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Four Wrong Responses to the Pandemic

Why Are We Going Through a Pandemic?

Have you paused in the last ten months long enough to ask, “why?” Why are we going through a pandemic? God is love. He is omnipotent, and He is good. So why is all of creation groaning under the pain and suffering of a global pandemic?

We wondered the same thing after Hurricane Katrina. Was it the sin of New Orleans that brought this disaster upon the Gulf South region? Was God trying to get our attention?

You may even wonder something similar when things happen to you on a personal level. Are you experiencing bad things because God wants to punish you, correct you, or get your attention? If God loves me, and I was doing all the right things, then why am I experiencing bad things in my life?

God and the Pandemic

In God and the Pandemic, N.T. Wright poses the same questions concerning the pandemic in the opening chapter of the book. “Why is this happening? Is someone trying to tell us something? What are we supposed to do about it” (Wright)?

He then gives four typical responses to similar circumstances. I have seen them repeatedly during our Pandemic of 2020, but his examples are rooted in the ancient world.

Response 1: God Is Angry With Me

“In most of the ancient world, and many parts of the modern world too, major disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, plagues) are regularly associated with angry gods. Something bad has happened? Must be because ‘someone’ has it in for you” (Wright).

Is this plague like the flood of Noah? Is God punishing a world gone wild with sin? Even though God said He would never do that again (i), still 2/3’s of Christians believe the pandemic is a warning from God t change our ways (ii).

Response 2: This Is Just Part of God’s Plan

The Stoics believed, “Everything is programmed to turn out the way it does. You can’t change it; just learn to fit in” (Wright).

I have heard people say they do not want to wear a mask because if the virus is coming for them, so be it (iii). There isn’t anything they can do anyway. Everyone should just bite the bullet and let it come for those who will die anyway, and then the rest of us can get on with it.

Health experts have called intentional herd immunity “perverse” and a “terrible idea” (iv). This perspective also seems to go against the teaching of scripture:

“Don’t be selfish… Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:3-4

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” Proverbs 14:21

“Whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31

“The Lord protects the strangers.” Psalm 146:9

God is Sovereign, but that does not mean we do not have a role to play as Christians in a pandemic.

Response 3: The Problems Are Someone Else’s Fault

According to the Epicureans, “everything is random. You can’t do anything about it. Make yourself comfortable as you can” (Wright).

Maybe you have thought, This will fade away soon, and things will be back to normal as soon as those “other” people start doing what they are supposed to or stop doing what they are not supposed to do.

We are not powerless in the pandemic, but we also should not enter the “the low-grade, but powerful ‘cultural wars’ [to] simply go for easy answers that reflect that irrelevant standoff” (Wright). Blaming China, the government, or people who do not wear masks without identifying your Christian responsibility when the world is hurting is not a viable solution.

Response 4: The End is Near

The Platonists “present life as just a shadow of reality. Bad things happen here, but we are destined for a different world” (Wright).

Wright says this is the point of view some Christians opt for. “Death isn’t the worst that can happen. We’re headed somewhere else anyway. All right, let’s be sensible, but please don’t shut down the churches. Or the golf clubs” (Wright).

The Christian Response

The best answer to why are we going through a pandemic might actually be a question. “‘What?’ What can we do?” When we volunteer to help those in need, we demonstrate the appropriate Christian response to a Pandemic (v). 

According to Wright, when we do this, we are modeling what the early Christians did in times of plagues. 

“In the first few centuries of our era, when serious sickness would strike a town or city, the well-to-do would run for the hills (patty of the problem was often low-lying, fetid air in a town). The Christians would stay and nurse people. Sometimes they caught the disease and died. People were astonished. What was that about? Oh, they replied, we are followers of this man Jesus. He put his life on the line to save us. So that’s what we do as well” (Wright).

