Grey

I left for Greece right at the end of February when we were getting news of the Corona outbreak in China. I was aware of the spread but not concerned. Just as I was supposed to leave the country a series of events allowed me to extend my stay an extra week and I was thrilled.

Then, within about five days, all Greek schools closed, everything but supermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeries closed, and everyone was wearing masks and staying six feet away from others. By the time I left, the WHO had deemed Europe the new epicenter of COVID-19. To get home I traveled through five airports and four planes, two of which were completely full. I spent the next two weeks in super strict quarantine to my room while my friends in Greece received news that they were going into a stringent, government monitored lockdown.

Things were getting bad. And then they got worse.

I’ve seen this virus strip jobs away from people who are just trying to get by. It’s caused us to look at other humans with suspicion, making wide six-foot circles around the other foragers at the grocery stores. People who have assembled the best battle wear of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes are resentful towards those who are appearing to frolic about. Economies around the world are threatening collapse. Weddings, graduations, and birthday parties are getting cancelled. Racism and abuse are rapidly increasing. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying.

I think of all these things and I can feel my heart physically ache.

But I’ve seen other things too.

I’ve also seen this virus cause people all over the world rally around healthcare workers. It’s given the world a common thread, increasing relatability across cultures. People are getting creative with ways to encourage one another while staying physically distanced. Because of the technology era, people are able to meet virtually, allowing many businesses to remain open to some extent. Also as a benefit of technology we can communicate easily so there is less isolation than if this happened even 15 years ago. My social media feeds are full of people sharing encouraging words, performances, funny gifs, and friends being honest about their realities so that we can come around them. Families are getting more time together. Churches might not be gathering in sanctuaries, but they’re gathering in living rooms. Google is reporting a massive spike in searches for “prayer” and “Jesus.” I have friends who are seeing family members be more open to the Gospel because of the current situation. Cultures that praise being busy are forced to slow down and rest. Distractions are being removed – “not having enough time” is no longer an excuse for avoiding spiritual matters.

There is so much pain. But there is also a lot of good.

I’ve seen a trend that Americans want the world to be black and white. (Note on this: I say Americans because that’s the culture with which I am most familiar.) We want something to be right or wrong, not both. We want to be able to sort events, opinions, practices, situations, people into one of two categories: good or bad. It’s easier that way. However, when we do that we often neglect to see the big picture.

I’m not proposing that we completely do away with the right vs. wrong system. God definitely pre-sorted some actions with the Ten Commandments. I also think morals, which heavily rely on the distinction between good and bad, are essential to healthy lives. I am cautioning us as to what happens when we try to label something not definitively stated in the Bible.

I am encouraging us to take a page out of Joseph’s book.

Joseph’s full story can be found in Genesis 37-50 and if you’re looking for a good read with lots of plot twists, he’s your guy. Here’s the gist, spoilers included: Joseph, a nice 17 yr old shepherd, has these two prophetic dreams that cause his brothers to hate him. As if being the favorite child didn’t already put him at odds with his TEN older brothers, the dreams from God predicted that Joseph would rule over his brothers. This arrogance wasn’t going to fly so his brothers oh so kindly threw Joseph into a pit to die, but then changed their minds and sold him to some foreign travelers. Joseph was sold again, became a servant, rose the ranks because of God’s favor, was hit on by his boss’ wife, was wrongly accused, and thrown into prison. While in prison, the LORD was with him, showing him steadfast love and favor. Joe interpreted two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams; one got good news the other not so much. Then the king had some dreams and God helped Joseph interpret those, which earned him a huge promotion from prison to a spot as one of the king’s highest officials. A famine came but it was okay because the king’s dreams prophesied it and Joseph had prepared for it. Now it’s been about 22 years since he saw his brothers and sadly they weren’t faring too well thanks to the famine. They come to Joseph (not knowing who he is) to ask for food, Joseph weeps then sends them home, they come back, Joe tests them, they freak out, Joe weeps again, he shares his identity with his brothers, a family reunion happens, and they all live a big happy life together.

