By / Nov 5

Do you feel the world is broken?
(We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
(We do)

These opening lines from Andrew Peterson’s song “Is He Worthy?” leave many of us wanting to shout “We do!” We do feel the world is broken. We do feel the shadows deepen. We feel it as a pandemic rages around us. We feel it as natural disasters ravage our lives. We feel it as political tensions dominate our communities. And we eventually find ourselves living in fear. 

According to a Pew Research study, 69% of Americans fear that state governments have eased restrictions too soon amid the pandemic. In May, 83% of Americans said they were concerned that lifting restrictions in their area would lead to additional COVID-19 infections. Fear of this virus is real, and it rages all around us. Is it okay to go to the grocery store or give a friend a hug or travel for the holidays? The things that so many of us used to do without worry are now sources of sometimes intense fear.

On top of the pandemic that seems to keep dragging on is a U.S. presidential election that has consumed media and conversation and been the source of high tensions across the country. A report from the American Psychological Association last month found that 68% of adults said that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was a significant source of stress. This is driven not only by fears of whether their candidate will win but also by fears surrounding filling out absentee ballots correctly, intimidation at the polls, and election violence in the days following the election. 

How should the church respond to such fear?

We should be reminded that Scripture speaks to our fears. Fear should not be a taboo subject in the church. Jesus is not intimidated by our fear. Instead, he recognizes our fear (Matt. 10:28) and invites us to come to him (Matt. 11:28). And Paul reminds Timothy regarding his calling as Christ’s ambassador, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Our fears are real, but we are not alone. As followers of Christ, we are equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever you’re afraid of in this moment, remember that Jesus is bigger (1 John 4:4), and he will sustain you. 

In our battle against fear, we should be honest in acknowledging that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:2). The enemy wants to use fear to lead us away from trusting in Christ, but fear is not the victor of this story. Those who are in Christ are no longer slaves to sin or fear. Instead, we are children of God called to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-18).

But what do we do with the very real fear we are experiencing right now? What does it look like for us to surrender our fears to the Lord and rest in him? How do we live in the righteousness God has called us to when we can find reasons to fear all around us? Perhaps this could be a starting place for us:

  1. Stop doomscrolling. Doomscrolling is “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.” Set up app limits on your phone to help you cut back on the time that you spend on social media, or set aside periods of the day to do something you enjoy without checking social media or the news. 
  2. Live in community. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to live in community. For some, that may look different in this season of COVID-19, but nonetheless, we should be faithful in seeking biblical community for the building up of the body of Christ. In community, we find diversity in thought and giftings, which God uses to bring hope and healing and ultimately his own glory (Eph. 4:1-16).
  3. Delight in the Lord. Be faithful to spend some time each day reading Scripture and praying. We were created for relationship with our Creator. Delight in him, and allow him to shape the desires of your heart (Psa. 37:4).
  4. Be still. And know that he is God. He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth (Ps. 46:10). Trust that the sovereign creator of heaven and earth is still on the throne. None of our fears change who God is. He will be glorified even if our worst fears come true. 
  5. Seek counseling. As we navigate fear, we sometimes experience hurting that we don’t know how to navigate alone but that we know we want to grow through. Seeking a professional counselor can be a step toward light and restoration.

As believers we are called to know Christ, trust in him, and make him known. Any fear—whether that be COVID-19 or a political election or anything else—that is stopping us from pursuing Christ and living to glorify him can be used by the enemy to dishonor our faithful God. Instead, cling to the Father (Psa. 91). Whatever you’re afraid of in this moment, remember that Jesus is bigger (1 John 4:4), and he will sustain you. 

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah with a message about his character that is still true today, saying, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10). The fear that we may be experiencing is real, but it has no power over us. God calls us to rest in him. He is the one who is our refuge and strength in the midst of uncertainty (Psa. 46:1). Even though we feel that the world is broken and see the shadows deepen, we will not fear because we know that our God will be exalted (Psa. 46:10).

By / Nov 5

Ever since Adam’s rebellion plunged mankind under the curse of sin, humans have sought to answer the question of how to live full and flourishing lives. Historically, individuals known for providing answers to this question have been given the distinction of philosopher. At the thought of this title, most will recall thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, or Kant, but one influential figure typically left out of such a company is Jesus Christ. This exclusion is probably unsurprising to most. After all, both Christians and non-Christians agree that he was primarily a religious figure, one concerned with making humans right with God. This project seems to be in an entirely different category than the philosophical pursuit of happiness in this world. 

In his new book, New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington (Reading the Gospels Wisely, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing) charges that though this vertical, religious view of the person and work of Jesus is correct, it only tells part of the story. He argues that the Holy Scriptures are concerned with more than simply how to get to heaven when we die—they also present us with an ethic for the Good Life. By walking through the big ideas presented throughout Scripture, the Christian approach to emotions, relationships, and other themes, Pennington’s Jesus the Great Philosopher provides a rich and relevant guide into how the Christian gospel gives a whole-life philosophy that makes possible a flourishing existence in the here-and-now. 

Summary

Pennington begins with the observation that modern evangelical Christianity often presents a truncated picture of Jesus’s message that is bereft of his philosophical whole-life wisdom. He argues this has resulted in four key problems:

  1. Our faith has become disconnected from every other “non-religious” aspect of our lives.
  2. We turn to alternative sources for wisdom for the Good Life.
  3. We fail to seek from Scripture its answers of how to live rightly in the world.
  4. Our inability to confront these questions has limited our witness to our neighbors (10).

To address these problems, Pennington builds his case for seeing Jesus as a philosopher, beginning with a survey of whole-life teachings in the Old and New Testaments. He then explores three different issues and presents their Christian solutions. These issues include educating emotions, which involves liturgically shaping (not coldly disregarding) them in accordance with Scripture (104). Next is a discussion on restoring relationships with both individuals and broader society in which the local church is the central “worshiping polis” (168). To conclude, Pennington asserts that the goal of the Holy Scriptures is to return mankind to a life of happiness by “reshaping humanity into the image of Christ” (204). In this manner, he shows that the Christian faith is a philosophy that not only presents answers to the religious questions, but also a whole-life ethic that gives instruction for the Good Life.

A philosophy the world needs

Jesus the Great Philosopher is a welcome and well-reasoned rediscovery of the full scope of biblical teaching. It speaks to a multiplicity of issues that encompass human life, highlighting areas often thought to be separate from that to which the Word speaks. While the breadth of topics Pennington addresses is wide, the reader never gets the sense that he has overstepped his bounds. His insights are broad yet concise, informative yet nourishing.

