How are you feeling?
5 days have passed since the PA and DE governors issued orders for schools to be closed and for most of us to work from home. Since then, the time period for the lockdown has been extended into May for many if not for us all. Has the novelty of having “extra” time to spend with the family (spouse, children and anyone else who lives in your home) worn off? Are you starting to feel the itch of cabin fever? Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sudden overhaul of your lifestyle and schedule? On the other hand, there are some of you who are in the “trenches” fighting on the front lines of this battle against COVID-19. You are most likely on edge as you see the number of positive cases rise and the number of people seeking treatment grow in the medical centers where you serve. Whether you are at home or at work at a life-essential business or at a medical care facility, you are all doing your part in fighting the coronavirus.
In the midst of the fight, we are certain that you are wishing for things to go back to “normal”. Our “normal” before all this might not have been “ideal,” but for most of us, the “normal” was a lot better than what it is now. In one sense, we just want to “go back home.” Sadly, we don’t know when things will return to “normal:” 1 month? 2 months? 4 months? Some states predict that students may not return to school until at least the fall. What do you think? What are you going to do until then? In regards to the church, we have not met for corporate worship since March 8th. We don’t know how you feel about it, but we miss seeing, conversing with and worshipping with all of you! We miss our church family - our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of faith in Christ Jesus. How we long to be able to hear our voices praising together, praying together and proclaiming together the greatness and goodness of Christ Jesus our Lord! What are we to do until then? Are we to fret and grumble? Are we to sit and wait this out, doing nothing? Or, should we take action and seek to meet together? Is it ok not meeting together for so long and are we violating Biblical teaching by not meeting together as a church? Does it not say in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together” (NIV 1984)? Is it enough to participate in streaming or virtual worship services?
First, please, let us not fret and grumble. Our Father God has a good plan for us and the church. Often, we will discover that the outworking of his plans for us do not have to “feel good” or even “feel right” from our perspective. God will always do what is right and he will always do what is not just good, but what is best for us and the church. So, Paul directs us to “14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that [we] may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). Believe in our Father’s promises and trust also in Him. Our current sufferings are but for a moment in eternity and they too shall pass. However, if you have a sudden urge to complain, go before God our Father in prayer and complain. We see many examples of lamenting and complaining in the Psalms. Wrestle with God concerning the emotions in your heart and thoughts in your mind. I trust that after you have wrestled for a time, you will find peace as you learn in prayer that we are powerless to do much and that God is more than powerful to accomplish his good will and his good plan for us.
Second, please, do not just sit about and do nothing, twiddling your thumbs anxiously. Paul exhorts us saying, “15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We are surrounded by darkened spirits. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, depression and hopelessness fill the hearts of many around us. We cannot be a source of life and light to people if we act “unwise” wasting our time doing nothing or worse, doing sinful things. Let us walk wisely and seek to do good. Take time to pray. Take time to read, meditate upon and study Scripture. Encourage and build up your spouse. Bless and lift up your children. Reach out to your neighbors via text or phone; better yet, wave to them and speak loudly to them across your yard or street and share a word of encouragement with them. Prayerfully, seek to do something good by God’s grace to those that are around you. Redeem the time God has given you for Christ and don’t just Netflix it away (enjoy it in moderation, please).
Third, we would be delighted to meet together ASAP. Meeting together would make us sooooooo happy. Being deprived of something that we may have taken for granted, knowingly or unknowingly, is a good way to force us to realize anew how good it is. “Absence [truly does] make the heart grow fonder” for many things. We miss worship. We miss church. We miss you, our family of faith. One week is usually too long, but to not have met together with you for 3 weeks, we long to gather with you again. However, we should not, we cannot not haphazardly skirt the guidelines put out by the CDC and disregard the rules set out by the governors. God clearly commands, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2). Unless the governing authorities are commanding us to do something that contradicts God and his word, God commands us to submit to and follow the governing authorities. This leads us to the next topic.
