With floods and fires and now coronavirus. One ABC journalist said "2020 is the year that God forgot." It’s not true, but it can feel like it. It’s like we woke up in an apocalyptic movie. Panic buying, lockdowns, shutdowns, boarder control, travel restrictions, and empty streets.
Think back to November when we had Hong Kong protests, Brexit battles, Kim Jong-un firing missiles, the Roosters won 2nd straight grand final and it wasn’t so bad!
By January we prayed for relief from drought and fires and those prayers were answered, the rains came down and the fires went out. Dams were full, the air was clean and life was good.
We then heard of this new virus in Wuhan province in China, it strangely sounded like a beer, but this was not the first time for the Coronavirus, it gave birth to SARS in 2004 when it spread to 24 countries resulting in 774 deaths.
This new version is called COVID-19 and most of us assumed it was serious but manageable. Then in a short time it became a pandemic and spread to 185 countries with over 14,000 deaths as at today (March 23, 2020).
The focus then became more and more local and the restrictions rapidly ramped up, we went from no touching and washing hands and keeping our distance to self-isolation, Quarantine, border control and shut downs. Some felt this was an overreaction and others thought it was a conspiracy by whoever for whatever reason. We were told that the World economy would nose dive and it has. Someone suggested we preach through Leviticus with is strong distinction of clean and unclean.
Friends we are living in a bizarro world! Panic set in with fights over toilet paper, hostile comments on social media over school closures, anxiety felt for loved ones who are old or sick, uncertainty over job losses and mental health for those self-isolating. There is no place on earth to escape. There is no economy untouched, there is no population that is safe and there is no quick solution.
I like quick solutions! If it went for a month, no problem; a dose of Netflix, a few good books to read and more time with the family, but the government speaks in terms of 6 to18 months.
We know that with self-isolation will come increased levels of anxiety and depression, a rise of domestic violence and the increase of addictive behavior like drugs, alcohol, online gambling, pornography and overeating.
I may be an optimist but I too have been caught off guard. I too am worried and concerned for my family, my MBM family, Australia and the world. Oh yes I'm 60 in May. I'm also grieving for not being with God's people, not gathering around his word, encouraging each other and praising his name, the more we gorge ourselves on Corona news the more anxious we get.
So, we need to press the pause button and think God thoughts.
Why is this happening? What should be our response? Some say it is a judgment of God on the world because of gay marriage and abortion and a discipline on God's people who stopped being regular at church. Friends we just have no specific word from the Lord for why this has happened.
So, we go to God word and speak of what we do know.
1. Creation is groaning
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time ~ Romans 8:22 (NIV)
Creation is groaning and it is not just some of it. The whole of nature has been groaning right up to now. It’s not just creation in the 21th century where oil tankers are leaking poison on the barrier reef. Just as Israel groaned under slavery in Egypt looking for freedom.
The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. ~Romans 8:21 (NIV)
It is enslaved to decay, every cell, every tree, every animal cries out for freedom. The universe is locked in the neverending cycle of Decline, Death, Decay and Decomposition.
We must locate this pandemic in what God says about creation generally. We live after the fall of Adam and outside the garden, we live in a broken world, it’s not just seen in floods and fires or in lions eating lambs but with bacteria and virus wreaking havoc.
Remember this is not new, here are 3 examples of many:
Creation enslaved to death and decay and it wont stop until Jesus returns and with it the resurrection of Gods children. We will spear head a new creation where there is no more crying or grief or pain. I also don’t think COVID-19 is telling us that Jesus is coming back in two weeks but it is to make us hungry for his return. It’s why the bible ends Marantha. Come Lord Jesus. We are to live as if Jesus were coming in the next 5 minutes, we are to plan like he will return in 1000yrs. One thing we do know is that with each day we are one day closer.
2. In the mean time we push back on effects of the fall.
We relieve suffering, we combat disease. As those made in Gods image to rule the world, we seek to understand how viruses work and how they spread, we earnestly pray that scientists will find a vaccination to the virus. We listen to medical directives and stop thinking, because I believe in Jesus I have some force field protecting me from this virus. If that were the case then don’t take out insurance, don’t lock your house or wear a seat belt. But that is not the case because creation is groaning and so are you.
Pray earnestly, live wisely, follow medical directives, relax it’s not a conspiracy! Although those rednecks storing food for a crisis are ahead of the game.
