Growing Through the Coronavirus Storm
"And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness— secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name." Isaiah 45:3, NLT "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise." Hebrews 10:23, NLT "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39, NLT
Growing Through the Coronavirus Storm Copyright © 2020 by Just Between Us ministry All rights reserved. No part of this booklet may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations.
Contents Introduction……………………………….……….…………………...…….…......…...3 I Survived the Coronavirus by Christina Stanton…………………...….…4 Growing Through the Coronavirus by Catriona Futter…………......…9 Let Your Social Isolation Draw You Closer to God by Lisa Elliott………………………………...……………………………..…………….13 Your Confinement is a Gift by Jill Briscoe……………………………….….15 Living in the Balance of Deprivation and Gratitude by Krista Heinen…………………………………………………………………….…...17 Why is God Allowing the Coronavirus Pandemic? by Stuart Briscoe……………………………………………………………….…...…...20 We've All Been Exposed poem by Sarah Bourns………………...…….…25
Introduction Dear Friend,
In an instant, the world as we've known it has been completely turned upside down. Terms and realities that we had never heard before have now become part of our everyday lives—our everyday fears. COVID-19. Pandemic. Masks. Sheltering in Place. Social Distancing. Quarantine. Ventilators. Freedoms that we have long loved and taken for granted have suddenly been stripped away: going to the store, to work, out to eat, to the movies, to sports events, to the beach, on vacations, to school, to the salon, to nature trails, to the gym, to church, and perhaps most difficult of all, not being able to spend time with family and friends face to face.
A new normal has arrived—a normal that has been extremely challenging and taxing on every level, full of incredible losses and griefs. It's all taken a very heavy toll and been difficult, heartbreaking, challenging, and sobering.
Yet with all the uncertainty and chaos, God has been right here seeing our every anxiety and tear, ever present and walking alongside us. He knew this pandemic was coming; it's not a surprise to Him. Could it be that He's trying to get our attention in the middle of it? That He's using this crisis to draw us closer to Himself? To grow us in ways we wouldn't have without it? To change us?
It's our prayer that as you read though this compilation of various perspectives on this unprecedented time in our history, you will be filled with hope and encouraged to reflect on all God wants to do in your life—the deep spiritual growth He has in store for you—and to see the gifts and treasures to be found in these coronavirus days. Love,
Your JBU Sisters in Christ
I Survived the Coronavirus! By Christina Stanton
My room was located in a special wing of the hospital, separated from the other areas with a big “WARNING” sign taped to the door. It featured a narrow anteroom between my room and the hospital hallway, where the doctors and nurses would shed their personal protection equipment and sterilize themselves after attending to me. When they entered my room, they were so suited up with masks and gowns that I could only see their eyes behind the visors that shielded them. I saw them infrequently. I was so contagious and the risk to the healthcare workers was so high that they came in once every four hours or so to reduce their exposure. There was a tiny window over my head near the ceiling and no other patients were in the room. It felt like a tomb. I was freezing because the air conditioning was turned up high, but I didn’t want to press the call button and make someone suit up for something as trivial as a blanket. I was hooked up to an IV and various other contraptions to measure my vitals including my oxygen saturation, EKG levels, and blood pressure. Even with the IV drip, I was still so dehydrated I drank pitcher after pitcher of water. Since I didn’t want to bother the staff when I needed more water or help using the bathroom (which was constant), I had to drag the IV and all the cables and cords into the bathroom and try to do what I needed to do as quickly as possible, worried I might faint in the process. I couldn’t talk to anyone on the phone because I didn’t have the breath support to do it. Still, I called my husband, Brian, about every hour to croak out short updates to him, as I knew he was sitting by the phone wracked with worry. I couldn’t read anything, because my temperature was a constant 101+, preventing me from following a storyline. I flipped through the channels to distract myself, but it seemed like every other channel was featuring COVID-related death statistics and terrible stories about the virus’ destruction. The same was true with 4
