Blog

Seek First the Kingdom of God

At first glance, the title of this post would seem a bit strange for an article written about worry and anxiety. One may think, “What does the kingdom have to do with my current daily struggle and fear?” Another might say, “That sounds great but how does ‘kingdom-seeking’ put food on my table?” These are legitimate cares and concerns for many right now. 


Matthew 5-7 are what many refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” In these chapters, Christ is addressing the crowds that were gathered around him to hear His teaching (Matt. 5:1-2). His popularity was growing and many were interested in what this “Rabbi” had to say. One of the topics that Christ addressed in His sermon was anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34). In these verses, there are at least three takeaways for us as we seek to find victory over our fear and anxiety in this present time.


Don’t Be Anxious


This phrase is repeated three times in verses 25-34. In these verses, Christ provides supportive reasons as to why one should not be anxious. Before these reasons are addressed, it would be wise for us to stop and consider these three words, _“Don’t be anxious.” _How is this even possible? How is one not to be anxious when they are locked in their house all day long? How are they to put away worry when they don’t know how the bills will be payed next week? How can they possibly not worry when they won’t have a job next month? These are real struggles and questions that are on many hearts. 


Before me move on to the answer Jesus gives as to how someone can actually live out this command, we need to remember the word of the LORD to Abraham in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”. The God who commands, “Don’t be anxious,” is the God who gives the grace to obey this command. He is all powerful. He is all good! Nothing is too hard for Him. 


God’s Care for His Creation


As Christ commands his followers with the words, “Don’t be anxious,” He reminds them of His repeated provision for His creation. This is meant to encourage His disciples. He reminds them, in verse 26, that He provides food for the birds of the air. He reassures His followers that they are worth so much more than the birds; therefore, God will provide for them also.


Christ goes on to ask a pointed question that is meant to stir the hearts of those listening to him. In verse 27, He says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In a basic sense, Christ was getting the point across that He is in control, man is not, and worry does nothing to change this. He does not make this point to discourage his listeners, because He goes on to assure them of His love in verses 28-30 by directing their focus to His care for His creation. 


Then, in verse 32, Christ summarizes His words to His listeners by reminding them that their Heavenly Father knows everything that they need. God is fully aware of the fact that you need to eat. Your Heavenly Father knows that you need clothes, nourishment, and shelter. At certain times, He may be calling His children to endure struggle, heartache, and pain, but He knows their needs. He assures them that He will take care of them. Knowing this truth, we can then live out God’s command in verse 33. 


Seek First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness


What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? What does “kingdom-seeking” have to do with your current struggle or trial? R. Kent Hughes answers this well when he says:

…we are to be in a continual quest for God’s kingdom and God’s

righteousness. When you and I do this, our focus is no longer on what we wear,

eat, and drink, and we are thus liberated from the blight of anxiety. If we

constantly seek him, there will be no room for lesser matters. If we seek his

kingdom and his righteousness, the cares of the day will flee.


God’s kingdom is not here, yet, in it’s totality. It is a kingdom to come. But those who have been born again by the Spirit of God are citizens of that kingdom…now. Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven…”. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Throughout the New Testament, we see that Christians are an expectant people. We await a Savior and a kingdom where that Savior, Jesus Christ, will reign forever. 


But although we await a future kingdom, we are citizens of that kingdom now (although “out of country”). As Jesus declares to us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is telling us to live our lives, in our current context, as citizens of His kingdom. Citizens of Christ’s kingdom do not worry and become anxious over things such as food, clothes, and life circumstances, because they know that their King reigns over all. He loves them. He provides for them. 


Conclusion


In conclusion, what does Matthew 6:25-34 have to teach us during this current trial? It carries us above the worry and fear of the present circumstances to hear our Savior King say, “Live as those with a greater calling than food and clothing.” So we seek His kingdom as we trust His gracious and loving hand to provide. If He cares about the birds and plants enough to provide for them, how much more will He care for His redeemed and blood-bought saints whom He purchased with His own blood?


Read more
Songs in a Pandemic – Part 4, Is He Worthy?

