Peace in the Pandemic: June 2

Learning Obedience

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end. All pandemics have. But what kind of people will we be on the other side of it? By God’s grace we will be those who “learned obedience” through it rather than just survived it.

The verse from Hebrews says that Jesus is our example in this. He is the son who learned obedience through suffering. You might think that is a strange thing to say about Jesus, as if it means he was disobedient (and therefore sinful) but suffering made him stop that and change. That is certainly not the case, since the same letter affirms that Jesus in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). So what does it mean that he learned obedience through what he suffered?

It means that he learned from the sufferings that came his way just what obedience to God looks like in the real conditions of a fallen world. For example, he was committed to trusting God, but that trust had to be exercised and completed in each new trail, so that Jesus could say “ THAT is what it is like to trust God – when the Romans make you carry their gear for a mile, or your brothers mock you, or you are nailed to a cross.” In this way he is not only our example, but one who sympathizes with us as one who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin, and who achieved the perfect record of obedience by which we are saved through faith (Phi. 3:9).

Here’s how this speaks to our experience of the pandemic. You are being forced to alter your daily life, cancel your plans, and navigate ever-changing pronouncements about what things will look like going forward. You will be tempted to take out your frustrations on someone, post not-so-helpful rants on social media, or become critical of everyone who isn’t doing what you think they should, including God. But this situation has been ordained by God so you can learn obedience. You are being stretched by trials so you can become steadfast and mature and resilient (James 1:3-4), just like Jesus.

This discipline, this training regimen, comes from a Father who loves you (Heb. 12:6). And it will only last as long as it is still teaching you what you need to learn; then it will end. Let it train you so you can experience the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11). Know that the Father is seeking to form Christ in you (Gal. 4:19) and nothing could be a more beautiful outcome from the pandemic. 

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 28

Your Father Knows

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:29-31)

In the Scriptures the Lord gives us many reasons not to be worried. Here Jesus promises that as we walk the path of faith and obedience to God we will have what we need to live. Those who “seek his kingdom” can be sure that “what you are to eat and drink … will be added to you.” That truth will surely calm many fears. What naturally worries us is the possibility of not having the things we really need, but if you know these are taken care of, you can relax.

Note, however, that the promise of provision is not the first thing Jesus points us to in order to undermine our worry. There is something more important to calm our fears than the knowledge that “these things will be added to you.” Really, you say? What do we need to know more than that? Here it is: “your Father knows that you need them.” 

You see, more important than having the necessities of life is knowing that you have a Father who is taking care of them. Worry is not successfully put away merely by provision but by a family relationship with the Provider. A stimulus check from the government is nice but you don’t know if they’ll be there for you in the future. A good father will be.

Through faith in Jesus Christ you have a good Father. And not just any Father, but one who knows what you need. He is attentive! He did not just give you life and then walk away. He is the very present God (Psa. 46:1) who is always dialed into your life, always involved, always aware (Psa. 139:3-4). He knows what you need – the individual, unique, specific you in your current situation. And he proved his commitment to providing it by giving up his beloved Son on the cross to meet your greatest need, which is forgiveness (Rom. 8:32).

If you don’t know you have a Father like that, then you will worry in every new uncertainty. But in Christ you are not dealing with these things alone. You have a good and all-powerful Father who knows and who will provide what you truly need. Let that free you up to “seek his kingdom” today.

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 26

Lamenting VS. Complaining

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13)

There is lamenting and there is complaining. The difference is that lamenting is taking your struggles and pain and questions to the Lord, while complaining is just charging God with wrong. One moves toward God; the other away. In this pandemic, as in all trials, we need to learn to lament and unlearn how to complain.

The psalmist (David in this case) is facing serious trouble. His enemy has the upper hand, making his life miserable. He turns the situation over and over in his mind all day, finding no answers and no way of escape. And there is no way of knowing how long things will be like this. So, what does he do about it? He asks God his questions (“How long?”), he brings God his requests (“Light up my eyes”), and then he trusts God with his salvation (“I have trusted your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation”). Then he ends with a defiant choice for joy: “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” This is the path of lament. This path leads to peace.

Mere complaint on the other hand is not a path to anywhere good. It nurses a grudge against God. It says that the way he is governing your life is not satisfactory and needs to change. Yes, there is indeed a complaint within a lament, for the trials that vex our souls are not satisfactory in themselves. But lament brings them to the Lord for his help; mere complaint has decided the Lord is no help at all.

Believing friends, you may be saying “How long” about the pandemic. You may be taking counsel in your soul about it and finding no answers. You will be tempted to stop at complaint – about the restrictions, about the government, about people who aren’t wearing masks (or who are), and many similar things. Instead, take these things to the Lord, for his ear is open to your cry (Psa. 34:15). Cast your anxieties on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). And make the defiant choice for joy, trusting that “he has dealt bountifully” with you by delivering you from your sins and into an eternal future where there will be no more cause for lament.

