Does Anyone Think Church Gatherings are ‘Essential’? Who’s Speaking Up?

Does Anyone Think Church Gatherings are ‘Essential’?  Who’s Speaking Up?

I shared a link to my commentary and connected editorial (by Matt Walsh) on Facebook last night — but I know how quickly posts run through a person’s feed and quickly disappear.  So I am sending this out as a post because I, like Walsh, am deeply concerned that no specific conversation has occurred regarding the benefit and Constitutional legality of continuing church assemblage — despite the risks — during this coronavirus pandemic.

I had assumed that churches would be considered an “essential social service” and that any mandatory shut down would be resisted.  Necessarily, “crowd considerations” would have been evaluated, with churches likely needing to be creative and/or take measures to accommodate the different situations that were arising.

But it never occurred to me that, based on numbers alone, church assemblage would be shuttered as if it were of no benefit to our neighbors, our rich and poor alike, our now-unemployed co-workers, our very society.

Opinion Writer Matt Walsh declares in this article, “As far as I know, no government at any level, anywhere in the nation, has deigned to label churches essential.  Our Founding Fathers, who gave the right to assemble and the right to practice religion pride of place in the Bill of Rights seemed to have disagreed.”

This is actually a discussion that SHOULD have been broached at the start of “shelter at home” orders, in my opinion.  I am guessing that the original “two-week” duration of time to Shelter-at-home during March was considered “short,” and clearly temporary, therefore becoming a significant factor in the deafening silence regarding this issue.  However, that length of time has now been extended for an additional 30 days.  And there is no clear statement that it will not, in some fashion, continue to be enforced for an additional and unspecified amount of time.  

In a society which considers physical food an essential for physical and mental well being — appropriately so — it is nonetheless truly unfortunate that ‘spiritual food’ is not given equal consideration as to how churches and fellowships might continue to reach out and offer comfort, support and stability to frightened and insecure people in this time of crisis.  Actually, I think it is beyond “unfortunate.”  I think it is a serious gap through which millions of people are falling with limited or no safety net, below.

Yes, online connection options are definitely “better than nothing.”   I give kudos, appreciation, and accolades to those church leaders who have worked diligently to create and maintain contact/support with their people through social media and online opportunities.  Yes, Romans 13:1 states, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God , and those which exist are established by God.” (NASB)

Authority established by God:  consider that phrase, for just a moment.  I propose that our houses of worship — FAR more than any government agency — have been ordained for this very purpose of bearing His authority in the lives of people, and for times just like these.  If I may say so, it is each one of us AND our houses of worship who have been bestowed with the mantle of spiritual governorship to address the necessary task at hand with the power, compassion, and efficiency needed.

We all — loudly, as Americans, whether personally involved in spiritual gatherings or not — really should be discussing if stay-at-home orders from state/federal officials should supersede a Constitutional guarantee of freedom in religious assembly (especially since such orders are currently apart from any specific guidelines as to whether or not a stay-at-home order is justified).  We should be discussing if this is contrary to the Scriptural admonition for us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together.” (Heb. 10:24-25, NASB)

There is a purpose and a point in our “assembling together”…and it is not necessarily for US.  We are NOT called to live for ourselves.  WE have been tasked to be bringers of Light in dark situations; WE have been tasked to share Living Water with those whom the world has wrung dry.  

Matt Walsh states in this article, “This is not ‘health and safety.’  This is tyranny.”   Walsh subsequently asks the question, “Can the government simply declare all churches non-essential, close them indefinitely, and thus circumvent the First Amendment with so much ease as to render it effectively nullified from here on out?”

THIS is the discussion that we-the-people and we-the-children-of-God need to decide within our congregations and bring to the doors of our local, county, state and federal levels of  government.  

