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Pandemic Temptations – Part 1.

What temptations are seeking to cripple us during this Pandemic and how do we fight them? How is the temptation to test God endangering many lives?

“Faith over Fear” has been the rallying cry across the land, especially in churches that believe the Holy Spirit is real and that Jesus still has the power to provide, save, heal, restore and protect. This reality is very much a reality of the kingdom, and we can stand on this and never be afraid for our lives because we know that Jesus is LORD and His sovereign reign is above even the plague that seeks to draw near to our tent (Psalm 91:10). We are called to absolutely believe the promises of God in Scripture and stand on His Word. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Jesus believed all those same promises which we are all claiming now over family, loved ones and community as the Coronavirus begins its spread across our land. His faith was THE perfect faith that never wavered, and he was 24/7 in perfect connection to His Father in heaven. He listened and did exactly what the Father told Him to do in order to accomplish His Father’s will. Christ’s followers are called to live like Christ in this world and this pandemic gives us the chance to do exactly that.

The reality is we have an enemy who will tempt us as he tempted Christ. An enemy who would seek to compromise our mission of making disciples and displaying the Shalom of God’s kingdom in this broken world. He is real, and he is oh so crafty.

I want to look at the three temptations of Christ from Luke 4:1-13, showing how the enemy is still using these same schemes to tempt God’s people away from truly living the Christ-life in the world during this pandemic. This post is not intended to sound judgmental but is intended to speak biblically and practically based on what I see happening in the various expressions of Christ’s church here in Atlanta and around the world. Of course, I could be wrong in my application, but I see so many connections that resonate with the challenges we are facing today and would be amiss if I didn’t share what I feel the Holy Spirit is revealing to me for such a time as this. 

The first temptation deals with selfishness and us trying to provide for ourselves. The second temptation deals with power and the authority we trust in. The third temptation deals with pride that puts God to the test. 

In such a time as this, I believe it would be good for us to focus first on the third temptation of Jesus, the temptation to test God (and gravity) and work our way backward. I believe there is a scheme of the devil (Ephesians 6:11) to tempt Christ’s church in similar ways right now that needs to get exposed lest many lives be unnecessarily lost and our witness to the world be compromised. Look at this text:

Luke 4:9–12 

9Then the devil took Him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If You are the Son of God, jump off!

10For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order His angels to protect and guard You.

11And they will hold You up with their hands so You won’t even hurt Your foot on a stone.’”

12Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

Do you see the scheme? The enemy took Scripture and tried to use it to get Jesus to jump to His death. He first attacked Christ’s identity by saying “If You are the Son of God, You should be able to defy gravity.” He was trying to get a pride reaction from Jesus that said, “Yes, I am a Son of God, and yes, I believe God can catch Me as His Word says…” And if Jesus had jumped, the devil’s temptation would have been a success and the Son of God would have fallen into sin, just like Adam, and would have been disqualified to be our perfect Savior. He might have even died then and there since Jesus chose in His incarnation to subject Himself to all the human experiences. If He had jumped, He wouldn’t have been obeying the will of the Father, but the will of the devil. He would have sinned while thinking He was acting in faith when in reality it was spiritual pride and foolishness. 

But Jesus didn’t give in to pride; He didn’t fall into sin. He wasn’t threatened by the devil’s taunts on His identity and He fired back with another Scripture from Deuteronomy 6:16 and Isaiah 7:12 “Don’t put the Lord to the test.” 

So why focus on this right now? Well, I believe the enemy is using this same temptation with Christ’s church during this pandemic, and like Jesus, we need to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7).

Even before COVID-19 started spreading in the United States the warnings from other countries revealed that this virus is no joking matter; it spreads like wildfire. Scientists across the board have unanimously been confirming its contagiousness and deadliness, especially to those over the age of 60. Young people aren’t dying from it as much, but they can carry it and share it with others they come into contact with and be walking death traps to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. 

Scientists and governments from around the world have asked every institution in society to practice social distancing in order to flatten the curve and slow down the spread in hopes of saving as many lives as possible by not crashing our healthcare system.  In some countries, this has been heeded, but in others, it has been ignored and the death tolls continue to climb. 

Churches choosing to not allow their congregations to gather in person, businesses closing their doors, and schools moving to online classes have been ridiculed up and down. As a pastor, I have been lambasted for having a lesser faith and letting fear rule me for practicing and encouraging social distancing during this pandemic. But I believe we must not test God during this time, and that this is a crafty scheme of the devil to get Christians to fall into spiritual pride and foolishness that will cost many lives and hurt our witness to the world.

You see, the way bacteria and viruses spread is sort of like gravity. No sane person would purposely jump out of a plane without a parachute and quote Psalm 91:11,12 (the Scripture the devil quoted to Jesus) expecting angels to catch them. Of course not! Why? Because we have a healthy respect for the laws of nature (gravity) that God created and know we are not called to test them. Could God save us? Of course, He could! Would He save us if we put Him to the test like this? I’m not sure He would. 

