The Flood: A Pandemic Observed

Read Genesis 8-9 today. Three God observations:

  1. “The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” God was in control, even to the detail of placing the ark where it needed to be. He made sure it rested and stayed put. OBSERVATION: Take care of the ark’s inside. God will take care of the outside.
  2. They were in the ark about a year, mostly waiting on the water to recede. While they waited, God had provided what they needed. Why was this important? Once they entered the ark, nothing was ever the same. The Flood was the pandemic of pandemics. There was no returning to normal.  OBSERVATION: God is God of before, during, and after.
  3. Noah lived 350 years after the flood. Noah’s life lasted 950 years. Scholars estimate the entire ark season of Noah’s life was anywhere from 75 to 120 years-at most 13% of his life. What’s the story of the other 87%? Through the “mundane,” God prepared him, sustained him, and multiplied him. OBSERVATION: God is there for all 100%, from the headlines to the footnotes.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Cam Adams

Prayer for Assumers

I pray you’re better at this than I am. It’s a work in progress. Unfortunately, it’s a thing for many professing Christians. I’m talking about assuming.

There are many reasons why we do it, but none of them are good. Assessing society, it seems unlikely Christians recognize assuming’s impact when we make assumptions based on…

…where someone goes to church, or that they don’t. (In 2020, are they attending in person or online.)

…how someone is dressed.

…how they respond to current events.

…what they drive.

…where they live.

…where they went to college, or that they didn’t.

…what we read, hear, or observe about them.

…what they are or aren’t passionate about.

…how they view past history, or that they don’t.

…what we believe the future does or doesn’t hold.

This prayer by author Stephen Mattson was on my Facebook feed today. It spoke to me because I had already confessed more than one assumption today-assumptions made in church of all places. As I said, a work in progress.

I’m grateful God’s mercy and forgiveness are unending-something assumers should add to this prayer.

“John, take a look at freedom!”

Occasionally God shows you what freedom looks like. If you’re paying attention, it’s more beautiful than a sunrise. It’s soul transformation beaming through human eyes.

Today, I was honored to witness God free his worried, fearful, lonely, grieving, scared, bound, coiled, anxious, tearful, exhausted, and insecure child. All I did was cheer. As the layers unpeeled, they brightened, eased, smiled, bounced, shined; years washed off their face. I don’t remember a transformation so obvious, so instant. 

What made it possible? Trust. Prayer. Safety. Courage. Honesty. Ownership. Confession. Awareness. Desire. Empathy. Calm.

We all wanted it. We all witnessed it. But none more so than the child freed to fly like a released bird from its lonely cage of fear.

Why do I believe in God? Only He could do what I witnessed today.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Yukari Harada

2020: Restorative? 

Recently I received a copy of an essay about grief and COVID-19 entitled “This Too Shall Pass,” coauthored by Alex Evans, Casper ter Kuile, and Ivor Williams. My personal takeaway was I need to grow as a collective mourner.

However, the most intriguing content was the hope of restoration following the pandemic, following the grief. And believe it or not, they referenced two Old Testament concepts-Sabbath and Jubilee years-as their example. Here’s the excerpt:

The idea of self-sacrifice that leads to rebirth found its concrete application in the ancient concept of Jubilee. In the original biblical context, every seventh year was a sabbatical year: a time of “solemn rest for the land.” No crops were sown. Instead, people lived off what the land produced naturally, with the soil given time to lie fallow so as to maintain its fertility. Then, every seventh sabbatical year was a Jubilee, when in addition to normal sabbatical year observances, land ownership would be reset to prevent inequalities building up, debts canceled, prisoners freed, and everyone would return home.

In fact, Sabbath and Jubilee years were the socio-political version of atonement: a set of concrete procedures for how to correct economic, social and environmental imbalances through resting, slowing down, halting economic activity, and sacrificing the grasping ego that always demands more, in order to protect the covenant.

These principles turn out to be profoundly relevant to our own crisis today. Countries all over the world have released prisoners. Low income countries have seen $12 billion of debt payments suspended. Some governments are moving to find homes for all rough sleepers. Proposals for a universal basic income look closer to being implemented than ever before. With the world economy on lockdown, carbon emissions and air travel are in freefall while air quality has improved dramatically; in many cities, people can hear birds singing or see stars at night for the first time.

2,500 years after the rules for Jubilees were codified in the book of Leviticus, they have bubbled up from our ancestral memory once more.

Is there grieving? Yes. Most likely more than we may have taken time to grasp. 

Should we grieve? Yes. It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s restorative.

Is 2020 restorative? Possibly. Looks like that might be up to us. You in?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jack Sharp

Thanks for the Exposure, COVID!

This past weekend over dinner and Rook, someone replied to a statement with a half-joke/half-serious, “Thanks, COVID!” If you have friends like mine, you’ve probably heard those two words also.

