Nothing like a pandemic to let you find out just how much you love “the world.” I would have said that I didn’t. One might think that a longtime Christian missionary should have mastered that by now, but as the State of Calamity has dragged on in Guatemala with its curfew and other restrictions, I have found myself wanting things to go back to the way they were. I want to be free to not wear a face mask, to meet someone for coffee in a bustling restaurant, to gather with others for worship or meetings at church and greet them in person rather than on a screen, to sing in a choir, to travel out of the country and know that I could return. (Our son just got married in Boston. We watched it on Zoom.) So, one day at the height of the lockdown, this verse in I John brought me up short: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I Jn. 2:15).”
The activities I mention are not what one would normally consider worldly. They don’t really fit into John’s definition of “the world” in verse 16: “…the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does…” There’s nothing inherently wrong with restaurants, church meetings, and travel, but do I think more about resuming these and other activities than I do about being with the Lord himself forever? Which do I desire most? Another scripture comes to mind, and with it a song I learned while at missionary jungle training camp in Chiapas, Mexico. It is taken from John 21:15 where Jesus asks Peter, “…lovest thou me more than these?” (KJV) There is debate about what he meant by “these,” but for the present topic it would be helpful to take the verse to mean, “Do you love me more than you love all these things and people and activities and generally, life in this world?” As the song says, “The master still asks this question, ‘Lovest thou me, lovest thou me more than these?’”
The familiar is more comfortable than the unfamiliar, at least for some of us. While we can read and sing, expectantly and fully believing, about the wonders of heaven and being face to face with the Lord, we’ve never been there, never seen him. Sometimes, during worship, fellowship, or private devotion, we may have caught a glimpse of what heaven would be like, when it actually feels like this world fades away and seems unimportant, when we truly desire that world more than this one. Perhaps we should be encouraged to seek such times more often, set aside times to think about the Lord’s love for us, and our love for him. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37,38)”. Surely the more that we love him, the more we will want to be with him, and the less we will “love the world.”
(Unless otherwise noted, all Bible references are from the NIV.)
"O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalm 54:2, ESV)
There is a back story to the psalmist’s plea of Psalm 54:2, alluded to in the psalm’s introduction. The inhabitants of Ziph told King Saul where David could be found. This was the time when David had been fleeing from Saul because Saul was actively trying to kill David. Why would the Ziphites of the tribe of Judah support Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, but not support David, from the tribe of Judah? The Ziphites may have simply made a political calculation to side with the more powerful army of King Saul, perhaps leaving David feeling betrayed.
While David had a small army of 600 men, it was a large number considering the logistics of feeding and hiding them all. Reading the account, I sense that God was providing “just in time” help. A little earlier David had received some prophetic guidance saying that he and his men were unsafe in their current location, so they left and kept moving around. Then Jonathan showed up with some encouragement for David. But a short time later, Saul was chasing David on one side of the mountain and David was fleeing on the other. Abruptly, Saul received a message that the Philistines were attacking the land, so he left off chasing David and went to face the Philistines. Whew! Answered prayer.
We could compare our current situation to David’s plight in this account. Today, we live in an age when our world has shrunk. Something like Covid-19 (our King Saul equivalent) comes along and hops over oceans and infects our people. It is invisible, powerful, kills the compromised and may be damaging those who recover. Covid is no respecter of persons. We have a real crisis. What do we do?
Let’s follow the example of David: he prayed. In verse 1 of our Psalm, David related salvation to God’s “name.” It was like saying, “O Yahweh, save me.” God save me. Today, we say, “Jesus, save me.” It is to Him we turn in our time of trouble. We might thoughtfully read, “O Jesus, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.” I find it interesting that David called on God to “hear” his prayer and in subsequent verses speaks with the assumption that God was listening and God would help. When we call on the Lord, we can assume the same, that he is listening, and he will help.
Another Covid-era lesson we could learn from David’s attitude in Psalm 54 has to do with something our Lord taught the disciples about forgiveness in Matthew 6:5-15. David offered a sacrifice in God’s name for his deliverance in 54:6-7. Today we might consider taking action against our “enemy” in God’s name by sacrificially forgiving those who sin against us, like when people are hoarding, defying health laws, and taking advantage of others. I was offended, for example, when I was told I was “gringo” so I must be spreading Covid! I find this to be one of the most challenging spiritual warfare weapons to master. I’m still working on forgiving my enemies. How about you? We can ask God to hear our plea for help in the area of forgiveness. He will give ear to that as well.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (NIV)
This pandemic has been quite an interesting time for all of us. During this season, we have struggled. We have cried, and we have mourned the loss of what we considered normal. This has created tension within society, and has made us all struggle with who we are. For me, however, it has been a time to find renewed community among people from our church. This community is centered around encouraging each other, praying, and reading the Bible together via Zoom. This little group is the Tuesday night Bible Study.
Recently, dealing with life in this time of uncertainty, I have found a lot of peace in the text of Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus takes his disciples outside of Jerusalem, and when they are very far away, he asks them a deep question. This question throws them off balance. He asks first: "Who do people say that I am?" With this question, Jesus is inviting his closest disciples into an interesting situation by asking them to interpret what others believe about him. Jesus knows that they have heard things, and that they have also been caught in the midst of some of these conversations.
