Perspectives on a Pandemic: Part 6

April 24, 2020


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"What are you going to leave behind?"


Hello, Alliance family. I’m coming back to you one more time from our home in Colorado Springs to bring one last “Perspectives on a Pandemic.” I’ll perhaps show up in your inbox periodically in the future if I have something else to say on this matter. But as far as a weekly edition, this is the last one that I’m going to bring. I will continue my monthly video blog that I’ve been doing on the 12th of the month ever since being elected as president.

But today’s last message arises from two conversations that I’ve had that have converged in my mind with the same theme that’ll provide the basis for what I want to share with you. One conversation was with David Hearn, my peer, the president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada. We speak quarterly on the phone . . . have done so for years now. Every time we speak, I leave encouraged and I learn something.

This last week, David said to me that, in light of the current crisis, he has three words written on a piece of paper that are helping him reflect for his own soul: release, reignite, and reimagine. I’ll leave those last two words for you to reflect on yourself. But that word “release”—in light of the current crisis, what do I need to release?—has prompted another memory of a different conversation from over a decade ago.

I had just been admitted into a hospital room in Salem, Oregon, after a whole month of the ICU ward up in Portland. A life-threatening disease had attacked me rapidly, and now I was in the beginning of the long recovery period. I was no longer dying and was able to be in a regular hospital room . . . receive visitors. And a running friend showed up. I was part of a running community in Salem, Oregon, and this Catholic friend that I knew from long runs came by my bed and said to me, “What are you going to leave behind?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Certainly, you didn’t go through a crisis like you’ve been through to come out the same man that you were. What are you going to leave behind?”

I think you can see how those two conversations have come together in my mind: David saying, “What do I need to release?” and my friend saying, “What are you going to leave behind?”

Many are saying in these days, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” And I see this as an opportunity for us to let go of something that we had brought with us into the moment. Whether it’s a personal crisis—what it was in my life—or a global crisis that we’re having right now. Whenever there’s a life-upending circumstance, perhaps it’s an opportunity for us to let go of something. And I want us to think about that today.

What’s not worth taking with us into the future? Perhaps for some of us, that’s a thought pattern . . . just the way we process things has been unhelpful. Maybe it’s a habit—the way we’ve started every day, or started every conversation, or engaged in a project. Maybe it’s the way we’ve handled conflict. This was what I needed to leave behind over a decade ago. I was a conflict avoider. I hated conflict and had many ways of dodging it. It wasn’t helpful to me. It wasn’t helpful to anyone around me, but it was a pattern of behavior that I had developed and defended. And now I saw it from a completely different angle and realized that conflict was actually an opportunity for relationships to grow and deepen and for God to be glorified and for us to understand ourselves better.

So I had a completely different view of conflict post-illness than I did pre-illness. What are we going to release? What’s not worth taking with us into the future?

For some of us, we’ve had some budget cuts in our own ministry, business, or family. And we realized we don’t need to take those expenses with us into the future. We can just leave that use of money behind. Perhaps for some of us it’s the illusion of control that this season has disrupted and realizing we’re not nearly as in control as we thought we were. Maybe it’s xenophobia—that we’ve had a completely different look at people around us and the world. And so we can leave behind that fear of strangers or cultures that we’re not accustomed to.

Maybe for somebody the list would include an addiction to our seven-day work week where we now have had that disrupted and realize, “I don’t want to take that weight with me into the future.” The fear of death . . . Jesus said that He came to release those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Or at least that’s what’s said of Jesus in Hebrews chapter two. And then, as we’ve taken a close look at our own mortality, we now realize that that’s a weight that we don’t need to carry with us anymore.

So, whether it’s a habit or use of money—maybe it’s even the perceptions of what it means to “do” church versus “be” the church—is there something that this season is calling us to release, to let go of? I’m intrigued as Joanna and I have been watching “The Chosen,” this TV series on the life of Christ and the early disciples . . . how they walked away from nets and boats and the big catch, tax collector’s booth, homes, families—the life that they were living; the life that they were accustomed to they were leaving behind.

And in Mark chapter 10, Peter kind of reaches a point. I don’t know if it’s exasperation, what it is, but he says, “Lord, we’ve left everything to follow you!” And Jesus doesn’t deny that they’ve left family and homes and fields and parents, but He says to them the promise that, “You’re going to receive much more both in this life and the life to come from what you’ve left behind.” But He says something even more significant. Then He says that, “You’ve left this for me and for the gospel.”

And I think the principle is that we’re not willing to let go of something, to release something, unless there’s something greater to be grasped. And Jesus says that, “In your letting go of things in this world, you have a greater capacity to take hold of me and my gospel.”

I’ve gotten many things wrong about this quarantine season, and the whole crisis situation, but one thing that I’m certain I’ve gotten right is simply this: That shining in the midst of this pandemic is Jesus and His gospel. And whatever life looks like on the other side of this, still shining will be Christ and His message.

And so, whatever we give up at this time so that we might embrace Him and His message more fully will only serve to our benefit—the world’s good—because Jesus will more clearly be seen through us and known throughout our communities and the nations.

So, as Paul said, “Our momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

So, whatever of the temporal that we release right now to better engage in the eternal will be a good result of this crisis. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is to come, to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me,” Paul says in Philippians 3, Hebrews 12 . . . other passages we could refer to.

Friends, what are we going to leave behind? What’s not worth taking with us into this next season?

P.S. . . . dry crust of bread versus letting go of that versus my wife’s banana bread—chocolate chip banana bread. I can’t resist to let go of the one to take hold of the other.

Why would I be eating in front of you today? Well, it’s 10 years ago this month, 10 years ago this weekend, that God performed the miracle that the editor of the Alliance Life, Peter Burgo, referred to as “The swallow heard round the world.” I hadn’t eaten in 18 months, and on that amazing day that God reopened my ability to swallow, I had many fascinating things happen. And one of them really was quite disturbing. Fear started to enter into my soul. I was now eating after not being able to swallow my own saliva, water, food—anything for a year and a half. Now I was eating again in this fabulous miracle, and I found fear entering into my heart. What was going on?

My identity had become tied up in the guy who couldn’t eat—the guy who couldn’t swallow. That had become my identity. Now that identity was lost; I could eat again. And I was in this strange, unknown zone of being offered the new that I so eagerly wanted—I desperately wanted to eat but having to leave behind something that had become familiar.

And so, friends, I don’t know what it is that’s become familiar–a habit, a pattern, an experience that this current crisis is allowing us to release—but don’t allow yourself to go back into the old places that are unhelpful. Instead, embrace the new. Enter into what Christ has for you. There’s something better ahead.


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