Take Advantage of the “Pandemic Pause”

“Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:40

“We must clean the lens of our hearts to see the state of our souls. However, too often the former is too dirty to even know that the latter exists.”
Craig D. Lounsbrough

There are many differences between the games of football and basketball, but there’s one difference that really stands out. In basketball the play is fluid, with both teams going back for several and forth without taking a break for several minutes. In football, the teams take a break after every play! And what happens during those breaks is what’s known as a huddle: a short meeting to (1) make a plan for the next play and (2) make adjustments and corrections so as to play the game with more effectiveness and efficiency.

Due to being quarantined for the Coronavirus, a lot of us feel like our lives have been put on pause. Some of us are probably chomping at the bit for life to return to something we consider useful and productive. But have you considered that perhaps the Lord intends us to use this time to stop, reflect and re-evaluate our lives and ministries? Maybe God wants us to use this season to huddle with us about how we approach life and ministry when we begin to re-enter society.

One thing we’ve talked a lot about as a ministry staff is taking this season of “pause” to strongly evaluate our ministries. Why? Because when life is buzzing along, we typically struggle to find the time for serious introspection and evaluation. Even if there are aspects of our ministries we feel aren’t helpful or are unproductive, we plow ahead. We feel the pressure to stay busy. But taking time for assessment is vitally important.

When we dare to evaluate, we sometimes discover our life or ministry could use some big changes. In some special cases, the need is for a complete overhaul! Other times it may just be some fine tuning. But here’s the deal: if we never stop and consider the effectiveness of our ministries, we may be needlessly wasting time and burning up a lot of energy.

Writer Alannah Francis writes:

As Christians, self-assessment becomes an increasingly important part of our faith as we grow and mature spiritually. Just as periodic checkups with doctors and dentists help us take care of our physical health, regular reflection on how we’re performing in accordance with our faith and what steps we need to take to remedy any areas of weakness helps us become stronger spiritually. It also enables us to tackle problems before they become out of control.

Organizational trainers often talk about something called “mission drift.” The idea behind mission drift is how, at one time, an organization had clear goals, succinct objectives and distinct targets. But over time, other interests and activities come along and push our prior goals and targets to the side. Simply we put, we’ve come to a place of missing the point and losing the plot!

When we enter a time of evaluation, we once again revisit our purpose. Why do we exist? What are we supposed to be doing? What am I shooting for? These questions act as powerful tools to help get us back on track. And a believers, we must run such questions through the grid of scripture.

A simple approach to evaluating our lives and ministry is to ask three simple questions:

  • What needs to start? (implementation of new ideas and activities)
  • What needs to go? (elimination of anything that is unhelpful, ineffective or inefficient)
  • What needs to continue? (maintaining what is working well and worthy of continuation)

Paul revealed an attitude of ministry focus and purposefulness when he talked about his approach to evangelism and ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Using the analogies of a runner and a boxer, Paul shared that he wasn’t satisfied running in circles wildly swinging his arms. Paul’s goal was to cross the finish line and land a blow against his opponent. I appreciate Paul’s strong sense of focus and mission!

Examination and evaluation of our lives isn’t always easy. Sometimes in order for change to be made in a positive fashion, we must force ourselves to look unblinkingly at painful realities and seek the courage to make changes.

We are in the midst of what may be the most historic event of our lifetimes. Wouldn’t be a shame to emerge from such a dramatic, life-altering season not having learned anything? This lockdown has provided us plenty of time to so some spiritual sorting and reflecting. Let’s not miss a golden opportunity.

I encourage you take advantage of this pause to look into your life as well as anything you do for ministry. Have you drifted from your mission and calling? Do your efforts produce the outcomes you desire? Is there anything that needs to go to make room for something more effective?

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.”
Psalm 119:59:60

A Season to Learn

“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering….The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”   Elisabeth Elliot

“Being a Christian today sadly has no connection with being formed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The apostle Paul constantly reflected on his example and his walk. He said that what others saw in him, they were to pass on to others (Phil. 4:9).”    Jonathan Hayashi

I’m not sure where such thinking comes from, but a lot of Christians have it in their mind that God’s job is to make our lives as smooth and comfortable as possible. But the over-arching theme of the New Testament is that God is mostly concerned with us being formed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus. Which (at least in my case) means God has a lot of work to do!

I don’t think it’s uncommon for many of us going through this time of self-isolation and quarantine to have one constant, dominating thought: let’s get this over with and get back to normal! But what if that isn’t God’s plan? What if His desire is to use a season like this to shape, mold and form us?

