Devotions

Faith in the Midst of Crisis: The Example of Job

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God. – Job 25:25-26

I had a quick moment to write a devotion. My first thought: “What should I write on?” Well, BibleGateway’s verse of the day was from … Job.

As we draw nearer the end of Matthew in our year-long sermon series, I said to our staff, “With all the chaos in our world right now, what should I preach on next?” The first person to speak said … “Job.”

Job! I don’t know if I’ll preach through this book next, but Job surely addresses a world in chaos! Thankfully none of us is dealing with a turmoil quite as daunting as Job’s; nevertheless, our current challenges are fully our own whelming challenges.

Stress does crazy things. Nancy Flory at The Stream recently reported that “last month, the ‘Disaster Distress Helpline’ at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration had an 891% increase in calls [over last year],” and that “the CDC reports that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in … eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping [and] changes in … sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty … concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.”

I wonder which symptoms Job had.

I wonder what symptoms you are having.

One symptom that I pray that you don’t have is “friends” like Job had! Do you remember the story? Rather than comforting him, Job’s “friends” started blaming Job for his long litany of tragedies. And they also started blaming God, in a sense. They kind of had a karma-esque theology, repeatedly saying something like, “Job, you must have done something to deserve this, and our god of retribution must be handing out your well-deserved punishment.”

Yes, hopefully you don’t have “friends” like this!

And hopefully you don’t have a karma-esque theology. (I actually read something insightful once about karma. The person contended there were only two kinds of religion. Almost every religion in the world preaches a version of karma – in the end, you’ll get what you deserve. Christianity is the only alternative. Grace joyfully proclaims an alternative – You don’t get what you deserve; instead, you get forgiveness!)

Job knew this! In spite of his outward circumstances, Job knew of God’s mercy, love, goodness, and grace. Indeed, though living approximately two thousand years before Jesus was born, Job still somehow – and confidently – knew and could proclaim that “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

Look at that, phrase by soaring phrase …

“I know that my Redeemer lives”: Though I may feel like I’m dying, one holier than I is living. And he’s not waiting to crush me. No! He’s my ultimate and eternal redeemer.

“And … I know … that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” God is not a distant deity. He’s our personal Lord who will one day – “at the last” – dwell among us!

“And after my skin has been thus destroyed” – After my physical body dies a physical death …

“Then in my flesh I shall see God” – I shall, nevertheless, have a physical resurrection.  

Wow! Two thousand years before Jesus and the New Testament, Job prefigured and proclaimed the grace, mercy, redemption, incarnation of our God through Jesus Christ! Even in ancient times, he was proclaiming the heart of “Emmanuel” – God dwelling with us! He proclaimed an end of the age theology of a new heaven, a new earth, and a resurrected body! Amazing.

Thankfully none of us is dealing with a turmoil quite as daunting as Job’s; nevertheless, our current challenges are fully our own whelming challenges. And, therefore, I pray you’re like job in the midst of your challenges. Job was allowed by God to confess his confusion. So here’s my prayer for you: Even in the midst of any confusion you might have, I pray you will still boldly proclaim the goodness of God!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s biggest

psychological challenge:

a change in eating habits.

(I restarted my diet today!)

Easter: Even the Earth Responds with Joy

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake… – Matthew 28:1

On Monday, I asked, “What are you reading? In this season, what articles are giving you insight, concern or hope?”

Do you remember one of our favorite congregational studies – The Truth Project? Deeply and winsomely, Del Tackett draws Christians into developing a deeper and more consistent Christian Worldview. Our fellow reader, linked me to Dr. Tackett’s newest emphasis.

While on the site, I read an article that is worth sharing. Tragedies and trials have the tendency of focusing us downward onto the things of the earth. Easter – and good theology – can reorient us heavenward! Thus, Dr. Tackett points us to the glory of God, saying, “If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then Creation Knew It and Clapped Its Hands!” That’s the title of an article that I’ll summarize here.

Dr. Tackett says, “The earth clapped its hands in joy when its Maker arose. The guards weren’t thrilled, but whole of heaven must have erupted in song. … But there does seem to be something about the creation’s self-generated response to God and to evil.”

  • “The Holy Spirit moves Paul to speak of the creation “waiting in eager expectation” [and] ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth..’
  • “[At] the parting of the Red Sea[, we hear that] ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed.
  • “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey … the Pharisees were indignant … Jesus responded: ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

“At [Jesus’] birth, the stars proclaimed His advent. … When Jesus breathed His last breath, the earth buckled with grief. [Yet at his resurrection, we are told that] the earth [again] shivered[. This time] with unspeakable joy, no doubt clapping its hands as if to shout ‘He is risen!’”

