Christian Ethics and Coronavirus: Life or Liberty?

Bernie Diaz, March 31, 2020

One of the many lessons that God is teaching global citizens in general and Christ followers of a Biblical worldview in particular, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, is the life and death concept of ethical triage.

Triage is the medical evaluation process of sorting out victims of a wartime battle or disaster, in a field or MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit, prioritizing who gets treated and when in emergencies. Doctors are faced with a question of probability, in terms of who they are to treat first- ‘operate on the soldier with an 80% chance of pulling through, or the other soldier, with a 50% chance of pulling through?’

The above question can be restated in any number of ways today, as we look at the effects of COVID-19. Do we prioritize individual lives at the expense of possible casualties from a compromised economic future? Do we isolate or quarantine everyone at the expense of our personal finances and national economy?

President Donald Trump has expressed concern that the coronavirus, “cure could be worse than the disease.” No less a theologian than Mr. Spock of Star Trek lore, once posited the view that, “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few.” That’s the struggle of triage and an issue we’ll be wrestling with in the weeks, if not months to come.

One of America’s historic and shared values is that of personal freedom or liberty – the autonomy of the individual to purse the Declarative principles of “… liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The problem of that ideal has been our collective willingness to ignore the first noun in that phrase, ‘life.” Whose life do we refer to or prioritize when we parrot out that uniquely American phrase?

We now know what the pro-abortion movement and its supporting advocates from the political party of death want, even in a coronavirus world of mandated lockdowns, quarantines, and a critical shortage of medical supplies. They are pushing to keep the business of abortion running – at all costs, for all costs.

Even as the federal government called on healthcare providers to cancel all elective and nonessential procedures, many abortion centers self-declared their services as “essential” and carried on business as usual. The governors of Texas and Ohio nonetheless, courageously and explicitly told abortionists to stop, at least for now.

Abortion activists have politicized the pandemic to predict that the increased demand for healthcare providers right now, could “create a shortage of clinicians” who can perform abortions and related “services.”

The irony of course that many fail to see in this, is that the sexual revolutionaries are putting the right of liberty to correct the personal and moral mistakes of millions, by infringing on the right to life of millions – the preborn, by virtue of calling it amazingly, an “essential” medical procedure.

Virtually every rational and reasonable person alive understands that abortion in more than nine out of every ten cases is a voluntary, elective, procedure where the only health issue becomes two-fold: one, the danger to the unborn child about to be executed in an abortion, who pro-aborts never refer to by name and two, the health of the woman who may be a risk to certain abortion practices, including the relatively new and convenient “morning-after pill”, which essentially produces a premature miscarriage in a pregnant woman.

Abortion of course, is at the ‘epicenter’ of the culture of death so prevalent in our society. Unsurprisingly in the wake of the euthanasia movement, Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic are now engaged in a heated and private debate over a calculation few thought imaginable in their lifetimes — how to weigh the “save at all costs” approach to resuscitating a dying patient (usually the elderly) against the danger of exposing doctors and nurses to coronavirus and the shortage of supplies (i.e. respirators and ventilators).

As was the case according to reports from Spain – a nation that was overwhelmed by the virus, the risks of falling short of protective and treatment equipment for many patients, proved too great on occasion to justify the conventional response when a patient “coded,” and their heart or breathing stopped.

Could that happen in the United States? Never! Not so fast. One notable  hospital in Chicago has been discussing a do-not-resuscitate policy for infected patients, regardless of the wishes of the patient or their family members — a wrenching decision to prioritize the lives of the many over the one.

That’s ‘messed up’ triage. Several large hospital systems are looking at guidelines that would allow doctors to override the wishes of the coronavirus patient or family members on a case-by-case basis due to the risk to doctors and nurses, or a shortage of protective equipment.

What comes first then- life or liberty? Whose life and whose liberty and who decides?

One of the things that God is doing in this virus crisis, is forcing all of us to struggle with massive and new, sanctify of life and worldview issues. All of us who have a voice, a vote and a conscience must now practice biblical discernment, seek sanctified wisdom and a desire to so ‘renew our minds’ that we could practice godly triage – that we would know the revealed will of God by the word of God and pray for the wisdom of our elected and health officials by God’s common grace to practice godly triage.

In the meantime, Christians take comfort in the fact that nothing – including COVID-19 happens by chance (Pro. 16:33). Everything comes to us by our Father’s wise and loving hand.

We are not to live focused primarily on impersonal probabilities and  statistics. By all means, we follow the guidance of our local and federal health authorities, but first and foremost, we look to our faithful and loving God who holds us in the palm of his hand.

Therefore, a big benefit from the pandemic is that it can serve as another one of God’s necessary wakeup calls to a slumbering nation to repent of sin and turn to Christ. In fact, a pestilence has often been a sign of God’s judgment on a people, as evidenced in 2 Samuel 24, where God punished His covenant nation because of David’s sin and the Lord’s disciplining punishment came to them in the form of a pestilence that took 70,000 lives.

As the 19th century Anglican theologian J.C. Ryle wrote in his booklet on sickeness: I know the suffering and pain which sickness involves. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings. But I cannot regard it as completely evil. I see in it a wise plan and purpose of God. I see in it a useful provision to reduce the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned I should have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant. But it is a real friend to man’s soul.

