Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #798 -- June 9, 2020
It is more important to know what kind of patient has
the disease than what kind of disease the patient has.

Sir William Osler {1849-1919}

Pastoral Pandemic Perspective
Reflecting on Reactions to a Rogue Virus

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 B.C. - 65 A.D.), a renowned Roman playwright and philosopher, made the following profound observation: "The worst evil of all is to leave the ranks of the living before one dies." One of the genuine tragedies of life common to many of my fellow human beings is we have a tendency, due to various trials and tribulations, to give up on life before life gives up on us. We become so overwhelmed by that which falls upon us that we too often feel unable to continue bearing up under these heavy burdens. So, we give up; we discontinue our journey through life. Right now, this describes a growing number of people in our society (as well as in other societies around the globe). In a rather brief period of time we have found ourselves overwhelmed by some very serious circumstances: there is a rogue virus affecting almost all parts of the planet, and it has led to a few necessary, and a great many unnecessary and even ridiculous, limitations upon our daily lives and our personal freedoms. We are bewitched, bothered, and bewildered, as the old show tune from the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey laments. Add to this the political turmoil and racial tensions that seem to get further out-of-hand with each passing day, as well as the economic problems that impact us and the forced distancing and isolation of "we the people," and one finds a recipe for societal disintegration at virtually every level of our existence.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) wrote, "Perhaps the gods are kind to us, by making life more disagreeable as we grow older. In the end, death seems less intolerable than the manifold burdens we carry." Solomon dealt with this very thing as he brought his personal review of life to a close in Ecclesiastes, an end-of-life perspective with which I dealt in some depth in my article "Before The Evil Days Come: Qoheleth's Metaphorical Depiction of the Decline, Decay, and Demise of Mortal Man" (Reflections #336). Solomon's ultimate conclusion is just as valuable for mankind now as it was then: he concluded that it is far better to journey through life with God than without Him. No matter the circumstances, no matter the afflictions, no matter the trials and tribulations, walk with God. He will get you through it. God never promised an easy journey (just the opposite). What He did promise is that if you will trust Him and walk with Him, He will enable you to ultimately prevail over all the woes and worries with which this world will seek to distract and destroy you. Jesus said, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, New Living Translation). I really like the way The Message has paraphrased this statement by Jesus to His disciples: "Trusting in Me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." The apostle Paul wrote, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:35, 37).

It would be foolish of me (or anyone else, for that matter) to downplay the seriousness of some of the circumstances we are facing in the world at this time. There is a deadly virus spreading through the peoples of this planet. It is real, and it should concern us. On the other hand, such diseases have come and gone before, and they will come and go again. This is nothing new. In fact, this particular outbreak, although global in scope, has proven to be far less deadly than some previous ones. What is even more troubling to a growing number of us is how some individuals and groups have sought to use and manipulate this outbreak to further their own personal and/or political agendas. There is indeed a deadly disease at work in this world today, one that transcends this virus. When abortion clinics are allowed to remain open as "essential" services, while churches are shut down; when bars may operate at 50% capacity, while churches may only operate at 25% capacity; when violent protesters are allowed to congregate in tightly packed mobs shouting obscenities (and are praised for doing so by government officials), while Christians are forbidden to congregate and sing praises to God (and pastors are arrested for daring to encourage such), there is indeed a great evil at work in our society that is far more deadly and far more destructive than some rogue virus! The latter, quite frankly, is an opportunity being used for nefarious purposes, and if our society doesn't awaken then these wicked aspirations are going to be realized, and they're going to become part of this world's "new normal." Yes, "the elect" are under fire from this darkness, but so also are "the elections" that are coming up in a few months. We had better come to our senses, and quickly, for we are in danger of soon suffering the loss of some of our blood-bought freedoms (both spiritually and nationally). There are "tiny tyrants" (bureaucratic minions of darker forces) slowly and subtly, yet very surely, terminating our rights and liberties, and if we don't open our eyes very soon and take back what they are taking away, we are going to find ourselves in a world unrecognizable to us. "Oh, come on, Al. Lighten up. This is the USA. It could never happen here!" Really?! Open your eyes, people -- It already IS happening here.

I love my country, and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to it. I honestly never believed I would live to see the day that government officials would be telling churches they could not assemble, they could not sing, they could not take Communion, they could not even take up a collection. But it is happening right before our eyes! Pastors are being led away in handcuffs. Church properties are sitting empty and abandoned. Jesus Christ told us very clearly that as the world nears the end, these would be the kind of things that would be taking place. Yes, there is a virus loose in the world, and it will cause some damage, and we need to use some common sense in our efforts to deal with it. However, there is also a venom loose in the world that is far deadlier. It is affecting and afflicting billions! It comes from the Great Dragon itself, the Serpent known as Satan or the Devil. Politicians, viruses, racists, and perverts are his tools, and he manipulates them with great power, purpose, and precision. What we are witnessing in the world around us would seem to suggest that this Serpent is winning. The teachings of our Sovereign and Savior, however, suggest a far different outcome. While the former will be visibly victorious in various battles being waged in our present world, the latter will be, and indeed already is, victorious in the ultimate, eternal, and final sense! The great Deceiver will win a number of battles over persons and nations, but the war itself is already won by the great Deliverer.

I will be honest with you here: I have some very strong views about what is happening in our nation right now. Much of what is happening politically and socially and morally is abominable and shameful. On the other hand, I am daily encouraged by the many, many good-hearted men, women, and children of this country who are determined to live honorably and righteously to the best of their ability. I am given hope for our future when I see the countless random acts of love and kindness toward others (even unto strangers). When the media too frequently applauds those who loot, murder, and defame, and then vilifies those who stand for godly principles and behavior, I can still rejoice in the fact that the Lord reigns, and I can still find comfort in the hope that His people may yet (if they can just be motivated to boldly stand against the darkness) turn this nation back to being "one nation under God" -- a godly beacon of divine light to the rest of the world. Those who know me well know my views; those who may not know me personally, and who are genuinely interested in dialogue rather than debate, are welcome to write and ask about my views. I would be happy to respond. I will not, however, say any more about them here. I want to take this current reflection in a different direction, yet I felt compelled to state the above thoughts prior to doing so.

As one ponders and reflects upon the events of these first few months of the year 2020, it would be very easy to see only the negative aspects of what we have all been through. Yes, there has been a lot of "craziness." The economy suffered a huge blow, and that affected almost everyone in our society to some degree. Some lost their livelihood; some lost their lives. We were forced to distance ourselves from those around us, and in some cases, such as loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, these people were denied the comfort of having their families with them (in a few cases resulting with them dying alone). Less critical, but also frustrating for many, we could no longer dine out, we couldn't attend graduations, we were refused entrance to parks and recreation facilities. We had to cover our faces like lepers. People spied on one another and turned them in to the authorities. Some were even arrested for daring to "go to church." Christians were told they couldn't assemble (not even in a parking lot inside of their cars), they couldn't sing praises to God, they couldn't partake of the Lord's Supper, they couldn't take up a contribution. It was (and still is) a huge mess. Some politicians were almost drooling with delight at the opportunity to impose their liberal agendas upon the public, especially delighting in suppressing religious activities, while piggybacking on this pandemic. Yes, there is much negative that we all could bear witness to, and this will most likely continue until after the November elections (after all, a lot of what is happening is with a view to affecting the outcome of that election).

But, what about some of the positive things that have come our way as a result of the events of the first half of 2020? Have we benefitted and/or been bettered in any way? Have we learned anything? I believe there are times when God "quarantines" us so that we may do some reflection for the purpose of refocusing on what is truly important in our journey through life. The whole OT concept of a Sabbath's rest is an example of this to some degree. Work and worldly concerns were to be set aside; the externals of our existence put on hold for a day so that we could turn our gaze inward and upward. Frankly, we all need such times as these, and we are often reluctant to seek out such opportunities on our own. Noah and his family were quarantined for a time in the ark. Saul of Tarsus spent 72 hours in reflection. The 120 were in an upper room in Jerusalem, away from the hectic happenings of society, for several days prior to Pentecost. Jonah was in the belly of a large sea creature. Quarantine. Reflection. Refocusing. I have spoken to many people who felt these past few months were a "God-send" in this respect, for it forced them to "isolate" themselves from the distractions of daily living, and to focus more on who we are, where we are going, and what is truly important in life. Families got to know each other more intimately. Things we took for granted suddenly became "essential" to our well-being, for it wasn't until they were taken away that we came to realize their true worth. Assembling with our fellow disciples of Jesus, which most felt would always be there, was gone. These times of corporate encouragement were taken away by government officials, with arrests and jail time given to those who resisted. We didn't see this coming; we never imagined it could happen here. And then it did. For many, this was a wake-up call; it was a realization that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" were more fragile than we imagined. Such awareness is priceless to those of us who seek to navigate our way through life with our faith and devotion intact.

