Social Distancing: Staying Apart, But Staying Connected

As much of the world is now on lockdown, meaning that voluntary physical distancing became physical distancing through a government order, I wanted us as believers all over the world to consider the difference between “social distancing” and “physical distancing.”

Social Distancing vs. Physical Distancing

Rather than term what we are all doing as “social distancing,” would it not be better to refer to this as “physical distancing?”

Here’s why this is important:

  • Social distancing means that we are isolated socially, not in touch with anybody, alone, feeling abandoned and definitely not part of a loving and living body of people (1 Corinthians 12:12).
  • Physical distancing is simply just that; you don’t get too close to people. This is a small difference in choice of words, but a huge difference in understanding, acceptance, and consequently, practice.

For the sake of others, let us practice physical distancing willingly and obediently. Let us be the model citizens the Word calls us to be (Romans 13:1) and exemplify those who put into practice the instructions of our respective national governments that are given for the good of all.

The church is still the church despite physical distance. Nothing will stop the church being the church. Nothing. Jesus said that, on the bedrock truth that He is the Son of God, nothing would ever prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18), and being physically distant from each other for a fixed period of time will certainly not. So, valuing others more highly than ourselves, let us willingly practice physical distancing.

During this unprecedented time, we have a wonderful opportunity to see if the church is really the church.

We will see if this body of people is self-supporting, self-sustaining and self-supplicating (James 5:16).

  • Is the church reaching out to the community?
  • Is the church meeting the needs found therein?
  • Is the church bathing its members in prayer?

We will see if this body of people is Kingdom focused or kingdom-focused (Matthew 6:24).

Is the church focused on God’s plans and purposes during this time, or is the church focused on the things that have been postponed or cancelled. Is the church focused on the programmes or the people?

We will see if the church is filling its God-given mandate to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

On any given Sunday (or Friday for me), the actual work of the church is usually done by a select few, those “on staff” maybe, or the faithful few who understand that serving the Lord through serving His people is not optional for the believer. Now that this physically cannot be the case, we will see whether the church family at large will spring into action and be the hands and feet of our Lord.

We will see if there is fruit and a root (James 2:14-26).

What we do always shows what we believe, so this time of enforced change will quickly bring to the surface through our actions what we hold dear and where we are willing to invest our time, talent and treasure. Does our fruit match what we claim to be our root?

Simply, we will see if this called-out-of-the-world group of people really are fully regenerate born again believers, part of the living body of Christ, or just a group of consumers who turn up to watch a religious TEDTalk once a week.

This is going to sting for some; this is going to turn some away (John 6:60), but for those truly part of the body, this is going to be a defining period of time, a call to action, a call to take up arms, a call to show that, yes, we are the church. We aren’t going anywhere; we are here for each other and for the world.

Brother, sisters, in a spirit of deferential love, let us willingly practice physical distancing, but let us not now nor ever be a church that is comfortable with social distancing. Let us come together, socially and spiritually, and show the world that we are the church today, tomorrow and every day.

This article was originally published here on April 9, 2020.

Priorities – Esther 5

Today Esther takes great courage and puts her plan (4.16) into action. If you’ve not read Esther 5 you can do so here.

Going in to see the King unannounced took great courage, give the law of the land (4.11) and the King’s previous dealings with his wives (1.12). Providentially, Esther is received with favour (v.2), and rather than get straight to business, Esther builds trust and relationship with the King (vv.4-8).

This might be difficult to understand to those with a Western, black-and-white, truth and error worldview; Esther needs something, the King can grant it, so let’s ask him for it. However, given the culture in which these events took place, relationship is more important than truth, shame and honour trump right and wrong, and going from 0-100 when making requests and petitions is not the done-thing.

Esther gets her priorities right, but we see that Haman has his all wrong. Having been invited to a private party with the King and Queen, he still find himself filled with wrath on seeing Mordecai. He is irrational, selfish, prideful, and boastful, and cares more about what others think of him than what is actually going on in his life. He is so consumed by all of this that he agrees to have Mordecai put to death in the most horrendous way, despite the fact that the annihilation of his people is already coming (3.15). Haman arranges for Mordecai to be impaled on a giant stake,

“A pointed stake is set upright in the ground, and the culprit is taken, placed on the sharp point, and then pulled down by his legs till the stake that went in at the fundament passes up through the body and comes out through the neck. A most dreadful species of punishment, in which revenge and cruelty may glut the utmost of their malice. The culprit lives a considerable time in excruciating agonies.” 