Being Church in a Coronavirus World

Bernie Diaz, March 25, 2020

After having preached an online message from our church’s ongoing series from 1 John last Sunday, on the perplexing issue of what it means to “be in the world and not of it”, a bigger question has come to mind for millions of Christians worldwide: “How can we go to church on Sundays?” 

After all, God’s word has made it pretty clear that God’s people are to regularly congregate and worship him in community right?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25, ESV).

You would think that command was never truer today, as more than one believer is thinking that “Day” may be nearer than ever. In the literal sense that is true, in that every day we’re on earth brings us one day closer to the second coming of Jesus Christ and the world judgment prophesied and previewed in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.

However, in light of the unprecedented topsy-turvy COVID-19 world of social distancing, quarantines and curfews that we’re living in, the question must now become, “How can we be the church?”

‘Going to church’ has always been an ecclesiological misnomer anyway, being that the real biblical church is a body of believers that engage in like-minded (koinonia) fellowship and worship, rather than a building. As a pastor, I have long taught my flock of sheep that we are the church 24/7 and 365, rather than just being a place to meet.

As a result in the United States, much if not most of the church has moved indoors to online worship, a good, but certainly not the best form of fellowship. I’m grateful to God for that, for his common grace, which has supplied us with a digital medium as at least a means of connection- a semblance of a church gathering, rather than complete isolation.

However, I believe the new and normal, ordinary ways of ministry for Christians in these extraordinary days, will emphasize the ‘love of neighbor’ approach – doing for others, rather than self, as we have not seen in decades, if not longer.

Similar to the post 9-11 and ‘cat-5’ type hurricane and earthquake events that fostered waves of national and local community service in the not too distant past, the church in particular, may be more poised to impact and influence this panicked, pandemic infected world than we have seen in quite some time.

Coronavirus Sins

Both the depravity and common grace of mankind has been put on display in our coronavirus days. As to works of the flesh, according to news reports:

          * A man flew from New York to Florida knowing he had symptoms of the coronavirus and while awaiting the results.  He found out the test was positive after boarding. Later Jet Blue banned him from all future flights.

          * As disturbing and closer to home, has been the recent behavior of some Florida college students over Spring Break. Knowing that young people are least affected by the virus – which is statistically true at this moment, some decided to party on, defying orders to stay away from crowds.

With a remarkable yet unsurprising level of ignorance and disregard for the common good, one spring-breaker said, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying . . . whatever happens, happens.” In other words, “I’m just going to do me, and you do you.” Que sera, sera.

Similarly, another article reported, “At least one person in Kentucky is infected after taking part at a ‘coronavirus party’ with a group of young adults, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

The partygoers intentionally got together ‘thinking they were invincible’ and purposely defying state guidance to practice social distancing, Bashear said.”

“This is one that makes me mad,” the governor added. “We have to be much better than that.” Well, the unregenerate can’t be much better than that without the new-life of Christ in them, nor could worldly and lust seeking Christians do any better, without obeying Spirit-sanctified wisdom.  

Interestingly enough, while COVID-19 has been more deadly and severe for senior citizens and those with pre-existing health issues, medical experts and officials around the country have been imploring millennials and other young people to beware and join most of the nation in practicing social distancing if not isolation, because even people who are asymptomatic (infected but without symptoms) can transmit it to others.

In fact, in New York state, more than half of coronavirus cases – 53% – have been among younger people between the ages of 18 and 49, according to their Governor’s office last week.

Coronavirus Opportunities

The church has been given a unique and historic opportunity by God’s ‘strange providence,’ to be the church and display it’s Christlikeness with love and mercy ministry in the meeting of needs, prayer and exhibiting the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding’ (Phil. 4) that we alone possess and the world longs for in a coronavirus world.

How can the church then manifest Christ by being in the world and loving it, while not being a part of it?   

  • Submit

One significant way in which a Christian is counter-cultural and therefore contagious in the best possible way, is by graciously submitting to the governing authorities (Ro. 13; 1 Pet. 2) at every level (local, state and federal) by adhering to its laws, rules and regulations that do not defy direct commands or prohibitions from God in his word.

If we are ordered for reasons of safety and public health by the authorities ordained by God, to self-quarantine and isolate for a pandemic season, then that is what we do, without complaint.   

  • Preach

Our panic-stricken and unredeemed world is lost and desperate for answers to how to think about coronavirus. We have those answers. We can tell the world that this planet is infected due to sin, which brought evil, death, pain and suffering to the world- one made good by God, that has gone bad due to the willful sin of mankind, in what we call the “fall (Gen. 3; Ro.5).”

We can add that our creator God by his infinite love, mercy and grace, has put a redemption plan for the world into place by sending himself in the person of his son Jesus Christ, to offer forgiveness, peace, joy and reconciliation to a world full of rebels, if they would just turn to him and trust in the Christ by faith alone in him and his work (Ro. 1-8; Eph. 1-2).

We can say that Christians are “not given a spirit of fear but of power,” and are overcomers of the world (Jo.16:33) and are not overwhelmed by coronavirus or any other death threat. Why? All we have is Christ. True disciples or born-again followers of Jesus have hope- in glory and heaven (Heb. 11), that the world does not see or know. Shouldn’t we take the time and this opportunity to explain that to them?

