Messages of Hope During the Coronavirus Pandemic

This website is primarily used for the Broken and Mended ministry, but I am creating a separate page for those who are connected to the Woodward Church of Christ, where I am the preacher. We are not meeting in person currently, and we are doing a full bulletin during these weeks. I usually write a 250 word article for the bulletin, and I thought I would move that online (without the word restriction), like everything else these days. And during this time, I especially want to focus on messages of hope in the midst of this horrible Pandemic.

A City On a Hill

City on a Hill Study Guide - New Covenant Church
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I’ve been thinking about the power of Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

There is power in what Jesus states as fact. The community of his disciples IS the light of the world, and it cannot be hidden. Yes, Jesus is even more so “the light of the world” (cf. Jn. 8:12), but Jesus’ light today is reflected through his people. That Jesus states this as fact doesn’t mean we are passive. So, he commands us to let our shine. We do good works for the glory of the Father.

In a time where there is much darkness and doubt in our world, we need this reminder more than ever. The hill by which our light shines was never a church building, though we sometimes fell into the trap of believing it was so. No, the people of God shine the light of Jesus everywhere they go and in every work we do in his name.

In fact, church building have sometimes been a basket that covered up the light. We were meant to get out and shine! This only requires us to be who God made us to be. And light shines brightest int he darkest places.

I like TobyMac’s and Hollyn’s song, “Light Shine Bright“:

Lights shine bright everywhere we go
Music for the people, makin’ music for the people
Lights shine bright everywhere we go
Lights shine bright everywhere we go
Everywhere we go, music for the people, makin’ music for the peopleI wanna magnify Your light
I wanna reflect the sun
Cut like precious diamonds
With the colors by the millions
This is the only world we know
And for now this rental’s our home
If we gonna be a reflection
Gotta make this third rock glow

So, let’s be who we are, “the light of the world,” and as the world turns to see that light, they will see Jesus, the true light of the world!

Does Vision Make Sense in the Midst of a Pandemic?

At the beginning of this year, we began a partnership with Hope Network Ministries to engage in an intensive process to create a ten-year vision. While we know the Bible says a lot about the vision, or mission, of the church, every congregation is unique. We wanted a statement and a plan that reflected our unique mission in Northwest Oklahoma. That process centered around the work of an eleven-person vision team representing a cross-section of the congregation and also intentionally involved the entire congregation in two intensive sessions.

2020 Vision – NorthmanTrader

The whole process was going amazingly well. And then the Coronavirus pandemic hit. In quick succession, all of our attention temporarily shifted toward the need to recreate the way the church engaged with each other and God’s word when we can’t even meet together. Perhaps, it is a touch of irony that in the midst of crafting a ten-year vision our entire landscape changed in a matter of days.

In brings to mind Jesus’ admonition that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow since today has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34). Then there is James, the brother of Jesus, who puts arrogant business people in their place, who plan their money-making endeavors a year out in advance. His reminder is sobering. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). Do these passages mean that a vision plan is nothing but an arrogant exercise in folly?

I would argue the opposite. This crisis only demonstrates how much we need vision. A vision is not derailed by the changing landscape of our times. It is rooted in principles that are unchanging and point the way forward through any crisis. If a vision can be defeated by a pandemic, then it wasn’t a good vision. A good vision helps us to navigate this pandemic or any crisis.

And Scripture commends planning in many instances (e.g. Prov. 15:22, Prov. 21:5, and many more). When Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow, that didn’t mean don’t plan for tomorrow. The context indicates that Jesus was admonishing them to be overly concerned with what they would eat or wear. That’s what pagans do, who have no vision beyond worrying about these things. Disciples trust that if they put God’s kingdom first, God will provide for them. That’s what vision is about…putting God’s kingdom first in the midst of whatever else might come.

Back to that James passage: you have to read the next verse. “Instead you ought say, if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (Jas. 4:15). James was not writing against planning, but rather arrogantly making plans without regard to God. A godly vision envisions a present in partnership with God that will impact whatever future may come for the glory of God.

