FOUR.... that's the number of churches I pass between my house to the church. One year ago, all four were closed because they had they had been hit by covid. Not one car in the parking lot, and I could see a sign attached to the front door of the building. I use the word hit because that is what it feels like; like you have been hit in the gut. As I passed by those churches last year, I made some assumptions that I'm ashamed of now: they have an older congregation, fearful, no faith, they are following the CDC guidelines, etc.. Then I would pull up at our church; the parking lot was full of cars and the church was growing right in the middle of a pandemic. We had put a plan in place and it seemed fail-proof; it was almost like we were invincible. I remember telling people to come to church with us, "we are open!" I said it in the videos, I said from the pulpit, I said it over and over. It was true, we were open, but it was a prideful statement. A better statement would have been, "If the Lord's willing we will remain open." I never thought one time about those four churches with empty parking parking lots. I never even considered what they were going through. I know now they were closed because their people had become sick, some had passed away, and I'm sure their emotions were like a roller coaster. Since we are being honest.. I never once prayed for those congregations. They are not just buildings, they are congregations of people. I never once prayed for the pastor or deacons who would lead the congregations through the hard times. I never considered the broken hearts of the members as they buried a friend. I never reached out to a pastor who had walked into an empty building on a Sunday morning, and felt an emptiness in his soul that words cannot explain. And why should I have? We were growing and prospering.. just show up once a week and watch the blessing flow in, no time to think about the hurting. I was blind to those around me hurting, and I was taking for granted the blessings we had been given. Yesterday, I drove to church with a heavy heart; one of my dearest friends had passed away from covid. As I passed those four churches that had been closed, they were now opened. Cars were present and I could see families walking into the building. One by one I passed those four churches.. They were all open, cars in the parking lot with families entering the building. The ride to church seemed so long yesterday. When I finally arrived, I faced what I knew would be waiting for me; an empty parking lot. No one greeted me, no music, no children, just four walls with empty pews. There were three other people in the building to help with the online service; I could see they had been crying. It was the one of the most difficult days of my life. I was now standing and going through exactly what those four other churches had experienced. No one is immune from suffering and trials. We were no longer invincible, I stood there broken with all the pride drained from my soul. I asked God to forgive me for not reaching out to other pastors and congregations to ask one simple question; "How can we help?" Its different when you are on the receiving end.. when your the ones hurting. I read Job chapter one this morning, and I encourage our congregation to do the same. Job was above it all for the first twelve verses, then he was hit. He lost family, finances, just about everything, and the bible said, "in all of this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly". This verse pierced into my heart, it was the word "foolishly". Foolishly I have questioned God instead of trusting God. I'm thankful for my friends who have already walked through the fire and have reached out to me to ask the question, "How can I help? We love you and your church family and we are praying for you. We understand what you are going through." This has changed me not for the worse, but the better. With the Lord's help, I will be more aware of those in the body of Christ who are suffering. I will clothe myself in humility and walk in the spirit of thanksgiving when I'm in the spring seasons of life!
II Corinthians 1:3-5 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.