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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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The New Way to Do Church

21 Online Church Innovations

I visited as many churches online as I could this Sunday. During my church channel surfing, I learned a lot about the adjustments churches are making to bring their worship experience online. For many churches, live streaming has already been available. Now that online is the only way churches can gather for Sunday Services, some are mixing things up to create a new type of online worship experience. 

The 21 things I saw churches doing seem to fall in one of the following categories: Presentation (of the message), Worship (the music), Connection, Information, and Access.

Presentation

Join people in their homes by creating an intimate environment to share your message instead of preaching from a platform. For example, teach from your living room as if you were in a small group gathering.

Have a one-on-one conversation with people.

Give your church something consistent in a time when everything else seems to be changing by teaching from the stage as usual.

Worship

Creating a studio worship experience that offers some variety from what people may be expecting.

Use pre-recorded worship to simplify your production while still delivering a quality worship experience.

Take worship to the living room with a small group acoustic set.

Have the worship team on stage for a familiar setup for worship.

Connection

Use social media to take people behind the scenes.

Take communion virtually. Bring liturgy into the living and connect tangibly with those in your church.

It’s time to chat during church. Man the conversation feed for a personal touch.

Pradeepan and Amreitha Jeeva at their Macs and ready to chat!

Encourage online community by sharing a hashtag and asking those watching to post a pic.

Daniel E. Groves demonstrates how to take a selfie before the Hope City broadcast.
Jeremy Foster, Hope City Church

Connect before you communicate. Take some time to get real before jumping into your message. Talk about the reality of how people are having to join church this morning, and what life looks like right now.

Scott and Kelly Niemeier, HighPoint Church

Information

Speak to your church directly with a video on your homepage explaining what they can expect from you and your church during this time.

Brad and Jessica Hampton, SOCO Church

Have a pre-show that informs and encourages your church. Give them tips for worshiping online and sharing the broadcast on their social media.

https://www.soco.church

Before you kick of your live stream let your church know what you have available for kids and students.

Andy and Christy Cass, Echo Church

Make it is easy to give and get COVID-19 updates. Put vital information in your Facebook Live Stream.

Pradeepan and Amreitha Jeeva, Kalos Church

Have your broadcast schedule available if you are not currently broadcasting.

Jimn Kyles, Anchor Bend

Access

Offer people multiple platforms to join your live stream on a landing page and on your home page.

Shaun Nepstad, Fellowship Church, Antioch, CA

Make your replay immediately available for those who may be viewing your church online for the first time and do not know your service times.

Terrence and Johanne Wilson, Cool Church

Take your worship guide online with a worship experience landing page that tells people how to connect and where to take next steps.

Rich Wilkerson Jr., Vous Church

Create a Facebook event for your weekend service with live streaming information that people can share.

Terrence and Johanne Wilson, Cool Church

This Sunday showed me there are many great online church experiences. I really enjoyed tuning in and hearing from people I normally wouldn’t be able to get a message from.

What are some other things you see churches doing that seems to be working well in this new church online landscape? Leave a comment and let me know!