A BBC article caught my eye the other day, it was billed as “the virtual reality church that isn’t shutting its doors.” This church holds virtual services in many different time zones. They’re even church planting in different virtual cities and worlds. That might be hard to get one’s head around but it is a creative expression of the Great Commission. Though I’m supportive of using technology to a degree, I also believe the idea for Christian fellowship is not virtual but live, face to face. Acts 2:42 says:
And they [the early Church] devoted themselves to…the fellowship…
One of the things the apostolic Church devoted themselves too was fellowship, an interactive sharing in the bond of the Holy Spirit. Though some professing Christians minimize the importance of it, fellowship is indeed part of the bread and butter of the Christian life, an essential ingredient, and an ingredient that Christians around the world are longing to return to post-Covid-19.
In the meantime, in light of the reality of Covid-19, the short term social distancing measures and public health measures to ban religious services, these need not stop the Church from gathering to worship and to enjoy fellowship. I am very thankful our church is in the position to be able to find creative ways to minister at this time:
And this is my great hope, not only that we will find creative ways to minister at this time, but that when Covid-19 is past, we will all join together in person to worship our Lord, and what a day of rejoicing that will be! It is my hope that Covid-19 is teaching us the eternal importance of Christian fellowship and that we’re all longing for the day when we can put social distancing behind us and fellowship in person, together, the way God designed it to be.
Until then, we’ll see you online/by phone, in one form or another.
 In sharing this article I am not endorsing this church.
Imagine the scene:
Houses were empty.
A certain book had disappeared off of the bookshelves in shops and online inventories.
Sales of certain illicit substances and content had plummeted forcing companies to close.
Where had all the people gone? What with these mysteries?
Imagine they had all flocked to local faithful Gospel churches! Why? Because they’d heard that Jesus was coming. What began as possibly even a fear of judgement, turned to a genuine fear of the Lord and remorse for their sins, and through faith in the Gospel, their mourning had turned to an eternal joy, and they waited.
Matthew 24:44 says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Not to trivialize our present crisis, but it is ironic that there is a far greater crisis that is pending—the Second Coming of Jesus Christ—and yet people shrug it off. Yet, tell the world that Covid-19 is coming and people rush to get supplies and self-isolate and close borders so that they are ready if/when it comes.
During a plague in Cyprian’s day (c.252, Bishop of Carthage) he thought Jesus’ return was imminent. Plagues have come and plagues have gone and so it would be hasty to say that our present disease was any different than those of the past as a signal of the Lord’s return, however, it ought to be a reminder to us to be ready, that there is an even greater arrival to be ready for and it is not Covid-19 (as ready as we need to be for that), but the coming of Christ from glory to “judge the living and the dead.”
 Cyprian, On Mortality, Treatise VII.2.
In a previous blog, “the Plague of Cyprian”, we considered how Covid-19 is teaching us about our own mortality and fear. In this blog we’ll consider how it is reminding us that we’re not in charge.
In by-gone days there was an old and wise Christian man out tending his front garden by the road when a farmer passed by with his flock of sheep. The old man hailed, “Friend, where are you off to today.” The farmer replied, “I’m taking my sheep to market, they are going to fetch a handsome price. Then I’m going to go and buy a new implement and a fancy dress for my wife.” The old man replied, “God-willing!”
Not too long afterwards the farmer walked past the old wise Christian man’s garden, this time by himself, and looking dishevelled and beaten up. The old man asked, “Friend, what happened to you?” The farmer replied, “When I was on the way to the market I was attacked by sheep thieves. They stole my sheep and beat me up and left me for dead.” The old man asked, “What are you going to do now?” The farmer replied, “I’m going to go home and secure my sheep and farm, and breed more sheep, and sell others at the market on this date, and return to this market next year, etc.” The old man cut him off, “God-willing!”
In a passage which warns against boasting about tomorrow, James 5:13–16 says this:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”-- 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
From this passage comes the Christian saying, “God-willing” or DV (Latin. Deo volente, if God wills it). While this saying can be over used its sentiment can also be underappreciated. Truly, nothing can happen unless God wills it. We need to remember that He is on the throne and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven—not ours! Corona Virus is teaching us, not only of our mortality, but how little we actually have control over our lives. We must depend upon the Lord and seek His will. We all have had plans change, trips cancelled, meetings postponed, because of Covid-19. May this be a reminder to us of the wisdom of James 5 and teach us to humbly say, in our heart of hearts, DV!
Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Ro 14:8b)
In AD 252 there was a mysterious illness that broke out in Carthage, North Africa. It, indeed, swept the entire Roman Empire. Some have likened it to small pox or the measles. It was called the Plague of Cyprian after the North African bishop who had so graphically recounted its effects. (The previous century had also witnessed the Antonine Plague, which equally ravage the Empire.).
