Consumers and Communers

When I was in youth ministry, I remember starting a lesson with examples of cringeworthy products geared to the Christian market. I don’t recall the topic of that session. Maybe we were trying to give the teens more boldness by making the distinction between socially awkward Christianity and true faith.

One item was an Armor of God pajama set. The idea was that children (and parents) could sleep soundly knowing they were protected from spiritual harm. There were also golf balls printed with the gospel — designed to take the sting out of a lost ball (because your loss could mean someone else’s salvation).

A company was selling Jesus action figures too, in case you found it hard to relate to the Jesus of Scripture. There was Jesus kicking a soccer ball, Jesus astride a Harley and more.

We had a good laugh. What’s most troubling is that there must have been a market for these products. Some entrepreneur must have concluded there were Christian consumers who would actually purchase a Holy Trinity Lego set to add a sacred dimension to their otherwise secular constructions.

Consumers by nature

Humans are consumers by nature. We seem to be wired for discontent and many of us go to great lengths to possess material things we think will satisfy. The consumer mindset works by calculating what will provide the greatest satisfaction at the lowest cost.

In most cases, this is good economics. The danger comes when we take this approach with God. It’s easy to approach God for what we want rather than rest securely in our relationship with the giver. It’s just as easy to fall into the trap of thinking if we take certain steps, God will bless in proportion.

This strategy can seem to work for a while. But ultimately, our self-seeking theology smacks up against reality. We get stopped in our tracks and think “Wait, I did this for God and I didn’t get what I wanted in return.” “I obeyed and a blessing has not occurred in direct proportion.” What do we do then?

The Psalms present a pattern that contrasts with the consumer mindset. In this collection of poems and songs that express the emotions of our faith, the author seems to have found the secret to contentment. And it’s found in communing with God, not consuming.

Consider Psalm 16. The author writes, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (vs. 2) and “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (vs. 5-6). The Psalm concludes, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (vs. 11).

God as our portion

How often have we walked the perimeter of our land or our home, maybe gazed across the fence at a neighbor’s yard, and thought about things we wish we had? The Psalmist declares that God is his portion. He rests in the fact that his property line is God-ordained and fully satisfying.

This idea occurs throughout the Psalms. Psalm 23 opens with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” And Psalm 84:10 contains the exclamation, “How lovely is your dwelling place…” and “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord.” The writer further expresses to God that “a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (vs. 10).

How important is it to awaken and repent from a consumer mindset, both toward goods and more importantly toward God? How big a barrier to our growth and maturity is a pursuit of God primarily for His blessing.

The example of Job may provide some clue. When God describes him as upright and righteous, Satan counters that it’s easy to obey when blessings seem to follow. Then poor Job quickly enters a chapter where he becomes an object lesson, for all of creation and all of history, that God is inherently worthy of worship and obedience.

The book unravels any assumptions we might have that God functions in this life as a cosmic broker of consumer transactions – rewarding righteousness and punishing wickedness in direct proportion.

Mud pies and holidays

The lesson is clear but the practice is hard – hard because it requires training and retraining of our appetites. C.S. Lewis states in The Weight of Glory that our desires are not too strong for God, but rather too weak. He compares us to “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

I confess that my mindset is far from that of the author of Psalm 42 who wrote, “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

Retraining our appetites to forsake “junk food” and thirst for what will truly satisfy is a lifetime process and a topic for another time. The first step is to recognize our natural tendency to pursue a transactional relationship with God. Maybe these uncertain times can help, where constraints have been placed on our consumption either by personal economics or because certain goods are scarce.

We might also learn contentment by meditating on the Psalms and putting ourselves in the author’s shoes. And we might gain insight and grow from our closest personal relationships too.

I recently enjoyed time with friends from out of town who helped with a move. We sat around the table, “unmasked” eating, talking and just resting in one another’s company with no agenda. A few months ago, this might have been a quick encounter with eyes on the clock before we went our separate ways. But six weeks of social distancing made the time far more meaningful.

Allowing ourselves to thirst

We can let our restlessness and discontent drive us to make meaningless purchases. We can even spiritualize our consumption by treating God as the means of getting what we think we want. OR we can allow our thirst to drive us to the only one who can satisfy – “as the deer pants for water…”

So we can go ahead and make silly purchases. It’s OK to order those Scripture insoles (so we can “stand on the promises”). We just need to recognize they will wear out – unlike the actual promises. And we can’t expect them to meet our deepest need for communion with the Author of the promises.


