“Ready or not, here I come”. Was the announcement of my favorite hide and seek game growing up. It’s also the anthem of any particular crisis in which we find ourselves. The truth is simple: whether you are ready or not, crisis will find you. The real question is are we ready for it?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked yourself questions like these within the past couple of weeks. How much do I stock up? Are my loved ones safe? How can I support the people serving on the frontline in hospital and, of course, our first responders? How do I maintain and display a strong faith in God during this crisis? These are important questions to ask, and I imagine we’ll learn how to answer these more effectively and uniquely in the days and months to come. Our world has changed. Our way of life disrupted. Even how we do church and community is shifting. What we take for granted is now a stark reality of what can disappear very quickly.
Many of us are reading for the first time historical accounts of past epidemics, like the Spanish Flu. I’m seeing more documentaries and movies on Netflix being rediscovered like the 2011 flick Contagion, which follows Matt Damon and Kate Winslet (How many disaster movies is she in?) track the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. We’ve all watched movies unfold with seemingly impossible endings, yet the hero comes out on top. We (especially me) just thought we’d never experience one this severe in our lifetime.
So the question I want us to think about today and in the days to come is: How do we respond to this season we find ourselves in?
As I scroll through the new reports for updates and interesting stories, I’m seeing a lot of fear, distress, and a general angst of the unknown. We must be careful just how much news we digest as Ryan Nicodemus says, “Constantly searching for breaking news will break you.”
I’m even seeing the word apocalypse more and more as I read, and it doesn’t help with the recent reports, just this week, of Locusts swarming Africa by the billions. To some this sounds like the end of the world. Which is a phrase ripe for blog headlines and sensational Revelation enthusiasts. Is it time to dust off our Left Behind books and prep for the worst? We’ve read for years that the apocalypse is just around the corner, and, to those that hold signs up that the end is near on street corners in New York, this is more proof.
Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.
We’ve lived through dark times before…Global Wars, especially the creation of the atomic bomb, the Great Depression, Hurricanes, tsunamis, and a host of natural disasters, droughts, historic financial markets and economy’s collapsing around the world. I can only imagine the fears felt throughout history going way back to the Plague of Justinian in 541 that killed 50 million people, not withstanding the lesser epidemics of POLIO, AIDS, SARS, H1N1, etc., etc., etc.
I’m certain there were “prophets” calling for the end in their day too. I can imagine many Christians have in the back of their mind, “is this current crisis a sign of the end times?” Let’s first clear up this language of the end times…yes, we are in them. The truth is that Jesus’ arrival ushered in the last of days. The Incarnation was the beginning of the end—the next phase of God’s redemptive plan throughout history.
I just don’t think this is THE end but certainly a small taste what is to come…more crisis, fear, disease, confusion, shortages, facing potential sickness and death. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:1, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” Therefore, we should prepare for it and not be surprised with each crisis we find ourselves.
Jesus made these alarming predictions: “and you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matt 24.6-8)
Jesus Himself has said, in so many words, “ready or not here I come”. His stark warning follows these passages
“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thess 5.2 ESV
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Rev 16.16 ESV
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” Matt 24.43 ESV
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3.10 ESV
Jesus tells us to guard our life and watch for His return:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21.34-35 ESV
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21.25-28 ESV
All of these words communicate clearly that things are going to get worse before they get better. This current crisis is just another symptom of a dying world. What we do during this crisis is also what prepares us for future ones.
Here are eight suggestions I have for us today:
- Know for certain you have eternal life! Being saved from sin and death is found only in a personal relationship with Jesus. We don’t have to fear the end. Jesus conquered death and removed its sting, so all of us who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior will live forever!
We are free from this fear through the saving work of Christ.
John, in his first letter, reminds us, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5.11-13)
Don’t let another minute pass by! Make sure you have confidence in your spiritual life today!
- Be ready to share this hope that is in you. Prepare to share your faith with those around you that are uncertain about their future. Learn how to share the Good News of Jesus. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.16) Also, Peter must have been asked “how can you be so confident in these unknown days?” he responds, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3.15)
- Cultivate your peace: This means we are to prepare and use our peace. Maybe you know someone today who needs peace in their life—you may be that person to bring it to them. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” (John 14:27) Take advantage of this time to slow down and deepen your prayer life, reconnect with the Word, begin a new Bible reading plan, worship Him with songs of joy, and enjoy God’s presence in your life and home. Jesus also said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)
- Become a prayer warrior! Against this crisis and for others. This is a time we turn to the Sovereign Lord who is in control of all and ask for His mercy and grace. Remember when God sent a plague among the people on Israel? (1 Chronicles 21) They were dying by the thousands. David and His leaders prayed for mercy and God suspended the plague with these words: “the Lord watched and relented from his judgment. He told the angel who was destroying, “That’s enough! Stop now!” Ask God to supernaturally intervene and stop this pandemic. Pray for our leaders, those in professions to help the sick and our first responders.
- Be ready to serve. Be ready to glorify God by being a “living sacrifice” and care for your community. Meet practical needs if you are able. Ensure the elderly, widows, and single moms are supported. Care for the poor. Love your neighbor.
- Find ways to still walk in community with other believers. Physically in small numbers or virtually over the many platforms available like Zoom, Duo, Marco Polo, Skype, Facetime, etc. We need each other “not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10.25)
- Use common sense. “A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished.” (Proverbs 22.3) In other words, we are being told daily how to help alleviate the pains of this crisis: wash your hands and disinfect your areas of home and work, social distancing, limit travel, and follow the recommendations of the CDC and local officials.
- Trust God and take comfort in Him. He is in control. No matter what happens, we can place our life and faith in His hands. Everything is on schedule. “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8.28). The Apostle Paul faced uncertainty, persecution, and eventually death itself. How did he respond? “But, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8.37-39
So, what is our ultimate hope? It’s not found in this morning’s daily news report or in the next news conference. It is revealed in the Bible and in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
The hope of the Christian is ultimately discovered in the Day the Lord returns to rescue His people from this world and establish His Kingdom. “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt 24.30-31)
However, it doesn’t end there. We know it gets better. He creates a new world for us just as Adam and Eve experienced before the fall. A perfect world without sickness, without viruses, without fear, and without sin and brokenness where we walk with God. Revelation 21 reminds us of our true hope: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
For those in Lockdown, this poem may encourage you:
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
March 13th 2020
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