A friend of mine told me about wearing a mask to a local store where he encountered a man in the parking lot who mocked him for his cowardice. Another shared about wearing his N95 medical grade mask, one that he’s had in his garage for months, only to be rebuked for not ‘saving’ the medical grade masks for health professionals. These are mild examples of the divided nature of our nation. I, and many other pastors, are sincerely concerned about preserving the unity of our churches in coming weeks as we reopen our buildings to meet for worship. If we Christians bring our strong opinions with us, what will result?
We must practice that kind of love that is always to be the most notable quality of a Christ follower – deep, other-centered love. Paul says it this way – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10, NIV)
Balancing the needs of all those who call the church their spiritual home is no easy task. Some think we should open now, even in defiance of the government authorities. Others would keep the building closed until a vaccine and/or treatment is in place, which could be months from now. Some say that masks are unnecessary, others insist we will wear them publicly indefinitely. Some think that the danger of spreading the contagion means we cannot sing. Others think that singing is a basic part of worship, not to be hindered for any reason. Must we limit the number in the building? I know you have opinions. We all do!
Time and again I remind myself of the greater importance of the unity of the Body of Christ. When I feel irritation rising with that person who disagrees with I am sure is ‘the truth,’ I feel the counsel of the Spirit reminding me to listen well. Faith Discovery Church will open, though no date has been set yet. The process, to date, has been guided by the shared counsel of our leadership team. Even within that small group of 9 persons there are widely divergent opinions about the requirements that will be placed on those who attend. We talk, with respect, with honesty, keeping our focus on honoring Him. In the end, each one will yield his or her opinion to the wisdom of the whole, and we all pray that our work is directed by Christ, the Head of the Church, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Let’s widen our perspective today to include our individual responses to others in this world. Most of us have strong opinions about the decisions that the government is making to limit our individual liberties and about the way that others are responding to those directives. Some would take to the streets in fierce defense of our cherished American freedom and condemn those who refuse to do so as ‘sheeple,.’ Some believe that limits are in the interest of us all and see those protestors as idiotic and irresponsible.
Tragically, conspiracy theories have flourished like weeds in this soil of unrest, making any reasonable conversation nearly impossible. Ideas that would be quickly dismissed in any other time seem to find root in people who are otherwise thoughtful. (Click here to read an excellent article about conspiracy theories among Christians.)
Yes, I confess to my own sin in this. If you know me at all you know I am a person who is generally not reluctant to express an opinion. This is not a time for that! Destructive divisions are tearing us apart in a time of crisis. We need people who will do the hard of reconciling people to one another. Knowing my tendencies, I have mostly stopped watching media reports because of the reactions that they trigger in me, responses that are far from Christ’s calling. How about you? Would you get honest with yourself?
Let’s pray to remember this – we are Christ’s first, citizens of God’s kingdom. Let’s represent Him well in our interactions with all, even as we pray for a loving heart, a gentle spirit. I believe that there is an opportunity for Christians to lead the way in our time, people who are wise, who act rather than react, who demonstrate faith responsibly, whose lives show the truth that our God is greater even than death itself.
Here is a word from the Word. I have chosen the Message paraphrase for clarity. As we read it, lets invite the Truth to sink deep, convicting and convincing each of us about how we best represent our King before the world.
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!
All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20, The Message)
Abba, my heart is often in conflict these days.
There are fears that stir anger, anger that can make me blind and deaf.
Secure my soul in You with Your Word and by Your Spirit.
Speak peace. Convince me of the importance of love.
I pray that You will be well represented by those who bear Your Name.
Keep us from weakness even as You teach us meekness.
Preserve us from folly born of presumption, even as You make us fearless in faith.
Help me, Lord Jesus, to bear the beauty of Your Spirit before this world –
In my thoughts, in my words, in my actions. Amen