Is your view of the God of Creation big enough to see the natural world animated with his presence and power. Easter proclaims that God raised the dead. In other words, He reanimated that which is lifeless. That’s always God the Creator’s habit. Dead things live in his hands.

What corners of your dry and dying heart need reanimated this Easter season … and who in your life are you praying for to be animated or reanimated? If Christ is risen … then tired, fearful, wandering, doubting hearts can be reanimated too.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who truly sees

the heavens declare

the glory of God!

Patient Endurance (or How Patiently are You Enduring?)

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since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us … Hebrew 12:1

Who is this “great cloud of witnesses” that encourages us to “run with perseverance our race” of faith? That’s probably a message we need to hear (and share) during this time of shutdowns, pandemics, and anxiety.

So who is the cloud of witnesses? In context, the verses right before tell us. It’s all the “saints” who’ve gone before us …

  • Chapter 11, often called “the Hall of Faith,” tells the stories of familiar Old Testament heroes like Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
  • It tells of the obvious triumphs of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (11:34-35). 

But that’s the fun, easy, victorious examples. In the days of struggling pandemics, maybe the heroes that we need to pay attention to are the ordinary people commended for faith in the rest of the chapter. Those who stood boldly for their faith in the midst of extraordinary – and often extraordinarily hard – circumstance.

  • “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 
  • “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 
  • “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy.
  • “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (vv. 35-38).

“Therefore … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before” – who? – “us”!!!

We’re not the first in history to suffer trials. And barring a soon return of Christ, we won’t be the last. Right now, this is our generation’s trial. But we’re not alone!

  • The same Christ who said, “come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,” also ascended to heaven with these words: “Remember, I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Mt 11:28 and 28:20 respectively).
  • We have the gift of the Spirit abiding with us. (Want more? Jesus said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” – Luke 11:13).
  • We have a great cloud of witnesses. We have Old Testament saints and New Testament saints. And that’s why I’ve encouraged you to read more Scripture and Christian biographies. (Remember, tales of heroic faith – like that found in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place – can inspire us in our trials.)

So the question is this? How many of you, through all of this, are … surviving? … enduring? … thriving? … fretting? We’re all built different! Nevertheless, the same Apostles who encourage us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” also encourage us to “rejoice confidently in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3).

Wait?! Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently?!?!?! Anybody there?!

How about this Apostolic perspective: “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently? Considering it nothing but joy! Whoa! But here’s James and Paul’s perspective:

  • James says – 1:2-4 – “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; so let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
  • Paul says – Romans 5: — “let us rejoice confidently in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

We all want the fruit, right? – “complete” faith, “lacking in nothing” and “God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we want the fruit – and intellectually, we know we grow more in seasons of trial than seasons of mediocrity – but few of us want to go through the process, do we?! Nevertheless, maybe that’s why the Apostle encourages us, saying …

Rejoice always, 

pray without ceasing, 

give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in

Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wrote

this for you today,

and needed it

for himself!!!

The Voice of Truth … in a world of panic

Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Today I want to ask: “What resources — and maybe articles — are giving you hope, concern, or perspective in these crazy times?” (Send me stories that are grabbing you right now! Hope? Concern? Perspective? I want to know what’s grabbing you. And I’ll link you to a few!)

In the meantime, let me tell you what’s grabbing me …

For me, some articles are pure encouragement. I shared last week the story of a woman driving by a tornado-devastated church, seeing an unscathed piano in the midst of the rubble, and unbeknownst to her, wound up playing joyfully in the midst of a TV interview, saying — with hope and joy — that this instrument “had more music left in it.” I like those kind of articles!

The second kind of article that draws me are the one that present opportunities — especially for the church. Last week, for example, I presented an article that says that 21% of NON-Christians have been reading the Bible during the current shutdowns. Some are looking for hope. Others see this as a sign from heaven, a call to return to God. Still others wonder if there might be apocalyptic implications. But, whatever the motivation, this clearly spells opportunity for the church. People are hungry. Are you (and I) feeding them … or even engaging them?

The third kind of article that grabs me are those that reveal the condition of the human heart. And guess what … crises tend to powerfully reveal people’s hearts! From an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological perspective, then, times like these can be a wonderful teaching moment for our culture.

