The days have crept by so slowly during this time of COVID-19 isolation. I'm grateful that I've gotten several important projects done. I've found to my dismay that some tasks I thought I'd put off because I was "too busy," I had actually not done simply because I don't want to do them. Now I'm really tired of social distancing. I'm ready to get on with the business of living. I want to see friends. I want to hug my children, and cuddle my greatgrandbabies.
I am embarrassed to complain, because I have not suffered. For many of you, this has been a nightmare season of lost income and deprivation. I am so sorry. I pray that God will give you comfort and meet your every need.
In this time I have learned a surprising lesson. I'd been feeling like these weeks of enforced loneliness have been wasted time. But Henri Nouwen says, "My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work."
Some of you have taken wonderful advantage this time. You've spent meaningful time with your children, listened to their dreams, ignited their curiosity. Some of you have enjoyed fresh conversations with your spouse, worked on projects around the house, dreamed new dreams.
But some have scrambled to find ways to fill the boring hours. A friend joked, "If social distancing doesn't end soon, my marriage will. Since George hasn't had his usual TV sports, he's been awful. Why, the other night he actually watched all four hours of Gone with the Wind!"
C. S. Lewis says, "The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's ‘own' or ‘real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life-the life God is sending one day by day."
I'm sorry it has taken me so long to realize this. This morning's Scripture was so convicting and challenging:
So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. . . .
Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
The years in which we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:12-17
So when I'm up to my elbows in doughy flour making biscuits, and the phone rings, instead of groaning at the interruption, I hope I can say, "This is not an interruption. It's an opportunity from God!"
No One Else Can Help Us
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
You've noticed, I hope, that I don't talk politics in our conversations together. So will you please not think I'm choosing sides about politics when I tell you I'm bewildered by a certain state governor's public remarks?
On March 2 he said, about the corona virus, "The risk to New York remains low."
On March 17, he said, "I have no plans to quarantine any city."
On March 23, he slammed Congress's relief package for the state as "terrible." After all, it was for only 5.1 billion dollars! "That's nowhere close to what we need," he said.
On April 16, he said, "God had nothing to do with the dropping of the number of Covid-19 cases in New York. The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that. . . It's math."
Math? Congress? The governor? Or God, in His mercy?
The governor's brother, who is a CNN host, was sickened by the virus. He said, "The beast comes at night . . .I'm petrified. . . .I'm shaken to our literal core." He expressed hope that his family wouldn't get it. His wife said, "You wake up and pray you don't have it that day." But two days later, she was suffering from the virus, too.
My family, like yours, has been deeply affected by the pandemic. We are grateful for the effort Congress has made to alleviate the pain. But at some point, of course, government help must end. The only money the government has is what they get from us. We are driven to acknowledge that God is in control in this unprecedented situation, and it is only He who can take care of us. Thank God, He is willing to do so.
Psalm 145 says:
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works. . . .
The LORD is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
This is the promise of the One True God, our Creator, who created us so He could give us the treasures of Heaven. He is a righteous God, but gracious and merciful to us even when we are ungrateful and boastful. Oh, may we turn our hearts to Him in our great need!
And may God be with you, protect you, provide for your every need. May you experience His grace and mercy in this time of terrifying uncertainty.
Thinking about Jesus' Resurrection with Elizabeth Handford
The church was already full of people when a man and his wife hesitantly came in the back door. Walt and I were sitting at the far back of the auditorium, underneath the balcony, on the very last row. They chose the pew just in front of us and sat down, nervously looking around. We were there for an Easter pageant. The couple looked so uneasy, I thought they were probably visitors, as were Walt and I. Both were deeply tanned, as if they'd spent a lifetime hoeing in our Carolina red clay fields.
But when the music started, they forgot to be self-conscious. They were immersed in the beautiful pageantry and music of the Easter story. They saw the crowds gladly welcome Jesus, riding on a donkey's colt. They saw the bitter opposition of the Pharisees, the children's ecstatic praises, the disciples bewildered responses, and the women who'd followed Jesus from Galilee worshiping Him.
