Author Archives: stevenkopp

About stevenkopp

Steven Kopp is a Pastor / Software Engineer / Author / Husband / Father in West Michigan.

Vaccines, Jesus and John Wayne, and our Racialized Society

The morality of vaccines

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has Christians asking afresh whether it is ethical to take vaccines that use fetal cell lines from aborted babies in their production. Thankfully, this is not a new moral dilemma and serious Christian ethicists have weighed in.

Mere Orthodoxy: “The use of these vaccines does not encourage more abortions.”https://mereorthodoxy.com/others-may-live-fetal-cell…/

ERLC: “To determine the morality of using the tissue, it is helpful to compare it to another situation: the use of organs from a person who has been murdered. If a doctor were to offer to transplant a kidney or heart from the murder victim into a Christian, we would likely not have any objection.”https://erlc.com/…/explainer-vaccines-and-aborted…/

Public Discourse: An “appropriators” is someone who benefits from an evil act. Such a person is morally culpable if they approve of that act, if they make it appear as though they approve of the act, or if they encourage future acts. None of these must apply to the use of fetal cell lines in vaccine production.https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2020/05/63752/

The Vatican: The cooperation with evil is passive and remote and must be weighed against the common good: “The morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good” https://www.vatican.va/…/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20201221…

Jesus and John Way Reviews:

The Book Jesus and John Wayne by Calvin Professor Kristen Du Mez is getting a lot of buzz in evangelical adjacent circles these days and for good reason. The book tells a compelling narrative that, for many Christians, has incredible explanatory power. Instead of writing my own review, I will share two reviews that capture the best and worst of this provocative book:

Review #1: “Perhaps I’m a particularly needy reader, but if Du Mez hopes to persuade skeptical readers, you wouldn’t guess it from the book. Due to frequent sarcasm as well as a lack of charity toward its critics and, at times, a lack of evidence to back up its claims, I fear this book will be rejected by many of the people who would most benefit from reading it.”

Review #2: “All to say that Jesus and John Wayne should be required reading for those who live and move and have our being within American evangelical denominations and churches. And the first thing we should do is to look in the mirror and say, “It’s true—let me see myself as I am.” Then, going forward to change will prove whether we evangelicals are doers of the Word or just hearers only.”

White Evangelicals in the Racialized Society

Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith has a haunting thesis: White evangelical Christians, despite their best efforts, don’t only fail to address the problems of our racialized society, but perpetuate them. I wish their thesis weren’t true, but despite a few bright spots, I’m pretty sure they’re right.

I’ve done my best to partially explain their thesis in a couple of posts over at Reading in Babylon. The first discusses the concept of a racialized society. The second, and explanatory key to the whole book, is the description of the white evangelical religious and cultural toolset, applied to race.

While we’re on the topic of race, I want to recommend to you this fantastic podcast from The Gospel Coalition. Collin Hanson interviews Thaddeus Williams about his book Confronting Injustice without Sacrificing Truth. You’ll want to hear Williams distinguish between “Social Justice A” and “Social Justice B”.

Pastors and Politics, Southern Shame, Making Abortion Unthinkable

I’ve been busy writing over at ReadingInBabylon.com.

How can we work in the culture to make abortion not only illegal, but unthinkable?

What are the theological implications of trying to do church in a digital environment? How do we navigate the tension between the ideal of in-person (analog) church and the reality of the coronavirus? Analysis and review of Analog Church.

What do you do when your faith is challenged, not from atheism, but from so-called Christians? How should we respond to the danger of progressive Christianity? My review of Alisa Childer’s new book.

Should pastors “just preach the gospel?” Listen to Episode 1 of the Reading In Babylon podcast.

Finally, check out this piece by David French explaining how Southern shame culture influences evangelicals in the political world.

Where Does the South End and Christianity Begin?

Introducing… Reading in Babylon

Hi all,

I’m excited to introduce my new blog for 2021: Reading in Babylon Book Club.

We live in an age of confusion. The world is complex and, in the face of that complexity, we might be tempted to look for simplistic answers parroted by the leaders of our particular tribe. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of truth.

