What I've Been Thinking About

by Reni Horban

May 25, 2020

Does God have a plan?

For many in Ontario, the most eagerly awaited news of the day is the briefing from our Premier. Will more of the restrictions be lifted? Is there any good news? Are the numbers going down? Is there any hope of getting out of this mess we call Covid -19?

I have been drawn to Jeremiah 29 over the last several days. I feel a certain affinity with the Israelites as they find their lives completely upended. Their plight , in so many ways far worse than ours. Taken from their homes, and in some cases their families, everything is strange. Nothing is normal. And then they find out there is news - a letter from the prophet Jeremiah has arrived ! Surely there would be news of how God was going to come to their aid and get them out of this situation. Surely there would be news of supernatural deliverance to come.

The news was not what they hoped for. Instead of an escape plan, it was a guide to coping with their new normal. I encourage you to read the text found in Jeremiah 29: 4-14. The question of how to live in this time of exile was broken down into two parts. The first part had to to with everyday life.

They were to settle in. Build houses, plant gardens, have children, get married. In other words live a normal life. This in itself was disappointing because this was not the normal life they wanted. How could anything be normal in this strange new land? They wanted to be back home in Israel. They wanted things to go back to the way they always been. On top of this new normal ( that they really didn't want ) they were to be good citizens in this new land and pray for God's blessing on it. Yes, pray for Babylon and it's ungodly leaders.

The next part of the letter deals with their hearts. Now we need to back up a bit. This exile was allowed by God and it was one Jeremiah had warned about for years. God's people had not been behaving like God's people. For the most part they had been living their lives like the nations around them. Jeremiah and Isaiah had preached countless sermons on the dangers of Israel's fascination with idolatry and their growing disregard for the Sabbath.

Don't get the wrong idea here. Israel didn't want God out of their lives. They just wanted other things more. They assumed that because they were God's people they would automatically have God's blessing and protection.

The most oft quoted verse from this passage is verse 11 - "For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your well being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." We generally stop right there and claim that wonderful promise. But keep reading and you will get a sense of just how this hope filled future will unfold. "You will call on to me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart."

The hearts of these people had grown cold. The years in exile were not be wasted. It was time to pray. Not just the hurried prayer before meals but focused and even desperate prayers. Prayers that started with crying out to God. The promise was that God would hear those kind of prayers.

Our present state of Covid -19 does not have a time line. Israel was told they would spend seventy years in exile. I highly doubt our particular time of isolation will be that long.

What we can know for sure is that God has a plan. Scripture abounds with events that seemed hopeless and even evil and yet God works in them for the good of his people. For many of us this time of isolation has revealed some idols that needed tearing down. For many of us there has a been a recognition that we didn't take advantage of gathering together with other believers when we had opportunity.

We have very little knowledge of the specifics of those seventy years. But we know something happened in hearts of God's people. When they returned to Israel just as God had said, their first priority wasn't to work in their field or rebuild their homes. The first thing they did was rebuild the temple. They wanted their place of worship back.

When finally they were all together in that temple, they had a time of worship. Then the old prophet Ezra stepped up to read Scripture and something unexpected happened. A sound rose up that threatened to drown out the words he read. It was the sound of weeping. As Israel heard the Word of God they were overcome with emotion. This was a day they had longed for, prayed for.

Sometimes I imagine what the first Sunday back with my church family will be like. I feel like there will be weeping. In fact, just thinking about it brings a lump to my throat.
In the mean time, in this time of Covid exile, there is work to be done. Certainly the practical work of day to day living. But there is work to be done in my heart. There is the work of learning to seek God with my whole heart. There is the work of smashing down a few idols. There is the work of focused prayer. Don't waste this exile. Ready your heart for that first Sunday morning worship!

~ Reni Horban


May 6, 2020

Continuing my thoughts from 1 Kings 19....

Elijah's words contain two unspoken questions: Is God hearing me? Is God doing anything?"

After nearly two months of social distancing and loss of so many freedoms, those two questions are ones we have at least thought , if not voiced. No doubt countless prayers have been prayed - prayers for a vaccine, prayers for no vaccines ( depending of course on which side of the issue you stand!), prayers for this whole miserable pandemic to end. It's easy to assume God has shut His ears or worse doesn't have a plan to get us out of this mess.

Elijah, even after being so graciously tended to by God's hand still has questions, still is not back to his old fiery self. After a couple of days of rest , God tells him " Get up" ( 1King 19:7). It is not to get up and enjoy the day, but get up and get moving! Elijah now has a nice long walk ahead of him - a forty day walk to Horeb.

