Christian Living and Covid-19

March 20, 2020

Covid-19 has changed our lives. Most churches are cancelling their assemblies because of the CDC’s recommendation of not having a gathering of more than 10. These have been difficult decisions for church leaders. The kind of closings we are experiencing haven’t occurred since the Spanish Influenza of 1918. By the way, most church leaders closed church doors during that time, but they reminded Christians of the things we can continue to do. So let me remind you of the things we can do as we face this present crisis.

Christians Pray In Times of Crisis. Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2 ESV). Our leaders certainly need our prayers at a time like this. And we should remember our church leaders as they struggle with these issues as well.

I’ve read articles asking whether Covid-19 is the plague of Revelation. My short answer is no. My convictions about Revelation is that it is written about the persecutions of the early church by the Roman Empire, so that Revelation 1-19 is dealing with Roman persecution and the Fall of Rome.

My longer answer goes something like this. God did use natural disasters and armed conflict to punish nations. We see this in the prophets. But it would be presumptuous of me to say that this crisis is a punishment from God. You need a prophet to say that. But I think it is wise to use any calamity as a time to examine ourselves spiritually. I’ve been saying for decades that we need to pray for spiritual revival in our country. So whether this is sent from God or not, this is a good time to pray for revival, to pray for the spiritual condition of our country and our world.

A crisis brings a certain amount of anxiety into our lives. So let me remind you of a couple of passages.

“casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)

Scripture gives us prayer as an important way of dealing with worry. I don’t want to live a life of fear even now. Prayer and trusting in God’s providence is my way of dealing with life’s difficulties and this current crisis.

Christians Worship in Times of Crisis. We are facing a situation where many church buildings may closed for worship this Sunday all around our country due to Covid-19. But Christian worship is simple in what we do, and profound in what it means. So my hope is that families or a few people may get together and worship this Sunday minding the CDC’s recommendation about groups not larger than 10. I’ll miss the assembly, and I will want to get back to regular church life as soon as possible. But Christian worship scales down to where two or more are gathered in my name and scales up to the largest assemblies that we have. I think if a family has children, this will make a lasting impression on them. Christians always worship God. We worship God because he is worthy of worship. We can’t even let a pandemic stop our worship and praise to God.

Christians Serve in Times of Crisis. Christians always serve others, but a time of crisis may present additional opportunities. Our congregation is making certain that people who can’t get out at this time have food and supplies. We are also cooperating with Feeding America to offer special food pantry days to serve the community. You may be able to find such opportunities in your own life. You may know neighbors who are in the high risk category who need help.

I have multiple myeloma. I underwent a stem cell transplant where they kill your immune system with chemotherapy and then reboot it with your own stem cells. I tell you this, because I know what it is like to be quarantined. It’s bit lonely, and you feel a little stir-crazy. I think all of us may be feeling that in the coming days. I want to emphasize how important phone calls were to me while I was going through my quarantine. One way you may serve others is reaching out to them with a phone call. You may brighten someone’s day, and you may find out other ways you can serve them.

Christians serve, and Christians certainly serve in times of crisis. When we do, it makes our faith real to us and real to others.

May God be with you through this time of crisis.

— Russ Holden


The Petitions in Psalm 119

February 2, 2018

Getting beyond a few favorite verses from Psalm 119 is a matter of spending some time with the poem and asking some inductive questions. We learned something about the author in the last article. The author was a seeker, who meditated on God’s instructions, and stored it up in his heart. He had strayed from God but returned. He was younger and probably not in the elder class of society. And most importantly, we learn that the psalm comes out of a situation of distress.* These difficulties are the circumstances of the psalm, and we learn something about the author and about praying from examining his petitions to God.

The psalmist asks for understanding.

  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18, ESV)
  • Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (Psalm 119:66, ESV)
  • Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73, ESV)

We can’t grow in our understanding without searching God’s word, but God may answer this prayer by means of providence: teachers, books, articles, and conversations that help us. I’ve had people come out of a lesson and say I needed that. God may answer this with our sanctification so that we are more sensitive to God’s instructions as we mature.

The psalmist asks for help in living God’s instructions.

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Psalm 119:5, ESV)
  • Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:133, ESV)
  • Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37, ESV)

The psalmist asks to be a good example.

  • Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Psalm 119:79-80, ESV)

We are an example to someone, whether we like it or not. We’ve had professional athletes protest that they are not role models, and many of them shouldn’t be. However, the psalmist wants to be a good example, so that looking at his life would lead someone to know God’s instructions and the character of God.

The psalmist asks to be delivered out of his troubles.
We looked at the psalmist’s sufferings and trials last week. It is difficult to be detailed about them given space, but they are a major theme within Psalm 119.

  • Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me. My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. (Psalm 119:122-123, ESV)
  • According to your justice give me life… 119:149
  • Look on my affliction and deliver me… 119:153
    Deliver me 119:153

I’ve learned to pray by praying, but I’ve also learned to pray by listening to and reading the prayers of others. I’ve learned something about what to pray for as I listen to the petitions of Psalm 119.

*https://whiletoday.com/2018/01/25/meeting-the-author-of-psalm-119/


In Jesus’ Name

September 8, 2017

In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?

The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.

What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*

Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.

As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.

What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713


Handle with Prayer

March 10, 2017

Bills, sickness, bereavement, arguments, raising children, caring for elderly parents, pressures on the job, transfers — the pressures of life seem endless. Two modern observers have even developed a stress scale. If we score over 200 points in a given year, we are under a great deal of stress and may have difficulties. Their scale ranges from the death of a spouse, 100 points, to smaller things like surviving the Christmas holidays, 12 points.

It seems to me that Paul must have hit 200 stress points at times.

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23–28, ESV)

He not only had some calamitous things happen to him, but he also faced persecution for his faith.

Paul was no stranger to stress. When he wrote Philippians, he was under arrest (1:14). Some preached Christ to cause Paul problems (1:17). He faced his own death (1:20) as well as feeling opposition and suffering (1:28- 30). His friend had been sick and almost died (2:26-27). Doctrinal problems existed (3:2), and two friends disagreed (4:2). Paul’s words on handling anxiety came out of the crucible of real life.

Paul teaches us to stop being anxious by taking everything to God in prayer.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)

Paul could say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV). Paul could rely on spiritual resources to face the problems of life. He wasn’t just relying on his own strength.

Someone has also remarked, “There is nothing too great for God’s power; and nothing too small for His fatherly care.” Paul practiced this and discovered the peace of God which transcends all understanding. When we face the stresses of life, may we handle with prayer.


The Difference Is Faith

July 23, 2016

Complaining can become a lifestyle — always finding something wrong, always craving for the next desire, and never finding contentment. Daily needs met and blessings received aren’t considered. Such were some of the Israelites. They complained, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

They had been slaves and now were free. They had faced an army with chariots but were miraculous delivered through the sea. They had been thirsty and water was given to quench their thirst. They had been hungry, and God gave manna. They complained instead of asking God who gives good gifts. They treated God’s present blessings with contempt, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6, NIV)

Burdened by a complaining people, Moses prayed. He too complained, but to God who answers prayers. “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? …Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:11, 13 NIV) And the God who answers prayers gave the seventy elders to aid Moses in his burden.

God also promised meat for the people for an entire month. Moses states the situation, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22, NIV)

Moses’ implied question to God is, “ How?” God’s reply is not about how but who. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said.” (Number 11:24, NIV)

Moses who didn’t know how God was going to do it trusted God enough to tell a complaining people that they would have meat for a month in the middle of a wilderness. What’s the difference between the complaining people and the praying Moses? The difference is faith.


In Jesus’ Name

April 24, 2015

In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?

The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.

What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*

Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.

As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.

What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713


Prayer for the Persecutors

February 20, 2015

The image is arresting. Men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a beach in front of their captors. The captors are dressed in black and have swords. The headline reads: “21 Coptic Christians Beheaded by ISIS.”

As a Christian living in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, I’ve read about persecution in history. Now I’ve witnessed it in the 24 hour news cycle.1 Whatever prejudices we may have encountered as Christians in our country seem ever so slight in comparison.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a blessing to those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). Jesus says that such people should rejoice because their reward in heaven is great. Later in the same sermon, he instructs: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV).

What would that look like? Beshir, the brother of two men who were beheaded on that beach, was interviewed on television. His comments are thought provoking.

ISIS gave us more than they asked when they didn’t edit out the part where [the martyrs] declared their faith and called Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. . . . I thank ISIS because they didn’t cut the audio when they screamed, declaring their faith.”

Believe me when I tell you that the people here are happy and congratulating one another. They are not in a state of grief but congratulating one another for having so many from our village die as martyrs. We are proud of them!

Beshir was asked about the airstrikes against ISIS.

Since the Roman times, we as Christians have been targeted to be martyred. This only helps us to endure such crisis because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. However, the air strikes were a good response by the government.

Today I was having a chat with my mother …. I asked her, “What would you do if you see ISIS members walking down the street, and I told you that was the man who slayed your son?” She said, “I will ask for God to open his eyes and ask him into our house because he helped us enter the kingdom of God!”

On air, Beshir prayed this prayer: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.”2

1This is certainly not the first case of persecution in the news. For more information about persecution, see http://www.persecution.org.

2Anika Smith, “Brother of Egyptian Martyrs Prays for ISIS,”
https://stream.org/brother-egyptian-martyrs-prays-isis/