Have you noticed yet? Life isn't the way it used to be a month ago. The Covid-19 pandemic has done more than interrupt most of our routines or cause a little inconvenience in our lives. Running out of toilet paper is bad, but there are a lot worse things, like the disruption of the very foundations of our lives.
But for some of us, this event has come at a most fortuitous moment. Perhaps we still haven't recognized or accepted it for what it is, but this is an intervention! God is availing us with an opportunity to shift our focus,, to repair our foundations, and restore our faith. God is giving us an opportunity to deepen our devotion to Jesus and develop our relational supports in ways we wouldn't have ordinarily pursued absent the pandemic.
Crisis moments are indeed decisive moments filled with both danger and opportunity (no the Mandarin word doesn't really mean that). Bad translation aside, the point is well taken, that when crisis comes we must be wary but still may find an advantage or good that comes when we have navigated through the danger. In a crisis, there is no certainty of the outcome (other than by faith), but as a Christ-follower I can look for God's provision of a way of escape, and the lessons to be learned.
A pandemic puts all of us at risk from a health perspective. To varying degrees we are all vulnerable to the disease. Our response to the outbreak puts many in a vulnerable position financially. And while it is true, some were already vulnerable in this way, it clearly intensifies the reality. Without purporting to be an expert in economics or public health, it is clear a frightening two-headed monster is growing in our midst, killing people and destroying people's financial health. But there is something more grotesque about this monster than it's two-heads. It's the fire it breathes from it's belly, aimed at our spiritual well-being.
This is what ultimately lies behind the health and financial implications of our current crisis, the Enemy of our soul seeking (in Jesus' language) to kill, steal and destroy. Our spiritual life hangs in the balance during this crisis. Will we take up our shield of faith, and the sword of the spirit etc. and slay this dragon and see our spiritual lives not only preserved but flourishing in abundance?
Ephesians 6 - Stand firm!
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end... 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him... 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13 selected)
In just six days Easter 2020 (for the west) will be observed in an unprecedented fashion. The entire week's rhythm for pastors, churches and the observant Christian has been radically disrupted. Long anticipated family gatherings and traditions have been cancelled or delayed indefinitely. Restaurant brunches have been cancelled, one of the more significant and profitable days of the year for many venues. It's all very sad.
But interestingly enough, this Easter may come the closest to being like the first one in our experience. All of our celebrations and all of the festivities we had planned now have a somber glow cast over them. Gathering online feels different than gathering onsite. Huddling in upper rooms, basements and dens around screens is different than gathering in large sanctuaries, convention centers or outdoor arenas. We're not sure what the day holds when it comes, and even less sure about the days ahead.
I'm preparing a message of encouragement and conviction. I'm confident in Christ's ability to lead us triumphantly into a new era of gathering and of spiritual growth. If Easter teaches us anything, it's that death doesn't have the final word, and that no matter how dark the days, light is coming, hope is out there, life and God's love wins!
I hope you'll follow us @hucrestcog on Facebook and stay informed about creative ways we're connecting and offering encouragement to one another. And, I hope you'll join us for our virtual Holy Week gatherings, including Easter Sunday, April 12 at 10:30 AM.
Pandemic living in response to stay at home orders from the Governor is requiring all of us to adapt our patterns and routines. The first couple of days may have seemed like a mini-vacation for some, but as the days stretch into weeks, and the reality of it all sets in, some of us are becoming increasingly anxious and unsettled.
A favorite question of mine these days is, “How you holding up?” And, a follow up to it, “What are you doing to take your mind of the virus?” My response? "I'm leaning on Jesus!" I'm meditating on Scripture.
Here’s something I’ve learned over more than three decades of walking with Jesus. He’s trustworthy! No matter how fast my mind races, or how far I try to run ahead, he’s not in a hurry, anxious, or surprised by what’s going on around me. If I manage to take a beat and a deep breath, I can hear him reassuring me, “I’m right here. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to fix this.” You aren’t in control. I AM!” And the Scriptures? They are a constant source of comfort and a reliable source of wisdom.
