From church to school to check-ins with the office, everything has gone “virtual.” Screens, which had dominated our lives prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic, are now taking up every waking minute and often putting us to bed at night. As we immerse ourselves further into this digital world, we find ourselves longing for “real” experiences. We’re anxious for the day that we’ll be able to break out of quarantine and get back to living.
Still, although we’re not asking for these stay-at-home orders to be extended, our family has found that gratitude for what we can enjoy in the meantime has helped ease the sting of our restricted lifestyle. So we thought we’d share with you some of our real reasons for thanksgiving in this increasingly virtual world in which we’re living.
First of all, we’re healthy! Yes, although we’d been potentially exposed to the coronavirus, none of us have exhibited symptoms. Instead, we’ve been able to enjoy some special moments, like Dave’s 46th birthday and a trip to a local park. And, although she had to undergo oral surgery, our dog, Kaixin, is doing fine as well.
Second, our 24 missionaries in Mexico are OK! One of our more pressing concerns has been the missionary body in Mexico, especially as the situation has worsened. We’re happy to report, however, that they are well and, although some have had to make moves because of the virus, they are continuing to engage in ministry as their situation permits. BTW, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, mentioned in our previous newsletter, have made miraculous comebacks!
Last, but certainly not least, your generosity is paying dividends! Through your support, we’ve been able to participate in a program that is giving assistance to 1,150 pastors throughout Mexico as services are suspended and businesses are closed. We’ve also been able to participate with missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim as they provide funds for personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals. These doctors and nurses, who had worked with them in outreaches, are suddenly on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. These PPEs are helping them stay focused on meeting the need.
Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him… Luke 24:31
This verse marks Jesus’ climactic revelation in the story of the Walk to Emmaus. This story strikes a chord with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s odd; the resurrected Jesus walks along with his former disciples and they don’t even recognize him. Second, it speaks to our moment, this period between Easter and Pentecost, as well as the current situation we’re facing.
As it opens, the disciples are expressing their regrets. Their hopes are dashed. Their lives had been turned upside down overnight. As they walked along, they were struggling to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of their experience and move on. The amazing thing is that they were expressing their disappointment to the one who had already accomplished what their wildest imagination couldn’t begin to comprehend.
They were dealing with death:
The death of their political messiah. Jesus had been on their side, and, just the week before, he had been riding into Jerusalem. All that was left, they thought, was to determine who would sit on his right and left.
The death of their professional status. As Jesus’ disciples, they had access to resources: funds, houses, front row seats to all of the exclusive events. The shameful death of their leader had turned the tables on them. They were now the accomplices of a condemned criminal. There was only one sensible thing to do: get out of town.
The death of their personal savior. When Jesus was with them, he was calming the storms, healing their sick relatives, and providing their food. Now, it seems, they would have to fend for themselves.
The cross had killed their messiah. The amazing thing was, he was standing right in front of them, and they didn’t even recognize him! We ask ourselves how could they have been so blind? Yet perhaps this moment shows us to be more like them than we’ve realized.
As I reflect on Jesus’ activity during this Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but think of a scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that particular scene, Indy saves his father who had been held prisoner inside a tank. Just as he succeeds in getting his dad off the tank and fighting off his attackers, the tank goes over the cliff. As it crashes on the rocks below, we wait with bated breath, thinking that he’s gone over with it. At that point, Indy’s father and their friends gather at the edge of the cliff, straining to see a glimpse of his dead body among the wreckage. We think he’s been killed. But, just as his father stands to eulogize him, the camera pans out and Indy appears, standing there looking at the same wreckage.
We’ve been asking, “where is God in all of this?” wondering if we’ll see him tangled amidst the disaster that is the Coronavirus. We stand, looking out over the wreckage, only to conclude that the Coronavirus has killed our messiah.
It’s killed our personal savior, the one who we thought was at our beck and call.
It’s taken away our ticket to professional status, the one who made us look good when he “showed up” at our events and worked on our behalf.
It’s overthrown our political messiah, the one that supported our American exceptionalism and partisanship.
Or at least it’s killed what we thought was our messiah. In reality, he’s here standing before us.
There’s a song that our MKs know fairly well: ‘Little white box”
“If I had a little white box to put my Jesus in, I’d take him out and kiss his face and put him back again.”
While I understand the intention of the song, I’m not a fan. Whenever I hear it I ask myself, “what kind of Jesus is this one that we can put in a box?”
He’s one that’s decidedly small, one that’s our very own, personal, even miniaturized to meet our needs.
He’s one that acts the way we expect.
He’s one that we can take out and put away when we decide.
Perhaps that Jesus is similar to the messiah that the disciples had created: one after their own image, one they expected to save Israel. It should be no wonder, then, that they failed to recognize the risen Lord. It should be no wonder, then, that we too may find ourselveslooking for our Lord when he is standing right here with us.
And so, there on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains the necessity of thecross to his disciples:
It was necessary to remove our sin and our shame from us.
It was necessary to restore our relationship as a corrupted people with a holy God
But itwas also necessary to destroy the misconceptions both past and present of a God limited by race, nationality, political persuasion, professional aspiration, or personal expectation.
