In 2 Samuel 24, the author tells the story of God’s judgment against David’s sin in conducting a census of the Israelites. While the text does not explain why this action was sinful, the Lord knew David’s heart. The ESV study Bible explains it this way, “such an action could have been motivated by pride, trust in self, and lack of trust in the Lord,” all of which are sinful postures before the Lord. In any case, David realized he had acted foolishly, and begged the Lord’s forgiveness. In response, the Lord tells David to choose one of three judgments against him which will include all of Israel: three years of famine, three months of fleeing before the enemy or three days of pestilence. David chooses the last, “for his mercy is great…” (24:14)
Fast forward to the present. As we continue to experience the Coronavirus pandemic, my mind wanders to this true story again and again, wringing out the truths and comforts embedded therein.
First, there is sin. David’s heart, like each one of ours, tended toward self-exaltation instead of God-exaltation. Perhaps pride in the size of his army and a dependence on their ability to protect Israel instead of depending on the Lord. He might have delighted in his position as King of Israel, wishing to remind the nations around him as well as the Israelites themselves of his power and “supreme” influence. Perhaps he was just self-satisfied and wanted to bask in the security the army brought him, forgetting that only God held his safety in His hands.
In my life, God has used this time of powerlessness over my own circumstances to make me aware of some control issues I didn’t want to admit to. Watching the world shut down, businesses close and people die has made me realize how very little power I have over the circumstances and unexpected nature of reality. There have been people I haven’t been able to see, actions and reactions from people I love and respect with which I’ve disagreed and toilet paper I’ve been unable to buy – in short, things that I would normally be able to “control” have become impossible, pointing me to other areas of my life which I finally have to admit are totally out of my control.
One of the things about David which set him apart and did indeed make him a man after God’s own heart was his quick repentance. After the census numbers come in, “David’s heart struck him”, he confesses his sin to the Lord and spends the night praying in repentance. Is my own heart as quick to turn towards repentance after I sin? Do I push the niggling of the Holy Spirit from the edges of my heart and consciousness so that I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my own sin? This time of separation and a slowing of the busyness of life has made it impossible to run from the reality of my own sin of wanting control and too often manipulating (though I would never call it that!) in order to maintain the illusion of my own sovereign rule.
David’s choice of the plague is not only a punishment and judgment on David, but also a test of his wisdom. Because David knows the character of God, he chooses the third option because the Lord determines the extent of the plague Himself by sending the angel of death directly into Israel’s midst, but David also knows that the Lord’s mercy is great. And that is what gives him hope.
Getting back to our own time and place, while we do know that God sovereignly rules and all things come either from His hand or through His hand, we cannot, unlike David, know the reason why things happen as they do. There is no doubt that we live with the effects of the Fall daily, thus making things like devastating weather events, governmental corruption, human trafficking and even pandemics something that just happen. But we also know that God is always working and that everything that happens – EVERYTHING – is filtered through His hand and for our ultimate Good and His unending Glory.
A favorite verse of mine is Isaiah 55:10-13. In this verse rain and snow is seen as something which is necessary for the renewal and thriving of the earth. Without rain and snow, plants would not take root and sprout, soil would turn to desert and famine would overtake the earth. But it’s also true that rain and snow come down from dark clouds which block out the sun and, in our modern world, when they come with storms, can cause everything from power outages to severe property damage or even to loss of life.
The next verse, then, compares the rain and snow which water the earth to His Word, which shall (emphasis added) succeed in the thing for which He sent it. And what is the ultimate purpose which He sent His Word? The renewing of all things, the rejuvenation of all creation and the unimaginable joy of all the earth and everything in it, so much so that even the trees of the field shall clap their hands!
In 2 Samuel 24:16, there came a moment when the Lord said to the angel who was working destruction, “it is enough” and the plague stopped.
These last three months have been rainy and stormy months, metaphorically speaking. And since the storm has not yet ended, we have yet to see the seedlings start to sprout which the Lord has planted during this time. But we also know that there will come a moment when the Lord will say, “It is enough.”
