Coronavirus and Christ (John Piper)

I wanted to write a blog post addressing how a Christian navigates our current Coronavirus crisis. Such a discussion is profitable not only for Christians, but also for anyone who is looking for a steady rock in the shifting sands of uncertainty. These truly unprecedented times have caused many of us to think more deeply about life than we otherwise would have.

Thankfully, John Piper penned and published a book in just 14 days that addresses those issues. I heartily recommend this FREE (digital or audio download) resource to you and anyone you know. At just around 100 pages, it is short, understandable, yet profoundly deep. Click here to download a copy today.

~CP

Give Us This Day Our Non-Perishables

My wife Emily just got back from the grocery store this morning. In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, we weren’t really sure what to expect. We prayed with our two little girls before mommy left for the store, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Then she returned with an embarrassment of rations. Don’t get me wrong—we actually need all that food to survive (those with hungry little ones in their homes are all nodding in agreement). We thanked God for his provision, then began unloading grocery bags, when suddenly it hit me—a lot of people are consumed with obtaining non-perishables right now, but Jesus told us to pray for daily bread. There’s a lesson to learn there.

Do Not Be Anxious About Daily Provisions

In the same chapter he teaches us the Lord’s prayer, Jesus addresses the topic of storing up food. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus uses the Lord’s prayer to expose our anxiety. He prayed for daily bread, not non-perishables. I know, I know, the term didn’t exist in his day. But the basic truth stands: anxiety over lack of daily provisions is wrong.

“But,” you may say, “it is wise to plan for the future!” It’s true, God does elevate wisdom, calling us to embrace it. But we need to be careful we do not use wisdom as a cloak for unfounded fear. Rather, wisdom flows from an intimate relationship of reverent awe and holy fear of our Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10) So if the Lord has anything to say about this topic, and he does, we would be wise to listen to him.

When my wife goes grocery shopping, she purchases about a week’s worth of food. Once a month we trek to Costco and buy some bulk items to save a few extra dollars. With refrigeration and storage considerations, weekly trips work well for us. That’s all we need, and we ought to pray that God would provide it for us.

In Jesus’s day, in spite of the lack of refrigeration, the situation was similar. Israelites could store up grain or bottle wine, they could fish on a given day, or they could slaughter a sheep from the flock. Most had resources available beyond their need of “daily bread.” Yet the sword, famine, or pestilence could threaten their food supplies. For some reason we think modern technology and food storage techniques make us less vulnerable. We are not.

Consider Your Value Before God

Jesus’s message to his followers is the same for believers today. Don’t build bigger barns, instead, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:26-29)

It is not the lilies of the field that bear the image of God. It is not the birds of the air for whom Christ died. If God takes such diligent care for the least of his creatures, why do we doubt is care for us, the crown jewel of his creation? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

We certainly do not need to gather any more anxiety in our hearts. Yet we often spend our time and money obsessing over things that will never happen to us. Our gathered goods often are a mirror image of the gathered anxiety in our hearts. In fact, Jesus just finished saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Charles Spurgeon nails the issue with his usual pithiness.

“Many of God’s people are constantly under apprehensions of calamities which will never occur to them, and they suffer far more in merely dreading them than they would have to endure if they actually came upon them. In their imagination, there are rivers in their way, and they are anxious to know how they shall wade through them, or swim across them. There are no such rivers in existence, but they are agitated and distressed about them. An old proverb says, “Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it;” but these timid people are continually crossing bridges that only exist in their foolish fancies. They stab themselves with imaginary daggers, they starve themselves in imaginary famines, and even bury themselves in imaginary graves. We are such strange creatures that we probably suffer more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come. The rod of God does not strike us as sharply as the rod of our own imagination does; our groundless fears are our chief tormentors, and when we are able to abolish our self-inflictions, all the worries of the world become light and easy. However, it is a pity that Christians who have the gift of faith in Christ given to them, should fall into so guilty and at the same time so painful a habit as this of fearing the oppressor who does not come, and who never will come.”

Charles Spurgeon, Needless Fears,
sermon on Is. 51:12-13 preached June 11, 1874

Confess Your Lack of Faith

Jesus has spoken so clearly about this issue that his words need no further explanation. He simply challenges us to make the application.

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:30-31)

When Jesus tells us to pray for our daily bread, he really means it. He rebukes us for our “little faith.” And we don’t like this rebuke. The truth hurts. Peter knew what it felt like to be rebuked by his Lord. Peter put his foot in his mouth so many times, he probably would have done well to just leave it there. And Peter has some good advice for us when responding to our Lord’s words.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) In our pride, we don’t want to confess sin. “Confession is good for the soul, bad for the reputation,” they say. And this fear of being humbled causes anxiety in our hearts. Just as we fail to trust God for daily bread, we also fail to trust God by humbly confessing our sin. Do you see a pattern here? Anxiety in one area tends to spread its ugly roots all throughout the garden of our heart.

