Do you praise the Lord at all times?
That’s what David vowed to do after God rescued him from the crafty Abimilech.
I will bless [praise] the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord ;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Twenty-eight years ago today my daughter Bethany was born. It was a day of great rejoicing. Marion and I had not planned on a fourth child but God saw fit to intervene. We had also not expected to have a daughter. I remember the Holy Spirit speaking to me and telling me that He was giving me what I had desired but had not asked for. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and praised the Lord.
Five years ago today my daughter-in-law Carmen lost almost all of her small bowel. I will never forget the phone call from my son Joe telling me that she was about to have surgery and might not survive. I left my desk, went for a long walk and prayed as I have seldom prayed before. I knew that Carmen’s life was ultimately in the hands of the Lord. That was a hard day, but God has shown himself faithful. I don’t say this only because she survived – although I am very thankful that she not only survived but is now thriving. Even if she had been taken from us, God would have shown himself faithful. He is always faithful to His good, eternal purposes. That is who He is.
We don’t praise the Lord only or primarily to get things from Him, although praise does release God’s blessings into our lives in a powerful way. We praise Him because He is worthy of our attention, worthy of being the primary focus of our lives. There is no-one else more worthy of our loving, appreciative, thankful attention. But we also praise and worship God because we need to. It’s good for us. Praising and worshipping God has a wonderful way of putting things into perspective for us. As we lay down our concerns and forget ourselves in praising and worshipping Him, everything else takes its place.
Not many months after surrendering my life to the Lord and going through my first series of severe tests after coming to faith, I remember being at a Christian family camp where Harold Harding was ministering in teaching and personal prophecy. I do remember some of what he said – in fact his personal prophetic word to me had a profound impact on me – but what had the greatest impact was his habit of pacing up and down the platform, praying over and over again “Thank you Lord” as he waited for prophetic words to come. I saw in him qualities of perseverance, constancy and steadiness that had developed over a lifetime of both blessings and trials. He looked for the hand of God in both, and so his life remained stable and fruitful until the day he passed into the presence of Jesus.
There’s something very stabilizing about praise. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is shaking the nations, and we can all feel its impact in multiple ways, one of the best things we can do is to turn our attention to God and praise Him. When we turn our attention away from ourselves and our concerns, and away from the opinions, judgments, mistakes, achievements and social media pronouncements of others, and fix our attention on the Maker of the Universe, we soon begin to realize how very small people are and how very big God is.
Paul wrote to the young church in Corinth during a time when they needed a dose of encouragement due to a crisis in their life together. He reminded them of their foundations.
Now it is God who makes both us and you
stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,
set his seal of ownership on us,
and put his Spirit in our hearts
as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
When we turn our attention to Him and surrender to His good work in our lives, God puts a firm foundation under our feet, and He anoints us and seals us with His Spirit – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and empowered Him for his ministry. None of this is from us. It’s all from God. He redeems us from the pit and gives us stability and hope, He gives us the power to live a new life, and He gives us the promise that His good work in us will be completed and that we will get to share in His eternal inheritance if we remain faithful.
It’s good for us, sometimes, to be reminded of the losses that others have suffered. It was good for me today to be reminded of the pain that Carmen has been through and the grief, sorrow and travail that so many of us experienced as we were waiting anxiously for news about her first and second surgeries during that horrible period of testing five years ago. It’s also good to remember our joys, as Marion and I take delight in remembering Bethany’s birth twenty-eight years ago today. But it’s even better, having revisited both past joys and past sorrows, and having taken stock of present challenges like the current pandemic, to turn our faces and our hearts to the God of the universe who alone is worthy to be worshipped and praised.
Go Buy Oil.
There are some who would say that this is a great time to buy oil stocks, when prices are at historic lows due to the COVID-19 crisis. That may be good financial advice, but it’s not the focus of this blog. Rather, in the midst of the current crisis, I want to encourage you to buy oil for the lamp of your spirit, while you still have time.
