I have been fairly quiet about our situation and this pandemic (except to Amy, she has heard more than she can stand probably.) What I am about to share will not be popular and maybe not even be well received, but I cannot keep quiet any longer. You are free to disagree, disregard my opinion, or ignore me further. But please read all the way through. I never write or say anything hard without offering hope and grace. I usually just steer clear, but the time to be quiet has passed.
First off. The whole pandemic has made me mad for 2 reasons. One March madness via NCAA tournament was cancelled. Kentucky had worked out the kinks and we were ready to go deep into the tournament. Championship Number 9 is where the sights were set. It was attainable. But… it was cancelled :(! Second, have we forgotten how the those low down, dirty, cheating Astros and Red Sox stole championships? I was looking forward to a whole season of trash can banging and shaming the cheaters. It was gonna be epic. We were gonna get to see them struggle to play the game that they cheated to play in the first place. It was going to be justice in action. Now, everyone (except me) has forgotten. Boy they caught a break.
Covid-19 has most folks hunkered down and on high alert. There seems to be a general concession that we should all stay inside away from everyone. This is what the government says, the media, and local authority as well. The weirdest part for me is not being able to assemble for church on Sundays. Churches across our nation has basically closed the doors and went to online streaming. To be fair, some churches were already doing online streaming. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I have a warning/prediction about this here in a few minutes. What is so odd to me is how fast we abandoned ship. I realize that it was recommended and in some cases mandated, but we all bailed fairly quickly. If we are not careful, we will end up giving up more than we had every thought we would. A verse came to me while I was running last week and it has challenged my heart over and over the last several days. It is 1 John 4:18
“There is no fear in love: but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
We meet on Sundays to worship and proclaim Jesus, the one who provided and provides perfect love. His perfect love casts out fear, but we won’t risk coming to a building because we may or may not come into contact with someone with a virus. (Which could’ve happened before we knew of the virus.) The question in my mind is, “what were we worshiping in the first place?” If He is the really the Christ, is He not able to protect us from any virus? Is He somehow unable to keep us with His perfect love and power? Has Satan actually found the one thing that is more powerful than God? God is more powerful than anything we will or could possibly face in this life. Psalm 139:16 is a great reminder when we fear. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance: And in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” God knows your entire story; how it came about and how it will end. It is out of your control and completely in His. If your story ends with you getting a virus and dying, or getting hit by a bus. It will find you no matter if you are quarantined, alone on an island, or living in a metro. I believe it is already fixed. You cannot control it.
Hiding in fear and thinking we can control the situation is completely irrational behavior. Jesus has already conquered sin, death, fear, and has overcome the world. Since He lives, even if we die, we will rise again if we are in Christ. Why are you giving up and conceding to the whims of a government system that has proven over and over again that it cannot be trusted. Perfect love drives out fear. Right now, our thoughts of Christ ruling this world ought to supersede our guilt, doubts, and fear. Our eyes ought to be fixed completely on Him right now and let Him remind you of the victory and hope of Him in every way. Let that drive fear far from you. Perfect Love cast out fear.
I have a few warnings, predictions, and encouragements for you to consider in the days ahead:
- If you are a pastor/church leader, be careful not to become obsessed with the number of views, likes, and shares. Church leaders seem to be hardwired for measurables (I fall into that camp as well.) Since we aren’t physically meeting together right now, it is easy to point to the number of times that a sermon is viewed as a measurement of health. The real measure of health most of the time is and always should be; are people loving God with all that they are, loving their neighbor as their self, and making disciples? Preaching Christ and making disciples should never stop, mandate or no mandate. Make sure you cultivate a humble heart during this time.
