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”!
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!
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
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, “4 [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. 5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 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”
Thus says the Lord: … I have answered you … saying 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.
“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.”
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … 2 “I know your works … and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers … 3 I also know that you are … bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first …5 Repent …7 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 …
3 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.
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 40 but now you are trying to kill me… 41 [So] you are indeed doing what your father does …. 42 If God were your Father, you would love me … 44 [but] you are from your father the devil, and 44 you choose to do [this] father’s desires. – John 8:39-44
There’s a famous passage in Romans 8:31 that says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?’!
Some people try to stand against Jesus and his ways in this world – which is what was happening in today’s passage from John 8. But as a famous VeggieTales’ song from my kid’s generation sang, “ God is Bigger than the Boogie Man.”
I know in this passage that Jesus wasn’t afraid of the devil! Why? Because God is BIGGER. “ He is Greater,” as MercyMe joyfully sings.1 John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God … for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
So, if Jesus wasn’t afraid of the devil, what was he? I think he was sad! Very, very sad. People had been deceived, and because of that, they were looking to do him harm. To use an image in John 10, instead of following the Good Shepherd, they had been tricked into following a thief. As Jesus said, “ 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 10 [But] the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Those are the extremes! An abundant life through Jesus or stealing, killing, and destroying through that devilish thief. In our verse, they weren’t children of God or Abraham, because they were seeking to kill Jesus. And I don’t think that Jesus was afraid, I think that Jesus was very, very sad.
I wish sometimes that our world was that black or white. I wish that was there was clear good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, abundance vs. destruction. It would make it easy to know where to stand and what to do. Instead our world today is seductive. Most people have been lied to. They buy into little things that cause them to have a
You probably have some of those things from time to time. Don’t worry! You’re not a child of the thief. You’ve just been lied to. That’s why the Apostle Paul warns all Christians to put on the full armor of God! He knows it can be tough to sort between truth and lies and subtle compromises, so in Ephesians 6 he says …
14 Stand therefore,
and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,
and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take up the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.
Jesus wants you to have a more and more abundant life. There’s nothing – including boogiemen – to be helplessly afraid of, because “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” And if you feel like you compromised here and there, simply say, “Oops. Sorry God.” And then stand back up and starting focusing on the armor of faith, scripture, truth, right living, prayer, the power of witnessing, and a greater focus on heaven rather than earth.
And if you’re looking for what you can do while we’re all a little shut-in, try that witnessing peace. As a family, pray for those who don’t know the peace of God and are perhaps a little worried. Start calling a few people each day to encourage them. Shine as lights of hope in the midst of a crisis. Put on Gospel Shoes, and help an elderly neighbor. Make a home altar, and use this season to draw closer and closer to God … and to one another in deep ways!
This isn’t a time to be overcome by fear … because Christ has overcome sin, Satan, and even death. But also know that I understand – and God immeasurably understands – that times of change and uncertainty do bring anxiety. That’s normal – and not a measure of faith or lack thereof. Turn off the news – except one quick check a day – and call someone (like me) to talk you through it instead.
I like my translation of Ephesian 5:4. In fact, I probably said some version of this to my kids a thousand times when they were young: Hey, guys. That’s enough silly talk!
Truth be told, though, “Silly” is actually a rather silly translation of this word. “Foolish” is better – and “foolish” in the more truly biblical sense of the word. In scripture, one of the highest ideals is wisdom; foolishness is the utter opposite of wisdom. Foolishness is not being wise. It is not following God’s ways. One Bible Dictionary translated “silly talk” as “speech flowing out of a dull, sluggish heart.” (The italics there are actually their emphasis!) So what the Apostle is probably really saying in this phrase is: Hey, guys. That’s enough talk that’s dull, sluggish, and unwise.
Or even more accurate: That’s enough talk that’s just flat out against God and his ways.
Now, if you were paying attention – and I’m sure you were – I used three sets of “three dots” when quoting this verse from Ephesians 5:4. And so the question is: What goes in place of those ellipses? Well, if we more accurately translate “silly” as “ungodly,” then the first half of this verse reads: “Entirely out of place [in the life of a Christian] is obscene, ‘ungodly,’ and vulgar talk …” That’s what the Apostle is warning the family of God about.
Now, let’s move to the good and truly live-giving part of this verse by viewing a little of the context … After telling “1 God’s beloved children” to “1 be imitators of God … 2 and live in love … as … a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” the Apostle Paul sets some wise boundaries for God’s people. He warns us to avoid “3 sexual immorality,” “3 moral impurity” and “3 greedy motives.” He tells us to silence any “4 obscene talk,” “4 ungodly words,” “4 vulgar discourse,” and “4 empty utterances.” Instead, the Apostle calls us to live victoriously, remembering, “8 once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light”!