It’s clear from Scripture that before the return of the Lord, pressures will increase in society. The current crisis is not the end of the age, but it is a reminder that God has promised to shake all things prior to the return of the Lord. How we position our hearts is of the utmost importance.
In Matthew 24-25, Jesus is teaching on the end of the age, and he tells a parable to encourage us to keep our lamp of faith burning. The context of the parable is a typical first century Jewish wedding.
In a traditional Jewish wedding, after a year of betrothal during which the bride and groom were to remain separate and sexually pure, the groom would go to the bride’s parent’s home at an undisclosed time, to fetch her, and bring her to his father’s house where a place had been prepared for her. The friends of the bridegroom would await his return. When he returned with his bride, there was a loud shout of rejoicing, and the wedding festivities could begin.
The ten young women in Jesus’ parable were among those awaiting the bridegroom’s return. They were all invited to the wedding festivities but in the end, only five of the ten made it to the feast. It got late, they got sleepy, and five of them ran out of oil for their lamps. While they went to get more oil, the bridegroom came, the wedding feast began, and they missed it. Misty Edwards tells the story in this powerful song.
Jesus describes five of the young women as wise, and five as foolish. The foolish ones didn’t bring extra oil, but the wise ones did. The wise ones wouldn’t share their oil with the foolish ones, because they didn’t want to miss the wedding feast. Jesus doesn’t criticize them for this. In fact, he praises them.
So what has all this got to do with us, you may ask? Plenty. In the midst of this pandemic, it’s easy to get frustrated as we wait for it to be over. But the boredom of waiting is actually a spiritual opportunity which we shouldn’t miss. Jesus has instructed us to stay watchful and spiritually alert as we wait for His return. The key question for us is whether we will stay awake, with our lamps lit, ready for that day. Your lamp of faith and prayer can’t run on someone else’s oil. You have to have your own relationship with God. You can’t borrow someone else’s. The Holy Spirit is available to all believers, but some cultivate His presence in their lives while others run mostly on their own resources. It’s up to us whether we invest in our relationship with God. No-one else can give you their prayer life.
The pandemic will end eventually. Other crises will follow – some bigger, some smaller. Every challenging season that tests our faith is an opportunity to check our oil supply. God is willing to give us all the oil we need, but we have to seek it from Him – and it’s best not to wait for the last minute. If we want to be able to stay steady in challenging times, it’s up to us to develop the stamina we need. If you haven’t been cultivating your life in God, this is a great time for a reset. Right now we still have time to go buy oil for our lamps. Don’t waste the opportunity. One day, it will be too late.
As a believer in Jesus, you have dual citizenship. Whether you are a citizen of Canada, the USA or some other nation, your true citizenship is in heaven.
This thought that we are citizens of a different kingdom isn’t just a bit of escapist make-believe, or a nice fairy tale for young children, like the legend of the Easter Bunny. Paul, who had encountered the risen Jesus in a powerful way, was convinced that this Jesus was really alive, and was going to come again to rule over the coming Kingdom of God.
But our citizenship is in heaven.
And we eagerly await a Savior
from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who, by the power that enables him
to bring everything under his control,
will transform our lowly bodies
so that they will be like his glorious body.
It’s important for us to be clear about the nature of our hope. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us all of our vulnerability to sickness and death. The people of this age are subject to physical death, and that includes believers. For those who hope in Jesus, though, physical death isn’t the end of the story. Even going to heaven isn’t the end of the story. God has something much better, more amazing and more glorious in mind.
When Jesus appeared to his followers after the resurrection, it is clear that his body had been transformed. He was still recognizable as the same person, and could touch the disciples, break bread with them and even eat a piece of fish, but he could also go through locked doors and ascend into heaven.
To explain this, Paul uses the analogy of a seed.
What is sown is perishable;
what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonor;
it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness;
it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body;
it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body,
there is also a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Just as we have borne the image
of the man of dust,
we shall also bear the image
of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:49
What a promise. We will be like Jesus! We will have resurrection bodies like his.