  • Love

As the people we disciple in our church have learned, love is not some mere sentimental, wishy-washy feeling, but is an unconditional choice, an action to serve or meet the needs of neighbors and those that have even rejected us and our beautiful savior.

We Christians are commanded to love the unlovely and the unloving this way, even including enemies and persecutors. Might this be a better time than usual to demonstrate the love of Christ as he demonstrated to us (Ro. 5:8)?

  • Family Discipleship

Finally, another way in which the church can be the church, rather than go to church in a coronavirus world, is to take advantage of the time to enjoy the home church in much the way the early church did in its history, when corporate buildings of worship did not begin to appear on the scene until the late third century and normative gatherings were in house churches.  

If you’re married with and without children at home, rally around your church’s online Sunday worship services and midweek meetings. God’s people can still give, pray the word, preach the word and sing the word over the internet. A semblance of fellowship can still occur that way.

Being church at home, means availing ourselves to the ‘ordinary means of grace’ that are not nearly as available to us as they are now: the word and  prayer in particular, and the home church body of family in general.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:10). One of God’s providences for God’s people in the coronavirus world has been to slow our western pace of life in which we live so fast that we hardly find time to remember that God is there, much less meditate on his Word.

It is now, that many of us have extra time to commune with, or TAG (Time Alone with God) the Lord and “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2).” Now is the time that families can integrate in the faith as they have failed to do in the past, by returning to the biblical call of ‘family worship.’ As we socially distance and isolate from the public at large at this time, can’t those of us with children take 15-30:00 on a daily or weekly or bi-weekly basis to sing praises to God and read and talk scripture?

This is not a suggestion from God- he doesn’t make those, but is a command for parents to be the primary disciplers of their children (Deut. 6; Psa. 78; Eph. 6; Col. 4).

Make no mistake about it, I miss going to church every Sunday, even knowing that I am to be part of the church every day. But I know my God is sovereign in his COVID-19 purposes, as I join that 19th century pastor and theologian J.C. Ryle who said, “The day is coming when there shall be a congregation that shall never break up, and a Sabbath that shall never end, a song of praise that shall never cease, and an assembly that shall never be dispersed.” Amen and can’t wait!

So Much Time and So Little to Do with Social Distancing

Bernie Diaz, March 17, 2020

As a pastor who usually cannot finish all of my MIT’s (Most Important Tasks) or ‘things to do’ in any given day, I have been awakened to our new “normal” or reality of extra time on our hands as the result of the social distancing and isolation taking place across our nation, like much of the world, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, as a churchman and reader, I look forward to taking advantage of this extra time to read for my own personal edification, aside from the continuing study I must engage in to preach for my church on Sunday – dare I say it, online!

I’ve done some Facebook Live teaching on occasion for our church as an outreach as well as two other exceptional occasions when our church meeting location was closed, in light of impending hurricane threats here in South Florida.

But that said, as I meet with my co-pastors, we are discussing how to wisely and best shepherd – lead and feed our church flock in extraordinary ways in these extraordinary days. One benefit or mixed blessing for me, should result in my having more time than usual to study and prepare to preach.

That feeling is mixed however, because I know that this allowance of time comes at the expense of my being able to meet and fellowship publicly with our flock, which our leadership team dearly misses. In fact, one on one discipleship and small group mentoring is challenged, as more and more public meeting places are shuttered in order to stem the tide of new cases of contamination. Such is life in a COVID-19 world.

Right now, the regular patterns of American life have been temporarily at least, interrupted. Americans are being advised if not cautioned and in some cases mandated, to work and learn at home, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, stay away from restaurants, and if necessary, venture out in public when only needed or for exercise,  President Donald Trump said this week.

As of this post, nearly 100 people in the United States have died from the Coronavirus disease, with health officials having confirmed close to 5,000 cases in the country.

Large metropolitan cities with a higher volume of COVID-19 cases (e.g. New York, San Francisco Bay Area) and at least six counties nationwide have issued shelter-in-place orders, calling several million people to leave their homes only for the basic necessities of life. Additionally, countries around the world have closed or severely restricted their borders and travel.

I have no qualms with these policies though, which are being done practically from a public health care concern to “flatten the curve” or greatly reduce the number of new cases occurring in new communities and the increased likelihood of further fatalities which would follow.

Therefore, I want to be sure to make sure I’m exhorting my family of five practicing social distancing, to redeem or “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16, ESV). How can we Christians who are commanded to operate from a Biblical worldview then respond to this blessed, new gift of time in the midst of inconvenience for many and suffering for some?

Things to do in a Coronavirus World

My MIT list has now be reordered by the Lord and his providence and I can now commit more time to doing more of the following, which mostly are about availing one’s self to the ‘ordinary’ means of grace from God:

  • “Eat Bible” – Hear his voice

Yes, the clarion call of our church ministry, to digest- read and study scripture. Would you expect anything less from a local church pastor? But seriously folks, if you’re stuck at home and have little or no places to go (even fast food now is exclusively drive-thru), does any disciple of Jesus Christ have any excuse whatsoever for not increasing their personal and family worship and devotional time with God?

12 hour a day internet, video game and TV binging? Really? Doesn’t God ask us to give an account of our time and service to him and his kingdom?

