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We walk by faith,

not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

The coronavirus is invisible to the naked eye, yet we all know it’s out there – spreading, infecting, impacting our world.

Similarly, the Bible tells us of an unseen realm, no less real. Do you believe in it?

Even though you cannot view his crown under a microscope, do you know that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father right now? Hebrews 2:8-9 says – “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.”

Do you trust that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously moving: convicting, converting, comforting, conforming people to the image of Christ, even if his activity seems imperceptible at times? John 3:8 says – “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Do you have the perspective that knows that there is an immaterial, immortal aspect to you that is more important than your current physical shape? Matthew 10:28 says – “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

Do you understand that the greatest enemies of our souls operate within an invisible network of malicious powers and personalities? Ephesians 6:12 – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Do you have confidence knowing that God and his innumerable angel armies are on our side no matter how formidable and obvious the opponents and obstacles seem? 2 Kings 6:15-17 says – “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Do you focus on the promised future world more than this present, passing one all around us? 2 Corinthians 4:18 says – “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Can you fathom the potential of the local church to make these realities visible? 1 John 4:12 says – “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Do you have faith? Hebrews 11:1 says – “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

But remember: there is coming a day when faith shall be sight. Revelation 1:7 says – “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.”

Until then may you, like Moses, have the eyes of your hearts enlightened (see Eph. 1:18) so that you can see the unseen, for Hebrews 11:27 says – “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Brothers and sisters, I long to see you and confirm that your faith and love are abounding (see e.g. 1Thess. 3:6), but for now I have to trust that God is working in you during this time even though I might not be able to see it. I pray that, as 1 Peter 1:8-9 says – “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

I can’t wait to see you all again and sing together “to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, [to whom belongs all] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1Tim. 1:17).

~ Pastor Nathan

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

On November 22, 1963, the United States was brought to a standstill when it learned that President John F. Kennedy, our 35th President, was assassinated. He was riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Jackie, and the governor of Texas, John Connally, together with his wife, Nellie. The final words of the President as he made small talk with Mrs. Connally in the presidential limousine are nothing short of ironic. Mrs. Connally said, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” Kennedy replied, “You certainly can’t.” Just seconds later the first of the three shots rang out that killed John F. Kennedy.

Everything can change in an instant.

Since last March when you flip on the news or check your feed online do you ever hear anyone on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or The Wall Street Journal rejoicing in the Lord in response to COVID-19? No. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time we turn the news on we are bombarded with pessimism, snarky words, and criticism. What makes it even worse is that our nation is so divided right now that we can’t even combat COVID-19 as united front.

I don’t know about all of you but I am so tired of hearing that life will never be the same again. Really? Did we forget that a third of the continent of Europe died during the bubonic plague in the 14th century? I’m pretty sure life in Europe eventually went back to normal. But it’s pessimistic stories like that, that irk me.

Moreover, every day I see headlines whose only point is to make people worry. The media thinks of the most dramatic things they can say to get people to click on their story.

I digress. I am not here to vent my frustrations at the news, but in light of all of this I find Habakkuk like a breath of much needed fresh air! It is Habakkuk’s ironic praise and rejoicing in the face of a crumbling world that steadies one’s heart and can keep one from being overly agitated or put into one frenzy after another while constantly being bludgeoned with negativity that comes out like a fire hose from our media outlets.

The reality is: there is a lot of bad news. Similar to the way verse 17 describes the tragedy Habakkuk was experiencing (which was probably way worse than the effects of COVID-19 on our society), lots of people are sick and thousands have died, millions of people have filed for unemployment, and we are staring down the barrel of the possibility of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Not to mention professional baseball is shut down along with all other spectator events.

