While in the states last year I read a book from John Ortberg. The title was, “Who is this man?” It’s a fascinating book that really opened my eyes to the dramatic changes and influence that have happened in our world because of the life of Jesus. Maybe you think you know how much His life did. I would bet you don’t know a lot of the stuff that is in this book. Just how far reaching His influence has been really floored me. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while. I would encourage you to read it as well.
I’ve been thinking about this book a lot this week as our city has been shut down and everyone is encouraged to be in quarantine. The news preaches nothing but fear and bad news. Many people seem to believe that the world is about to end.
It is a different time to be sure. Our church is no longer meeting on Sundays. We are no longer having cell groups in homes. Last night we had a group meeting with one of our pastors and other cell group leaders through a video call instead of physically being together. Malls are closing up. Businesses are closing up. Soccer stadiums are empty. Our flight this week to the amazon to visit our missionaries got cancelled because although we were promised a flight there, the airlines couldn’t guarantee us that the return flight home next week would not be cancelled.
Schools are closed and kids are doing classes online. The street our apartment sits on has a school on it. Our street is usually completely flooded all day with parked cars on both sides of the street and cars constantly driving down the middle. This is what it looks like today:
Times are certainly stressful.
So what should our response be as Christians? Do we hole up in our homes, wash our hands every ten minutes, stock up on hand gel and pray for all this to be over quickly? Don’t get me wrong, we have to be wise, we have to take care of our families and we have to take steps to not spread this sickness. It’s a serious deal. I get that.
But is there more that God is asking of us during this time and, if so, what?
What is going on around the world and what has arrived in our hometown here this week has made me think of that Ortberg book. His third chapter is called, “A Revolution in Humanity.” In it he talks of how some Jesus followers have acted in times of great suffering and sickness.
Ortberg shares, in chapter three, that sociologist Rodney Stark argued that one of the primary reasons for the spread of Jesus’ movement from the beginning was the way His followers responded to sick people. Ortberg shares that compassion has become the “brand” of the movement of Jesus followers, not because it has attracted such wonderful people, but because they understood from their founder that compassion was not an optional piece of equipment.
Wow. How am I doing with compassion right now in the middle of the coronavirus? How are you doing?
Over the last few days I’ve seen ways that communities are coming together in isolation especially in big cities around the world. I’ve seen a man leading exercises on a rooftop as people, from lots of different apartment buildings that surrounded his, followed his lead on their balconies. I’ve seen people on their apartment balconies play music for their neighbors in other apartment buildings and then seen other musicians, in those other apartments, come out and join. Tonight at 8:30 everyone here is supposed to open their windows and clap together for the health care professionals who are on the front lines of this. At 9:30 tonight one of Ansley’s high school classmates, Rodrigo….an amazing musician, will be doing a show on Instagram and Facebook. He told me that he wants to provide a little fun distraction for people in the middle of all the craziness.
Very cool things all of them. Great ways to bless those around us as we all try to isolate from the coronavirus.
But what about compassion? How can we do that in the middle of all this? Is it our jobs as Christians to simply stay away from everyone and, if not, how can we be Jesus right now? How can we be His compassion in this moment?
Father Damien, a Belgian priest, worked in Hawaii in the nineteenth century and created a place where lepers could be loved and cared for. He used to tell them every week, “God loves you lepers.” And then one week he got up and said, “God loves us lepers.” He died from leprosy.
The world looks at a Father Damien and says he was crazy. How many of the lepers he blessed would say the same? I believe we wouldn’t be able to find one. How about Father Damien himself? I feel very confident that he would do it all again if he had the chance.
Since when, as Christians have we become so afraid of death? Since when as Christians have we become so attached to our life here that we can’t show compassion to our brother, whether we know them or not, in a time of suffering? Believe me when I say I’m preaching to myself right now. I want to be a true Jesus follower every day and at all times. I sure don’t act like it at all times but that’s what I strive for. We can’t let fear rule.
But again, in this moment, how do we do it?
As I think of that book I think our job is to boldly look for ways to be compassionate. I also think we have to be ready for it when the opportunity comes, literally, knocking on our door.
Two days ago I was painting our bedroom with headphones on. Seems quarantine also means lots of things will be getting done around our house. The first was to paint our bedroom. Anyway, I saw Benay come in and get some money. I asked why? She said someone was at the front gate door. In Brazil it’s not uncommon for people to randomly ring your doorbell to ask for food or money. Sadly, in times of crisis like this, bad people will also use the empty streets to take advantage of others. In just the three days the city has shut down some bad people who have already dressed up like health department workers, rang doorbells claiming to be there to do coronavirus testing, getting access and then robbing people. So I went to our bathroom window to see the main gate just to make sure Benay wasn’t opening the door for anyone. We are able to pass things through the front gate. I knew Benay would be smart but I just wanted to have a set of eyes on her. When I got to the window this is what I saw:
Before Benay had come back up to the apartment to get money she had already taken food and clothing to this woman. This woman’s name is Rejane and she has eight kids and four grandkids. She lives in a very poor place. A place with little or no health care. A place where, I fear, the coronavirus will blow through if it reaches there. I then watched as Benay held Rejane’s hand and prayed over her.
I ask you, and I’m just guessing, but what do you think Rejane will remember most about that day? The food? Maybe. The clothing? Possibly? How about the woman she had never met before who, fearlessly and with the love of God, held her hand in the middle of the coronavirus and loved on her and prayed for her and her family? Absolutely.
After Benay got back upstairs she told me two things. She told me that she had prayed that very morning for God to show her a way to show His compassion and love during this time. She also told me that a neighbor had seen what she had done and told her she should not have done that because this isolation thing could go on for a long time and Rejane will just keep coming back to the building asking for things. What those two things showed me is that our God is so faithful and that our enemy is not happy when we leave fear behind. In fact, he hates it. Benay and I have said for years that fear wants to control. Fear is not from God. Satan was not happy with my wife that day.
Scott Sauls wrote the following words: “In a time like now, Christian neighboring looks less like fearful self-preservation and more like servanthood toward the elderly, those with HIV, autoimmune disease, or no healthcare, fatigued and under-resourced healthcare workers, etc. Wash hands, for sure. Then, wash feet.”
I’m so blessed to be married to a feet washer.