As they said of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”
Yet that same Jesus arose. He stands now before us. And as he reveals himself to us anew, we are left asking, who is this one that now greets us on the way? How do we recognize him?
He’s still our personal savior, but instead of working for us, we find he’s working through us.
He’s still granting us professional status, but instead of leaning on him to prop up our self-esteem, we find he’s redefining our purpose.
He’s still our political messiah, but instead of believing that he’s on our side, we set aside our prejudices to work with him in his program to redeem the world.
Instead of trying to bend his ear to agree to our plans, we bow our knee to submit to his command.
In this Eastertide 2020, we walk with the disciples, identifying with their sense of loss, but my prayer is that we too might discover their wonder as we see Jesus truly risen, having conquered death and the grave and perhaps even our preconceived notions of who he was to us before this Coronavirus pandemic. I believe that, if we seek him, we’ll find him, like they did, to be far more powerful and far more capable than we’d ever imagined him to be.
These words are simply a devotional. There isn’t a lot of opportunity in this type of media to develop some of the ideas that I’ve brought up, but I welcome your questions or comments in the upcoming days and weeks. Maybe we can pursue some of these arguments to their logical conclusion or perhaps discover some new ones.
Still, I know, I’ve besmirched what some might consider a beloved song of their youth, and far be it from me to leave you without a proper replacement.
Here’s one I’ve heard, some 25 years ago. If I remember the title correctly it’s called “God in a Box.”:
“You can have a big box, you can have a small box, but if your god is in a box, your god is very small. You can have a plain box, you can have a fancy box, but if your god is in a box, he isn’t God at all he isn’t God at all.
Encouraged by a webinar led by Michael Hyatt, I released a video to our team of missionaries assigned to Mexico at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. My intention as I recorded the video was to help my colleagues both process their emotions and to be productive even as so much around us was closing down. As we’ve continued through the days and weeks of social distancing, I’ve felt that the message that I shared with them would be worth sharing with a wider audience, even as many look forward to returning to some sense of normalcy.
Those steps to process our emotions and stay productive at home are the following:
Lament In our future-minded society, many of us feel that it may be unspiritual to mourn over the situation, or, if we choose to face reality, we somehow grant it power over us, but that doesn’t seem to be the biblical pattern. Psalm 42:4 says, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!”
The reality is that this crisis has taken something from all of us. Kelly and I were looking forward to making some memories with our kids who were on Spring Break when we were notified that we had to go into self-imposed quarantine. We had tickets to Europe. We were just $150 from finishing our monthly support. All of those plans and goals have been shifted dramatically. What we expected to be moments of joy turned to spasms of anxiety, assessing ourselves for the dreaded symptoms and concerned for those that we could not reach. Of course, what we’ve faced as a family is light in comparison to so many others who have lost income, work, businesses, and even loved ones because of this virus. Allow yourself to grieve over what’s been lost.
And don’t expect the grieving to be over after one good cry. I’ve been surprised as sadness has become at times particularly acute. One such instance came during Central Assembly’s Good Friday Service. From our TV, we saw images of a darkened sanctuary and an empty stage. An unseen choir sang accompanied by piano and violin while the camera panned the empty places where they would have stood. Inactive instruments seemed to memorialize the musicians who would have been playing. I cried as I wondered, “can we ever go back?”
Lean Still, even as we may be tempted to allow the grief to simply wash over us, we need to understand that we must rise up again. While we take time to lament, we must also learn to lean. The same psalm states: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you. I routinely pray the words of Proverbs 3:5 and 6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” We may see things as bleak, but we cannot allow our limited perspective to determine our reaction. We must lean on the Lord. Trust in God, knowing that he is in control and that he will guide us through this crisis. He will take us through this storm and bring us into a place of peace.
Lead So while we’ve allowed ourselves to lament and we’ve determined to lean, we must also step up to lead. With so much at stake and so little clear direction, it’s easy to find ourselves frozen with fear, allowing the news to overwhelm us, but inactivity is not an option. We must learn to be proactive in our approach, doing what we can where we can.
Right now, we’re concerned about the world and those affected by the virus, we’re concerned about the economy and the effect it will have on our retirement, our work or ministry, and even the ability to meet our day-to-day responsibilities. However, there is little to nothing that we can do to affect change in that circle. Staying there produces little but worry.
Where we can begin to have an effect is within our circle of influence. In this circle are our coworkers and colleagues, our friends and families. There, we can affect change through interactions of love and genuine concern, but we can do little even here until we operate in our circle of control, that is, until we become aware of ourselves and align our lives with the values that we hold: loving God and loving others. In other words, our prime influence or leadership is that of modeling. In that, we take care to maintain our spiritual hygiene: prayer, study, and meditation on the word, worship, fasting, etc. If we’ve relegated our relationship with God to our church calendar, chances are we need to brush up on these areas. Let’s take the time necessary to get our heart in the right place with Him.