Then came that last meal in the upper room with Jesus' disciples on Passover evening. They heard the sad warning of their Lord that one of them would betray Him, and each asked, in fear, if he were the one, and vowing his loyalty. Then Jesus identified Judas, who leaped to his feet, singing a song of terrible threats. He grabbed his bag of 30 paltry silver coins, flung himself off the stage, and ran down the aisle toward the rear of the auditorium. He happened to pass by us, not ten feet away, as he sang his defiant song against the Lord Jesus.
The man in front of us could contain himself no longer. He jumped to his feet, shook his fist, and yelled at Judas, "You're agonna get it, old Judas, you're agonna get it! Just you wait and see!"
Embarrassed, his wife pulled him back to his seat. The familiar scenes continued to unfold: the garden of Gethsemane, the trial before Pilate, the agony of the crucifixion, the burial in the tomb, the posting of the guards, and the seeming death of all dreams. Muffled sobs in the darkness were all that could be heard.
But subtly the tempo and volume of the orchestra music increased, the darkness lightened, the stone miraculously rolled back by itself, and in sharp, unbearable light, the risen Jesus stepped out of the tomb. And the choir sang, "Hallelujah! Amen!"
And again, the dear man sitting in front of us could not hold in his emotion. He leaped to his feet, shook his fist and yelled, "I told you so! I told you so!"
First Corinthians 15:3,4 asserts that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
That chapter ends with: "When this happens-when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die-then at last the Scriptures will come true: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
Jesus said He would die for our sins and that He would rise again to give us eternal life. He died, and He arose from the dead just as He promised. It makes me want to yell with my friend, "I told you so!"
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, thank God that we have a Savior who was crucified and who rose from the grave to redeem us and give us eternal life. Because of this glorious truth, we can live with hope and joy, and rest in His love and grace.
Our friend at the Easter pageant yelled "I told you so!" And I think it sounded in God's ears as sweet and holy as the hallelujahs the pageant choir sang that night.
To What Purpose Was Christ's Suffering?
A Word of Hope from Elizabeth Handhold
Because of COVED-19, our church services were cancelled Palm Sunday. Someone in our neighborhood suggested we celebrate by putting leafy branches on our houses. So I did that, sort of. I had no palm trees handy, so I used artificial Boston ferns!
But what I wished I could do was join that throng of people who greeted the Lord Jesus on that first Palm Sunday. I wish I could have seen Him riding on that untamed donkey. (A miracle in itself, I think, remembering how Mother's pet donkey Josephine regularly tossed unwary riders over her head into the mud.) I would have loved to sing with that crowd, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." (The story is told in all four Gospel; see Matthew 21:9.)
"Hosanna!" they cried. "Please save us! He comes in the name of God Himself!" You'd think they understood who Jesus was. But the Gospels
record that only five days later, that same crowd yelled, "Crucify Him!" They were supposed love Him and trust Him for eternal life, not kill Him. That isn't the way this story was supposed to end.
A Jewish rabbi says the Hebrew word "lema" means "why"? He says a better question to ask is not "why?" but "lima," "to what purpose?"
The "why" Jesus died is because the religious leaders wanted to protect their privileged position. They cared nothing for the eternal welfare of the souls they were entrusted with. The "why" is because the governor, Pilate, was terrified of a riot. The "why" is because Judas sold Him for pennies.
But the answer to the question "lima," "to what purpose?" is simple. Jesus died that terrible day because He purposed to rescue all of the people He'd created with such joy, to redeem them from their sins, and to give them life with Him in Heaven forever.
I find this especially poignant because Jesus, after He had suffered all day long without a murmur and in terrible pain, cried out, "Elci, Elci, lima sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34) Why, oh Father, why? Why have You turned Your back on Me?"
He'd endured without a murmur the beating by the Roman soldiers. He's suffered the abandonment of His disciples. He'd called "friend" the man who betrayed Him with a kiss. But when His Father/God turned away from Him, as He bore our filthy, unforgivable sins, that was unbearable. God shunned God. After an eternity of Oneness, that day quivering, living love was torn asunder. God was forsaken by God.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5
Thank God, the crucifixion story doesn't end there. Let's talk about that, next time.