Christians are not immune. The rapids shifts in culture are disorienting. Surface answers rarely do more than fuel our outrage or confirm our biases. The purpose of this blog is to help Christians dig deeper.

I will be looking for the most interesting ideas found in books, articles, and podcasts and then evaluating through the lens of a Christian worldview.

My hope is that this will fuel understanding in an age of confusion and that, through that understanding, the Church will be built up. And, as the church is built up, we will be better equipped to love and bless our neighbors in Babylon.

Check out the site. Then click the “Follow” button to get new posts in your email once a week.

-Steven Kopp

Follow Jesus, no matter the cost

Tomorrow I plan to record my final sermon as Pastor at Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship. On the one hand, I feel some pressure to put it all on the table, to preach a final epic sermon. On the other hand, the practice of our church has always been to simply and methodically preach through the Bible.

I had two series going, one through Jeremiah – which I concluded in September – and one through Mark – which I returned to last week. Then I preached on Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) This week I preach on Jesus’ call to discipleship in Mark 8:34-38: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

And so I plan to simply exegete this text and not worry that this is a “last sermon” (at least in this particular role and context). And yet, if somehow I knew that this were my last sermon ever, the central message of the text comes close to what I would choose that final sermon to be: Follow Jesus, no matter the cost.

There’s a cost to following Jesus

Jesus sets the bar for discipleship high: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). Following Jesus requires radical self denial and cross-bearing. Commitment to him and to the gospel will cost us our very lives (8:35).

When we follow Jesus we follow the path he blazed for us. He described that path just a few verses earlier: “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (8:31). Jesus’s journey involved suffering and death, so will the journey of his disciples. After all, “a servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted [Jesus], they will persecute [his disciples] also'” (John 15:20).

Jesus’ words proved literally true for his disciples. All of them were persecuted and, according to tradition, almost all of them were martyred. Peter was crucified upside down. Christians around the world continue to follow Jesus at the cost of their physical lives.

Every day examples

I will not likely experience that same fate and I don’t expect the members of Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship to either, but the principles of cross-bearing and self-denial are no less pertinent. Following Jesus still entails a death, of a sort. I see this in at least three areas: Our desires, our relationships, and our witness.

Our desires: As James K.A. Smith describes in “You Are What You Love“, to be human is to love. We are shaped by that which we desire. We were made to love, to long for, to delight in, and to desire some vision of the good life. However, because of our rebellion from God, our desires have become disordered and we seek what we desire in harmful and sinful ways.

Following Jesus requires us to align our loves, desires, and longings with his. To do that, we must simultaneously say “no” to our sinful and disordered desires. Paul describes our salvation in terms of the crucifixion of the old and sinful self.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

Romans 6:5-6

Whereas Romans 6:5 describes something that has happened to us (we have been united with him), Galatians 5:24 expresses the same thing in more active terms: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Self-denial and cross-bearing in this case means saying “no” to our sinful desires. It means saying no to a vision of freedom that says, “I can do whatever I want.” It means saying “no” to pursuing our vision of the good life through whatever means necessary.

Our relationships: Just as Paul applies the principle of self-denial to our desires in general, he applies it specifically to our life together in relationships with one another.

Consider Philippians 2:1-8. Speaking to the church Paul states “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” In doing so, we are following the example of Christ who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” In other words when, in relationships with others, we look to others interests instead of our own, we follow in the example of Christ, who died for the sake of others.

When we follow Jesus in this way we pay a high price. We give up our own self-interest and our own preferences for the sake of the community.

Paul makes a similar claim when he exhorts husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

Our Witness: This applications come right out of the text in Mark: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (8:38).

Jesus knew that his disciples would be shamed for associating with Jesus. This was not just a fear of physical harm, but the shame that comes from being ostracized from the group. This shame would have been intimately connected to the boldness of the Christian community to live out their lives in the public arena. Shame would have showed itself in Christians who either abandoned their faith or hid it from their Jewish and pagan neighbors.

