Below is a joint letter that pastors Stephen Clark and Paul Vaughan shared with their congregations in Victoria, Australia. I found their letter to be helpful in reminding us of the perspective that we ought to have as we endeavor to be ambassadors of a kingdom yet to come.
'Perspective' can be an interesting notion to consider for us as human beings. 'Perspective', relates to how we 'see' things - the 'viewpoint' or 'position' from which we 'observe' or 'witness', the things which go on around us. Our personal perspective is important because it affects the way we 'interpret' things. How we interpret things has a direct influence on how we choose to 'think', and how we choose to 'respond', to what goes on around us. There's an old saying, that 'a small trouble can be like a pebble: held too close to our eyes it can fill our entire world, but thrown at our feet it can be seen in proper perspective'. There's some wisdom in that saying, but exactly what constitutes a 'small trouble' verse a 'big trouble', can sometimes itself be a matter of 'perspective'.
What is our personal perspective regarding the current situation the world finds itself in? From what 'position' do we 'see' these things? How are we 'interpreting' what is taking place, and what is 'influencing' the way we are choosing to 'respond'?
We may 'automatically' consider such questions in light of the spread of Covid-19 around the world, and the challenges that has brought to every nation. Indeed significant challenges remain, and are forecasted to continue - many governments are now voicing concern that the ongoing mental health problems, together with spiraling economic challenges resulting from Covid-19, will have a more significant impact than the virus itself. This week UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated Covid-19 was "the greatest challenge of our age, demonstrating the world's fragility as nations go their own way in tackling the pandemic" (see link below). This is certainly one perspective. Is it the best perspective?
Much is being put forward about the impact Covid-19 is having on the lives of those affected. Certainly this should not be minimized, but it's worth considering 'what the world looks like', apart from Covid-19. The following statistics remind us of some of the other challenges the world faces -
Year to date, as of 19th May: 320,134 people have died from Covid-19 (2,286 people/day on average).
Over the same period of time: 118,171 mothers have died during childbirth (844 per day), 186,135 deaths from seasonal flu (1,322 per day), 375,012 deaths from malaria (2,678 per day), 409,981 deaths from suicide (2,928 per day), 516,300 deaths from traffic accidents (3,688 per day), 642,705 deaths caused by HIV/AIDS (4,590 per day), 956,219 deaths caused by alcohol (6,830 per day), 1,911,233 deaths caused by smoking (13,651 per day), 2,906,039 deaths of children under 5 (20,757 per day), 3,139,969 deaths caused by cancer (22,428 per day), 4,275,856 people have died of hunger (30,541 per day), 16,305,408 abortions carried out (116,467 per day).
These statistics have been collected from studies compiled largely by the WHO and UNICEF (links below), and truly make for very troubling reading. We live in a world in which, every three days, week after week, year after year - more lives are lost through abortion than the total sum of lives lost year-to-date from Covid-19. A world where, every 11 days, more people die from hunger - an utterly preventable situation - than the total sum of Covid-19 deaths. Preventable deaths from suicide, alcohol, and smoking vastly outstrip Covid-19, and yet these figures are not recounted to us every day through the mass media. We are not presented with 'live tallies' of these tragedies as they occur around the world - we are not provided this 'perspective'. What is not 'seen' in the larger statistics above is the suffering and heartache brought about every day through other 'factors' such as divorce, family breakdown, family violence - but these things are taking place. We live in a world where more than 801 Million people have no access to safe drinking water every day, and yet Billions of dollars are spent pursuing 'futility'. As every second of 2020 ticks by, more than $81,000 is spent on video games - most of which contain violence and illicit conduct and are designed to promote addictive behaviour in the user. As every second ticks by - more than $303,000 is spent on illegal drugs. Every second - more than $1.3 Million is spent on weapons of war, designed to kill and maim and injure - every second - second after second - day after day.
Brethren we live in a world with very many, very 'big' troubles! Whilst the current Covid-19 situation is serious and requires our attention, 'what the world looks like' apart from Covid-19 is even more dire! These statistics are not stated to 'depress' us, [or divert our attention away from the current Pandemic <--added by NE] but as people of God we should be provoked to sober contemplation, even 'mourning'. We should be provoked to consider the 'perspective' from which we view these things. Ezekiel 9 contains a prophecy from God against ancient Israel, at a time where false religion, greed, selfishness and rampant hedonism, resulted in the proliferation of a society not too different in 'motive' and 'intent' from our own. Despite the tragedies that were taking place on a daily basis, people in general were not too worried, they carried on about their lives and business with a perspective that, 'this was normal'. God however, was exceedingly angry! Through His servant He warned that such a society will not be allowed to continue indefinitely. The time for God's judgement against the 'tolerated practices of the people' was near, and when it arrived, it would be uncompromising and severe (Ezek 9:1-6). God does not tolerate such practices!