social media. When I saw an article being passed around about 50 priests in Northern Italy who had died attending to the sick, I firmly shut off the computer. Oh Lord, this is beyond awful! A nurse entered the room. I asked, “Have the test results come in yet?” Something I’d been asking for the past six hours. Her eyes widened in shock. “No one has told you yet?” she replied, with a hint of frustration. I shook my head. “You are quite positive.” Although tears sprang to my eyes, I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t need a positive test or a nurse to tell me I had COVID-19. I knew it as soon as I began having symptoms four days earlier. We had just celebrated a wonderful week with family in our home in New York City. My teenage nieces had arrived from Florida for spring break—a week planned full of Broadway shows and seeing the sights. But shortly after they arrived, the lockdown began. We immediately made plans to fly them back to central Florida, and my husband and I would be going with them. We felt confident on the plane. It was nearly empty, the attendants were upbeat, we wore our masks and gloves, and we all felt great. When I looked at my nieces’ young beautiful faces, we knew we had made the right decision to get them out of harm’s way. Once we arrived in Florida, though, I started showing symptoms. It started with a general malaise: a headache, fever, and body aches. My eyes stung and were red, I lost all sense of taste and smell. I had an insatiable thirst. After one day of drinking gallons of water and Gatorade, I threw up in a violent vomit that hurled me to the bedroom floor. I couldn’t think about eating anything. My temperature got up to 102 degrees, and it felt like my blood was boiling. Brian drew an icewater bath and I soaked in it, remembering that my parents had to do the same when I was 11 before my appendix was taken out. I can’t believe I’m now doing this again at age 50! After a day of multiple symptoms, we knew it was time to go to the hospital. I was admitted and immediately quarantined. The doctors worked to stabilize me and concentrated on my dangerously low blood pressure. The rest of the family, including my nieces, were starting to show symptoms as well, although not nearly as extreme as mine. Luckily, no one else in the family was hospitalized. Please restore their health, Lord! Please don’t let them suffer with a heavy case of this!
I was nervous but relieved to be in the hospital, getting good care. I was caught off guard when they discharged me the very next day, telling me that they had stabilized me and I had to continue to fight the virus at home. “The hospital is here to address life-threatening situations, and you’re out of the woods at this particular time,” a doctor explained. I texted Brian and he picked me up. That night, back at my brother-in-law’s home, my body erupted into a painful chaos of vomit, diarrhea, and other symptoms so severe, I was sure it was going to be my last night on earth. I felt hopeless, trapped in an upstairs bedroom, relying on friends to drop off groceries. A few days later, my fever shot up again and my heart started racing. Brian drove me back to the hospital. This time I was even more scared; this virus was not letting go. Again, the doctors quarantined me and helped manage my vitals. After a twonight stay, the doctor came to my room to announce that I was going home. I pleaded with him to let me stay knowing the tricky nature of this virus—you could feel better for a few days, but then it would come roaring back. After firmly refusing my pleas, I asked what had been on my mind since the day I began showing symptoms, “What are my chances of survival?” He took a breath and spoke frankly. “About 50/50.” How did I find myself in quarantine in a Florida hospital with a chance of survival of only 50/50? Didn’t we do everything right by leaving the city and protecting our family? Was my life going to come down to a flip of the coin? Heads or tails? I was now fighting for my life, and it felt eerily familiar. I had been down this road before, almost 19 years earlier on September 11, 2001. On that fateful day, my husband, Brian, and I stood on the balcony of our 24th floor apartment, six blocks from the World Trade Center. We were standing there, staring at the black smoke and destruction caused by the first plane, when out of nowhere the second plane came roaring overhead and struck tower two just 500 feet above us. The impact hurled us backward into our living room and knocked us unconscious. Once we came to, we immediately grabbed our dog and evacuated our building. Barefoot and still wearing pajamas, we sought safety in nearby Battery Park. But the nightmare continued. The towers soon fell, covering us with toxic dust and debris, and heavy smoke surrounded us in a deadly cloud. We eventually 6
managed to board a boat headed to New Jersey, unknowingly participating in the largest sea evacuation in history. We had escaped, but we couldn’t return to our apartment for months. We grappled with unemployment, PTSD, and ongoing health issues, having inhaled the toxic dust that left us with “9/11 Lungs.” I was a nominal Christian then, my faith was shallow, untested, and compartmentalized. I was a churchgoer, but that was about the extent of my walk with the Lord. When Brian and I stood in Battery Park as the towers fell, I had asked him if he thought we were going to survive. He replied sadly, “Maybe not.” He grabbed my hands, and began praying the Lord’s Prayer. Although I was happy we were together during this awful time, I felt very alone. It was then I realized that these might be my