Yet, in the face of all of this Habakkuk would rejoice. Martin Lloyd-Jones says this commenting on verse 18 – “It was not merely resignation or saying: ‘Well, there is no use crying over spilled milk, or getting alarmed and excited, because we cannot do anything about it.’ Nor was it just applying the principle of psychological detachment. It was not taking oneself in hand and saying: ‘The best thing is not to think about it! Go to the pictures [“movie theater” which isn’t an option for us right now], read a novel and don’t think!’— a sort of escapism. Neither was it an attempt at being courageous. There is here no exhortation of courage. There is something infinitely greater than just making a mighty effort of the will and saying: ‘I am not going to whimper or cry, I am going to be a man’… Instead of mere resignation, or plucking up one’s courage, the Scripture shows that it is possible even under such conditions to be in a state of actual rejoicing.”

How is Habakkuk able to do this? Are we interpreting these events through the lens of God’s promises? That’s what Habakkuk was doing. He knows that God is a God of salvation (v. 18) and it is that fact that gave him strength (v. 19). In that God is a God of salvation, Habakkuk knows that God is immutable and he makes promises. No loss or tragedy (v. 17) could change that fact. God and his plans and purpose for the universe are in no way changed, thwarted, or turned off course by COVID-19. And it is this reality that freed Habakkuk up to be ironic, to rejoice in the Lord of his salvation in the face of a horror.

Rejoicing is a conscious choice; it is not the natural reflex reaction to a famine. This is what I mean by it being ironic. He was able to choose to rejoice because rejoicing is a function of faith. Believing that God is still good and working his will in spite of present circumstances. It’s this same faith that Habakkuk also knew that salvation flows out of, which is his reason to rejoice because salvation has come, is coming, and will come. In chapter 2, verse 4, he says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” He knew and was trusting in the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 – “He [Abram] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” No famine or pestilence will thwart the sovereign hand of God. He is still working his plan of salvation.

Furthermore, even though in the moment of chapter 3 all Habakkuk could see was famine, he knew the world would not stay that way. He says in chapter 2, verse 14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Even if as a result of the virus our lives here on earth are changed “forever” it will not be forever. God is reigning and one day the earth will see him for who he truly is.

It was these things that were the source of Habakkuk’s strength – the joy of his salvation. These things caused his joy and moved him to rejoice. Rejoicing in this God is what made his feet like the feet of a deer and lifted his soul to high places in spite of the destruction that was in front of his eyes.

Can I challenge us to remember these things too? Instead of allowing COVID-19 and all that the media has to say about it put you in a tail spin, can I ask you to be a little ironic? To, like Habakkuk before us, remember that God is immutable and his covenant purpose in the earth is unstoppable. And for that he is worthy of praise. Not only is he worthy, but if we choose to remember these things and rejoice in our salvation, joy (v. 18), not anxiety, will surely follow.

As Americans we think we can fix anything with our freedom and endless resources. However, the economy is being eroded away, our friends or family are sick or maybe even have died. We have so much less to entertain us with since spectator sports have been shut down. Can we rejoice in spite of all these things? Can we see our assured salvation as far better than an economy brimming with money and our favorite baseball team with a winning record?

Moreover, if the full force of the virus has touched our lives, if we ourselves are sick or someone we love has died, can we grieve and lament to a God whom we know has much better things planned for us? Right before Paul says that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven in Romans 1, he says in verse 17 – “…the righteousness of God is being revealed from faith to faith, as it is written the righteous will live by faith.” Faith in an immutable God. His promises to Abraham and every other saint in the Old Testament and up to today has been kept. And that promise found its fulfillment in God’s own Son, who endured every consequence of every pestilence or famine for our sakes and for the glory of God, for our salvation and for our joy, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. It’s on that long expected but assured day that his glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

~ From a former elder and current missionary of IBC

For you have need of endurance.

Hebrews 10:36

I have been running for exercise a little more lately. It seems like a healthy socially-distant activity. And the warm(er) weather beckons.

