CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH
2020 VISION – WE NEED TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY – FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW
“CAUSES OR RESPONSES” – THIS IS THE QUESTION
On Thursday “Captain Tom” turned 100 years old and his recording of “You’ll never walk alone” (with Michael Ball) is at No 1 in the music charts.
And the nation celebrates, sends him accolades and hold him in high esteem.
For he is the one who has inspired us all during this time of fear and anxiety by pledging to raise £1000 pounds for the NHS by walking 100 times around his garden. The nation, inspired by his response to the Coronavirus pandemic, rallied to his cause. He did not raise £1000 but has raised over £29 million!
It seems he was not “hung up” about the causes of the Pandemic and who was to blame, but rather was determined to make a difference through the way he responded to this Crisis.
What an inspiration! And what an example of where we should be going now.
For I am not sure that the “causes” of the horror of this time are as important as the “responses” that we make to it.
THE QUESTION OF CAUSES
On the lips of many, and in the hearts of most, have been fundamental questions concerning this time:
- Where did Coronavirus come from?
- Was it manufactured by man or mutated from animals?
- If there is a devil, then is this his way of hurting God’s most marvellous creation?
- If there is a God, then is this His punishment on an evil and selfish world?
Rumours and “fake news” are rife in this situation:
There are reports that the Chinese manufactured this virus in labs in the Wu-Han district, to be deliberately released to weaken the world and strengthen the Chinese nation – the proof being that officials in the area seemed to be strangely untouched by the outbreak. Well, who knows?
There are other suggestions that the virus mutated from a disease found in Chinese bats, or from the filth of the horrific dog, bird and cat food markets. Who knows?
But it is said that these are purely human explanations – and that the Bible clearly states that all trouble has a spiritual origin – Ephesians 6: 12 reminds us that:
our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
And so many want to blame the devil who hates us, or God who wants to punish us (though some, it must be said, are declaring that this Pandemic is proof that there is NO God because if there was then He would stop the virus – if He is indeed the “God of Love”).
- Is this awful virus an attack of our enemy, the devil? There are many preachers – in churches and on the internet – who are proclaiming that God has told them that this is the work of the devil who is seeking to destroy God’s church by closing our buildings down, killing our people, and convincing the nations that this is proof that there is no God, and that if there is a God then He certainly does not love us.
Well, maybe this is, but if this IS the work of the devil then he has scored a spectacular “own goal”! For rather than turning people AWAY from God, this Pandemic seems to be turning people TO God – many are realising that there must be more to life than this, and others are being moved by the witness of Christian peace in the midst of fear. Rather than closing churches this Pandemic has led to the release of churches to meet and move in technological ways that they have never operated before.
And, we must be careful NOT to give the devil too much power. He is not omnipotent. He can only do what God allows him to do – this is the message of the Book of Job where God has to give permission to the devil to test Job’s trust in God (see Job 1: 12)
- Or is this really the punishment of an angry God? There are many preachers – in churches and on the internet – who are proclaiming that God has told them that this is the judgement of God upon a wicked generation.
Well, maybe this is, but there are problems with this being the punishment of God on the wicked:
- It is hitting “saint” and “sinner” alike – and not just the wicked.
- This is a worldwide pandemic, but the Bible teaches us that God declared after the Flood that He would never again send such a plague on the world to destroy it (Genesis 6: 5-7; 8: 21-22)
- In the Old Testament we certainly do see the judgement of God on people that came through the form of famine or plague or conquest – but this seems to be a judgement on specific people groups (more often that not His own people) as the consequence of their wickedness rather than on the world as a whole [EXAMPLES NEEDED HERE]
- In the New Testament the judgement of God seems to be reserved for the Seat of Judgement AFTER death and not BEFORE death. This is because God’s thrust under the New Covenant is to give everyone the greatest opportunity to receive Him before they die. This is why we are told in 2 Peter 3: 9 –
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance
- Jesus Himself challenged the whole Jewish belief that catastrophe was the punishment of God. In Luke 13 verses 1 to 5 we are told this:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’
I believe that Jesus is clearly stating here that bad things happen purely because of the world in which we live and that it Is only after natural death that the judgement of God comes on man.
Maybe one of these is the cause of the Pandemic, but I feel there is a cause much more simple than all these…the natural consequence of the “Fall of Man” as described in Genesis 3.
- Until that time Man walked with God and there was no sickness and no death
- Sin brought death into the world
- Until sin came into the world there was no virus that could kill, no flood, no pestilence, no famine, no sword that killed
- When we enter Heaven we are promised that there shall be no more death, or suffering, or crying or pain (Revelation 21: 1-7)
- But until that time – after natural death – we are subject to the natural consequences of the “Fall” – and this includes Pandemics – naturally occurring and developing illnesses.
If this is so – if I am right – then the CAUSES of Coronavirus are not as important as the RESPONSES that we are going to make to the Pandemic.
THE QUESTION OF RESPONSES
So…taking our cue from Captain Tom what kind of questions should we be asking about our responses to this time of Coronavirus Crisis?
As Christians I believe that our questions should be focused on how things are going to be different for us after this Crisis is over:
- How am I going to be different as an individual?
- How are we going to be different as a church?
HOW AM I GOING TO BE DIFFERENT AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
- I MUST SEE THIS TIME AS A “WAKE-UP CALL”
Paul, speaking to the church at Ephesus, says this (Ephesians 5: 14-20):
14 This is why it is said:
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
15 Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Oh! How powerful this is! I have been at my ease for too long. It is time to “wake up”
- I must not drift through life any longer but must seize the day – and make the most of all the time that has been given to me – for our lives have been shown to hang by a thread
- Rather than seeking my own rest, relaxation and pleasure, I must focus on doing what Jesus calls me to do and must enjoy His presence far more than I do
- I need to be filled with the Spirit and I need to be filled with the wisdom that comes from His Word – so I need to spend more time reading the Bible and more time praying – even if this means spending less time “doing”.