And therein I draw my comfort and security. God is no less active today than in King David’s day. And since the Kingdom of God broke through into this reality at the Cross of Christ, it has continued to grow. This pandemic and all its ancillary effects will come to an end before too long, and on that day, we will get a glimpse of God’s Hand and we will even clap our hands with rejoicing! But even more, there will come another Day when this world will see no more thorns, but only cypress; no more brier, but only myrtle (Is 55:13), no more death, but only life….and the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Is 55:12)
Until that day, I’ll struggle with wanting to control the circumstances in my own life and even the decisions of other people in my life, because there’s still a part of me that thinks I know what is best. Instead, while the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain (Ps 2:1), may I, may we, not count ourselves among them, but rather rest secure in the knowledge that His Word SHALL be accomplished.
On April 29 our sixth granddaughter was born to Curt and Catherine. Having carefully chosen their three older girls’ names, they put a lot of thought into number four as well. So much thought that, for several hours after her birth, we had photos but no name. This grandfather found himself staring at the photo and saying I love you ____________. I love you so, so much.
And that’s when it hit me. Love craves a name. Filling in the blank with words like little baby girl, newborn, neonate, infant, nursling, darling, little doll just didn’t do it. I wanted a name to associate with my feelings of love. Expressing my love to a neonate just didn’t do it.
And that’s when I remembered God naming the stars (Psalm 147:4; Isa. 40:26). There are estimates of 3 quintillion (18 zeros on that one) stars out there. Why does he name them? And Adam names the animals. And God changes the names of biblical characters like Abram, Sarai, Jacob and Simon.
On one level we can answer the above with things like If he can name 3Q stars, he knows my name, my life. Adam names in order to eliminate soul mates/co-regents/a spouse. Bible characters have their names changed to reflect new roles God has for them.
All of these are true. But I suggest that on an even deeper level a name reflects the love a namer has for the named. The stars, and all nature, are expressions of God’s love. Adam is not just rejecting candidates for a relationship. He is declaring the goodness of all God has made in the animal kingdom. His taxonomy was love poetry, a celebration of God’s love for all he had made. It expressed Adam’s love as well. And the roles God has for the characters he renames are those of a love story.
It’s that love that holds out the promise of our receiving a new name when his work in us is completed. Colossians 3:10 tells us we are works in process now
you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
And the process will one day be completed, the new self fully revealed, as promised in Revelation 2
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The Got Questions website offers some helpful insight as to the stones
. . . the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ.
One day his work in us will be completed and we will enter the banquet over which flies the banner of his love. We, like all of renewed creation, will exist as finally perfected expressions of that love. God’s love for us craves a name.
Oh, her name is Frances Hayes Kenney. My craving is fulfilled with I love you, Frances Hayes.
With COVID-19 social-distancing - and given that summer is right around the corner - […or is it? Who can tell me what day it is? ...it seems a bit colder outside than usual for this time of year…?] - we all have more time with our kids in the house. Moreover, since it usually takes a little over a month to get into any good rhythm, a lot of us are likely just now getting use to operating as a real family again with breakfast routines, family devotionals, and hopefully various nights of singing with the kids. With all that being said, I propose that we also use this divinely-gifted family time to help our kids develop a framework that will help them interpret the entire world around them, as well as better digest the already intimidating Bibles that we want them to learn. I propose we get back to catechizing our children.
How We Learn Big Topics
When studying any great topic, a student constantly focuses his attention between two perspectives: the forest (a broad overview), and the trees (the finer details). For the Christian, his goal is to learn the whole counsel of God - contained in the 66 books of the Bible - for his own devotional growth as well as for the purpose of making disciples of others both inside and outside of his immediate family. The two disciplines of Christian study, which approach these ends, are called Systematic Theology (the forest) and Biblical Theology (the trees). The Bible is a big book, and in order to completely learn what God has spoken to us in it, Christians are called to bounce between the two disciplines (‘The forest and the trees’) in order to grasp ‘the whole counsel of God.’