Even if you’re not a runner, I think you can relate to the experience I’m about to describe. Sometimes I have said to myself, “I’m going to run for 10 minutes on the treadmill.” But then I get to around the 8:30 mark and convince myself that 9 minutes is close enough to 10 or turn down the speed. Or maybe I set out to jog to Ashland and back, but I change it to Laflin en route. And then I stop running a block early and walk the rest of the way to my house because… you know… cool down.

In what ways are you tempted not to run hard all the way through a finish line?

Fatigue sets in. Focus wanes. You get impatient. You want to cut corners. You make excuses. You’re tired. You fizzle out.

We’ve all no doubt had feelings like this during the lingering stay-at-home order. Perseverance is being called for, by government and God alike. It is obvious that right now we need to be steadfast in hope, diligent in pursuing people, relentless in fighting sin, disciplined in Bible intake, faithful in our commitments, persistent in prayer, determined in seeking joy… but it’s hard. Our resolve is weakening. Laziness is calling.

Yet this relatively short season is a microcosm of our entire earthly lives. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints” (Rev. 14:12). Because only “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 10:22, 24:13).

Have you noticed how often Scripture puts its finger on this need of endurance? Here is just a sample:

· “The good soil… are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15).

· “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11).

· “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1Cor. 15:58).

· “So we do not lose heart” (2Cor. 4:16).

· “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

· “Keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18).

· “…your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2Thess. 1:4).

· “Do not grow weary in doing good” (2Thess. 3:13).

· “Persist in this” (1Tim. 4:16).

· “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2Tim. 2:12).

· “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14).

· “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:11-12).

· “…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).

· “We consider those blessed who remained steadfast” (James 5:11).

And specifically the Bible utilizes the metaphor of a marathon to illustrate the Christian life:

· “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

· “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly…” (1Cor. 9:24-26).

· “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth” (Gal. 5:7)?

· “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph. 3:13-14).

· “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day” (2Tim. 4:7-8).

· “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

So how do we do keep running with stamina, stay the course, and not stop? Sheer grit and determination? Will power? Rigorous accountability? That may keep us going, but not to the right place.

Part of the answer is found in the next verse of Hebrews 12 – “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2)! Ahead of us at the finish line is a faithful Savior that has gone on before, who endured the cross for our sakes, bearing all the punishment for all our failures, fallings, missteps, and backslidings; who earned our ultimate victory; who doesn’t bark orders and shame us, but who loves us and sweetly calls us onward to eternal bliss with him – the only thing worth chasing after. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Behind us is a trail of grace, many mile-markers of mercy.

And bearing us up all along the way is an “energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Col. 1:29).

And so, fellow runners in this race of life, I pray that you are “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:11).

And “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Ph. 1:6).

Press on,

Pastor Nathan

Who considers the power of your anger

and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:11-12

Over the past few weeks we have seen strong economies and flourishing nations seemingly fall to nothing within a matter of days. As discouraging and frightening as these present times feel, in a strange way, it’s also given us a good deal of time to reflect – to look at the things that we’ve spent so much of our personal lives invested in and to see how important these things are when all the world is fading away.

Psalm 90 is a reflection on the nature of time. More particularly, it’s a reflection on how we are to perceive the subtle day-by-day moments of our lives in light of the ever-present eternity of God.

The psalmist begins his song contemplating how even before the firm foundations of the mountains were laid, God stood. No beginning. No end. No subtle shift or shadow of change. Simply there. And it is only by his free and generous will that he chooses to give life to that which is temporary and finite. He upholds the mountains. He commands sun to shine and administrates the delicate balance of our stars and planets, all while consciously providing food and shelter to even the sparrows of the earth.

And more importantly, he is the one who will call it all to an end. In spite of all of our efforts to maintain our lives, all our struggle for significance, meaning, power, and strength, God will one day call all of us to account in judgment. All the empires of men will fall, and all the glory of youth will fade. All that will be left is who we are before God. What short cuts or compromises we’ve made for the small glories of a fading kingdom will one day be judged by our eternal God. What will we say? That we valued the present more than eternity? That we feared the condemnation of our peers more than the eternal vision of him who is above all? According to the Psalmist, if God is truly who we say he is, then surely our time and effort spent chasing after that which is not God can be truly seen for the childish immaturity it really is.

