God’s Got This? When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry.”

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

Investing Wisely (According to Jesus)

With the markets being so volatile, there are those who are having trouble knowing what to invest in. I have no idea how my pension plan is doing day to day, I am just happy to have one! Many don’t. When we think of investments, we need not just think of wealth and money. We can also think of how we invest our time. The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have the same amount of time to invest. We can also think of how we invest our abilities and “gifts.” The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have much to offer, abilities to invest. So is there good advice for how we should invest? Should we invest in Apple, or in gold? Well, Jesus has something to tell us about investments:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT) 

Jesus would have us choose investments in heaven. What does that mean? What it does not mean, is giving away all your money so that you will receive a bigger reward when you get to heaven. That is not the point. The point is, whatever wealth you accumulate on earth will not last. It can be destroyed by moths when it is precious fabric, a valuable investment in ancient times, it can be destroyed by rust when it is precious metal, another valuable investment in ancient times, and of course it can be destroyed by a market crash. And if our investments do not lose value in those ways, they will certainly be of no value to us when we are dead:

Those who are wise must finally die,
just like the foolish and senseless,
leaving all their wealth behind . . . .
People who boast of their wealth don’t understand;
they will die, just like animals. Psalms 49:10,20 (NLT)

“Treasures in heaven” are investments that last. They are not affected by moth, or rust, or market crashes. “Treasures in heaven” are investments of real heavenly value. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in justice and peace, things that result in a lasting impact on people. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s walk with Jesus, which will have a lasting impact on them plus the people in their sphere of influence. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s opportunity to experience peace with God. That is a treasure that can never be taken away!

Jesus has more to say on the matter:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! Matthew 6:22-23 (NLT)

This is one of those sayings that would make perfect sense to the people of Jesus’ day, but is harder for us to understand. Basically, a bright eye, or rather a “simple,” or “generous” eye, is an eye that can really see what is going on. I remember when the headlight burned out on my motorcycle. Since I only had one, it was dark, and how deep that darkness was! People with good eyes can see far down the road. They can see what their investments will accomplish. They can see the difference generosity will make.

Let us give an example. Suppose you invent something really useful, the best thing since sliced bread. From your invention you earn one million dollars every year for the next 100 years. You decide to invest all of it in a super-high interest account. Now just imagine how much that would be worth in 100 years! Now think how much it will actually be worth to you in 100 years. If you have a healthy eye, you will see that it will ultimately be of no worth to you, for you will be gone! And by the way, your grandchildren will fight tooth and nail over it. Now, what if it was invested in God’s great kingdom purposes? What good would it do? How many lives might it touch? How many families might be positively impacted when people learn to walk wth Jesus in faith, hope, and love? How many people might spend eternity with God as a result of investing in God’s purposes? Can we see the future returns on our investments? Let us keep in mind that our investments are more than just money, but also time and abilities. Do we see the future impact our investments can have?

Jesus has yet more to say on the matter:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

Let us note what Jesus did not say. He did not say “You cannot pursue both God and wealth.” Jesus is not commending here a vow of poverty. We can pursue both. But we can only serve one. Consider again the example given above about earning a million dollars a year. We can do that. It is not wrong to earn money. But where will we invest it? Will we serve God with our wealth? Or will we serve the wealth itself?

We can worship God every Sunday, be vocal about our trust in God for salvation, and follow all the rules. But we could be missing the mark in our priorities regarding wealth. We can be a people who worship wealth, trust it more than God, and fail to love people through it. Jesus is leading us to choose generosity toward God’s great kingdom purposes. Jesus is leading us to be the kind of people who worship God with our wealth, trust God more than our wealth, and love people with our wealth. Do we love the wealth we have? Or do we love people using the wealth we have?

