Taking Shelter in God: reflections on Isaiah 25

storm

You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat. (Isaiah 25:4a)

This chapter from Isaiah’s prophecy speaks to the restoration God will bring for His people even as “ruthless nations” rise up against them. Isaiah speaks of both a future restoration as well as a present help from God that is rooted within God’s “perfect faithfulness” (vs 1) and sovereignty (“wonderful things planned long ago” – vs 1). We see here that the overriding vision of God gripping Isaiah’s heart and mind transforms his outlook on the present circumstances. Let’s consider again the phrases Isaiah uses to describe God in verse 4:

  • “a refuge for the poor”
  • “a refuge for the needy”
  • “a shelter from the storm”
  • “a shade from the heat”

Isaiah reminds us that in a wide variety of circumstances, both natural and social, God protects and keeps His people. It is not a question—”will God do this?”—but an expected certainty—”God will do this.” At the same time, notice what Isaiah does not tell us here. He does not say, “Because you trust in God you will never face distress, meager times, storms, or heat.” Isaiah is not so unrealistic in his faith as that. He has weathered his own storms, and is facing some when writing these words. Instead, he reminds us that when stormy times come upon us, God is with us and available to us as a trustworthy refuge, shelter, and shade.

Isaiah continues his prophecy with images of restoration that we later encounter in the final book of the New Testament (Isaiah 25:6-8; Revelation 21:1-5). John drew upon Isaiah’s words in the closing chapters of Revelation, and so they are familiar to many of us. These images depict darkness’ removal like the lifting of a shroud, death decisively swallowed up, tears wiped away, and disgrace eliminated. Such beautiful imagery grabs our hearts and fills our imagination with hope. When our present circumstances resonate more with darkness, tears, death, and disgrace, it is good to read again words filled with such ebullient hope. Isaiah speaks with prophetic power that our dark circumstances are not the end of the story, whether our story or that of the broader world. God is still at work.

The critical calling in all of this for us is to trust God. “In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him” (Isaiah 25:9). As it did for Isaiah, what characterizes God’s people in distress, storms, and heat is their overriding vision of God that shapes their outlook through trust in God. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are easily overcome by anxieties about what will come, confusion about how to live in the present, and paralysis about what to do and what not to do. Every day the news changes, leaving us like a boat cast upon rough and stormy waters. This is the natural reality of being human with all our limitations.

However, the question that each of us must answer is what we will do when these anxieties surround us. Will we let them overwhelm us so that our outlook is shaped more by our circumstances and the anxieties that so readily result from them? When it comes down to it, what will shape our vision and outlook in life?

In a sense, we have entered into the moment of our faith’s testing. Although it may sound simplistic, do we trust only what we can see or do we trust the Living God? “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Certainly faith also sees what gathers around, but that is not all the eyes of faith sees. When our overriding vision is of God and not just our circumstances, we know we can bring our anxieties and fears to God in prayer. That movement of faith to reach out to God enables us to encounter God as our refuge, shelter, and shade. We move forward driven by faith—active trust in God—and not by fear—agitated anxiety about our circumstances. In these days all of us need that reminder again and again. I believe this is at least part of what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote from prison to the Philippian church:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

We have entered into a time of deep distress that will mark our lives in many ways. But take heart, my friends, our God is with us as “a shelter from the storm.”

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Zephaniah

Sovereign LORD,
we know that a time is coming,
the great day of the LORD,
when You will stretch out Your hand
to judge the nations of the earth
and sweep away everything
from the face of the earth.

We tremble before You, LORD,
for who can truly stand in that day?
We seek You, LORD our God,
we seek righteousness and we seek humility
that You might shelter us on that day,
and save a remnant for Your name.

In this present day, we also tremble
over the distress that has come upon us.
Our strength is demolished
and the streets are deserted.

But You, LORD our God, are with us;
a Mighty Warrior who saves us.
Show forth Your great delight in us,
and in Your love rejoice over us with singing.
Remove from us the grief of our losses
and restore our fortunes before our very eyes.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Eastbrook at Home – March 22, 2020

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times related to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, I want to invite you to worship with us at Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home. On Sunday beginning at 8 am, we will stream our weekly worship service for you to watch at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As this is a new endeavor for Eastbrook, we expect that there will be some technical issues that we will need to address. Please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo here.

This weekend we will continue our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets,” as Pastor Femi Ibitoye speaks from the prophet Zephaniah. You can access all the messages from that series here.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Regular updates on COVID-19 and coronavirus impact for our church activities can be found here.

Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this critical time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 March 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars“Coronavirus Resource Center” – Please take a look at this resource from Harvard Medical School, which provides answers to important questions that many of us have about the nature of COVID-19. One of the most important things to read on this relates to the spread of the virus. “A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers also found that this virus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall. But most often they will fall more quickly.” We should be aware of these facts and adjust appropriately, not just for our own sake but out of love for our neighbor.


1_lwPg8Ugu1wPz6XFcOpSgyA“Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup” – Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard offer a sober look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is more than a blizzard we can wait out, but a potential ice age that will deeply affect the nature of all that we do for the next 12-18 months. I strongly encourage you to read this article. “In any case, responsible leaders have no choice, today, but to assume that the winter is upon us, and an ice age of unknown duration is before us. We are playing a game no one now living has ever played before. We are, for reasons only God knows, on the front line, on the starting team. Let us act boldly, today, to build as best we can, for the love of our neighbor and the glory of God.”


Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine“Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine” – If you’re not familiar with Justin Earley’s book, The Common Rule, I would highly recommend if you have free time now to give it a read. However, if you do not have capacity to read the entire book, I would strongly recommend that you take a look at this resource for individuals and groups adapted for the situation of quarantine related to COVID-19.


cs-lewis_at_desk“C.S. Lewis on Times of Fear” – Thanks to Chase Replogle of Pastor Writer for posting this extended quotation from C. S. Lewis on facing fears, followed by an extended reflection on Psalm 91. Writing from the context of post-World War II and the growing threats of the atomic age, Lewis’ words are bracing for us in this day. “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.'”


116063“20 Prayers to Pray During This Pandemic” – Jen Pollock Michel writes: “In recent days, as COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and countries have taken urgent measures to stem the spread of infection, I wish I could say that my first impulse has been to pray. It’s probably more honest to say that I’ve obsessively refreshed my feeds….With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 20 prayers to pray during this pandemic. Each one addresses the specific needs of a specific community.”


article_5e6edf554f658“The Time of the Virus – Ephraim Radner offers this insightful look at the life of the church in what he terms “the time of the virus.” He looks at the calling to quarantine through the lens of jubilee, which may give us a new way of reflecting on this. He also sees the church’s struggle with the virus to actually be a challenge—a provocation—to be the church and engage the culture in new ways that we have missed in recent days.


fear not“Preaching in the Wake of COVID-19” – Preaching Today quickly pulled together a number of resources for pastors who are trying to figure out how to pivot the ministry of preaching to meet the changes of this day and time. Resources include Jeremy McKeen’s sermon “Christians and the Coronavirus” from Matthew 6, Max Lucado on “Facing Fears” as a preacher, Darrell Johnson on “Preaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic” with reference to Romans 8, Lee Eclov on “Preaching God’s Unfathomable Comfort,” Scott Gibson’s “Preaching and Panic,” and my own article “The Ministry of Preaching in the Time of COVID-19.” Thanks to the editors for the invitation to contribute and for so quickly pulling this resource together.


church cancelled“Places of worship need immediate government support, too” – Sean Speer and Brian Dijkema call for government attention to the supports that churches will need financially and in other ways as a result of the pandemic. Writing from Canada, they call public officials to recognize the needs of this moment not just in terms of social, economic, educational, and medical spheres, but also in the sphere of spiritual care and support for people.


_111334288_kids_976alamy“Coronavirus: Should you let your children play with other children?” – I found this practical guidance from the BBC about social distancing and children helpful as many of us navigate having children home due to school cancellations: 1) Follow guidance of local health authority on what’s safe; 2) Avoid playgrounds or other high-touch areas; 3) Go outside!; 4) Interact with friends and family over the internet or video chat. I also saw that Crossway Publishers is offering free e-resources during this time.


Music: Mahalia Jackson, “I Know It Was the Blood

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Habakkuk [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App SquareLike many other churches, this past weekend at Eastbrook we had to make a major shift in our gathering due to the concerns related to COVID-19 and coronavirus. This was accentuated by the declaration of a public health emergency in our state, and the recommendation that groups over 250 no longer meet. We switched to online service for this past weekend, but still continued our series on the message of the minor prophets, “God in the Ruins,” by looking at the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is one of the 7th century BC prophets in the Hebrew Bible, ministering near the time of Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah. Habakkuk’s prophetic message is gathered into book form in the following structure:

  • Habakkuk’s first complaint and God’s answer (1:1-11)
  • Habakkuk’s second complaint and God’s answer (1:12-2:20)
  • a final prayer of trust and worship (3:1-19)

You can view the message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

Read More »