Joseph’s story ends with a conversation between him and his brothers. (This is where our good or bad discussion comes into play.) The brothers apologize for the “evil” (Gen 50:17) they did to him. Joseph’s response to them: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph saw the big picture that through what would easily be labeled as an unfortunate, or bad, series of events, God brought good from it and Joe got to help many people by providing food during the famine. All throughout our pal’s story we are reminded how God was with Joseph the whole time, not turning a blind eye to what was going on.

When we rush to call something bad, we can loose sight of the good God is doing. Even amidst the brokenness of the world (Joseph’s brothers did try to murder him after all) God can bring good.

Since we’re still this side of Heaven, evil still has a presence. The enemy of this world is active and sometimes his havoc can cloud our vision of the mysterious yet beautiful, powerful, and pure work of the Lord. That’s the sad reality. But we know the rest of the story. God will triumph over Satan. The goodness of God will prevail over the corruption of evil. That’s where we’re headed, and it’s closer with every moment.

Even though we experience the horrible brokenness of the world, God is still at work.

God can, and is, bringing good out of COVID-19.

There is still bad, but there’s also good.

 

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Fear Not

I would not typically classify myself as an anxious person. I’m pretty leveled with my emotions overall as well as in high tense situations. In fact, it’s a joke amongst my friends that if they need to go to the hospital emergency room, they’re taking me with them. I work well under pressure and tend to be able to make wise decisions in the moment. I think that’s why I like events; I know some sort of surprise is inevitable, something will go wrong and it’ll take creative thinking to improvise. I just expect it and know it’ll all work out. But lately I’ve been more anxious.

As I shared last month, I’ve been walking through an unexpected season of depression. I can tell with each passing week that God is extensively healing my soul, exposing and excavating deep seeded doubts and fears in the process. Looking back I can see the gradual shift in my thinking, going from facing situations head-on to frantically preparing for the worst. I began dreading the unexpected and in a sense, started dooms-day prepping my emotions.

It’s true that I need to be prepared for the battle. We are living in a world where evil has a strong foothold and we are called to fight against the enemy. But I have abandoned daily putting on my Armor and instead have retreated to the corner. I feel stuck, doubting the battle will ever end and fearful that I won’t be ______ enough. That blank can be filled in with things such as: prepared, strong, wise, friendly, selfless, and Godly.

So I sit in the corner. Overwhelmed.

But God, being gracious, does not let me stay there.

I’ve been taught that doubt and fear (not the holy fear variety) are not honoring to God. So in my mind, if doubt and fear are bad but God is good, then they can’t all mix together. So I’ve stopped sharing them…and especially not with God.

A new song popped up on a “recommended for you” playlist (lookin at you, Spotify. You rock.) this summer that had a line I initially questioned but have grown to love. “All my doubts and fears, they can all come too, because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.” (The Way (New Horizons) – Housefires).

God wants to hear what I am struggling with so He can meet me in my need. I need to let Him in my head so that I can get out. When I started talking with God about my doubts and fears, His message was clear: fear not. I experienced what David shares in Psalm 34. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Moving towards God brings freedom.

He brought to mind many verses that reiterated this simple Truth home. I mean, how much clearer can you get than Isaiah 41:10? “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love the picture of God holding us with his righteous right hand. If the Creator of the Universe is holding me, I can be fully secure.

And John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” There is safety in His presence.

I also love the picture of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

God goes before us, paving the way.

God comes behind us, righting the wrongs.

God is with us, comforting the fearful.

This means NOTHING is a surprise to God.

 

 

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Peace

God has frequently been bringing to mind the story of Mark 4:35-40. Jesus and the disciples had a long day of ministering to people so they loaded up a boat to go to the other side of the sea. A storm came upon them and the disciples were TERRIFIED. They were literally caught on a sinking ship. Meanwhile, Jesus was peacefully sleeping. The disciples were pretty frustrated and “woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?””

