Friday, April 17, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Faith-fullness involves Trust (Episode 5)

When churches suspended their weekly brick and mortar meetings, I decided to take some time to address online what it looks like for the church to be the church in times like this. Thus, The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's Facebook page several weeks ago; since then, I have had some thoughtful conversations sparked by some of the issues I addressed. Because of that - and because I like wrestling with important ideas - each post is going to follow this format:
  • Video
  • Transcript
  • Reflections
The beautiful thing about the reflections part is that I can constantly update it, so the conversation can continue! You are welcome to offer helpful comments in the comment section and be a part of this conversation/archival record (as local and modest as it is).

(Read and Watch Episode 1: Introduction)
(Read and Watch Episode 2:Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Read and Watch Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Read and Watch Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others)
(Watch and Read Episode 6: Faith-fullness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Read and Watch Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Read and Watch Episode 8: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Read and Watch Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Read and Watch Episode 12: Is COVID -19 A Judgment From God)
(Read and Watch Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 14: Dear American Christian)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)

Episode 5: Faithfulness Involves Trust



I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about what faith looks like right now. Do faith-filled Christians close their churches or keep them open? Do they do social distancing, or is that giving in to fear and not trusting God? Is claiming power over the virus a faith filled proclamation or a faith-foolish one? I AM HERE TO ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS.

Just kidding. These short videos can only cover so much ground. This means I am going to talk in principles that reflect the breadth of the biblical discussion and include the reality of church history. If this fails to answer all of your questions, you are just going to have to pick up your Bible and keep going on your own ☺

I’m going to talk about faith in the time of the virus, but I’ve got to lay the foundation before I build on it.

Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing the words of Jesus about Jesus. Faith is what we get when God has so convinced us He is right in what He has to say about, well, everything, that we reorder our lives to follow him. Notice it’s what we get when God has convinced us, not when we’ve done something for which we should be applauded. It’s a gift (Ephesians 2:8-10) and God distributes it as He measures ( Romans 12:3).  As Tim Keller says, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”

I think Charles Spurgeon has some street cred in Christian circles, some I’m going to stand on the shoulders of this giant for a moment.

"Is it needful for me to remind you that as faith at first is the work of the Holy Spirit, so must any real growth in it be of divine operation? Any addition to faith which could come to you by or from the flesh, if such a thing were supposable, would be an adulteration of faith, and not an increase of it; for evermore that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Even if an increase of faith could come to us by the will of man, and not by divine working, it would not be worth the having, for it would be a counterfeit. Only the sap of the trunk can make the branch grow; he who gave thee faith at the first must give thee more faith if thou art to become strong in it."

As you read what the Bible says about and faith – and I encourage you to take this time of isolation to study on your own  -  three things become clear: faith is a gift (1) that results in trust (2) and manifests as humility and obedience (3). Faith is trust that brings humble obedience.

For the rest of this episode, I’m going to talk about trust. We’ll save the humble obedience part for next episode.
Faith is “trust without reservation.” (Elton Trueblood) 
 “If God be worthy of trust, he is worthy of abundant trust; if it be well to lean on him at all it must be well to lean hard…if the gospel be a lie, deny it, but if it be a truth, believe it.” (Charles Spurgeon)

When the Bible talks about unwavering faith, it’s not talking about emotions or feelings. It’s talking about a commitment to the truth and the person on whom we have built the foundation of our lives.

  • Do I believe God is sovereign, present, good, faithful and loving, that God incarnate in the person of Jesus, that God’s sovereignty is good, just, and merciful; that God hears my prayer, and that God will answer from the storehouse of His wisdom and not mine? Yes. 
  • Am I praying to or worshipping other gods even when I am scared or I doubt? No. I’m with Jesus. Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.
  • Do I believe God can heal whomever He chooses to heal - physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually - and that includes healing people of this virus? Yes. He did it in the Bible; he’s done it throughout history.
  • Do I genuinely believe that He may give or take away? Yes. He did it in the Bible; he’s done it throughout history. 
  • Do I believe that the God who parted a sea and shut the mouths of lions and saved three men in a furnace can keep me safe as I walk into the jaws of a plague? Of course. 
  • Do I know he will save me? No, no I don’t. Ask the martyrs in the Middle East who were burned alive. Ask the first century martyrs who were torn apart by lions. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. John Donne wrote in the time of the plague, 'Preserve our souls, O Lord, because they belong to thee; and preserve our bodies, because they belong to those souls.. enlarge thy providence towards us, so far, that no Fever in the body, may shake the soul, no convulsions in the body, dampen or benumb the soul, nor any pain, or agony of the body, foreshadow future torments to the soul. But so make thou our bed in all our sickness, that being used to thy hand, we may be content with any bed of thy making.' --John Donne
  • The first century Letter to Diognetus says, “ Don't you see them exposed to wild beasts for the purpose of persuading them to deny the Lord, yet they are not overcome? Don't you see that the more of them that are punished, the greater the number of the rest becomes? This does not seem to be the work of man. This is the power of God... Then shall you admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and you shall count them happy when you understand that fire.”