(This is a continuing series of posts regarding how Christians deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, using the medium of music to interact with the topic of Christian perspective. See Part 1Part 2, & Part 3)


Today is day 61 of the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa. Two months. Cases are continuing to rise here with no end in sight. Most are saying that our peak is still four months away. And South Africa has thus far been spared the worst. Worldwide, as of today, there have been almost 5.5 million cases of the novel coronavirus, with nearly 550,000 deaths. I know of no country on earth that is not affected in some way. From Aruba to Zimbabwe; from the largest country by land mass, Russia, to the tiniest of micro-states, Vatican City; from the most populous, China, to the one of the least, San Marino; from the richest, the United States and Europe, to the poorest, Somalia and Haiti; from the most crowded, Bangladesh, to the most sparse, Mongolia; from the massive metropolis of Tokyo to the empty steppes of Kazakhstan; from the deserts of Iran to the mountains of Switzerland; from the coasts of America to the Australian outback; from the rainforests of Brazil to the islands of Indonesia; and of course closer to home, from the teeming cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, to the idyllic Garden Route: the COVID-19 pandemic has reached into nearly every conceivable corner of our globe. 


And of course the pandemic dominates our news and minds, as one would expect. But did we hear about the other disasters to befall parts of our world in recent months? Plagues of locusts in East Africa, super-cyclones in India and Bangladesh, flooding Uganda, fires in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand, tornadoes in the American south, avalanches in Turkey, volcanoes erupting in the Philippines. These are devastating to our world, but they are not surprising to us. I have personally lived through dozens of hurricanes, tornadoes, and even devastating fires (I’d like to avoid earthquakes and volcanoes if possible please). Natural disasters, diseases, even pandemics, are part of life in this world. But all this begs the question: why? 


Those with a biblical worldview are not afraid of the question. In fact, our worldview alone has the intellectual and theological depth to answer the question. The world is broken. All creation is groaning. The natural order is straining, continually under duress. What we may call “natural evil” is par for the course. We acknowledge this. But we also know that natural evil is the result of moral evil. It is the result of rebellion against God’s created order, rebellion against God’s authority (Genesis 3). Quite simply, natural evil is the result of sin. And so because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning under the curse (Romans 8:18-25). We are not surprised by the disasters; indeed, our worldview tells us to expect them. 


But our worldview also helps us know that this is not all there is. The groaning will cease. Creation is heading somewhere, or rather to something. Something restored, yes, even Edenic, but more than that. Creation will be renewed. Remade. Completed. Perfected. And there is only One who has the authority to make all things new, to take the scroll from the throne of God Himself and unfold the purposes for all of history, to bring about the completion for which all was created: This is Jesus, the Lamb of God, standing slain having redeemed those who had been enslaved to sin. He broke the curse of sin, took it upon himself as our ransom, so that sinners from every people and tribe, every nation and tongue, can be redeemed and so that in defeating death, conquering the greatest enemy, He could bring this broken, groaning creation to glorious and perfect completion. Only Jesus has that authority. And so we look to Jesus as our Prophet, Priest and King, looking to Him for our salvation, not just from our circumstances, but from our sin. 


This is the central thrust of our song for this post. This is a newer song by Andrew Peterson and is based most centrally on Revelation 5: Is He Worthy? I realize that this is a bold, and somewhat brash, statement, given the thousands of songs to choose from, but this has become my favorite song. And it grows more and more so with each time listening. In a beautiful call and response format, it asks these deep questions, the hard questions, but then comes to the right answers. Answers of confidence. But in the chorus the song asks the most central question: Is He Worthy? Is Jesus, the Lamb slain for all tribes, tongues, and nations, worthy to take the scroll and unfold the purposes of God? Is He worthy to make all things new? Is He worthy to heal all that is broken? Is He worthy to hold in His hand all who will come to Him? The song moves in and out of these questions, but ultimately and finally settles on the answer: “He is! Worthy is the Lamb! Jesus is worthy to receive blessing and honour and glory. He is worthy!”






IS HE WORTHY?


Verse 1

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)

Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)

But do you know that all the dark won't stop the light from getting through? (We do)

Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)


Verse 2

Is all creation groaning? (It is)

Is a new creation coming? (It is)

Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)

Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)


Chorus 1

Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?

Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?

The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave

He is David's root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

Is He worthy? Is He worthy? Of all blessing and honor and glory

Is He worthy of this? He is.


Verse 3

Does the Father truly love us? (He does)

Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)

And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)

Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)


Chorus 2

Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?

Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?

The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave

He is David's root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

From every people and tribe, Every nation and tongue

He has made us a kingdom and priests to God to reign with the Son

Is He worthy? Is He worthy? Of all blessing and honor and glory

Is He worthy? Is He worthy?

Is He worthy of this? He is!

Is He worthy? Is He worthy? He is!

He is!




PS: If you love choral music, as I do, Dan Forrest’s arrangement of Is He Worthy? will fill you with awe. Incorporating parts of Handel’s Messiah, Forrest adds his typically masterful touch to an already incredible song. Listen here.

Read more
Songs in a Pandemic - Part 3, Be Still My Soul

(This is a continuing series of posts regarding how Christians deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, using the medium of music to interact with the topic of Christian perspective. See Part 1 & Part 2)


Today is day 32 of what was originally a 21-day lockdown in South Africa. When I first posted in this series back on 31 March 2020, there were about 750,000 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and almost 35,000 deaths. Today, just 28 days later, there have now been over 3 million cases and over 200,000 deaths. The scale of the pandemic has taken the world by surprise. A surge of this magnitude (with no end in sight) has caused such a mix of reactions as to boggle the mind. Very few and far between are those voices who deny the seriousness of our global situation. The sober reality is that the more common reaction today is not denial, but panic. Fear. Anxiousness. Even hysteria. 


And these reactions are to be expected, aren’t they? These are indeed fearful times. No one, no political leader, no medical expert, knows exactly how this pandemic will continue to spread or how high the number of infections will rise. By all accounts, even here in South Africa, the peak for many regions of the world is still months away. The unknowns are great, the danger high, the economic situation dire, and the opinions on what we should all do about it are myriad. It’s no wonder people are fearful. It’s no wonder there is anxiousness about the future. It’s no wonder there is panic. These are natural, human, reactions.


The unnatural response would be calm. Resting. Peace. Stillness. Confidence even. Only the Christian can have these reactions in the truest sense. I’m not saying that the non-Christian cannot hold it together, cannot be calm, cannot show great courage in the face of trial. Indeed, they can. The secular worldview would say these are survival instincts kicking in, a sort of steeling of oneself to accomplish what must be done, for this is how we have evolved to survive. For the Christian, we explain this because of the image of God, the Imago Dei, embedded in each human. But the first response of the natural person is not calm, it’s panic. It is not confidence, it’s fear. It is frenetic activity, not stillness. It is anxiousness, not a peace “that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).


For the Christian, for those with a biblical worldview, a Christ-infused perspective, we can be still in the truest sense. Even in the midst of a pandemic, even when the whole world seems to be running scared, we can rest. Why? Because God is still God. It’s as simple as that really. And because He is God, we can be still. 


I have been pondering a particular song over the last few weeks. Be Still My Soul, written by Katherine von Schlegel, an otherwise-unknown German noble-woman, was part of Neue Sammlung Geistlicher Lieder (A new collection of spiritual songs) published in 1752. It was over one hundred years later, in 1855, that the text was translated into English by Jane Borthwick, a member of the Free Church of Scotland. It is Borthwicks translation that is still widely used today. 


But perhaps the most significant reason that the song has gained such a wide popularity as it has today is because of the stunningly beautiful tune which has traditionally been paired with the text. Finlandia was written around the turn of the 1900s as a patriotic anthem celebrating the people of Finland, by famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. But it was not until 1927 that David Evans, a Welshman and Oxford-trained organist and choirmaster, paired the tune of Finlandia to the poem Be Still My Soul. And so was birthed one of the most incredible examples of text and harmony working together to produce a message that conveys strength, assurance, and biblical truth, a pairing that in many ways remains unmatched nearly one hundred years later. 


There are many dozens of artists to choose from when looking for this song, and one would find it difficult to go wrong with their choice. But the one that I’ve chosen to highlight is by a newer group, who takes a very simplified translation of the poem, keeps the Finlandia tune, but keeps a very simple, relatable feel to the song. I hope you enjoy Be Still My Soul by Page CXVI. The text is in the video but is also below.




Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to your God to order and provide;

In every change, He will remain.


Be still, my soul: your God will undertake

To guide the future, as in ages past.

Your hope, your mind, your will let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright


Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love's joys restored.


