Daily Light – March 26, 2020

What South Korean Christians Want You to Know About Coronavirus

Article by Steve Chang and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

About a month after the first coronavirus case appeared in South Korea, an infected man attended Shincheonji  Church of Jesus, a cult of more than 300,000 that believes Jesus was reincarnated in its leader. This man ended up infecting thousands—in fact, more than 60 percent of the nearly 8,500 cases in the country have been linked to Shincheonji.

Though South Korea hasn’t required a lockdown, most churches voluntarily had closed their doors by March 1. That decision was emotional, since South Korean churches managed to keep services going even during the Korean War, said Steve Chang, a pastor in Seoul.

Sarah Zylstra asked if he has any advice for American churches. Here’s what he said:

Plan for a New Normal

Think long-term, at least twice as long as you think you need. South Korea was well equipped, with technology and infrastructure, to go online. We did it immediately. But most of us thought it would be temporary. So that’s the first bit of advice—don’t think it will be one or two weeks. It will more likely be two months or more.

Think long-term, at least twice as long as you think you need.

That way, we can begin to think about how best to minister to our people quickly—through online means such as video calls/visitations, group fellowship, prayer meetings, and Bible studies, in addition to Sunday services—rather than wasting time on “let’s wait and see” thinking.

So some of our group meetings that we planned to postpone until things were better, we realized we needed to just start through online means instead.

Look for Opportunities to Do More than Normal

We had the tendency to think of doing less than we’d normally do in the physical worship setting, because we thought, Why would people want to watch a video of a service for more than 20 to 30 minutes?

There’s some truth to that, but we also forgot that they don’t have the option of coming to church. This online thing is all they have. So why not make it the full service that we normally do?

In fact, we may need to do more than normal because people are isolated and can’t get out or get together. For example, our pastor is sending out a daily prayer video through Instagram, which he wouldn’t normally do.

Pay Attention to What God’s Doing in the Church

Our church is emphasizing family worship and spiritual growth, which isn’t something our megachurch can do well without a crisis like this. All the age groups normally split up into age-specific ministries on Sunday. Now, much of the delivery of children’s ministry has to involve parents, which naturally encourages them to minister to their own kids. We’ve also asked members to have family worship while going online, something a big church cannot do physically.

We feel this is an opportunity to be a witness to Christ by helping the most vulnerable. The young adults’ ministry is delivering food and supplies to the elderly in the community.

One member of our Chinese student ministry (an international Chinese student in a local Korean university), who became a believer in our ministry, decided to collect support from his fellow Chinese students to send to the hard-hit city of Daegu. As he gave the money (about $2,000) to his university president to pass on to Daegu city officials, the president was so moved that he added $900 on the spot of his own personal money.

We are seeing poorer members of our church giving beyond what’s normal. For example, one Korean grandmother wanted to donate her rationed face masks to our pastors.

We also think God is using this to encourage our members toward mutual care. The senior pastor asked the church members to practice “113” (like 911 in the United States), which is in 1 day, call 1 person to check up on them and encourage them, and pray for 3 people.

Pay Attention to What God’s Doing Outside the Church

I definitely think people are scared and more open to the gospel. If you have contact with unbelievers in or through the church, this is a great time to minister to them. If you do not have contact already, it will be difficult to meet them. Our college campus outreach has come to a complete halt, for example. We have yet to see how this will lead to more effective gospel ministry, but it is definitely an opportunity.

If you have contact with unbelievers in or through the church, this is a great time to minister to them.

In South Korea, several things are happening in the spiritual landscape. First, as you know, a well-known cult was at the center of this outbreak. It has shocked many Koreans to learn how this group operates and draws unwitting candidates. This is something many Christian leaders have known, but it’s now public. That will slow down the spread of cults in Korea, which are active and dangerous. As much as I cringe at those who boldly claim that God is judging these cults, I can’t help but think that his mercy for the church’s gospel ministry is present in this crisis.

There is also some pruning going on in the Korean church. All the megachurches have shut down. The larger the church, the more critical it was to close their doors. So this is a great opportunity to reflect on what worship “in spirit and in truth” means, and how some larger churches have drifted away from pure, biblical worship. Now that all those big, fancy sanctuaries and productions are dark, we are forced to consider afresh what pleases a holy God.

Finally, being the church without a central meeting place has been excruciating. It’s an odd feeling not to meet your brothers and sisters at least once a week. We miss it terribly and realize how much we took it for granted. But it also forces us to hold on to our oneness in Christ, and to be more intentional about reaching out and praying for our spiritual family.

