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The Four Shifts to Manifest the Kingdom of God During the Pandemic

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

I am sure we have all read and thought a lot about the coronavirus pandemic. How it has spread to 187 nations and so unprecedented in its disruption of the “normal” life as we know it. I too followed the news and the data, checked the IHME model daily, tuned in to the daily WH briefings and several independent Chinese media. I wanted so bad for get out of the quarantine to go on road trips and to discover the “new normal” on the other side.

In the past few days, I reflected more deeply about the connection between the coronavirus and the Kingdom of God. I wanted to explore what God has to say and how I should respond accordingly. I wanted to be like the sons of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chron 12:32).

This morning I was enjoying my face time with Papa. He was affirming His love for me and delighting in my desire to hang out with Him. He warned me not to get too caught up in all the news and the “pandemic politics”. As I kept listening to what Papa has to say I started journaling:

There is a storm (not literal) brewing, a worldwide storm, some places will see blizzard conditions, many lives will be lost but I am always JUST, I am always MERCIFUL. Men are so small, yet they fill their hearts with idols, and their eyes have become darkened. Leaders’ hearts have been hardened. See, I am about to do a new thing on the earth like the Flood that cleanses the world in Noah’s day. So, it shall be with the Crown-virus. I am the King, king of every heart, of every soul.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the son of man. Luke 17:26

God in His sovereignty ordained the virus to be unleashed across the planet just like He did with the Flood. The pandemic did not catch God by surprise. Many scientists and institutions have long predicted or warned us of a global pandemic or Disease X.

Jesus is the Ark. He is our refuge and shelter in times of need. His heart is always about saving humanity from our sins and restoring all things. Quarantine has changed life, work, church and play. This virus attacks our notion of globalization, urbanization and open society. It knocked down our idols of sports, entertainment, food and beauty; forced mankind and the land into a Sabbath Rest. Have you seen the pictures of clear sky and clean rivers in some of the most polluted areas on earth?

God saved Noah and his family through the Ark so I believe Christian families will be key in saving the lost and healing this broken world. The quarantine forced us to stay home and to be family. Parents became homeschool teachers, families are preparing and eating their meals together. Many families experienced more stress on marriages and relationships, but we also have seen many families grow closer together as they confront the issues head-on and work through them.

My wife and I live in a big house with another family and we are having to communicate more effectively, coordinate our schedules and give each other space. We cook and enjoy a weekly community meal together. We started having weekly video calls with our kids to stay in touch. We celebrated the Easter Communion and toasted Jonathan’s 25th birthday online. Quarantine has brought our family closer together! Family is the fundamental instrument in the Kingdom of God through which God’s love is manifested. Video conference connects us in real time whether you are 2 miles or 2000 miles away. Social distance measures effectively remove the physical distance factor in relationships.

I’d like to share some encouragements and prophetic insights I came across and wrap up with my musings about the Kingdom of God.

  • Eugene Park from True North Church in Palo Alto declares that, “This quarantine and pandemic have confronted us with the realities of our self-idolatry.” And calls us to “Audit our Soul,” searching your soul for other idols being exposed under the pressure of this moment. Where, specifically, does this pandemic expose your soul? Where are the imbalances and vulnerabilities in your home life, your working life, or your thought life?

  • The call to repent and return to the Lord is voiced by many leaders through fasts and solemn assemblies. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lent, Easter and Passover all took place while we were under quarantine. Acts 3:19; Matt 4:17. Heed the words from the Prophets: Joel 2:13; Zech 1:3; Job 22:23; Lam 3:40; Hos 6:1 and Jer 4:1

  • Paul Carter, a Canadian pastor shared in “The Covidian Exile of the Church,” likened the current lock down to the Babylonian Exile and offered lessons for all of us. “the Babylonian Exile forced a significant change upon the Jewish people in terms of how they worshiped. Gone were the feasts and festivals. The morning and evening sacrifices were a thing of the past. The rhythms of life and worship had been obliterated – but the Word of the Lord remained the same.” He cautioned us that the church will be different on the other side, but even so the Word of the Lord will stand forever.

  • The president of ICEJ has a serious warning for us, “I cannot help but think that this is only a small foreshadow of what is to come. The Hebrew prophets and the New Testament speak of a time when God will severely judge the world for its unrighteousness and rebellion against God. The pandemic of the Coronavirus is not the judgement itself, but a harbinger of what will come in far greater measure if the world does not repent. In that sense the Coronavirus is a sign of things to come, when certain plagues will devastate the earth and yet humanity will not repent (Revelation 9:18-21). Yet it also is a reminder that this is still a time of grace when “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) It is a wake-up call to the Church to understand the times and season we are living in and to act accordingly.”

