For eight weeks we did not meet in our church’s building. Before today, March 15, 2020 was the last time most were in the church’s facility. Besides dropping off mail, watering a plant, and a few odds and ends, I have not been in the church much over the past eight weeks either. It has been weird.
Now today, we are back. But things are different. We only have a few people here at a time. And we have two services. And we don’t have Sunday School. And a lot of confusion persists about how to move forward as individuals…as a church…as a society.
But I once heard a young lady provide the few people around her with a great piece of advice. The advice was basically to start with the basics. It went something like this – “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.” (For those who are unaware, the reference is to Julie Andrews’s character in the movie The Sound of Music.)
Well, we are not learning to read or sing today, but we can go back to the basics of our faith as we look to adapt and move forward from this disruption known as COVID-19.
As I have mentioned many times on the videos I have been doing each weekday now for the last seven weeks, the disruption in our lives is paralleled by the disruption in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. (You can find the videos on by searching “Fairfax Baptist Church Missouri” on youtube.com.) The reasons for that disruption may be very different, but the more I think about it, the magnitude of the adjustment for them was every bit as big, and maybe moreso, than it has been, and is, for us.
So, for the next few weeks, I want to talk about what it means to be back together. Because not only is it better for us to be together, it is also true that we are better together.
And that is why God calls us. It is why we are commanded to love. And it is why we are commissioned to serve. All of which are meant to be done together.
But these aren’t my words or my plan. The ideas were God’s as spoken and carried out by Jesus. But do they still apply to us today? I believe so. Let’s find out how Jesus words still apply in a COVID-19 world.
Called to Follow (Matthew 4.19) – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Those ten words have changed the world for so many people. It was true of the disciples. It is still true today. Many people have misperceptions about these words. Let me briefly speak to two of those misunderstandings.
1) Being a Christian Is As Simple As Saying a Prayer and/or Getting Wet in the Water
First, we must understand that becoming and being are two different things. The steps to become a Christian and living as a Christian are quite different. Or are they? Jesus not only demonstrated baptism, He commanded it as well. And praying to God, even informally to repent of our sinfulness is critical. But saying a prayer and getting baptized are not boxes to be checked. They are a part of what it means to follow Jesus. Why? Again, Jesus was baptized so we follow His example and He said to be baptized so we follow His teachings.
But to be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus. It is to make the decision with our head to follow, so He can change our hearts in order for us to live by faith with our hands and feet. That is what Jesus said to those whom He first called.
- Follow Me – literally and figuratively.
- I will make you – I will change you…from the inside out.
- Fishers of men – you will do things differently for different purposes.
So, being a Christian may have some initial steps, but a true follower keeps following in Jesus’ footsteps for the rest of their lives.
2) God Only Calls Extra Spiritual People to Serve Him
Many people look at pastors and missionaries as people especially called and equipped by God. And yes, many pastors and missionaries do have specific training, but realize that God calls everyone to follow, to be changed, and to serve.
Some people are called to specifically fill a call to vocational ministry, but all are called to serve. I was a businessman before He called me. One of my good pastor friends was a marine. Another was a computer specialist. I know a man who is preparing to be a missionary who worked at HyVee before He was called to ministry.
Biblically, Peter and Andrew and James and John were fisherman. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul made tents. In the Old Testament, Moses and David were shepherds. Elisha was a farmer. Daniel was a teenager. And yes, all of them were especially called to do something great. But they were ordinary people by the day’s standards until they heeded God’s call.
But not everyone who follows becomes prominent. Other followers are Priscilla and Aquilla were simply faithful tent-makers who also shared their faith. Onesimus was a not-so-dutiful slave who became deeply connected to Paul and thus learned to serve God. The list goes on.
Here in our church, many of you have served in ways great and small. Just in the last couple of years we have had a farmer, and road-crew supervisor, and a police officer go to Kenya to serve on mission. But others have worked the local food pantry, taught Sunday School, purchased food and drink for the youth group or children’s church. Others have made phone calls or made visits or perhaps even made food for people who were hurting, or ill, or grieving.
My point is that God calls everyone to serve. But that serving begins with a call to follow.
Commanded to Love (Matthew 22.37-40)
Besides a call to follow. We have a command to love. When challenged about which command was greatest, Jesus responded that we are to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind.” He said, “this is the great and first commandment.” Well, that’s not easy. But then, he added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ok, now He’s meddling! Later Jesus gave His followers a new commandment to “love one another” (John 13.34).
Over the years, I have continually said that most of the NT commands are in the plural. Jesus words to the lawyer in verse 37 are in answer to a specific question to a specific individual. So, the “you” there is singular. However, if “you” are to love your neighbor and your neighbor is therefore to love you, then we get to a sense of togetherness in the idea of love. Furthermore, the verse in John 13 is obviously plural – love one another. So, our love is to be intentional and reciprocated. We love God because God loves us. We love others because God loved us (1 John 4.19). (John strongly links the love of God and the love of others in 1 John 4.7-21.)
The truth is that we are commanded to love even if the love is not returned. But for those who chose to follow Jesus, that love should be mutual. If we are following Him, we should not need a command – we should seek to love willingly and joyfully. Sure, people show love differently, and some have a much more difficult time expressing love as others might desire, but that doesn’t mean that the love is not there. But if it is not, it needs to be – not because I said so, but because Jesus did. Again, it is a part of our calling. It is what we are to do in response to His words “Follow Me.”
Commissioned to Serve (Matthew 28.18-20)
The final basic is what is commonly referred to as The Great Commission. Jesus commissioned His first followers to make disciples by going, by baptizing, and by teaching. That commission has been passed down for generations to us today. Why should we do it? Because it is one way to show that we love God. It is a way to show our love for others. It is a way to show that we are following Jesus.
Why don’t we do this? Because we get so busy with our own passions, our own desires, our own concerns. We would rather accomplish our mission than complete our Lord’s mission for us. We would rather tell others what to do rather than follow the orders of the one we otherwise refer to as Lord to do what He wants.
We are selfish. We are arrogant. We are sinful. Maybe not always, but mostly. It is who we are as humans unless we completely surrender to Jesus.
And that is why we need each other. That is why we are better together.
See we are called for a purpose. We are commanded to love. And we are commission to serve. But left alone, it becomes more and more difficult to submit to another. It becomes more and more difficult to listen to others. It becomes more and more difficult to surrender. But if we are alone, who is there to pick up us when we fall? Who is there to lend an ear when we have troubles? Who is there to care for us when we need a friend? Who is there to point us in the right direction when we lose our way? Who is there to push us to go farther when we feel we have nothing left to give?
That is part of the reason why the writer of Hebrews tells us to not forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10.25). It is why God created an assembly of people to meet together. It is why Jesus is still building His Church.
Why? Because God knows we are better together. And having been separated from one another for the last eight weeks due to stay-at-home orders, many listening today realize that truth as well.
So, today we have looked at some basics of our faith – that we are called to follow, that we are commanded to love, that we are commission to serve. But the calling, the commandment, and the commission are not meant for one – they are meant for all. That is, we are called together. Because God knows we are better together.
And hopefully after this ordeal, we will know that truth better as well.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is U – UNITE.
We may not be able to unite physically as we would like. We may be separated by six feet. We may be meeting at two distinct times. But we can still be united in heart, united in purpose, and united in love.
LOVE: Make a call to at least one person you do not see here this week to tell them that you are glad that you are looking forward to being together with them again.