Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic
LESSONS FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC Spring Valley Mennonite; May 17, 2020; Luke 21:11; Romans 8:20-22; Daniel 4:34-35, Amos 3:6 It is a joy to be preaching with people in the audience! After 8 weeks of “sheltering in place” to protect ourselves from the Covid-19 Corona Virus we are back together. We have experienced wide-spread disruption to our normal lifestyles, and while we may have been only inconvenienced, many in our community have seen the loss of income and employment. We need to be aware of the stress our neighbors are facing and be ready to help where we can. We all have missed gathering together as a church family. It has certainly been proven that we don’t fully appreciate something until it is gone. I have found that God never wastes an experience like we are going through, and we most likely will have to adjust to changes in the way things are done. It is challenging to live with uncertainty, but we serve a God who does not change. God never guarantee that times will always be pleasant or that we will be able to live comfortable lives, this side of glory. We must always be prepared for difficulty as well as times of plenty. As Paul put it, in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV), as he thanked them for sending a gift, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.” God does not always take us out of the storm, but He does promise to be with us in the storm. I listened to a panel discussion the other day where several experts on Biblical prophecy were exploring whether this world-wide epidemic was a “sign of the times”, a fulfillment of prophesy about the end times. In Luke 21:11, in answering the disciple’s question about signs regarding the future, Jesus said, “And there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” But such things have been happening for the last 2000 plus years. Apparently, these events will escalate as we approach the end. So, concerning whether this pandemic is a “sign of the times” is “The answer was basically, “Perhaps, but we really can’t say for sure. We can’t tell at this point.” There is a more appropriate question, and that is, “What is to be our response to this pandemic? Are there lessons to be learned, and new directions to be followed?” As we examine the Biblical record, there are several times plagues or widespread disease affected God’s people, and these plagues were purposeful: each time it was to humble them, to get their attention, and draw them back to the Lord. This pandemic, at the very least, should cause us to pause and ask God if there are lessons to be learned. Perhaps at our sharing time after the sermon, you can share personal things you have learned during this time of isolation. Also, this world-wide crisis gives us the opportunity to find the answers to some searching questions, the first one being: I. WHY DID GOD ALLOW THIS PANDEMIC? Now, we are always on shaky ground when we ask “Why” questions of God. This is one of the main lessons from the Book of Job. God owes us no explanations, for He is God. He answers to no one, and it is presumptuous for us to question what He does. But, did God cause the pandemic or just allow it to happen? Is God ultimately in control over everything or not? This question relates to the truth of the sovereignty of God. The Bible is clear that God is the ultimate cause of everything. Amos asks, in time of disaster, "If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?" (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son's house, Job says, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10). In Daniel 4:34-35, King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful ruler on earth, acknowledged God’s sovereignty with the words, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him “What have you done?” I found this statement as I explored this subject by Mark Barnard, President of Blessing Point Ministries: “If God is all powerful, it is hard to deny that He allowed this plague and has permitted all plagues on humanity. Despite all the secondary causes the buck stops with God. Theologians, knowing this, often ponder “Why would He allow such a scenario to unfold? And, if He is all loving, why unleash an inhumane contagion in our midst? Does He seek something for us that times of ease and health cannot or will not provide?” There are three possibilities that the Bible presents in answer to the question of “Why God allows things like this pandemic: First) to limit the spread of evil in the world; Second) to prepare for a major event in human history; or Third) To call God’s people to return to Him. (Read again). Let’s look at each of these reasons in turn: Regarding the first answer that Divinely caused calamity is for the purpose of limiting sin, we recall the greatest world-wide catastrophe was the Flood in Noah’s day. Genesis 6:5: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” God was sorry He had made man and sent the flood to wipe their evil off the earth. Another example of God judging evil and limiting sin was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Throughout Israel’s history, God sent invading forces as judgment upon the sin of His people. As a result of this virus, I have not heard of any incidents of terrorism because this virus affects both evil and good people. I have no doubt that crime is down as even criminals are afraid of catching the virus. There certainly is less gambling on various sporting events! Is this virus a for the purpose of limiting sin in the world? Perhaps, but again, it is difficult to say definitely. An underlying issue here is to understand the relationship between God’s creation and the effect sin had on His creation. When Adam sinned, death entered into the picture. Not only were humans sentenced to return to dust, but the principle of death affected all creation. Romans 8:20-“For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Natural disasters are the groans of creation, the results of sin’s effects. We live in a fallen world where things go wrong. Disease is one of those effects of sin in creation. The second possibility for the reason of this calamity is that it is to prepare the world for a major event in human history. This could be either positive or negative, a world-wide