The recognition of our union with God in Christ as our greatest good does not render our horizontal relationships with our neighbors and the world superfluous. Instead, it equips us with the proper tools to rightly relate to it all and advance his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

It is also a timely and important work given the tumultuous state of affairs of the past year. For a time in which people are more isolated, angry, and confused than anything in recent memory, Pennington’s book demonstrates that Christianity addresses these issues by offering salvation through faith and the instruction that makes possible a full and abundant life (John 10:10). 

Thy kingdom come

Jesus the Great Philosopher also speaks directly to the belief often implicitly held by modern evangelicals that the redemption offered by Christ merely affects our individual souls rather than creation in its entirety. Its commentary challenges the common American anticipation of an eschatalogical departure from the physical realm to a heavenly existence. Indeed, Pennington’s work helps remind us that the redemption Christ brings isn’t an escape from this world. Rather, “It is the message that God reigns and he is now finally bringing his kingdom from heaven to earth—through Jesus himself” (165)!

This kingdom-focused mindset prompts us to defy a detachment from this world and adopt a God-and-neighbor focus that allows us to embrace and enjoy life to the full. As such, the human experience and its enjoyment are dependent on a right view and ordering of our emotions. While it is important to recognize the necessity for contentment in all things (Phil. 4:10-14) and to model the Lord’s impassibility, to imitate our Savior means to reflect him as he was: “fully emotional, but in a way that was always harmonious, not imbalanced, inappropriate, or disordered” (111). A biblically-informed shaping of our emotions helps us to rightly order the objects of our love such that the Good Life is made possible. 

This right ordering of our desires finally gives us the capacity to delight in this world as God intended. This is not to say that we enjoy such blessings apart from the One who gives them. On the contrary, we delight in them through him. But the recognition of our union with God in Christ as our greatest good does not render our horizontal relationships with our neighbors and the world superfluous. Instead, it equips us with the proper tools to rightly relate to it all and advance his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Pennington writes that the Christian philosophy emphasizes “an honest assessment of the brokenness of life that is always oriented toward a sure hope for God’s restoration of true flourishing to the world” (218).

Overall, Jesus the Great Philosopher is a clear and enjoyable text that presents an important rediscovery of the broad and robust message of the Holy Scriptures. Pennington effectively addresses a wide range of issues with a skillful yet conversational tone, providing the reader with an active and engaging text. Timely and relevant, this book gives Christians the important reminder that our Lord and Savior is also our Philosopher who gives us not only redemption and salvation, but also the tools necessary for the Good Life.

By / Sep 23

For a long time I’ve had a serious problem. And it is the kind of thing I’ve always thought I couldn’t talk about. My problem is doubt. I know that might not seem like a scandalous revelation. But to be honest, for most of my life I felt enormous pressure to keep my doubts a secret. And I think there are two reasons why.

The first reason is that I didn’t want to undermine the faith of anyone around me. It’s not as though I felt like the people in my life only believed in Jesus because of me. But I didn’t want to have anything to do with causing someone else to question their faith. The second reason is even more personal. I didn’t want to admit that I often struggle to believe in my best friend. And that is what Jesus has been ever since I was a small child—my very closest friend.

Doubt and despair

I was in junior high school when I first began to deal with doubt. And of all things, I think it was reading Greek mythology that kicked it off. As I began to learn about the vastness of our world and the multiplicity of beliefs about God and life after death, I began to question my beliefs. And for the first time I wondered if I was merely assuming my beliefs were true because they were the only ones I’d ever known.

As time went on, more things compounded these questions. I learned about other religions, each of which had its own perspective on both the divine and the meaning of life. I was introduced to agnosticism and atheism, and alongside these, secular humanism and Big Bang cosmology. And even as a teenager, I realized that Christianity wasn’t something I could believe by default. My faith was no longer something I could take for granted.

In college I was surrounded, for the first time, by smart people who rejected my beliefs. Not only that, but many of them were effective apologists for their own. And during those years, I went through something like the dark night of the soul.

I remember lying on my bedroom floor in the middle of the night, crying out to God, and feeling ridiculous because I was certain no one was listening. I was crushed and in despair. My faith that was once so certain was anything but secure. And Jesus, my best friend, felt so far away. But probably the worst part was that I was ashamed to reach out for help. I didn’t want to harm anyone else’s faith, and I didn’t want to admit where I was with my own. 

But thankfully, Jesus came through.

Help for my unbelief

One day during this time I wandered into a LifeWay bookstore and picked up a tiny book called, of all things, Doubting. In this little volume, the author, Alistair McGrath, offered real answers to my questions instead of merely brushing them to the side. Though I have not read it in many years, what I remember most is that McGrath helped me understand that my doubts didn’t erase my faith. He showed me, as strange as it may sound, that my faith was actually the best defense against my doubts. 

 Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too.

Around the same time, I started to dig into apologetics. I wanted to learn the answers to the questions people put forward to challenge Christianity. The more I learned about defending the faith, the more answers and hope I gained. Ultimately, I realized that if the Christian story is true, it is strong enough to withstand any challenge or scrutiny.

But as much as those things helped, nothing helped me more than Scripture. I learned that the Bible is a book for doubters and skeptics. And in my early 20s, I began to devour God’s Word, specifically the New Testament. The more I read, the more I found that my doubts were relieved.

The men and women featured within the pages of the New Testament who followed Jesus and continued to advance his ministry after his ascension laid everything on the line to do so. Nothing stills my doubts more than this reality. The Apostle Paul suffered greatly—stonings and shipwrecks and snakebites—all for the sake of the gospel. For me, his most comforting words were these: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19) Or as Lecrae put it, “If Christ ain’t resurrected, we’ve wasted our lives.”

Freedom to doubt, and believe

One of the most helpful passages of Scripture for doubters like me comes from Matthew 11, when John the Baptist—the cousin of Jesus, who declared him to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”—is in prison. At this time, John knows he is about to die. But before he makes that final sacrifice, literally giving up his head for the sake of his faith, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John is imprisoned because he made enemies by faithfully proclaiming the words of righteousness. But before he embraces martyrdom, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the Christ, just to be sure. Instead of rejecting John because of his doubt, Jesus answers John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus assures John that indeed the kingdom has come and that he is the long-promised Messiah of Israel. Jesus was not ashamed of his cousin. In that very passage, Jesus offers John assurance, and then commends John as the greatest man ever born of a woman (high praise coming from the eternal king of the universe).

Meditating on that passage brought forth a realization for me. If Jesus wasn’t ashamed of John, he isn’t ashamed of me or my doubts either. Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too. After all, Jesus is also the good shepherd. He is patient and gentle with his sheep. If, like me, you are prone to wander in the midst of doubt, Jesus is always faithful to seek us out. And he will carry you, if necessary, in order to bring you back and help you believe.

