Follow My Example During Your Quarantine Life

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“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4.9

What day is it? Really, is it Tuesday or Friday? It could be Saturday. I am not sure. I have also lost count the number of days my family and I have been sheltering in place and social distancing. How are you getting along? Do you have enough food, movies, and most of all, toilet paper? If you are single and extroverted, this has to be torture. For the introverted single, you are in your happy place, unless you are a single parent, on your behalf we pray and salute you. How about you married couples out there? Are you living in harmony or has the house been doubly quarantine with tape dividing the territorial lines? But wait, don’t forget about your kids if they are still living with you or did you send them away next door as home school foreign exchange students?

But really, how is it going with you Christians? Are you or have you experienced the five stages of grief? If you do not know what they are, here is the list:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The observation I take away from this crisis is that we are learning who we are. What we are truly like. This is who we are. Being isolated from others and concerned about getting sick or finances brings out in time our true self. This situation will either bring out the best of us or the worst of us. Either way, the Bible can help us during this time and remind us not who we are, but Whose we are.

The context from the Bible verse above takes us to another kind of isolation for a nobler purpose. Philippians is one of Paul’s prison letters. He is there because of “the cause of the gospel” (v.3). In this context, we can learn from Paul’s advice on how to thrive no matter the circumstance we find ourselves in.

Paul implores his readers to “join in following my (his) example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” – Philippians 3.17

It is the word “Pattern” that stands out to me. From the original language (Greek), the word means “made by a die.” Die casting is what he means or metal stamping. My wife does this when making bracelets. She takes a metal stamp with a letter from the alphabet. She places it on soft metal like brass. Then with a hammer, she strikes the stamp and it leaves an exact impression of the letter on the brass bracelet. By stating this, Paul then compares and contrasts the difference between the enemies of the cross (3.18-19) and those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (3.20-21).

Now, what about the “pattern?” Below, I will list by stamping Paul’s exhortation for believers on how they should behave no matter the circumstance they find themselves in, whether as a free person or one who is in isolation and prison. Paul’s advice is taken from his letter found in Philippians 4.1-9.

  1. Stand firm in the Lord (4.1). What he means here is for us to remember the gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection). Stand firm in your belief. Your mind and heart can take you places you do not want to go when you are isolated or in crisis mode. Go back to the gospel. Remember you are a citizen of heaven, not of this world. You have been saved by Christ and your destiny is far greater than those who do not believe in Jesus who died and rose again. This is a time for you to share the gospel with your household. Take time in this solitude to meditate on the gospel. Read the gospels. Share the gospel. Sing or play songs about the gospel. Keep your isolation centered on the cross.
  2. Agree with those who are in the faith (4.2). Paul explained earlier that we should “maintain the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2.2-3). Simply put, live in harmony with one another who are in Christ. Being cooped up with those you love may provide stressors that bring out the worse in us. This is a great opportunity to practice patience and endurance. To gently help the weaker in faith. To put the interest of others before yourself. Remember, we are all in this together. Together for the gospel.
  3. Rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS! (4.4). Be glad. Find ways to give thanks to the Lord. James in his letter wrote, “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” (James 1.2). Be joyful in all circumstances, not if you encounter, but when you encounter difficult situations. Perhaps your isolation is taking longer than expected, rejoice! Maybe your ill, put on furlough, can not pay your rent, the list can go on. Our joy in the Lord should not be dependent on our circumstances, those change, but what doesn’t change is what Christ ultimately did for you…whether you live or die you have a greater hope and destiny than most do. You are a citizen and a child of God through Christ. REJOICE!
  4. Be gentle towards others (4.5). Why? Because not only is the Lord watching, but His coming is imminent (The Lord is near). With that, He will reward all according to what they have done. Don’t be brash or frustrated towards one another. Be loving, peaceable, and gentle.
  5. Do not be afraid, pray and give thanks (4.6-7). Times like these can bring out the worst of our fears. Instead of feeding those fears, turn to Christ and pray. May your focus be heavenward instead of the sea that rages around you. Do not be like Peter who took his eyes off the Lord when attempting to walk out to the Lord during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Look for ways to give thanks to God. His provision, His protection, and power. A good way to take the concern off yourself is by praying for the needs of others. It is amazing that when we do this how often the peace of God replaces our greatest fears.
  6. Finally, dwell on excellent things (4.8). Paul concludes his list of being excellent in times like these by relocating your thoughts and focus. To be in quarantine invites unwanted and idle behaviors. If we do not have a plan for daily tasks we may find ourselves sliding down the slippery slope of thoughts and actions unbecoming of a citizen and child of God. This means to be careful what you read, watch or listen to. How you take that information and pass it on. Paul exhorts us to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell o these things” (4.8).