  • Andy Crouch, a partner at Praxis calls us to act redemptively in the midst of crisis and fear. We have come to distinguish between exploitative, ethical, and redemptive modes of action. Much of the world operates exploitatively, especially in situations of scarcity and threat. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic there will be unfortunate examples of people and institutions acting merely to protect themselves at any cost. Thankfully, most human beings and many institutions aspire to act ethically — to do what is right in the trust that we can do good and do well at the same time. We are already seeing many exceptional examples of ethical action in this crisis. But Christians are called beyond ethical action to redemptive action, which is characterized by creative restoration through sacrifice. We and the organizations we lead have the chance to banish all exploitative practices, to go beyond merely ethical ones, and to make courageous, creative, and sacrificial choices that restore what has been broken. Andy also reminds us that “many members of our church and community have no real family other than the church. In the history of the church, over and over it has been local “households,” extended-family-size outposts of the Kingdom of God, that have been able to most effectively mobilize care of the vulnerable in their midst, and to reach out and care for the vulnerable around them. In this time when large gatherings have shaped our imagination of what “church” is and means, and even more so when media and celebrity have colonized all of our imaginations and made us think that true influence and value is somewhere else, we have a window of opportunity to rebuild the foundation of all real love and care — a circle of people, related to one another as brother and sister, who know and are known, love and are loved, and who move out in service to the world.”

We are living in the end times. The Kingdom of God has a big party planned when Jesus the King returns. Maybe COVID-19 is the beginning of the birth pains (Mt 24:8) but as long as the Lord tarries we the Church have the opportunity to save more souls (2 Peter 3:9). Coronavirus has changed how we do church and mission, but the Great Commission remains to be completed and then comes the Big Party. We need to get creative about our work of proclaiming the Good News and discipling the nations until a working vaccine is widely available. Our friends serving in China have seen attendance increase since the pandemic forced them to move church online. And the giving also increases. In fact, the church has always grown during a crisis.

The coronavirus has revealed many things about our society and our hearts. Because human beings are wired for deep connections social distancing and quarantine are causing more isolation and loneliness. Experts are concerned about an increase of mental illness. The post-modern, post-truth world we live in has already been infected by the pandemic of loneliness. We need to rethink what church is and how we be the church.

My own take away can be summarized in 4 Shifts.

1. Shifting from a Come to Go model of church. If you study the history of plagues you will see the Church at the forefront of caring the sick. We are inoculated against the fear of death because we know where we are going. This enables us to run towards the fire. Today’s leaders need to empower believers to become frontline messengers instead of the audience to be entertained by a celebrity pastor and professional band. We all need to become first responders in every crisis. This means we engage culture, work with civic authorities and meet the needs of our neighbors. The Great Commission has always been the Go model. The kingdom of God is an ever-expanding unstoppable movement (Mt 16:18). Jesus sends us all to be Messengers of the Good News.

2. Shifting from Mega to small-local. We need Christ-centered households and families to be the Ark. We need hyper-local (multi-site) churches that consist of believers breaking bread and study the Word together at homes as in the days of Acts. Professional clergy needs to become equipper of the saints to do the work of the ministry. It is time for us to truly embrace the priesthood of all believers. Church activities have been cancelled but many families are establishing regular study of the Word and times of prayer. I am especially pleased to see men stepping up to be the spiritual leaders of their household. We’ve taught and trained many families to celebrate a sabbath meal together which has the elements of the Word and the Communion. The Kingdom of God consists of families that can be church in their own homes.

3. Shifting from a cruise ship to battleship mindset. The late Roberta Winters coined this term to call us to live a missional life, an intentional and focused life on the Great Commission. Apostle Paul exhorts us in 2 Tim 2:4: No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. We’ve made a point to minimize and got rid of our home so we can go anywhere at any time. One of my favorite books in 2019 was Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Just as our leaders must determine which business is essential to remain open during the lock down we should determine what activities will generate the highest contribution towards our life goal. We outfitted a van to allow us to travel and work from anywhere. Kingdom of God is at war with the darkness with the ultimate victory already assured on the Cross.

4. Shifting from on-premise to online. In our effort to protect the vulnerable and contain the outbreak we must move many activities online. Gone are the big evangelistic crusades, worship concerts or Christian conferences. How do we minimize contact without watering down the gospel and maintain engagement? How do we do digital chaplaincy? Can we move all the training and equipping online? Perhaps we can’t replace the ministry of prayer for the sick or emotionally wounded but we can augment the go model with technology. Ever since last year as we embarked on the digital itinerant journey we’ve been coaching and mentoring people online. In addition, we are caring for 4 couples serving in East Asia. High speed internet and easy to use video conferencing have made it a very pleasant and productive experience. Kingdom of God has no limit on where and how people are engaged. Governments can enact travel restrictions, but this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Mt 24:14).

Thanks for taking the time to read this all the way through. With that I’d like to invite you to prayerfully consider the 4 shifts I’ve outlined and discern your response accordingly. I pray that the action you take will be fruitful and be pleasing to the Lord.

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1 Comment

Agnes Chin
Agnes Chin
May 02, 2020

One of the best pieces of reflection I've read so far! Will point people to it.

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