4-2-20 UPDATE:  After Hillsborough County arrested Pastor Howard-Browne of Revival International Ministries, the local government has done a 180-turnaround.  According to lc.com (site of Liberty Council), “The council voted to recognize churches as ‘essential,'” reversing an earlier decision which resulted in Pastor Howard-Browne’s arrest.  In addition, “Any future guidance the county may issue will be recommendations and not enforceable.”  The site also reports that Florida Ron DeSantis amended his April 1 executive order for shelter-in-place to recognize that “‘religious services conducted in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship” are “Essential activities.” Liberty Council was in the process of filing a federal lawsuit against Hillsborough County.

Your Future Self and a New Day of Destiny

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New Year’s Day.

I am thinking about a poster I photographed on my camera phone, which read, “Do something today which your future self will thank you for.”  I posted that picture on social media and subsequently deleted it from my storage…but I have thought of it often in the year or two since then.

Your future self.

Sometimes it’s difficult to think of yourself as anything except “what” or “who” or even “where” you are, right now – and the details of that identity probably involve considerable time and energy to fulfill the routine and responsibility that is attached.

I certainly fit that category.  But I know there is “more to me” than what I currently see and express, because there is “more of Him in me” that is constantly seeking to be released.

Envisioning my “future self” can be a tangible motivation to seek my heavenly Father Hope candle w flowersand ask His participation in bringing me to those steps, that growth, training, discipline and focus necessary to “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

The “same image,” of course, is His – “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.”  But He chooses our individual and unique flavor of “the glory of God” to tangibly display His amazing, multifaceted love, mercy and transformative power to the world and populations He loves.

New Year’s Day is a fitting time to take a few minutes and think about that concept.  Of the many tasks and engagements involving you, right now – which of them touch others with His Presence or cooperate with Him to develop those giftings, opportunities, assignments He has for each of us?  Which are those activities which Paul describes to those of us who are “His workmanship” as being “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

It is our ability to “walk in them” that is impaired by endless routine and responsibility which the world’s system is happy to throw our way.  It is one of the enemy’s schemes that we are so thoroughly deterred and drained by earthly focus and demands that we have no energy or vision for heavenly opportunities.  No energy or vision to make preparations for “your future self”…a forthcoming, fresh release of His Presence, Christ in us, “the hope of glory.”  (Col. 1:27)

Today is a good day to “take a stand.”  Today is a great day to ask His guidance in sifting through the necessary and the assumed-necessary.

The Passion Translation begins Romans 13:12 with the words, “Night’s darkness is dissolving away as a new day of destiny dawns.”

IMG_5368I like that phrase, “new day of destiny.”  As 2020 starts, we actually face a new decade of destiny.

In this New Year’s Day context, I think of “night’s darkness” as being those deceptions and busy-work the enemy endlessly shovels onto our path to drown out His Word and stifle His “light to my path.” (Psa. 119:105)

Today is the perfect day to consider your plans and strategies with a  future thanksgiving in mind.

2019: The Year to Transform Our Thinking and Discourse from “Anti-” to “Pro-“

IMG_7787It’s mid-January.  The snow falling outside may not be leaving particularly deep mounds of white on the ground, but the air is swirling ferociously with the conflict of storm fronts colliding and wind streams circling around one another in perfect ambush.  Dancing, falling, whipped-around snowflakes both drift and plummet downward as unseen forces manipulate and twist their normal course.

It is a nasty day outside.

And in my estimation, it rather closely mirrors the political climate in our country, right now.

So much so, I am strongly feeling that leaning into focused prayer should be an immediate response regarding a growing intolerance towards publicly living and celebrating a faith-based life.  I am inspired anew by the admonition in I Tim 2:1, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity.”  (NASB, italics added)

I believe that the “we” in this scripture is both a personal “we” – you and I – as well as a collective “we” for those who had come to know Christ in that era.  In our present case, here in America, a collective “we” – as in, “We, the people.”IMG_7295

While flipping through emails, I read the heading, “They Will Come for the Churches Next” and immediately clicked in to a politically foreboding article authored by Matt Walsh.  It was a follow-up piece to a day-before article regarding the startling amount of publicity being given to Second Lady Karen Pence’s return to a former employer as a current part-time employee.

