Will Covid-19 Change the Church?

Like many, in this time of ‘social distancing,’ my heart longs for connection. It isn’t really a new longing. Feeling like a mis-fit is common for me. But COVID-19 has given me a new appreciation for connectedness. It’s truly helped me understand the beauty of Church in a much deeper way.

‘The church is not empty, it is deployed’ sentiments abounding on social media are nice but incomplete.

COVID-19 did not deploy the church.

The Church has been on mission since its inception. It is sometimes misunderstood – and even misused – as a social gathering, a source of comfort, or a place to express oneself or recharge after a rough week. But that’s not the Church of the Bible.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

The Church is NOT the building – that is truth. The Church is the living stones of people being built TOGETHER as a habitation for the Spirit of God.

BUT I am not the Church.

You are not the Church.

Only together does the Church exist: WE are the Church. The Church is to function in unity, not just in isolation.

My prayer is that COVID-19 will redefine the church—a definition that encompasses personal responsibility and corporate unity. Such was the cry of Jesus’ heart in John 17. In fact, He said, the world will know Him by unified loving of one another.

The Church is deployed by coming together and going into the world.

Yet in all of the positives that are coming out as responses to COVID-19, a hidden danger rises up to menace me:  when social isolation passes, will people prefer an easier, individualistic idea of church? Will church become something to do on your own, in your own way, at your own time? The actions of individuals must never be mistaken as a complete definition of Church. It has a much higher, holier purpose.

The functions of Church – evangelism, education, worship, social connection – are to be the daily activities of individuals…whether there is a pandemic happening or not.

  • Christians SHOULD share the verses that encourage them to hold fast to Christ.
  • Christians SHOULD share the Gospel.
  • Christians SHOULD worship in song.
  • Christians SHOULD be Jesus to everyone they encounter.

It is wonderful that COVID-19 is inspiring more individuals to accept personal responsibility! But let’s not think that such actions replace ‘the Church.’ The Church, praise God, is much more than SHOULDS and DOINGS.

Church is both the gathering of those called by Christ’s name

…AND the sending out of those called by Christ’s name.

The Church is corporate unity in heart and action, AND it is individual expression of the shared passion. The Church must gather together with all the challenges and sacrifices that unity requires – and not be content with individualized action alone. Our identity is as the body of Christ. Checking on the elderly folks you know is a good thing to do…but gathering together with other believers is being the Church too.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

“Social Distancing” has brought my heart a clearer understanding of the beauty of corporate ‘Church.’ I celebrate the creative ways many are gathering to support each other:  Zoom Prayer Meetings, car convoys to declare love, neighborhood projects.  The Network offers some more fantastic suggestions. Coordinated, corporate activities have a beauty and a benefit far beyond the ‘activity.’

What COVID-19 response from your Church has blessed you the most?

Have you launched a creative way of ‘gathering together in the midst of isolation that others might try?

Be the Message

Singing the song God placed within you is another way of saying, “Be the Message” God has given you.  As believers, our lives are to ring true…the words we say are to be expressed in the way we live.  The indwelling Spirit provides the power for this to take place.  As Oswald Chambers expresses it:

“Pentecost did not teach the disciples anything; it made them the incarnation of what they preached…”

Colossians 3:9 states it as “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self…”   We are new creations when we receive Christ as our life.  To live otherwise–to live like the world or live out of our personal preferences is a lie.

But we were shaped and designed before we came to know Christ.  Living the abundant life Jesus died to provide us requires that we learn our design and seek to understand how to apply the Truth of God to our unique life.  The Holy Spirit fills and heals our hurts as we dig into the Word and find the balm we need as an individual.

Understanding and wisdom are buried in the Word of God.  Spending time in it–and making effort to apply it to the past and the present is key to living the Christian life.  Transformation in Christ is a beautiful thing!

room makeovers

We all enjoy great make-overs!  When we come to Christ, the make-over begins.  Before Christ, we live life on our terms doing the best we can with what we have.  Coming to the Father through the Son is the only way to become all we are designed to be.  God knows our design and our purpose.  We must get to know Him in order to fully realize ourselves.

photo of child reading holy bible

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

God loves diversity…it is His plan that not a one of us are the same.  Although everyone of us is made in the image of God, we have been uniquely crafted for purposes only God knows.  Every life in His sovereign care….even the things we do not like about our lives have been allowed for a purpose that can be great if it is infused with the Spirit of God. The answers each of us long to have are treasures buried in the Word of God.  Seek God in His book and He will bless you and use you to help others who are seeking as well.