Be still my soul, Be still my soul



What comfort are the words of this song! “In every change, He will remain.” God is always the same, unchanging, always ordering and providing for us. Always guiding the future, just like He has in the past. While we don’t know all that God is doing in the world, we know from His own character that it is always ultimately for His own glory, which is ultimately always what is best for us. And while we have mystery now, all will be revealed in God’s own good time. That timing is probably not in our lifetimes, but rather is after we are forever with the Lord. And when that time comes, when disappointment, grief, fear, virus, lockdown, when these are all gone, they’ll actually all be forgotten. And then our souls will be perfectly at rest, perfectly still when God has restored all things. 


But the power of this song is not simply its stirring melody, not even in its beautiful and convicting text. But it’s real power is that it echoes the very Word of God. Every time I hear this song, I am instantly reminded of Psalm 46. Read through just a few of these verses, see how it is infused through the text of our hymn:


1 God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.


2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,


3 though hits waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling.


Regardless of what is going on in the world around us, God is with is, the Lord is on our side. Though it appears all is falling apart, He still orders and provides. Though there is trembling and fear without, there is stillness within. Though creation is groaning now, one day, all will be made right. 


But then the Psalm comes to this stunning command:


10 “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”


Be still. Know that I am God. I am still in control. Don’t fear. I am still here. This verse is so well-known, and rightfully so. It is on Christian art, on coffee mugs, even on bumper stickers. And we must remind ourselves of this truth. We are so prone to forget, so it is good to remind ourselves: be still. God is still God.


But my fear in all of these quick ways to remind ourselves of this truth, we always leave off the rest of the verse. It is in the second half of the verse that gives the command to be still its foundation. Ultimately, why can we be still? Why must we be still? Because God has a plan. His mission to redeem a people from every nation, His promise to make worshippers from all peoples of the world, is the bedrock upon which we can place our hope. This is why we can be still. Because no matter what the world throws at us, be it earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, or viruses, the plan of God to exalt himself among all peoples remains. This is the picture we see throughout all the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. God says, in effect, “Be still, calm down, remember I am God. I have a plan to make myself known to all the peoples of the world. That plan is unchanged. I’ve still got everything under control. Be still.” 


As I was preparing for this article and researching for the short the background of our song, I was struck by how God works. Did you notice who God used to bring about this great anthem? A German noble-woman in 1752, a woman from Scotland in the 1855, a Finnish man around 1900 and a Welshman in 1927. Two women, two men. Three different centuries. Four different ethnic groups. Wow! In this (very) brief history of one song, we have just a small glimpse of what God has been doing from all time and will continue to do until the end of the age: God is on a mission to redeem a people from every people group. I daresay that we will meet many thousands of Germans, Scots, Finns, and Welsh in the redeemed multitude that no one can number from Revelation 7. Maybe some will be there in part because of the truths of the gospel they heard in this very song. What a God we serve! Be still. He has everything under control. 



And PS…for another stunning arrangement of this hymn, check out Eclipse 6, a men’s A Cappella choir here!

Read more
Songs in a Pandemic - Part 2, Ancient of Days

(This is a continuing series of posts regarding how Christians deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, using the medium of music to interact with the topic of Christian perspective. See Part 1 here.)


As we continue in our coronavirus lockdown (currently at day 15), I am constantly reading news stories from myriad sources and from quite literally all across the world. Some of this continual inundation with news is helpful, but many times it is not (maybe the topic of a later post?). Be that as it may, there are many things to reflect on as we read about how countries and communities are dealing with the pandemic, what the latest unforeseen ramifications of lockdowns are, what the next disastrous economic news is, how this is impacting families, etc, etc, etc. The news is non-stop. But one recurring theme keeps coming up in my mind as I try to digest the volumes of information coming at me from all sides: and that is to marvel at how suddenly and quickly our entire global system has come to a screeching halt. 


