Disinfecting Fear

Disinfecting Fear

These are probably the two most common activities in our world today. Everybody’s disinfecting. And most people are afraid. Where has that got us? To a Sunday like a today. What a crazy week! Just this week all travel from Europe was cancelled. The stock market lost trillions of dollars in value. The President declared a national emergency on COVID-19. The governor of Indiana mandated no gatherings of 250 or more. Bethel Church is forgoing our normal eight worship services for a morning of livestream. And tomorrow, who knows? There is a lot of disinfecting and there is a lot of fear. It’s much easier to wash your hands than to wash your heart, wash your fear. Let’s talk about how to disinfect fear.

How to Know God’s Will

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Wisdom on the Street Level of Life

Wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to discern the best choice for the best outcome. C.S. Lewis called this “sanctified common sense.” There are entire books of the Bible called wisdom literature, Proverbs most notably. Practical Christian living. Christian wisdom has different outcomes in view than worldly wisdom. In the world, decisions are made by what will make me the most money, most famous, most powerful, most whatever. For the Christian, the wisest way to live is in the way that pleases God the most and brings him glory.

God has so ordered the world that all human beings live in the midst of three circles of God’s will (see diagram below):

The largest circle represents God’s eternal or sovereign will, the next largest circle represents God’s revealed will, and the innermost circle represents God’s wisdom.

Why is this important? Because often people say, I want to know God’s will for my life. Great! Read the Bible. No, I mean, I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what God’s will is. Which will do you mean? Certainly not his secret will; you will never know that. Do you mean his revealed will? Maybe.

Let’s say a woman is considering marrying a guy. I’ve had this conversation many times. Pastor Steve, I’m in love. OK. Tell me about him. Well, he likes cats and he’s great with kids. We like so many of the same movies and we can talk for hours. Nothing you have said so far is important. Susie, is he a growing Christian? I don’t know. We haven’t talked about that. Really? Now I’m concerned about your priorities AND his. Why? It’s never God’s will for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. The Bible makes that clear. If he is a Christian, now this becomes a wisdom decision. Bill may love cats but hasn’t held a job in 10 years. He may love cats, but he despises your sister. Or your family despises him. Or worse, maybe he’s a Packer fan…. There are lots of deal-breakers out there. Within God’s revealed will and parameters, who you marry is a wisdom decision. Once you marry them, you have fulfilled God’s sovereign will.

Pastor Steve, so there isn’t one soulmate out there for me? My one true love? Nope. There are hundreds of thousands of potential spouses who are within God’s will. Do they love Jesus and want to be a biblical husband or wife? If yes, now it’s a question of which one you want to marry. For this, we need God’s wisdom. Did you know God encourages us to ask for it?

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). That is a great prayer when making decisions, God I lack wisdom here. Would you please give it to me? Incline my heart toward what would be most pleasing to you.

How do I find God’s will? Ask, does God’s Word give definitive direction in this? If yes, case closed. You don’t have to think about it. Does God’s Word give direction in principle? While it may not be clearly yes or no, the application of a biblical truth can be helpful. This is what Paul does in much of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthian Church was confused about many things including whether to take a fellow Christian to court or if Christians could eat meat offered to idols. Paul takes a truth like love your fellow brother and applies it to whether Christians can sue each other. In cases where God’s Word is not entirely clear, we must objectively apply the clear truths to the less-than-clear situations.

But what if there is no clear biblical teaching that either prohibits or requires something or principled application that gives direction for God’s will? Within that freedom we can make some really stupid decisions. I know; I have made them. So just because God’s revealed will allows it, doesn’t mean it’s best. Immature Christians struggle with that distinction. They want to ask, “Can I?” The right question is, “Should I?”

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Be Constant in Prayer

“Be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12 ESV).

In

When you bring up prayer or suggest prayer, there’s lots of talk about prayer. People will talk about prayer, perhaps brag about their prayers, but not actually be IN prayer. An observation about many prayer gatherings is that there is way more sharing of prayer requests than there is praying about prayer requests. Oh, look at the time, we’d better pray….

Every Day is Sunday

Living Sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1 ESV, emphasis added)

“Living” is what stands out here. Why? Because there were hundreds of thousands of Old Testament sacrifices. What was true of all of them? They were all dead. To be a sacrifice required that you die. This is why in the history of sacrifices—all the lambs and all the goats and all the cattle—there was only one sacrifice that was made willingly: Jesus.

Life in Harmony

“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10–11 ESV)

Two Difficult Truths as Seen in the Book of Jonah

God often delights to save people we dislike and disagree with

Apparently, Jonah was a pretty good theologian. What can we say about the Assyrians? Their religion was pure paganism. We would expect a revival like this to happen in Jerusalem, where the Torah was taught and known. Theologically, there could be no more different people on the planet from Jonah than the Assyrians. Yet God delighted to bring revival to Nineveh.