Treasure the work God is doing in you.  Believe He is doing the same in others.  We are all imperfect representations of the Gospel Message.  God knows we are all made out ofhands clay dirt–we make things pretty muddy sometimes.  But He is capable of working with dirt…He loves to do it.  Simply live with integrity.  Be the Message God has placed within you and refuse to be sidetracked.   You need not be perfect…don’t ask others to be either.  His power is made complete in our weakness.

Don’t fret.  Where you have hurts, seek God.  Where you have joys, seek God.  The goal of every prayer should be to know God more…the goal of every moment of life is the same.  Let your life be a prayer that keeps you in constant communion with God.

In John 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples–then and now.  His passionate plea was for unity.  His plea echoes in the hearts of Christians even today but fear, self and ignorance conspire against us.  We don’t know how to find unity; it is an elusive concept that often seems impossible.  There are a couple foreign words that help us put in words the essence of His prayer–and the longing of our hearts.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase that means living in the presence of God, under the authority of God, for the glory of God.  Living in unity with God flows out of choosing

first of all to live in His presence, under His authority and for His glory.  The other is a Greek word, perichoresis.  This beautiful word conveys unity in diversity–it speaks of the distinct personalities of the Trinity indwelling one another…none losing its distinction but all wholly united.

Coram Deo & Perichoresis are Jesus’ desire for us.   We don’t lose our identity as we grow spiritually–we find it in greater depth and breadth.  The transformation process that began at salvation continually grows as we live and breathe in Christ–with others doing the same.

Find Peace by uniting body, mind & spirit

It astounded me to read a poster on the wall of the Lowe’s Family YMCA in North Carolina that stated their purpose as helping to bring unity to body, mind and spirit.  The poster had Christ’s words from His prayer in John 17.  Most non-profits began with Christian ideology…few retain those principles.  As I reflected on the ‘rightness’ of their purpose, the evidence of lives not in unity pierced my own heart.  Even secular studies confirm that as much as 90% of illness comes from wrong thinking and failure to give our physical bodies what they need.  We have authority in this world over our own minds and our own bodies.  We exercise that authority by placing ourselves under the authority of the God of the Bible.

 

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.  John 17:21

Unity.  We do want it…but we usually want it on our terms which immediately puts unity out of reach.  Unity can’t happen until we welcome Jesus into the details disrupting our 15747529_1799284616976374_5369443153573163066_npeace.  Problems aren’t our problem.  Jesus already overcame the world.  Our problem is not allowing Him to be the way to Peace.

That sounds sort of good…and sort of judgmental, doesn’t it?  I promise you, it is all good.  Jesus has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves:  open the way to abundant life.  He is the way, and if we examine His life, we realize the way is not easy.  It is ‘simple’ but incredibly difficult and requires embracing suffering.

Embracing suffering is NOT being a martyr.  Martyr’s choose where they will suffer based on their own preferences and for personal reasons:  meeting their own needs in the name of sacrifice.  Christ did not do that.  He sacrificed Himself to restore us to the Father–because that is what the Father wanted!

Unity comes when we are as passionate for the desires of the Father as Jesus is!

While Jesus willingly did what we cannot, He will not do what we can do!  We have responsibility for our earthly lives.  Our minds and our bodies are ours to surrender.  We must choose thoughts that line up with God’s…and activities in line with His laws.  When we don’t, we don’t have peace.  We don’t have health.  Our bodies will break down and our emotions run amok.  Check out this definition of amok…it astounded me in its accuracy and the fact that is in the DSM as a psychiatric disorder.

