God is our mighty fortress,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
And so, we won’t be afraid!
Let the earth tremble
and the mountains tumble into the deepest sea.
Let the ocean roar and foam,
and its raging waves shake the mountains.
A river and its streams bring joy to the city,
which is the sacred home of God Most High.
God is in that city, and it won’t be shaken.
He will help it at dawn.
Nations rage! Kingdoms fall!
But at the voice of God the earth itself melts.
The Lord All-Powerful is with us.
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come! See the fearsome things
the Lord has done on earth.
God brings wars to an end all over the world.
He breaks the arrows,
shatters the spears,
and burns the shields.
Our God says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God!
All nations on earth will honor me.”
The Lord All-Powerful is with us.
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
In a church building of my youth, we kids had Sunday school in the basement. Above the piano was a painting of Jesus. To the right a sign admonished: "Be still and know that I am God." So I sang quietly. Later I figured out that Psalm 46 directs "be still" at boisterous heathen nations, not boisterous heathen boys. Indeed, a pile of Psalms incite, "make a joyful noise!" Wish I'd known sooner.
Upstairs over the foyer door leading to the sanctuary was the line, "Enter to worship". Over the foyer door leading back outside was a companion line, "Depart to serve". This pair bothered me. Wasn't it called a "church service"? Why not have identical reminders both ways? "Worship. Serve." Love God, love people.
Some people post little scripture quotelets around their homes. I've seen this in a couple of bathrooms.
Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.
This is a great reminder in these times. Even greater is the entire sentence. Peter's point is not that if I talk to God, I will feel better. The point is not to feel powerlessness against a virus nor against government. Nor ought I become cynical about idiots, including my unprepared self. Considering what the future holds, I need neither shiver nor shrug.
This promise activates in humbling myself before God, before the God who cares.
1 Peter chapter 5:
Clothe yourselves, all of you,
with humility toward one another,
for “God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore,
under the mighty hand of God
so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
casting all your cares on him, for he cares for you.
Be sober-minded; be watchful.
(In the original Greek writing, "Be sober-minded; be watchful," is just two words: "Nepho Gregoreo." When I get too flippant, you have a duty to admonish me: Nepho Gregoreo! Nepho!)
Your adversary the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith,
knowing that the same kinds of suffering
are being experienced by your brotherhood
throughout the world.
And after you have suffered a little while,
the God of all grace, who has called you
to his eternal glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen,
and establish you.
To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This week I've been called on the phone by old friends who have control issues. They hope that as in the past I can talk them down from their agitation or talk them up from their despair. OK, that's flattering myself. They really want me to be still while they vent. "Two ladies brushed by me at the grocery!" "I'll go crazy if I can't get out!" "I have no income." "I don't know, I just don't know!"
People more than ever find something humbling every day, every hour. Rather, the path through scary times to "the proper time" is to feel humble under the mighty hand of God.
Jesus put it this way in Matthew chapter 10,
"And do not fear those who kill the body
but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear him who
can destroy both soul and body in hell."
James chapter 4:
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,
and He shall lift you up.
2 Chronicles chapter 34:
"Because your heart was tender
and you humbled yourself before God
when you heard his words
against this place and its inhabitants, and
you have humbled yourself before me
and have torn your clothes and
wept before me,
I also have heard you, declares the Lord."
Daniel chapter 10:
Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel,
for from the first day that you
set your heart to understand
and humbled yourself before your God,
your words have been heard."
Paul, in Romans chapter 8:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, 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.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was suffering with a chronic illness for years in my 20’s.
As a kid, I was incredibly healthy and active. That translated into some amazing memories related to high school sports, with success, failure, perseverance, camaraderie and even a short stint as a college athlete. It also translated into a lot of joy. I found joy in movement, joy in focus, joy in discipline and joy in results.
Like my namesake Liddell, I felt His glory when I ran.
That all changed at some point.
I got sick. And it was much worse than you think. It messed up my life somewhat in every measurable way, but it wasn’t all that “bad.” And there was really nothing to be done, other than take vitamins and ride it out. It was more irritating than life threatening.
It was a drag on the ticket, a monkey in the wrench, a something in the ointment or soup that turned out to be a fly. I could still function… but there was a lot of fatigue and coping and trying to sip around the stupid fly. I had about 3 good hours a day, then I was exhausted. Life became more about tying my shoes and less about dreams of greatness. And it just didn’t go away. This cycle continued for months, and the months turned into years.
The amazing thing about this chapter, was that, at a few months in, I became a caretaker for someone much sicker than I was. And even in my limited experience and exposure to woes of health - it made me better. Don’t read “saint” here, I was even more selfish then than I am now. But I was a little more patient, a bit more compassionate, more understanding, more proactive, more responsive, more perceptive, and more loving. I was a little more all of these things, simply because, to some extent, I knew what it felt like to truly feel bad. To feel trapped. To feel diminished. To feel like this is never going to end. That lesson became a hammer for me, and if I didn’t beat back the darkness to the thundering of a glorious soundtrack… I did strike a blow here and there.
It wasn’t the sickness that was a blessing, the sickness was an obnoxious guest that overstayed his welcome. But it brought an entire range of blessing as a set of unforeseen consequence in me. Suddenly, I had this amazing filter on the world and a visceral realization of how precious health really is. It was a change in perspective, and very much a change of heart. It simply made me a better human, and one that was much more willing to be generous in practical ways for someone struggling with health issues of their own. I needed to learn how to be helpful in times of helplessness and how to be truly encouraging when the light in the room was set too low. I needed to learn how to let go and just sit with someone. I needed to learn how to listen.
Right now our mitigation of the corona virus feels like a pall. It’s a fog overlaying the landscape, a plate filled with action, inaction, over-reaction, with a side of devastating economic consequence.
My ridiculously optimistic message today is about the upside. And there is an upside. Here it is:
- We will value community more than we did yesterday
- We will continue to take steps to protect the least of these
- Toilet paper will finally get the appreciation it so richly deserves
- Our priorities will be a bit healthier
- We will better recognize how fragile life and security really is
Like most things, this too shall pass. Corona virus will come and eventually, it will go. It will.
But starting now and even more then, we will have the opportunity to be more than we were: more grateful and more graceful, more selfless and more good, less isolated and more loving in ways that matter.
It’s not a given. But this experience has the potential to make us better family members, better friends, and better people. We have a beautiful window to upgrade our communities with a healthier perspective on the important things of life. Instead of just being infected with a new bug, we have the chance to do something quite cool.
We will step into a positive viral movement that will spread in much the same way. Close contact. Social interaction. Groups of however many people we can cram into a room for something good. Infecting each other shamelessly with joy and community and good ideas. If we can remember the lessons we’re learning now, if we take time to be intentional with life and relationships... over time and in the long run...
this sickness will be a blessing.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.