When everything around us seems to be shaking, when everything seems uncertain and nothing is like what we’ve been used to, when we don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, our hearts yearn for some solid assurance. Our leaders are doing their best, but they’re evidently scrambling to keep up with ever-changing events and the latest projections as to what might lie ahead. It’s plain that no-one really knows exactly what to expect. We need something that is more substantial than the current best guess as to when the pandemic will end, or how long the lockdown will last, or what conditions will be like after it’s lifted.
The first generation of believers in Jesus also lived in uncertain times. In common with all the people of their day, they were familiar with disease, famines, wars, injustices and other troubles of this broken age. Besides all that, their convictions about Jesus and his kingdom put them in danger from both Jewish and Roman authorities. Although they respected the authority of both, they were ultimately subject to a higher authority. This is why when Paul was on trial before the Roman governor Festus and the puppet King Agrippa (Acts 26), instead of pleading for his life, he urged them to consider the claims of Jesus. His hope was not in what either of them could do for him, but in the heavenly Jerusalem which was coming down out of heaven from God. He wasn’t worried about getting something from them. Instead, he hoped to give them something better than anything that they could offer him.
We who have put our hope in Jesus are called to serve God’s purpose in our day and generation. As my granddaughter Maddie loves to sing, we need to “let our little light shine” where we are. But our hope is a better hope than just things going back to the way they were. In reality, things probably won’t go back to the way they were before this pandemic, but we have something better to look forward to. Though we know that there are still troubles to come, we also know the Lord will be with us in the midst of those troubles. And beyond the troubles, we know that we will see Jesus coming in glory to make everything new, and that we will be changed – we will bear the image of the man from heaven.
I’m a citizen of the Kingdom that is coming. I belong to the man from heaven. That’s my hope and my assurance. How about you?
For those of us whose main assignment is to stay home, the waiting is one of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many Christians, this pandemic exposes our drive to be rescuers. Surely there’s something we can do! Surely we can fix this! If only we hold enough online prayer meetings, gather enough online worshippers, fast enough, we can turn this thing around.
For the more activist-minded, this can take other forms. If only we can sew enough face masks and disinfect every surface within reach, we can fix this thing.
Of course I believe that God can be in all these activities. I have been blessed many times by online worship, and I have prayed for the online prayer meetings held by others because I believe that God can use them to reach desperate people. And I have great appreciation for anyone who is investing time and energy finding ways to serve – including making face masks. But I have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact. I haven’t made a single face mask. I also haven’t followed most of the online prayer meetings to which I’ve been invited, as excellent as they no doubt were. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. And as I myself have sought the Lord, the direction He has given me is to quiet my soul, to wait on Him, and then do what He shows me to do – which may not be what He has shown someone else to do.
What if that’s the first and most important thing God is asking of all of us, all the time? What if that’s always what He has been asking of us, not only during COVID-19?
Jesus had quite a lot to say about this. He said that He could do only what He saw His Father doing. And in case anyone should think that method of operating only applied to Him, He also had this to say.
My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
What was Jesus doing between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday? We know that His Spirit wasn’t dead, because of what He told the repentant thief. In the midst of his own agony, Jesus promised this broken man,
Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with Me in Paradise.
He was waiting. He was waiting in a good place, in a heavenly place, but He was waiting until the time set by His Father, when the three days would be fulfilled. The grave was still sealed. His body was still in the grave, awaiting its resurrection. And even after His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit, He is again waiting for another time that has been set by His Father, when He will return for His Bride.
The same thing applies to every believer in this age. We are waiting. We aren’t just waiting to go to heaven. As wonderful as heaven is, it’s not our final destination. We are waiting for all things to be made new.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life appears,
then you also will appear with him in glory.
In the same vein the Apostle John assures us,
Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be
has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears
we shall be like him,
because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
Our flesh – our old nature – doesn’t like to have to wait for things. We like everything to happen right away. But in the rhythm of Easter weekend, there is a pause between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that mirrors, in a small way, the long extended pause in which we currently find ourselves, between the Day of Pentecost and the Day of the Lord. We have hope, we know Jesus is alive, we know He is with us, but we are still waiting.