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 21

Meaning in Our Affliction

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

It is not affliction that we cannot endure so much as meaningless affliction. If you have cancer, you can endure the suffering of chemotherapy for several months because its goal is to make the cancer go into remission. But who can bear up under pain that seems to have no purpose, like the grief of losing a child in a car accident? If we can see meaning in affliction, it doesn’t take away the pain, but it does make it more bearable.

Paul experienced this. While planting churches he and his fellow workers “were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” He may have been thinking about his service to Christ in chapter 11, characterized by “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Every day for Paul was a day he could die for the gospel. “We felt that we had received the sentence of death.”

Was there any meaning in all of this affliction? Yes! “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” It was so Paul would grow in trusting God and in the hope of the resurrection. Such people are truly secure in this world, for they know that their true life can never be taken away; it is safe in the hands of God. 

Likewise friends, there is meaning in your affliction, including in this pandemic, because the Lord is behind it. “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14). God has made this day of adversity for us, therefore it has meaning. And part of that meaning is that we in our affliction may learn what Paul learned in his, and “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 

May the present days produce that good result in each of us. For those whose hope is in the Lord and who have the certainty of resurrection life are the most secure people in the world.

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 19

Sorrow Turned to Joy

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.  Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!  Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:3-6)

If you want to be cured of a good mood, immerse yourself in the daily news, for it seems calculated to turn your joy into sorrow. Have you not experienced this in the relentless focus on coronavirus and its effects on life, not to mention the other layers of sin and evil in human affairs? Dwelling too long on the creation in “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21) is not good for the soul.

There is a better daily news to immerse yourself in, and it is calculated to turn your sorrow into joy. The psalm announces it: “The LORD has done great things for us!” And the response to this news is, “We are glad.”

Notice that this good news does not come in isolation from the bad news. The psalm is realistic, not idealistic. The singers long for their fortunes to be restored (they have been taken). They sow in tears (life is hard). They go out weeping (heading into the workday with sorrow). They know the bad news. But they also know this isn’t the end of the story. Fortunes will be restored like streams of water to a parched land! Sowing will bring reaping! Weeping will turn to shouts of joy! 

On this side of the cross we know the fulfillment of this vision. It is in the salvation of Jesus Christ. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  …I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20, 22). 

Believing friends, when you find your joy turning into sorrow because of the state of the world, take your soul in hand and give it a good talking to. Say, “The LORD has done great things for me through Jesus Christ!” Then, as you are moved by those specific things he did for you on the cross, your sorrow will turn to joy. Joy doesn’t have to wait until Jesus returns. It is as close as the choice to dwell on the “great things” he has done.

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 14

This is My Beloved Son

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:11-13)

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” …And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:5,9)

We know of only three times that Jesus heard the audible voice of God during his ministry. The first was at his baptism (Mark 1:11), the second at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and the third after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:28). Jesus said the third time was not for his sake, but for the crowd’s (John 12:30). The first two were for his sake.

What did God say those two times? He reminded Jesus of who he was and how much the Father loved and approved of him. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Why did he pick those times to say it? Because in both cases Jesus was about to go into serious temptation and trial. The first was the temptation by Satan in the wilderness, and the second was when he began his final approach to Jerusalem to be crucified.

If that’s what Jesus needed to remember in his temptation and trial, then surely it is what we need to remember in ours as well.

The pandemic, as with all trials, is disorienting and often difficult. And God may seem remote or even silent, as he was when Jesus sought him in the Garden. It’s times like these when we need to go back to what is certain, back to what God has said. And God says to all who are in Christ by faith, “You are my beloved son/daughter. In you I am well pleased.” For to be “in Christ” is to enter into Christ’s relationship with the Father, and that makes you his child (1 John 3:2), his beloved (Rom. 1:7), and his delight (Zeph. 3:17). 

If these things are true, then you can face the future with confidence that God’s loving, approving, fatherly hand will be in it for your ultimate good, even as it was for Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 13

From Sighing to Singing

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)

This was written for the Israelite exiles to read while in their places of captivity. Though it wouldn’t be fulfilled immediately (the exile from Jerusalem lasted 70 years), it would be fulfilled in time. God’s people would again come home to their Promised Land. Knowing that would encourage them in the waiting period.

We are in a waiting period as well. Not just because we are in a pandemic and we are waiting for many things to open up again, but because we are waiting for our time to come home to the promised land of the new heaven and earth. And knowing that we will get there will encourage us today.

But we need to know what our promised land be like in order for this to be encouraging. The verse from Isaiah gives us an answer: your sighing will turn into singing. “Sighing shall flee away.” “The ransomed shall come with singing.”

A sigh is a deep, audible breath expressing sadness. We are familiar with sighing in this pandemic, aren’t we?

  • “I haven’t seen my friends in 2 months.” Sigh.
  • “I don’t remember what it feels like to hold my grandson.” Sigh.
  • “I can’t plan anything; everything is up in the air!” Sigh.
  • “Will I even have a job in the fall?” Sigh.
  • “This whole thing is really getting old.” Sigh.

