Obstacles or Opportunities

The world is changing. Every day things are being forced to adapt to the changing circumstances all around us. School plans have changed, along with work plans, Church schedules, and family time. Everything is changing, and we have very little control.

We have two choices in the days that lie ahead. We can see all these changes as obstacles that will keep us from accomplishing our hopes and dreams. We could also see them as opportunities to achieve things in unexpected ways.

You could see this as being trapped at home with your family or a chance to reconnect with your spouse and your children.

You could see this as a time where children will not receive the needed education they require, or an opportunity to get involved in their education in a new and exciting way.

You could see this time as a financial setback or possibly as a time to develop a budget that focuses on your priorities.

You could see this time as missing worship every week, or you could take each week to worship as a family and be the spiritual leader you have always dreamed you would be.

You can see this time as missing the Holy Week and Easter with your Church, or this could be a chance for you to share a sermon online with a person who would never walk into a Church building.

We are all experiencing the same struggles as spouses, parents, and believers. The difference is that some people will use this time as an opportunity for good to grow. Others will only see obstacles and miss the chances God is giving to us. The choice of which type of person you will be is strictly up to you.

We Know How the Story Ends

The idea of seven years of famine seems unfathomable. Yet, that is what happened in Egypt. Pharaoh had a dream that was interpreted by Joseph. There were then seven years of plenty. (I like that part of the story) followed by seven years of famine. That is not seven weeks or months; instead, it is years.

The lack of food and water was forcing people to take extreme measures. They were selling their livestock and farms. People were giving up everything to survive, and through Joseph’s leadership during those years, there was enough food for everyone.

Joseph’s brothers came down to Egypt because they heard there was food there. Little did they know that the man handing it out was their brother that they had sold into slavery years before as a teenager. They were shocked when he finally revealed himself, and they were also fearful for their lives. In the final chapter of the book of Genesis, their father has died, and the brothers are still afraid, and Joseph says something that rings through the ages. He declares, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 – NIV 2011)”

His words offer us an interesting perspective on the whole experience. The unfolding of a lifetime is summarized in his one statement. With the vantage point of time, Joseph can now see the hand of God working through all of the bad experiences to bring a positive outcome. The end of the story is that God is working to accomplish his good work for humanity, even in the dark nights of pain and confusion.

Life right now seems to be full of struggles. There are weeks of isolation, disruption of routine, financial setbacks, job layoffs, and the threat of sickness. The good news for today is that we have the same God in charge as in the days of Joseph. Different struggles, but with the same God, it doesn’t matter. We know how the story will end.

The Fight Against Loneliness

If you have ever seen the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, then you know the need we all have for connection. Even on a tiny deserted island, he creates Wilson from a volleyball so that he has someone to talk to each day. God, in the opening chapters of Genesis, says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created with this desire for interaction with other people.

With that said, the current situation calls for us to remain home in quarantine as much as possible. To keep the virus from spreading, we are being called to isolation rather than connection. The result is that people are getting lonely.

I have seen the effects of this every day for the last two weeks. I have started working at home because someone would see I was at the Church building and want to stop and talk. The hours quickly melted away, and I could get no other work done. Recently I have been spending hours on the phone because every five-minute conversation has turned into a thirty-minute one. The number of texts to my phone has now more than quadrupled. Don’t take this as me complaining, as I am just stating the facts. People are longing for connection.

Let me give you three simple ideas to fight loneliness.

  1. Take time to PRAY for other people. This will get you out of your head and force you to think about other people.
  2. Use a piece of PAPER and a PEN. Take out an old-fashioned paper and pen and write a letter or card. Texts are easy. Emails are a little better. If you sit down and take the time to write to someone, you will be more personal and more invested. When I receive a card or letter, it lets me know that this person put in time and effort.
  3. Reach out in PERSON. This doesn’t mean a visit right now, but the phone is always available. Personally, I have been calling my mom each day. As time wears on and we run out of the usual chit chat, I find we are starting to talk more about our thoughts and feelings. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you, take the initiative, and make the call.

I hope you are not feeling lonely, but we are looking at 30 more days of this “stay at home” order. It is bound to start having an impact on you emotionally. When it does, take the opportunity to use one of these tips listed above. Here is the exciting thing, as you search to cure your cabin fever, you will find that you are a blessing to someone else. Being isolated does not mean that we are alone.

When You Feel Like You Are Losing Control

Lately, it has seemed like I am losing control over everything.  My schedule is at the mercy of public officials and the decisions they make.  The choices of others are limiting my free time.  No more going to the movies, out to eat, casual shopping, or time with friends.  My money is being affected by stimulus decisions, the stock market, and the increased cost of everything.  My children’s lives have been thrown into chaos, and my wife and I are left to clean up the mess.  Even the Church I lead is having to cancel its Easter programs despite my best efforts.  Life is spinning out of control, and I have no way to slow it down. 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Each day brings a new set of changes and challenges.  None of these are things you would have planned, and you are definitely not prepared to happen.  What do you do when it feels like you have no control?

I supposed the most significant thing to do is realize you never had control from the beginning.  You only had the illusion that you were in charge and running the show.  God had allowed you the freedom to make decisions, but that did not give you complete and total control.  You were always at the mercy of the maker and sustainer of all things. 

One thing this virus should do for each person is to realize they have no control.  These current events have the power to drive us to God.  Just like a visit to the doctor can reveal our lack of control.  The same way a random accident reminds us, we have no control. Our lives right now are only showing what has always been true. We are in the hands of a merciful God who is working for his glory in all things. 

