Perspectives on a Pandemic: Part 4

April 3, 2020

15:35

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What to do when you are somewhere you don’t want to be for longer than you expected

Transcript

Alliance family, once again, I’m coming to you from my home in Colorado Springs. Thanks for joining me for another “Friday’s Perspective” during this fascinating moment in time.

If you’re like me . . . you’ve been watching all these newscasts coming from people’s homes. I kind of like to know the setting in which they are, so, let me do the unusual and actually show you that I’m coming from a stairwell where we’ve got the classic pictures of our family, through the years, my wife’s beautiful quilt artwork—on the one side of my desk area where I’ve been working for these last weeks— and a world map, at our lower level.

I want, today, to bring us not only into the setting of my home, but the setting of what’s happening in the Alliance world. Specifically, today, with our National Office in light of how difficult the economy is at this moment. I know that the bigger crisis is families, health, people struggling for their lives with the virus—that’s the big story.

But at this moment I want to take us to the smaller story of the economy, and how that’s impacting The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Like many nonprofit and church leaders, small business leaders, many others, the conversations of recent days has been, “How do we best handle a downturn in the economy?” It’s impacting the Great Commission Fund as well.

And so, I’m grateful to announce that Ken Baldes, our vice president for Operations and Finance through the years, has carefully helped the board guard a reserve. And so, we have that underpinning of support. So grateful for those who have remembered The Christian and Missionary Alliance through legacy giving with their wills, estates, and trusts. That is a huge help, always, but especially at a moment like this. Those who continue to financially support, thank you. While many of us just continue with recurring giving to keep supporting The Alliance.

But we have had, in spite of all of that good news, we’ve had some cuts that must be made. Some of those were made for us. Travel [and] events, obviously are erased from the calendar—have been cost savings. But all of that together hasn’t been enough for us. And so, the leadership team in recent days has had multiple meetings to say what other program, budget kind of cuts—reducing the number of pages from the Alliance Life magazine, reducing the number of pages being printed for something else. Every Area of Ministry, having to go through their budget, line-by-line and saying, “What can be postponed, what can be eliminated?” We always try to be careful stewards, but especially at a moment like this. But I must say to you that even with all of that—millions of dollars of reserves and savings—it still wasn’t enough, and so we’ve had to go to the next level that we were trying to avoid . . .the level of staffing and salary.

And so, in the last 48 hours a dozen phone calls were made from our vice presidents. Very difficult phone calls, letting some of our National Office staff know that their role[s] were being terminated—some of these long-time faithful people. But for the sake of the whole, we just have to continue to slim down our team. And so for a few, that was a full loss of job; for others, it’s a reduction in hours. Position by position, our vice presidents have gone through their teams and said, “Here’s just what we have to do, hard as it is.”

Meanwhile, all of those who receive support from the Great Commission Fund, including our international workers and our National Office staff, are all experiencing a 10 percent reduction in salary. This will impact district superintendents as well. A 10 percent reduction in all salaries, effective immediately. We call it “pro rata.” The word means proportional—everyone sharing alike. The Alliance has done this numerous times through the decades; haven’t had to do so for about 15 years. But at this moment in time, it feels like the appropriate step in order for us to keep our essential ministries going forward and to keep all of our IWs on the field.

You know I announced last week that a couple dozen, because of their age and the environs in which they’re living, we felt like it would be appropriate for us to temporarily remove them from their location. But we don’t want to have to do any reduction in force of our IW team—these that we have sent to the least-reached places of the world, to take the most needed message. Especially at a time like this.

So, family, we’re doing our part as National Office leaders to steward well the resources that you’ve given to us. We are making hard decisions, painful, loss-of-sleep kind of decisions as we lose some people we have worked with for years.

But do know that we are doing so prayerfully, stewarding your dollars—and just boldly coming to you today and saying, “Please, as you remember charities in your financial giving . . . that we are still called to be a tithing, offering, giving people.” God will honor that, and we believe that the Great Commission Fund is one of the best investments beyond your local church that you can give to—especially at a moment like this where our teams are positioned in places where we have the plow of COVID virus coming through hard soils and the gospel is being received in new ways . . . people listening with greater attentiveness. “We have the gift of attention at this moment in time,” as one of our pastors, Mitch Kim, says. And may we use this in gospel-flinging kind of ways, scattering the seed. And our IW teams and our local churches are doing so. So, I welcome your continued support—and your prayers.

With that, I want to transition and open the Scripture, and take us to the Word of God. I’m in Jeremiah 28 and 29. I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but Jeremiah’s one of my favorite prophets. This is the moment in time when the people of God have not listened to Jeremiah’s prophecies for decades. And God has had to step in, using Nebuchadnezzar—the King of Babylon—to come and bring exile and judgment upon the people. They’ve been hauled 1,000 kilometers away from home . . . from Jerusalem to south of Baghdad. And there are prophets who are proclaiming, such as Hananiah, that this isn’t going to last long. So, you’re going to be out of there in no time at all—two years’ time. There’re fascinating conflicts that I don’t have time to share, but as you study Jeremiah 28 and 29, you’ll see some very interesting storylines developing . . .

