“Pandemic”, “unprecedented", “rapidly changing". If you’re like me, you have read those words in various governmental, ministry and organization responses to the Corona virus (I actually used ‘unprecedented’ in our response here at TIME Ministries). These responses give us updates on what action the organization is taking and they tell us what actions we should take. I would like to expand on that and explore how we should respond as Christ Followers.
One of my favorite songs as a small child in Sunday school was the one about how the foolish man built his house upon the sand and the wise man built his house upon the rock. And the rains came down and the floods came up, repeat a couple times (are you singing yet?). The conclusion is that the house on the rock stood firm and the house on the sand went splat (shouted with a big smashing of hands together). I think I liked the song so much because I was a really good splatter.
Years later I heard a sermon on this parable. Ready for him to focus on our foundation, I was a bit surprised when he focused on the storm. He pointed out that the storm that hit the house on the sand was the same storm that hit the house on the rock. God does not spare us from the storm, but he provides a way to stand firm in the midst of the storm and not be destroyed by it.
So, how do we do this in the midst of this latest, but not last, storm? By standing on the firm foundation of;
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:2
His son Jesus Christ
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 3:11
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
and His Church
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:19-21
Sometimes, when we get caught up in the things of this life, we lose our focus and shift on our foundation. We misplace our trust and try to straddle multiple foundations. We need to center ourselves on the true foundation to ultimately weather the storms. We need to focus on the truth.
1- We need to realize that God is in control and we are not.
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:4-6
He does what He wants, when He wants and doesn’t need to seek our permission or approval. Read Job 38 and on to gain some perspective of His sovereignty.
2- God’s plan is not always our plan.
Therefor it’s important to remember that God may do things differently than we think they should be done. To be honest, most of the ways we think things should be done is for our benefit. His sovereignty means that things might not go the way we think it should.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Proverbs 19:21
There is a yiddish proverb that says “Man plans, God laughs”. God still encourages us to make plans, but He wants to make sure we know who is ultimately in control. We need to have the right perspective.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16
Of course, if we stopped there, it wouldn’t alleviate a lot of anxiety and fear. It might actually increase it. But there is more.
3- God’s plans are always the best
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet exhorts those in captivity in Babylon to basically make the best of the situation they find themselves in. Not to bemoan the circumstances or even to ignore them as they dream of rescue, but to live their fullest lives at that moment. Continue to live their lives in the best way within the confines of their circumstance. The hope is not in the moment, but in the promise of God.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Which brings us to why we can trust that His plan is the best.
4- God is good.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:17-18
Personally, I think Jesus was lobbing a softball to the rich young ruler. When Jesus says, ‘no one is good except God alone”, the young man only needed to answer, “But you are God”. But He doesn’t see Jesus as his way to Life, only his own works. But that’s a sermon for another time.
God is good and can work all things to that good (both good and evil things).
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Remember, He doesn’t take away the storms, but he can still work through them for His good purpose. Greg Koukel of Stand to Reason (www.str.org) says it this way.
"Of course, it is never God’s desire (one sense of “God’s plan”—His moral will) that evil things happen, yet man’s rebellion against God has resulted in a world that is broken.
Now God purposes to take the bad and use it for good (the second sense of “God’s plan”—His sovereign will)”
We must trust in God’s good plan, but we are not to be idle ourselves.
5- God wants us to be wise
God wants us to be wise in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In Jeremiah 29, that was to not only survive in exile, but to thrive. Not only to live for the welfare and benefit of themselves but for the welfare and benefit of the whole city in which they found themselves exiled (and these are not godly cities). This was because if the cities prospered, it benefited God’s people also.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
We, too, need to not only look to our own welfare, but the welfare of our communities and country. How do we do that?
6- God doesn’t want us to panic
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. II Timothy 1:6
We have the all powerful God, who is good and loves us, on our side. Who, or what, do we need to fear? In the immortal words of Douglas Adams,
Then what do we do?
7- God wants us to take practical steps
Taking wise precautions is not panicking. There is nothing inconsistent between washing your hands and practicing social distancing and putting your full faith and trust in God.
Nehemiah is a great book which chronicles the author’s journey to help lead the rebuilding of Jerusalem. There are many great lessons to glean in this narrative, but one of my favorites is found in Nehemiah 4:9. Nehemiah has organized the people and supplies to rebuild the wall around the city, much to the consternation of the local bad guy neighbors. The city wouldn’t be easy pickins’ if they finished the wall. So they had plans to disrupt the building, which Nehemiah heard about. What did they do? Did they pray and trust that God would protect them? Did they set guards and take every practical precaution to prevent these raids? The answer is yes.
And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. Nehemiah 4:9
They did both. God wants us to pray in this time of pandemic, but also to take some practical steps to keep ourselves safe. But that’s not all.
8- God wants us to think beyond ourselves
Some might say that the Bible says not to neglect meeting so we are going to continue to meet as a church because God is bigger than this virus. But our church, and most others, has stopped meeting together. Not out of fear, but out of love for our neighbors. Our pastor put it this way.
Though we enjoy extensive Christian liberty, Paul reminds us that our liberty is regulated. A repeated principle in that regulation is “love your neighbor.” For example, Galatians 5:13 says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our Lord’s demand that we love one another puts limits on freedom. In 1 Cor. 10:23 the Scripture says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Although it might technically be lawful for us to gather given the government’s current “recommendations for gatherings”, it is not necessarily helpful or the best way to seek the good of our neighbors.
By not meeting, we hope to be a witness that we love, and have the best intentions for, our community and in that way share the Hope we have in Jesus Christ. Which leads to my final thought.
9- God wants us to share our Hope with others.
Matthew 28:19-20 is called the great commission.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
It’s echoed elsewhere, such as Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8. It’s a big one for us missionaries, but it’s really a big one for us all. A future blog will do an in-depth word study of the 4 verbs used in the passage but here’s a spoiler. The verb “Go” doesn’t necessarily mean to go to another place to make disciples. It has the idea of: Get going, what are you waiting for, there’s discipling to be done, go…now.
There is work to be done. We are wherever God has put us, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, to disciple others. To tell them about the Hope and Good News of Jesus Christ. To show them that Hope and Good News through our actions. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To save them not only from a potentially deadly virus but from the terminal results of sin.
As you see those buzzwords we started with, remember this.
As a pandemic, this virus has spread across the globe, but it hasn’t reached anywhere where God isn’t already there.
As unprecedented as this virus is, God’s isn’t. His Love, grace, mercy, justice, truth, plan, victory, etc has been seen and documented countless times throughout the ages.
As rapidly changing as the news is about this virus, God never changes. He is still the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And He is Good.