Welcome to this special episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast. It seems right to address some aspects of the current coronavirus pandemic here. As it stands, not a lot of attention will be devoted to it. But I think there are a few aspects we need to address, based on what you, listeners, have emailed us over the past few days.
But first, Pastor John, I suspect a lot of people just want to know how you are doing physically in this season. I presume you’re at home a lot?
We are at home a lot.
Well, who knows? On December 20, 2006, I thought I was fine. On December 21, 2006, I had cancer. So, I have no idea how I am. But I feel fine, and I don’t think we’re sick, and I don’t anticipate getting sick. But the Lord reigns.
Worship is different, of course. Bethlehem Baptist Church is online. Two Sundays ago, we met with a group of ten and we sang in the Livingston’s basement and watched the livestream of the service. This time it was just Noël and me. And I’ll tell you, if a husband and wife have never sat in two chairs worshiping with their church and singing alone, by themselves, you should try it. It will sweeten, if you can get over the embarrassment. This is my wife: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. If you can get over this, then it will be sweet. And it was sweet.
So, that’s been different. My treadmill doesn’t change. It’s up in the attic. I’m still getting the same kind of exercise I always get. I’m doing all kinds of videoconferencing. I was on there with the guys from T4G today. I was on there with a leadership team — with you, Tony — on the Internet, doing our Zoom video thing. I’ve got sixty episodes of Look at the Book done on the first chapter of Ephesians. So, we’re not goofing off here in the meantime.
But it is sober. I desire that people be very, very sober-minded about this and not make light of it, because I think God is in charge. He is saying something. We need to ask, “What is God saying?” Because he’s in charge. He doesn’t do things like this willy-nilly. He has purposes. And so, I’m very trustful of him and eager to discern what he wants us to say.
Amen. So much of the work at DG continues on as normal for us, even in this pandemic. Obviously, we can’t travel. That’s the biggest change so far. I just finished a string of travel, teaching in Frisco, Texas, and then in Austin and was in Seattle two weeks ago today, as the city was shutting down. And your big Southeast Asia trip got canceled in all of this.
Yeah, that’s why I’ve gotten so many Look at the Book episodes recorded, because we just said, “Okay, let’s do a deep dive making Look at the Book episodes when we should have been in Asia.
It’s great to hear that you and Noël are healthy. Same here. The family is healthy, and things seem to be going well, from all outward appearances at least.
Well, as you know, there’s an overwhelming sense of fear right now, Pastor John. And we’re seeing it in many of the emails coming in from listeners in the US. The headlines are ominous: The Dow is dropping a thousand points per day it seems. The consumer market has largely frozen. Airlines are slowing and may halt soon. And with the stoppage has come the loss of income and even jobs. We’re hearing now from DG partners, our donors, who are faced with new struggles in the marketplace, facing shutdowns, the inability to work as normal, and even the harsh reality of now letting go of employees they cannot put to work.
Meanwhile on TV, politicians are holding live press conferences all day with the latest news, with infection stats, and to convince people to stay home. Outbreaks of the virus continue to spike in Italy, Spain, Germany, but have also moved much closer to home in states like New York and New Jersey. Every state in America has cases now, and our hospitals are starting to feel the surge. Older citizens know they’re in the bullseye of this. And the virus is causing lung failure in a younger demographic than was previously expected. The elderly are stressed. Adults of all ages are stressed. Kids are stressed. Parents are stressed. Business owners are stressed. Dads who provide are stressed. Few of us know if this virus will infect us personally. But its ripple effects have already impacted every one of us. And now we’re told this could all last for months.
So, to the many listeners who are fighting for faith right now, and fighting against fear right now — physical or financial — what would you say to them, Pastor John?
When I think of the preciousness, the precious experience, of being free from fear, free from anxiety, full of peace, full of contentment in the face of danger, my question is this: Who is it that can have a warranted, well-founded, justifiable, God-given, God-sustained freedom from fear and freedom from anxiety and unshakable peace and sweet, abiding contentment? Who can lay a rightful claim to these treasures? It’s crystal clear in God’s word that he commands and he offers a life of fearlessness and peace.
The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
I have learned in whatever situation I am [coronavirus or not] to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
No fear, no anxiety, supernatural peace, supernatural contentment in every circumstance, whether horrible or happy: that’s what God offers. And the question is, To whom is such an amazing supernatural experience of fearlessness and peace given?