Steve Chang is professor of New Testament at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, Korea, and pastors the English-speaking congregation at Hallelujah Church. He is a Korean-American living and serving in Korea since 2001.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Daily Light – March 25, 2020

A Prayer for Working from Home

A Prayer by Will Sorrell

Almighty God, Giver of Work and Rest,

I awake, and I am with you.
My commute is a trudge from bed to desk,
a stepping over toys and garments,
feet that feel like miles.
Ready my body to face unfamiliar tasks in this familiar place.

My eyes are prone to wander alone.
My ears are prone to hear my flesh over your Spirit.
My lips are prone to curse and lash.
My fingers and back are prone to cramp and complain.
My nose is prone to forget that every breath comes from you.

Let my eyes keep watch with you with care.
Let my ears hear the birds raise their carols to you.
Let my lips be patient on conference calls and voicemails.
Let my fingers and back find relaxation under tension.
Let my nose relish the home-brewed tea and remember.

O omnipotent and omnipresent Carpenter,
you who fashioned the lumber of the land,
you who breathed life into us from the dust,
you who are crafting this world anew,
build in me a confidence that I am your temple.

Make my heart believe that you are intersecting
the heavens and the earth in my very being.

As I rely on technology to traverse the world outside my dwelling,
let your Holy Spirit minister to the souls and bodies I email and call.
Though I am absent in the flesh, make others present with you through me.
Help me to notice the emotions in their eyes on a videoconference.
Help me to give care to the tones and tremors in their voices.
You who made time and space and planted us to live and work within them,
let my love for my coworkers and customers not be bound by proximity,
but rather let my finite self trust in your infinite good pleasure.

O beloved Intercessor who never slumbers or sleeps,
allow my midday rhythms of rest to be an act of prayer.
As I fix food and refill my glass, give me pause to give thanks.
As I sip water to quench my thirst,
as I taste leftovers to satisfy my stomach,
fill my teammates,
my boss,
my clients,
my suppliers,
my acquaintances with good gifts.

As the sun begins to fade and the lull of afternoon approaches,
help me.
Help me to view children as blessings to receive, not as obstacles to overcome.
Help me to have energy to engage, to decide, to create, to innovate.
Help me to persevere unto the end, knowing that you are my strength and song.

Jesus, my Lord and my friend—
hiccups in communication assail me,
deadlines loom dark like the shadows on my floor,
the deafening emptiness of this room threatens my confidence,
and I feel utterly alone.

Jesus, my comfort and my companion—
do not let me continue to consume the bread of anxious toil.
Prepare a table before me in the presence of my fear.
Shepherd me into pastures of faith,
streams of dependence,
and valleys of resting in your everlasting mercy.

When the time comes for me to close the laptop,
turn off the lights,
and exit the email,
empower me to want to do this all again tomorrow.
Help me see what you see in my work.
Help me see you at work.

Just as you have transformed my house into an office,
be faithful now to transform it into a home again.

I beseech you to do these things,
because I need you to do them,
because only you can do them,
and because you are good.

Amen.

Will Sorrell works in commercial banking, hosts Ergonomy Podcast, and researches the intersection of faith, work, mission, and technology. He earned an MDiv from Beeson Divinity School and an MBA from Brock School of Business at Samford University. He puts his research into practice with his beloved church family, Grace Fellowship. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife and Labrador retriever. You can follow him on Twitter.

Daily Light – March 24, 2020

The Coronavirus and the Pony

Article by Paul D. Miller, Professor, Georgetown University

There’s something antiquated about our enforced #coronacation. Like peasants in the 14th century warding off the plague-ridden and the unclean, we have abandoned human contact. Handshakes are out; elbow bumps are in. Our cities are empty, our marketplaces abandoned, our festivals depopulated. My family has survived 9/11, the anthrax attacks, war in Afghanistan, the Beltway Sniper, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, Snowmaggedon, and two earthquakes.

Yet none of those events accomplished what the COVID-19 global pandemic has: civilization has ground to a halt.

I believe there’s a blessing here, much like the little girl who, given a large pile of manure on Christmas, celebrates because a pony must be around somewhere. We’ve been given a pile of manure in the form of a global pandemic. Thousands are dead, thousands more will die, and the living will be poorer and more frightened for years to come. 

Where’s the pony? 

Our Idolatrous Age

I grew up around computers, with access to health care, and never far from a TV, a refrigerator, a supermarket, a car, and a phone. My kids are even more saturated with tech, convenience, and the trappings of post-industrial civilization. The tools of civilization exist to empower us, to make survival a given and convenience affordable. These are good things, and I’m glad we have them.

But tools give us power, and power holds danger. When we have enormously powerful tools constantly at our disposal, that power starts to feel natural. The proximity and ubiquity of tech and convenience breeds a certain attitude: an assumed near-invincibility, a quasi-omniscience. Every problem is solvable, every question answerable. 

