OPPOSITE DAY

While I was having my quiet time this morning, a memory from years ago popped into my mind.  It was the memory of Opposite Day, a day my children would designate as a day when nothing was as it was expected.  A no-means-yes-and-yes-means-no day.  And that part of the day alone could trip up a conscientious mother into giving consent to something unintended.  Opposite Day might mean pajamas for day wear and pancakes for dinner.  It was a day to wear your shoes on the wrong feet.  On Opposite Day the only thing you could expect was the unexpected.  At this point you might be scratching your head and wondering why I would think about these things during my quiet time.  The simple explanation is that sometimes my mind is like a runaway train!  But I think I can offer a better explanation of how I got here.

A few days ago I was listening to evangelist Lance Wallnau speak about the trials we are enduring in 2020.  (Disclaimer: I really don’t know much about Wallnau or his theology but I thought this particular message was powerful.)  The year is not even half over, and already we have had a plague of biblical proportions, a global shutdown, economic free-fall, chaos on our streets, and the threat of flying creatures called murder hornets.  And now we have a tropical storm/hurricane bearing down on the gulf coast.  It makes me wonder how people could simultaneously quarantine and evacuate.  One particular point Wallnau made reached out and grabbed me, and has stayed with me.  He was speaking about the church coming out of quarantine when he said, “What if out of containment comes enlargement?” 

Those words eloquently expressed some thoughts I have been having on my own.  What if God has allowed us as believers to go through this time of isolation to prepare us for something big He is going to do?  That idea seems to me to be consistent with what I know about God.  He does the unexpected.  He acts in ways that are contrary to the ways we would expect because his ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).  A primary example of this would be in the way Jesus came to earth.  People expected a conquering king, but instead God sent a helpless baby born into humble circumstances.  

So what if God is preparing His church for something new, something big?  What if out of this time of isolation we experience a unity and togetherness like the early church described in Acts.  What if out of these economic hardships we discover riches we have taken for granted?  What if out of confusion comes understanding, out of pain comes rebirth, out of lockdown comes opportunity, and out of a time of quiet comes a Great Awakening?  What if the church becomes THE CHURCH?!  What if we see a new fulfillment of this promise from Isaiah 43:19:

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Wallnau went on to issue these exhortations for believers during this time: we must seek His face, hear His voice, understand His will, and be his witnesses.  I don’t think I could say it any better.  This is our time.  Prepare to see God do something new.

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?  

Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.