All of us are waiting eagerly for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. That will be a day of great rejoicing, but those who belong to Jesus are awaiting something far better. We are waiting for the redemption of our own bodies, and we are waiting for the restoration of all things. We are waiting with hearts full of hope, because we have a promise. We are promised that when we see Him, we shall be like Him.
O Happy Day!
I am writing this on Good Friday morning. Four weeks ago today, my five-year-old granddaughter Madison was scheduled to come for a sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa. Marion and I were looking forward to this, but a couple of days before she was to come, public concerns about COVID-19 began to multiply, and that weekend businesses and schools began to close. We haven’t had that sleepover yet. It will have to wait.
This pandemic has been much harder on some than on others. Marion and I have had no real hardship, and we are profoundly grateful and humbled for what we can only view as God’s protection and provision for us. Yes, we’ve had to defer some plans, we miss our children, grandchildren and friends, and our finances will probably be affected long term, but we are well and safe, and very conscious of the kindness of God to us.
Still, the pandemic, coupled with the recent death of my friend Jerry Wallace, who succumbed to cancer 10 days ago, has led to some sober reflection. Why should some be spared and others not? Why should I be alive and well when my friend – a devoted servant of God, younger than I – has come to the end of his earthly journey, leaving behind a grieving family?
The only answer God has given me is that my life is not my own. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased me on the cross and paid the ultimate price so that I could be free from the bondage of living for myself and live instead for him. I don’t get to decide how long or short my life in this age will be. I’ve been set free from worrying about those details. I do get to decide whether I am going to spend the years I have left focussing on myself or living for Jesus and His Kingdom.
The Apostle Paul summed up the Christian life this way.
I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
COVID-19 should not really be a shock for a disciple of Jesus. This pandemic shows us that we are not really in control. It is a reminder that we live in a dying age. Our hope is not in this age but in the age to come.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get sick or die any more than the next person, and I certainly believe that it’s an important mandate for Christians to help relieve suffering and provide care for those in need as we are able. In doing this, we follow the example of our Master. But our motivation should not be fear of suffering, but hope in the age to come and the promise of resurrection.
Jerry Wallace’s passing has been a strong and compelling reminder to me to live my life in view of eternity. Because of the cross of Jesus, I have hope for this life and for the age to come. I know that my sins are forgiven and I know that I have an eternal inheritance awaiting me in a world made new. I don’t have to be ruled by the fear of sickness, death or economic hardship. I am free to serve God by serving others, without worrying about how things will turn out for me.
Whatever happens to me in this life, I can live with my eyes fixed on the One who went to the cross for me and is seated at the Father’s right hand. So can you. If you believe in Jesus, you are free to live in hope. No matter what happens to you, it will be OK in the end. Everything in this age is temporary. His Kingdom is coming. All things will be made new, and you can expect to live with Him forever.
If you don’t yet share that confidence, this is a great time to surrender your life to Jesus and ask him to give you a new heart, a new spirit and a new focus. If you already share my hope in Jesus as coming King, then let me encourage you to use this COVID-19 crisis as a great opportunity to find ways of serving and encouraging those around you. Ask the Holy Spirit what to do. He’ll be glad to show you.
God bless you.
The three cuties in this pic are my granddaughters Madeleine, Sophie and Alivia. They live in Kansas City with their parents, my son Simeon and his wife Heather. This photo was taken during their last visit to us, just after Marion’s Mom passed away in December 2019. Marion and I had been planning to visit them this week, but the COVID-19 pandemic put plans for a visit on hold.
One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been to separate people. Our other children and grandchildren are much closer by, but we can’t see them in person either. With the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, not only can many people not go to work, but churches and community groups can’t meet as they normally do, and family members and friends can’t see each other.