The proximity and ubiquity of tech and convenience breeds a certain attitude: an assumed near-invincibility, a quasi-omniscience.

Out of toilet paper? Amazon can bring us more. Not feeling well? There’s a doctor down the road and a health-insurance plan to pay for it. “Dad, can you help with my homework?” Ask Siri and Google.

Ancient Greeks would’ve looked at citizens of postmodernity and called us gods.

Civilization breeds hubris. This feeling of near-invincibility infects how we look at ourselves, at others, at the natural world and, ultimately, at God. Sickened with affluenza, we need one another less, we look at nature as either a problem to solve or a resource to exploit, and we think of God hardly at all. Jesus warned that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Simply living inside the bubble of our tech-powered civilization is a form of fabulous, God-blinding wealth.

To be clear, civilization is better than its alternative. I don’t mean to suggest that we should indulge in a luddite rejection of science, technology, and modern convenience. Without science, the pandemic would be several orders of magnitude worse, and I wouldn’t have a laptop on which to type these thoughts.

This feeling of near-invincibility infects how we look at ourselves, at others, at the natural world and, ultimately, at God.

But all good things can become idols. There’s a reason that ultimate idolatry in the Bible is portrayed as a wealthy and powerful city. Great civilizations always involve great concentrations of power and wealth. They are, like Babel, Rome, and Washington, wondrous to behold. They testify to the creativity and ingenuity of their human creators and, however dimly, to the Creator. And like Babel in Genesis and Babylon in Revelation, they too often become the focus of our idolatrous admiration, particularly when we deceive ourselves into believing we are its architects.

Gift of COVID-19

When these great city falls, do we despair among the ruins? Italians under quarantine are singing and playing instruments from their balconies to cheer one another up, to recreate human community. Quarantine helped them need one another. These simple impromptu concerts, these little neighborhood symphonies, are a snapshot of what is possible when civilization deserts us. Instead of despairing among the ruins, we sing, go for a walk, roast marshmallows with the neighbors. 

It’s the feeling of perfect security which is aberrant, disordered, and dangerous, not its opposite.

As C. S. Lewis wrote about living with the atomic bomb, “the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.” If we’re going to die from the bomb or, in our case, be quarantined or sickened, let us pass the time “praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children . . . not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs,” or germs.

The COVID-19 pandemic can return to us a realization that was normal throughout human history but has become oddly rare: the feeling that life is tenuous; that a simple act of neighbor love is the first, and often last, duty we owe; that civilization is a fragile achievement; and—here is the key—that these feelings are, in fact, normal and good. It’s the feeling of perfect security that is aberrant, disordered, and dangerous, not its opposite. 

If you’ve felt these truths as you read the headlines in recent days—that mix of discomfort, fear, gratitude, and a little bit of exhilaration—there’s your pony. Care for it well.

Paul D. Miller is a professor in the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Daily Light – March 23, 2020

9 Ways to Love Your Neighbor in This Pandemic

Article by JUSTIN WHITMEL EARLEY, Attorney and Author

On August 17, 2017, cars packed the interstates surrounding Houston as people scrambled to evacuate. Hurricane Harvey was headed in, and millions were headed out.

The next morning, a picture went viral. It was a line of trucks pulling boats. These vehicles also crawled, bumper to bumper on the interstate, but what the internet slowly realized was that these trucks weren’t headed out—they were heading in.

Upon hearing the evacuation orders, these people ran into the storm to help.

Ever since that moment, I’ve been haunted by a question: is this a picture of the American church? Are we the kind of church, who, like the Savior we proclaim (Matt. 14:25), walks into the storm? Or, when the storm comes, do we gather our own and flee?

Salvation Turns Us Outward

One of the primary postures of a Christian is outward. Our salvation means that the curse of the inward curve of sin is broken, and we’re now free to turn outward—to love God and neighbor (Gal. 5:1). Like Abraham, we’re blessed in order to be a blessing to others (Gen. 22:17–18).  

Our salvation means that the curse of the inward curve of sin is broken, and we are now free to turn outward—to love God and neighbor.

From plagues in the Roman Empire to cholera in 19th-century London, the church is replete with examples of rejecting fear and embracing neighbor love—even when it means self-sacrifice and risk.

From Fear to Neighbor Love

This is the church’s moment to rise to its call. We stand at the beginning of a crisis. Even if we don’t know exactly how bad this will be, we certainly know that fear is more viral than any virus. 

Of course, we must remind ourselves that we have nothing to fear (Deut. 31:8Matt. 14:27). But it’s equally important to remind ourselves that we don’t drive out fear by wishing it away—we drive out fear by acting in love. Love is what replaces fear (1 John 4:18), and love is always outward—to God and neighbor.