last moments on earth, and I didn’t know where I was going if I died. I became painfully aware that I didn’t have a relationship with God, and that at age 32, I’d only ever lived for myself. It was a terrible acknowledgment, that throughout my life there had been a Savior beckoning to me with open arms and I’d never cared enough to respond. Once we survived 9/11, I knew I was ready to explore a deeper connection with God. I never wanted to feel that alone again. Urged by a friend, I approached Redeemer Presbyterian Church, who was distributing aid to people who had been affected by the attacks. They helped us with monetary assistance and we both eventually took jobs with the church and became members there. Brian became the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and I became the Missions Director. We experienced incredible spiritual growth through personal study, community groups, and various activities of the church. Nearly 20 years later, I lay in bed in my hospital room and prayed, something I’d been doing throughout each day of my hospital stays. My COVID-19 survival rate is 50-50, I thought. There is no 50/50 with You, Lord. You are sovereign over this, and if it’s in Your will, please heal me. Although I was very much alone, unlike in Battery Park, I never felt alone during my illness. I knew the Holy Spirit was with me. Having a deeper relationship with Christ gave me the courage to navigate the scary days of the virus in a way I could never have done on September 11th. It took another few weeks of fighting the virus at home, but I did recover along with the rest of the family. On Easter Sunday, the girls and I took a bike ride. I hadn’t been on a bike in a long time and was delighted at how much fun biking was on a beautiful day. As I watched my lovely nieces pedal in front of me, 7
laughing and joyful, I began to cry a torrent of tears as I witnessed this wondrous display of God’s providence and mercy. Gratitude overwhelmed me when I realized that I had weathered this storm with God as my Rock and my Center, as opposed to suffering through the terror of 9/11 when He was not. And it made all the difference. Christina Ray Stanton was the short-term missions director for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City for the past ten years. She is the founder of the nonprofit organization Loving All Nations (lovingallnations.org), which helps the world’s poor in Christ’s name. You can learn more about Christina’s 9/11 story at her website (christinaraystanton.com) or in her book Out of the Shadow of 9/11: An Inspiring Tale of Escape and Transformation. This article was first published in The Gospel Coalition.
Growing Through the Coronavirus by Catriona Futter What was the last major change you went through in your life? When I first wrote this article, I had no idea that our world would be in such an unprecedented season of change─dramatic, rapid, distressing, stressful, and fear-inducing change as a result of combating COVID-19. Intentional self-reflection in times of change is more pertinent than ever. Worldwide, we are facing changes that are so sudden and so far-reaching that it is almost impossible to fully comprehend their speed and extent. Especially now as we find ourselves with more time to reflect than normal─how do we wrestle out all that God has for us? Transitions happen to all of us—job changes, loss of a career, failing health, relationship changes, children leaving the nest, or shifting or lost roles that we previously valued. When we face such transitions, our priority can often be getting through it to the new season rather than being open to any growth within the transition process itself. But COVID-19 is teaching us that we do not even know what the new season will be like, let alone when any normalcy will return. Hindsight shows me that in times of transition in my own life, there was often resistance in my heart rather than surrender. I would try to sort and manage the mess, suppress my emotions because they were too complex, and gain any kind of handle on the chaos of change simply to hold onto a sense of control. In so doing, I missed God’s peace and gentle nudges towards growth. Imagine, if instead of resisting the unknowns and uncertainties of the change process, we accept it as a gift and sit in the middle of the chaos, paying attention to what God is doing. But how do we learn to do this? With grateful thanks to Margaret Silf and her book The Other Side of Chaos (Loyola Press, 2011), I have developed a process that allows us to coach ourselves through transitions to glean from them all that God has for us. Begin with Self-Examination A good place to start when you are changing a job, moving from a beloved family home, or watching your children leave the nest is to ask, "What am I letting go of"? An objective, tangible change is taking place, but at a deeper level there are 9
