The COVID-19 Opportunity

You’ve likely heard often within the last few weeks that these are unique times in which we’re living. Indeed these are unique times. It’s certainly the first time in my lifetime that the entire world has been affected so significantly by one set of circumstances. Everyone is affected during this pandemic. Many are hurting. Some are hurting because of the virus itself while others are hurting in different ways. Some are hurting because of job loss or financial hardships. Others are hurting because they are separated from loved ones and they’re lonely. But in the midst of all the suffering, there are good things that we are experiencing from the Lord in this time.

Recently I’ve heard several stories of how people are stepping up to serve one another in these times of hardship and suffering. It seems like almost daily there’s a report of how people rallied around an individual or family with a parade of some sort. We’ve seen people who know how to sew jumping in to make masks for neighbors and friends. I read an article this week about how a garden tech at HPU was making floral bouquets to take to the hospital each day. I recently saw homemade signs in the Home Depot parking lot that someone had made reading “Thank You Home Depot Workers”. There are good things happening in our community during this pandemic.

There are people within our own church who are stepping up to serve the vulnerable in our community by preparing and/or serving meals for those who in need. The church mobilizing to meet needs in our community is a beautiful thing. And without the opportunity that this pandemic has created for people to work from home, many people would not have had the flexibility to step up and serve like they have. We have taken steps away from being a consumer church where we want to show up and be fed and we’ve taken steps towards mobilizing and being the church in our community. There are good things from the Lord in this season.

One of the things that I’ve celebrated during this time is additional time with family. Sometimes I celebrate it while at other times I lament it if I’m honest. I’m sure my kids would say the same. Without extracurricular activities we have more time for board games and meaningful conversation. But I’ll be the first to admit that this doing-school-at-home thing is no cake walk. With my four kids all doing school and my wife Erin, who is a first grade teacher, doing her school work there are times when tensions run high in our home. But I’m so grateful for the extra time with family, and the extra opportunities I have to enjoy my kids and shape my kids, while appreciating the extra time with Erin, too.

I recently saw a video that one family posted who have obviously been spending time together during this time. This is a very talented family who loves the Lord, and they’ve used their gifts to encourage others. This is the Goss family and they live in Pennsylvania. They started what they’re calling the “Goss Family Quarantunes”. Their “volume 1” is a performance of “Holy Water” by We the Kingdom. When I first saw and heard it I was moved to tears. Sometimes it doesn’t take a whole lot to move me to tears when it involves performances that are intended to glorify God, but this one got me because it was a family doing this together. I don’t know this family and the ages of their kids, but I was struck that their four children (who I would guess range from elementary to high school) were doing this together with their parents. I think about my own family and my four kids, ages 13, 11, 9, and 5, and I am reminded of the unique opportunity that the Lord has given me with my family. Take a listen here to see the Goss family perform “Holy Water”.

Pretty impressive right? They are talented for sure, but they are also really convincing. Their body language sells the message that they’re singing. It’s a precious example of how a family can leverage this unique opportunity. And that’s what I hope to encourage you with in this blog. These are unique times for sure, but we should see this pandemic as a unique OPPORTUNITY. What is it an opportunity for? Perhaps you’re like me and you could leverage it as a unique opportunity to build into your family, making memories and being intentional to shape their character to reflect that of Christ. Perhaps it is a unique opportunity for you to get out and serve because of a more flexible work schedule. Or maybe you’ve lost your job and this is a unique opportunity to testify to God’s goodness and faithfulness when others would be panicked. It’s an opportunity for you to do some home projects, yard work, or maybe washing your vehicle(s), but what opportunities can you leverage for eternal impact? How can you leverage this unique opportunity for the Kingdom of God?

Devote yourself to God. Disciple those whom God has placed within your influence. And deploy yourself as a soldier and ambassador for Christ.

Remind yourself daily that this COVID-19 pandemic is a unique opportunity and I pray your decisions are shaped by this God-centered perspective.

And in closing, I miss my church family and can’t wait for the opportunity to gather together!

Should We Take Communion During “Church at Home”?