At the same time, we take care to model best practices when it comes to staying healthy: using masks in public and keeping our physical distance from people, staying at home to reduce the infection rate and washing our hands regularly. In addition, let’s not forget physical exercise and adequate rest, always good ideas no matter the threat we may be facing.
Then, as we do reach out, I feel that we should be focusing on the three things that we can give to those who are in our circle of influence:
The first gift, equilibrium, is the most urgent and perhaps the easiest to give. Here, we’re providing the stability many need as their sources of income and circles of support have been disrupted. If they are sick, we’re helping facilitate their care. If they are hungry, we’re arranging a grocery delivery. If they are anxious or lonely, we’re the listening ear. Certainly, there are many ways that we can help to support our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances in this time of crisis. Some require our time, others, our money, but all require our thought and consideration. Let’s determine to be a blessing even as many of us have been blessed in our times of need.
The second gift, encouragement, is a bit more of a stretch. This requires us to step back and imagine what life might be like after this crisis passes. How will our daily lives look in this new normal, and how can we prepare ourselves to thrive in that reality? We’re painting for ourselves and others the picture of that future with the goal of embracing it. Certainly, there will be challenges but what about the opportunities? Yes, there will be routines that we will miss but what about the new experiences to embrace? Let’s make an effort here to help ourselves and those around us to begin to transition.
The final gift is empowerment. In business, this is the decentralization of the administration. In the church, this is the revitalization of the priesthood of all believers. This is the bestowing of the authority and the resources necessary to help our community make the transition to the new reality. This gift is becoming more important by the day. While I don’t believe that large corporations or professional ministry are going anywhere, if what we have after the pandemic is what we had before, we’ve missed out on a huge opportunity. Why couldn’t we use this time to push decision making closer to the people who are affected by those decisions? Why couldn’t we leverage this opportunity to equip our volunteers to not only caretake but truly care for those in their ministries? This can happen in units as small as the family and as large as the multi-site megachurch. The coronavirus is rewriting the future of the way we live, work, and associate, why not have a hand in editing that future?
I imagine that, even as we saw this virus take hold in China, none of us thought that, here in the US, we’d be facing a crisis of this magnitude. Still, I think that as we give ourselves room to lament, as we learn to lean on the Lord, and as we step up to lead, first ourselves and then those in our circles of influence, we can not only survive but also thrive in this crisis. Know that Kelly and I are praying for you and are available to you via email, text, or phone call. We hope that you’ll be there for one another as we continue through this situation.
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
These words from Philippians 4:12-13, some of the first verses that we memorized in Spanish, have gained much more meaning in these last weeks:
A month ago, we had plenty of funds, having needed just $150 of monthly support to finish our itineration.
A month ago we had plenty of plans, having weekends full of services and upcoming trips to participate in strategic ministry and important meetings.
A month ago we had plenty of confidence, thinking that we were prepared to face any eventuality. But then came the disease called COVID-19.
Now, because of a virus so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, everything has changed.
Our itineration has been suspended.
Our travel plans have been canceled.
And any confidence in ourselves that we had to handle the crisis has disappeared in the face of a situation that continues to change minute by minute.
Let’s face it, we do not have the strength to carry on in the face of the challenge of this disease.
We are active in prayer, but we do not have the power to see our companions, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, who fight against the coronavirus in their bodies, healed.
Being Mexico Area Directors, coordinating the ministry and movements of 24 families, we meet almost daily with our companions to help them, but we do not have in us the wisdom to guide them in the decisions they have to make in the midst of this crisis.
But we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength.
In the same way that we had thanked him for what we enjoyed in moments of abundance, we trust him now for what we need, the resources, the power, and the wisdom to overcome this situation.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, “Unbelievable?,” a Christian/Skeptic discussion show. Recently, they’ve switched format to focus on the new reality that we are all facing. In this particular podcast, the show host, Justin Briley, interviewed John Lennox, a renowned mathematician and Christian apologist. When talking about the grief related to the current pandemic, Lennox referenced the passage in John 11 of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (at the 5:30 mark in the podcast). In that passage, he states that Martha expressed her disappointment to Jesus upon his arrival. “Lord, if only you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” Jesus then made a statement that was difficult for her to accept. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She had enough theology, said Lennox, to know of a coming resurrection, but she was unprepared for Jesus’s response: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He goes on to say that he suspected that Martha then expected something big was going to happen. We, of course, know the rest of the story.
We have lost much in this pandemic: money, plans, a clear path forward, emotional stability, even friends and loved ones, and for that loss, we grieve, but Christ remains our hope. Even as we look to an Easter Sunday under stay-at-home orders, he remains our resurrection and our life.
Our prayer is that you and your loved ones have access to that hope and that strength that only Christ can give us.
We conclude with this well-known prayer: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)’
Para los que hablan español, he subido un video con la mayoria de este contenido. Se lo puede ver en YouTube.
As we face the crisis related to the coronavirus and the effects of the COVID-19 disease, we wanted to update you on our situation and offer you our support. Please, take a few moments to watch this video that we’ve prepared from our home in Springfield, MO where we are serving our 8th day of self-quarantine. You can do so by simply hitting the photo above. We hope that it’s an encouragement to you.