Even more painful is the separation due to death. As painful as that is in more normal times, during this pandemic some have lost loved ones due to other causes and have not been able to hold normal funeral observances due to the need for social distancing. Others have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and have not been able to be at their loved ones’ bedside when they passed because of the risk of infection. In Wuhan, Italy and Spain, where the pandemic has been more severe than what we have so far experienced in Canada, at times normal funeral observances have had to be completely bypassed. All of this only serves to accentuate the sense of loss and grief due to the separation of death.
In the midst of all this separation, pain and loss, I am so thankful for the glorious truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of Christ. In the powerful closing section of Romans 8, Paul asks a rhetorical question :
Who shall separate us
from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
He goes on to answer his own question.
No, in all these things
we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life,
nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This was not written by someone who was a stranger to suffering. Paul suffered many things because of his devotion to the cause of Christ. But he had no regrets because he had encountered the love and power of the risen Christ. He knew Jesus was alive and he knew he had an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
The Bible tells us that we were made for eternity. This is why humans hate and fear death. When the author of Hebrews writes of those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery, he’s speaking of a universal human experience. But praise God, Jesus has conquered death on our behalf and opened for us the gates of eternal life.
One day we will inherit a renewed heaven and earth where there will be no more death. This is a glorious and blessed hope. We look forward to the Day of the Lord when this age of death will be over and a new age will dawn. But we have an advance taste of this inheritance now. I want to encourage you to practice talking to the Holy Spirit. He is the living deposit that Jesus has put into every believer. Not only can you talk to him, he can talk to you. He is eager to comfort and strengthen you with strong confidence that Jesus is alive and can guide your every step.
Although all of us – even introverts like me – find it hard to be separated from loved ones, COVID-19 is actually a great opportunity to take extra time alone with God and get to know Him better. The Bible talks about a secret place of the Most High, and says that the friendship or secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear him. God has not left us alone, but to experience his friendship we need to practice talking to Him and listening to His voice. This is not complicated. In fact it’s surprisingly simple. Although the Holy Spirit can speak to us in many ways, the most common way is through his still small voice, a gentle nudge in our spirits. This can come when we are reading Scripture, but will also come at other times if we are paying attention. The Holy Spirit will always lead you to Jesus and show you things that are consistent with His word, so this is one way that you can be assured you are hearing from God. If you’re concerned about family members or others in need, He can also show you how to pray for them. I often ask Holy Spirit to show me how to pray for specific situations or people, and He never fails to answer.
Jesus assured us that he would not leave us alone.
The Helper, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
he will teach you all things
and bring to your remembrance
all that I have said to you.
I will be thoroughly delighted when I can hug my children and grandchildren again, see my friends and go places freely. I’m sure you will too. But I have sensed the Spirit of God nudging me to make good use of this time of being “shut in” to get to know Him better. As much as circumstances allow, I want to encourage you to do the same. Even if you have busy young children, you can train them to take some quiet time so that you can do the same. Time with the Lord is your lifeline. He is waiting to speak to you.
God bless you.
All things. Yes, I did mean all things. All things work together for good.
All things? Everything?
Yes, all things. That’s what it says. Romans 8:28. You know the verse.
Even COVID-19? Lord, surely you couldn’t mean that.
Yes, yes I do. I do mean exactly that. For those who love Me, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.
But God … how can you mean that? How can this pandemic be good?
I didn’t say it was good. I said it can work for your good. But since you’re asking Me questions, I have a question for you. It’s a really important question. The most important question anyone will ever ask you. Do you love Me?
Well …. it’s a bit complicated right now. I mean, you aren’t exactly managing things the way I would like.
Well, do you?
I think so. Sometimes. Sort of. A little bit. But I don’t like some of the things you do – or allow.
Then maybe you should spend some time with Me, and let me show you what I want to do in you through this test.
Maybe. I guess that would be a good idea. But God, can’t you just make things like normal again, and make this coronavirus go away? I don’t like tests. I don’t like upheavals. I don’t like it when I can’t control things, or when my life doesn’t work the way I think it should. And I don’t like to see people suffering.
Yes. Yes, I suppose you do know. You know my thoughts, don’t you.