awakening—revival, or… a movement toward a one-world government and the rapture of the church. This is an unprecedented time as the whole world is shut down. I earlier mentioned the possibility that this pandemic is a “sign of the times” in my introduction, with the answer of “Maybe, but it is difficult to say for sure.” I would add that the world is different today than it was before the virus so drastically affected the world-wide economy. Many have pointed out how quick we were to submit to orders prohibiting gathering in large groups or gathering even to worship. Granted, we submitted to these orders because they made sense to limit the spread of contagion, but it serves to remind us that we will quickly give up our freedoms for security. We have now been programmed to yield to regulations which restrict freedom in the name of security. Such regulations will be commonplace in the future under the one-world government. Most countries worldwide have yielded to the authority of the World Health Organization. Powerful voices are calling for some sort of tracking mechanism, perhaps linked to cellphones, to enhance the ability to discover the contacts someone with a disease has made. Right now, such tracking depends on the memory of the person with Covid-19 about where he has been and who he has possibly contaminated. So, wouldn’t such a tracking devise be a good idea to help prevent further spread of disease? How about an identity and tracking chip under out skin? I bring up such possibilities to point our how the future might be unfolding before our eyes. It is the third possibility of God wanting to call His people back to Him that I’d like to really focus on this morning. II. IS GOD SPEAKING TO HIS PEOPLE THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC? I was sent a powerful video which asked the question “Where was God during all this?”, and the answer was that He was where our culture had put Him, on the outside of our world. We took Him out of our schools, our workplaces, our entertainment, our government and out of our favorite pastime, frivolous shopping—and guess what, all those things are shut down. So where is God? Right where our culture has put Him, outside of our lives. But God is still there, waiting to be invited back into lives, waiting for the realization that in our busyness we have missed what life is all about—a relationship with out Creator. When all the props of life are removed, perhaps people will seek the Lord. Perhaps this could lead to a world-wide awakening, a world-wide revival! Perhaps you have spent some time reflecting on personal lessons learned from these circumstances. For instance, we have learned how many meals we can make out of our freezer and cupboards, limiting our need to shop for groceries! We have all learned that the world really doesn’t revolve around sports; many people have learned that sports has held a higher priority in their lives than it should have. I hope we believers have learned how much we enjoy being together and how we have missed and need the fellowship of the church. Singing along with a Television worship team is not the same thing as congregational singing! I hope watching your pastor on YouTube isn’t as rewarding as being here in person! I know it is much easier to preach to live people than to empty pews! We as a culture should have learned humility, as a tiny virus has brought even the greatest industrial powers to their knees. We have learned how fragile our prosperity can be as jobs evaporated overnight and fortunes have been lost. In a few short weeks, the unemployment rate went from a historic low of 3.5 percent in February to 14.7 in April. What this means is that 20.5 million people abruptly lost their jobs. The ability of millions of people to pay their bills is now their daily concern. Our financial prosperity and that of our nation is severely threatened, and ALL of us are affected. If we have placed our security on anything other than the Lord, we have faced disappointment. But there are positive things that have come. We have been given opportunity to deal with fear and have hopefully found the Lord to be our strength and our shield against disaster, a strong fortress into which we can safely retreat. For the believer, if everything is removed, God is still there. Things have slowed down and given opportunity for families to spend time together. I have observed our next-door neighbors, who have five children, including two college-age sons, and as they spend time together playing games in the backyard. Many parents are learning the advantages of home-schooling! Life has slowed down, and we are less distracted by trivial things. Hopefully, this has been a time of re-evaluating our priorities and how we use our time. And hopefully, this time has given you time for developing your personal relationship with the Lord. There also have emerged new opportunities for ministry for our church. During the past two months the church’s Facebook followers have doubled. There are people following the news and activities of the church from all over the country! We have engaged new technology as we have begun making videos of our services and have a YouTube channel where our messages can be watched-- and are being watched. I hope we have learned to be compassionate to others. I have had an issue with wearing a face covering and have resisted doing so. While such a covering does little to prevent me from catching the virus, we are encouraged to wear them when we are out in public buying groceries or shopping for necessities for the benefit of others. The main benefit for wearing a face covering is to reassure others and possibly relieve their fear and make them feel comfortable. I have just arrived at this understanding. If I possibly am contagious but symptom free, a face covering might help protect others. How our lives will be changed in the future remains to be seen, but God remains firmly in control. What He wishes for His people is that we would grow to trust Him for our future, and not live in fear. We are to continue to reach out to our neighbors and friends with the hope of the Gospel, realizing that many are feeling the need for the security only the Lord can provide. And, we are to continue to look up, for these happenings may be accelerating the movement toward the end times.