So we must walk into this storm. We must know that we have been equipped, by faith in Jesus, to have the metaphorical trucks and boats necessary to do so (Eph. 2:102 Tim. 3:17). 

Here, then, are nine ways Christians can practically love our neighbors in this moment of crisis.

1. Glorify God by Obeying Authorities

One of the primary ways regular people can help curb the spread of a virus is to comply with recommendations (Rom. 13:1–5). Remember we do this not in fear and self-preservation, but as an act of love to the vulnerable whom this sickness might kill. Much of this compliance can become worship-filled acts. Wash your hands and say a 20-second prayer for your neighbors while you do so: “Lord, protect the vulnerable from this virus.” Bump elbows instead of hugging, and intentionally pass peace while you do so: “Peace be with you.”

Of course, you know you’re supposed to do these things, but you may not have realized that these ordinary acts of self-restraint are incredible acts of neighbor love, and should be acknowledged as courageous and spiritually significant. Over the next few months our lives will be filled with the inconvenience of canceling cherished events—but it so happens that self-sacrificial love is always inconvenient.

2. Organize Errands for the Elderly and the Immunocompromised 

This virus appears to discriminate. Children (praise God!) aren’t being affected nearly as much as the elderly. Further, healthy people will most likely be fine, while the immunocompromised or those with chronic health conditions are at greater risk. If you (like me) are low-risk, then work with your church or community to organize ways to keep at-risk people safely quarantined and to bring them anything they need.

Over the next few months our lives will be filled with the inconvenience of canceling cherished events—but it so happens that self-sacrificial love is always inconvenient. 

The church is well-practiced at bringing meals to new parents or grieving relatives; now is our time to use these systems to benefit the vulnerable. I’m a millennial, and this is an incredible moment for our generation to serve. Singles and couples without kids are especially well-poised to serve.

3. Admit There’s a Crisis, But Don’t Panic

The best leaders don’t lie or hide reality. But they also don’t panic. They tell the truth and lead courageously. One of the unique things about living in a non-authoritarian country is that local leaders can have incredible influence at times such as these.

Pastors, business, and community leaders should understand that, like it or not, they’re suddenly in an incredibly significant role. We can also do this as a collective voice—in our homes, schools, and social media. The church can help lead the public by not downplaying a pandemic that will certainly kill thousands and thousands of more people, but also by stewarding conversation toward outward acts of service, not inward acts of self-protection. 

4. Share Good Information; Ignore Bad

This isn’t the time when we need lots of armchair epidemiologists voicing opinions on stats. This is a time when we need to give deference to experts and, importantly, not cloud the air with misinformation (Prov. 15:2). Love your neighbors by sharing important information—don’t harm them by being unwise about what you share.

It’s helpful to share and footnote reliable information; it’s harmful to circulate hearsay (Eph. 4:29). Before you share something on social media, love your neighbor by taking a few minutes to at least read the whole article, and better yet, do your best to verify it’s coming from a reputable source.

5. Serve Healthcare Workers

In a pandemic, we should think of health-care workers as we did first responders during 9/11. They’re the ones risking life and limb to protect others. We should be praying for them, supporting them, bringing meals to them, offering them childcare, and supporting in any ways possible. They’re voluntarily walking into burning buildings to do things we cannot do, so let’s help them with the things we can do.

6. Spend Money as an Act of Economic Love

One of the huge effects of pandemics is fiscal shutdown. The young coffeeshop owner probably won’t get sick, but her business might die if people stop ordering. We must obey authorities, but within those boundaries we must see our spending as an act of charity, of which the root word is caritas—that is, love. America runs on small business—this isn’t a political slogan. It’s plain reality.

Before you share something to social media, love your neighbor by taking a few minutes to at least read the whole article, and better yet, do your best to verify it’s coming from a reputable source.

Flourishing local economies are real threads of shalom. It would be easy to let fear stop you from participating, but this is actually an opportunity to spend more money than you otherwise would at local establishments—so long as you stay within the bounds of authorities’ recommendations.

If you can’t go to local establishments, buy gift cards from them online to use later. Consider getting takeout from local places when you’d normally go out to eat, rather than hoarding groceries. Spend money intentionally as a way of loving others through working to help sustain the economy.

7. Feed and Watch Other People’s Kids While Schools Are Closed

One of the most difficult things about schools closing is that the brunt will fall most heavily on the vulnerable. Many children rely on school meals to eat. Many parents can’t work if their kids aren’t at school. Those of us with white-collar jobs we can do at home will make it work. We’ll work remotely, take turns watching kids with spouses, and catch up once the kids are in bed. Many can’t work remotely or leave their kids alone to go to work.

Churches in my hometown of Richmond are coordinating with local schools and government efforts to help provide food and volunteer services for at-risk children. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if, in the wake of this crisis, our collective memory was of the church joining hands with its neighbors to serve the vulnerable?

