But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)
So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is the east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:5-6)
Sunday morning worship particularly glorifies God because it is a local community of faith gathering to corporately worship God. I have heard many people proclaim that they don’t need to come to church to worship God. They are right in their cry against the local church in what they proclaim. Most of us are fully capable to worship God wherever we are. We are capable to worship God from any room in our house or wherever we find ourselves, but this is not complete, and fails to grasp the reality of heaven. Christian community is the foundation of what God desires from us, and over the last few weeks we can sense this is true. Community is the foundation of God’s intention for his people and the Lord does not desire any of us to be outside of this essential structure.
Let us think briefly about the necessity of the community of faith. In the Old Testament, God called one man to follow him, Abram, individually by himself. If it was God’s intention to have Abram as an individual follower then he would have left it there, but then his first promise to Abram was to create a community of faith. This is evident by the name God gave to him. Abram means father, and at the point he began to follow God he was not yet a father, but then our Lord named him Abraham which means father of many. God made him a promise called the Abrahamic Covenant in which the Lord said, “And I shall make you a great nation. . .” God’s intention was for a nation to worship him. If we fast forward to the moment after this promised nation flees from Egypt and stands before the Lord at Sinai in preparation to receiving the Law and becoming the people of God we hear the Lord’s words, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In other words, the single man Abram became a nation of God followers as they corporately followed the Lord.
Heaven is not rural area but an urban one in which people from every nation, tribe, people group, and language will gather to worship the Lord. It is not a place of individual worship but corporate as all the people of God worship him in splendor. Even our beloved mansions in heaven is not a promise for each of us to have a mansion, but that he will provide us room in those massive dwellings, once again pointing to the fact that others will be there in this urban setting. So, why do people suggest they don’t need the people of God in worship?
This is not an easy exclamation, but for us to worship God as we ought, we truly need each other! The local church is a shadow of the reality in heaven. Perhaps, the result of us being separated because of the Coronavirus pandemic is so painful for us. I have heard several people over the last few days explain how they miss church and feel isolated from the body of Christ. It is my hope to encourage you by looking at two important passages.
Paul and 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
Paul states the painful situation of being torn away from the church at Thessalonica. This painful tearing was not the fault of Paul or the church. The word for torn means to be orphaned which obviously is emotionally powerful for both parties. Paul is the parent whose children have been ripped away from his hands, and the church is the young child who is painfully separated from his parent. Our current situation feels this way for many of us. We feel we are torn from one another as we are in our homes obeying our President and Governor. This pain is intensified for us especially on Sunday mornings when we are at our homes rather than in worship. At this point, I want to share my opinion about something, and it may not be popular. I know many pastors are preaching on Facebook Live and other social media forums as they continue their preaching ministries. There are many popular and faithful preachers on television and the internet who glorify God and edify the church by their faithful teaching ministries. During this time, I truly would encourage you to listen to them, but this is not the power of the local church. The power of the local church is not that you have a good preacher who preaches good biblical sermons, but it is that the body of Christ worships the Lord together regularly seeking to glorify the God of our salvation.
The text also says, “for a short time,” which served as an encouragement for the church because they knew they would see Paul again. This should also serve as an encouragement for us because everything in this world is temporary and we should not act as though they are eternal. This virus is temporary and there will be a day when we shall gather together again to worship the Lord. Times of difficulty seem to last a long time as a day seems like a week and a week seems to be a month. There are two truths here. First, our separation is temporary, so I want to encourage you to hold on until we are able to meet again. Draw near to the Lord as he draws near to you and attempt to connect with other members of our church whether it is by phone call, email, or social media. Two, this life is temporary and there is a day arriving when all of us will leave this physical world and enter into our eternal abode with those who have gone before us and we will worship the Lord with great delight.
We should also remember the value of other Christians. Paul states the church’s value when he says, “you are our glory and joy.” Separation should cause the Christian to gather again with other believers especially those beloved ones whom they have worshiped with for many years. We have heard of our intrinsic worth to God but how often do we think of others value to us? Who do you wish to see again? I would suggest that every worshiper should be precious to us as we are separated. How often do we focus on the meaningless things and neglect the greater thing? In the end, it is about worship! When we gather, we are to worship the Lord together. If we have not worshiped the Lord, then what have we done?
Elijah and 1 Kings 17:5-6
Elijah ministered during a time of spiritual apathy where the people attempted to serve idols and God at the same time. Elijah had a difficult ministry because the people did not want to hear what God was saying. The life of a prophet or any person who speaks for God is isolated and lonely, but it is even worse when they do not want to hear what God has said. We may look down on Elijah when he thought he was the only follower of God left even though the Lord still had a remnant.
Elijah’s isolation is described in 1 Kings 17:5-6 as the Lord hid him temporarily during the days of drought when Ahab was looking for him. These days must have been difficult for the prophet as he was by himself. He did not have Facebook, cable television, radio, or even mail service. He was isolated at the brook of Cherith and was fed by ravens and drank from the water at the brook. The loneliness must have been overwhelming for him, but he endured. His isolation is more likely more difficult than ours which is evident if you are able to read these words. God cares for you regardless how lonely you are.