Fourth, in our current situation, not being able to meet together is not unbiblical and it is not sinful. God calls his people to meet together whenever possible, but in extreme situations where God’s people cannot meet together, God call his people to live, to serve and to worship him where they are. God is a God of wisdom and compassion. God grants us flexibility in certain situations where we are limited by circumstances out of our control. Take for example the Israelites who were taken into captivity, exiled from their homeland and away from the house of God. The exiles had no temple in which to worship and offer sacrifices and they did not have the ability to make pilgrimages. What did God command them to do? Did he order them to rise up and overthrow the Babylonian government so that they could go back to Israel and worship? No. God commanded the Israelites to “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:4-7). God reminds the Israelites that they are in exile because he has ordained it (“where I have sent you into exile”) and that he has a plan in the midst of the exile. God calls Israel to trust in him even though their life situation was turned upside down and was less than ideal. He calls them to be productive and reproductive and to prayerfully seek the welfare of the people around them. Why? God wants to bless them and grant them welfare even in the midst of their suffering. God knows the people want to return to Israel, to go back home. God knows the people want to worship at his temple in Jerusalem. However, God basically tells the Israelites that he understands what they can do and can’t do and tells them to live their lives for his glory where they are.
Fifthly, the NIV 1984 translation of Hebrews 10:25 reads, “Let us not give up meeting together.” However, the ESV translation more accurately translates the verse as “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” The Hebrews 10:25 does not focus on the ability or inability of meeting together, but rather on the sinful habit of choosing not to meet or neglecting to meet together even though one has the choice and ability to meet together. In our current situation, we do meet together as a church family because we DO NOT have a choice to meet together. Our governing authorities have given all people a lawful (Biblical and secular) command to not congregate together - not just churches. The command is a general prohibition against congregating together to promote the general welfare of the community. The command does not discriminate against Christians and the church. Hence, we do not have the biblical grounds to circumvent or resist the lawful command - no matter how much we want to meet to worship. Instead, we should pray for the governing authorities and pray for the general welfare of our community and seek the welfare of those around us by doing what we can to support and encourage one another (check-in on the elderly neighbors, shouts words of encouragement to your neighbors, etc… just maintain the “social distancing” guidelines). Why? When we seek the welfare of our community, we promote our welfare as a church and as a people.
Lastly, participating in streaming or virtual worship services is NOT enough. Nothing can take the place of being able to meet face to face and interact together, engaging all our senses in worship and fellowship. We share a special blessing by physically congregating together to pray, praise, fellowship and worship. No “virtual” service, no matter how well made (even with the best of our current technology) can replace the blessing of physical presence. However, it is the best that we have and it is definitely better than nothing. We should not discard 90% of what good we can do and gain virtually just because of the 10% of what good we can not do and gain virtually. Via streaming and virtual worship, we are able to still participate in reading the Scriptures, in praising our God, in praying corporately, in giving our offerings and in receiving the blessing of the Word preached. It’s not the “total” package but it is most of it. We are thankful that at least we can share the majority of worship with you and we pray that you too will be thankful in receiving it. We hope that the lockdown will be lifted soon and as soon as it it, we will take quick steps to get together as quickly as humanly possible. As we have already shared, we miss you all. We long deeply to be able to worship, fellowship and share in the Lord’s Table with you again. We pray that you too are longing to gather again as a church family and are looking forward to the day when we are able to meet face to face (and we can share handshakes and hugs again).
We do not know how you are feeling today and what emotional upheavals you will experience tomorrow. We can only pray that even in the the mist of all the instability, God our Father will provide you peace that surpasses understanding and will grant you faith to see his goodness through the cloud of uncertainty and fears. We hope and pray that the virtual worship services we currently offer and the the virtual Bible studies, discussions and Sunday School classes we are hoping to offer soon will provide a sense of normalcy and fill you with much blessings from God through his eternal, life-giving word.
God bless you and sustain you through his Spirit and his Word.
Lord willing, we look forward to worshipping with you, virtually, this Sunday at 10:00 AM!
In His Grace,
Pastor John O