Thursday, March 26, 2020

New Normal

At 7:20 am, I tied my tennis shoes, grabbed my keys and purse and said to my husband, "I'm off to hunt and gather." He looked at me with a puzzled look and said, "this early?"  

It's been two weeks since this "shelter in place" life began. I had heard over the past few weeks that if you needed toilet paper or paper towels, you had to be at the store before it opened. It was time for me to learn the new way of shopping.

When I arrived, there were about 5 cars in the parking lot. I decided that I would sit in my car and wait since there wasn't anyone standing in line yet.  I called my mom and chatted for a bit and as we chatted, the cars began to show up. I decided I should go see if these lines were true.  To my surprise there was already a line of about 20 people!  We were all spaced 6 feet apart. I felt the Holy Spirit remind me to put on the armor of God before I went in. " Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:13-17)  

As soon as the clock struck 8:00 am, the train began to roll.  I say train because that was exactly what it looked like.  All of us with our carts following behind one another straight back to the toilet paper/paper towel section.  I was chuckling inside because I really couldn't believe I was actually following a line of people to the toilet paper corner.  About half way there, a guy comes around the corner and yells, "well we're out of luck today. No paper goods." I stayed in line because I just needed to see for my self. I think everyone else did too.  He was right, the aisle was bare. It was so sad. 

I pushed my cart down the aisle with a heaviness in my soul. The store was unusually quiet and the shoppers stayed the appropriate distance from each other. No store clerks walking around either.  I picked up a few things that were on my list and decided that I was going to take some time to walk and pray. The final word in Ephesians 6 is "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people."  I felt the Holy Spirit again tell me to pray. As I traveled up and down the aisles praying in the Spirit, I could literally feel the weight of shame. Ashamed not only for giving into the entitled life that I have been living, but our country in general.  I was immediately reminded of 2 Chronicles 7:14 that says, "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  Jeff has often said God gives us to chance to humble ourselves. If we don't do it, then we will be humbled whether we like it or not.  That's what I was feeling  as I looked at this naked aisle.  I was standing there ashamed.  I mean, toilet paper? Really? Really. 

I repented, in Target of all places. I asked the Lord to forgive me and us, as a country for living so entitled and prideful. As I sit here writing this, my mind is flooding with all the things we've put before God. We have lived in a country that has built idols. Lots of them. From entertainment, sporting events, cellphones, social media, politics, racism, restaurants, coffee, wine, and the obvious, money. Think about it, there's an "iron bull" statue on Wall Street! We live to serve the stock market. It reminds me of the golden calf the Israelites worshiped after they left Egypt. They took the gold and silver they had collected from the Egyptians and rather than give it to God and worship Him, they chose to make a an idol with it. (Exodus 32)  When people chose what they thought was right in their own eyes, which we have done, they were called wicked. We've become wicked people because we feed our flesh whatever it wants and now we can hardly find toilet paper to clean up after the waste! And I'm not excluding the Church. As Christians we are no different because we expect our churches to model the world.  Are the seats comfortable? It's too cold or too hot in the sanctuary.  Who has the best worship? We don't even care what the pastor has to say anymore. It just matters if the church is cool and is it relevant to the culture today. I apologize for my truthfulness, but I know too many people who call themselves Christians that don't even go to church because they've decided the church is full of hypocrites.

So here we are today, March 26th, 2020 quarantined to our homes because of a virus. No more entertainment, sporting events, club sports, school, college, dining out, going to bars and clubs. Even church is closed. Personally, I feel like God is taking this terrible thing that has happened and He's turning it for good (Romans 8:28). He has given us a chance to reboot and to reclaim our lives again. To see that we can live without all the "stuff" and realize what is important. First, that we can only depend on Him for provision, not in our jobs or ourselves. Second, we are now having family time and eating meals together at home.  This was always an important thing with God. I mean, the first thing we do when Jesus returns is eat together, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”" (Revelation 19:9)

