We’ll get through this together!
What a week! Just a month ago, events related to the spread of the coronavirus seemed to be unfolding in painfully slow motion. One week ago, when I posted about the cancellation of Church services around the world, I wondered if we were acting prematurely. Now, every day brings new reports, new information and new challenges as the whole world is reacting to a common enemy. We, as a Church, went overnight from holding hundreds of Sabbath services to conducting a single continent-spanning service that was webcast from Cincinnati! Our international regions are doing the same within their areas.
As you have likely read or heard already, we had to make some tough decisions this week. For the first time in the history of our fellowship, we canceled the face-to-face component of the annual meeting for the General Conference of Elders. Church ministers will now conduct necessary procedures through the Internet or by mail. We also took other deliberate measures concerning the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, which will be conducted online and in homes. There will be no physical congregational meetings until further notice. We are also canceling other conferences through the summer.
We will report developments weekly in my update, on our UCG members page at https://www.ucg.org/members/news/united-church-of-god-coronavirus-updates and in reports announced on our weekly webcast Sabbath service from Cincinnati.
Following the public health guidelines issued at the state and federal level, we switched our in-person Ambassador Bible College to an online-only format, which means no further assembling of our wonderful students at the home office. It was heartbreaking for me to address our ABC students on Monday, telling them that we likely wouldn’t be meeting again like this in person for the rest of the semester. Many at our home office now work remotely, and the remainder who need to work in the office exercise social distancing measures.
One overarching directive drives all of these decisions: the welfare and protection of you, our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and members of the family of God.
We devote considerable resources to proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God. But the other part of our mission as a fellowship is to prepare a people, which includes doing whatever it takes to protect, safeguard and nurture our wonderful members and families.
This, today, especially includes those of us aged 60 and over, whom medical professionals have found to be among the most vulnerable to this harmful virus.
None of these actions represent easy decisions. We sought experienced counsel before each one. We are blessed as a church to have experienced and skilled people—including highly qualified medical professionals—who can weigh in on important decisions and help us in a sound and objective way.
We have had access to and counsel from Dr. Daniel Berendt and Dr. Rick Berendt, seasoned medical physicians and Church elders who directly advised me, members of my staff and the Council of Elders. I recorded a podcast a few days ago about the COVID-19 crisis with Dr. Daniel Berendt, who made several insightful comments. I encourage you to listen to it at https://www.ucg.org/inside-united-podcast/inside-united-podcast-154-dan-berendt-coronavirus.
In the podcast, Dr. Berendt discussed how public health administrators reflect biblical principles of quarantine, hygiene and crowd control. I would like to add that the Passover season that is nearly upon us eloquently demonstrates the principle of quarantining one’s self and family away from harm. As we read in the Exodus account, just before the final plague on Egypt, Moses firmly instructed the Israelites: “None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:22 Exodus 12:22And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.
American King James Version×, English Standard Version). Thus, they would be self-quarantined and protected from the death angel.
Also, during our Passover service, we traditionally read the words of Christ from His final instructions before He was tortured and crucified. We often read from the 13th chapter of John where Jesus tells His disciples—including us today—”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (verses 34-35, emphasis added throughout).
My point? While times are presently tough and confusing for many, events are unfortunately forecast to get worse in the United States and many areas of the world where the coronavirus has only recently arrived. However, this presents us with a unique opportunity.
During difficult and challenging situations, people’s character is revealed. James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that it is very easy to curse others, to criticize, mock and belittle, and then turn right around and praise God with the same mouth that cursed. When we face trying times like we do today, this capacity can be magnified.
But also magnified is our capacity to do good! We are to be an example to this world, and we are to be caregivers for each other. In difficult times, caring people stand out.
Paul tells us to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1 Ephesians 5:1Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;
American King James Version×, New International Version 1984 edition). God loved the world enough to send His Son to pay the ultimate price for us (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×). What about us?
Over the coming weeks, especially as we observe the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, let us earnestly strive to fulfill the preserved and inspired words of Paul. Let us be seen as helpers. If we have to stand in line for supplies at a local grocery or are forced to do extra things that can seem irritating, let us strive to do so as cheerfully as we can. Let us take every necessary precaution to protect ourselves, but at the same time, let us look to be servants, humbly helping others where possible, and especially those of the household of God.
In this continuing and unfolding situation with the coronavirus, we must be certain to renew, establish and maintain a direct relationship with God our Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Elder Brother, from Whom we can draw strength and seek real refuge. We must fill our minds and speech with praise and thankfulness for God and His love for us! (Psalm 138)
Let us also remember the National Day of Prayer that occurred last weekend. As God Himself promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 2 Chronicles 7:14If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
American King James Version×, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Please continue to take sensible precautions. God intimately knows our needs and our personal situations better than we think. As Luke recorded, Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” (Luke 12:22 Luke 12:22And he said to his disciples, Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on.
American King James Version×, English Standard Version).
Things may not get as bad as people fear. But they may grow worse. One thing is certain: we will get through this together! In the days ahead, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×).
In these times of sore trial, let us strive to praise God, cooperate with one another and serve with genuine humility. May God’s grace be upon us all!