally, embodied in the stone that Moses struck.  But, even as Yahweh worked with Israel, commanding Moses to speak to the rock, Jesus worked (Note: Tangentially, but crucially, do you see how Paul points to the divinity of Christ with this statement?).  When Moses struck at the Rock, he struck at Christ; at the Messiah; at the promised snake crusher of Genesis 3:15; at the great and coming prophet that Moses himself foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18.  Moses struck at the very source of God’s salvation.

Now, let’s turn this to ourselves.  We’re in a desert of sorts…the “desert” of COVID-19’s “social distancing.”  Some of us are feeling the effects of this desert more than others – loneliness, lost jobs, lost income, life on hold.  Where does God mean to show himself a rock in the middle of the wilderness?  And not just any rock, but the Rock out of which will flow life-giving water?  Let’s take warning from Moses.  We’re probably tempted to pick up our staff and strike at the rock in unbelief when we should prayerfully speak to it in faith.  If we will take warning, if we will speak rather than strike, how will God use what follows to glorify himself (to our joy) in the sight of a watching world?  Rocks are not for striking, they’re for standing on.  So, let’s stand!

Finally, I commend to you today’s instance of Albert Mohler’s The Briefing podcast.  Mohler serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is one of our country’s leading Christian intellectuals.  Today’s coronavirus-related discussion is both clarifying and helpful.

In Christ,

P.J.

 

 

“Scripture, Song, & Spurgeon” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 8

Brother and Sisters,

Today’s devotional is meant to be read this evening, as you head for bed.  Have you experienced that sometimes anxiety, loneliness, or the like can be worse at night?  You lay down, try to sleep, and suddenly your brain starts racing.  I’d like to offer us three points of comfort for tonight’s rest.  The first is a Scripture; the second a song; and the third a devotional written by another brother in Christ, over a century ago.

First, as you head for sleep tonight, recall to mind these two verses from Psalm 4: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!…In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” – Psalm 4:1, 8 (ESV)

Second, a song.  I’ve mentioned this one before in an FBC setting, but the song in question is a hymn called “He Will Hold Me Fast.”  It became one of my grandfather’s favorites in the closing months of his life before he stepped into eternity and met Jesus face-to-face, unhindered by sin.  Take some time and listen to the Shane and Shane version available here.

Finally, some of you may already be familiar with Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his devotional Morning and Evening(Note: Spurgeon pastored the London Metropolitan Tabernacle in the latter-half of the 19th century.  During that time the congregation ministered through multiple outbreaks of cholera).  The evening entry for September 10th is a meditation on Habakkuk 1:8, which reads in part (ESV), “Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on.”  Here are Spurgeon’s thoughts:

“While preparing the present volume, this particular expression recurred to me so frequently, that in order to be rid of its constant importunity I determined to give a page to it. The evening wolf, infuriated by a day of hunger, was fiercer and more ravenous than he would have been in the morning. May not the furious creature represent our doubts and fears after a day of distraction of mind, losses in business, and perhaps ungenerous tauntings from our fellow men? How our thoughts howl in our ears, ‘Where is now thy God?’ How voracious and greedy they are, swallowing up all suggestions of comfort, and remaining as hungry as before. Great Shepherd, slay these evening wolves, and bid thy sheep lie down in green pastures, undisturbed by insatiable unbelief. How like are the fiends of hell to evening wolves, for when the flock of Christ are in a cloudy and dark day, and their sun seems going down, they hasten to tear and to devour. They will scarcely attack the Christian in the daylight of faith, but in the gloom of soul conflict they fall upon him. O thou who hast laid down thy life for the sheep, preserve them from the fangs of the wolf.

False teachers who craftily and industriously hunt for the precious life, devouring men by their false-hoods, are as dangerous and detestable as evening wolves. Darkness is their element, deceit is their character, destruction is their end. We are most in danger from them when they wear the sheep’s skin. Blessed is he who is kept from them, for thousands are made the prey of grievous wolves that enter within the fold of the church.

What a wonder of grace it is when fierce persecutors are converted, for then the wolf dwells with the lamb, and men of cruel ungovernable dispositions become gentle and teachable. O Lord, convert many such: for such we will pray tonight.”

