The CoronaVirus: What the Enemy Meant for Evil

Corona Eclipse

   Whatever else you think about the Coronavirus pandemic, we can all agree on one thing: It’s unprecedented in our lifetimes. Never before, even during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, has society virtually shut down. So… what does it all mean? There must be meaning somewhere, right? For Christians, yes. We worship a God who is in control, and we know that he uses all things for his purposes—all things.

Now please understand: I’m NOT saying God caused this virus; what I am saying is that he can use it.

   There’s an often-quoted truth among Christians: “What the enemy means for evil, God uses for good.” The thing is—we drive ourselves silly trying to figure out what good can possibly come from some hard circumstances. And while I don’t claim to know that, I do know one thing: When God is moving in our lives, he often does it in some very unusual ways.

God Does the UNEXPECTED.

   True story. God will sometimes (often?) use unexpected circumstances or people to do those things that he wants to accomplish in our lives. The bottom line is this: We don’t naturally expect good things to happen as a result of bad things. Why? Because in the natural realm, things don’t work that way.

   But God doesn’t do things the natural way.

   God has his own way of doing things. Let’s rehash a few painful circumstances that he had in mind, from the beginning, for good. 

Slavery.

   Joseph was sold into slavery and that can’t be good. But what happened? He became second in command of Egypt to provide for God’s people during an historic famine. But why did there have to be a famine? So that Jacob and his family would come to Egypt. But why did they have to come to Egypt? Because they were unprotected. Since Jacob’s family wasn’t big enough to withstand attacks and assimilation by other nations, they needed to be under the protection of a superpower. That would be Egypt. But why did they have to suffer slavery? If they hadn’t been slaves, the Egyptians would’ve wanted to intermarry with them and the Jewish race would, again, have been swallowed up by another culture. All of those things—the famine, the migration, the slavery—were painful circumstances, but when God finally led the Israelites out of Egypt, there were at least a million of them—strong enough to survive as a nation. The “tragedy” of Egypt was like an incubation period for the Jewish race. God wrought good from evil.

Crucifixion.

   Christ died a brutal and torturous death on a cross. And as Christians, we know now why he did it and how that worked out, but the people of his time didn’t know, didn’t understand, and they were heartbroken. But then they received the revelation that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” Jesus, they came to realize, was the Lamb of God—but they couldn’t see that at the time.

What painful thing might God be using right now to accomplish some greater purpose in your life—and you just can’t see it yet?

Coronavirus.

   So… what’s the good in this whole COVID-19 thing? People are sick and dying, after all, and many are out of work. Yes, that’s true and not to be dismissed, so can there be any good in this? Let’s consider:

  • People are spending more time with their families. Granted, they have to but, given what our culture has become, would that ever happen any other way?
  • People are being asked to consider what others might need, to care for others, and to begin to think in terms of “others first”. That wasn’t a big priority before this virus hit.
  • People are thinking more about God. Why? Because, perhaps for the first time, people are turning to him for protection and provision—and in this culture, many people have never had to do that before.
  • People have “alone time” and things are slowing down. If we learn to rest, to read—even the art of face-to-face communication, that can only be a good thing.
  • People are learning other things, too—to cook for example. My niece has started a FB page called Cooking from Home—check it out.
  • Parents are homeschooling their children. This means that many parents who have never been involved in their children’s education before are now immersed in it; they’re helping with homework, instilling discipline, and even doing the teaching. Bottom line: Kids are seeing that their parents value education.

   There’s much that we’ll never understand about how or why God chooses to do what he does but that’s where faith comes in. If we believe that God loves us, then we choose to believe that “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We may not see the good, we not understand the pain, but we believe there is purpose because we know that God is good.

   No matter what.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, What We Don’t See…

God We Trust   Last year, on June 28th, my son in California broke his finger playing football (boys!). The problem was the health insurance at his new job didn’t kick in until July 1st, 60 days after he was hired. Given that, he had one of two bad choices: either pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket at the Urgent Care or tough it out and wait two days to get treatment—which is where he was leaning.

   The thing is, I’d taken him off of my insurance the previous year after he moved to California and got his first job, which provided insurance. Or, at least I thought I did. Turns out I hadn’t removed him from my insurance after all—but I didn’t realize that. It seems he’d been on my insurance for a whole extra year. Of course, we decided there was no reason to take him off until July 1st when his own insurance became official, although the odds of him getting sick or having some unfortunate accident were very slim… But still—there was the football. And we’re not stupid.

