Most people are familiar with the imagery of a person walking through life, daily influenced by the presence of an angelic being on one shoulder and a demonic being on the other shoulder. It is a humorous representation of the Christian idea that we all have the free will to choose which influence will guide us. The little guy with the horns and pitchfork wants to push us away from God and everything He represents; the one with a halo and wings is always trying to pull us closer to God. The devil wants us to be stuck in selfishness, sin, and despair, while God wants us to come further up and further into unselfishness, peace, and joy.
Jesus explained this reality in John 10:10...
The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The devil hates God so much that he does everything he can to make the creation of God fruitless and despairing. He knows his time is short and in the meantime will do all he can to kill, steal and destroy men and women, boys and girls, and to keep them away from God forever. He wants everyone to stay blind to spiritual realities or to give themselves to the gods of darkness, anything but know the true God.
I have such a vivid memory of sitting in an English class at St. Patrick-St.Vincent high school in Vallejo, California, listening to our teacher read those famous, despairing words of Shakespeare's Macbeth...
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Even though I was only sixteen years old, I could tell that William Shakespeare knew exactly what he was doing in crafting this story. Macbeth believed what he was saying in this famous soliloquy, and believing that life is meaningless is the greatest tragedy of all.
So many of our neighbors have never heard that their life has meaning and value. The too-real character represented with horns and a pitchfork laughs as our secular society has convinced itself that all of life is just chance, that none of it has any meaning, and that there is nothing after death except annihilation.
This is why it is so vital that we remember the second part of what Jesus said...
I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
We have been given an opportunity to remember how precious life is. During this pandemic, we have all instinctively wanted to protect our kids and our elders from this terrible sickness, knowing that life at every age and stage is valuable and meaningful. All of us have been vividly reminded that every person is carefully and lovingly made by God in His own image, and that every life is purposeful. It does not matter what race, gender, age, income bracket, or political persuasion any of us happens to be - every life is treasured. Not only that, but we will all live forever in one of only two places, so the choices we make in this life matter. Through Jesus, we can truly live lives full of hope, purpose, and joy regardless of our circumstances here on earth, and forever with God in heaven.
With this wonderful knowledge comes great responsibility - now more than ever.
Many of our neighbors are suffering - physically and spiritually. The numbers of people that we hear about in the news who have been affected physically by the virus or who have lost employment are not just statistics, they are real people. They live next door, they live in our town, we pass them at the grocery store and gas station.
As Christians, we must not turn a blind eye - we must look for those who need our help. We can share our groceries, we can share our money and resources, and as we share our material things with those in great need, we can also share the love and hope of God. If your church or community is already doing something organized to help people in need, jump in. If not, start something. The more of us that work together to meet the need, the better. A wonderful thing about abundant life in Christ is that there is always plenty of love and hope to go around, no matter what storm or pandemic is raging around us.
A blessed Eastertide to you and yours! In the traditional Christian church calendar, this is not just one day, but an entire season for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, beginning with Easter Sunday and it lasting for the fifty days until Pentecost Sunday. This year, we really need the whole fifty days!
As I write this, we are all still engaged in a worldwide fight against the terrible Coronavirus. No one could have guessed the way this year would unfold. Innumerable people are going through incredibly difficult circumstances, and all of us have been impacted by measures to fight the spread of illness. It has been interesting and thought-provoking to celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord juxtaposed with such fear and unknowing in the face of a pandemic.
It has been especially fascinating to read the many social media posts and news articles about how people are weathering the lockdown period. Though no one wants this strange pause in life to go on indefinitely, more than a few people are realizing that the break-neck speed at which life in pre-Coronavirus 2020 was going was not particularly healthy. With weeks now to unwind, many people are connected with their families like never before. Kids are learning to play and use their imaginations again. People are getting enough sleep.
Sadly, this is not the case in every home. Other news articles point out that there has been a sharp increase in domestic violence, in anxiety, and in pornography consumption, just to name a few things. Being home all the time is not easy or pleasant for everyone. It seems that the angry just get angrier, and the selfish become even more indulgent. Many people are acting entirely out of fear - fear of losing income with no hope to get it back, fear of illness for themselves or a loved one, and especially fear of death itself. Faced with a virus no one really understands yet, this last fear is seizing multitudes.