- A year or two ago, there was some buzz about pastors in Texas having to turn in their transcripts for what they were preaching on Sundays. They were preaching against homosexuality and it was causing quite a stir. Technology keeps moving forward by leaps and bounds. Now, just about every sermon is online for the world to see. It will be easily filtered, profiled, screened, censored, and wide spread persecution to follow. They will be able to monitor every sermon easily and label it hate speech whenever the government deems it necessary. If you don’t believe me, ask our brothers and sisters in China if this is outside of the scope of plausibility. There is a report this week in Florida about a pastor being called upon for jail time because he has ignored the mandate of 10 or less people. Persecution will come, but it won’t be packaged the way we may think. It starts out with us running to find security and “normal” because of health concerns, it could end with you in jail because of your beliefs. Their will be people who call themselves Christians who will agree with the arrest. Persecution of believers has always been a “when” situation, not “if.” We may become easy targets right now. Embrace it, Jesus did!
- What are you doing during this time of social distancing or quarantine? Be careful the habits you cultivate during this time. It only takes 21 days or less to cultivate new habits. By the time this thing ends, what healthy or unhealthy habits will you have unconsciously cultivated? Will you be addicted to binge watching TV, over eating, avoiding friendships, staying isolated? OR will you cultivate healthy habits like prayer, Bible reading, connecting with others, family devotions, start a new hobby, actually talking with your kids, make new adventures? Everyday is a blank canvas, I mean a really blank one. How will your story develop and continue long after everyone has forgotten about Covid-19? Be careful how you spend your time.
- Back to pastors/church leaders. Whether your church has stalled or grown in the past, church growth will be more difficult than ever before. It will take real work to help people reconnect after this settles down. Start brainstorming now for ways to get people to grow together again. For some folks, church on the weekends was something they did out of obligation. They weren’t in love with it. They may get to the other side of this pandemic and see church as a waste of time, because they were never sold on it in the first place. During these live stream church experiences, services have been shorter. This is going to come into play months from now. Your people will have to be retrained to expect a longer experience which will cause some to struggle to come back. As a leader, you would be foolish to not start game planning how to reconnect the body as this goes along. Your church is a blank canvas right now, what will it be 6 months from now if these mandates aren’t lifted.
- The days of pioneer, entrepreneurial, and maverick leaders are here. Traditionalism will struggle more than ever before. If you are not an out of the box leader, you need to surround yourself with folks who are. They will help you see things that you never thought of. They will challenge you at every turn. They will push you out of complacency as a leader. You, as a leader, are in uncharted waters; yet you still have to lead the people God has called you too. If you won’t lead, they will scatter or double down on comfort. God is calling you and I to lead even when its hard and unpopular. We don’t have the option to phone it in. We will have to give an account of our leadership to the Lord, even while we faced this season of uncertainty. So lead well, lead strong, and surround yourself with people who will push you and your people to be radically obedient.
This pandemic is still in God’s control and He is going to use it to continue redeeming people while building His Kingdom. We can either trust Him and be a part of something amazing; or we can bury our talent. We need more bold and courageous believers to live by faith and the Spirit and not by fear. I love the quote by John Wayne, “Courage is being afraid, but saddling up anyway.” We are all unsettled right now, but we know we are on the winning side so we don’t have to live in fear.
The spiritual landscape is rapidly changing. We need to channel a spirit of perseverance during this time. Our freedoms and liberties are going to get challenged more and more. We need to make up our mind who we will trust and follow. We have our mind made up in our home. No matter how bad it gets, no matter the threat or persecution; we will trust and follow Jesus. I realize that this puts us in lonely territory, but I believe it is the only way to live. I didn’t follow Jesus ought of comfort. I have counted the cost and count everything as loss, except to know Him. What about you? Who are you following? What will you do when trials and tribulation come your way? You might want to decide right now, while there isn’t much at stake.
I realize that this is a long post and somewhat disheartening, but it is necessary. I believe God has laid this on my heart to share; therefore I simply cannot be quiet. My desperate plea for you is to really consider who Jesus is to you and invite you to trust and follow Him no matter what. He is worth it and you will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11.)
Grace and Peace to you as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness!