God is Good – by Dave Nisly

We are truly in an uncharted wilderness. Picture a desert with no roads and no trails. There is no sign of what direction to go because there is nothing but an endless sea of sand dunes in every direction. What do we do?

Thirty days ago, I don’t believe any of us would have believed what could happen within a few short weeks. It was beyond anyone’s imagination. Because of the COVID-19 virus, things have changed – not just a little, but they have changed drastically. Who would have thought the Democratic primaries and upcoming presidential election would be largely silenced with no more boisterous political rallies and debates? I would never have considered the possibility of all sporting and entertainment events in the US would be cancelled within days. In some states, businesses have been told to shut down indefinitely with exceptions only for essentials such as food, gas, and healthcare. As of right now, more than 25% of the US population of roughly 350,000,000 in five states are being told to stay at home as much as possible for the next several weeks or indefinitely. If this could all happen within the last two to three weeks, what will we be facing in the next thirty days? We literally have no idea.

I don’t fault anyone about feeling anxious as we wait to see how COVID-19 impacts our personal lives, our communities, this country, and the world at large. Admitting when we are anxious and afraid is helpful. We need to be honest with ourselves and God about what is really going on in our hearts. At the same time, we don’t want to stay there — we don’t want to stay anxious and fearful about something over which we have no control. We need to surrender our anxious hearts to God and allow Him to carry those concerns for us.

During challenging times like this what we truly believe about God is revealed in our responses. Do we respond in fear? Anger? Trust? Anxiety? Faith? Paranoia? Peace?

The fact is we live in a fallen world. Sin is a far more deadly virus than COVID-19. Since the fall of Adam & Eve, we have lived in a physical world marred and deeply flawed by sin. As a result, most human endeavors are rooted in mankind following their pride and putting others down in order to get the desires of their own heart. Sin is rooted in selfishness. It is fueled by greed. Until Jesus returns and destroys Satan, the power of sin and darkness and despair will continue to reign on planet earth.

Because of the brokenness of the world we live in, there are and will continue to be natural disasters, tragic accidents, sickness, and disease. There is pain. There is suffering. As long as we live in time and space, these realities will continue all around us, and Christians are not exempt. This COVID-19 virus is just one example of this. It is equally contagious to believers and unbelievers. It is equally threatening our earthly lives and affecting our very way of life. The virus is inanimate. It is nondiscriminatory. It is an equal opportunity virus. This microscopic virus is creating upheaval around the globe – economically, socially, and medically – it is bringing the most powerful countries and economies to their knees.

Even though we live in a fallen world, God is good. In Psalm 119:68 the psalmist writes “You [God] are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” God is good. God does good. What does He have to teach us about Himself?

God is as good today as He was three weeks ago… three decades ago… three centuries ago… or three millennium ago. God is as good today as He was when He created sinless Adam and Eve and placed them in the perfect garden called Eden. He is the same today as He was in eternity past. And He is the same today as He will be in eternity to come. He is as good today as he was on the day he delivered the children of Israel from Egypt… when He miraculously parted the Red Sea… when He ultimately lead them into the promised land.

God’s goodness doesn’t fluctuate based on what is happening on planet earth at any given time. God was good during the most horrible genocides throughout history. He was good during the deadly plagues that killed millions. God was good when early Anabaptists were hunted like wild animals and cruelly put to death. He was good whenever Christians have been tortured and killed for their beliefs.

Our definition and perception of “good” is flawed by sin. The goodness of God is far superior to what we can grasp with our feeble and finite minds. It describes the character and heart of God.

The REALITY is God is good — regardless of our feelings. Let’s believe it. Let’s declare it. Let’s remember it. Let’s remind ourselves and others — GOD IS GOOD!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have hope. This is something no unbeliever can truly understand. We believers have changed our allegiance from kingdom of sin and Satan to God’s eternal kingdom. Our sins have been forgiven because of Jesus ultimate sacrifice – His cruel death on the cross and bodily resurrection from the dead. We have peace with God because we have been adopted into His family. We have hope – not fear and anxiety.

Titus 2:11–14 (ESV) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Notice how Titus instructs us to live our lives in the present age. We are live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. This admonition is pertinent for today’s present realities. Why do we live our lives like that? Because we are waiting for our blessed hope – the appearing of Jesus Christ. We have something far greater to look forward to and for which to live. 

We live in this sinful and unredeemed world like an ambassador in a hostile country. Our citizenship, our identity, our purpose, is not just here and now. It is for something far greater. We have the promise and hope of life eternal which is given to us with our salvation.