In light of the eternity of God whose Word alone is ultimately true and final, how are we to live in that which is fleeting? The psalmist answers this question clearly: we pray that the Lord will teach us to number our days. The eternity of God does not call us to squander our limited time on earth. Rather, those who serve him who reigns from eternity to eternity have all the more reason to spend our days loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and might.

Though the esteem of man and the allure of this life will all one day fall silent in light of eternity, God remains. His judgement of us will last forever. And lest we forget, his pleasure in even the smallest things done out of authentic love for him resounds in all the halls of eternity from end to end.

So teach us to number our days, Lord, in light of the ever present reality of you. Help us not to live our lives chasing after that which will one day fade. But as we conduct ourselves here on this earth, let us not grow weary in well doing. Satisfy our longings with a small glimpse of eternity, and remind us once again that while man’s judgments may fluctuate and fall, your declaration of our status as your children stands firm from all the ends of eternity.

~ Theo

When one of you has a grievance against another,

does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?

And if the world is to be judged by you,

are you incompetent to try trivial cases?

Do you not know that we are to judge angels?

How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

So if you have such cases,

why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?

I say this to your shame.

Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough

to settle a dispute between the brothers,

but brother goes to law against brother,

and that before unbelievers?

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.

Why not rather suffer wrong?

Why not rather be defrauded?

But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

Do not be deceived:

neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,

nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy,

nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers

will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified

in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ

and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

I had the privilege of discussing this passage with our Small Group last night. It has been, for me, on the more convicting side of the passages I’ve read in the Bible Reading Plan over the last week.

No, I am not planning to sue anybody at IBC. I’m not consulting with an unbelieving third party to arbitrate a dispute. And I am not aware of any ongoing lawsuits between members of our church (or any other church for that matter). So… why this passage?

Yes, the passage is about the particularities of Corinth, but behind Paul’s rebuke (which takes the odd form of rhetorical questions), is an ideal. Paul rebukes them for widely missing the ideal.

So what is that ideal? I submit that it is a community that knows its identity. It is a community that knows they have been washed, sanctified, and justified. It is a community that knows and acts accordingly.

I have missed this ideal. Not because of a lawsuit, swindling, reviling, or thieving. My sin (and I’m sure I am not alone in this) is creating insular community – getting just deep enough with others to still protect myself if they fail me. Lawsuits? Forget it! An inch-deep brotherhood is immune to such drastic disputes.

Do you keep others at an arm’s length to protect yourself? Why? What feelings are you afraid of? What a lousy bandage over past pain is a superficial and shallow friendship today. Are we even close enough to one another for conflict to arise? Are you running from community because it’s just too much work? Because everyone else is too different than you? What keeps you from depth of fellowship? Why not call someone today?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer… The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in a body, he was raised in the body…”

Do I long to be together again in the body on Sunday mornings? I’ve heard this could last for many more weeks. What a sadness. I long deeply to sing with you all. To see your faces. To hear the Sunday School songs through the ceiling tiles right when Nathan is making a crucial sermon point.

But I hope and pray that when we begin to gather again we are not fooled. We must maintain hope and strive for the ideal – the fact of our union with each other in Christ must work itself out prayerfully in our lives. And I pray that we are wise enough to see that, even when we gather again, there will be much work, repentance, and forgiving to do. We must pursue one another as Christ has pursued us.

~ Jeremiah

Blessed is the man

who remains steadfast under trial,

for when he has stood the test

he will receive the crown of life,

which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

This is a test.

One of God’s purposes in bringing disruptive circumstances into our lives is to test us – to help us see what’s really in us.