Disciples of Jesus are called to be willing pay a social price for publicly following him. Even if that price does not result in physical harm or death, followers may yet experience a type of social death. He calls us to pay that price.

Follow Jesus, no matter the cost

The cost of following Jesus is high. You will need to say “no” to many of your desires. In groups you will need to be willing to give up what you want for the benefits of others. In your witness, you must be willing to be a social outcast and pariah. To be a Christian is to live a life of self-denial for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

Yet, following Jesus is worth it. Jesus uses the language of commerce and unashamedly appeals to our self-interest.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Mark 8:35-37

He presents us with two options: You can either try to save your life, or you can give it up. If you try to save your life – if you stubbornly hold onto your desires, your rights in the community, your favorable social standing – then you will lose the life that is truly life. You will forfeit that which is of greatest value: Your soul.

But, if you give up your life for Jesus and the gospel, and if you are willing to pay the price, then you are trading up. Your life – your soul – will be saved. Instead of experience the shame of the rejection of the Son of Man (8:38) you will be welcomed into the presence of God with the words “well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23)

Whereas discipleship involves the cost of identifying with Jesus in his death, it also involves the reward of experiencing the joy of the resurrection. This frees us from the power of sin and the fear of man and fills us with eternal and abundant life.

Costly Grace

I do not want anyone to confuse these words with works-based salvation. We do not buy our soul through self-denial. We receive salvation by faith alone through Jesus’s death by which he paid the debt of our sin and through his resurrection through which he gives us eternal life. Jesus’s self-denial and cross-bearing are salvific. Ours is not.

Yet, we too often separate salvation and discipleship in a way that the Bible does not. To freely receive salvation means to become a follower of Jesus. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot become a follower of Jesus without humbling yourself to the point of saying “I have absolutely nothing I can offer, I desperately need your salvation Jesus!” And, you cannot have receive his free grace without also saying, “I will pay the price to follow you.” That we daily fail in this resolve does not mean that such a resolve is any less a part of following our Lord.

Follow Jesus, no matter the cost. The trade – this costly grace (to borrow a term from Bonhoeffer) is worth it, a thousand times over. I will conclude with a quote from “The Cost of Discipleship”

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, it it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner… Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Personal Update and the Future of the Slasher Pastor

This past Sunday I announced to my church family that I would be stepping down from my pastoral role. This was probably the most difficult decision that I have ever had to make (I spent a long time making it, it was not spur of the moment), and one of the most difficult announcements I have ever had to give.

I gave my church a fuller explanation of my move, but the short answer is that I believe that God is re-directing my path. Pastoral ministry, especially the role of a Senior Pastor, requires a unique and broad set of gifts and disposition, and I came to the conclusion that my gifts/interests are more narrow (focused on teaching/preaching), at least at this point in my life. I’m extremely grateful for the 12 years of ministry and WPBF, including 10 years of pastoral ministry.

My church family, being the kind and loving people that they are, were really supportive. They have been for the past 12 years, so I’m not surprised, yet I especially appreciate it now. The leadership at the church is strong. My co-pastor (and mentor) is picking up the slack. The church body is in good hands.

By God’s grace I am leaving pastoral ministry with a clear conscience. There was no moral failure. There is no unresolved conflict. I believe I faithfully – though certainly imperfectly – did the work God called me to do. God has given me a sense of completion.

So, what’s next?

I am going on a short ministry sabbatical where I enjoy life as a regular church member. If I do return to ministry in the future, I expect to focus specifically on role focused on teaching – verbal and written. That’s my sweet spot in terms of skill and interest.

Professionally, I will be going full-time at my other employer where I work as a Project Manager.

I also look forward to spending more focused time with my family. When you have two jobs, many nights and weekends are taken up with ministry work, though I tried to reduce the impact on my family as much as possible.

What does this mean for the Slasher Pastor?

A number of people asked me if I would continue to write, and encouraged me to do so. I plan to do just that. I expect to re-brand my blog. The title “Slasher Pastor” doesn’t work great for someone who isn’t a Slasher (bi-vocational) or a Pastor. Look for more news on this going forward.

