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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Forgiveness

“How in the world were you able to forgive them?”

I was sitting across from new Greek friends at a lovely outdoor cafe. I had just finished sharing about a time when I had experienced deep hurt, caused by someone else’s decisions. They showed empathy as they sat listening, their faces kind and heads shaking. Until I said the words: “and then I forgave them.”

They were puzzled, to say the least. Their brows furrowed and they leaned in. They listed off the things I had just shared, counting reasons I should still be upset. Though this took place several years ago I can still remember making the same list myself. My new friends were right: forgiveness didn’t make sense.

I had written a paper about forgiveness the week before our coffee shop conversation. So I wasn’t caught completely off guard since I had used this same story of hurt in that paper. My path to forgiveness was fresh on my mind.

“When I think about my life, I’m not perfect either. Sure, I haven’t made the same decisions they did, but I’ve still hurt people before. I’ve been unkind with my words, shown anger, sat in jealousy, and done other things I’m not proud of. But I believe in hope.

“Because I’ve not met the standard of perfection, I’ve been separated from God. Nothing I can do will make up for that separation. I’ll never be good enough. Thankfully my future doesn’t end there.

“God sent his son, Jesus, to take my place as payment for my imperfection. Jesus lived 33 perfect years on this earth and then chose to die for me. His death, burial, and resurrection wipes my slate clean. I am eternally forgiven. Sure, Heaven is a great thing, but what is incredible is that I get to have a personal relationship with God.

“If I believe God has forgiven me for all of my wrongs, I can forgive others too. It’s such a hard process, and even years later I have to remember each day to offer forgiveness.

“By forgiving someone, I believe it doesn’t erase what they’ve done or the pain they’ve caused…in fact it’s acknowledging that they’ll probably hurt me in some way again. But every time I forgive someone I’m reminded that God is so much bigger. Bigger than their words. Bigger than my pain. Bigger than my shortcomings. Bigger than my failures.”

I’m pretty sure forgiveness will never make sense. I’m thankful that God forgave (and continues to forgive) me, especially when it doesn’t make sense.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

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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!”