What was unfathomable mere weeks ago, is reality today. The most interconnected society ever to exist is suddenly disconnected; not just countries, not just cities, but even down to individual families in single homes are cut off from the world around them. The globalized, connected, free-trading economic system in which we have operated for the better part of a century is no mere accident, but was, in large part, created by the Western Powers in the aftermath of the two World Wars. In an effort to avoid death and destruction and war, these nations put mechanisms in place to draw every region and country of the world into closer economic union (even social and political union, such as the European Union). The idea was that the closer we all were, the more interdependent the world system was, it followed that there would be more prosperity and less war, less death. And by almost any measure, they succeeded. Most of us today cannot fathom a social and economic structure different from what we have, one that is so connected that communication, travel, goods and even economic prosperity itself are available to most everyone in the world. The system is so pervasive and present, like a fish not able to comprehend that it is wet, we don’t even know how to imagine a different system in which to operate.


And so we are shocked when the system comes to a halt, comes crashing down even. The framework in which we move and operate has been fundamentally challenged and altered. We assumed, probably unintentionally, that this was supposed to last forever. We didn’t know that a microscopic organism would be the thing that changed everything. We didn’t even know that everything could change. We were confident and comfortable in our system, cocky even. There’s no way our kingdom could crash. As one author put it recently, “Civilisation breeds hubris.”


But even a cursory remembrance of history should cause us to pause and reflect on the state of our seemingly all-powerful system. Empires and kingdoms have come and gone like the waves crashing on a beach. We need only mention their names and we remember that they were once great, but no longer exist. The civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria. The empires of the Greeks, the Romans, the Inca, the Maya, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the British. Even the more modern idea of the nation-state doesn’t last forever – think of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany. All those kings and emperors, all those millions of people, once thought that their system would never fall. 


I was recently reading a fascinating book called The Lost City of the Monkey God, which was about the discovery and exploration of a previously unknown civilization in the dense jungles of Honduras. It is quite clear now that in time past there was a strong and developed people and culture deep in the rainforest. They were likely contemporary with and trading partners with the more powerful Maya empire to their west and north. The “Mosquitia” civilization (that is actually the name of the rainforest: archeologists have yet to discover what the people may have called themselves), would have clearly been several hundred thousand people strong. And yet, until the just a few years ago, we didn’t even know they ever existed. What was once a strong and vibrant people had been likely wiped out by (ironically enough) plague and disease and now the rainforest has taken over to such an extent that to the naked eye, the Mosquitia seems to have never existed. I was stuck with the thought that for those hundreds of thousands of people, the idea would have been unfathomable that their entire culture would not only collapse, but that so complete would be their destruction that for the next 400 years, no one knew they ever even existed. Douglas Preston, the author of the book, closes with these haunting words:


“No civilization has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.” 


These are serious and rather depressing words. But for the Christian, we must be honest and say: They are true. At least in regard to earthly, man-created civilizations. But we must be equally quick and resolute to also say: Yes, earthly kingdoms will rise and fall, but ultimately, we know that we serve an everlasting King, who reigns forever. We serve One who has been on the throne from before time and will be reigning long after our system collapses. And it is this thought that takes me to a wonderful recent song by the group CityAlight. I hope you will watch and listen, reading along (the text in full is below and also in the video).


This is Ancient of Days.





Verse 1:

Though the nations rage, kingdoms rise and fall

There is still one King reigning over all

So I will not fear for this truth remains:

That my God is, the Ancient of Days


Chorus:

None above Him, none before Him

All of time in His hands

For His throne it shall remain and ever stand

All the power, all the glory

I will trust in His name

For my God is, the Ancient of Days


Verse 2:

Though the dread of night overwhelms my soul

He is here with me, I am not alone

O His love is sure, and He knows my name

For my God is, the Ancient of Days


Verse 3:

Though I may not see what the future brings

I will watch and wait for the Saviour King

Then my joy complete standing face to face

In the presence of the Ancient of Days



There is so much here in this song that we could talk about. The first verse fits so wonderfully with what we’ve been discussing, helping us remember that no matter the ups and downs of our fallen world, the Ancient of Days still remains enthroned. Verse two brings the listener down from the bird’s eye view, right down into the depths of one’s own heart. There is indeed dread in our souls at times. Life in this fallen world is not easy. But we need not be overwhelmed; the Ancient of Days knows our name, He is with us. The final verse looks ahead, into a future that we cannot see in full. But as Corrie Ten Boom has said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” The Ancient of Days has the future under control. And one day, when we will stand face to face with our Saviour, all will have been made right, and these afflictions will indeed seem “light and momentary” (2 Cor 4:17). But it is the chorus that perhaps orients us most helpfully. If none are above Him, none before Him, if all of time is in His hands, if His throne will remain forever, what other response can we have but to simply trust? To worship? To rest? 