With this in mind, I was struck by recent observations of a Jewish commentator. He said, “[In our world today] science is the secular religion, and ‘experts’ are its prophets and priests. In fact, they have greater authority among the secular … than the pope of the Catholic Church has among Catholics. Whereas popes have invoked the doctrine of ‘infallibility’ twice in the history of the Catholic Church, ‘experts’ invoke it every day among the secular faithful.”

Isn’t that interesting?! In my lifetime, experts have said that coffee, for example, has been “good for you,” “bad for you,” “good” again, “bad” again, and … 

Well, apply that to our current medical crisis, our Jewish commentator says. “A large swath of the ‘expert’ community [has] cloaked itself with unscientific certitude. [Thus] beginning on March 16 with a model from the Imperial College London … — which projected about 2.2 million Americans and half a million Brits would die — governments … deci[ded] to [shutdown] their economies. … But [was] it true?”

Here’s what this got me thinking about: Who is anointed as the “expert” on this — or on most any other issue you follow? Often, we need to pull back the curtain a little further. Sometimes it’s not the “expert” that we’re following, it’s the “priest” who anoints which opinion gets presented and heard. Until a scientific law is establish, there are many theories which wax and wane in credibility as more data is uncovered. And so we must ask, at any given moment, who is picking winners and losers in any debate? Who are we really listening to? Indeed, what are we consciously or unconsciously – bowing down to?

In 1 Kings 18, one lone voice stood up to 450 “experts.” Jezebel had anointed 450 followers of Baal as priests over Israel. She was the high priest. She was the anointer of the anointed. They were her “experts.” But truth did not respect the culture’s anointed experts! One lone prophet – Elijah, the voice of truth – defeated her agenda.

We all have opinions. We all have agendas. We all think the world would be better if more people subscribed to our way of thinking! But we mustn’t bow to our own ideologies. And we mustn’t bow to those in our culture who anoint themselves as the anointers of winners and losers, ‘experts’ and scapegoats. Instead, we must continually listen for the voice of the truth. 

In this case of current events, the so-called “experts” have been, according to our commentator, among “the primary stokers of panic”?

And yet there’s been a powerful alternative. I don’t know about you, but I’ve also seen the power of the Prince of Peace through all of this! In fact, I’ve repeatedly watched the level of anxiety in people directly correlated to …

  • how much people are tuning into God, faith, and scripture vs. tuning into experts, media, and state and federal briefings.
  • I think it’s the difference between focusing on the voice of truth vs. opinion, best guesses, and political motives.
  • I think it’s sometimes also the difference between having a greater hope in heaven than being consumed by a whelming fear on earth.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is an ‘expert’

… at absolutely nothing.

(Therefore, a guy who

keeps trying to listen

for the voice of truth,

rather than the ‘news’)

God’s Provision … in spite of Current Events (2)

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Joy Break: Peace in the Middle of the Storm

article by Nancy Flory from The Stream

When we turn on our televisions or smart phones we are bombarded with news that brings us down. Where are all the good stories? They’re still there. Here’s one that we hope will bless you.

A local television station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was doing a live broadcast Wednesday about a destroyed church when they heard music coming from the top of the pile of rubble.

ABC News NC9 was on the air at what had been First Wesleyan Church on Shallowford Road. Suddenly, they heard music and looked up to see a woman sitting at a piano. The piano somehow survived Sunday’s tornado. 

Tracy Coats told NC9 that she plays the piano at her nearby church on Sundays. When she drove by First Wesleyan Church she realized she had to stop. “I came driving by, and I saw the piano and I knew it had more music in it.” She expressed her sorrow for those who lost everything. 

She added that she relies on her faith to get through this hard time. “We’re not made to carry this kind of load. It’s too much. Too much for any of us, but when we give that to the Lord, He carries it for us and we can find peace in the middle of the storm.”

Pastor’s note: I don’t think I’ve ever just copied a whole article! But … this one was too good to pass up – especially after hearing first hand reports from a son and his family living in Chattanooga. They got an inch of flood water in their basement. That’s an inconvenience. Their hearts go out to those whose lives were truly affected by the tornados.

As my son is a church musician, he’s praying for personally for one of the families in his music program. They own horses. The tornado took down fences. In fear, the horses fled and many almost drowned in flood water – one is still in critical condition.