By / Aug 31

I wore it with the confidence of a No Fear brand ambassador. I believed my neon yellow WWJD bracelet flashed the message I’M A CHRISTIAN, setting me apart from the world and in with the Jesus freaks.

Like other Christian movements of the 1990s, the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon spawned a generation of youth group zealots motivated by peer pressure and rewarded with false assurances of holiness. Yet also like other movements during that era, WWJD carried a grain of truth. Christians should act like Jesus. Even in our current politicized evangelical landscape, the command to imitate Christ is indisputable.

Though WWJD had obvious flaws, I wonder if it deserves something of a reboot today. Hop onto any social media platform, and you’ll soon find examples of Christians acting in less than Christ-like ways. While many evangelicals have panned cancel culture, the problem extends beyond casting out a public figure to casting stones at anyone who expresses a thought or opinion that bothers you.

Take the example of the debate about COVID-19 gathering restrictions. Various opinions have been shared and stances taken on social media. In one situation, a commenter tagged several friends and told them to come after a particular individual in order to “share truth.”  Within 48 hours, more than 500 accusing comments maligning this person’s character had been recorded. 

You’d think that Christians would rise above such malicious behavior and strive to maintain a credible witness. Yet, we seem just as likely to set comment threads ablaze as the next keyboard warrior.

Tracing the source of the fire

Why is it so hard for us to tame our tongues on social media? Social scientists posit several theories about what ignites these online firestorms. One study suggests that people become aggressive online to punish those who are violating social norms—for example, insulting a politician who is abusing power. Aggressors assume their words are justified because they believe they’re standing up for the greater good.

Another study indicates that moral grandstanding—the use of moral talk to seek higher social status—contributes to vicious speech online. That study also found a link between moral/political conflict and social vigilantism, which is the desire to correct others for espousing what you consider to be bad or incorrect beliefs. Both moral grandstanding and social vigilantism are associated with polarization and breakdowns in effective communication.

Given our mission to shine truth in a dark world, it’s understandable that Christians could fall into harsh communication patterns while trying to champion moral imperatives. You could call it a misguided inversion of WWJD: “I believe I’m doing what Jesus would do, and will take down anyone who opposes Jesus’ (my) conviction.”

The problem with this mindset lies in a basic yet often forgotten truth: We’re not Jesus. We’re sinful. We don’t possess all authority, wisdom, and power. We can’t peer through our screens and pierce the thoughts and intentions of other people, nor do we bear responsibility for correcting every person for every wrongdoing we think they committed. 

Asserting ourselves as Jesus doesn’t effectively serve Jesus. As Christians who are being sanctified in truth, we still make mistakes and jump to wrong conclusions. So we can’t rely on our assumptions as a compass for how we respond to other people. In fact, the Bible issues a stern warning against those who assume superiority while speaking venomously: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). And as fallen human beings, we still have trouble taming our tongues (James 3:8). 

Christians are supposed to submit every idea we encounter to the authority of Scripture, but we rarely submit our gut reactions to the same scrutiny. Even when righteously indignant fires burn within our chests, we should bring our frustration to the Lord first before spewing it online. Though there might be times to correct error and call out false teaching, we should try to do so gently and with humility. Recognizing our own faults and exercising patience with others can help us avoid the ruin of foolish talk. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Prov. 18:2).

Looking to the author and perfecter of our speech

Following Jesus’ lordship means we should learn from observing his communication style during his ministry on Earth. Jesus spoke to others with compassion, gentleness, and concern for their physical and spiritual welfare. He talked to strangers, practiced active listening, sat with the suffering, and remained silent under false charges. At no point did he tell his disciples to gang up on someone who offended him. Throughout his life, Jesus submitted to the mission that directed his every step: to obey the will of his Father.

Of course, we can’t overhaul our sinful speech habits by simply parroting Jesus’ words. Change must begin in our hearts. Michael Horton emphasizes this distinction in Pilgrim Theology: “The evangelical call of the New Testament is not to be like Christ, but to be in Christ.” When we root ourselves in Christ, digging into the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study and meditation, and service, we can banish corrupting talk and speak what is “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). As we draw close to our source of renewal, words of life will naturally pour out of our mouths like fresh springs instead of cesspools.

So what would it look like if Christians today committed to examine our words before engaging online? Making such a radical pledge of self-moderation could revolutionize the digital forum and testify to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

Think of how reflecting on Jesus’ example might change the way you interact on social media. What if, before firing off a nasty comment on someone’s Facebook rant, you prayed for them? What if, instead of bashing a person who tweeted something you considered wrong or offensive, you DMed them to initiate a private conversation? What if we, as children of God being conformed to the image of his Son, made the shocking decision to not post anything on social media when we’re too riled up to communicate in a gracious, God-glorifying way?

We can’t say with certainty what Jesus would post or not post on social media, or if he would create any accounts in the first place. Rather than invent hypothetical scenarios of what Jesus would do if he were to take over our social media platforms, I suggest we adopt his main ambition in life. Before posting, let’s pause and ask, “Would this please God?” For we aren’t ambassadors of our own opinions or feelings, but rather imperfect, in-progress followers of Christ.

By / Jul 29

The New Testament presents the Christian life as a journey, a pilgrimage—what one Christian author has described as “a long obedience in the same direction.” In Scripture, we see a picture of the Christian life with all of its anquish and simulatenous hopefulness. A spiritual struggle, a battle, continues throughout one’s life. This struggle is quite real as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25 and his teaching in Ephesians 6:10-17. And his own difficulties on full display in 2 Corinthians 11 must not be ignored.

The tension between the now and not yet

Yet, for Paul, these challenges are not an excuse for a joyless or slothful life. In fact, his approach is quite the opposite. Deliverance from the struggle is clearly promised, but it is an eschatological hope. We need to recognize that believers live between the fulfillment and consummation of ultimate redemption. We are “in Christ,” but the old age of flesh is still in existence. While our justification has been accomplished by Christ at the cross and affirmed by his resurrection (Rom. 3:24-4:25), we nevertheless are “in Christ” and “in Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). Between Christ’s resurrection and his return, there is an interval, which is the time in which we currently live, a time characterized by tension as believers struggle with sin, weakness, suffering, and death (Rom. 8:17-27; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5; Phil. 3:10-14).

