COVID-19

Safe in our Father’s Arms

Advertisements

As we take a journey through Psalm 23 and John 10, it is my prayer that this devotional will restore your hope, strengthen your faith, and give you a deeper understanding of the good Shepherd’s peace, provision, and protection and help keep you feeling safe.

Safe, father, God, Arms
Safety is guaranteed in our Father’s arms

Embrace the Unknown

When we know who God is, it is easier to trust Him, to feel safe with Him – in the unknown.

Advertisements

In moments of uncertainty, pain and suffering, we often lean into Psalm 23. David, a shepherd boy, became the king of Israel, but not until he faced a season of adversity in the wilderness. When his call to be king seemed a mere dream than reality, he found comfort to reflect on Abba Father as his protector and provider. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Psalms 23:1

Years ago, and sometimes still today, I realised I do not truly know the love and kindness of God. Not only did I not know who God is, but I did not know who I am as His child. I sometimes feel like a lost sheep walking in circles trying to please a shepherd I did not know. Often I viewed Him as an angry God, ready to chastise me for the slightest mistake. Mostly living in fear that God would punish me for the life I lived apart from Him by allowing something bad to happen to the people I love or to me. I admit, I can slip back into embracing those lies at times. However, God has continued to be gracious and loving toward me by showing me if He wanted to punish me for my sins, He would not have punished Jesus by way of the cross. 

Jesus said, I AM the Good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for My sheep (John 10:11).

God (the good Shepherd) sent Jesus (the lamb of God) to provide all we need to be able to enter into the presence of a Holy God. 

Much uncertainty in days of COVID-19

In the days of COVID-19, the entire world is turned upside down and plagued by uncertainty and fear. Out of nowhere, this invisible enemy has infiltrated our homeland, invaded our living spaces, homes and besieged our bodies, our faith and our minds. Our safety and security is compromised. Many of God’s children were left paralysed with fear of the unknown. 

We ask God to step in and defeat this toxic enemy, but it seemed like the enemy defeats us as it continues to spread. 

In scary and unknown times, our greatest need is to go before the Father and ask Him to remind us who He is. He is a Good Shepherd, providing for and protecting us. He is the only One that has the power to change our circumstances. If He doesn’t change our circumstances, then we can trust He has a loving plan we cannot understand at the moment.

To live a life of faith is to embrace what we do not know.  

Who Told You That?

 Who we listen to and believe will determine whether we lay down in trust or stand in fear.

God’s grace to those who least expect it

Have you ever wondered why a good Shepherd would need to make his sheep lie down in green pastures? Wouldn’t green pastures and quiet waters be a sheep’s best life?

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
Psalms 23:2

The thing about sheep is that they will not lie down if they are afraid, threatened, or hungry. In other words, if a sheep senses freedom from fear, aggravations, and hunger, only then will they lie down and rest. 

People are like sheep

I guess people are more like sheep than I realise! I know for me it has been hard to rest in my own green pastures when everything around me shouts: “FEAR, DANGER, DUCK, TAKE COVER!” 

How hard has it been for you to rest in your own personal green pastures? During the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus was called an “invisible enemy”. It is true for every follower of Jesus; we have an invisible enemy, and it is not just illnesses like COVID-19. A believer’s enemy is Satan. Satan tempted Eve to not trust God and to believe that God is withholding what is good from her. Eve’s biggest mistake was not that she listened to Satan, but that she believed him. Our enemy’s lies create in us the same belief; God cannot be trusted, and He will not accomplish or provide what is best for His children. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 10:10

Isn’t that a lie!

Fear is a liar

What a liar is fear when it causes us to doubt God’s protection and provision for our needs and wants. Fear is a liar when things go haywire and we believe God has abandoned us right when we need Him most. 

Jesus said He is a good Shepherd who lays down His life so that His sheep can have life abundantly – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:15

Jesus is the source of our life. We find our meaning and purpose in Him. If we do not believe Him, Jesus’ words and truth will not help you or me. There are a lot of voices shouting to get our attention and devotion. We have to be careful who we listen to, but more importantly who we are believing. 

If you are gripped with fear and at the brink of despair, I can confidently say the words you are believing are not your Shepherd’s. When Eve repeated Satan’s lies to God in the garden of Eden, God asked her, “Who told you that?” (Genesis 3:11). When we are consumed with fear and doubt, we should ask ourselves that same question. “Who told me that?”

Our Shepherd’s voice will always bring peace, joy and rest.