If Christ is in us by his Holy Spirit (see 2Cor. 13:5), that means that whatever else is shown to also be there, we need not be afraid to admit it. We are God’s child. And he wants to help us work through the indwelling sin that still remains. Tests are good because they help us see what those things are.

So life was chugging along somewhat predictably for most of us… and then this COVID crisis hit, upending our routines, halting our plans, and restricting our freedoms. Now we’re all sheltering in place – some with nobody to talk to, some with too many people up in our space; some with nothing to do, some with no work-life boundaries. There have been blessings along the way, but I think we’d all say that it has been hard. Times of testing almost always are.

It’s been almost a month now, so there is a large enough sample size to evaluate. What results of this test are we seeing?

· Has this revealed a love for the Bible in you? Are you genuinely going to God’s Word for sustenance and comfort? Or has Bible reading been spotty, perfunctory? To be frank, there are so many other things you would rather do.

· Have you seized this as an opportunity to be emboldened to do evangelism to a dying world headed to eternal quarantine in hell? Or has that been far from your mind? What does that mean?

· What has this shown regarding the state of your prayer life? Have you instinctively turned to the Lord for your needs and the needs of others? Or found yourself with supposedly more free time, but still not praying that much?

· What has this crisis showed you about your heart for the poor? Have you thought about those less fortunate and sought to help somehow?

· How self-disciplined are you, really? Has the removal of many externally imposed structures and schedules made your days mush? Could you fast from media? Have you set and achieved any goals? Read any good books? Or been wasting time on ephemera?

· Do you care about others? Sure, we’re all staying home to save lives, but c’mon. Are you thinking about more than just yourself? Are you calling people, checking in, doing your best to maintain community?

· Before this happened you may have thought that the love of money was not really an issue for you. But how do you honestly feel about the economy/your investments tanking? Are you still giving away the same percentage of your income as before, or even being more generous? Or are you giving in to an impulse to hoard?

· Have you found yourself able to work through anxieties with the Lord and find peace in the storm instead of panic? Or has this shown that your calm and repose is more dependent on easy circumstances than you’d like to admit?

· Is your lifestyle healthy? Have you been eating well, sleeping regularly, exercising, Sabbathing?

· What has living in close quarters with roommates or family shown you about your sanctification levels in patience, communication, thoughtfulness, gentleness…?

· Has this made you miss civic life or are you secretly happy to be insulated in your own, controlled, safe, little, wired world?

· Do you love your church, participate as much as possible in its life during this odd time, and long to be together again? Or has this surfaced in you an independence, individualism, resistance to authority? Maybe you haven’t actually been that deeply committed to the body and this is just making it clear?

· Have you detected any idols of the heart like productivity and control that make it hard for you to just rest and trust?

This is a test. What is it showing you? What are some areas of spiritual unhealth that perhaps you were previously unaware of that these last few weeks have made painfully obvious to you?

Remember the gospel. Don’t let your convicting answers to the above questions drive you away from God in guilt and shame. Thank him for the x-ray and run to him in repentance and faith that Jesus’ blood and righteousness covers all that! This is how you will remain steadfast under trial and stand this test without giving up. Trusting in Christ is the only way to receive the crown that is coming. This test won’t last forever.

And doesn’t remembering his promises of grace in the face of your failures make you love him?

Count it all joy, my brothers,

when you meet trials of various kinds,

for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

And let steadfastness have its full effect,

that you may be perfect and complete,

lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

~ Nathan

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.

And on the way he asked his disciples,

“Who do people say that I am?”

And they told him, “John the Baptist;

and others say, Elijah;

and others, one of the prophets.”

And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things

and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes

and be killed,

and after three days rise again.

And he said this plainly.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said,

“Get behind me, Satan!

For you are not setting your mind on the things of God,

but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them,

“If anyone would come after me,

let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

For whoever would save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

For what can a man give in return for his soul?

