During our Good Friday service, local artist Carolyn Badr created this beautiful painting of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
During the COVID lock-down, we invited Grace members to share their thoughts about how God was meeting them during those hard days. These are a few of their stories.
For nearly 30 years I have journaled through my quiet time. Events. Prayers. Emotions. All together. This morning as I sat outside in the backyard fretting over this virus and the accompanying ripples, I wrote down all the things that could happen just to voice my fears. Could this get worse before it gets better? Yes. Could the stock market tumble and I lose my savings and investments? Yes. Could people I know get sick? Yes. Could people I know die from this? Yes. And as I started to write that last yes, my pen wrote yet. Yet. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope….” That’s a verse from Lamentations. I know it well because yet was my word for the year in 2016. The whole passage goes like this,
“I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me. YET this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:17-23
There is just a slight difference in the word yes and the word yet…. But it is HUGE. Could the worst happen? Yes, it could. Yet we have hope. The Lord’s great love is with us. His compassion and mercies are new every single morning. His mercies replenish every morning even more regular than Walmart or Costco can restock the shelves. There is plenty for everyone. We don’t need to line up. We don’t need to hoard it to make sure we get our share. Like manna in the desert. It’s just enough and just when we need it.
I now have time to sit and contemplate all of this because we don’t have school. Arizona has AT LEAST the next two weeks off. We are putting together online curriculum for our students in case this is a long haul. Well, my curriculum happens to be Old and New Testament. I had prepared lessons for my students before spring break. My 7th graders would start Philippians and my 8th graders would continue in 1st Samuel. I think God has aligned us well. Philippians is one of the letters that Paul wrote while he was under house arrest in Rome! Four whole chapters reminding his friends to rejoice during affliction written by a man compelled to live with social distancing by the government. Here’s what he said:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
Weird how timely that is now.
Now my 8th graders are reading through the story of Saul and David. We’re right to the part where Saul is chasing David and trying to kill him. David’s very life is at stake and he pens quite a few Psalms. One is Psalms 4. It begins like this, “Answer me when I call to you O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful and hear my prayer.” It ends like this. “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” David had joy even when he and his men were without provisions and on the run for their lives. Timely again.
Jeremiah, King David, Paul. All three men from different generations and periods in history faced with adversity and hardship, yet all three show us the steps we can take to finding peace in turmoil. Go ahead and cry out to God. He can take it. He wants us to come to Him. Remember and Rejoice. He has done so much for us already and he wants us to call it to mind and have joy. And then have more joy. That’s what REJOICE means… Give thanks. And then what will happen? We will have hope. The peace of God will guard us. We will sleep in peace.
I know this isn’t a typical post. But it’s what has been on my heart all day. This day that started off with uncertainty and fear didn’t get much better. Our dog Duke died today. We walked with him right up to the Rainbow Bridge where Karl was waiting to greet him. Tonight we opted for comfort food for dinner. Cereal. As I took the first bite, the milk had turned sour. Seriously. Country songs have covered days like today. But I don’t want to look at the circumstances around me and turn fearful or bitter. I want to act and react as Christ would. Living also like Jeremiah, David, Paul who followed hard after God.
Could this worldwide pandemic disrupt all we know? Yes. Could your dog die today? Yes. Could you eat nasty cereal that makes you want to spew? Yes. YET THIS I CALL TO MIND AND THEREFORE I HAVE HOPE. Thank you, Jesus, for new mercies that I don’t have to stand in line or elbow people to get. Regardless of the news. Regardless of the panic and fear on social media. I will choose Joy. I will choose it again. And Lord… May I sleep in peace tonight knowing that you are on guard.
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." – John 16:32-33 (NIV)
Hours before he was arrested, as Jesus prepared his disciples for things they couldn't yet understand, he told them their little band would soon be broken up and scattered "each to your own home."
The cause of that scattering wasn't an infectious disease, but the coming purge by the authorities who would try to stamp out this new teaching that Jesus and his followers were spreading – like a virus – across Israel and beyond its borders.
Fortunately for us, that particular quarantine failed, and the faith we call Christianity spread across the entire world. We are fortunate because in Christ we have now been adopted into God's very household. The sin we were once infected with has been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus goes on to warn his disciples that despite the fact that God loves them, they live in a world full of trouble. We all live in that same troubled world today.
