My friend Joel Alberti is a pastor in Madison, Wi. He has written this to help us think our way through the Pandemic from a God-ward view. He sent it out and I asked if he'd be ok to have me post it to my blog. Its wisdom and sensible things to think.
What is God teaching us in this season of life?
In all my years I have never seen a year like 2020. With the ravages of a global pandemic which has killed nearly 2 million people; an economic depression that is second only to the Great Depression of the early 1930’s; racial tensions which have caused unprecedented civil unrest; and a divisive political landscape which has ripped our country in two; this has been chaotic, confusing, unsettling, frustrating (throw in your own adjective) and extremely challenging year for all of us.
With all that is going on, there are many voices out there. Wherever you turn, there are strong opinions about why things are the way they are and what should be done about it. Dogma and intolerance are in abundant supply. One day, after watching the news for an extended period of time, my wife turned to me and said, “I think I am going to get a T shirt that says, ‘STOP TALKING.’” I understood her sentiment and quickly agreed.
If I am just another talking head, please feel free to push “delete.” If, however, out of relationship, I have earned the privilege of being a voice in your life, I invite you to read on. Fair warning: this is a 3 page document.
By definition, this pandemic has touched everyone in the world in some profound way. There have been many catastrophic events around the world, but very few in history touch literally everyone on the planet. There is not a thoughtful person of faith on this planet who hasn’t asked questions like this: “God, where are you? What are you doing? What is the purpose of this? How does this fit into your divine plan? Is this the beginning of the end? How does anyone make sense of this?”
First, let me categorically state, that I don’t believe God has caused this pandemic as a judgment against mankind. Under the old covenant (Old Testament times) God would bring judgements against nations for the purpose of preserving a remnant through whom He would bring the Savior of the world. But with the advent of Jesus, we are in a season of grace where God is calling all men unto Himself. John 3:17 says “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The bad things that happen in this world are not God punishing men, but rather the natural effects of a world which is broken and under the curse of sin. The Bible says that creation itself is “groaning” as in the pains of childbirth until the day of its redemption (Rom. 8:22-24). Because God, through Jesus, is committed to redeeming the world, He will use even the difficult things we go through for His ultimate redemptive purposes.
So, what is God doing? What is He teaching us through this unprecedented season of life? With grateful contributions from the City Church staff, here are some of my thoughts and observations. I will start with some global perspectives and then proceed to share thoughts that are more personal in nature.
· In Hebrews 12:26-27 it says God is shaking things so He may remove that which can be shaken, so that what is not shakable my remain. When everything else is changing, God remains the same. I believe He is using this season to divest us of our trust in men and the temporal world. He is calling us to put our trust in Him and His eternal kingdom. Verse 28 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
· Along these same lines, I believe God is purifying the Church. He is allowing us to see how often we run to the idols of comfort and entertainment, etc., to meet longings that only He can fully meet. He is teaching us how to rely more on Him for the important things of life. He wants us to pursue Him for who He is, rather than what He can do for us. He is waking us up to the importance of prayer and greater intimacy with Him. He longs for us to sit in His presence and to be more attentive to his voice. He is calling us to whole-heartedness to fulfill our destiny as His bride.
· In these stressful times, the ugliness of humanity has been on full display. We see all around us the affects of fear, anger, and mean-spiritedness. Yes, there are always acts of goodness that we celebrate, but when push comes to shove, men often show their true colors. This simply underscores what the Bible says about our human condition and the need for a divine solution which we have in Jesus.
· We recognize more than ever that governments, politics, social justice, and human institutions will never fix the problems we face. God has the answers we need. And those answers are the mission of the Church and the message of the gospel. In this season (which has been like a long spiritual fast), He is helping us to let go of the temporal and to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is intensifying our desire to be with Him in heaven where we will finally have the things for which our souls long.
· God is using this season to humble mankind. In that humiliation men cry out to God for mercy, help and deliverance. After 9/11 millions of people flocked into churches to seek Him. Because He longs to be in relationship with us, and has made provision through the blood of His Son, He is now whispering and shouting for us to draw near. This unprecedented season of life and the hardships it has created will either harden or tenderize our hearts toward God. The choice is ours.
· We are not in control. No matter how smart, clever, cunning, resourceful, confident or secure we think we are, we are more vulnerable and fragile than we think. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). There is One who sits on the throne who is in charge of all things. He is the sovereign Lord who will bring about His redemptive plans for mankind. This is why it is foolish to plan our lives without Him as if we were in charge. “Now Listen, who you say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. (James 4:13-15)’” Surrendering to Him and giving Him control over our lives is the only things that makes sense.
· We live in a harsh world where we get beat down every day. More than ever we need to be kind to each other and extend grace to one another. Let’s avoid making quick judgments and learn to accept and appreciate the fact that we are all different. Let’s hold our opinions lightly and have more tolerance for the views of others. We don’t have to agree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t honor and respect each other. I think we all realize, now more than ever, how important relationships are – especially family. I have been given the gift of time. Time with family and time to think and reflect on what matters. I have learned, once more, how busy I am. Structure is good, but I cannot let the tyranny of the urgent rule my life. I have to make time for what is truly important.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Far too often we make a big deal out of little things. We often major on the minors. Let’s let go of the things we can’t change, and the irritations that are associated with our strong preferences. In the grand scheme of things, is what I’m concern about an essential issue (in which we must have agreement) or is it a non-essential (where we can allow for differences)?” Basically, we need to get over ourselves and our sense of self-importance.
We need to count our blessings. They say, “You don’t know what you have till it’s gone.” How true. Although we have experienced many hardships of various kinds, we have so much to be grateful for. The blessing of good health has become especially important. So many times I have heard the expression, “I can’t wait until this is over, so we can get back to normal.” Although I know what they mean and have similar sentiments, I hope this changes me as a person. I hope it makes me wiser and more mature. I hope to carry these life lessons into a new normal. James 1:1-2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
· I mentioned in my introductory comments that I don’t believe God is judging us. But, as a loving parent, He could be using this season to discipline us. Hebrews 12:7 & 10 says, “Endure hardship as discipline. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (i.e., to be more like Him). My attitude toward hardship is critically important. If I embrace it and let God use it to change me, hardship is redemptive. If I kick against the goads (to use an old expression) it will make me angry, cynical, bitter and hard-hearted. You are only as happy as you allow yourself to be.
I hope some of these perspectives will resonate with and encourage you. I want end with a passage of scripture which calls out our identity as His people. This is how God sees us in the midst of His redemptive purposes.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises up on you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
May God bless and keep you.