1 John 5:11–13 (ESV) And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

Death for the believer is simply a transition from living in time & space into eternity – we keep right on living.

What is God trying to teach us? Why is He allowing this virus to cause so much disruption? We don’t know the why and probably never will fully know on this side of eternity.

What is He trying to teach us? We don’t fully know presently and we may not know for some time. While we could speculate from multiple angles, I would like for us to consider one possibility. Remember the tower of Babel in Genesis 11?

Genesis 11:1, 4 (ESV) Now the whole earth had one language and the same words… Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

At this point in history, civilization had advanced to a point where they were had learned to accomplish significant endeavors. Because of their success, their confidence and their arrogance soared. They believed they were invincible.

Genesis 11:6–8 (ESV) And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

God understood the potential they had for evil and destruction. He acknowledged their competence when He stated that what they set their hearts to do they will accomplish. In fact, God says nothing was impossible for them to do. So, He intervened. God, in His goodness, created a disruption.

The people’s arrogance, their power, their self-confidence, their aspirations, their goals — they were in control and they were invincible (or so they thought).

God acknowledges potential for misusing their potential and He recognized that it was not healthy and would not lead to good outcomes. So God intervened by causing a disruption that caused them to see that they weren’t as powerful or invincible as they thought they were. It brought these people to their knees – it abruptly halted their massive construction project.

Perhaps God is calling our attention and focus back to Him rather than everything man has accomplished – and that includes what we have accomplished. We don’t know why God is allowing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we do have a responsibility to respond in a manner that positively reflects the character of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What is an appropriate response?

Suddenly having our calendars cleared, fewer activities, and less busyness; lets cultivate habits that can intentionally deepen our spiritual lives in several ways.

Let’s cultivate a heart of humility and devout prayer. This virus has brought the world to a relative standstill (in comparison to several months ago). It has literally brought our prosperous economy to its knees – to a place of humiliation. Being on one’s knees is a vulnerable position. It’s not a comfortable position. It is not a posture we naturally choose.

But God calls us to the posture of humility willingly. We are to do so out of recognition for who God is and our own unworthiness before God.

One of the ways we demonstrate our humility lies in our desire and willingness to spend time in prayer, especially for each other in the body of Christ. In our church, we have prepared daily prayer reminder list of members and regular attendees — let’s fervently pray for each other regularly and systematically. We should also be praying for our government, business and church leaders as they have many difficult decisions to be made. As we humbly pray, we are acknowledging our own inadequacy, frailty, and inability to do anything in our own strength. It is recognizing that ultimately only God is in control.

This is also a time we should take time to carefully examine ourselves, make confession of sin, and walk in repentance. Use this time in which our pace has been slowed to humbly ask God to scrutinize our own life for areas of selfishness, pride, or wrong desires. When the Holy Spirit illuminates those dark places in our lives we have a choice: we can disregard the revelation or we can call it the sin it is and confess it to God as such. After we confess our sin, we must turn away from – repent – and purposely move closer to God.

With a less hectic lifestyle and more free time, this is also an excellent time to immerse ourselves is scripture. Take this time to carefully read and contemplate God’s Word. Read it slowly. Think about what you are reading. Re-read it. Digest it. Meditate on it. Intentionally memorizing scripture is one of the best ways to fill our hearts with God’s truth.

It is fascinating how many of the Psalms seem especially relevant at times like this. The Psalms express deep and honest emotions that connect with us when we are going through difficult and challenging times. Read and meditate on the Psalms.

Let’s not forget that this is a time when people around us are truly seeking truth. They are coming to the realization of their own helplessness and their lack of hope. This is the time to humbly share the hope, the peace, and the confidence we have in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Let’s watch for opportunities to express those realities to those who are searching for something more during this time.

We all have our anxious moments, but let’s help encourage each other to surrender those fears and instead intentionally choose to embrace with joy the hope and peace and confidence in Almighty God, the ruler of the universe.

Inspiration from Psalm 23

Thanks to Marvin Yoder for graciously sharing. “I was scheduled to have SS devotions last Sunday. I’ve been thinking about Ps. 23 since it is the school memory passage this month. Here are some of the thoughts I was planning to share.”

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The LORD (Yahweh/Jehovah)

  • The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
  • Met Jacob at Bethel when he was running for his life.
  • Appeared to Moses in burning bush and led Israelites from Egypt and through the desert.

