A Further Word of Encouragement for Christians During the Pandemic

God [in Christ] is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change

Psalm 46.1-2a, NRSV

As news of covid19 continues to morph every day and we get bombarded with an increasing stream of bad news, do you (still) believe the passage above? In the face of all the bad news we hear, it is natural for us to become afraid. Our fear is exacerbated by our social isolation, a medical necessity, but with the capacity to have disastrous social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual side-effects on us. Our isolation has the tendency to make us even more afraid. And so I want to offer you another word of encouragement today. I will try to do so every week.

The eminent Anglican theologian, Professor Tom Wright, tells us the most common phrase in the Bible is “don’t be afraid.” This suggests there is plenty in our world to make us afraid and all of us understand that by now, if we didn’t before.

So what to do? I again quote above (slightly modified) from Psalm 46. But what should we do to prevent passages like this from becoming mere platitudes? The answer is as straightforward as it is complex. Our ability to trust in the Lord depends on whether we truly trust in God’s goodness, mercy, and power. If we believe God is a liar or is hostile to us or is against us, or is powerless to act, of course we will read passages like the one above as platitudinal. And if we really believe these things about God, then unfortunately we probably don’t have a real relationship with God.

But of course God is NOT a liar. It is impossible for God to lie as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us (Heb. 6.18). So what to do? Scriptures don’t have a lot to say as to why God allows things like this pandemic to happen. What the Bible tells us to do is to REMEMBER. The Jews were to remember the Exodus. The NT tells us we are to remember our own Exodus, Christ’s death and resurrection. We are also to remember the many times God has acted on our behalf in the living of our days.

If you read or listened to my sermon from Sunday you know that in God’s eyes you are to die for, and that is exactly what God’s Son did for us so that we can live and not have to worry about suffering God’s condemnation and permanent death. If we don’t believe in the truth and reality of Christ’s death and resurrection it will frankly be impossible for us to believe that God in Christ is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we are all screwed. But Jesus is raised from the dead and so we are reminded that come what may from this crisis, death does not have the final word. We are people who have died and are raised with Christ by virtue of our baptism (Romans 6.3-5), and so life and new creation are our hope and future, not death and destruction. The virus may kill us, but even if it does, we know we are to die for in God’s loving eyes and tender mercy, and so we are not to be afraid because we know that like Christ, we will be raised to new life in God’s new world where there will be no such thing as pandemics or sickness, sorrow, or death.

Let us therefore encourage one another in our resurrection faith. Let us make sure that none of our faith community families is huddled at home, living in fear and isolation. Let us reach out and check on each other, and encourage each other. Pick 5 people from your faith community each week to call, comfort, and encourage. Check in on your neighbors and encourage them as well. Demonstrate you are a person of power who defies your natural inclination to be afraid. Don’t be foolish, but don’t be timid.

And let us all be prayer warriors. Hear the ancient Christian theologian, Tertullian (d. 225 AD), speak on the power of prayer:

“Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecution [and plagues?], comforts the faint-hearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers [a huge problem in Tertullian’s day], feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, [and] sustains those who stand firm,” Tertullian, On Prayer, 28-29.

We are all in need of courage, hope, comfort, strength, and perseverance during these days, my beloved, and we all need to be ardent and faithful prayer warriors. Let every single one of us resolve to ramp up our praying for the duration. Pray for God’s mercy, God’s healing, God’s protection, God’s strength, God’s perseverance, and God’s comfort during these desperate days. Remember God answers prayer more often than not through human agency. Resolve therefore to allow God to use you to embody his goodness, mercy, kindness, and strength.

May the Lord bless, protect, and defend you and yours during these desperate days. May you know the peace of Christ and experience his strength, love, and power in the living of your days.

A Word of Encouragement for Christians During the Coronavirus Pandemic

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change.