Running amok, sometimes referred to as simply amok or gone amok,[1] also spelled amuk, from the Malay language,[2] is “an episode of sudden mass assault against people or objects usually by a single individual following a period of brooding that has traditionally been regarded as occurring especially in Malay culture but is now increasingly viewed as psychopathological behavior”.[3] The syndrome of “Amok” is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV TR).[4] The phrase is often used in a less serious manner when describing something that is wildly out of control or causing a frenzy (e.g., a dog tearing up the living room furniture might be termed as “running amok”.)

God is passionate for unity.  He not only allows our lives to press us toward Him…press us toward life…He designed us to need Him.  He is unity and peace and life.  If your world feels like it has run amok, ask Him where His priorities have been set aside for your own.   Choose God’s priorities and He will do the work, you will find the rest you seek.  If you choose your own priorities, you will suffer and struggle as you try to do what you feel is right and good.

Where is your mind or body running amok?  What do you need to change:  your view, your actions?  Ask God…ask a friend for ‘truth in love’ and accountability.  Peace is possible.

Beautiful Body

Eyes that see beauty are a gift from God!  We live in an image-crazed world longing to see beauty, to find substance.  The selfie craze cries out of hearts trying to find something.

But real beauty is a buried treasure one must dig deep to see and enjoy.   The Prophet Isaiah spoke of this Truth as he described the coming Messiah.

My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.  Isaiah 53:2

Jesus’ body suffered tremendously as He walked the ‘way of suffering’ to open the way for us to enter into eternal life and union with the Father.  Neither His beaten body nor the path He trod appeals to us in our natural mind.  It has no beauty on the surface.

Likewise, the Church, the Body of Christ on earth today often fails to draw gasps of awe as one looks at it.  We are often bruised by the ungodly attitudes we allow to mar our image but in the eyes of God, He sees something different.

The lyrics below will give you a glimpse of His view…if you click the link, the song will play as you read on.

How beautiful the radiant Bride
who waits for her Groom
with His light in her eyes.
How beautiful when humble hearts give
the fruit of pure lives
so that others may live.
How beautiful
how beautiful
how beautiful is the body of Christ.

How beautiful the feet that bring
the sound of good news
and the love of the King.
How beautiful the hands that serve
the wine and the bread
and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful
how beautiful
how beautiful is the body of Christ.

Read more: Twila Paris – How Beautiful Lyrics | MetroLyrics

water aerobicsChrist’s love for the Bride compels me to look for beauty everywhere.  He sees beauty when I cannot.  My frequent prayer is to more consistently see with His eyes.  That is a prayer He loves to answer.

God is creative in His answers and chose to let me look with Him at my aqua-cize class. Working in water with a noodle offers some unique challenges–and a fair amount of laughter.  Standing on a floating device tends to create some chaos.  Noodles pop off from under people and whack others in the side of the head.  People tip over and legs can get stuck up in the air as a noodle gives buoyancy muscles can’t counter.

Each person in the class brings a different set of strengths and weaknesses to the pool.  The uniting goal is improved health but the individual realities impact the outcome.  Physical injuries, limited muscle strength, lack of coordination, past experience with water, self-consciousness, feelings of inferiority…they all play into the experience.

The beauty is that progress is made simply by staying the course.  Falling off the noodle and getting back on gives as much benefit to the weaker participant as completing the exercise gives the stronger participant.  In the aqua-cize class, encouragement to one another is frequent.  The success of one is hope for another.

Do you see the parallels for the Church?  We share a common purpose:  that the world may know our great and glorious God.  We share the very gift of God dwelling within us and the power of the Holy Spirit compelling us.  Like the individuals in the class, though, we have weaknesses and self-absorption that sometimes hinders us.  We tip over; sometimes we ‘slap’ others (figuratively only one hopes); and at times, we feel like failures.  But as we press on for the joy set before us, God accomplishes His purpose…in us and in the world!

We can only begin where we are…whether in an aqua-cize class or as a disciple of Christ.  Fixing our eyes on the goal brings forth beauty otherwise hidden.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us that for the joy set before Him, Christ endured the Cross.  As Jesus prayed for you and I before He went to the Cross, His plea was for the unity of believers.  That unity does not come by fixing our eyes on differences, pointing out failures and critically assessing one another (or even ourselves).  Beautiful unity comes as we fix our eyes on Christ and determine to know only Him.

Do you need a word of encouragement?  Be humble, let someone know!

