The end of 2020 is on the horizon.
I know most of us are glad at the prospect of having a fresh start. I remember at the start of the year, many were coming up with cool slogans like:
2020 Vision in 2020
2020: The Year of Perfect Vision
Let’s See with 2020 Vision
And so on…
I think this has been the year that threw us all for a loop. No one was prepared for the events of 2020 as they unfolded. The year has left me wondering, “What was all that about?” as I considered all the goals I had set.
I remember at the end of 2019 we began hearing of a strange infection beginning in Asia. At first, I didn’t think much of it. In February, we flew to the USA for our son’s wedding; it was one of the best family trips Stateside we have ever taken. By then, however, Covid19 had begun its trek across the world, and the word “closure” began to take front and center stage.
We made it back to Burundi two weeks before everything shut down. Our country’s borders and airport closed in March and have remained closed ever since.
So Much Lost
No, I wasn’t expecting anything like this at all. I wonder when we will be able to travel to see family, to see our grandchildren.
I’m not alone in my wondering. The limitations the pandemic has placed on all of us, in one way or another, have left all of us in a lurch. Lives have been lost, businesses are suffering and children’s educations worldwide have been deeply impacted.
I wonder where we will be this time next year? How can we dream of a New Year when the old one has been left with so much unfulfilled? So much time has been lost.
Passing through the tragedy that Covid19 has left in its wake has made me much more circumspect. I’m no longer as cavalier about the time we have here on planet earth. I’ve come to a better understanding of what Paul meant when he said:
James 4:14-16 TPT “But you don’t have a clue what tomorrow may bring. For your fleeting life is but a warm breath of air that is visible in the cold only for a moment and then vanishes!Instead you should say, ‘Our tomorrows are in the Lord’s hands and if He is willing we will live life to its fullest and do this or that.’ But here you are, boasting in your ignorance, for to be presumptuous about what you’ll do tomorrow is evil!”
We really have such limited understanding about times and seasons. It is purely by grace we’ve made it as far as we have. Should God grant us another moment, we would do well to live it wisely and not squander the precious days we have.
Beauty In The Ashes
How can we manage the loneliness and loss that 2020 has brought us? While mentally we acknowledge that we’re not alone in the battle, in my memory I’ve never known so many to feel so alone at one time.
Like me, it may be you those of you who are reading, have felt the sting of loneliness and helplessness. Dreams for the year went up in smoke and what is left in front of us is a pile of ashes. What can we find among ashes?
Isaiah 61:3 NLT “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”
Some of the hardest experiences of my life brought me to ashes. Dreams gone unfulfilled, unexpected tragedies and loss of loved ones have all burned my life to pieces at one time or another. After those times of fire, when things near and dear had burned to nothing, I learned to cherish, to see the beauty, in what was left. It’s a lesson that all of us learn time and again as we pass through this journey of life.
May we learn that lesson well!
We Need A Rescue
Try as science might, there has yet to be a final resolution made for this ongoing pandemic. Social distancing, mask wearing, quarantining have served to slow, but not stop, Covid19’s worldwide march. It has left us crushed, overwhelmed beyond what we thought we could endure. Some have even come face-to-face with death.
We need a rescue and God has supplied it:
2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NLT “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue us.”
While we may feel that our experience this year is historically unsurpassed, it is not. From the beginning of time, there have been wars, pandemics, famines and hardships. These events have even tried the most faithful of believers to the point of despair. But if we can hang on in the press, He will rescue.
The press reveals what is in us; we can only give out what we have inside. The press reveals the actual status of our faith. The press reveals how utterly hopeless we are without God. Once we find it in us to totally turn to Him, we’ll find the hope we desperately need while passing through the press. We will, like Paul, understand that even though we expect to die, God specializes in resurrecting the dead!
While we have breath, there is still work for us to do. I imagine Paul, at the time he wrote the above verses in 2 Corinthians, had no idea the scope his epistles would have in generations to come. Today, we are still gleaning from his experiences, from his wisdom. We can do this because he didn’t quit in the press.
Who will we touch if we don’t quit?
And, if we don’t quit, we may very well see God come through for us in areas we have prayed over for years. Our answers might be in the next minute, hour or day. But, if we quit, we will have thrown those answers away.
What would have happened if Jesus, while hanging on the cross, had actually done what He said he could? What if, instead of dying, he had called angels to His aid?
