Perspectives on a Pandemic: Part 3

March 27, 2020

11:40

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President Stumbo puts on the hats of reporter and pastor.

Transcript

Hello Alliance family. Today I’m putting on two hats: reporter and pastor. Thanks for joining me again from my home office. I’m eager to report that your Alliance family is doing well in this unique time.

  • Our local congregations are learning how to be the Church without access to a building.
    • Churches, some well-equipped, some scrambling, are having significant impact through online services. It’s quite possible that this Sunday, the most people ever will attend an Alliance church because of the large numbers joining online.
    • Prayer ministry: One church offers drive-through prayer in their parking lot, while in another the congregation can text in a request and a prayer team member calls them back to pray personally.
    • Social media community groups support each other, offering to assist those in need.
    • Church food banks are active.
    • Some Alliance pastors are recording daily devotionals for their congregations.
    • Small groups [are] meeting via Zoom.
    • One pastor distributed a devotional guide and sealed communion elements to 70 families and singles with a plan to share the communion together from their homes on an upcoming Sunday.
  • Our district offices are finding meaningful touchpoints with their pastors.
  • Our National Office—I’m proud of our team here—is responding appropriately, providing good communication, wrestling through difficult issues, such as:
    • We’ve encouraged a high-risk population of our international workers to temporarily relocate, specifically those over age 60 serving in regions with limited healthcare facilities and whose borders are closing down. We didn’t want to put them at risk, so we’ve asked them to step aside from their location for a period of time. This has impacted a few dozen people.
    • Meanwhile, over 90 percent of our IWs are still on location—choosing to stay in place, believing that this is a great time to present the love and hope of Jesus.
  • Our colleges have all transitioned to online courses to finish out the year but have lost significant revenue from room and board fees.
  • Our camps and conference centers are taking a hit as months of events have been erased from their schedules.
  • Our retirement centers have enacted proper protocols to protect their residents. To date, we’ve received no word of anyone in our facilities testing positive for the virus. Thank you for your prayers for this population and those who lovingly serve them.

When I look at the whole of The Alliance in these weeks, I’m seeing godly people ask, “What can we do to love our neighbors and advance the name of Jesus?” And yes, with the economy in upheaval and churches unable to assemble, some of us are also wondering about the possible financial impact.

  • The National Office leadership team is taking careful steps to properly manage the Great Commission Fund by significantly cutting expenses.
  • From church to district, college to camp, many other leaders are doing the same. Those I’m most concerned about in the short term are our small churches whose congregations have not transitioned to online giving.
    • All of us are called to return our tithes and offerings to the Lord, regardless of a fluctuating economy. But especially if you are in one of these small churches, please continue your financial support. It would be wrong for us to lose a single church because of the virus. It’s time for the Church to rise, not recoil. So, I ask you to invest all the more in your local church at this moment in time.

And now I’ve begun to move from reporter to pastor.

To state the obvious—this is a difficult time for many. It’s a difficult time to be a small business owner or employee. This is a difficult time to be in the events, travel, restaurant, or hospitality industry. This is a difficult time to be a single parent or any parent who has school age children and you’re not accustomed to homeschooling. It’s a difficult time to be a healthcare professional; or a retiree depending on a stock market portfolio for living expenses. It’s a difficult time to be in an assisted living facility, unable to receive visitors. You could probably double my list. May our compassion extend in practical ways to those facing uncertain days in these unprecedented times. And you may be one of these yourself. The Alliance family’s prayers are with you, and I trust that you’re finding extra community within your local church.

Interestingly, and simultaneously, these are great times. Without diminishing the loss and uncertainty of this season, I must highlight the fact that, yes, these are great times.

This is a great time to be a leader.

This is a great time to be a Christ follower.

This is a great time to be the Church.

“The Church was made for times such as this,” my brother reminded his congregation in Montana last Sunday, in his first ever online message. “The church was made to be resilient, responsive, rising above the chaos of the world, to speak into it—to be light in darkness and courage in fear.”

In praying with one leader over the phone yesterday, we found ourselves acknowledging to the Lord that it’s not by mistake that we’ve been placed in positions of leadership for such a time as this.

Another church leader said to me “It’s as if a sovereign God has squeezed the tube and forced the Church out of the building into the world.” Social distancing is a great opportunity for gospel presence. Love at Six Feet—I can see the book title now.

Perhaps the plow of COVID-19 will rip through the hard soil of many hearts who’ve long ignored the gospel. But, see now that “the way [and] the truth and the life” is available to them.

Alliance family, let’s steward this moment well. May fear of our own mortality not strangle us. May anxiety for finances not cloud us.

A difficult time, yes—just this week, my state, Colorado, mandated a [“stay-at-home”] order—yet a great time for the gospel to go forward.

So, as reporter and pastor I present to you the strange comingling of these times—uncertainty and hope. An extrovert confined to the same home with an introvert. Social distancing while we find new ways to engage in community. Fear strangling, faith releasing.

Difficult times, great times.

In order to get this message out to you, I have deadlines. I was running up against one of those in preparation for this moment. I only had 45 minutes left to prepare my thoughts. I had the basic outline in mind, and clarity was gradually coming. But I had no idea why I would land the message when I saw an email pop up from my daughter.

Currently, she’s a stay-at-home mom raising two of our fine grandsons in Arizona. Feeling the pressure of the deadline, I intended to ignore the email and read it later . . . when I got another “notification”—in my spirit. I opened her message to read this. I believe you’ll find it a fitting and meaningful conclusion to these thoughts.

She writes:

Probably like a lot of introverts, I haven’t been particularly inconvenienced by “quarantine-19.” I love to be home, and don’t have much trouble filling my time. The only personal hardship that has come from this has been the fear that creeps into my thoughts. My fear is not without warrant, as I have family in the 60-plus age bracket (She’s not referring to me.), friends working in frenetic hospitals, and savings in the plummeting stock markets. And, seeing as I live mostly in my head and thoughts, fear can be a powerful intruder. Multiply that by social isolation and I could be on the brink of catastrophe.

Indeed, a few days ago I was down and [an] ugly, yet familiar old route of worry. Of course, worry can quickly gather momentum and head for fear. And then I must’ve run into the Holy Spirit, because something (or Someone) suddenly and strongly reminded me of the account of Martha, Mary, and Jesus from Luke 10.

“‘Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’“

I used to imagine Jesus saying these words in a tone of disappointment. “You should know better Martha—try to be more like Mary.” But this time I read these words as being said patiently, with insight and intimacy.

Jesus isn’t telling Martha to neglect all preparations. He’s not criticizing her for being superficial or people-pleasing. He’s addressing her thought paths while challenging her to a new route.

He says her name twice, as if calling her from a long way off—“Martha, Martha”—gathering her attention to Himself and to the moment. Martha’s worries pause. He tells her that he sees the burdens on her mind and heart. He holds her worries, and then He reveals something to her soul that she’s only previously known in some remote sense—that only one thing is needed, and that one thing is Him.

Her worries dissolve as Jesus Himself sits in front of her. He faces her and reassures her. When she chooses Him, He won’t be taken away from her. He gives Martha and us every reason to be at peace. He did this for me as I read the passage. He called my name, gathered me from those tired halls of thought, and revealed Himself to me as the only needful thing.

Amen, Anna. May it be so for all of us, Alliance family.

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