Finally, I appreciate your prayers. As I enter into a period of waiting, pray that God will give me patience and wisdom. Pray that I will learn to rely on him more every day.

Book Review: NIV Halley’s Study Bible

Disclaimer: I received a copy of NIV: Halley’s Study Bible for as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid in exchange for this honest review.

One of the first Bible study aids I ever used was Halley’s Bible Handbook, which is why I was interested in the opportunity to receive and review NIV Halley’s Study Bible.

The concept for this study Bible is exactly as it sounds: The editors combined notes from Halley’s famous handbook with the text of Scripture in a standard study Bible format. The edition contains notes before each book of the Bible, short summaries of most of the chapters, and notes on specific verses or paragraphs. It also contains maps and pictures that go along with the text. At the end, the book contains the NIV Concordance and another set of maps.

Physically and visually the Bible is high quality, ideal for use in study (a little too large and clunky to bring to church). The designers did a fine job making it easy to read (easier for me than the ESV Study Bible). The insertions – chapter summaries, verse notes, are unobtrusive yet accessible.

We now come to the primary purpose of a study Bible, the contents of the notes: While performing my normal Bible reading and some of my sermon preparation, I used this study Bible and reviewed Halley’s notes. I found them helpful and fair. The difficulty with study Bible’s in general is that they place biblical interpretations alongside the infallible word.  For that reason, I prefer study Bible’s which demonstrate humility whenever there are competing interpretative frameworks. Here, Halley’s Study Bible passes that test.

For instance, Ezekiel 40-48 describes a rebuilt Temple after Israel’s exile. The Temple was not built to these specifications after their return from Babylonians exile. Interpreters, then, look for some future fulfillment of this vision. In one view, we should expect a literal rebuilding of the “millennial Temple” and re-instantiation of the priesthood. In another view, the Temple and priesthood are ideal, not literal, pictures which are already fulfilled in Christ.

Halley’s notes identify both of these perspectives and outlines some of the challenges to the millennial view: “God was to live in this temple ‘forever’ (43:7). This can hardly be said of a literal, material temple. It must be a figurative representation of something, since Jesus, in John 4:21-24, abrogated temple worship and there will be no temple in heaven (Rev 21:22).” Yet, he does not take a definitive position. Speaking of the life-giving stream described in 47:1-12 he says “Whatever specific or literal application these waters may have…” I think he strikes a good balance between sharing the variety of perspectives available while also tipping his own hand. This helps the reader draw a distinction between Word and Interpretation.

All in all, I found this to be a helpful study Bible, and I’m glad to have it in my library.

To whom do the promises of Jeremiah apply?

Despite some excellent one-liners (Jeremiah 29:11), Jeremiah presents major challenges to those who would seek to apply its teaching.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah spoke words from God to the ancient Israelite community (2:1). He spoke to kings (22:1), to those going in and out of the Temple (7:1-2), to those engaged in commerce (17:19), to false prophets (23:9), to exiles living in Babylon (29:1), and to the nations (46:1ff). More than anything, Jeremiah warned of impending judgment and, given the inevitability of judgment, the promise of future restoration.

Specifically, Jeremiah warns that if Israel will not repent, God send in a nation from the north to destroy Jerusalem (1:14-16). Many will die from famine, plague, or the sword (14:12). God will send the rest into exile (13:19). God brings about this judgment because Israel has broken their covenant with God – they worshipped idols (2:5), sacrificed children (32:35), and oppressed the poor (2:34). His judgment is the “natural result” of their sin, an active just punishment against wrong-doing (4:18), and a disciplinary measure intended (30:11) to bring about repentance.

But judgment is not the end of the story. God promises that he will bring Israel back into the land (31:8). He will heal them of their incurable wound (30:17). He will restore their fortunes (30:18). Some of this is fulfilled after 70 years of exile (25:12-14). Some of it finds its final fulfillment in Jesus (New Covenant: 31:31ff).