I find that inspiring, and in a wonderful way, it drives me now back to our verse … and, I want you to think about this:
We’re living in a very unique season in our world right now. Quarantines are spreading faster than the virus. (Medically, that’s a good thing.) But we’re all likely to be “shut in” a little more frequently with those we live with. (We’re going to be living a little bit on top of one another!) As we do, I urge you to adopt an Ephesians 5:4 mindset (and I’m going to use the word “silly” and quote it literally from my translation) …
Entirely out of place is…
silly … talk; but instead,
let there be thanksgiving.
Imagine a hundred million houses adopting that mentality!
ADULTS: This is a Pastor-Ed-devotion like any day, but for a season, you might like to adopt this suggestion to …
PARENTS: Your kids are home for a few weeks! God wants to redeem this time for your family! Use it to draw your family closer to God and closer to one another! For Sunday worship this week, we said, “Set a family altar.” Do that again. Attached is a liturgy. For a while, I’ll adopt the daily scriptures in this liturgy for my devotions. Today’s is…
Psalm 431 Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. 2 For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? 3 Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. 4 There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! 5 Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!
Long ago, probably by some ecumenical committee, this scripture was assigned for today. Should it be a surprise, though, that the theme of today’s Psalm fits so aptly the headlines of today?! Perhaps because of all that’s going on in our world, I’m drawn to the first line in verse 2: “For you are God, my only safe haven.”
Is that your view of God too? That regardless of the size of the storm, you can anchor your weary soul in the safe harbor of God’s abiding peace?
In Matthew 11, Jesus says to each of his followers, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Through this invitation, Jesus seeks to draw us into the harbor of his eternal protection. When he says in John 14:27, ““Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. … Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid,” he’s inviting us to anchor our weary, worried hopes in him.
In our world today, there’s a word floating around that is causing a storm. So what’s your reaction when I say, “the coronavirus”?
For some it’s fear. (This is serious. Either me or a loved one is elderly or has compromised health.)
For others – and I’ve seen it – it’s a roll of the eyes. (“Does every American really need to freak out and buy a gross of toilet paper?)
For others it’s a massive inconvenience. (What are we going to do with our kids for the next few weeks as schools are closed?)
For others there’s growing anxiety. (If things keep shutting down, I may lose my job. How will I keep food on my table and a roof over my head?)
I told you earlier that I like the first line in verse 2 of today’s Psalm – the one about God being our “safe haven.” Verse 2, however, is a shockingly honest and plaintive cry: “[So] why have you tossed me aside?”
Have you ever felt forgotten by the God who is supposed to be your refuge and strength? When a loved one dies? When you lose a job? When your child strays? When a diagnosis hits? When a health crisis or financial disaster looms? Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Tossed aside, as into the sea?
This Psalm is honest. And if we’re honest, we’ll confess that sometimes we hate this broken planet. Thankfully, however, for a believer this world is as close as we’ll ever get to hell! Yes, this world can be hellish at times, but part of faith is trusting anyway that there is a safe haven, and his name is “God”!
Read the rest of this short Psalm. How do we anchor ourselves again when we feel tossed aside? There are two sets of steps …
Analyze the situation: Ask – verse 5 — “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?”
Go to God with it: saying, verse 4, “I will go to the altar.”
Ask God the big questions: verse 2, “Why have you tossed me aside?”
Second, while you’re waiting for an answer (and trust me, for a fearful, grief-filled, anxiety-riddled soul, a clear answer may take a while to come) … but while you’re waiting for clarity, do these ___ things:
Go again to the altar: verse 4, “I will go to the altar of God.”
Ask to be led by God out of this trial: verse 2, “Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.”
Confess the faith you’ve historically had in Godin spite of how you’re feeling in the moment: verse 2 – “you are God, my only safe haven.”
Remember intentionally the hope, light, and joy you’ve had in the past: verse 4, “God—the source of all my joy.”
Start praising,again whether you feel like it yet or not: verse 4, “I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!”
Purposefully anchor your wandering, wondering soul in God again: verse 5, “I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!”
Jesus said, Peace is my parting giftto you, my own peace,such as the world cannot give.Set your troubled hearts at rest,and banish your fear. – John 14:27
This verse ends my Morning Prayer Liturgy. Today, I was praying this verse just as sirens sounded in the distance, drawing steadily closer and closer. Anxiety started to rise in my heart.
This is an anxious time in our world and nation, isn’t it? Right now, you can’t escape the non-stop coverage of the coronavirus. For a while we heard that the outbreak was in China … then Italy … then Washington State … then suddenly next door in Mecklenberg County. For you, has it been like the sirens have been drawing closer and closer? What’s your level of anxiety at the moment?
