Thursday, March 26, 2020

Responding to life's crisis

In this time of minimalized ministry, I have been taking time to watch and listen to various clergy and preachers to see what is being said about the Covid-19 pandemic and how we should respond to it. There seems to be a common theme of “Choose faith not fear” amongst us. We all have two dogs in this fight: one called faith and the other called fear. Fear at this moment is only natural and total human. We are in a state of fear, of chaos, of sickness and of death. People ask me which is stronger faith of fear? Want to know which one is the strongest? It’s the one you feed. In point of fact, only a fool would have no fear in all that is going on. But there is the other side of things. Where is your faith? Do you remind yourself of what Jesus said, “Who among you can add a single hour to your life by worrying?” What do you believe at this moment? Who do you trust in times of trouble and of fear? Do you choose Jesus?

There is a reality setting in for many of us that we are not in control. This present crisis has highlighted this fact. We are tempted to think about ourselves and do want we want because what doctors, nurses and the governments are supposed to do, is look after us if we get into trouble. I suspect that this is why we are seeing governments at various levels restrict and curtail liberties that we are used to enjoying. Work is shutting down. Schools, gyms, restaurants, even Churches are closed. We are not to be within 6 feet of each other. And yet there are still some who think that this is someone else’s issue, someone else’s problem. It does not affect me. I am not sick. I am going to continue on as usual until I have to change. This is not helpful and is not caring for yourself nor for the people around you.

On the upside, there are some things that we can do and should do in this time of restrictions that are not against the law. These are things that can build us up and allow us to be caring of others and even to effectively proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. (h/t to Nicky Gumbel from Holy Trinity Church, Brompton in the UK as I draw from his inspiration)

Stay Prayerful
Many will know the story of Jesus getting in the boat with his disciples to go across the lake and they end up getting caught up in a storm that is powerful enough to sink the boat. Keep in mind many of these men in this boat are experienced fishermen. They were watching the waves, rain and bracing themselves against the winds. They grew afraid. Where is Jesus? He is in the stern fast asleep on the pilot’s cushion. (Luke 8.22-25). In frustration and fear, they wake Jesus and ask him, “Don’t you care if we die?” Jesus gets up from his nap, and speaks to the storm and says, “Be at peace, be still.” Jesus then turns to his disciples and  asks them, “Where is your faith?”

In moments like this, we are tempted to look at the storm, the things that are going on around us. Such things can cause us to despair and event to fall into depression. Notice what the disciples did, they went to Jesus with their fears and frustrations and asked him to do something about it. Jesus spoke to the storm and calm the situation because his disciples asked him to. It is a simple prayer and of course, God cares for each and for all of us. We need to make our petitions known to God and do so with thanksgiving that God is already there in the situation working for us and for good. We need to be prayerful which not just words, but also keep an attitude of altitude. This means that we know that Jesus in the boat and we are with him. Because we are tempted to fix our eyes on the storm, we need to work at fixing our eyes on Jesus. We can ask for Jesus to stop this illness and to bring health and whole back to us.

Stay wise
One of my favourite verses of Scripture that I use in my own life is “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.” (2nd Timothy 1.6-7 ESV) So, it makes sense for me to say to you, have faith and use soap. When you wash your hands, instead of singing Happy Birthday, sing the Doxology and give thanks to God. We can choose to have faith over fear. We can choose to limit the amount of cable news we get, the amount radio news we listen to and we can choose to fill ourselves to listen to music, make time to pray and to worship which will take our eyes from the storm and help us to focus on Jesus. We can choose faith and put fear in its place.

Stay kind!
Maybe this is a no brainer but there is no need to hoard when we go to the grocery store. People are hoarding hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper, flour, meat and other things. We need to consider carefully the examples of the selflessness of others and then try, as best we can to follow in that way. I think of a priest in Italy who came down with this horrible virus and his parish went out and bought him a ventilator so that he could survive and continue to serve his people. Then he heard of a young boy who needed the ventilator and he demanded that he be removed from his and the machine be taken to the boy. Shortly after the priest died of the illness but the boy he gave the machine to, lives. Be kind to others. It is life-giving. Be generous and let us make sure that we care for the vulnerable.

