The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Field of Focus:

The last few mornings, Sue and I have been able to linger over our coffee longer than usual. Being forced to be home is not all bad.

We pulled out our SLR to photograph of some of the birds that join us every morning. Especially difficult to capture are the hummingbirds. Their rapid darting motions make focusing a challenge. Their high-speed wings require a high-speed shutter. The picture in this post was captured at 1000th of a second at f-6.3. Most birds would look like a statue at those speeds, but this guy’s little wings still show plenty of movement.

In my quest for a crystal clear, stop-action shot, I pushed my ISO from 200 to 400 and achieved well-lit test shots of the feeder at 2000th of second. Then I waited … lens supported, focused on the feeder, eye to the viewfinder. I waited until my arm started shaking. I propped my arm up on the chair and waited some more.

At one point I sat back to relax my tired shoulder and there was the hummingbird hovering just outside the camera’s field of view. Sue pointed out later that for much of the time the little guy was perched on a branch ten feet from my head.

Field of view is vital in photography. A good picture has a clear subject, captured in crisp detail. But I had forgotten something about good nature photographers … they shoot with both eyes open. They know where their camera is pointed and then watch the world outside that narrow field of view. It allows them to see what’s coming … it allows them enough time to react when the subject enters the plane.

I have had several long conversations with Sue that were wholly about Covid-19. Sometimes in life we do that. We focus in, we crop other things out, we go in for the details. But don’t keep your eye glued to that viewfinder too long. You might be missing other things God wants you to see. People who need you … you might even miss Him if your field of view stays too tight for too long. Live with both eyes open.

One way you can do this is in your speech. Be sure that your friends and loved ones aren’t only hearing from you about Covid-19. Now’s a good time to dig up some good memories, reach out and say, “l love you.” As a Christian be certain people in your circle of influence are hearing hope. If you are a disseminator of fear … it will keep you in fear. Widen your field of view. What do the people around you need? You may be the only person to point them toward hope in Christ.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5–6 (See also 1 Peter 3:15-17)
 
 
 


Good News

When I consider the number of theories I’ve heard confidently expounded about Covid-19 … it makes my head swim. I’ve heard multiple countries blamed for the purposeful propagation of the disease. I’ve heard that there is no global crisis … that it’s all “Fake News” and political sabotage. This must be a great comfort to the grieving families of almost 5,000 Italians. I’ve heard it’s a pandemic but not as bad as the common cold. I’ve read posts from terrified people with terrifying theories and from terrified people pretending it’s no big deal. What are we to believe? I suspect (with great sympathy) that most of us find comfort in being “in the know.” It provides us with a sense of control in an out of control world.

As follower of Jesus there’s a different path to personal stability. It’s the way of the Spirit. When we placed our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit came into our lives and did a renovation. He brought new resources that we didn’t have when we were unbelievers. The Holy Spirit changed our spirit. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  2 Corinthians 5:17   By faith, we were united to Jesus in both His death and resurrection for the express purpose that “we might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4   The trouble is … we don’t. We don’t always walk according to the reality of who we are. Otherwise, God’s Word wouldn’t be filled with so many reminders and course corrections. 

As I have listened to the responses to Covid-19 … and wrestled with misgivings of my own, there is a reminder that I need to hear. A believer in Jesus Christ is to operate in the world with a certain disposition … or inclination. That’s what Paul meant by the word “spirit” in the 2 Timothy 2:17

God did not give us a spirit of fearfulness, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Let me break that down … Christians are not to be fearful, timid people. We are to live with power … being controlling influences for good. We are to live with kind regard and action toward our fellow man (love). We are to be self-possessed when others are losing their minds. My favorite translation of that last characteristic is … “of sound mind.” Oh, how our current situation cries for men and women of sound mind!

When Paul wrote these words, he was concerned that the young Pastor Timothy was losing sight of his purpose and calling. That calling was proclaiming the Gospel. “Because power, love and self-discipline are available to you in Christ,” Paul adds, “do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.”

Let’s not be so enamored with, or frightened by, or controlled by the daily news that we forget our calling … The Good News.
 
 
 


Nothing New

My earliest memories of being frightened by the nightly news concerned the nuclear arms race. I can still picture the infographics being flashed on the screen. First the drab grey background displayed several lines of red and blue submarines; then several rows of red and blue missiles. The reporter explained that the USSR had a third more of both these deadly commodities. This however was not to concern us … since we had more than enough for mutually assured destruction. I was not comforted.