8. Renew Your Household with Spiritual Rhythms 

Your household is at an incredible moment. Suddenly, what has always been true is plainly evident—we live in a dangerous world, and your house stands as a missional outpost of love amid that danger.

Spend money intentionally as a way of loving others through working to help sustain the economy.

In a time of voluntary or enforced quarantine, all normal household rhythms have been disrupted, which means this is an incredible opportunity to form new rhythms that guide you toward God’s power in a time of human powerlessness (read Scripture together).

Take this as an opportunity to reframe how your household spends its time and practice habits that guide you toward courage in a cultural moment of fear (pray together).

Cultivate rhythms that guide you to concentration and presence, in a blitz of information and alerts (strongly consider limiting the frequency you check the news to twice a day).

Above all, cling to spiritual disciplines that guide you toward a household gathered in love, rather than scattered in fear (have intentional conversations).

9. Don’t Stop Small, Low-Risk Gatherings

Time and again, history has shown that our bodies don’t just need health; our souls need hope. The human capacity to endure in the harshest of circumstances is incredible—so long as there is hope. For Christians, this means reminding ourselves that Jesus is our only hope in life and in death, and communal worship is central to this hope. Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties, and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means.

Our bodies don’t just need health; our souls need hope. . . . Listen to authorities to stay safe, but fight for Christian community to stay alive.

 Consider that this is an amazing time to experience and remember what has always been true: the church isn’t a building, but a people summoned together in the name of God. Consider that this is an amazing time to live in solidarity with the global persecuted church, which always has to meet in homes. Consider, above all, that by clinging to small and safe gatherings, we resist isolation as an act of hope.

There are great resources to help you think through how to do this wisely and safely. Understand that your soul needs friendship like your lungs need air. Your spirit needs community much more than your house needs more supplies. Listen to authorities to stay safe, but fight for Christian community to stay alive. These things are not mutually exclusive. We can—and we must—find ways to gather.

Walking into the Storm

My prayer is that God would lead the American church into a moment of maturity, where we remember our core identity: a body of believers who are blessed so that we might become a blessing.

Let us, then, like the Savior we proclaim, walk into this storm.

Justin Whitmel Earley is a business lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, and the author of The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction. He is married to Lauren and has four sons: Whit, Asher, Coulter, and Sheppard. You can follow him on Twitter and learn more about cultivating a formational set of habits at www.TheCommonRule.org.

Daily Light – March 20, 2020

(Happy Birthday to my Mother (Ellen Mae Sndograss Hester – 1925-1999)

Suffering Will Always Change You

Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Several years ago, a close friend walked away from faith.

I still remember our last conversation about God, as she told me that he had not come through for her. She had prayed and asked him to change her situation, but things continued to get worse. She asked angrily, “Is this how a good God treats his children?” and went on to list all that God had not done for her, despite her faithfulness. She was tired of doing the right thing because it hadn’t gotten her anywhere.

I understand how my friend felt. I too have had unwritten, unilateral contracts with God where I tried to live a righteous life and in return expected God to bless me by fixing all my problems — especially if I prayed and read the Bible. After I became a Christian as a teenager, I felt sure that God had promised me an easy life and all I had to do was live it.

For years I felt God fulfilled his part, but my confidence eroded after my first miscarriage. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Then a marriage crisis almost undid me, and just as I started healing, our infant son died unexpectedly.

What Suffering Produced in Me

Each time something else went wrong, I begged God to fix it, to take away the pain, to restore things to the way they were. When things kept getting worse, I angrily stopped talking to God, wondering if he was even listening.

I realized, however, like Peter, that there was nowhere to go, because only Jesus had the words of life (John 6:68). I cried out asking God to help me to trust him, to reconnect, and to find hope in what seemed like impenetrable darkness. I needed peace and I couldn’t find it anywhere besides Christ. It was then that my faith radically changed. I found an inexplicable peace and hope that I had not experienced before — my easy trouble-free life had not yielded anything but an enjoyment of the present. But suffering was producing something unshakeable.

Suffering is a catalyst that forces us to move in one direction or another. No one comes through suffering unchanged.

Suffering Always Changes You

Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Here, the Christian’s suffering will ultimately result in a hope that won’t put us to shame. But we do not go directly from suffering to hope. For some, like my friend, suffering leads to rebellion and anger, crushing their hope, not bolstering it. What’s the difference? Why does suffering increase faith and hope in God for some and destroy it for others?

I’ve pondered that question for years. I am grateful that God chose to reveal himself to me through suffering, yet grieved when others only see the suffering and not the loving God behind it. Some of the difference lies in how we understand and experience hope and suffering in our walk with God.