The Individualistic Approach

Here is the challenge: Because we live in a highly individualistic culture we instinctively apply Jeremiah’s message individualistically. This is natural and, to some degree, right. But it also presents challenges. Consider Jeremiah 29:11. Jeremiah wrote this to a community and, in fact, a subset of the community. The “you” in that verse is a community of exiles, the first wave of exiles, the “good figs” of Jerusalem (ch 24). The “future” is 70 years away. Most of those going into exile will not experience this future first-hand.

We want to read this verse as saying that God will prosper us individually. Instead, it means that for a small subset of Israel, their children and grandchildren will return to the land. What about the rest of Israel? Most of the residents of Jerusalem and Judah will be killed in the upcoming conflict or will die in exile.

For the community judgment is temporary. But for many individuals, judgment is final. God promises that he will not forsake his people but most of the individuals within that community will not experience (at least in this life) restoration, though the faithful will be blessed in exile (29:5-7).

This is complicated further by the fact that a distinction between God’s judgment of Israel and his judgment of the nations. For Israel (and some of the nations) God’s judgment is corrective and temporary and followed by restoration. For others, especially Babylon, God’s judgment is explicitly punitive and final (51:59-64).

All this adds up to say that we cannot woodenly apply God’s promises of restoration to individuals, at least not through Jeremiah alone. When you bring in New Testament writings, you can then make important distinctions between different kinds of judgment. For those who are in Christ, God’s judgment is corrective, intended to bring about repentance and maturity (Heb 12:11). However, for the enemies of Christ, God’s judgment is final. Furthermore, New Testament teaching shows us that while restoration may come in this life, our final hope is for the New Creation.

The Nationalist Approach

Some, recognizing that Jeremiah is not primarily speaking to a nation, have sought to apply his message to an individual nation. So, America is subject to judgment because we have worshipped idols (wealth, status, sex, self), sacrificed our children (abortion), and oppressed the poor and powerless (slavery). God judges the nation through disaster and warfare.

Just as God’s judgments apply, so do his promises. If we as a nation repent, God will restore America to her former glory. We will see peace, justice, and material prosperity.

The problem with this approach is that it ignores key differences between Israel and America (or any other nation). Israel was God’s chosen people, the embodiment of His kingdom, the people with whom God had forged his covenant, a theocratic nation that lived under his law. America is none of those things.

If we are to find ourselves as a nation in Jeremiah, it is more likely to be in chapters 46-51 where God addresses the nations surrounding Israel (such as Egypt and Babylon). Here, the nations are subject to judgment, but do not have the same promise of restoration.

Israel and the Church

Some make the case that all of Jeremiah’s promises only apply to national Israel, either fulfilled 70 years after the initial exile, or to be fulfilled in a millennial kingdom after Christ returns. Depending on your views of the End Times, you may find this convincing. However, even those with a premillennial view of the End Times, should see that many of the promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

For instance, Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the New Covenant described in Jeremiah (Luke 22:20). Paul (2 Cor 3:6) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb 8) comes to the same conclusion. That means that there is a correspondence between the warnings/promises to Israel and similar warnings/promises to followers of Jesus: The Church. Peter also drew a connection between the Israelites experience as exiles (Jer 29) and that of the early church (1 Pet 2:11-12).

What, then, is the best way to make sense of God’s warnings and promises in Jeremiah?

First, concerning Jeremiah’s warnings of judgments, draw a distinction between his warnings to the nations and to Israel. When God judges the nations, his judgments are final. When God judges his people (the church) it is corrective and temporary. The Church may very well be under God’s judgment right now. If it is, God calls us to repent. In the meantime, the church will face dangers from without and within connected to our sin. Many will fall away from faith. Many more will compromise their faith. Yet, God will protect a remnant. The Church will never go extinct. The gates of Hell will not overcome her (Mt 16:18).

Second, God will restore his people, the Church. We do not know how long or in what form. The final restoration will have to wait until Jesus returns. At different times and at different places the cycle of judgment and restoration will take different forms.

Third, as we wait for final restoration, the church is called to faithful exile. That means loyalty to God that works itself out in love for neighbor. Faithful exile brings glory to God as God reveals his rescue and blessing to and through his people.