   Enter the broken finger.

Coincidence?

   While some would say it was a lucky coincidence I’d forgotten to remove him from my health insurance, I’d say not. Moreover, the timing of the revelation of my mistake was no coincidence either: If I’d realized the error sooner when he still had coverage at his old job, I would’ve removed him. But if I’d never discovered it, he still would’ve paid for the Urgent Care since he wouldn’t have told them he had insurance—because he didn’t even know it. So what happened?

   God happened.

   Somehow—I don’t know how—Aaron remained on the insurance and his treatment was covered (which is a good thing because he might need surgery). But how many times, when we have absolutely zero idea, is God working invisibly behind the scenes to work out some situation or prevent some problem that isn’t even on our radar yet? Or that never even happens at all because he is working behind the scenes?

It’s Happened Before…

   Time after time, we see this scenario unfold in the Bible. Take, for example, the Old Testament story of Hannah who wanted so badly to have a child but couldn’t. Still, she never stopped praying for a son and, in her desperation, promised God that if he’d give her one, she’d dedicate the child to the Lord. As a result, she became pregnant with Samuel, raised him till he was weaned and then, when he was only three, took him to Jerusalem and left him with the priest Eli to raise. Three years old! I can’t even imagine the grief she suffered in fulfilling her vow.

   But—the story doesn’t end there. The Bible tells us that Eli’s sons, who were also priests, were very wicked. They took the best cuts of meat offered to God, “treating the Lord’s offerings with contempt,” and they seduced the young women assisting at the  Temple entrance. And Eli did nothing about it.

  Meanwhile, the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (I Sam. 2:26).

   Eventually, a prophet came to Eli with a word from the Lord that because of his sons’ sins and his own failure to correct or remove them, they would die on the same day. Furthermore, his family would never again serve as priests, and every member of his family would die a violent death before their time.

   The Bible says that in those days, the word of the Lord was rare and visions uncommon, but meanwhile, the boy Samuel was serving the Lord by assisting Eli” (3:1).

   “Meanwhile” indicates God’s silent work in Samuel behind the scenes to prepare a powerful prophet in the midst of an evil and godless culture. No one knew God was busy doing that but, for the first time in a very long time, a prophet was being raised up to bring the word of the Lord to a people who’d been in a spiritual drought for decades. In other words, when it looked like nothing was happening and God had abandoned his people, he was really quietly working the circumstances for their good.

The Prince of Egypt

   Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, is another example of God’s invisible hand. After being sold by his brothers, he ended up a slave in Potipher’s house where it looked as though he would spend the rest of his life in lonely servitude. But meanwhile, in the middle of that tragic situation, he was learning the Egyptian language, culture, politics, and the protocols of the Egyptian noble class—that is, until he was thrown into prison, accused of a crime he didn’t even commit. Once there, he was thrust into the midst of a dungeon full of Class A felons but what did he do? The same thing he’d done in Potipher’s house: operated in his administrative and leadership skills until he was eventually put in charge of all of those reprobate prisoners. And meanwhile, as he was busy organizing them, he was learning how the other half lived: the ways of the Egyptian commoners, their dialects, and their ideals as well as their problems and concerns—all things which were pretty handy to know once he was promoted to the second-in-command of all of Egypt

We Don’t Know It Until We Know It.

   The thing about the “meanwhiles” of life is that we don’t know they’re in motion behind the scenes until one day when suddenly something happens and it all becomes clear: God was always at work, even when we couldn’t see it.

   We never know…

   When it looks bleakest and it seems there’s nothing remotely on the horizon, what we don’t see is God all around us, doing what only he can do—working it all out. And he’s doing the same for you. Just believe.

   Your “meanwhile” is happening right now.

  

#God-Is-It-Really-You?

Exclamation symbol burning, fire

   How often have we thought maybe we’ve heard from God about moving in a particular direction but we’re just not really certain? Now that’s not really an issue if the question is what to have for dinner and you thought you heard “pulled pork”. However, if you’re minding your own business one day and you suddenly (think you) hear God say, “Go to Venezuela on a missions’ trip,” or “Open a café,” or “Give your vacation money to the single mom down the street,” then your response might be, “God is that really you??” And we probably should be asking that question. Even so, how do we really know whether we’re hearing from the Lord or there’s some other reason we might be thinking God is talking to us?