Social distancing and government-imposed shelter at home orders have contributed to the loss of many things we have long taken for granted: coffee dates with friends, greeting one another with hugs, 3-on-3 pick up basketball, and more. This week we were having some work done in our kitchen, and when the contractor introduced me to one of his employees, I instinctively extended my hand for a handshake. Even that’s a loss, albeit small. Not every loss we feel is devastating, but the mounting accumulation of social and cultural losses incurred by the coronavirus feels overwhelming.  

Congregational life at Community Bible has certainly changed over the past six weeks. We have had to pivot to a new way of gathering to receive the Word and prayer. Those who used to hide their voices in the 350+ person congregational “choir” (that we call congregational singing) are now in the spotlight as living room duets, trios, and quartets. Worship at home is quite different than what we are accustomed to. We are in new territory as a faith community.  

One lost element of worship gathered over the past 6 weeks is the monthly observance of Communion. Communion is an important part of our worship gathered experience because of what it expresses: it visibly expresses our inner treasuring of the infinite value and beauty of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave his life for us. Communion, which mimics the final meal our Lord ate with his disciples, is an act of worship (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23).  

Our inability to gather in person for corporate worship has created a dilemma: should we observe communion as a part of our online “Church at Home” worship experience? The act of observing Communion would be simple enough. All you need is a little grape juice (or wine if you please), bread, and cue in the service letting you know the right time to eat and drink.  

The execution of Communion would be simple enough. But there are, at least in my estimation, some theological considerations.  

  1. It’s not sin, in extraordinary situations like this, to refrain or “fast” from the practice of the Lord’s Table, just as it is not a sin to refrain from gathering together physically (Hebrews 10:25) during a public health crisis in submission to government authorities.  
  1. The Lord’s Table is a New Covenant meal for the gathered church. In 1 Corinthians 11, which provides explicit instructions about the Lord’s Supper, five times Paul says, “…when you come together…”. Communion ordinarily involves a physically gathered church, a group of people from different households, in an act of physical sharing of one broken loaf and a cup of win. You could argue that a physical gathering is essential for observing the Lord’s Table rather than optional.  
  1. The Lord’s Supper is not intended to be a feasting of the individual before God only. It is a meal shared with the body of Christ. There is an important vertical and horizontal element involved in the Lord’s Supper. The horizontal element of taking Communion is why Paul writes, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).  
  1. The Lord’s Table expresses the value of Christ in three ways, and at least one of these ways requires an “audience”. Communion is an opportunity for us to remember Christ. The meal reminds us of who He is and what He has done for us.  

Communion is also opportunity for us to be nourished spiritually by Christ. There is a holy mystery in how God is present in the Table. This is what Paul has in mind when he says we “participate” in the body and blood of Christ through this meal (1 Corinthians 10:16). When we say, in faith, “By this meal I am nourished by you, by this cup I share in the grace you have bought for me”, and as we do this over and over with longing and conviction, Christ nourishes us spiritually.  

But it is the last expression of the value of Christ that matters supremely for this discussion. At the Lord’s Table we proclaim Christ. We proclaim his death (1 Corinthians 11:26), and we are meant to proclaim it to and over one another. This is difficult in a virtual setting, just as congregational singing (which we are commanded to do in Scripture) is difficult in a virtual gathering. You may know other people are present, but you cannot hear them or see them. Hearing and seeing one another makes the incarnational reality of God coming close to us more concrete. And when we take the elements together, we also experience Christ embodied in the physical gathering of His people.  

You have probably noticed that we have not observed Communion since the government-imposed regulations on the size of corporate gatherings. Our present situation raises all kinds of questions for how we “do” church during a public health crisis. But the fact that we have not observed Communion recently is mostly because we are still sorting through whether we should observe Communion in the present ministry environment. We are still working through the issue as an Elder Council, weighing what Scripture says about the Lord’s Table with practical consideration and present needs. In fact, if you want to read an excellent article on why we perhaps should offer communion during this time, this is a good one.  