Another point is the provision of the Lord in the midst of hardship. God did not forget about Elijah but provided him with everything he needed for life. He was being cared for by God in a way that only God could. Who has ever been fed by the daily provision of birds? These birds were used by the Lord to care for his prophet, and he must have been reminded of this twice every day as they delivered his meal. God will care for us as well. God will get us through this situation and our task is to simply trust in him.
Do you feel isolated? Yes, I feel it too, but I am not alone, and neither are you. God cares for you and will meet all your needs. I would encourage you to draw nearer to the Lord during these days. Read your Bible with urgency, pray with devotion, and may your love for the Lord continue to grow. Although, we cannot worship the Lord together in our sanctuary, we are able to call one another, pray for one another, or even send a physical letter or email. In other words, continue loving the Lord and one another as this is obviously what the Lord told us to do. May the Lord grant you patience and peace until we meet again.
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. . . Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-39; 44)
It wasn’t long ago, when children throughout the Commonwealth were awoken to a familiar routine as they prepared to go to school as they have done for years. Although, many expected this day to be the final day for a couple of weeks, it probably came as a surprise when the Governor announced all public schools to be shut down for the remainder of the year. On March 24th, which was yesterday for me, I witnessed a caring act for students, when the Wilson Elementary School’s teachers and certainly some staff were led by a police escort throughout our neighborhoods as they waved from their cars with their names on the side of the car. The term bittersweet never meant more to me and my family. Many of us are familiar with the term bittersweet when we describe chocolate. Perhaps there is a moment of sweetness, but the aftertaste left in our mouths is one of bitterness. The parade-like ceremony was sweet because the children, including my Olivia delighted as she saw the familiar teachers, but it turned to bitterness when these children realized it is the last time, they will see their teachers.
The passage describes a time in the past as it compares to one in the future. The past event was the great flood that unleashed God’s judgment on the world as they filled their lives focused on minutia while neglecting the greater things of God, just as the Jews often focused on the small parts of the Law while neglecting the greater things of God’s commands. These people were eating and drinking and living life to the fullest unaware God was about to end life as they knew it. What would have happened if at the last moment as the rain began to fall, hundreds of people remembered what Noah said and repented of their sin? I believe God would have forgiven them as he did with the people of Nineveh when they were warned by God’s prophet. We are also told of a future event that will mirror the days of Noah but with greater intensity as the Lord returns in what is called, “the coming of the Son of Man.”
The crisis created by the Covid-19 virus reminded us of the importance of human life as a priority. Sporting events were cancelled such as the NBA season, NCAA basketball tournament, and even the MLB season will be delayed for the sanctity of life. I watched with interest as I heard those who espouse abortion declaring the value of every human life. Oh, how I pray they really mean those words as they consider their own political views. The intrinsic value of life is not a human invention but God’s declaration, and it is right for us to value what God values.
In times of crisis, what people value and their character become obvious. For some reason, stockpiling toilet paper was of supreme value for many people. I don’t know this for certain, but I would not be surprised that some people have 100 or more rolls in their homes. This reminds me of my childhood when after my great grandfather died, we were cleaning his house, and I discovered and delighted in a 1908 Sears and Roebuck catalog. I asked my grandmother if I could keep it and she told me they used those for toilet paper when she was young. I also have seen another disturbing trend among pastors and church leaders as their rebellious nature arise. These are those who refuse to listen to their governors and President and state they believe in God and will not listen. This is certainly not good Christian leadership as the Bible tells us in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
What do we do when our lives have been inconceivably reduced to the basics? What do we do when our leaders tell us to stay in our homes unless it is necessary to leave? What do we do when we are told to isolate ourselves socially? We obviously should listen to our leaders, but we need to return to those things that are most important. Times like this are a curse and a blessing at the same time. They are opportunities for us to consider our lives and return to those things that are most important. As much as I personally enjoy the Olympics and the NCAA tournament, it is not the most important thing. It is a great time to evaluate our lives when many of things that hold our attention have been stripped from us. This is not a time to collect all the toilet paper we can but a time to return to the Lord. I am not saying food and supplies are not important because we need them, but our greatest need is the Lord. Who keeps us from stumbling and entering eternity? Is it not the Lord? Lean upon him and delight in the God of your salvation. Grow closer to him and do not waste this time of waiting for the virus to minimize its impact in our world.
It has been my hope and prayer that God would use this time for his glory as he may create a revival in our nation and around our world. Perhaps people would not think they are so invincible and realize they could stand before the Lord at any moment. People are terrified because of this uncertainty, and it is important they turn to the Lord before it is too late. The good news is that if the Lord does not return then 2021 will arrive, but what will we do? Perhaps this would be a great time for us to evaluate our devotion to the Lord, return to the spiritual disciplines, delight in our God, and reach out to our community with the gospel. Think about it, our church and communities have been closed by this virus. This is a time to be humble and return to the Lord because time is short and the Lord will return, but not even the angels in heaven know when this is going to happen.
Pastor Steven Lookabaugh has been our pastor since 2016 and is passionate about proclaiming the gospel of God through the weekly exposition of God’s Word; believing application is possible when one understands the historical/cultural meaning of the text. He leads our church in fulfilling our purpose toward the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, and to the Great Commandment as we seek to love one another. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on parabolic exposition. He is married to Jennifer and they have three children, Andrew, Kate and Olivia.