Advertisements

When we listen, believe, and trust His words, we can lay down in our green pastures no matter the chaos raging around us. 

Touching Arms

The closer we are to the Shepherd, the firmer our foundation.

The term “cast down sheep” means a sheep has tipped over lying on its back with its feet in the air, frantically struggling to stand up without any success. The only thing the sheep can do is lie there, frightened and frustrated, until its shepherd comes to help. If he is close to the shepherd, the shepherd can immediately turn him over and put him back on his feet again. Sadly, if the sheep is too far away and too much time has passed before the shepherd can come to its rescue, it will die. Now, I am by no means a shepherd, so this term helps me have a deeper understanding of what David is referring to when he says, “The good Shepherd restores his soul.” Every shepherd has had a cast down sheep at some point or another.

I can’t help but think there are a lot of God’s sheep who have been led away from their Shepherd and have found themselves helpless on their backs, desperately trying to flip themselves over to stand on their own feet. However, life is showing us we are not capable of turning ourselves over and getting ourselves back on our feet. We need a good Shepherd close by, and thank Jesus, we have One. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to not know what to do, and it’s even harder to admit we don’t know what to do. Fear of the unknown will leave the happiest person feeling cast down, disheartened, and often confused to know who to trust. Psalm 23:3 reminds us that God wants to restore our souls and shine His light on the path He has chosen to walk with us. 

His path, for you and for me, is for us to be close to Him at all times. So close that when we find ourselves stuck on our backs, feet sticking straight up in the air, He can reach out and restore us back to our feet. There is no better or safer way to walk a path than touching arms with Jesus. 

We were created to walk with God. The journey He chooses will be perfect and personally designed for us. As a follower of Jesus, we must remember He does not follow us, even if we think we know the best way to go. 

Yes, life as we know it is uncertain and unknown. Although, I believe if we stay close to our Shepherd, He will do whatever it takes to turn us over and plant us on a firm foundation because that’s what good Shepherd’s do.

He is worthy of our trust! 

Advertisements

Higher Ground

Even if we face a dark night, we can rest in confidence that Jesus will lead us to higher ground.

When I read Psalm 23, I picture David sitting in a beautiful field watching his sheep enjoy green pastures, his legs propped up on a log, hands behind his head, relaxing by a refreshing stream of water. 

The truth of the matter is, when David wrote this Psalm, he was hiding in a dark cave and exiled from his own people with a death sentence hanging over his head. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. Psalms 23:4

Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on Pexels.com

We cannot be certain what David was thinking as he penned Psalm 23, but we do know there’s a shift in his writing. For the first time, David uses the personal pronoun “I” and begins his conversation with his Shepherd rather than talking about his Shepherd. David reassures himself that he may face life-threatening circumstances, even death itself, but he will not face these things alone. 

A pattern between David’s process to become a king and my faith journey as a follower of Jesus is emerging. When I decided to follow Jesus, I expected life to be free of pain and suffering. I was told Jesus picked up His cross and died for my sins so I could live life happy, free, and abundantly. No one told me God would ask me to pick up my cross and die daily as a pleasing sacrifice to Him (a truth that would’ve been helpful to know). (Matthew 16:24) So, when I faced pain and suffering, I was shocked and left with two options. 

One, change my belief system or two, change my circumstances. Since I couldn’t change my circumstances, I started to study the Bible to learn what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I looked at His journey in this world and the life of His disciples. I was comforted to discover they endured pain and suffering, too. Jesus was misunderstood, accused unjustly, and rejected by those around Him. After Jesus left this world, the lives of His disciples were no better.

As I write this, my heart breaks over the numerous lives that have been marked by fear, loneliness, pain, and suffering. Our nation is fighting an invisible enemy in the form of COVID-19; this enemy attacks our dreams, bank accounts, relationships, faith and even our day-to-day lives. This being said, God is fully aware we are not capable of fighting our battles alone. So, He sent Jesus, our Good Shepherd to lead us through these valleys and place our feet firmly on higher ground. And nobody understands life in the valley better than Jesus! 

We cannot fully appreciate the beautiful view on top of the mountain until we experience life in the valley.

However, we must remember God will never allow us to walk through a painful and dangerous valley without taking our hand to guide us. He is leading us along the narrow pathway so that we can experience the presence of God. In my heart, I can almost hear Jesus whisper, “Keep moving, don’t stop now, you are closer to Me than you know!” 

Advertisements

Covered with Comfort

If we allow the hand of God to comfort and guide us, there is nothing God won’t do to protect us.