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Freedom, boundaries and the ‘new normal’

When I was 10 years old, we lived in a subdivision bounded by acres of marshland and a busy retail corridor. This was back before cellphones when, outside of school, parents had no idea what their children were up to unless a neighbor happened to observe and report back.

My only restrictions were that I couldn’t go so far into the marsh that I reached the river. Nor could I cross the highway. That meant there were certain schoolmates I couldn’t see and places around town that I couldn’t pedal my bike to. But within those boundaries, I had freedom.

There were woods to explore, friends and neighbors to play with, dirt paths to ride bikes on and plenty of territory for adventures in the marsh, where the only real danger was muddy sneakers. I never felt constrained and can’t recall ever feeling the need to exceed the limits.

Liberty with limits

I look back with appreciation for the great liberty I was given — liberty with constraints that never felt confining. I encountered that concept again a few years ago when I spent time on the campus of a Christian college whose tagline was “freedom within a framework of faith.”

At first I thought it sounded stilted and academic. I was interviewing for a marketing position and I wondered if printing this on brochures might put us at a disadvantage with schools that had snappier taglines. Whether “freedom within a framework” was authentic to the institution, or even good for student recruitment, I don’t know.

But as I’ve been looking at Acts and the epistles, during this season where we’re figuring out what it means to practice faith and be light in a dark place while separated from each other and our community, I keep returning to the concept of “freedom within bounds.”

This seems to be the evangelistic model (if you could call it that) that informed the early church’s preaching and teaching. And it could set a healthy pattern for how we structure our outreach when we emerge from self-isolation and enter what everyone keeps calling the “new normal.”

Pre-pandemic church growth models included the seeker sensitive approach, the purpose-driven model (or is that now obsolete?), the culturally-attuned preacher model, the media-centric model, the multi-campus model and more. There’s even a high church, liturgical model aimed at millennials who reject the aforementioned approaches as fads!

Stewarding technology

Now with COVID-19, we’re seeing an online model with remote communion, sermons delivered from living rooms and congregants checking in via comment thread. I even saw an altar call with the closing instructions, “If you accepted Jesus, text 1234 to 555-1212 and we’ll follow-up.” Is this good, bad, neutral or just common-sense stewardship of technology and the times?

There are no simple answers. It can be easy for churches to think like a business: define a target market, then align outreach and programs to attract and retain that market. It can be just as easy to embrace technology as the most powerful tool to reach a generation wedded to their devices.

When we look at the early church, however, I’m not sure we can see a particular model. Evangelistic outreach seems to defy templates and narrow classification. 

Peter’s preaching at Pentecost is anything but seeker sensitive. He presents Christ and concludes by telling the crowd He’s the one they crucified. Later, after healing a lame man, he tells the onlookers, “You killed the Author of life.”

In both cases, we read that many believed.

Yet that wasn’t Paul’s approach on Mars Hill. There, in Act 17, he starts by addressing felt needs (religious inclinations that led to idolatry) and quotes a pagan poet before Jesus is presented. We see that some mocked and some believed.

Go raw or go deep?

So was it best to go full-barrel with a raw presentation of the gospel. Or was it better to identify deeply enough with the lost to speak their language and identify with their worldview?

If we examine Paul’s clearest description of his own preaching, at least to the Corinthian church, you might conclude that any proclamation beyond “Christ crucified” was worldly and a product of human cleverness.

But we know that Paul spent time in the synagogues REASONING from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17 and 18). And we understand his letter to the Romans as a masterpiece of persuasive rhetoric. There Paul makes the case for Christ as skillfully as a seasoned attorney willing to take the time and marshal the details to make his case.

How do we respond then to current conditions? Should we fully embrace technology or are there principles that prescribe limits? Where is there freedom with bounds?

Is inviting the unchurched to “Watch Parties” effective? What do we do about a culture that increasingly sees Christianity as harmful rather than positive? Does the gospel mediated through technology neutralize some of the offense?