But is it okay to question God?

   You bet it’s okay—especially if the thing you feel perhaps God is directing you to do is at all risky.

Let me help you out: Most of the time, all God does is “risky.” In fact, much of what God directs us to do is downright impossible.

   So, we’d better make certain it really is him—especially since there isn’t much to eat in Venezuela these days, or there are already thirteen cafés in a two mile radius, or we’ve been looking forward to that vacation for a year. Or—and here’s the more probable truth—we just don’t want to.

   But, is the fact that we “don’t want to” an indicator that God really is speaking? Could be. Sometimes God has to speak to us to do the impossible because we’d never, in a million years, ever consider doing that thing on our own.

Testing God.

   Some people argue that questioning God is testing him and Jesus said not to do that. However, I don’t think God minds us questioning whether we’ve heard from him or not when he knows we’re doing that simply because we want to obey. Some pretty important people in the Bible have questioned whether it’s really God speaking to them or not.

   Take Peter for example. When he thought it was Jesus walking across the water to join him in the boat, he said, “’Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water’” (Matt. 14:28). Jesus’ response? “Come.” It wasn’t, “How dare you question me!”

   And then there’s Gideon. He not only asked the Lord prove himself once but three times. The first time, the Lord came and told him to go and save Israel from the Midianites. “’Am I not sending you?’”

   Gideon’s not so sure. After more protesting as to whether he was the right man for this impossible task, he asks for a sign and then goes off to get an offering for the Lord. After he returns, the Lord tells him to put the offering of bread and meat on a rock and pour broth over it. Then fire flares from the rock and consumes the offering.

   Fast forward some. Later, after the Spirit of the Lord falls upon Gideon, he calls his people to arms and they come. However, he begins to doubt again. He says to the Lord, “’If you’re really going to save Israel by my hand as you promised, prove it to me…’” He then makes his request that he place a fleece on the threshing floor and it be wet with dew in the morning but the rest of the ground dry. “’Then I will know that you are going to save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’” And that happened. However, Gideon still isn’t entirely certain that God will actually do this incomprehensibly impossible task through him, so he puts out another fleece, asking that it be dry in the morning and the ground wet. In the morning, that’s what he found. In other words, Gideon tested God.

   I could mention Abraham who questioned God after the Lord told Abraham that he would possess the Promised Land.

   “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”

   God then does the same thing he did for Gideon—tells Abraham to bring a sacrifice and does a miracle by causing a smoking firepot and torch to float over the sacrifice and burn it up (with no one touching them!). This convinces Abraham. It would convince me, too. However, I’m not likely to find a smoking torch floating around my living room. Nor has the angel Gabriel ever stopped by.

So—what then?

   Then how do we know whether it’s God telling us to do that impossible thing? I suggest we do a couple of things.

   Thing 1: Listen. Of course, your response might be “Who doesn’t know that??” You’d be surprised. That often is not the first thing we do. But how can we hear from God if we’re not listening for God? And I mean really listening; go somewhere quiet, make your request to hear, and then sit and listen. After all, we do have “the mind of Christ” and the Holy Spirit really does “search the deep things of God”—and then he tells us.

   Thing 2: Ask for a confirmation—that’s okay. It’s good to get the counsel of a wise friend who hears from the Lord. However, let that not be the first thing we do. When we’re colluding with God, he wants to speak to the person he’s working with first, not second or third. In fact, if we go to someone else first, God may not say anything through them because he wants us to learn to listen to him, not first run to another to hear for us.

   Thing 3: Wait. That’s what “waiting on God” means. And sometimes he’ll test us with this to see whether we’re really willing to wait on him or whether it’s all lip service. Remember, kings have ladies and gentlemen-in-waiting and it’s their job (our job) to wait on the king. Granted, they are his confidants and above other servants, but the king is still the king and the ladies and gentlemen still wait on his pleasure.

   Will these things take some time? Perhaps. Probably. But it’s the people who are the most faithful in seeking God and waiting for his answer that he uses to accomplish the most impossible tasks. It’s not about where we come from; it’s about whether we’re willing to listen to him and really hear his voice.