The Lord IS . . .

  • Without beginning and without end; from eternity past to eternity future
  • Self-existing one; the great I AM
  • present tense; not was; not will be; right now where I am, when I need Him.

The Lord is MY shepherd.

  • That’s personal; yours, too, of course
  • Though there may be 100 sheep, He knows me by name.

The Lord is my SHEPHERD.

  • He came in person of Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd.”
  • In Heb. 13:20 He is that great Shepherd of the sheep

I shall not want. “Want” = “to lack”

  • Not everything I’d like, but everything I need (even during COVID 19).
    • Makes me lie down in green pastures of the Word of God.
    • Leads me beside still waters of peace in turbulent times.
    • Restores my soul when discouraged or defeated.
      • “Cast all your care upon Him.”
    • Leads me in path of righteousness, i.e. right paths
    • Prepares a table before me, avoiding the pitfalls of false teaching and deception.
    • Anoints my head with oil, bringing spiritual and physical healing.
    • Finally, walks with us through the valley of death.

Psalm 46 – paraphrased by John Coblentz

God is…
Our safe house
Our security
Our stronghold
Our sustenance
Our Savior
The one we can count on to be right by our side
Early morning
Through the day
Night-time duty
He’s here with everything we need
When we need everything.

Therefore we…
Are calmed
And comforted
And refuse to give in to anxiety
Though all we can see
Is calamity
Our world is rocking
Waves of trouble
Hurricanes of sorrow
Crashing and tempest
Tumult and shaking

But God…
Oh, the comfort of His presence!
The Rock that cannot move
The River that cannot run dry
Fresh water
Abundant life
Streams of goodness
Deluge of grace
Every day
Every hour
Every minute
Not one second of all time will His people be separated from Him.
He is with us!
When disaster strikes
When the earth crumbles
When the stars fall
When the whole world topples
He’s with us!

Come, consider with me the great things God has done.
He spoke everything into existence
He confused language to frustrate human pride
He destroyed the wicked with a flood
And spared one righteous family
He chose Abraham
He brought His enslaved people out of Egypt
And ravaged Egypt in the process
He parted the waters of the Red Sea… and the Jordan
He commanded walls to fall down
He made the sun stand still
He chased enemy armies with hornets
Then He let His own people be ravaged for their waywardness

Yes, come, and consider even greater things He has done…

He entered our world…

Healing flowed like a river
Life erupted like a fountain
Languages converged into one again
The kingdom of the heavens came to earth
Men and women came to life
Their hearts beat with love
Their lips and hands and feet were bathed in righteousness
People of diverse nationalities and race
Laid down their weapons
Their pride
Their prejudice
And embraced as brothers and sisters in one family

Be still!
Don’t say a word.
Just contemplate.
Meditate on this mega-story
Review each chapter.
Take in each line…

And know!
That God is God.
He will do His will.
He will finish His plan.
He will redeem His people.
He will restore all that is broken.

All nations will sing His praises!
All languages will shout the Hallelujah!

This God is our God!
The Lord Jehovah is with His people
Today
Tomorrow
The next day
Until time is no more…
And then the relationship is only begun!

Thoughts by Darren

I’ve been giving a bit of thought to the reasons that this disruption of our everyday lives feels so “big” to us. Aside from the obvious seriousness of living with the presence of a virus spreading across our world. I believe that the root of what is so off-putting to our modernist minds is our complete inability to control or fully understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Self-sufficiency and self-definition are two of the biggest “goods” encouraged by the culture around us, and right now, both of these things are absent from daily life.

Our self-sufficiency has been called into question as we’ve come to realize that if the delivery trucks don’t bring in the products we need, we won’t have access to them (TP anyone?). We recognize that the little things that we took for granted just weeks ago, aren’t as permanent as we once thought. This causes us to fear.

Self-definition is also unraveling before our eyes. The foundations, upon which people have built their identities, are missing. Sports are nowhere to be found, movie theaters and malls have closed, restaurants and bars are shut down, and most educational institutions have closed their doors. These are all things that people use to define themselves, to associate with a group, to feel a sense of purpose. Now, those things too, have gone from their lives.

As followers of Christ, we are instructed not to live in fear. More than that, we are equipped to follow that command.

