I am writing this nearly two weeks earlier than you will read it. By May 10, there may be some of you back or preparing to go back to work routines. There may be more things open and more places to go. But I imagine, for the most part, we will still be stuck in this quarantine mode.
Being retired, my daily schedule doesn’t look a lot different but I do miss actually seeing friends, family, and my church family. I also had a Florida trip that I was disappointed to have to postpone. What I have learned from living through this is that a lot more people are conversing on social media and that even a pandemic can be turned into a political, emotional, and divisive issue.
“ I am tired of TV ads thanking me for social distancing and for reminding me to keep on doing it. ”
I am tired of TV ads thanking me for social distancing and for reminding me to keep on doing it. I am tired of seeing the words “covid-19” and “corona virus” on any screen I look at and tired of hearing the latest number of cases, deaths, and recoveries. I am tired of presidential and governor news conferences. I have lost interest in all the redundant reports on what the experts think.
Remember Crystal’s story earlier this month, and how she predicted that panic would soon run rampant in New York when multiple cases began to surface? It seems to me that so much attention given to the topic has severely fed the anxiety and panic factor. Now that case numbers may have peaked, the issue of ending quarantine and getting back to business and how business may have been impacted by the quarantine is just leading to a new wave of anxiety.
This, too, shall pass and when it does, I’m sure things will look different than they used to. I’m sure people’s lives will be affected on a new level and we will then deal with different kinds of struggles. I’m sure there will be economic repercussions. And it’s possible the virus could flare up again. We don’t really know what to expect. But that’s just it. Do we ever?
“ Our life events are never a sure thing with known outcomes. ”
Our life events are never a sure thing with known outcomes. But depending on what the foundation of your life is resting on, there are some sure things. There is still a Solid Rock to stand on, a God-Who-Sees, a God-Who-Provides, and a Redeemer Who has always been in the business of transforming lives—and yes, even bringing wondrous good from catastrophic events. All of this is His will being done, His preservation through hard times, and particularly for those of us in His Church a time of purifying refinement.
At the end of 2019, I had completed a reading of the Bible and was trying to figure out what to do next in my personal study. (One of the things I love about retirement is no time limit on morning Bible reading and study; no job to start and no children interrupting.) I had always wanted to do a comparison of the four New Testament Gospels, so I dug in. Shortly after this, the women’s Bible Study leader announced that for our winter-spring meetings, we would be studying the Gospels (now on Zoom). During quarantine, my daughter and I have watched the Sight and Sound feature “Jesus” and the first season of “The Chosen.”
“ 'Follow me' is what has been kind of glaring at me. ”
I have learned to pay close attention when I hear several successive sermons all on the same topic, and/or a book I am reading also happens to cover that same topic. So that’s what I have been thinking about: the life of Christ. Let me immerse myself in what I am reading and learning and see what refinement lessons are in it for me. Isn’t that what seeking Jesus is all about?
“Follow me” is what has been kind of glaring at me. Jesus says it repeatedly through all of the gospels. I had always associated it mostly as the way Jesus called the 12 disciples—but He said it on many other occasions too. Whenever Jesus touched someone’s life through healing and/or told them their sins were forgiven, he often added, “Come, follow me.”
“ What do we believers often look like as we live cooped up in our homes these days? ”
He spoke it to the rich young ruler, who chose not to follow (Matthew 19:16-22). He spoke it to a scribe who first promised he would follow but only after taking care of some personal business. Jesus told him there couldn’t be any “only afters” if you were a true follower (Matthew 8:19-22). Another time Jesus said, “Follow me and you will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). He likened Himself to a shepherd Whom all His sheep follow (John 10:1-5). He warned that to serve Him, one had to follow Him (John 12:26). He spoke it to Peter on a sandy beach after His resurrection, as a reaffirmation of Peter’s call to lead the early church (John 21:19). There are numerous examples of Jesus extending invitations to follow Him, and that to follow well, they needed a daily recommitment (Luke 9:23).