   If you were God, would you do it any other way?

 

Broken Hearts, Broken Toys

Old Broken Toy Doll Sitting on a Beach in Italy

   Ever felt like a broken toy? Parts missing? Batteries dead? Scratches or dents or bruises? Ever felt like you’d be better off just retreating to some distant corner and staying there—like a worn out doll relegated to a dusty shelf?

   Life Truth #23: It’s very difficult to get anything done with a broken heart.

   More destinies have been turned to ashes by broken hearts than perhaps even fears of failure. Why? Because brokenness affects our ability to function—and function we must in the dream-chasing biz. But how do we know if we’re broken-hearted? It might not be as easy to recognize as we think because a broken heart doesn’t always look the way we’ve been taught that a broken heart should look.

Diagnosing A Broken Heart   

   First of all, we tend to think of damaged hearts as resulting primarily from the loss of a relationship—a bad breakup, a divorce, or a death. And then we suppose that the main symptoms of a broken heart are grief and depression, characterized mainly by sadness and tears. Lots of tears. And while those causes and effects can often be telltale signs of a broken heart, the sad fact is that shattered hearts many times command a much wider realm of ruined sentiment.

   As with any other broken object, a heart, when damaged, doesn’t work properly—or even at all. And because the heart is recognized to be the seat of all emotion, that means that all feelings originating in the heart are crushed as well. Love turns to malice, trust to fear, hope to despair, and gladness to sorrow. But that’s not all of it. What about those emotions that we don’t associate with broken hearts—like cynicism? “Like that’ll ever happen!”

   Bitterness? “She gets all the breaks! And me? I got nothing!”

   Apathy? “Who cares, anyway? It’s not like it matters.”

   Procrastination? “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe…”

   Panic? “But what if…??” (Fill in the blank.)

   Inferiority? “I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be.”

   Anger? All of the above, only louder, with lots of slammed doors and shattered glass.

   If our emotions are crushed, then our heart is broken.

Acknowledging the Painful Truth   

   A long time ago, the Bee Gees had a song called “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?”  And that’s not the only song by far—it’s a hot topic. So what do we do with a broken heart? Will time mend it, as the old wives tell it? Do we go all stoic and harden our hearts, filling our days and minds with endless busyness so we don’t have time to feel the pain? Or do we simply readjust our expectations to reflect “reality”? After all, only fools dare to dream. We could. But I guarantee that if we do, the heart shrivels, the vision fades, and the destiny dies.

   So then—what?

   First, we need to recognize the scope of our heartbreak and that the non-traditional or uncharacteristic emotions we feel could be evidence that we were hurt far more than we may understand or acknowledge. We need to grasp that every one of the emotions listed above can be a symptom of grief; we don’t all have the same personalities and how one person grieves can be very different from how someone—or anyone—else expresses grief. Maybe you cry and maybe you don’t. Maybe you swear and punch walls. Maybe you sit and stare at the TV. Maybe you drink. Maybe you yell at the kids. Maybe you don’t do anything—and you used to.

   Moreover, all kinds of experiences can cause heartbreak, not just relationship issues. Perhaps a job loss has tanked, not just our bank account, but also our self-esteem. Maybe it’s unfair and we’re angry. Or maybe repeated rejections from coaches or agents or publishers or prospective employers or producers or even colleges has broken us down until we’ve lost all self-confidence or ability to try ever again. Maybe it’s inevitable that those ballerina slippers or that pen or that business proposal or that football simply end up where they’ve always belonged—in the trashcan.

The slow bleed of slashed expectations has slain more than one heart.

The Fix

   Here’s what you need to know: You are not incompetent if you failed. You are not stupid if you missed the mark. And you are not an idiot if you slip on those dancing shoes again or pick up that pen or revise that proposal or re-inflate that football—or even say “yes” to that unexpected invitation to a cup of coffee.

   You are not a fool if you dare to dream again.

   Maybe you need to revise your dream or even to find a new dream. That’s okay. More than one of us has chased the wrong dream sometime or another. (And some of us perhaps more than once…) The main thing is to get a vision to do something that makes life sweet again. A dream is a guaranteed cure for a broken heart. So get one—and then as the song says, “Tell your heart to beat again.”

   You are not a broken toy.