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

It is said a shepherd’s rod is like an extension of the shepherd’s right arm. It stands to show the shepherd’s authority and strength, a symbol to bring comfort and assurance to the sheep. Predators wait patiently on the outskirts of the shepherd’s flock, looking for their moment to kill. The shepherd uses his rod as a defence and deterrent to protect his sheep against anything aiming to attack. Sheep are also prone to wander, much like people, and can become lost without food or water. The rod gently corrects and guides the sheep along the right path, the path leading them to safety and true life. 

Much like a sheep’s shepherd, our Good Shepherd is always prepared to use his rod and staff to protect us from what may harm us and tenderly keep us on the best path. Whenever God sees His children moving towards dangerous territory, He will call them to Himself. Using the Holy Spirit and His Word, He guides and directs us, corrects and comforts us. His love for us will compel Him to stop us from what isn’t best, even if it means a moment of temporary pain along the way. 

I can remember many times when I was going through very difficult and dark circumstances. I wanted to walk away from God, even deny God, and sometimes demand instant gratification from God to solve my difficulties NOW!. Consider this “Look back at a time in your life and wonder what God would have done if you had only obeyed him?” Even when I was mad at God for not doing what I asked, I knew I did not want to live with regret and miss God’s best for my life. Today, I think of this often when I see all the moments He held onto me when I was willing to let go of Him. 

When we say yes to following Jesus, the power of Jesus’ resurrection lives in us to comfort us, bring us peace, counsel, and direction. 

The world wants to tell us a good God will not allow bad things to happen. God tells us a good and loving God sent His Son to save us from this world. No one is exempt from facing tribulations, sickness, heartache, and pain. We can face each of these with joy and confidence that Christ will comfort and direct us. We can trust a loving Shepherd to stand in authority over this world, rod in hand, while guiding, comforting, and protecting us throughout each day. 

The world may hurt us, but it cannot destroy us!

Advertisements

Eating with the Enemy

When we trust God as our defender, even in the midst of our enemies, we can find rest and peace.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5

In Psalm 23:5, David says, “God has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat, but I prefer to be surrounded by people I trust, not in the company of my enemies. 

Middle Eastern hospitality is of high value and importance. When someone enters the host’s house, the needs of the guest always supersede the needs of the host until the visit is over. David is picturing God as his host, who will meet his needs and protect and defend him in the midst of his enemies. 

Since we know David was running from Saul at the time of Psalm 23, it could be safe to assume David was speaking of Saul being his enemy. Over and over God protected David from being killed by the hands of Saul. However, David never convinced Saul that he was not the man Saul believed him to be. Saul thought David wanted to harm him and steal the throne, when in reality, Saul was trying to harm David, and it was God that took the throne away from Saul. 

There will be times when we will be the victims of people’s gossip, be falsely accused, or maybe someone will assume wrongly about who we are. We all have enemies in some way or another. I find a lot of comfort in knowing Jesus had a lot of enemies as well. His enemies refused to accept the truth of who He was and continually questioned His intentions and motives. Nonetheless, Jesus never tried to defend His actions to anyone who refused to get to know Him. 

The key to Psalm 23:5: God, not ourselves, will defend us against the hurtful lies intended to destroy our testimony, self-worth, and reputation as a child of God. 

Not only is God a Good Shepherd, but like David, He is also a great warrior. We can be confident of this one thing:

God will take His place as our defender and safeguard.

In due time, He will expose the lies aimed to destroy us or our relationships. Just because we can’t see God preparing a table before our enemy doesn’t mean God isn’t behind the scenes prepping the courses. There is nothing sweeter than to wait and allow God to take anything formed against us and turn it around to become our greatest victory. He does a much better job at making things right than we do! 

God is the perfect Host who satisfies His children with His presence and cares for our every need. One of the names of God is Jehovah-Nissi, which means God is my banner. Whenever we feel we are surrounded by people who would find more joy in our mistakes than in our victories, we can call upon the name of God and ask Him to fight for us. 

Advertisements

Walk Me Home

This is not our home, but until the day we are in God’s presence forever, we can rest in confidence that His goodness and love is following us.

You can’t outrun God. There was a time in my life when I certainly tried. Not only did I try to outrun God, I tried to run from myself. I was going through a very confusing season. It wasn’t a national crisis, but an identity crisis. I didn’t know the truth of who God is, and I certainly did not know who God created me to be. I had no concept of what it meant to be a new creation in Christ. When all hope seemed lost and life would seemingly never look the same, it was too hard to put the past behind me and reach forward to what was next. It was too hard for me to see any goodness in the midst of my pain, let alone a hopeful future. 