Fourth, we can now see more clearly how Jeremiah applies to individuals. Are you a member of the people of God? If not, your judgment is final. If so, you are part of a community whose judgment is temporary. You enter this community through repentance and faith in Jesus.

As a member of that community are you doing things which lead to God’s corrective discipline? Idolatry or injustice. When you do, are you practicing true repentance or are you taking refuge in mere religious ritual? Are you contributing to a faithful witness to your neighbors or are you compromising your faith to avoid potential conflict?

Are you a person with authority, either in a religious, commercial, or civil environment? Are you using that power for the good of all or to enrich yourself? Are you pursuing justice or tolerating oppression?

These questions and more help us faithfully apply individual/communal calls of Jeremiah.

No worries in the year of drought

The Year of Drought

For many of us, 2020 is a year of drought, a year when the precious rains of social, emotional, spiritual, and economic resources have been withheld, locked away in clouds that turn to vapor on the horizon. We wither under the heat.

The people in Jeremiah’s time knew this feeling, only more so. Their whole way of life was crumbling before their eyes. Collectively they faced the plague, famine, and the sword. To them Jeremiah wrote:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (emphasis added)

How do we become like that tree?

Careful readers of the Bible will immediately see the connection between these words and Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one
    … whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

These two trees share a common trait, they are planted by a stream. That stream provides unfailing resources by which the tree can sprout leaves and bear fruit, even during a season of drought. In Jeremiah 17:7 identifies that stream as trust in the Lord and confidence in him. The psalmist marks the stream as continual meditation on the law of the Lord.

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we must take nourishment from God and his word.

Where is your trust?

Jeremiah 17:7-8 stands in contrast to 17:5-6

 “Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

Trust in God stands in contrast to trust in man. The people of Jerusalem had made a terrible mistake. Instead of trusting God, they put their trust in Egypt and Assyria to save them. They put their trust in idols and those who made them. They put their trust in false prophets. As a result, they neglected to trust God, stopped listening to him, and stopped obeying his Word, especially as it related to undefiled worship and public justice.

Instead of drawing their strength from God, they drew their strength from mere flesh. “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we must beware of putting our trust in the wrong things.

Why trust God?

We can trust God – and draw strength from him – by looking to the past, present, and future.

The past: We know that God is trustworthy because of how he has acted in the past. For Jeremiah, two events stand out: He created the universe and he brought Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.

The present: Even while the circumstances of Israel’s present were about as bad as they could get, Jeremiah had confidence that the circumstances did not alter God’s character, especially his everlasting love and unfailing kindness.

The future: Israel’s destruction and captivity would be long and painful, but ultimately temporary from a national perspective. Jeremiah calls the exiles to hope by pointing them to a future restoration.

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we draw strength by recalling God’s past acts of salvation, contemplating his presence and faithfulness, and looking forward to his future restoration.

As we progress through this year of drought now is the time to send those roots down deep into the banks of the stream. God invites all who are thirsty to come and drink from the living water.

Don’t conform!

Do not conform to the pattern of this world… (Rom 12:2)

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought (Rom 12:3)

Do not be proud… do not be conceited (Rom 12:16)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil (Rom 12:17)

Do not take revenge (Rom 12:18)

Do not be overcome by evil (Rom 12:21)

Do not rebel against authority (Rom 13:2)

Do not harm your neighbor (Rom 13:10)

Put aside deeds of darkness – carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension, jealousy (Rom 13:12-14)

Stop passing judgment on one another (Rom 14:13)

Do not by your eating [your “freedom”] destroy someone for whom Christ died (Rom 14:15)

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food (Rom 14:20)

But be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2)

Think of yourself with sober judgment (Rom 12:3)

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10)

Never be lacking in zeal (Rom 12:11)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Rom 12:12)

Share with the Lord’s people. Practice hospitality (Rom 12:13)

Bless those who persecute you (Rom 12:14)

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15)

Live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16)

Be willing to associate with those in low position (Rom 12:16)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Rom 12:18)

Overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21)

Be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1)

Give to everyone what you owe them – taxes, revenue, respect, honor (Rom 13:7)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Rom 13:9)

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14)

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters (Rom 14:1)

Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister (Rom 14:13)

Make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Rom 14:19)

Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up… for Christ did not please himself (Rom 15:2, 3)

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Rom 15:7)

Dear Christian, please wear a mask

Dear Christian,

Please wear masks in enclosed spaces to help slow the spread of COVID-19. I appeal to you on three grounds: To care for the physical well-being of your neighbor, to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to demonstrate respect for governing authorities.