changes in security, identity, roles, and relationships. What does this change represent for you? Who have you been in the previous situation? Perhaps in your job you enjoyed a level of authority and influence that has been swept away as you face sudden unemployment. Changes imposed because of COVID-19 are stark and not of your choosing. There is much of normal life that at present, we have to let go of. Note these and sit with them. As you explore deeper below the surface, consider who and what you are choosing to be defined by. It is easy to go into a new situation bringing with us all the mental baggage of who we were in the previous situation. In my old situation, who did I know myself to be and what was I believing about myself? Are there negative beliefs that I can now choose to let go of? For example, perhaps your previous job was highly stressful, with mismatched skills and expectations. You have picked up a false belief that you are a failure. Identifying this and replacing it with God’s truth allows you to move into your new situation with greater freedom and confidence. When the whole of normal life has been stripped away, as in our present circumstances, what does that leave? How do I practice gratitude? What becomes more important than ever and how do I intentionally value that? Even if the situation you are leaving is difficult and painful—an awful job, a breakup, or the loss of a dream—there will be good things to acknowledge too. Sometimes we are so desperate to move on into what we believe will be better that we don’t stop to notice what is good in what has gone before. Your Journey is Creating a Legacy Every situation we live through teaches us something about ourselves. I have a dear friend who talks about her “suitcase of experiences.” What good can you see in yourself and your character that can go into your "suitcase"? When the pace of change is rapid and events are beyond our control, we can easily feel that we are unravelling. We react to events rather than stopping to notice what is going on, but paying attention in the midst is key. Remember you are creating a legacy with gifts from the past that you can learn from for the future. Take time each day to notice how you are feeling and what those feelings are pointing to. We may not be able to change the events themselves, but we can change our response to them. When have you been through change before, what 10
did you learn in that process? This is about being willing to step back from ourselves and observe without judging our own behaviour and choices. Facing up to uncomfortable aspects of our character can be painful, but asking what we need to accept responsibility for is important. As we ask the Holy Spirit to show us what we need to face up to or let go of, much growth can occur. In the midst of a difficult transition, especially when our confidence and identity are taking a battering, or in times of uncertainty and fear like today, it can be easy to apportion blame externally, fueled by resentment, anger, or frustration. Take time to explore underneath these feelings, because they are probably masking a much deeper emotion. Give yourself time and grace to be honest and take ownership of this transition. Fear and Loss Will Be Part of the Process If you are facing the loss of a career you loved, a precious relationship, a role that was central to your identity—these are painful losses. See and acknowledge them as such. Even with positive change, there can be a secure familiarity in what we know that can make us afraid to face what is to come. Talk through the layers of this with God. What are you most afraid of? Why? What does that fear expose? What do you need from God? As we leave behind the old and look to the new season, what are the positives that we are anticipating? Be open to new opportunities and rediscovered dreams. Imagine that you are already several years into your future new life/role and that you are thriving. What are you doing? What is different from just now? What opportunities do you have? Start to live now in the fullness of that dream, making choices that align with that future and how you envision that with God. Create Your Community Trying to negotiate your way through this alone is very hard! We all need “raving fans"—people who believe in us and can help sustain us. We need people who will allow us to grieve when we need to, yet will inspire us to take action if our grief starts to turn into self-pity─precious sisters who will call out the best in us. Seek out one or two people like this. One day you can be that person for them. In times of transition, we can either drift through it and waste opportunities for growth, or resist the pain and lack of control often associated with change with flailing arms and gritted teeth. Imagine, instead, choosing to intentionally invest 11
in ourselves in the process, with hearts surrendered to God and His timing. After all, what we do is less important than who we are becoming. We can learn much about who we are becoming when we are intentional about the transition process and trust God to see us through and see the gift it is. Catriona Futter is a Christian life coach and speaker who is passionate about equipping people to discover and live out their unique, God-given identity and purpose. She runs her own business Equip for Life Coaching, offering individual coaching, team coaching, and speaking. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with her husband and two teenage daughters. She blogs at equipforlifecoaching.com/blog/.
