Wow! What a year 2020 has been! As if dealing with the challenges and uncertainties of COVID-19 for the past 6 months wasn’t enough, many of you reading these words have had your lives upended by the derecho storm that cut a massive swath through Iowa on August 10. The fact is that dealing with the challenges of 2020 is taking a toll on us. Some of you probably feel like the circus performer who posted an ad in the paper reading, “Lion tamer seeking tamer lion.”
Recently, as I wrestled with the temptation to succumb to discouragement, I recalled something that Chuck Swindoll called, “The 50/20 principle,” so named because it flows out of Genesis, 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Years earlier Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery and, after a long, challenging journey with lots of detours, Joseph ended up as second in command over the entire nation of Egypt. That placed him in position to save untold numbers of people from starvation during a 7-year famine. When Joseph’s brothers feared that, at long last he was going to seek revenge for what they had done to him years earlier, he reassured them that their sovereign God had it all well in hand the entire time.
The 50/20 principle is simply this: “In his sovereignty, God gets good results from bad circumstances.” No one would ever say that a pandemic or a destructive storm is good, but our sovereign God will use it for good if we let him.
Having said that, however, there are three really important factors in the 50/20 principle that we need to remember:
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! –Amos 5:24 (NIV)
If you listened to the video I posted last Friday on our district Facebook page, you probably don’t need to keep reading because this article is, by an large, repeats what I said in that video. I just wanted to communicate on as many platforms as possible that the people of God absolutely must be serious about living, promoting, and insisting on justice in our fallen and broken world.
The name of George Floyd and the phrase, “I can’t breathe” are ringing in our ears, reminding us yet again that the sin of racism is alive and well. The streets of Minneapolis have erupted, filling with protesters demanding justice. Don’t get sidetracked by the fact that a relatively small number of people have used this as an excuse to loot and destroy property—the fact is that the vast majority of protestors are motivated to peacefully seek justice.
Justice… It’s a word that has been used often of late, and not just in reference to George Floyd, who is merely the most recent in a long string of those who have been victims of the sin of racism.
Hearing this word repeated and seeing it in print over and over in recent days has driven me to the scriptures to wrestle with the concept of justice. The word is used 134 times in scripture so apparently, justice is a big deal to God. It’s not just something that is important to Him, it’s one of the words that we use to describe his character; it’s one of his attributes. Justice is not just something God does, it is an integral part of who he is. He can’t not be just.
So, what does it mean when we say that God is just? His justice means that he can’t do or cause anything that is unfair. When it comes to justice, the key word is “fair.” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” It means that God doesn’t grade on a curve based on heritage, pedigree or appearance. God is fair and impartial and we all stand equally in need of his grace.
So let me make three applications:
May the words of the prophet Amos come true in our generation, “Let justice roll on like a river!”
It was just six weeks ago that the COVID-19 pandemic began to rock our worlds, changing the way we work, relate, recreate, and shop. I could go on with that list, but you get the idea. Coronavirus, a word most of us didn’t even know a couple of months ago, has totally disrupted our lives, including how we do church. We all long to get back to normal, don’t we?
I get it. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to get back to “normal”, especially when it comes to the church and how we approach our mission. For too long we have depended on people coming to us. We have poured our efforts into worship services, children’s and youth programs and other ministries that take place in our buildings, hoping that people would come and consider the claims of Christ. Then, six weeks ago, all of that was taken away from us and we were forced to get creative and find ways to “go and tell” instead of hoping that they would “come and see.”
When we finally do get to start meeting together again, we are going to face the temptation to go back to the way things were before COVID. We’ll tell ourselves that we don’t need to worry about our digital presence anymore because we can meet in person. And people will be free to come to us, so we can curb our efforts to find ways to connect with them where they live. Time to get back to “normal,” right? I hope not.
It occurs to me that we are in a similar position as the children of Israel when they were faced with crossing the Jordan and entering the promised land. You remember the story, don’t you? The 12 spies came back with the report that the promised land was even better than they had imagined. But 10 of the spies pointed out that there were giants that would have to be defeated, so the majority got cold feet and thought it might be best if they just went back to normal (Egypt).