COVID-19 is doing what any virus or bacteria (not all bad) do. They spread through social contact. It’s a law of nature that God put into place, just like gravity. Germs spread because they do, just like things fall because they fall. Choosing to respect that law of nature that God has put into place is not fear, it’s faith-filled wisdom. Just like Jesus respected gravity and did not put God to the test, we too must respect the contagious nature of this virus and not put God to the test in “foolish faith.” The enemy would like nothing better than to watch Christ’s church infect itself in fear-filled gatherings where our pride in our faith identity tugged on and pressured (even by pastors) gets us to still show up in large gatherings and declare that this virus won’t be spread to us. That’s not faith; it’s foolishness. That’s testing God. May God have mercy on us.

This already happened in Korea as Patient 31 ignored wise counsel and still gathered with her community of faith resulting in over 1,000 cases of COVID-19. I hate to say it, but I believe many churches still insisting on gathering are giving in to this temptation and testing God. One pastor recently told me they had to gather or else tithes wouldn’t be paid and they would not be able to pay their bills. Other pastors are afraid they will lose members if they don’t gather or will appear weak to their flock if they don’t preach that God’s people can overcome this and not be infected. Many faith communities fear looking weak and don’t want to see things change the way this pandemic seems to be changing things. We are never supposed to live in fear, and that includes the fear of man and what others think of us. 

All the Scripture quoting and declaration of God’s promises matter little when you’ve actually given in to the same temptation Jesus resisted, choosing to test God instead of honoring His created order.  Many churches and Christians are jumping out of a plane without a parachute expecting God to catch them… gathering for large-group worship despite the warnings, going out with friends to beaches, bars, malls (if they are still open)…saying they are believing in faith that God will protect them from getting the virus and spreading it to others. I cannot promise He will… the end result may not be pretty. We might be accomplishing the devil’s will as we test God, thinking we are in faith when we are actually acting the fool.

Can God still show mercy and heal? Absolutely. He loves to redeem sinners… and I pray He has mercy on us and exposes our spiritual pride and the hidden fears driving so many churches and Christian individuals to resist the wise instructions to practice social distancing (Proverbs 19:20). But how many lives will be lost and how might the witness of the church to the world be compromised in this season if we ignore sound counsel from some of the world’s top scientists (many of them believers) and continue to gather in large groups that amplify the spread of this virus? If we continue to declare ourselves “in faith” untouchable by this disease as we transmit it to our neighbors and loved ones, and infect the elderly in our circles, we may be held accountable for their deaths due to our ignorance at best and our spiritual pride at worst (Ezekiel 3:18). I don’t want to take that risk. I’d rather not test God.

On the flip side, if we heed God’s Word, humble ourselves and pray, repent of our sin and turn from our wicked ways, I believe God will do a mighty healing in our land (2 Chron. 7:14)… a healing even greater than just individual Coronavirus healings.  Missiologist Jeff Christopherson says this:

“Is God setting us up? Does COVID-19 have broader missiological ramifications? Jesus taught that light was never meant to be contained – but to be on display. This is a concept that we have struggled with as we have competed to ‘display’ light within our concealing containers. But by smashing our fascination with our containing “baskets,” and forcing us from our competition with ‘bigness’ to a mobilization of ‘sentness’ – is God allowing this virus to be an agent to send the gospel viral within our communities? Many churches are making temporary organizational shifts in order to accommodate the realities of an invisible virus with the hopes of returning to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible. But what if we didn’t choose ‘business as usual’? What if we allowed the light to permanently escape our baskets? What if we persisted in organizing for a viral gospel movement? Could the gospel trajectory within North America be affected?”

I believe what the enemy intends for evil, God will use for good. This pandemic could be used to help Christ’s church figure out how to be the church, not as a building, an event or day of the week, but as the 24-7 people of God putting the shalom of God’s kingdom on display in every walk of life and bearing witness to the resurrection hope we have in Jesus. 

We believe that the same Christ that resisted the temptation to test God, lives inside of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He makes our identity as God’s beloved children eternally secure and we don’t need to prove anything to God, the devil or man. Jesus has already done it all, and our only hope of glory in the midst of this crisis is “Christ in us” (Col. 1:27) We must lean into this union, and trust in our Savior who has “born our sicknesses… and by whose wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). We must rest in the reality of the righteous life of Christ that is ours. In this place of abiding we will see fruit in this famine and resurrection power that God will use to rescue many not only physically but eternally. 

As we gather in small groups, dial into prayer lines, utilize technology to communicate, serve the needy through creative meal/clothing/supplies delivery, anoint the sick for healing, use Zoom for counseling meetings and stream our worship and preaching online to people in their homes, might we be getting set up to return to the simple organic church model of the early church seen in Book of Acts?  Might Christ be returning us to a place where our churches aren’t businesses, or country club gatherings to appease our religious conscientiousness and consumer needs, but true families of faith, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, on mission in our communities, preaching, applying and living out the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed?

This is my prayer. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done… Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Luke 11:1-4).  May we seek the “wisdom that comes from above that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, OPEN TO REASON, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18)