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words

in this adulterous and sinful generation,

of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed

when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Mark 8:27-38

What does it mean to be ashamed? As I’ve been reflecting about the nature of Holy Week, I keep thinking about this idea that as Christians we choose to commemorate a Savior who not only dies, but dies an embarrassing death.

In Mark 8:29, the Apostle Peter has just made an awe-inspiring statement about the identity of Jesus – “You are the Christ.” The Messiah. The rightful heir of David who was promised throughout the Prophets as the one who would deliver God’s people and with a strong arm restore God’s justice over all the land. This is the one who would finally come and deliver his people from bondage to their enemies as the Lord had done countless times throughout the history of Israel. Surely if anyone ought to be clothed in all majesty and all splendor, the King of kings and Lord of lords would be worthy.

But what does Jesus say? After this powerful declaration of who he is, Jesus announces that he will be rejected by all the powers of this world. The esteemed elders and priests and religious leaders of the time would deem him a criminal and condemn him to the lowly fate of crucifixion.

Peter scoffs at this. Is this not the Messiah? This cannot be the case. Jesus ought not speak of such things. Does he not know how valuable he is to his people? Does he not realize how all of our hopes and dreams are placed upon him? No! He must rule, not bow.

Jesus’ response to Peter is sharp – “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” For the Christian, the Cross of Christ stands as a looming condemnation against all of our earthly values of worth and importance. While the kingdoms of this age are built upon politics, power, and self-aggrandizement, Jesus’ kingdom is built upon his self-sacrificing love for sinners. Rather than vie for predominance, Jesus came to those who had no esteem in the eyes of the world and could offer nothing to him in return. And in his obedience to the Father and benevolence to his own, Jesus dies an embarrassing death that he might be made sin on our behalf and we might walk in the presence of the Lord clean.

When we look at the Cross in this light, it brings a deeper meaning to what Jesus is condemning when warns about being ashamed of him. For those who follow Christ, we follow in the path of one who the world rejected. We are choosing to take on a counterintuitive pattern of life which often will make us look like fools in the eyes of the elite. Christians of all people have cause to value to the weak, the poor, and the marginalized within our world. We have all the more reason to speak of the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners, even to those who would perceive us as fools, because for us, we follow a Savior who gave up his glory and power for those who were depraved and weak, who left his throne to embrace a Cross. And he did this for those who would deem him foolish.

And this pattern of life set before us by our Messiah is not meant to earn us a place of privilege within the kingdom of God. Rather, this concern for God and others as better than ourselves is simply the way life is within a kingdom ruled by a crucified Savior. It is imperative for us to remember that our eschatological hope in the coming kingdom of God is the kingdom ruled by a risen Savior who was crucified for the sake of his people. While there are riches and crowns in the kingdom of heaven, ultimately the rule of the crucified Savior restores a kingdom where others matter more than ourselves, and God matters more than anything. And it is our hope and share in this kingdom of the crucified and risen Lord, which ultimately enables us in this life to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

~ Theo

Therefore,

preparing your minds for action,

and being sober-minded,

set your hope fully

on the grace that will be brought to you

at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

“When this is over, I can’t wait to…” I hear my kids saying this regularly. I find myself thinking this way too. The assumption behind such sentiments is that this is bad, but it will pass… eventually, and life will go on as it has since the beginning (cf. 2Pe. 2:4).

The narrative we hear from the world encourages this mindset:

· your stimulus check is in the mail

· a vaccine is already being tested and is on the way

· if we all practice social distancing, we can flatten the curve

· it will peak in April May and then go down

· together we can get through this

· …

For example, I read this in an email I got this week from the Cubs:

In the midst of the uncertainty, we are confident we will get through this challenging time together. For more than a century, the game we love has had the unique ability to unite our nation and lift our spirits. We will play baseball again, for you, our city and our country. Until America’s pastime returns and we take the field, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones.