All this to state in Paul’s conclusion: “practice these things and the God of peace will be with you” (4.9b). If you find yourself struggling and lacking peace during these days of quarantine, meditate, pray and act on these verses from the Apostle Paul. Remember, he is not one who writes as one who does not know what it is like to be in isolation. He is writing as one who knows what you are going through. Mimic him. Let his pattern of a quarantine life be your pattern for others to follow.

Grace and Peace! – GT

Life Will Never Be the Same

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“…but Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.” – Luke 24.12

I would like to piggyback on a small part of my pastor’s Resurrection Day message. In his message, my pastor referenced that after Jesus’ crucifixion, a majority of the population in Jerusalem went home to their normal routine, while a small minority (those who followed Jesus) would huddle in fear, wondering if their lives would ever be the same.

I began to meditate on that thought this morning. What has changed? It’s Monday, Sunday has come and gone. Are you like the majority of the population attempting to begin the week as before, living a life as close to normal as possible? Or, has something changed, like Peter, “marveling at what had happened” or what is happening? As mentioned before in an earlier post, this generation is living in an unprecedented time. How is this changing you? How is the gospel changing you? How did the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection change you?

After Jesus was crucified, many went back to life as usual. They went home. Fulfilled their religious duty to celebrate the Passover and rested on the Sabbath then went back to regular life on Sunday. They got up, went to work, did their chores, went to school and carried on with regular business. But, for the followers of Jesus, everything changed.

Below I list some things that changed in the lives of Jesus’ followers and then I share how we should apply those things today. First, what changed?

  1. The followers of Jesus experienced great loss. Their Messiah is dead. The One whom they gave up everything to follow was crucified as a curse on the cross. They had placed all their hope and faith in Him and now He is gone.
  2. The followers of Jesus experienced guilt. Only one disciple, John stood by Jesus at the cross, the others abandoned Him. Peter went as far as to deny Jesus three times as Jesus said he would. Another disciple, Judas Iscariot, killed himself because he had betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
  3. The followers of Jesus experienced an uncertain future. The disciples were scattered. They hid in the shadows of darkness. They huddled in fear. Their future was unclear. Would they be arrested for following Jesus? Would their fate be like His? Where would they go? Where would they live? Where would they work? Who could they trust?

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, everything that these followers lived and hoped for was gone. So now what?

It is in this disparity of hopelessness and anxiety we see God at work. For Jesus’ followers, hours turned into days. Days seemed like an eternity. But, at the right moment, God proved to be faithful to His Word and acts on their behalf. Jesus who died and was buried in a sealed tomb rose again. Sure, His empty tomb raised anxious questions, but, could it be? He spoke of His death. He also spoke of coming back from the dead. He certainly raised others from the dead, was He able to do this for Himself?

For Peter, fear changed to excitement. Excitement to amazement. In a series of events as recorded by the gospel writers, everything changed. All the hopelessness and fear turned to joy and hope. One after another witnessed seeing, speaking, eating and fellowshipping with the risen Savior. The apostle Paul stated that more the 500 followers saw Jesus before He ascended up to heaven.

So what changed and how are we as followers of Christ to apply these things. In the book of Acts, Luke records all that changed for these followers of Jesus.

  1. They were filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.1-41). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled each one of the followers of Jesus. They were empowered to proclaim with many tongues from every nation under heaven the good news of the gospel. This resulted in thousands of conversions of those who repented and were baptized in Jesus’ name. What changed? They were not given a spirit of timidity, but of power as Paul wrote, ” For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7).When we repent from our sins and receive Christ as Savior, God places His Spirit in us. God does this because as Paul wrote, “…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” Ephesians 2.10.  God gifts us with Spiritual gifts to serve Him not unto salvation, but because He saved us.