The entire Christian life is lived in light of the tension between what we already are in Christ and what we hope ultimately to be some day. Conversion is only the beginning; the new has not swallowed up the old. We do not attain sinless perfection in this life, nor are we ever freed from the tension and struggle with indwelling sin. Believers remain in the conflict of which we are ever aware and responsible. Christ followers are called to persevere in the midst of this struggle so as not to be overcome by the world, the flesh, or the devil. We seek to make progress in godliness with the hope of complete transformation into Christlikeness at the time that we receive our resurrected bodies at the consummation of our redemption (Rom. 8:29-39). 

We sometimes read about professing believers who deny the faith they once professed or who experience what seems to be a moral collapse. While there are various factors and life issues that contribute to these events, one of the problems for the church is that the New Testament picture of tension and struggle is not adequately portrayed, causing people along the way to give up or give in. The picture of the Christian life, as presented by Paul and the other apostles, must continually be presented in the church’s teaching and preaching. For a proclamation that promises only peace, pardon, and power will ultimately result in disillusioned followers of Christ who live with a sense of defeat and duplicity. 

The entire Christian life is lived in light of the tension between what we already are in Christ and what we hope ultimately to be some day.

While the understanding of struggle and tension is never an excuse for slothful living, believers need not be depressed nor conclude that grace has lost the struggle. Instead, perseverance is a marker of genuine life for true and persevering believers. We must constantly be judging indwelling sin as an offense toward a holy God. We live with the lifelong struggle while also living with the sense of joy, peace, and thankfulness for the life of grace and for the eschatological hope of ultimate transformation. The conflict seen in Romans 7 and 8 is real and does not represent only a minority of the regenerate community. Instead, it applies to the whole church as we constantly declare our dependence on God, the grace provided for us in Christ, and the spiritual enablement that comes from the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.

Helping one another pursue faithfulness

Are there practical ways that will encourage faithfulness in this life as we await our ultimate redemption? Perhaps Paul’s concluding words in his first letter to the Thessalonians will provide a helpful guide. Participating in a grace-filled church community that shows compassion for those in their struggle will be extremely helpful (1 Thess. 5: 14-15). Encouraging believers to regularly read the Bible devotionally and to develop a prayerful lifestyle is another important step. 

We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to be joyful, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Joy is not the same as happiness; it does not depend on our circumstances and is the antidote to gloominess. Whether in the midst of conflict, in times of desperation, or on a peaceful day, we are exhorted to always be in an attitude of prayer. We may not be happy about all of our circumstances, but even in them, we are to be thankful, because it is God’s will for Christ followers to be people of gratitude. Ambrose of Milan said, “No duty is more urgent than returning thanks.” When our lives are one constant “thank you, Lord,” we are liberated from selfish ingratitude and lives of debilitating self-interest.

As we participate in this journey with others in the church, we are called to encourage theological and spiritual discernment (1 Thess. 5:19-22). We are not to be gullible on the one hand or overly critical on the other, but we are called to a life of wisdom and discernment that comes from knowing and understanding God’s Word and his will and way for believers. We need to surround ourselves with other believers who have Spirit-enabled insight into the meaning of Scripture and its application for the contemporary world. 

Believers need to prioritize the importance of making progress in this pilgrimage while also finding ways to help others along the journey. We are able to do this as we are sanctified through and through in every aspect of our being (1 Thess. 5:23-28). This journey is not individualistic, but it is to be carried out in fellowship with others, praying with and for others, investing in their lives and asking others to do the same for us. Genuine fellowship and love for others is vital for progress in the Christian life and for the gospel to advance.

May God help us all develop lives of faithfulness carried out in grace-filled communities that will provide encouragement for us and for others—a community in which we can celebrate together and cry together. We must recognize that the Christian life is not some one-time decision but is an ongoing purposeful and intentional commitment for a lifetime. Both the struggle and the deliverance are true and real in the lives of believers. Although Paul speaks autobiographically about these things in Romans 7 and 8, it is apparent that he speaks by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well as by implication for all of us who are constantly in need of God’s grace, enablement, and blessing. May God grant us grace to persevere in this life so that those who live and serve with us in community as well as those who come behind us will find that we were faithful to the end.

By / May 27

The Christian life is never easy. Growing up in the church, I was told constantly that living as a Christian would be challenging, but I didn't really know what form those challenges would take. As a believer, you are called to die to yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24-26). You are called to fight against sin (Heb. 12:1). But one of the things I didn't realize believers are constantly called to fight against is unbelief.

Last week, I saw another Christian with a large public profile announce that he was walking away from the faith. I was sad. I didn’t know him personally or follow his career closely, but it’s always hard to see a Christian abandon the faith. And I think my sadness was compounded by the fact that this was not the first or even the third high-profile Christian to make this kind of announcement in recent days. 

It is difficult to describe the pain that can come from seeing someone you look up to walk away from Jesus. Even for someone who has rock-solid faith, that experience can be jarring and lead to, at least, momentary doubts. A similar kind of pain and disillusionment can arise from seeing Christians or even the church fall short of the standard of Jesus. I’ve noticed that many times, the doubts and struggles that Christians experience come as a direct result of seeing other Christ-followers manifest the kind of brokenness and sin that Jesus came to save us from.

Focus on Jesus 

This is the reason that I (following a practice I’ve learned from others) try to stress to the men that I’m discipling, or the Christians I work with closely, that they should take care not to focus on me—or anyone—more than Jesus. I am flesh and blood. I am redeemed but fallen. And I fail and fall short every day. I am grateful to God that I’ve been able to positively influence and encourage other men and women through my faith and ministry. But knowing myself as I do, I know that if they ever begin to see me as more than merely human, they will soon be disappointed. 

For the same reason, I try to be honest with those around me about the sins that I struggle with. I don’t want people to be surprised when they see me stumble or fall. I want more than anything to be like Christ, but the best way I know to point others to Jesus is to let them see me when I’m faithful and when I fail. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. It’s great to have human heroes. We are supposed to look up to those who are ahead of us in the faith. But more than once, I’ve experienced deep pain from seeing men and women I look up to act in ways contrary to the convictions we held in common.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Paul wasn’t calling himself some kind of super Christian when he exhorted others to follow him as he followed Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). I think Paul knew that the people he was ministering to needed both things. They needed to look at Jesus, to see his example, and to know what perfect obedience looks like. But they also needed to see Paul—a fallen and frail disciple doing his best to keep the faith and run the race (2 Tim. 4:7). While Jesus is a perfect guide, Paul was only ever a man. And in Paul we see faith and fear, triumph and trepidation. There is a lot we can learn from him about faith and faithfulness and even failure, but only if we remember that Paul can never take the place of Jesus.

