“The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9, ESV)
How did it go for you, your family, and your church family as you experienced the second “unique” Lord’s Day during this COVID-19 pandemic? Before I share with you something I gleaned from this past Lord's Day, I need to share with you what occurred three days earlier.
I experienced personal sadness as a direct result of this dreaded virus this past Thursday. I traveled to southwest Ohio where an Assisted Living Facility is located. My elderly mother is a resident there and I was meeting my younger sister in the facility’s parking lot.
This was not our original itinerary, but as everyone living on this planet is experiencing, schedules are very fluid these days. The doctor’s appointment that I was planning to take Mom to the next day was cancelled indefinitely due the current health crisis. The building where the doctor’s office is located is currently being transformed into a COVID-19 checkpoint facility. Even though my mother has pressing health issues, those are being set aside at this time for the “greater good.”
This “greater good” and necessary precautions also led to the governor declaring, rightfully so, that access to assisted living facilities and nursing homes by family members and the general public be discontinued at the present time. So, my sister and I stood there teary-eyed as we handed over supplies, notes, and goodies for the wonderful caregivers to deliver to our mom’s apartment. We were located approximately twenty yards from her apartment door, but it might as well have been halfway around the world.
The now teary-eyed caregiver soon returned to the entrance to give me the mail and bills that had accumulated since my last personal visit six weeks ago. She said, “Your mom said to tell you thank you for your care and that she loves you!” Wow, what a memorable moment! I know that we are all currently standing there in that kind of moment, one way or another.
Fast forward to Sunday. My personal experience caused my thoughts to focus on what it must have been like to be members of the Church in Jerusalem during the first few weeks following the rip-apart whirlwind that historically labeled as the Diaspora (“dispersing and scattering”; cf. Acts 8:1-3).
Consider this with me for a few moments. Our current disconnections will be mostly temporary in nature, while theirs were permanent. They did not have 24-hour news channels and social media to give updated information regarding their own situation, let alone the situations of the entire world population.
Their fears could not be abated by promises of national relief, nor the waning of persecution in other regions of the world where they could seek relief. They could not live stream together from their isolated locations to enjoy temporary moments of “community” and “shared worship.” There were no published articles for them to consult, neither print nor online.
There was no “cloud” located in cyberspace to access in order to find seemingly limitless sources of information. The only “clouds” that they were aware of hung over their heads in the earth’s atmosphere. Or, there the personal clouds of depression, doubt, and despair. They no doubt experienced every facet of human emotions that are normally associated with fear. Indeed, fear for them was very real and ever present.
Yet, these young-in-the-faith followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, Spirit-filled and emboldened, succumbed to a greater fear than that of the unknown. It was not a fear whose flames were fueled by panic or despair. It was the “fear of the Lord” that overwhelmed them and allowed them to react and adjust to the “new normal” of life.
Looking first unto their Lord enabled them to recognize His sovereignty with reverential awe and conviction. This secondly allowed them to not merely see the surface issues they faced, but to acknowledge there were divine movements taking place behind them all.
Viewing the situation through godly lenses allowed them to trust God’s plan with reverence and conviction regarding how these situations conform to His divine plan. Their response to the Diaspora is shared with a simple, yet compelling statement shared in Acts 8:4: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
This historical testimony is ironically reported by a doctor by the name of Luke. He painstakingly reports these responses like a good doctor would throughout the Book of Acts. We should give his Holy Spirit-directed and inspired commentary an even more serious hearing than we do the daily Coronavirus briefings by the wonderful medical community in our day.
The good doctor reports that their zeal for God and their “infectious witness” (not a phrase accidentally chosen) fanned the flame of the gospel torch all across Asia Minor. He comments, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31, ESV)
Later, Luke shares the observations of Barnabas, who had been sent by the leaders of the Jerusalem Church to observe how the persecuted, scattered believers were faring in their new, Roman-imposed settlement in the major trade city of Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). Barnabas’ testimony is compelling as he reports that he “saw the grace of God … and exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. (Acts 11:23).” The evidence of this grace was affirmed by “a great many people being added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24) and demonstrated by the fact that these God-fearing followers of Christ “were first called Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
We discover in Luke’s briefing that the members of the Antioch Church were not inwardly focused on their personal needs. This allowed them to clearly acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s promptings to “set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). After praying and fasting, these two brothers were officially commissioned and sent off to preach the gospel, disciple new believers, and plant local churches.
This was all done in obedience to the Great Commission previously commanded by the Lord Whom they feared and revered (Acts 13:3; Matthew 28:18-20). Very soon afterwards, this multiplying group of Christians was ’turning the world upside down’ (cf. Acts 17) as a result of the Spirit’s use of their gospel fervency and reverence to their Lord.
We could go on, citing example after biblical example of those who chose faith over fear (I.e. Hebrews 11) and fearful, reverential respect for Christ over the fear of human circumstances (I.e. Hebrews 12:1-6). It’s actually a fun exercise to attempt and one that you might want to try in your efforts to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16).
Allow me to conclude my thoughts with a proposition.
There is a lot of debate about what to label the pandemic that has plunged us into this current global crisis. I’m not going to get into the motivations attached to any of the labels that are being ascribed, but I have made my own personal choice. I will not use an acronym nor a geographical label to describe the virus. I choose to call this pandemic what it is, “Coronavirus.” Why is this a big deal for me? It has to do with the etymology of the word.
The word “corona” has two basic root origins. The word “corona” is used anatomically to refer to a part of the body resembling or likened to a crown. It would be adapted in the Greek and Latin language to speak of the “garland” or “crown” that adorned the head of the victor/champion of a major conquest or contest. That imagery is used several times in the New Testament to encourage followers of Christ, such as in James 1:12 - “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised.”
“Corona” can also refer astronomically to “the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars.” We can only see the true evidence of the sun’s corona during a total solar eclipse. It is then seen as an irregularly shaped pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon. Do I dare use the word “eclipse” to describe our current situation? The eclipse of the current crisis casts darkness on the path of the hopeless. The joy for Christians is to see the “corona” that glows and surrounds the darkness with the promise of the abiding presence of the “Light of the World” (John 8:12). Likewise, we are to be His children who have a corona shrouding us “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).
I can already imagine the spiritual wheels of this article's readers’ minds and hearts spinning as mine did as they consider the spiritual parallels to both of these definitions. Amazing, isn’t it? God makes no mistakes and finds joy in bringing keen spiritual insights to His children, even in the darkest situations.
Medical wisdom warrants that we “shelter in place” and “maintain a safe distance six feet apart.” Godly wisdom compels the Church at this moment to take advantage of the opportunity to joyfully and creatively share the message proclaimed by our Creator, Savior, and Lord: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, ESV). “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).
Christ shines brightest when the world is eclipsed in darkness. By His grace, so can the Church.
You have His Word on it!
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