Today we cancelled public worship for Sunday. It’s surely the wise thing to do. It’s complying with governmental guidelines – and scripture clearly calls Christians to be lawful citizens (unless and until the Nebuchadnezzers of this world call us to kneel before golden statues).
But I personally hate cancelling worship.
Yes, we have to be wise. Yes, we must be loving concerned for the elderly and infirmed. It’s certainly prudent to “flatten the curve” of the disease progression. And we must compassionately agree that even one death is twelve hundred too many! But fear is absolutely swallowing this world. And as a believer in a powerful God, I hate to give into fear!
Scripture tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-discipline.”2 Tim 1:7
The confident command to God’s people was – and eternally is – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Josh 1:9
Being prudent is good! It’s abundantly wise to be hypervigilant if you’re 82 or have a compromised immune system (or are carrying for anyone who’s vulnerable!). But I can’t help but think that our world is terrified because it doesn’t know the Father who has guaranteed his children millions upon millions of tomorrows.
As I said, we must absolutely confess that even one death is twelve hundred too many! Nevertheless, we’re acting totally out of proportion to the current risk. And as I predicted in a devotion a few weeks ago, this level of fear is creating a man-made disaster.
So far, only 40 Americans have died – and most of them in one Washington state nursing home – and yet we’re shutting down thousands upon thousands of businesses and schools. We are on the verge of shuttering our whole economy. Why? Think about this: Ninety Americans die each day in car accidents, and yet a half dozen times each day, every one of us climbs into a car, accepting that level of risk. Because of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill flu, 56,000 Americans die each year, and yet we annually accept that risk, too, as a normal part of life. What’s different about this coronavirus?
Fear is creating a man-made disaster.
At our current trajectory, we’re likely to crush our economy. And who’s going to get hurt the most? Mostly the poor. A majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with virtually no savings. And just as it will be the fragile people in our culture who will die from this disease, the most fragile people in our society, economically, will likely be crushed. (Now, I’m certainly not equating the value of even one human life to the value of a nations’s economic health – we know what’s more important – but stick with me for a minute …)
Our job market may act like dominoes. One shutdown will likely cause another. (Short of paychecks, people stop shopping, effecting the next business in line.) In this new economic reality, fragile businesses may die (much like fragile people will die of disease), and then even more jobs will be lost. Some businesses will disappear in the short-run, some may only come back slowly, others may disappear permanently. Good moms, as another example, may have to decide whether to work to put food on the table, or stay home with their kids because the schools are closed. Dominoes.
Yes, as I’ve said, even one death is twelve hundred too many, but I’ve lived through a natural disaster. No one died in the devastating fire that swept through our New Mexico town in 2000, but the next year as a pastor, I did four times as many funerals as normal – and they were for those in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s … all before I helped bury an eighty-year-old. I could trace most of these deaths, directly or indirectly, back to the disaster and to outsized stress.
Fear, stress, and anxiety destroy … perhaps as much or more than a rogue virus. And I’m sadly persuaded that our culture’s level of stress and anxiety is going to have devastating, long-lasting cultural consequences.
But it doesn’t have to be that way for you or for me. A few weeks ago when I wrote on the coronavirus, I cited 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Scripture tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about what will happen to the believers who have died, so that you will not grieve like those who have no hope.” The Apostle admits that, yes, even believers grieve – we grieve because we’ve loved – but it also tells us that while we’ll naturally have one eye on our loss (one eye on the world), we should also have our other eye on heaven! In other words, while the world grieves without hope, we grieve with the confidence that as hard as this is, something better’s coming!
Brothers and sisters, we are called to salt and light in a panicking world!!! Are you up for the job?! Yes, we’re called to be prudent. Yes, we’re called to be good citizens, abiding by governmental protocols. But … we don’t have to give into the world’s fear. In 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle was talking about not grieving like those who have no hope. I think in the face of this contagion, we’re called to not react to this current situation like those who have no hope! Yes, we’re called to keep one eye on the earth (being prudent), but we’re also called to keep the other eye on heaven, boldly proclaiming that the worst this world (or this virus) can do to us is to send us to heaven one day early! So …
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Josh 1:9
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who is looking forward to ministering to you fearlessly over these next few weeks … even if it’s from the midstof a governmentally-mandated “bunker”
Note: If you find yourself exceptionally worried, please call me!! Because the media is obsessing, you may be too! That’s the power of suggestion. But you don’t have to be! So please call!!
Jesus said, Peace is my parting giftto you, my own peace,such as the world cannot give.Set your troubled hearts at rest,and banish your fear. – John 14:27
Aim at heaven and youwill get earth thrown in. Aim at earth andyou get neither. – C.S.Lewis