Let Your Social Isolation Draw You Closer to God By Lisa Elliott HELLO…Hello…hello out there! How’s your social distancing going? Are you feeling the effects of self-isolation? I’m hearing mixed reviews from those I’ve connected with (from a safe distance of course). Some have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves while others are thrilled to finally have time to catch up on things they’ve been putting off for years. Some are frantically finding projects to do and missions to accomplish while others are savoring a welcomed time of rest. Some are taking advantage of every possible source of social media, while others are savoring time to themselves in solitude. For me, this entire experience takes me back to a little over a decade ago when I lived in self-isolation with my 18-year-old son Ben as he battled leukemia. Since his immunity was compromised, I had limited contact with anyone in the outside world. Life as I knew it shifted significantly. Social interaction was taboo. Dietary restrictions were put into place that excluded buffets and salad bars. I scrubbed down before I touched anything, wearing mask, gloves, and a gown as I sat next to his hospital bed, and sanitized everything around my house to keep it as germfree as possible. I even had a hand-sanitizer station set up at my front door to welcome anyone who crossed the threshold. “Normal” life came to an abrupt halt as my family and I were thrust into a “new normal” with a single sweep, learning to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Sound familiar? It’s not unlike what we’re going through in these days of coronavirus precautions. See if your experience feels anything like this: • Managing a situation you didn’t see coming that has overtaken life as you knew it, affecting your health, influencing your thought-life, adjusting your activity, and altering your relationships • Making noble attempts to go about business as usual, with an underlying awareness that nothing about it is usual • Keeping your cool on the outside while an undercurrent of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear simmers on the inside 13
• Attempting to live life as freely as possible with tangible limitations and a growing list of imposed restrictions • Being carried through your day in a surreal, dazed oblivion with a hovering sense that something in your world is off-kilter • Grasping to maintain a semblance of control, while realizing how little control you actually have • Choosing to live your life with purpose while wondering if there’s any purpose to it • Transitioning from writing things in pen to writing them in pencil, and always with an eraser on hand • Constantly adapting your life as it changes from one minute to the next In these days we’d do well to heed James’ words, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (Jas. 4:13-15). What if this time of unprecedented upset and chaos is intended by the Lord to wake us up and alert us to the things that really matter? Maybe He’s set us apart from life as we knew it in this extraordinary time in history to recalibrate our lives. Perhaps this pandemic has happened “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 8-11). Could it be that this social isolation is providing us with a unique opportunity to connect with Him on a deeper level? One thing is for certain amid all the uncertainty, we are not alone in our isolation. He has promised He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). His Word will offer unshakable hope for our unsettled lives as we connect to and anchor ourselves in Him. "Come near to God and he will come near to you" (Jas. 4:8). Lisa Elliott is a sought-after speaker and an award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. She and her husband, David, have been in pastoral ministry for over 30 Ottawa, Canada. years. They have four adult children (one in heaven), and three grandchildren, and live in
Your Confinement is a Gift! By Jill Briscoe Are you climbing the walls after months of this stay-at-home order that feels like it will never end? Do you feel like you are under house arrest─trapped inside 24/7 with family while juggling kids, work, and school? Not being able to get out and enjoy a simple outing with friends or an evening out for dinner at a favorite restaurant can leave us feeling like we're prisoners in our own home. The prophet Jeremiah could certainly relate. In Jeremiah 36, he and Baruch continued their work with the Word of God and the opposition did their level best to silence them, even putting Jeremiah under house arrest. They did not, however, confine Baruch. Perhaps Baruch’s friends put in a good word for him. Maybe there were sympathetic people in the government than we know about who could pull a few strings. In any case, surely God’s hand kept Baruch free for the job He wanted him to do. Having Jeremiah confined to his quarters did not stop the men from doing their work. In fact, it was in this restricted situation that they accomplished their work, and precious scrolls were written. I think of the apostle Paul in prison saying, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Would the prison epistles have been written without the prison? Hardly. Imagine doing without the book of Philippians! Would the book of Jeremiah be in our Bible today if Jeremiah had remained a free man? Jeremiah and Baruch learned to see an opportunity in every difficulty and used their time of forced inactivity to good advantage. There are myriad ways you can understand the feelings of Jeremiah and Baruch. There is so much to do, and yet you have been put under house arrest! Use this time. If God wanted you out and about you would be out and about. The Lord gave the two men a gift of grace when He gave them this period of forced confinement─and He will do the same for us in our forced confinement due to the coronavirus.
I remember feeling as though I was under house arrest when I was a young mother and my husband was traveling. I was shut up for endless days and nights in a small house with three children below school age. One day in the middle of my quiet time, a still small voice said, It’s a gift. Why don’t you say thank you? If I had failed the test of treating this period of time as a privilege rather than as a punishment, I would have missed the opportunity to begin to develop my writing skills. Looking back, I have never since had such a sweet time of productivity. Listen to God's voice. He is saying, “It’s a gift!” God gave house arrest to Jeremiah, and he accepted it and used it for the Lord. “'Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah, and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now,’ the LORD instructed Jeremiah” (Jer. 36:2). So the two servants of the Lord used the tough circumstances of arrest as a time to work hard to finish the scrolls. Jeremiah had to remember, perhaps with the help of notes, twenty years’ worth of messages, and Baruch painstakingly wrote them down. How does God want to use your “house arrest”? What things can you do during your confinement that will count for the Lord and bring glory to Him? Opportunities abound. Ask Him and don't forget to thank Him for this gift! Jill Briscoe was born in Liverpool, England, in 1935. Educated at Cambridge, she taught school until she married Stuart and began raising their three children. She has partnered with her husband in ministry for over 50 years, written more than 40 books, and traveled on every continent teaching and encouraging ministry leaders. Jill is the founder of Just Between Us. She can also be heard regularly on the worldwide media ministry called Telling the Truth.