How to Find Hope in Suffering

To find hope through suffering, I cannot be tied to a specific outcome. My hope is not that my situation will turn out a certain way, or that God will give me exactly what I want, but rather that God will always do what’s best for me. It is a living hope in a Savior who loves me, not in an outcome I feel entitled to. I need to trust that God wouldn’t allow anything that isn’t best for me, and that everything in my life is put there for my good (Romans 8:28). God’s love has been poured into me, and all of Scripture proclaims that love. The cross displays it and the Holy Spirit seals it.

But if I do not trust God and believe that he loves me, I will not see how my suffering could be good. In the moment, it is painful; it certainly doesn’t feel good. I will start judging God’s faithfulness and love based on what I can see and whether God answers my prayers the way I desire. I will walk away before I get to see the end, experiencing the hardest part of my trials without ever getting to the good part. I won’t see anything to rejoice in and my suffering will seem pointless.

Yet when my hope is in a God whom I know loves me, God shapes me through my trials. When my son died, my faith was shaken, and I doubted everything around me. But when I cried out to God, he poured himself and his love into me. My faith grew stronger.

So, when I learned of my debilitating disease years later, I was distraught at first, but remembered how faithful God had been to me. I didn’t panic; I knew from experience that God would give me all that I needed. Scripture reminds us that being burdened and despairing of life itself can strengthen our faith (2 Corinthians 1:8–9). This is because the deepest trials make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. The more we endure with Christ and find him sufficient, the stronger our faith becomes.

Refining Fire

This endurance produces character. Suffering softens my rough edges, makes me less judgmental, and helps me value people over things. It forces me to focus on what’s important in life.

As a result, I’m more compassionate, more self-controlled, more content, more prayerful, more passionate about the Bible, and more excited about heaven than I would have been otherwise. Left to myself, I’d be more irritable, critical, and impatient than I already am, but my physical limitations are teaching me kindness, patience, and grace. All my suffering has been an opportunity for growth.

My hope is that one day I will behold God’s glory and be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18), and suffering gives me a foretaste of both. While I cannot see now what I hope for (Romans 8:24), God’s promises in Scripture and my firsthand experience of his faithfulness assure me that I will not be disappointed. I have tasted that faithfulness in the deepest, most treacherous valleys where God’s presence has dissolved my fear (Psalm 23:4), so I am certain his promises will never fail.

Therefore I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing God is using it to produce in me what I could not produce in myself. My faith is stronger, my character more like Christ’s and my hope more secure. Thanks be to God that as we trust in him, assured that he’s doing what’s best for us, suffering does indeed produce hope.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

Daily Light – March 19, 2020

5 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Ministry in a Cholera Outbreak

Article by Geoff Chang

As reports of the coronavirus spread around the world, pastors and church leaders are discussing how they should respond to the outbreak. Throughout church history, many pastors have worked through similar challenges. As a young village preacher, Charles Spurgeon admired the Puritan ministers who stayed behind to care for the sick and dying during the Great Plague of London in 1665.

In fall 1854, the newly called pastor of London’s New Park Street Chapel pastored the congregation amid a major cholera outbreak in the Broad Street neighborhood just across the river.

How did Spurgeon respond?

1. He prioritized local ministry.

Spurgeon wrote:

During that epidemic of cholera, though I had many engagements in the country, I gave them up that I might remain in London to visit the sick and the dying. I felt that it was my duty to be on the spot in such a time of disease and death and sorrow.

Spurgeon’s popularity had grown throughout the Fenland villages outside Cambridge during his pastorate at Waterbeach. Even after arriving in London, he continued to be invited to preach in those villages throughout the week. During the outbreak, however, Spurgeon recognized his responsibility to be present with the sick and dying. This was not a time to be an itinerant preacher; this was a time to focus on caring for his church and the community in which he lived. He would not outsource this task to his deacons or other church leaders, but remained in London in order to fulfill his duty.

2. He adjusted his meetings, but continued meeting.

The Broad Street Cholera Outbreak of 1854 occurred in August and September of that year, and its effects were felt in the weeks and months to come. The neighborhood where Spurgeon’s church met was not quarantined, so they were able to continue meeting throughout those months. Interestingly, no record of the sermons Spurgeon preached during those days remain. Perhaps the outbreak forced the congregation to adjust some of their previous practices, including the transcription of sermons. Additionally, Spurgeon was likely too busy in those days to edit sermons for publication.

Yet we know that the congregation continued meeting during those days, because the church’s minute books contain records of congregational meetings throughout fall 1854. In those books, amid all the pastoral challenges of the outbreak, Spurgeon and his deacons continued to receive new members, pursue inactive members, observe the Lord’s Supper, and practice all the other normal activities of a church. Not only that, but in retrospect it was particularly during this time, when news of death raged all around the city, that Spurgeon found Londoners most receptive to the gospel:

If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then.