This world is full of brokenness of all kinds. Fortunately there are pianos and sounds of life in the midst of the storms. Thank God for people who see when something has “more music in it”!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s faith

is nurtured each week

by a piano with life in it!

(Thanks Jenna, Rhonda

and all our musicians!)

God’s Provision … in spite of Current Events

21.5% of Non-Christians Say

Coronavirus Pandemic Has Led Them

to Start Reading the Bible.

FaithWire.com

Wow! I had to read that headline twice. It says “of non-Christians”! 21.5%?!?! There’s a real hunger!

Last week in my Easter sermon, I said, “If you’ve watched about as much Netflix and read about as many books and played about as many games on your screens than you ever thought you’d be playing this year, are you ready for something deeper?” I said, “Maybe it’s time to turn to Scripture!” But I didn’t know the whole nation would be listening to my advice!

Now, I know why I encouraged you to turn to scripture. I said last Sunday that …

Easter removes the tombstone

of current events and opens

the gates to God’s provision.

How many of us, indeed, are plenty tired of current events … and the illness, fear, and economic hardship that’s been going with all the current headlines? Obviously that’s why people are turning to Scripture. They want a safe port in the midst of a turbulent storm. And Scripture is obviously a remarkably good place to turn … because how many Bible stories and Psalms begin with the current events of trials, troubles, enemies, wars, famine or plague, yet end with God’s help and provision?!

  • God’s provision is bread in the wilderness for the Israelites – manna!
  • God’s provision is shutting the lions’ mouths to save Daniel.
  • God’s provision is the oil jar that kept pouring for the widow of Zarephath.
  • God’s provision is Gideon’s victory over 135,000 Midianites at the hands of his little band of 300 men.
  • God’s provision was Jesus … and …
  • God’s provision is the lame walking, the blind seeing, and the dead (like Lazarus) rising.

Each of these stories and a hundred more started with a current event – hunger, lions, enemies, desperation, and death – yet ended with God’s generous provision.

So why are even non-Christians turning to the Word of God? My answer: They know two things:

  • First, they know that the “normal way of doing things” is letting them down, and maybe we’ve been fooling ourselves; maybe we do actually need to turn to God and rely on His provision.
  • Second, I think many individuals know that they need something deeper. Indeed, I think many are beginning to realize that we (as a nation and a world) need something deeper.

That’s my answer, but the study revealed this too: “44% of Americans polled said they see the global coronavirus pandemic and economic meltdown as a ‘wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God.’”

And therefore, you have a mission! For weeks the “curve” has been going up and up, along with a lot of anxiety. And so my messages, sermons, and devotions focused on a lot of hope and encouragement. I think I’ll continue with a lot of hope and encouragement! (Is that okay with you?!) But I think I’ll also start encouraging you to put that hope into action.

Wait! What does that mean? Well, do you remember 1 Peter 3:15? The Apostle tells us: “always be ready to give an accounting …for the hope that is in you”!

Not since 9/11 has the nation clamored for the answers that God and faith alone can give. Do you remember? People flocked to the churches, and when the churches didn’t provide satisfactory answers, the world turned and went away after just a few weeks. I’m confident, this time, that we have the answer. In fact, I’m confident that you have the answer … for at least one friend in need. Indeed, all you have to do is give an accounting for the hope that is in you!

Someone is going to say to you in the next weeks or months, “It’s good to see you again. How’d you do weathering this pandemic?” And here’s your chance! Maybe you have an amazing testimony of how God’s provision removed the gravestone of current events and whelming anxiety. But, you know, even if you worried a lot through all of this, you’ve still got an amazing testimony. (See if you remember this from recent sermons …) “I can’t imagine how I would have done this without my faith!”

“Really?” the searching person might say, “How did that help?”

Be honest, even if it’s something like, “Well, you know I’m a worrier and these are the very real reasons why I was particularly worried, 1)____, 2)____, 3)_____ and 4) _____. But whenever I turned away from the news and turned to God, I began to find perspective and peace.”

And maybe you could add, “In fact, do you know what I learned? I learned that Easter removes the tombstone of current events and opens the gates to God’s provision.” And when they ask what that means, talk about how God provided and got you through. And then tell how God has a habit of doing that throughout Scripture, throughout history, and throughout your life!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who occasionally

drives up Providence Road,

remembering to thank God

for all the ways He provides

Little Houses … the Blessing

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness – 2 Peter 1:3

It’s been a couple of weeks now since schools and businesses started shutting down. (Anybody getting claustrophobic yet?)

