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When the Church Can't Be the Church

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If you’ve been walking with Jesus for a while, you know that He often takes evil circumstances and turns them to a good purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly no exception. I see many evidences of His grace in our church family as we all seek to stay faithful together throughout this trial.

When trials come, it’s important to acknowledge both the evil and the good, without mixing them together. For example, let’s say that a close friend is diagnosed with terminal cancer. That’s evil. It’s fallout from living in a fallen world cursed by sin and death. But let’s say that—in response to the cancer diagnosis—his brother awakens to the harmfulness of his wayward lifestyle, and he repents and turns to Christ. That’s good. It’s a function of the grace of God working in the world.

In this example, we see both evil and good, without mixture. Cancer is evil, and it doesn’t become good because someone is rescued as a result. Repentance is good, and nothing about the cancer makes it any less so. This is the tension we continue to live with until the day when God makes all things new.

The same goes for the impact of COVID-19 on the church of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen God’s people shine brilliantly as examples of mercy, courage, self-sacrifice, and love. But there are also evils we must endure, and we ignore them to our harm.

One of those evils is the reality that, for the moment, the church cannot truly be the church. Recently, we’ve all been reminded—and have perhaps reminded others—that “the church is not the building but the people.” Thank God for that! But if that were all there was to say, then why don’t we just sell our building and “be the church?”

Let’s not forget that the word “church” means assembly. It is used dozens of times in the Bible to refer to the gathered people of God. We are not just persons saved from hell. We are a people who will one day congregate around His throne.

The divine design of gathering and scattering each week is an irreplaceable rhythm of Christian discipleship. Those of you who have been kept from the gathering of God’s people for any length of time (due to sickness, work, etc.) know how detrimental it can be to your spiritual health.

God’s grace is sufficient to sustain us as we fast from gathered worship. But I hope this season renews our longing to congregate around the Word preached and sung and shown. As you beg God for a reprieve from this virus, long for the day when the church can once again be the church. May it never be that we allow sports, chores, or recreation to take precedence over the sacred duty to assemble in anticipation of the day when no pestilence can ever keep us from the gathered multitude of the faithful.

I pray we can meet again soon!

- Pastor Jake -

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Here is a great song to listen to as you reflect on this teaching.