When I read David’s words, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”, I am reminded that good and merciful are also listed among the many attributes of God. It is not only what He does, but it is who God is. He will not withhold what is best from His children or leave them to fend for themselves. Like most children, we have a very limited ability to determine what is best for ourselves. David writes with the assurance that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we can be assured that although not all things are good, God is good in all things. 

The Spirit of God fills the life of every New Testament believer just as His Spirit would fill the Old Testament tabernacle or temple. He is always with us; His mercy is everlasting and His goodness is forever faithful. 

When we experience our darkest days, nights, weeks, or months, we may not see God’s presence or His hand guiding us. Yet, once we get through those bleak seasons, we are able to look back and be in awe of the God who never left us alone. Darkness always tries to hide the goodness of God. God’s light illuminates what the darkness tries to hide.

His beauty and love chase after us every day of our lives.

When we remember our Shepherd’s goodness, it is easier for us to trust him with what’s in front of us. In the midst of a crisis, it can seem He has left us in the dust. But the story isn’t over. While we wait for our good Shepherd and valiant warrior to bring us through this difficult race called life, we can simply reach out in faith, trust the Holy Spirit within, and grab the hand of God. There will be a day when we will be home with Jesus in His house forever. Let Him walk us there. 

Advertisements

What’s in a NamePsalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

God is who He says He is; He can and will do what He says He can and will do.

As we have journeyed through Psalm 23 together, I pray you have felt God’s peace, comfort, and security each step along the way. More importantly, I hope you have seen more clearly the loving heart of your Good Shepherd. When most people read David’s Psalm, they are either looking for a way to find meaning and purpose for their suffering or trying to pick up the pieces from shattered dreams. 

For many years, I approached the Bible as a textbook. When life wasn’t turning out like I had dreamed it would, I’d look to the Bible for answers to my “why.” God used studying the book of Job to show me He doesn’t always answer our “why.” Instead, He desires to take our focus off of our suffering and onto Himself. When we respond in faith and look to Him, He shows us His mighty power and great love. 

I can honestly say, I do not know how anyone can live in this world without this assurance: not all things are good, but God is good in all things. God is not our free pass out of the storms of life, but He is our peace within the storm. 

David did not get everything right, but one thing he did get right was what he treasured most—his relationship with God. It didn’t matter if his life was good or if his life was threatened by the evil intentions of others, He called upon the name of God. Let’s go back through Psalm 23 and reflect on the different names of God: 

  1. The LORD is my Shepherd: Jehovah Rohi, He is our Shepherd.
  2. I shall not want: Jehovah Jireh, He is our provider.
  3. He makes me lie down in green pastures and still waters: Jehovah Shalom, He is our peace.
  4. He restores my soul and guides me in His righteousness: Jehovah Tsidkenu, He is our righteousness.
  5. For you are with me: Jehovah Shammah, He is the God who is always there.
  6. Your rod and staff comfort me: Jehovah Nissi, He is our banner of victory. 
  7. Surely goodness and mercy follows us: Jehovah M’Kaddesh, He is the God who sanctifies. 

Proverbs states in 18:10 “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” David, a shepherd boy who was known as Israel’s greatest king, a man after God’s own heart, knew his limitations, humbled himself and called upon the name of God. 

As we fight whatever battle life throws our way, our greatest defense will be to humble ourselves and call upon the name of God.

The same powerful and loving God who allows us to face our enemies is the same God who will lead us to victory. 

Advertisements

Love is a Battlefield

Death and resurrection of Jesus

The war has been won by way of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but there is still a battle waging war on our life, soul, and heart.

As we read Psalm 23 in its entirety and reflected on the different names of God. It is worth noticing, the familiar words of Christ on the cross were also written by David in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me.” 

As a follower of Jesus, at some point or another, we all will struggle with the thought, God is not listening to my prayers. He has left me alone. He cannot be trusted, and it is up to me to be in control of my happiness. These thoughts are all lies against who Jesus is in order to weaken our faith in Him and steal our peace. 

If you are a follower of Jesus and have given your life to Him, you can be assured that God has not forsaken us. During His most extravagant expression of love, with His last breath, Jesus declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) All of Heaven mourned. 

