The breathtaking swiftness with which this virus pandemic has gripped us all is incredible. On February 20th (a short five weeks ago) our staff lead team had an all day retreat. One aspect of that day was conducting a SWOT analysis for our church – identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for Lakeside. The word “virus” was not identified as a potential threat. In fact, the word “virus” was not uttered all day long. Now, every single thing on the whiteboard in that staff retreat is GONE. When I assembled on Monday, March 15th with that same group, everything on that same whiteboard came under the heading “What do we need to do RIGHT NOW?” Everything had changed in a matter of days – for everyone.
The last two weeks have been heavy as I have been doing everything in my power to lead my team at Lakeside and take care of the church I am called to shepherd. In addition, I have been contacted by some fellow pastors – some seeking advice, some needing encouragement, etc. Many of us have pastored during war, financial crises, and natural disasters. None of us have ever pastored during a pandemic. Now, I am (mostly) working from home and my days are filled with study, prayer, ZOOM meetings, email, phone calls, and text messages. I jokingly say that one of the highlights of each day is now watching the daily press briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force! As I was having my Bible reading and prayer time first thing this morning, I realized that things had finally settled down to the point that my mind and heart were beginning to process this situation. Here is where my mind went today…
1. The Lord is sovereign. This situation surprised us, but it did not surprise Him. This world, everyone in it, and everything in it is in His hand….
“The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1–2, NASB95)
I thought of this verse as I prayed this morning. If I did not believe this with all my heart, then I could never preach again.
2. We don’t know “why?” Answers fail us. This pandemic falls in the category of things we do not understand “why” God allows. Every year there are horrendous natural disasters, horrific accidents and the like. We can come at it from the Biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world, a world broken and marred by sin that is longing to be redeemed. That Biblical truth explains in big picture terms why disasters and disease happen in our world. However, they do not explain why one person lives and one person dies. Or one person loses their home and another person does not.
3. When struggling with #2, see #1. We can trust that our sovereign Lord is at work for our good and His glory – even in the situations that we do not understand.
4. It is jarring for Americans to realize we are not sovereign. In an affluent country like America, are accustomed to at least FEELING like we are in control. We live in the richest country in the world, with the greatest military in the world, with the greatest healthcare in the world, with the greatest technology in the world, with the greatest sports in the world, with the most opportunities in the world. In the space of a few short days, all of that has been brought to a grinding halt by an invisible virus that didn’t exist when we celebrated Thanksgiving back in November.
5. With all of the things we don’t know, let’s focus on the One we do know. We don’t know when the virus will subside. We don’t know when life will return to “normal.” We don’t know how badly and for how long the economy will suffer. We don’t know when we will be able to gather for worship again. However, we DO know that the LORD IS FAITHFUL and we DO know that NOTHING WILL EVER SEPARATE US FROM HIS LOVE.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39, NASB95)