Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 6

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The mission-field on our doorstep

Connecting the coronavirus with missions may seem like a strange idea, but the reality is where we can’t see – God is on the move and many people have had, stripped away the things that have been their security.  This may have been their jobs, their relationships, their social life, their health or the investments and money they have made over time.  God is revealing that these things are like shifting sand.

In this season God is loosening roots.  The pandemic we are facing is challenging us to loosen our grip on the things that we have been holding tightly to.  Things like homes, jobs and even the way we socially interact.  Why may God loosen roots in this season?   Well it could be to shake us up to do mission.  It could be to move us to a different mission field or to make us more awake and alive to the mission field on our doorstep.

In this season, at this time there is a call on the church to follow one of the final instructions given to the followers of Jesus to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt 16).  There is an opportunity for the church to not only demonstrate the mercy and compassion of God but to share the Good News with our friends and family who don’t know it.

It could be by loosening our roots, by removing our reliance on the things that hold us, God is saying go! Go and make disciples!  GO to your friends and neighbours, share with them about Jesus, the hope of the world.   The reality is people are seeking, they are asking questions and there is the opportunity to have spiritual conversations like there never has been before.  Nothing will stop God from moving, he is working out his purposes and even pandemics will serve to complete the Great Commission.

So as we conclude this series of devotionals I want to challenge you to …

Go to your neighbours and friends, go to your colleagues and family.  Tell them about this Jesus who transforms lives.  You have a message that the world needs to hear.  Share it with love, humility and grace.

 

Reflections:

  1. What are things that you hold on to the tightest and do you need to surrender them again at the cross?
  2. Are there things that stop you sharing the Good News? What are they and how can you overcome them?
  3. How can you ‘go’ and share the Good News without leaving your home?

 

Prayer – For the Holy Spirit to keep revealing to us when we hold things to tightly and need to trust them into God’s hands.

What was the Gospel Jesus preached? Part 1 – The Gospel of the Kingdom

posted in: Bible 0

By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

In speaking to his disciples about the signs of ‘the end of the age’ (Matthew 24:3), Jesus makes this statement:

 

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24)

 

This declaration builds on the words with which Mark introduces Jesus’s ministry:

 

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1)

 

What is meant by ‘the gospel of the kingdom’?  What is its content?

 

First, we must note that the English word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’.  This should not be confused with the technical practice of calling the first four books of the New Testament ‘Gospels’, a practice which derives from the understanding that those books themselves in part contain good news.

 

Second, the term ‘the kingdom’ is a contraction of the fuller phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ (used about 50 times in Mark, Luke and John) or its equivalent in Matthew ‘kingdom of heaven’ (31 times).  Beyond this, the contraction ‘the kingdom’ occurs another 20 times.

 

What is meant by the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’?  Why might this kingdom be good news?

Considerations to be borne in mind

 

For a number of reasons, these are not easy questions to give simple answers to.

 

First, the terms are given content in a wealth of Biblical material.  A full answer must adequately consider all of these.  We have already noted that there are numerous references in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which need to be considered.  Beyond that, the concepts are underpinned in a multitude of Old Testament passages.

 

Second, Jesus gives no summary teaching about the Kingdom.   Instead he seeks to help his hearers build up a complex mental picture one step at a time.  He gives his teaching on the subject not in summary form but in bite-sized chunks, not in top-down fashion but in bottom-up fashion.

 

Third, he also gives most of his teaching on the subject in parables rather than by direct teaching.  For example, he says that the Kingdom is like: a man who sowed good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24), a mustard seed (13:31), yeast (13:33), treasure hidden in a field (13:44), a merchant looking for fine pearls (13:45), a net let down into a lake (13:47), a king who wanted to settle accounts with his subjects (18:43).  The analogies go on and on.

 

Along with scholars such as George Eldon Ladd, we conclude that ‘the meaning of the kingdom cannot be reduced to a single concept, but is a complex concept with several facets’.[1]

What is the Kingdom of God?

Lots can be written on this subject.  But in order to keep this document brief, we will give only a summary answer here.

