“You know Pastor Ed,” wrote a church family member over this weekend, “I really got off course here for the last week. Our family had a terrific Sunday at home Church service with you and then Monday I made a HUGE mistake. I watched the news!!! I was so depressed about everything I didn’t even do my Bible study or devotions in the mornings. Now it is Saturday and sat down at the laptop and did the whole week!!! I am so much happier now. I am not going to dwell on these issues I really cannot control. I am going to dwell on Christ Jesus that He is with us all.”
One stressful week has ended. So, are YOU ready for a new perspective to start the next week?
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, tells a story that will lead us into a new perspective for a new week. He says, [When] I was eight years old … my grandmother took me … to see the Hartford Civic Center. … The roof had collapsed. The ten people in the building were not hurt [but] just six hours prior … almost 5,000 people had been present… My best friend was there. So was my uncle. … All those people might have died. … To my grandmother, it was a sign of human frailty. ’Man thinks he is in charge but he is not,’ she told me. ’Remember the Tower of Babel. Whenever we start to think like that, God will humble us.’”
Then he says the part that I really want you to pay attention to today,
“Christians are, I believe, better prepared — psychologically, emotionally, spiritually — to weather the present crisis than are many of our fellows.”
This isn’t my first disaster as a pastor. In the year 2000, a massive forest fire destroyed much of the town where we were living in northern New Mexico. Four hundred of the 6000 homes in town burned down. We were all evacuated. There was massive loss and stress and upheaval. The stress lingered for year, symbolized by the beauty of our local mountains being turned into black toothpicks and stubble. In many respects, a pall fell over the town.
But there was another vantage point to this crisis. I think, for example, of my friends Leroy and Alice Horpedahl. They lost their home of fifty years. Their daughter, inflamed with lupus, had been living with them and soon would die – the stress of the fire being a complicating factor. Nevertheless, I watched as faith helped rebuild Leroy and Alice … and twelve other families in our church … and countless Christians around the town.
But thousands of others didn’t have faith or perspective. A few years later, our family moved home to North Carolina. Then a year or two after that, Mary Louise and I went back to New Mexico to help dedicate a church building that we had helped to start. Maybe about five years had passed since the fire. Alice and Leroy were still joyful Christians – the fire just one chapter in the midst of a long, faithful, love-filled life. Our other Christian friends had rebuilt and moved on too. But then we picked up a copy of the local newspaper. The letters to the editor told a different story for much of the rest of town. There were multiple angry screeds, threatening lawsuits over who must pay for the fire ruining their lives. We couldn’t help but see the difference that faith and perspective truly make. We saw it in the short run – just days after the fire. Now we were seeing it in the long run – years later.
This week, a group of celebrities apparently posted a video of them (individually, from their own little self-quarantines) singing John Lennon’s song Imagine. They were lambasted by many for being out of touch – rich people mourning their supposed woes, while billions of people around the world were legitimately suffering. But rather than piling on, I loved how one commentator pointed to the lyrics of Lennon’s song: “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try… / No religion too… / Imagine all the people living for today.” This commentator said something like, “Don’t mock them. Realize that this is the only hymn they have, hoping for a utopia that can never be realized on earth, and now quarantined and isolated and afraid instead.”
Perspective is singing instead: “O God our help in ages past/Our hope for years to come/Our shelter from the stormy blast/And our eternal home.” Christian perspective is praying the Psalms, which are brutally honest in their cries and laments, but simultaneously hopeful in their enduring praise and trust. Christian perspective sings, “When Peace Like a River,” “Rock of Ages,” “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer,” “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” and God’s promise in Isaiah 43’s: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you / And the wind and the waves will not o’ercome you / Do not fear! / For I will call you by name / You are mine!”
Peter Wolfgang says, “People who believe in traditional faith and morals know what’s coming and what to do. For two reasons … First, because we worship “the Great I AM,” not “the Great Whatever.” … Second, because Christians have been here before. An upheaval in our financial and political systems disorients all of us. We all dislike being isolated from each other and being kept from worshiping together. But this is not our first rodeo. We’ve seen our world turn itself upside down [before]. But our fellow citizens who erroneously [sing “Imagine there’s no heaven / Imagine all the people living for today” – yes, I’m totally mixing two commentators – but … our fellow citizens who erroneously sing “Imagine there’s no heaven/Imagine all the people living for today”] are likely to experience the current upheaval more acutely than us. We need to be there for them.”
And Wolfgang concludes, “The smallness of man was not the only lesson my grandmother sought to impart that day. I remember her dwelling in particular on the mercy of God. As with the Hartford Civic Center roof, so with the Coronavirus Pandemic. God does not will that bad things not happen. But he does will that through them good should be done. He always has his purpose. Through all this [through all Christian history], we have fought the good fight. We have kept the faith. We will do so again. This time, in a crisis that binds us all together, even as the social distancing requires us to be separate. [And in the meantime, we continually] point [others] to the true hope that is Jesus Christ.”
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who doesn’t
need a civic center roof
… or an economy …
or a car or airplane
to crash to make me
know I always need
the Rock of Ages