I find it interesting we have no details about this long walk. No accounts of sweet communion with God, no sign of Elijah perking up in his faith. Finally Elijah reacts Horeb and now God asks a question: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" The answer seems obvious and you might expect the reply from the great man of God to be "Well I am obeying your command." But instead it is clear Elijah has been waiting for an opportunity to give a carefully rehearsed speech that has underlying tones of accusation against God.

"I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and they are looking for me to take may life." Now that's a bold speech!

God in his mercy doesn't respond but tells Elijah to go out wait for to hear from him. The mighty God of creation displays his power in a hurricane force wind, an earthquake and a fire ball. In none of those displays does Elijah sense God's presence. Then a whisper so quiet , he could have missed it. In that whisper Elijah knew he had just met with God.

Elijah had become accustomed to the miraculous, to great displays of God's power. He had just endured a prolonged period of silence. He made the mistake, we often make, thinking that God's silence means inactivity.

You might think after this encounter, Elijah would have a very different answer to the same question "What are you doing here , Elijah?" God is giving Elijah a do over so it is surprising that Elijah answers with that very same, carefully rehearsed speech.

This second speech hs always made me a tad uncomfortable and I suspect it is because there is something about it that reminds me of myself. I am all too often very slow to learn, very slow to leave my rebellious ways, and worse-my rebellious thoughts. I am very often so overcome with confusion , disappointment, and self- pity I fail to remember God hears and God has a plan. James said Elijah had a nature like ours and my oh my, can you ever see it here. Even great men of God do not always abound in faith.

Now Elijah is about to hear from God in no uncertain terms. First Elijah was told get moving again and get back to work. Then God revealed a portion of his plan for Israel and the judgment he would mete out. It wasn't what Elijah expected. It involved a king from a pagan nation for one thing, and a new king for Israel from another royal line. As it would turn out this part of God's plan was several years down the road. The second part of God's plan was personal and a fix for the loneliness Elijah felt - a companion and fellow worker named Elisha.

God's final words to Elijah come under the heading "and by the way". Elijah has been so certain he was the only one - the only one who still honoured God in a nation that embraced the worst of paganism. God says "Elijah, I have seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal". Elijah wasn't alone in the good fight of faith - not even close.

So back to those two questions: Is God hearing our prayers and is God doing anything in this pandemic? The answer is yes to both. I am reminded that while God hears my prayers, He does not always answer in the way I expect. What I perceive as God's inactivity is God's timing - which is always precise and perfect.

Like Elijah, I find waiting tiresome. Even the strongest get weary. I am encouraged with Elijah's response because it was probably his least faith filled one! He just got up and went to Horeb for no other reason than he was in the habit of obedience to God. He just kept trudging along in his disappointment and confusion with all his question. And that was ok. Eventually the fog surrounding his circumstances lifted as God in his perfect timing worked out his plan

My goal is to be like Elijah in this - that I would keep walking and obeying even when things make little sense, even when it seems God is inactive. God is ALWAYS doing more than I know!

~ Reni Horban


April 27, 2020

For all my CCC friends ( specifically those who attended my Sunday a.m. class) here is the latest instalment in my series of online "Lessons." I have been fascinated by the life of the prophet Elijah lately , so the next couple of posts will reflect that. Be encouraged!

For over a month now, we have collectively been in our new normal of social distancing. I am noticing that the initial fortitude and " We can do this people" attitude is fading. The novelty of home cooked meals and Instagram posts showing newly acquired culinary skills have slowed to a trickle. The reality is that our current state is wearing on us. We are tired.

I find great comfort in the raw accounts of human frailty in Scripture. Are you tired of doing the right right thing, tired of walking in faith when there is no good news? You are in good company! James says the prophet Elijah was like us - in that he experienced the whole gamut of human emotion. ( James 5:17)

The great man who fearlessly preached when few would listen, who experienced God's supernatural provision, had a rough patch of extreme discouragement. Oddly it came on the heels of what looked like the beginning of revival in Israel.

In 1 Kings 18 there is an account of an epic showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah is determined to show Israel that Jehovah is the one true God and he succeeds. The contest between Jehovah and Baal centres around the sacrifice of a bull. The true God was the one who would rain down fire on the sacrifice. Even when Elijah dumped gallons of water around the sacrifice, God sent fire that consumed the whole thing and terrified everyone, including the Baal worshipers.