Some might wonder if there might be a way we could take each individual person to a beautiful retreat center, maybe somewhere in the mountains, to refresh and relax. Imagine if this place was large enough that everyone could spread out and have plenty of space to himself. Here, each one would have all the food he needs, and none of the wicked temptations of the modern era like drugs or pornography; in fact, this place would be completely unplugged. The library would be filled with only the best uplifting and informative literature of the ages, and the music selection would be calming and peaceful. Everywhere each person goes, they would find green pastures, fruit trees with every kind of fruit, and crystal clear steams flowing. Surely, if we could create a place like this, everyone could finally find peace and harmony?
But, here is the problem - There is only one place like that, and the way to it is blocked by cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth. We are not allowed to go back into Eden, into that beautiful and abundant place where peace truly existed and where God Himself came down to walk with man in the cool of the day. Nor can we ever re-create such a place on our own.
Our wicked and crafty enemy was not entirely lying to Adam and Eve when he said they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit. In fact, they did not drop over or cease to exist when they took a bite - what happened to them was far worse than that. The true death that occurred, and which God had warned them about, was that we became infused with sin (aka total selfishness) that we cannot get rid of by ourselves, and which results in a horrible, eternal separation from God and enmity with one another. No amount of education, medicine, money, technology, or laws can fix this problem of sin.
The virus that is currently sweeping the earth reminds us all of this universal human condition. While it has been amazing to watch the world rally together in real time to fight the physical illness and to find a cure and vaccine for this particular strain of virus, something unimaginable even fifty years ago, we remain hopeless to save ourselves from sin and from true death. Doctors are learning every day how to combat Covid19, but selfishness remains. Most of the time, we can ignore the fact that our sin separates us from God, but not right now. When faced with this problem, just about everyone would love to know what to do.
Listen to an interesting thought from Dorothy Sayers, writing at the outbreak of the Second World War....
"War (we could say pandemic) is the breaking up of security and habit, and the letting in of energy upon the things hat had become static and corrupt. The great obstacle, in times of peace and prosperity, to improvement in the social order is the inertia that society presents to any kind of change. The reformer spends nine tenths of his energy in endeavoring to make his voice heard above the snoring of well-cushioned indolence, to smash his way into the closed circle of vested interests, to disturb complacency and generally to overcome the disposition of his hearers to let sleeping dogs lie.
But war does this part of his task for him. All the dogs are up and barking very loudly, and nobody can possibly pretend to ignore them. The world is startled awake, complacency is destroyed, and even the vested interests are rocking uneasily on their foundations. His chief difficulty now will be to catch the distracted attention of agitated people and get it focused on what he has to say."
And we do have something to say!
Here is the Good News - Jesus came to save us from our sin! There is real hope and real help. John the Baptist heralded Him, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Jesus does not just hide our sin or cover it - He takes it away. Through His work on the cross, we can be free from the deadliest virus of all - sin. In Christ, we can have peace with God, and with one another.
The Bible is clear that God has made a way for us to be with Him again, and that Jesus willingly laid down His own life for all of us. Remember the beautiful passage of John chapter 11, in which Jesus shows His power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead and proclaims...
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
As Christians, we have an amazing opportunity this Easter season to share this great news with people who truly might be ready to listen. In times past, we may have found it difficult to begin the conversation to share our faith with family, friends and neighbors for any number of reasons. But everything that the world offers as stability is now shaken - and it remains true that the only sure foundation to stand on is Christ, and the only way men can be reconciled to one another is through Him. The conversation is started! Speak freely and share that in Christ, we can have not only the blessed assurance of forgiveness of sin, but also His peace and steadiness to see us through any storm.
May the love and peace of God fill your heart and home today. Let's be generous with this good news and freely share the living hope that we have in Jesus.
In March I celebrated a definitively more-than-middle-aged birthday, right as all of the mitigation practices were first being rolled out. I mention this because I have never experienced anything like this pandemic and the corresponding massive social changes, and that means no one younger than myself has either.