  • Pray – Have his ear

Notice I won’t be mentioning that third means of grace, the fellowship of the local church- the body, since current rules and regulations concerned with our care, have precluded us from enjoying worship and fellowship with God’s people on Sundays and midweek meetings in public, at least for the very near future.

Interestingly enough, many saints today and going forward may even be exhibiting a greater sense of loss, the missing out on the “assembling of ourselves (Heb. 10:24-25),” which may be another Coronavirus blessing in disguise. Perhaps now as the result of this almost unprecedented interruption in the corporate life of the church in America, more of us will appreciate and love the church more and yearn to have that life restored soon. That will be a prayer request I’m sure for many of God’s people.

Moreover, to adapt from one of our church’s missions and ministry partner’s own prayer list, here are mine…

Prayers in a Coronavirus World:

  • Protection: for health and safety. That God by his mercy and grace would prevent us from infection of this virus and heal us if we acquire it.
  • Provision: to meet needs and essentials, particularly with financial commitments.
  • Peace: of both heart and mind by God’s grace, which comes by mediating on and memorizing his promises from his word.
  • Perseverance: to patiently do what must be done in service to our family, friends and church family as well as exhibiting grace and kindness in our community, as we look and wait for limited supplies and essentials in this season of inconvenience.
  • Perspective: to constantly remember that God is still on his throne and providentially ordering all of the circumstances in this pandemic to occur for his glory and the good of his people, as in every other event of world history.   

Indeed, there is no better time than times like these, to be that Christian who knows and understands his God, to be the God of the Bible and of the Doctrines of Grace, who is revealed as all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign and ever present in the affairs of this planet and its people.

Coronavirus in my view – think of the “pestilences” recorded in scripture, did not catch God unaware or off-guard in anyway, nor were they the result of bad-luck (which is non-existent), random events or punishment from the hands of a mythical, ‘mother nature,’ or alleged global warming or climate change.

Rather, the Lord of heaven and earth, creator and sustainer of all life itself, ordains or tolerates and works through the disease, death and disasters of this sin-cursed world to further his cause of redemption and future world restoration (Isa. 45:7).  

We must remember that not even a tiny, insignificant sparrow falls to the ground without God’s say-so—and aren’t you and I ‘worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29-31)?’

Isn’t it true that according to the word of God, he works all things according to the counsel of his will and for greater purposes and plans (Ro. 8:28; Eph. 1:11)? Therefore, I will strive to follow Joshua’s call to be “strong and courageous, to not be frightened, and dismayed, for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go (Jos. 1:9).”

Furthermore, I intend to confess and repent of my sin of worry and anxiety to God when it comes in these challenging days and reboot my heart and mind to focus on the above truths that real believers should have stored up in our hearts and minds (Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:6-7).

We are living in very unique circumstances today under God’s watchful and loving eye. May we spread the fame of God’s great name and enjoy the silver linings of his clouds as we take advantage of relatively ‘so much time and so little to do with social distancing in a Coronavirus world.’

Loving Neighbor and Ministry in the World of Coronavirus

Bernie Diaz, March 12, 2020

This post was originally going to focus on a particular worldview issue and trend – a rather important one and I was three-quarters of the way through it, until one of my church members messaged our discipleship group text with the news: “NBA halts season after player tests for coronavirus.”

It hit me in a strange way I suppose, being a sports fan in particular, that once the National Basketball Association, one of the biggest sports entertainment organizations in the world suspended the rest of its regular season schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, I knew then at that moment I needed to change gears on the content of this post.

The wake-up call came, as that headline followed President Donald Trump’s address to the nation from the White House, where he announced a number of counter measures to halt the speared of, and treat the effects of this virus in the U.S., including a dramatic 30 day ban on travel from Europe to the United States.

If that wasn’t enough, the news of Forrest Gump’s testing positive for the virus proved to be too much to waver on the theme of this post. All kidding aside, celebrity news and tragedies have been known to impact and galvanize American citizens like few other events can. Indeed, Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive for the coronavirus, Hanks revealed while in Australia for the pre-production of a film.

Hanks announced the couple’s diagnosis on social media accounts, posting: “We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches. Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive.”

Hanks added, “Well, now. What to do next? The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?”

What About a Christian Response?

As the virus and news of it continues to spread around the globe, pastors and church leaders are beginning to discuss how they and their congregations should respond to the outbreak.

In fact throughout church history, pastors have had to think through how to minister with similar challenges. As a young village preacher, the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon admired the Puritan ministers who stayed behind to care for the sick and dying during the Great Plague of London in 1665.

Then in the fall of 1854, the newly called pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London found himself pastoring his congregation amid a major cholera outbreak in the Broad Street neighborhood just across the river.

How did Spurgeon respond?

Geoff Chang of the Spurgeon Center, recounted in his biographical sketch of this man of God, some characteristics of his crisis ministry of which there are three I include here, that should inform and influence both church leaders and members in the days ahead:

  1. Prioritize local ministry  

Spurgeon wrote, “During that epidemic of cholera, though I had many engagements in the country, I gave them up that I might remain in London to visit the sick and the dying. I felt that it was my duty to be on the spot in such a time of disease and death and sorrow.”

Desperate times call for what? Desperate measures. Spurgeon recognized his responsibility to be present with those who were sick and dying. This was not a time to be a conference speaker and road preacher. This was a time to focus on caring for his church and the community in which he lived. He would not outsource this task to his deacons or other church leaders but remained in London in order to fulfill his duty.