     

  2. The definition of what it means to be a community of God changed (Acts 2.42-47). Luke records that there was a new Spirit of devotion in the collective. They were devoted to one another in Christ. They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. They demonstrated the love of God towards one another. They practiced sacrificial and benevolent love towards each other. They received a positive reaction by all around, praising God as He brought to Himself daily those who were being saved.When as followers of Christ we demonstrate our love for God, we then are able to show that love towards one another, proving ourselves to be His disciples (John 13.34). This love was demonstrated universally towards all in faith including orphans and widows, the sick and lame who were being outcast by the established religious leaders and people. The greatest demonstration of change in the life of a Christian is how he or she loves others.

     

  3. The followers were not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (Acts 4.1-31). Paul wrote in Romans that “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1.16). There was a boldness that was not there before as the disciples went about beginning in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and eventually to the uttermost part of the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Many were persecuted and even died for the sake of Christ. A boldness that went beyond living the typical practice of religion. They were willing to live and die for the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world.When Christians carry out the great commission of Christ (Matthew 28.18-20), they are obeying the will of God in Christ. This is another example of change in the person who bears the image of God in Christ upon their soul and heart. There is a willingness to obey and not be ashamed of God’s commands and will.

     

  4. They lived a cross-centered life (Luke 9.23). One of the biggest changes in their lives centered around what was truly important. They became the kind of followers Jesus desired. Those who were willing to deny self, pick up their cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9.23). They became what Paul called, “living sacrifices” (Romans 12.1-2) or living letters (2 Corinthians 3.3).Jesus taught His followers that you can not love the world and follow Him at the same time. This was like living and pleasing two masters in your life. One will be neglected over the other. Lordship and a cross-centered life must be evident in the life of a follower of Christ. Either He is Lord of your life or the world is. You cannot serve two masters. This is one of those absolutes that must change in our walk as we commit ourselves to Christ daily.

Though, not an exhausted list, but an indication that something among the followers of Jesus changed from Friday to Sunday. The old way abandoned, the new alive. These followers were new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17). These were men, women, young, old, rich, poor, sick, slave, free, citizens, politicians, and people of every tongue and tribe under heaven. The world changed and so did a small band of followers who at first thought they lost everything, but gained so much more.

What does the resurrection mean to you? How is Monday different than Friday, or Sunday for you? Where is your hope? What do you live for? How are you being changed daily by the gospel and the Spirit of God who empowers you to live for Christ daily?

There is a lot that needs to change. What will change in you now that Resurrection Day has come?

Blessings to all! – GT

God Will Provide for Himself A Lamb

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“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, My father! And he said, Here I am, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham said, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. So the two of them walked on together…Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.” Genesis 22:6-8, 13 (bold is my emphasis)

While in my quiet time a few weeks ago I was reading through Genesis. It was one of those readings where, I  know I have read this before, but one of those where it seemed to pop out in bold letters on this occasion…God will provide Himself the Lamb. That statement from Abraham resonated in and with me the whole day long. I think, perhaps, because we as redeemed people tend to have a man-centered view of what it means to be saved, redeemed, or even the whole concept of justification by faith. Humanistic, in that, we tend to view salvation as something that God did purely for us. Often, we think of creation this way. That all that God created was meant for us, when in fact the scriptures state…

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Colossians 1:16

Redemption was not necessarily something God did just for humanity – no, better yet, redemption was something God did – as in all things He does – to bring glory to Himself.

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’” Revelation 5:11-12

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden – they were told that the wages for their sin would be “death.” But, God in the richness of His mercy and grace provided for Himself a lamb to cover their shame.

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21

When God tested the faithfulness of Abraham and asked him to offer up his son as a sacrifice – God provided for Himself a lamb. (Genesis 22:13 – see above)

When the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and God was about to set them free – God provided for Himself the blood of the Lamb as a sign to passover His people as He strikes the land of Egypt with a final plague…the angel of death.

