Slowly but surely, we’re making some progress towards returning to a more normal life. We’re not entirely “out of the woods,” so to speak, but we’re taking some encouraging steps – as a church, a city, a state, and a nation.
In a previous study, we learned how to handle the fears we may have in light of God’s love and care in our lives. This is a very important lesson to embrace as we emerge on the other side of this COVID19 pandemic. In this study, now, we’re going to learn another timely lesson. We’re going to learn the importance of remembering what we’ve learned through this unusual pandemic experience.
Through difficult, painful, and long-lasting trials, God intends to teach us valuable, lifelong lessons about himself, ourselves, our relationship with him, and life in general. In our desire to “move on” and leave our trials in the dust, closing the book and locking the door on them forever, we should be careful not to forget the valuable lessons that we’ve learned along the way.
God doesn’t want us to go through hard times for no reason. For us, we’re just glad to get them over with so we can move on. But God wants us grow, deepen, and change in our hearts in a way that influences our lives long into the future and for generations to come. Knowing this, it’s at times like these that we should pause to consider the things we’ve seen and the spiritual lessons we’ve learned before we turn the page and move on.
To do this, let’s take a close look at what Moses said to a new generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the Promised Land after forty long years of wandering in the wilderness. He said to them, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deut 4:9). Can we respond to the things we’ve learned from this COVID19 pandemic in a similar way? I trust that we can.
In this episode, Thomas Overmiller provides a quick view of the new children's board book, "The Great Farmapalooza" by Jill Roman Lord. This book teaches children to praise God as creator, designer, and provider.
At last, communities throughout the United States are gradually beginning to emerge from COVID19 hibernation. Even so, a host of lingering fears remain. Many people – even Christians – will continue to worry that they might still contract the virus. Then among those who’ve been through that ordeal already, some will worry about catching it again. On top of this, we may also be a little nervous about what’s going on with the social instability we’re facing in various communities throughout the nation.
Though we need to use our heads, we need to use our hearts as well. What I mean to say is that there is a time and place to be cautious and careful. Yet we also have to acknowledge that no matter how cautious and careful we may be, threats to our health and safety will always remain. So, at some point or another, we need to step out of our self-protective zones and take some risks again – risks that are inspired and motivated by a proper, biblical view of God’s love for us as his children.
For centuries and millennia, Christians have learned to choose love over fear, making difficult choices to obey, serve, and worship God, even at the risk of their lives. How can we enjoy the same confidence today as we face the challenges of our times? As John told believers he had pastored in the first century, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Are we equal to the task and ready to move forward with our lives, embracing love over fear? If not, then what are you afraid of?
If we’re asked to describe the way we feel right now, a lot of words may flood our minds, but “comfort” is probably not one of them. Anger, impatience, frustration. Pain, anxiety, stress. Weakness, sadness, fear. Confusion, concern, nervousness. Words like these may be more accurate in describing the way we’re tempted to feel right now. Would you agree?
Pandemic and social injustice aside, there’s no way to eradicate hardships from our lives. Afflictions and trials, questions and mistreatment, sickness and sorrow will always come our way, in one form or another. So, as followers of Christ, we need to embrace the right approach and perspective.
We shouldn’t let difficult experiences scare us, nor should we allow ourselves to become depressed and overwhelmed when they occur. Instead, we should learn to find our true solace in God who provides real and lasting comfort through Jesus Christ. What’s more, we should also learn to comfort one another, pointing our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to the comfort that God alone provides.
In case we haven’t figured this out yet, it’s time to accept the fact that no matter how hard they try, our politicians are unable to give us the comfort we need. Social policies and programs cannot do it, and no amount of money and medicine can do it either. So, together, let’s take a close look at the comfort that God provides, as Paul explains in 2 Cor 1:3-4. Will you join me?
No matter how long you’ve lived in this world, you’ve probably noticed that there’s plenty of bad news to go around. Now, we shouldn’t be ostriches who bury our heads in the sand when a whiff of bad news comes our way, pretending as though it doesn’t exist. We need to be knowledgeable and we need to be aware.
Yet have you also noticed that it’s the bad news that always seems to get the attention, the spotlight, and the press. Seriously. When’s the last time you saw some good news plastered on the frontpage of the newspaper, headlining the evening news, or trending on Twitter? That’s a rare occasion, isn’t it – but why?
This problem reflects the fallenness of our hearts. In our sinfulness, we find ourselves attracted to the bad things in life and this brings even more bad effects in our lives. If you want bad news, it’s always there. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we of all people should know quite well that there is goodness in the world all around us, vestiges and glimmers of the goodness of God. We even know the best news of all, which is called the gospel!
In this lesson, we’re going to take a close look at the negative effects of taking bad news to our heart and the importance of both receiving and spreading good news instead. Prov 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” We need some good news right now, don’t we? But we’re not going to find it in the headlines. So, what can we do about that?
