As I was preparing for this week’s Wednesday Night Check-In, something occurred to me that I had not thought of before.
I have never done a message series on suffering.
Which for some, you might think, “Well, of course not. Who would want to listen to that?”
Your immediate reaction might be,
“After a difficult week, I wouldn’t want to hear about suffering. I want church to help me get away from the stress of my everyday life. Encouragement and inspiration is what I want to hear.”
And yet, there is something strange about the church that seeks to make disciples of a crucified Savior who doesn’t spend time talking about suffering.
Let me make a more personal confession.
There is something terribly odd about a pastor who sees his purpose as, “helping others follow Jesus,” who is not consistently and intentionally leading others into deeper reflection on how to faithfully follow the one who says,
“Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
I want you to hear that I think I owe you an apology.
I want to confess to you that I did not fully appreciate how this deficiency would leave us ill-equipped to endure the kind of challenges we face today.
Perhaps one of the reasons we have steered clear of this topic is because we associate suffering almost exclusively with physical pain.
We don’t connect it with patience or the consistent practice of putting others before ourselves. We don’t immediately associate it with being quick to listen and slow to speak. We don’t immediately think of it as a daily recommitment to full dependence on Christ and the sufficiency of God’s grace so that we might faithfully persevere through difficult times.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul expresses it to Timothy, his young apprentice in the faith. Paul writes to him saying,
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.2 Timothy 2:3-4
During check-in this week, I shared that while worshipping together Indoor | Outdoor | Online will be our next big step, we will be delaying the launch of that from our original target of December 6th to our next targeted date of January 10th.
From the very beginning, ‘caution’ for us has always been about two things.
- Keeping our congregation safe.
- Loving our community well.
We believe that this decision is what our community needs and that this decision is how we love our community well.
As of this past Tuesday, the number of positive cases as well as the number hospitalized with COVID symptoms in Tarrant County is higher than it has ever been.
79% of total hospital beds and 92% of available ICU beds in Tarrant County are occupied.
Those are not all COVID patients, but those numbers do represent the current stress public health is placing on the resources of our local hospital systems which obviously includes all of our health care workers.
That news is discouraging and no one is more disappointed than I am that we will not be taking our next big step on December 6th. At the same time, we should not lose sight of the great news we have all been waiting to hear regarding the development of two highly effective vaccines.
We can say with increasing confidence that help is on the way!
In the meantime, let us be diligent.
Don’t give up. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep a safe distance. Make wise decisions. Love one another well.
I don’t want to repeat past mistakes.
And so – alongside my own confession – may I also be so bold as to challenge all of us to not getting “entangled in civilian affairs,” but rather focus exclusively on how we might please our “commanding officer?”
We will get through this together. We have no reason to doubt that.
But I pray that on the other side of COVID-19, we might be able to look back and say that we loved, we sacrificed, we served and we suffered well as soldiers for Christ.