Here is good news, believer: you’ll never have these feelings again where you are going. They will be replaced with singing! And it won’t be obligatory singing, the kind you do because someone told you to. It will be the spontaneous response of you who are ransomed by the blood of Jesus, who “obtain gladness and joy” because you are suddenly freed from every disappointment, from every fear of things going downhill, and from everything that is dull, bleak and depressing. You are home in your Father’s house where Jesus is, a place prepared specifically for your eternal happiness (John 14:2-3).

Sighing is temporary. Singing is forever. Count on it today, ransomed friends.

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 6

Good and Bad Questions of God

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  …And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 

…The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  … And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:13, 18, 30-31, 34)

There are good questions and bad questions to ask of God. Good questions bring our confusion to the Lord. Bad questions bring our unbelief. Zechariah and Mary, both devoted to the Lord, illustrate the difference.

Zechariah thought it was too late for him and Elizabeth to have children. Think of a couple in their early 50’s perhaps; not impossible to conceive, but after about 30 years of marriage without a pregnancy a couple puts that possibility out of their mind. Now an angel of the Lord says Elizabeth will bear a son, and Zechariah doesn’t believe it. “How shall I know this?” he asks. The Lord’s answer? “Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). Unbelief is not OK. Bad question.

Mary had a different reaction to the improbable – in fact, to the impossible! – that she would conceive a child without a man. She believed, but she was confused. “How will this be?” she asks. The Lord’s answer? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.  …nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35, 37) Confusion is understandable when finite humans encounter the ways of the infinite Deity. Good question.

We can apply this to our present situation. Believers have promises from God; that your sins are forgiven, that he will provide your needs, that he will be with you always, that you are ever the object of his love. Any of these may look improbable to you, if not impossible, given your circumstances. Unbelief says, “How shall I know this?” and as with Zechariah, God will still fulfill his promise, but unbelief will make your life more difficult.  Confusion says, “How will this be?” and as with Mary, receives encouragement, and in due time, an answer. 

Let’s talk to the Lord about our confusion, but let’s silence our unbelief at the cross of Christ, for all the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: May 5

Our God Carries Us

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts.  They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:1-4)

This is the difference between false gods and the true God: idols need to be carried, but our God carries us.

Bel and Nebo were the gods of Babylon. Their images were carried in procession down the streets to be worshipped, not unlike the golden calf that Israel made: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). But could Bel and Nebo save anyone? No. “They themselves go into captivity”. They are shown for their true colors, as nothing more than “burdens on weary beasts”, needing themselves to be carried, useless, providing no rescue for their devotees.

How different is the true God of creation! Out of sinful humanity headed for destruction he chooses to save some, a choice he made before the world began (Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8). These are the ones whom he bears up “before your birth”, whom he carries “from the womb”, and whom he continues to carry “even to your old age” and “to gray hairs”. These are the ones he saves from first to last, beginning to end, “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5 NASB). This is you if you are a believer in Jesus Christ. 

Here is the application to our lives. In times of trouble and uncertainty, the temptation is to put our hope in economic recovery or good health or some assurance that “things will go back to normal.” These are false gods who cannot save. You end up wearying yourself trying to carry them. Rather, peace comes from trusting in the Lord who carries us. He has been doing and will continue to do everything necessary to save you, to bring you into never-ending joy with him. This started before you were born and will continue to your last breath. So he says “Listen to me” and trust that this is true. He “will carry and will save.” Believe it.

Carried along with you,
Pastor Mark

Peace in the Pandemic: April 30

The Flame Will Not Consume You

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

A constant theme that is addressed in Scripture is fear. There are well over 300 texts in God’s word telling us not to fear, Isaiah 43 being just one. Fear does not need to be of the paralyzing, panic-stricken variety. It also shows up as persistent uneasiness, anxiety, and worry. In whatever form you find it, it exerts unhealthy control in your life. You obsess about “what could happen.” You make choices based on what will keep you safe rather than what will please God. If Jesus had succumbed to that he never would have gone to the cross. Sometimes the unsafe way is the right way. Sometimes it takes you “through the rivers” and “through fire.”

We find ourselves in unsafe times. Really, the world has never been safe since the fall. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). So what will lay your fears to rest? Where can you find rest for your soul, even when your circumstances are concerning? Here’s the answer. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you… when you pass through the waters I will be with you… when you walk through fire… the flame shall not consume you..”

There are three truths to stabilize the soul of the believer here. 1) The Lord has redeemed you, meaning he has taken responsibility for your welfare, like Boaz over Ruth (cf. Ruth 3:9). 2) He is with you in the rivers and the fire, meaning you don’t walk through your trial alone, but with your almighty Redeemer. And 3) You will not be overwhelmed, burned or consumed by your trials, meaning your true life,  your soul’s eternal well-being is safe. And most of the time, your earthly life is also spared the worst of what you fear. “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come” as Amazing Grace calls us to remember.

I have learned to summarize the truth of Isaiah 43:1-3 this way: When you get to the thing you fear, the Lord will be there, and it will make all the difference. 

If we imagine a future without Christ, it can only be bleak, and we spiral down in fear. But if see rightly that our Redeemer will be with us, we have confidence and a quiet heart. And this is what the Lord wants for us, which is why passages like this are in the Bible.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Mark

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