Pretty much all of the NT letters were written to churches going through difficult times. See, being a Christian in the first century wasn’t very popular. Being a Christian often brought persecution. But, rather than tell people they didn’t deserve such unfair treatment, the epistle writers consistently challenged their readers to grow up and rise up. The expectation was not on just enduring difficulty, but maturing in the midst of difficulty.

But external persecution wasn’t the only reason the NT authors wrote their letters. There’s also the reality of our inward sinfulness. Sometimes instead of being led by the Spirit, we’re pulled by our flesh. The fact that churches are made up of selfish, sinful people creates the potential for conflict! Sadly, human beings are all too capable of being driven by greed, laziness, pride or anger.

Because of the COVID-19 situation, I imagine over the past month most of us have found ourselves uniquely challenged. Maybe we struggled maintaining patience. Maybe we’ve found ourselves angry. Perhaps we discovered we have some idols or addictions, and self-isolation only made them more real for us. That’s what pressure will do…reveal areas of weakness!

But when those weaknesses are made known to us, we gain the opportunity to deal with them. We can confess them to God, and seek the help of His Word and Spirit to bring about change in our thinking and behavior.

I like how C.S. Lewis put it:

“God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.”

Make no mistake, going through a pandemic is utterly disrupting to our lives. Our rhythms are shot! But, if we don’t come out of a time such as this without learning something, I believe we will have likely missed a huge opportunity. Because of COVID-19 may we grow in grace, love, hope, patience, humility and purposefulness.

Free to Release My Freedoms

Well, we’ve been at this for almost a month now.

For many, the feelings about self-isolation have moved from novel to tiresome…maybe even aggravating. The realization that these are not normal times, and the COVID-19 crisis is not a joke, become more real each day.

As a freedom-loving American, I get it. We are a people who enjoy and celebrate our freedom.

For the person who lives in a country where freedom doesn’t exist, such restrictions wouldn’t seem like much of a change. (Aren’t you glad we don’t live under a controlling dictatorship?)

The concept of freedom is ingrained into the psyche of most Americans, because freedom is the overarching theme of the documents that served as the foundation of our nation’s birth.

From the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness .

And former president Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

“America is best described by one word: freedom”

So, we Americans are presently experiencing the loss of something we hold dear. We miss the ability to do what we want, when we want, and how we want.

On the other hand, it’s also a good thing to be willing to give up freedoms for the well-being of others.

Another president of the United States is well known for this powerful statement:

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy

This was Kennedy’s challenge that we not only think about our freedoms from the vantage point of individuals, but also as a nation. There is a danger that if I only concern myself with my freedom, I may be trampling on someone else’s freedom!

Freedom is like a coin with two sides. It is something we treasure, but it also something, for a just cause or good enough reason, we can release. In other words, we can choose to suspend our freedoms if their is an higher goal in view.

In Philippians 2, Paul wrote to this church about making sure they think of others, not just themselves. He wrote in verses 3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

And then, to illustrate his point, Paul used Jesus of the supreme example of someone who let go of His rights in order to serve others:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as
Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

Even though I am an American who truly enjoys my freedoms, I am also (and more importantly) a citizen of heaven with a has been given a new title by my savior: servant. As one who follows Jesus, I have a responsibility to concern myself with what best serves the people around me.

Remember the story about the Good Samaritan? The truth is he didn’t have to stop for the wounded man. In fact, two other people passed him by, coming up with justifications from their religion! But, the man was compelled to rearrange his schedule and take money from his own pocket to make sure the man was taken care of. The Samaritan gave up his freedoms so that another man might live.

Paul talked about the forfeiture of his rights in regard to his passion for the Gospel. As an Apostle, Paul could have demanded compensation for his ministry. But instead, Paul did without so that the gospel would go forth unhindered.

Paul wrote:

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT)

Make no mistake, I find the inability to gather, shop, and travel to be a gigantic disruption. As the days go by, I find myself feeling more and more worn out from the all the restrictions. Like many of you, I wonder how our country will emerge from such a long timeout.

But I also want to do my part to help our country – and our world – navigate something that holds the potential to bring death to so many people. In some ways, I view my willingness to restrict my life as a pro-life statement.

When Jesus was with his disciples, they had a knack for arguing about who would be most important in heaven. The disciples seemed fixated on making sure they would have great influence and power. They had no problem looking out for themselves. In one instance, Jesus broke up their arguing, gathered them together at uttered these priority-changing words:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)

My prayer is that I be a person who loves my country and seeks to protect the freedoms it offers, but that I also love my fellow citizens enough to serve them. Today, may I find my heart aligned with the heart of Jesus.