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Meanwhile, for three days Hell rejoiced. We all know what happened next. Jesus walked out of that same grave in Glory and in victory. What darkness meant to destroy, Jesus died to redeem. God defeated the powers of evil. As followers of Jesus, we can claim that same victory. 

Jesus didn’t just say He loved us; He proved His love in ways words could never express by laying down His life for us. He paid off our sinful debt with His perfect life. Because of Jesus, we will never be forsaken but are always loved and worthy to call a Holy God our Father. Our place with God has been forever sealed with triumph! 

The war was won long ago, but we are still in a battle. If we don’t know who we are fighting, we cannot win the battle. Jesus called Satan a liar, thief, and deceiver; his goal is to destroy who you are and your relationship with God. Satan is opportunistic, and he will attack when we least expect it. That being said, I’m confident that God, our defender, will fight to protect our hearts, strengthen our faith, and win this waging battle around us. 

When COVID-19 invaded our worlds, the threat of death surrounds us every day. Our dreams and plans appear to be thrown down a dark pit never to be seen again. We must remember, there is no pit so deep that God’s love cannot reach to pull us out. Yes, my friend, there is no war or invisible enemy that Jesus has not already fought and won.

So, let’s hold on to Him and let Him fight our battles! 

Advertisements

Pillow Talk

Prayer is not a way to win; it is the only way to win.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sin and point us to the Father. However, when you think about how often Jesus slipped away from the crowds to talk to the Father, we cannot deny the high emphasis Jesus placed on prayer. 

When I was young in my faith with very little understanding of the Bible, I began to notice how often Jesus prayed. I wrestled with the idea if Jesus felt the need to pray throughout His journey in this world, how much more should I? Even though I respected prayer and saw my desperate need to talk with God, I was clueless. What should I say? How should I say it? What could I tell God that He did not already know? What if I said something wrong? The fear I’d say the wrong thing kept me from praying at all. I heard it once said, “Satan doesn’t care if we go to church. He doesn’t care if we go to the mission field. What scares Satan the most is a kneeling Christian speaking to their loving and powerful God.” 

As we face the coming days, months and even years fearful of the many “what if’s,” our greatest defense is prayer. Many people have called prayer a Christian’s greatest weapon. I do believe prayer is powerful, but I’ve yet to see in Scripture the power being in the words spoken in prayer or even in the one praying. Instead, the power is in the One being spoken to, God Almighty. 

Let’s learn from the best, Jesus! Overwhelmed with grief in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knelt down to pray. In great agony, His sweat became like drops of blood. He fell to the ground and uttered the words, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” (Mark 14:36) It was not the words, but the surrender to God’s will that gave Him the power to face His enemy, death. Now, that’s genuine godly power! 

Even if it does not change our circumstances, prayer changes us.

Prayer does not demand our will; it changes our perspective and hearts to desire God’s will. 

Our weapon to fight any fear, crisis, doubt, or insecurity aiming to wage war against our minds, soul, and spirit is to surrender each longing, concern, and fear in prayer with a steadfast desire to do whatever God asks. Let me tell you, this isn’t easy to do! Jesus can testify to this. However, when we walk in God’s will, we can be confident we are walking on conquered ground. Our battles are already won! We can take our position as His child and enter into His presence to share our life experiences with our conquering King! Death could not hold Him down and the threat of death cannot get us down.

A life surrendered to His will is a life worth living! 

Advertisements

Latest from the Blog

Release Your Regrets

Advertisements Once you have recognised your regret for what it is, you are then ready for the next step: release your regrets. Ask yourself these five questions: Do you regret committing a sin? Your regret may have been something you did that put distance between you and God. Letting go of that regret will requireContinue reading →

Recognise Your Regrets

Advertisements I have been thinking of regrets lately and I hope to take my experience with empowering you to respond constructively to any type of regret. Recognise your regrets for what they are. What exactly is it that you are feeling badly about? Have you either underestimated or overestimated how serious it is? What powerContinue reading →

Loving Your Regrets

Advertisements Regrets. We all have them. It may be something you wish you hadn’t done, or a missed opportunity where you didn’t take action and wish that you had. It might be something that was done to you; you were the victim, yet you still feel regret. The Sorry Cycle Whether it’s something from lastContinue reading →

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 5 comments

Pandemic Joy

Advertisements

Up for grabs

The word of God offers timeless guidelines and instructions for reassurance for seasons of life’s uncertainties. Looking beyond the news headlines of fear, this blog post will encourage you to focus on the certainty of the Good News we have in Jesus Christ, from whom a ‘pandemic of joy‘ overflows, bringing blessings even in the most challenging of times.

