The Relevant Temptation

Covid-19 Crisis Health Management Containment and Data

The other day our son Austin asked Pam and me if we had ever gone through anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before. The answer, of course, was no.

These are unprecedented times. People are fearful, anxious. Angry. Some are complacent. Some are in denial. We are isolating ourselves from each other.

If ever we needed a word from God, it is now. As one who weekly speaks to people about God, on behalf of God, and maybe, every once in awhile, delivers a word from God, I feel the weight of that need to hear from God.

And yet, I’m not departing from the message series that I had planned before the terms coronavirus, social distancing, and self-quarantine became a part of our everyday lexicon.


Well, for one thing, when the topic of every conversation, every headline, and every newscast is all about the pandemic, I figure maybe people need a break. Perhaps they don’t need to hear one more voice talking about coronavirus.

There’s that. But there are more significant reasons. First, this is not a random topical series that I could deliver any time of the year—this series leads up to and climaxes at Easter.

You don’t mess with Easter.

It already looks like we won’t be able to meet together on Easter Sunday, which is going to be sad and weird and weirdly sad.

And there will be some who will say it’s wrong. That Christians ought to be willing to risk their health to worship together on the most meaningful and significant Sunday of the year.

That we’re picking our health over our Savior.

That we are listening to our government leaders more than to Jesus.

That we ought to trust God to protect us if we show that we are faithful enough to worship him on Resurrection Sunday.

Not me. But I’m not going to let even a global pandemic keep me from teaching about the most central part of our Christian faith at the same time that Christians around the world are also focusing on it. The unity of the worldwide Body of Christ is essential and needs to be celebrated as we together recount the work of Christ on the cross and his victory over sin and death through the resurrection.

There is an even bigger reason why I’m staying the course, one which undergirds much of what I do as a pastor. It certainly undergirds my preaching, teaching, and writing ministry.

I want you to learn how to think theologically and biblically for yourselves, and you can’t do that if I am always doing it for you.

This is the rub that comes when pastors frequently consider the headlines when planning their messages in an effort to be relevant. And they are often rewarded by people showing up or tuning in, by likes and clicks and shares.

But to think theologically and biblically requires one to delve deeply into the literature of the Bible and the theology which arises, and you cannot do that if you are driven by one headline after another.

People have limited time and attention spans. At best, I get twenty to twenty-five minutes of your time and your attention span weekly, less when you miss a week or two. If you read my bulletin articles and blogs, maybe another 7–8 minutes. I would rather spend that limited amount of time taking you deeper into the biblical story, which I am trained to do, than trying to be a Christian version of whatever commentator you prefer on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC.

Which I’m not trained to do.

Granted, twenty-five minutes once a week isn’t much time to go very deep, but in a year, it’s over twenty hours. You can go fairly deep in twenty hours. Deep enough, anyway, provided I don’t spend too many of those minutes giving you fluff.

Listicles. Clickbait-ready bullet points.

That’s why years ago, I decided to move away from an easily-bulleted, multiple-point sermon structure to a story-based narrative structure with one central point. It allowed me to delve deeply into that one point while putting it into the large story-context of Jesus. They are harder to write, and, in many ways, they require more effort from you to listen to, but I hope they are more calorie-dense and nutritional.

Likewise, I moved away from writing articles cheerleading various activities of the church—that’s what the rest of the bulletin is for—to articles that dig deeper into scripture. Again, they are harder to write, they take longer, and they require more of you.

But my hope is that, over time, you develop a greater sense of the biblical story of God, his working in the world, and your place in his work so that you have a deep well to draw from when considering current events. And you won’t have to depend on me to tell you.

Not for nothing, this is why you need to read the Bible for yourself, deeply and consistently. Even if you don’t understand it all—no one does, you know—you are deepening that well, broadening your insight, adding to what I’m able to give through messages and blogs.

What I’ve observed over the years is that as you bring your life-situation into the hearing or the reading, the Holy Spirit can use whatever I happen to be speaking or writing about to shed light on your hurts, concerns, fears, and hopes.

It’s the Holy Spirit that makes a message relevant, not me.

Last week I continued my series and didn’t directly address the coronavirus, except tangentially, right at the end. Nonetheless, many of you responded with how it spoke to you in a particular way about our current situation.

That’s the Holy Spirit at work. We can trust the Holy Spirit.

By the way, my message this week is called “Hope on the Horizon.” I planned it weeks ago. I have a suspicion it just might have something to say about what is going on right now.

The Holy Spirit works not only in the hearing of a message, not only in the delivering of a message, and not only in the writing of a message, but also in the planning of a message.

Sunday’s message will be posted on YouTube by 9:00 a.m. We’ll send out an email with the link, as well as placing the link on our website and Facebook page

Image Credit: © Can Stock Photo / kentoh

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