Prior to commencing that judgement however, God made a 'distinction'. God placed a 'mark', an 'identifying sign', on the foreheads of all those who 'sighed and cried over the abominations' they saw being done in the society around them. UCG's Bible Commentary on Ezekiel 9 has the following note: 'The sighing here is not just a brief exhalation of disappointment. It is an utter groaning of spirit--deeply grieving and feeling anguish over what is happening. Jesus likewise said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:4). This does not mean an absence of any joy and happiness in life. Rather, it means regular and heartfelt sober reflection on the state of the world.' Such a heartfelt response is only possible in those who are not 'part' of that society, who are not enmeshed in that society, and do not therefore 'view' such a society from the same 'perspective' as those around them. Instead they 'mourn' that society, they 'sigh' and 'cry' over the lawlessness, the idolatry, the abominations which 'seem normal' to everyone else. Though they live in that society they choose to be 'different', in their beliefs and conduct. God therefore separates them and spares them from His wrath and the coming destruction.
The warnings and prophecy of Ezekiel 8 & 9 are dual in nature. That is, they had application to God's people of Ezekiel's day, and they also have application to God's people in this end time. As the Church of God today, called to 'come out of her My people' (Rev 18:4), to 'be separate' to the society which surrounds us, and to 'touch not the unclean thing' (2 Cor 6:17) - let us be mindful of the warnings God gave through His servant Ezekiel. God does not change, God's Standards do not change, and God's uncompromising and severe judgement on unrepented sin does not change. Psalm 96:13 states God 'is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth'. Jesus Christ has the only real solutions to this world's problems, and thankfully we know He will return and deliver mankind into the freedom which will come with the establishment of the Government of God upon the earth. Sadly though, many prophecies reveal mankind will not receive this 'liberation' easily, but will need to be humbled and corrected by God first - the Great Tribulation, and The Day of The Lord. Many more, very 'big' troubles, loom on this world's horizon.
Prior to these things however, God will again make a 'distinction': 'between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God And one who does not serve Him' (Mal 3:16-18). God promises to again place an 'identifying sign' in those who are not 'part' of 'this world', not enmeshed in 'this world', and therefore do not 'view' this world and its systems from the same 'perspective' as those around them (Eph 1:13-14, Rev 7:1-3, Zeph 2:3). Brethren God has called us to be such people! As we compare the increasing moral decay in the society around us to God's unchangeable Word, let us be motivated and energized to indeed 'come out from her My people', let us choose to 'be separate', and choose to be 'different' in thought and practice. Let's not be eager for society to 'return to normal', because 'society's normal' is a pretty nasty and ungodly place! Instead - let us be driven to 'sigh and cry' over what we witness taking place around us every day - every second of every day. Let's pray for God to strengthen and empower us daily by His Holy Spirit, to overcome 'the sin which so easily ensnares us' (Heb 12:1). Let's each fix our eyes and our focus on the 'better, that is a heavenly country' soon to come (Heb 11:16). As we do this, God will indeed set His 'identifying sign' upon each of us - He 'will put His Law in our minds, and write it on our hearts - God will be our God and we shall be His people!' (Jer 31:33)
What is our 'personal perspective' regarding the current situation the world finds itself in? From what 'position' do we 'see' what is taking place? What is 'influencing' the way we are choosing to 'respond'?
As God has granted us some additional 'time' to reflect on such things through the current Covid-19 lockdown period, let's be encouraged to use this time wisely in humbling ourself before God and drawing ever closer to Him. Let's ensure we're grounding ourselves in God's true perspective! And let's echo the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as we cry out with all our heart, and soul and mind - 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done' (Mat 6:10).
We pray you will have a safe and peaceful week.
In Christian love
Stephen Clark & Paul Vaughan
News Strait Times report on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres statement: https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/05/593618/un-covid-19-greatest-challenge-our-age
Statistics - World-o-meter: https://www.worldometers.info
Statistics - World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/topics/health_services/en, UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/childsurvival/index_newsline.html)
UCG Commentary on Ezekiel 9: https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-commentary/bible-commentary-ezekiel-9