To care for the physical well-being of your neighbor

Let me be clear: I do not think Christians who are opposed to wearing masks, or are blase about it, do not care about the well-being of their neighbors or are inherently selfish – though some may be. Instead, they just don’t think that wearing a mask helps slow the spread of the virus. They are skeptical of the evidence.

The evidence, to me anyway, seems clear that masks are effective against viruses, including COVID-19. Check out this article which gives a good summary of the logic and studies behind this argument. You don’t need to take the author at face value. He provides plenty of links to studies which you can follow to conduct your own research.

For the purposes of this post, I will provide a brief summary.

First, masks are more effective at slowing the spread of viruses than they are as a personal protective equipment. That is, our proper motivation for wearings masks is one of concern for others, not fear.

Second, masks protect others by trapping droplets that come out of your mouth when you speak, cough, or sing. This YouTube video uses a laser-scattering experiment to shows how wearing a simple washcloth drastically reduced the number of droplets expelled into the air. This matters a lot, since aerosol spread is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.

Third, people can spread the virus even before they have started showing symptoms, so wearing a mask prevents the spread of the virus after a person has contracted the virus, but before they would know that they have it.

Fourth, many people are skeptical about wearing masks because at the start of the pandemic, health officials discouraged wearing masks. They see this as evidence that health officials are untrustworthy. However, this guidance changed simply because the situation changed. Early on health officials looked at wearing masks primarily in terms of PPE, not in terms of protecting others. Also early on there was a mask shortage so health officials wanted to ensure that medical workers had priority. As evidence for even simple cloth mask effectiveness has increased, and the overall stock of masks has increased, health officials began to issue the guidance we see today.

To quote from the originally linked article:

There are numerous studies that suggest if 80% of people wear a mask in public, then COVID-19 transmission could be halted. Until a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 is discovered, cloth face masks might be the most important tool we currently have to fight the pandemic.

Christians often respond that by wearing masks we are giving in to fear. I don’t think that’s a great way to frame the discussion. While wearing masks can be an expression of fear, it can also be an expression of love, of concern for the well-being of our neighbors.

To love your brothers and sisters in Christ

As churches begin to re-open Christians who wear masks and those who don’t will be attending church together. Each will have a strong opinion one way or the other. Both may be called upon to demonstrate Christian humility by giving up their “rights” or by acting in a way that is uncomfortable to them.

And so, brother or sister, if you are healthy and unconcerned, consider those in the congregation who have a weakened immune system and are more vulnerable. I appeal to you who don’t want to wear a mask, to consider doing so to make your fellow congregants more comfortable, even if you yourself are not particularly convinced by the first argument.

To demonstrate proper respect for authorities

In many places, wearing masks indoors is mandatory. Many businesses put up signs stating as such. Christians can demonstrate respect for authority by following these guidelines.

While human authorities are not absolute, obedience to human authorities should be the norm for Christians. Obedience to authority, unless it contradicts obedience to God, demonstrates a respect for how God has ordered our lives. Contradicting authority requires us to demonstrate how doing so would cause us to disobey God. That is not the case for wearing masks.

Conclusion

We should show each other grace in this matter. I have written this post merely to appeal to the Christian conscience. When and where we wear masks isn’t always simple. I personally wear it when going to a store but never when I am outside. And, if I’m meeting indoors with just a few people and we can stay six feet apart, I typically won’t wear one. That may be hypocritical on my part, I’m not sure. My point is that there are a lot of gray areas.

However, I want to show how the Christian conscience should move us toward, not away, from wearing masks during this pandemic. Dear Christian, please wear a mask.