 

  1. It’s clear from the brevity of Mark’s introductory statement above that the Kingdom must have been a concept the Jews were already familiar with.  We find that the Kingdom is God’s dominion (Psalm 145:13), his rule over all people (Psalm 103:19).
  2. The coming of the Kingdom means the coming of the state wherein God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
  3. The Kingdom is something which will only fully come at the end of the present age (Luke 19:11, Mark 10:17-31; cf Daniel 12:2).
  4. Its coming will mean the final destruction of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), the formation of a redeemed society unmixed with evil (Matthew 13:36-43), and perfected fellowship with God at the messianic feast (Luke 13:28-29).
  5. It is in part a present experience and reality, a realm of present blessing.  (See our comments on Matthew 11:4-5 below).
  6. It is something which advances forcefully (Matthew 11:12).
  7. It means the gift of life and salvation.  It is a present gift (Luke 12:32), something to be sought after here and now (Matthew 6:33, 13:44-46).
  8. But it is also the future inheritance of the righteous (Matthew 25:34).

Why is the Kingdom of God good news?

When questioned by messengers from John the Baptist about the focus and content of his ministry, Jesus answers by summarising Isaiah 35:

 

4 “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  (Matthew 11)

 

This is interesting in several ways.  Jesus’s ministry was something to be seen and heard, to be experienced as well as listened to.  It involved imparting good things to people there and then as well as announcing better things to come.  Isaiah 35 itself is replete with qualities such as rejoicing, glory, splendour, salvation, holiness, safety and everlasting joy.  The presence, impartation and experience of such things is surely good news.  It appears to picture an idealised existence in this present age.

 

But Jesus does also present the Kingdom as something better to come.  In his parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), he draws a clear contrast between ‘the sons of the kingdom’ and ‘the sons of the evil one’ (v38) and says that the end of this current age is like a harvest (v39).

 

40 ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Why is the kingdom good news?  Because its full coming will inaugurate an age when sin and evil will be done away with and when those sown by Jesus (v37), also known as ‘the sons of the kingdom’ (v38) and ‘the righteous’ (v43), will ‘shine like the sun’ forever.  Amen and Amen.

[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Lutterworth Press, 1981, p70.

Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 5

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

A TIME FOR RADICAL REALIGNMENT AND COURAGEOUS ACTION

 

RADICAL REALIGNMENT.

Repentance…..

The coronavirus is not a unique call to repentance. In fact, every natural disaster- whether floods, famines, tsunamis, the coronavirus etc. …  they are all God’s painful and merciful call to repent. Luke records a disaster in Luke 13. 1-5. In this story we read that Pilate had killed many worshipers in the temple and that the tower of Siloam fell killing eighteen innocent victims.  One disaster was the fruit of human wickedness and the other disaster was apparently an accident. The crowds were wanting to know from Jesus what the meaning and purpose of these disasters were. Was it a specific judgement for a specific sin? Jesus’ answer was astonishing. He draws a meaning from these disasters that relate to everyone, not just the ones who died. In both cases he says those who were murdered and those who were crushed were not worse sinners than you! The crowd were wanting to know what the disaster means for the victims, not for the rest of us. The reason why Jesus’ answer was so incredible was because he was saying (in essence) that the meaning of this disaster was for everyone. And the message is, “Repent, or perish’’ (Luke 13:3).

What does Repentance mean?

The word in the new Testament simply means a change of heart and mind. Not a superficial change of opinion, but a deep transformation so that we perceive and prize God and Jesus for who they really are. Jesus described the change like this:

“You shall love the lord your God with all of your heart , soul and mind.”   (Matt. 22:37)

“Whoever loves the father more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37)

In other words, the most fundamental change of heart and mind that God calls for is to treasure God with all that you are and to treasure your relationship with Jesus more than any other.  So what does thismean for the world and the church?

For this world

I believe that one thing God is doing in and through this coronavirus pandemic is that He is sounding a trumpet call of repentance to all outside of his saving grace. This coronavirus is God’s cry to a world who has rejected him, and he is saying, “come back to me, embrace my son Jesus as your Lord and saviour and I will give you life, meaning/purpose and hope that is not just for this life but lasts for eternity.”

For his Church

This pandemic has taken away or restricted our freedom of movement. It has and continues to prevent many from working and deprives us of face to face contact and connection with family and friends. It has pulled the blanket of comfort and security from under us and also poses a very real threat to our physical health and wellbeing. The reason why God is exposing his people (the church) to such losses is to rouse us to rely on Christ. If God is calling his church to repentance in this season (I believe he is!) it is a calling to turn away from everything that is competing for God’s throne in our lives. For example the good gifts of money, material possessions, relationships with family and friends, employment etc.… all of these things are good and God given, but when Christians start to put their COMPLETE  trust and confidence in these things, they become idols. God is jealous for the glory of his son in our lives and in this season. He is stripping everything away, not to leave us exposed in guilt and shame, but rather that we might respond with the Apostle Paul when he says…. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21)

For everyone:

For everyone, the coronavirus is the experience of loss- from the smallest loss of convenience and comfort to the greatest loss of life. That is what God is saying to non-Christians and Christians alike. Repent and RADICALLY REALIGN your life with Jesus so that you might declare with the Apostle Paul, “indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have counted them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:8)

COURAGOUS ACTION.

 “The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of joy that glorify God.” (John Piper)

 

Self-isolation, not hibernation:

Whilst the church (with everyone else!) is called to self-isolation, it is not called to hibernation. Church history is replete with examples of how Christians took the initiative in times of international and national crises and broke out of their comfort zones (even at times risking their own safety in the presence of real danger) so that they might selflessly display the grace of God by offering help and support to those in need. (1 Pet. 2:12).

Christ magnified in wise but risky acts of kindness:

In this season the church is called to exercise wisdom in knowing how to practically help those who are in need. Whilst I do not think that Christians are to deliberately risk their own health and wellbeing in their pursuit of helping others, the fact is that many who are working on the front line in this pandemic are doing just that. How is God calling us to be salt and light in our communities at this time? I know for example that Hope church continues to offer practical help and support to those in Open House, but also as individuals God is calling us to be salt and light in our communities. Let’s with God’s grace and in the power of His spirit put to death self-pity and fear. Instead lets lean towards the needs of others, not our own comfort, and towards the love of others, not our own safety. That’s what our Savior is like.  In dying on the cross Christ displayed the ultimate act of selfless COURAGEOUS GIVING. God is looking to be magnified and glorified in our lives as we selflessly allow our light to shine before men/women so that they may see our good works, and glorify our father who is in Heaven. (Matt.5:16)

Questions for reflection

  • Do you think your life needs realigning in this pandemic?
  • What is God calling you to specifically repent of in this season?
  • What are some of the ways that God might be calling you to meet the needs of your neighbors, friends, and family in this season?

Thoughts for Prayer

  • Ask God to reveal any areas in your own thoughts, attitudes and actions that he might be wanting you to bring in line with his word
  • Ask God for insight, grace and wisdom in knowing how you can be salt and light in your neighbourhoods and with your friends at this time

Remembering not forgetting

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By Jon Gledhill

1 kings 17

“Sometime later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah “what do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son.” Give me your son, Elijah replied. He took him from her arms…..”Lord my God let this boys life return to him”

I am always amazed how easily I forget how good God has been to me in my life. I need to remind myself regularly. The alternative is fear, self-reliance, self-protection.

The last time I applied for a job was 30 years ago but since then I have found the Lord providing work without a struggle. I now find myself with a significant loss of work, yet I still sometimes forget Gods faithfulness in the past and don’t find peace until I remember and meditate on this.

In the amazing story of 1 Kings 17, it is remarkable that the widow of Zarephath was delivered from starvation with a plentiful supply of food that never ran out. Elijah then chooses to lodge in her house.

“Sometime later” her son dies and she immediately accuses Elijah with vicious words “what do you have against me, man of God. Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

She has forgotten what God has done for her in the past saving her son and her from death with a  routinely full stomach. She forgets how Elijah was used by God to rescue her from starvation and death. She doesn’t realise that the same God who provided food can also provide deliverance from death.

Despite her strong words, Elijah prays and the son lives. She then testifies again to Gods goodness.

Interestingly her rescue from starvation came when she gave over what she had to the prophet Elijah. She handed her situation into Gods hands. In this passage, she released her son over to Elijah so he could pray for him.

The challenge for us is to give our situations over to God and remember and not forget past faithfulness.

Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 4

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What Is God doing through the Coronavirus?

Based on the book by John Piper Coronavirus and Christ

The fact that all misery, sickness and disease is a result of the fall does not mean that all individual suffering is a specific judgment for personal sins. For example, Job’s suffering was not owing to his particular sins, the very first sentence of that book makes this clear where Job is described as blameless and upright, a man who feared God and turned away from evil.  So we shouldn’t presume to know why God is allowing this pandemic but instead we can look at what He is doing through it.

  1. The church is being refined in this season

What is God doing?  Well he is certainly refining his church.  As it says in 1 Peter 4:17-18,  God will judge us for our actions and this will begin at the household of GodFor us “the household of God,” this judgment from him is purifying, not a punishment.”

So this season of difficulty and trouble is one that God will allow to purify and refine his bride, The Church.  Over this season we as a church have had many prophetic words which in essence say a similar thing – God strengthening the body so that it can carry its mission out well,  the pressing and crushing of the grapes in The Vine to make new wine,  the picture of God raking up the grass of our hearts and removing debris as preparation for the next season, blades being sharpened on a whetstone with oil anointing it and the picture of flour – us being called to be pure flour, not filled with substitutes or impurities – to resist temptation to withhold of our best through this season but instead to steward ourselves well in this time.

All these words in some vein or other speak of preparation in ourselves and as a body.  This season is making us ready for things that are to come. We shall be sharper and more refined if we allow God through this season to make us so. Consequently, this should result in  more power as we are honed to be more like Jesus, as God reveals the things that need burning up, stripping away and dying to.  We choose how we respond to his revelation.  In this season, will we count the cost and chose to press into Jesus?

 

It is important to remember that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). It is discipline, not destruction, that our Father is doing in us. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6).  What a privilege that you and I, in the midst of this, knows our Father loves us and desires the best for us.

  1. Awakening us for the second Coming

What else is God doing? Well through the history of the church there have been failed predictions of the end of the world, the Bible tells us that no one knows the hour yet Jesus tells us that we will experience the birth pains (including the coronavirus) as reminders and alerts that he is coming and we need to be ready.  “You . . . must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44).

Jesus says it clearly again and again: “Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. . . . Stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come. . . . And what I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:33–37).

The message is clear. Stay awake! Be alert! Be ready! For Jesus will be coming back and the church needs to be awake and ready.  This season, where the coronavirus seems to be running rampage, it is like a birthing pain, a merciful wake-up call – be ready.

How do we get ready?  What does it mean for us to wake up?  The way to be ready is to come to Jesus Christ, receive forgiveness for sins, and walk in his light. Then we will be those who are not in darkness for that day to surprise us like a thief. Instead we will be ready and awake to live with him.

Reflective questions

  1. What does it mean for you to be prepared by God in this time?
  2. Are there areas in your life that God is revealing you need to change in some way?
  3. What do you think the challenge to wake up and be ready means for you?

 

Prayer

Pray that we would allow God to refine us in this season and prepare us for the time to come.  Also pray that we would be alert and awake with courage to share the gospel with those who need to know Christ.

Reflections on Coronavirus and Christ – Part 3

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

Christ’s reign is sweet and comforting

Quote: “The same sovereignty that could stop the Coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very same sovereignty that sustains the soul in it” John Piper

The reason why we ought to receive the news of God’s sovereignty over the coronavirus, and over our lives as sweet, comforting and good is because (as the quote says above) “He (God) sustains the soul in it.”  Through every situation, circumstance and scenario in life – however bitter, difficult, hard and insurmountable they may appear; God is holding us, and through those bitter realities, is orchestrating, our good, and His glory.  Romans 8: 28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

God is not dethroned!

If as Christians we have a low view of God’s sovereignty, and think that he might not be in complete control of the coronavirus pandemic or any other calamity that blights this world or our lives; that is not good news, because, Satan, sickness, fate and chance etc.… have the final say in our lives. However, God’s reign is great news! Why? Because the sovereignty that rules in sickness is the same sovereignty that sustains us in loss. The very sovereignty that takes life is the same sovereignty that conquered death and brings every believer home to heaven and Christ. The fact that God reigns is also good news because he is holy, righteous and infinitely wiser.

Job 12:13 “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding”

Nothing surprises our God! He cannot be confused or baffled in any way. His infinite power rests in the hands of his infinite goodness, holiness and wisdom, all that stands in the service of those who have put their trust in Jesus. What God did in sending Jesus to die for sinners has everything to do with the Coronavirus. Here is the connection…

 

God has secured all things for sinners

 

Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’  The fact of the matter is that because of the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection in our lives, we have been graciously given- all things! Everything we need to glorify him, do his will, and maintain our joy and peace in His presence. When God’s infinite rubber stamped, blood certified commitment to give us “all things” meets the coronavirus, here is what he says….

