Pastor J.D. shares four main ways Christians should respond in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
A glimpse inside this episode:
The coronavirus is now, according to the World Health Organization, a “world pandemic.” We’ve seen some unprecedented public responses to stop the spread of the virus here in the United States—things most of us have never personally experienced.
States (like our own North Carolina) are issuing official states of emergency. In some places, the national guard has been deployed. Colleges have sent students home. Local public schools are closing, too. Every sporting event I’m aware of has been suspended indefinitely or outright canceled. And most churches, now, are not meeting.
First, a few weeks ago you quoted Matthew 24 about in the last days there being plagues, etc. Jesus told his disciples that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons, nor the day and hour of his return.
What Jesus indicates here is that God uses things like this to wake us up to the fragility of the world and to the reality of divine judgment. They are like birth pains–they can’t tell you the exact moment of new birth, but they indicate that the time is getting shorter and a new reality that is coming. As the time of judgment draws near, we can expect these things only to increase.
So, we are wise to hear in these things a divine warning God is trying to give to people on earth: The world we live in is temporary. The things we trust in won’t sustain us.
- This has been humbling, hasn’t it? When I first heard about this, I thought this would go in the category of “near misses” I’ve grown accustomed to. You hear about an asteroid that comes close to earth, but it always seems to miss and life goes on. Or you hear about epidemics in other places and think, “Our medical system can keep us safe.” But think about how something that none of us can even see; something that a month ago none of us were worried about, or scarcely even aware of, has brought our nation to a screeching halt.
- Even if the reality of this is not as bad as some of the worser case scenarios, the total shutdown of our country is going to have massive implications. Some are saying unemployment could get as high as 20%. How quickly and easily our whole nation has shut down shows us just how fragile we are.
So: How should we, as Christians, respond to this current crisis?
1- Heed wise counsel
- This is not a time for carelessness or bravado. Nor is it a time for panic.
- We all have a natural bias–some of us gravitate toward worst case scenarios and doomsday prophecies and overreact. Others tend to brush aside reports as hysteria or some kind of mainstream media political agenda. It’s probably wisest to know our bias, avoid extremes, and listen to counsel.
- My encouragement to you is to avoid online extremists, particularly those that pander to your bias. We know social media isn’t helping that much. It’s ironic that in an age of unprecedented access to information that during a crisis social media does more to spread disinformation and hysteria.
- Our disposition as a church, at this point, is to defer to the CDC and our government, neither getting way far ahead of them nor lagging behind. We believe this is why God gave us governing officials, and we’re going to follow them.
- And let me say something to those of you who feel young and invulnerable, since I know that many of the reports we have heard have indicated that young people are not as much at risk as others. First, don’t take anything for granted. There are plenty of stories of young healthy people developing serious complications, even dying, as a result of contracting this virus.
- Second, even if you are low-risk, you should take precautions for the sake of your neighbors. It’s like a friend of mine said, “I’m taking CDC instructions seriously, not because I’m afraid of getting it. I’m young, healthy, in Christ and have no fear about the future. I’m taking Covid-19 seriously because I’m afraid of distributing it.”
- Or, as another Christian leader (Andy Crouch) put it, “Love, not fear, is the reason we should change our behavior.
2- In this season, move forward in faith, not backwards in fear
- The early church wasn’t known for stockpiling ample food and ammunition for themselves or spreading fear on social media. Or, as I’ve heard said, Mother Teresa’s legacy built on hoarding months of supplies for herself and then berating the poor of Calcutta on why they weren’t as wise as she was.
- Christian witnesses throughout history have been known for hope, faith, and self-sacrifice, imitating a Savior who ran toward tragedy, not away from it.
- This is a time of great opportunity for us. Rodney Stark tells the story of how the gospel saw unprecedented expansion in a time of plagues in the 1st Century:
In AD 165, while Marcus Aurelius was emperor, a plague struck the Roman Empire, and over a 15-year period, it killed nearly 33% of the population. At this time there were 45,000 Christians in existence, just 0.08 percent of the empire. Despite their numbers, their response to this pandemic won admiration and a greater following.
Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, reported: Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy… Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.
This stood in stark contrast to those outside the church. Dionysius continues: “But with non-Christians everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends. They shunned any participation or fellowship with death; which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.”
Stark even points out, in evident irony, that Christian death rates in many of these plagues were substantially lower. By nearly ⅔! Why? Some analysts also say it was because of their strong sense of community, their commitment to care for each other, and their robust hope in the face of death. In their willingness to embrace death, they found life.
Andy Crouch explains this: “[If you were a first-century Roman], after you had recovered from the plague, where would you want to worship? The pagan temple whose priests and elite benefactors had fled at the first sign of trouble? Or the household of the neighbor who had brought you food and water, care and concern, at great risk to themselves?
When this plague has passed, what will our neighbors remember of us? Will they remember that the Christians took immediate, decisive action to protect the vulnerable, even at great personal and organizational cost? Will they remember that, being prepared and free from panic, the households of their Christian neighbors were able to visit the needy (while protecting them by keeping appropriate social distance!), provide for their needs, and bring hope?”
- Check on your elderly
- Ask about hourly workers
- Buy gift cards from service places
- Support the healthcare workers you know. Pray for strength, endurance, rest, and community for those caring for the sick and vulnerable / Send a text or drop off a note of encouragement / Deliver a meal to their home or run errands for them while you are out / Offer childcare for their kids while they work and rest. (An enormous number of healthcare workers are single mothers. With numerous school closures, many of them are unable to work—and this at a time when they are needed most!)
- See what ministries your church has (bunch on our home page)
3- Proclaim hope
I got this message from one of my staff members earlier this week. “While this situation is new, our calling has not changed. The gospel is still the most important message in the world, and we are still called upon to tell it. It is a gospel of love and faith, precisely what we need when society is filled with fear and uncertainty.”
In just a few weeks, we are going to celebrate a holiday that has been at the center of Christianity for 2,000 years—Easter. There was never a more hopeless time, humanly speaking, than when the Son of God was in the grave. At that point, it seemed like the end. The disciples themselves were despairing. But Easter is a reminder: He is risen! And as sure as he walked out of the grave, he promises life to those of us living in the shadow of death.
4- Use this season to develop some good habits!
Our discipleship team has prepared a small group guide called Don’t Waste Your Quarantine. Family Devotions. Reading. Structured Days.
God does some of his greatest work in secret, mundane places. We’re entering a sort of extended “Sabbath,” when most of what we would normally doing we won’t be able to do. Don’t just make it through this time. Redeem this time. Don’t waste your quarantine!
C.S. Lewis lived at a point in the 1960’s when a lot of people were genuinely afraid we were going to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, and he was once asked how one could live without fear knowing that at any minute the world could be destroyed. He said, “Well, what I know is that all of us will die eventually, and for most of us it will be sudden and for many of us it will be unpleasant. We may not know when or how death will come, but we know it will come for all of us and it’s very likely to be unexpected and unpleasant. And I know that sounds a bit morbid, but when you resolve yourself to that, you can start to use whatever amount of time you have–whether it’s 6 months or 60 years, to embrace life and capitalize on whatever opportunities God has put in front of you. Our main question should not be when and how we’ll die, but how we’ll live when we are alive.
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