What is the next stage?

Governor Parson and the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Dr. Randall Williams, are targeting the state-wide reopening for 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 31. Of course, our state leaders are monitoring closely the data and hope they do not need to draft orders to extend precautionary measures.

I hear repeated questions: “When do our churches begin to return? What is the next stage for our churches?”

Let’s be perfectly clear: The church never closed and never stopped being the church. In Christ, we are the people of God, the Bride of Christ, with or without a building. Church buildings are the tools we build and use to provide consistent worship spaces and equipping centers. COVID-19 or any of the pandemics of the past – fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, war – do not stop the church being the church.

If anything, these challenging contexts have a way of purifying and clarifying the church’s purpose to be the people of God, living on mission with God, and sharing the gospel with our families, neighbors, nation, and world. This vision is significant, especially when it is part of our psyche as we walk through these days of helping our neighbors and protecting them through compliance with state recommendations and public orders. It is a godly choice to protect our neighbors from this dreaded microbe.

Many of our heartland churches never stopped meeting for worship. They used all manner of creativity, technology, drive-in services, multiple self-distance live services. Who would have dreamed in 2011 that the events at the end of the decade would push our churches and leaders into Facebook Live, Vimeo, YouTube, Zoom, and low-frequency FM transmitters? Now, we know we can do our own public broadcasting for a much lower cost than what we spent in the days of television, radio broadcasts, or cable channels.  And I don’t think that aspect of ministry is going away.

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Barring an upsurge of epic proportion, it seems we are rounding the final lap of this multiple-week journey. Some things will be forever changed. Some things must never change.

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Here are, I believe, five sustainable, non-conclusive COVID-19 takeaways:

Home is where the heart is — love them just a little more. The crisis makes us want to hug our loved ones a little tighter. This challenging time has brought our vulnerabilities to the surface and we must face that life is frail. However, our faith is fixed on Him who knows our beginnings and ends. The crisis has caused many to evaluate priorities, and we trust that the reassessment leads toward truthful conclusions.

His compassion toward us is deeper still – God’s word continues to tell us that we cannot begin to understand the deep, deep love of God for His beloved, His Bride. Even when the journey takes us through challenges and heartache, He is there. And when we act wisely, our gratitude for what the Lord is doing in the midst of the storm is quick to our lips.

Humility is a high-capacity value — “Humility, the fear of the Lord, results in wealth, honor and life (Prov. 22:4 CSB). How can we become any more like our Lord Jesus than when humility characterizes who we are (Phil. 2:3-11). The Covid-19 pandemic does show us all how vulnerable we really are and how great He really is.

Happiness is a decision — If we have not yet taken the medicine of a good laugh at ourselves and with our families, we should quit being so serious and find something seriously funny and let it out. Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

Hilarious generosity is a cherished trait — all material things can be gone in a nanosecond. The Lord said, “Give and it will be given to you.” God has an amazing way of prospering His faithful people who, by faith, give themselves and their resources. When you give through your local church to its ministries, the Lord knows your gift and the places it goes to touch the lives of people in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Give like it is someone else’s. If you have surrendered to the Lord, it is all His, anyway. Be attentive to those in need. Watch out for widows and the fatherless.

So, when will it all be over? What’s the next stage?

I don’t have a crystal ball, nor am I a prophet. However, I don’t think this mess will be in the rearview mirror until Baptists start hosting again those magnificent casserole cook-offs, chili suppers, potluck dinners (pot-blessing or dinner on the grounds, whatever you call it). Imagine the taste of Sister Sally’s orange and carrot congealed salad, Brother Billy’s barbeque, and grandma’s pickled beets. Makes your tongue slap your brain. Best of all, think of all the smiling faces of the community of fellow Baptists sharing life together.

That time is coming. Plan for it at just the right time.

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