Back in October I hurt my knee. Yes, I probably deserved it, playing ultimate frisbee with a bunch of 20 year olds on the beach at our daughter’s pre-wedding party. I thought I could shake it off but after several months of pain I had to get an x-ray. Unfortunately it was inconclusive so an MRI was called for. The MRI revealed two things: one, I have a minor tear in the meniscus of my right knee, and, two, I have irrational and almost overwhelming anxiety about MRI machines. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but I admit it… my heart pounds, my hands sweat, and about the only thing I can think about when I’m strapped into one of those clanging monsters is bolting out of the room screaming my head off!
Pain and even fear are gifts from God to alert us to the fact that there is something wrong. One of our members shared this with me in an email: “Fear is an interesting thing. It is natural and normal in its original function. It causes a fight or flight response that removes us from dangerous situations. However, there is another kind of fear that is not normal. It is supernatural in nature; it lies to us and paints diabolical pictures in our imaginations to torment, paralyze, and isolate us from God and His truth, people, and reality.” (I’ll tell you more about her story this Sunday in our services.)
What do our fears about health, our economy, and the state of our world reveal about the condition of our souls? What concerns are rational and reasonable and which ones demonstrate a lack of faith? How can we navigate this worldwide pandemic in such a way that we allow and even invite God to speak into the deepest recesses of our hearts? In Matthew 6:25, 27 Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” These powerful questions from Jesus not only reveal the irrational thoughts that sometimes consume us, but also the faithless foundations on which we foolishly depend. They point us to the rock solid character and love of God as the only sure source of real life, peace, and hope.
These words from our Savior have taken Christians through 2000 years of drought, famine, persecution, world wide wars, and yes, even global pandemics. For instance, from the 14th century onward, the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, ravaged Europe. In just five years it wiped out as much as half the population. Outbreaks continued recurring in the following centuries. When it reached Wittenburg in 1527 Martin Luther was ordered to leave but refused. Along with his pregnant wife Katharina, they opened their house as a ward for the sick. Without knowledge of germs or methods of disease transmission he gave advice remarkably similar to the CDC’s guidelines today. Demonstrating great faith AND wise precaution, Luther wrote a pamphlet to fellow pastors,
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
There is no doubt we can listen and learn from God in any situation. But times of testing provide especially powerful opportunities for examination, repentance, and healing. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sister, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That is why we are inviting everyone to join our “Joel Moment” prayer and fasting on Wednesday. Darren and I will tell you more about this on Sunday, too. I hope you’ll join us and over 30 other Bay Area churches as we seek God and willingly submit ourselves to His loving diagnosis.
A couple of weeks ago I talked to my doctor about my knee. Part of me had hoped for a quick surgery and quicker recovery. What he told me was that I needed to stretch and strengthen my knee and he suspects it will be a long-term process. We’re all praying for this crisis to end quickly. At the same time, let’s not waste the unique opportunity to cooperate with God’s work in our souls.
Leaning on the everlasting arms,
P.S. I hope you will join us for Good Friday service at 7 PM and for Easter at 9:00 and 10:45 am!
P.P.S. Thanks for helping us straighten out our email lists. Please be patient if you get something more than once!