Reading the Signs of the Times- (and surviving them!)

All this time at home has me thinking. For years, I have been looking for the words to speak on and/or write about the conundrum facing the church in our times. My soul has felt unsettled for years, perhaps even a little disturbed, concerning what I can only describe as bad “weather” approaching.

The Pharisees told Jesus in Matthew 16 that they were looking for an obvious sign to prove that he was the Messiah. “He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’  and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

So, Jesus clearly expresses that spiritual climates can be interpreted by the signs of the times. Please stick with me on this blog, because I do not mean this as finger pointing or judgment on anyone. These are observations that I’ve made and with the Coronavirus situation some uncertain thoughts are starting to clarify and “gel”.

Right now, there is confusion, anger and grief. Angst is stirring in this nation over the very topic of church attendance. I am sure, if you are reading this in April of 2020, you will be very familiar with the public discourse happening on social media on whether or not the government can ban churches from meeting for public safety. Honestly, it can feel a bit confusing. I hope this blog can help to diffuse some of the tension and confusion surrounding the urgent dilemma.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Shall we, at risk of speaking in stereotypes, divide the arguments into two sides? One side is imploring everyone to “stay home, stay safe.” Several of the Covid outbreaks covered by the news media have started in family and church gatherings. In fact, dozens of pastors have lost their lives in this pandemic, to date. I have read compelling social media posts that declare that the church is not defined by four walls of a building. These spiritual posts encourage people to “be the church.” You don’t have to go to church to be the church. This is built around the idea that truly the people themselves are the body of Christ and that wherever a believer in Jesus is- the Holy Spirit lives there with them. Besides, we want to think of the health vulnerable people and to keep them people safe. We want to respect and honor other people in a time where the transmission of the disease to the wrong person can really bring dire and deadly results.

The second “camp” sees winds blowing and ominous clouds on the horizon- predicting the loss of religious freedom. Forget predicting. The ominous clouds are overhead and the thunder is rolling, this camp would say. In some ways, this group is also correct. There have been many exceptions made for drive in movies, shopping at the grocery store, even chain hardware stores and ABC establishments. In these places, people are given the respect to know they can handle themselves as adults, by keeping 6 feet of social distance, washing hands and wearing masks in public. However, some states- not all of them- are bringing draconian measures against churches, including one report of a town in KY taking license plate numbers of parishioners who were legally meeting for a drive in Easter church service. This church also found nails placed at the entrance to the parking lot, in an attempt to actually harm the vehicles of those legally and safely gathering. Abortion clinics are declared essential, while workers for non-profits who provide ultra sound for women who want to make an educated decision on abortion are being arrested, even while complying with state and local laws on social distancing.

What I see here is a dilemma. If we are to use Jesus’ own illustration on knowing the signs of the times, I would say the storm isn’t approaching- it’s here. The problem is that believers in Jesus are being divided up by the enemy of our souls into camps. He is urging us to argue and fight each other- even hate one another all in his name.

The problem? Both sides use scripture. Both sides use the name of Jesus. Both sides condescend to the other side- all while missing the entire point.

We are living in desperate, evil times. Followers of Christ have become followers of fear and followers of people. How many of us are seeking the Lord in real prayer over this situation to ask him what is really going on? I think, based on the majority of angry posts that I read, that most people are getting embroiled in the current political and social disruptions than seeking the Lord in true, heart-wrenching prayers of repentance for ourselves and for our nation.

When the first stay at home order was issued for Virginia, I found myself praying, “Lord, what’s going on? What’s next? What do you want me to know? What do you want me to do?” The main thing I kept hearing in my spirit was, “Hatred is coming. Hatred is coming.” I heard it over and over. During this time in mid- March, people weren’t full of hatred. They were more in shock. While I think we are still in shock, I see hatred starting to rise.

As it may surprise you, this blog isn’t to affirm one position about public worship over another. It is to tell you that there can be a perspective that is different than toeing the line on one of the battle lines that are being drawn up by the people in power.

First of all- let’s look at our condition as people who love Jesus. Is it true that people who trust in Jesus are the body of Christ and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit? Yes. Is it true that we can be the church and that we aren’t defined by a building? Yes. Is it true that we can pray in our prayer closet and find power from the Lord? Yes. Is it true that we can hike to a mountain top- (if your state allows it-) and experience a closeness to God on your own? Yes.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

But, let’s also put this in human terms. Is it true that you have a physical family? Is it true that you belong to your family, even if you can’t be with them? Is it true that you can do your responsibilities and jobs that you need to do in your house, then lock yourself in your room- never seeing your family, yet still be just as much a part of your family? Is it true that you can call your family or FaceTime them from several states away, while never seeing them in person or hugging them? Is it true that if you lived like this, it would be emotionally unhealthy and, after a time, it could be detrimental? Yes.

