Some Pastoral Thoughts from Jacob on Regathering Tomorrow
I am so excited that you are about to gather as a church body tomorrow after all these weeks apart. We have truly been blessed and grown through this time, but there is no replacement for being together. The church is meant to gather, to assemble whenever possible. I am so glad many of you will be.
And as we gather in various contexts–Sunday service, smallgroups, ministries, and the impromptu face-to-face one-another ministries of the body–be on the lookout for who isn’t there. For many, their absence likely doesn’t reflect a lack of desire to be with the church. When Paul was torn away from the church in Thessalonica, he wrote them that this caused him to “MORE EAGERLY desire to see you face to face” (1 Thes 1:17). So as you joyfully gather, be particularly aware of who isn’t there, be loving, thoughtful and creative, and don’t forget that–though absent in many ways for now–they are a part of our local church.
Even being back together, it isn’t the same. Social distancing, limited services, face masks, and more are hard. It isn’t the same. Getting a bear hug from Eric, enjoying an unobstructed view of Omri’s huge genuine smile, our children learning God’s Word alongside other children in Next Generation Ministries, and the countless other small joys that many didn’t even know to thank God for…this isn’t the same. But it’s still better than livestream.
And doing these hard things will enable many to come to church who otherwise would need to keep live streaming. All of these interventions are designed not primarily to protect the one doing them but others from you. That’s what’s so hard with COVID19; it tends to spread from asymptomatic individuals. And our Sunday gathering is probably the most “dangerous” or contagious time of the week for many. We experience this every winter when your kids come in contact with new germs on a Sunday and are sick by Tuesday. When we are together, germs get shared. When those germs might do serious harm to some, we do well to think soberly about if we can do anything to mitigate that risk.
So when we come to church, have others in mind. This shouldn’t be hard because I have witnessed over the last two decades that this is the mark of Grace Bible Church. You come to church with others on your mind. If there was ever a place where I have experienced people mimicking Jesus’ example in Phil 2:3-4 it IS this church:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
Rightly understood, masks, social distancing, handwashing, and not coming to church sick are in line with this. Just like you cover your cough or sneeze or wash your hands–you shouldn’t be doing those things primarily to protect yourself, but to protect others.
When I was in the hospital with lymphoma, many of you demonstrated this self-emptying love by washing your hands, donning a ridiculous-looking yellow gown, and wearing a mask. This wasn’t to protect you from me, but me from you. Thankfully we are not in a time where this is necessary for the general population. It’s sometimes very unclear what is actually necessary. What was true when you came to visit me was that you were willing to be uncomfortable to be with me.
This is similar to how you can care for the at-risk in our church body. The uncomfortable things that you do may make it possible for some to come who otherwise stay home. I’ve been so encouraged as I’ve interacted with many in the body who plan on doing things you otherwise wouldn’t do out of care for others. It isn’t obvious what the right amount of caution is, and this is undoubtedly a moving and hotly debated target. But more important than what we do is why we do it and how we do it.
1) Why: Christlike, self-emptying love counting others more significant than yourself (Phil 2:3-4)
2) How: “Without grumbling or disputing…as children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Some might come to church and do something with which you are uncomfortable. For some, mask use may present legitimate challenges; people forget. There are different levels of awareness. This is all ok. It’s an opportunity to, in love, be patient and kind, not rude or insisting on your own way, to avoid irritability or resentfulness, and bear all things, hope all things, and endure all things (1 Cor 13:3-7). We don’t need to show complete unity in what we do, but we need to show unity in how we do it: With Christlike love.
We live in the world but do not live like the world. These topics of social distancing and policy decision have led to incredible division and even hatred in the world. I’m not going to act for a second like our church is going to be smarter at figuring out the right balance on this. But we have a unique opportunity to shine as lights in this world.
Right now, We are in Seattle and will be live streaming for the next many months. Our son David will be, Lord willing, getting a bone marrow transplant in the upcoming weeks. Over the last 7.5 years of cancer in our home, live stream has been an incredible blessing, a lifeline back to the Sunday gathering of the church. We’ve been so blessed by Zoom meetings. I’m so glad that for many of you, your time for livestreaming and zoom meetings are coming to an end.
You care for us well, but the Hantla family’s absence is a bit more dramatic and noticeable. The one who has only been at the church a short time or who is a less conspicuous member of the body is no less important, but maybe not as obvious when away. I can’t put it any better than the apostle Paul. The implications of the following verses are many in this pandemic:1 Cor 12: 22-26: “The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
So if you are home live streaming and zooming, rejoice for those who can be together. As you are coming together, remember those who aren’t with you and do what you can to allow them to be with us as appropriate and to care for them and love them even if they can’t.