Well, one of my favorite, old, story-telling, country songs is Doug Stone’s “Love Grows Best in Little Houses.” It’s joyful perspective could be an anthem for this season of quarantining. Take a look at a few of the lyrics (and maybe watch and listen here):

A little white house, in the heart of town

On a little sad street, just a little run down

Be

A little white house, in the heart of town
On a little sad street, just a little run down
Became a home, for Bill and Sue
Two newlyweds, who did the best that they could do

And when they brush each other, passin’ in the hall
Sue would smile and say, “This place is pretty small”

“But you know, love grows best in little houses
With fewer walls to separate
Where you eat and sleep so close together
You can’t help but communicate
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss
Love grows best, in houses just like this”

Today’s verse made me think of a sad headline I saw this week – “Can You Marriage Survive the Coronavirus?” Matt Villano describes the issue for many, “confined to small spaces … with little to no reprieve … balanc[ing] work … and personal life, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Throw young kids (or even teens) into the mix and it can be a recipe for disaster.”

Doug Stone’s song offers a different perspective. Keep following the story …

Before too long, Sue and Bill
Were makin’ plans, for Jack and Jill
Oh, happy day, when the news came in
But what to do, when they found out Sue was having twins

When they could not pass each other in the hall
Well, Sue would smile and say, “This place is really, really small”

“But you know, love grows best in little houses
With fewer walls to separate
Where you eat and sleep so close together
You can’t help but communicate
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss
Love grows best, in houses just like this”

So, is your house growing a little small? Well, you don’t need just a song to provide a little perspective! What you really need – according to today’s verse – is [God’s] divine power [which] give[s] us everything needed for life and godliness.”

Too many of us – in too many different kinds of circumstances – rely on our own power or earthly solutions. This season is producing plenty of challenges in our world, from close-living to multiple reasons for anxiety. But God doesn’t want us to have to go it alone! The more we align our lives with his heart, his wisdom, his character, and his ways, the more we’ll discover the daily sustenance to endure … and thrive.

In the next verses in 2 Peter 1, the Apostle gives us a practical way to begin growing into this more power-filled life. He says, “[God]has given us … his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world … and … become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.”

In our “Little Houses” song, how much “goodness” and “self-control” and “endurance” do you think it would have taken to spend a lifetime in a little house and get to the scriptural conclusion of “godliness” and “mutual affection” and “love”?! Here’s the conclusion of today’s song … 

That little white frame house still keeps them warm
Though it’s been thirty-two years, since the kids were born
And when they look back now, they hold each other tight
And whisper in each other’s ears, “You know you were right”

“Because love grows best in little houses
With fewer walls to separate
Where you eat and sleep so close together
You can’t help but communicate
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss
Love grows best, in houses just like this
Yeah, love grows best, in houses just like this”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s thankful

for love growing best

through the power

of God

God says, "Come Out!"

Thus says the Lord:I have answered yousaying to the prisoners, “Come out.” – Isaiah 49:8-9

Here’s the context: Israel was in exile. God’s people were literal prisoners. Finally, the Lord said, “Come out.”

How many of you feel like prisoners at this present time?! There are more and more shutdowns – schools, restaurants, Mecklenberg County. “Shelter at home” is the call. Yes, how many of you feel like prisoners?

It’s a feeling rather than a factual reality, of course. But feelings matter! Sure, our version of “imprisonment” is not equivalent to seven years in the state penitentiary or seventy years held captive as Exiles in Babylon, but these stay at home orders are new to all of us. Like the line from Through the Looking Glass, things are getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

How many of you are feeling kind of like poor Alice along her Adventures in Wonderland? We could almost recite with her, “I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” This March came in like a lamb, but it’s going to definitely go out like a roaring lion. How many of you are just waiting for God to cry, “Come out” … or “Wake up! It was only a dream.”

There are many reasons we study history – not the least of which is that if we don’t learn from history, we’re likely doomed to repeat it. But another reason we study history, especially biblical history, is that so many of the things we encounter are so stunningly new to us right now that they’re shocking and unsettling. But trials are absolutely not new to God’s people.

  • There was slavery in Egypt, but then came the Exodus and the bounty of the Promised Land.
  • There was Haman’s plot to kill the Jews, but then came Esther “for such a time as this.”
  • There was an army of 135,000 Midianites, but then came Gideon with his band of 300 men.
  • There was a giant named Goliath, but then came a boy with five smooth stones.
  • There was the agony of the cross, but then there was the glory of Easter.
  • There was Exile in Babylon, but then God finally cried, “Come out.”