“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exosus 12:13

When God instructed the Israelites in how to seek reconciliation with God for sins committed – God provided for Himself the use of a lamb for the atonement for sin.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” Leviticus 17:11

When God sent His only begotten Son into the world – He provided for Himself – His son as The Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world.

“The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming to him and said, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

When Christ died on the cross – He was the provisional Lamb of God that satisfied God’s judgment on sin. By this sacrifice, God justified His own concerning their sin, brought glory to Himself and gave to His own faith and hope. 

“knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21

As you approach the days of Good Friday – I pray that you will see it as a gift from God to you – for you to remember so that you may not exalt in that He did this purely for your sake, but for the sake of His own glory. The verse below summarizes my thoughts this morning…

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:23-26

In the end – when all is said and done – God will present for Himself the Lamb to receive all the glory.

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'” Revelation 5:11-13

To God be the glory for the great things He has done!

Grace and Peace to All! – GT

Remember the Poor Always

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“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother, but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near, ‘and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you.

You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’” – Deuteronomy 15.7-11

A few days ago, the Washington Post cited that over 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March as the economy struggles during the COVID-19 crisis. A record 6.65 million people filed a new jobless claim in the week that ended March 28th. As April 1st passed, millions applied for rental assistance or have been petitioning their landlords, mortgage companies, and banks for a stay in their rents and mortgages. Millions of Americans are having to decide do I pay bills or put food on the table. Many of these are single-parent households. While people’s health is on much on our hearts and in our prayers, so now is their financial burdens. What does this mean for the church? How is the church to respond, especially towards those in their fellowship?

God addresses this and reveals to His new community, the Israelites, as one of the ways He expects His people to love Him by loving one another. In this passage (as well as others) we see the heart and compassion of God towards those who cannot help themselves. Below I cite several thoughts concerning this subject that the church must address today and beyond.

First, Be Prepared to Help the Poor: “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers…” It would be great if we lived in a world and society where the poor never existed. I believe in such an affluent society we are surprised that there are many in America, and in our churches who live under the poverty level. In 2018, 38.1 million people lived in poverty in America. The poverty rate was 11.8 percent (povertyuse.org). Some of these worship with us in our churches. They are members of your congregation. They are in your Bible studies. They worship and praise the same God as you do. The question then, is the church prepared to minister to the poor among them? Do you have a plan? Especially in times like these what is the church’s response to the poor? Church leaders need to look beyond their ministry programs and take a good look at how they are truly loving God by how they are prepared to love their neighbors in the body, especially the poor.

Another new community of God lived this out early on in its existence. The church in Acts. “And all those had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” – Acts 2.44-45 This new congregation of God’s people, under the enablement of the Holy Spirit demonstrated God’s love for one another by being the kind of disciple the young rich ruler could never be (Matthew 19.16-30; Mark 10.17-31; Luke 18.18-30). The problem sometimes in the church is that we get so focused on the rules of God that we neglect the heart of God.

Second, Be Prepared to Help the Poor Abroad: “…if any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you…” A good example of how this was demonstrated is witnessed by the church in Macedonia, even amid “a great ordeal of affliction” sent their offerings to the church in Jerusalem, who was amid a great famine at the time. The Macedonian church was not wealthy, but what they did have they gave joyfully, liberally, and beyond their ability to assist their brothers in Jerusalem. Paul even states that they were “begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.” – 2 Corinthians 8.1-6

One of the key points missed in the Deuteronomy passage is found in the phrase, “in your land the Lord your God is GIVING you…” It would do us well to keep in mind always that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” – James 1.17

God warns His people to be aware of hardened hearts towards the poor. It is so easy to turn our hearts away from the poor. To turn our heads as if in denial that they exist. But, they do. So the Lord commands us not to close our hands towards them, but instead, “but when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” Matthew 6.3ff

The lesson learned here by the church in Macedonia, miles, and cultures away from Jerusalem, being one in faith, living in their own crisis of poverty, had the urgent desire to help the saints abroad. They were living testaments of God’s community who truly loved the Lord by loving their distant neighbors in Jerusalem. Is your church prepared to help with an urgent desire saints abroad? What would your church need to change in order to demonstrate this kind of love towards others?