Do you see someone struggling?  Look for the beauty of effort and speak life!

Philippians3_14

Love is action

Love–like faith–is action!  The heartbreaking evil of this week and the anger it generates took me to this old look at love.  May we all prayerfully seek the love of God and then let it flow out of our lives.  We change the atmosphere by living with a loving attitude.  1 Corinthians 13 show us what true love looks like!

Let’s practice being people who are:

Patient. I don’t need to get even.

Kind. I seek to give and to do good.

Content. I don’t want what others have.

Humble. I don’t need to make myself look good.

Peaceable. I don’t always have to be right.

Courteous. I show respect.

Serving. I don’t have to get my own way.

Calm. I don’t blow up and lose my temper.

Forgetful. I don’t keep a list of ways I’ve been hurt.

Righteous. I want the best for others.

Truthful. I love God’s word and try to obey it.

Protective. I don’t say hurtful things about (or to) others.

Positive. I believe the best about others.

Hope. I believe good will come.

Endure. I will not give up.

The flip side of love is exactly what we are seeing played out in the news…individuals declaring and acting on selfish hatred:

I will get even! I will not be patient–I will not suffer long for you!

I have given enough! I don’t want to do anything good for you!

I want more!

I am more important than you!

I am right!

I don’t care about what you need or think!

I want you to do it my way!

I am mad and you need to know it!

I have been hurt by you too many times!

I want you to get what you deserve!

I don’t care what God says–I’m doing it my way!

I will say what I want–so what if it hurts you!

I know you can’t do that–you’re a loser!

I know you will never be loving to me!

I give up!

Growing in Unity

This piece was written for and published by Christian Light Education.  Here is the unedited version offered to help us all grow toward greater unity in Christ.

Brotherhood…it’s been a concept fraught with desperate need for God since the beginning of time.  The first brothers, Cain, Abel and Seth, show us both the desperation and the hope inherent in brotherhood.  The lessons they offer could transform our world!  (Genesis 4:1-2)

The names of our Scriptural ancestors offer great instruction.  The Hebrew words related to Cain speak of a spear and mourning.  Knowing the story, we intuitively understand how his name reflects truth.  Cain became a tiller of the ground; he served and worshipped what he could produce through his work.

His younger brother, Abel, opened the way to better living.  His name implies emptiness and transition; not that his life was empty but he became the way for God to show His true desire.  Abel became a steward of what God gave; he took dominion over what God entrusted to him—just as God originally instructed before the fall of man.

Then, we meet Seth; Eve understood that God offered a replacement in this child.  Having revealed the only way to Himself with Cain and Abel, Seth came on the scene—and we read that men began calling on the name of the Lord!  (Genesis 4:25-26)

So, what does this have to do with brotherhood in our lives today?  Everything!  The instruction to Cain is ours:  “Do well and I will receive you; you will be in my presence.  Do not do well, and you will be in the presence of sin.  It will crouch at your door to devour you.”  (Genesis 4:7) We live in a world of devoured lives.  Too often, we follow the example of Cain, relying on ourselves, promoting our efforts and preferences.  The results he produced are ours:  the destruction of others and us.

Sin escalates negative behaviors.  God told Cain that the very ground cried out against him.  (Genesis 4:10-11) Made of the earth, his very essence rejected the path he chose.  The curse of unrest within himself—and conflict with all around him—becomes a life as a vagabond and fugitive.  There is no brotherhood in that.

Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Genesis 4:9)  The apostle Paul emphatically taught that we are far more than that:  we belong to one another; we are part of one another.  (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:25; Ephesians 4:25) Abel revealed what we all need to be—stewards of what God entrusts to us, open vessels for the purposes of God.  We must die to our selfish nature and determine to follow the way of Seth:  calling upon the name of the Lord.

The presence of God is the only way we enjoy brotherhood.  The spirit of God: compassion, meekness, humility, forgiveness and patience produces unity.  Our flesh generates division.  The passion of Jesus Christ flows forth in his prayer for us in John 17; unity is the heartbeat of our Savior.  (John 17:21-23)  Unity with the Father and the Son allows brotherhood.  May we long for it as we long for fellowship with the LORD.