In other words, not only did Spurgeon gather his church amid the outbreak, but he saw in these gatherings a uniquely powerful opportunity for the gospel.

Given our current limitations, our greatest opportunities will likely come in the aftermath of the outbreak, when (in God’s mercy) the church is once again able to gather. Those gatherings of the church will not only be a sweet reunion of God’s people, but also a tremendous opportunity for preaching the gospel to those desperately looking for hope.

3. He cared for the sick.

As the pastor, Spurgeon not only continued to gather his church, but he also made himself available throughout the week, working tirelessly to visit the sick and grief-stricken:

In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighborhood in which I labored was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave.

In these visits, Spurgeon prayed with the sick and grieving, and pointed them to the hope of the gospel. But more than just bringing gospel content, his presence communicated something of God’s comfort to his people. Though these visits were often full of fear and grief, there were also glorious occasions of faith and joy:

I went home, and was soon called away again; that time, to see a young woman. She also was in the last extremity, but it was a fair, fair sight. She was singing—though she knew she was dying—and talking to those round about her, telling her brothers and sisters to follow her to heaven, bidding goodbye to her father, and all the while smiling as if it had been her marriage day. She was happy and blessed.

While pastors are limited in their ability to be physically present with their people in the current outbreak, they must continue to remain in touch with their people, especially those who are must vulnerable. Through the use of technology and others means of communication, we have the responsibility to shepherd our people through this trial.

4. He was open to new evangelistic opportunities.

Spurgeon did not limit himself merely to visiting members of his congregation, but was willing to visit “persons of all ranks and religions”:

All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things divine.

On one occasion, at 3 a.m., Spurgeon was summoned to visit a dying man. Surprisingly, this was not a Christian, but someone who had opposed him:

That man, in his lifetime, had been wont to jeer at me. In strong language, he had often denounced me as a hypocrite. Yet he was no sooner smitten by the darts of death than he sought my presence and counsel, no doubt feeling in his heart that I was a servant of God, though he did not care to own it with his lips.

Take advantage of any opportunities you might have to preach the gospel to those who are afraid.

Spurgeon went right away, but by the time he arrived, there was little he could do.

I stood by his side, and spoke to him, but he gave me no answer. I spoke again; but the only consciousness he had was a foreboding of terror, mingled with the stupor of approaching death. Soon, even that was gone, for sense had fled, and I stood there, a few minutes, sighing with the poor woman who had watched over him, and altogether hopeless about his soul.

Not every evangelistic opportunity will result in dramatic conversions. But during times of disease, surprising opportunities may arise. Therefore, take advantage of any opportunities you have to preach the gospel to those who are afraid.

5. He entrusted his life to God.

As Spurgeon gave himself to this pastoral work, he soon grew physically and mentally exhausted. He also began to fear for his own safety. Amid his fears, though, he learned to entrust himself to God and to his faithfulness:

At first, I gave myself up with youthful ardor to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions; but, soon, I became weary in body, and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it.

I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when, as God would have it, my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Great Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore, in a good bold handwriting, these words from Psalm 91:9-12, “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”

The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying, in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The Providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window, I gratefully acknowledge; and in the remembrance of its marvelous power, I adore the Lord my God.

As we entrust our lives to God and faithfully carry out our responsibilities, we have an opportunity to demonstrate what hope and peace look like in the midst of death.

Here, Spurgeon does not promise that no Christian will ever die of sickness. Rather, the Christian “[need] not dread [sickness], for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death.”

Once again, pastors must exercise wisdom and take appropriate precautions as they care for the sick. At the same time, our security cannot finally be in those precautions; it must be in God. As we entrust our lives to him and faithfully carry out our responsibilities, we have an opportunity to demonstrate what hope and peace look like in the midst of death.

Ordinary Ministry in Extraordinary Times

In many ways, Spurgeon’s example during the cholera outbreak of 1854 follows the pattern of normal pastoral ministry on every occasion. Pastors are to be present with their people, care for the suffering, be faithful in evangelism, and model trust in God through it all. The main difference is that during an outbreak, there is a heightened reality of suffering and death. Therefore, the work becomes more intense and urgent, and the opportunities for the gospel multiply.

Certainly, our task in looking to church history is not simply to copy all that was done before. This coronavirus outbreak presents unique challenges that previous pastors did not face. We need to exercise wisdom appropriate to our current day. But the core of our ministry remains: preach the gospel.

Speaking in 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, Spurgeon gave this charge to pastors and all other Christians:

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that: “There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that he is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by him. Tell them that he is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”

Editors’ note: 

A version of this article appeared at the Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary.