I can definitely relate to the disciples. I’ve felt like the storms are viscous and that my boat is flooding and going down. Fast. I’m trying to get the water out as quick as I can but I’m not making a dent in it. My panic seems justified. I have a hard time believing that anyone on a sinking ship would just sit there quietly. There has been more than one time this month where I wanted to walk right up to Jesus and say, “Hello. You might not be aware but my boat is about to sink and someone is going to have to pull my body from the bottom of the lake. AND YOU’RE DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT!!”

I’m sure Jesus would get a kick out of that. His response would probably be the same to me as it was to the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith in me?”

Peace and faith are closely intertwined. At church a few weeks ago we talked about Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Our pastor talked about how peace is founded in faith. From the moment we began believing in God we were given peace. He posed a simple question: what keeps us from living in peace?

No matter how big the storms seem or how unsettled I feel or how much anxiety seems like an appropriate response, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is bigger.

Do I believe that the Creator of all can command all that He has created? Yes.

Do I believe that He cares about me and is alive and working for my good? Yes.

Do I believe that He will use suffering to produce endurance, character, and hope? Yes.

I believe that Jesus’ command to the wind and the sea is the same command He gives to me. “Peace! Be still!”

Prayer

10…..9…..8…..

The mental countdown had begun.

7…..6…..

I could feel the grooves on the inside of my cheek from where I had been biting it for the last hour.

5…..4…..

I could hear the fast “thump thump thump” of my shoes echoing down the tiled hallway.

3…..

I swallowed hard. The lump was still there.

2…..

If I could just make it to the bathroom I could avoid the questions. But what if someone saw me before I left? Flushed. Wide-eyed. Panicked.

1…..

The click of the stall lock functioned like a marathon gun. The gates opened. My tears freely flowed down my face.

I would be lying if I said this was a one time occurrence.

 

 

I really wanted this month’s focus to be on prayer. I have been practicing praying in different ways (journaling, through song, praying Scripture, setting reminders, etc.) As we walk around campus, I’m praying for the people we pass and those we are about to meet. I’ve seen God answer very specific prayers as well as what it looks like to come before Him daily to lay it at the foot of the cross.

But I wasn’t expecting God to teach me about prayer through weakness. With every turn He has been reminding me that I am nothing without Him.

It’s really natural for me to pray for other people. I am so grateful for this! But it is hard for me to pray for myself. I don’t want to admit that anything is wrong.

There is nothing that will humble you faster than living in a foreign country.

I have learned that I have to prepare for battle. Or what feels like battle: Language class. Campus evangelism. The grocery store. Every time I step foot out my door the enemy is looking for opportunities to get a foothold.

Y’all. The enemy attacks hard. And if I’m being honest, he’s gotten the better of me a few times. BUT, he hasn’t won. I’ve started getting faster at acknowledging the lies I’m believing. I’ve started getting faster at remembering to pray against the enemy’s attacks.

Here are a few of the lies I’ve heard, what I’ve learned to pray, and truth that I choose to believe.

I am not enough.
God, remind me that you have a purpose for me.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

I am a failure.
God, remind me that I am not earning your approval.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am a lost cause. 
God, remind me that you are making me more into your image.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

I am not as loved or effective as my teammates.
God, remind me that I get to celebrate my teammates and not be in competition with them. You are using all of us for your glory.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…(Romans 12:4-6)

I am defeated.
God, remind me that you restore.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have let God down.
God, remind me that your power is made perfect in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Prayer isn’t just an emergency flare. Prayer aligns our hearts with His’. I’ve noticed that as I pray more – for my friends, for injustices, for my own heart – I am comforted by His presence. There’s a familiarity that brings immense comfort…and as I spend more time with Him, I’m more in step with the Spirit.

If I wasn’t constantly faced with my weakness, I wouldn’t turn to Him.

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