It really isn’t a mystery why some people would become disillusioned with the church. Jesus has a messy bride. The church is full of sinners and hypocrites like me (and you). Every day people who identify with Jesus sin in ways large and small—sometimes in ways that are truly scandalous. But when we really think about it, we shouldn't be distracted by the missteps of our fellow brothers and sisters. Nor should we be disillusioned by the church’s shortcomings, which can be remarkable at times. After all, when each of us look inside of our heart to truly see ourselves, we see all of the sin and brokenness reflected in the world—we’re just usually better at hiding it. Often, the church merely reflects the brokenness in our own hearts on a much larger scale.

If you find yourself tempted to doubt or despair because of others’ failings, no matter what else you see, don't miss Jesus. He has never left and has never changed.

So when we see the church embrace bigotry or fail to stand against injustice or appear hypocritical, it is natural that our hearts are filled with judgment and disappointment. Like our Creator, we are supposed to hate these things. But before we judge or look down on our brothers and sisters, we should remember all of the times we’ve done the same (Matt. 7:3). We should think of all of the times we’ve failed to speak or spoken in anger or failed to act or harbored contempt. We should, in other words, reflect upon the very real and present sins in our hearts and realize that the church is not made up of good people who constantly embrace their vices, but sinful and fallen people whom Jesus is redeeming.

Jesus is the center

And this is the whole point. To get Christianity, you can’t focus on the circumference. You must focus on the center, which is Jesus. The essence of our faith is not the church, nor our core beliefs, as precious as both of these things are. Instead, the center of our faith is a person. And in our darkest moments, we would do well to remember what most of us have always known. It is easy to miss because it has grown so familiar, but the most radical truth that defines the gospel is that Jesus, the Son of God and rightful king of the universe, condescended and came to save us. And, as with every good story, he did it for love.

John 3:16 is more than some familiar trope from the Scriptures. It is the gospel. God loves us. God came for us. And, in Christ, God saves us. The problem with our disillusionment is that we often don’t go far enough. The gospel is a scandal: a perfect God redeemed a wicked people. I totally understand what it means to be scandalized by the brokenness we see in the world, especially when it occurs among the people of God. Sometimes sin leads to tragic, even unspeakable, wickedness. But the truth is, we should not be more scandalized by the wickedness we see than we are by the fact that these are the people God has chosen to love and forgive and redeem.

Right now we experience only glimpses of the perfect life that is to come. But those glimpses simply punctuate our experience of brokenness in what Paul described as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). We should long for Jesus' return and yearn for that day with hope and expectation. But when we see the brokenness of his bride, we should be driven mostly toward adoration instead of toward despair. It is right that brokenness breaks our hearts. It breaks God’s too. But he sent Jesus anyway. And through Christ, he is right now doing the work of turning back the curse and reversing the effects of sin.

I’ve struggled with my faith for most of my life. But there is always one thing that brings me back no matter how hard things might be. Jesus is always there. And no matter what kind of brokenness or pain I might experience or see in the world around me, I know that when I look to Jesus, I not only see a better way, but a better future. And when I’m tempted toward doubt or unbelief, he always pulls me back. If you find yourself tempted to doubt or despair because of others’ failings, no matter what else you see, don't miss Jesus. He has never left and has never changed.

By / May 7

Note: This article is intended as a starting point for your church as you consider the right course of action for your local congregation. Leaders will need to make wise decisions for their local church in line with local, state, and national guidelines, considering the needs and safety of their church members and community.

When should churches reopen their doors to allow in-person worship? This is a question that is on the minds of pastors and church leaders around the country. Bound up with this question are a whole host of others, too: What benchmarks will signify that it’s safe to gather again in person? When we do reopen, what precautions ought we to take?

Admittedly, there is no one-size-fits-all plan that will work for every church. Not only that, but we’re nowhere close to a “return to normal,” as many public health officials warn. Additionally, how and when churches reopen will vary from church to church based on size of congregation, location, local and state guidelines, the number of cases in their area, the demographics of their congregation, and the willingness of their members in returning to onsite gatherings. New information arrives each day, and with it the landscape seems to be changing constantly. But here are four things every church can do as they start to ask when the right time is to reopen their church.

What should churches do as they consider when to reopen? 

A previous article laid out four primary suggestions churches should consider when determining how they should respond to the coronavirus. In many respects, the same four suggestions remain—they merely apply to a different question now. Here are those suggestions and how to apply that same principle now:

First, churches should identify reliable, local sources of information. It may be obvious to say we need expert, reliable information, but it’s more critical than ever that we identify relevant local information as well. Some communities are reeling with overcrowded hospitals and large numbers of cases while other communities have seen far fewer. Churches need to take these factors into consideration. Regardless, choices must be made based on objective data, not subjective impressions.

Second, churches should assess their practices. There are all sorts of things that we take for granted as a normal part of church life—ranging from handshakes and greeting times to passing the offering plate and singing—which take on new significance and risk in a world rightly concerned with contagions. Churches should think through every aspect of the churchgoer’s experience, asking where the risks are and how people can be protected.

Third, churches should overcommunicate their plans. Go far beyond what you think might be necessary to explain to people what measures have been put in place and how their safety has been prioritized. Clear, careful, and intentional communication in advance of what you are doing, and why, is necessary and helpful. Internally, make sure different ministries are not communicating conflicting things. If you are requiring certain practices at church gatherings, communicate what those are repeatedly and carefully. When plans are undetermined or subject to change, be transparent about when decisions will be made and what will guide that decision. It’s difficult to overdo this step.

Fourth, churches should encourage their people. Even if churches put together incredibly well-designed safety measures, even if the curve flattens dramatically, and even if local authorities give the all-clear, there are still people who, understandably, are going to be anxious and/or cautious about returning to church. In many cases, they may be right to feel this way. In every case, be quick to be understanding.

How are churches considering plans to reopen? 

To get as practical as possible, we asked dozens of pastors around the country what criteria they were thinking through in order to make these determinations. Below, you’ll find synthesized responses from pastors and church leaders of all different sizes (from small churches to megachurches and everywhere in between) situated in widely different contexts (ranging from rural to urban to suburban areas).

  • Timing: Some were planning to reopen immediately; others said they had no expectation they would be able to reopen until Labor Day at the earliest.
  • Information: All were consulting CDC, state, and city guidelines. Some were looking at practices local schools and universities were implementing.
  • Phases: Most were constructing flexible plans with different phases that would consider how many could safely gather in their meeting space practicing social distancing guidelines.
  • General consensus: Every pastor interviewed expressed eagerness to return to in-person gatherings as soon as possible, but many pastors also admitted a fear of rushing back too soon and a determination to make sure they were protecting their people well.

What phased plans are churches considering?

