What have Christians Learned from COVID-19?

May 6, 2020
What have we learned (for the first time, in a fresh way, or been reminded) from the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home orders?

Among many lessons, we have learned and are continuing to learn:

#1 We have learned that we are not in control.

#2 We have learned that our health is fragile, and our lives are temporary.

#3 We have learned that we should hold on to our worldly possessions loosely.

#4 We have learned that we have a lot for which to be thankful.

#5 We have learned how much prayer we need.

#6 We have learned how important the church is.

#7 We have learned that ministry is more than a building.

#8 We have learned that repentance is necessary.

#9 We have learned that the Gospel is relevant in ordinary and good times as well as strange and uncertain ones.

#10 We have learned that we are living history.

Spiritual Laziness

September 11, 2019
Spiritual Laziness

I recently heard Alexander Strauch, a well-published and reputable author who served as an elder in one congregation for over 50 years, talk about spiritual laziness in a way that hit me between the eyes. Here is a rough paraphrase of what he said in an interview:

From the time of the Fall, man has been spiritually lazy. He can use all his energy to do many, many things but sit down and read the Bible and ten minutes later, “Oh, my neck hurts;” or, “Oh, my eyes, they might be bleeding!” Time for prayer and, five minutes of prayer, “Whew, I’m tired; I’m exhausted.” I can sit and watch a two-and-a-half-hour movie, or I can watch two movies back-to-back for four hours, no problem. But, study the Bible? Fifteen minutes, that’s max. We are inherently spiritually lazy, and the things of God come to us in a difficult way.[1]

The last phrase is certainly true. The things of God come to us in a difficult way. Work is required for the Christian life. Spiritual growth, which the Lord wants for all of us, requires that we put forth effort. We have to pray and study.

The Fall (and our own continuing sins to boot) has taken a toll on all of us. While we mean well, we tend to struggle on matters of spirituality. As our Lord Jesus put it, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). What I find very interesting is that the remedy for this problem was given in the same verse by our Lord in the phrase just before the famous statement. He said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” The remedy for overcoming the weakness of the flesh is to be that much more watchful and prayerful. Commentator Leon Morris has helpfully written, “A willing spirit is not enough; it must be supplemented by prevailing prayer.”[2] Well-meaning words are inadequate. Good intentions are deficient. We should add, too, that Jesus is not just giving us an excuse that we can use whenever we fail. Scholar Craig Blomberg reminds us, “Jesus’ proverb is often casually reapplied almost as an excuse for human shortcomings but, in context, is an incentive for disciples to resist temptation.”[3] I’ve heard Christians jokingly reference this verse about their own moral lapses. However, Jesus’ goal is for His followers to overcome temptation, not to have a good excuse when we fall to it!

Thus, here’s the main point: If you want to overcome the weakness of your flesh, then you are going to have to be spiritually alert and constantly prayerful. You can succeed in your spiritual life, and that is our Lord’s desire. You can grow more spiritually mature, and that is God’s purpose for you. Do you want this for yourself, or are you just at ease in your spiritual sloth? I say: Let us not sleep! It is high time to awake out of slumber! Couple spiritual disciplines with your good intentions, and God will give you strength.

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[1] H. B. Charles Jr., #087: Alex Strauch Interview, The On Preaching Podcast, podcast audio, August 16, 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-preaching-with-h-b-charles-jr/id888503224?i=100044707608.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, 1992.

[3] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary, 1992.

Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

September 8, 2019
Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

(1) Limited Knowledge.

We should begin with an obvious point, as if you didn’t already know it, but I do not have all of the answers to the questions you may have on this subject over the next several weeks. And yet, I do not want you to ever think that the Lord has not provided enough in the Scriptures to guide us. He does give sufficient light to our paths. I also do not want you to ever get the idea that I am not willing to address the most difficult of questions. We are not those Christians who just dismiss difficult questions as if they don’t matter. We owe more than that to ourselves, to one another, and to our youth.

Moreover, while Bridget and I have endured a few hardships in our lives, that we do not talk much about, I confess that I have not suffered like some of you have or are suffering even now. But I do want you to know that I empathize with you and want what’s best for you and will do what I can to ease your burdens. You should know that I love you.

(2) The Reality of Suffering.

Pain and suffering are very real experiences. We do not want to deny that fact or neglect it. Christ promised trials and persecutions; believers have struggled throughout history just as much as anyone else; Luther basically taught that to be a Christian requires three things: prayer, study, and trials (adapted from Horton).

(3) Prosperity Gospel Errors.

Pop-culture Christianity makes the problem that much worse because it promotes the false idea that Christians should not suffer. It follows after New Age ideas like mind over matter, the magic of positive thinking, word of faith concepts like speaking things into existence. Prosperity preachers teach that if you have enough faith, you will not get sick and you will not struggle. They promise health and wealth.

Even for those of us who don’t believe the whole of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity doctrine, we are still affected by it. We often question ourselves when trials come. We ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” And, “Is God mad at me; is He punishing me?” Or we say, “Maybe I haven’t been a good enough Christian or had enough faith or done enough good deeds.” Let me assure you, Christian, that suffering is notalways due to your sins. God does not operate on a “enough faith” kind of system. Our Lord taught us that if we just have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.

(4) The Essence of the Problem.

Christians believe that God is omniscient (all knowing), correct?  We believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), right?  And Christians believe that God is omnibenevolent (all good/loving), true?

If these things are all true of God, then why does He allow evil, suffering, and pain to persist in this world and, especially, in the lives of His children?

Many have claimed that all three of these things cannot be logically true of God. For example, if God is all-loving and He is all-powerful, then why does He not stop the horrific storms in this world and terrible diseases and all the like? There would be nothing to stop Him—at least not from our finite vantage point.

And that is where we must begin as we think about these things. We should not conclude there but begin there as we open our Bibles to see what God has said. The Bible actually provides many answers to these gut-wrenching subjects. I believe that a biblical, Christian worldview is the most coherent perspective offered and provides the most answers to these problems. Everyone on this planet must grapple with these issues, no one is immune from suffering, pain, and death, but biblical Christianity provides the most help by way of worldview. It is the most consistent.

(5) Sample List of Different Types/Terms

Natural Evil: We live in a fallen world
Satanic Evil: The devil and the demons are active
Suffering: A more general term for all kinds of things
Pain: Suffering, or unpleasant feelings, felt in the physical body.
Death: The moments and the culmination of termination of life, which is itself the wages of sin.
Disappointment: When we do not meet up to our own or others’ expectations.
Persecution: Poor treatment by others precisely because you’re a Christian.
Divine Discipline: The Lord uses punishment to teach His children to do right.