But without doubt, the best part of this song is not only that is it thoroughly biblical in theme, but it is based on explicit texts. Most especially Daniel 7, where Daniel is given a vision of the coming Son of Man, who we know is Jesus Himself (this was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself). Notice what it says:


Daniel 7:13-14:


13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.


14  And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.


The Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days, the Creator God Himself, the One who reigns from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). The Son of Man receives from the Ancient of Days dominion and a kingdom. And unlike all the other kingdoms of this world, which inevitably fail, this kingdom that will never end, one that can never be destroyed. We serve a better King, an everlasting King, who rules over a sure kingdom, one that is not susceptible to virus and disease, that cannot be brought down by war or violence. This is our future, to rest securely with our King in His kingdom. 


But notice why the Ancient of Days gives dominion to the Son of Man. So that all other kingdoms, all peoples and nations, would serve Him. The Kingdom is given because the God that gives it is on mission to redeem people from every nation. This is why in Matthew 28:18-20, when Jesus gives his Great Commission to go make disciples of every nation, He bases that task on his own authority. He grounds the order to go on the fact that He has dominion and an everlasting kingdom already in His possession. 


So, Christian, our task remains. Regardless of the rise and fall of our earthly kingdoms, even if (or when) our own system is fundamentally changed, and the world that we will know in the coming weeks is different from everything we’ve ever known before , we serve an everlasting God, One who has given to His Son of Man, Jesus Christ, a kingdom that will never end. So we need not fear, we need only trust. And in that trusting, we go (even if that going looks different right now). We tell. We compel those who have not heard the gospel to believe in Jesus. And one day, we will stand face to face, together with an innumerable multitude of the redeemed from every people and nation (Revelation 7:9-12), in the presence of the Ancient of Days. 

Read more
How Should I Respond to a Global Pandemic?

I remember a conversation that I had a few months ago about "some virus" that was going around China. At that time, it was barely even a thought. Four months later, it’s a global pandemic. Much uncertainty and confusion exists in the minds and hearts of everyone around us. Many here in South Africa are not sure how they will provide for their families today, tomorrow, or next week. Many, at this point, have no idea what their future holds regarding their job or employment. 


Over the past month, there have been many who have written solid, biblically doctrinal perspectives on how to deal with this current situation (or at least how to think about it). This post is not meant to be one of those, although I hope it is grounded in doctrine! This post is meant to provide a few practical responses that we should have, as believers in Christ, to our current situation.


Don't try to discern God's purpose for this pandemic.


One of the greatest dangers in any trial, tragedy, or hardship is spending time trying to discern God’s purpose for the trial. We must remember that God’s ways are far higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). He does not owe us an explanation. Even if God did reveal His ways to us, we would still respond with pride and selfishness, because our problem is not found in our circumstances; it is within our hearts (Jer. 17:9). So although it hurts, use this current trial to learn to trust God resting in His goodness and sovereignty. Job would be an excellent book of the Bible to study right now!


Be reminded of the brevity of life.


James 4:14 states, “…What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (ESV).” The King James Version uses the word “vapor” in this verse. Both of these provide excellent imagery into the substance of our lives on this earth. We tend to think we are invincible (until we are not). We go through life doing the next thing without ever stopping to meditate on the brevity of our lives. We are finite, needy creatures. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we, as human beings, do not call the shots. God is in control of all, and we control nothing. Our time on earth can be taken from us in an instant. Our lives are truly “a vapor.” 


Entrust yourself to Jesus Christ.


The fact that our lives are short and God is sovereign over all should not cause us to worry. If we know the beginning of the story then we realize that man sinned against God. All that man is worthy of is death and judgment. This means that life is a gracious blessing of God. We are not entitled to life. We are entitled to God’s wrath in hell for our sin. But, God provided a substitute for sinful rebels. He gave His Son, Jesus, so that we could be restored in a right relationship with God. Therefore, do not worry about a virus. Do not fear the brevity of your life. For those who know Jesus, this life is but a stepping stone to eternity with God, in His kingdom, forever! So, rest in Him.


Look for Gospel opportunities.