Third, Be Prepared to Obey God’s Command: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'” It is safe to say that God has a heart for the poor among us. So much so, that He commands us to open our hands freely to help one another. John, the Apostle, reminds us that if we are not willing to help the poor or have no pity on them, “how can the love of God be in that person?” – 1 John 3.17 Or as James reminds us that the kind of religion the church should practice is this…“to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1.27 We are also reminded in Proverbs that “whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” – Proverb 14.31

Outside of the gross idolatry that the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom practiced in the Old Testament, one the other great offenses towards God practiced by His people was their oppressive attitude and heart towards the poor. In Amos we find, Hear this word, you cows of Bashan (speaking of the fat-rich women of the day) who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘bring now, that we may drink!'”…”Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks.” – Amos 4.1-2

Amos saw how the rich even took from the poor for their own pleasure. This displeased the Lord greatly in that He was willing that a foreign entity come and carry them all away into exile for this oppressive negligence towards the poor.

I write all this to say:
1. Whether in times of plenty or crisis, we will always have the poor among us in the church and community.

2. The church should be prepared to assist freely those in need.

3. The church should look upon the poor with the same love and compassion as the Lord.

4. The church should take seriously God’s command, especially in times like these.

5. The church should give as the Lord has given. To demonstrate His goodness that He has so demonstrated upon us all.

6. The church demonstrates to the world the loving gospel of Christ, in that we do this not to earn grace, but we demonstrate grace because grace was freely given to us.

Is your church prepared to help the poor among us? What are you willing to do to honor God by loving others? Pray through this carefully. Speak to your church leaders. Set aside money or what can you sell to assist those in need, especially in times like these. Let’s be the church who demonstrate the love and grace of God so that those on the outside might show favor and praise the Lord for the kindness we demonstrate towards one another.

Grace and Peace to you all – GT

Shelter in Place

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“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12.13

Roughly three-fourths of Americans are now covered by a shelter in place order. This is unprecedented in the generations of our times. As I reflect on this I was reminded of the first recorded shelter in place in the Bible. In Exodus 12, the Lord said to Moses to instruct the people to paint on the threshold of their homes the blood of an unblemished lamb. The instructions were specific. It was to be a year old male, taken from the sheep or goats. They were to keep it until the fourteenth day of the month and then kill it at twilight. After putting its blood on their doorposts and lintel, they were to roast and eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. There were also special instructions about disposing of the leftovers and how they should dress for the occasion. It was to be done in haste and to be called “the Lord’s Passover.” The Lord said He will go through the land of Egypt on that night and strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast as God executed His judgment against all the gods they worshiped. The Lord then proclaims, because, “I am the Lord.” Meaning, there is no other God but Him alone. (Exodus 12.1-12)

What wisdom can we gain from this episode in Exodus? Here are seven things I reflected on.
First, the shelter in place protected God’s people from the plague of death that the Lord sent upon the land of Egypt. I believe we would all agree, that until a vaccine or cure is found, that the only defense against our current disease of COVID-19 is to shelter in place. It seems to be doing some good.

Second, the shelter in place was a sacrifice. Moses spoke to the people and said, “and when your children say to you, ‘what does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'” (Exodus 12.26-27) To shelter in many ways is a sacrifice for us today. We are sacrificing work, play, economy, fellowship, and many other areas of our lives. Many are finding their lives turned upside down and are having to make some hard decisions. Some of these decisions require sacrifice in order to remain safe.

Third, to shelter in place requires obedience and discipline. When Moses spoke to the people, it was a community service address to warn them about the coming plague and how to best protect themselves from it. They were to obey God’s word, trust in Him, and discipline themselves to carry out the instructions word for word. This is very difficult for us. Especially, those of us who live in a free society. But, for the good of your family, neighbors and fellow brothers and sisters in faith, it is important for us to work together to do what authorities instruct us to do as long as it does not call on us not to trust or believe in the Lord.