Yes, I know your thoughts. But you don’t seem to know My thoughts very well. Did you know there’s another part to that verse?
Is there? Doesn’t it just say all things work together for good for those who love You?
That’s part of it. But remember that bit about being called according to My purpose?
Oh yeah. That part. So what’s that all about, anyway?
You tell me. What do you think is My purpose for you?
I dunno. A nice, easy comfortable life here on earth – after all, I’m a Christian, right? I go to church, I believe in you, I hang out with my nice Christian friends, I do good Christian stuff, and you’re supposed to protect me and my family and make sure we don’t have any trouble. After all, we’re good people. And then I get to go to heaven. But it doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way I thought. This COVID-19 thing really has me rattled.
Yes, I noticed. But did you know that you left out a couple of bits? My purpose for you is a bit bigger than you thought.
It is? I was afraid of that.
Yep. Did you know there’s a part in there about becoming like Jesus?
Really? You expect that? Nobody can be as good as Jesus. He’s special. He’s different.
Well, I didn’t say you had to do that part by yourself. You can’t make yourself like Jesus. You can’t change yourself. Especially not when you keep trying to play it safe and stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m helping you out by letting you go through some problems.
That’s supposed to help me?
Well, how else am I going to teach you to depend on Me? You spend most of your time trying to figure everything out by yourself. So I allowed the devil to stir up a problem that was too big for anyone to handle.
I have to admit, I did wonder if maybe the devil had his hand in this. But I don’t understand why you would let him do that. I still don’t see how this pandemic can lead to anything good.
You see how your leaders are trying really hard to cope, keep everyone from getting sick. And medical researchers are working really hard to find solutions, things they can use to manage this problem. They want to find a vaccine. They don’t want to have another problem like this one again. I understand that. I understand that you’re all frightened, and you just want it to end. Believe me, I feel it. I’m hearing way more prayers than usual, and most of them are full of fear. But at least they’re praying. That’s a start. But most people haven’t got a clue what this is really about.
What is it about then?
My enemy – the devil – wants to destroy you all. He always does. He hates you, and he hates Me. But I’m not going to allow that. I am letting him test you, though. To see how you’ll do. To see how many of my people – those who say they’re my people, anyway – will actually turn to Me. Did you know that’s how you become more like Jesus?
By turning to you and paying attention to you? Really? It’s that simple?
Yes, really. That’s how it works. And not just when things are hard. All the time. You have no idea how much I love you and want to see you grow up into the amazing, glorious person I intend you to become. I want you to live with Me in My perfect Kingdom that is coming, where there is no more suffering or death or pain or anything evil. But none of that can happen unless you go through some troubles. Without troubles, you won’t change, because you’d rather stay in control, you’d rather keep things safe and comfortable. The reason I allow troubles in your life is so that you’ll turn to Me and let Me have My way in your life.
Ouch. But yes, you’re right. I see that, a little bit anyway. I do want to learn to turn to You and trust You more. I’m tired of being afraid. So what should I do? How can I fix this?
You can’t fix it. That’s the whole point. But I can. I can work in you so that you’re not so anxious, so worried, so stressed. I can teach you to trust Me. I can make you more like Jesus. I can cause you to grow in love, so that you can actually help people in this crisis and not just worry about yourself. I can prepare you for My glorious Kingdom that is coming. I can do all that. But you have to pay attention to Me.
OK God. Let’s give it a go. I think that would be a good thing. My way’s not working so well.
I noticed that. Glad you’re on side. Walk with me through this.
Thank you, Lord. Please help me. Teach me Your ways.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:28-30 NLT)
Many things have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel plans, meetings, projects, school, parties, shows – you name it. Most of these cancellations are unwelcome, although some people are discovering a hidden blessing in the enforced slower pace of life.
For believers in Jesus, something else has been cancelled, and the cancellation has nothing to do with COVID-19.
Our record of sin has been cancelled. Our punishment has been cancelled. Our penalty – eternal separation from God in the lake of fire – has been cancelled.