Will we do the same in our communities? Now is not the time for God’s people to cut and run from God’s people, nor the neighbors the Lord has called us to love regardless of the circumstances.

2)    Adjust as needed, but continue meeting if possible

News reports indicate public gatherings of all sorts are being postponed or canceled altogether in light of Cornoavirus, from concerts, festivals, sporting events and public gatherings to talk of school closings and church meetings moving from public to online services.

According to Chang, “The Broad Street Cholera Outbreak of 1854 occurred in August and September of that year, and its effects would continue to be felt in the weeks and months following. The neighborhood where Spurgeon’s church met was not quarantined, so they were able to continue meeting throughout those months. Interestingly, no record of the sermons Spurgeon preached during those days remain. Perhaps the outbreak forced the congregation to adjust some of their previous practices, including the transcription of sermons.”  

Chang added, “However, we know that the congregation continued meeting during those days because the church’s records of congregational meetings carried on throughout the fall of 1854. In those books, amid all the pastoral challenges of the outbreak, Spurgeon and his deacons continued to receive new members, pursue inactive members, observe the Lord’s Supper, and practice all the other normal activities of a church. Not only that, but in retrospect, it was particularly during this time, when news of death raged all around the city, that Spurgeon found Londoners most receptive to the gospel.”

Spurgeon in his own words: If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then.

Not only did Spurgeon gather his church amid the outbreak, but he saw in these gatherings a powerful opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed boldly.

As a pastor who is part of an elder team, we’ll need to exercise wisdom when it comes to gathering as a church in the weeks ahead, especially when the health and lives of people are at stake. Certainly, adjustments will need to be made and priority will have to be given to the most important elements of our gatherings. But when we can gather, pastors should realize that there can be tremendous opportunities for preaching the gospel to those who are desperately looking for hope and to quell panic, fears and to strengthen the people of God for their benefit and to equip them to strengthen others.

Although nursing home visits are now being regulated and a host of travel bans are or may soon be in place, Spurgeon in 1854 not only continued to gather his church, but he also made himself available throughout the week, working tirelessly to visit the sick and grief-stricken.

Spurgeon recalled, I went home, and was soon called away again; that time, to see a young woman. She also was in the last extremity, but it was a fair, fair sight. She was singing, — though she knew she was dying, — and talking to those round about her, telling her brothers and sisters to follow her to Heaven, bidding goodbye to her father, and all the while smiling as if it had been her marriage day. She was happy and blessed.

That story affirms the Christian’s Pauline hope that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”, and that it is a “far better thing to be with Christ.” Being that the Lord has given us ‘a strong mind rather than a spirit of fear’, we have a story of hope and grace to share with the world that is needed now as much as ever. Which leads to finally…

3)    Be open to new evangelistic opportunities

Spurgeon did not limit himself merely to visiting members of his congregation but was willing to visit “persons of all ranks and religions.”

Spurgeon recalled, All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and. saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

It is reported on one occasion, at three in the morning, Spurgeon was summoned to visit a dying man. Surprisingly, this was not a Christian, but someone who had opposed him:

That man, in his lifetime, had been wont to jeer at me. In strong language, he had often denounced me as a hypocrite. Yet he was no sooner smitten by the darts of death than he sought my presence and counsel, no doubt feeling in his heart that I was a servant of God, though he did not care to own it with his lips.

Though Spurgeon went right away, by the time he arrived, there was little he could do. This great preacher who rested in the sovereignty of God, watched the man drift into eternity while the women who cared for him, sighed, “altogether hopeless about his soul.”

As we all know too well, not every nor most evangelistic opportunities will result in dramatic conversions. But during times of disease, surprising opportunities may arise as those who are sick are looking for big answers to big questions as those in doubt question their own mortality and status before God. Therefore, we need to take advantage of any opportunities we might have to preach the gospel to those who are suffering.

As Geoff Change concluded; “In many ways, Spurgeon’s example during the cholera outbreak of 1854 follows the pattern of normal pastoral ministry on every occasion. Pastors are to be present with their people, lead in the gatherings of the church, care for those who are suffering, be faithful in evangelism, and continue trusting in God through it all.”

The main difference is that during an outbreak such as Coronavirus, there is a heightened reality of suffering and the threat of death. Therefore, the work of ministry and love becomes more intense and urgent, and the opportunities for the gospel multiply. As we consider our response to the pandemic of our present day, there is much to figure out practically and logistically. But the core of our ministry remains: Preach the gospel.

Speaking in 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, Spurgeon gave this charge to pastors and all Christians:

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that — “There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

The Coronavirus- Fears of The Apocalypse or a Common Cold?

Bernie Diaz, March 5, 2020

You’ve heard the rumors and read or heard the news reports over your favorite websites and social media outlets by now – hysteria is in the streets, empty shelves at the stores and people being quarantined- as if practically imprisoned in their homes and communities. “Lions and tigers and bears- oh my!”

Coronavirus is here (the respiratory disease known as COVID-19) and is almost being spoken of in apocalyptic terms as a pandemic illness and crisis. More than 90,000 cases have been reported globally across more than 70 countries, including as many as 4,000 deaths so far, according to the World Health Organization, a fatality rate which pales by the way, with the figure of 56,000 people who die from the more common flu (influenza) each and every year.  