So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8

We now live in a world where we have to deal with uncertainty, arguably more than ever before. In spite of trying to be intentional about avoiding the bad news that seemed to pervade the media, one can hardly escape the gloomy realities of these uncertain times. While we live in an information age and have gotten used to quick answers and quick analyses, being faced with a world-wide-out-of-control pathogen which seems resistant to any quick fix—for example—has understandably saturated many hearts with fear and anxiety. 

In a world of fictional fearless superheroes, our eyes have opened to reality. Life happens. In times like this, it is not enough to share platitudes or braggadocious sentiments in the name of instilling courage in others; our audacity needs to have a basis which must be able to survive the scrutiny of the realities of these times.

One place we can turn to in scripture to make sense of times of uncertainties is Acts 8:1-8. The passage begins with Stephen’s martyr in Jerusalem and ends with ‘uncontainable joy’ in Samaria. Stephen’s death ushered in an epidemic of persecution for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. As a result of the persecution, the believers fled for their lives. But in fleeing, they carried the joyful news of Christ’s saving grace with them. One such migrant minister was Philip who found himself in Samaria and ministered to the people there. And how does the story end?  “So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8

The passage tells us that in the midst of uncertainties (such as the one persecution brought to those early believers), there is also an uncontainable joy—a pandemic joy—that is up for grabs. James echoes the same thought: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, James 1:2

You can be so joyful in this season—and any season for that matter—that your joy spreads widely into your community. 

Let’s unpack from this passage what this uncontainable joy looks like.

Advertisements

Faith and Common Sense

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Acts 8:1

The verse above paints a vivid picture. 

Great persecutions. Broke out. All. Scattered. 

Those words were intended to capture the severity of the situation. Severe as it was, however, the followers of Jesus responded faithfully—leaving us an example to follow should we be faced with life-threatening realities and uncertainties. How did they respond? By combining their faith in God and common sense, with the thoughtful minds that God has given them. Yes, they trusted God, but they also fled for their lives. They did what was commonsensical: They protected themselves.

As believers, our response to life-threatening realities must involve a combination of unwavering faith in God, godly wisdom and common sense. To respond faithfully to a pandemic, for instance, is to avoid being careless while taking responsibility to stay safe, protect our children and those who are most vulnerable.

In August of 1527, the bubonic plague came to Wittenberg, Germany, where the famous reformer, Martin Luther, was based. He wrote a letter at the time in response to a question he had been asked. The letter was titled “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague.” He shared some helpful thoughts in this letter which are very relevant now:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate . . . I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence . . . If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Paul reminds Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

We will observe, however, that while Acts 8:1 mentions that everyone scattered, it was also said that the apostles remained. While the specific reason for their remaining was not said in the text, it reminds us that there are key workers who, by virtue of their profession or calling, may need to take risks for the greater good of humanity. We owe them our prayers and thanks.

This is Acts 8:1 in a poetic nutshell: 

Persecution came.
All the believers fled.
All the apostles stayed.
But all in all,
Both responded faithfully.
And so must we.

Advertisements

Still Human

Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
Acts 8:2

You will recall that in verse 1, we read of the followers of Jesus fleeing for their lives because of the persecution they faced. In this verse, however, our attention is drawn to some “God-fearing men” who, in the same context when people were fleeing for their lives, chose to do what ‘proper human beings’ will do when a loved one dies—they “gave Stephen a proper burial and mourned greatly over his death.” They stayed in touch with their ‘proper humanness’ in spite of the perilous times they were going through. 

Burying and mourning the dead is a very humane thing to do. These folks did not allow the ravaging epidemic of persecution to make them deny their humanness. Neither should we.

There are few things that are unique to humanity which we must fight to preserve even in times of uncertainty; for example, the use of words, proactive kindness, and the capacity to adapt and to be articulate in expressing our emotions. Keep a journal. Share your thoughts. Make the phone call. Stay in touch with your humanness.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that threats to human existence are not new and should not be exaggerated—whether they be plagues, cancer, fellow human beings, atomic bombs, and you can add to that, COVID-19—however, when such threatening realities emerge, Lewis suggests, “let them find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Advertisements