Since online communities are the new public square (or corner coffee shop), is there benefit in adding our voice to the social and political exchanges on social media? Do we lead with our good works to gain a hearing? And if so, how can we be the hands and feet of Jesus while socially distanced?

Back to Paul

Before we conclude we’re in foreign territory with no clear answers. We might go back to Paul for a moment to gain some clarity. We might consider the matter of circumcision — without getting lost in the detail of its symbolism and practice.

As Paul set about his evangelistic travels, he had Timothy his disciple circumcised (Acts 16:3). Yet Paul would not allow Titus to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5).

This seems to be a deliberate choice based on who Paul was trying to reach. Timothy had Jewish blood. So lack of circumcision would have been an affront to Jewish audiences. Titus, on the other hand, was Greek. So his circumcision would have fed into the (false) idea that this was a requirement for salvation.

In one case, Paul removed what would been a barrier to the gospel … without compromising truth. In the other instance, Paul refused to give in to cultural preference … to preserve the gospel truth. The apparent principle: it’s OK to contextualize the truth, but never at the cost of compromising truth.

Since the gospel is an affront to human pride, it will offend no matter how it’s dressed up to appeal. At the same time, since the gospel meets humanity’s deepest need, the heart that God has quickened to receive the truth will accept it though we might stumble in its presentation.

Questions for today

What does this mean for online church and reaching the lost at a time when matters of life, death, meaning and hope are top-of-mind? It means we have freedom within the framework of gospel boundaries.

Do we maintain live streamed services and online archives once we gather again? There’s reason and freedom to do so. Might the gathered church lose some people who prefer to stay at home and watch? Probably.

At the same time, are there individuals who might otherwise avoid church for fear of entering a “foreign culture” be inclined to participate online as a first step to walking through our doors? Probably.

We’ve done well lately to honor the dedication and sacrifice of frontline workers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Knowing that their schedule makes it hard to attend Sunday mornings, are churches willing to add another service – not because their sanctuary is at capacity but because here’s a group that needs to experience gospel truth in personal community.

Again, there aren’t clear answers. But the principle remains that we have great freedom to consider and make these choices – as long as we stay within the bounds of gospel truth.

What to retain, what to release

Churches will have to decide how to proceed, specifically what to retain from 100% online activity and what to leave behind. But freedom can be unnerving and it’s wise to seek direction.

Perhaps we’re served best if we take time now and in the weeks ahead to look up, look in and look out. In other words,

  1. Look up to God in His word and in prayer to gain His heart for the lost.
  2. Look inwardly at the local Body and its members’ gifts, passions, experiences and networks beyond the church walls, and
  3. Look outward at the community with the intent to understand our neighbors’ hopes, fears and struggles.

If the church is going to be a witness in the “new normal,” it will have to exegete the community and the culture with the same rigor and intentionality that preachers employ to faithfully exegete the word. We will have to incarnate Christ in a context that might be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But God is with us.

There’s enough in Scripture to challenge us to be like the Men of Issachar who “had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron. 12:32). And there’s enough in Scripture to give comfort that salvation is a work of God that will bear fruit despite our failings. In short, we have both freedom and assurance — within a framework of faith.


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Keeping our gospel-balance

Years ago, on our group’s last night of camping deep in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a torrential rainstorm blew through and swelled the stream next to our site into a raging river. We had to cross that stream for the hike back to our cars and I was certain I would die a watery death or be dashed to pieces on the rocks downstream.

The bravest among us (actually he was a highly-trained Eagle Scout) secured a rope on our side of the river and tentatively walked it above the current in waist-high water, probing the bottom with each step. This gave us a handhold and ensured the path we followed was level and the stones that supported our weight would be secure.

When it was my turn to cross, I plunged my soggy boot into the swirling water and quickly learned what it would take to reach the other side. I needed to grab the rope, take confident steps and immediately plant my foot on the solid riverbed. Any hesitation, with one foot down and the other suspended in the current while I wavered with doubt, threatened to knock me off balance.

We all made it. But the thought of that crossing still brings anxiety.

Walking the path

We live in a time of strong currents that threaten to dislodge us and sweep us downstream if our feet are not firmly planted. So how do we maintain balance?

Simply put (but not so simply practiced), we follow a gospel path.