Living in the Balance of Deprivation and Gratitude By Krista Heinen I’ve never been very good at processing grief. Almost five years ago, my dad passed away. I was in my mid 20s and it was the biggest loss I’d ever experienced. I didn’t know what to do with myself. At the end of his life, my dad was on a ventilator. There were many decisions to be made and many of them fell on me. My grief mingled with guilt while I questioned if I’d made the right decisions, and regretted not encouraging his brother to come see him sooner. I was angry that I would have to spend the rest of my life without my dad, and so much more. I felt deprived of something really precious. And I was a hot mess. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years of figuring out how to lean into my grief─to get to the place where I was able to admit, “No, I am not okay.” I learned to recognize when my emotions came out sideways and that they were often just a symptom of unresolved pain. Loss is devastating. In the age of COVID-19, this has become so many of our stories. I’ve heard of women cancelling their weddings that they’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of. My dear friends had a baby who spent time in the NICU and only one of them could visit him during each 24-hour period. They were not able to be together with their brand new baby boy for weeks. Churches have closed their doors. So many people have lost their jobs. And, most devastating of all, people have died: mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and children. All of these losses are to be grieved. These and even much smaller losses like the college sports career cut short, the high school prom that never happened, the dream vacation that was canceled, and kids not getting a chance to say goodbye to their friends after school went online for the rest of the year. My son was supposed to attend his first music classes. He has missed out on seeing his aunts and uncles for months. And I am now responsible for engaging an eight month old in quarantine, with all of the fun places to go closed. 17
I don’t know your story. But, whatever it is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the things you've lost. I’m sorry for the things you've had to miss out on. I’m sorry that your plans, your future, and your people were taken from you. Please grieve. The Psalms are filled with psalms of lament─desperate cries, unanswered prayers, confusion, grief, and loss. If you haven’t taken the time to pause, to cry, and to grieve, please take this as an invitation─an invitation to pour out your heart to God. We serve a big God, and He can handle our heartache. Maybe you need to spend a few days just resting in the psalms of lament. Here are a few to start with: Psalm 5:1-7; Psalm 13; Psalm 25; Psalm 44:24-26; Psalm 55, and Psalm 90. Or maybe you have lived in the deprivation. You have spent time focused on all of the loss and you have processed your grief. Maybe what you need now is to move to gratitude─to move into a season of joy and praise, because the reality is God never left your side. As hard and painful as this chapter has been, God has been right here with you the entire time. What would it look like for you to rest in praise? To process your feelings, start a gratitude journal and write out all the places you have seen God show up while you have been sheltered in place, and reflect on how God has been on the move even though you felt loss. Maybe you want to reflect on some psalms of praise, where God is magnified and glorified for His awesome sovereignty. Here are some of those for you: Psalm 18; Psalm 30; Psalm 34; Psalm 40:1-10; Psalm 107, and Psalm 118. Or maybe today, you need to hold both of these things at the same time. This may sound crazy at first, but as you read, hold both of your hands out in front of you, palms up. Imagine your left hand is deprivation, the things you have been deprived of, the losses and the grief. And in your right hand, hold gratitude. What do you notice as you sit in this place? Invite God into this moment. Process. Pray. Rest in a moment of silence. Say to the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9), and listen for His voice. You are not alone. God will meet you as you enter into this space. It's my prayer that you will walk away changed having had an encounter with Him as you learn to live in the delicate balance of grief and joy, mourning and praising, and loss and blessing.
Krista Heinen is a pastor, freelance writer, and speaker who loves opening up the Word and diving in with people. Krista has a Master's of Divinity from Bethel Seminary, and lives in New Berlin, Wis., with her husband and son.