The world's troubles haven't changed, despite all our efforts. Wars, famine, disease, poverty, and now, fighting each other over toilet paper! The world hasn't changed. And fortunately for us, God hasn't changed, either.
"Take heart! I have overcome the world," is a very bold claim. What did Jesus mean?
Shortly after saying that, he was arrested, beaten, and crucified. But three days later, he walked out of his tomb and began meeting again with his disciples.
What I hear when I hear those words is that whatever trouble this world throws at me, whatever storms come, the most important things will not be moved. What things? God is good. God loves me. God has redeemed my pitiful life in Jesus and given me an eternal future with him. And right now, this very instant, God is present, God is speaking, God is listening, God is standing with me, and with you, as we live in these troubled times.
My hope is in the reality of the living God who loves me, his son Jesus who saved me, and his Holy Spirit who is in me no matter what comes. In a world full of trouble, these are realities that you can anchor your hope in. So, take heart!
a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.
something providing shelter.
Do we feel threatened, in danger, pursued by a threat? Are we looking for a safe place, a place of refuge? Our current times are full of a new threat, COVID-19, an invisible, worldwide threat for which military power, financial wealth, and academic degrees are no protection.
So where do we go for refuge? The Bible is full of stories of people like us, in danger who were looking for refuge. Dealing with fear is one of the most common topics throughout the Bible.
In Psalm 18 we read that "God is a shield to all those who take refuge in Him". The Psalms are full of encouragement to take refuge in God. But what does it mean to take refuge in God? Is there a secret spiritual bubble somewhere that I can crawl into and be safe from all viruses?
In Psalm 62 we read, "O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge." I found two key encouragements in this verse: "trust in Him" and "pour out your hearts".
Trusting in Him refers to our faith. Not theological truths that we agree with in our intellect, but what we rely on and count on as true for our current and future well-being. I put my confidence in Him, our loving Father, because He cares deeply about me, He loves me. And He loves you. He is all powerful and has purposes that will not be thwarted. Whatever my situation, God asks me to not be afraid, to take refuge in Him, to trust in His deep mercy, compassion, and personal interest in me. And to have confidence that He will work out His purposes in the best way possible.
The psalmist also spoke about pouring out our hearts to God. This is easier for some than others. I've come across some articles this week about the importance of acknowledging our grief, anger, and disappointment in the current crisis. To not ignore it or hide it under a stoic face. It is appropriate and healthy to express our emotions and concerns to God. He cares about us and delights in listening to us. The Psalms contain many examples of people expressing their frustration, fears, concerns, and situation to God. He is not offended by our emotions and feelings; we need to express them. With that, He also wants us to take time to be still and know that He is present and caring.
If we put our confidence in His love, talk to Him about how we are doing, and take time to be quiet with Him, we will be taking refuge in the only true and perfect shelter.
May our confidence, trust and refuge be in Him.
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Some verses on refuge:
We're keeping our distance. Restaurants are closed to customers who want to eat in. Social gatherings have been cancelled, including church Bible studies and worship services. All this enforced distancing hopes to slow the spread of an invisible and deadly virus.
In Jesus' day, certain contagious people were required to shout "unclean" as they encountered the public, which gave the healthy folks a chance to get out of the way. People scattered at their approach, but Jesus once again overturned the social conventions of his day by speaking lovingly to the diseased, touching them, and healing them.
In the famous parable of the good Samaritan, "good" men avoided a man who was beaten and left bleeding by the side of the road. They were practicing an uglier form of social distancing – let's-not-get-involvedism – but the Samaritan man, a member of a group that was normally shunned by others, reached out in love and took care of the bleeding man.
1 John 4:18 says that "perfect love expels all fear," and in the next verse John reminds us that "we love each other because [God] first loved us." There is much to fear in life, but God's love compels us to overcome fear with love.
As Christians, we're commanded to love our neighbors. In this time of great fear, let's not forget that. We can (and should) take precautions against spreading the coronavirus, but we must also keep reaching out in fearless love to those we meet every day, and especially to those who are now isolated and afraid.
This crisis is tempting us to fear our neighbors and to keep our distance from anyone or anything that might put us at risk. As we ask God to help us with our fears, let's look around us for friends and neighbors that we can call or email to say, how are you? Is there anything I can do to help?
And let's offer to pray for those who are afraid, who are out of work and running out of money, or who have loved ones who are sick. We are the church. We are Jesus' ambassadors. How can we love as Jesus might love in this dangerous and uncertain time?