Geoff Chang is associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, and is working on a PhD in church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Daily Light – March 18, 2020

The Mission Isn’t Canceled

Taken From an Article by:  Paul Worcester

University campuses across the nation are canceled due to COVID-19. For many Christian students this pulls you away from your campus ministries and the churches in your university context. Although you’re still taking classes online you may feel you have a lot of time on your hands, and no help for growing spiritually. You may be tempted to use this time to catch up on Netflix, video games, social media, or simply to take a break from the busy schedule you’ve been keeping.

(And the main points made in this article have great applicability to adults of all ages as we go through this mandated time of ‘social distancing’ and more isolation.)

That may be fine for a few days, but I want to challenge you to not waste this unique season God has provided. Endeavor to deepen your intimacy with Christ and to continue to pursue his command to make disciples. School may be canceled, but the mission isn’t. Paul instructs us:

Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:15–17)

With this in mind, here are three simple ways you can “redeem the time” the Lord is giving you during this season. 

1. Don’t Isolate Yourself

The book of Proverbs says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1).

One of the enemy’s primary strategies is to get believers isolated so he can take them out. If you’ve ever watched the Discovery Channel you know that lions first go after the young and the sick, but most of all they attack those isolated from the rest of the herd. “Sin demands to have a man by himself,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed. “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive the power of sin is over him.”  

School may be canceled, but the mission isn’t.

I once saw a video of a pack of wolves trying to attack a baby musk ox separated from its herd. As the wolves started to attack, the herd noticed and charged straight toward the action, forming a circle around the baby. They continued circling until the wolves decided to leave. Every follower of Christ needs a community like that. The best way to overcome temptation is to have a group of like-hearted people to run with. Paul warns, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). 

You may not be able to go to your college ministry’s large-group meeting, but you can still connect using technology with a few close believing friends. A weekly call with two or three others can make all the difference in keeping yourself encouraged and motivated spiritually.

2. Deepen Your Discipleship Relationships

This season is a perfect opportunity to deepen your relationships with those you’re discipling. If you’re being discipled, be sure to pursue that person to continue meeting up with you, even if it’s over the phone or Skype. 

If you are the discipler, help the other person make stretch goals in their spiritual disciplines. Goals such as praying for an hour a day, memorizing two verses a week, or fasting once a week are great ways to grow in the Lord. Give them books to read, memorize verses together, labor in prayer together over the phone together. Challenge them to take an online course like Perspectives or one of many provided by The Gospel Coalition.

If in-person discipleship groups are not possible, technology like Zoom or Google+ hangouts can be a great way to continue connecting. The last few summers our ministry has led online discipleship groups, and they’ve been life-changing. We read a book together, discuss it, memorize one verse a week, and then keep each other accountable for some basic spiritual disciplines.

This season is a perfect opportunity to deepen your relationships with those you’re discipling.

My advice for online discipleship groups is to ensure they’re small enough (three to five people) to allow for lots of sharing, accountability, and prayer. It’s also helpful to have clear expectations and at-home learning assignments. Accountability in a situation like this is vital.

3. Use Spare Time to Grow in Wisdom  

“A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash” (Prov. 15:14, NLT).

So much of what we encounter in this world is garbage. The problem, though, is that pursuing wisdom isn’t always easy. It doesn’t come from mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed. God wants to give us real wisdom, his wisdom, but we have to intentionally pray and work for it. 

Here’s a truth you need to embrace: you don’t know what you need to know to live the life God has called you to live. 

Wisdom is not simply head knowledge; it is a deep understanding of God and how life really works. It is so much deeper than mere intelligence.

Wisdom is not simply head knowledge. Wisdom is a deep understanding of God and how life really works.

The book of Proverbs was written to give knowledge and discernment to the young. You definitely fit in this category if you’re a college student. There is a built-in disadvantage to being young—not having lived long enough to know all the questions you should be asking. Ever heard the phrase “wisdom beyond your years”? There’s a reason people note it when they see it—because it’s rare. As pastor Harold Bullock says, “Teachability is the only shortcut to success in life.”

This is the perfect time to get a jump start on gaining wisdom. Let me challenge you to constantly be pumping your head with great audio resources like an audio Bible, sermon podcasts, or solid audiobooks. Bonus points if you read real paperback books. Setting goals for studying or memorizing Scripture is a perfect way to grow in wisdom. Use time that other people waste to grow in wisdom!

Paul Worcester and his wife, Christy, lead Christian Challenge at California State University, Chico, where they seek to introduce college students to Jesus and raise up multiplying disciples. Paul recently founded Campus Multiplication Network with the goal of training leaders to multiply ministries and churches around the world. Paul is the author of Tips for Starting a College Ministry and the co-author, with Steve Shadrach, of the new edition of The Fuel and The Flame.