This particular virus however, is spreading in the United States and its first casualties are being reported as fear and anxiety is beginning to run rampant- even among evangelical Christians. I have begun to hear and read these past week of local churches contemplating the cancellation of its Sunday worship services or policing fist-bumping, elbow-tapping versions if not outright omissions of the “holy kiss” tradition of congregational greetings in the local church where no cases have even been found.

Is the church overreacting- worrying about Coronavirus, all the while being commanded to not have a “spirit of fear” but to have ‘a strong mind?’

What Me Worry?

From a practical standpoint alone, the current death rate of 3.4 percent of those diagnosed with the illness has not reached epidemic levels (and may be overreported) and is nowhere near most American cities and communities at this point in time.

Furthermore, the typical patient profile having been diagnosed with the virus and resulting in death, has been largely confined to elderly victims with pre-existing health conditions- particularly respiratory illnesses for those who have traveled to and from a handful of Asian countries.

Yet, the prevailing media coverage seems to be breeding an ever-increasing state of fear; worry, stress, perhaps panic if not even dread among many Americans. All of this has coincided with the tragic news of a tornado that passed through Nashville, Tennessee which claimed at least two-dozen lives and caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses. Where did that come from?

Where is God in all this? In terms of natural disasters and catastrophes- which can include global health epidemics, the God of the Bible is sovereign, in control, advancing his kingdom, the fame of his name and working for the good of his own and for his own glory (Isa. 45:5,7; Amos 3:6; Ro. 8:28).

Pain and suffering and yes death on the scale of Coronavirus, are all part of his plan of redemption for the creation of this world and when he does not reveal in scripture his specific, but rather acts upon his secret will (Deut. 29:29), he is drawing attention to himself, man’s sinfulness and need for salvation.

After the Tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 in Galilee and Pilate had ‘mingled their blood with sacrifices,’ Jesus Christ’s double down reply to the big why question of “Where was God?” in Luke 13, was, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” That pretty much ended the interrogation.

Although sons of God are told not to fear some 300 hundred plus times in scripture, the same Bible says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psa. 56:3).” That verse assumes the people of God will fear, but know where to file that fear when it does come.

Some Christians too often join the unredeemed in fearing the following:

  • An Ever-Changing World.

Interestingly enough, Solomon instructs us not to ask, “Why were the former days better than these?” (Ecc. 7:10). The Lord knows we have a natural tendency to think the good ole days were not as worrisome or as bad as today. As some said, “Freedom from fear of change does not result from the absence of change—but the presence of an unchanging God.”

Being a Bad Parent

Being Alone

Being Poor

Being Diseased and disabled

Being Dead

All of the above including the latter two, which ties into the Coronavirus outbreak, come from secular and faithless attitudes that fail to acknowledge God, his power as well as his steadfast goodness and grace, but rather focus only on immediate, man-centered concerns- some more  legitimate than others.

However, the born-again disciple of Jesus Christ is aware his Lord never forsakes him or her (Heb. 13:5) and prefers his own children by priority with purposes for them (Matt. 6:25-34).

That said, there may be somethings we all, including professing believers can and should fear today and one in particular:

  • Not being a true follower of Jesus Christ

Christians are told to “examine themselves to be make sure they are in the faith” and to pass tests of obedience and love to Christ and his church as the apostle John argues (1 Jo. 2) in order to provide assurance of saving faith or eternal security which Jesus guarantees to his own. In Jo. 10:28–29, Jesus states plainly that we are held by His hands and the hands of the Father. He says:

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

The hands of the Father are omnipotent. They hold a universe. There is nothing on earth or in heaven that can pry His fingers loose from His children. If you fear you may not be a child of God by faith in Jesus, then your fear is legitimate. We are then nothing more than spiders hanging precariously over a web, as Jonathan Edwards implied in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

If we want to take prudent measures to do as well as pray during these days of fear and panic over Coronavirus, then we can and should do the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water,
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze,
  • Stay home when you’re sick, and
  • See your doctor if you think you’re seriously ill.

That’s common sense and good counsel. However, if we’re looking for real comfort in the storm from the one who calmed the waves, no matter how frightening or dismaying this world can and may be, is the fact that Jesus Christ is the champion, hero and captain of our salvation – he always has been and always will be (Jos. 1:9).

Israel’s tendency was to be “frightened and dismayed.” So is ours. At times, fear grips the heart and boggles the mind, unless we tame our minds by setting them “on things above.” God is never afraid and is bigger than any fear we have. Your fears of Coronavirus and death may be greater but as the song we sing goes, “Our God is greater!”

Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, is with us always, even to the end of the age, which is culminated at the time of the final, historic apocalypse when Christ conquers all, restores his creatures and creation and eliminates all fear.  

The Pastor as Foster Parent

Bernie Diaz, February 25, 2020

I have long had great admiration and respect for foster parents. I have always thought of them as being special people with a special calling and gifting, believing that people – families that decide to open their homes to parent, to love, guide, care for and yes, shepherd children that are not their own biologically – temporarily mind you (on average for 18 months in my state of Florida), are in a sense, ‘other worldly.’

My wife and I once had a conversation some years ago about the idea of  taking on this great and necessary responsibility in our society at some point in time, to parent one who has likely lacked one and I remember telling her in essence- “no way!”

