There is an astonishing clarity, an epiphany even, that suffering and trials can bring to our lives. One writer likened it to smelling salts that can awaken us out our false beliefs. This means we are living in a time of tremendous opportunity, not because we are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic, but because this pandemic has the potential to awaken not just ourselves but the whole world to a reality we try desperately to not see—we are mortal.
In Psalm 90:12 Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Here we find Moses devoting, not just one verse, but an entire Psalm to a meditation and pray to have a deeper realisation of a topic we don’t even like to consider for one second. Maybe we’ve got it wrong and Moses has it right. Maybe we are avoiding and denying something we should be facing and embracing? In Timothy Keller’s book succinctly titled, On Death, he writes: “Medicine and science have relieved us of many causes of early death, and today the vast majority of people decline and die in hospitals and hospices, away from the eyes of others. It is normal now to live to adulthood and not watch anyone die, or even see a corpse except in the brief glance of an open coffin at funeral.” Maybe with all our modern advances we’ve removed from our lives any reminder of a part of life we desperately need to be reminded of; life ends, our lives will end, because we are mortal.
In our denial of death there is a paradox. We fear death because it can make life seem futile, but if we face our mortality we can live in a way that isn’t futile. Moses tells us recognising our mortality helps us “gain a heart of wisdom”. We discover in times like these that what we pursue to give life meaning is all to often completely insignificant when viewed from the limited days we live. Furthermore, the things we look to for security and reassurance are shown to be impotent when the reality of our mortality rises before our eyes. As Addison Leitch once said, “We’re all on a little ball of rock called Earth, and we’re spinning through space at millions of miles an hour. Someday a trapdoor is going to open up under every single one of us, and we will fall through it. And either there will be millions and millions of miles of nothing—or else there will be the everlasting arms of God.” At that moment our bank balances, community cred, and priceless possessions will count for nothing but in view of that moment considered now we are free then to live different lives until that moment comes. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
The other fear, and perhaps the bigger one, that prevents us from being comfortable numbering our days is simply the fear of death itself. It is the ultimate unknown which we all face. Thankfully, the Gospel frees us from this fear so that we can pray Moses’ prayer and gain the wisdom we so desperately need in order to live lives free from regret. In Hebrews 2:10, 14-15 we read, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” William Lane says the word translated “pioneer” really should be translated “champion”. So Jesus is our champion. He faced our greatest foe and conquered it. We no longer need to be enslaved to fear or any of his friends: panic, alarm, distress, anxiety, or worry. As free men and women we can accept and crazy enough, actually long for the reality of our mortality-death (Philippians 1:21-23).
As we take the bread and the wine let them be a reminder of our Champion Jesus. He has conquered death and freed us from Fear. And as people set free from fear let’s number our days and gain the wisdom that comes from that practice. Making choices each day to live a life that truly matters. Investing not in things of this life or the here and now but rather in the age to come. Living here and now not for ourselves but for others—just like our Champion.
Obey & Pray for Governing Authorities
Romans 13:1-5 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
1 Timothy 2:1-4 "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
One of the easiest ways we can all help “flatten the curve” (slow the spread of the virus) is to comply with government recommendations. Remember, we do this not in fear and self-preservation, but as an act of love to the vulnerable whom this sickness might kill.
Also, remember to pray for them as well as everyone else in the world. Our government leaders will make major decisions in the days, weeks, and months ahead that will have profound impact on all our lives. They need God’s help.
Meet the Needs Among us
Galatians 6:9-10 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
The Corona virus appears to discriminate. Children (praise God!) aren’t being affected nearly as much as the elderly. Further, healthy people will most likely be fine, while the immunocompromised, pregnant or those with chronic health conditions are at greater risk. If you have any needs please contact Jordan King (0404 000 913). He will coordinate with the uni students and young professionals who are eager to serve in whatever way they can. Over the next few months our lives will be filled with the inconvenience of canceling cherished events—but it so happens that self-sacrificial love is always inconvenient.
Love your Actual Neighbours
Luke 10:36-37 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In the summary of the Parable of the Good Samaritan we are charged to have mercy on those in need as a way to fulfil the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39). We’ve attached to this email a card you can print and give out to your neighbours. Cyprian, an Elder in Carthage, during the plague between AD 249- AD 262 urged the believers with the following: “There is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love, but that one might become perfect who should do something more than heathen men or publicans, one who, overcoming evil with good, and practicing a merciful kindness like that of God, should love his enemies as well. . . . Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
Serve the Healthcare Workers
Colossians 4:14 “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.”