3. Be thankful for a long season of health in Australia
We must pause and give thanks that we have not lived in a world of pandemics, although a family friend, Dorothy, who is 104. When people say “we have not seen a pandemic like this in our life time.” She says wait a minute, “I was alive in 1918 during the Spanish flu” That was 102 years ago.
Be thankful for God's common grace in having the world leaders work together on this pandemic and for those medics who daily risk their lives.
4. We rightly grieve but not without hope
You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. ~1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)
That is true whether we face death or unemployment. It’s right to feel the grief of losing a job, burying a grandparent, being forced to move house or a business going bankrupt. Christians grieve! We feel pain and we don’t deny pain, that is Buddhism.
We see Jesus weeping when he saw Mary and Martha crying because their brother had died. This is a very, very serious matter and its only just begun but we don’t grieve as ones without hope.
Take time to mediate on gospel truths.
One clue we have turned a good thing into an idol? It’s how we respond when we lose possession, freedom, health. Are we grieving or are we devastated. If devastated then recalibrate your heart and set your mind on the things above.
5. God has the world's attention.
When I was battling anxiety over the last 3 years I came to realize that it’s a gift from God to get my attention and turn to him in prayer. Our prayer in this season is that the world will be moved to ask big questions. They will realize we cannot keep ourselves alive. Humanity has been humbled by one mutant virus.
We had over 55 non Christians attending the Explaining Christianity course in Term 1. In the most recent course, 5 people accepted Christ and 11 want to be followed up. Pray that God will convince people that they need a savior. Pray that the gospel will spread faster than COVID-19.
Brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. ~2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV)
Don’t waste this pandemic! Let's encourage those in our household who don’t yet know Jesus to watch MBM online next Sunday with us.
6. Don’t surrender to your anxiety
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
The opposite to anxiety is, not so much, not anxiety but prayer. We can’t directly stop worrying. No button to press! But we can cast our cares before our Father in heaven. Why? because he cares for you. This is what glorifies God, don’t waste your panic, turn it into prayer. And Remember you are just a 3 year old kid whose Dad happens to be Sovereign creator of the universe. Your older brother is none other than Jesus – Lord of glory, who upholds the universe by the power of his word.
It's going to be OK! Don’t be anxious because your Father knows your needs before you ask. Jesus is clear, if our Father takes care of the birds of the air will he not take care of you. Are you not much more valuable than those birds? He has your back! It's going to be ok. And as Jesus reminds us, being anxious has a 100% failure rate. Jesus said, “You can’t add 1 day to your life by worry.” The only thing anxiety produces is ulcers and heart burn, its critical you meditate on this.
7. God is in total control and he is good
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? ~Lamentations 3:37-38 (NIV)
You can’t pick and choose where God is soverign. Not one Sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the will of my Father. No virus will mutate and spread apart from our Fathers directive, that is why we pray for a cure, He is in charge. That is why we don’t panic, He is in control. That is why we don’t despair, He is our dad. That is why..
8. We receive suffering as discipline not as rejection
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father… but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. ~Hebrews 10:7,11 (NIV)
For every believer, COVID 19, is a discipline form the Lord, not a punishment. When hardship comes we rightly ask
This is not the reason for COVID-19 but it tells us how we are to respond to COVID 19. But for every Christian, our Fathers discipline is to help us be more like Jesus.
Whether we come out of this looking more or less like Christ, that is our decision.
9. Glorify God by Loving others
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. ~Galatians 6:10 (NIV)
In the early centuries of the church when plagues wiped out villages and towns, many left their sick families behind… beginning with the doctors. Often Christians stayed behind and took care of the sick, not just their own but others.
The pagan Emperor Julian was exasperated at Christian kindness as it made pagans look bad. "It is disgraceful that, when... the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us."
It was one of the reasons why Christianity spread. The Christians were prepared to die with the plague because they had the hope of the resurrection. They refused to be intimidated by death, since they were forgiven, they lived without fear, they were free to love others.
The days before us are going to be very hard, have no doubt. This is not going away in a hurry. Let's look back on this time as our best days of MBM, where we took care of not only ourselves, but others, inside and outside the church. Let's not postpone living a life that glorifies God. Don’t waste this pandemic.
As one brother at MBM said, “I got too comfortable, bored with the ordinary Christian life. I needed a wake up. COVID-19 was that wake up call, so I called my extended family to see if they needed anything, I then called you to see if anyone at church needed anything.”
Let us know if you need help?
Let us know if you can offer help?
This battle has only just begun!
But if God is for us who can be against us!