How the Pandemic Panned Out

As the first stay-at-home mandates spread to our little town, I stood in the living room and looked through the blinds at the neighbor’s lawn across the street. On a pole in the yard a new American flag waved slowly in the spring breeze. Sipping my morning coffee (which mere days earlier would have been enjoyed at the office, but now at home), I stared at that flag and thought about how we were all seeing our nation in that way – through slatted sunlight from our couches as we watched a flattened version of reality on our various screens.

Over the passing weeks, our family did the things that became the norm for many of us… 

We stockpiled a closetful of toilet paper and a pantry full of dried rice and beans. The toilet paper is now gone, but most of the rice and beans remain. 

We tried that weird whipped coffee once – just once – and pondered how this short stint in the Modern Dark Age gave rise to such a beverage that tasted like the very circumstances that brought it into being: boredom and scarcity.

We lost track of days on end as we trudged along without the normal routines of life. All the dawns and dusks fused into a monotony like a slow-flashing caution light.

We collected a small wardrobe of face coverings for different occasions, personalized them to suit our tastes and shook our heads when we were required to wear masks when we walked into convenience stores or banks.

We spent so much time looking at our screens by necessity that we wanted to put them aside and do things that we neglected for a long time: sitting silently on the back porch watching fireflies, playing old board games with the family and having long conversations about the things that truly matter.          

We baked loaves of homemade bread until the very air hung heavy with that warm, sweet smell. Then we ate the bread until we lamented the fit of our pants, exercised religiously until we were back in shape…and then baked more bread again. The rise and fall continued as surely as the tides and left us washed up, either from the exertion of working out or from the excess of eating.  

We watched people argue, politicians posture and experts postulate.

We saw cities burn, unrest spread and fear grow.

We witnessed wildfires, storms, floods, extreme heat and Saharan dust dropping from the sky.

And all the while, with each passing day, that flag stood in the neighbor’s lawn. It flew through the torrents of the spring rains and hung limply during summer’s breezeless heat.   

I noticed just yesterday that the flag was a bit tattered and faded and worn thin. It’s been through a lot over the last few months. We all have. We may be a bit banged up, a little more than a little tired and missing the world we knew just a short time ago. But like that flag, we’re still here, and as long as there is breath, there is hope…and that alone is something to smile about.

Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 90 – The Foreword for the Chapters to Come

We have prayed together for the last 90 days. Though I will continue to write and post, today we will be closing this season of daily directed prayer and devotions. When I started writing these, the plan was for 30 days of devotions and prayers. Looking back, I’m thankful that we stretched that original window to include more time.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 89 – Justice and Mercy

A writer once compared God to a judge who is sitting on the bench with a condemned sinner before him. As the illustration goes, God looks at this person before him who is lost and says, “I have no choice but to pass sentence upon you. I wish that I could change my mind, but I am bound to my Word.” The sentence is proclaimed, and God tearfully bangs the gavel. The writer related that in situations such as that, God is torn because justice won’t allow him to do what he wants to do; people perish because God holds himself to a standard that he wishes he could change. The only problem with that illustration? It is not a biblical view. God is not at war with himself. God does not regret his standard. God’s mercy and justice are linked without any contradiction.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 88 – Settling Down

Have you noticed how many products you must “shake well” before using? Whether it’s orange juice or stove cleaner, paint or salad dressing, many of our most-common solutions need to be shaken. The reason is simple: the contents settle. When the container is at rest, gravity takes over and the heavier parts of the solution collect on the bottom. A good shaking is needed before use.    

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 87 – Just a Scratch

One of my high school biology teachers once took a trip to Australia and told us about a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. Her group went snorkeling and diving around some shelves of coral near the beach. When the group gathered at the end of the afternoon, one of the lifeguards asked, “Did any of you get scratched or scraped by the coral?”

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 86 – Righteousness and Justice

God made us in his image. That’s clear from the Bible. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Now because of that special creation, it is understood that we are to live in a way that “images” God himself; we are not God, but we are to represent him as unique image bearers. As one writer put it, “We are more like God than the rest of creation.”