Mental health professionals and physicians alike have some pretty basic instructions on how to remain healthy. You’ve likely heard them more times than you can count in the last few days. These are the go to coping strategies that promote well-being:
There’s no denying this is wise counsel. It’s been cultivated and curated over millennia of observation, and decades of rigorous scientific research. It is peer reviewed and affirmed by the consensus of practitioners. In other words, it isn’t something we just come to on our own.
Authentic wisdom is like that! As intuitive as some of us may be, we can’t always trust our own or simply follow the inclinations of our heart. Instead, we have to trust something or someone beyond ourselves, and do so wholeheartedly.
The following passage has been foundational to my well-being since I was a teenager. I sometimes differ with the Lord about what constitutes a straight path, but have resolved that he gets the final say. I want to encourage you to spend time reflecting on these words and applying them to your current circumstances.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. — Proverbs 3:5-6 NRSV
Trust is a funny thing. It isn’t simply earned or maintained. It has to be extended over and over and cultivated in the midst of uncomfortable and uncertain situations. I think our current circumstances qualify! Like you, I’m learning to trust all over again on a moment by moment basis.
What is the hardest part of the stay at home order for you?
Where or with what are you having the most trouble trusting the Lord?
How has God proven his trustworthiness to you in the past?
What action will you take today to extend and deepen your trust?
House arrest. At least it feels like I imagine it must feel like. It could be worse! I could actually be locked in a cell and chained to a wall. Still, the Covid-19 shut-down is starting to feel more and more like a lockdown. People generally, and U.S. citizens in particular, tend to react poorly to the loss of their freedoms. Our nation was after all born in a bloody revolution as our forefathers fought for their rights of self-determination and economic independence. As the days of stay at home orders extend, and those orders expand to more and more corners of our country, we are beginning to brace ourselves for the repercussions and the reports of death, loss, anger, violence, and other forms of bad behavior and civil disobedience or unrest. I'm praying for God's people to rise above their fleshly inclinations to exert their rights and to instead, embrace their responsibilities and purpose. I'm praying for God to be glorified as those who claim the name of Jesus represent him well in our society as loving servants doing good deeds and extending compassion to those who are struggling or suffering.
On Wednesday my wife Kimber and I spent a wonderful day together attending to some scheduled maintenance our her personal vehicle. It's the one she uses for her job. The job that each day is being disrupted more and more. A furlough is becoming more and more a real possibility.
Wednesday wasn't the most convenient day, but due to her work schedule shifting, we rescheduled the appointment which had been scheduled for my day off on Friday. We made a nearly two-hour trip south to a Subaru dealer (did I mention it was a significant, time-consuming, and costly maintenance?). Due to how extensive the work was, we were offered a courtesy car for the day, which we gladly accepted. The only problem was the "lock down." Virtually every business in the area, and most all of the public spaces were closed. We were able to visit some stores that carry grocery items, but I confess I felt uncomfortable being out in public. I felt like I was cheating, even though we were observing all the social distancing requirements of the establishments and the governor's order. To be honest we didn't really need any of the items we purchased. We can use and enjoy them over time, but I didn't feel very good about just browsing given the circumstances of our community. So, we cut short those trips.
We decide to go thru the Chick-Fil-a drive-thru. Comfort food for transplanted southerners for sure! We love it, but took it for granted for so many years when we lived in Texas and Oklahoma. It's presence in Oregon, albeit several hours away makes us smile, and we rarely skip the opportunity to stop by one when we happen to be in Portland or now Medford. The no contact ordering and pick-up works well. So we enjoyed our lunch, in the parking lot of a closed mall. The opportunity for Kimber and I to just sit and talk was worth the price of the trip!
The remainder of the day was surreal. We visited Ashland and conducted a driving a walking tour to kill time. With only essential stores open, and seemingly every restaurant and coffeehouse closed, and many not evening offering curbside, the Safe-way Starbucks was the only place we could get a coffee (and a bad one at that). Lithia Park's amenities were closed, so I sat briefly (stealthily) at a picnic table to record a message for the prayer meeting I was hosting that might. With my talk in the can, my work for the day was mostly completed. We still had time to kill.