Psalm 46.1-2a, NRSV

If you are a Christian, do you believe the passage from Psalm 46 that I quote above? If you do, I encourage you to put your faith into action by practicing what you believe. We are bombarded with all kinds of bad and scary news about the coronavirus of late and I encourage you not to succumb to the fear that it naturally engenders. We are Christians. We are therefore people of power, God’s power. As Christians we have a resurrection hope and future. We believe that come what may, because of God’s great love for us made known in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, not even death can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8.31-39). A glorious future awaits us in God’s new creation. Let this hope and promise, the very promise of God, sustain you during these uncertain times. Resist the temptation to be afraid. If God is for us, who (or what) can possibly be against us? 

As you rely increasingly on the Lord’s power to protect you and keep you from being afraid, encourage each other in the faith because we all become afraid from time to time and we need each other’s encouragement and support. For starters, spend less time watching the news and more time reading your Bible and encouraging each other. Stay up with the latest developments, but don’t wallow in the bad news. Instead, go to God’s Word to be refreshed, calmed, and strengthened during these uncertain days. In addition to the verses I quoted above, read Psalms 23, 27, 42-43, 46, 77, 91, and 103 for starters. If you find yourself overwhelmed, make Psalm 130 your prayer and strengthen each other with these passages. Don’t be afraid! We are people with a Power far greater than anything the world can throw at us! Jesus Christ himself has promised that he has overcome the world for us (St. John 16.32-33). Dare we doubt him and fall into panic and fear? 

We have a wonderful opportunity during this pandemic to proclaim our faith to a fearful world shrouded in darkness and uncertainty. Let us therefore proclaim our resurrection faith in love and service to each other and to those around us who need Christ’s love made known in and through us. We are not to be reckless and put the Lord to the test, but neither are we to be timid and fearful. Why? Because “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change.” Commit this verse to memory and pray it often, especially when you are tempted to fall into fear. Likewise, pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly (it’s been suggested we do this as we wash our hands) and trust that God does indeed hear our petition to deliver us from evil and acts on our behalf for our good. May God bless you and yours during these difficult days.

Archbishop Foley Beach’s Ash Wednesday Letter

It’s worth your read.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating of God’s holy Word – BCP2019, p. 544


Dearly Beloved in Jesus Christ,As you and I begin the observance of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, I want to ask you to build into your Lenten observance specific times of prayer (and fasting) asking for God’s intervention in the spread of the Coronavirus in North America and all around the world.Dr. Nancy Messionnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said yesterday that it is only a matter of time before the virus now labeled COVID-19 begins to spread across North America.  Saying that schools and businesses should begin preparing now, she said: “I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”This is where you and I can make a difference in prayer.  If you are going to give up something this Lent, give up “time” and use that time in prayer. If you are going to take something on this Lent, take up specific times in intercessory prayer.  Ask God to eradicate this virus. Ask him to intervene.  Ask him to help public health officials, doctors, and government officials with wisdom and guidance. Ask him to heal the victims and comfort those who have lost loved-ones.  Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing this virus right now in China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Iran, Italy, and so many other places.God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound judgment (2 Tim.1:7).  Let us walk and live in God’s wisdom asking for his help, and trusting in His mercy.

In Christ,

The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach

Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America

Received via email.

A Third-Century Church Father Offers Practical Advice About Praying

As we near the season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, repentance, and prayer, here is some very practical advice on the latter from one of the early Church Fathers, Origen of Alexandria (d. 254AD). Notice his emphasis on the whole person, body included, in prayer. May his writing help you in your own praying, during Lent and at other times.