Why is God Allowing the Coronavirus Pandemic? by Stuart Briscoe Good Friday 1964 was not good for the inhabitants of Anchorage, Alaska. At 5:36 a.m. an upheaval of tectonic plates far beneath the ocean’s surface caused a giant tsunami to rush on land, carrying everything before it. Huge fissures opened in the earth’s surface, buildings collapsed, and terrified people ran for higher ground— but many were swept away. Alarming and destructive as the Alaskan earthquake was, it paled into insignificance compared to the one that hit Banda Aceh, Indonesia in 2004. More than 200,000 perished in the quake and the subsequent tsunami. Tremors were felt as far away as the Arctic Circle and Antarctica, the polar extremities of the globe. Commentators and analysts struggling to convey the enormity, severity, and utter devastation of these, and other major tragedies, often compared them to “ancient narratives of biblical proportions.” Presumably they had in mind such heart-stopping events as the all-engulfing flood in which the human race narrowly escaped extinction because Noah and his family survived. Or, perhaps Yahweh’s battle with the recalcitrant Pharaoh in which a series of plagues destroyed Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and their land. I haven’t heard any contemporary commentators saying that the coronavirus pandemic’s frightening exponential growth and relentless global expansion possess biblical proportions, but I do believe that the situation we are now facing is such that it could benefit from some biblical perspectives! There are, of course, many people who hold what we may call a “secular worldview” who are most unlikely to spend any time contemplating modern events from a biblical perspective. This is not surprising, as they probably fail to see the relevance of the Bible to modern life or of any worldviews that owe their existence to its teaching. This secular view assumes that God, if He exists, is not actively involved in the world or its affairs. Furthermore, they believe that the cosmos is a closed system 20
in which everything works perfectly well under discernible and predictable laws, which humans have harnessed to their own purposes, requiring only the resources of the material universe to keep life running as smoothly as possible. The alternative view—we can call it a “theistic worldview”—is predicated on the belief that God is the Creator and Upholder of the cosmos and is actively involved in cosmic affairs and that He is directing it and all who live therein to His foreordained conclusion. It is hardly surprising that some who believe that God is actively involved in world affairs are asking questions such as, “Did God send this coronavirus pandemic like He sent the plagues to Egypt?” or “Is this pandemic God’s judgment on a rebellious world?” or “Why is God allowing this pandemic to do so much damage?” Such questions are the natural outgrowth of a biblical perspective, and answers are to be sought in biblical teaching. First—Some Perspectives on God The Bible at page one makes a huge, fundamental statement—In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Read on, and the statement is amplified. He is the Originator, the Designer, the Producer, and the Upholder of the beautiful, complex, created order. From earliest times He became known by names speaking of His power and majesty. For example, El Elyon—the Most High, and El Shaddai—the Almighty. He regularly reminded Israel that they owed their status as a chosen people to His choice, their freedom to His powerful intervention, their survival in the wilderness and the Promised Land, to His powerful presence and provision. In other words, He was revealed in Israel’s Scriptures as the all-sufficient, all-powerful Lord of heaven and earth. Isaiah, in his transforming vision, saw the LORD high and exalted, seated on a throne. Exactly! That’s where you’d expect to find the Creator and LORD of heaven and earth. And the final book of Scripture portrays God as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (We should bear in mind that this statement, which possibly contained the meaning “Caesar of Caesars,” was made during the days when the Roman Empire ruled and was a direct challenge to its authority.) A biblical perspective starts with an understanding of who God is declared to be in His might and majesty.
