Culture reset

Two years ago, I wrote in this space about a Lent I would never forget. During that season, we nearly lost our eldest son, Chris, to pneumonia which turned into sepsis.

We are thankful that in answer to our prayers and excellent medical care, he is recovering today. During this season of Lent, I again find myself amazed at what we are all facing.

I am now living in semi-retirement in Illinois. I work part-time on staff at a church and was in the process of shepherding a series of Lenten services when it all came to a screeching halt.

As is happening around the world, we were placed under a shelter-in-place order which stranded everyone in "non-essential" work to our homes.

While this must seem like heaven to introverts, it is a trial to an extrovert like me. But I must say, during this slow down I have been forced to do what the season of Lent is about, that is I have had to think about my life.

First, there are my idols.

An idol-in-one's-heart is not a statue. It is anything, or anyone we put in the place of God. These are what I dread losing. I am a lover of convenience, and it is most inconvenient to be stuck at home.

Then there is my hatred of changing plans. Yet all my plans have been disrupted.

Another idol is my fear of financial insecurity. The crash of the stock market and the slowing of the global economy to a crawl is a threat to my pension income I depend upon. And what if my Social Security income is compromised? I might even lose my part-time job. Then what?

I might be forced to depend on the only One I can really depend on.

Or what if the best of health systems ever known fails to extinguish the coronavirus? We might get sick even with our best efforts at social distancing and hygiene. Who will be our Physician then?

Or suppose our democracy cracks under the pressure of the emergency. As people seek safety over liberty, will our country or world ever be the same again? To Whom can we turn to lead us out of this crisis?

These, and questions like them faced the Jews in Bible times as enemies put an end to the nation of Judah as recorded in the Old Testament.

Even God's temple and its furnishings were plundered and destroyed. How could God let this happen? Where was he?

Far from being taken by surprise, God was, and is, right where he always is -- in charge.

Even as God had instructed Moses on setting up the nation, he warned the people against relying on other things (gods) rather than on him. One of the laws was that every seventh year was to be a sabbatical year for the land.

Those farmers were told to let the land rest and to rest themselves by letting the land lay fallow for a year. Every 50th year would signal two sabbatical years in a row. During that time everyone, rich and poor, would depend on God for provision.

An economic reset occurred meaning that land which was purchased would return to the family of the original owners, and slaves would be set free!

This was the "acceptable year of the Lord" Jesus came to announce (Luke 4:19). The problem was, God's people had spent 490 years ignoring what God had said. As promised in Leviticus 26:34, 43, God removed them from the land so that the land could enjoy its sabbaths, 70 years of them in a row (2 Chronicles 36:21).

This seems to have cured them of at least their outward idolatry, but as their Messiah comes to them centuries later, they reject him. Idolatry is a hard virus to cure!

We take comfort in a promise in the midst of their crisis given through Jeremiah (29:11) "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Then, he says, "you will call upon me and pray to me."

But the context of this promise refers to the "seventy years completed" in Babylon.

While I hope our world is not facing the same seventy-year fallowness God imposed on his own people, sometimes God finds it necessary to get our attention.

To slow us down and make us think. Maybe we can use this Lenten Season of social and spatial distancing to confront our own idols.

Pastor Gary Brown former pastor at New Zion Evangelical Church in Emlenton serves as associate pastor in Winnebago, Illinois.