For years I have been preaching and teaching what I believe to be one of the most important truths associated with our identity as the church of our Lord Jesus Christ: i.e., the "church" is not a place, it is a people. We do not "go to" church; we ARE the church. For centuries, "church" was perceived by most as an institution; it was a place where one went to DO "church." I can't help but think of the passage in the prophecy of Malachi where the Lord laments, "How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you, says the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 1:10). Too many, for too long, have gone to buildings to "do" church, and over the years they lost sight of who/what the "church" really is. Over the past few months we beheld the shutting of the doors of these buildings, and this left many with a feeling that the "church" had been shut down. No ... the "church" had actually been set free to now BE "the church" = a called out people with a godly purpose, a mission not tied to a location or structure. This may sound strange to some, but I am convinced that the "closed doors" of our buildings over the past several months was/is, in actuality, a divinely appointed "open door" of opportunity to move away from "doing" church to "being" the church. Sometimes the best lessons learned are those learned painfully. The past few months have been painful, but they have also been profitable, for they have opened our eyes to what is truly of value ... and to what is not.

There is an old saying, traceable back to at least the early 1600's, that "absence makes the heart grow fonder." Some later versions say it is "distance" or "separation" that makes the heart grow fonder. Over the past few months there has been an imposed "absence" from one another. While some distancing from one another, and from the concerns of daily living, can be beneficial (as noted above), it is nevertheless true that for most people these times of separation soon become almost unbearable. People need people. As the saying goes: "We are better together." We were not divinely designed to be alone. One of the beautiful things I witnessed when our congregation assembled together again for the first time after government officials deemed it best to shut down for a time, was the pure JOY being expressed by those who were now, at long last, in one another's company.

Many have also learned that the worth of such assemblies of saints is not based on size. Bigger does not always mean better. It is not the quantitative nature of an assembly, but rather the qualitative nature of it, that truly speaks to its worth. Whether it is two or three gathered together in His name, or whether it is two or three thousand, as long as the Lord is there in their midst then that gathering is a blessing to those who are a part of it. I heard many pastors over the past few months worrying about "how many" would return to the building, and how they could "do this or do that" to increase the numbers when the doors reopened. And yes, such thoughts do cross the minds of those who are leaders of the flock of the Lord. Jesus would have us to know, however, that it is not about numbers; it is not about size. "For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). Each soul is precious. We are not called, nor are we saved, in groups, but as individuals. When even two disciples come together in His name to encourage one another in their daily walk, Jesus is there with them. The "church" is assembled. It has nothing to do with a location or a building. The past few months have served to stress this great truth, a truth many are now seeing and experiencing for the first time. If it took a pandemic for the people of God to become aware of this reality, then I say, "Thank you, Lord, for the pandemic, for it has opened our eyes to who we are and Whose we are!"

There is an old English saying: "Necessity is the mother of invention." Although this can be traced back to the 1500's in England, it is actually, in concept, much older. Many feel Plato (in his Republic) first introduced the thought. Regardless of who gets the credit, the idea is a valid one: When there is a need, people will create or invent a way to meet it. The events, and especially the restrictions, of the past few months created a "need" for the people of God. They loved their times of assembly, they loved singing together, praying together, learning together, etc. When forced to distance themselves from one another, and to "self-isolate" within their own homes, they began to consider how to go about meeting the above needs. Social media quickly became the methodology of choice for overcoming the negative aspects of social distancing. Preachers would record a sermon or class or devotional thought and upload it to a web site where their "flock" could log on and "be fed." Families, from the comfort of their own homes, could sing together then upload these hymns for others to watch and be encouraged by (and even to sing along with). "Virtual church" became a familiar phrase. What all of this showed us was that Christianity is not tied to a building. It is not bound by a traditional "five acts" at a building on Sunday. "Worship" could be experienced collectively in a whole new/different format. This opens up a world of possibilities with respect to sharing the Good News and sharing in a worship experience. The expressing of our joy and love and faith becomes limitless. Just as the virus spread globally, so also does our testimony. Within seconds we can be in audio/visual contact in real time with disciples of Christ Jesus anywhere on the planet. Biblical education and brotherly edification are available 24/7 through our phones, tablets and computers. No, it is NOT the same as physical presence; it can't provide that degree of personal and intimate contact which most people crave. Yet, in the absence of the latter it does provide a level of fulfillment of that need. In that we can and should find some joy and satisfaction.