We decided we should actually make a list of things we are thankful for due to the pandemic. Before I go further, this post is not meant to make light of the trauma and loss of life many have and are experiencing. Rather, it’s an effort to “give thanks in all things.” Not always easy but can be beneficial. And if you’re reading this from outside the United States, this list may not be relatable.

The not-so, yet-somewhat serious list had these eight items:

  1. Less bad breath (masks)
  2. More solved jigsaw puzzles
  3. Less traffic
  4. More quality family time
  5. Less handshaking/hugging
  6. Greater appreciation for things we take for granted
  7. Spending less money
  8. Disney less crowded

On a run this week, I thought about this more seriously. And my thoughts landed on one word: Exposure. Let me expound on that with four statements of what has been exposed-and I find it good.

1) What we fear more than we should-Not long into the shutdown I heard a coach classify our fears being exposed into three categories: fear of the unknown, fear of death, and fear of not having control. These natural fears left unchecked can lead to dark personal times. When they are exposed, they can be addressed, better managed, possibly eliminated.

2) What we trust more than we should-We understand nothing’s perfect. That makes it hard to know what to trust. And left alone, we are challenged whether we can trust ourselves. This exposure is an excellent test for discerning where I’m leaning for my understanding and how much am I trusting God above all other trust options.

3) What we love more than we should-We Americans may have needed this exposure more than any other people group. We love excess, options, extra, more. That love leads us into loving whatever it takes to have it. We are in love with being busy. Extra and busyness are American idols. These idols also kill and needed to be exposed.

4) What we hate more than we should-Two hates that have been exposed are change and inconvenience. These hates have led to hate for one another. Why is this something to be thankful for? Because selfishness, superiority, and pride stay hidden in our normal superficiality. Now that it’s no longer hidden, we can look to God to forgive and heal it.

The pandemic has brought us more than physical exposure. May we work equally hard to address every exposure.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Courtney Anderson

Bumper Sticker Disturbance

Driving home from church last Sunday, I pulled up to a red light and apparently was behind another churchgoer. Anyone driving a van adorned by a bumper sticker including a Bible reference on a Sunday after lunch, it’s a sign. Unfortunately, this sign wasn’t positive. My spirit was immediately disturbed. I took a pic so I could chew on this disturbance.

When I got home, I looked up this verse because my mind was having a hard time connecting any scripture that would support this statement. Here’s what it says:

“No harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent.”

My disturbance made sense. The statement of choice is a personal choice that, whether you agree with it or not, doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The verse read in its context and understood by the Psalmist’s intent doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The disturbance is when they are put together as if they belong together. They do not belong together. Here are three reasons why:

1. Putting them together abuses the Bible narrative. If you could use this statement to choose to not participate in the challenges of this world, then much of the Bible narrative doesn’t make sense. Driver, is that the message you wanted to send when you chose to buy that bumper sticker? Many of the most beloved characters in the Bible endured harm and plague. Suppose Joseph had declined to participate in the famine. Or if Daniel had chosen not to participate in denying the King’s decree. Or if Paul had decided enduring prison was going too far, not a choice he was going to agree to. Or if Esther had said, “My life is too good to choose to put it at risk.” Believer, if you want to know a better understanding of Psalms 91, here’s a link to an article that does it justice. An excerpt of the article says this about the message of Psalms 91:

Psalms 91 is God’s way of telling us that whoever runs to him and seeks his divine protection will be saved from calamity and destruction. When we pray the words of this psalm it becomes a powerful shield of protection from fear. However, some people mistakenly thought the teaching is an unconditional promise and proof that life will be smooth sailing, that we won’t face hardship, illness, or any other crisis. This kind of thinking is often preached by pastors and ministers who teach the false and deceptive prosperity gospel. Nothing can be farther from the truth. God promises protection, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer even in the face of this pandemic.

2. Putting them together denies God’s sovereignty. It very well could be, Driver, that people you love will test positive, be hospitalized, come close to or succumb to death during this pandemic. It could be you. What happens to faith then? Is God no longer in control? Absolutely not. When we decide to make choices that make us feel good and in control, we’ve basically kicked God off our heart’s throne. And, thankfully, he has plenty of mercy and patience to wait us out. They go on forever. And when we realize our choice was wrong, that his ways and thoughts are indeed higher and better than ours, he will do what Psalms 91 is all about-offer us comfort by reminding us he’s in control.

3. Putting them together creates division and lacks love. Division and selfishness most likely aren’t your intent. You heard a leader declare this statement of choice was truth. Unfortunately, it’s not. If we know anything from today’s culture, false messages are divisive and self-serving. Christians cannot say they love God and people while declaring a false message.

So if this message is wrong, what’s the right message? Based on these three thoughts, here are three edits of the statement:

“I have chosen to accurately know God’s word in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to trust God in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to pursue peace and share love in this pandemic.”

Disclaimer: In general, I’m not a bumper sticker fan. You print one of these non-disturbing three, I might become one.