Dec 272020 1 Response

Would You Call This a Coincidence?

When truth marries timing, I’m amazed. Others call it a coincidence, but some things seem perfect to be coincidental. At our church, we had such an incident in 2020.

The date was Sunday February 23, 2020. It had been one month since the first case of COVID had been diagnosed in the US. We were still two and half weeks from the first diagnosed case in Arkansas. Our church didn’t know it at the time, but we would only gather two more times in person as a full congregation. Sunday February 23, 2020. It was the last sermon in a series on the first of the fruit of the Spirit—love. We called the series love-ish as we contrasted God’s true love with our frail attempts at love-ish. The sermon had the simplest point of any sermon preached this year, just two words—“love listens.” It was also the longest sermon I preached all year: 45 minutes.

I look back on that Sunday as a microcosm of our lives—God is speaking to us far more than we realize.

Love Listens

On that day, our church was reminded of God’s love for us as expressed by His willingness to lend us His ear. Because of Jesus, we have access to God whenever we want it with the promise that He will hear us. It’s an amazing gift.

As we experience God’s love, He transforms us and we begin to give to others what He has given to us. We love as He has loved us. This means we begin to listen to those whom we otherwise might never hear.

On that day, we concluded the sermon with a major application point. I challenged the church to intentionally seek out voices from people who have a different story from us, specifically for those of us who are white to listen to people of color so that we could understand their story and maybe start to discover our own biases. Love listens. (To see one suggestion of how we could listen, see The Best Book I’ve Read in Five Years)

A Summer of Tension

Little did we know that within three months there would be world-wide protests and national tensions over the issue of race. They began in May when a video was released of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. The story that had been originally told didn’t match the video. Two white men who had no police or judicial authority killed a man without charge, trial, or any imminent danger to their lives. Thankfully, they filmed it. Protests followed and then a series of events through the summer caused those protests to grow.

But what amazes me is months before our nation was in turmoil, God had already spoken to us. He had already given us a path forward. He had already challenged us to listen to others so that our perspective might be widened and our compassion might be deepened. He challenged us to walk a narrow road which few are willing to walk and yet a road that leads to life for us and others. He called us to love to such an extent that we listen.

Do We Listen?

My question is did we do it? Did we take seriously the Word of God that day and immediately begin to take action in our own lives in order to obey what He commanded of us? Did we recognize that God was graciously attempting to protect us from what was to come and to possibly empower us to lead our community and nation through significant times? Did we obey? (See: What You Are Missing and May Not Even Know It)

Or, did we half-heartedly listen that day never realizing that God was speaking? Did we just evaluate the sermon based on how it made us feel or did we sit in service thinking about lunch or the week to come?

When I think about the timing of that sermon, when I consider the whole yearlong study on the fruit of the Spirit planned long before we ever knew what this year would hold, I am amazed at God’s activity among us and His willingness to continually speak to us through His Word. I am grieved at the thought of how often I fail to hear God even as He is shouting at me. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude that He loves us so much that He continues to speak and act in our lives.

Where Were You?

Where were you February 23, 2020? Were you in worship? Did you obediently arrange your life around the discipline of corporate worship? If not, can you believe you missed out on God speaking something so important to us months before we would know that we needed it? If you were here or if you listened online, did you obey? Did you take seriously the process of listening—not to me, but to God through the foolish method of preaching? What notes did you take? How engaged were you that day? What actions did you take in response to what you heard? If you could go back and re-do it, how engaged would you be knowing what you know now?

We have no idea what 2021 might hold, but one thing we know for certain, God will be speaking to us. And the pattern of God so often is to give us answers before we even know what questions we will be asking. Yet to listen, we have to be obedient in how we arrange our lives and we have to be fully present as we engage His word both privately and corporately. (See: When Circumstances Turn You to Scripture)

By the way, do you know what day Ahmaud Arbery was shot? It wasn’t in May when we first heard his name as the protests began; that’s when the video was released. He was shot on Sunday February 23, 2020. On the same day that he was being shot and the circumstances began which would lead to a year of great racial strife, our church was being told from God’s Word to listen, specifically to listen to people of color who might have a different story than us.

God speaks. 2020 reminds us that we need to listen.

So, what do you think? Was February 23, 2020 just a coincidence, or was God speaking?

For more, see:

Hearing a Quiet God in a Loud World

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