Who could have pre­dict­ed we would live in a time such as this? The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic is shak­ing the world. Gov­ern­ments are strug­gling to respond to the needs of their cit­i­zens. Fam­i­lies are care­worn as they seek to cope. 

How is the Lord ask­ing the Ren­o­varé fam­i­ly to respond to this cri­sis? How is he ask­ing each of us us to adapt to our new environment? 

Peo­ple around the world are anx­ious and fearful. 

I’ve lost my job. Will I get it back? Will it still exist for me when the dis­ease has passed? In the mean­time, how can I make ends meet?” 

My busi­ness has been shut down. When can I open it again? How will I care for my employ­ees and pay the bills while I wait for things to resolve?” 

What about my kids? Schools are clos­ing every­where. How will we man­age as a family?” 

I’m a sin­gle moth­er. The pres­sure is increas­ing every day. What if I run out of money?” 

I’m an elder­ly shut-in. Does any­one know I’m here? What if I get sick? Who will take care of me? I’m afraid.” 

For a moment, let’s pause and prayer­ful­ly acknowl­edge the men­tal, emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal, and spir­i­tu­al suf­fer­ing God’s pre­cious image-bear­ers are expe­ri­enc­ing. As we respond to this cri­sis and people’s legit­i­mate con­cerns and feel­ings, let’s avoid glib or insen­si­tive respons­es to people’s con­cerns and ques­tions. Our ques­tions, our what ifs”, are wor­thy of thought­ful and kind answers, always couched with pro­found love and gentleness. 

Mon­u­ments to God’s Provision 

How have God’s peo­ple respond­ed to tri­als and test­ing in the past? 

I think of Israel gath­ered at the banks of the Jor­dan riv­er after 40 years of wan­der­ing in the desert, now pre­pared to enter the land promised to Abraham. 

Do you remem­ber the sto­ry? Joshua gives the Israelites very spe­cif­ic instruc­tions for how they are to cross the riv­er. When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levit­i­cal priests car­ry­ing it, you are to move out from your posi­tions and fol­low it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have nev­er been this way before.” (Joshua 3:3)

Israel heeds Joshua’s words and pre­pares to cross the Jor­dan, with the priests car­ry­ing the ark of the covenant ahead of the nation. As the priests step into the riv­er, the water upstream stops flow­ing and the dry riverbed appears. The priests who car­ried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the mid­dle of the Jor­dan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had com­plet­ed the cross­ing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:17)

As Israel crossed the Jor­dan, twelve men from among the peo­ple, one from each tribe,” picked up twelve stones from the mid­dle of the Jor­dan, right where the priests were stand­ing, and car­ried them to the oth­er side. 

What did they do with the stones tak­en from the dry riverbed? They stacked them up as a mon­u­ment at Gil­gal, the first place the nation camped after the riv­er cross­ing. Why? These stones were a sign of God’s deliv­er­ance and pro­vi­sion, a sol­id and last­ing mem­o­ry device for every Israelite. 

Imag­ine a lit­tle boy talk­ing to his grand­fa­ther years lat­er dur­ing a vis­it to the mon­u­ment at Gil­gal. What do these stones mean, Grand­pa?” the tiny Israelite asks. They mean the flow of the Jor­dan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. My child, these stones remind us of who God is and who we are. Nev­er for­get.” (cf. Joshua 4:6 – 7

Isn’t it true that we all have a his­to­ry of pro­vi­sion, a his­to­ry of God’s care for us in the midst of the try­ing and test­ing we expe­ri­ence as God’s pil­grim peo­ple? God acts and then asks us to remem­ber with grat­i­tude. Mon­u­ments remind us to do so. They trig­ger our mem­o­ry of God’s pro­vi­sion and grow our abil­i­ty to trust, some­times dur­ing great uncer­tain­ty. What are the mon­u­ments God might ask you to revis­it today? 

Chris­t­ian his­to­ry is replete with sto­ries of peo­ple and places that serve as mon­u­ments to God’s faith­ful­ness, grace, pow­er and pro­vi­sion. I think of Jesus. I think of the cross. I think of his emp­ty tomb. I think of the words I recite every Sun­day: Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Usu­al­ly, I recite those words shoul­der to shoul­der with broth­ers and sis­ters in Christ. But now, for a time, while we can­not phys­i­cal­ly stand togeth­er, I am invit­ed to recite those words in my home, affirm­ing my con­nec­tion with believ­ers across the miles… and across the centuries. 

Length­en­ing our His­tor­i­cal Memory 

My mind is drawn to the bish­op-mar­tyr Cypri­an, a leader of the North African church for an extreme­ly try­ing stretch of time in the 3rd cen­tu­ry CE. His­to­ri­ans often refer to this peri­od as the plague years of Cypri­an,” when a vir­u­lent epi­dem­ic spread over North Africa, killing thousands. 