It’s interesting that they remembered Egypt being better than it really was. It’s not that Egypt was so great, but it was predictable. They had learned how to survive in Egypt and crossing the Jordan to take possession of the promised land was just too risky.
We have gone through an incredibly steep learning curve over the past several weeks, trying to figure out how to be the church in a season when all of our favorite tools have been taken away from us. We have taken significant steps to have a meaningful online presence, have found ways to do discipleship when people can’t gather, and have creatively penetrated our communities with meaningful acts of service.
When we finally can start meeting together again it would be so easy to retreat to “normal.” For the sake of people who need Jesus, don’t do it! We have stepped into the Jordan, there’s no going back!
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… Psalm 46:1-2 (NIV)
Over the past several days my mind has repeatedly been drawn to Psalm 46. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to build, as the jobless numbers climb, as 401k accounts shrink and as we become increasingly isolated, fear is a very natural response. And yet, the Psalmist declares boldly that because God is our refuge and strength, even if the earth gives way we will not fear.
Fear is an incredibly powerful force. One doctor observed that “fear is the most devastating enemy of the human personality.” I think he’s right. Fear paralyzes us, making it impossible for us to think clearly and behave rationally.
And it’s not just fear of contracting COVID-19, or worse yet, someone I love contracting it. It’s fear of losing income, fear for family members, fear of isolation, even fear that my church might not survive. So, what’s the key to overcoming fear, even fear in a worldwide pandemic? Look toward the end of the Psalm in verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Be still? We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” A missionary named Don Seymour reversed it; “Don’t just do something, stand there!” That’s kind of the idea behind the Psalmist’s counsel to be still.
When confronted by fear conventional wisdom says, “Sleep less, try harder, do more.” But God says, “Be still.” Being still has kind of been forced on us, hasn’t it? That’s not all bad if we use the stillness to know God. The benefit of being still is found in verse 11 of the Psalm; “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
It’s interesting that when I’m rushing about, consumed with fear and worry, I lose all awareness of the fact that the LORD Almighty is with me and I start to believe that I have to fix things myself. But when I am still before the Lord, I am reminded that the God of Jacob is my fortress. It’s not the economy, not medical science, and certainly not my efforts that keep me safe. It’s the God of Jacob.
An old man was out walking with his grandson. “How far are we from home?” he asked. “I don’t know,” answered the boy. “Well, where are we?” he asked. Again came the answer, “I don’t know.” “Sounds to me like you’re lost,” said Granddad. Quickly the boy replied, “I can’t be lost. I’m with you.”
Be still. The Lord Almighty is with us. We can’t be lost.
My friend and DS colleague, Phil Stevenson, recently wrote the following blog, that I share with his permission.
George Zimmer was the founder and CEO of Men’s Wearhouse. When he was the face of the company his tagline was, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” His personal guarantee was his pledge and promise. And he sold a great deal of men’s clothing on that guarantee.
On a John Maxwell webinar, he noted that growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will get better stating that, “Calendars guarantee you’ll get older, but not better,” Maxwell observed that older takes no effort, but better entails work. Growth is the responsibility of each person. You have to be intentional. Books (read and listened to), podcasts, seminars, and online training are just a few of the delivery systems that can be used. There is no lack of growth opportunity.
Growth equals change. It is impossible to grow without changing. Every growth level demands a new change level. Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who don’t. A person never ages out of growth. Growth is not time sensitive. You can choose to grow as long as you have breath.
Finally, Maxwell suggests a very simple growth process: 1) Learn: Ask, what do I need to learn? 2) Unlearn: This is just as important as learning. Some things you need to quit doing so you can move forward. 3) Relearn: The adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks may apply to Rover, but it has no place in your life.
Growth is a choice that leads to action, that leads to change, that leads to betterment. I guarantee it!