Rather than a concrete timeline, many churches are developing plans in concert with their state and local government recommendations, as well as CDC large-gathering criteria. As different communities move into different phases, wherein larger numbers of people are allowed to meet together, the churches have a plan for each phase. While churches may not know when each phase will occur, they have a plan for how to proceed when the time comes based on the size, demographics, and the needs of their congregation. While churches had several different phases in their plans for reopening, in general, the following is how they planned to proceed:

  • When gatherings of less than 10 are permitted most churches were not meeting in-person and had all their services or gatherings online.
  • When gatherings of more than 10 are permitted several churches were hosting small watch parties gathering in homes to watch the Sunday service together. One church planned on doing this regionally, while having visitors to the church watch the service at the pastor’s home. Others planned to resume in-person small groups at this point with social distancing in place. For some churches, this meant their small groups would need to meet on campus rather than in a home to have more space to spread out.
  • When gatherings of 50 or more are permitted some churches decided to resume at least one in-person service while livestreaming to the rest of the congregation. Other churches planned on hosting several services to accommodate more people taking the necessary cleaning and distancing precautions. Still other churches thought it was better for their church to wait to resume Sunday services until more of their people could join. Some churches considered drive-in or outdoor services the best option at this point. Plans varied in including limited attendance with tickets or sign-ups, recommending or requiring masks, no food or beverages offered, and communicating to those who were most at risk that it was okay to stay home while offering them ways to connect to the church community from home.
  • When gatherings of 100 or more are permitted some churches said they plan to gather but considered several different options for the main service, while continuing to livestream the main service until their congregation was fully back. Several churches considered creative ways to continue to include the vulnerable and those who would be hesitant to initially return. 

Importantly, just because churches are free to host services, several pastors indicated that this did not mean they would rush back immediately.

What about children’s ministry?

Most churches did not plan on resuming children’s ministry until the latter stages of their plans. One shared that they won’t resume children or student ministries until phase 3 of the federal guidelines is implemented. Several churches were considering additional resources for families to aid them in discipling their kids since there was no kid’s program offered. For more on this issue, see “12 Things to Consider When Reopening Your Children’s Ministry.”

What other areas are churches considering?

Teams/Committees

Several churches formed a team or committee to meet for the length of the pandemic and to plan for reopening because they recognized they had members in their church who have expertise to contribute to the discussion. These teams varied in size and contributors, but included custodians, medical professionals, health department officials, business professionals, educators, pastors, and church or ministry leaders. These teams were an integral part of decision making and communicating policies and procedures. One pastor explained that this team of knowledgeable individuals not only helped them develop a wise plan for reopening, but their work allowed the pastors and ministry leaders to focus on caring for people in the crisis instead of on the logistics of reopening. 

Beyond your church committee or team, consider the benefits of networking with other churches. Several churches were keeping apprised of what other churches in their area or of a similar size were doing. A number of the Southern Baptist state conventions have been diligently working to provide their churches with resources specific to their state. These are helpful resources to be aware of and familiarize yourself with.

Facilities

After several weeks of closure and when planning for reopening, consider what needs to be done to prepare your facilities.

  • How will you practice social distancing when necessary before, during, or after the service? Consider especially seating and greeting time. Will you seat people in every other pew? Will they be grouped in a certain way? Will someone direct people to seats? Will families sit together spaced out from other groups? How will you communicate this to the congregation?
  • Do items need to be removed that might attract touches and germs (hymnals, pew Bibles, etc.)? 
  • What can be adjusted for extra precaution (doors open, welcoming procedure altered, etc.)? 
  • What supplies are needed for preparing, welcoming your congregation back, or following local guidelines (disinfectant, wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, globes, masks, thermometers)? 
  • What areas will be utilized and which will be closed for the time being (play areas, drinking fountains, etc.)? How will you make that clear? 
  • What areas will need to be regularly disinfected once open (doors, counters, elevators, stair handrails, bathrooms)? Who will take care of that and when?
  • How will entry and exit from the building and sanctuary/worship hall be managed? Will guests enter one way and exit another?
  • Will you need to consider multiple services, multiple venues, or alternate venues to abide by guidelines? See “Sunday services” below for more details.
  • Will you need to consider alternative venues for a time if your current venue is not able to accommodate services?

Volunteers

As you reenter, volunteers will likely be more essential and more scarce. You will likely need more help with the possible increased number of services, reduced class sizes, or needs unique to this season, like ongoing sanitation. Some of your usual volunteers may be unable to help due to sickness, health concerns, their comfort level in returning to on-campus gatherings, or temporarily relocating to another area to live with family during social isolation. You will likely need to recruit new volunteers and train all of your volunteers, so they are familiar with your COVID-19 protocols. The more prepared you and your volunteers are, the more confident people will be to return to in-person services. So before you return, a virtual training time for your volunteers can be helpful. When setting up virtual training, consider work and family schedules for time offerings. It may be helpful to record the training for those who are unable to attend at the set times.

Sunday services

Depending on the guidelines given nationally and locally and your church size, several changes to Sunday services may be necessary. 

Depending on church size and social-distancing guidelines in place, some churches may choose to provide multiple services to accommodate their church members. Some churches shared that they planned to have services in different parts of the building at different times (e.g., the fellowship hall at 8:00 a.m., the sanctuary at 9:30, and the fellowship hall again at 11:00), thus allowing one room to be sanitized while the other is being used. 

Regardless, if you decide to offer multiple services to allow for social distancing, you will need to plan for time to clean in between. You may need to change the time or the length of your services to accommodate for this. Some churches are considering small changes such as moving their announcements online to provide more time.

Also, as many churches will be unable to offer children’s ministries when they initially gather, you will want to consider what changes need to be made in the service to accommodate having younger children present. Several churches are considering what creative and additional resources they can continue to provide parents in this season to help them disciple their children.

If you do not normally offer your services online but have during this season, you may want to consider continuing to offer your service online for those who are more vulnerable or who will not immediately return to in-person gatherings.

Other considerations for your in-person service are:

  • How will those on stage practice social distancing?
  • If you will offer baptisms, what precautions need to be in place?
  • Will you administer the Lord’s Supper? If so, how will you do that safely?
  • When it is safe for the choir or orchestra to return? How much space is needed to make sure congregational singing is safe? What guidelines will need to be in place?
  • How will you safely collect an offering?
  • What changes need to be made to your prayer ministry to allow for social distancing?
  • How will your greeting time or dismissal need to change?

Other gatherings

In addition to deciding what the church will do for Sunday gatherings, leaders will also need to determine how the church will return to their other gatherings. Some churches will resume in-person small groups before the Sunday service, while others will continue virtual small groups for a season while returning to a Sunday service on campus with social distancing practices.