Fourth, to shelter in place provides an opportunity for worship in the home. When the families gathered at that time to make preparation, they did so in reverence and worship to God. Worship requires trust in the Word of God to follow His commands and proclamation of salvation by the covering of His blood over our souls through His only Son, our Lamb, Christ Jesus our Lord. Families celebrated it as a feast unto the Lord and would remember from that time forth How God saved them. As you shelter in place, take this time to pray unto God for His mercies, protection, and for others. Pray for their health, provisions, and salvation.

Fifth, to shelter in place provides an opportunity for the gospel. What did the blood of the Lamb actually represent? It represented the blood of the Lamb of God that was to come, when Jesus, our Lamb sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sins. That anyone who looks to Him alone for the covering of their sin for eternal salvation. So, as you shelter in place, be reminded of this and remind your family, children, and others this great promise by God. It was to be a memorial of redemption for God’s people forever (Exodus 12.23ff). We are coming up to good Friday in a couple of weeks, which corresponds with the Lord’s Passover. Even Jesus celebrated the Passover, and during His final observance, revealed to His disciples, He is the Passover Lamb that came to take away the sins of the world. (Matthew 26.26ff; Mark 14.22ff; Luke 22.17ff)

Sixth, to shelter in place reminds us that no nation, prince, prisoner, or person, great or small is immune to sickness and death. I am reminded in Romans, “for not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14.7-9)

Finally, to shelter in place to is remember God’s grace when this plague passes over. Remember this time. Cherish relationships. Remember what it was like not to be able to worship with your church family. Remember how you were able to live with less rather than more. Remember how this changed you. Remind your kids and others concerning the grace of God, His mercies, and great salvation through His only Son. To shelter in place provides opportunities to worship, walk, and witness unto the Lord.

I pray the Lord’s protection on you all, if not in this life, for the eternal life to come in Christ alone, by faith alone.

Grace and Peace – GT.

The Pilgrim’s Petition for Help: Psalm 123

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Have you ever been ridiculed for your faith? What about being mocked or slandered? Christian pilgrims are like salmon swimming upstream against the current of the world’s culture. Each month 322 Christians are killed; 214 churches and their properties destroyed; 722 forms of violence are committed against Christians (i.e. beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages). According to the Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions. The U.S. Department of State tells us that Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

What are Christians to do when persecuted for their faith in Christ? The writer of this Psalm reminds us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to look up to Him in prayer as our only source for help and mercy, and to patiently wait as we volunteer our service to Him for His glory and His kingdom.

The posture that pilgrims must demonstrate is humility. This posture shows dependency on God as expressed by the psalmist when he writes: “…as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us.” (Psalm 123: 2b) It does not take much effort to look up. It is the simple movement of your eyes. To be a servant of God is not a position to dread but a place of humility before His presence as his servant.

Next, dependency on God leads us to prayer. It is possible that the writing of this Psalm took place when the post-exilic Jews came back from Babylon to rebuild the Temple of God. Psalm 123:3-4 is a plea to the Lord for grace and endurance. These pilgrims were being scoffed at by those who had taken over the land, sitting back and laughing at the Israelites as they attempted to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Because of their dependency on God through prayer, the pilgrims endure because they know the Lord is on their side.

For the Christian pilgrim today, the same truth applies. Humility is the posture that leads to prayer to the Lord for help in time of need. While scoffers may taunt you, the Lord will give you the grace to endure so you may reach the prize of the upward call of Christ as you press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14).

Grace and Peace! – GT

WHERE DOES OUR HELP COME FROM?

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“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” – Psalm 121:1

One of the mistakes people make while traveling is not asking for directions. There have been many intensive negotiations between married couples on trips, mainly because the husband would not stop and ask for directions. Fortunately, we now have the technology to help us via our smartphones or GPS. You just punch in the information of your destination and then click start and the device gives you step by step directions guiding you to your destination.

Similarly, we learn from this Psalm that a weary sojourner wisely looks for help. But where will his help come from as he looks up to the mountains? Eventually, he will look to the Lord as his ultimate source for help as he can see in the distance the hills of Zion, the place that the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, loves more than “…all the other dwelling places of Jacob.” (Psalm 87:2).