So irrational, so consumed, so bothered about what others think of him and how he is treated, he is pleased by this idea and has the gallows made.

This same irrational hatred and self-centredness led people to kill another innocent man.

Another innocent man was hung on a large, wooden torture device.

Another innocent man was killed to satisfy the self-important, self-centred, self-centric priorities of people.


The same irrational, violent hatred that made Haman want to see Mordecai hang to his death is the same irrational, violent hatred that made man want to hang Jesus on a cross.

Where we have wrong priorities, wrong choices and wrong actions are sure to be close behind. Esther focused on others, on relationships, on honouring people. Haman focused on himself. For the modern day believer, we could do a lot worse than model the priorities of Esther in our approach to Jesus; courage to approach, a focus on relationship, and seeking to honour.

Romans 1.26-28 – The natural relationship

In an example of how far society has ‘progressed’ since the latter half of the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon would not read aloud this passage at church. In the house of God, the house of prayer, where His name is lifted, glorified, and His people are being sanctified, this passage was not to be read. It (and the following paragraph) contains practices that are not glorifying to God, neither are they truly edifying to His people. 

Sometimes the Word of God we read in our Bibles can be a little hard to really grasp, where knowing the context can make all the difference, or perhaps understanding the original languages. Romans 1.26-28 is not one of those passages. It details a sinful lifestyle as a punishment for sin. It details a way of life that, sadly, many gladly pursue in spite of what God says.

Paul wrote to a culture where homosexuality was celebrated. When we consider the emperor at the time was Nero, and when we consider the abhorrent sexual lifestyle he lived, as the ruler, we can see how little society has progressed. Paul writes to challenge this,

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

If we have exchanged the truth about God for a lie as we read yesterday, then one punishment for this is to be given up to dishonourable passions

The freedom to do as we please is, actually, a judgement in itself. 

We are actively working ourselves away from God when we choose to live in these kinds of ways, when we exchange natural relations as Paul puts it. Being given over to our debased minds and when we do what ought not to be done, we exchange the truth about God, the way He wants us to live, for a lie.

The lie that you can choose what will make you happy – God knows what will make you happy.

The lie that if nobody is being hurt its ok – God is being hurt by our choices, and ultimately so are we.

The lie that we know better than the all knowing, all powerful, all wise Creator of heaven and earth. We don’t. 

The natural relationship we are to pursue, bigger picture, is with God. When we pursue this relationship, He sends His Spirit to live in us, and all of our earthly relationships are reevaluated, reassessed, sometimes reinvigorated, and sometimes replaced. 

Point to ponder – Am I pursuing, first and foremost, the natural relationship of child to Father?

If yes, then how does this influence my thoughts about my earthly relationships?

Prayer today – Lord, help me to live today first as a believer in You. Help me focus first on the natural relationship of child to Father. Give me your perspective, your love for others, your heart for those around me. Help me to be the salt and the light in the community you have called me to. Help me to live for You today.

Marks Of A True Christian

This originally appeared on the Saar Fellowship app as three daily devotionals in May/June 2019.

After being exhorted to serve their local assembly of believers – something we all need regular reminding of – Paul then starts a section detailing the character and actions of believers (vv.9-21), almost like instructing them how to live as a disciple of Jesus. It’s broken into three parts; relating to those in the family, relating to those outside the family, and relating to those in the church, bigger picture. Today, then, in the family. 

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

In the family, love should be genuine, and we should have the strongest dislike for what is evil. We hold fast to what is good by honouring God in all we do, both in our individual families and in the church family. One way to do this is by holding His Word in the highest regard. His Word is His revealed will to us whilst we are here on His earth, His Word became flesh and dwelt among us, His Word is what changes us, His Word is what saves our souls (James 1.21b). 

V.11 is great, isn’t it, simply – don’t be lazy! Get off the sofa and do some stuff! Get involved and serve, serve the Lord by serving His people, serve the Lord by serving His bride, the church, serve the Lord and do not be slothful, don’t be lazy! Yesterday we talked about gifts, we are all uniquely but in a unified manner gifted to serve each other, it takes dozens of people to make a church service happen, dozens of different people! Don’t be slothful, get involved and join them! Contribute to the needs to the saints by serving the Lord.

These few short verses could not be clearer; a believer in Jesus is one who serves. As James writes, I will show you my faith by my works (2.18b). 

So, mark of a true Christian in the family – one who serves the rest.

