Thursday, May 14, 2020

THE LOCKDOWN AND THE FREEDOM GOSPEL




Stay at home. If you have to go out, follow social distancing guidelines. Don’t visit your extended family or friends. Don’t go to a restaurant. Don’t get your hair cut. Don’t walk in the park. Don't go to the bar. Don’t go to church? That one matters to some of us. No matter how COVID-19 has changed your life, you know what to say. I’m not sure why a pandemic needs branding, but here it is: We’re all in this together. Right?

With our movement restricted and our economy crippled, we’re not as free as we were two months ago. Our survival instinct has ramped up to the point that we’re willing to submit to an altered societal structure without question. Safety has become our priority as fear eclipses freedom. That short punch of encouragement—we’re all in this together—is pushed on us by the media, governing authorities, even grocery stores and car dealers. It does serve a purpose, I suppose. It reminds us that our actions affect everyone around us. But even that realization drives the fear because we might be infected and not know it, so we can’t go around breathing on people, or touching stuff, or, God forbid, shaking hands.

A customer (we own an essential business) reached out to shake my husband’s hand. I said, “Don’t shake hands.” The man responded, “Eh, that’s *%$#&&@!.” And then he latched on for a handshake. So, maybe not everyone is willing to accept the “new normal.” I’m okay with forever removing the handshake from of our cultural habits, but some people are not going to change.

Some of us, two months ago, presumed we were free, and now we will defend our right to remain free. The current bombardment of information overload, conspiracy theories, and threats to our indulgent, consumer-driven, comfortable way of life has us yanking on proverbial chains. We don’t know how we got trapped so quickly. We don’t know when the powers that be will allow us to return to our former freestyle selves. We’re feeling the reality of a loss of freedom, albeit trivial and temporary. We sense we’re walking in the shadow of something that might become permanent.

But not all of us are wasting so much time on the headlines and the news briefs. We're not ringing our unshakable hands over how we might phase back into the old normal. Some of us have known all along that the freedom posed by this world isn’t true. We’re not wondering if there’s anyone who can set the world right again. We know we’re free, and we know the One who sets all things right.

The world is messed up because it’s always been messed up, ever since we collectively walked away from God. The whole world suffers the overwhelming, inescapable consequence of our rebellion. The only way out of this mess is the Good News, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the only true freedom available to humankind. The only remedy to the corruption swallowing our planet. The only thing that will save us.

If you’re feeling trapped by the new normal, if you’re not sure exactly what this is that we’re all in together, ask God to set you free. This world filled with lies and crooked landscapes lorded over by the rulers of evil is passing away. It’s inevitably becoming unreal. The freedom offered by the gospel is the solitary passage into the real world. And the real world starts right here, right now.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:16-19

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36




Thursday, April 2, 2020

Teach Me How to Pray


Years ago, a ten-year-old girl, a schoolmate of my daughter, stood on our front porch. I don’t remember the conversation entirely, only a moment. The setting sun. A warm breeze. The little girl’s long brown hair. She reached up to touch the white wooden post. And she said, “I don’t pray. I believe in letting God do what he wants.”

No doubt, her statement was in response to something I said about God, but I don’t know what it was that I said. Was she only repeating what she’d heard about prayer from her parents? Most likely. I didn’t know them. It would have been right for me to make an effort with them, I suppose. But I didn’t. And now, I’m left with a regret-filled memory of a little girl who didn’t know how to pray.

Prayer has been a part of my life since I was that child's age or younger. I’ve faced seasons when I didn’t pray as I should, but I’ve never stopped, never considered, like the little girl, that prayer might be nothing but a vehicle to getting God to do something for me. Though the Bible teaches us to make our requests known, the aim is not to bend God to our will, but rather to discern His will. And so, that is my practice. As well, I offer praise. I confess. I pray for others. I walk in perpetual gratitude. I’ve long considered myself someone who knows how to pray.

But last fall, I prayed for God to teach me how to pray. I’m not sure why. I just sensed there was a deeper conversation waiting to take place. God wanted me to learn something new.

Weeks went by with little thought given to the matter. Sometimes prayer is like that—you pray and you forget. And then our pastor introduced an upcoming sermon series for the new year: The King’s Prayer. This was a verse-by-verse study of the Lord’s prayer as found in the book of Matthew. I smiled when I heard the announcement and whispered a thank you.

In seeming opposition of my request to God to teach me how to pray, the sermons left me, at first, feeling completely inadequate. I became aware of my inept ability to approach God. I’m a creature marred by sin, struggling to reach my Creator but pulled down into the mire of my existence. Frustrated, feeling unheard and invisible, I wondered why I should pray at all.

But the lessons of those weeks, and the faithful presence of God, brought me to the edge of that deeper understanding for which I had longed. As acute as the inadequacy had been at first, a realization settled in my soul that I was not expected to offer perfect prayer, but rather offer prayer to my perfect Father. I had always known Him as such. But without rehearsal, I began to address Him as Father more and more. I began to take my place as a child expecting my Father to hear me. Too see me. To understand my incompetence with words and thoughts and purpose. Through the sermon series on the Lord’s prayer, my prayer life did transform. I did rise to a nearer communion with my Father. Just in time for the world to change.

Now, desperation affects the prayers of so many people around the world. Uncertainty rules. Security has been stripped away. Sickness and death have issued their threat. Those of us who follow Christ are separated from fellow believers. Everyone is kept apart from extended family. We must remain distanced from our loved ones. While out on one of those essential missions we not only veer from strangers, we turn our eyes from each other. We rush by in hope of grabbing up what we need. It will likely get worse before it gets better. But God is not lost to our fearful mood. I rejoice that He taught and is teaching me still how to pray, for prayer is my certainty, my security, my comfort in the valley of the shadow of death. 

Life has changed, at least for a time, but because of technology all this distancing is manageable. And the stores are not yet empty. I know, certain aisles are bare, and some people are running out of funds. Walmart is a stress-filled place. I try to make eye contact and smile at hurried, nervous shoppers and I pray they find what they’re looking for, as well as what they might not know they need, that is, peace and assurance from God. I imagine the little girl on my porch, her thoughtful expression as she determined that she ought not pray. How sad it must be to live in this troubled world without prayer, when we have a loving Father awaiting our approach...

                                        Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…

Here’s a link to the first sermon in the Lord’s prayer series:The King’s Prayer – A Prayer Revolution

All of the sermons can be found at centralsanford.net