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Monday, May 25, 2020

A Pastor's Reasoned Response to COVID-19 (edited)


As a matter of clarity and full disclosure, I did publish an article in mid-March on why I believe churches should not close their doors.  That article can be found here:

And for absolute full disclosure, while I never closed the doors to the church I pastor, I did strongly encourage my congregants to be safe and stay home as much as possible.  We did utilize live streaming and video conferencing for Bible Study.  Most, but not all, of them took advantage of that opportunity.  Now that restrictions are being partially lifted, most of them are beginning to come back to in-person worship.


Up to this point, I have been very cautious about what I have said concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a pastor, it is my obligation to lead my flock responsibly.  That means I need to be knowledgeable of the truth and careful not to mislead.  The problem with this pandemic has been that truth – the real truth – appears to be elusive.  There are many who say they have the truth, and many others who say the they also have the truth – but the two truths contradict one another.  As believers, we are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves as we venture out into the big bad world of the wolves (Matthew 10:16).  My general silence to this point has been an effort to gain the proper wisdom without reacting quickly and losing innocence. As we enter into the fourth month of the pandemic, however, I feel more confident in my understanding and am ready to share some pastoral advice on the matter.  There are many theories, presumptions, and outright accusations out there, so allow me to share with you a few cautions followed by some encouratement - as we navigate these waters together.

Caution #1.  Don’t Underestimate the Severity of the Virus

This is a very serious virus.  Despite what I might think about the actions that have been taken by our national and local leaders, many of those actions have significantly mitigated the danger.  The fact that the numbers may not be as serious as originally projected does not mean the virus is not deadly. Until a vaccine is found, the virus is not going away any time soon. As we open up, there will be people exposed, and while many will be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, there are still countless many (myself included) who have underlying conditions that may exacerbate the severity of the situation should we contract the virus.  If you get it and it becomes life-threatening to you, then it makes no matter at that point what you thought before.

Caution #2. Don’t Underestimate the Seriousness of the Political Posturing

There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there, but not all theories are birthed in paranoid schizophrenia. Some are birthed in observations of true situations. Do I believe our constitution is being shredded in the name of safety?  Absolutely.  Do I believe it is some nefarious attempt at permanently destroying that constitution and ushering in a New World Order?  Well that depends – thus the political posturing.  Our leaders, some of which have had the best intentions in mind, have taken away freedoms properly granted in the constitution.  Some are beginning to see the danger of that and are trying to reinstate those freedoms, but there are others whom I believe want nothing less than to use this pandemic to initiate sweeping and permanent socialist change - perhaps even outright totalitarianism.  No – I’m not being paranoid about that because if you watch and read carefully, an elite few out there are not even trying to hide that fact.  Even more so, I think we need to be very watchful and careful about how certain other things develop as a result of this pandemic.  If we are not careful, we have society that consists of US and THEM (as if that is not already happening).  Bill Gates may not be the Anti-Christ as some are saying, but he sure is doing things and promoting things that sound very anti-christ-like.  And whatever else may happen – DON’T GET CHIPPED!  Just sayin’.

Caution #3. Don’t Underestimate the Spiritual Warfare Raging Below the Surface

You are never going to hear me say “God caused this virus as a punishment”.  Nor will you hear me say “This virus is from Satan.”  It’s not that black and white.  On the one hand, God is sovereign.  He wasn’t surprised by the virus and indeed it would not have happened without his “by your liege”, so I firmly believe that His plan somehow involves this virus.  On the other hand, if a politician will say “never let a good crisis go to waste” then you can bet Satan said it first (not that I was trying to imply a nexus between politicians and Satan… but if the shoe fits – maybe I should take that back).  Satan knows better than anyone how to divide and defeat Christians who are not fully dependent upon God.  Like any good predator, he will work to separate his prey from the safety of the herd.  No matter how strong you are, you are no match for Satan on your own – and while you and God are always stronger than Satan, when you are separated from the herd (i.e., the fellowship of other believers), you sometimes forget that God is with you or worse – you wander away from Him too.  That is when the lion attacks – and you are no match for that.  Listen carefully.  Watching church on TV, online, or even in a car is NOT the same thing as gathered, corporate worship.  It will NOT provide you with the spiritual strength and encouragement that is found supernaturally within the gathered body of Christ.  There is a reason why the writer of Hebrews said “forsake not the assembling together”.  Now listen even more carefully. Good intentions or bad notwithstanding, gathered worship of Christians is under direct assault in our country right now. I am amazed at how quickly we gave that up, touting (incorrectly in my opinion) principles from Romans 14.  Now that we are starting to regather, Christians are being shamed for putting themselves and others in danger.  The precedent has now been set and mark my words, it will be used again to try to shut us down – and I believe it will happen sooner than we think.  And don’t give me the whole “the church is the people, not the building”.  I’m not talking about the building – I’m talking precisely about the people – GATHERED AS ONE IN CHRIST.  We don’t need a building to do that, but we do need to be together.