After exhorting the Roman believers, and us by extension, to contribute to the overall health of the assembly (vv.9-13), Paul now turns attention in one verse to how we interact with those outside the church family.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

Is this not the hardest thing in the world sometimes? To bless those who persecute you seems to unnatural, doesn’t it. We are not talking about minor disruptions here, either. Paul is talking about serious persecution, perhaps even to death. Written around 57 A.D., believers in Rome were just a few years away from the first wave of organised persecution against them by the Roman Empire, so even now, in 57A.D., the climate must not have been too receptive to Christians.

Rather than trying to claim persecution for something like poor driving on the highway, rather than trying to claim persecution when we are passed over for a promotion at work which had nothing to do with your faith, rather than trying to claim persecution when things in our lives are just not going too well on that particular day, we should remember the generations that went before us, and for that matter, those who still face trials and tribulations like this in different parts of the world. There are believers who are targeted for their Christian faith, there are believers, heartbreakingly, who are killed for their Christian faith. 

What does the Word of God exhort us to do? Bless and do not curse. In such a radical call to love, we are told to model the love of Christ Himself when He was killed for His mission. In the midst of His most painful experience on earth – both physically and spiritually – Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

We too are called to love this radically, this counter-culturally, and this fervently. Bless, do not curse those who mock you for your faith, pray for those who persecute you, bless them by raising their name in prayer to the Lord.

It is what He did, and it is what we are called to do.

Finally in this mini-series right in Romans 12, Paul exhorts us to certain behaviours in relation to the church, bigger picture.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

What a list of character traits to display, we could talk for days about this! 

How do we do v.15? By doing v.16! Living in harmony with each other, genuinely caring about each other will result in us rejoicing when our family rejoices, and weeping with those who are weeping. Being in unity results in this kind of relationship with each other. 

There are a couple of key words in v.18, so far as it depends on you…Here we see that we are to do our best to live peaceably with all, but that sometimes, the world, the flesh, and the devil will put people in our paths that it is just not possible to live peaceably with. Now, how we handle this will be a mark of our true Christianity. We do not curse those who oppose us, we do not fight with those who antagonise us, we do not slander those we do not agree with, simply, we bless them and move on.

When we relate to those in our church family, those outside of it, and really anyone we cross paths with in this way, there will be something noticeably different about us.

You can take this to the bank – what we read in Romans 12.9-21 is not the standard pattern of human interaction, so when you conduct yourselves like this, you are witnessing for the Lord, you are representing your faith, you are mirroring Jesus to them. 

This will, through the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and His ability to convict people of their sins and turn them to Jesus, overcome evil with good. Our job is to simply live like this, reflect His love, mercy, and grace, and watch Him change lives for the better.

Amos 5.21-24 – The heart of the matter

Yesterday we saw that what we claim to be living, we must be living. If you missed yesterday’s devotional, you can read it here.

The main point was that if we claim Christ, we must live for Christ. If we call ourselves Christians, we must carry that name with honour, and live a life worthy of the name we carry. If not, when we do and say Christian things from a place of non-total commitment, we run the risk of being found out…

Today, Amos continues and the Lord lays down some fundamental principles about priorities;

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If we are going through the motions and simply doing what we think we ought to be doing, with no real heart commitment, the Lord knows.

Remember, whereas we have a natural tendency to look at and judge the outside, the Lord always looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16.7). We look at the what, God looks at the why.

Well, I go to church.” Why…

I read the Bible.” Why…

I did that good thing for that person.Why…

If we just go along to church, sit, maybe sing a little, listen a little, then leave, is that good enough?

I take no delight in your solemn assemblies – God would say no.

If we offer worship through music but our heart is not in it, is that good enough?

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. – God would say no.

What does the Lord want from us then? To let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

See, the point of a real relationship with the risen Jesus is that it changes us from the inside out.

We are given a new mind, new priorities, a new way of looking at life, new desires, new ambitions, a new focus, simply, we are made new, born again.

Part of this is how we interact with and treat other people, and God cares a lot about how we treat other people. When our heart is right, we will treat others right, and God cares a great deal about this. Rather than go through the Christian motions, God wants us to live a righteous life, to pour out righteousness from our lives, to let justice roll down like waters, to love one another as He loves us (John 13.34-35)

Today, rather than going through some Christian motions because we think it’s the right thing to do, let’s get right with one another first (Matthew 5.23-24). Let’s make sure we are right with one another before we try go get right with God.

God’s priority is that we are right in heart and right with each other, because when we have a real relationship with the risen Jesus, these are the telltale signs.