Indeed, Jesus did command us to take up our cross and follow after Him (vi). He wants us to lay down our rights so that His Kingdom could be built here on earth as it is in Heaven. Oh, that the world would again be astonished by the Church in this same way. It is already happening through the generosity of believers, and I pray it will continue to be that way as we each navigate our personal responses to the pain of the pandemic.

(i) Genesis 8:21-22 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+8%3A21-22&version=NKJV

(ii)  https://www.fox6now.com/news/poll-63-of-religious-americans-believe-covid-19-pandemic-is-message-from-god-for-humanity-to-change

(iii) https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/29793295/vikings-qb-kirk-cousins-coronavirus-die-die

(iv) https://sports.yahoo.com/should-teams-actively-seek-herd-immunity-from-the-coronavirus-234449908.html

(v) God and The Pandemic, N.T. Wright Chapter 1 page 3.

(vi) Matthew 16:24-26 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2016%3A24-26&version=ESV

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The Test of Faith During a Pandemic

How to Respond to a Spiritually Dry Season

Has your spiritual life suffered during the pandemic? Recent studies (1, 2) show there has been a significant drop in the number of believers who read the Bible daily during the COVID-19 Outbreak. On the other hand, non-believers are searching for God more than ever (3). I believe this shows both the promise and the problems of walking through a wilderness season in your faith.

Have you ever been in a spiritually dry season? You know, those times when your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling instead of making their way to heaven. You do not need a pandemic to experience this. It is something many of us go through at one time or another. Maybe you are in a similar situation now. If so, you are not alone.

Does God Lead Us To The Desert?

God lead the nation of Israel into the wilderness immediately after delivering them from Egypt. The desert was used to transform them from captives to conquerors.

The Spirit also led Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism before his public ministry began. 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:1 ESV

Then there is this verse in Hosea.

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”

– Hosea 2:14 NLT

Here we see God not only leads into the wilderness, but there is also the reward of Intimacy with Him there.

We should be careful not to ask God to take us out of somewhere He has led us into for His purposes. The wilderness seasons of life can cause us to feel alone and overlooked. These are not times when God had forgotten us but are when He has isolated from other things so we can focus on him.

The wilderness can be painful. We just want the desert to end. Here are three things I have learned to pray while in a spiritually dry season.

3 Prayers for the Desert

Ask God to show you what He would like you to learn

…instead of praying for Him to get you out of your circumstances.

I used to pray, “God, get me out!” When things got tough. Now, I know when I want to do this, it is always an alert God is up to something. Sometimes, the lesson is finding peace in waiting or redefining what success looks like. Other times God puts new tools in my hands I didn’t know I needed. It takes time to learn them before I can begin to see the benefits they can bring. 

Ask God to draw you closer to Him and make you more like Him

…instead of praying for things to God back to the way they were.

It can appear there is not much good we can take from some seasons of life. Thank God those are so few. But even in the darkest times, we can take away some good. That is because, in everything, God is always bringing us closer to Him and making us more like Him. We need to be open to the process. 

Ask God to prepare you for what he wants to give

…instead of asking why He has taken so much away.

Before God can provide us with what He wants us to have, we must be willing to make room by letting go of what we already have. The wilderness is the perfect place for this to happen.

The discomfort of the wilderness is mostly from detoxing even though we may feel like it is from a lack of something want. The desert causes us to lean on God in areas we have we have substituted with other things. The side effects of not having those things meet our needs on a surface level will soon be replaced by the satisfaction of allowing God to do a deeper work in us.

An Oasis in Every Desert

When life gets rough, we can still have some of the most tender moments with God. The intimacy that results from the wilderness is one of the main reasons we can always leave those seasons with gratitude.

There are other results from God leading us into the wilderness that can be found in Hosea as well.

“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.”

Hosea 2:15 NLT

The wilderness is not about God sending harm our way to purify us or make us better. He is not the author of bad news but He can turn our bad news into good news when we put our trust in Him. The wilderness is a season where God intentionally allows our lives to be stripped down in a way that may make us uncomfortable at the moment, but if we press through with our eyes on Him, He will bring us through a transformation we can be thankful for as a result. 