Well, now that we’ve successfully (or not so successfully) endured more than two long months of social isolation, here in New York City, I have a very important question to ask. “Are we happy?” I’m asking this because long, extended periods of seriousness and sadness, sorrow and stress can have a negative, harmful effect on our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health,
Now I’m not joking when I say that we need to laugh sometimes. Seriously! Laughter, gladness, dancing, and wholesome entertainment are gifts of God that enable us to balance out the difficult, harsh, and negative things we see, hear, and experience in this fallen world. Without these things, we’d lose our health, our sanity, and our spiritual focus for sure.
But here’s the question, “How well have we done at blending laughter, gladness, and humor into our lives during this pandemic? You see, it’s very possible that we’re suffering in varying degrees with the negative personal effects that come from a period of prolonged stress and sorrow. That’s why I want to remind us all to make time for laughter and gladness. Prov 17:22 and other verses in the Bible teach us about this very important truth that’s especially important in our lives right now. Together, let’s take a look at our laughter.
When it comes to making plans, there are at least two kinds of people in the world (though this may be an oversimplification to some degree). Like me, some are afflicted with the malady of perfectionism. We want to make plans and we work hard at making them, yet we struggle to actually put them into action because we never feel we have enough information or perspective to make good plans. There’s always another angle, detail, or possibility to consider.
Then there are people with the opposite problem. They don’t really make plans at all, or at least they don’t think much about the plans they make. They just lunge forward and do things regardless of what may happen. No matter which approach you lean towards most, whether procrastinating or being hasty and impulsive, I think you’ll agree that both approaches miss the mark of planning well, but why?
Both approaches are missing the main factor in wise planning, which is total dependence on God. When we stare into the fog of the unknown future that lies before us, we can’t ever know exactly what’s in store. Yet we can and should consult with the God who does, and that’s what Proverbs 16:3 reminds us to do. So, let’s take a look at this important proverb together as we make plans for our uncertain future as individuals, families, and a church.
In this episode, Thomas Overmiller provides a brief overview of the children's picture book, "Where is Wisdom?" by Scott James. This book provides an artistic, delightful, and insightful look at Job 28, a hidden treasure of the Old Testament.
We all stormed (or rolled) into the year 2020 with big plans, serious resolutions, and high expectations. The American economy was booming, colleges were marching towards commencement ceremonies, our jobs were chugging along as usual, and the NBA and NHL were making a mad dash for the playoffs. Some of us even smiled as we joked about having a “2020 vision” for the year ahead. Then COVID happened and our hopes and visions vanished into thin air.
As we slowly emerge from the dust of this dilemma, like black bears or groundhogs emerging from hibernation after a frigid, furious winter, what will we find? Will the landscape of our lives return to normal? Are we being too careful and moving too slow, or are we being careless and moving too fast? What will change, and what other unexpected surprises are waiting beyond the horizon?
Experiences and questions like the ones we’re facing right now help us evaluate the foundations of our faith and the blunt reality of how we view the world and make decisions in it. More than ever, we’re quite aware that many people have many opinions about what’s going on, what to expect, and what to do. But here’s the real question – are we truly trusting God? To answer this vital question, let’s take a close look at Proverbs 16:9.
As we go through this pandemic together, a common tendency surfaces among us. We turn to popular Bible verses that seem to apply to our situation or appear to say what we really want to hear – verses that sound positive, poetic, and uplifting.
Jeremiah 29:11 a verse like this: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We jump to the conclusion that these soothing words mean: “If I pray to God, then I’ll be healed from my sickness, get a good job, and enjoy a happy marriage.”
However, that’s not what this verse means. This fly-over interpretation is clouded by our Western, first-world priorities of comfort and convenience, and the materialistic, temporal values of the so-called “American Dream.” It reveals an instant “fast food” perspective of life that resists the kind of faith that’s forged in the fires of time and difficulty. It also reveals a wrong approach to Bible study – or a lack of study altogether.
Now, this verse does teach us life-changing truth, but not how we first imagine. To understand this verse accurately so it can shape our faith and equip us to navigate trials in a God-glorifying way, let’s take a closer look together to see what it really has to say.
Our minds are an especially important place. What happens there affects the outcomes of our lives. Though our thoughts don’t determine what happens to us directly, they do determine how we respond to the information, people, and circumstances we encounter, which leads to certain responses, results, and consequences, whether good or bad.
As we wait out the shelter-in-place guidelines given for this COVID19 pandemic, we may be aware of our inner thoughts now more than ever. So, let’s pause to consider what we’re thinking about these days.
We may be allowing ourselves to think about the wrong things, with so little change of scenery and so much opportunity to be idle. As the saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop – or playground.” Fake news, wrong conclusions, bad images, sinful temptations, selfish motives, juicy gossip, conspiracy theories, irrational plans, depressing introspection, and baseless fears can overrun the airwaves of our minds.
So, let’s do something special. Let’s take inventory of our thoughts right now with the help of Philippians 4:8. Then, let’s “step up to the plate” and make more regular, deliberate choices to get the right kind of thoughts into our minds during the week ahead. Let’s make our self-isolation this springtime a time when godly thoughts blossom in our minds.