As Israel recognizes Jehovah as the true God the drought that had plagued them for three years comes to end within hours as the windows of heaven open and rain finally falls.
Here is where things take a downward turn. Elijah assumes the battle is over and everyone would return to worship God as they had years before. It looked like revival should have broken out but instead there is bitter disappointment for Elijah. His life is in danger and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel vow to have Elijah killed.

It is at this point that Elijah suddenly and completely runs out of steam. We are told that this man who bravely stood up for God , when the majority didn't , was afraid and instead of facing Jezebel as he had done before he runs away. He quit.

There was a lethal combination at work here. First Elijah was just plain worn out. The human body can only sustain an adrenaline high for so long before it crashes. And second , Elijah could not figure out what God was doing. Shouldn't the fire from heaven, burning up the sacrifice , have turned every heart in Israel toward God? Shouldn't the rain finally coming be enough for Elijah to finally have the ear of Israel? In Elijah's mind God had let things take a terrible turn. His reward for years of faithfulness was a death threat.

In this state of extreme dejection Elijah walks for a full day where no one can bother him- into the wilderness. Exhausted he rests against a tree and says " I have had enough. " He was done. No more fiery sermons, no more faith filled proclamations, no more miracles - just done.

I actually find strange comfort in those words because they echo my own moments of discouragement. The comfort is that God didn't seem the least put off by Elijah's discouragement and doesn't leave him. If you read the account you will notice that God doesn't immediately respond . Instead he just lets Elijah rest.

When Elijah had rested God began the process of strengthening him. Elijah was no stranger to miraculous provision. Remember this was a guy who had food delivery via ravens ! But this time it was different. A angel of the Lord bakes fresh bread and brings a jug of cool water. A simple meal and one that is significant.

What is it about bread that is so comforting and basic even with our fear of gluten and carbs? Before bread became a forbidden food to so may North Americans , it was considered a staple. If you had bread you could survive. Beyond that , whatever recipe God used for that bread it provided the complete nutrition for the worn out prophet.

Elijah didn't need a fancy meal. He needed bread, he needed water. It seems to me when I am discouraged my greatest need is a basic one. I need the bread of life and living water. Simply put I need the presence of Jesus and I need His Word to speak life into my discouraged soul.

There is more to this story and I plan to continue it with another post. But for now be encouraged with this account of discouragement. It is a part of being human - although God never intended it to be a permanent state. There is a remedy for this malady. Certainly our physical bodies need rest a nutrition but even more our souls need the bread of life and living water. Get out your devotional books, and get into the Word! Read through Psalms and find encouragement from fellow travellers. Read the gospels and be amazed once again at the love and power of Jesus. Read Romans and be awestruck at the plan of redemption. Feed your soul!

Romans 10:17 - Faith comes by hearing and hearing though the Word of God.

~ Reni Horban


April 15, 2020

Hoarding is no longer just name of a TV show, but a shameful reality for us living in the land of Covid-19. Who would have thought that toilet paper would become the new hot commodity? Hoarding is a by product of fear - specifically the fear of not having enough . It comes on the heels of loss.

In this month we have experienced loss. Loss of income for many, loss of social contact, loss of so many freedoms we have taken for granted. Many are losing hope and are increasingly weighed down with despair. All that in one month. Can you imagine if this went on for a year or two or three?

In the book of 1 Kings we read about a famine brought on by an extended drought that lasted three years. This particular famine was judgement of God over an idolatrous Israel. Famines brought tremendous loss and hardship. Economic loss for sure and as it continued a health crisis for Israel and the surrounding nations as people were poorly nourished. Some quite literally starved to death while others died of causes related to malnutrition.

God has multiple ways of taking care of His own and the prophet Elijah experienced this in a couple of unexpected ways. For a time he lived by stream and was brought food by ravens. That in itself is worthy of an entire study but my thoughts are about the next way God provided for the old prophet.

I encourage you to read the account in 1 Kings 17. Elijah goes outside the boundary of Israel to a little village in Sidon called Zarephath. There he meets a noms in complete despair. She has experienced more than one loss. She has lost her husband, and has used up her financial resources. She has run out of food. She has a little boy and plans to make one last meal with her carefully hoarded provisions and then wait for the inevitable - death by starvation.

It is to this impoverished soul that Elijah is sent. Initially he is sent to ask for a portion of that final meal. That in itself is odd. Elijah , was known as a miracle maker and instead of helping this woman , he asks her for help!

What would you do? I applaud her for not walking away without even answering and resisting the urge to scream. I find her response telling and one more and more of us can relate to - " I have nothing." Can you blame her for hoarding that last bit of flour and oil? She has nothing to give. She has exhausted her every resource.

Anyone find themselves exhausted? Exhausted from trying to feed your constantly hungry family. Exhausted trying to home school your kids. Exhausted trying to be cheerful. Exhausted trying not cry in FaceTime calls to loved ones.

Elijah ( under the direction of God) had some nerve asking this woman for help. He is not the least put off by her response " I have nothing." It seemed perfectly reasonable for her hoard her tiny supply of food to meet her own needs. Elijah says - you go ahead and make that meal for your son and yourself but FIRST make me something! Wow, thats presumption! Elijah goes on to explain that if she opens her hands to give , God is going to keep that supply of flour an oil coming as long as the famine continues.

Its such a strange story on so many levels. But it does follow a principle we see through out Scripture and that is " He gives more grace." ( James 4:6) The miracle was not just that she was able to feed herself, her son, and Elijah but that God took her " nothing " and multiplied it. Generosity in any form never depletes us.

The words of a hymn from my childhood have particular meaning for me in these strange times.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done;
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

When we open our hands to give of our " nothing" , God has a way of filling them . Closed hands can't receive, hoarding hands can't receive.

How long will our present situation go on? There isn't a clear answer. What we do know is that as long as it goes on " He gives more grace."

~ Reni Horban


April 8, 2020

It started out to be such a nice day. On the shores of the Galilee Jesus sat down to teach. At first it was just a handful of followers , but word got out and soon there was a big crowd mesmerized by the teaching of Jesus.

Finally evening comes , the crowd dissipates and Jesus suggests a nice boat ride would be in order. Sounds good and because there were at least four fishermen in the group a boat was readily available. Jesus, tired from the day decides to take a nap in the stern of the boat. Remember Peter, James, John and Andrew knew that sea very well. These seasoned sailors knew enough not to set out on the Galilee if a storm was brewing , but all looked lovely and calm, so they set sail.

All three synoptic gospels share this account but Matthew adds that a storm came on without warning - suddenly. But these guys were not novice sailors. They had navigated dozens of sudden storm on the this sea. Nothing they couldn't handle. This storm, however, was different. Yes, it took them by surprise , but the intensity of it was something they had never experienced. Within a short time their boat was filling up with water and these skilled sailors were terrified for their lives. Things were out of control .
It's not hard to draw a comparison to what we are going through right now. March 12 started out as a nice day and by evening we found ourselves at the start of the storm called Covid- 19.

There are some puzzling aspects to the storm account in the gospels. First, it was at the suggestion of Jesus that they set out for sail that evening. Did the storm take Jesus by surprise? What about the time lag between the disciples desperately trying to manage on their own and finally waking Jesus? Was it an hour, two hours? Even more puzzling was the disciples's accusation to Jesus " Don't you CARE that we are going to die"?

The storm seems to end as abruptly as it started. Just three words from Jesus and it was over. The wind gone and the sea calm.

The terror the disciples felt was the terror we all fell when we realize we have completely lost control. Our best efforts aren't enough. Vigorous hand washing and social distancing are all things we should do , but let's not WAIT to cry out to Jesus.

It wasn't that the disciples hadn't seen the power of Jesus. They had seen Jesus cure leprosy, cast out demons and heal all manner of disease and sickness. But who would have thought creation would listen to the voice of their beloved Teacher?

None of the gospel writers tie up this account with a pretty bow. Jesus doesn't offer any explanation for the events of the evening. He never explains why the storm came or why he let his dear friends find themselves in the middle of it. He doesn't answer any of the questions I am sure they had. Instead he asks two questions: "Why are you so afraid and do you still have no faith?"

I must admit reading those questions from the lips of Jesus makes me squirm. I could list several reasons for the fear I have felt at various times as we navigate this pandemic. But in the end Jesus answers every one of those fears with Himself. He who calmed those waves, promised He would never leave or forsake me. This pandemic has not taken Jesus by surprise. We may well be in for some very rough seas but Jesus is still with us.

Then that second question "Do you still have no faith?" When I can't find my faith , I go looking for it. I have walked with Jesus long enough to have Him provide when my bank account has been empty. I have walked with Jesus long enough to see Him work in situations I thought might do me in. I have walked with Jesus long enough to find out that very often He gives just enough strength for the day, but then it is right there again the next day.