I like the historical perspective of Psalm 30:5, “For his anger is for a moment, but his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Friends, we’ve fallen down an odd little rabbit hole. This is a strange new world. But though the coronavirus may linger for what may seem like a darkened night, joy will definitely come again for God’s people in the morning!

Do you believe it? Do you trust that our God is the God who inevitably and victoriously cries, “Come out!” Israel heard it from the midst of Egypt. Lazarus heard it from the tomb. It’s the trumpet call of the Rapture. It’s the promise at the coming of the Messiah; it’s the glorious assurance that the captives will go free. And it’s victory in the cross: “Child come out of your bondage to sin.” “Come out” is the promise of doubt turning into faith, worry into peace, and darkness into light. “Come out” is the way our God operates.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s senior high school class,

chose as our class song, Diana Ross’s

“I’m Coming Out!” (but mainly because

the ballot had a misprint, and many

liked it’s new title, “I’m CoNing Out”)

Advice: While quarantined,

Don’t Cone Out before we Come Out!

Viruses? New Week / New Perspective!

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

Til by Turning, Turning, We Return to Our First Love

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … “I know your works … and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers … I also know that you are … bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first  Repent Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

There’s a line in here that I love. It speaks to our call to be light in this season worldly anxiety. Jesus says to John, to the church in Ephesus, and really to all of us …

I …know that you are …

bearing up for the sake

of my name

I thought of doing a spiritual check-up based on today’s passage. On a scale of one to ten …

  • How is your “patient endurance”?
  • How are you at not compromising, not flirting with ungoldly practices, and “not tolerat[ing] evildoers”?
  • How are you “bearing up for the sake of [Christ’s] name?”
  • How is your spiritual strength vs. your emotional “wear[iness]”?
  • How is your exuberance in faith? Are you on fire like you once were? Are you on a plateau – neither really high nor low, but in a frustratingly average place? Or are you kind of “abandon[ing] the love you had at first”?

Now that I’ve depressed 80% of you, that was what I was going to do! Here’s what I am going to do. I’m going to tell you that your God loves you, and he doesn’t want to leave you in places of spiritual mediocrity or discouragement. As you surely know, a spiritual uplift always begins with a yearning, a wanting to get back to the “love [joy, peace, hope, and devotion] you had at first.

If you want to get back and be lifted up, it starts with “repenting” (see verse 5). But here this: Yes, repentance surely involves turning away from sin; but that’s only part of it. Part two is second powerful part. Repentance isn’t just turning away from, it is turning toward something too. It’s turning to God! It’s embracing His ways! It’s discovering His blessings … again!

One of my favorite images is a choir singing a cappella. Gradually their singing grows flat. They need an occasionally pitch pipe to remind them of the true note they’re supposed to be on. When you did that “spiritual check-up” above, have you noticed that the note of your faith has maybe grown a little flat? This letter in Revelation is a pitch pipe. It’s a call to rediscover the love, joy, peace, and notes that we’re truly able to sing!

I go to a retreat sometimes, and the question that they ask people is, “Do you like to sing?!” That’s are question today: “Do you want your heart to sing? Do you want to your spirit to rise? Do you want your faith to soar? Do you want more of the ‘love [joy, peace] you had at first?”

How do we get it? Look at that last question, that yearning for love, joy, and peace. Love, joy, and peace [along with patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control] are not fruits of Ed. I can’t truly produce them – no matter how hard I try, or no matter how hard I look for cheap substitutes in the world. Love, joy, and peace are fruits of the Spirit. And so if I want more patience, kindness, and generosity, then I simply need to align myself more with Holy Spirit who gives this fruit (instead of working at cross-purposes with God and his ways).

In other words, I surely need to turn away from some things, but I also turning toward somethings too – God and his ways. I need to “rejoice in the Lord always,” I need to let my “gentleness be known to everyone,” I need to “not [dwell on] worry about … but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving[, I need to] let [my] requests be made known to God, and [then] the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

A few of you are working harder than ever because of current shutdown. You probably need peace. Others of you have more free time than you’re accustomed to! In this season we’re called to be salt and light, “bearing up in [Christ’s] name.” How many of us have lamented being so busy. This is your chance to slow down … and turn.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s heart turns with

the old hymn Simple Gifts:

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free

Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

And we find ourselves in the place just right

Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning

we come ’round right.