We’ve described in Sunday School how the gospel keeps us balanced in the area of self-identity. When we topple toward self-criticism, the gospel reminds us that we’re more valued than we can imagine. When we lean toward self-righteousness, the gospel reminds us that we’re more sinful than we like to admit.

In the same way, the gospel steadies our walk as we travel through times and places of powerful currents that can throw us off balance and leave us as casualties downstream. There are many applications. But let’s consider one that’s foundational:

The gospel keeps us firmly planted on the path between the world’s brokenness and beauty. 

Accepting the brokenness

 
Right now we see a lot of brokenness – an aggressive virus that’s proven tough to contain, sickness and death, financial stress and fear of an uncertain future. At the same time, there’s beauty in the shadows – frontline workers making sacrifices, scientists fast-tracking remedies, neighbors taking (appropriately distanced) walks together, and communities rallying around local businesses.

Apart from current events, we see signs of nature’s rebirth. Trees are budding, bulbs are sprouting and even this week’s flurries can’t stifle the mid-day warmth of a late April sun. Add to this sunsets that still touch our souls, mountains and lakes that still reflect God’s majesty and good conversations (again, appropriately distanced) with friends and family that still warm our hearts.

The gospel reminds us that we live in a broken world that awaits redemption. We read in Romans 8:22 that all of creation groans in anticipation of its release from bondage. We shouldn’t be surprised by sickness, strained relationships and the fact that everything we see and touch bears the marks of sin.

It’s OK to grieve what’s broken. The pain is real. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept though He knew what he was about to do. I can’t prove it Biblically, but I always thought the grief went deeper than the temporary loss of a friend.

I picture Jesus among the mourners – those experiencing the pain of separation, those wondering why the worker of miracles hadn’t intervened, those watching from distance shaken by the reminder that death eventually catches us all. And I picture Him feeling the weight of sin’s consequences, knowing that the sadness and confusion around Him was not what God intended nor was it the end of the story. 

Embracing the beauty

 
The gospel of course reminds us there’s good news too – news that not only gives significance to the suffering but guarantees a sweeter blessing for what’s been endured. Sin’s curse was reversed and we have the promise that creation’s right standing with God will be restored. The best news is that Christians will share in the fullness of that blessing.

So gospel balance helps us celebrate the beauty too. In fact, I’ve always considered that Christians should be the world’s most legitimate hedonists — though it’s the giver of pleasures that we worship, not the gift itself.

We radically enjoy the blessings of life because we know they’re a taste of what’s to come – like appetizers before a meal. We can celebrate and savor them like no one else because we don’t have to cling to them desperately for fear they’ll disappear. Nor do we grieve their passing with the pain of existential loss.

Good food, good friends, a good vacation, a restful nap, fun with our “toys” – can all be fleeting in this life. But they are glimpses of the fullness of joy to come. So “gospel balance” allows us to embrace the beauty while grieving the brokenness until we cross this life to the other side. If we walk as God intends, neither of these currents will knock us off our feet.
 

Rejoice and weep 

In Romans 12:15, we’re told to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” The surrounding verses contain a list of distinct behaviors that mark our transformation by grace. In other words, the Christian can, and should, authentically rejoice and authentically grieve.

We can enter the turbulent waters of a pandemic and mourn the losses – of health, life and livelihoods – without losing our footing. And we can fully embrace the good things of this world, in the midst of the brokenness, without guilt, possessiveness or frantically grabbing at what’s fleeting.

Finally, as we walk, we don’t need to fear the turbulence. We have One who has crossed the river, tested the path and secured the rope.

When we can’t see the spot where the final stride leads to dry land, when we take a tentative step, mid-stream, with one foot wavering, wondering if the stone below will support us, we don’t need to muster enough faith for the whole journey. Grace for the moment helps us at least plant our foot on the next rock to get one step closer to shore.

The lesson, other than for smart hikers to mark the best steam crossings when the water is low, is to stay balanced through life’s wild passages by recalling the fullness of the gospel. Our faith will be firmed for the journey, we’ll give courage to those behind us, and we’ll bear witnesses to those in the world searching for something to steady them through the waters.