Believers Also Suffer

“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:3

Acts 8:3 in The Living Bible paraphrase says “Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers . . .” Those are weighty words. For many Christians today, their understanding of God has zero-tolerance for suffering. In their understanding, a good God should keep His children from suffering. A good Savior should not allow a mere man like Saul to devastate the believers by mercilessly persecuting them. As long as we call on Him, all believers should be exempted from whatever unpleasantness goes on in the world—including sickness and death. If your understanding of God and of the Christian faith is such that it can’t process the realities of suffering—if you find yourself questioning the love of God in light of the ongoing realities of our times, you need a few reminders. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share with you four reminders:

1. God is love

Nothing will ever take away this divine attribute of the Father. He has communicated it to all of humanity in the grandest way possible by choosing to become one of us and pay the ultimate price that frees us to enjoy what He had always intended for all humans for all eternity—a blissful fellowship with His eternally loving self.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32

2. We live in a fallen world

When sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation (our physical bodies inclusive) became subject to the experience of corruption and death. In other words, there is an ongoing time-bound suffering which followers of Christ—alongside all of humanity and all of creation—are going through. Good news: It is time-bound.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:20‭-‬23

3. Death is powerless over the believer

For the follower of Christ, death has died. Period. What Paul says to the Colossians, God is saying to all believers: “You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God.”

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:20‭-‬21

4. We serve a sovereign God

Divine sovereignty is the canvas upon which God’s love and God’s power find the most beautiful expression. The sovereignty of God teaches us that He is in charge of everything, and He always does what is good, just, right, and wise! (

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
Psalms 33:11

Advertisements

You’ve Got Some Wonderful News!

The devil is an incurable failure whose seeming successes always ultimately serve the purposes of God in the life of the believer. The worst the devil can do to a believer is physical death, but he does that knowing that the death of a believer is not a gain to him; it’s a gain to the believer. That’s the basic unit of pandemic joy—that every follower of Christ has an indestructible never-ending life. That’s some wonderful news!

As long as you are alive, you’ve got some wonderful news to share. While the believers in Acts 8 were being sensible in protecting themselves from persecution (by fleeing for their lives), they never fled away from this wonderful news. It had shaped them and redefined their identity. They were Jewish people (mainly) living in a Jewish city but had become known as something other than Jewish—members of a new ‘tribe’ called ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:1-2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

Indeed, the believer in Christ has found THE WAY TO KNOW & RELATE WITH GOD (John 14:6; Matthew 11:28). In Christ, we find a lovable and friendable God. His life, His death, and His resurrection—all historically grounded even outside of the scriptures—cast a certitude on His supremacy above all gods. 

The believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO LIVE (Acts 17:6; 1 Peter 2:9) because right believing always translate into right living. The love of God ignites the hearts of believers with love for God and for humanity—and what other force is there which outperforms love in influencing people’s way of life? 

Besides, the believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO DIE (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because it is only in Christ that death loses its sting. And lastly, the believer in Christ has found THE TRUE WAY HOME (Hebrews 13:4; Philippians 3:20-21). Every other way that men can follow is amputated by death. The wonderful news we believe is that this world, as it is, isn’t home. As such, we don’t settle for the flavors that this world can offer; we salivate for the taste of the cuisines awaiting us in our true home.

In the meantime, we’ve got a wonderful news to share . . . and share it we will.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

Advertisements

Uncontainable Joy

Have you ever felt so happy that you couldn’t contain it? When you not bothered about whoever was watching; you cannot contain the joy. The joy in Samaria in Acts 8:8, I believe, was far more than that. It was an Uncontainable Joy rooted in an eternal transaction. Nothing that happens ‘tomorrow’ will change that experience. These people got saved, and they knew it was a forever deal. It resulted in great joy. Uncontainable joy. Pandemic joy.

This is more than the joy of passing your driving test, getting a job, landing a huge business deal, acquiring a property, getting married, getting pregnant, and having a baby. It is a joy beyond the reach of disappointment. No news headline can make it waver. No expert report can thwart it. It is a joy that has no cure. A contagious joy. A pandemic joy, which no pandemic can contaminate.

Stephen’s murder led to the persecution that led to a dispersion that advanced God’s mission and led to uncontainable joy. If we look at some of these events in isolation—Jesus dying, Stephen dying, believers being persecuted and having to flee for their lives—they seem like bad news, but when we view them in the big picture of God’s extraordinary plan, we clearly see that the singular event which the devil intended for the ultimate realization of his agenda on earth has become the very source of eternal joy for believers across the world across the centuries.

The pandemic-joy-activating extraordinary plan of God for all of creation keeps unfolding. 

