Encouragement From The Word

Learning from the pandemic

As more and more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19, people are starting to sense that the end of the pandemic is in sight.  I hope that’s true!  And it prompts me to ask a question:  What have we learned from all this?

I’m sure the answer to that question would be a list as long as my arm, but I want to focus on the spiritual end of it.  Perhaps I might frame the question this way:

How has my walk with God been affected by the pandemic, and what have I learned as a result?

The answer to that, too, can and perhaps is long and complicated.  But let me focus on one particular area:  rest.

For the last number of years, “busy” is a badge that people have worn with honour.  And there has been a cost involved.

Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and (let’s face it) many people lived in fear, there was a sense of equilibrium returning to nature:  the air got cleaner, the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, the traffic was manageable.

People were slowing down.

But as the first wave ebbed, and a limited reopening took place, we seemed to forget the serenity and peace that came with that first shutdown.  The pace picked up.  While people worked from home, the boundaries were blurred.

Where I live in Ontario, the economy begins reopening today.  Stores will be open with a limited capacity.  Outdoor patios will be open, within limits.  And our church will be open to 15% capacity!  It’s a start!  

But before we try to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like – let me encourage you to take a step back and look at what you’ve learned about your spiritual rhythms from the experience of the pandemic.  Spend some time in conversation with the Lord over that in the coming days.

Then – and this is the difficult part – apply what you’ve learned to the “new normal.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: 

‘Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4.6-7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Irregardless…

In case you weren’t sure the world is a different place these days, I learned this week that Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, is now including the word “irregardless” as a legitimate word.  Even as I type this, my word processor has underlined that term in red as an error.

As one friend pointed out, lexicographers simply accommodate terms in regular use; they don’t see themselves as “Grammar Nazis”.  That’s a pity, because the word simply makes no sense as it tends to be used.  People will say, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h irregardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”  But the “ir-“ and the “-less” actually cancel each other out!  So what they’re literally saying is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regarding the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h,” which makes no sense whatsoever.  What they mean is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”

This is just one sign of the generally accepted principle that there are no objective standards anymore.

Here’s another:  on a flight last year with WestJet, I was saddened to see that a curtain had been added to the aircraft, separating the “plus” seats from the ordinary seats.  One of the policies that attracted me to WestJet when it first started was that everybody flew in the same class.  That started to slip some years ago when the first few rows were given special menus and drink preferences – for a price.  Then, it slipped further when the middle seat in the first few rows became an armrest and drink holder for the occupants in the aisle and window seats.  Now, at least on some flights, it has slipped even further to the point that a curtain is drawn, and the front washroom is reserved for those in the first few rows, making it little different from its main competitor.

I lamented this fact to a flight attendant, whose reply was, “The company is simply doing what the customers want.”

With businesses, I get that “the customer is always right.”  Yet WestJet seems to have fallen from its guiding principles, set out at its founding as a company, that everyone should be treated the same way.

These seem like fairly harmless phenomena, for most of us.  A lot of people can overlook the use of the term “irregardless”, and the majority of people don’t fly enough to care whether they have to traipse all the way to the back of the aircraft to use the washroom.  But when applied universally, these things are symptomatic of a more troubling trend, and we see it happening in the church.

Let’s just give people what they want.

If people want to use “irregardless”, regardless of the fact that it is not a sensible word, let’s legitimate it by putting it in the dictionary.

If people want to separate extra service and private washrooms from the masses in steerage, let’s make it happen.

If people want to do something the Bible says is wrong, let’s overlook it.

Not such a big leap, is it?

While there are some advantages to our emergence from Christendom, one of the things society has lost is the value of objective truth, and now, in some cases, it’s even being lost in the church.

If you’re in church leadership, don’t ignore the objective truth of God’s Word.

If you’re not in church leadership, hold your leaders to account, and pray for them to uphold the objective truth of God’s Word.

To keep the world from chaos, we need objective truth.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4.12-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest

As a musician, I have always found it important to pay attention to rest. Why? Because if I’m playing in an ensemble, and the Quarter-Restcomposer has given me a symbol for rest, there’s a good possibility that if I play something, it’s going to sound dissonant. Even if I’m itching to keep playing, rest symbols urge me not to, for the good of the ensemble (to say nothing of those listening).

Rest is also important in life generally. As a human being made in the image of God, I know that God designed me to have rest. My body requires sleep, and without aid of unnatural stimulants, my body will even tell me when it’s time to go to bed at night. But sleep is not all there is to rest.

God’s design for the rhythm of the earth is to have a day off in seven. God set this pattern out at creation, when the world was made in six days, and on the seventh, God rested. Fields were to go fallow one year in seven. Debts were to be forgiven after seven years. There is a rhythm of rest in all of creation.

Vacation time, no matter how much or how little our jobs allow us to have, is equally sacred time. I would argue that times for retreat, where it’s just you and God, are also very important in the rhythm of work and rest in life.

Yet we humans sometimes think that, by one means or another, we can go without rest. And do you know who can be some of the worst offenders in this area? Pastors. Because some pastors can be cursed with a people-pleasing gene, they have a hard time saying no, even at their own peril. Recently I found myself saying to a colleague, whom I love, that when we have perforated boundaries around vacation, we demonstrate to our congregations that rest is not an important part of Christian discipleship.

We – all of us – are human, not super-human. Each of us needs rest – weekly, annually. We should not deny it of ourselves, and we should not allow anyone else to attempt to deny it of us.

The writer to the Hebrews hints at an aspect of rest that we are inclined to miss, and that is that Sabbath is, in a real sense, a rehearsal for eternity. “So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today” (Hebrews 4.6-7a, NLT).

Do you take rest seriously?