Good things are happening

A little over a year ago, we took a vacation to Colorado.  My kids had never been to the mountains, so I carefully planned this thing out.  I found a nice little rent house at a good rate.  I scheduled our departure for the day after my son’s school year ended.  Hiking is virtually the only recreational thing that every member of our family enjoys, so I identified tons of trails in the area for us to hike.  Then I sat back and waited for the weeks to pass, and our trip to begin.

As it turns out, my well-laid plans were for naught.  Weird weather (including a freak snowstorm) and an illness kept us inside for most of the week.  But we learned a new card game, and spent hours around the table together instead of huddled over our separate screens.  We had some great food.  And we had an unexpectedly adventurous fifteen-hour drive home.  We have so many great stories from that week, stories that make us laugh today even harder than we did when they happened.

I am not saying my failed vacation plans are equivalent to the heartbreaking year we’re all struggling through.   By this time, many of us have had COVID 19, and its effects are no joke.  All of us know someone who has had it, and some of us have friends or loved ones who have died from it.  Add in the emotional trauma and economic devastation of a long-term shutdown, and the increased racial and political division in our country, and 2020 seems like the nightmare that won’t end.

Here’s where I’m going with my analogy: That failed vacation was this year in microcosm.  We’re smack in the middle of a reality we did not anticipate and cannot change.  But there are still good things going on all around us.  There are reasons to rejoice.  Here are a few I can see:

–In many families, parents have spent way more time with their kids over the past five months than they intended to.  Yes, I know it’s been difficult.  If you have small kids in your home, you’ve probably been at the end of your emotional rope for months.  But believe it or not, this extra time with them is something they will cherish.  It will benefit them for years to come.

–Some of the most underappreciated people in our society, such as nurses and teachers, now are viewed as heroes.  Who needs celebrities, anyway?

–Churches are starting to remember why they exist. For too long, we’ve seen the Sunday morning worship service as our primary purpose.  But it’s not, and never was meant to be.  Sunday morning worship was designed to equip us for the mission of God in the world.  I had a good friend and faithful church member say to me recently, “Now that we can’t expect lost people to come hear the Gospel in church, we realize we need to take the Gospel to them.” He’s right.  What’s more, that has been true for years…Pastors like me have been trying to tell our church members, “Lost people aren’t going to show up here on a Sunday morning.  You have to share the Gospel with them.”  Now, perhaps, we’ll realize it’s true.

–Speaking of churches, think of the number of congregations who now have video ministries, who never would have tried it in the past.  I read recently that in the United Kingdom, where less than 10% of the population attends church on an average Sunday, over 25% have viewed at least one online worship service during the pandemic.  I got a funny email from a church member a few weeks back; she knew I had trained for broadcasting before I got into the ministry, and wrote: “You’re finally on TV!”  Hallelujah.  We were already streaming our services before the pandemic (and I thank God regularly that Jaymes Brown is on our staff), but we’ve vastly expanded our media presence during this time.  Only God knows how many more people around the world will be exposed to the message of saving grace because so many churches have been forced to share the Word differently.

–Major League Baseball resumed a week ago, and the NBA tips off tomorrow.  But before that, we had months with no televised sports.  If you had told me in February that would be the case, I would have said, “Shoot me now.  Please.”  But frankly, I haven’t missed it all that much.  Oh, don’t get me wrong; I still intend to enjoy watching sports in the future.  But I have had more meaningful conversations with my family, have read more good books, and have gotten more stuff done because I haven’t been compelled to watch the BIG GAME every night.  Could it be that God is using this time to put the idol of sports back in its place?  Could it be He’s using this to wean you of your idols, too?

–And then there’s the stuff only God knows about.  In Genesis, we see a gifted young man named Joseph experience a series of tragedies that derails a promising life.  He’s betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, sent to prison, and forgotten there by a person who had promised to work for his release.  Yet years later, when he is reunited with his treacherous brothers, he forgives them, saying, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to bring about what is now being accomplished, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20) God did not cause Joseph’s brothers to turn on him–the Lord never motivates people to sin–but when they did, He took their evil act and turned it into something good.  Because of Joseph’s many trials, he ended up saving thousands of people from starvation, including his own family.  My point is: If 2020 seems like a terrible year, that’s because it is.  But God is using every single setback and trial to accomplish something amazing.  Like Joseph, it may be years before we see the full story, but make no mistake, God is busy bringing peace to chaos all around us.

What can you add to my list?  What are the beautiful things you can see happening in the midst of this bizarre time?

What we’re doing here is very biblical.  The most joyful book of the Bible, in my opinion, is Philippians.  Paul wrote that book from a prison cell.  A man who never sat still, whose tireless passion was planting churches and winning souls, was forced to stay locked up for months, not knowing if he would be released or beheaded.  Yet in the midst of that time, he wrote some of his most cherished letters.  If not for that time of imprisonment, he might never have slowed down long enough to write some of the most important words ever recorded.  The letter to the Philippians is one example.  In that letter, he commands us, over and over again, to rejoice.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!  

When we were stuck in that rent house in Colorado, we could have moped around, wondering when the snow would thaw, the weather would clear, and we would all get well, so things could be the way we planned.  If we’d done that, we would look back on that week as the worst vacation of our lives, a huge waste of money and time.  But instead, we found reasons to rejoice: We put bread-wrappers on our tennis shoes and trudged through ankle-deep snow, for instance.  How often do we get a chance to do that?

So here’s what I’m saying: Stop waiting for things to get “back to normal.”  I don’t know when we’ll be able to take off our masks, worship shoulder to shoulder, sit in a stadium cheering on our favorite team, or watch the news without hearing about coronavirus.  All I know is that good things are happening all around you.  Find them.  Enjoy them.  Tell others about them.  Fill your social media with stories and pictures of them.  And rejoice in the Lord for them!

Amen.