It was just six weeks ago that the COVID-19 pandemic began to rock our worlds, changing the way we work, relate, recreate, and shop. I could go on with that list, but you get the idea. Coronavirus, a word most of us didn’t even know a couple of months ago, has totally disrupted our lives, including how we do church. We all long to get back to normal, don’t we?
I get it. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to get back to “normal”, especially when it comes to the church and how we approach our mission. For too long we have depended on people coming to us. We have poured our efforts into worship services, children’s and youth programs and other ministries that take place in our buildings, hoping that people would come and consider the claims of Christ. Then, six weeks ago, all of that was taken away from us and we were forced to get creative and find ways to “go and tell” instead of hoping that they would “come and see.”
When we finally do get to start meeting together again, we are going to face the temptation to go back to the way things were before COVID. We’ll tell ourselves that we don’t need to worry about our digital presence anymore because we can meet in person. And people will be free to come to us, so we can curb our efforts to find ways to connect with them where they live. Time to get back to “normal,” right? I hope not.
It occurs to me that we are in a similar position as the children of Israel when they were faced with crossing the Jordan and entering the promised land. You remember the story, don’t you? The 12 spies came back with the report that the promised land was even better than they had imagined. But 10 of the spies pointed out that there were giants that would have to be defeated, so the majority got cold feet and thought it might be best if they just went back to normal (Egypt).
It’s interesting that they remembered Egypt being better than it really was. It’s not that Egypt was so great, but it was predictable. They had learned how to survive in Egypt and crossing the Jordan to take possession of the promised land was just too risky.
We have gone through an incredibly steep learning curve over the past several weeks, trying to figure out how to be the church in a season when all of our favorite tools have been taken away from us. We have taken significant steps to have a meaningful online presence, have found ways to do discipleship when people can’t gather, and have creatively penetrated our communities with meaningful acts of service.
When we finally can start meeting together again it would be so easy to retreat to “normal.” For the sake of people who need Jesus, don’t do it! We have stepped into the Jordan, there’s no going back!
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… Psalm 46:1-2 (NIV)
Over the past several days my mind has repeatedly been drawn to Psalm 46. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to build, as the jobless numbers climb, as 401k accounts shrink and as we become increasingly isolated, fear is a very natural response. And yet, the Psalmist declares boldly that because God is our refuge and strength, even if the earth gives way we will not fear.
Fear is an incredibly powerful force. One doctor observed that “fear is the most devastating enemy of the human personality.” I think he’s right. Fear paralyzes us, making it impossible for us to think clearly and behave rationally.
And it’s not just fear of contracting COVID-19, or worse yet, someone I love contracting it. It’s fear of losing income, fear for family members, fear of isolation, even fear that my church might not survive. So, what’s the key to overcoming fear, even fear in a worldwide pandemic? Look toward the end of the Psalm in verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Be still? We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” A missionary named Don Seymour reversed it; “Don’t just do something, stand there!” That’s kind of the idea behind the Psalmist’s counsel to be still.
When confronted by fear conventional wisdom says, “Sleep less, try harder, do more.” But God says, “Be still.” Being still has kind of been forced on us, hasn’t it? That’s not all bad if we use the stillness to know God. The benefit of being still is found in verse 11 of the Psalm; “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
It’s interesting that when I’m rushing about, consumed with fear and worry, I lose all awareness of the fact that the LORD Almighty is with me and I start to believe that I have to fix things myself. But when I am still before the Lord, I am reminded that the God of Jacob is my fortress. It’s not the economy, not medical science, and certainly not my efforts that keep me safe. It’s the God of Jacob.
An old man was out walking with his grandson. “How far are we from home?” he asked. “I don’t know,” answered the boy. “Well, where are we?” he asked. Again came the answer, “I don’t know.” “Sounds to me like you’re lost,” said Granddad. Quickly the boy replied, “I can’t be lost. I’m with you.”
Be still. The Lord Almighty is with us. We can’t be lost.
