We want the masks gone. We want to go where we want to go, stay where we want to stay, sit where we want to sit. We want to put away words like quarantine and pandemic on the back shelf of our vocabulary.
We’d like to get back to shaking hands freely again, and giving a hug or two without thinking about it first. We want the kids back in school, in person, and we want to visit the hospital, the assisted living facility or the nursing home without a full-scale physical examination.
We want our lives back. We want to get back to normal. Except normal is long gone. The lives we were comfortable with – and the world we were used to – have changed forever. The pandemic will reach its final death throes, the disposable masks will be disposed and the stockholders of Purell will be smiling at the extra digits in their dividends.
But our old world has changed. It won’t be coming back. We not only need to accept that fact: we need to embrace it.
We now live in a world of fear. The fear virus, like every other, has always been around, but now it has found exponentially more hosts from which to transmit. Many people who previously scoffed at or ignored those who were afraid to socialize have now joined them in their respective COVID caves.
The mental health business is booming, which means mental health itself is not. NAMI reports that a June 2020 study showed that over 40% of respondents identified at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, and roughly one in seven of us have started or increased substance use to cope with issues related to COVID.
There’s another new phenomenon rising up in reaction to COVID. Whereas in pre-pandemic times we experienced FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), we now have FONO – Fear of Normal. This is the stress of resuming socialization with those outside your own household. As much as so many of us wanted to get back out again, a significant portion of society is struggling to do just that. On a Today Show report, psychologist Deborah Serani said, “This is a global example of what’s called re-entry after trauma.”
What this all means is that many of our brothers and sisters are finding themselves trapped in their own fear-induced, self-inflicted quarantine of sorts, and it’s not as simple as dismissively telling them to “get over it.” We have the vaccine to fear: the amazing unconditional unbounded saving grace of Jesus Christ. He tells us 365 times not to be afraid, but rather than targeting us with empty platitudes that are “easy for Him to say,” He connects His gift of strength and courage to the reality of His daily, personal presence with us and even in us. “Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” (Joshua 1:9).
What this means for ministry: we need to continually seek out ways to connect those who are struggling with Jesus Christ Himself. We’ll have to be creative, recognizing that the previous means and strategies have probably lost their effectiveness, and won’t be regaining it any time soon. Online outreach has taken on new dimensions of meaning, as we encounter new dimensions of need for God’s peace and love.
Following closely on the heels of fear, we find ourselves living in a world of division and distrust. We were already well down the road on this trip, but the pandemic has once again accelerated the process.
Let me give you an example of one sentence that will probably send about 93% of Americans tripping all over their prejudices: The vaccines were developed under the Trump administration and distributed under the Biden administration. If you started reaching for the launch button to nuke either of those clauses, you need to stop being an asstroll. I know this because I’m one, and you need to join me in the 12-step program that can turn us back into a likeable group of underachievers known as Americans, from the UNITED States.
The first step is to take one step back from your devices that access social media, from which you’ve collected all your “facts.” The next 11 steps are the same. We’ve allowed the political parties and the agenda avengers, aided by the once proud but now dead art of journalism, to divide and conquer us – Satan’s favorite strategy – all while pretending that they “care.” In the meantime, they’ve sought to destroy God’s institutions of marriage and family, handcuff and muzzle His Church, and enslave regular people in the dungeons of hatred and idolatry.
Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching (His Word = the Bible), then you really are my disciples (following Him), and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” (John 8:31-32). So consider carefully whom you will trust and follow. Here’s a few tips:
What this means for ministry: Jesus unites His family together around His Word and Sacraments, yet we dare not assume everyone around us is fully immersed in understanding His will for us and the awesome power He delivers in the face of adversity and division. So we need to kindle and re-kindle the bonds of faith and love the Holy Spirit weaves between sinners and Savior, and between those forever enjoined by the blood of Christ. This can only happen with a lot of Word work.
Which brings me to my third and final condition of our new environment: we live in a world with not just lost faith, but open hostility to faith. That means hostility to God, His Word, His Church, His people – everything that brings purpose and hope to life on this side of eternity.
In that sense, we have re-entered 1st Century Christianity, when the Roman Empire and its subsidiaries hunted, attacked and exterminated Christians simply for the crime of believing in Jesus Christ. We now live in a culture where the First Freedom – Freedom of Religion – is being cast far down the list, if not off it altogether. Christians are being forced to run counter to the Word of God if they wish to keep their business or their job, under the guise of Lucifer’s lie that the public square must allow no expression nor implementation of religious principles whatsoever, lest you offend the delicate sensibilities of the irreligious.
This is neither Biblical nor Constitutional, but that doesn’t stop the messengers of Satan from suing, tormenting and terminating the vocations and reputations of Christians because we live by faith. That means we live out our faith by following Jesus wherever He leads and applying His Word to every aspect of our being. The devil hates that. The world is rapidly aligning itself with him, yet again.
Jesus in the First Century told us how it would be, even in This Century: that we would have trouble in this world, that people would abandon His truth for whatever itching ears want to hear, that Satan would keep on prowling like a lion in quest of weak souls to devour. He also said in the next breath, “Take heart; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).
He gives us the victory He won on the cross, to that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from His unfailing love. That powers our faith, which powers our hope in Christ that does not disappoint. We’ve learned to endure, persevere and even conquer His power is real, it brings us together, and it dispels our daily fear of what might go wrong. Jesus makes us right.
What this means for ministry: First Century conditions warrant First Century actions. We cannot assume that the manmade institutions of this world will respect our existence, let alone our values. Nor can we assume that our children, our families, our friends and our neighbors still carry any level of recognition or honor for Jesus and His Word.
The coaches will still schedule tournaments on Sunday mornings. The secular educational system will still advance an anti-Biblical ideology. The media and the movie stars will still tell us what to think and how to live, because they’re famous, and that apparently means they know better than we do.
We need to lead with Jesus. We need to love, even if we are not loved in return. We need to respect, though the other side doesn’t. We need to genuinely care for the heart, mind and life of every child of God He puts within reach.
And we need to heed the Word of Christ that I’ve been sharing with you repeatedly:
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through His body… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.
And let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Let us NOT give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Whatever the New Normal may consist of, let’s do everything we can to put a lot of Jesus in it! God reaches us…
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.