Meaning, there was no way that I could envision a time or calling in which I could welcome a child into my home, feed them, lead them, protect them and love them and then, as per the dictates of the state department of children and families, have to give them back up to either the home of their biological family (the usual desired outcome), a place where great dysfunction and suffering may have occurred, or giving them back to a system which would then have to place them in yet another home or more as they age into adulthood.

I thank God for those the Lord has called and equipped by his sovereign, common and special grace – for both Christian and secular families to take on, persevere and succeed in foster parenting and then in some cases,  the eventual adoption of such children, so often troubled in our sin-cursed world.

And then, this past week it hit me! I had what some may call an epiphany – perhaps from the Spirit of God, though not any sort of prophetic revelation or vision I’m sure, but a dramatic realization of something. That is, I realized I have been a spiritual foster parent – for more than a decade and had never realized it or thought of it that way until that moment!

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:11-12, ESV).

My wife and I were chatting in our back patio after I had just finished my personal devotional time with the Lord when it happened. We were reminiscing – both nostalgically and somewhat painfully, about our eleven years as church planters in South Florida, an anniversary or birthday, coming up this Lord’s Day which we will celebrate and I told her that indeed, as a pastor, I have been a foster parent for dozens of people over the last eleven years.  

What made me think of that analogy to describe the delight, duty and despair of the pastoral ministry? Certainly not because I consider myself to be an “other worldly” or special person in the way most foster parents are in my view, but because God has called and gifted me with a passion to nurture, feed, lead and love those that my family and I including my co-elders and pastors, have poured ourselves and lives into, and then like foster parents, have had to release back to another church for a myriad of reasons, some quite painful. That analogy works for me.

My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Gal. 4:19)!

Interestingly enough, just as there are thousands of children in need of stable, loving families, the same can be said of thousands of unchurched and unsaved people in my community. While many of these needy foster children are victims of neglect and abuse, they have great potential to thrive in a nurturing environment. Foster and adoptive families can provide safe homes of harbor for those vulnerable children and youth.

Similarly, Biblically ordered churches with God-glorifying and Christ-exalting ministries can offer a community of faith and a loving church family with a nurturing environment to those who have been victimized not only by prior spiritual neglect if not abuse, but have never heard or received the healing of gospel grace with hope, found only in Jesus Christ for those who are broken.

Foster Pastoring

While very rewarding, I have read, heard and learned that foster parenting is more than demanding. It isn’t for everyone. Though rewarding in a rich if not totally understood way, foster parents must be people who:

  • Have the ability to offer strength to a child and be able to work with children who have many special needs and challenges.
  • Have solid parenting skills.
  • Can and should encourage the child to achieve his or her potential.
  • Is able to work with biological parents toward the foster child’s best interest.

Likewise, pastors and church elders have to be able to patiently teach and disciple new and older believers in the faith (2 Tim. 2:23-26; 1 Jo. 2:12-14), carrying all sorts of personal baggage, doctrinal error, personal preferences and presumptions to name a few.

Likewise, to fulfil the job description of a ‘foster pastor’, an undershepherd of the Lord Jesus Christ, must exhibit the character qualifications – however imperfectly, of a godly man as an example to his flock (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Ti. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-3) and exhibit the skill of teaching and preaching God’s word (1 Tim. 3:2g, 4:11-13; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Ti. 1:9).

And yes, like an accomplished foster parent in the world, a foster pastor must be able to work with church members and families in the “child’s (disciples) best interests”, even when that child does not know what those best interests are, by God’s revealed will, nor care about the pain and hurt they may leave behind one church, when they seek to place themselves or be adopted by another.

One of the greatest difficulties a church pastor must face as I must confess like a foster parent, is the emotional pain in having to release or give up a child of the faith due to questionable circumstances. As a church leader, I’m not referring to the loving church family that in their “best interests” had decided to move, relocate their family, having left on the best of terms and continuing a loving fellowship and friendship from long distance. We have experienced and lived with that separation on more than a few occasions, serving in a church ministry and community which is very transient in nature.

Most difficult of all, is the pastor or foster parent who has given their all in love, commitment, trust and labor to only see that love relationship rejected for the most spurious of reasons. The feelings of emotional betrayal and pain can be almost indescribable.

But lo and behold, God in his painful providences and dare I say, revelations to his own- particularly those he has called to pastoral ministry like myself, have come to realize that foster parenting and pastoring plays a vital role in God’s creation and kingdom.

Just like Christian parents learn that their biological children are not really their own, but are to shepherd and steward them in God’s care for their good and his ultimate glory, hard-working church pastors should feel honored and privileged to feed, lead and shepherd a people for a time and place, for their good and God’s glory.

I have come to learn that I don’t own my church members and can’t hold to unreal expectations of low-maintenance and permanent, stress-free membership from the flock. Shepherds and sheep are not the smartest of creatures. They too rarely forgive and tend to fight and then flee the flock.

So, like foster parents, this foster pastor now better understands the role of committing to love, support and assist those in need of spiritual development- Christlikeness in a spiritual home for a season, until our biological father in heaven moves them on or calls them home.