Please pray for us as we wrestle with these important questions:  

  • Does the setting for Communion matter?  
  • Is virtual connectedness the same as physical connectedness?  
  • Would observing Communion in an online format negatively reinforce our already highly individualized worldview?  
  • Do the actual elements matter (would a bagel and coke work just as well)?  
  • Does who administers Communion matter?  
  • When should we make exceptions to our normal practice? For example, we often offer Communion to shut-ins. Why is our current situation different? Is it different?  

As we labor over these questions, let me ask you a question. What good work might God do if we wait to feast until we are together again? The longer we are apart, the more our distance should create greater longing for the physical realities of worship gathered and a feast around the Table. Our inability to gather in person to worship our Savior is a tragic loss. We should grieve that loss. Yes, be thankful for technology. But also lament that “Church at Home” is not the same as worship gathered on campus at Community Bible Church. “Church at Home” is not better than gathering together face-to-face (Hebrews 10:25).  

We live in an age of instant gratification. The easy thing to do in times like these would be to say, “This isn’t ideal, but it’s the best we can do.” And maybe the answer to the Communion conundrum is to take the less than ideal route. That may be where we land. But too often we make the mistake of thinking that if we can make something happen, we ought to make it happen.  

It is hard to be okay with loss. We want to offer as much comfort to people during this time of hardship as we can. But it is also okay to grieve loss and not rush to find a substitute for the real thing. It is possible God might use the waiting – even waiting to take Communion – to increase our desire for the real thing.  

Grace to You, 

Pastor Aaron  

Sinking Sand | A Memory

Once upon a time in Florida, there was a pale green house with a screened in porch and one slow ceiling fan. It sat, small and unassuming, under giant trees with great lengths of gray curly hair that flowed from their branches. Off to the side was a small storage shack that held black rubber inner tubes with air valves that stuck out a good inch (they could leave a nasty scrape right down your rib-cage if you weren’t careful) and scratchy rafts with popped seams that still floated just fine.

A few yards away was a lake, also small and unassuming, always still, always murky, always smooth but for splashing and paddle boat oars and an occasional fish rippling the surface.

I have pictures of my mom and dad when they were teenagers with cool hair and wild bathing suits standing knee deep in the water, smiling big, the pale green house just out of the frame. I have pictures of my grown-up parents floating, tossing and splashing years later with my brother and me in that same lake, with that same house in the background and on the same rubber inner tubes and scratchy rafts.

Artist: Nancy Harvey (Shannon’s mom)

They are vivid memories. But the thing I remember most is surprising – it is the sand. I’ve never felt or seen sand like it since, soft and pale and almost impossible to walk through. It moved and shifted as the soles of our feet pressed on it, even when we quickly dug our toes in for stability. When we followed that smushy sand down into the water – it transformed under our feet like something alive and would slowly pull us into it, like quicksand without the “quick.” We stood like stones at the water’s edge and watched as our feet, then our ankles, slowly disappeared into that sand, as if there was no such thing as solid ground.

It was wet and gloppy and we made the most amazing dribble towers on the edge of the shore. It was too something (heavy? slippery?) to make a sand castle. Maybe heavy is a good word – I can still feel the adrenaline that propelled me up off the ground and sent me screaming into the water away from my brother as he shouted “Who wants applesauce!?” and lobbed fistfuls of the sloppy dripping sand straight toward my curly head, where the sand would SLAP and grind down to my scalp and take days to come out.

Why am I thinking about this place now? Why am I remembering that sand with such detail, and finally, why am I writing it down to share with you?

Well, the reasons are layered. The first is that I miss being able to be somewhere else. The second is that lake was beautiful and lovely and I wanted to invite you to visit it with me in my memory, in case you also miss being able to be somewhere else.

But mostly, I wanted to think about that sand with you. The days are growing long, the novelty of being at home has worn off, for us grown-ups, for our teenagers, for our little ones. We started off a few weeks ago standing on new and unstable ground, each step shifting beneath us, changing sometimes by the day, causing us all to feel an unfamiliar instability, measuring our steps to find a walking rhythm.

And the days have melted by like Dali’s clocks, like dribbles of wet sand running down a melting tower.

