Just a few days ago, I read several insightful articles in the Wall Street Journal concerning the current mindset that is so pervasive in our present-day culture in America. In my opinion, one of the most penetrating opinions was by an associate professor from UCLA named Dr. Ladapo whose column “Fear and Loathing in Covid America” pulled back the veil that is covering over the sources of the pervasive unrest and fear that seems to be crippling a return to normalcy in our nation.
“Public panic and media scorn are shutting down important debates about how to tackle the virus.” Dr. Ladapo
This is not a denial of the reality that we are still coming to terms with a widespread virus that has affected the lives of nearly everyone in America and is reportedly responsible for the death of about 160,000 Americans over the past 6 months. This is very real and is worthy of a united effort to come to some strategic agreement about how we can overcome the virus without destroying “livelihoods and futures, increasing poverty and domestic violence, or sacrifices to children’s education and emotional well being.”
What I’ve noticed personally is more focused on what is happening within the culture of the church in America and particularly the “big C” Church here in the Pittsburgh area. Though many churches have made efforts to “regather” over the past few months, the reinstatement of strict limitations by our state and county government officials, though supposedly not directly affecting churches, indirectly affects the mindset of people who might otherwise be excited to return to public gatherings with approved protocols.
Let me be clear that I have had some wonderful experiences with virtual gatherings in small groups and even an occasional larger Zoom call with a hundred or more people involved. But honestly, these quickly wane in terms of the emotional dynamic that is only truly experienced when you are sharing some space with another group of people in the flesh.
In several gatherings in which I’ve participated in the past two months, despite all appropriate safety measures being taken, there was a sense of caution and even “distance”. (I don’t mean social distance but emotional distance.) This has had a chilling effect on the anticipated benefits of being together in the presence of God and with one another in order to give much needed support, encouragement and even scriptural and prophetic edification for many who are experiencing relational, financial or other very real consequences of our current circumstances.
Just last evening, a small group of friends who have desired to offer an opportunity for believers to gather, and to bring along friends, family members or co-workers that might need some support and strengthening in these times, had it’s first opportunity to meet. The event was held at a local retreat center that’s reasonably accessible to most of the North Hills area. Based on numerous conversations with members of the core group and responses to my own invitations, our expectations were pretty high that we would have a strong turnout. The weather, which is a determining factor in any outdoor event, was ideal and our team did a marvelous job in handling logistics and providing the essential elements for a wonderful evening together. Indeed, that is what we experienced… it was a wonderful time of outdoor praise and worship, a strong and authentic testimony, a brief message about the presence and power that the Spirit of Jesus brings to us, and a time of ministry. Those who attended the evening were almost universal in their affirmation that the Lord really met with us and the time was blessed with God’s favor.
The only confusing and rather telling dynamic that was missing was a significant number of the people who said that they would be coming and/or bringing someone along with them. It may have been some unforeseen last minute interruptions, but my sense is that it has more to do with the spirit of fear. Fear can enter in as soon as people think about any risk involved with coming in contact with other people that they may not know, even in what is widely seen as a safe, outdoor, abundantly spacious area where you could be completely by yourself if you so desired.
At some point, every believer has to make the decision whether their participation in life sustaining and spirit building gatherings will begin to be once again a part of their lives.
The only real antidote to fear is faith. Repeatedly, even from the lips of Jesus, we see that fear can overwhelm faith and cause God’s best for our lives to be short circuited. (See Matthew 14:22-31)
It’s not too late for us to act in unity, but unless we resolve to do so it may be quite a long time and at an unimaginable cost that we will remain on the sidelines of fulfilling God’s purposes in this critical time in our nation’s history.