Family was created by God for intimacy, growth, interaction and belonging. So was the church. I believe scripture teaches that the church of Jesus Christ is mysteriously joined together in a way that no person can separate. Ephesians 2:14-21 says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Not only are we individually the temple of the Holy Spirit- we are each building blocks- fitted together in unity to become a dwelling for God to live in. Jesus, when teaching his disciples how to work together in the church said in Matthew 18, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

There is power in the gathering together of believers. While streaming church online is something that can be used by God powerfully, there is a grief and there is something missing – even a power- when we can’t meet together.

That is why it feels “off.” It should feel off.

If it doesn’t feel off to miss church, something is desperately wrong. The Holy Spirit wants his people together. So, if we don’t feel that longing inside our souls to meet physically with other believers for the purpose of worship, we have to ask ourselves if we are really that in tune with the longings of the Holy Spirit as we think we are. For those who contend they can experience God alone and never need fellowship, I challenge you to read the New Testament. God gave each member of the Body of Christ different gifts and callings so that we would only be complete- experiencing the fullness of Christ together. (Read Ephesians 3) We need each other!

In the past decade, church and Bible study/prayer meeting attendance has dropped drastically with professing believers. I have watched the culture of Christianity become increasingly self-focused and self-serving. The idea of sacrifice for the Lord has fallen by the wayside. In fact, a Barna poll found that by 2019 %64 of twenty-somethings had walked away from church altogether.

But, I’m not talking about those who turned their backs on the Lord. Within the body of professing Christians, before Covid, many people took Sunday as a day to chill and rest, since the rest of the week was so packed full. In America, youth sports slowly took over the day that for hundreds of years has been the day for God. We have slowly and surely removed God from his place of honor and gave him a back seat to all of our earthly pursuits and dreams. I am talking about the church. I am not talking about non-believers. And now our idols have fallen and we have no ability to go to the place that we truly feel the need for now.

There is a grief that enters in when you cannot be with your church family in person. There is definitely something missing. No spiritual platitudes or emotional scolding can take away the utter grief that is happening in the Body of Christ all over the planet right now.

We are living in terrible times. But, in these times of need, God can provide. He provided for the children of Israel in the wilderness. The wilderness wasn’t their destination. It was the refining heat they needed to traverse in order to be ready for the Promised Land. The wilderness was where they experienced extraordinary miracles of provision. Water came gushing out of the rock. Mana and quail fed millions of people every day. Their shoes never wore out for 40 years. This is a beautiful picture of the grace of God during transitions and trials. We all want to experience miracles and supernatural wonders, but most miracles are needed because of a great difficulty.

God will provide for your spiritual and emotional needs during this wilderness of social distancing. Seek his face. Ask him for direction. Ask him to minister to your heart.

Truly, we are in a time of testing. We find our nation and the entire world in a turbulence. This is part of the birth pangs Jesus prophesied about- the birth pangs that would lead to his ultimate second coming. Our promised land is the real promised land-not a prophetic foreshadowing.

We can clamor and protest all we want to try to protect our rights to meet, but I guarantee if more believers in Jesus would spend less time on social media, watching the news and binge watching Netflix and more time on their knees in prayer, joining in a fast with other believers, (you can do a corporate fast AND do social distancing, too!) the more we will see the power of God move in this time of shaking. Besides, we need to prepare ourselves. Instead of being oily on social media, we need to fill our lamps with oil- the oil of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just a bump in the road. This is a serious situation we find ourselves in. Jesus warned us not to be foolish and to allow our oil to run out while we are waiting for his return.

We need to find ways to specialize in ministry during this time. We need to pray to find ways to pray together, to meet needs and to be the Body of Christ during Covid-19. We are told by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

So, we have a true dilemma here. I think many would agree that we are seeing the Day (with a capital D) approaching. How many of you are connecting with other believers to actually pray? How many of you are not only watching live streaming when someone else teaches, but are also praying and reading the Bible by yourself or as a family? How much has this pandemic shifted your perspective from being self focused to eternity focused?

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

I feel a deep grief in my spirit over the evil in the world. It is perfectly spiritual to have a deep grief. What do we do with that grief? We go to the throne room of grace and throw that burden back on the Lord. He is calling us to intercede. When we allow hatred and anger to fill us so completely, it is difficult to pray and to really make any difference in the spirit realm.

I also see a blindness. We are blown by the wind- every wind of doctrine. Pray that you don’t fall into deception. Pray that God protects you from the great delusion that is coming on the planet and pray that the Lord gives you a special way to connect with other believers during this pandemic.

We are the Body of Christ. While we are not defined by a building, we are defined by our God-designed need for one another. The answer is for the church to seek the face of God. He will show you the way. Jesus is coming back soon, church. Be ready for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

If he gives us another season where we can meet together in public again- I say let’s do that to the glory of God, instead of looking at Sundays as a time to live for ourselves!

(Featured image picture credit Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash)

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