Wash Your Hands

www.bible.com/1713/jas.4.8.csb

Corona virus is all people are talking these days. It has eclipsed the milquetoast tepidity of the democratic process. People have even stopped talking about impeaching Trump. Toilet paper is flying off the shelves faster than trees can be felled to produce more. Masks and gloves are at a premium. I wonder what people will do when a real disaster hits?

While corona virus is a real thing, is it that real? Is it so much worse than Ebola was? What was canceled for Ebola? What did we postpone for SARS? Did we close school for swine flu? Some may have. Most shrugged it off as “someone else’s problem.”

I heard just a few days ago that Bethel Church, the church in the news a few months ago for trying to pray back to life a small child who passed away in their church, has canceled faith healing trips to the hospital. Maybe their faith had been shaken by the aforementioned lack of resurrection power. They said that they didn’t want people to get infected by going into the hospital and praying over sick people. This sudden submission to western medicine seems suspect to me.

I know germs and viruses are real things. I also know this corona virus is spread like normal flu, through droplets which can be sneezed into the air but rarely survive for long on non-loving surfaces. My reason tells me that this virus is no worse than any other viruses. Christian who wash their hands regularly are in pretty good shape.

But I don’t think that’s what God is talking about this morning. He is calling us draw near to Him. Washing hands is a reference to our deeds. Just as purifying hearts refers to minds. Let our thoughts and behaviors reflect our relationship with the Lord. Let us draw near to Him. And the promise is that He will draw near to us, His people.

We will weather this storm as we have all the others. Some of us will not. But whether we live or die, let us praise the name of the Lord. When plagues ravages the earth, I dare say it is the Christians who helped, who nursed and who doctored, when others stayed in quarantine or fear. Some got sick, others received their heavenly reward. But I’m sure all received a crown of glory. Because their behavior reflected their faith in the God of the Universe, and the God of viruses. They acted as people of God, and we should do no less. Let us continue to minister to others the good news. Especially during times of crisis, our peace of the Lord should shine as a beacon. Let your light shine today.

Heavenly Father, You are the King of the Universe. By Your hand, even viruses are ordered to and fro. If by Your will this virus today become even an instrument of judgment, let us not falter or fail for fear. We have nothing to fear from You our Father. Instead, let us with confidence and boldness enter into service with Your Name in our hearts to help those in need. Let us not be ruled by fear, for perfect love casts out all fear. Let us be cautious, but not afraid. Let us reasonable understand our precautions, it not terrified of what could happen. You have called us to be Your people in this world. Let us answer that call and enter in other’s desperation with Your peace and grace. Thank You Lord that we have this blessed assurance. Let us draw near to You, so that You may draw near to us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Blessed by Trial

www.bible.com/1713/jas.1.12.csb

Is that not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? Who is blessed by a trial? A trial is a challenging, faith-inducing affair with anguish of heart and soul. How could such a thing be a blessing? Yet the circumstances are not the blessing itself. The blessing comes in the perseverance that blooms because of the trial. Trial is merely fertilizer to the growth of the Christian. This was not in the brochure.

This is what Christianity such a hard sell. Yes you get eternal life and joy in Christ and love to the bottom of your soul, but, you will also have trouble in this world. Your whole life will be filled with trials that are designed to strengthen your faith. If I was an immature believer, I would be tempted to give up, tempted to throw it all away because I did not sign up for the crucible. I signed up for paradise. But a sword sheathed never knows it’s worth.

Christian, in this world you will have trouble. Do not marvel that the world hates you, because it hated Jesus before you. If you would turn to follow him, be prepared to suffer the insults of the unsaved. Prepare yourself for temptation to prompt you to lose your way or your love. Your chief enemy will not be the unsaved, but the unsaveable, the demons who prowl the earth seeking whom they may destroy. Satan himself prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. You must always be on your guard, always prepared to defend your faith, before others and even before the judgment seat of your own heart.

The blessing doesn’t come from the trial, but from the perseverance you develop through it. God is seeking the tested and tried. He is seeking to test you and try you, so that you are a well-seasoned believer. God is glorified through our weakness, because by our weakness His strength is exalted. Does that sound weird? When we are weak, He is strong, because the mark of God’s power is most evident when it has nothing to do with us. This we glory in our weakness, our powerlessness, because He is able! We worship and glorify the One who saves. Despite our frailty, our seasoned spirit is what endures, and what God brings to Himself. Our flesh is as grass, here today and gone tomorrow. But our tested spirit, our blessed spirit is the precious pearl God seeks.

So when you are tested today, consider it all joy my brothers. God has counted you worthy of trial. The joy is in the testimony of a life saved by grace through all. May we praise and bless Him today!

