The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be
March 29, 2020 (Facebook)
I loved our Fellowship Hours that Pam hosted on Zoom last Wednesday and Thursday.
There we sat huddled in our homes trying to stay clear of the COVID-19 virus.
It made me think of the Chinese house churches secretly meeting behind locked doors to hide from government spies.
Despite the barriers to meeting, the Chinese churches have grown enormously – maybe a million Christians meeting secretly behind the walls of their homes.
They’ve grown because in a Christian community they care for one another, they care for their neighbors, and they are cared for by the promise and presence of Christ.
As I was praying about today’s message, I received the image of Jesus walking through the locked doors of the upper room to comfort his frightened disciples.
Right now, we are the ones behind locked doors seeking comfort but walls are not barriers to God.
God steps right through our sealed homes to be with us.
Jeremiah 23:23-24 Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.
There is no time or place where God is not present, and God answers all who call.
Way back in 1968 I drove the night shift for L. A. Yellow Cab.
I mostly worked East Hollywood and the Alvarado district, but every once in a while, I’d get an order up in the dark, narrow roads of the Hollywood Hills.
Not only are some of those roads pitch dark, but sometimes the residents rotate the street signs so that out-of-towners looking for celebrities’ homes will get disoriented and lost.
Around midnight, it can get a little creepy in the recesses of the canyons.
Anyway, I remember one dark house in particular that was set back from the road and partially concealed behind the dark limbs of drooping trees.
Even as an adult, I got the shivers slowly driving past it as I searched for addresses.
But one bright day I happened to drive by and saw that it actually was a magnificent house set into the hillside with a manicured garden and broad, elegant trees.
My experience of that street completely changed.
Because the light revealed what it truly was.
As we continue to face this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the light of truth and
the light Christ that will see us through.
Because we are bombarded with news and speculation, I want to first say a word about the light of truth.
People of faith seek facts and knowledge – we don’t turn to delusion or false promises.
With constantly changing predictions intertwined with dramatic headlines, disinformation and scapegoating, it’s easy to feel stressed and confused.
Proverbs 13:16 The prudent person always acts out of knowledge.
So, make it a priority to get your facts from people who are knowledgeable and trustworthy.
When I board an aircraft, I trust my life that it was designed by qualified engineers rather than some yokel on Facebook.
When I put my life into the hands of medical advice, I want to hear from epidemiologists and doctors, and politicians listening to them.
Proverbs 18:2 Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse;
all they do is run off at the mouth.
Getting the facts and facing them squarely is a first step toward managing fears and making clearer decisions.
You can calm your obsessive second guessing by getting facts.
If you are like me, you’ve learned that stress is magnified by information overload.
I know more than one person who is monitoring the COVID-19 counters that report the latest numbers of cases and fatalities – some claim minute by minute updates.
Minute by minute.
There isn’t enough stress here already?
Then, to add insult to injury, some of those counters are actually a scam that is installing malware in your computer while you watch their pseudo-data.
The light of truth – facts – helps us be cautious without being fearful … frank without being foolish.
As Christians, we also have the light of Christ.
So, replace your worry with worship.
Let me tell you what that means and does not mean.
That does not mean we paint a pious smiley face over whatever we are truly feeling.
The road to the resurrection of Jesus first passed through the reality of his suffering.
Jesus poured his heart out to God in an anguished prayer in the Garden of Olives – that is the model for authentic prayer in times of fear.
In fact, Luke 22 describes his intensity so great that he sweat blood.
We are in the midst of the season of Lent – the weeks before Easter when we let go of things that keep us distant from God.
As your pastor I want you to know that you must begin your prayer and worship where you are at.
You begin with what you are really feeling.
Some of you felt disoriented two weeks ago but are now feeling more centered.
On the other hand, some of you have moved the other way … you were ready to face this whole thing with courage, but now after being isolated for a couple of weeks you don’t know how you’re going to get through possibly months of this.
Whatever you are truly feeling, that is where God will meet you.
Psalm 139:1-5 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
So, when you come to worship, start with sharing with God what you’re feeling.
Lord, right now I’m feeling confused.
Or, Lord right now I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Or even, Lord, right now I’m not even sure what I’m feeling.
Maybe you need to say, Lord, I don’t even feel Your presence right now.
We don’t stay stuck.
2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us, God’s Spirit doesn’t make cowards out of us. The Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control.
How do I move forward?
Be sure you are doing our daily devotional.
We are all reading Bob Goff’s Live in Grace, Walk in Love.
I can’t think of a better daily devotional right now.
Check-in with other church members.
Share with them your feelings, and care for them by listening to them
And there has never been a better time for prayer for ourselves and one another.
God will use what He did not choose to create something good out of this circumstance – each of our jobs is to be open and cooperate with God.
And I want to remind you that this is not the end of the story.
God has seen His people through crises before.
Right now, we are huddled behind locked doors, but they are not barriers to God,
who steps right through them to be with us.
Isaiah 43:2-3a When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
You may be feeling isolated from God right now – but that is just a feeling.
God is not a feeling.
God is a real presence with you always – whether you feel it like we did during corporate worship.
I understand that when we feel isolated, we start to worry that every cough and throat tingle might be the grim reaper come knocking, but remember, this will pass.
Some years back, Vivienne and I started streaming that TV series 24.
If you ever watched it then you know that in every episode, agent Jack Bower of the elite Counter Terrorist Unit would go through an action-packed, cliff hanger of life-and-death crisis.
By the end of the episode, the threat would seem to be resolved, but in the last couple of minutes a new emergency would appear out of the blue and you would be left on the edge of your seat until the next episode.
Now, we’d be caught up in the drama, yet we also could relax because we knew that there was another episode coming.
In fact, there were nine seasons – so we could trust that crises might get tense, but another season was around the corner.
This current crisis is not the end of things.
The Apostle Paul knew hardships, but from experience knew that God would see him through it all.
He wrote to the troubled church in Corinth:
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.
Because we have the light of truth and the light of Christ, we can do what church does best.
In 1527, the bubonic plague came to Wittenberg, Germany where Martin Luther was a professor and pastor.
Church authorities begged him to leave, but he stayed to care for his neighbors.
He said that church doesn’t run from crises – it faces them and serves in creative caring ways.
Find a hurt and help – that is what the church does.
Will everything go back just how it was?
I don’t know, but I do know that as individuals and certainly as a church we have the opportunity to be stronger and more trusting through this experience.
I’m calling this message “The future isn’t what it used to be”, a phrase that only Yogi Berra could manage to concoct.
We can’t control the virus.
But we can shine the light of knowledge and common sense on our decisions.
We can’t change the fact that things will be different.
But while I don’t know what the future holds, I do know who holds the future … the Lord Jesus who with us through all things.