Psalm 121 is part of a collection of Psalms (120-134) called “The Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this title as they were selected to aid the worshipping Israelite on his pilgrimage toward God as they went up to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals. This Psalm directs the thoughts of the pilgrim to God as his source of help. Giving him the assurance that Israel’s Keeper will maintain vigilant oversight to protect His people.

There is always a risk in traveling. Even today there are the risks of weather, mechanical failure, terrorists, health, and thieves, etc. This pilgrim takes the initial step as he looks up to the hills towards Jerusalem and proposes the important question, “Who is going to help me safely journey to my destination?” The pilgrim thus looks beyond the hills and looks to the Lord who created the hills as he writes, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)

This proposes a very important question. As you sojourn through this life, with all its dangers that come along the way, what help do you seek? Do you seek help from the hills or from the One who made the hills? Eventually, when the pilgrims journeyed and could see Jerusalem up ahead on a hill, they knew this was by God’s design. They could see His sanctuary which would provide the help they needed in life. I pray that you will look to the Lord as the One true source for help. He is your Creator. His Word is your spiritual compass to point you in the right direction. His Spirit is your guide. His Son is your hope of salvation. Your help comes from the Lord.

Grace and Peace! – GT

“Prayer for the Homesick Soul”

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“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” Psalm 120.1

What is homesickness? It is defined as “a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.” If you recall your own childhood, you might have been homesick once while visiting a relative, friend, or even a camp. Below are a couple of examples of parents who received homesick letters from their children who were at camp. (Spelling reflects the child’s grammar).

“Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is terrible. I am homesick almost every minnut. I tried evrything, and nothing works. I need to come home rite now! Please, please, please come and get me today!” Love, Chuck

“Dear Mom and Dad,
This camp stinks! The cownsillers are all mean and so are the kids. All I want to do is come home. If you don’t come pick me up, I’m going to run away. I swayr. I hate this place!” Your son, Brandon

I remember when I was about six years old. I was overcome with homesickness while visiting my cousin for my first sleepover. Everything was fine throughout the day until bedtime. I guess it had not hit me until then that I would not be near my parents, even though my Aunt and Uncle were nearby. I remember making such a fuss that my dad had to come to pick me up and take me home because I would not go to bed.

Psalm 120 is a psalm for a burdened believer who is far from his spiritual homeland and is living among ungodly people who are only for war. In this Psalm, the writer cries out to the Lord in prayer like a child would by writing or calling home from camp. He cries out to the Lord because he depends on no one else but God (vv. 1-2). He seeks deliverance from God from the deceitful tongues that harass him (vv. 3-4). Therefore, he tells God all about his troubles. He is honest about what troubles him, yet he also confesses his sin and repents of his journey with those who hate peace (vv. 5-6). Then, finally, he leaves his burden behind and seeks the peace of God and proclaims it (v. 7).

Being at peace with God means to completely trust in all that He does and says. It’s knowing He is the Great Shepherd who is always there to provide and protect (Psalm. 23). It means letting His peace rule your heart (Colossians. 3:15). It also means to live at peace with all people (Romans. 12:18) and not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:7).

Trusting in the Lord is the sure cure for anxiousness and fear while waiting to go home to be with Him. Therefore, be dependent on the Lord through prayer. Be patient. Be steadfast. Be a peacemaker and be excellent in your behavior. Remember, Christians are sojourners in this world. We are just passing through. Make the best of it and trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

Grace and Peace! – GT

“Giving Thanks, Rather than…”

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“And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Ephesians 5:4

Those who remember the Disney classic movie, “Bambi” may remember Thumper the rabbit. In one scene Thumper is caught by his mother saying something about Bambi’s inability to walk. His mother reminded him by saying, “Thumper, what did your father say?” Thumper replied, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Thumper’s words may not exactly express what Paul was trying to communicate here, but the point is similar. James also reminds us that using our words, especially those which come from our tongue, can have destructive effects on others. James writes: “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.” (James 3:8-10)

Paul is instructing us to change the way we speak to one another in Christ. Instead of using obscene words (filthiness), buffoonish speech (silly talk), or poor humor (coarse jesting), we should RATHER speak to one another with kind words that express the grace and favor of the Lord in our lives (giving of thanks).