May you rest well tonight, helped by Scripture, song, and Spurgeon.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Unbelief Laid Bare” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 7

Brothers and Sisters,

It was hot…and Moses was tired.  Not just bodily tired, but soul weary.  He had been leading Israel, Yahweh’s people, for nearly forty years, and the burden felt especially heavy at the moment.  Miriam, his beloved sister was dead.  Aaron was aging before his very eyes, and Moses himself felt old; too old to deal yet again with whiners.  But whiners he had.  Not that they weren’t justified, in a way, to whine.  Everyone needs water, particularly in a desert, and water there was none.  “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD!  Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?  It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates and there is no water to drink.”  So went the accusations…over…and over…and over again!  What was he to do?  Who could possibly find water for these hundreds of thousands living as a nomadic desert nation?

So, he went to the Lord, he and Aaron together.  Yahweh appeared in his glory and said to him, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.  So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Once again, Moses prepared to obey, just as he had countless times prior while leading his nation.  This wasn’t the first time God promised to bring water from a rock.  He had worked this way in the past, decades earlier, right after the Israelites came out of Egypt and before they arrived at Sinai.  That time Moses struck the rock, according to God’s command, and, sure enough, the water flowed.  Yahweh willing, it would be the same this time.  And so, Moses gathered the people.

To his dying day Moses couldn’t explain why he did it.  Wasn’t he a believer in the God of Israel?  Hadn’t he seen his glory?  Hadn’t he fallen on his face in the divine presence while the bush burned?  Hadn’t he heard Yahweh’s voice and even written words prompted by Yahweh’s Spirit?  All that was true, but in the moment something else came rushing up. As he gazed on the ungrateful children of the ungrateful generation that left Egypt, anger took hold.  “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  He lifted his staff and struck hard at the impassive, unmoving, lifeless lump of stone in the middle of an empty wilderness.  He didn’t speak to the rock, he struck it.  Nothing happened.  Had Yahweh finally failed him?  Would these people perish after all?  The frustration pressed hard; panic began to set in.  Moses felt the cold hand of despair slowly taking hold.  He struck again, harder, and this time it worked.  This time the water came, abundant, clear, even cool.  The people drank, the livestock drank, Moses even drank himself.  Things were good once again…that is, until Yahweh spoke.

As he wiped his mouth and turned from the crowd with Aaron by his side, they both heard the voice: “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  The words struck hard, they rang true, and they were devastating.  His sin exposed, his unbelief laid bare, Moses gazed hard at an ugliness he mourned to see.

There is so much to digest from Moses’ story in Numbers 20:1-13 (supplemented with Exodus 17:1-7), so much that is worthy of discussion and meditation.  For today, let’s just note the way in which difficulty tends to lay open our hearts and expose our unbelief, even (perhaps especially) in we who believe!  Yes, we’ve seen God work, we’ve tasted his goodness, we’ve experienced his faithfulness.  But that was yesterday, this is today, and today is really serious!…or so goes our rationale.  If Moses struggled with unbelief, then no doubt I do as well, and no doubt you join me.  Crisis uncovers just how deep our unbelief runs.  It’s rather frightening, don’t you think?

What happens when COVID-19 becomes a scalpel in the hand of God to cut through tissue and expose the tumor of our unbelief?  What happens in that painful moment?  I know of one medicine that’s a sure cure, and it’s found only in the presence of Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Words like that spoken to the one who believed perfectly are words of life in the face of death.  When unbelief raises its ugly head, I cling to the alien righteousness of the perfect believer that is mine by grace, and grace alone.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Scattered for His Name” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 6

Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s devotional will be quite brief, since most of what I’d like to express came with this morning’s sermon.  You can access our entire “service” via the video on the Felton Bible Church Facebook page (Note: I use the term “service” here cautiously, for lack of a better term, and not because our virtual gathering qualifies as a service in the same way our normal “in person” meeting does).  At some point the audio will also appear on our church website (computers are running slowly at the moment).  But, that said, here’s a brief thought for today:

Sometimes God scatters his people…purposefully…for a Gospel reason.  For instance, he scattered the church in Jerusalem through the persecution that erupted after Stephen’s martyrdom under Saul’s (Paul’s) watching eye.  Here’s what we read from the book of Acts:

“And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.  But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.  Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.(Acts 8:1b-4, NASB)

Imagine being one of those persecuted, scattered believers.  What would you have felt?  What would I have felt?  Regardless of how they felt, their response is awesome!  They went about preaching the word.  God permitted circumstance to scatter the church, and the church responded by seizing the moment to proclaim the Gospel.  Do you know the Latin term, carpe diem…“seize the day” (at least in popular translation)?  Acts 8:1b-4 describes the church seizing the day that Jesus gave to them.

