Loving One Another in the Quarantine

This time of isolation and quarantine is difficult. But it has had at least one benefit: I have been renewed in my appreciation of the gathering of the body of Christ.  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so they say. I couldn’t agree more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in the book Life Together, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” How true! This echoes the sentiment of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).  The opportunity to come together for worship, fellowship, and discipleship ought to be the highlight in the life of the believer.

Though we cannot come together, we are doing what we can to maintain some semblance of regular life and ministry in the church.  The doors are still open for those who want to come and meet for prayer and study. We continue to offer our Sunday morning worship, even though we are recommending that everyone tune in via our cable broadcast and Youtube. 

Still, it’s not the same.

I am reminded of those times when Paul wrote to the churches about his desire to come to them (Rom 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:8) to share in their fellowship and ministry. He also wrote to Timothy and Titus at times, urging them to come to him when he was in prison (2 Tim 4:13; Titus 3:12). John, in writing to the church, twice states that though he had much to write, “I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; 3 John 13). To paraphrase the apostle, I have much I could write in my blog, or say on Facebook Live – but I would rather talk with you in person, so that our joy may be complete.

But for the time being we continue with the quarantine. 

This time of social distancing, however, need not hamper our expression of love in Christ for one another. As a matter of fact, social distancing, and forsaking our rights and privileges for the sake of those around us, may be one of the greatest demonstrations of love we can ever show.  Paul wrote in 1 Cor 13, “Love does not insist on its own way…”  For the sake of loving our neighbor, we are called to lay down our own lives, our own desires, our own preferences, all to show the love of Christ.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We are practicing isolation so that we do not wrong our neighbor, and in this is love (Rom 13:10). Martin Luther, when asked what the Christian’s response should be during the midst of the plague, wrote:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate (disinfect), help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague – To Rev. Dr. John Hess)

If we want to be the body of Christ, and love one another well, let us recommit to praying for one another. Call the members of your church, your neighbors and friends; find out how they are doing, and pray for them. Intercede before the throne of God on their behalf. 

Long ago I heard a pastor talk about just how powerful a sign of love intercessory prayer really is. You have this opportunity to come before God, to ask Him all that your heart desires. Your first desire is for His glory, but long before you pray for yourself, you pray for those around you. Saying I will pray for you is not some cliche line to end a conversation, it is a pledge that you are on my heart and I will plead your case before our heavenly Father.  This is love.

Another way to encourage one another, even though we cannot be together, is to bless one another with the Word of God. Send cards, emails, or post on Social Media scriptures of promise and hope. As you spend time in the word daily, share what you’ve been reading.  When you call on your fiends and loved ones, share with them God’s Word. Don’t miss the opportunities God has given to let His Word be spoken. Build up and encourage one another with the gift you’ve been given.

Remember, the church is not the building, it is the people of God. Even in this time of isolation and distancing, especially in this time of isolation and distancing, we are to be the Church for one another. Beloved, let us love one another.

SDG

Plagues and the People of God

These are unprecedented times.  The world has come to a standstill, towering economies brought to their knees, social constructs completely disrupted – all because of the Coronavirus. The ethos of fear and anxiety has surpassed that of 9/11, and like those bleak and troubling days, we have no sense of when this will come to an end.

And yet, this is nothing new.  Last week I shared a video about how John Calvin and the Company of Reformed Pastors in Geneva responded to the plague in their day. The Church has, throughout its existence weathered the political, social, and physical storms of each generation with a witness to the Gospel and a shelter for the soul.

Knowing this, I turned to the Scriptures and did a quick search on plagues in the Bible, trusting that God’s Word would give us insight into the crisis we face even today, so that we might have a heart of wisdom and know how we should respond. Here’s a brief summary of what I found.

  • The Scriptures are very clear that plagues, famines, and sicknesses do in fact come from the hand of God. The first plague we read of in Genesis 12 was brought upon the people of Egypt by God to prevent them from abusing Sarai. After that, we read (Exodus 8-12) of the 10 plagues upon Egypt, through which God brought out His people from slavery. From that point, the majority of the plagues we read about in Scripture are upon the people of Israel, as in the case of the people’s rebellion with Korah (Numb 16), their grumbling about meat (Ex 32), or for their infidelity and immorality as they were led astray by Balaam (Numb 25 & 31).
    The Westminster Confession reminds us that “God the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of  his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
    To that end, we must come to understand that all things, even times of sickness and sorrow, come from the Sovereign will of God, who orders all things for the praise of his glory.  We must learn to see even pandemics such as this as God’s instruments through which He brings about His good and perfect will.
  • We know that the plagues against Egypt served to demonstrate that God is able to save His people, and to show that God alone is worthy to be worshiped and praise.  In Exodus 9:14 we read, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you (Egypt) yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.” The plagues that come from God are the demonstration of His power and justice.
  • In Habakkuk 3:5, we read that when God makes Himself known, pestilence and plague come before and after, making His divine judgment upon the nations known. Likewise, in Zechariah 14, we are told that God will humble the nations that do not serve Him through plagues and punishment, so that every knee will bow in worship before the Lord.  This theme is picked back up in the book of Revelation, where in chapters 9 and 15-16, we read of the plagues of the judgment and wrath of God against the sinfulness of the world.

It is evident, through these passages, that God sends plagues upon the world as a demonstrated of His wrath and judgment of sin. But these aren’t the only times we read of plagues.