Shep­herd­ing the church as sick­ness invad­ed con­gre­ga­tion after con­gre­ga­tion was not the only daunt­ing task fac­ing Cypri­an. The Roman Emper­or Decius had declared war on the church and set in motion poli­cies designed to insure its erad­i­ca­tion. So Cypri­an was forced to deal with the dou­ble threats of dead­ly dis­ease and lethal per­se­cu­tion. He was him­self behead­ed in 258CE

How long those years must have seemed for Cypri­an! How dif­fi­cult. How unpre­dictable. Yet his lead­er­ship dur­ing this rough stretch con­tin­ues to inspire us today. 

Pon­der the words Cypri­an wrote to encour­age Chris­tians fright­ened and dis­cour­aged by these tough events. He com­posed them short­ly after med­i­tat­ing on Paul’s encour­ag­ing words in Romans 8 that noth­ing can sep­a­rate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31 – 39). When we read these and oth­er things of this nature col­lect­ed in the Gospel, let us feel, as it were, cer­tain torch­es set under us with the voice of the Lord to stir up our faith.” 

A length­en­ing of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly lessen the fear and anx­i­ety we occa­sion­al­ly expe­ri­ence in our rad­i­cal­ly changed envi­ron­ment, but it’s help­ful to remem­ber we are not the first Chris­tians to face chal­lenges like these. 

Stir­ring Up Our Faith 

So, let’s take a moment to stir up our faith.” As we unex­pect­ed­ly tran­si­tion into the increas­ing­ly volatile, com­plex, and uncer­tain envi­ron­ment of the coro­n­avirus, how can we nav­i­gate it well through the guid­ance and empow­er­ment of the Holy Spirit? 

Here are some thoughts I hope you find help­ful. I’m using them as part of the scaf­fold­ing for Ren­o­varé team plan­ning for the next few months. 

Life can sur­prise us. It doesn’t sur­prise God. God pos­sess­es the breath­tak­ing capac­i­ty to trans­form dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions into oppor­tu­ni­ties for per­son­al growth and unex­pect­ed ministry. 

What life-giv­ing trans­for­ma­tions will occur in the cru­cible of this pan­dem­ic? What unex­pect­ed open­ings for good­ness, com­pas­sion, and mer­cy? Let’s keep our minds and hearts recep­tive and dis­cern­ing for new possibilities. 

God is not lim­it­ed by exter­nal cir­cum­stances. I am present­ly sit­ting in my office at home, quar­an­tined as a mem­ber of the high-risk pop­u­la­tion. (I’m sev­en­ty and have light asth­ma.) As Nathan Fos­ter has gen­tly joked, Your wings are clipped.” I’d much rather be on the road, vis­it­ing faith­ful sup­port­ers of Ren­o­varé. Yet what is God offer­ing me in this new envi­ron­ment?

What might he be offer­ing you in your changed and chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances? What is he offer­ing Ren­o­varé? How, for instance, might the bound­aries of the king­dom of God expand rather than con­tract in the fer­tile envi­ron­ment of solitude? 

What if” is a good ques­tion for Ren­o­varé to be ask­ing as we plan for the com­ing months, a time when we will like­ly be sep­a­rat­ed phys­i­cal­ly from one anoth­er. What if this hap­pens? How can we respond well?” 

Keep your eyes on the Ren­o­varé web­site. The coro­n­avirus cri­sis is extrud­ing new ideas from our minds and hearts. What new con­fig­u­ra­tions of Renovaré’s min­istry will appear as we focus on online out­reach? I’m hap­py to report that just yes­ter­day we received a pledge of $25,000 from a kind donor to increase the menu of our web offerings. 

God always gets the last word. Not fear. Not dis­il­lu­sion­ment. Not dis­ap­point­ment. Not sick­ness. Not death. God’s words sound like this: life, res­ur­rec­tion, hope, love, faith­ful­ness, courage, per­se­ver­ance. Jesus is call­ing Ren­o­varé — and each of us — to respond faith­ful­ly in our new envi­ron­ment with wis­dom, com­pas­sion, and vision. 

Though what we can do in pub­lic set­tings will be lim­it­ed, new pos­si­bil­i­ties are going to emerge. Let’s pray, vision­ate” togeth­er, and rejoice in what God will reveal. I believe the day will come when we look back and see shin­ing mon­u­ments to God’s faith­ful­ness, even—espe­cial­ly—in this dif­fi­cult season.

Chris Hall
Pres­i­dent, Renovaré

Text First Published March 2020

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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