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Dear Oakland Family,
As 2020 comes to a close, I’m left asking myself, “What did we learn in 2020 as a Church?” I ask the question every year, but this year it has special import, because I did not want us to merely survive 2020, I wanted us to grow and to thrive. I wanted Oakland members to end 2020 with more faith in Jesus and love for his Church and passion for His mission. I wanted us to spend more time thinking about what we could do than we did pining for the things we couldn’t. I wanted us to embrace the COVID precautions as a spiritual discipline and reap the spiritual harvest of well-pruned branches.
For many, 2020 was harder than we ever anticipated, but it was the classroom assigned to us by the Almighty. If we resent the assignment, we’ll rarely learn the incased lessons. Worse still, we could grow to resent the Rabbi. If, however, we can humbly accept what the Psalmist said, “TODAY is the day the LORD has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, this day, not the future or the past, but the present moment even during pandemics is the day God has made, and we can and should and will rejoice in it. If we embrace today, we can be transformed.
The basics beliefs are the most necessary (and at risk).
When chaos falls, I don’t need spiritual metaphysics, I need to know that there is a good God, alert and almighty. I need to know that God is not surprised or out maneuvered. I need to know that God has not given up on the world. I need to know that Jesus still wins, and even if I catch COVID and even if I die, I will be with Jesus forever on the other side. I need to know that God still feels about me the same way Jesus felt about suffering people in the gospels. I need to know that when I pray, God listens and gives me either what I would ask for or what I would have asked for if I knew what God knows.
Yet, during a pandemic even these basic truths can seem improbable at best. We think things like, “If God is real and God is good, why is there a pandemic? If Jesus answers my prayers, why did I still lose my job? I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to go now.” It’s hard to find answers in the dark, but even the shadows of the cross fall from God’s light. Fear and pain are poor counselors, and the Holy Spirit still whispers to all who can hear, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.” And that is why we need the basic rhythms.
The basic rhythms are still the most necessary (and at risk).
We spent the summer remembering how to follow Jesus in its simplest forms because during a Pandemic, if you are utterly dependent upon the preacher or Sunday School teacher to spiritually spoon-feed you, you will shrivel up and die; but if you know how to spiritually feed yourself with the assets available, you’ll overcome. It’s the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish. During COVID, I need to know how to tell my faith story and God’s story. I need to know how to pray with and for others and shift through the conversational gears. I need to study the Bible personally even if I don’t have a commentary or a curriculum. I need to know how to forgive and repent. I need to know how to ask for help and serve others.
Yet during a pandemic, when the kids are at home for school and I’ve got to prove my worth to the company to keep my job, it is hard to make time for Bible Study and Prayer. When even the decision to wear a mask or not is a partisan statement, it’s terrifying to shift into spiritual conversations. Distractions and divisions sing their siren songs, but there is a sweeter song still that carries over the crowds, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. These promises are for you and for your family and for all who are far from God.” And if we respond, we’ll rediscover the primary relationships in our lives.
The basic relationships are still the most necessary (and at risk).
During a pandemic, when plans are gone and my limits are stretched beyond breaking, I need God’s direction and God’s strength. I need God to be closer than close and clearer than clear. And so, before I try to love anyone else, I need to let God love me. I need to invest in a heart connection with Jesus. From there, I’m going to spend 24 hours a day with the same household of people during this lockdown, and I need to make sure our house doesn’t descend into a civil war. So, after receiving grace from God, I need to give grace to those in my home before I start sending it down the street or into a ZOOM meeting. When working from home, I have to spend most of my time with the people God has given me to love for the rest of our lives – my spouse and children and grandchildren.
Yet, during stress, my family gets the worst of the leftovers of the effort and creativity I give my job. During the boredom of quarantines, it’s so much more appealing to binge watch Netflix and invest my time into Facebook friends than push through the awkwardness of Facetime with grandma or boardgames with preteens. When schoolteachers aren’t available to occupy my schoolkids, I’m so tempted to hire YouTUBE strangers to babysit them. But in those moments, the prophet cries out in the wilderness, “I’ve come to turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents.” The Savior cheers us onward, “I have given you supernatural influence in these people’s lives. Try it. I’ll help.”
And so, it comes down to Christ in me, me in my family, my family in the church, the church in the world. Christ gives himself for me, I give myself for my family. My family gives ourselves for our church, and our church gives itself for the world.