It seems to me that those who are about to come to prayer, if they withdraw and prepare themselves for a little while, will be more earnest and attentive in regard to their prayer as a whole. They should put aside every kind of distraction and disturbance of mind, and recollect as far as possible the greatness of God to whom they come, and that it is a sacrilege to approach God lightly and carelessly and with a kind of disdain; and they should cast off all alien thoughts. Thus ought they to come to prayer, as it were stretching out the soul before the hands, and directing the mind to God before the eyes, and raising up from the ground the reason and making it to stand toward the Lord of all. All malice toward anyone who appears to have wronged them they should cast aside insofar as they wish God to bear no malice toward themselves, since they have injured and sinned against many a neighbor, or else are conscious of deeds of various kinds that they have committed contrary to right reason. Neither ought they to doubt that, as there are countless attitudes [position] of the body, that attitude in which the hands are stretched out and eyes lifted up is to be preferred to all others, since the body brings to prayer the image, as it were, of the qualities suitable to the soul. We mean, however, that these attitudes should be given preference unless an obstacle opposes. For where there is an obstacle it is permissible on an occasion to pray suitably in a sitting position, on account of a disease of the feet that may not be disregarded, or even lying down, through fever or some such sickness. And also, on account of circumstances, if we are sailing, let us say, or if our business does not allow us to withdraw and offer the prayer that is due, it is permitted to pray without even seeming to do so.
And as for kneeling, that it is necessary when one is about to accuse oneself of one’s sins before God, supplicating him for healing therefrom and for forgiveness thereof, it ought to be known that it is a symbol of one who is abject and submissive. Paul says: ‘‘For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Spiritual kneeling, so named because every creature falls down before God “in the name of Jesus” and humbles itself before him, appears to me to be indicated in the words: ‘‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.”

Origen, Treatise on Prayer 31, 11, 549-552

Ted Olsen: How to Jump Back In to Bible Reading

Christian leaders are also too aware of the dangers of bad Bible reading. We’re on alert against proof-texting. We fret about people misappropriating promises to Israel as guarantees of their own health, wealth, and safety. And we know that the Scriptures were written to believers for the life of the community, not for individualistic moments of personal piety. We start to wonder: Doesn’t the idea of reading one little chapter this morning encourage an atomized “thought of the day” when the whole point is the one large story it tells about God in Jesus Christ? Yes! And since I already know that story, do I really need to read a bit from 1 Corinthians again this morning? There’s so much else that needs doing!

Those thoughts and temptations have little purchase when I’m actually reading the Bible. It’s not that reading it always (or usually) floods me with a light of relief and certitude. But I’ve found that I’m hungriest to read Scripture when I’m reading Scripture. Part of this, no doubt, is simply the psychology driving any habit. But part of it is that the Word of God really is alive and active (Heb. 4:12)—and as much as I want to affirm its primary aims for the community of God, the Spirit keeps illuminating those ways in which it has something to say to me, personally, right now. 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march/how-to-jump-back-in-to-bible-reading.html

First, I would encourage you to read this short article by Dr. Olsen. I like his stuff and find it edifying. From the excerpt above he makes two important points. Don’t read passages in Scripture in isolation from the larger story presented in the Bible. Doing so can lead inexperienced readers to interpret various passages (not all) very badly. Passages of Scripture must always be read in their proper context.

Second, professor Olsen makes the keen observation that reading Scripture can actually feed our hunger to read more of it. But how to overcome our initial reluctance?

Brilliant as professor Olsen is, I am always saddened when the Church’s various traditions for reading Scripture are ignored because in my experience, reading Scripture as part of participating in the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, where Bible reading is combined with prayer, can serve as an antidote to our reluctance to begin or return to reading Scripture. In my Anglican tradition, we have the opportunity to read a vast majority of Scripture over a two-year cycle. This doesn’t overwhelm newbies but it also provides grist for more experienced readers as well as the structure to read Scripture systematically. That’s never a bad thing.

And when it comes to praying, why try and reinvent the wheel? There are a lot of saints who have gone before us who know how to pray and we shouldn’t be so arrogant that we think we can do better. Form prayers contained in the Office can easily be modified to make them quite personal and I dare say they do not lead to rote praying any more than spontaneous praying does if my experience is any indicator.

So how to jump back into (or begin) reading the Bible? Check out the Daily Office and make it your own. Using the Office, I have let the form prayers make me a better pray-er and have read the entire Bible through at least a dozen times, with each new iteration bringing new insights and teaching. The latter shouldn’t be surprising because the Word of God contained in Holy Scripture is infinitely plumbable and edifying. We would expect nothing less from the God who created this vast universe by his word and who raises the dead back to life.

So become a Daily Office Bible reader, especially if you come from a tradition that uses the Office (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism). You will find new clarity and understanding as well as new power and purpose for living if you do.