Perhaps you’ve heard the common cliché, “When the cat’s away the mice will play.” It reminds us of what happens when a grade-school teacher steps away from her classroom. The students goof around, don’t they? And let’s not pick on the kids here because this also happens when the supervisor goes on break or the boss takes a vacation. The employees take longer lunches and make personal phone calls on the clock. Though this happens, it doesn’t have to – and the same is true for a church.
As an apostle, Paul functioned in a pastoral way for churches throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Eastern Europe. Though he never stayed in one place for more than 3-4 years (usually much less), he retained a sense of long-distance, pastoral care for these congregations. This concern motivated him to write letters like Colossians to encourage them not to drift away. (It’s possible that Paul hadn’t visited Colosse in person, though he knew some of their members personally, see Col 1:7; 4:9, 12.)
In this way, he provides pastors today with an example to follow during times of extended absence from the congregations they serve. Through the words he shares, he also provides any congregation with timely advice that applies to long periods of social isolation.
In the absence of in-person, pastoral care (which is crucial), the members of a church should still flourish in their relationship with Christ and their devotion to sound doctrine. So, let’s dig in and take some encouragement from what Paul has to say to the believers at Colosse.
Rahm Emmanuel, an American politician, says, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Regardless of his political views, whatever they may be, his perspective towards a crisis is brilliant. Rather than view our current pandemic as an evil to endure, we should view it as an opportunity to explore how we can grow stronger together as a church.
Difficult circumstances can bring out the worst in us, but they can bring out the best in us, too, even in our relationships as Christians. Self-isolation tests our home relationships due to overexposure and increased contact. It also strains our church relationships outside the home due to underexposure and decreased contact with each other.
While these challenges are real, we don’t have to capitulate to them. We should embrace our self-isolation as an opportunity to deepen and strengthen our relationships in ways we could not (or did not) do before. To help us seize this special opportunity, let’s delve into some relationship guidance from God found in 1 Peter 3:8.
Death hurts. Just ask the men who suffered the excruciating loss of their dear friend and teacher on a cross. Christ’s death hurt them so deeply that they huddled together in self-isolation (John 20:19). One of them, Thomas, even isolated himself from his friends and entertained serious, depressive doubts about his faith (John 20:24-25). Others had been so shaken that, even after the resurrection, they nearly abandoned their God-given mission (John 21:1-3).
We face similar challenges today. Though death always lurks in the shadows, it feels like a monster running loose in the streets right now, knocking on our doors, banging on our windows, and busting into our houses. Every day we hear news of friends, relatives, friends of friends, and relatives of friends who are sick, dying, or dead due to the coronavirus.
In times like these, we need to review our doctrine. We must put death into perspective and embrace the reality of the resurrection with open arms. Since Christ lives, death loses. His resurrection reduces the pain of death in the present and the presence of death in the future. For those who know Christ, death is nothing to fear, as sad and sobering as it may be. That’s why we should keep on living and serving with confidence and resolve, even as death casts its long, dark shadow upon us.
“What’s gonna happen tomorrow?” In one form or another, we’re all asking this question right now. And while it’s wise to do some planning and to be prepared in life (Prov 6:8; 21:20; 22:3; 27:12), we shouldn’t let our planning turn to worry – especially when tomorrow feels so surreal and unknown.
As we wonder about what the next days hold, and the needs we all will have, let’s remember what Jesus himself taught us – that to worry is a waste of time and energy. God knows what we need and will care for us accordingly. Knowing this, we should focus on something else instead. Do you know what that is? Let’s take a look at Matthew 6:25-34.
Like a large fishing net encircling a school of tuna in the ocean, the COVID19 pandemic has cast death’s long, dark shadow on all of us. For those who’ve lived a while or who bear the daily challenge of preexisting conditions, this shadow is especially scary. Yet every one of us, from nurses to teachers, police officers to pizza deliverymen, parents to children worry what “might be” if we or those we love contracts this pernicious virus.
In times like these, the words of Psalm 23:4 provide our hearts with the comfort and assurance we need, reminding us that the Lord himself is our shepherd. No matter how frightening the pathway ahead might be, he is lovingly guiding us each step of the way.
It’s easy to take for granted (to not appreciate) the value and privilege of gathering together as a church. Now that we’re unable to meet together due to COVID-19, we find ourselves wanting to get together even more, but we can’t.
Perhaps this unprecedented experience will increase our desire and determination to gather together more faithfully and enthusiastically once this pandemic is over. But what about today? How can we be a church when we can’t even leave our homes? Three verses in the book of Hebrews can help us answer these challenging questions.
To get the study guide for this lesson, visit www.ShepherdThoughts.com.
When you hear this question, at least two words probably come to mind: heaven or hell. Yet where does the Bible teach this and is it really that simple? Join Pastor Thomas Overmiller to discover how three words in the Bible - sheol, hades, and Gehenna - help us answer this question clearly and accurately.