This COVID-19 crisis has been unique in so many ways. But it’s not unique in one very important way. Like every crisis, this one reminds us that we need God. We always have.
I’ve only been around for 65 years. But just in my lifetime, I’ve watched so many of these national or even global crises come and go. The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Cold War, and nuclear proliferation. Regular drills to hide under our desks, just in case the Russians bombed us, put the fear of God in a lot of kids. But, at the same time they gave us an 18-inch square piece of laminated wood to shield us from nuclear annihilation, they took away our right to pray in a public-school classroom. Go figure.
Then came Vietnam, Watergate, Operation Desert Storm, the hanging chads, Y2K, the World Trade Center, and the invasion of Iraq. Impeachments, recessions, terrorist attacks, stock market drops, nuclear reactor meltdowns, assassinations, social injustice, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, and pandemics.
Great googa mooga, can't you hear me talkin' to you, just a ball of confusion. (Shoutout to Motown, 1970!)
In hindsight, I doubt there’s been a day during my 65 years that at least some regions of the world were not on the brink somehow. And none of those crises were tests of our faith in a President, or in a Governor, or in an economy or even in political virtues. They simply (not easily) tested our faith in a purposeful God. Turns out, He’s pretty good at taking care of His children while He moves the ball down the field!
But we’re not just Christians who are confident in Christ. We also represent Christ as citizens. We all have political opinions and are blessed to still live in a country where we can share those opinions with others. So an unshakable faith in an omnipotent God doesn’t give us an excuse to stick our heads in the sand, to disengage from what’s going on around us.
As we’ve watched this thing unfold, some of us feel the threat of the virus remains sufficient to keep our country closed. If that’s you, then you certainly have the right to support our leaders who lean into prolonged caution.
On the other hand, some of us feel as if the lesser of the evils is to move on and begin reopening the country. If that's you, then by all means, let your government representatives know what you think, even find ways to protest in peaceful and appropriate ways. There is absolutely nothing civilly disobedient about that. Just remember, though, there are people who have lost loved ones who were perfectly healthy just two months ago. To tell a grieving family this is all a political scam is not only unfair, it is unkind.
But, whatever you feel you need to do as a citizen, as you move forward, be motivated by your purpose, not by your fears. Don't allow a judgmental spirit to fuel your angst. There is already too much finger-pointing and blaming in the world. The last thing HDC has ever needed is a critical spirit that would lead to a divided church and take our focus away from our mission.
Be vigilant. Every overreaction literally begs for another one. So, if you feel like people are somehow overreacting, just make sure you don’t respond in kind.
And let’s keep our eye on the ball. This national quest of reopening America is primarily about reopening small businesses. I know that’s where my heart is. I hurt for families who have lost their jobs. I want you to be able to go back to work, to prosper economically, and return to those social arenas where you represent the Gospel to so many people. And when we’re again able, HDC, I hope we will all give those businesses the support they’re going to need to recover.
And remember, this is not about reopening churches. Christ’s Church opened in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit landed in the hearts of those first Jesus followers and, since that day, the Church has never been closed. No governmental authority has the ability to shut down the Church. Because closing buildings doesn’t shut down churches. The Church is not a building, it’s us.
Because of China’s prominence in this particular season of history, let me remind you of what took place over there during the last Century. Most of you are too young to remember, but back in 1949 there were about 500,000 Evangelical Christians in China. Because the Communist regime thought the Church posed a threat, they thought they’d better shut it down. And that wasn’t for months, but for decades! But the only One Who has the pay grade to shut down the Church is the Head of the Church. In reality, all the Chinese government could do was turn off the lights. Several decades later, the lights came back on and the Chinese Church had grown from 500,000 to 130,000,000. No buildings, no large formal worship services, no professional clergy…and no internet. So, how did that happen?
Even today, ask a typical Chinese believer where they go to church and they’ll all tell you the same thing. “We don’t go to church. We are the church.”
At some point, we will give you the green light to return to your groups and come back to our campuses. When we do, just know that HDC will not be reopening, because we’ve never been closed. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says to never stop meeting as a church. So we haven’t. And we won’t.
This pandemic has forced so many people to consider the most important implication of the Christian mission, that God’s Kingdom is best shared virally, from person to person. 95% of people, who give their lives to Christ, give their lives to Christ because of the primary influence of someone in their oikos. Auditoriums and well-lit stages have simply never been where God’s best work is accomplished. Since we haven’t been able to access those assets anyway, more pastors have been open to that reality. These past few months have given a lot of churches a great opportunity to test-drive that singular principle that Jesus gave us to grow His Church, in any and every circumstance.
Having said that, we really miss you. It is heartbreaking to come in here each weekend and see this room empty. Remote experiences are just not the same as being physically together. They’re just not.
In the initial weeks of this crisis, we naively envisioned staying home until someone said, “OK, you can come out of hiding now!” and we’d all enthusiastically return to our four campuses and enjoy our normal weekends. It’s now clear that our old "normal" weekends may not be possible for a while. But our team has begun conversations about how a return to our groups and campuses looks in phases. So, please pray for us, that we will plan appropriately and be able to celebrate God’s goodness to us, together on our campuses.
We’ve already determined that there won’t really be a good way to do this. Every option available to us will fall short of what’s ideal. But there will be a best way, and that’s the one we hope to discover. So, I’m asking you to pray that we’ll find it. But be warned. When we’re able to take that first step, we may not be giving you very much notice. So, as the old trucker said, “Keep your ears on!”