I think I can safely say I’ve never lived through a time like this. I’m sure most of us can say that. Oh, to be sure, there are others who have endured much harder trials. To have been a farmer in the plains states during the days of the Dust Bowl. To have lived through the horror of the Holocaust. To have suffered through times of war, facing troops and tanks and bombs. To have seen family and neighbors and entire villages succumb to Ebola. All who have lived through such times, just to mention a few, have faced trials much greater than I face today. And yet, again, I can safely say that I have never lived through such a time like this.
My life, my spiritual practices, my calling and ministry have long been communal ones. I love people—and their presence, and this time of forced separation is very unsettling for me. Who could have predicted that during this season of Lent – a season in which I rarely give anything up – that we would all be forced to give up something? Coming together in groups, in congregations. Going out for a meal or a movie. Traveling out of our area, or around the country or around the world. And we are forced to wait, for this season will very likely be longer than the 40 days of Lent. Therefore, the question arises…for what are we waiting? For this to be over? For a cure, a treatment, a vaccine? For our economy to recover? For permission to congregate in groups larger than ten? For the fear to go away? For restocked aisles in Food City and Walmart?
Yes, of course, we wait for all these things. But is that it? Is that all we wait for? Do we only want the researchers and doctors to find some way of dealing with this virus so that life will return to what we refer to as “normal?” Although we want that, we want our medical professionals to save us from this threat and we want our lives to return to “normal”, there has to be more.
Another question many of us may be dealing with is, “Where is God?” Where is God in the middle of this pandemic? Doesn’t he care? Why would he allow this to happen? I believe the answers to these questions are closely tied to the answer to the question and statement posed above – “Is that all we wait for? …there has to be more.”
I believe that God is exactly where his has been all the time, including in all times of trial. I believe God is here. I believe God is near. I believe that God wants us to know that he is walking through this time with us, just as he was walking with those who lived through the Holocaust or the Dust Bowl or the Great Depression or World War II. I believe God is with us, just as he was with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, trying to understand the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:13-32). God is with us.
And I believe that yes, indeed, he does care. I believe that God can and does and is bringing something good from all things, including COVID-19 (Romans 8:28). I believe that God is telling us that our desire for “normal” is not nearly good enough. Yes, it is a good thing to want to be together in groups – families and friends and Life Groups and churches and schools and teams and work places. We are communal beings, meant and created to be in communion with each other. But more than that, we are meant and created to be in communion with our creator. And if it takes a pandemic for us to truly embrace our great need for a relationship with Jesus, I believe God will allow that to happen. I believe that God knows that even more than we need each other, we need him.
In his song, “Clear the stage,” Jimmy Needham implores us to…
Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg Him please to open up His mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
I encourage you to find and listen to that song. It speaks of making the decision to clear away the things that become idols to us, the things that don’t really matter in life, and giving God the place he deserves…center stage.
May we all, in this unusual and unprecedented time when we have been forced to clear so many things off our stages, use this time to seek God and grow in a relationship with him. And when God provides a miracle and our medical professionals are successful in dealing with this pandemic, when life gets “back to normal,” may we come together as the Church, grateful to the One who has been with us all along and cared enough to call us closer to him!
May God bless you during this time!
It's Monday night, 5:30 PM in the Family Life Center. A group of middle school boys are playing basketball, eating pizza, and trying not to squirm too much during Dave's devotion. One young man asks, "Can we do this twice a week? Can we meet again on Friday nights?"
An hour later that same night at Kim's house, the freshman basketball player who injured her knee - ACL, MCL, and meniscus - just 72 hours before during the last game of the season hobbles up the front steps and into the house. Her crutches can't keep her from playing the games that come before the devotion and prayer time, and they're sure not gonna keep her from making it to Life Group!
Tuesday night, Cathy's house. Just 48 hours after returning from a ski retreat in North Carolina, a group of high school sophomores gather around the living room, laughing and talking, full of Cathy's cooking. Tonight they're celebrating the 16th birthday of one of the group members. Later, they'll share prayer requests and talk about their faith.
Wednesday night at Linda's. Fourteen high school students crowd around a dining room table, talking and eating. There are five high schools represented. Five! No one likes to miss. They all say Life Group at Linda's is their favorite night of the week.
Thursday morning, 5:30 AM. I've just gotten out of my warm bed, not used to getting up this early on a Thursday. But the schools were closed on Tuesday, and more than one of the students who normally come on Tuesdays for Prayer Breakfast at McDonald's asked if the breakfast could be rescheduled for Thursday. They love coming to Prayer Breakfast, so of course we rescheduled it!
The lady at Blackbird Bakery knows me by now. I've been coming in every Friday morning for almost two years now. Two dozen assorted doughnuts. Sometimes three dozen. And as the coaches and administrators at Abingdon High School greet me as I walk into the school for FCA, they know they'll get the leftovers! They'll be sitting on the counter in the main office. But most weeks, there aren't any left over! If the kids at FCA don't eat them, those I meet in the hallway will. They are from Blackbird, after all!
Saturday morning, Pigeon Forge. Most of the occupants of the cabin are still sound asleep. As I lay there before I get out of bed, I can smell sausage cooking in the kitchen, and I hear the kitchen crew laughing and doing their thing. Soon the cabin will be crawling with sleepy teenagers. For now, it's peaceful. Who will it be today? Who will hear "just the right thing" from the speaker at Resurrection and have their life changed today? I can't wait to find out!
As I drive up Interstate 81 on Sunday morning, I'm looking for the text I know I'm about to receive. "Are you gonna be downstairs for church today?" Oh yeah, I will be. I've sat with this guy during church for years now. I doubt if he knows how special it is for me to sit with him each week. Man, who's gonna take his place when he's away at college next year?
Have you ever thought about what it is in your life that "gives you life?" What it is that gets you out of bed in the morning? What it is that makes life worth living? I've thought about it. I think about it a lot. And I have a lot of answers to those questions. And those answers have names, like Taylor, and Brooke, and Cooper, and Sutton, and Andrew, and Caroline, and...well, you get the point. The list goes on and on and on...
Which is my favorite day of the week? Yep, you guessed it! All the ones that end in "y"!
Hey...I'm HB. I'm the youth minister here at PVUMC.