He Will Make All Things New (Pastor’s Desk)

It’s hard to imagine that only four weeks ago was the last time most of us saw all of us together. You’d probably have to go back a few weeks more to remember when our church was beginning to fill up with new students starting the year, visiting parents, newcomers along with all the regular faces we’re so used to seeing.

But that was then, and this is now. God’s people have always been a people called and gathered together by our God – and over the past 2000 years only in a few other rare and exceptional circumstances have churches not gathered together. It’s sometimes astonishing to think that it took an invisible virus to once again do prevent our gatherings.

But in 2020 our technological advances mean we haven’t stopped opening God’s Word with each other – online, digitally, through the screen. And with that has come a different way of looking at things, and a new learning curve.

As SLE Church closed its doors a few weeks ago and moved online, there was heaps of tension in the air. Behind the scenes we had guys like Ivan Tan, Li Wei Wee and Matthew Tao – along with the other musicians and PA guys working out all the tech of live streaming. (Drop them an encouraging message and say thanks!). We’ve had some hitches with live-streaming the second service that we’re aware of and ironing out. But we’re glad that it’s gone relatively smoothly.

Quite a number of our fellowship groups have been working out how to move online as well – using Zoom, Jitsi Meet, Google Hangouts, and other video conferencing sites. We’ve been able to maintain some contact, some catchups, and some prayer between us even as we remain socially distanced, and self-isolated. And if you’re not already connected in this way, let us encourage you to seek those options out – contact Ben, myself, or one of your fellowship leaders to get connected.

Feedback on these online gatherings has been generally positive – but there is one piece of feedback that has come up consistently – and it’s worth repeating: the feedback is that while online meetings have generally been ok, it isn’t the same as being face to face.

No, it isn’t. And I think this is all the more reason to keep persisting with meeting online when we can – and not just in our small bible study groups, but catching up with more people online 1 to 1. It isn’t the same, and every time we meet online we are reminded of what we have lost. You’d think that in this day and age of webcams and chat groups that we would overcome that loss – but something is still missing.

I miss seeing people face to face – of seeing you smile, of responding with my own smile, of you connecting with this and joy being shared. I miss looking at people’s eyes, of seeing the hidden joys and pains. I miss the appropriate hugs of joy. I miss the singing at church – oh how I miss hearing each other’s voices together!

And all of this is why we should persist in meeting online. Because with every online meeting we build up within us a longing for more, a desire for a return to our gathered time together.

One of my friends, Stephen McAlpine, wrote on his blog recently that after all this is over there will be a lot of hugging when church gets back together again.

But as much as I look forward to that day when SLE Church gathers again in person – that day will be a shadow of the better, brighter day to come.

It will be as it has been written in the Bible:

[1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Let’s keep gathering together online, as a church, in our fellowship groups, and in one to one catch ups with each other. And let’s keep doing so looking forward not only to the day when we rejoice together as a church, but also looking forward to that day when we will rejoice with all Christians from history past and history future, around the throne of Jesus, forever more.

Revelation 21:1–5

“He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Himself. And there will be no more social distancing. Ever. Again.”
– Stephen McAlpine

When Loving each other means not seeing each other (Pastor’s Desk)

When Jesus was asked to summarise the Law he distilled it down to two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind; the second command is to love your neighbour as yourself (cf Matt 22:34-40)

On Wednesday the Prime Minister of Australia announced some strict measures to combat the Covid19 spread and help flatten the curve (Edit: this post was written pre-weekend, on Sunday evening the PM announced further stricter measures). Flattening the curve has been the catch cry during this period – and is basically the hope of medical professionals that through good hygiene practices and ‘social distancing’ we will be able to keep the number of infections low enough that serious cases will not overload our already loaded medical facilities. If the curve is not flattened, if the number of infections is allowed to grow unchecked, then the number of serious infections will quickly overwhelm our systems and people will die who might not have – Italy being a particularly serious example of this.

The virus itself has so far clearly shown itself to be quite deadly for elderly generations and those with compromised immune systems, and it is not ‘just like the flu’. Given this information, and given the demographics of our church, we believe that as an act of loving our church members, doing good to the household of faith (cf Gal 6:10), and ultimately as an act of loving God, we would heed the government’s warnings on this matter and temporarily cancel our services.

So, it was a little disappointing to hear recently of someone breaking the government-mandated 14 self-isolation and brushing off concerns with, ‘I’m young…’ and ‘You should have more faith.’

Let me explain why this is not only naïve and foolish but also breaking the greatest commandment #2 and ultimately commandment #1: if you were to catch the virus then sure, being of young age would mean that you would have a high chance of survival – but what of those to whom you have passed it on during your contagious incubation period? What of the person three or four steps removed from you who has received the virus because you chose to ignore the warnings? That is not loving your neighbour as yourself. It is profoundly self-interested.

If I understand the interplay of the two great commands together, then the implication is that if you willingly choose to not love your neighbour, you are not truly loving God. The two are tied together. Christians who do not heed governmental authority in these matters (cf Romans 13) or your church leadership are not demonstrating faithfulness. They are demonstrating disobedience.

So let this be an exhortation for us all – let us care for each other in this season by heeding the warnings of our government, practising good hygiene and appropriate social distancing, and to do so not out of mere lip service but out of love for God and love for our neighbour.

 

Christian – stop using Psalm 91 against Covid 19!

If you haven’t already, expect to see it sometime soon: a misapplied, ripped out of context, application of Psalm 91 to believers in this present Covid 19 crisis.