If you are a Republican, how would you feel about a massive revival at the Democratic National Convention this summer? Or if you are a Democrat, what if God chose to work in a powerful revival at the Republican National Convention? If you are a Bears fan, what if revival broke out at Lambeau field? Now pastor, we draw the line there! Here’s what’s true:

God often delights to save people different from us

The Beauty of God’s Design for Human Gender

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

Love the hurting

We have a saying around Bethel, if we have to err on any side let’s err on the side of love. I personally think this has great application with people struggling not just with gender but same-sex attraction or the brokenness of past gender/sexual sin.

Should we refer to a transgendered individual by their preferred gender pronoun? Personally, I think we should. There is the air war here and the ground war. The air war is the big ideological/theological/cultural/political battle for which Christians must be courageous and stand for truth. We will increasingly be the minority saying, there are two genders. Someday that may get you jailed.

But the person you work with or live next to or meet in church is not a global ideologue. They are simply a person living their life. Not all struggle, but many do. One study says that after a sex change operation an individual is 20 times more likely to commit suicide. Real people are really hurting.

Your relationship with them is not a battleground, it’s a relationship. I would recommend calling them by whatever they would like to be called. Refusing to do so will tell them you reject them at the personal place of their self-identity. Take a deep breath. It will be OK.

Glory in the Manger

Glory in the Manger

Like anything that involves a baby, the focus here isn’t the angels, the shepherds, even Mary and Joseph; all our attention should be on this baby.

“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:16–17)

We are told surprisingly little. No height or weight given. No color of eyes or hair. We know Mary and Joseph are there. That’s to be expected. Parents of newborns, especially firstborns, are very attentive to the child. Other than that, all we have is his crib; a manger. As you may know, this was a feeding trough for animals. It was not exactly the most hygienically clean spot for a baby. For how many years had this feeding trough had the rather gross experience of feeding animals?

When we go to the orchard or petting zoo, my girls want to feed the goats or whatever. One second after they’re done, we are slathering on the anti-bacterial soap. We use words like “icky” to describe the licking tongues of goats and cows. There, in that icky place, lay the Creator of the universe. The Lord of glory. In that icky place,

  • He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
  • He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15–17)

Did the shepherds adequately realize who he was? They couldn’t, and he is far greater than we begin to realize too. But the little they did understand produced praise and glory to God that made its way into Scripture and has been talked about now for 2,000 years.

Isn’t this the marvel of Christmas? That one so glorious, powerful—the infinite God—is now in creation, in human flesh, and of all places on earth, in a goat-feeding manger? We humans can’t grasp such glory in a normal looking baby. Before Jesus, artists’ rendering of Roman or Greek gods would include a halo over their head. This signified glory or deity. Wrongly of course, but artists and painters for centuries used that same technique over the head of Jesus even as a baby. At his birth, the only glory light was out in the fields when the angels appeared. Do you know what Jesus looked like in that manger? He looked like a normal baby. There was no glory light filling the stable. There was no halo over his head. And yes, despite what the song says, he cried. He needed a diaper. He was as normal as normal could be.

AND he was simultaneously upholding the galaxies by his power and might.

We are more comfortable with that in the adult Jesus because we see him silencing the storm and raising the dead. But the baby Jesus was every bit as much omnipotent God as the Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb.

Here is the true glory in the manger. Not a light show. Not a song. Not angels. Not shepherds. The glory in the manger was WHO he is.

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail the incarnate deity.”[1]

The One who deserved glory in the highest had taken the position of the lowest. The angels say, Glory to God in the highest. When we understand Christmas we sing, Glory to God in the lowest.[2] And down in that place of humility Jesus brings hope to humanity. Who is lower and weaker than a baby in a feeding trough?

Where are you? What’s your place? What’s your social standing? We have people across the spectrum, the rich and poor, the influential and the not, the high and mighty and the low and not so mighty. Why did Jesus start in the lowest place? Invite the shepherds? Cry his first cry in such a humble and forgettable place? Place his precious head on the hay of horses? So that none of us need question if Jesus came for me.

There’s no light. No angels. No song. No trumpets. No throne. No sea of glass. No seraphim chanting Holy, Holy, Holy. None of the accoutrements to Jesus’ true identity.

But there was divine glory in that manger. Cloaked in a baby. Hidden from human eyes. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Friend, today, do you see his glory? Can you believe in his mission? Can you trust in his eventual death on the cross for our sins? Is he your Savior?

Last Sunday I met a man whose wife had prayed for him for many, many years. God had touched his heart and he came and shared with me that now he is a Christian. I smiled and said, “your first Christmas as a Christian.” What a joy. The first Christmas seeing glory in the manger.

For many of us, it’s not our first Christmas. What should we do? Take our cues from the first Christmas. The angels? Adoration. The Shepherds? Amazement. Mary? Treasured these things. Adoration. Amazement. And a sense of wonder and glory that treasures Jesus’ birth as true glory in the manger.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” 1739.

[2] See Glen Scrivener, “Glory to God in the Highest,” www.thegospelcoalition.org, December 11, 2019.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here