When you feel like you are losing control, you need to connect to the one who is running everything.  Only he can make sense of this time.  Only faith in him can give your life peace. Only our dependence on him will relieve our anxiety. 

The bad news is that you and I are not in control.   The good news is that one who is in control loves you and wants you to trust in him. Our faith in him will help us make sense of all of this one day.  

What This Pastor Is Doing During Quarantine

On one of my Facebook groups for pastors, another pastor posted this question, “What is everyone doing with their extra time?” My first reaction was the same as about ninety-five percent of the pastors, “What extra time?” Almost everyone agreed that they are working more now, since the shutdown, than before. Many of them began to detail their work so that people could see what was filling their time. I thought that might not be a bad idea for everyone to see. So this is how I am filling my time during this unusual season.

  1. Praying. I am trying to take extra time to pray for our Church, its leadership, and its members.
  2. Planning. With every setback, I not only have to cancel events, but some of them need to be rescheduled. Sermon series and lessons need to be adjusted for better timing. My plans for the fall are changing since we are losing much of the spring.
  3. Communication. The staff and leadership are trying to communicate through emails, Facebook, and the website. Each decision also comes with a series of phone calls and texts with people both before and after it is made.
  4. Personal Contact. In a typical week, I receive and handle about 50 texts in 7 days. Recently that number has increased to about 250. People are texting me, and we get going back and forth. I am contacting people and trying to stay connected to our Church. This has taken way more time than I imagine. Also, until this week, when I will be working at home, people have been stopping by the Church one by one and talking to me. People are lonely and need a break, so they have popped in, and I enjoy some time with them.
  5. Preaching. I am still spending the same amount of time planning, researching, and writing sermons. But now, I have added a couple of hours on Thursday night to record it.
  6. Podcast. Back in December, Hannah Newkirk and I were talking about podcasting. We decided to do it together since we both have very different perspectives on so many things. With people being asked to stay at home, we decided to keep doing this every week for people to have another tool to grow spiritually.
  7. Blog. I keep writing and working on this, but I have had to adjust my plans of regular posts to things that are more helpful during the virus.
  8. Family. My boys have been home while trying to figure out their next steps with college. Their classes have gone online, they have been shut out of dorms, and job situations have changed. I have tried to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see them. Also, I committed to calling my mother every day or at least every other day. She is 84 and at risk during this time and has not left the house in three weeks. I know she is lonely, and I love the conversations with her.
  9. Odd jobs. There are things to do like change the church sign, water plants, handle any trash, and a hundred little things that need to be done.
  10. Learning. Each day I am receiving about 50 emails telling me what other churches are doing during this time, offering ideas and resources to help, providing articles, and linking to podcasts to give me direction. No Pastor has been through anything like this, and we are all trying to help each other.

I want you to know that this has not been vacation time for most pastors. Instead, it is a time filled with uncertainty, learning, and work. My days are full, but my life is blessed. The first two weeks have flown by, and the month of April will be a blur. Pastors appreciate your prayers as we prepare for what will spiritually happen through this time. May God use it and me for his glory.

Weekend Reading

There are so many articles being written and posted lately that it is hard to keep up. Here are some of the best things I have read in the past two months. Many of them were written before the virus hit, but they are still very helpful. I hope you enjoy

How to ‘Disciple’ Your Kids into Church Dropout Status

10 guidelines for pastoral care during the corona virus outbreak

5 Tips for Improving the Way You Study the Bible

Is everything going to be okay?

How to Help Your Wife with Her Body Image

10 THINGS PASTORS SAY ONLY TO OTHER PASTORS

OkBoomer: 10 Signs Your Weekend Services Aren’t Designed for the Next Generation

*Don’t forget my new podcast with Hannah Newkirk at Farmhousefaith.org

Peace That Passes All Understanding

Paul, in one of his letters written while under house arrest, pens a powerful declaration of the human soul. He tells the believers in the city of Philippi,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 – NIV 2011)

Paul instructs us to rejoice, even in the middle of difficult circumstances, not once but twice. He tells us not to be anxious, instead to offer prayers to God with a thankful heart. And he says something that I think is beautiful. If you rejoice and pray, declaring your dependence on God, he will give you peace, “which transcends all understanding.”

Peace is easy enough to understand. It is the absence of conflict and the presence of calm and tranquility. Faith in Jesus as our Savior gives each believer a sense of peace. Then he adds a description that takes this idea to a new level. His peace will transcend or surpass all understanding. People who are not Christians will look at our lives in the middle of tumultuous situations and have no idea how we can remain calm.

The Church at Philippi might comprehend his words better than we do because of an incident that occurred there. While Paul and Silas were ministering in their community, they cast a demon out of a young girl who predicted the future. Her owners were furious and riled up the crowds. The result was that both were beaten with rods and thrown in jail. At midnight that sat in their stocks and “were praying and singing hymns to God.” (Acts 16:25)

Here are two men who follow Jesus, who had been beaten, their future uncertain, sitting in jail, and yet they were full of peace. It defies the imagination. How could someone be so calm in the middle of such pain, turmoil, and lack of control? They trusted God while rejoicing and praying.

Whenever life gets difficult in this world, one of the marks of a Christian is their ability to remain calm and filled with peace. My prayer is that today, wherever you find yourself, you would trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that he may fill yours hears with peace.