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 85 – Beyond Limits

Since God has put his work into your weak hands, look not for long ease here: You must feel the full weight of your calling: a weak man with a strong God.

– Lady Culross to John Livingston

It was a typical, hot, muggy day when my third-grade class held its annual “Olympics.” For an entire week, during the P.E. period, we competed with one another in various events and, for some reason still unclear to me, I signed up for the high jump. Being small for my age and competing with taller and faster kids created the possibility of embarrassment. Add to that the presence of all the third-grade classes sitting along the edge of the course leading to the high jump bar, and you have an unfortunate situation for any kid. Then, atop it all, I lived with a fear of failure. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to fail, no one wants that, but of being terrified to fail. (This story is not going to turn out well; you know that.)

The day of the high jump came, and the bar was set up at the middle of the playground. On the other side of the bar, where you would normally expect a big, soft landing pad, lay a large pile of loose hay. It seems that with a limited budget, that’s the best the teachers could do. What better way to enjoy a day when it’s 90 degrees in the shade, and you’re covered in sweat, but to jump into a pile of dry, dusty hay?

We took turns jumping, and all was fine…at first. Then the bar crept upward. Higher and higher it went. On one jump, I barely made it over. I thought that if the bar was any higher I wouldn’t be able to make another jump. They moved the bar up, and when my turn came, I froze. I just stood there. I knew I would fail. Everyone was saying, “C’mon, you can do this. Try!” So, I ran. I ran like a little madman toward the bar, but I didn’t jump. Throwing my arms out with open hands and my face fixed skyward, I ran right into the bar (which was made of metal and caught me just at chest level), and then promptly collapsed facedown into the hay.

There was complete silence from the crowd that was interrupted by one kid asking loudly, “Is he dead?”

I didn’t even try. For a long while after that, a couple of kids would refer to me as “The-One-Who-Didn’t-Try.” Have you ever worn that title?

Sometimes the fear of failing is so great that we give in before we begin. It has been said, “Many men never attempt anything significant because they might fail. They would rather be perfect in potentiality than imperfect in actuality.” God has called us to obedience, but sometimes we would rather seek the “comfort” of thinking of how things “might have been” than to risk taking action.

Does your “bar” look too high to clear? You are running toward it thinking, “There is no way. There is just no way.” I think of Moses herding sheep out in Midian (Exodus 3), and God tells him, “You’re the one for job of leading Israel out of Egypt.” Moses proceeds to tell God why he isn’t the best candidate; he poses the “Who-am-I-what-if-I-can’t-I-don’t-really-want-to” objections to the Lord. But with every objection, Moses hears God tell him about divine power and presence: “I will certainly be with you” (3:12a). “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14a). “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (4:5). “Who has made man’s mouth…Have not I, the LORD?” (4:11). “I will teach you what you shall do” (4:15b).

What are your objections to trying? Do you recognize that God is more than able to empower you to accomplish his will (Colossians 1:11; Ephesians 3:20)? Are you willing to live and act based upon his power working within you (Ephesians 1:19-20)?

Don’t focus on your inability; focus upon God’s availability.

Pray that…

We would be strengthened by the power of God to live with endurance. – Colossians 1:11 Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

We would know that God is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.

We will rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit and not our own strength. – Ephesians 1:19-20 And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.

Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 84 – Divine Alignment

“You know…that vibration isn’t good. When are you going to do something about it?”

I heard that phrase once from someone riding with me in my vehicle. At highway speeds there was a vibration from the right front of my vehicle that annoyed me (and, yes, anyone riding with me), plus the tires were wearing unevenly. I knew that I needed to have the alignment checked and get new tires.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 82 – Breaking with Reality

A friend once told me of an incident near the end of a road trip when returning from Wyoming. He was the only one awake in the car, and he was driving. Somewhere out in the middle of America, in the dead of night, he had an encounter. He told me that as he topped a hill and began the descent, his headlights fell upon (in his words) “a 30-foot tall Grimace.” The resulting conversation went like this:

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 81 – Finger Traps and the Ways of God

The first time I laid eyes on one was at a fall carnival when I was six. It was a little, multicolored woven tube in a gift bag I received after a carnival game. My mom showed me how to place my index fingers into the ends of the tube and pull slightly, thus locking them in place. Any effort to extricate my digits by the most-logical means, like pulling them apart, only drew the strips more tightly around my fingers; this is the way the dreaded bamboo finger trap works. I remember trying in vain to free myself as my mother watched bemusedly. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn’t get loose. 