Feed on the Bread of Heaven

Instead of stubbornly persisting in patterns of anxiousness, we would do well to listen to Jesus. Here’s his simple solution: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

In John 6, Jesus tells us three times, “I am the bread of life.” He tells us to seek him for our spiritual and physical livelihood. He is not ignoring the reality of our physical needs, rather he is putting them in their proper perspective. Our need for physical bread should remind us of our greater need for spiritual bread. Saved saints should not live like those in the world who do not trust God to provide their daily bread. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. So seek him first, gather only what physical supplies you truly need, and “all these things will be added to you.” Your local Walmart store manager will thank you.
~CP

Learning to Fly

Yesterday I was walking into the parking lot after church, somewhat weary from the morning’s events, when I saw a shadow swiftly pass by on the ground. I glanced up at the sky, and just a moment later a hawk glided over my head. Without a single flap of its wings, it smoothly wheeled itself all the way around the church parking lot in search of prey. It was low enough for me to see its outstretched wings, even to the wingtip feathers, but high enough to glide on the rising currents of heat.

I stood in awe and watched as it glided, still without a flap, out of sight. Immediately a familiar verse crossed my mind, but with new meaning.

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Usually when I read that verse I think about how eagles mount up; they spread their majestic wings and rise with each powerful stroke. But, for birds of prey, most of their time flying is actually spent riding on currents of air. They sense the wind beneath their wings and skillfully use it to guide them on their way. They are, to some extent, at the mercy of the air. But they know how to leverage it for their benefit. The result is something beautiful enough to stop us in our tracks as we gaze in wonder at creation; it seems so effortless.

photo credit: Sam Bark, unsplash.com

Yes, the verse means that God can give us strength if we wait on him. But I wonder if we think too much about God providing us with incredible “mounting” strength and not enough about God providing us with humble “gliding” strength. Am I sensitive to the providential currents of air God has placed in my life? Am I wasting my energy fearfully flapping when, if I were patient, God could teach me to spread my wings and glide? While gliding appears to be effortless, we all know it actually requires an immense amount of trust. Both gliding and mounting demand spiritual strength that only God can give, but I think the majority of the Christian life is sensitive, skillful gliding.

What new heights could we soar to by simply being attentive to God’s leading? Today is your new opportunity.

CP

Book Review – George Müller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson (5 stars)

This year I decided to take on Tim Challies’ 2019 Christian Reading Challenge. Just recently I finished up my first biography for the year. Occasionally I will do a book review on some of the books I’m reading. You can read some of my thoughts about that process here. Today’s book is George Müller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson.

Meet George Müller

I don’t know if this is true for you, but before reading this book I felt as if I had heard a lot about George Müller without really knowing a lot about him. In college I even played George-Muller-Bristolthe role of Müller in a play for the campus missions society. While I had good intentions of reading his autobiography to be a better actor, I never did. Instead, I gleaned most of my understanding about the life of George Müller from that play. If you think about it, you probably don’t want people to learn everything they know about your life through a drama staged by amateur college students, at least I don’t.

So I would encourage you to get better acquainted with Müller, and this book is a great place to start. Arthur Tappan Pierson carefully highlights select portions from Müller’s journal that recount significant aspects of his life. Pierson was a close personal friend of Müller, gifted with a strong command of language and keen spiritual insight (he succeeded Charles Spurgeon as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London). You won’t get to read every detail of Müller’s life, but you will get a good overview of the man, his personality, his character, and how God shaped him through the years.

Chronological & Topical

Pierson spends the first portion of this book doing a chronological sketch of Müller’s life. Starting at birth, Pierson traces Müller’s life through his early rebellious days, his astonishing conversion, his subsequent growth in Christ, his failed pursuit of missions, his developing biblical convictions, his early influences (especially through the biography of A.H. Francké), his lesser-known early years of ministry, his well-known orphan ministry, his personal hardships, and his worldwide missionary enterprise during the final years of his life.

While most would be satisfied with simply writing a chronological overview, Pierson presses in even further to the life of Müller. The second half of the book looks at key aspects of Müller’s life topically, tying together common themes and emphases from his journal and other related historical documents. This second overview is equally interesting, helpfully reemphasizing the aspects of Müller’s life that made him such an edifying and unique servant of Christ.

Only the Tip of the Iceberg

I used to think of the story of George Müller like this: It’s morning, and there’s not a scrap of food left on the table. The housemaid comes in and informs the Müller’s that the orphans, too, having nothing to eat. Müller drops on his knees before everyone and offers a desperate and dramatic prayer to God. The doorbell rings. The bread has come (I can see the scene from that college play in my mind right now)! Not only does that scene portray an inaccurate view of a peaceful, stable man who learned to cast his anxieties on the Lord, it also is very shallow. To know of the orphan work is to see only the tip of the iceberg.