Stay united
Remember to stay united with one another. We are fighting a virus, not one another. Never waste an opportunity to extend forgiveness or for reconciliation. Invite people to the online services and there might be opportunities to share the Good News with those who need it.

Stay Connected
Be wary of isolating yourself to the point where you cut yourself off from everyone else. There may need to be physical distance, but we need to stay connected. There are lots of ways to do this through phones, emails, texting, video chatting, even old fashion note and letter writing.

Stay Confident
Finally, I know that when I discovered what might be coming in terms of illness and that as a person with an “underlying health condition” I was going to increasingly isolate myself for my protection I found myself angry because I could not control what was happening and going to happen. It was a reminder, that as much as I like to think I am in control, I am not. But then I know that Jesus is and that he has called me into the boat to be with him in this storm. Jesus is in control. Jesus reigns. He came to us in flesh and blood. He suffered and knew pain. He has been through it all including death and the grave and yet he lives. And because he lives, he is in the boat and he is in control right now.

Let us put our eyes on Jesus. Let us cast our burdens on Jesus for he cares for us. Let us choose faith over fear. And let us remember we are in the palm of his hand. He has us so much more than we have him. Thanks be to God for that.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Are you blind?

The furore of the last few days and the decisions of the last 24 hours have left a few people relieved and some others reeling just because of the speed and magnitude of the decisions. I have no doubt that when (and not if) we come through the other side of this latest crisis and latest virus, that a scene, not all that different from what happens in John 9 is going to take place.

I discovered that people with powerful testimonies of God’s rescue and restoration had to endure much pain and suffering to obtain them. We don’t and we didn’t consider much less get that as human beings. I know I didn’t. I used to sit as a student in the Church Army College/Headquarters in prayer meetings on Thursday nights with a cast of characters, including my classmates. Many of them had wonderful and occasionally very funny stories to tell about God reached out to them when they thought life was coming to an end. There was a logical progression of things – who you were before, what Christ did to transform you and how your life is different now from the first.

We are told of a man (in John 9) born blind. He was clearly known to Jesus and to his disciples because they could look at him and know at least a few things about him. The disciples assumed that there must have been spiritual wrong in this man’s life: why else would he have been blinded. So, it is a natural question: “Who sinned? Did he? Did his parents? Who is responsible for this tragedy? Who needs to be blamed?”

Is it not incredible, that Jesus points out that it is not about the man or his parents but about God and the kingdom? This man’s life is about putting on full display, the grace and glory of God for the world around him to see. Then, interestingly, Jesus ducks out and goes away. He disappears almost completely along with the disciples. What gives? Where did he go? Why did he leave? Did anyone see where Jesus went?

If there is a single lesson that I have learned about being healed, it must be this: there is life at the end of the miracle that needs to be lived out like a light in the darkness. As believers, we are called on to reflect his light through our lives so that even though Christ seems absent. And that takes work to be reflective of his light, his love, his life. And doing so we bring Jesus to the community and make him visible. It is why the man with new eyes says to those question him about Jesus asks the question, “Do you want to be his disciples too?”

The goal of John’s Gospel is a simple one: that having encountered Jesus that you would believe in him and through him, have eternal life. Those who look to accuse Jesus of being a false healer and teacher, of breaking the rules of the Sabbath are then told by Jesus that because they claim to know God and his ways are actually blind. They are blind to who God is and to what God is doing. It is interesting that unlike the man with new eyes, the religious people are willing to sit there with mud on their faces and refuse to go and wash, remaining blind to the reality of what God is working amongst them. Being blind, leave them guilty of not recognizing the presence of God amongst them and therefore are sinning by calling it the power of evil.

It is his light in us and it is up to us to make that next move. He has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Ought we not to be 'pumped' about God being present here, in this place, at this moment and to be with him? Should we not take that next step to bring light to the darkness, hope to the helpless and courage to those who are frightened. Should we not feed the hungry, clothe the naked and befriend the lonely and the stranger? Should we not offer them Jesus, that might have life in his name?