"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment,
is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen.
For the things which are seen are temporary,
but the things which are not seen are eternal."
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NKJV)
In January of this year, I began rereading the Bible from the beginning. Around the time that we all realized how dangerous COVID-19 was, I was reading about plagues, how they started, who started them and, more specifically, why. For the record, it always had to do with sin, and God always initiated the plagues. So, am I saying God started COVID-19? Well, I know that nothing gets by Him and that He will use everything to bring His people back to Him.
I also know that like an earthly father, our Heavenly Father will not hesitate to correct disobedient children (Leviticus 26:14-45). Yes, these verses were directed at the children of Israel. But for those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, according to the Scriptures, you are now part of Abraham's family tree (Ephesians 2:11-13; Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 3:6; Romans 11:17-24), and when we are disobedient, God must act. I do not see the COVID-19 virus as a punishment for those who don't know God. I see it as a "wake-up before it's too late" call for those who claim they do.
The Christian church consists of many religions, with varying beliefs. Yet, for the most part, we all believe in one central tenet - Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again on the third day to save every person in the world from eternal damnation. Simply put, those who have put their faith in Christ will never be banished from God's presence. Eternal damnation is about never being able to come before God again. To never feel His presence, to never be able to talk to Him and know He hears you. To never know His peace, friendship and love - that is eternal damnation in a nutshell. Jesus' death grants to all who believe in Him eternal salvation - life lived directly with God. This truth is found in the most familiar verse in the Bible, which reads: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Unfortunately, while we all share this fundamental tenet, many churches have taken John 3:16 (and other verses) and added to them so that the Gospel of Christ is barely recognizable today in the Christian church. I will not point out which churches have strayed from Jesus' central message. It is obvious which ones strive to follow the teachings of Christ and which ones don't. We know them by their fruits and by how well they are following the Lord's commandment to go out into the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and if they are teaching believers how to take up their cross and follow Jesus.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24).
The commandment to deny ourselves is rarely taught in the church today and because of this a darker, politically driven, fear-ridden church has begun to emerge.
In recent weeks, the demands coming from some Christians have been in the vein of "my rights." Pastors are encouraging their congregations to disobey the law. They want to go to church. They don't care if they might spread COVID-19. They only see their "rights" supposedly being trampled on. Some have lost sight of the fact that quarantine rules are in place to protect the most vulnerable. Many have strayed so far from the Lord and their Bibles during this pandemic, that they believe wild conspiracy theories that range from the virus being some kind of government plot to control us, to mandatory vaccines that will strip us of all our rights, to Bill Gates started the whole thing. What nonsense! And how sad. Christians are filled with fear instead of trusting in and listening to the Holy Spirit during this stressful time. Some are also under the mistaken belief that God will protect them from the virus. God does not reward disobedience.
For reasons I cannot understand, many Christians (not all) have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit and instead have given into fear and are listening to the god of this world. And this started way before the pandemic, but got worse as people started dying and we went into lockdown. How sad that some have forgotten three essential aspects of Kingdom living - denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Jesus.
Jesus spent three years teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven and what it looked like to those who followed him. But, during the time he taught them, they thought he was talking about an earthly kingdom. It wasn't until after Jesus rose from the dead that they understood what he meant. God's kingdom was not on earth (John 18:36), but it was a spiritual kingdom, and it existed in the lives of those where God was King. Yet, today many Christians seem to be focused on what is going on in the world, rather than focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven. They have forgotten (or maybe some have never learned), what it is like to be a child of God and what Kingdom living looks like. They are so bogged down with the cares and concerns in this physical life that they have lost sight of who they belong to. Kingdom living isn't something that begins when you physically die and leave this world. Kingdom living begins the moment you say yes to God.
That means God must be King over every aspect of your life! When Jesus got on the cross to deliver us from our sins he also served as an example of what it looks like to deny ourselves and allow God to reign within us. His death is a literal example of what it means to deny yourself. His resurrection leads us into our new life with him in a new spiritual kingdom. This kingdom is powerful and never-ending. This kingdom begins a transformation in you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live a life that puts God first, above your desires, daily. I repeat - Kingdom Living begins the moment you say yes to God. That is why it is called eternal salvation. Believer, do you understand? The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and available to you now. So why are you living like it isn't?
There is a reason Jesus said, "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14). And again, when He said, "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28). Kingdom living is about putting God first in everything. It does not give in to fear, conspiracy theories, or indignant rants about "my rights." If you are a child of God your only right is to put God first, deny yourself and live for Him.
