COVID and the Church

Recently, there has been a controversy about when churches should get out of the isolation orders for controlling the COVID 19 pandemic. Some are making the argument that we have a right to meet as we see fit and the government is oppressing us by not letting us meet together. Meanwhile, churches throughout the world have been identified as “superspreader” locations where people gather in close proximity and spread the disease to the congregation, the community, and pastors. Some pastors have died after touting their right to hold religious services.

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What Matters?

Jesus fed his disciples breakfast and then started talking to Peter.  He said, “’Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”  Jesus was obviously making a point with Peter, but what was he getting at?

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A Call to Prayer

The world needs you in its time of crisis!  Why you? Because you have a special ability given to you by God.  The ability to pray.  Thousands are sick, some dying in China, Italy, Iran, and almost every other nation on earth.  Share the gift you have with the world in its time of greatest need.  People are dying, and without God’s help, many more will die.  Appeal to God.  Only he can help us now. Help however you can, but pray; share the life Jesus gives you.  Jesus demonstrated the unique ability to heal when he walked on earth. Pray that he will give life from God to those who need it. Ask Jesus to give that gift to all those who are suffering. Ask Jesus to bless the world and avert catastrophe.

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Believe It

Then John identified himself as one of Jesus’ inner circle of followers.  He witnessed all the things he wrote and portrayed them accurately.  John established himself as a reliable, firsthand witness of Jesus’ teachings and actions.  He appealed to us to believe his accounts because he saw Jesus’ life in person.  Everything he wrote was accurate. It is the kind of testimony we need in order to believe in what Jesus taught and did.  He reiterated that he only portrayed a small portion of Jesus’ message, but it is enough that if we believe it, and follow it, we’ll have eternal life with Jesus.

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Just Love

Jesus taught Peter that his love for Jesus was a mainstay of their relationship.  Then John identified himself as the disciple that Jesus loved.  It’s a two-way street.  Our relationship with God depends on our love for Jesus, but even more central is Jesus love for us.  Love binds us to Jesus and cements us as members of his intimate family.  If we accept the love that unites us with Jesus in his life, Spirit, and teachings, our relationship binds us permanently to God.  It makes us one with him.  Jesus wants us to think, act, love, and live in service to God.  Jesus just said “Follow me.”  Walking with Jesus was central.  We might even die in the process, the important thing is just to follow him and go where he leads us.  When Peter saw John following them, he said, “Lord, what about this man?”, and Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  This is great advice.  We tend to worry about what other people are doing more than we should, when our real concern should be to follow wherever Jesus leads us.

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Stay with Him

When Jesus kept asking Peter if he loved him, was he making sure that Peter loved him enough to be trusted with his mission to help his followers connect with him?  Maybe he was convincing Peter that he had what it took to do his work and that Jesus would enable Peter to do the work he wanted him to do.  I think Peter thought he failed Jesus.  Having denied him three times, he felt he just wasn’t worthy to follow Jesus anymore.  He may have been considering returning to fishing, the one thing he knew he could do.  But Jesus wasn’t having it.  One thing Jesus was telling Peter was that loving him was the main qualification he needed to do God’s work and failure didn’t disqualify Peter from being used by God (fortunately for all of us.)  It didn’t require an extensive training program to accomplish the purpose that Jesus had for Peter.  He was just a humble fisherman.  Just as when they caught all those fish, Jesus wanted Peter and the other disciples to know that he would equip them to do greater things than they ever thought they could. He wanted Peter to know that he had a special mission for him, to feed Jesus’ sheep.  Jesus also wants us to know that we can do great things if we just stick with him.  “And after saying this he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

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Life Purpose

Exchange Jesus’ life for yours.  Turn your selfish ambitions and your self-serving self over to him.  Let him have what you wish for in life, your hopes and dreams, and exchange them for his life, love, forgiveness, and acceptance into his family.  Self-centeredness will leave you on your own.  Live with Jesus and immerse yourself in God, trading your life for his.  Become more like him, and his love will overflow.

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Soak in Jesus

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than these.  John doesn’t explain what “these” he was referring to.  The “these” Jesus mentioned was something there with them, but I don’t think it mattered what it was.  Jesus was making the point that Peter needed to love him more than anything in Peter’s life.  Jesus kept harping on Peter’s love for him, but Jesus wasn’t trying to confirm that Peter indeed loved him.  I think Jesus was trying to convince Peter that he loved Jesus and that love needed to sustain him when he followed the task that Jesus had for him, to feed his sheep (followers).  Peter couldn’t let anything divert him from the mission Jesus gave him, and his love for Jesus would help him weather whatever hardship came as a result.  Amazingly, love for Jesus is the only prerequisite Jesus gave Peter for following and doing what he called him to.  Understanding and insight are useful in following where he leads, but love for Jesus is required to stick to him, follow him, and hear his leading for us.  Anything we do for Jesus is an outgrowth of the love he pours into us.  If you want to be used by God, allow Jesus to fill you with his life, love, and himself.  Lots of things vie for our attention in life, but love is what keeps us on course.  Nothing must distract our attention and focus away from Jesus.  We need to devote time and energy into our relationship with Jesus.  We must love him more than “these,” whatever that is. Soak in the fact that Jesus gave his life to get us back from rebellion and sin.  Immerse yourself in Jesus. If you want to be used by God, allow Jesus to fill you with his love.

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Catch Much?

Later, Peter and some of the disciples were out fishing when Jesus showed up on shore.  They didn’t catch anything, so he told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat.  Then they got the catch of their lives, more than they could even haul in the boat.  This is an interesting event.  Why did Jesus do this, other than to give his disciples another sign that he was the Son of God?  Was Jesus showing them that they could only be really successful when he was with them?  That their profession wouldn’t take off without Jesus’ help?  The answer isn’t evident, but Jesus kept showing them what’s possible with him.

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Life, Eternal

God wants us to be with him, eternally.  Jesus is talking about complete union with God.  This isn’t about following the rules.  It’s not about piously expressing our devotion for all to see.  It’s about really living, resting in and enjoying God and his love and grace (his unequivocal acceptance).  It’s about living in him and letting his Spirit live in and through us.  I am close to God when I contemplate his love, the gift of life with him, his creation, beauty, forgiveness, and how he accepts me with all my flaws into his family.  Jesus offers us complete reconciliation with God.  Take his forgiveness won by his death on the cross for you and let him fill your life with his love and joy.  He offers us eternal life: life with the eternal one.

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