Jesus had a great investment strategy. Jesus himself chose to store up treasures in heaven:

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)

Jesus is the ultimate example of one who chose to store up treasures in heaven, who had a healthy eye seeing the impact of his investment, who served the Father, not wealth. He invested in us at the cross. That treasure can never be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, or affected by stock market crashes. That was an investment with returns that last for eternity! Whatever we have that we can invest, whether financial wealth, time, or abilities and talents, let us invest like Jesus.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

The Lord’s Prayer? The Disciple’s Prayer? Or Is There a Better Title?

It is often said that “the Lord’s Prayer,” really ought to be called “the Disciple’s Prayer.” Is that the best title? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a template for, and teaching about, our prayers as his disciples. Yet I don’t think “The Disciple’s Prayer” is the best title either. Read on to find out why.

We have considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and recognized that Jesus was not really giving new rules to add to the old ones, but rather was teaching us about becoming a certain kind of people. Here too, with prayer, it is not so much about techniques, or practices, or even words, but about the kind of people we are as we pray.

We have already looked at not being a people who pray to put on a show in Matthew 6:5,6. Let’s move on to verses 7 and 8:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)

“Do not be like them.” The people who were practicing pagan religions are not the kind of people we are to be when we pray. They could be very superstitious about prayer, thinking the gods need to be manipulated through certain words and prayers. We are not to be superstitious people when we pray.

As Christians we can fall into superstition. For example, while some people may find it a meaningful and symbolic experience, the idea of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in one’s front yard, then praying to St. Joseph in order to sell a home, is basically superstitious. Look again at what Jesus said in verse 8; “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (italics added). We don’t need superstition in our prayers when we have a relationship with God. We are not to be a superstitious people, but a people who know and trust that God is a caring, and helpful heavenly Father who knows us well. Prayer is not about manipulating the divine, which is what superstition is about. Rather, prayer is about relationship.

To give an example; imagine if I was not already a motorcyclist, but now wanted a motorcycle. However, I am married, so I am aware that my wife may not be pleased. I know what to do, I will put a St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, on a toy motorcyle in the garage, and boom, my wife will come up with the idea! Will that work? Obviously not. Wouldn’t it just be better to talk with my wife? Superstition does not work. Conversation does. This is also true with God. Superstition in prayer does not work. Honest conversation does. God is not a smartphone, that we use, that we manipulate, that we poke in certain ways to get certain results. God is personal, he is a Person we relate to, he is our heavenly Father. Likewise, we are not smartphone apps, that we hope God will find useful and not delete. We are His children, in a relationship with a good Father. We pray as people who are in a love fuelled relationship with a devoted and committed heavenly Father.

In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus goes on to teach us more about the kind of people we are to become as his disciples. As we pray;

  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a father-child relationship with God.
  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a family relationship with others.
  • in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of the transcendence of God, and who desire of the presence of God.
  • Hallowed be Your Name” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, the glory of God.
  • Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, God’s Kingdom in the world. Therefore we are to be the kind of people who value servanthood over power, justice over injustice, and good over evil, to give some examples.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s provision, and who desire to grow in contentment and trust.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – we are to be the kind of people who desire and are aware of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, both to receive and give.  We recognize where reconciliation is needed, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others.
  • And do not bring us to the time of trial” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s help, who desire God’s presence, in the time of trouble.
  • but rescue us from the evil one” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of evil in the world, and who desire something far greater.

 

In a recent email I received from “the FOR company,” pastor Jeff Henderson highlighted how pivotal a moment in history it was when Jesus taught us to pray. God’s people would never pronounce the actual name of God when they came across it in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed we continue that tradition when our English translations use “LORD,” all in capitals, instead of using God’s name, “Yahweh.” Jeff points out that when Jesus taught us to pray, we went from not even daring to use the name of God, to calling him “Dad.”

What kind of people are we to be when we pray? We pray neither as people who are performers, nor superstitious, but as people who know God as a Father who is for us and not against us. We pray with an awareness of being, and a desire to be, God’s child.

So what is the best title, “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I think it should be “The Much Loved Child-of-God’s Prayer.”