The words of Eph. 6:16 come to mind often these days - "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith". That protective shield does me no good unless I take it up - put it on. It is intentional. Faith is fuelled by reminders of God's goodness and by the only truth out there - God's unchanging Word.

~ Reni Horban


March 31, 2020

I miss singing- specifically I miss singing in church. Like many of you I have found comfort and encouragement in some of the great Christian music we are able to access. Sometimes I hum or sing along as I go about my day , but that's not the kind of singing I miss. I miss singing in my church. I miss singing in the middle of a congregation. I miss hearing our sanctuary ring with the praises of God.

God's people have always been a singing people and a singing together kind of people. The plaintive words of Psalm 137:4 keep coming to my mind - " How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?". Even sadder are the words that precede that verse " By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres."

Just to give some context, these words describe the emotions of Israel as they have walked the long journey to Babylon. They didn't want to go - they were forced, they were captives. Tired and discouraged they lost all hope of their lives returning to normal. Nothing was the same. Sounds familiar doesn't it? You sense their utter defeat as they hang up their musical instruments . What use could they possibly have for those harps? And just to make it worse their captors ask for a song! ( Sing us one of your happy , clappy songs)

So how can we who find ourselves in this foreign land of covid -19 isolation sing the Lord's song? To be honest , it starts with difficulty . It feels a little weird. But even if you just hum or sing haltingly ( or even get so choked up you barely get out the words) , you are doing it. You are singing the Lord's song in a foreign land!

Isaiah prophesied about these dejected Israelites who thought they would never sing again. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with SINGING." ( Isaiah 51:11).

I am no prophet but of this I am sure -there will come a Sunday when my church will once again be filled with singing - really loud singing. I am looking forward to that Sunday when the singing of our congregation will be heard all the way to the 404!

Meanwhile , keep singing. Find music that proclaims the goodness of God. Find music that fills your mind and heart with the truth of God's faithfulness. Keep practicing for that Sunday when once again we will sing TOGETHER!

~ Reni Horban


March 25, 2020

There is a lot anger out there and blame for people not social distancing , businesses kept open etc. Let me offer some positive observations : When I walk in my neighborhood people have been very careful to give a “ wide berth” when meeting others . We wave or nod and smile rather than speak . The cashiers at our grocery stores deserve a huge shout out for putting themselves in a vulnerable position so the food supply continues .

People are adjusting the way they connect and worship with their church . I know our CCC staff is doing their best to connect and teach and encourage in new ways .

And as for our healthcare professionals they are working LONG hours putting themselves at risk for the good of our country . I am personally acquainted with some and I know the strain they are under .

Families are self isolating and feeling the frustration of all of this and I applaud all of you !

There is still good out there !

~ Reni Horban


March 24, 2020

For the last few days the words of Josh 3:4 have been on my mind - "You have not traveled this way before." That is of course , where we all find ourselves - on an unfamiliar path which grows more unfamiliar each day.

Israel was about to have their lives put upside down. For forty years they had been serving manna three times a day to their families - cooking it every way possible to offer some variety . But now manna is gone and there are strange foods most of them have never even tasted. A huge learning curve was about to happen. Life was changing and it was changing quickly.

As with any learning curve there would be missteps. There would be adjustments. After forty years of bread from heaven at their doorstep ( or tent flap ) now they had the hard work of gathering food , preparing it and making sure their families were nourished. I suspect there were a few mealtime disasters!

There is a parallel for us in their situation. Many of us have relied on having our souls fed by our weekly gatherings. We have counted on Sunday school teachers and youth pastors to make sure our kids learn the way of God. Now things are a little different. Its not quite so easy. We have to make a different kind of effort here so that our souls do not experience malnutrition.

To be clear , God did not stop providing for Israel but the method was different for sure. Take advantage of what God is providing . For my CCC friends use the Blast app to keep your kids connected and learning. Tune in on Wednesday night and Sunday and keep checking your email for new developments. On this new path things often have to be adjusted! And use your extra time at home to take in God's Word.

Joshua had one important instruction to Israel about this new path. Don't run ahead of God . They were to follow the ark ( the symbol of God's presence ), not rush ahead , but follow when it seemed to moving slowly .

This path we are on calls for patience. But God is with us as surely as He was with Israel.

~ Reni Horban

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