And Jeremiah comes with a letter to be hand delivered to those living in exile. This becomes one of the, probably, top-25 quoted passages in all the Bible, in my guess. But probably also in the top 25 misquoted passages, in that it’s often wrenched out of context.

Let me share, quickly today, five points for what Jeremiah has to say about what do you do when you’re not where you want to be, and you find out you’re going to be there a lot longer than you expected? Do you see why this might be a relevant question for the moment? What do you do when you’re not where you want to be and find out you might be in there a lot longer than you expected? Jeremiah is writing these people that they’re going to actually be there for 70 years, rather than just the two years being prophesied by others, but in that context of, “I know you’re an exile; I know you’re where you don’t want to be; I know that this is a long period of time.” Jeremiah writes to them, verse five, basically, “Settle in.” He says, “Marry. Have sons and daughters. Build houses. Plant gardens—settle in. Be all there.”

A couple days ago, when I realized that the president of the United States had declared he was going to extend the governmental restrictions for the nation through April 30th, that was a trigger for me to say—through our vice presidents, to the National Office staff—“We need to continue our office soft open; the office is open, but we’re all working remotely. We need to continue that through April 30th.”

When I made that decision, something changed in my spirit . . . that I need to just settle in, figure this out, make this work—be all here. If we’re always living out of a suitcase, so to speak; if we’re always living temporary; if we’re always just thinking, It’s just for another day or two, then we won’t fully be present. And, Jeremiah’s instruction to us at times like this, I think, is, “Settle in; be all here.”

Number two. He says to them, verse seven, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which you live.” Not only be all there but make it better—enter and bless. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever context, there’s something we can do to improve that. Do a simple gesture, some of us for a neighbor, to in some way improve the environment that we’re in. And so, a word to us today: Don’t live transient, and don’t live disruptive. But, your home—person who’s now working at home—should be better because of our presence. I’m not just talking about the fact that people are buying out all the paint and all the hardware stores. I’m talking about the environment of peace, of love, of joy, of the kind of spirit that you want your home to have. Enter, be all there—bless.

Number three. Jeremiah says to them, “Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says,” verse eight: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you.” What he’s saying is there’s lots of chatter going on . . . there’s many voices trying to get your attention; there’s lots of noise at this moment in time. Does this sound familiar? Be careful to choose well what voices you listen to. Don’t let all the chatter enter your home, enter your mind, enter your soul. And may the loudest voice that we hear actually be the sweet, gentle voice of the Holy Spirit—as we’re intentionally spending time . . . intimacy with Him.

Number four. Know that a bigger story is being written. It’s here in Jeremiah 29 that as we get into verses 10, 11, 12, that we hear those classic words, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Beautiful words. Words of promise.

Friends, again, these are given with a long-term view. These are given to people who aren’t where they want to be . . . finding out it’s going to be quite a period of time. And Jeremiah is letting them know, “God knows that, God sees that. And He is writing a good story in your life, even though it isn’t the story you expected.” That there is a long view of God in this world. And your story, my story, the COVID story, is all part of that long story of God at work in this world. So, take the long view with God. Knowing, yes, He’s very aware of our current state. He’s very aware of where we find ourselves at this moment. And He’s also the God who sees the bigger picture. May our hearts and minds be lifted a little higher than the day-to-day that we might get caught up in.

And then finally, number five. Seek Him. This is a moment of time to seek after the Lord. Jeremiah says that, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you; you will seek Me and find me when you seek Me with all your heart.” The Seeker, God, wants to be sought. The Pursuer—the One who leaves the 99 in search of a single sheep—seeks after us, pursues us. But He wants us to pursue Him. At this moment in time, not only Jeremiah writing to exiles, but those of us who have been exiled into our own lower levels, or wherever it is that you find yourself—far more hours than you ever anticipated that you would be—this is a time to seek after the Lord.

So, my believing friend, would you stand with me in these days? Yes, mourning with those who mourn, coming alongside in kindness where we can. But would you know that, as I wrote in my journal this week, “The God who knows where we are today, even feeling like exile, is the God who knows the longer story of our lives—the very long story of His plan for this world. Take comfort from His daily presence, and gain perspective from His long view.” God’s peace to you today.

Next week I’m going to be coming to you, not by way of a Friday Perspectives video. But, my son, Josiah; Terry Smith, our vice president for Church Ministries; and many others of influence in The Christian and Missionary Alliance—people that I respect—are going to be having four webinars of prayer on Maunday Thursday, at noon in each time zone. Information on our website about that . . .

And, also, on Good Friday, partnering with Grace Church in Middleburg Heights, Ohio . . . Jonathan Schaeffer, the worship team there that many of us know from Council settings, we’re bringing four livestream Good Friday services. And my Friday’s Perspective will be embedded in that, where I come to us again to keep reflecting what I’m learning at this time. Thanks for joining. Peace to you today.

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