Some of us are lingering around up on the shore, growing accustomed to the strange new ground that we are walking on. Restless maybe, stepping around burrs of inconvenience and attitudes and boredom, working through the (very real) disappointment of canceled things, but doing pretty well considering. Some of us are closer to the water’s edge, where the sand seems to breath just enough to swallow our feet slowly, almost imperceptibly, until we look down and see that we are buried up to our shins.

If this is where you are, may I ask what is in your sand? Loneliness? A slow build of pressure contained in the walls of your home? The squeeze of online schooling or bickering kids that seems to get tighter each day? A low hum of impatience toward those close to you? The constant chatter of news and information that seems to change by the minute, crowding your mind and stealing your attention span? The knowledge that your first month’s bills were covered, but you aren’t so sure about the second?

Still others of us have felt like we are already underwater, feet wedged into that mysterious sand that gulps and holds fast. What makes up this sand? Have Isolation and a deep loneliness begun to make you feel smothered by their heat? Has your job disappeared like steam off that inner tube? Are you a caregiver who suddenly can’t give care due to restrictions? Has the tension in your home become oppressive or even frightening? Have sopping heavy wallops of circumstances landed on you, blindsiding you, grinding into you and you can’t shake them off?

Oh church family, my words seem hollow today. I wanted to write with shouts of LIFE coming off Easter Sunday, and indeed Life is ALL around us, even now. But I know for many of us, our hearts are growing tired. I want to remind you that you have a family, brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in Christ. Like Paul who so desperately wanted to join his “spiritual children” in Thessolanica but was “torn apart from them,” so we desperately want to be knit together through our bond of Christ’s family.

So, for today, let’s pray to the One who is able to lift us from the miry bog, the Lifter of lonely heads, the One who sees us and finds us in the sand. Let’s pray that He who is able would rescue and revive and restore and refresh his children.

Love, grace and peace from your sister in Christ,

Shannon

Fight to Connect

I had the opportunity last night to briefly meet with the worship and technical teams before they began preparing for the services for this week. Just walking into our auditorium where our church family gathers week to week did something inside of me. But when I saw the faces of those I love and minister with regularly my heart was overcome with emotion and gratitude. I wanted so badly just to reach out and embrace and encourage each of them. We stood in a circle, trying to stay apart appropriately, and I attempted to encourage and thank them for all the work they were putting in. As we prayed my heart again was moved with emotion. I was just grateful to be with my brothers and sisters, to look into their eyes and see them face to face. I didn’t realize how much I missed them and all of you. I share Pastor Aaron’s longing to meet together again with all of you.  I long to lift my voice in worship together, corporately, with all of you. I long to lift my prayers to God together with you. I eagerly desire hearing God’s Word preached and taught as hundreds of us are gathered together. I look forward to seeing so many of you in the foyer, out in the parking lot and all over our campus.

Hebrews 10:24-25 has never been more real to me than now – when I can’t experience being together with you all.  

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting

            to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the

            more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

So, let’s do just that………consider how. We are having to be quite creative and to fight for fellowship these days aren’t we? We use Zoom, talking on our phones, FaceTiming, texting, emailing, even for some writing letters or cards; all in attempts to “meet together” to connect. Why? Because we were created for community and not isolation. This is why, in part, this new normal is so difficult. We weren’t created to walk this life alone. No, we do indeed need each other. This is why so many of our kids are anticipating going back to school – so they can be with their friends. We, like them, want to get out of the house, to see another human being – face-to-face. The bottom line is that we need both solitude and community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s small but powerful book Life Together points to this where he says,

            “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

As we continue to live in new degree’s of isolation and togetherness, consider how to reach out to one another, whether that is your normal pattern or not. I encourage you to call your families, do a Zoom or conference call with a friend, neighbor or coworker. Write that letter, send that email or text. When you see your neighbor outside, speak to them. Get out and take a walk and pray to the God who lives in eternal unity and fellowship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

We live in an unprecedented time where community is needed more than ever. I long for the day when we are together again, but until then I will fight to connect to do life together. I invite you into the new journey of doing life together.

Pastor Jon Eric