Blessed Father, thank you for considering me worthy today to bear the name of Jesus into the dark places my trial takes me. Though my flesh and my mind are weary, I know that my strength comes from the Lord. He alone saves. And nothing in this world is so valuable as to make me want to cling to it more than You. May your grace and peace be with all who suffer today, for there is great suffering in this world. Help me to see them and encourage them. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Power in Weakness

www.bible.com/1713/2co.12.9.csb

This is one of my go to verses. If God doesn’t heal you of that illness or infirmity, what then? Where do you go when God doesn’t take the pain away? Most people reject God, saying they’ve prayed and prayed and God hasn’t answered their prayers, or they feel dejected because they didn’t have enough faith to move this particular mountain. Is that how it works? We just send a prayer off to God and He is expected to meet our need, just like that? Does God have any say in the matter?

If God doesn’t heal you, does that make Him an unloving God? Does make Him harsh or cruel? Can God only be glorified and praised only if He meets your need exactly when you need it?

Then imagine Paul’s consternation at not being healed of his infirmity. Though no one is sure what his “thorn in the flesh” was, some suspect it was an issue with his eyes, based on Galatians. Paul prayed to have this thorn removed. Paul’s faith goes without question. He had the ability to heal others of blindness. Why didn’t God heal his? Did God not care?

But God did care. And God have Him an answer, the same answer He gives to all of us. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” What does that mean? It means God takes the long view. He knows this world is not our home. We have a new and glorious eternal body that awaits us where there will no suffering, crying, or pain. The purpose of this life is to prepare our souls for the next, not to enjoy all the pleasures. His power is made perfectly evident in our weakness, for the more powerful message of unshakeable faith comes from the voice of the tested, not the untested. The more powerful comes from the testimony, not the untried.

God’s message and purpose is to save the lost. The lost are better won by one who has been tested and finds his faith unshaken. That God is glorified in the midst of such terrible weakness is powerful testimony, and will many to their knees in repentance. I have been at the bedside of hospice patients who will make you weep because of their unshakeable faith. That is power perfected in weakness. That is the unmistakable power of God.

So the next time God doesn’t heal like you expect, be prepared. God may have other purposes for your illness. He may be disciplining you, or he just may be preparing you for a powerful testimony.

God bless you today!

Dear Friend

www.bible.com/1713/3jn.1.2.csb

What you may not see in this translation is John’s hope for Gaius is two-fold, both that he may prosper financially as well as physically, just as his soul prospers. To prosper is to be financially well-off, to be “successful” or be financially secure. Someone who prospers is doing well. It is similar to the Vulcan benediction, “live long and prosper.” It is good wishes on those we care about. But what John adds here is the prosperity of the soul your physical and financial prosperity ought to be tied to how well your soul is doing. To be rich and healthy yet miserable is what we call Depression in America. What would you give to be happy? What would you give to have peace?

So what John wishes upon his friend Gaius is not so unusual. As a leader in the early church, he notes that physical and financial prosperity are both dependent on your soul’s health. And keeping a soul healthy depends on its reliance on the Lord. As he says in vs. 3, “you are walking in the truth.”

Soul health demands truth-walking. A healthy soul takes regular strolls through the halls of God’s word, takes in the sights, meditates on them, and allows them to fill his soul. He then can take his insights with him wherever he goes. If you are not spending time with God, you aren’t working on your soul.

So like a good pastor, John reminds Gaius (who probably didn’t need the reminder so much as those who would read the letter after him) that a healthy soul is necessary for physical health and financial health. As Paul once wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” A godly soul is content even with a little, and considers it wealth. Don’t imagine for a minute John is inventing a “get rich” scheme here. The point of this physical health and prosperity is not to get religion. Being obedient to religious rules isn’t the beginning of a healthy retirement. Being obedient to the Lord is.

Like Gaius, let us hold fast the confession of our faith unwavering. And allow God to bless us in health and wealth as He sees fit. Let us not serve the Lord to be wealthy. Let us serve Him to be well in our soul. Yes, there is a return for faithful service. It is this, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”

God bless you today!

Not Just Taking Up Space

You Love Me?

You may not know God’s purpose for your life right now. You may believe that your life is on hold, waiting for someone or something to show you your life’s direction. I saw it in the eyes of a widow, whose husband had passed and now she was ill, with no obvious path forward but death. Yet, she persisted day to day, taking endless treatments and visits to the hospital. Why am I still here?

In the face of life’s confusing circumstances, the road ahead is foggy. We ask what possible direction is there when we can’t see it. Yet, when the roads are foggy, I trust the men who built them to keep driving. I don’t stop in the middle of the road, refusing to travel, because I can’t see the way. I trust the builders that there is a road ahead, so I keep driving.

Our lives are not built merely of our own preferences and decisions. There is One who has built the road ahead for us. We choose to travel. We trust that even when we can’t see what’s next, we know the Builder does and has prepared a way. We don’t worry about ravines and rivers because we trust the builders to have built a bridge. Though life brings us valleys and mountains, we have a Builder who has prepared the way.

