Song of preparation: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
Closing Song: Hallelujah Chorus including masks Covid style
Surviving a New Normal
I begin today with a story that I’m guessing many of you have experienced first-hand. On Tuesday, April 21st, I stopped by a local pharmacy. I sat outside in my SUV for a few minutes before walking in and I was intrigued to see customers walking out of the store with cases of various alcoholic beverages. One guy I watched had on a pair of multi-colored pajama pants, his hair was disheveled and he had not shaved in a while. And I started to wonder – how many people are coping with the disruption from this pandemic by using alcohol as their drug of choice?
The Nielson company, that does all types of studies, surveys and ratings, reports that March sales were definitely up when it came to spirits. Overall, alcoholic beverage sales, saw an increase of 58% by the end of March. And with many people staying home and purchasing items on-line, would it surprise you to hear that overall alcohol sales on-line are up by 243%? A company by the name of Drizly, known as the “Amazon of liquor” for on-line sales and delivery, saw a 300% rise in their sales; while a company called Winc, which is a wine club, has seen a 578% increase of new members. Usually, 207 people join their wine club each day. In late March the numbers were 2,102 per day.
Something else that has been interesting to watch has been the price of gasoline at the pump. Gas costs $1.38 in my little town and yet, I really can’t take advantage of these low prices because where am I supposed to travel during a pandemic? Oil prices back in January were a little over $60 a barrel. Last week, in the middle of April, they were $20. This week they went into the minus column, that is, below zero, for the very first time – ever!
And then as all of you know, tons of people, over 26 million, have filed for unemployment. We, as a country, have not seen this level of continual job loss since the Great Depression.
Now, we all believe and hope that once we get past the worst of this coronavirus that the economy will jump back up. But you can see why and how all of these unemployment figures and small businesses put on temporary hold, would concern our economic and business leaders regarding our present financial stability and future. And you can also see how something as simple and small as a virus, that is an uncontrollable like the weather, that we can’t even see, can devastate and humble any nation no matter how powerful that nation might be.
Now for the last six weeks, there are three terms I have heard on every news channel and mentioned in scores of commercials and internet news articles. And you know exactly what these three terms are because you have heard them as well. I speak of course of social distancing, sheltering in place, and having a new normal. And so, what hit me this week, as we go through some unprecedented times for the entire world, is to talk about how you and I are going to get through all of this. What if the CDC is correct and we have a second wave this fall that is a combination one-two punch of both the flu and Covid-19? What if we have to get use to a new way of operating, learning how to live life under a new normal for the next 12-18 months until we have a vaccine? I say that, because I think it is very possible. I don’t want to live under a new normal, I don’t like the idea of new normal, I want the old normal. I’m tired of this already and I want my old way of life back where I have the freedom to travel wherever I want. And I just wonder, how many people feel the same way as me?
So, what I want to attempt to do today, is tackle a message I’m calling Surviving a New Normal. However, I don’t want to give the impression that survival means we are barely hanging on by a thread, because there really is some good news to share. I want to tell you that we have scores of accounts in the Bible where people had to learn how to deal with a new normal. We are not the first people in history who have had to make adjustments in life where things changed unexpectantly. And the better news is, people we read about in the Bible who trusted in God’s faithfulness, not only survived, but eventually learned how to thrive, as God promised to be there every step of the way.
You know, when you think about it, there are people today, in the year 2020, who are adjusting to new normals all around us.
I’m sure you heard about the worst mass shooting in Canada last Saturday and Sunday, April 18 & 19th, where 23 people so far are dead. A 51-year-old man, dressed as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and driving a lookalike police cruiser, went on a shooting spree in 16 different locations, including starting 5 fires. Do you think all of the people related to these victims will now be dealing with life in a new way, that life will be far from normal for them, that they will have to find a new normal to keep on going? Absolutely they will.
And what about the folks down south with the recent tornadoes where there has been the loss of life and homes, do you think they are dealing with a new normal?
I was reading a story this past week about 40+ factory workers from Pennsylvania, who isolated themselves for 28 days to make a raw material used for protective masks, gowns, and sanitary wipes. Each worker worked a 12-hour shift and then slept and ate on site without going home to connect with their families. That’s quite the level of commitment don’t you think? Can you imagine what their new normal was for 28 days living in a factory? Can you imagine for those who had families with smaller children how they coped during this time of separation?
So, the concept of discovering a new normal is really something we go through all of the time, it’s just that it has been heightened to a new level for the entire world this time to deal with all at once.
Well, as we discuss in our message this idea of having a new normal, I want to take a peek at the Bible and show you a few examples of individuals who had to adjust their lives to a new way of operating in life. And my hope is, as we do this, you will realize we are not alone in this. There have been others. And what’s even more encouraging is to know, they were not alone, for God was with them.
Now for those of you who have been reading each day in the four gospels as a spiritual discipline we’re doing together over 45 days, let me show you four quick examples of what I mean.
In Mark 1, we read how Jesus healed a man of leprosy. His normal day involved warning people who walked too closely to him that he was unclean and to stay away. His normal day was operating with fingers and toes that were missing and a face that looked so hideous he would cover himself. But now, after an encounter with Jesus, he could once again re-enter society and become a contributing member where people were not afraid to touch and greet him. His normal would now change to a new normal.
In Mark 2 we read about a paralyzed man who could not walk. His friends carried him about. He could not work and therefore could not contribute any benefit to his community. Most likely he was single without the hopes of marriage and having children which culturally went against everything the Jews were taught to believe, because children were a blessing from God. But all of that would change when he met Jesus, as two miracles of healing took place. The man was not only healed of his paralysis, he could also instantly walk without rehabilitation. Now life would be different as he lived out a new normal for the rest of his days.
