The More Things Change

My Christian witness in the face of a global pandemic.

Rewind to March 1. It was the first Sunday in Lent, on the heels of Ash Wednesday. We celebrated Holy Communion and had a potluck meal after worship. It was a great day, but I had no idea the challenges that our community and our world would soon face. This has been a Lent like none other. In fact Valerie and her friend both agreed that this has been the Lent-iest Lent they have ever Lent-ed!

You’ve heard the cliche, “The more things change…” It’s true but ironic that everything has changed and yet, nothing has really changed. My identity, my desperate need for grace, my love for friends and family and the like are still the same. And, yes, sisters and brothers, God’s love has not changed. So what do we do now? Ignore the obvious tragedy and anxiety that surrounds us? No! If we are Christ followers, we reach up to our Heavenly Father and reach out to each other.

John_Wesley_by_George_Romney

This is a very Wesleyan response. John Wesley regularly had people coming to him in fear, anxious about their sins and failures. So in late 1739, on Thursday evenings Wesley started gathering with people, “having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.1” That’s still what we need today in the face of a turbulent world and a pandemic that has disrupted our lives and routines.

The reformer Wesley encouraged these Christ-followers to follow three simple rules, what came to be known at The General Rules of the United Methodist Church. They can give us some direction in these strange days.

Coronavirus_StayHome_doctors1. Do no harm – Stay home. Yes, I know that many of you disagree with me, but this is one of those times when serving my own needs might inadvertently cause someone else harm. I don’t have to roll out the statistics and wealth of evidence about how a virus is spread. It’s simple. Stay home. Starve the Novel Coronavirus. Stay healthy and keep yourself and your neighbor out of the hospital. When we recognize the brave effort of our overwhelmed medical professionals, they are going to work for us, so we can stay home for them.

2. Do good – Find ways to encourage others. I love seeing the innovative ways many of you have demonstrated kindness and compassion! We have sent thank you cards, done the Facebook Friday phone a friend challenge, delivered Kids Activity Kids, assisted with our Drive Thru Prayer and daily reached out to friends and loved ones. You are not alone, but make sure that everyone else knows that too! And we can do a lot of good just by praying. Fast and pray. Man, have I prayed a lot this past month. Apparently I needed the practice. Haha!

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Hospital workers at Cartersville Medical Center, Cartersville, Georgia lift their voices to sing “Way Maker.”

3. Stay in love with God – What’s the opposite of fear? According to 1 John 4:18 it’s perfect love.  When we fully rely on God’s love and grace, we cannot be ruled by fear, anxiety, or hatred. This is a time to stay in love with God, but also to demonstrate who is Lord of your life. To quote the popular song by Sinach that many have heard on the viral video showing hospital staff lined the roof of Cartersville Medical Center in Cartersville, GA, God is a “Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness.” You and I can complain, be ruled by fear, held hostage by anxiety or we can stay in love with God and be a light of hope. We could all use a little more hope!

As we finish Lent and wonder what April is going to be like, I hope these three simple rules will remain as a guide for our lives after COVID-19 diagnoses have left the news. We serve a Psalm 46 God, “Our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” We get to model that for the world and our community. So stay home. Stay healthy. Stay encouraged, but most of all, do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.SignJRGBlack300

Safe Place

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Pastor Lee Jong-rak shows the“baby box” where parents who decide not to raise their babies ― mostly disabled children ― can leave them. (Korean Times)

Have you ever used a night deposit box to pay a bill or a Redbox machine to rent a DVD? Imagine a “Drop Box” for unwanted newborns who are in danger of being abandoned.* Are you ever afraid that your deposit won’t go through? It takes a level of trust. Each one must be safe and secure otherwise no one would leave an important payment, a DVD, or a baby there.

As 2016 ends, I continue to hear people say how anxious and unsafe they feel. Add to that the numerous throngs who say they have lost hope, and it’s enough to cast a dark, foreboding pall over 2017. While much of the angst is due to political upheaval in the US, I would say that 99% of it is misplaced. We trust Redbox, but…

In my opinion, if we are afraid of what America is going to look like after the inauguration, perhaps we are giving way too much credit to our government. If we’re afraid of some attack by a lone-wolf terrorist or a coordinated act by ISIS or other Muslim extremists, perhaps we are grossly underestimating the power of love and peace-loving followers of Allah. If we are afraid of cancer, Zika virus, Ebola, H1N1, etc., perhaps we think too much of our own vapor-like lives. Where have we put our trust?

Years ago at a men’s retreat I heard author Steve Farrar say, “Don’t worry about how long you have to live. God will not allow you to die until He has accomplished His plan for you.” That sounds good on the surface because it aligns with God’s Word and His sovereign nature, but mainly because I think that I’m a pretty worthwhile guy! Pride. Even though I might think that I’ve got a bunch of great things to offer God and the rest of the world, I have to want what He wants, in His time, whatever it costs me. (Gulp. I expect that sentence will be tested again in 2017!)

The more I jump into the flow of what the Holy Spirit has called me (and my family) to do, the more I sense God’s peace, a peace in which I can place my full trust. Sorry, Obama. Sorry, Trump. Neither of you even register on that scale. I do have fears. That reminds me of two quotes, one from a Peter Gabriel song and one from Jesus. I’m a fan of both.

When I allow it to be,
  there's no control over me.
I have my fears,
  but they do not have me. - Peter Gabriel, "Darkness"

And Jesus? Well, His quote is an excerpt from the greatest sermon ever preached as recorded in Matthew 5-7. Here’s a condensed bit from the New Living Translation

"I tell you not to worry about everyday life...
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
So don’t worry about these things... Seek the Kingdom
of God above all else, and live righteously, and he
will give you everything you need." - Jesus

alfred-e-neuman_worryI’m not going to quote Bobby McFerrin here. I am not saying put on a happy, Alfred E. Neuman face and say “Buck up, campers!” But I will say that 2017 is a great time for the Church to step into our worry-filled world with the message of peace and hope that has been at the core of Jesus’ message since He, “became human and made His home among us” (John 1:14, NLT). If Christ-followers can’t trust the Lord and giver of life, what do we have to offer? God is our refuge, brothers and sisters! He will show us the way of life and give us joy in His presence, (Psalm 16). That sounds like a lot better option than to run around like a collection of worry-worts, whiners or chicken-littles who have lost hope and are waiting for the sky to come crashing down.

So is your church a safe place for people overwhelmed by fear? When doubt, shame, and hopelessness are in control, how can we share the hope that we have, God-honoring, well-grounded, unshakable, trustworthy hope? If we are truly a church that is not afraid, how are we making that evident to our community? And what about you and I? We had better lead by example and put our trust the Lord in 2017.SignJRGBlack300

*Lee Jong-rak is a pastor in South Korea who started the Baby Box for unwanted infants. I would encourage you to watch the documentary “The Drop Box” with some friends and ask the tough questions that might arise.