One pastor said, “We’re going to experiment on the margins, not in the main.” What he meant is that he felt like his church was responding well to Sunday mornings online, so he wanted to avoid the whiplash of resuming Sunday morning services, only to have to take it away again and go back online if things in the area worsened. He also said that when they do decide to reopen they would start with something smaller than the Sunday morning gathering, say, a Wednesday evening prayer service with social distancing. Onsite and offsite church gatherings may or may not follow the same guidelines. Each church will have to determine those guidelines and communicate clearly.

Additionally, the use of the church building by outside groups will need to be considered. Some churches because of time constraints and facilities limitations will likely need to suspend outside usage. Others may need to consider what policies they implement for outside events such as food and beverage usage, social-distancing policy, or a cleaning agreement.

Additional considerations

Because there have been so many unknowns in this pandemic, additional considerations may need to be built into a plan for reopening. 

  • What will your response be if there’s a recurrence in the area?
  • What will signal that it is okay to reopen children and student ministries and what is your plan for communicating clearly about their safety with parents? Will you need to change our check-in and check-out policy? Will you need to implement modified classroom procedures and maximum classroom numbers? What will your plan be for overflow?
  • What will you do in the present to care for children and families until children’s and student ministries can reopen?
  • What will be your decision points for summer events like VBS or summer camp?
  • How will you care for those who aren’t ready to return? What online or alternate options can the church offer?
  • With so many people experiencing job loss or financial constraints in this season, how will your church serve those in need? Do you have a system for knowing needs and opportunities? Will you collect a benevolence fund? How will you know who is in need? Are there resources or opportunities in your church that can be matched to meet the needs?
  • When should the church office reopen? When should in-person spiritual/pastoral care resume? How can you provide necessary support to church members in the meantime?
  • When should in-person committee meetings resume?
  • If you have a preschool or school, when should that reopen and what guidelines should be in place?
  • What other ministries may need to reopen but with adapted guidelines?
  • How can we consider and serve vulnerable populations?
  • Are there specific populations we need to care for in specific ways? How can you serve families in crisis or medical providers? How can you encourage people to reach out to their neighbors in appropriate ways?
  • What creative ways can you minister in areas where the normal procedure won’t work?

Additional Resources

By / Apr 15

This past weekend many pastors across America faced a situation they never would have imagined: preaching an Easter sermon to a congregation trapped in their homes.

We should be exceedingly grateful that the Lord has given us the technology to make remote preaching possible. But our appreciation does not dull the sense of loss that is felt when standing in your living room preaching to a video camera. Pastors have a natural longing to worship in the presence of God’s people, especially on the biggest holiday of the year, which is why we are all wondering, “When will we be able to meet again in person?”

The short answer, of course, is that no one (other than God) knows when that day will come. While many medical experts and government officials have expressed their preferences, no authority in our country can set a definitive timeline because they are weighing multiple factors in making the decision to lift the stay-at-home orders, some of which are presently unknowable.

Medical factors

In an ideal situation, the decision about when it was safe to return from a medical crisis would be based solely on medical criteria. Although the medical models have varied widely (mostly because of lack of adequate testing and data in the United States), the medical elements that weigh into the decision are rather straightforward: We need to drastically lower the infection rate and/or drastically increase herd immunity.

The infection rate (R0 or “R naught”) describes the average number of additional infections caused by a person who has contracted the virus. For example, measles is highly contagious with a range  of 12 to 18, while influenza is moderately contagious with a range of 2 to 3. That means a person with the measles will (on average) infect 12 to 18 other people, and a person with the flu will infect 2 to 3. 

A new study highlighted by the CDC says the median R0 for COVID-19 in the China outbreak was about 5.7. Ideally, social distancing practices can help to get the number below 1, the point at which the virus is not spreading fast enough to be an epidemic. However, if the number stays above 1, the epidemic will continue until there is sufficient herd immunity (i.e., when a high enough percentage of a community becomes immune to a disease because of vaccination and/or prior illness).

Because we currently have no vaccine available, the percentage of herd immunity right now is based solely on prior infection. It will take time for herd immunity to build up to appropriate levels for the quarantine to end. Some predictions estimate that there could be an additional 1.5 million to 1.7 million deaths (the same number of people who died from cancer in 2019) before we reach the necessary level of immunity in the general population. 

Psychological and political factors

If medical considerations were our only concern, we could just implement “suppress and lift” policies based on the infection level of a geographic area. But as we’ve seen, many Americans oppose such measures for a variety of reasons. Some reject any sort of quarantine (seeing it as a violation of their civil liberties), while others are confused as to why different parts of the country are not also quarantined. Further, the emotional toll of the stay-at-home strategy is beginning to wear on even the most committed social distancing advocate. However, government officials know that it will be difficult to begin another round of quarantines once this one ends.

Since we don’t have adequate testing, the best metric for the peak of the crisis is the number of daily deaths related to COVID-19. Current projections—assuming full social distancing through May 2020—estimate the peak occurred around Easter weekend. Some state governments are likely to reopen or loosen restrictions as early as May 4; others may attempt to hold out longer. 

Now is the time to prepare 

Elders of local churches need to prepare policies and communicate how they will be implemented. Here are some questions that will need to be addressed:

How will you decide when to reopen? Scripture tells us that we must be subject to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1). But we should recognize that there are multiple authorities speaking into these decisions. If guidance issued by various governments and public health officials about when it is safe to meet seems unclear or to be in conflict, make sure that you are committed to taking every precaution to care for and protect the people you serve in your church and community—and make sure you are communicating your plans to them. 

When will you reopen? Will you hold church services the first Sunday after being allowed to do so? What if the announcement comes on a Saturday? Will your ministry team be prepared? Even when shelter-in-place orders are lifted, bans on large gatherings may remain in place. Smaller congregations may be able to meet in person, while larger church bodies may still be legally prohibited. Pastors need to prepare now to deal with how that difference might affect their church community.

What mitigation policies will you be putting in place? Being allowed to return to our church buildings does not mean our churches are safe from the coronavirus. How will we protect the elderly, pregnant, and immunocompromised? What mitigation measures will be put in place to protect our people? What level of risk are we willing to accept to meet again in person?

These are just a few of the questions all churches must address. Whether you are a solo pastor or have a staff of hundreds, you need to make plans for how you will respond to the myriad concerns of your congregation. You don’t need to have all the answers, but your people should see that you’ve given these issues serious thought and consideration. Some of them will be putting their health in your hands, so be sure you’re using this time of lockdown to prepare for the time when the church doors open once again.

A version of this article originally appeared here.