I had no answer for this widow. I still don’t. But I trust the Lord, and I trust the road He has built. He has given us guardrails on our road, rules for behavior that show us what we ought to do while we wait for the bigger picture to unfold. In her distress, she knew she just wanted to die, but she knew that taking her own life wasn’t an option, so she waited on the Lord. And He did take her in time, in His time.

She didn’t know what purpose God had for her life. But maybe by sharing a little of her story with you, we have discovered it. We are not here to satisfy ourselves, but that through us, others may know about God. Perhaps her purpose was the demonstrate faithfulness to God’s plan for us, even when we can’t see it. So that I can’t see it either, I don’t lose hope.

Why go to Church if I don’t feel well?

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It seems especially true in winter that people are sick and they miss church, but this can happen anytime. Now, you can’t blame someone when they are sick that they miss service, right? We all get sick sometimes, and sometimes, we do the Christian thing and don’t share the illness with others. Parents of newborns are encouraged to stay home from church for this reason. But this reason can be used too readily, so that a slight cough and the uneasy headache are called upon as unwitting accomplices in the delinquency of Church attendance.

And what about those who are too old or infirm to attend Church? These are the homebound elderly or those whose chronic illness keep them from attendance. Shouldn’t there be an exception made for these too? Conversely, is the Church off the hook if these people can no longer attend Church?

The Scripture is quite clear to both sides of this. “If anyone is sick, let him call upon the elders. They will come and anoint the sick . . .” (James 5:14) I think it goes without saying that missing a Sunday is excusable, since most illnesses clear up in a week’s time. But this verse seems to speak to the more chronic conditions that keep someone from attending church regularly. The homebound and the chronically ill still need to be fed spiritually. The Church needs to engage them on at least a weekly basis. This verse implies that the one sick at home is not simply to just stop attending, but continue to be involved in the local church, calling upon the elders. If a Church has not made contact with you for being absent, then this verse demands that you contact the church and tell them you are ill and need a visit. Church leaders can’t read minds. Being at Church is so important, even for the sick, that the elders, in their shepherding role, need to continue to minister to them.

Non-Christians don’t really use this excuse, unless they are older. but being older, have a greater need for interaction. This is a perfect situation for outreach, and should not be avoided.

A Plague of Purpose

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Exodus 9:14

“For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on our servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.”God’s purposes for plagues, natural disasters and war are to warn us.When you get sick, or you just don’t feel well, you may not consider God’s role in your illness, nor even consider yourself serious enough to add to the prayer list. More serious illnesses and health problems interrupt our lives long enough to realign our perspectives, and force us to consider God’s role and power to heal. That’s when we ask the “why” questions. But what about epidemics or plagues where many people are sick? Some time ago, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa came to our shores. This disease crossed national borders and exists as a threat in this country. The first, limited supplies of Z-mapp, an experimental drug developed by an Owensboro company, quickly ran out, and the disease threatened our doorstep. The Herald-Leader website published an article October 2nd about two patients that had “Ebola-like” symptoms, but thankfully did not have Ebola. They had, however, been to Liberia in West Africa recently.

Why doesn’t God stop this plague? We can know positively that if God wished He could. Thus the opposite here may be true. He does not wish to stop it yet. It has not fulfilled its purpose. God’s purposes for plagues, natural disasters and war are to warn us. They are reminders that we can’t keep living as if there is no God. Despite all the nuclear warheads in our arsenal, soldiers in our ranks, or bullets in their guns, not one is effective in stopping a plague. No Air Force in the world can stop a hurricane, nor Army a famine. God demonstrates His power over our world by reminding us of just how powerless we are.

Yet, He demonstrates His love toward us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. Even when we were His enemies, dying in our sins, He loves us and Jesus died for us to save us from the eternal penalty of sin, death in Hell. As Christians, we shouldn’t need to be reminded of either God’s love or power, but now is a good time to remind someone else. This plague is cruel; it respects no one and will strike anyone who is not prepared for it, good or bad. However, God doesn’t have the same agenda we do. We look at the disease for its cruelty and apply that cruelty back to God. But for God, the disease is a means. He is after the heart of a man to turn him back to God. Disease reminds us of what is really important: not wealth, personal power, or social status, but family, friends, and faith. Many ask, “Why do we suffer before a good God?” Rather, we need to ask, “Since God is just, why don’t we suffer more since we have often offended Him?” God’s goal isn’t a healthy, vigorous body, but a soul that is spiritually sound and saved. When we sin against the Lord, we deserve to die, but He is gracious, and gives us time to consider and repent. Disease is a direct and unmistakable warning to repent; a plague even more so. Will our nation listen this time?