Rooted in Reality
In other words, in a pandemic or not in a pandemic, I’m not interested in the mirror psychological experience of fearlessness and contentment that is not based on reality. The aim of our lives is not to have a psychological state of mind that is pleasant without reference to reality. The aim is to have for ourselves, and for others through us, psychological, spiritual, physical states of happiness that are based on reality that make much of our Maker, and that will be true in a million years. That’s the only kind of fearlessness and contentment I care about.
So, the kind of fearlessness that you see in movies, where the cocky heroes keep their cool in dangerous situations and flaunt their boldness, has no interest to me at all. None — because it’s not based on reality.
- God is real.
- Sin is real.
- Hell is real.
- Jesus Christ is real.
- The blood he shed in the crucifixion is real.
- The Holy Spirit is real.
- Faith and the absence of faith are real.
- Heaven is real.
- The human soul that will exist forever in heaven or in hell is real.
Those are the great realities of the universe, and none of the fearlessness that you see in the movies is based on any of them. Therefore, it’s worthless as something to admire or to aspire to.
Fear Unearths Our Foundations
What God is doing — among a million other things — in the coronavirus, is forcing the issue of reality. And one of the litmus tests of whether your life is based on reality or based on the mirage of God-ignoring pillars, holding up the cultural temple of secularism, is fear. The test of the foundations of your life is fear. Oh, what a precious gift God is giving to us to discover, while we still have time, that the pillars holding up our peace are hollow and made of papier-mâché. That’s a gift.
I don’t want to just start saying, since you asked me about fear, “Fear not, everybody! Fear not, everybody! Fear not, everybody!” For all I know, the people listening to this should fear because the pillars of their lives are papier-mâché. Their lives are not based on reality. I don’t know. I’d sure like to help it not be so.
There are glorious, rock-solid, indestructible reasons and warrants and grounds and foundations for not being afraid of what the coronavirus can do to your health or to your business or to your family or to the economy or to Western civilization or to history as we know it. There are foundations in reality not to fear any of this.
So, my question is, Who is it that can have warranted, well-founded, justifiable, God-given, God-sustained freedom from fear and unshakable, sweet, abiding contentment? And the answer is given in one verse — one of the most sweeping, all-encompassing, stabilizing, precious, well-known promises in the Bible:
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Who is it that should enjoy the fearlessness and peace that absolutely everything around this coronavirus is working together for their eternal good? And the answer is this: those who love God and those who are called according to his purpose.
Here’s one of the ten thousand things God is doing through this horrific virus. He is saying to the world, he is saying to us, what he said to Peter in John 21:16: “Do you love me?” That’s what he’s saying. And Jesus made it more plain in Matthew 10:37: “Do you love me more than anything? More than these? More than your mother or father, child or son or daughter?”
And second, he is saying what he said through Peter in 2 Peter 1:10: “Be . . . diligent to confirm your calling and election.” The coronavirus is a wake-up question to the world, especially Christians: Is your life a confirmation that God has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light? These are the people — the called and the lovers of God — who have a warrant, a ground, a foundation in reality not to be afraid, but to be steadied by unshakable peace.
What No Virus Can Take
Romans 8 — “the great eight” — is a text I think everybody in this isolation period should be memorizing. I’m making that as a suggestion: it’s the best thing you could do with your time. Romans 8 gives greater foundations for this fearlessness than anything in the world — than anything the world has to offer. I’ll mention four:
1. For the called who love God in Jesus Christ, all of God’s righteous condemnation toward you was put on Jesus, and there is now no condemnation — no punishment — for those who are in Christ: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Condemnation for those who are in Christ is over. It happened at Calvary. That is wonderful.
2. God’s willingness to sacrifice his only Son for the called ones who love him means he not only died in their place, but will not withhold anything from them for their eternal good: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). So, everything we need to glorify God and to have everlasting joy, he guarantees in the cross for us during coronavirus time.
3. Nobody who is called by God will fail to attain eternal glory. There is a golden, unbreakable chain of covenant commitment that God will keep his called ones forever: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). None of the called is lost — ever.
4. Finally, here is what all of this means: neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword, nor coronavirus, nor economic collapse, nor total anarchy, nor the end of the world can separate us from the love of Christ. And that includes death — especially death — because Romans 8:36 says, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long.”
It doesn’t matter whether we’re being killed by coronavirus or anti-Christian mobs. Nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39). “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Therefore, Christian — therefore, Christian — lover of God, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, lift up your head, put a song in your mouth, love your neighbor, and do not be afraid.
Those are some rock-solid pillars under the Christian life. Thank you, Pastor John. And yes, “what a precious gift God is giving to us to discover, while we still have time, that the pillars holding up our peace are often hollow and made of papier-mâché.” What a word for this season.