Since Governor Abbott has stated that the statewide mandates end on March 10th, next Wednesday, I thought I might publish a statement about the philosophy we have followed at Crestview. Almost exactly a year ago we had to shut down from the third Sunday in March until Mother’s Day. We provided on line services and devotionals, but were very limited as to anything else we could do. Even in those days, I had numerous personal meetings with people who were in great distress. When Mother’s Day came we opened back up for in person worship with masks and hand sanitizer available at entrances and special spacing in the Worship Center. We also began to provide some Bible Study opportunities. Some would have preferred that we mandate masks for everyone, but we chose not to do that for several reasons. We are not a business. We were not required to do so. People needed a place where they felt a sense of normalcy. I could not preach or speak through a mask, nor could my staff. Some people needed personal interaction desperately and masks hinder that greatly. Many people would likely not have attended with a mask on. Singing is virtually impossible with a mask on. We did provide a room with live streamed worship for those who wanted to be only with those who would wear a mask.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, I saw laborers in the outdoor work places working without masks. I personally determined that I would also be a workman. I believe the ministry is not a performance, but a service to people. It starts from the time I am in touch with them until I am done. The pulpit is only one small part of the work. I did not hold my staff to my choice. Most of the platform participants chose to go without masks themselves.
We have worked to start as many things and continue as many things as we could. Quite a number of us contracted the virus. Most did very well with it. Sadly some of our mature adults did not. Some of the people who have caught the virus in our network did so even though they sheltered at home throughout the year. This is mysterious, but I have heard of dozens of such cases in Georgetown and around the state. My theory is that the church is essential and its ministry is essential. It needs to function as near to normal as possible whether in times of persecution, famine, pandemic, war, or a host of other possible realities. As an avid student of Christian history, I can tell you that we have a 2000 year record of doing that very thing. Let the church rise up again and take up the cross and follow Jesus daily just as He said. (Luke 9:23)
I preached my heart out today about the change Jesus made in Saul of Tarsus to transform him into a man who loved and ministered to vast numbers of people all over the world. (Romans 16) Something that I did not include in my message is that the Lord did the same kind of thing to me. I was always the boy who could play alone for hours. I spent a great deal of my childhood entertaining myself. My elder sister loved the indoors, and I loved the outdoors. My younger sister came along eleven years after me so that I was pretty much grown when she was little. I did have friends that I did things with, but I still spent a lot of time alone.
Even though I had many opportunities to be a leader such as Class President, President of the Student Body, Captain of the football team and so on, I really would have preferred not to be in the spotlight. I was a bit timid and did just fine by myself. I avoided a lot of people that I thought might lead me to get into trouble, and so I was not invited to parties, especially where there might be alcohol or other things. I have no regrets about that. I kept my circle of close friends pretty tight.
When Jesus called me to do what I do today, he took a more or less introverted person and propelled me into a person who cannot go to a public place without searching the crowd for familiar faces. He caused me to have a nearly fanatical desire to know people and to touch their lives. In my heart I believe that he wants to move us all in a similar direction. He wants us to touch the lives of people for His sake. The purpose is not our popularity but his glory. We are to be a constant reminder to others that there is a God who loves them.
The following quote is from Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on Romans.
People don’t generally do well in isolation. Prisoners, hospital patients, people too sick to leave home, fulltime mothers of small children, and lonely retirees often struggle against the deadly effects of isolation. Prolonged seclusion from others and the outside world eventually begins to undermine one’s sense of identity. Isolated people frequently forget that the world is much larger than their immediate environments. They suffer a lack of motivation because their vision is limited. They commonly spiral into a depression fueled by self-pity and hypochondria because their minds have nothing on which to focus beyond themselves.
People need problems to solve and challenges to overcome. We thrive on opportunities to participate in something greater than ourselves. Furthermore, we were created to enjoy relationships with one another, to grow in greater intimacy with our Creator, and to rule as His vice-regents over creation, so that all things exist in perfect harmony with His purposes and reflect His glory (Gen. 1:26-28). But all that can become lost or confused when we spend too much time alone. The debilitating and sometimes deadly effects of isolation can also bring Christian communities to their ruin. They are preoccupied with their own problems and begin to suspect, doubt, blame, and control one another. They become overly concerned with preserving their own identity and soon forget the desperate needs of people in surrounding communities. Isolation muzzles motivation, extinguishes enthusiasm, and ultimately reduces the entire community to a self-induced, self-sustained amnesia. They forget who they are, why
God gave them certain gifts, and what their purpose is in the world.
Timely words for the times in which we now live.
Recently we recorded a video based on a question Jesus asked after telling the parable of the Tennants. He asked his enemies if they had ever read the Scriptures. This would have been an insult to them. His purpose was not to insult them, but to challenge them to think more deeply. He quoted Psalm 118:22. “The stone the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” The message was clear. Jesus was saying, “I am that cornerstone and you are rejecting me.” Take some time and think of all the songs we sing that contain the message of that cornerstone. “Jesus is the Cornerstone. Came for sinners to atone. Though rejected by his own. He became the cornerstone. Rock of Ages, On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand. When I led youth camps, a popular song was contained the line “Jesus is the Rock and He rolls my Blues Away.”
Yes, I like “rock” music. Why don’t you pick up a hymnal or type “hymns about cornerstone” into a search engine. When you are done consider that amazing moment recorded in Matthew 16 when Jesus said “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It should be clear that Jesus was talking about himself and the truth that he was the Christ. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” For those who are determined to say that the passage means the church was built on Peter check out 1 Peter 2:7-8. Another passage to consider is Ephesians 2:20. Why don’t you do some research and see how often this truth from Psalm 118:22 comes up in Scripture. Then ask yourself “Is Jesus my rock?” All other ground is sinking sand.
Soon Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown will be stepping out on faith and easing back into services at our building. I have greatly missed seeing our people. I especially miss watching our congregation grow and flourish as it has been doing through the years. However, I have a question. Do I have to go back to business as usual? Could I please take back a deeper appreciation for the purpose and mission of the church? Could I please go back with a greater passion and compassion for the urgency of every opportunity to touch the lives of others? Could I hold on to the discoveries of new ways of doing ministry? Could I carve out of a renewed schedule the kind of time for study and devotions that these days have afforded? These questions just keep rolling out of my mind.
These days have been hard days in which many have lost loved ones. Adding to their grief was the inability to have the kind of funerals and memorials that they desired to have. Fear has changed the way people in general relate with one another. It has caused an awkwardness in our encounters with others that we would love to shake hands with or embrace, but do not want to risk sharing infections unknown. I am more than ready to leave these things and others behind. Somehow I am not sure anything will ever be the same again with all of us. Thankfully Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. He has to come back. He promised that he would.