Second—Some Perspectives on Mankind
The biblical perspective on the development of the created order focuses on mankind, who are portrayed as enjoying a special relationship both to God and to His creation. Their relationship to God was to be one of loving, trusting, obedience, and blessing; to the created order they were commissioned to be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue [and rule] it (Gen. 1:28). Mankind, both male and female, gifted with intelligence and curiosity, were planted in an Eden full of promise and wonder with a mandate to explore, discover, develop, order, and cultivate it as God’s mandated agents. This mandate still stands. Third—Some Perspectives on Evil While there is much skepticism about the biblical character called the devil—evil personified—there is little disagreement about the presence and power of evil in modern life. Our military exists to combat it, our law enforcement to control it, our movies portray it, our politicians legislate it, and our philosophers debate it. It is everywhere! And it entered Eden and presented to mankind the possibility of a life living in the good of the riches of Eden without limits. Freedom! It meant exploiting the resources of creation without concerns about fulfilling the mandate or bowing to the Almighty or bearing the burden of accountability to the Creator. It meant a total reversal of the divine order where God was God and mankind was mankind, so that man would be god and the created order would be his domain. And God would no longer be God. Mankind would walk away from God and render allegiance to the devil, God would no longer be God, and mankind would control the whole created order with the devil actively involved. Reversal. Fourth—Some Perspectives on the World When the devil—evil personified—entered Eden and tempted mankind who succumbed, a catastrophe of biblical proportions was the result. The Scriptures describe it simply as sin entered into the world and death by sin. Two unthinkable dynamics became part of the pristine creation—sin and death. Think of sin as that which comes short of God’s standards and you can begin to visualize a created order in which nothing is the way it ought to be. Not that it has lost every trace of its original glory—glimmers and traces are everywhere—but every part of it is not what it ought to be. This is the heartbreak of God. By this time, you’re probably wondering what happened to the questions that come from looking at the days in which we live from a biblical perspective. 22
Fifth—Some Perspectives on Coronavirus So, let’s see if we can put this together. I firmly believe that this world, fallen and spoiled and beautiful as it is, is not spinning in space hopelessly meaningless and out of control. The Creator and Upholder of the Universe is still in overall charge. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that as it was at His command that creation happened and by His command that the creation has survived, so by the same authority the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Pet. 3:5-7). But as mankind rejected the Creator and ceded what had been entrusted to them to the devil, the result is the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). He’s still like a roaring lion. He can still terrify, and the fallen world can still yield to his dictates. So our wonderful bodies, subject to the curse of sin and death, can suffer from rogue cells that go “viral,” highly educated but fallen and fallible mankind can make serious miscalculations, world systems that have produced political deadlock can exacerbate problems, and the result can be a pandemic. Yet God has made it clear that He is, in Christ, actively engaged in the process of making everything new… for the old order of things has passed away (Rev. 21:45). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, the power of the devil has been blunted and his power has been curtailed. He’s still dangerous, evil is still rampant, but God—patient beyond our imagination—allows this state of affairs to continue. Why? Because He knows the end of the story—He wins. And because as our Father in heaven, He disciplines the one He loves and chastens everyone He accepts as His son (Heb. 12:7). He doesn’t create the virus; He doesn’t send the virus. The virus is the result of the fallen-ness of mankind, the failure of world systems, and the nefarious intent of the Evil One coming together in a perfect storm—all under the permissive will and purpose of the Almighty God. This perspective, I fully recognize, raises many questions, many of which are imponderables. We can ask them and perhaps find answers for some of them, but the main thing to take away is to ask: If the Lord is lovingly allowing His people to go through tribulation, what end does He have in mind—and am I open to receive it? Stuart Briscoe was born in the north of England in 1930. After leaving school, he embarked on a banking career, served in the Royal Marines during the Korean War, and at 17 years of age, preached his first sermon. Since that time, Stuart has ministered on every continent, written 23
more than 40 books, pastored a church for 30 years, been a regular contributor to Just Between Us magazine, and founded a media ministry called Telling the Truth which now broadcasts daily worldwide. He has been married to Jill for more than 60 years and has three children and thirteen grandchildren.
We've All Been Exposed by Sarah Bourns We’ve all been exposed. Not necessarily to the virus (maybe…who even knows). We’ve all been exposed by the virus. Corona is exposing us. Exposing our weak sides. Exposing our dark sides. Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls, hidden by the invisible masks we wear, Now exposed by the paper masks we can’t hide far enough behind. Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort, Our obsession with control, Our compulsion to hoard, Our protection of self. Corona is peeling back our layers. Tearing down our walls. Revealing our illusions. Leveling our best-laid plans. Corona is exposing the gods we worship: Our health, Our hurry, Our sense of security. Our favorite lies, Our secret lusts, Our misplaced trust.
Corona is calling everything into question: What is the church without a building? What is my worth without an income? How do we plan without certainty? How do we love despite risk? Corona is exposing me. My mindless numbing, My endless scrolling, My careless words, My fragile nerves. Weâ€™ve all been exposed. Our junk laid bare. Our fears made known. The band-aid torn. The masquerade done. So what now? Whatâ€™s left? Clean hands, Clear eyes, Tender hearts. What Corona reveals, God can heal. Come Lord Jesus. Have mercy on us. Sarah Bourns is originally from Southern California. Currently, she is part of the pastoral staff at Hope Midtown Church in New York City where she focuses on mission and formation. Additionally, she is completing her Masters of Divinity in InterCultural Studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary in Manhattan. You can follow Sarah on her Instagram or her Facebook page.