HOPE

Is there anything more hopeful than spring?  It is a chilly and rainy March morning here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  But as I look out my windows I see the promise of spring.  The backyard is filled with jonquils, budding trees, and a few irises waiting their turn.  Cardinals and robins are singing and chirping, announcing an end to the barrenness of winter.  In the front yard, our tulips and hyacinths are blooming amidst their bed of violas and pansies.  Some pink is beginning to pop out on our azalea bushes.  Spring is God’s promise to us that there is life after death, that the cold and barrenness of winter will not last forever.  Spring must follow winter.  The poet Pablo Neruda says, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the Spring from coming.”  

From a Christian perspective spring speaks of the resurrection, of new birth, of life.  We celebrate Christmas in the winter, when everything is dead.  It is a picture of Christ bringing light and hope to a dark and fallen world.  And we celebrate Easter in the spring, a visual reminder of the promise of Jesus: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (John 11:25b).”  Spring brings us hope.  

But in order for there to be a resurrection there must first be a death.  For years I have been praying for another Great Awakening, a revival to sweep across America.  I am wondering if this pandemic is it.  Since we are all social distancing, I don’t have a lot of data to support this thought.  We are even having church on line, so I can’t look around and see if we are more crowded than usual.  But if my social media pages are any indication, I would say that people are praying much more, and they are inviting others to join them.  We are all asking God to rid the world of this terrible virus, to save us.  Isn’t it interesting that all our idols are being repudiated, just like the gods of Egypt in Exodus?  The gods of entertainment, sports, careers, and the big god of Wall Street are all helpless in the face of this virus.  Our hope cannot lie in a something it must lie in a someone.  The only “god” that can save us is the capital G God of the Bible, God Almighty. And we are crying out to Him for help.

But there are two parts to a Great Awakening: a turning to God and a turning away from sin.  We are so accustomed to the stench of sin we don’t even smell it any more.  I have found that the more I pray, two things happen.  I get to know God better, but I also get to know myself better.  When I am in the presence of a holy God, I am aware of my own sinfulness, my absolute neediness.  I see myself more clearly.  I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of the Lord, “high and lifted up (Isaiah 6: 1).”  Isaiah was overwhelmed by his own unworthiness.  “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: (v. 5)”

Where is the hope?  Our hope is eternal and alive.  It lies in the power of a good God to keep His promises. 

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14

Even though we are in the midst of a great and unprecedented challenge, spring is a reminder that God is still on His throne.  He offers hope.  How will we respond?  

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

I woke up this morning trying to remember how many days we have been dealing with this coronavirus.  I know it has been in the world for months, but how many days have we been dealing with it on a personal level.  How many days has it interrupted our normal routine, affected our decisions, and generally inconvenienced us?  I don’t think it has been very long—maybe just days—but I am losing track of time.  We wake up every day in bizarro world, the twilight zone, dystopia.  It is hard to believe that the world has become so utterly shaken in such a short time.

I am a slow learner.  Oh I can quickly memorize useless facts and figures, but life lessons are more difficult to get through this stubborn will of mine.  But in my later, more mature years I have realized that when the Lord allows me to be stilled, sometimes flattened, He has something valuable to teach me, something to share with me, or some instruction for me.  And now he has used this time of isolation to still me 

For example, He is reminding me of the difference between wants and needs.  I do not need 40 cases of toilet paper!  I don’t even need most of the things on my list.  As Jerry and I were praying this morning, I had to thank God for supplying everything we need today.  Everything we need and then some.  It really is not a hardship to be asked to stay at home in a comfortable house with plenty of things to occupy my time and thoughts.  I know we will get through this because I know my God.  We might not get through it in the way I imagine, but we will get through it in a way that will be for our good and His glory.  C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain.  He may be shouting to His church.

I believe God has a bigger purpose for me than stockpiling groceries or watching Netflix in this moment.  A bigger purpose for all of us.  For months and months God has been teaching me about prayer.  Church, I believe it is time to ramp up our prayers, to pray with fervor and intensity.  For years I have been asking God to send another Great Awakening and I believe we could be on the threshold of such a revival.  God invites us to partner with Him in prayer.  Sometimes we think that prayer is such a small thing.  We think there should be other more important things we should do.  But prayer is the thing!  There is no activity more important.

God has ordained all our days.  He knew when we would be born, and He knew all about this coronavirus.  Maybe we were placed here at this moment “for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)!”  This may be our commission for these days of isolation.  

I keep silently singing the words of the old B. B. McKinney hymn, Lord Send a Great Revival. And I pray, Lord send a great revival, and let it begin with me.

Who Do You Trust?

It is very early in the morning, still dark outside.  I am reflecting over the last week.  What a week this has been!  A roller coaster!  A deluge of strange events, dystopian sights, and new words.  Coronavirus.  How it has changed our lives in a week.  People getting sick and people afraid of getting sick.  People trapped on cruise ships.  No one at Saint Peter’s Square or the Eiffel Tower.  Times Square practically empty on a Friday night.  Events cancelled.  No sports!  Store shelves empty and people afraid of running out of toilet paper when there is not even a real toilet paper emergency.  The stock market!  People watching their 401Ks plummet in a downhill slide so rapid it almost gives one whiplash.  And then, after the President speaks in the Rose Garden a 1000-point gain.  What will next week bring?  And the new words and phrases that have become a part of our vocabulary: self-quarantine, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene.  Who knew we needed lessons on how to wash our hands?  Universities sending their students home or putting all classes online.  People working from home.  And churches cancelling services.  Listen, when Disney and Apple stores shut down and Tom Hanks gets sick we know we are in trouble!

In the midst of this wild week, we are dealing with our own personal changes…just like everyone else.  My mother-in-law, Jerry’s 98-year old mom is declining and we need to make some changes for her.  Hopefully she will still be able to live at home, but she is falling frequently and her cognition is not what it has always been.  We spent a few days in Dallas with her…Jerry going to her doctor with her and me researching resources to help her.  I also got a chance to visit with my 94-year old mother the day before nursing homes went on lockdown.  “Lockdown.”  There is another word.

I’m listening to how my daughters and my friends have been affected.  We all have a story.  Everything is changing and the future is so uncertain.  I remember a television show in the 50s that gave a young Johnny Carson his start.  It was called Who Do You Trust?  So this morning in my very early Saturday morning quiet time, God reminds me that I can really only trust Him.  He never changes.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Hebrews 13:8  

Thank you, Lord.  Furthermore, He saw this week coming and He has it under control.  We plan and prepare and think we have our futures all laid out and then something happens to remind us that control is just an illusion.  The stock market can never really provide security.  Our aging loved ones are going to leave us some day.  And some day, other people will be making decisions about us.  In spite of all our preparations, someday our own health will fail.  We will die.  

Where is my bottom line, my investment with a floor, my safety net?  I can plan and prepare (and we should!) but the world can change in an instant.  I keep thinking of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.  

Eventually I will lose all my chariots and horses.  They cannot protect me from every eventuality.  But God.  God remains.  He is constant.  And He loves and cares for me.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  Isaiah 40: 28b 

I think I’ll go have another cup of coffee.