Covid 19 & A Better Way [Than Fear]
Dear Vineyard Family,
Just a reminder, we will not have a Sunday service this week (March 15). Here is our official statement:
In response to growing national and local concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, after prayerful consideration and in consultation with medical professionals and governmental officials, we believe it is best to cancel Sunday morning services for March 15. In lieu of worshiping as a church, we invite you to take time this weekend to pray for wisdom for our country, healing for the sick, and guidance for how our church best lives out our mission “to be a community of God’s extravagant love where people are drawn into a thriving relationship with Jesus.” We will keep you posted regarding future plans in response to COVID-19 developments.
… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
I would love to share a few additional thoughts about this if I could borrow your attention for just a few minutes.
These are precarious times. And, maybe not for the reason you may think at the moment.
Right now, what seems most precarious is a tiny organism that is multiplying across the world making people sick. We are right to take notice and use wisdom. We are right to take some time and wash our hands a bit longer. We are right to consider the consequences of meeting together when we could possibly inadvertently cause harm to ourselves or especially vulnerable people by coming together. We are right, I believe, to err on the side of caution. The biggest issue at present is the unknown.
What I think is actually most precarious, however, is what is happening to us. We are precariously divided. Pressure exposes the cracks in the structure. The covid19 virus did not suddenly bring division, but it is doing a good job of exposing it. And, fear seldom brings people together. Fear starts pointing fingers. Fear looks for someone to blame. Fear hoards. Fear spawns selfishness.
Last night I went to the grocery store to pick up some vanilla extract. When I walked into the store, I was taken back by what I saw. Every register was open with lines as far back as I could see. I immediately walked back out. Was I missing something? Was there some news story that I missed?
I came home and turned on the news. This made the chaos at the store look tame. I flipped through news networks. Blame Biden. Blame Trump. Blame the Media. Blame the Chinese. Blame all foreigners. Blame the CDC. Blame Fauci. Blame Obama. Whoever stirs up the most fear toward their enemy wins.
But, when I look at Scripture, whenever the pressure cooker gets turned up, God reminds us to “fear not.” “Don’t be afraid.” “God is our provider.” “We have not been given a Spirit of fear.”
Let me be clear, prudence and fear are not the same things. I believe we are using prudence to close the church for a Sunday while we sort out what is going on. We don’t want to take unnecessary risks that could hurt people. I wish we had perfect clarity, but we don’t. We let our values and wisdom guide us. I love the words of Acts 15:28 when the Jerusalem Council sent out a message to Gentile believers. They wrote, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” (they then explained their actions). The details aren’t important here. My point is that they sought God’s heart and then acted. I love the language, “It seemed good to us…” In other words, to the best of our understanding and ability to discern, we think this is the way to go. That sums up our decision to not meet this Sunday. It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit to err on the side of caution.
That being said, let’s not get caught up in the fear. Let’s not let the finger-pointing set our agenda. “Agenda setting” is a job description that I want fully entrusted to the Holy Spirit.
So, what should the church do in times of uncertainty?
The church throughout the centuries is no stranger to uncertainty. The church has faced wars, plagues, persecution, splits, corruption, and so much more in its two-thousand-year history. And here it is. Still going. The church adapted. The church rethought things. But the gates of hell have yet to prevail (Matthew 16:17-19). This is the time for the church to overcome fear politics and live out our mission in the world.
In the year AD 252, there was a tremendous plague in the city of Carthage. One of the more interesting stories to come down to us from that day was that in Carthage during that plague, the healthy people were leaving the city in droves. They had to get out because of the threat of contamination and losing everything they had. In the middle of that panic, the great Christian leader Cyprian drew together all of the Christians in the center of that town.
That town had persecuted and hurt the Christians. Cyprian said, “If we’re going to do what Jesus did, who though he was rich became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich, then I call you now to fan out through this town and give both personal and financial aid and care and comfort to all according to their need. Not whether they’re Christians or not. Not even whether they are your enemies or not. We’re called here to follow what our Master did.” It’s a fascinating story. They would not abandon the city in the midst of the plague.
Here’s another quote some of you may have heard before. One of the early Roman emperors, Julian, who tried to stem the tide of Christianity and revive the pagan religion, couldn’t do it. In his disgust, he wrote one of his friends to talk about why the Christians were succeeding and why they were spreading. He says in a letter, “Their success lies in their charity (love) to all. They take care of not only their own poor but ours as well.”
What if this is what is said about Christians during this season? What if we didn’t get caught up in fear? What if we were raised up for such a time as this? (See the Old Testament story of Esther for more of this idea.)
We will regroup this week and consider all our options. Fear, however, is not an option. We might do some things differently. We most certainly will need to be flexible. But we will continue in our mission and we will be a community of God’s extravagant love to a world that desperately needs it right now.
We will trust God. We will follow Jesus. We will walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also. 1 John 4:16-21