There is little doubt that Luke must have helped Paul many times with his wounds from his frequent beatings and stoning’s, hence the use of the term of endearment “dear friend”. Paul clearly valued and honoured Luke for the service he provided as a Doctor & a disciple, we should do the same. Please remember to pray for and serve all those among us who work in the healthcare industry: Frans & Doret, Almayne, Pansey, Fiona, Pam, Jeab, Mia and Bunmi. Pam Lam will be helping to coordinate any help the above people may need during this time.
Hebrews 10:23-25 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Time and again, history has shown that our bodies don’t just need health; our souls need hope. The human capacity to endure in the harshest of circumstances is incredible—so long as there is hope. For Christians, this means reminding ourselves and one another that Jesus is our only hope in life and in death. Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties, and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means (call, text, fb message, skype, facetime, zoom, etc).
James 1:2–4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you
face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith
produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be
mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Now that is a challenging thought: we should consider it pure joy when we
face trials. No toilet paper? Pure joy! No work? Pure joy! Sick loved ones?
Pure joy?!?! That is hard teaching. Oh how I’ve missed James! Always direct
enough to defeat my defences. How do we get to where James reckons we
should be? How can we find that joy in the midst of trials?
As an introduction, consider “consider” (1:2). The word “consider” is literally:
“add it all up” . Maths back then was done a bit different than today. Today, 1
we say 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Back in James’ day 3= 1 + 1 + 1. So James isn’t saying
trials are in and of themselves pure joy. But he is saying that as his brothers
and sisters (by extension then Jesus’ brothers and sisters) there is a way we
can look at the trials of life and what happens during those times and then
come to a conclusion that fills our heart with pure joy. So let’s take a closer
look at James’ equation so we can get to the same place.
1. Trials Test our Faith
Congrats to the Smith family—they’ve got the most popular surname in
Australia (as well as in USA, UK and NZ). “The name comes from occupations
that work with metal such as goldsmiths, silversmiths and blacksmiths. The
type of furnace they use is called a forge or smithy, which is designed to reach
superheated temperatures to allow metals to hit their melting points.” The 2
word translated “test” by James has the same idea behind it, metals being put
into a furnace in order to be purified and shown to be genuine. If we are 3
honest with our selves, I think we all know our faith needs fiery trials.
Thankfully, Jesus is also a Smith. In Malachi 3 we have a great prophecy
about Jesus (as well as John the Baptist: compare Mal 3:1 with Matt 11:10).
Looking closer at verse 3-5 of Malachi 3 we find this description of Jesus:
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and
refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring
offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be
acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years." “So I will come
to put you on trial.” We need Jesus the Smith. Our faith can’t be increased , 4
but it can be purified.
So often our faith becomes polluted with lesser things: trusting in our health,
wealth, and prosperity. Ironically, in our current time of trial, it is our health
which has been shown to be weak, our wealth which has had the biggest one-
day plunge ever and our prosperous homes which have now become 5
temporary prisons. Trials expose how foolish it is to put our faith in anything
or anyone other than God. That’s why trials are often fertile ground for the
gospel to grow. As Amos 4:10 reminds us, God sends plagues in order to send
us back to Him. Let’s get our faith back in Him alone.
2. A Purified Faith Perseveres until Maturity
In our text James heavily emphasises the importance of perseverance: “the
testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature...”. For James, perseverance is the first product of
a purified faith and the ongoing character trait that moves us onto maturity. I
like the ESV translation here which is steadfastness rather than perseverance.
It brings to my mind the imagery of Jeremiah 17:7-8 “...blessed is the one who
trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted
by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat
comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and
never fails to bear fruit.” I love that image. No fear. No worries. And lots of
fruit. That’s what we can be like when our faith is purified. We can become
steadfast trees that no matter what the circumstances of life are like—heat or
drought—we stand steadfast. It is then we really begin to standout, as AW
Tozer once wrote: “A scared world needs a fearless church.”
James’ final point in our text is that when we begin to live that steadfast life,
with roots down deep into the stream, perseverance gets to work. Jesus, like
all good Smiths, knows that the fiery trials must continue until He sees His
own reflection in precious metals with which he works. This requires not just
steadfastness but the dreaded “s” word, submission: “Let perseverance finish
its work”. However, a purified faith that is persevering doesn’t need to shun
submission because “we know that in all things God works for the good of
those who love him” (Ro 8:28). Once again, AW Tozer provides a helpful
perspective: “While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes
there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”