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/


What Is Biblical Meditation?

February 9, 2015

In popular culture meditation is a relaxation technique. You usually close your eyes and attempt to slow down your breathing and breathe more deeply. Then you may imagine the parts of your body relaxing one by one starting with your feet and going up to your head. Such methods do help a person to relax, although I would provide two cautions. Our minds are not meant to be empty for long. The old adage — idle hands are the devil’s workshop — is applicable to our thoughts as well. Further, relaxation doesn’t dispense with our need to pray and so “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV).This relaxation technique may at times be helpful, but it is not biblical meditation.

Biblical meditation is a reflection or contemplation on something and not an emptying of our minds of thoughts. The noun or verb occurs 30 times in the New King James Version. Other translations may have fewer occurrences but may use synonyms like muse, ponder, and think.

The righteous meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 4:4 instructs: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalms 4:4, NKJV). Although the psalm is not explicit, it would seem that we are to ponder our relationships and how we will handle them in the light of God’s will. Meditation may be on God’s character (Psalm 63:6) or his dealings with his people. Paul instructs us to meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or are of good report (Philippians 4:8).

Meditation in Eastern religions has to do with their world-views. In Hinduism, the world is an illusion. Buddhism views desire as the problem to be extinguished. The following chart provides a helpful comparison.

Biblical Meditation Eastern Meditation
The goal is to fill the mind with good things. The goal is to empty the mind.
The goal is personal responsibility before God. The goal is the loss of the individual self (which is viewed as an illusion in Hinduism) or the loss of desire (Buddhism).
The goal is to draw near to the personal God. The goal is merging with impersonal cosmic oneness (Hinduism) or the extinction of desire (reach Nirvana in Buddhism).
The goal is withdrawal for reflection so that we might act properly in life. The goal is detachment from life.

Biblical meditation is closely related to prayer and scripture reading. It is the filling of our minds with thoughts on God and his will for us.


A Seriously Funny Story

February 8, 2013

It was a serious story told with a sense of humor. For the serious part, Peter was held in prison about to be executed by Herod Agrippa I. Security was tight. Herod had four squads of four soldiers each to take turns guarding Peter around the clock. Peter was in prison bound with chains sleeping between two guards, when an angel appeared. The chains fell from his hands. The angel instructed him to get dressed, put on his sandals, and follow him.

Peter thought he was seeing a vision. They passed by the first guard, then the second guard, and finally they were to the iron gate leading to the city. The gate opened for them automatically. When the angel left him, Peter realized that he had really been through a most unusual prison break. It was a humorous realization, but a serious situation to be on the run from Herod Agrippa and his soldiers.

Remaining free was also serous business, but the story continues with some humor. Peter went to the house of Mary. The servant girl, Rhoda, was so excited by Peter’s arrival, she left him standing in the street! So much for trying to remain out of the sight of the authorities. The people inside praying for Peter’s release were convinced that Rhoda had it wrong. “It is his angel,” they said. While all of this was going on, Peter continued to knock. When Peter was finally admitted to the prayer gathering, “they saw him and were amazed.”

We read the account and wonder: why didn’t they believe what they had been praying for had come true? They knew the reality of prayer is that we don’t always receive what we pray for. God is not a cosmic vending machine: insert earnest prayer and the requested answer immediately dispensed. The Apostle James had already been executed by Herod Agrippa. No doubt this same group had earnestly prayed for him. God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we would choose.

Their faith is seen in praying even up to the eleventh hour. (God’s rescue of Peter was just in time delivery.) They did not doubt the importance of prayer even if they had an initial surprise of Peter actually being at the door. They did not doubt the importance of prayer even if previous prayers had not been answered in the way they wished.

We must pray in the same way. God has invited us to ask and to intercede for others. But this is a relationship, not magic. We trust that the heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts. We trust even when the answer is what we don’t want. God will grant the strength to cope. Luke could tell this story with good humor, because he trusted the God who is in ultimate control of history.


He Knows Our Needs

October 12, 2012

Our daughter, Becky, was sick with a cold. She was only five years old at the time. Her coughs had made for a couple of difficult nights, so it wasn’t surprising when she came to her Mom and asked, “Can I have my medicine?”

She was promptly given a good dose of cough syrup. She played for several hours, but came back with the same request, “Can I have my medicine?” Out came the cough syrup, and the dose was repeated.

Later in the day, with the kind of thoughtful reflection that only children can make, she said to her Mom, “Mom, I really wanted those animal-shaped pills.” Becky had spent the day trying to get an animal-shaped vitamin, but was receiving cough syrup instead.

Jesus used the experiences between children and parents to illustrate our requests to God in prayer.

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV).

Parents try to give what is good, how much more does God give good gifts. But as Becky learned, sometimes human parents have difficulty understanding our requests. We need not have that fear with God. We have some great assurances that God knows our true needs.

When Jesus taught on prayer, arguing against the empty babbling of the pagans, he assures us “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). That is not to argue against praying frequently and fervently, on the contrary! It is to give us confidence that God truly understands.

Paul’s teaching on the Spirit should also give us the same confidence:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)

The “helps” is suggestive. This Greek word means “to help by joining in an activity or effort.” The same word occurs in Luke 5:7 where Simon’s fishing partners come “help” with the miraculous catch of fish in the other boat. For example, picture someone helping you carry furniture. The Spirit doesn’t pray for me. That would be like the helper carrying the furniture by himself. He intercedes with me. I may not always know what to pray for, or how to express myself. Some of the things I may ask for might even harm me, if given. But my Heavenly Father knows my true needs. May we pray without ceasing.