Faith is filled with trust in the God of the circumstances, not the outcome of the circumstances.

That’s the background.

Let’s talk about the “trust” part of faith in the time of the virus.

A mega-church pastor in Florida was arrested today because he keeps gathering his very large congregation, in spite of how church gatherings have been shown to be hot spots for the spread of the coronavirus. A church gathering in France in February was linked to 2,500 cases. To the pastor i Florida (and many other pastors in open churches), having faith apparently meant trusting that God would keep them all safe from the disease, or if they got it, that God would heal them of it. He was wrong. (Note: since I recorded this, I have read three stories of pastors in the United States who have died after claiming the virus couldn't touch them and holding church services.)

As noted in a previous episode, Martin Luther called the process of ignoring common sense “tempting God.” The Apostle Paul was healed from a snake bite, but he didn’t start planning church services in a snake pit. Fast forward 2,000 years. Most of us - I hope all of us - think snake-handling churches are a bad idea. Why? Because you didn’t have to be around the snakes. In the same way, why would I invite the coronavirus into a church? Why invite death into a place of life? And now it’s not just about me offering my hand to a snake; it’s about taking a snake home that may well slither over to my neighbor.

It’s one thing to trust God for my own health; it’s another to drag my neighbor into the experiment. It’s one thing to be forced into a deadly situation. It’s quite another to create the situation. If my parachute doesn’t open, I’m praying for a miracle with all my might. If I jump without a parachute, I am a fool.

For individuals, faith involves trust that God is good, sovereign and near in every circumstance into which we are called, and no matter the outcome to us.

Might I suggest that an act of faith or trust right now for churches is believing that the God who built his church will keep his church financially and relationally, so that when this is over, we gather rather than scatter; we readjust to a Sunday morning routine in a building after getting to sleep in; we surrender ourselves to the hard work of community after getting to separate ourselves from all those difficult people that sit next to us.

Frankly, for pastors - and I am one, and I don’t mean this as a pat on my back, I thinks it’s what this situation has forced all pastors into -  it takes a lot of faith ( read “trust”) to cancel church meetings. We have to trust God will provide financially so we can pay our bills, and that includes our salaries. Trust me. No pastor was excited about stopping services.

We have to trust that God will re-gather a socially distanced church that just might get used to having Sundays at home. We build new routines fast; watching a live stream in my jammies with a large cup of coffee and a plate full of bacon and eggs on Sundays, and count that as church? That’s a hard habit to break. We have to trust that our congregants will find out how good other area pastors are if they see their live stream – and still come back. We wonder if we will lose whatever momentum we were feeling as a church. We’re pretty sure we are not meeting everyone’s needs at a distance, but this is new territory, so we're not sure.

In the midst of all this, God asks, “Do you trust me? Are yours eyes on me or on the virus? Do you believe all the things you have said about me for all these years? AM I GOOD…. And will you trust me even if….”

The future is unknown, so I don’t know what’s coming for each of us. But I do know this. Before COVID19, God was faithful. In the future, whenever this current crisis is behind us, God will be faithful. Even today, in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty, God is faithful. Our circumstances change, but he does not. Put your trust in him, not in what you think he will do.


It breaks my heart to read that pastors are dying because they think they can't get sick, and so (to use Luther's words) they tempt God. Their families and their congregations will never be the same. Frankly, the faith of some will be shipwrecked because it will appear to many that either a) their pastor lacked faith, or b) God failed. There is a third option, of course: God and God's ways have been tragically misrepresented in the theological ecosystem in which these pastors were apparently raised.

I believe in miracles and that they still happen today. I believe that God supernaturally protects his people: see Daniel and the lions, Paul and the snake, the fiery furnace...the list goes on.  The Bible clearly shows what God can do. I suspect there is a reason those stories stand out in the biblical record. They are not the norm. The fiery furnace didn't work in Babylon; it sure worked for Nero in the first century when he burned Christians alive for sport. It worked for ISIS just last year. The miraculous stories are reminders that God is bigger than any circumstance, which is a reminder that He conquered death, and so even our death is not the end. The biblical stories are not promises about how every single circumstance for every Christian will end. God will protect whom God will protect. If we die, we gain (Philippians 1:21). Though life with Christ (and with His image bearers) is fantastic, death is leveling up - way up. Is this not the promise of Scripture and the consistent historical testimony of the church?

I will talk later about how Charles Spurgeon was miraculously protected during the plague - while his congregation was decimated. Did they lack faith? Did God not see them? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

Paul makes clear in Romans 8 that we will face all kinds of trials; the promise is that none of them can separate us from God's love.

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