Spiritual Distancing

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13

For over a year now, we’ve been hearing the term “social distancing” in relation to COVID-19. Social distancing generally refers to keeping a “safe” distance from others in public, to reduce the spread of the virus (normally about 6 feet). It may also refer to using a mask whenever you are in a public building, or whenever you interact with someone who is 6 feet away or closer– especially at stores, doctor’s offices, church, school, etc.

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Most people accept that social distancing is a temporary measure and meant to help keep you from getting (or giving) the disease. It is not a normal social practice, but one we choose to adopt for the good of everyone around us. However, there are many questions as to the effectiveness of social distancing after more than a year– what about those who have already had COVID, and should have antibodies? Should they be required to wear masks and keep their distance? What about those who refuse to practice social distancing? What about those who practice social distancing to the best of their ability who STILL get COVID?

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These are all valid questions. But I want to look at the contrast between social distancing and “spiritual” distancing. We don’t want to “catch” COVID, but how vigilant are we in avoiding the contamination of sin? How often do we distance ourselves from those who claim to be “healthy” Christians while continuing with sinful practices? How often do we remain in situations rife with temptation, or compromise on “little things” in our own lives?

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I’m not talking about walking around in a spiritual “bubble,” refusing to interact with anyone who has a sinful past, or with lost souls who need to hear the Good News of Salvation. Nor should we deny and cover up our own faults and failures. But if our lives are supposed to reflect the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ; if we REALLY want to live the kind of lives that honor Him and lead others to want to honor Him, shouldn’t we be every bit as careful about sin as we are about COVID?

We are instructed multiple times throughout Scripture to “resist” the devil, to “flee” from temptation, to invite the Holy Spirit to “guard” our hearts and minds, and to “do battle” with spiritual foes. We are quick to put on masks before we enter the grocery– are we putting on the Armor of God at the same time?

Social distancing is public, and very visible. We can see who is practicing and who is not. We can judge others just by seeing if they are wearing a mask or keeping their distance. Spiritual distancing is private and largely invisible to the public. But God still sees and knows. I confess, I have been guilty of walking into situations and relationships without “wearing a mask” or putting on my spiritual armor.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV via biblegateway.com (emphasis added).
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We should keep our distance from sin and temptation whenever possible, but we must also be ready to “stand firm” and protected by God’s armor, which includes persistently pursuing prayer! We wouldn’t walk into a situation where we knew we would be exposed to COVID without taking any precautions. Why would we deliberately expose ourselves to sinful practices? Why do we make excuses for compromising in our listening and viewing habits? Why do we get involved in fruitless arguments or gossip? Worse, why would we tempt others to be complacent about sin? Why do we stay silent as we watch other Christians struggling? Why aren’t we standing firm, suiting up, and praying “on all occasions?”

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Just like with COVID, we can practice spiritual distancing and still fall into the “sickness” of sin. But God makes a two-fold promise–through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “virus” of sin is defeated and its effects neutralized. Even though we will face a physical death, we can have new and eternal spiritual life through faith by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 11:25, others..) But we also have the forgiveness of sins– the knowledge that God will heal us and redeem the effects of our individual sinful choices when we confess and repent of them.

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COVID is not a joke; nor is it harmless. I know from experience. Both my husband and I had it earlier this year. My husband was in the hospital for a week, and is still struggling to regain full health. I still have a diminished sense of smell, and other problems as a result of my illness. But Sin if a far greater threat than COVID. COVID has claimed many lives, but Sin has claimed billions of souls, and robbed them of life and hope.

Let’s keep our distance, wear our armor, and let’s get praying!

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The Right Side of History

My nation– and even my community–is divided right now. People argue, accuse, blame, and reject their neighbors because of political beliefs. And they defend the “rightness” and righteousness of their own beliefs–even when they must compromise on other beliefs and teachings of the Bible. Some people use the phrase “I’m on the right side of history..” or “History will prove us right.” And they cross their arms, jut out their chin, and stand smugly convinced that they have won the argument.

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But history books are written by human beings– and usually those human beings who are in power. “History” is constantly in flux– some things that were deemed “virtuous” or “necessary” in the past are looked on with horror today. Times change; societies change; customs and morals change.

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When we justify our politics, or our actions to others in this way, we are really saying, “whatever I am doing, saying, or supporting today will be judged “righteous” by future generations. And that may be so. Those who advocated for the abolition of slavery in America over a century ago should surely qualify as people who were on the “right side of history.” Yet, in the past year of rioting across my country, many of the statues that were toppled, and spray-painted, and chiseled, and marred were of abolitionists. Their moral prowess notwithstanding, they were seen as “old, white men” in old-fashioned clothing, whose lives and legacies were long forgotten, or confused with other “old, white men” who had supported slavery during the same time period. We delight in “debunking” cherished histories, toppling our heroes, and rewriting traditions. And we often compare our “struggles” to those of previous generations, even if the comparisons are skewed or largely non-existent. And in our fight to push forward a particular narrative or policy; in order to “take back” a certain position or tradition, we often lose our moral compass, believing the lie that “the end justifies the means” or that “might makes right.”

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In order to be on the “right side of history” today, people tend to make certain compromises– regardless of what “side” they choose. Political parties tend to support diverse causes and groups. Whatever good policies they promote, chances are they also promote policies and beliefs that are in direct conflict with scripture. Words like “compassionate,” “wholesome.” “traditional,” “patriotic”, “liberal,”and “progressive” may sound noble, but they often mask actions and policies that are corrupt, wicked, and destructive.