I want to close with this. Should this become our "new normal," what are you learning from it? What things have you put before God? I am with you in this. I have complained and put things first, but I really feel like the Holy Spirit is speaking loud and clear to me.  This is just the beginning of diseases and virus' to come. Look how easy it is to shut down businesses and jobs. Proverbs 19:21 says, "You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail."  From the very beginning, He wanted a relationship with us. It's time to get this Nation back under Him. Jesus came so we could have life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).  Jesus didn't give His life so we could squander it in the material things. He gave His life so we could live in relationship with God, be blessed and spend eternity with Him. Take some time to think about this. He knows you have the time, because we're in a quarantine.  Get out your Bible that's been on the shelf or go to the Bible online and read some "good news." Let Him speak to you and fill your life with His love.  Let that become your "new normal."

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Last One

It's March 12, 2020 and as of today, this photo is what fear looks like. Yes, that's right, the last roll of toilet paper. I am writing this because my heart is aching right now at the hopelessness and fear that has grabbed hold of the world.

In mid January, we were introduced to a new virus called Coronavirus also called COVID-19.  I lived through the bird flu, I lived through swine flu and even the Ebola outbreak.  But this particular one has people in complete panic.  

Today, I was out doing my regular grocery shopping, I couldn't believe how empty the shelves were.  I went to four places and each place there was a limited supply or no supply of basic necessities. I had heard the stories of toilet paper hoarding, but didn't think it was really happening in my community.  At least the last time I was at the store the shelves were stocked.  But today, there was a spirit of fear that seemed to sit on those shelves. It wasn't just empty shelves of toilet paper, the food aisles were also bare. I could not believe what I was feeling as I stood there in the middle aisle as people shoved and pushed one another.  Actually, I was stuck because there was a lady on her phone talking about the empty shelves, not paying attention to the people around her and her cart was in the middle of the aisle.  A lady behind me said, "can I get by?" It was then I realized how selfish we as humans really are.  When we are faced with fear, we become so self absorbed that others don't matter anymore. That's why all the hoarding of basic needs. We don't care if others have their needs met, we just want to make sure we're protected.

 As I stood there in that aisle, my heart sank and all I could do was pray and ask the Lord to help us.  As a follower of Jesus, I am not supposed to live in fear.  I must confess, I do get fearful more than I should about things, but for some reason this is different.  I'm not afraid of getting this virus. I'm not afraid of death.  What I am concerned is that people who call themselves Christians would play right into fears hands.  If we as people of faith fall into this trap of panic, then we are hypocrites. The Bible is the word of God and if we conform to the fear, then we are saying God has no power or authority and His word is void (Isaiah 55:11NLT).  We should be the ones bringing hope to the lost. Romans 15:13 says, "Our hope comes from God. May He fill you with joy and peace because of your trust in Him. May your hope grow stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit."  It's in these times that we should rise above the occasion and share, but even more "be" the love of God.  "There is no fear in love. Perfect love puts fear out of our hearts. People have fear when they are afraid of being punished. The man who is afraid does not have perfect love." (1 John 4:18 NIV) 

I want to encourage the Body of Christ that it's times like these that we need to shine like a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14). We need the joy of the Lord to be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The harvest is becoming ripe (Luke 10:2). I want to challenge us to speak the word of God out loud daily over our lives, to share the good news of Jesus with the fearful. We've been praying for a revival, it's in these times that it happens. You see, God wants every "last one" of us to experience His love, glory, grace and mercy and ultimately dwell in eternity with Him.  He does not want any one to perish (2 Peter 3:9). 

Let me encourage you today to live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8). Proverbs 17:22 says that a "joyful heart is good medicine." We can give those who are afraid a dose of joy. Let's overcome this fear with faith and panic with peace. Let the love of Jesus become an epidemic and see lives changed and hope restored to every last one. 

(Empty shelves photo: Christy Alesi)