We have all heard the phrase, "Be in the world, but not of it." It is a paraphrase of an amalgamation of verses that speak of how believers are not of this world and how we should behave because of it (John, 15:19, Romans 12:1-2, John 17:14-16, 1 John 2:15-17, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and many more). These verses help guide us in our behaviour. Jesus knew he was not of this world, and his kingdom was not of this world. He prayed for all believers to understand this simple truth, asking the Father to not take us out of the world, but to protect us from the evil one (John 17:15). And Jesus' actions give us a clear idea of how to "be in the world, but not of it." Like the Apostles, he had one focus: to teach about the Kingdom of God and to heal and minister to those who were sick. But he never got involved in the politics of the day. He never protested harsh treatment from the government, and he never got involved in causes that distracted him from his mission. He did, however, get involved with those who claimed to be speaking for or representing God. He often called out the religious establishment for hypocrisy. He called them names (Matthew 12:34). This example (or precedence, if you will) shows us where our focus needs to be today. Building up and strengthening the church so that it is effective in glorifying God in the world while setting itself apart. "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven," is where the Kingdom of Heaven begins and is lived.
I have had a distinct advantage in my perspective during this pandemic. I have been more or less housebound since 2013 because of a disease that prevents me from attending church or events that last longer than an hour. I have lymphedema, and when my legs are not elevated, they fill with fluid that causes them to expand, sometimes bursting open to allow the fluid out. It is painful and sometimes very embarrassing. So, I watch church online. For many years now, I have felt like an outsider looking in, someone who is no longer part of a church family (even though I am still a member of my church), but still a part of the Body of Christ. And I have been saddened to see some churches go from a body of believers whose sole purpose was to reach the lost, to a body of believers attacking the lost and their choices. And I have seen Christians make politics and political candidates their primary focus, at the expense of Jesus' message. And I am heartbroken.
Politics should never be the focus of the Bride of Christ. We are in the world not of it, remember? I am so thankful to God for the many members of the body of Christ that I have met, not just here in Canada but from all over the world. We are sanctified in Jesus, called to be saints together in His name, enriched in everything by His Holy Spirit, who grants us wisdom and knowledge. So, I plead with you, echoing the words of the Apostle Paul when I say, "By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).
Please stop involving yourselves in politics. Yes, do your duty and vote, but stop making politicians and political parties and their promises your focus. For it is not what we have been called to promote. Politics has no place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus once told a man to "let the dead bury their own dead." He said this in response to a disciple who wanted to follow Jesus but wanted to go bury his father first. Using that analogy, let us strive to remember that as Christians, our kingdom is not of this world. Let the world and those who rule and love it, worry about these things. Yes, do your duty as a citizen and vote, but leave it at that. Politics should never be a priority for Christians, for when they are, we cause divisions with the body of Christ. And we end up too easily compromising ourselves for the sake of a cause and a political candidate.
For example, I am more than confused over the adoration Christians are giving to President Donald Trump. From my vantage point, it appears as if they are wholeheartedly endorsing a President who is a prolific liar. Why would you align yourself with someone like that? (2 Corinthians 6:14). He has done more to spread fake news and discord than any other president in history. I know many people think he is a Christian. I wish that were true. But his behaviour clearly shows he does not know the Lord and is merely pandering to those he knows will vote for him. Yes, pray for him! He needs to find Jesus. But be careful. It looks like some of you are putting Trump first, over Jesus, forgiving Trump his many faults all because he is pro-life and pro-Israel. Take care you are not deceived and tarnish the name of Christ further.
Jesus never involved himself in what Caesar was doing. He repeatedly said that his kingdom was not of this world. He told us to pay our taxes, and that was it (Matthew 22:21). He never encouraged rallies to support Caesar. He could have, to get on Caesar's good side. But he didn't. He didn't protest gay lifestyles or the more horrendous act of his time - infanticide. His anger was never directed at the secular government and their laws at all. His anger was always directed at the religious leaders of his day. His mission was focused on the kingdom of heaven, on kingdom living, and what that looked like on earth. And that is where the church needs to be putting its focus as well.
So this is where we need to evaluate ourselves in light of the current pandemic. The kingdom of heaven is here. It is within all those who claim Jesus as Lord. So why are so many Christians behaving as if it isn't? God is the one in control right now. Don't ever forget that. He knew the churches would close. So what are we going to do about it?
I hope we take up the challenge and start making disciples as Christ commanded us, denying ourselves and taking up our cross, and following Jesus in purity and truth. It is time for Christians to come out of the world and to start focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven. For the Kingdom of Heaven is not something coming in the future. The Kingdom of Heaven is already here, in all those who claim Jesus as Lord. God has effectively given the church a reset button. I hope when we begin to emerge from the safety of our homes, we will be about the Father's business once again.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:2
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” - John 18:36
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. - John 2:15
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. - Colossians 3:1-2