Here’s the full Psalm:

Psalm 91

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
[2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
[4] He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
[8] You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
[12] On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
[15] When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honour him.
[16] With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (ESV)

As you can see verses 6 and 10 appear to be the favourite reasons why this Psalm is being quoted as encouragement and security for Christians in our present crisis.

But let me give you one big reason, among many, why we should be extremely conscious of not applying this passage directly to us: Satan tried that on Jesus.

In Matthew 4 as a part of the temptations of Jesus, Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 and tells Jesus that if he were to jump off the temple roof then, according to this Psalm, God would take care of him. Jesus retorts that this would be testing God.

So, here’s a biblical interpretative principle for those who were not aware – if the Devil misapplies scripture then we would do very well to check we are not doing the same.

And especially when it comes to the particular passage that he misapplied.

Of the examples, I have been sent or come across recently the usage of Psalm 91 has been to take this Old Testament passage, treat it as a promise for believers today, and encourage the reader/listener to take hold of the promises contained within. Not only does this ignore biblical theology but it sets Christians up for thorough disappointment and accompanying disillusionment.

Think about it. If you take the promises of this Psalm and apply it directly onto our lives here in Covid 19 panic-filled 2020 then it raises some very important questions:

  • What happens if you, a believer, get sick with the virus? Has God not kept his promise?
  • What happens if a believer dies because of the virus? Did they not have enough faith that God would protect them?
  • What happens when you do feel afraid when the panic around you begins to settle into your own heart? Does that mean we have not been delivered?

The Psalm itself opens up some odd applications if they were to be directly applied to believers today. For instance, in v13 when it speaks of treading on lions and adders – there’s a language of dominion over these creatures. Of victory over them. Yet I don’t see Christians rushing out to their local zoo, or booking flights to Africa, to show off their victory in God by having dominion over these wild animals.

But let’s say you argue we should read v13 metaphorically – then can I ask why you read that verse metaphorically but not the other verses? Why does your hermeneutic (your principles of interpretation) change so dramatically within the Psalm?

Let me put it bluntly – applying Psalm 91 directly to ourselves is a misapplication and misinterpretation of the scriptures.

But don’t take it just from me. Jesus says so.

In Luke 24 Jesus gives us the proper way we should be interpreting the whole of scripture:

[44] Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” [45] Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, [46] and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47] and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [48] You are witnesses of these things.

(Luke 24:44–48)

Right there in Luke 24:44, Jesus says that everything written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (ie the entire Old Testament) are about him and must be fulfilled. This is not to say that Jesus cherry-picked a whole bunch of verses that ‘prophesied’ his coming – he opened up the scriptures to the disciples to show them how each part pointed forward to his life, death, and resurrection.

So here’s how Jesus applied the Old Testament: as pointing forward and helping us understand who he is and what he came to accomplish. If your reading or application of the Old Testament doesn’t help you understand the gospel then you are fundamentally misreading it.

Or put it another way – if your reading and application of the Old Testament (or indeed the whole Bible) isn’t Christian, if it could be equally applied to the Jew or the Muslim, then you have failed to understand the point and purpose of the Old Testament.

So, then, how do we understand and apply Psalm 91?

Without going into a full exegesis of the passage let me make a few observations.

First, in verses 1-2 you can see the particular context and ground for the fantastic promises made in the Psalm: those who shelter, abide in, and find refuge in Yahweh. The idea of taking refuge – finding shelter and safety – in Yahweh is littered throughout the Psalms and the Old Testament. So only those who have sought refuge in Yahweh will experience the blessings promised within.

Second, as you go through the Psalm and compare it to Deuteronomy 28 you’ll notice that the blessings of Psalm 91 find a number of parallels to the blessings of the covenant in Deuteronomy. The parallels help us see that the blessings of Psalm 91, and Deuteronomy 28, are available for those who keep the Old covenant.

Which, let me be clear, is not Christians because we live under a new covenant.

But if I could summarise the main point of Psalm 91 I would say that those who find refuge in Yahweh will experience the fullness of victory and blessing.

But as we read the Psalm within the context of the Old Testament we find that none of these promises in Psalm 91 ever found fulfilment. There were hints of them through the kingship of David – but most of the history of Israel is not filled with any sort of total encompassing life victory that Psalm 91 holds out for God’s people.

That is until the coming of Jesus.

Jesus who lived a sinless life, who deserved to enjoy the blessings of the covenant (and Psalm 91), experienced the covenant curses on behalf of others. His resurrection was God’s approval that his substitutionary sacrifice sufficiently paid the penalty and curses.

And now, for those united to Jesus by faith, who are ‘in Christ’ (Yahweh’s King), they have been richly blessed with every blessing in the heavenly realms (cf Ephesians 1:3), and can now enjoy guaranteed future glory in Christ even though they suffer temporarily now (cf Romans 8).

Therefore, those in Christ, by faith alone, are able to enjoy the blessings of Psalm 91 because they are eternally secure in Christ and can now face any trial, suffering, or brokenness without fear.

Psalm 91 does not hold out a life free from suffering and sickness and Covid 19. Psalm 91, fulfilled for us in Christ, holds out the promised blessings that are eternally secured even in the face of present suffering and sickness and, yes, even death.

Christian: stop applying Psalm 91 directly to yourself and others. It is not only a misapplication of the text but also a shallow hope. Psalm 91, as it points us to the gospel of Jesus, gives us eternal hope even when we face the fiery arrows, the terrors of the night, pestilence and destruction of the present.