I love how “The Chosen” portrays these callings. I had always pictured it differently. Growing up in a stern household, it seemed like a gruff command, like a military recruiter looking to enlist an able body in the middle of war. But the Jesus portrayed in “The Chosen” surprises people by the request, offering peace and rest into their troubled and tumultuous lives. Suddenly it seems to those called that He is the way, the Truth, and the Life, and there is no other way to move forward without following Him. Underneath all that is the sweet assurance that He truly cares for them, unlike anyone they have ever known. I am well aware that no man can completely be accurate in such a description without having seen it for himself, but I suspect by the writing I see in the Gospels that the depiction in “The Chosen” comes closer to being truthful than my more demanding former mental picture.
“ So, what does following Jesus through a pandemic look like? Obviously, complaining isn’t part of it and neither is fear. ”
What do we believers often look like as we live cooped up in our homes these days? Probably a lot like the Israelites wandering around in the desert on the way to the Promised Land. Look at how much they had to lose before they finally made it. They wanted to go back, they wanted better living conditions, they wanted better food. They complained a lot. It took so long. When they finally neared it, they were afraid to go in. I’ve been heard to say similar things these days and I’ve heard them said all around me. How soon the normal I long for? What will happen with my summer plans? I’m afraid the disease will never go away. I’m afraid I will not have my job. I’m afraid there will be a food shortage. I’m afraid the economy is going to collapse.
So, what does following Jesus through a pandemic look like? Obviously, complaining isn’t part of it and neither is fear. Yet, Jesus’ disciples often did both. Each time they were met with a kind father-like rebuke. Jesus’ answers to them are the same as His to us. In following Him and Him only—there lie the answers. He has given us His Word and His Spirit. There is ample time on our hands right now. We tend to look for entertainment, something to take our minds off things, but following Jesus involves a committed seeking for how my own heart needs to change. A time to read and be reminded of his words. A time to spend with Him more than we ever have before.
What this all works out to be is an unexpected opportunity. A time of examination, repentance, and commitment. That all sounds like work and while one does have to stay on task and focus—if done with a grateful heart and love for Jesus, it becomes a time to bask in the love of Jesus, a time to know God even more intimately. I mean, isn’t it awesome that we are known and can know the God of the universe? That, alone, offers endless hours of meditative contemplation.
“ If done with a grateful heart and love for Jesus, it becomes a time to bask in the love of Jesus, a time to know God even more intimately. ”
I know, a lot of you are quarantined with children that you have to help school right now, or even littler ones that don’t understand why everyone is home all the time and they can’t go play with their friends or see their grandparents. Some of you might be caring for elderly parents and can’t get out of the house to take a break. But again, is this not an exciting opportunity—for your kids and other family members to witness how you are responding? Is this not an opportunity for you to have more time to teach your children both by words and example about loving, trusting, and knowing Jesus?
One positive thing that helps take the place of not being able to gather together to worship is the ability to find so many good church services online. This past Sunday morning, I was scrolling through Facebook and found a familiar face from a church back in Pennsylvania. It was a church that supported the pregnancy resource center where I worked and I treasured the times I was able to go there and speak and interact with this group. The familiar face was of the worship director and she was calling the church together for worship. It made me a bit homesick just watching and listening. But she mentioned that we have nothing to be worried or anxious about and she mentioned a conversation she had recently with her young daughter. She said, “I told her, your life will always be good if you just keep trusting Jesus. You won’t have anything to worry about.”
“ We are new creations, and all that God creates is good. 'Very good,' he says! ”
What good advice for all of us. This mom had used the opportunity to practically speak wisdom to her child. I can’t remember that I ever actually said those words to my young children. As believers, we do have good lives. We are new creations, and all that God creates is good. “Very good,” he says! I look back on the most difficult years of my life, so far, and I marvel that those times have the sweetest memories because of how present God was during them. How comforting and hopeful His Spirit was through the words of scripture, books, music, and other Christians. And we have access to the same right now even though fellowship can’t be in person.
I’m reading a daily devotional this year, The Promises of God, by Charles Spurgeon. The promise for yesterday was Psalm 138:8: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me.” Spurgeon began, “He who has begun a work in my soul will carry on that work. The Lord is concerned about everything that concerns me. All that is now good in me, but not perfect, The Lord will watch over, and preserve, and carry out to completion” (Phil. 1:6). Now those are some promises. Especially during quarantine!