For the past several months I’ve been uneasy about the approach the church is taking to the COVID pandemic. Maybe you are, too.
Here’s what’s bothering me.
Matthew 8:2-3 tells us about Jesus’ response to illness one day:
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
It’s such an important story that Mark tells it too, in Mark 1:40. And so does Luke, in Luke 5:12.
The surprising part of this story isn’t that Jesus healed a man. He was always doing that. The surprising part is that before He healed him, He touched him.
Before Jesus healed him, he touched him.
Leprosy is a highly-communicable disease. By touching the man, Jesus risked getting infected himself. And touching a leper made you unclean. Jesus hazarded his own ritual cleanliness for the sake of compassion.
Throughout Christian history, the church has emulated Jesus’ response to illness. We reach out and serve in spite of personal peril.
One reason Christianity grew at such a rapid pace during the early centuries was because of the intensity with which believers cared for plague victims. During times when family members cast their infected loved ones into the streets, Jesus’ followers picked them up and nursed them in their own homes.
Yes, Christians died from this practice. But people they healed came to faith and multiplied the mission. They saw faith and love in action, and it was compelling.
The Bible teaches us to serve at personal cost.
One of Jesus’ most famous stories is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Our Lord used a hated Samaritan as an example of what true love looks like: it doesn’t look away from a hurting victim, or cross to the other side of the street to avoid contamination.
True love serves. And at personal cost.
The Samaritan, “…put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend” (Luke 10:34-35).
Jesus said it again,
“Whoever wants to follow after me, let him deny himself…” (Luke 9:23).
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it…” (Luke 9:24).
“I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus…” (Acts 20:24).
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Somehow the Church has taken the opposite approach during this present pandemic.
Somehow we’ve embraced the message that the way to love our neighbor as ourselves is to stay indoors and keep from getting and spreading the virus.
Isn’t this counter to the example and teaching of our Savior?
What I’m wondering about these days is, when did self-preservation become part of our lifestyle? And when did disengagement become our commission?
No less than twenty times, the Psalms command God’s people to “sing together.” Yet a large percentage of Christians are now attending online services, alone.
When else in history, did God’s people obey governments when they commanded Christians to stop assembling together?
I fear we are in danger of losing our first love. I fear we’ve been lulled to sleep by the seductive voices of safety and obedience. I fear we’ve given in to fear.
After seven months of studying this virus, we now know that less than 1% of those under 78 die from it, and that 7.8% of those over 78 die from it. We know that 94% of everyone who’s died has had some underlying condition like diabetes or heart disease or high blood pressure.
More people have been adversely affected by missed medical treatments, mental health challenges, and marital tensions than by the sickness itself.
A closet can’t cure those things, but the love of Christ, expressed through believers, can help.
John said, “Perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18). Perfect love.
Love like Jesus, love coursing through us because of His life living in us. That’s the antidote to fear.
Come out, come out, wherever you are.
When I was a little guy, on summer nights the kids on our block played a neighborhood-wide game of “Hide and Seek.” One person hunted, while the rest of us hid.
When it was time to go home, the hunter would yell, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
I believe Jesus is whispering this to His Church right now. Jesus isn’t a yeller. He whispers. Compassionately, and compellingly.
God never wants us to waste a painful experience. Pain’s purpose is to redeem and cleanse, to draw us closer to Christ, and draw others to Him.
Right now our world, and our fellow-believers, are in a boatload of pain. It’s time for us to come out. To come out and worship and serve, wherever we are.
Week after week, I’m seeing increasing numbers of Christians leave their houses and come to God’s house of worship. As they enter back into live fellowship, the fear falls away, and they are reminded how much we really do need each other.
The church, after all, is the hope of the world, because we hold the message of the saving love of Jesus. We are strong when together, and weak when we are apart.
Let’s advance, not retreat. Engage, not isolate.
See this message as I delivered it to our online services a couple of weeks ago.
Stool Talk: Let’s Engage, not Isolate
- Show Me How to Lead through the Pandemic
- How to Lead from a Stool
- How to Lead 48,000 People to Jesus
Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at www.pastormentor.com.
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.
Brian Horvath says
Thanks for the encouragement today with this post. It is a good challenge that I needed to hear. I found myself in fear quite a bit (for numerous reasons), which provided a way for me to become even more selfish than I was pre-pandemic…in the name of “self-preservation.”
With 2 little kids, a wife with a high-risk/diabetic mother, it has been a season of grief, loss, worry, and frustration.
Reading your post reminded me that God is in control and it is He who made me to serve as His masterpiece with my gift of encouragement. While I have been encouraging with my online/offline business endeavors, it has not been quite the same as inter-personal and face-to-face use of my gifts.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, Ps. Hal. While WE are out there, let us be covered in Psalm 91’s truth and help more to know, love, and live out their faith in Christ.
Hal Seed says
You are welcome Brian!
This is something simulating to think about and to assemble at some point for a heart searching prayer meeting.
“If people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray… then I will hear…forgive…heal our land”.