We already know that we can’t go through life on our own, that we aren’t fully self-sufficient. We know that we are not promised an easy path through life, and we don’t know what we may encounter along that path. All we know is what’s at the end, and how we’re instructed to walk along the way. On this path, we’re gifted companionship: the church. A family, brothers and sisters in Christ, walking the same path together, encouraging each other, praying for wisdom to navigate well, and helping keep each other’s focus on the road ahead, rather than the darkness surrounding us.

In addition, we’ve also experienced a change in identity. The core of our being must no longer be defined by these externalities. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the good things we’ve been given, it’s just that we’ve come to a place of recognizing these things for what they are, gifts. We’re not to be defined by the world we live in, but by our citizenship to a Kingdom that is to come. In this change of allegiance, comes peace when our world is shaken.

If our purpose and identity comes from beyond ourselves, let’s show the world around us what that looks like! Rather than living fearfully, let’s live hopefully. Not being reckless, but serving our communities in consistent, small ways. Using the confidence that we are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve as beacons of light to those around us. A friendly “Have a nice day!” to someone filling up next to you at the gas station, checking if your elderly neighbor needs help with anything, or reaching out to a friend who’s isolated during this time.

We’ve been given a gift. Let’s not keep it to ourselves. May we become the willing tools that God uses to redeem and transform this dark time into something beautiful!

Prayer Update

Philippians 4:6–7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Even though we aren’t meeting collectively today, we have the opportunity and responsibility to bring our concerns, our thanks, and our requests before the Creator and sustainer of the entire universe. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the privilege and value of regularly meeting… being together… encouraging each other… being the Body of Christ!  Let’s not take that for granted.

At a time like this when you see the panic, hysteria, and paranoia of society in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), it is an incredible opportunity to show our neighbors and those we see in the store a sense of peace and calm that comes from putting our trust and confidence in Someone greater than ourselves.

Fear is of Satan… peace is of God.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Historically at times like this, it is Christians who step up and put their own lives at risk in order to help others. We saw this with the Ebola virus in Africa several years ago. Believers have the willingness and courage to help those in need because we have the assurance of our standing with God — forgiven and redeemed — and we are willing to sacrifice the comforts of this transient life to show others the love of God and His care for them. It is a daily dying to self — it is being willing to give up my life to help others, not just figuratively, but literally.

This is not a time to careless and flippant — however, it is a time to live and act with courage and confidence because our hope is not in this life — but in the life to come.

We live in a fallen and sinful world. Because of that, there will be disease, natural disasters, tragic accidents, and many other difficult situations we face. Let’s not become so consumed with and attached to the present world we no longer yearn for the better life to come in eternity.

Let’s intentionally use this time to draw closer to God… let’s allow God to purify our hearts and cleanse our hands. As we do so, God will inevitably identify areas of our lives that require surrender and change. Let’s submit to the Holy Spirit’s plea.

James 4:7–10 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Let’s use today and this coming week as a time of focused prayer… the needs of our own hearts… the needs of our congregation… the needs of our community…. the needs of our nation… and also that this national emergency would be seen as an opportunity to show the life-changing love of Jesus to those we come in contact with.

Blessings to each of you today (and this week)!

Service Cancelled

The Coronavirus has become a focal point of discussion this week. Yesterday afternoon, there were two significant announcements – the Virginia governor closed all schools in the state for a minimum of two weeks, and President Trump declared a national emergency. Beyond that, sporting events, concerts, parades, and other events with large numbers of people are being cancelled around the country.

This virus is highly contagious and especially dangerous for people over 60 years old or with chronic health challenges.

Since last weekend when there was one confirmed case in Virginia, on Wednesday there were nine, by Thursday seventeen, and as of 6pm last evening there were 30 confirmed cases in the state. This is a rapidly developing and changing situation each day… and even, throughout the day.

In an attempt to be prudent without overreacting with irrational fear and panic, we have been discussing what adjustments we should be making to our Sunday morning service. In the end, we concluded we should cancel the worship service tomorrow morning in order to mitigate the possibility of the older high-risk members be exposed to this virus… and recognizing that there likely are other members who have been exposed and may be carrying the disease.

Shortly after President Trump’s press conference declaring the national emergency, he also declared tomorrow, March 15, a National Day of Prayer. Let’s take this opportunity tomorrow to specifically pray for each other as a church family but also our community and nation during this time of uncertainty. This is an opportunity to show we have faith and confidence in God… and we have hope beyond this life.

If you have specific prayer requests you would like our church family to be aware of, please call me or send a text message. I will try to send out an email with the requests tomorrow forenoon.

Here is a good reminder from Ivan’s sermon last week from Philippians 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.