For many people, Biblical Theology (examining doctrine at the text level) comes natural, and in many, this form of study is more easily integrated in the family life. Many find much joy in reading bible stories during reading time or before bed, and hearing them in children’s church. This is the approach we primarily take in teaching your children the scriptures each week in KidzMin with the Gospel Project curriculum. However, integrating Systematic Theology (examining doctrine at the whole-Bible level) proves more difficult – especially dong so in a way that every member of the family can benefit. One option would be for the entire family to sit down and work through massive academic volumes such as Grudem’s, Berkhof’s or Bavinck’s Systematic Theologies, but this would be unreasonable on many levels. On the other hand, families may get a forest view of the Bible by incorporating the historical practice of catechesis. In short, catechesis is the practice of teaching doctrine at a systematic level through the structure of questions and answer responses.
We currently find ourselves amidst an increasingly pluralistic society in which basic assumptions regarding God, man and creation are regularly taken for granted. For instance, if you say to a person, “God loves you and offers you salvation through his son Jesus.” we often miss that many parts to this sentence are loaded concepts, each requiring a deeper Biblical understanding in order to fully grasp what we mean by this statement. Who exactly is God? (e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity has been a de-facto ‘line in the sand’ for historic orthodoxy since the birth of the Church), What do we mean by God’s love? What is salvation? Why do we need salvation? Who is Jesus? How is he both God and God’s son at the same time? etc. All of this to say, given the theological confusion of the day, today’s climate presents not less, but more justification to take up the practice of catechesis.
Enter the New City Catechism
The church throughout history has given us a great deal of resources to choose from for our instruction, including many great Catechisms. For instance, at our disposal are Luther’s Catechisms, Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, Owen’s or Baxter’s Catechisms, and even the more popular Westminster Catechisms or London Baptist Catechisms. Many of these are good resources to glean from; however, for many, their theological nuances are very narrow and punctiliar in scope, often taking hard stances on issues we would consider to be ‘Doctrines of Scriptural Latitude,’ as well as antiquated in how they are worded.
Enter the New City Catechism (NCC). Still in line with the theological streams of the great documents listed above, this FREE resource sevesr in systematic training that enables us to affirm the broad stroke of historic evangelical doctrine (major doctrines), while allowing freedom on doctrine that warrants scriptural latitude. Regarding format, the NCC summarizes basic tenets of the Christian faith in 52 questions, with answers for both adults and children, each including a scriptural supporting text. In addition to this, there are several other resources available to assist the catechism including devotional studies, smartphone apps, and recorded songs to aid in children’s memorization. Also, did I mention it’s FREE?
What a Catechism Does Not Do
Lastly, it seems important to close with some perspective regarding what this or any catechism does not do. Nothing can be more off-putting to true faith practice than placing our hope in methods or legalistically binding peoples consciences to secondary resources (…as if they are scripture, as great/ important as they may be!). Of course, I think confessions and catechisms are great and important, but they are not scripture. They are tools used to aid us in the devotional lives of our people and our children. They have no supernatural converting power in themselves, and at the end of the day they will not guarantee the conversion of our people or our children, especially if they are divorced from the personal commitment to day-in/day-out discipleship. Having said this, I still believe that the practice of catechesis will help us to not only evangelize our children, but it will also help us train them to systematically digest the whole counsel of God. Moreover, connecting ourselves with external, pre-written confessional documents allows us to not only identify with the church universal, but aids in training our people humbly see themselves as connected to that great body.
Teach Them the Whole Counsel of God
We are called to be whole-Bible people, and we are called to train our disciples and children into all that the scriptures teach us regarding God, Man, Christ, and salvation. On the road to Damascus, our Lord expanded our narrow purview on this to convey that this included all of the scriptures, and later in the book of Acts we see the apostles boldly shepherding their people in “the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:26-27).” As we fight to make sure that all of our teaching is ‘gospel-centric,’ and ‘Christ-centric,’ lets be sure to avoid falling into the error of ‘gospel-reductionism.’ Without a systematic commitment to teaching our children - and people! - the whole counsel of God, at the end of the day a truncated gospel message may end up becoming a pseudo- or even false- gospel in the ears of the ill-informed. So will you join me in using this time to catechize our children? In doing so, I pray that this will help them learn the whole counsel of God to the end that they may personally know the God of the whole counsel.