As Christians, we must be careful not to make “comfortable compromises” and to avoid righteous-sounding justifications. Just as importantly, we must be careful when confronted with labels and accusations, not to over-react or respond with bitterness or arrogance. If someone accuses me of being “hateful” or “gullible” because of my political beliefs, it is tempting to puff up and respond in kind. No one likes being judged. In fact, we are told in scripture NOT to judge, lest we be judged in kind. (Matthew 7:1-6) Jesus was often misunderstood, hated, falsely accused. He went to the cross after being found innocent by Pilate– who compromised by offering the Jewish people a choice of the innocent Jesus or the condemned Barabbas, instead of commanding that Jesus be released. In spite of his compromise, Pilate is not considered to be on the “right side of history” for his political masterpiece.

In fact– we are ALL on the WRONG side of of history! No matter how righteous our beliefs, ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Our allegiances, our morality, our political affiliations– none of them will save us from the just judgment of God, or the wavering judgments of future generations. We need, more than ever, to hold fast to the truth, and to seek God’s wisdom. When the final “history” is written, I want to be on God’s side!

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Stop, Drop, and Pray!

Does it ever feel like you spend your days “putting out fires?” Taking care of little problems before they become bigger problems? Never getting a chance to rest or relax before the next crisis hits? Trying to put out a fire that keeps getting out of hand?

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Fires can become very dangerous very quickly. Experts advise that we shouldn’t try to stay and fight a fire for which we are not equipped–it puts you and others at far greater risk. There is a simple phrase that can help people survive and escape a house or building fire: Stop. Drop. And Roll. A similar phrase can be helpful in facing the spiritual and emotional “fires” we face: Stop. Drop. And Pray!

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  • Stop! Often when we face trials, our first reaction is to rush in and try to “save” things– ourselves, our loved ones, our possessions, our pride…the list goes on. This is a natural reaction, but not always the wisest course. In the initial panic, we are likely to make poor judgments, and miss warning signs. With the best of intentions, we can make situations worse: maybe we don’t have the skills, the equipment, the authority, or the knowledge to offer salvation or safety. That doesn’t mean that we must walk away from danger, or fail to offer help when we are able to do so. But it means that we must remember that Salvation and Wisdom come from God.
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  • Drop. Fire is an obvious danger, but smoke is a silent killer. We can see fire; we can feel the heat of it. But the smoke can immobilize us long before the flames reach us. Spiritually, we may be able to see obvious sins in others, but ignore the smoke of compromise and apathy in the air all around us. Smoke rises– just like pride, and arrogance, and denial. We need to be “on our knees” –lowly and humble– if we want to keep from getting choked and suffocated.
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  • Pray! Pray with a heart to listen for good advice and obey. Sometimes, we need to stay still and wait; sometimes we need to flee! Sometimes we need to get involved; sometimes we need to walk away. We don’t need to know the next seven or eight steps, however. We need to do the next right thing– even if it seems insignificant in the face of the threat. What we can see is not always where the danger is greatest, nor where the help is most available.
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  • Finally– Don’t wait until you are in danger to practice these steps or prepare for what may lie ahead. There is a popular but unbiblical phrase: “God helps those who help themselves.” But this is NOT what God says! God says that He will help those who humble themselves (Luke 14:11; James 4:10); those who seek Him (Psalm24:6; Amos 5:4); and those who believe (Mark 9:23; John 20:29).

Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3-8 New International Version (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you ask most people what they need, you will not hear the items listed in this passage of scripture.  Most people view needs in very personal and concrete terms– food, water, shelter, safety, air…we need these to exist during our life on earth.  God cares about our physical and most basic needs.  But most people have other “needs” that they try to meet with what the Apostle Peter refers to here as “evil desires”.  We “need” to feel loved– but we end up in unhealthy relationships, or fleeting relationships that don’t meet our need.  We “need” to feel secure and worthwhile– but we end up feeling fearful and ashamed.  We “need” to achieve; to find fulfillment and worth in our actions, words, relationships, and legacy–but, too often, our efforts lead us to compromise the very dreams and ambitions we started with, leading us to mediocrity or even disaster.

full length of man sitting outdoors
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Jesus, through His divine power, has given us everything we need–everything!  His death and resurrection provided the way for us to find true forgiveness and new life.  We won’t find it in any of the things we think we “need”– a new job, or a new relationship; a new car or a new cause.

woman in maroon long sleeved top holding smartphone with shopping bags at daytime
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Over the years, I have returned to this passage many times.  There is a lot to unpack in just a few verses.  One of the things that always “gets” me about this passage is that I want to just leap from Faith to Love without the steps in-between.  The world needs love– I need love– and I want to spread love, reflect love, and be known for loving others.  God is Love, and showed His love through Christ– I believe in God and trust Christ.  Voila!– He has given me everything I need, so I should be loving.  But Peter writes what he knows very well.  Following Jesus, learning from Him, growing to be more like Him–it begins with Faith, but it grows through discipleship.  I “loved” people before I had Faith in Christ.  I may “feel” love for others, but if my thoughts and actions are not being  transformed by His Spirit; or if I continue to act out of habit or selfish impulse, my “love” will be corrupted and compromised by the world.   It will be “my” love and not God’s love working through me.  For that to happen, I need to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and all the rest.

And adding these virtues requires that I humble myself to admit that I am not “good”, that I don’t already “know” everything…that I “need” to depend on God for any goodness, wisdom, discipline, strength to persevere, etc.

man wearing white sweater and black shorts about to run
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God is Good– He has already made provision for me to have everything I really need.  He will guide me every step of the way; giving me all that I need when and how I need it most.  I don’t “need” to worry or run myself ragged trying to earn God’s approval or favor.  But I do “need” to trust that God will continue to work in me and through me for His Glory.  And I need to come daily before His throne to listen and learn from Him, and reach out daily to go through the steps of turning Faith into Love in action.

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