Aldersgate 2019: John Wesley on the Way Methodists Live

There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these [Methodist] societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is  most generally practiced, such as: The taking of the name of God in vain. Drunkenness. Slaveholding. Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men. Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: The public worship of God. The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded. The Supper of the Lord. Family and private prayer. Searching the Scriptures. Fasting or abstinence.

If there be any among us who observe [these rules] not, who habitually break any among them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repents not, he has no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.

The Book of Discipline of the UMC 1996, 70-72

There you have it. Mutual Christian accountability to help live lives worthy of the call.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: The Trump Blimp and the Roots of Rage

I watched with curiosity the big protest against Trump in London this week.

As regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of Mr Trump, however what we saw in London really had very little to do with Donald Trump.

Something else was going on which was much more interesting that Trump, a blimp and a crowd of angry people.

What was interesting was the anger. I watched a few interviews with protesters and there seemed to be a constant theme of rage simmering below the surface. The interviewer asked, “What specifically do you dislike about Trump and his policies?”

The replies were most often incoherent, sentimental, ignorant, inaccurate or all of the above.

The most cogent reply was from a young woman who said with a big smile, “I don’t know. I’m just angry.”

This is where it gets very interesting. Why the anger? Britain, like the USA, is one of the most privileged, affluent and aspirational countries on earth. As in the USA, if you want to get ahead and find happiness and you are not hindered by circumstances beyond your control, you can improve your life. Why the anger?

The boy is on to something. Read it all.

The Stream (Joshua Charles): What’s Wrong With Millennials? Partly, Their Parents’ Divorces

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Don’t ever let anyone tell you, even your kids, that divorce doesn’t matter or that there are not consequences to sin. They are dead wrong and if you believe them, you are in denial.

But what is certain is that my generation has seen more of divorce than any other. The family — the God-made bedrock of our lives, our education, our moral formation, and for many of us our faith — has been shattered.

It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. You have to ask, “If this happens so much to good people, after decades of marriage, what hope do I have for a successful marriage?”

The question many Millennials invariably ask is “For what?” Many of our parents have been horrible teachers of marriage and family life, for invariably even a good family life that ends in divorce cannot avoid a peculiar sense of vanity. Precious things that seem wasted always will.

You cannot look askance at the generation so ill-taught and judge them for undervaluing what you taught them to esteem cheap. As the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote, “It is not young people who degenerate. They are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted.”

By all means edify, encourage and lovingly correct my generation on marriage. But before judging it, make sure you are being honest about the world you gave them.

Read the whole heartbreaking thing.

CT: You Have God’s Blessing to Say ‘God Bless America’

See what you think and feel free to comment below.

I thought back to that moment several years later, when I first encountered bumper stickers reading, “God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions.” You can see why someone might find that sentiment attractive. “God bless America”? Too narrow and chauvinistic. We’re better off not beseeching the Almighty to play favorites.

Still, the new slogan left me discontented. Why imply that there’s anything unseemly, even ungodly, about loves and loyalties less than universal in scope?

We understand this readily enough in our prayer lives. If I ask my fellow small group members to lift up my ailing grandmother, no one expresses bafflement or outrage that I haven’t asked God to heal all the ailing grandmothers. No one imagines that I harbor indifference or ill will toward any other old folks. In other words, no one scolds me for failing to remember “the whole world—and everyone in it.”

In all likelihood, my ailing grandmother isn’t the world’s most meritorious grandmother. God doesn’t love her any more, or less, than your own kith and kin. But being my grandmother, her welfare naturally lies uppermost in my mind, and weighs heaviest on my heart. So it is with nations. You cherish your homeland—you champion its cause above others—because it’s home.

To be sure, we ignore the “no exceptions” outlook at our peril. Christian faith may not forbid elevated attachment to particular places (any more than to particular people). But hopefully it enlarges our vision, sets vital boundaries, and tempers patriotic excess. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” reaffirms that nothing else—no crown, no constitution, no ballad of blood and soil—should claim our highest allegiance. It joins us to that “great multitude . . . from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

Read it all.