At this time, many are scared and afraid. This is reasonable. To some level, everyone has been affected by the recent trial. But while many are afraid, they do not know what to do with this fear. They will run to alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, friends, relationships, pornography, etc. We, as believers, have the only answer to fear and hope of satisfaction and comfort. This answer is Christ. Hope is only found in the Gospel. So we must declare it. Let us keep our eyes open for opportunities to share this Gospel.


Serve where you can.


This one may seem difficult right now. In fact, I don’t even have specifics to give, but let us be looking for ways in which we can serve and bless others. There are numerous needs during this time. Some may need food. Some may need medical care. Some may simply need a WhatsApp message. May we serve others, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).


Honor the authorities God has given you.


We may not agree with everything our government does or says, but we are called to submit to them. Unless government is restricting clear biblical commands, we are to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21).” Will there be a point where government infringes on biblical commands? Potentially! But that is not now. May we encourage, pray for, and cheer on those who have been ordained by God to watch out for our care and protection. Read Romans 13:1-7 and meditate on what it means to honor our authorities during this time. 


Don't waste it! 


If we are not intentional, something will take our time. Whether it be kids, games, social media, Netflix, or something else. Our default is to waste time. If we can move past the fear, worry, and anxiety of this current situation, we can begin to see great opportunities. If you have ever had an excuse to stay home and work, it is now! So ask yourself, “How can I use this time to work on my prayer life? How can I take that class I have been wanting to take? Could I use this time to read those books that have been on my shelf for years? How can our family take time to simply enjoy each other?” Many opportunities can be found amidst a global pandemic. Don’t let your worry and fear cause you to miss these opportunities. 


Many more encouragements and challenges could be given, but I hope and pray that these will at least encourage us to lift our heads and gaze on Christ while we work mightily with our hands (even at home) for His kingdom as we await His return!

Read more
Songs in a Pandemic Playlist

In keeping with the theme of this blog series, I've compiled a playlist of God-honouring, Christ-exalting music designed to reorient our hearts and minds during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these are songs I've chosen, but most of them are suggestions from our Knysna Hope team and from you guys! So these are songs of various styles and artists, but they all have been a particular blessing to many of us during these trying times.


Use either of the two links below to access the playlists. The two playlists are nearly identical, just slight variations depending on what is available on each platform. Please share these playlists with anyone who you think would find a benefit from them. They are fully public and can be listened to by anyone. Hope this is a blessing to you!


Spotify (free account with ads, or ad-free with subscription)

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7jCcOvqBNOfausenh5eAaU


Apple Music (no ads if you already have a subscription)

https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/songs-in-a-pandemic/pl.u-06oxDvyIXpg3Jb

Read more
Songs in a Pandemic - Part 1, Introduction

It has now been over three months since the word “coronavirus” entered our everyday vocabulary. It has been 20 days since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And it has been 5 days since we here in South Africa went into an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown. Since that microscopic virus jumped from some unnamed animal to the first unsuspecting human in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the illness has spread to almost every country on the globe. Nearly three quarters of a million people have now been infected, with almost 35,000 deaths. If projections of the duration of this virus are correct, the planet could be looking at millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths before the virus has run its course. I doubt there are many people, upon first hearing about a strange sickness (which sounds more like a bad beer advertisement…sorry Corona) way “over there” in China back in December would have ever thought we would be where we are today.


In response to the pandemic, governments at every level are instituting regimes designed to limit the virus’ spread and hence its duration. Some governments are more serious and drastic than others. Travel bans, social distancing, quarantine, lockdown – these are all commonplace in our vocabulary and experience today. From China to Italy, Spain to the US, Australia to South Africa, the freedoms and movements of everyday life have been curtailed to such an extent, that just a matter of weeks ago we would have never thought it possible. 


What are Christians to think? What is Christ’s global church supposed to do and be? How should local churches react? These are questions over which I’ve been pondering. There are probably so many ways to correctly answer these questions that we could fill a book. But in this series of blog posts, I want to focus on a specific topic, and I also want to interact with that topic in a unique way. I want to talk about a Christian’s perspective, and use music, actually specific songs, to illuminate and encourage our discussion.  


Why Perspective?


