“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Where Do We Go from Here

No one will be sad to see the end of 2020, a year unlike any other.  But neither can anyone predict what to expect in the year that is just now beginning.  To be sure, there is little cause for any optimism or expectation that the multiple traumas of the past year will pass away quietly, especially those brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.  There is much unrest in our nation and around the whole world.  Unrest borne of uncertainty, of tragedy, and of exasperation and frustration.  It is not hard to notice the extreme dysfunction in our government, the rampant partisanship at all levels, and a vitriol in our public debate that betrays a deep-rooted personal animosity among those elected to lead our country.  Additionally, it’s all too easy to observe hypocrisy in high places and to fear the loss of civil liberties.

All of that has provided occasion for Satan to meddle with the visible church, and in meddling, to disrupt the peace and unity of Christ’s church.  As I have often written this past year, the preservation of that sense of unity has been a high priority of mine in my leadership here at Covenant.  In that context, I am thankful that the Lord has preserved us in many good ways, though I count this year as one of the most difficult in my ministry.  I am thankful for the spirit and demeanor we have cultivated as a congregation—freed from the partisanship that afflicts our country.  I will be the first to say that not every decision that I and the Session have made with respect to the impact of COVID upon our church activities has been equally plain and clear.  Should we meet for worship or cancel?  Meet outside or in the sanctuary?  Limit our gathering to 10 people?  A second service?  Fellowship lunch?  Masks or no masks?  Social distancing?  Sunday school?  And for all of you, your decisions arose from your own sense of safety and vulnerability to COVID—Do I attend worship or stay at home?

In all of those matters, there is no clear biblical precept that is easy to apply across the board.  In most cases, there was no clearcut “right” answer with a contrasting “wrong” answer, as if one was biblical and the other ungodly, black and white, a binary choice.  Instead, we have to rely on wisdom.  Discernment.  And forbearance.  Bearing with one another in love.  Considering others more important than ourselves.  Since we all inherited Adam’s fallen nature, that process is not often easy. 

There are, of course, a host of political issues inexorably connected with all these matters, and while the Bible would instruct Christian citizens of our earthly kingdoms how to live out their civic duty, the church itself is inherently spiritual.  Our focus is in the spiritual realm, and our King is Jesus.  So as a body, as a church, we don’t align ourselves with any political party or even distinctly political issue.  We aren’t partisan, in a political sense.  We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven made manifest and visible on earth in the church.  As such, Jesus would still have us be salt and light. 

So where do we go from here?  In a real sense, we stay the course.  We focus on what is most important, which for us as a church is the fellowship of our corporate worship.  With that priority, we always keep before us the awareness that we are members of one another, not merely members of an organization.  We belong to one another, as our hands and eyes each belong to our bodies.  We are not independent of each other.  So we protect and encourage those who are vulnerable and at greater risk to the dangers of COVID.  We bear with those who might have a difference of opinion with regard to masks or social distancing.  We act with courage, even in the face of danger or persecution; and with love toward our neighbors.  We practice what it means to live in submission where God has defined it, especially within the church and with relation to our civil authorities.  

And then, on a deeply personal and spiritual level, we trust.  The God of all ages, who created the heavens and the earth, has ruled on his throne even in 2020.  There he shall remain throughout 2021.  Words are cheap and while I loathe simplistic, flowery and spiritually superficial language, we are called to live out our lives on earth with the simple faith and trust of a little child.  It is He who declares the end from the beginning.  (Isaiah 46:10)  It is He who will accomplish His own eternal purpose, perfectly and completely.  We are left to live by faith, not by sight.  We are left to endure the fiery trials that are part of life in this age, while urged to resist the unsettling thoughts that some strange thing has befallen us.  (1 Peter 4:12)

But we are unsettled!  Many of you have expressed to me and to one another your exasperation.  Even anger.  At times, a depression.  Or the quickness of irritation with those closest to us.  It’s palpable.  We can all feel it.  We are just ready for all this craziness to be over.  But we are called by God to wait.  To love Him.  And to love one another.

No doubt all of you have been affected by COVID in one way or another, perhaps with lifelong implications.  Many people have observed that things will never again be the same.  No one really knows what the new normal will actually look like.  But we remain in the same position as we were when 2020 began—children of a heavenly Father, beloved.  Objects of divine mercy and recipients of grace.  Citizens of an eternal kingdom by virtue of our faith in Jesus.  And yet, still…citizens of this dark and fallen world.  The words of Psalm 90 have never rung more true:  “For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh.  The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”  (Psalm 90:9-10)

I know the temptation to want the things of my life to be all in order, managed, under control.  I also know the futility of such an idolatrous goal.  The events of 2020 have reinforced that perspective in ways that were unimaginable a year ago.  But still, in a true sense, nothing has changed.  The reality remains as Moses expresses it in that Psalm:  “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”  (Psalm 90:1-2)

There are no easy answers.  There is no simplistic panacea.  Flowery spiritual language is hardly adequate.  Exasperation will often come.  Yet a deep and abiding trust in the unchanging God remains our only hope and help.

In that trust, may we all continue to love and encourage one another, “and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:25)

Yours with a pastor’s heart,