Those who contracted the disease were cut off from society, alienated, left to die. Indeed, in Rome 5000 people a day were said to have perished. The population in Alexandria, Egypt, declined some 62%.
Out of compassion for the sick, out of an intense desire to offer a cup of water to those in need, Christians came to help those abandoned by the culture, to care for them, to sit with the dying. As a result many Christians died. This plague also coincided with a renewed persecution of Christians under Decius (Cyprian himself was martyred under the Emperor Valerian in AD 258). Together their simple humble acts and their witness to their faith led to a great revival which saw Christianity further spread to become a major religion in the Empire.
I tell that story to remind us that disease is nothing new to the human existence since the Fall, and as the last enemy to be defeated is physical/bodily death, disease makes no differentiation between Christians and non-Christians. Our response as Christians can also bear witness to our faith. Cyprian reminded his listeners of the first point:
It disturbs some that this mortality is common to us with others; and yet what is there in this world which is not common to us with others, so long as this flesh of ours still remains, according to the law of our first birth, common to us with them? So long as we are here in the world, we are associated with the human race in fleshly equality, but are separated in spirit. (Cyprian, On Mortality, 8).
Today the number one news item is the Corona Virus, or Covid-19, a respiratory disease initially picked up from animals. Authorities, media and specialists are all noting it is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent times, not since the Spanish Influenza after WWI, have we seen a pandemic quite like this (though it remains to be seen how severe its spread and effect will be). With globalization and modern media we’re witnessing its spread, and this in turn is stoking fear and concern. As such we need to be diligent to know the medical facts.
If public gatherings are suspended we may have to worship at home and I’ll preach through the internet and we’ll encourage one another through email or telephone or text. For now we can thank the Lord that this is not the case. We wait upon the Lord with each new day.
What should the Christian response be?
· respect the communications of the government and medical authorities
· though there were no such authorities in Roman days and so Christians bridged the gap in offering aid; today we must respect the authorities’ public restraints, yet also still find ways in which to minister compassionately in a crisis, perhaps by bringing food to quarantined homes; perhaps by joining Health Unit emergency teams and bringing Christ’s light this way, and certainly through prayer.
o We must not test the Lord by presuming that we, simply because we are Christians, will be exempt from the disease. We must still take reasonable precautions, like washing our hands, etc.
But the biggest way we can make a difference is not to worry, not to fear; it is by setting the example of faith. Fear reigns in the world, it has since the Fall. We are slaves to fear because we are slaves to sin and sin is to distrust God and be under His just sentence.
In his address Cyprian spoke to his congregation many helpful words on the subject of trust and assurance in the face of the plague, yet these words stand out:
Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. (Cyprian, On Mortality, 2).
He recognized the truth of passages like Romans 14:8. That if we are in Christ we have nothing to fear, not even death, because we have a proper biblical perspective of the subject and of the hope of the Gospel. As a result, even in the midst of the Cyprian Plague or Covid-19 we can bear witness to our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and the assurance that comes through believing in the Gospel and lead others to faith in Him by example of our resolute hope in the face of adversity and worldwide fear.
May the Lord increase our faith, for our good and His glory!
 Cyprian, On Mortality, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5., Treatise 7, p. 469. Online access: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050707.htm
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, they compassions they fail not:
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
God Never Changes
So opens the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It declares a central truth about God that He is the unchanging One, and as such He is dependable. Hebrews 13:10 says, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Humans Are Always Changing
While humans are created in the image of God and reflect His likeness in many ways, God’s unchanging nature is a characteristic that we do not share. Benjamin Franklin once said, “two things always stay the same, death and taxes!” Aside from these points in jest, we change and our circumstances change. Nothing stays the same. Our bodies change as we grow. Our circumstances change as we journey through life. We are always changing. While the rate and amount of change may be something we can or cannot easily process, or sometimes is necessary for survival, to deny change itself is to deny reality.
Change is a Normal Part of a Believer’s Life
Not only do we change as humans, if we are a follower of Jesus, change is the name of the game. The Gospel message itself is the power to change. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to sanctify us, to transform us, to make us more like Jesus. Following Jesus then is one big process of change. If we are not changing or are resistant to healthy and appropriate change, and willing to follow our Lord in faith into the future, then something is amiss.
A Tale of Two Seas
The Jordan River bubbles up at the foot of Mt. Hermon in the north of Israel. Tens of thousands of gallons of water burst to the surface every day. These waters flow south into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea. These two seas are complete opposites. One is filled with fish and life. That is because water is always entering and exiting it, it is changing, it is alive and vibrant. The other only ever receives and never gives and as a result of that and evaporation by the sun, it salinity is so high that nothing can live in it. That is why it is called the Dead Sea. May these two seas be a reminder to us: change is needed if we want to thrive as Christians and an unwillingness to embrace the change of the Gospel can spell only certain death.
May the Lord’s grace enable us to change, for our good and His glory.