In the media, among the general public, and from medical personnel and political leaders, we are hearing serious and dramatic words on a regular basis: virus, contagion, unprecedented, pandemic, catastrophic, life-altering, devastating. Are all of these terms and descriptors apt for our time? Probably. At least in some sense. These are unique times, we are indeed facing a life-altering situation. Is this an unprecedented response for the global system? Yes indeed. 


Yet, in another sense, can we truly call these times “unprecedented?” Christians must be the first to acknowledge that we are indeed in serious times and these times call for serious responses. But we must also be the first to put things into perspective. The Christian worldview demands that we look at our situation with the humility that history demands. We must recognize that humanity has dealt with illnesses, catastrophes, floods, hurricanes, fires, and war since the dawn of time. The biblical story had barely begun before we had murder (Genesis 4), violence (Genesis 6), destruction and death (Genesis 7), pride and the scattering of whole peoples (Genesis 11). We must understand, with the Preacher, that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). 


But the Christian’s worldview is not fatalistic, believing that since there is nothing new, nothing matters. Rather the Christian worldview is honest, humble, and yet confident. We have a perspective that is not frantic, but calm. Not reactionary, but responsive. Not dismissive either, but serious, knowing that these are indeed serious times. Not fearful, but steadfast. We have a different, other-worldly perspective.


Here C.S. Lewis is very helpful. Writing in 1948 (though specifically about the threat of the atomic bomb, not a virus) he offers a glimpse of the Christian’s perspective in the face of truly disastrous circumstances:


In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”


In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.


This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.


— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays



Why Songs?


So that is why I want to discuss the Christian’s perspective, but why through music? Why use specific songs? From a general point of view, music is one of God’s good gifts to His creatures. Indeed, as Martin Luther put it, “[music] is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” The creative generation of music is one of those intangibles that point to the image of God in each person. 


Music also has the capacity to speak to the human heart in ways that are powerful and unique. It can lift one’s spirit to the heights of heaven; and it can take one to the lowest depths. We all know this just from our experience of watching movies. Intense scenes would be far less intense if, say, the theme song to Paw Patrol was playing in the background. Scenes intended to show joy and happiness would be far less joyful if backed up by the solemn notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Music connects to our hearts on an emotional level like few other things can. It allows our hearts to express and feel things that mere words often fall far short. As Hans Christian Anderson has famously said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” 


But what about when music and words are combined? We all know that there is power in setting words to music. Just think of teaching our children the ABCs. You’re probably already humming the tune in your mind right now. While its not impossible to learn a string of 26 letters consecutively, how much easier is it when set to music! There is something about setting content, text, information to music that causes that content to be impressed on our minds and hearts. 


Now lets take this a step further. The bible is full of references to music, but it is particularly insistent on a particular form of music: singing. Why would this be? At least partly, I think this is because to sing is to necessarily speak actual words. In the biblical context, this is words of praise to God. The longest book of the bible is a songbook! The Israelites were commanded to sing; they even had worship leaders (the Levites!). It is no surprise then that some of the instructions to the early church was to sing. Colossian 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” 


But notice what Paul just said. We sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in order to teach and admonish one another. But what does he say we are to sing? The word of Christ! We are to sing the scriptures. We are to sing biblical truth. We are to sing what is richly dwelling in our hearts, the very word of God. 


But I think it also works the other way. We don’t just sing the word of Christ which is dwelling in us. That same word of Christ becomes dwelt in our hearts because of our singing. This is why the bible doesn’t say to simply speak words of praise, but to sing words of praise to God. Don’t just read the word of God, but sing it too! The very act of singing, of putting words to music, drives the content home into our hearts, helps us internalize the words of Christ. 



Conclusion


Music has power. Words set to music stick with us. But the Word of God and his Truth, coupled with music that is sung, has the power to transform. To go down deep into our souls. To help us orient our minds to the truths of Christ. To give us a new perspective. A renewed sense of mission. A fresh compassion for the lost and needy. And to help us face the pandemics that this world throws at us with steadfastness, even joy. 


I hope that in the course of these blog posts we will come to rest more confidently in the arms of our Creator and Sustainer, that our perspective will be reoriented so that our first reaction when we hear the next news report is to look up rather than out, that we will gain a greater humility in our outlook as we explore God’s sovereignty and providence, that we will be encouraged by excellent and Christ-exalting music, and, ultimately, that we will be renewed and refocused in our task as the church, namely making disciple of all nations.



Read more