Certainly, we are not the first age to face pestilence or war - many still living today remember other times of war, outbreaks of disease, and financial uncertainty. History is filled with awful circumstances for the people of the given era to wrestle, and we who have come later can look back and see how well they reacted. What will posterity say of us when they look back to this time? Together, we are experiencing a sea change, and it remains to be seen how we will respond as a generation.
I would like to re-post a thought about "Storms" that I wrote in September of 2018, but have repurposed with the present Coronavirus storm in mind...
Here are two thought-provoking questions - what should life be like? What makes life, or even one day in life, good?
Most of us live under the tremendous misconception that things are always supposed to be easy, pleasant, and “right”. We are continually and completely surprised and distressed when things don’t the "right" way. This is probably some shadowy memory in our cellular structure from the Garden of Eden, and of the way things were supposed to be before the fall of mankind. But the world is fallen, and unfortunately, awful things do happen all the time. One great struggle that many people face is the question of why terrible things happen to good people. If God is so good, then why does He let such bad things happen, especially to people who live for Him?
The Book of Job is an attention-grabbing book in the Bible, and I encourage you to read it again or for the first time. It tells the story of a man named Job, who was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” It actually says he was the greatest man among all the peoples of the East. He was wealthy and blessed and had a beautiful, large family. In verses 6-12, however, we read that Satan comes into God's presence and accuses that Job would never worship God if all of the good things were taken from his life. That passage catches my interest! It goes on to say that God responds to the Enemy in verse 12. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan then proceeded to destroy everything Job had and loved - his family, his possessions - everything.
There are so many things to notice in this account. First, I want to remind us that the starting place for understanding anything in life is to realize that the character of God is eternally and entirely without fault. The Bible teaches that we are created in His image - not the other way around. He is not just a magnified version of us. God is always good and always chooses for the highest good. Second, notice that the terrible things that happen to Job were not God’s idea, they were Satan’s idea. Third, remember that we do not have the perspective that God does - He can see everything without constraint of time or location. The things we do not understand and which seem devastating from our perspective are not unclear to God, and we truly can trust Him to work all things for good. (Romans 8:28)
Like Job, some of us have been through some awful things. People suffer and endure hardships like abuse, betrayal, or horrible traumas at the hands of wicked people. Other troubles take us by surprise - illness in our own body or in that of a loved one, the death of someone close, addictions, marital problems, rebellious children, or a terrifying pandemic and corresponding economic instability. The list of life’s storms is long, and I am in no way belittling any of those things.
I do want to challenge our thinking. Storms have a few interesting qualities:
We know storms are going to happen, we know life is not always going to be easy. What if we stopped letting life’s storms render us unable to help anyone, and started seeing them as a great opportunity to minister to others who are hurting? What if we started treasuring hard times as a way to become more like Jesus? The Bible says in James chapter 1: 2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Listen to this powerful thought from Samuel Chadwick, who lived and ministered over 100 years ago :
“Sometime in the country I have stood and watched the village blacksmith at work, and for a long time could not make out the use of the little trip hammer. The big hammer I could understand, but why should the smith strike in turns the anvil and the iron puzzled me. One day I ventured to ask an explanation, and found that the little hammer regulates the stroke of the big one. The smith holds the glowing metal, turning it lest the stroke fall too often upon the same spot, directing the blows that they may descend at the right moment; turning, tempering, regulating till the metal is fashioned to the desired shape. So God holds the soul and regulates the stroke. Sometimes He makes the Devil His hammer-man . . . Satan strikes to smash. God regulates the stroke, and turns his malice to our perfecting, and the Devil sweats at the task of fashioning saints into the likeness of Christ.”
That horrible thing that happened in your life - the very thing that the Enemy meant to use to destroy you - God can take it and use it to make you better and stronger than you could have been before. This trying time we are facing as a nation can make us better families, friends and neighbors than we ever have been before. We can become more empathetic, more caring, more aware of others, more mature, more wise, and full of steadiness and help for the hurting all around us.
Read the end of Job’s story. God was right - Job was not just serving Him because of the good things in his life. Job trusted God and refused to curse or turn away from Him during the difficult times, even though that is what many advised Him to do, and God “blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”
The storms of life are going to come on this side of Heaven. Let the devil sweat, and let God make all of us stronger than ever.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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