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A necessary darkness

Author and Pastor Paul Tripp uses a term to describe how quickly Christians forget their identity as sinners saved by grace. He calls this “gospel amnesia.” What this means is that we might say we believe the gospel and claim Christ as our hope. But when life presses in, we put our trust elsewhere.

When we feel financial stress, we might make a poor business decision or seek security in our retirement funds. When we feel strain in a relationship we might make unreasonable demands, fearing the loss. Or a health scare might send us on a desperate path to a remedy.

Gospel amnesia is real and it’s convicting. But there’s a malady that’s just as common and often more insidious because its symptoms are harder to recognize. That condition might be called “gospel familiarity.” It’s when truth becomes ordinary and assumed. And it can be a danger as the years pass and we fall into routines.

Holy Week this year is far from normal. So perhaps the solitude, the absence of Easter adornments such as egg hunts and large gatherings (which are good things but they’re adornments that accentuate the main thing) can help us focus with “intensified intentionality,” as Pastor Brad challenged us, on the full extent of God’s love poured out on the cross.

Experiencing the gospel afresh

On Good Friday as we approach Easter Sunday, we can pause to encounter the gospel afresh, remembering how God’s judgment was unleashed on Christ so that we might be saved from death to an inheritance to be enjoyed forever with our Creator and the fellowship of the saints.

We can start by reminding ourselves of the inestimable value of what was purchased at the cross. One way might be to draw the stark and sobering contrast between our pre- and post-gospel condition. Two portions of Scripture, in particular, can help us gain a deeper understanding of the significance of Christ’s sacrifice: Ephesians 2 and the first chapters of Colossians.

It’s helpful to read the text and focus on the descriptions of our before-and-after conditions and new destiny — not earned, but bought at the price of Christ’s blood. You might even make a chart with two columns.

In Ephesians 2, we read that we were DEAD in our transgressions, yet made ALIVE in Christ (vs. 5). We were CHILDREN OF WRATH (vs. 3) transformed into TROPHIES OF GRACE (vs. 7), FAR OFF people brought NEAR to God (vs.13) and ALIENS/STRANGERS to the covenant promises made FELLOW CITIZENS with the community of faith through the ages (vs. 19).

From condemned to celebrated

What did we do to “jump categories” from condemned strangers to celebrated sons and daughters? Nothing. Our salvation was bought at a price.

We could make a similar two-column chart from the text in Colossians.

Here we read that our dwelling was transformed from the DOMINION OF DARKNESS to the KINGDOM OF THE SON (Ch. 1 vs. 13); that we were ALIENATED from God, now RECONCILED; characterized by EVIL DEEDS, now proclaimed HOLY and BLAMELESS (Ch. 1 vs. 21-22); and DEBTORS made FREE (Ch. 2 vs. 14).

If we want some vivid descriptions that make the contrast more clear, we might go to Psalm 107. It’s not a far stretch to read it with a gospel mindset. The pre-redeemed are described in poetic language as hungry, thirsty wanderers in a desert wasteland; prisoners shackled in the dark, awaiting their sentence; foolish people whose sins brought disease; and terrified shipmates tossed on the waves.

In each case, these people cry out to the Lord in their distress and he delivers. If for some reason we struggle to picture our life without Christ in these terms, we can remember what Jesus said about members of the religious class who thought their outward performance had earned God’s favor.

Reversing the curse

The Psalm ends with God accomplishing a surprising and powerful reverse of circumstances. First he turns something positive into something desolate. Rivers become deserts and fruitful land becomes a salty waste. The Psalm concludes, though, with the curses reversed. Deserts become pools. Parched land becomes springs. And hungry wanderers find a satisfying dwelling place.

We might make the connection to Holy Week. On Good Friday, what appeared positive – Christ the King making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to a chorus of praise – quickly turns into what appeared horribly tragic. Yet this was God’s sovereign plan from the beginning.

But it wasn’t the end. Christ conquered death and the curse was removed. In fact, it was more than removed because paradise restored will be more than a return to Eden. It will be better because sin and pain can never enter again.

This reminds us of the VALUE of what Christ’s blood purchased for US. But that’s just part of the remedy for gospel familiarity. Good Friday, most importantly, turns our thoughts to the incredible COST borne by our Savior.

