YOUR REASON TO SHOUT HALLELUJAH THIS EASTER!
If you live in the state of Alabama, you are currently under a statewide order by the governor to "shelter in place" as of April 3, 2020. We now live under a curfew, limited travel, and no access to anything off our own personal property. When I watched the press conference delivered by our state officials, I cried. It was shuddering to realize what we had come to-- a moment in history where people can be charged for a misdemeanor for being off their property after a certain hour of the day. I think this one would stump even the best conspiracy theorists.
On the thought of conspiracies, I don't believe the timing of this virus is accidental. I don't know where you might be as a believer, but if you consider the plot of Satan for a moment, I'm sure you would agree that shutting down the traditional celebration of Easter would be at the top of the priority list. Exactly seven days before Good Friday we are issued by law to not leave our property? Come on. If Satan is still the same guy that tried to destroy my family by nearly killing my husband in Afghanistan, then this is all part of a scheme to crush the human spirit and take us away from how we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. If your house of worship hasn't done so already, the service will have to join the online world. Your pastor will have to preach from his/her living room. The worship team will not be allowed to assemble in front of a camera. We all must stay put.
Easter of 2020 will forever be known as the Easter we didn't gather. As I sit here on my front porch typing that sentence, I can hardly accept it. But guys, I need to share a hard truth with you:
AT SOME POINT, EVERY CHRISTIAN WILL BE 100% RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS/HER RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST.
Just like this virus, no one is immune to that statement. At some point, your Nana's prayers, your reserved worship style, and your occasional Bible reading will not be enough to hold you up in the presence of God. But rather than being discouraged, I truly lift a hallelujah! How blessed are we, in a world of hustling busyness, to be positioned to figure out who we are when it's just us with God? The entire Christian world is being faced with this question. What do we bring when there is no worship team, friends to sit with, or energetic preaching? How much do we rely on these things to keep us close to God? Friends, these are spiritual muscles that are now in boot camp.
If I can be completely transparent, I used to be the type of Christian that "needed" good music, a good preacher, and a good place to sit every Sunday. How many Christians would declare a love for God and a love for people, but then enter a house of worship only thinking about themselves? We treat church like we treat a dining or shopping experience. We expect to be greeted, ushered to a seat, entertained with music, enlightened by preaching, and enticed to come again. The church equivalent to "my steak wasn't very good" are things like: "that message wasn't very in depth" or "I didn't like the song we sang at the end" or "I didn't get to sit in my usual spot." All thoughts funnel us down a shallow path that dead ends with: "it's someone else's fault that I don't know God." If you feel like you might be guilty of this, I want to encourage you for the days ahead with a few stories from history where the church gathered in the most unlikely of places...
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who hid Jews in her family's store during World War II. The Gestapo eventually arrested the hidden Jews and the entire ten Boom family shipping Corrie and her sister, Betsie off to Ravensbrück concentration camp. It was in this concentration camp where Corrie and her sister found themselves surrounded by Nazi labeled "degenerates" of society (gypsies, prostitutes, disabled, as well as Jews). Although the women were required to hand over everything they owned, Corrie had snuck a Bible through security checks into the camp. She and hundreds of other women were subject to beatings, nakedness, starvation, disease, back-breaking labor, lice, and torture, the ten Boom sisters began to look past just surviving the camp. With each day, they came to appreciate why they were there. Corrie quotes in her biography, The Hiding Place:
"But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God."
That is church; and it happened in boxcars, in the darkness, in the rumble of starving stomachs, on a the muddy ground, in secret and without a shred of evidential hope. Dozens of women would give their lives to Christ because of the ten Boom sisters refusing to even let Nazi slavery take church away.
The Apostle Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while on house arrest. In his stillness and solitude, he heard God and received huge segments of the New Testament. Before that, Paul was thrown in jail with Silas where the two spent the night singing and worshipping God while in shackles-- one of the first miracles of the New Testament church. Their faith summoned an earthquake that loosened the chains of every prisoner. This miracle prompted the jailer to fall at the feet of Paul and Silas and ask how he too could be saved. They shared the Gospel with him and he washed their wounds. Paul and Silas then went home with him and they baptized his entire family. None of it was possible without the attitude of Paul and Silas. In a section of my Bible titled "Paul's Chains Advance the Gospel," Paul writes "Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear." Philippians 1:12-14. Let it be us that renders our nation to proclaim the gospel without fear because of what we see our fellow Christians doing.
The underground, illegal, hidden church is still the lifeblood to Christianity in so many countries. Carrying a Bible, praying in public, holding church in a building, baptizing people, and claiming Jesus as Lord is still grounds for execution in the year 2020. We aren't aware of the privilege we have to even be able to choose what we worship. Owning land to build a church, promoting church events on social media, and public baptisms are prerogatives that persecuted Christians in other countries will never see. Neither will their children, or their children's children. Belonging to a church is risking their lives and their freedom. Still, they long for Jesus. They long for the truth of God's Word. Their circumstances don't discourage them, they confirm what they believe! If churches can exist in closets, basements, and attics then they can certainly exist inside our homes in a free country.
If you still have breath in your lungs, then you have the opportunity to get closer to God. To be separated from the rest of society and in communion with ourselves and the Lord is to be able to taste our judgment day. One day we will stand before the Alpha and the Omega as just our individual selves. This is preparing us for that day.
I would like to challenge all Christians to abandon the goal of "getting back to normal" once this virus is gone. Our families, our jobs, our finances, and our faith should never be the same.
May this quarantine kill casual relationships with God.
May the words devout, passionate, and unbelievably loving be associated with the Christian church, especially in America.
May our faith be built not by constantly agreeing with our favorite pastor, but through passionate prayer and spending time in God's Word creating a circular process where God's voice is heard in prayer by consuming His Word and the Word is brought to life in prayer. The prayer leads to conviction, conviction leads to action. Action leads to change. Each step covered in availing prayer fueled by the consumption of God's Word.
May we never forget that the church is a body of believers, not a building for Sunday gatherings.
For Easter 2020, the church building might be empty, but so is the tomb. Jesus walked out of the grave so that He could walk into the real church: the hearts, minds, and spirits of individual believers. You are the church. I am the church. The veil was torn and our Savior dwells within us. He is not restricted by the walls of a building. He is not discouraged by empty seats this Easter. In fact, I believe He looks forward to the revival that will take us from church-goers to devout lovers of Jesus. If the buildings are empty but the hearts are full, then we can declare Genesis 50:20 over the Coronavirus forever and ever: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Seven days from now, let's summon God like never before: from the depths of the power of Christ that already lives within us.
Church, WE are the ones we've been waiting for.
This might be known as the Easter we didn't gather, but it will never be known as the Easter that didn't happen. Happy Palm Sunday! May this yield your sweetest fruit!