But even among Christians I hear similar things:

· when the church can gather again, it’s going to be sweet

· God’s going to make the church come out better because of this

· faith can help you make it through

· …

This week I also got an update from T4G (a large Christian conference in April I always go to that was cancelled):

Our team has worked diligently to reduce every possible expense. By God’s grace, this leaves T4G very close to breaking even for the 2020 conference, which provides us the opportunity to continue hosting conferences for years to come, Lord willing.

It’s good that we’re missing the church, looking to God, relying on his grace, and saying things like – “if God wills” (James 4:15). But what strikes me in all of this talk – non-Christian and Christian alike – is the shared underlying belief that this is just a temporary disruption. We all seem to be hoping for a return to normal and many years to come. I think Peter is telling us to hope for something more.

It may be that COVID-19 will be covered in history books in years to come, but that should not be our ultimate desire or de facto assumption. The Bible gives us another response – Maranatha/Come Lord(1Cor. 16:22; cf. Rev. 22:20)! More than just a return to normal, we should long for the return of Christ. More than just an end of this pandemic, we should want an end of this sin-ravaged world.

What is it that we really want? To be able to eat out again? Or the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9)? Our 401ks to rebound? Or the streets of gold (Rev. 21:21)? Our summer vacation plans to happen? Or the endless day (Rev. 21:23-25)? Chicago to re-open the lakefront and river walk? Or the eternal city with the river and tree of life (Rev. 22:1-2)? Have we “loved his appearing” (2Tim. 4:8)? Or are we “in love with this present world” (2Tim. 4:10)?

The Apostle Peter, who talks about the Second Coming a lot, in this verse calls us to have our minds prepared for action. We need to keep our minds turned on and tuned in to God’s Word. We must stay mentally sharp and alert, not dull and flabby. Has this coronavirus crisis caused you to concentrate even more on the things of the Lord? Or to get mentally exhausted with stress and turn to mind-numbing entertainment? Let’s stay focused!

And then Peter charges us to be sober-minded. We can’t be flippant about death and eternal realities. Neither can we let our minds come under the influence of fear and panic. We must be steady and be serious about being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

And by doing these things, we will be able to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We don’t set our hope on the government’s aid. We don’t set our hope on the medical field’s expertise. We don’t set our hope on the economy’s resilience. We don’t set our hope on this eventually going away so we can go back to work and sports and socializing.

We set our hope fully on the Day that Jesus will be revealed from heaven to end this world and remake it into a magnificently glorious place to dwell with us in, a place where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:4). Oh what a glorious grace that will be that will be brought to us then! As lightning lights up the sky, so will be the revelation of Jesus (Lk. 17:24), coming on the clouds (Mt. 24:30) to reign and be marveled at (2Thess. 1:10). That’s what we want more than anything. That is our rest, our joy, our home… our hope. That should be what we want and yearn for and look forward to more than for our lives here to go on as they did before.

When we used to gather and affirmed the Apostles’ Creed together, we said we believed that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. But do we really? Do we expect it? And do we prefer it, hasten it (2Pe. 3:12)? Is our hope fully set on that, or something else? And to be clear: this means more than just being okay with dying and having our souls be kept safe in heaven, comforting as that is (2Cor. 5:8; Ph. 1:23). But what we ultimately ache for is the bodily return of Christ to raise our bodies immortal (Ph. 3:21) so that we will be with the Lord forever (1Thess. 4:17) in a new heavens and a new earth (2Pe. 3:13).

Brothers and sisters: during this time of distress let’s be dressed and ready (Lk. 12:35), with our minds focused, expectantly “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). And for whatever extra days he delays, let’s love our Lord, love our neighbors, and seek to bring as many other people with us into the new world as we can. It’s coming! And it will be way better than anything you could hope for in this life (1Cor. 15:19-28).

So instead of just saying, “I can’t wait for this to be over,” let’s learn to honestly say, “I can’t wait for Jesus to come back!”

– Pastor Nathan

From @immanuelchicago on Twitter

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