March 19, Thursday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is prepared by Pastor Ryun Chang who is the AMI Teaching Pastor.

 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Imagine COVID-19 as God’s Judgment . . . Nah, It Ain’t So!”

James 4:6b

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Talk has already begun about whether the COVID-19 pandemic is a judgement from God. It’s a straightforward question that elicits an either/or response. To the ISIS jihadists, the pandemic, or as they call it “the plague,” is “a torment sent by God on whomsoever He wills,” no doubt referring to the infidels. So, to these terrorists, COVID-19 is Allah’s judgment. 

Contrast that to what Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of a mega Baptist church in Dallas and an ardent supporter of President Trump, said about the pandemic. In a recent message entitled, “Is the Coronavirus a Judgement from God?” Jeffress said, “Many times illness is just a consequence of living in the fallen world.”  That has to be the understatement of the decade, seeing that that illness is changing life as we have known it.  Regardless, no, Jeffress doesn’t seem to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is God’s judgment. I wonder what Jeffress would have said about the pandemic if Hillary were the President. Well, I wouldn’t put it past him to sound like what John Hagee, another conservative megachurch pastor from Texas, said about the 2014 Ebola epidemic: “God’s punishment for President Barack Obama’s Israel policy.” 

What do you think? Well, allow me to tinker with John Lennon’s famous song, “Imagine” in which the famed Beetle muses over the possibility of no heaven and no hell: “Imagine there is no heaven; it’s easy if you try.” So I say, “Imagine COVID-19 as God’s judgment; it’s easy if you don’t cherry-pick verses from the Bible.” And we don’t even need to rely on the Book of Revelation, in which one cataclysmic event after another decimates the entire world in the end-days (according to dispensationalism), to recognize two important things about God and His judgment.

First, God indeed can judge in the present, like right now. Consider what the apostle Paul says about all the persecutions and trials the Thessalonian Church was undergoing in the middle of the first century: “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God (dikaias kriseōs tou theou), that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering” (2 Thess. 1:4-5 ESV). 

Here, God’s judgment, inflicted on the Thessalonian Church—of which it was said “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians” (Acts 17:11a)—and carried out, not by virus, but the ones described as “those who trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6), was to make this church more worthy of God’s kingdom. 

Second, it’s not the unbelieving world that gets God’s judgment (in contrast to the outlook of ISIS jihadists) first, but the church—as evidenced by the example of the Thessalonian Church. The apostle Peter declares, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17 NIV 1984). So, Mr. Ryun Chang, what sin of the church do you have in mind? 

This past Monday, during a long layover at O’Hare, I put on my hoodie, laid my forehead down on a table, and with worship music softly playing through my headphones, prayed rather desperately. (Maybe being at an airport amidst the crisis had something to do with it.) While I was trying to grapple with what this pandemic was doing to our country, it suddenly dawned on me that, at least in the American context, this could be God’s judgment on the church for its . . . unmitigated ARROGANCE. 

And then I immediately recalled a short video clip that a pastor friend in Malaysia sent me recently. In it, a Caucasian pastor from the US shares a conversation he had with a group of 22 underground church leaders in China. They had travelled three days on a train to reach the site of their training, taking place in a small room with hard wooden floors, and going from 8 AM to 5 PM for several days. Concerned about his own safety, when the speaker asked, “If we get caught, what will happen to me?” they answered, “You will get deported in 24 hours and we will go to prison for 3 years.” Eighteen of them already had spent time in prison for their faith. 

At the conclusion of the training, the pastor asked the underground leaders, “How can I pray for you before I leave for America?” In response, they said, “You guys can gather like this whenever you want to in America, but we can’t; so, could you pray that one day we can be just like you?” The speaker “looked at them and said, ‘I will not do that’” to which the Chinese leaders questioned, “But why?” And this is how the US pastor responded:

“You guys rode on the train for 13 hours to get here; in my country if you get to drive more than an hour, people don’t come. You sat on a wooden floor for 3 days; in my country, if people have to sit more than 40 minutes, they leave. You sat here not only for 3 days on a hard-wooden floor, but you did it without air-conditioning; in my country, if it’s not padded pews and air conditioning, people often don’t come back. And in my country, we have on average 2 Bibles per family, but we don’t read any of them. You hardly have any Bibles and you memorize it from pieces of paper. I will not pray that you become like us, but I will pray that we become just like you.” 

The video clip came with no date, but I am willing to bet that it happened years ago, for many Chinese churches now look more like churches in the West; perhaps with the rapid rise of persecution against churches in China, many Chinese believers may get the opportunity to worship God with all of their hearts again. But what about us evangelicals in America who feel so “in” with mainstream culture because of our concert-like worship services (singing songs about God than to Him), our dedication to social justice (instead of justice of God obtained solely through faith in Christ) or our total disdain for Donald Trump or a total devotion to him? Let’s admit it: We are full of ourselves!

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on America, several conservative pastors saw this event as God’s judgment against America for embracing what amounts to moral liberalism. For instance, the aforementioned Jeffress saw the unprecedented attack as “God’s judgment upon America for the sins of abortion.” That well may have been the case, but their take on the 9/11 attack was out of order: before pointing a finger at others, the believers—recognizing that God cleans out His house first before dealing with the filth of the world—should “humble themselves and pray and seek [God’s] face and turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chron. 7:14a). 

As I was wrapping up my prayer, I heard another inner voice that seemed to say: “Hey Ryun (of whom someone attributed with “a PhD in PowerPoint”), stop hiding your lack of spirituality behind your PowerPoint slides.” Arrogance has been in my heart for a while, and I believe this conversation with the Lord has just begun.

Prayer: Lord, above all else, get us to REPENT amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Really. In Jesus’ name, amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 51


Lunch Break Study*

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Questions to Consider

  1. How is the New Covenant different from the Old Covenant?
  2. According to v. 32, what was deficient in the Old Covenant?
  3. How does God describe Himself to His people in the Old and New Covenants?

Notes

  1. In the New Covenant, the Lord would write the law on the hearts of His people, not just in the Book of the Law.  Furthermore, neighbor and brother would not need to be exhorted to “Know the Lord,” for all shall know Him, from the least to the greatest.
  2. Since the Old Covenant could be broken by the people, its continual establishment depended on whether or not men obeyed.  Given the sinful nature of the people, it was doomed to be insufficient from the beginning.
  3. “Husband” (v. 32) and “their God” (v. 34). 

Evening Reflection*

Reflect upon your day.  What evidence is there that God has given you a new heart?  In what area do you still need the transforming work of God?  Invite the Holy Spirit to continue the work of transforming your heart.

*Prepared by Pastor Jason Sato (first posted on December 8, 2013).

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