- THIS MEANS DEVELOPING NEW “NORMS” AND “RYTHMNS” OF LIFE
A vicar friend of mine said to a group of us just yesterday that maybe the length of time that we have been in “lock-down” has been a “blessing in disguise”. If we had come out of it too soon then we would have swiftly gone back to “normal” and nothing would have changed. But, because of the length of time we have begun to develop, and are being given the opportunity to develop, new “norms” and a new “rhythm” (in-word at the moment!) of life – new opportunities to review and renew our relationship with God (and with one another); new opportunities to deepen our relationship with Him through prayer and Bible study.
- THIS MEANS LOOKING AGAIN AT WHAT WE FOCUS ON IN LIFE
I have been humbled and chastened on how selfish my world-view quickly becomes – my focus is so quickly upon the things that I want; the things that make ME happy; the things that give ME pleasure. Things that are so transitory. It is time to re-focus on eternal things – upon the things that matter.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4: 8-9
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
- THIS MEANS PUTTING MY FOCUS ON ETERNAL THINGS
In the 1970’s when so much Christian focus was on the End Times, Larry Norman wrote his famous song “I wish we’d all been ready”.
The “wake-up call” for us as individuals has been that death is unseen and just one virus away and can happen at any time.
I do not want to say: “I wish I’d been ready”. We should live every day as if it were our last. I must be ready for eternity – and so must you.
HOW ARE WE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT AS A CHURCH?
This is the “$64 000 question”:
We have shut the building; we have become “dispersed” in our community; we are looking again at similarities between now and us, and then and the Early Church, and (as it has been well-described in this year’s “Virtual Spring Harvest”) we must be “unleashed”; we have begun to use technology in ways that we only dreamed of before; we have begun to reach out far wider through our Live Streams than the congregation of our church family.
Surely, we cannot go back to how it was before? Surely, we do not WANT to go back to how it was before.
This is a question that we are posing in this session but not answering…yet. We shall begin to look at this in sessions to come…
But, in the meantime, let us have some encouragement and as we decide how we are going to be different let us look at what we have been given already that should make us want to be different:
THE “DIVINE EXCHANGE”
AN ENCOURAGEMENT AS WE BEGIN TO ASK HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT
EXCHANGE IN THE HIGH STREET
I know that at this time of Coronavirus Crisis the High Streets are very much “out of bounds”, but one of the growing types of shop appearing are the “exchange” shops. Some are very specific – you take you old DVD that you no longer watch and exchange it there for one you have not seen. Others are far more general and really are a modern-day version of the old “pawn brokers” – where you take you no-longer-wanted item in and exchange it for cash.
The idea of the “exchange” shop is very simple – you can exchange what you no longer want for something better – something that you do want.
THE DIVINE EXCHANGE
Well, something FAR BETTER than the High Street Exchange is being offered to you today – and that is the DIVINE EXCHANGE – where you can exchange all those things about yourself that you no longer want for something that is far better – and which will last forever!
Father God looked down on us all and out of compassion has made this DIVINE EXCHANGE possible.
For we, in our rebellion against God had become a broken people. In our rebellion against God we had become a sinful people. In our rebellion against God we earned for ourselves the “wages of sin” which was death.
But God never stopped loving us and so provided the DIVINE EXCHANGE for us – an exchange that showed there was no greater love that could ever be shown.
For God’s Divine Exchange was this: that He sent His Son to die in our place so that we might live.
Here then is the DIVINE EXCHANGE: His life for my life
Here then is the DIVINE EXCHANGE: He died so that all who believe in Him (and all that this means) should not perish but have everlasting life. For those who believe (repent and be baptised; follow Him; claim Him as Messiah, the Son of the Living God; obey His commands) His one-time death is exchanged for our eternal life!
It does NOT get any better than that!
And, unlike a High Street Exchange it cost Him everything but costs us nothing – it is a free gift. Oh! How loved we are!!!
- He was punished so that we might be forgiven (1 Peter 2: 24)
- He was wounded so that we might be healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5)
- He was made sin so that we might be made righteous (2 Corinthians 5: 21)
- He died so that we might live (Hebrews 2: 9)
- He became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8: 9)
- He bore our shame so that we might share in His glory (Hebrews 12: 2)
- He endured our rejection so that we might be accepted by the Father (Ephesians 1: 5-6)
- He was made a curse so that we might possess the blessing (Galatians 3: 13-14)
- He was cut off so that we might be joined to the Lord (Ephesians 2: 13)
- Our “old man” was put to death for us so that we might become a “new man” in Him (Romans 6: 1-14)
(with thanks to the Oxford Bible Church and Derek Prince: “The Divine Exchange” for this)
THE DIVINE EXCHANGE – THE SMALL PRINT
When we accept the DIVINE EXCHANGE, we are invited (in the “small print”) to exchange a whole bunch of other issues for what is far better. Allow Him to make the exchange now in your lives:
- Love for hate
- Joy for sadness
- Peace for fear
- Hope for anxiety
- Relationship for rules
- Friendship for loneliness
- Forgiveness for guilt
- Reconciliation for separation
- Freedom for slavery
- “Beauty for ashes”
All this – and so much more – because of His great love for us.
In this time of great fear and anxiety due to the Coronavirus Crisis let us hold on to these wonderful promises of DIVINE EXCHANGE