What are some lessons you have learned from the wilderness? What tips would you give a friend is you knew they were about to enter a desert season?

*Sources:

  1. https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/07/22/pandemic-has-people/
  2. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/state-of-bible-reading-coronavirus-barna-abs.html
  3. https://www.lightworkers.com/pandemic-has-led-to-reading-the-bible/

This content is an excerpt from my mini-book, The Case for Following Your Heart, and originally appeared on my blog June 2019.

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Outreach Ideas During the COVID-19 Outbreak

How to connect with the needs of your community during social distancing.

Outreach can be challenging with social distancing guidelines in place. You need to make sure you are considering your community’s guidelines for social distancing and that you are staying up to date as things are continuing to change so quickly.

A new obstacle also means a new opportunity to meet people’s needs. What are the new needs being presented as a result of this outbreak and how can we reach out to help during this time? Here are some things church planters are doing to reach people in need as a result of COVID-19.

  1. Offer free grocery, toiletry, and medication delivery for those most vulnerable. Getting payment from them via Venmo or picking up cash before shopping. Contributed by: Austin Coleman, HEART and SOUL, Knoxville, TN, @heartandsoul.church
  2. Offer free coffee at a local coffee shop for medical professionals. Contributed by: Andy and Christy Cass, Echo Church, Rochester, MN, @wearetheechochurch
  3. Have your Children’s ministry organize making cards for those in assisted living facilities that can’t receive guests. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  4. Buy grocery store gift cards (can be as small as $5) and hand them out with God loves you cards or church invite cards at gas stations to help with those struggling financially. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  5. Assist with local food pantry as a drop off point. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  6. Call senior citizen members of your church. Just check-in, pray with them and find out if there is any need you can meet. Contributed by: Chad Fisher, Rock City Church, Columbus OH, @rockcitychurch
  7. Set up a Facebook group connecting parents and teachers to help with homeschooling. Contributed by: Angela Mooney, Relate Community Church, Spring, TX, @relatecommunitychurch
  8. Offer a drive up with non-perishables for people to pick up. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  9. Leave a card with a note of encouragement or free coffee on the cars of healthcare workers. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  10. Let your neighbors know times you are available to pick things up for them with a God loves you card. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  11. Collecting items to deliver to medical workers on duty (granola bars, bottled coffees, snacks, gas gift cards, etc). Contributed by: Betsy Davis, Hope Church KC, Kansas City, MO, @hopechurchkc
  12. Help with food distribution via local organizations or schools to reach the kids who won’t have access to food while schools are closed. Contributed by: Betsy Davis, Hope Church KC, Kansas City, MO, @hopechurchkc
  13. Buy gift cards for gas and hand them out with God loves you cards or church invite cards at gas stations to help with those struggling financially. Contributed by: Ana Silvestre, Venture Church, Salinas, CA, @Venturechurchsalinas  
  14. Provided lunch for people working overtime at school administration building (eLearning, cleaning, communications, etc). We showed up with box lunches from a local restaurant. Contributed by: Chad Lunsford, Echo Church, Avon, IN, @EchoChurch.cc
  15. Offer online financial crisis coaching (and prayer). (the leaders of our financial peace university are doing this for people in our church) It would be cool to offer this to the public based on Biblical principles. Contributed by: Amreitha Jeeva, Kalos Church, Bellevue, WA, @kaloschurch

Remember the kids:

With kids at home, this is a great opportunity to minister to families. You can post a new activity to your social media each day that families can do at home. Have someone from your children’s ministry shoot a quick video talking to kids. Post resources that families can use that would be helpful during this time.

More Resources:

ARC Resources and Support

COVID-19 and How to Serve Your City By Serve Day

What Do We Do Now? By Serve Day