The Apostle Paul summed it up with these memorable words (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
If you’ve been a lifelong Christian, it may be hard to think of yourself as a potential object of God’s wrath. But the Scriptures are very clear about this. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Had Jesus not gone to the cross for us, we would stand before God guilty and condemned.
If you are inclined to doubt this, consider one simple question. Do you want your own way? If you answered honestly, you have just admitted to being innately in rebellion against God. We humans like to think of ourselves as innocent and just. It’s other people who are perverse, not us. We’re very good at convincing ourselves of this. We far prefer this to facing our own guilt. Of course, if you’ve been learning to surrender to the work of grace, then you’ve been crucifying that rebellious, devious old nature – but you can only do that because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – went to the cross, wiped your slate clean, and secured for you a record of Not Guilty.
Let’s not waste the precious and wonderful gift of freedom that Jesus won for us. Let’s treasure it. If you have put your hope in Jesus, the wonderful, glorious truth is that you are not condemned. You could have been, should have been, but you weren’t, because Jesus took your condemnation for you. You don’t have to be afraid of COVID-19. You don’t have to be afraid to die. Your sentence was cancelled. You are free – free to live a new life for the glory of God.
Even if I don’t succumb to COVID-19, the reality is that I don’t know how long I have left in this life. When I consider what Jesus has done for me, I don’t want to waste the years I have left. My record of sin has been cancelled, and so has my ticket to the Lake of Fire. By the mercy of God, I’m going to miss that party.
Instead, I have an invitation to a much better, more glorious party – the wedding banquet of the Lamb and his Bride, a celebration of God’s glory, beauty and goodness that will never end. But I don’t want to get there, and find that I’m ashamed to go in because I’m not dressed for the occasion. I want to be dressed in the pure white garments of those who have been transformed by the love of Jesus.
That choice is open to anyone who wants it. If you’ve never given Jesus central place in your life, the COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity to take stock of where you’re really headed, turn to Jesus, turn in your cancelled ticket to hell and accept your free ticket to glory.
If you’ve already done that, this pandemic is also a great time to re-set your course and decide again that you want to be wholeheartedly for Jesus, so that when you get to the celebration you’ll have no need to be ashamed, and you can walk in and enjoy the party.
Yesterday afternoon, as I came back from a long Saturday walk, I saw a small crowd gathered in front of the house diagonally across from ours. At least, it was a crowd by COVID-19 pandemic standards. People were standing on the lawn and the street in clusters of twos and threes, each cluster well separated from the next one (for the most part anyway). I arrived home just in time to observe the festivities with Marion. Standing on our front deck I could faintly hear the bride and groom say their vows. They had come together as a couple some months ago, and now they were committing themselves to each other in sacred promises. A beautiful little girl was in the wedding party, the offspring of a past relationship.
It would have been easy for this couple just to continue living together without exchanging vows, but something in them made them want to make a covenant. I believe they are hoping for a fresh start. As I listened to their vows and thought about all this, I asked God to pardon their past failures, bless their intention to have a lasting marriage, and help them stay faithful to each other. The poignancy of the moment was heightened by the uncertain times in which we live. As we move from childhood to adulthood and begin making our own life choices, many of us start out with hopes, dreams and good intentions, but we don’t always know what will come our way on the path of life. Marriage, perhaps more than any other major life choice, tests our resolve. Will we be strong enough to keep the covenants we have made?
The classic symbol of marriage – the gold wedding band – speaks of the unbroken perfection of God’s love. It has no beginning and no ending. It is perfect in its simple beauty.
It’s only the love of God that can help a marriage truly succeed. And whether or not you are married, we all need that perfect love living within us to live a life that bears good fruit for eternity. We simply can’t do it on our own.
Like the couple across the street who exchanged wedding vows yesterday afternoon, you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have good intentions. But we need more than good intentions to fulfill our hope of living a life that is blessed by God, pleasing to him, and endures to eternity. We need the power of God.