Matthew 26:53 NLT “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and He would send them instantly?”
He chose to suffer, the go through the press, until the end. He chose the cross because He saw us on the other side of the suffering.
There’s Another Side
There’s another side to our suffering. The side where others, our friends, loved ones, strangers, are touched by what we have been through. Life is more than the sum of our possessions. Life is about those who we have been able to impact somehow for God’s Kingdom.
Galatians 2:20 NLT “ My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Life as we have lived it, for ourselves, doesn’t work. The pandemic has proved that people are not meant to live apart from one another. We’re meant to live as extensions of one another in this hopeless world. It is in the giving of ourselves and allowing Christ to live in and through us that we discover meaning. We discover real life if we can find it in us to choose to finish as He did by keeping the needs of others in the forefront of our minds.
Beauty Does Rise
If we find the courage to live this way, there’s nothing (not even a pandemic) that will keep us from seeing beauty arising from the ashes.
When Jesus died on the cross, it appeared that Satan had won. It appeared that all hope was lost. Once He died, the priests and Pharisees did all they could to stop His resurrection:
Matthew 27:62-66 NLT “The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, ‘Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: “After three days I will rise from the dead.” So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.’ Pilate replied, ‘Take guards and secure it the best you can.’ So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.”
Pilate said to them, “Secure it the best you can.” In other words, “Do whatever it takes to make sure the tomb isn’t opened.”
Think of it. All of the disciples had fled, hiding because they feared for their own lives. For three days, they hid themselves in a house. What were they saying? What were they thinking?
“He’s dead. It is our end.”
“What have we done all these three years? He’s dead, what will we do now? We have thrown our lives away!”
“Let’s escape to another country!”
“And what about our families? What will happen to them?”
To them, it must have seemed they had reached the end of their days.
And you? Do you feel that you have thrown away your life? Your youth? And God has yet to answer? Do you feel as if your hope has been buried in a tomb and there are soldiers standing guard, making sure the stone won’t be rolled away?
Indeed, the priests and Pharisees stationed guards outside the tomb. But that was far from the end of the story. Read on:
Matthew 28:2-4 NLT “Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.”
- There was a “great earthquake.”
- An angel of the Lord came from heaven and rolled aside the stone.
- The guards shook with fear and fell into a “dead faint.”
In other words, you can’t close a tomb when God’s plan is to resurrect.
Job 42:2 NLT “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.”
If God’s planned something, who can stop Him? Yet, we can choose to step out of pace with Him. If we give up early, God will find a way of getting His plans accomplished, even if He has to use someone else.
Don’t Throw Everything Away
Ephesians 5:17 NLT “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
Don’t throw everything you’ve been praying for away because of one day, one week, one month, one year of trial. Understand what it is that the Lord wants you to do, don’t let discouragement be your guide.
I’ve learned if the enemy, Satan, dares to fight me then I’ll fight back. If I weren’t a threat to him, why would he work so hard to stop me?
My opinion, for what it’s worth: If I’m to go down, I’ll go down fighting!
Taking Up A Cross
In our pleasure-driven, self-seeking society, taking up a cross (living selflessly) is not a popular message. We are driven to do more, be more and get more. Now, as those plans are put on hold due to Covid19, we are learning that the only real way to find our life, is to lose it.
Matthew 16:24,25 NLT “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’”
As we carry our cross and live selflessly, we’ll find the resurrection we are looking for. Without a cross, there is no death and without death, there’s no resurrection. We fear the pain of the cross, the rejection and misunderstanding that the cross brings. But, obedience to carry the cross brings with it enough grace to endure.
As I think of Him carrying His cross for me, I gather the courage to carry my own.
When Jesus carried His cross, He carried it as if it were something of great value. As he carried that cross, He knew He was carrying the salvation of the world. I think as He carried it, He must have embraced it. He must have thought what He was gaining in exchange for the pain He was enduring.
In obeying to the point of death, Jesus opened the door to resurrection and restoration. It is the same with us as we carry our cross and obey to the death of our own desires, the door to resurrection and restoration is opened.
Joel 2:24-26 NLT “The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain, and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil. The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you.Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced.’”
A full year has been stolen from us and you might ask, “How is it possible to restore time?” I’m not sure how God does it but He has promised us a restoration of years that were taken from us. He is ready to restore it all.
May we see the tomb open after we have carried the cross to the end of our journey.