“Through followers of Jesus . . . gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” (Ephesians 3:10 MSG) 

This is why we can be pandemically joyful and certain that the Body of Christ will always emerge on the other side of any earthly challenge stronger than ever.

Yes, some Christians may sleep in the Lord and many local assemblies of Christian worshipers may have to close, but the Church of Christ across the globe remains impregnable and unconquerable. As a member of this Body, therefore, where does this leave you? It leaves you with the reminder that there is a joy—an indestructible, pandemic joy—which is available in us, for us, and through us in times of uncertainty. Earthly pandemics will come and go, and so will many other harsh realities of life on this fallen planet, albeit only in the meantime. Our pandemic joy, however, will remain, and we must grab it with both hands.

Advertisements

The Parable of Two Certainties

I love movies riddled with uncertainties, but I absolutely hate uncertainties in my personal life. In life, as I’ve come to discover, some things are very certain. As we bring this journey to a close, I will highlight just two of them. The first should naturally lead to the second. 

Certainty #1: All of Us Will Experience Uncertainties in Life

In other words, one thing you can be certain of in life is uncertainty. Every single one of us, even right now as you are reading this, have some uncertainties in our lives. This has probably increased in light of the pandemic of 2020. We have uncertainties about exam results, how to pay our bills, what’s going on with our relatives abroad, how our children will turn out in this increasingly secularized world, what life post-COVID-19 will look like . . . and so on and so forth. But we can be certain that all of us are experiencing uncertainties

So how do we handle the uncertainties in our world?

I can think of two possible ways: choose anxiety or choose certainty #2.

We choose anxiety when we assume the worst, doubt the promises of God, or compare ourselves to the many competing standards of our world.

Certainty #2: The Prince of Peace Is Always Near

You are never away from God’s reach. As a matter of fact, Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4 to “be anxious for nothing” was hinged upon the nearness of God. “The Lord is ever present with us [so] Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” (Philippians 4:5-6a VOICE).

Prophet Isaiah prophesies: “When you face stormy seas I WILL BE THERE WITH YOU with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned. Because I, the Eternal One, am your God. I am the Holy One of Israel, AND I WILL SAVE YOU . . .” (Isaiah 43:2-3 VOICE).

In Acts 1 Luke records how Jesus’s disciples asked Him a time-related question—they wanted to know when He was going to free Israel from Rome. See how Jesus responds: “The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:6-7 TLB) I love Jesus’s response. It’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to have certain uncertainties, but we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the uncertainties; rather, we must let our uncertainties lead us into the safe and familiar arms of Who we certainly know is there with us: Jesus Christ.

If all you know in your uncertainties is that Jesus is certainly with you, that is enough—more than enough.

Latest from the Blog

Smite me, oh Mighty Smiter

Advertisements Oh mighty smiter! Smite me! Oh wait, you keep doing it! Bring it on. I can take it! Remember that line from the movie “Bruce Almighty”… “smite me ohContinue reading →

In The Garden

Advertisements “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…and the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses…And he walksContinue reading →

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 1 comment

Love each other deeply

Advertisements

1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Christians ought to work hard at loving each other. The Greek word translated as “deeply,” “earnestly,” or “fervently” is ektenē, used to describe the muscles of an athlete straining to win a race. Peter writes that Christians should do this above all. A follower of Christ must make demonstrating the love of Jesus to others his or her first priority. This is always a requirement, but especially crucial during seasons of suffering.

Loving each other is also a proper response to the realisation that the end of all things is near, as mentioned in 1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” Knowing that the Day of the Lord could come at any time should cause believers to double down on our commitment to each other.

Finally, loving each other in this way covers a multitude of sins. We need to be careful with this statement. This doesn’t mean that our acts of love for each other can earn God’s forgiveness. Nor does Peter mean to imply that we are paying our sins off through good works. That would contradict what Peter and other New Testament writers clearly teach: that our sins are paid for by Christ’s death on the cross, and forgiveness for sin comes only through trusting in Him.

Rather, the idea that our love for each other covers a multitude of sins relates to our imperfection. Christians are not yet sinless. We are not perfect. We have set the course of our lives away from sin, but we still fail to obey sometimes. We make mistakes, even when we mean well.

Love for each other includes forgiving each other, overlooking past hurts, and building each other up when we fall.

It is difficult for sin and resentment to flourish in a community rich in Christ-like love.

Advertisements

Advertisements

Latest from the Blog

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 0 comments