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 80 – Playing Hardball

I saw one for the first time when I was in 4th grade. It was a hardball. I know that we usually use the term “hardball” to differentiate a baseball from a softball, but this was no baseball; it was a true hardball. A kid named Chris brought it to school; he was a guy with crew-cut hair and hands permanently stained from playing in red-clay dirt. A group of us were playing tag when Chris showed up with this thing in his hand. “Who wants to play?” he asked. If I remember correctly, we tried to run away; after all, it was a hardball.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 79 – Before Anyone Else

We jockey for position. We desire to be first in line, take first place and sit in the first chair. We do whatever it takes to get ahead of the next person and make ourselves the priority. But then we read Jesus’ words: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). All things necessary for life and every provision will come from him, but to see those needs met by him, we must put him first.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 77 – Give Up Your Ones

A few years ago, during Wednesday night Children’s Ministry activities at a church where I served, I found one of the children sitting in the back of the room away from all the others. Her knees were drawn up tightly to her chest, and tears streaked her face. I walked over to her, got down on my knees and asked her what was wrong. She gave no response except to cry even harder, sobbing with shoulders heaving. I asked her to take a little walk with me. We left the room, went to the water fountain, and in a bit, she calmed enough to speak.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 76 – Shuffling Toward Glory

Australia’s “Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon” was a grueling 544-mile test of endurance. In 1983, as the participants gathered and awaited the starting gun, one runner seemed conspicuously out of place. At 61 years old and dressed in overalls and Wellington rubber boots, the potato farmer named Cliff Young bore little resemblance to his highly athletic, properly dressed and corporately sponsored competitors. Other than rounding up sheep on foot, he had no training in long-distance running. Spectators, officials and other participants laughed at the very idea that this man would even consider facing off against an elite group nearing the boundary of superhuman abilities.   

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 75 – Only a Test

During my years of teaching, I gave numerous tests. Some of these tests checked basic understanding: listing verb tenses for a particular word, matching definitions to literary terms and labeling cellular structures on a diagram. But most of the tests pushed the students deeper. During any given unit, I would hammer the application of the knowledge in an effort to show the students how to use the information. Knowing the facts is necessary, but applying those ideas is the source of great power. “We teach you to think better,” I would say. It’s a noble idea, but one met often with yawns and rolled eyes.

Until test time…

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 74 – Bush Pilots and Stray Cows

Some of the airstrips we fly into are short, sloped, slippery, wet, grass runways at altitude carved out of the side of mountains towering well above 5000 feet above sea level. Many of them are one-way airstrips; which means that there is an abort point beyond which the only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to somehow get the aircraft onto the prepared surface. Many that are not built on slopes are surrounded by tall trees of the dense jungle and are soft, wet and muddy due to frequent heavy rains.

                                                 -Randy Smyth (bush pilot in Papua New Guinea)

Bush pilots who fly into remote locations to deliver supplies and transport missionaries to the field risk life and limb on a daily basis. The pilots relate that the landing is the hardest part. Not only must the pilot set the plane down upon the rough, sometimes rocky terrain of a primitive airstrip, but there are other factors involved. Most-commonly, the problem is an obstacle on the landing strip. In parts of remote Africa, these obstacles tend to be livestock.

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Prayers from the Quarantined Church – Day 73 – Roots

If you have ever repotted a plant, sometimes you will find that when you pull it from the pot, the entire plant will slip out easily. The roots may be tangled and matted together into a dense, tightly-woven mass. In many cases, the plant will be rootbound. How can you tell if a plant is suffering from this condition? One indication is stunted growth. A secondary indication is if the plant’s container will not give when pressed because the roots have filled up the container completely. A rootbound plant has roots that do not spread out for nutrients but circle the interior of the container until they conform to the shape of the pot.

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