Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
— Peter the Apostle, 2 Peter 3:14
In my first post on COVID, I looked at the power of the COVID crisis to reveal what was previously hidden: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ co-opted and compromised with a secular and political agenda.
Not only has our larger culture erupted in factions and strife, but God’s people have too.
That is a wide generalization, and there are exceptions. But I see it as a serious betrayal of our calling and character.
If some of us stay on this course, the church is in danger of being a barren waste. I now battle each day to resist this in myself and others. It is a hard battle. The noise of strife is very loud. Prayer and meditation on Scripture must be louder.
But what is the alternative? Post 2 offered an outline of the narrative and purpose of God in Christ for us.
God is at work in this global crisis. The work he is doing is not in the headlines. Someday we will look back with wonder at the ways God advanced his redemptive purpose while the world was preoccupied with a virus, racial tensions, and a national election. God will bear great fruit for his kingdom.
You may ask, What is God doing? How do we cooperate? That is what the next few posts will be about.
God gives wisdom to ordinary followers of Christ. That wisdom often comes wrapped in homespun. Years ago, homespun wisdom changed a few lives.
I was in a group discussion about problems in the church and society. Come to think about it, the problems then were exactly the same as the ones now, just quieter. After an hour of debate and contention, an older man quipped, “You all spend so much time chasing crows, you never plant the corn.” That simple observation redirected the group and changed how I, at least, think about ministry. Problem focused people do not live fruitful lives.
To change the analogy, the best defense is a good offense. If all we do is attack weeds, our lives and churches will be barren wastes. There is no nourishment in strife.
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Planting the Corn
The epistle of Jude (short, dense, and parked just before the Book of Revelation) is a useful but neglected guide for life in troubling times. With bold metaphor, Jude paints the reality of a troubled church. Divisive people twist truth to form factions. Wicked people cover their evil with an appearance of virtue. They worm their way into the life of God’s people. It’s a hot mess. Are the Christians to become preoccupied with the problems?
Jude offers two words of divine counsel. First, he assures them that no one will get away with anything. God will bring judgment. It is inescapable.
Second, he tells them not to chase the crows, but to plant the corn. He calls them to fruitfulness. Notice what I have underlined.
They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 18-21
Let me paraphrase: “Get your eyes off the noisy, the threatening, the problem causers. Fill your lives with good fruit, so the weeds have no room to grow.”
Build up, don’t tear down
To build up is to strengthen. It means we cultivate, nurture, feed, weed, and fertilize. Posting the latest screed on hydrochloraquine does not do that. Raising objections to masks or calling someone a covididiot does not do that. Defending Trump or calling all white people racists does not do that.
We build each other up with the Scriptures. When we use the Word of God to remind us of God’s rule and wisdom, of his faithfulness, and of his great redemption — then we build each other up. When we help each other with fears and anger and confusion by the wise use of Scripture, we build each other up. If what I say or post does not nurture faith, hope, and love — perhaps it best be left unsaid.
Let’s stop conversations that do not build up.
Pray in the Spirit
Prayer is an expression of two things. First, we depend upon our God. When we pray we are exercising faith in him, laboring to trust him. It is difficult to be fussing and angry when we pray in the Spirit. Second, we pray because God hears. Our prayers reveal that we are convinced that we are not the solution but God is. So we believe his promises and we pray.
Can we determine to pray about everything before we talk about anything? Tell God your frustrations with the media, the fears you have for the election, the confusion of the experts, the sense that you are not being told the truth, the anxiety you have for yourself and your family. Then pray again. Don’t post that article you found that proves once for all that masks are not needed. Pray. Then build up.
Keep focused on love of God
Noisy and contentious times draw us away from remembering that we are beloved of God. We are beloved because the Father has redeemed us through the death of the Son. He adopts us as his sons and daughters in the Eternal Son. His thoughts toward us are only for our good. He will turn all this chaos and strife to our good and the advance of the Gospel. God’s love answers my anger, my fears, my frustrations, and my concern about paying bills. Keep focused on his love for you in Christ. If God did not spare his own Son but freely gave him up for you, how will be not with him give you all things?
Live in his love. Help others live in his love. Help others discover his love for the first time.
Stay in God’s storyline
What are you anticipating? My guess is you anticipate bad things or good things. The bad things may be political (Trump will win, Biden will win), constitutional (the church will lose her freedom), economic (we will take years to recover), or the disease (we will not be able to return to normal for years). The good things may be an optimism that “this too shall pass.” We will get back to normal.
Jude says there is one reality we should anticipate: the certain and saving mercy of Jesus Christ which will keep us to the end. I need his mercy. People around me need his mercy. I am called to show his mercy to others (Jude 22-23).
Everyday, every hour, cultivate your life into fruitfulness
On the other side of this crisis, we may look at churches and families wasted by strife and factions. Friendships could be torn by our allegiance to factions and finding ourselves fighting each other over masks and models and lockdowns. That would be because we spend too much energy chasing crows.
Or, we may find our families, relationships, and churches thick with love because we built each other up. Our congregations could know a deeper unity fought for despite our differences. There could be new Christians who came to faith because we spoke of the love of God and lived in the love of God. There could be testimonies to answered prayer. A field of fruit will come from a determination to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit by trusting God.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”