Müller spent his life to the full in more ways than ministry to orphans. He, with the help of co-laborer Henry Craik, contributed to the health of multiple local church ministries. Together they also established the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad which assisted in the teaching and dissemination of massive amounts of Bibles (over 2 million) and biblical literature both in England and worldwide. Müller personally supported over 115 missionaries, and at the end of his life he traveled over 200,000 miles for 17 years preaching the gospel to scores of people in various nations, tribes, and tongues. George Müller’s fruitful life spanned almost an entire century (1805-1898), and he credits peaceful trust in God as the key.

“Where Faith begins, anxiety ends;

   Where anxiety begins, Faith ends.”

– George Müller

Yet his record of God’s dealings in the orphan houses at Ashley Down stands out above the rest (called the Narrative of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller). Here is a man who would want us to look past the vessel and to the Savior who can and will supply all our true needs, if we would only seek first the kingdom of God. The theme of his life was power through prevailing prayer. As Pierson says, “To summarize Mr. Müller’s service we must understand his great secret. Such a life and such a work are the result of one habit more than all else—daily and frequent communion with God.”

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Cautions to Consider

Müller was not a perfect man, and his understanding, interpretation, and application of Scripture is not beyond critique. I am concerned that Müller disliked frequent consulting of commentaries or other reference works in Bible study. In his zeal to allow the Holy Spirit to be the sole interpreter of Scripture, he unnecessarily shunned some of the benefits we can enjoy through God’s gifting of theologians and expositors who shed light on truth.

Also, while Müller succeeded in displaying wholehearted trust in God alone, at times he may have risked shunning wisdom portions of Scripture that encourage us to plan and prepare. I don’t want to overstate my case, though. Once Müller was convinced God wanted him to work on a project, he began to lay aside funds, pursue the goal, and carefully count the cost. He also would purposefully avoid ever telling anyone outside his orphanage if the orphanage was in desperate need. Here I differ with Müller. I am not convinced it is wrong to let people within the church know if I or my ministry is in a state of financial need. God has given us the body of Christ to bear appropriate burdens. Indeed, he chooses to use us as tools of his grace and mercy.

But Müller thought otherwise, and he held to his conviction. He saw it as a clear means of proving to others that the living God still hears and answers prayer, and it is a safe thing to rely on God alone. And the Lord blessed him abundantly either for or in spite of it. We should appreciate reading these kinds of stories, for they stretch our faith and challenge our assumptions. We need to think critically about Scripture. Doing so will grow us in maturity as we wrestle through and meditate on how Scripture applies to our lives, even if we end up disagreeing with another believer.

One final caution: Pierson tends to write in glowing terms about Müller. I did have to wonder if at times Pierson was not painting a “rosier” picture than reality, simply because he had little to say about Müller’s faults or spiritual struggles in his later life. Perhaps Müller had grown to the point of spiritual maturity where his struggles were hardly apparent to others, but this kind of insight would have helped provide a fuller picture of Müller’s life.

For the above reasons, I vacillated between rating this book at 4 or 5 stars. In the end I gave it 5 because the comprehensive scope and detail of the book far outweigh the relatively minor issues. I gladly recommend George Müller of Bristol to you. It will edify your soul, challenge your faith, and cultivate a deeper delight in the Living God who still hears and answers prayer.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Format: Print book
Reading length: 466 pages (aprox. 25-30 hours)

p.s. John Piper preached an outstanding biographical sermon on the life of George Müller. I highly recommend it to you. You can access it here: George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God

Trusting God Alone

Great leaders spend their lives pursuing clearly stated goals. William Wilberforce, for example, said, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” I am finishing up a biography on the life of George Müller. He, too, had a clearly stated goal in life. Next week I hope to write a book review of that biography; but for this week, I simply want to highlight the one aspect of George Müller’s life that stands out above the rest.

Müller’s Goal in Life

Müller repeats his “mission statement” over and over again in his own journal. Here is his first and foremost goal, recorded as the main reason for why he decided to begin building the orphan houses on Ashley Down:George_Muller

“That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened.”

Trust in God is a good thing, we agree. But the big difference between Müller and many other Christians is that he wanted people to realize it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone for provision. Müller purposefully stripped away any dependence on human means to highlight God’s powerful orchestration of events. And this was no passive dependence. Müller prayed and then worked for God, believing He would answer. If anything, Müller’s biography has reminded me that it is indeed a safe and delightful and rewarding thing to trust in God alone.

We rarely allow ourselves to we feel as if we need to depend on God alone. Sure, we may get a flat tire, or our water heater may give out, or we may face a medical emergency. But most people have their “plan B,” their smart phone handy, or their emergency fund. We don’t like to be exposed to risk or hazard. Yet George Müller discovered the value in stripping away the human “props” that rob glory from God.