We took the "scenic route" of old 99 north thru Phoenix and poked our heads in Harry and David in Medford for something sweet, perusing a nearly empty store reading labels on gourmet gift products. The cashier was so helpful and so desperate to make a sale! We bought a small item and once we got home and opened it we regretted not buying multiples for gifts.
Dinner came courtesy of the Outback drive-thru. Weird. Right? A previous outing hadn't gone so well, and an attentive and kind manager provided us with some courtesy gift cards. So we just had burgers and fries, and left a great tip. There were only two people working. When we opened our bag of food, they had comped us a dessert. Amazing!
Nearly seven hours after we left our car it was finished. When we got the bill a very generous discount had been applied. We were grateful and impressed by the courtesy shown. We'll definitely be back. After popping into their showroom to look at the classic Subaru's (two of the three I had never seen), we began the journey home. I was racing the clock a little to be live at 7:00 pm. The drive was uneventful, peaceful and we mainly just enjoyed being in each other's company, grateful for a day spent together.
This lock-down day was a gift! We needed it. We found ourselves simply being present with and for one another. Much of the stress of the previous ten days just sort of evaporated in the comfortable, easy and slow pace of the day. And yet, even as I say how good it was, Im aware of how huge a cost is being extracted on all of those closed businesses and laid of employees. I'm back home today, my lock-down taking me out of contact with friends, coworkers and those businesses I frequent and support. The owners, operators and employees are home today anxious about their future. I'm anxious for their well-being! I'm deeply concerned about all of our emotional, spiritual, and physical health. We can't allow a lock-down to shut us down. It is imperative we stay connected and engaged in productive and appropriate pursuits including supporting our local business community and encouraging our health care and first responders.
House arrest or prison? Our current stay at home orders may feel like it to you and I. But it really hasn't risen to that level yet for most of us. We're voluntarily sheltering ourselves and others in cooperation with our employers and government in an attempt to reduce the health risk and the overwhelm of our medical system. I'm praying it works.
While reading the Scriptures in this season it struck me once again just how much of the New Testament was written by the Apostle Paul while quite literally imprisoned or under house arrest. I think this makes it that much more remarkable how uplifting and encouraging the tenor of these works often is Even when serious issues of correction are necessary, Paul remains positive.
One passage I find myself returning to over in this season is in the opening of Philippians. It conveys my faith and the prayer I have for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I particularly want the flock I am responsible for to hear these words. Keep holding on to one another and to your faith in God.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart,[d] for all of you share in God’s grace[e] with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies...
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
This is one of the most memorable moments of my marriage. There are hundreds of other more mundane moments which are imbedded in my memory from the more than 29 years we have been a couple. I think about the birth of our son Josh, when she once again proved what a "trooper" she is. There are lots of times I've put her into uncomfortable situations and asked a lot of her to support me. I haven't always been the best I could be at supporting her publicly or privately. Still, she's proven her character over and over. She is the epitome of a Proverbs 31 wife, a strong, professional woman, an accomplished wage earner who has made possible so many sacrifices my calling has required. An able administrator and organize who takes care of her family and home far better than her men would on their own.
Today's passage exhorts husbands to "honor her for all her hands have done...". This may not be the public gates of our city, but it is as public as I can make it. I'm so thankful for my wife Kimber. I'm blessed and fortunate, and I don't ever want to taker her for granted.
Covid-19 is putting pressure on our household in every way imaginable. We're in it with so many of you. Our college-aged son is home for the duration. My congregation is staying at home for the duration. Kimber is going to work at the hospital. It makes me anxious; which makes me prayerful. It makes me grateful.
This post (if she reads it) might make her uncomfortable. She doesn't like to be an illustration or the center of attention. But I needed to brag on her and ask you to pray for her and all of her fellow health care and hospital workers.
The Old-Testament book of Proverbs has long been source of daily inspiration and wisdom in my life. All during the month of April I'm going to post a Proverb or a passage from a Proverb on my @hucrestcog Facebook stream. I hope you'll click and like that stream each day. Some day's an extended reflection will likely appear in this blog as well.
If you find these post encouraging or helpful, please spread the word!
Grace and peace,