In Mark 8 we read about a blind man being healed. His normal day before being healed, involved begging alms from strangers and being dependent upon their pity. Every day his normal lifestyle reminded him he could not carry on the family trade. Every day his normal said you can’t give back to our community but only receive. Every day his normal said you are a beggar and can’t lift a finger to help; why even a child can do more than you. But when Jesus healed his vision, his life took on a new normal and he would never go back.
One of the more powerful and compassionate miracles takes place in Luke 7. For it is there where we read about a widow saying goodbye to her only son. In the rules of society for that day, women were not allowed to earn a living. A wife could not legally inherit anything from her husband who had died; this would be passed on to the firstborn son. And what we discover in this situation, is that a widow is now saying goodbye to her only son. The two most important men in her life are now gone. If she had other relatives to fall back on, she might live with them. If there were no other relatives, she would have to fend for herself without a livelihood, without a means to provide for herself. She would be allowed to glean the fields for food, but overall, she would live a life of poverty. Her new normal looked very bleak and hopeless. But then Jesus steps in, raises her son back to life, guaranteeing a roof over her head, and there is hope once again.
There are tons of other miracle stories we could look at, but the common thing I wanted you to notice is how someone’s life was transformed in some new way to experience a new normal. There was now a new way of operating, a change they would have to undergo. Life would be different for every person whom Jesus healed physically and spiritually. Life would never be the same ever again. (And I believe that’s true for us as well in 2020.)
Now I realize someone could argue, “Well, pastor, the new normals you’re talking about with Jesus 2,000 years ago are different than what is spoken about on TV today. When Jesus healed people, their new normals would have been perceived as positive, changes for the better. What we are going through right now with Covid-19 is not what we would call a positive, especially since over 50,000 people have died so far in the United States. The fatalities have been scary. After New York and New Jersey, Michigan ranks 3rd among all 50 states with the total number of deaths.”
So, let me say – I hear the argument. I understand how what we’re going through seems different than what I’ve just mentioned in the New Testament. And though my point was simply to share examples of individuals who would undergo a change to their lifestyles, adjusting to a new normal for them, perhaps if I had some examples from the Bible that would not be viewed so quickly as a positive change – maybe that could be more helpful.
So, let’s shift gears slightly and look at three possibilities from the Old Testament that would have been a lot tougher to adjust to as a new normal.
I have to give credit to my wife Lisa for this first example from Genesis 6-9. Can you think of any person in the Old Testament that would epitomize this idea of sheltering in place? If Noah and the other seven members of his family come to mind, I think you are absolutely right. Talk about social distancing! Everyone else in the world is gone. It is just eight people on one ship for over a year.
Have you ever been to county fair and you stepped into one of the buildings housing all of the livestock in their pens? Did you notice a different fragrance as you entered the building? How would you like to be Noah and his family sleeping in a floating zoo day after day? Would you ever go stir crazy knowing all there was around you was water?
Personally, I love being on the water. I love watching the sunsets each night. When cruising, I love to walk the decks early in the morning before anyone else is up. But as much as I enjoy that, I know we will port and have a chance to go ashore and walk on dry land. I know I am not stuck on this ship for over a year. If I want to order room service, someone will bring food right to my cabin. I don’t even have to make my bed. But Noah’s situation is completely different. Noah had to believe God would bring him through this new normal and life as he knew it would begin again one day in the future.
Our second example from the Old Testament covers four books, Exodus through Deuteronomy. I think all of us know the story of Moses and the nation of Israel leaving Egypt and then for the next 40 years finding themselves moving from place to place in the desert before entering the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. But during this time, the Hebrew people had to quickly adjust to a new normal. The desert was not green like Egypt. The desert was dry and rocky. For forty years, the nation of Israel would adjust to eating manna each day and God providing water in the desert. For forty years they slept in tents not in homes. This became their new normal. Children born during this time would experience this as normal, everyday life. Can you imagine sleeping in a tent for forty years in a hot rocky place eating and drinking the same thing every day? That new normal would take some adjustment. Yet God remained with them every step of the way, providing food and water, and reminding them of His presence with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
The last example I mention takes place with the prophet Jeremiah, who warned his people of a coming exile under Babylon that would last seventy years because of all their disobedience to God. Can any of us even begin to understand what that would entail? A foreign power conquers you and then forces you to march hundreds of miles to their country where you become their slaves. I think that definitely counts as a new normal, a new way of operating.
But there is also a great promise that Jeremiah tells his people of a return and that God would not leave them without a future hope. Listen to what God told His people back then and what perhaps many of us need to hear today. Jeremiah 29:10-14
10 “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’
And just as God had Israel’s back, to let them know they would not be alone or forgotten, that God would restore them to their land, that God still had plans for His people – we need to realize God has our backs, that we are not forgotten, that God still has plans for us in spite of Covid-19. Yes, we may have to go through a new normal for a season of time, but God will still remain with us every step of the journey.
I close with this story. Joseph Scriven lived from 1819 to 1886, passing away at the age of 66. He was born in Ireland and finished his days in a tiny white cottage in Canada. Engaged twice, he was never able to marry because of tragic circumstances. His first fiancée accidentally drowned the day before their wedding and then years later his second fiancée would become ill and die. Joseph would choose to remain alone for the rest of his life. In 1855, he would write a hymn that would touch all of us entitled What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
If you remember, the hymn speaks of grief and trials, sorrow and pain that we can turn over to a faithful God in prayer. And I think that is a good reminder to all of us. That as we deal with a new normal in our lives right now like so many before us in the Bible, we serve a faithful God who will listen to our prayers and never forsake us. Let’s pray.