Social distancing. Three months ago, if you heard that term you may have thought it was describing someone who was a loner or someone who swore off social media. Now we not only all know what it means, we feel its meaning and it is frightening. I was in the grocery store today, and on the floor of the line for self-checkout, there were tape lines six feet apart so shoppers could more easily avoid contact. The Coronavirus – COVID-19 - has arrived. It is potent, fearsome and sneaky. Because of its presence the entire world has been altered socially and economically in a matter of a few months. As Christians, what are we supposed to do with this pandemic? What should we know, how should we act and most importantly, is this virus connected to God’s plan?
As Christians, we often talk about the necessity of forgiveness. We need to be forgiven and to forgive others. When it comes to talking about mercy, we always seem to focus on God’s mercy. Rightly so. God’s mercy is a resounding theme throughout the entire Bible. His eternal wisdom and plan could not even exist unless His mercy was, is and will be in place. So, if mercy is such an important part of God’s plan, and Jesus came and mercifully gave his life for Adam’s sin and redeemed the world, what about me? How does mercy fit into my life? Am I a merciful Christian? What does mercy really mean, and how do I know how and when to use it?
Burnout is nasty. As we found out in Part I of our two-part series, it can demoralize and diminish the efforts and quality of care from medical professionals and first responders. But it doesn't stop there. Even though the rest of us may not have other’s lives in our hands, burnout is more than capable of continuing to ruin lives...if we let it. The good news about this ever-growing and worrisome phenomena is that it can be handled. For regular people who get overly inundated with the unrelenting pressures of work, family and social issues, there are answers. Or, if we find ourselves feeling like we are drowning under the weight of Christian responsibilities, there are answers. The really good news is these answers have both biblical and medical foundations!
It is a common saying that the two things you can count on in life are death and taxes. While that might be true, there is another thing lurking in the background of the lives of more and more people every day: BURNOUT. With all of the overstimulation a technology-based society produces, we are set up for burnout. With what seem like ever-increasing job demands, we are set up for burnout. With personal communications being instant, always available and on multiple platforms, we feel we need to respond instantly as well. This sets us up for – you guessed it – burnout. This is just what applies to us - the average, "go to work and make a living" person. Medical professionals, first responders, military men and women – all set up for this scary precedent! This is serious. What can we as Christians do to recognize, respond to and relieve this dangerous pattern in our lives and the lives of others?
…And they lived happily ever after! While this fairy tale ending makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, it doesn’t help us to prepare for reality. The fact is, marriage is hard. Having a bad marriage is much easier. Think about why. Two people make a promise to one another before God to be - for the rest of their lives - completely faithful to each other. Theoretically, we think this is not unreasonable because when we marry, the bonds of love are powerful. Then life happens. Stress, jobs, children, changes, finances, likes, dislikes, opinions, moods - all of the human things that life is made of show themselves. You wake up one day and that bond of love that once looked impervious has faded into the shadows of everyday experience.
There is no denying the New Testament - and actually the entire Bible - is all about Jesus. His sacrifice for humanity is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation. He IS the key to the gospel. Having said this, the life and writings of the Apostle Paul dominate much of the New Testament. His experiences and teachings are pronounced, and in the eyes of many, go too far. Critics see the Apostle Paul as a combatant against the gospel of the kingdom Jesus taught. The basis for their criticism is the way Jesus reflected the role of the Jewish Law and the way that Paul essentially wrote it off. How do we manage this? Was Paul at odds with the core values and teaching of Jesus?
For every Christian, Jesus is THE example, leader and fulfiller of our faith. We continually gain inspiration from his perfect example and unselfish sacrifice. When we think about a less than perfect Christian example, most of us go to the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul. Both these men showed us how to achieve spiritual victory through imperfection. They both had failures, regrets and doubts, and yet they were faithful. These challenges endear them to our hearts. They give us courage to work through our own imperfect experiences. Knowing this, it can be hard to believe there are many who see the Apostle Paul as an interloper, one who hijacked the gospel message. These accusations begin with disregarding the authenticity of his apostleship. Matthias, the replacement for the traitor Judas, was appointed as the 12th Apostle long before Paul’s conversion.
(See Part I of this topic.) In many ways, the Apostle Paul was like a magnet. Over the last 2,000 years, his preaching, teaching and writing have attracted countless millions to seek out what being a Christian really means. He was a leader in every sense of the word. He lived his faith to Jesus Christ without reservation, and Christians throughout the age have been inspired by his example. This same Apostle Paul was also a magnet for trouble. His ministry way back then drew incredible conflict and persecution - it even led to his death. Today the same controversy surrounds his legacy. While so many of us cling to his example and teaching, others are repelled by him and label him as a self-contradicting, hypocritical deceiver. Who is right? Was Paul a teacher of truth or contradiction?
The Apostle Paul is a Christian icon. He essentially wrote half of the New Testament as he carried the gospel far and wide. He suffered dramatically for his faith, was challenged regularly by those in authority and even stood up to the Apostle Peter when it was needed. When you read his words, you cannot help but see his love for God and undying devotion to Jesus. With all of the good he did, there are many who 2,000 years later claim he was a self-absorbed, self-contradictory man. They make lists of the things he said and wrote and seem to relish in his apparent instability. Did the Apostle Paul contradict himself? Did he say different things to different people just to gain their favor? The only way to find out is to examine the accusations one at a time!
The Christian belief in being “born again” can be at the very least confusing. Does it mean you get to restart your life, kind of like a do-over? Is it beginning a brand new life lived in a brand new context? Does being born again mean you are the same person with the same issues, or are you somebody different? Is it living a new spiritual life in place of our present physical life? Does being born again actually mean what we think it means? To figure this out, we need to not only have a clear understanding of context, we also need to have a good sense of some specific Greek words and how they are used.