Just before Easter a few years ago, I turned to a radio talk show and was surprised to hear the host say she didn’t understand why Christ’s death was such a big deal. She explained that her brother had just lost a long, difficult battle with cancer. “Those were years of suffering,” she protested, “Christ just had a rough weekend.”

A necessary darkness

This was clearly an emotional reaction to painful loss. But it was thought provoking too. Good Friday wasn’t a bad start to Christ’s weekend. It wasn’t God caught off guard by human opposition. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

It was our Savior experiencing the greatest injustice ever perpetrated, silent before his accusers, physically tortured while shouldering the crushing burden of sin and being separated for a moment from the immeasurably deep and intimate communion with his Father that existed from eternity.

We cannot know the joy of Easter without considering the pain and sacrifice of Good Friday. The pain is real but we know it’s temporary and, best yet, we know the conclusion. The darkness of Good Friday was necessary so that we might experience the brightness of Easter Sunday.

May this never become too familiar, affect us as facts of history alone or be allowed to pass as an annual progression through our spring calendars. Instead, may the events of this week, grow more meaningful with time and contemplation so that our joy may be full and evident this season.

As we share in Christ’s sufferings through this temporary necessary darkness, we hold onto the promise of a resurrection and a reign forever.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b-2


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Straighten up and fly right!

I once read about a pilot whose flight took him into thick clouds at night. After some time, he glanced at his instruments to see an urgent warning that he had inverted and was losing altitude. Everything felt right. So he assumed a monitor had malfunctioned — until he exited the clouds upside down and dangerously close to crashing.
 
I found the story hard to believe. How could someone not know they were upside down? So I did a quick web search on pilots and perception. Apparently the problem is real when visibility is poor. In fact, 5-10 percent of aviation accidents are attributed to “spatial disorientation.”
 
The prescribed remedy was simple: when the horizon is not in view, trust your instruments over your senses.
 

When our theology collides with reality

 
It’s the same way with our Christian walk. We can let our circumstances define our theology and end up dangerously disoriented. Or we can look to the objective truth of God’s Word as our instrument panel, anchor our faith in His character and promises, and hear the counsel of mature believers who have weathered life’s storms.
 
I know because every day, my neat, tidy theology enters the storm clouds of reality. I can feel especially loved by God when life is good. And I can feel abandoned when things get scary or confusing. 
 
It’s a common struggle and it’s why many of us return to the Psalms, as Pastor Phil reminded us in yesterday’s video clip focused on Psalm 18 and its assurance that God is our rock, fortress and deliverer. 
 
At one point while reading through the Psalms, I noticed a pair of themes that seemed to conflict. A number of Psalms pointed to God ruling “on his throne” or “in his temple.” Yet sometimes, even within the same Psalm, the writer cried out for God to “awaken” or protested “God, why are you asleep?” 
 
Similarly, there are Psalms of lament (or “complaint”) that turn on a dime into expressions of peace and praise. Either the Psalmist was on an emotional rollercoaster or something deeper was going on. Eventually, I think I started to see what was happening.
 

From clouds to clear skies

 
The author’s senses and surroundings told him that God was distant, asleep and perhaps even arbitrarily cruel. But the Psalmist didn’t let his circumstances define his theology. When he refocused on what he knew about God,  most times he was able to exit the trial into clear skies, flying right-side-up.
 
These are uncertain days and it’s easy for our theology to be shaped by what our senses take in, whether it’s sickness (or threats of sickness), news stories or interruptions to our comfort and routines. But like a dangerously overconfident pilot in the clouds, we can’t always trust our senses.
 
When we find our thoughts at odds with what we know about God, or when we feel our faith crowded out by fear and discouragement, it’s time to go straight to Scripture, solid teaching and wise counsel from seasoned “air traffic controllers” who have guided many a plane to safety. Those are the instruments that promise to align our subjective experience with the objective truth.
 
We can also recognize our mutual obligations and privileges as the Body of Christ. We can be aware of how others are responding to the times. If we spot a brother or sister “flying upside down,” fearful they’ve lost sight of the horizon or judging God based on circumstances, we should be a voice of reorientation and encouragement.
 
We also have the opportunity to let our confidence be a witness to a watching world. We can show where our security lies, without being pridefully oblivious to real threats. And we can be honest about our questions and fears without succumbing to panic or despair.
 

