The Pastor’s Page February 2021

Much has been made about the psychological toll of the pandemic. With increased isolation, mental health markers have deteriorated while stress levels increased. When looking at people’s face swathed in bands of cloth, we have lost the ability to see one an- other’s full humanity and their complete responses to our presence. A lot of our social cues have dissipated, and it leaves us unsure not only of the world in which we live but of the people that populate it as well. For children, this can be especially harsh. To counteract this, we are told by the experts to “smile” with our eyes—to open them ever larger as we do when we smile and laugh.

That last thought helped to germinate a thought in my mind—we always have an opportunity to do good and have an impact for the Kingdom of God. That’s important because we never want to make an excuse for not doing what is right and good and true for God in these days. With COVID restrictions, it can seem like we have little opportunity to demonstrate our faith to the com- munity and to the world.

Just a year ago, I was talking about Revive Ohio and the opportunities to join with other local churches in evangelistic outreaches to our community. I still have boxes of Bibles in my office that I purchased in anticipation of this. Revive inspires local Christians to go around their community and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ wherever they can. Their plan is Jesus’ plan: we need to meet people where they are and present the saving grace to them right where they are. We need to show them Jesus’ love. Sharing a Gospel presentation and sharing a Bible with them along with an invitation is one way to do that.

Now, in our socially-distanced reality, how do we do that? When we go about with faces covered, can people hear the Gospel presentation with our muffled voices? Can people see our eyes smiling with love, or are they baffled by our appearance and awkward attempts to convey love with muted ex- pressions and sanitized hands that are weary to contact another human being? After all, if we can- not embrace a hurting person, how will they know the love in our soul?

February is the month when our thoughts turn to love with Valentine’s Day smack dab in the middle of the month. How appropriate that the day of love falls on a Sunday this year with Ash Wednesday following three days after! As we purchase cards and gifts for those beloved by us and prepare to pursue the path of LOVE in Lent, may we consider how we demonstrate love to those around us.

We may be wary of holding large group meetings for worship and training with other churches, and we may not want to invite people to crowd into our church for a concert, a meal, or for some other event, but we need to find a way to reach others with the love of the Father found in Jesus Christ. More than just telling them, we need to show God’s love to them.

With all the restrictions and concerns, we need the love of Christ to shine through us and cast away the shadows of darkness and despair, fear and frustration, hate and hurt. Now is the time for the Church to prove herself. In times of war and violence, people need peace, and we know the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). In a time of suffering and deep wounds, people need healing, and we have the balm of Gilead (Jeremiah 46:11).

In 2020, we looked at how Jesus was undeterred as He went to the Cross. He lost all of His relationships, He was lied about, and He was degraded. Still, He soldiered on to save others. In the first half of this year, we are going to journey through Micah, focus on some other prophets, and discuss biblical justice. Will we be prophetic in our witness this year? Will we proclaim God’s Good News to those who will listen and who will repent (turn toward God)?

Will we hear God’s Word compel us to share His Word? Will we lift high the song of Psalm 62:6: “He [God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be shaken.” to a world that needs God’s presence in their hearts? Will our faith come to life and be translated into works that draws other into relationship with Christ as the light draws the moth?

To do this, we have to amend our ways and change our attitudes. For too long, we have sat on the sidelines and waited for others to come to us. In our best years, we have had a handful of events and called it evangelism, or we lamented that someone else wasn’t bringing the crowds in. Building the Church—and building up this church—is not someone else’s duty; it is everyone’s duty. Unfortunately, when it’s everyone’s duty, everybody looks for somebody else to step forward and do it and then nobody does it.

To change that, we need to stay steadfast in the Word. Have you maintained last month’s annual re- quest to read through the Bible. In 2020, the American Bible Society (ABS), with assistance from Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program, found a strong correlation between reading scripture and hope.

Bible reading (and other forms of community and discipleship, such as going to church or participating in a small group) seem to contribute to people’s sense of well-being and happiness according to Tyler VanderWeele, director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (These findings were published in October 2020’s Journal of General Internal Medicine in the article, “National Well-Being Measures Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Online Samples).

The most interesting data for the ABS concerned how the Bible, church, and Christian disciplines appear to help people through difficult and dark times. The connections are only correlations, which means being an active Chris- tian can’t be proven to contribute to human flourishing. However, it does mean that the two are related in some ways—as people are more active and engaged in their Christian faith, they tend to have higher scores in what constitutes human flourishing.

In other words, reading and studying the Bible, praying, and worshiping help make us flourish. How much more will we flourish when we take and share that faith with others? Again, February is the month of Love, and we are to embody the Love of God as Christ did. We are to talk about it, sing about it, and study it.

We are also to put that love into practice—not when the pandemic ends, our streets are safe, and people are calmer and kinder. No, the task is at hand for us to carry out today and everyday. It is not a burden, but a joy (Matthew 11:29-30). Many have called God’s Word His love letter to us, and now He sends us to deliver that message to His beloved children all around us. May we be couriers and carriers of this infectious Word!

With love and faith and service,

Pastor Randall