God’s Goal for Our Lives

Self-preserveation is natural, but what happens when God forces us to be exposed? David lived much of his life under the threat of danger, exposure, and even death. Early on he ran from Saul, and late in his life he runs away from his own son Absolom. He was forced to depend on God alone. He and other psalmists make this point. I have bolded certain phrases for emphasis.

I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from You.‘”
Psalm 16:2; 140:6; cf. 75:4

For You are the God in whom I take refuge.
Psalm 43:2a; 71:1a

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.

Psalm 54:4

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; 
I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2, 5-6

On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62:7

(see also Psalm 27:9d; 51:14b; 25:1; 28:2b; 40:17; 70:5)

We may have our “plan B,” or “plan C,” or “plan Z,” but I think God delights to knock out all those props from underneath us to show us and others it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone. He takes away the facade of dependence and makes us genuinely trust in Him. That social media post, that big step forward in your career, or that beefy retirement account can’t ensure your future; only God can do that. I do think we can make a biblical case for wisdom, preparedness, and planning. But when we seek to substitude our plans for dependence on God alone, we have bowed to the idols of self-control and ease. One of God’s goals for the Christian’s life is that we would show it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone.

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Our Goal for Our Lives

If this is one of God’s main goals for the Christian life, we need to be serious about making it our goal. We need to pray that God would give us the spirit of Job, who reflected sage-like wisdom and utter humility before the Lord with these words,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; 
blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:21

We are dependent upon God from the day we are born. This is why it is so important that every Christian spend private time in prayer with God every day. Not a day goes by that you or I will safely live independent of God. I say “safely” because many Christians will choose to live independent of God today, but that is not a safe place to be. We buy into the lie that security rests in our own hands. But security rests in the hands of God alone. In every stage of life, may we prove that it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone.

For You, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon You I have leaned from before my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother’s womb.
Psalm 71:5-6

CP

God is My Co-Pilot?

My wife gave me a drone as a gift this past Christmas. I immediately learned the benefits of drones when an unsuspecting neighborhood cat walked into our back yard. Unfortunately, it was my first flight, and in an attempt to scare the cat away I crashed the drone in the woods behind our house. Flying a drone is tricky to learn- it can fly up, down, backward, forward, right, left, rotate right, rotate left, and any combination in between. Every time I started to lose control, I panicked, and my drone would crash to the ground. And I have the live video footage to prove it.

Control Freaks

It doesn’t matter if you are crashing a drone or overcooking tonight’s supper, losing control is a very frustrating thing. Do you yearn for control over your own life? It’s a common temptation, perhaps propelled by a natural desire for security or an inordinate hunger for power. We all are, to some degree or another, control freaks. We may go about it quietly through subtle manipulation, or we may throw our weight around to get our own way. It’s the way our sinful flesh works; we all are control freaks.

But control in life is as finicky as learning to fly a drone. You may feel like you have started to figure things out, but in a split-second life may spiral out of control. And it does. We all know it does. Our inability to control life is a good thing, though. We weren’t meant to be in the driver’s seat.

Not Even a Co-Pilot

You may have seen the bumper-sticker that says, “God is my co-pilot.” Those words actually represent a low view of God. God is the Pilot. Life is automatically under His control. When we pretend we can somehow control all of this, we ignore reality and place a weight on ourselves we were never meant, or able, to carry.

I love the words to the song Our Great Savior by J. Wilbur Chapman. The fourth stanza reminds us that we aren’t the pilot. Of course, he’s not talking about flying drones but rather steering a ship. And in this ship called life, we aren’t even a co-pilot. No, God is the Pilot, and we cry to Him when life spins out of control.

Jesus! what a Guide and Keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’er takes me,
He, my Pilot hears my cry.

Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

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God controls all things. He, your Pilot, hears your cry. So Psalm 3:8a tells us, “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” And this deliverance is both personal and corporate. Think of a young couple’s quiet, hidden struggle with infertility. Then think of our nation’s horrendous, grotesque promotion and practice of abortion. One struggle is personal and may be relatively unknown. The other is very public. Yet in both situations, God’s people desperately need help, right now!

I don’t know your struggle, but I do know God is in control. In the Psalms David and other writers model for us how we can approach God when life seems to be spinning out of control. Let me share a few verses that may help you start your conversation with your Guide and Keeper. May you rest in our great Savior as the Pilot of your life.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
~Psalm 130:1-2; 142:5a, 6-7a

I cry out to God Most High, 
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
~Psalm 57:2; 142:1-2

O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
incline Your ear to my cry.
~Psalm 10:17b; 17:6; 31:2a; 45:10a; 71:2; 78:1; 86:1a; 102:1,2c

But I, O Lord, cry to You;
in the morning my prayer comes before You.
~Psalm 88:1-2, 13

C.P.