The word for “thanks” that Paul uses here in the Greek language (eucharistia) is made up of two words. One is “eu” which means “good.” We know this word as a prefix to “eulogy,” which means “good words.” The person who delivers the “eulogy” at a memorial service is speaking “good words” about the deceased with the purpose to honor them.

The other word that makes up “eucharistia” is “charizomai” which means to “grant as a favor” or to “show kindness” or even “to forgive.” Essentially the word “thanks” used here by Paul means to speak kind words towards one another, whereby we demonstrate God’s grace as we honor one another in the Lord.

Speaking to one another by “giving of thanks” communicates God’s unmerited grace towards us. What is this grace? Paul David Tripp states that God’s grace “rescues us from our spiritual blindness. It releases us from our bondage to our rationalism and materialism. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see. It frees us from refusing to believe in anything we cannot experience with our physical senses. Grace connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible.” The whole purpose of the “giving of thanks” is to freely bestow the goodness of God’s favor upon others with the purpose to build others up in Christ, thereby glorifying Him.

Therefore, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family or friends, seek to share God’s grace through Christ by the “giving of thanks” RATHER THAN filthy and unbecoming speech or bad humor. If all else fails, follow Thumper’s example: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Grace and Peace! – GT

“Why is the World So Evil?”

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“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned−” Romans 5:12

Lately, we are hearing in the news not so good news. One example is the recent shooting in Las Vegas. From one’s perspective, it seems like evil is on the rampage and chaos is out of control. Why is this? Why does it seem like the world is so evil and a dangerous place to live? I believe the verse above and others like it in the Bible provide insight and hope for the weary soul who is greatly concerned about the world that seems so evil.

First, the choice to sin by one person brings about death, chaos, and pain. It took only one man, Adam, to make it his choice to disobey God. His choice introduced sin and death into the world (Genesis 2:17, 3:3, 6, 17, 19, 21). When evil events like the shooting in Las Vegas take place, it is because of the action of one person that brings about death and destruction.

Second, the choice to sin by one person affects the lives of others. When Adam chose to sin against the Lord, his decision not only affected himself but all other human beings down through history. Because of this, we all feel the effect of Adam’s sin through death (Genesis 3:3, 19; Hebrews 9:27). Similarly, when we choose to sin, our sin not only brings harm to ourselves but affects the lives of others.

Third, the choice to sin by one person is a personal decision. No one makes you sin. Excuses are plenty and blame is widespread when it comes to personal sin. When Adam sinned against the Lord, it was his own choice. Adam could have chosen to be obedient. Adam attempted to blame God for his sin by saying, “‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:12). As if to say, “Lord, if you had not given me this woman, I would not have sinned against you.” When we sin we blame others. Sometimes, we blame God or even accuse God of lying for saying we sinned (1 John 1:10). Sin is sin. Only the person who committed the sin is solely responsible for their sin. They must own up to it (Psalm 51).

Finally, sin affects all of us, personally and spiritually, but we are not without hope. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God warned Adam that if he sinned, he would die. This death affected Adam physically and spiritually. Physically, because Adam eventually died. Spiritually, because Adam lost his spiritual connection with the Lord. There was a separation between God and Adam. This is what sin does. But, all is not lost. God chose not to take Adam’s life at that moment. The Lord provided hope through a promise (Genesis 3:15) and a covering for Adam’s sin through the sacrifice found in Genesis 3:21. That sacrifice became the future hope of Adam and his race through the perfect sacrifice found in Christ Jesus our Lord (Hebrews 10:14). This is the same hope for anyone who repents from their sin and commits themselves to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Bible says they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).

All this to say, why is the world so evil? It’s because of sin. Is there hope in the world? Yes, it’s found in the person of Jesus Christ. One day, the Lord will create a new heaven and earth that is without sin and evil. But, only those who have trusted in Him alone for salvation will occupy that place. Choose Christ today for the blessed hope of heaven tomorrow.

Grace and Peace! – GT