This series was conceived one day while walking to my house from 23 Chapel along the south side of the Charles. Actually a series wasn’t part of the original idea. The plan was to write just one e-mail in which, following Augustine’s lead in The City of God, I would interpret the present day hardship as having three distinct messages to (roughly) three groups of people.
But as I’m wont to do, I’ve found a way to wonderfully complicate things. So much so that if Augustine himself agreed to read the many words of these posts, I imagine him coming to the end and giving his pronouncement: eh?
Well, at least there is an end! And we’re there, so let’s review the six previous posts as various steps in an argument:
Step 1: For those who have not believed in the name of the Son of God, the coronavirus and all the malignancy wrapped up in it is a precursor of the Day of the Lord, the final outpouring of God’s anger. The coronavirus, and really all the hardships of the world, are flashing signals along the path toward judgment, warning travelers to turn around. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Step 2: Just as surely as the coronavirus should be read as a threat by those outside of Christ, those who are children of the Heavenly Father should interpret this as His loving and purposive discipline. And the upshot of that realization is that we shouldn’t fear as those who don’t know God as Father: Don’t fear what they fear/ Don’t take on their worries. (Isaiah 8:13)
Step 3: In particular, this is an opportunity for those of us who are worldly children of the Father (and indeed, doesn’t this describe all of us at least some of the time?) to hear anew the perennial call from Heaven: “Come out from her, my people…” (Revelation 18:4). Babylon, the city of man, is both a captivating and failing system. And the coronavirus summons us again to leave the doomed city behind, which leaving looks like repenting from various strains of worldliness.
Step 4: Ok, the negative objective of the Father’s discipline is that His children repent. But let’s remember the positive change He’s after: our Father is forming us into worshipers. …Brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God (Hebrews 12:28). Don’t shrug your shoulders at this: worship is no thin or unworldly or romantic thing! Rather, the habit that this present pain from our Heavenly Father is forming into us is earthy and lively and all-encompassing. Worshipers attend to and live into the truth that God is God of heaven and earth…of everything. Including oil changes – remember?
Step 5: Take note: it’s NOT a natural development when those who are not worshipers of God are formed into those who are worshipers of God. Far from it! Actually, this transformation of worshipers is an initial stage of God’s new creation, which will one day sweep over the heavens and earth. What is happening to us and in us at this moment via hardship is part of the great renewal of heaven and earth. I don’t know about you but I find this tremendously encouraging. God who makes all things new is in this. So take heart, children of God: Energize the limp hands; strengthen your weak knees; and it’s good to be strengthened with grace.
Step 6: So, our Heavenly Father is training His children to become worshipers, attentive and sharp-eyed to perceive His great and holy presence in every part of life. But what does it look like in detail to become a worshiper of God? And we said that Hebrews 13 answers that question by providing various descriptions of genuine worship. Mercifully I chose to concentrate on only two of these. First, worshipers continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. We are being trained so that, in the middle of inconvenience, we have the presence of mind to notice and make mention of the greatness and goodness of God.
We’ll close this series with one+ more attribute of genuine worship… which we’ll expect to be formed in us during this current hardship by our Father’s guidance. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
When fearful pressure mounts the natural instinct is to withdraw into yourself. Put a halt to all endeavors except those that tend toward your own survival. Look out for #1 – at times like this there’s no room for anything more noble.
Fear does this. Fear brings on myopia. Fear enervates the nerves, so fellow feeling goes numb. Fear hamstrings us so that we don’t do much of anything. Indeed, fear inclines us to be irritated by people and either lash out at or draw away from them.
Yet, God’s children are becoming worshipers! Which means, they’re taught never to view hardship impersonally and thus fearfully, as if it came out of nowhere or at least nowhere good. Worshipers have been trained to notice God at every place. So, let’s say it again: in this current hardship, God is treating us as sons, disciplining us for our good. At this moment, God is loving us.
In truth, God is always loving us. God is love. And when we’ve gotten that fact clear in our mind, and especially when we set it even next to this pandemic, the paralyzing, enervating, myopia-inducing fear begins to dissipate. There’s simply not space enough in our mind for both fear and a consciousness of the love of the Father.
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. 1 John 4:18
And the reasonable response to learning that we are continually and deeply loved… is to love.
We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 1 John 4:19
Brothers and sisters, fellow worshipers-in-training, beloved of the Father: Now is the moment to love, and not to draw back. As the coronavirus enters, there are also newly arrived opportunities to do good. Increase your prayers. Write letters. Bake something for your neighbors and give them an encouraging card. Say thanks. Pick up a spiritual book. But then, if I throw too many options at you it gets a little condescending; ask your Father a few times to show you what good you can do right now and He’ll give you ideas.
And share what you have, especially now with believers who have already been dinged financially from the virus. We’ll close with this marvelous passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Would you please read it carefully and note again the connection of generosity and worship (giving themselves to God)?
4 Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
5-7 This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
Do good and share: a worshiper’s bona fide sacrifices offered to a great and loving Father! THE END