I could go on, but I'll stop. Although there are many negatives that have befallen us these past few months, there are also many positives. If we are willing, we can learn from this pandemic and the craziness associated with it. It is here that I want to make a special request of you (the readers). Write to me and share with me what YOU have learned or experienced in the last few months. How have you dealt with the challenges that have come your way? Share your struggles; share your victories. How has the congregation where you attend addressed the many restrictions dictated by our local, state, and federal governing authorities? How has all of this impacted "the way forward" for the Body of Christ in your area? In a few weeks I'll take your insights and work them into a special Reflections so that others may benefit from your experience. I thank you in advance, for I know your response, based on previous such requests, is going to be huge. May God bless each of you as we continue our spiritual journey through these difficult and challenging times.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Hi there, Al. Many years ago you sent me an autographed copy of your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace." I would now like to have your other three books as well. How much would it cost to have you sign them and mail them to me? Thank you for your time and help. Also, I hope you are staying well and safe during this craziness our nation (and the world) is going through. I'll be glad when this is all over! May God bless you. Hugs to you and Shelly.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Dear Sir, I am very interested in reading some of the books you have written, but it seems that Amazon and some of the other web sites are selling them for outrageous sums! Do you perhaps sell your books yourself, and if so, can you give me the details on how to order? Thank you so much. In addition, thank you for all the work and sacrifice you have made to publish and make public biblical teaching. I know you get lots of comments, but I too wanted to say that I greatly appreciate the battles you continue to fight! May God continue to bless you!

From an Elder in (Withheld):

Bro. Maxey, I am an elder at the ----- Church of Christ in the state of ------- (having served in that capacity here for over four decades). My wife of over 65 years passed away recently, and a family left this church because I wouldn't resign as one of the elders. I have read your study of this matter three times since it happened ("When an Elder's Wife Dies: May He Continue Serving the Congregation as a Shepherd?" - Reflections #64). Your study was most revealing and helpful. Thank you! I am 85 years old and not ready to retire from the Lord's work!! Again, thanks for your article!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I'm always glad when the Holy Spirit causes something to "jump out at you" like it did in your article titled "When the Last Martyr Dies: Divine Promise to a Distressed People" (Reflections #797). When I see this, I know it is going to be a good read!! Stay safe, brother, and wash your hands!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, thank you for another wonderful Reflections (the most recent one on martyrs). I have some questions about that article that tie in with a previous study you did on lying, and does it matter ("Casuistry in Christianity: Reflecting on a Methodology Often Used and Abused in Applied Ethics" - Reflections #795). I'm sure you remember a school shooting about 20 years ago where the shooter was asking the kids if they were Christians, and then, if they said "yes," he would kill them, but if they said "no," he would spare their lives. I remember one of the fathers of one of these slain kids lamenting the fact that their child admitted being a Christian, and he was wondering why they might not have lied about it. I also remember being very conflicted at the time and wondering which response our heavenly Father would approve: (1) truth (making one a martyr) or (2) lying (then living a fruitful Christian life thereafter). To this day I'm not sure which God might prefer, but I can only hope that I would have the courage to be as strong as some of those kids that day. What is your thinking on this particular situation? Many thanks, Al, and may the good Lord continue to bless us all.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, lately I have been perusing your "Questions & Answers" category on your Topical Index page for your Reflections. They are all very interesting, of course. The one I was reading today was titled "The Q&A Corner: Reflective Responses to Readers" (Reflections #248). The idea of congregational autonomy, which you addressed in that study, reminded me of a story a friend told me about their visit to a church in Africa which their Texas congregation had sponsored. The new converts had been taught that each man should have only one wife, so one of the new Christians, wanting to do the "right thing," killed all but one of the wives in his harem! True story!

From a Professor at Lubbock Christian University:

Brother Al, Again I want to thank you for all the research and hard work you put into your writings. I do hope you and your dear wife Shelly are well and have been able to bypass this virus! I was wondering how much research you have done into synagogue worship (i.e., its form and orderliness, and what sort of influence it had on worship in the New Testament churches). I have written several rabbis on this matter, and I have had no response. For instance: did they sing acapella in the synagogue worship or did they also use instruments? Thank you for your studies, Al. They most certainly feed me!

From a Reader in Canada:

Greetings Al. I just read your article "When the Last Martyr Dies." What a tremendous and motivating article! I notice you use the term "called-out assembly" when referring to the "church," which is a correct translation of the Greek term "ekklesia." There are two terms that I no longer use when talking or writing to people. Those two are "Christ" and "church," which I replace with "Messiah" or "Anointed One" and "called-out assembly." This usually brings out an opportunity to explain that Jesus is the Anointed One of Yehovah, and that those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus have been called out of this world and led by the Spirit to Yehovah to come to the Lord Messiah Jesus. After all, Jesus said that none could come to Him unless the Spirit of Yehovah God draws them. Al, I deeply appreciate all that you do to bring glory to the name of Yehovah and homage to the Lord Messiah Jesus. May our God Yehovah be your strong tower and sure defense and rear guard in these troubled times. Your article is especially timely for the times we are living in (events which I believe are leading to His coming, which I also believe is very close now).

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