My friend and DS colleague, Phil Stevenson, recently wrote the following blog, that I share with his permission.
George Zimmer was the founder and CEO of Men’s Wearhouse. When he was the face of the company his tagline was, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” His personal guarantee was his pledge and promise. And he sold a great deal of men’s clothing on that guarantee.
On a John Maxwell webinar, he noted that growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will get better stating that, “Calendars guarantee you’ll get older, but not better,” Maxwell observed that older takes no effort, but better entails work. Growth is the responsibility of each person. You have to be intentional. Books (read and listened to), podcasts, seminars, and online training are just a few of the delivery systems that can be used. There is no lack of growth opportunity.
Growth equals change. It is impossible to grow without changing. Every growth level demands a new change level. Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who don’t. A person never ages out of growth. Growth is not time sensitive. You can choose to grow as long as you have breath.
Finally, Maxwell suggests a very simple growth process: 1) Learn: Ask, what do I need to learn? 2) Unlearn: This is just as important as learning. Some things you need to quit doing so you can move forward. 3) Relearn: The adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks may apply to Rover, but it has no place in your life.
Growth is a choice that leads to action, that leads to change, that leads to betterment. I guarantee it!
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
–Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
I am becoming increasingly convinced that if we are really going to change the makeup of eternity we are going to have to make disciple-making a higher priority. We are busier than ever, but it seems that we are making more religious consumers than we are disciples. The Great Commission, in too many cases, has become The Great Omission.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we haven’t really taken the time to define what a disciples is. What does a disciple look like? What is it, exactly, that we are trying make?
I’ve been wrestling with that just a bit, so I searched the Gospels to see how Jesus defines discipleship (what Jesus says is always a good place to start). In fact, I wrote a sermon on the subject that I have preached in a number of our churches over the past few months. What I saw was:
Author Chad Walsh said this: “I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a man travels far enough away from Christianity, he is liable to see it in perspective and decide that it is true. It is much safer, from Satan's point of view, to vaccinate a man with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease.”
May we never be satisfied with vaccinating people with a mild case of Christianity. May we always be driven to make disciples who learn, follow, love and reproduce.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
Wow! What a statement! I can do all things, not some things, but all things through Christ! It works kind of like this. Once, when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls, he had a game where he scored 65 points. They were so far ahead, at the end of the game the coach cleared the bench and put in all the guys who never got to play. The sub who replaced Jordon scored one point on a free throw. Later, he was asked about his most memorable experience in basketball. He said, “It was the night that Michael Jordan and I scored 66 points.”
That’s how it works. “I can do all things through Christ…” Look at what Jesus and I accomplished together! When something good happens, we all know who really gets the credit.
The two most important words in the above verse are “through Christ.” They may also be the hardest two word n s in the verse, especially for us “Type A” personalities whose tendency is to act first and pray later.
In November I was privileged to attend an Exponential church multiplication cohort with my fellow District Superintendents. One of the themes that kept coming up over and over again is that nothing happens without fasting and prayer. Nothing??? Yeah, nothing. If I want the supernatural strength that comes “through Christ”, prayer and fasting is a prerequisite.
In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders writes,
“…strange paradox, most of us are plagued with a subtle aversion to praying. We do not naturally delight in drawing near to God. We pay lip service to the delight and potency and value of prayer. We assert that it is an indispensable adjunct of mature spiritual life. We know that it is constantly enjoined and exemplified in the Scriptures. But, in spite of it all, too often we fail to pray.”
And he’s right. Many of us pay lip service to the value and importance of prayer, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t pray. At least not like we should.
God has called us to change the makeup of eternity in the upper Midwest by multiplying until we have a transforming presence in every zip code. That vision is too big to accomplish through human effort, so, as I go into the year 2020, my resolution is to strengthen my prayer life by fasting weekly. I challenge you to join me and I invite you to hold me accountable.
Happy New Year! I can’t wait to see what Jesus accomplishes through us in 2020!