 

Romans 8: 35-37. “who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,

or distress, or persecution, or sword (OR THE CORONAVIRUS)? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 

What Satan means for evil

 

In every season of life, but particularly during “this crisis” Satan (the arch- enemy of our soul) is looking to; steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) …

– steal our joy

– kill our peace

– destroy our hope

 

What the book of Job and the story of Joseph reminds us of is that Satan is on a lead. He cannot do anything without God’s permission and limitation (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31), neither can he do anything without God meaning/intending it for good.  God hasn’t been caught off guard by this virus and is now thinking, ‘’how can I make the best of a bad job.” But rather God had a good purpose at the very beginning of this pandemic and will see it through to completion.

 

What is God doing through the Coronavirus?

 

Before I consider the first of six answers that John Piper gives in the second part of his book I would like to offer some preliminary thoughts…

Assuming that God has not been dethroned, but rather continues to govern “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph.1:11), and this devastating virus is in His holy, righteous and good hands, what then is He doing? What are His purposes?

 

Not man’s wisdom but God’s

 

I think we can often be tempted to arrogantly presume that we know what God is thinking, and so we offer our thoughts and say that “God has spoken.” More often than not though, what we presume are God’s thoughts is really our wisdom and opinions. What we think out of our own heads (particularly during this pandemic) is of little significance. The Bible says, “whoever trusts his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26) instead we are told to “Trust the Lord with all of your heart and do not  lean on your own understanding” (Prov.3:5). Fortunately, though, we finite, sinful, culturally conditioned humans do not just have our own wisdom to rely on in this season, but God’s Word.  We have His final and authoritative word (the Bible) but secondly, we have the prophetic. God really isn’t on mute in this season; He continues to speak and we as Christians need to trust in what He has said.

 

God’s reality, not our imagination

 

“KNOWING”! The scriptures were written that we might know the realities that God has revealed. Particularly about suffering – including the coronavirus outbreak. The reality is that God is always doing far more than we can see- and even what we can see, we would not have seen if He had not revealed it.  The coronavirus demands hard reality, not more wild speculation or fertile imagination. God and His word are the reality that we need – the rock under our feet.

 

Answer 1

 

Picturing Moral Horror

 

Quote: “God is giving the world the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God -belittling sin” (John Piper)

 

SIN is in fact the ultimate reason why physical suffering and misery exists – such as that afflicted by the coronavirus! The third chapter of Genesis describes the entrance of sin into the world. It shows sin to be the origin of global devastation and misery (Gen. 3:9). Paul summed it up in                Romans 5:12 “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and death spread to all men because all sinned.” The world has been broken ever since. All its beauty is intermingled with evil, disasters, diseases and frustrations. God had created it perfect (Gen. 1:31) but from humanity’s fall into sin to this very day- John Piper says, “for all its wonders, is a conveyor belt of corpses.”

The fall is judgement for everyone:

John Piper in the sixth chapter of his book talks about God’s judgement on the world. The Bible does not see the brokenness of a world full of sin as just natural, but as God’s judgement on the world. See Romans 8:20-22. Even we as the children of God are not immune from the effects of that judgement. Christians are swept away in tsunamis, killed in terrorist attacks and get the coronavirus. However, the difference for us as Christians is that the judgement for us is purifying, not punitive. God allows us to go through and experience the effects of His judgement on this fallen world as a way of transforming us into the image and likeness of His son. We have the comfort of knowing that whatever happens in this life, He promises to always be with us, and that when we experience death, we will be with Him for eternity.

 

Key Question

A question that we could ask at this time, that brings the meaning of the coronavirus into sharp focus is this …. Why did God bring a physical judgement on the world for a moral evil? Adam and Eve defied God, preferring their own wisdom over his and chose to do what they wanted rather than His will. In response to their moral and spiritual rebellion God has subjected this physical world to physical disasters such as the coronavirus. Why?

 

An Answer

I wonder whether God might be sovereignly subjecting us to the physical disasters and horrors such as the coronavirus to paint a vivid picture of how morally repugnant our sin against God is. Nobody outside of Christ really feels the weight of their sin and defiance of God. Perhaps physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that there is something wrong in the world and pointing beyond itself into a spiritual realm.

 

Thoughts for Reflection

  • Think about how God is sovereignly sustaining you in this season
  • How are you specifically drawing comfort from the fact that God hasn’t been dethroned by the Coronavirus?
  • Think about how you might specifically seek Gods wisdom and understanding rather than leaning on your own in this season

Prayer

That God gives you fresh revelation of the fact that he is ruling and reigning over the coronavirus, and that he continues to show you  the Good that he is intending to bring out of this season.

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