When I first heard that announcement, I had two reactions of surprise:  first, I didn’t realize that the position of “Second Lady” would allow Pence to take on a “normal job” simultaneously, primarily for security reasons.  Secondly, I assumed she already had a full schedule of doing those goodwill-gesture and support activities necessary to whatever-it-is Second Ladies choose to highlight.  I found her choice a little puzzling, but thought it was rather down-to-earth and remarkable of her to engage in private-citizen employment while maintaining a public-citizen role.

Then followed a variety of Pence-focused announcements released on different days by different media sources, all of which easily summarize as pretty much one single statement — “Vice President’s Wife Takes Job at Anti-Gay Private School.”

And the descriptive twisting of facts almost made the truth of the issue unrecognizable.Concealing storm

Yes, Karen Pence was returning to work in a school she had already worked for, in former years.  Yes, it was a private school, the very school from which her daughter had graduated years earlier.

However, it is not an “anti-gay school.”  It is a pro-Christian-morality school.  And because we who identify as Christ-ians are constantly being described as “anti” rather than “pro” when represented by those who are not-Christ-ians, I believe we have fallen into a self-injuring trap:  we define ourselves in the same way, as being “anti” rather than “pro.”  We are therefore re-active to their agenda and narrative, rather than pro-active to His.

And therein lies the problem.  Here’s an example:

Pro-life…that would mean anti-abortion, I can hear the conversation shift.  No, “pro-life” is pro-life…pro-unborn, pro-just born, pro-toddler-through-adult, pro-geriatric, pro-working-years and pro-retirement-years, pro-adoption into both natural families and Jesus’ spiritual family. Pro-you-moving-forward-positively in wherever you fit in any of those scenarios.  Pro you-discovering-the-purpose-and-giftings-of-your-life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB, italics added) The Common English Bible translates Jesus’ phrase as, “I came so that they might have life—indeed so that they could live life to the fullest.”

Silhouette of pine branch2Yes, pro-life – verbally and actively supporting those principles, laws, philosophies and theologies that allow for abundant life, “life to the fullest.”

Our thinking and discourse are significantly limited, tainted, and shrouded by the restrictions of working within an “anti” mindset. It turns a reality of “us, together” into a perspective of division, you-and-me-on-opposite-sides.  Thus, we end up speaking from a defensive or holier-than-thou posture when talking to others.  Yet in a pro- stance, we are better able to stand firm as representatives of Jesus’ Kingdom, gladly extending His open invitation for all to believe in Him and step into the Light to join Him there.   We are encouraged by Jude 1:22-23, “Try to help those who argue against you.  Be merciful to those who doubt.  Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself.  And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them…” (The Living Bible)

It is now the start of February.  In the last two-plus weeks, much publicity has revolved around four Covington High School Catholic teenagers wearing MAGA hats to the Right to Life March and the various encounters that occurred.  Judicial nominee Brian Buescher was verbally grilled regarding his charitable volunteering through the KnightsDownload April 18 031 of Columbus and how his political views may be impacted by serving in a faith-based organization.  New York State has signed into law legislation that allows for “legal” abortion to be performed right up to the minute of a baby’s birth, and other states are pursuing similar laws.  On January 1 of his year, Hawaii became the eighth state/province in America to allow assisted suicide for the elderly.

None of these – nor the dozens of issues that will erupt over the next year – are no-opinion issues about which we should be prayer-less, complacent or silent in expressing a pro-life opinion, not an anti-this-or-that opinion.  Jude 1:3 encourages us, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints.” (NASB)

Once for all.  Our pro-humanity, pro-generational Abba contends for us, singing and speaking Truth into every circumstance.  Let us do the same regarding the issues that impact our freedoms, our witness, the soul of our country