  • The majority of the plagues in the Old Testament are not directed toward the nations, but actually to the very people of Israel, the congregation of God’s people.  Here is a list of examples:
    • Ex 32 – A plague of the people of Israel because of the golden calf that Aaron made.
    • Num. 11:31-25 – When Israel complained of manna and insisted on meat, God sent quail to them, but brought a plague upon them while they were eating.
    • Num. 16 – Following Korah’s rebellion, the people complained that Moses had actually killed the rebels, and a plague broke out because of their grumbling.
    • Num. 25 – Called the sin of Peor, a plague came upon the people because of their immorality and infidelity.
    • Num. 31 – There was a plague on the congregation of Israel because many had been led astray by Balaam’s teaching.
    • 2 Sam 24/1 Chron 21 – A plague comes upon Israel because of David’s census.
  • These plagues are sent upon the people of God as discipline. The people were rebellious, unfaithful, and immoral, and God would correct them of their sin. The wrath of the Holy God of Israel  was visited upon His people when they sinned against Him.
  • Each time a plague comes upon the people, there is an intercession, by Moses or David, a prayer to relive the suffering of God’s people.

We see, then, through the Scriptures, that God sends plagues upon the land as a demonstration of His wrath against those that do not honor Him; but also to discipline His own people for their faithlessness, idolatry, and immorality.

But does this apply to this world-wide epidemic today? The circumstances may be different, but the principles remain the same.

This virus is not outside the bounds of God’s sovereign plan and design. This too will serve to bring Him glory, honor and praise. Even that which we consider evil, God will use for His good purpose.  Remember the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold Him into slavery. At the end, when he is reunited with his brothers, having saved them from the famine, he tells them, “What you intended for evil against me, God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).

We cannot know, in the midst of this trial, just what purpose God is working in these trials and challenges. We can, however, use this as an opportunity to repent and seek after Christ more and more.  The plagues came upon Israel because of their unfaithfulness to God, so that they may learn not to trust in false idols, but to worship God alone.  Our hearts are still prone to idolatry, and we must cast down the false gods that catch our eye, and look only to Christ, fixing our eyes upon Him.

We are different, however, from the people of Israel in one important point – we are redeemed, saved, and delivered from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ our Savior.  All the wrath of God for our sins was poured out upon Him, so that He has borne God’s judgment and punishment in our place.  We need not be terrified of the plague of God’s wrath, for Christ has become the plagued for us.

That does not mean that we will not still come under the discipline of God, for as a loving father disciplines his son, so our Heavenly Father disciplines those whom He loves that they may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-11).  God may use this time to wean us from the things of this world that were competing for His glory and attention.  God will refine and recreate His people in the image of His Son, and this time of upheaval may be just one of the means through which He chooses to bring that about.

In all, let us look to our Sovereign God, who cares for His people, and will never let them out of His hand. Let us trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation and peace. And, as the Holy Spirit moves upon us, let us grow in holiness and devotion to the Lord.

SDG

Outbreaks & the Church

I know that the outbreak of Covid19 (Coronavirus) has been on everyone’s minds.  If you go to the stores, there’s been a run on some of the staples (and toilet paper for some reason), and many of the non-essential activities in the community have been canceled to encourage “social-distancing” to slow the speed of the virus.

How should the Church respond? This has been the pressing question your elders have been asking, but it’s not a new question. We face this question every time there is severe weather making travel to the church unsafe. We’ve faced this question when there has been an outbreak of the flu or other community crises.

This is an interesting and unique situation.  The virus spread quickly and easily, and it affects the elderly and immunity-compromised more than any other group. We are reminded to wash our hands well and often, to avoid touching our faces, and to limit interaction with others so as to not be exposed to the virus or pass it along.

Still, there are few standard responses that apply to every situation that we should remember. Like washing your hands, these are always applicable:

  1. Pray – If you are healthy, take the time to pray and give God thanks for keeping you healthy and strong.  But also remember to pray for those who are affected by the virus, those who are sick, full of anxiety, or facing financial difficulties because of loss of work.
  2. Love – Pandemics and social crises tend to bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen how this current issue has been politicized, only adding to deep divisions in our nation. We’ve also seen how there has been a run on essential needs in the stores, as people race to make themselves secure.  Let us not forget that, even in times of crisis, we are to love one another and care for each other.  Remember to put the needs of those around you before yourself, and as we’ll hear in the sermon on Sunday, to be willing to lay down your life for the sake of your brothers and sisters.
  3. Be-Sober Minded – This is one of my favorites instructions in Paul’s letter.  Basically, in today’s vernacular, Paul is saying, “Don’t lose your head.”  Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Remember that death has no power over the Christian, and that no pandemic, no virus, no sickness, can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Trust in the Gospel truths, and let them stand as your bedrock when the rest of the world is shifting sand.
  4. Remember Who Is In Control – When the government, the press, the scientific community, and even social media get’s everything wrong and can’t seem to get their act together, this is a reminder that those who put their faith in the strength of man will be ultimately disappointed. Put your hope and truth in God, for He is still on His throne, and even this is part of His good and glorious design.

Here are some links to a couple of things I’ve read/watched, that may be encouraging for you as well:

Should Christians Be Anxious About the Coronavirus? From Todd Wagner writing for The Gospel Coalition – With the increasing coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across the United States wonder how to respond to the increasing alarm. What would God have us do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Cancel travel plans? How should we help a panicked world?

How did John Calvin and the early Reformers Respond to the Plague?  This is a video from a PCA Pastor Matthew Everhard on how Calvin and the company of pastors in Geneva cared, at great cost, for those affected by the plague.