Our challenge to be the church

 
Our challenge is to balance precautions and obedience to authorities with our God-given charge to “be the church” in all seasons. This will certainly take discernment and we may stumble at times. But God is in control and he will provide all we need to avoid “spatial disorientation” and ultimately soar out of the clouds into clear skies.   
 
Addendum
 
I read a blog a few days ago that referenced a Christian “media consumption pyramid” similar to the food pyramid some of us might remember from our school days. The base of the food pyramid illustrated that the bulk of our diet should consist of fruits and vegetables. The next levels contained lean meats and grains. At the very top were sweets and fats — things we should consume in the smallest quantity.
 
The media consumption pyramid understandably had Scripture at the base, followed by good books and what we take in by our senses in nature (not traditional “media” but a great recommendation). At the very top were news stories and social media content.  I immediately realized that the current season of worldwide anxiety had lured me into a cycle of mass media consumption followed by the need for Scriptural realignment.  
 
I don’t think God values ignorance, and hiding from reality is no solution to turbulent times. But I wondered if God wanted more from me in this season than white-knuckled clinging to promises. It wasn’t the holding onto promises that was bad. It was the arrested forward progress. So I am grateful for Holy Week coming up and the opportunity to focus on Supreme Sacrifice and Resurrection.
 
And I’m particularly challenged to use this season — where so much is on pause — to cultivate better habits of Scripture intake, meditation and application. These are things that actually take root best in quiet, solitude (i.e. social distancing) and a break in the typical urgencies of life. They are also things that prepare me, and all of us, for healthy congregational life once these times pass and we’re back together again in the regular rhythms of the church. 
 
So let’s all be comforted, be challenged and be blessed!
 
– Brian

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Should we be surprised?

By Nick Feliciano
 
In light of recent events I’m sure you are all wondering, what is going on in the world? Why are people so crazy? Are we going to run out of food? Maybe you’re just happy you don’t have to go into school (understandable). I am writing this so that we can continue to learn about God in light of a hectic and chaotic world.
 

Should we be surprised?

Read Matthew chapter 24:3-14

Now I don’t want to overwhelm anyone at this time, because the reality is Jesus said NO ONE
will know the day or the hour when His return is. And His return shouldn’t be feared for us that
believe in Him! He has saved us and there is an eternity we have to look forward to that has no
sickness, death or disease!

Look in verse 6 how it talks of rumors of war, and that these things must take place, but the end is not yet. These things must take place. Generations of people have also thought they were near the end. Even the disciples thought they may have been close. Think of generations that have survived World War 2, influenza, the black plague and more. Many probably your age at the time thought “is this it?”

Revelation, specifically 6:8, talks of famine and even plagues coming toward the end. As we have seen already, we see some of these things coming into fruition. But should we be afraid?

Personally, I don’t think so. There is still a lot mentioned, even if you read the rest of the chapter, that has not come to pass yet. Even here in America, we still have a ton of freedom to be a Christian and we must remember God desires for as many people to be saved as possible! (1 Timothy 2:4)

Now we have seen things that can point to the end all throughout history — civil wars, large scale wars, plagues and diseases. In light of all these things, our hope does not rest in this world, this country or even the people in it!
 

Our hope rests in Jesus

Our hope rests in Jesus and what he did on the cross for us so that no matter what may happen here, we have the hope of eternity that cannot be taken from those of us who put their trust in Him!

I want us to have the simple reminder that Jesus is our provider and He will provide our every NEED. He cares too much about us as His children to leave us even in a time like this.

Take some time to read Matthew 6:25-34. That is just one of the many promises God has for us that encourages us not to worry in these times or even in normal times! God is going to provide for His children, and as a believer and follower of Him, He is going to take care of your and my needs.

That doesn’t mean He promises we’ll be rich and successful! But he promises to meet our basic needs! So, for us as Christians we can look different in a world full of panic and fear because we know our God is so big that He is going to provide for us just as He has done in the past for other followers.

And when He calls us home, we have something to look forward to far greater than anything this earth has to offer. To end this devotional, I would encourage you to take some time to reach out to your friends or brothers and sisters, young and old, from the church and ask if they have any prayer requests or needs that you could help them with. And be sure to be praying for our country and the world
at this time!


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