I found this wisdom from C.S. Lewis about the nuclear age. As the person who posted it said, you could easily insert Covid-19 for the word bomb …

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented … It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. — “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

So there has always been something to terrorize us if we give into fear. The wonderful part about our history is that Christians have often stood in times of crisis when others ran or fainted. It was not because we doubted our mortality … but because we did not doubt our immortality secured in Christ. Let’s be another generation of those more concerned about others and our Lord … than we are even for our own lives. Whether it’s a bomb, a bug or tottering old age that ushers me into the presence of Jesus … for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
 
 
 


Surrounded

“The enemy is in front of us, the enemy is behind us, the enemy is to the right and to the left of us. They can’t get away this time!”

― Douglas MacArthur

I couldn’t discover the context for that quote. Was it just blustering bravado? Perhaps a humorous quip at a point of deep discouragement. Or did the one surrounded see something that others did not.

MacArthur’s faith and witness are as complicated to pin down as any man of his time. It was an era when God was still assumed in public communication. But MacArthur’s spiritual views were politically radical even for his day. During the post-war reconstruction of Japan, MacArthur believed that that nation’s greatest need was … Jesus. Japanese journalist, Eiichiro Tokumoto comments on the state of his country after WW2, “There was a complete collapse of faith in Japan in 1945 — in our invincible military, in the emperor, in the religion that had become known as ‘state Shinto.’”  Noting that vacuum, MacArthur begged Christian agencies to send missionaries and when they came, he did all in his power to aid them.

Perhaps MacArthur’s missionary efforts were borne out of his growing disillusionment with political and military solutions to the world’s issues. After witnessing the destructive capabilities developed during WW2, he said, “Men since the beginning of time have sought peace… Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn have failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence (rebirth) and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”

Instead of believing that mankind’s advances supplanted the need for faith … MacArthur believed that we could not survive without a spiritual rebirth and the reformation of our moral character. When he had to put a name to what he desired … it was Jesus. When he had to choose a tool, it was the Bible. In these convictions, MacArthur admitted what many so-called Christians will not … only Jesus can ultimately bring peace.

Unless you’ve made peace with the occupying forces in this world you must, at times, feel surrounded by the enemy. His propaganda machine belches and boast about the end of Christianity and the death of God. But lies will not change the fate of our foe. Though he surround us … he cannot escape. Jesus has come and … is coming!

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7
 
 
 


Shocked

Fatigue, depression, anxiety, feeling ill; the list could fit any number of physical ailments. Let me add two more symptoms and see if it clears up the diagnosis … hyperirritability and negative feelings toward your host culture. This is a short list of the symptoms found online for Culture Shock. According to one dictionary, Culture Shock is “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Those who seem to suffer worst from its affects are those unaware of … or unwilling to recognize its impact on their lives. 

The first two years in Panama were difficult for me. At some level, I faced all the symptoms listed above. I was exhausted after accomplishing one task requiring Spanish. I felt acutely the loss of home, friends, being a known and trusted pastor. There were moments when I experienced an inexplicable fear while driving after dark. I needed a ton more rest … the sun went down and I was finished. A series of strange rashes had me joking that I was “allergic to Panama.”

Thankfully, I had received mission training that helped me anticipate and normalize some of these experiences. When at the point of pulling out my hair in the hardware store, I could step back mentally, reminding myself that I had similar experiences in my home country. This helped me identify the factor causing my angst … the language barrier or being unfamiliar with different procedures. Taking this step back helped me own some of the responsibility instead of focusing it all on the Panamanians who were generally trying their best to be helpful. One of the telltale signs for me of Culture Shock was when I began to have thoughts like, “Why are they (Panamanians) all (insert something negative)?” Even coming prepared to resist that tendency, I have fought and often failed at avoiding such thinking. It’s a normal response to a new and different culture … any culture. That’s right you’d have similar thoughts if you moved to Ireland or France. It’s not the country … it’s the difference between familiar and foreign.

There’s no straightforward path through Culture Shock … the experience ebbs and flows, dies down and suddenly comes on strong. There’s also no simple prescription. Feeling “at home” in a new culture takes patience (with yourself and others), awareness, honesty, responsibility and … time.

Being on mission has helped me greatly. That’s not just for pastors. All Christians share a common mission. Focusing on that mission can give us strength to handle the stresses of living cross-culturally in positive ways; whether we’re dealing with the culture of our fallen world or our host country.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19–20

If this hits home and you’d like to talk, give me a call … 6870-1488