So how about us?  We have, in a sense, been scattered by the coronavirus.  Sure, we’re scattered in homes, but we’re scattered nonetheless. We were unable to meet physically today as Felton Bible Church.  So, how do we follow the example of the early believers?  How do we recognize this moment of scattering as a God-given opportunity for Gospel proclamation?  How do we carpe diem this season of being scattered for the glory of God?  May the Lord show you an answer for the specific circumstances he’s given to you!  May he show us, as Felton Bible Church, an answer for the general circumstances he’s given to us!  May we not waste this time of scattering.

In Christ,

P.J.

P.S. For those who enjoy such things, attached is a picture of our new, high-speed FBC production studio for virtual Sunday morning services.

FBC Production Studio

“Whales and Toilet Paper” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 5

Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s devotional is a bit later, partly because my family and I managed to “social distance” (whoever thought this would be a verbal phrase we all understand?) on the road today – in the van, going through the In-N-Out drive through, and then at the tidepools.  It was a great break for mom and the kids after most of a week at home indoors.  Our time out sparked a few thoughts that might be of encouragement (even in a dubious way) as your day winds down:

The tidepools are such a great place to enjoy God’s creation, including innumerable hermit crabs, the larger crabs we tried to catch without success (I’m too chicken to just pick one up), starfish (those were cool!), and even whales off at a distance.  None of these creatures realizes there’s a COVID crisis underway.  None of them care.  None of them should care.  It’s worth remembering, as our attention becomes laser-focused on present difficulties, that life goes on beyond the ravages of a microscopic pathogen we can’t even see.  I’m struck by the utter dependence of animals on their Creator, both to provide moment-by-moment, and to sustain the system he created on which their existence rests.  The whales need God to be God.  And yet, is it any different for us?  We too need God to be God.  Unlike the animals, we’re just tempted to deny it.  Here’s a somewhat lengthy quotation from Psalm 104:19-31, 33 (NASB) that seems apropos tonight: 

“He [the LORD] made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting.  You appoint darkness and it becomes night, in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.  The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God.  When the sun rises they withdraw and lie down in their dens.  Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.  O LORD, how many are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.  There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great.  There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.  They all wait for You to give them their food in due season.  You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.  You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust.  You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground.  Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works…I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”  

Driving back, we stopped at six different stores looking for toilet paper.  Care to guess how much we found?  You got it…not a square!  Now, don’t panic on our behalf.  We’re not in dire need just yet.  But, isn’t there a sense in which the nationwide run on toilet paper is just the littlest bit humorous?  Toilet paper…really!  There’s no good, rational reason I can think of why the stores should be empty of toilet paper…and yet they are.  Our nation’s toilet paper supply is perhaps the most obvious casualty of self-exalting fear and its pernicious effects.  No, I’m truly not judging you if your garage is half-full of the stuff.  It just means you have plenty to share with your neighbor – which may be crucial until the stores restock.  Still, I wonder if the toilet-paper phenomenon isn’t God letting our collective foolishness as sinful humans become patently obvious.  Like the builders of Babel – whose presumption God spoiled in a moment by confusing their languages (Genesis 11:1-9) – our pride has been exposed by toilet paper of all things!

Here’s the grace of being exposed for fools.  We don’t have to stay foolish!  Instead, we can remember that it is God who provides, and God whose holiness rightly demands our worship.  We can remember and enjoy Psalm 104.  We can say with the Psalmist: I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” 

May you enjoy such a song tomorrow while you hear God’s Word prayed and preached…virtually.  But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3, NASB).

In Christ,

P.J.