The second time he asks them, he changes the question a little bit. He asks: "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus now engages them at a deeper level, and they begin a conversation about who Jesus is that will change their lives. Peter is the one who nails the answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." With this declaration, Peter asserts Jesus' divinity and recognizes him as the true God.
However, what I want to draw our attention to is the process that it took for Peter to speak this truth. Jesus took the disciples outside of Jerusalem, outside of their sacred center. That means that they needed to be away from what they knew and away from what was familiar about God and Jesus. Jesus took them to a place that might seem a bit weird for that kind of conversation.
In the same way, during this pandemic, we are away from what we know. We are away from our conventional ways of worshiping. We are physically distant from each other. We are in uncharted waters, which makes me think that this is the perfect place for that same question. Who do we say that Jesus is? Who do you say Jesus is?
Lord, help us rethink what our faith community can look like. Help us enter the uncomfortable to discover who Jesus truly is. Use this time of not being able to worship in a building to lead us to find true worship. Give us community even though we cannot be physically close to one another.
Before writing Psalm 18, David had been in terrible distress and danger, but God had preserved his life and rescued him. Because of God’s help, David hadn’t just survived; he had emerged victorious! So, he sings this psalm of praise and thanksgiving for all God has done and for who He is to David.
Key verses from Psalm 18
1 I love you, Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.
6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.
30 As for God, his way is perfect; the Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?
46 The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! (NIV)
This is a great song of worship and praise for the Lord’s divine intervention, delivering David against all odds from his enemy Saul, and also for bringing David through his difficulties to a safe place. When we seek God and hold on to his word, then we find peace and hope, because no one else is God, no one else is Lord; only He is the Rock.
God is our rock -- stable, strong, firm and safe. He is our shield, the one who guards us and keeps us safe. God is the strength of our salvation, so whenever we are weak, we will surely find strength in Him. God is our stronghold, the place where we go for protection.
God's way is perfect and His word is flawless. In the middle of all the current uncertainty, disease, death, suffering and everything that may darken this temporary place we live in, we must remember that this, too, is part of God's perfect plan. We can always read God’s flawless word and trust that ALL IS WELL!
The one place where we can find refuge is in Him. Today we need to come before the Lord, our Rock and our Savior to praise and worship Him. God still is, and always will be, in control.
Since God is ever-present, almighty, loving and unchangeable, we too can sing this song today and every day of our lives. God has always and will always intervene and deliver us from our enemies, from dangers, from trouble.
We need to call on God: Lord, be the strength of my salvation when I call on you, be my rock, my shield, my stronghold. Lord, I will ever praise you because you are worthy, because your ways are perfect and your word is flawless.
We are involved in a war—not with a national, political enemy, but a spiritual war between the God of the universe and the god of this world. This battle has eternal consequences. We know how it turns out in the end: God wins! However, while we wait for that last chapter, single battles may be lost in our culture. Ultimately, we know that our Lord will triumph and those who are faithful will triumph with Him. Everyone will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).
While we look forward to that day and pray that our Lord would return soon, we must still take cultural conflicts seriously. God’s people are under attack in many parts of the world. Christians are persecuted for their faith. Our values are challenged. We are ridiculed and sometimes forced to pay a price for taking a stand for righteousness and practical holiness. Our enemy is often brazen, while we sometimes appear to be asleep at the wheel.
A former White House correspondent declared in an interview that she would gladly offer sexual favors to President Clinton because of his support for abortion rights. What is striking about her comment is not that she would make such an offer to the president. It is her brazenness in making such a comment, her contempt for morality, and her confidence that our times have degenerated to the point that she could make such an offer openly -- with little expectation of public outcry from today’s “politically correct” media!
Few people are as “brazen for Jesus” as she was for her cause! The day may be approaching when our advocacy of righteousness may have to be more boldly asserted if our message is to be heard in today’s marketplace of ideas.
The intensity of the spiritual battle going on around us was apparent to a friend who spent a couple of days in Indio, California. It was so hot outside that he decided to stay indoors to study and finish some writing projects. When he went out for a bite to eat, the temperature was well over 110 degrees. While driving to a restaurant, he spotted a couple of young men in white shirts, ties, and dark pants, on bicycles. They had stopped at a street corner, in the hot noon sun, to share their faith with a pedestrian.
Some might suggest that it is more stupid than strategic for those young men to be out in such brutal heat. Still, how many Christians do you know that plan their life, and count it a privilege, to donate one or two years in an adverse climate in order to share Christ with other people? The cultural war we’re part of will doubtless require us to make the tough choice between being uncomfortable on the front lines or remaining behind closed doors in comfort.
We are engaged in a war. We already know how it will end. But what are we going to do about the local battles God has called us to fight. Daniel attempted to prepare God’s people for the coming battle. He warned them that the enemy would deceive God’s people and lead them astray. In the midst of the conflict, he assured them that the people who know their God would resist him and that the wise would instruct many, though some would die for their faith (Dan. 11:32-35). Nevertheless, those who remain faithful and take a stand for godliness will ultimately triumph. Are we willing to take a stand for God and for godliness in our society?