A Stroll Through the Neighborhood
As I walk down the street this morning, I see an empty neighborhood. There aren't a lot of cars out driving, and there aren’t a lot of people out having fun together. No cookouts, no yard sales, no birthday parties, and not much of anything else. Spring doesn’t normally feel like this, but the COVID-19 lockdown has us all stuck at home and waiting for some relief. It seems that many states are opening things back up, which has many people jumping for joy.
As I think personally about this whole situation, the thing I miss most is fellowship with other Christians. I miss the corporate gatherings each Sunday. I also miss the impromptu get-togethers with brothers and sisters in Christ. Right now I can’t have a bonfire and invite my friends over for scripture reading and discussion. Kim and I can’t invite another family over for dinner after Sunday morning worship. I can't meet with Jeremy on Tuesday at the Hub or pray with Joe on Wednesday morning.
Some have been quick to remind me that, technically, I can do all of these things. They're right. But out of love for others, respect for the government, and our own health, my family has decided to stay in.
Loving My Neighbors
While many people allow their Christian faith to be Sunday and Wednesday only, I hope this lockdown gives us a greater longing to spend time with people. Humans are not meant to be isolated. I think about God speaking that Adam was not meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18). While many of us have a spouse or children, several do not. I feel for our single Christian brothers and sisters out there who have lost many of the avenues of social connection in this tough season.
I've been thinking a lot about the command to love my neighbor, and how radically different that looks right now (Mark 12:31). I guess I could still go visit my neighbors and bring them food, but I could also be introducing them to a virus that I don’t even know if I have. Our church could set up a block party, give away food, hand out tracts, and preach the gospel, but that size gathering could spread the virus without proper social distancing. And who knows when the government will say it is wise to host such a gathering.
The reality is, I haven't visited my neighbors enough in the past few years, and it took being locked down to realize that. It took being locked down to get me to recognize the numerous families in my neighborhood who need to see the love of God. It took a global pandemic to open my eyes to the people I've been ignoring for the past five years while praying for God to send me somewhere with the gospel.
It may sound crazy, but coming out of this Coronavirus in the coming weeks is going to be a bitter time for many. Did I just say that? What could possibly be bitter about local businesses and restaurants opening back up? What could be bitter about getting back to grilling out and watching the kids play in the backyard? What could be bitter about our local churches and small groups gathering again?
Some people will face great anxiety. It is clear from the protests and social media clamor that many people are ready to get back to life as usual. Along with these people, there are plenty of others who feel the need to be cautious about opening things back up. And no, they haven't "bought in" on some government or media conspiracy to keep everyone afraid until the mark of the beast comes in the form of vaccinations. They simply see the nature of a deadly disease that has continued to spread even in the face of global lockdowns.
To think about life as normal in the midst of this pandemic can be terrifying for some people, setting their anxiety on edge. They may not be ready to get back to church as much as they deeply miss it. The immunocompromised and at-risk Christians get to watch everyone else get back to life while they continue to shelter in place. Pray for them. Pray that they wouldn't be overcome with anxious thoughts and fears of contracting the virus. Pray that they don't become angry or bitter about their circumstances. Instead of mocking them for being illogical or speaking as though they don't matter in the grand scheme of things, pray that they would cast their anxieties on the Lord who cares for them (1 Peter 5:7).
Some people will act recklessly. From skepticism to outright anger, some will refuse to wear masks or keep social distance. Others will go out of their way to reject anything that government recommends regarding social distancing. By law, they are totally free to do so in stores and in churches. We are a free nation governed by a constitution for a reason. However, as Christians, we need to remember the principle of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:
"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."
While we may think it's silly to wear a mask to Walmart or to church, we must be cognizant of the needs and desires of our neighbor. It may sound stupid to stand 6 feet away from people or not shake hands at church, but it could be what is good for our neighbor. It might be annoying to not sip that cup of coffee before corporate worship on Sunday, but it could be beneficial to others.
People don't wear signs saying, "cancer patient", "immunocompromised", or "lung issues". Also, seasonal allergies and asthma make some people more prone to coughing, sneezing, and getting respiratory issues during the next 5 months or so. We need to focus less on what's lawful and more on what builds up. In these days, it is especially important to live out Philippians 2 as we seek to live like Christ and count others as more significant than ourselves. Let us pray that Christians would reflect the love and kindness of Christ in the coming days.
In light of the bitter, however, there is so much sweetness.
We get to gather on Sunday mornings again. We will soon get to see many of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ as we gather to worship with one another. No more Zoom burnout—we hope! No more preaching sermons to an empty room. No more watching the sermon from home and being distracted by the million things going on around us. No more singing into a camera with everyone muted so that we can only hear our own voices at home. No more internet connection issues making us look and sound like pixelated Super Mario using autotune. And no more blacked out screens with silent mics! (We know you're hiding!) Even if behind masks, we get the joys of being physically present.
I hope we don't ever take gathering together for granted again. It has been almost 8 weeks since we last did this, and I hope it has created a longing for more than just mere social interaction. I hope we are excited about more than just getting out of the house. I hope that we are overjoyed about the fact that the we get to be back together doing what the church does—gathering and going. While the going has never stopped, the gathering won't be paused (or Zoomed) anymore!
We get to gather in small groups again. We get to start having meals and get-togethers in our homes again. We get to send up prayers of worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication together. We can sip coffee—iced, whipped, or hot—while discussing work, parenting, marriage, and every other aspect of life from a Christian perspective. We get to open our Bible and start dwelling again on how we can reach our communities with the gospel that Jesus has commissioned us to share with the world. We get to be together.
Whether your local church has formal small groups or not, I hope you've missed being among other believers. I hope that you've grown a hunger for more than just consuming a Sunday sermon and a Wednesday night Bible study. I hope we've all developed a zeal to reach the lost in ways that have always been simple but often taken for granted. I hope you're ready to get back to living out the numerous "one another" passages with a renewed joy and vigor.
I know I am.
Are you ready to reopen? What are you most excited about? Are you nervous or fearful about anything? How are you praying in these times?
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