We are continuing with our vision process, though we are now meeting virtually. Soon we will be unveiling a new vision statement to our congregation. It will involve some short-term goals to get us engaged in our vision immediately. Those shorter term goals will account for this present crisis, but they will be shaped by our vision.

Maybe the timing is ironic in some ways, but I am more glad than ever that we are earnestly engaged in this vision process. I pray God blesses it through its completion, and I that our vision truly reflects how the Woodward Church of Christ is putting his kingdom first in all things.

Can the Church Be a Hospital on the Move?

I’ve never been fond of the metaphor that claimed the church was a hospital for sinners. I don’t mind underscoring our common sinfulness or our need to be made well in the body of Christ. It’s just that a hospital is not a place we generally like to spend time at. Also, a church is not a place like a hospital is. The church is a gathered people, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the bride of Christ. Even the temple metaphor from Scripture does not emphasize a place, but people being built into one spiritual building (Eph. 2:19-22).

With that caveat offered, I couldn’t help but think about the mission of the church when I heard the story of the sidelined Carnival offering to make its cruise ships into hospitals. Apparently, there are some concerns about the idea, but a transformed pleasure ship into a mission of mercy and healing is an inspirational idea.

Image result for cruise ship being turned into a hospital

I probably could get on board (no pun intended!) with the idea of the church as a hospital if it could be viewed more in terms of going on a mission than simply a place that sick people are compelled by bad circumstances to come to. And I do think many churches fall into a cruise ship mentality instead of missionary vessel to save others.

This crisis then becomes an opportunity for the church to be the people of God in the way she was intended to be. There are people sick and dying out there. Our healthcare workers our at wits end. People are losing their jobs and businesses. Nonprofits are struggling to keep their doors open. No single church can take on all that, but ever church could pick some affected area in their community and determine to make an impact.

Our congregation has taken small steps to help some of our affected nonprofits in our community. These are organizations that serve the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. The temptation in times of crisis is to turn your attention to yourself. The church cannot afford to do this. An inwardly focused church is a dying church.

Some might protest that we will run out of money with the congregation not meeting or contribution sagging due to lack of regular giving times and/or people losing incomes who regularly contribute. So, we should look after ourselves. However, Jesus has not called us to worry about the future. He has made it very clear, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Still worried about tomorrow? That next verse is just as important. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34).

I’m still a little iffy on the whole the church is a hospital for sinners idea, but it is sure a lot better than a cruise ship, especially if we are the ones on the move in this critical time!

Image result for hope

Our Common Humanity (1st Message)

The virus is bad, and we all certainly want it to go away as soon as possible. It has affected almost every person in significant ways. Some might see it as a work of the devil or a byproduct of the fall. Even if God had an original purpose for viruses in creation, it certainly did not include infecting and killing humans.

The evil nature of this virus doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything positive from the virus. One of the most basic reminders we get from this pandemic is our common humanity. COVID-19 does not care about your race, your gender, your age, your income level, your job, or your nationality. Your only qualification for getting it is that you have to be human.

We are often in strife with others who are different than us. We don’t trust people simply because they are from a different country or maybe have a different tone of skin color. We may stereotype and belittle people who have different political views than we do.

We forget the very basic humanity we all share together, the “Imago Dei” (image of God). It’s a shame that it takes a virus to remind us, but God often teaches best through suffering. Or maybe it is better to say that we learn best through suffering.

It is an incredible privilege to be a human. We are the crowing jewel of God’s creation. Psalm 8 says we were made a little lower than God (8:5 in some English translations says “angels” but the Hebrew is “God”). Obviously, God is infinitely greater than us, but to be a little lower than God means we are second only to him in rank over creation. But recalling the dignity of your humanity compels you to honor that same dignity in others.

In a few weeks, or a few months, or–well, only God knows–this virus will lose its hold on us it now has. Will we remember what it has taught us? I pray we will.