The good news is that God has made that power available to us in Jesus. Writing to a group of new believers who were in danger of being led astray by other philosophies and practices, Paul pointed them back to the simple truth of Christ in them (Col 2:8-10 NLT)
Don’t let anyone capture you
with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense
that come from human thinking
and from the spiritual powers of this world,
rather than from Christ.
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ,
who is the head over every ruler and authority.
We live in challenging times. In the face of COVID-19, all of us are tempted to feel powerless at times. We recognize the need to walk in wisdom to safeguard our health, but we can’t control the actions of others. The news is full of stories of people descending into behaviour motivated by selfishness, hopelessness and panic. Truly, fear has the power to make us do very stupid and short-sighted things.
In the midst of all this, those who have put their hope in Jesus don’t just have an example to follow. We do have that, but we have something far more. We have Jesus living inside us. And so we can have peace. He is our hope, for the present and the future. He is able to do miracles, and often does, but our hope is more than just that we won’t get sick. Eventually we will all die. That’s the reality of our life in this age. But we know that we who believe in Jesus will be with Him forever. He lives within us and is changing us day by day to make us into a better reflection of His beauty, glory and goodness – even in the face of COVID-19. And no matter what happens to us in this crisis, we know that if we stay faithful to our covenant with Jesus, we will share His glory in a world made new.
What a hope. What a promise. We are complete in Christ. We have hope for eternity. Thanks be to God.
P.S. This will be my last Nuggets of Hope post for a few days. I am sensing the Spirit telling me to pause for a time, to spend some time resting and meditating on the hope we have in Jesus so that I have fresh bread to share when it’s time for me to resume. God bless you.
In my home growing up, forgiveness was not something we ever talked about. I am very thankful for many things about my childhood, but giving and receiving forgiveness was not something we did well. When we had a conflict, we never talked about it afterwards. There would be a blowup, then the parties to the conflict would ignore each other for a while, and then eventually everyone behaved as if nothing had happened. But no-one ever acknowledged any wrongdoing or asked anyone to forgive them. It just wasn’t done. As a result, the residue of the conflict often persisted, and we all got very good at justifying our own position and finding fault with others.
It was only after being introduced to Jesus – as a real, living Lord, not just a figure from the Bible stories I learned in Sunday school – that I learned how to give and receive forgiveness. In the process of being trained in prayer ministry Marion and I were schooled in the implications of Jesus’ words on forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15),
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins.
We were trained in the practice of confession, repentance and forgiveness, based on the instruction of James, the brother of Jesus, who advised his hearers to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. We not only learned to forgive, we learned to repent, and to request and receive forgiveness – from others and from God. This saved our marriage and became a foundation stone for our life together. We haven’t always practiced it perfectly – it took me quite a while to learn not to be too hard on myself or my children – but over the years we have learned not just to forgive, but to forgive quickly and extend grace to others quickly – even when they have wronged us, and even when they don’t ask.
So what has all this got to do with COVID-19? Am I saying that your personal sins are being punished by this crisis? No, the connection between sin and this pandemic is not nearly as linear as that. But there is a connection. The earth is groaning because of the wickedness of its inhabitants, and God is shaking the nations as he warned he would do, preparing us for the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things. At the same time, Satan is raging, seeking to discourage and destroy the people of God. This is a time to search our hearts and lives. Because of the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for us, we can be completely set free from the guilt and penalty of our sin, but we do have to ask for that forgiveness. When we humble ourselves and pray, we receive assurance from God that we are forgiven, accepted, that there is no barrier between us and Him. We stand clothed in the purity and righteousness of Jesus. From that platform of assurance and confidence we can then ask Him for mercy on our nation and the nations of the earth.
I am writing this on the morning of Saturday March 28. In a little while a National Day of Prayer and Fasting will begin here in Canada. If you are able, and can get a connection, I invite you to join us by clicking on the link. If you haven’t already registered you may be able to do so. If you can’t join online, pray where you are. Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, receive the assurance that we are forgiven and washed clean by His blood, and ask Him to intervene in this crisis.
God bless you.