By / Apr 13

When the first of our spring activities were canceled a few weeks ago, my husband and I discussed the possibility that a shelter-in-place order would be in effect. At that time, it seemed like we were talking about a dystopian novel rather than our lives. Before that day was over, everything my family had scheduled for spring had been canceled, local schools were closed, and even regular rhythms on our calendar, like worship with our church family, had been indefinitely suspended. The shelter-in-place order recently took effect for our county. All across America—all across the world—people are experiencing the same thing as COVID-19 spreads. 

As I’ve been processing this time with my family, the word that keeps echoing through every conversation is change: rapid, unexpected, sweeping change. People are suddenly out of work. Kids and teachers have to adjust to online learning. Businesses and restaurants are closed. Even how we’re grocery shopping is different. But so much is also the same. In these tumultuous times, to comfort my heart, I keep coming back to three things that will not change. 

1. We can trust God even in uncertain times. 

Taking time to be in nature does me good. The children and I recently walked along a creek, following its bends and turns. The only sounds we could hear were the water babbling, toads croaking, and birds singing. They were accomplishing the job God had for them without a care about what was happening in the news. The same God who clothes them and put their songs in their throats is caring for us today. We don’t need to fear what news tomorrow will bring. Our God knows what is happening and what we need, and he will continue to provide for us. 

I have found myself anxious just to know what would happen tomorrow, next week, and next month. If I only knew, then I could cope and plan. My desire to know is a desire for control. I’ve forgotten my limitations and that God alone is omniscient. We have a good God even when the world around us is filled with what’s bad. As the world around us seems to be unraveling, we have the promise of the cross. Our hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the only thing we can count on. 

And this is the best news for us. This good news is for me, my children, my husband, and everyone else. We all already know that this world is full of pains and troubles. But there is hope, even in death, for those who are in Christ. We don’t need to be anxious about tomorrow. The Creator of the universe is in control, so we can rest in peace and put aside all anxiety. 

2. Jesus is the security plan. 

If you had asked me three weeks ago if I was trusting God, I would have said an emphatic yes. But this past week revealed that I was actually trusting in all sorts of other safety nets, and those have all proven to be not so safe after all.

We don’t need to fear what news tomorrow will bring. Our God knows what is happening and what we need, and he will continue to provide for us.

As I’ve been wrestling with the emotions and thoughts that keep popping up, my theology is reminding me of where my hope is. My hope isn’t in ease while grocery shopping or in fat investment accounts. I have no eternal security in jobs or even in our good health. There is no promise of businesses opening tomorrow or even next month. But I am promised that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Even in hard times, he is working in me to conform me to the image of his son. He has been kind to reveal sin in me that I need to turn from. He has shown me his lovingkindness and grown my affection for him. He has taught me more about who he is. My hope in him is secure. 

God provided us with the perfect security plan when he sent his Son to die for us. We needed to be rescued from our sins, and he accomplished that in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the only security plan we need and the only one we can trust. 

3. God’s love will endure. 

All four of my children were belly laughing as we fed goats while out on a walk the other day. As my heart swelled with joy, I recognized that I was experiencing a moment that I want to remember forever. For a fleeting minute, I wished I could freeze my children in that happy place and keep them from the brokenness of this world. When I read the daily headlines about this global pandemic, I find myself scared for my family. Will we get sick? Will we have to tell the children that someone we love has died? Will we lose our income?

We can plan all we want, but only the Lord’s will comes to fruition. We can rest in that because God loves us so much more than we can even understand. His love is an enduring, never-changing, without failure, perfect love. We are not promised protection, but we have been promised that nothing—”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” (Rom. 8:38-39)—will separate us from the love of God in Christ.

No one but God knows how quickly the spread of COVID-19 will end or what other changes we will have to make. We must turn to him, our refuge and strength, because everything else is apt to change. He has always been and will always be the same. And so I say, “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” 

By / Apr 11

At times, cultural engagement by Christians can seem vain and hopeless. The ever-changing, never-listening culture into which Christians speak is overwhelming. This reality often results in two extreme actions by Christians: withdrawal from culture or capitulation to culture. 

Neither of these actions represent the biblical example of the apostle Paul in Acts 17. We, like Paul, are expected to engage the various idols and ideologies of our culture with the steadfast truth of God the Father’s work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit for the sake of his glory and the good of the world. But how do we faithfully engage in such work? I believe the answer lies in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. 

Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provided a basis of hope for engaging a lost and dying people in a hostile culture with the truth of the gospel. He begins with a clear presentation of the gospel in verses 1-11, which reveal that the gospel is the good news about how sinners are saved from God’s holy judgment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. This good news was not only rooted in verifiable, historical facts, but it was transcendently good for all people who placed their trust in Jesus.

How we view the world 

As Paul progressed throughout 1 Corinthians 15, he ties the message of the gospel to the ministry of the church in Corinth. Because of what Christ had accomplished through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, the church’s worldview and work should be different. As for the church’s worldview, Paul admonished the church to no longer think about life and death from an earthly perspective (vv. 35-41). Instead, the church should embrace a heavenly perspective about their life and death, recognizing that such a perspective will strengthen us to live in conformity to Christ and demonstrate a true hope. 

Ultimately, we must come to realize that there is only one true way to defy death. There is only one true way to overcome the daily decay. We must be raised to life again in Christ Jesus. Thus, we are not hoping in cosmetics, cars, cryogenics, or any other things of this world to secure our permanence. True life, even in the midst of death, comes only through Christ.

How we work in the world 

But the resurrection not only transforms the way that we view our world, it should also impact the way that we work in the world. Specifically, it should affect the way that we engage those who are shaped by the ideals of our postmodern, true God-ignoring culture. Writing in light of the resurrection, in verse 58, Paul concludes, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” To put it another way, “Because of what God the Father has accomplished through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, we continue to do the work of the Lord.” 

When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.”

This work begins with believing the gospel ourselves and then moves to sharing the gospel with others, which necessarily includes an engagement with our culture. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and all who place their trust in him will be raised like him when he returns to put an end to all of the sin and brokenness that torments and haunts our world. It is here in the hope of our own resurrection through Christ that we find an exceedingly practical and immovable hope for our ministry in the world.

When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.” With every day that passes, death itself is one day closer to its own death! The resurrection of Christ serves to give us hope both now and in the future. It serves to point us to the victory that is in Jesus. 

To this end, the resurrection reminds us that victory over all the sorrow in this world is coming. Because Christ has prevailed over the grave, we can trust that he will prevail in this world as well. When we engage our culture, we do not do so as those without hope. Instead, we do so as those with great confidence. There is no need for fear. Only faith.