At this moment in history, many people are asking the same question: How do we FACE COVID? The answer depends a great deal on who we are asking. During this crisis there have been numerous resources floating around about how to cope, but all seem grossly insufficient to the task when compared with what God offers. Whether it be this crisis or the next, the riches we have in Christ and the truths we know from scripture are the answers to our deepest questions.
Fear not, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Simply put, we do not face this or any crisis alone; God is in control. This does not mean we have an absence of the feeling of fear, but rather with the emotions of fear we do experience there is the freedom to “cast all our anxieties on Him, for He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). As the psalmist David says, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Psalm 23). God is a Good Shepherd guarding His sheep and so in this context there is no longer any need to be overwhelmed by worry or panic; we may firmly rest in reliance on the God who loves us.
Allow grief. There is plenty about this situation that may make us sad, and it is healthy to permit the tears to fall and the weight of grief to come upon us. Grieving well is a healthy response to real suffering in the world. We may grieve loss of contact with others, the loss of a job, or the loss of a loved one. When C.S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he exclaimed, “No one told me grief felt so like fear.” We lament our losses, but always in the mindset that God’s mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). In addition, what a beautiful time to confess our contribution to loss, and to seek God’s mercy.
Continue working. That may seem grossly callous amidst such a spike of unemployment, but work is more than a job and it existed in the Garden of Eden as a part of God’s design for us long before sin entered the world. This crisis gives us a chance to actually reflect on how we are acting. What applied effort are we engaged in now and where is it leading? While accepting the things we cannot change, we commit our work to the Lord and fully engage in it. Whether our task is teaching children, serving the sick, or wisely using down time, in all these things we put ourselves into it, as to the Lord, for through Him our inheritance comes (Colossians 3:23).
Engage in our primary purpose, which is already defined for us. That statement may sound like an affront to our independence, and it is. While we all may be doing different specific activities with our gifts, God has spelled out the primary way to make meaning of existence. In Micah 6:8, we have been told what is good: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” In the middle of the 17th century, an assembly of people was asked by the king to consider the core questions of life and to summarize the coherent truths in scripture. To the question, “What is the chief end of Man?” they answered, “To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). COVID or not, this is a purpose that may not be taken from us, so is our primary commitment to this purpose or to something else?
Consider sitting still. One of the silver linings to the COVID crisis is for us to see just how frenetic our lives have become, so this emerges as an opportunity to meditate on all God is doing. This may be fostered simply by spending a quiet hour outside and being mindful of God’s creation – its beauty and intricacy and design. Perhaps this is a chance to re-engage in a quiet time, devotions, and contemplative prayer; habits which may have been sidelined by busy-ness. When we hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) through memorization of key scriptural truths, then they emerge from the soil of suffering bearing fruit to sustain us, and we are reminded of the peace that comes from a mind stayed on God and trusting in Him (Isaiah 26:3).
Offer assistance. Jesus told his disciples explicitly that He “…did not come into the world to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The overwhelming needs for some people right now must shake us out of self-interest and into an active desire to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Finding creative ways to do this is an appropriate and even thrilling part of showing others the love God has for them. Indeed, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Value life. After all, is that not the essence of why our lives are turned up-side-down? We are doing this to protect the lives of our most vulnerable, who if infected would be at risk of dying. For this reason, it makes sense to limit contact, hand-wash, etc. while we also pray for wisdom in our government and healthcare leaders to make reasoned decisions to optimize human flourishing. Even while this is relevant, and the celebration of all human life is necessary, so this moment also points us to something greater, namely, eternal life. Without it we are lost and there is no way to effectively value this life or understand suffering. By trusting in Jesus, we may be assured that we will not be under judgement and will receive eternal life (John 5:24).
Increase desire for collective worship. As churches have closed their doors, Easter felt very different and it brought into stark reality: We were made to worship God together and live lives in community. Finding on-line methods for continued “gathering” is worth the effort, for by this we “spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but all the more as we see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). May we let this absence from congregation remind us of the importance of family as God’s first community; may we aim the Church toward His Kingdom.
Delight in the Lord! “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercies endure forever” (Psalm 136:1). At no time is this an irrelevant task. Truly, we “rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Peace be with you all.