Throwback Thoughts- Lessons from the Old Testament

Bernie Diaz, February 20, 2020

Four and a half years ago, our church began a Bible Reading Plan– the BRP as we call it, a systematic and chronological reading of the scriptures beginning with and now in 2020, in the midst of reading the Old Testament- all 39 books worth and quite the adventurous journey it has been following the LORD and Israel, God’s chosen people through the wilderness, Promised Land and the promise of the same land to come.

How does a Christian digest and make sense of, much less summarize the Old Testament?

The stereotypical view of too many professing Christians as well as skeptics of the faith, is that we find God in the pages of the Old Testament to be an angry, judgmental and murderous if not misogynist ogre. Nothing can be further from the truth if we are to actually read these 39 books of creative and redemptive history that perfectly sets the stage for the appearance, mission and ministry of the promised and prophesied Messiah and Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Indeed, it is important that we who are Christians not only read, mediate on and study the front half of our Bibles, but that we see it’s harmony with and interconnectedness to our new covenant birth as believers. The Old covenant looks ahead and the New looks back to the pivotal or watershed moment of all world history: the gospel, which is the death, burial and resurrection of God’s anointed.

That said, the Old Testament scriptures are more than just a collection of Christological signs and symbols or prophecies that predict the coming of the chosen one, as accurate and important as those truths are.

Four things the Old Testament teaches us about God and ourselves:

  1. God is the creator and sustainer of Life (Gen. 1-11).

There is much more about God that can be said than in this limited space as to his majesty, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. But, make no mistake about it, Darwinian or humanist and secular evolutionary theories cannot and do not explain the origins of mankind. If anything, such ideas are actually unscientific at its core.

The book of beginnings – Genesis, does however give us a concise description of the creation of the universe and planet earth in particular, over six literal days mirroring the calendar week that humanity has lived in for more than 6,000 years of its existence. Our theology is based on real history, and the origins of man and its primary institutions are found there.

Our existence- past, present and future is HIStory, and is revealed plainly to the spiritual or redeemed heart to understand. Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers accepted Genesis and the Old Testament narratives as true, based on its natural, plain and face-value reading and we 21st century Christians are to do no less.

     2. God is Holy and expects his people to be the same (Lev.; Isa. 6:3).

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

There may be no greater or more distinctive characteristic attributed to God than his holiness, which is to say that God is unique- in one word, different. His perfection, righteousness and glory make him like no other and unreachable without the intervention of his mercy and grace.

Holiness is the theme of the literary challenge that is the book of Leviticus, where God calls a nation of people to be unique-different and God-like as image bearers in a world surrounding by pagan idolatry and sin (“Be holy, as I am holy”). Their lives were meant to picture a redeemed, God-fearing people to a lost world in need of salvation and redemption.

That truth was symbolized in the offerings, feasts and sacrificial system found in the Old Testament law, the Torah, which has been completed in the current New Testament era inaugurated by Jesus.

   3. God is serious about sin (Nu.; Deut.; Ju.; Sam.; Kings and Chronicles).

Because Jehovah God is perfectly holy and righteous, he cannot “look upon” or have fellowship with sin, sinners and stand by idly, as sin permeates his creation.

Eventually, God will judge sin and its consequences finally, as he has throughout history, on the way to restoring his creation (Rev.) as he did in using Israel to judge pagan nations and enemies, as well as disciplining his own people’s sin and idolatry time and again (Pro. 3), through their constant cycle of sin, repentance, teaching, testing, re-teaching and retesting.

Like the Jews, God’s chosen tend to be stiff-necked and prone to wander in the struggle with the flesh and so God disciplined his own in the Old Testament, allowing slavery (Exo.), wandering, kingdom divisions, dispersions and captivity (see the major and minor prophets) to call her back, to return to Yahweh and his law, where his mercy and forgiveness is readily and always available.

    4. God is faithful (Isa: Jer.; Eze.: Dan.; Est.; Ruth; Ezr.; Neh.; Mal.).

The most hopeful lesson I found over the last few years of Old Testament reading is God’s faithfulness to the promises he makes to his people- even when they are so unworthy of them. Speaking of the final, ‘Day of the Lord’, the final book of the old covenant tells us:

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. (Mal. 4:2-3)

Time and again, Israel turned its back on, rejected and reflected infidelity (Hos.) to its creator and redeemer God, ‘but God’, due to his infinite love, is the faithful covenant and commitment keeper, continually rescuing his own from ultimate disaster and extinction so that they would return to him and his blessings (Exo. 34:6-7a,10).

I am convinced that the Old Testament teaches that God has a future restoration and fulfillment of his covenant promises for this redeemed nation to come. Israel and the united and universal church of Jesus Christ has a blessed future in store (Ro. 9-11), because that’s who God is: a faithful and committed covenant keeper who can be counted on.

He is our rock, refuge and ever present help and as I encourage and exhort my church and fellow Christians to dive headfirst into the New Testament for gospel enlightenment, my prayer is that we will cherish all of the scripture as the daily nourishment that it is, coming from God’s good hand of blessing to bring our souls the satisfaction we long for.

The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great rewar
d (Psa. 19:9c-11).

Eat Bible? Really?

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psa.119:103)

Christ Community Church’s Bible Reading Plan (BRP) continues with the beginning of the New Testament this month. You can follow us, download print your own copy of the C.C.C. BRP directly from our website at www.christcomchurch.org/ccc_brp

This post was adapted from its original post, Lessons from the Old Testament, May 16, 2017.