Well enough of the caution – now for some encouragement and exhortation.

Encouragement #1. Never Forget the Sovereignty of God

This is the foundation of all we believe.  By definition, sovereignty means that God can and will accomplish the fullness of his plan without being thwarted by anything – and that includes COVID-19.  Furthermore, it means COVID-19 didn’t happen without His express say-so and therefore it actually will be used by Him to bring about his plan.  Will people die?  Yes.  But don’t lose sight of this important fact:

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

Death and judgment will come to all of us.  How it comes it different for each person.  Some will live to be old; others will die young.  Some will die peacefully in their sleep; others will have tragic, painful deaths.  This is the curse of sin, but as believers, our hope is not in how long we will live or even in how we die.  Rather, our hope is in the resurrection of the dead that accompanies the imminent return of Christ.

Encouragement #2. Never Forget the Goodness of God

Related to #1, God’s plan will not be thwarted, and because we know that he is a good, good, father, we can rest assured that plan is good.  We just need to make sure we don’t presuppose what that good should be.  Too often, we decide in our own minds what “good” is supposed to look like, and when that doesn’t play out, we lose faith in the goodness of God.  Imagine standing on top of a mountain overlooking a vast horizon.  As you gaze at the horizon, you see both ends of that horizon at once.  This is how God sees all of eternity.  Imagine now holding up a thin piece of paper to that horizon so that all you see is the thin edge against the vastness of the horizon.  The thickness of that paper is essentially a horizon within a horizon and your perspective of time is locked within the thickness of that paper – not even seeing the full thickness of that paper.  In other words – you have no idea of the full picture of what God sees.

Trust Him.  He knows what he is doing.

Encouragement #3. Be Strong and Courageous (but not Stupid)

Finally, remember that as God worshippers and followers of Jesus, fear is not supposed to be part of our vocabulary.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Everything we hear about this pandemic is meant to make us afraid. But fear is not our destiny. I’m not trying to say we will never be afraid, but I am trying to encourage us to overcome that fear so that we can be strong and courageous (like Joshua – see Deuteronomy 31:6-7). Like Joshua, the early church faced the imminent threat of danger and persecution, but they thrived in the midst of that danger, overcoming their fear and living courageously.

At the same time, though, we can’t be stupid.  Don’t forget Caution #1.  I know it can be inconvenient and even irritating, but when you go out in public, don’t be so stubborn that you are not willing to wear a mask (at least sometimes).  Fear says “I’m not going out in public” even when you need to do so.  But stupid proudly proclaims its lack of fear and rushes headlong off the cliff.  Don’t be stupid.  Until we get a believable all-clear, wear a mask when you can and keep your distance when it makes sense.

In closing – I want to say something about social distancing.

I get it.  The most credible evidence we have suggests that the virus spreads person to person within a 6-foot parameter.  Unfortunately, it has been 3 plus months now with everyone holding out this large, 6-foot personal space bubble.  I think we may be underestimating the negative social consequences of that.  We are a people made and designed for close, physical, intimate contact with one another.  Depriving ourselves of that has to have horrific consequences on our psyches and I would think even our health.

As such, I want you to hear me VERY carefully – are you listening?

You know I am a hugger, but the world has changed.  I won’t come up to you anymore and force a hug on you.  But hear me.  If you come up to me and say “I need a hug” – you can bet your Aunt Fannie’s secret blackberry jam recipe that I will have one for you.

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