Pressing On

As of last Sunday, Greater Vancouver Baptist Church has produced our Sunday services Live Stream for ten weeks – Live Stream only. That actually is rather important and huge to our spiritual mindset. The words of welcome are pre-recorded, the song service led by Pastor John-Marc is basically him trying to encourage people on the other side of a camera to sing while he sings alone with a piano, the choir “performs” from old recordings, other music ministry songs are also pre-recorded and videoed to be a blessing. And then the pastor (me) stands to preach to an empty auditorium (except for a small handful of tech operators) and cameras scattered across the room. No reaction to my message points, no response to my use of humour, no living bodies with which to interact as I preach… the only way that we know that anyone is even watching is a chat feature where people type their kind “thanks Pastor” at the end of the message… something I eagerly read as soon as I am off air and for which I am truly grateful. (Thanks!)

I made some notes to myself earlier this week as I was reflecting upon our first ten weeks of Live Stream. At first, it was rather cool, unique, it worked and we all embraced this new way of gathering, of joining in the worship, of singing alone or with our families, and listening as our pastor endeavoured to preach to us in our homes.
But it has been a long time. The excitement and novelty has long worn off, in fact, it is growing far easier to have the service on, but maybe not be as engaged as we were at the start. (Reading online, playing solitaire, Googling whatever, ordering food…) From my end, I have sensed my preaching is growing more professional and distant, doing what needs to be done. Without the facial feedback, without your presence, it is hard to know if I am making any contact. The silence of a camera is huge! As I mentioned, yes, there are many “thanks Pastor” chats at the end of the service, but I wonder, “Thanks for what?”
Our world, of course, has been impacted by the arrival of a very infectious and sometimes deadly coronavirus named COVID-19. It has caused governments worldwide to race to shut down just about any situation where people come together for any reason – work, school, play, entertainment, sports, shopping, restaurants, and yes, churches and other places where other faiths gather. The fear that has swept through our social communities has made millions willing to accept lockdowns, quarantines, and social & physical distancing. But the impact has run deep into our human psyche, it has struck home at who we are as people. See, God made us to be social beings, we thrive on interaction with each other in all kinds of settings, but none so important as our gathering as believers – the people of God in the house of God. We need this time together, the Lord even has instructed us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together… the Psalmist wrote, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the LORD.

There is now a glimmer of hope… like the brightening of the eastern sky before sunrise. The “powers that be” have now agreed that we can gather again. YAY! But…there are conditions. You know them already – no more than 50 people at a time, physical distancing must be practiced, the gathering place sanitized before and after each service… so many rules, so many concerns, so many guidelines that it makes me wonder if it is worth all the extra work and hassle. I can tell you that this next phase is only a tiny improvement, but we should embrace it with our whole heart and being.

Because of the attendance number restriction, the harsh reality is that most of our church family will get one church service every two weeks and through our rotation schedule, sometimes once in three weeks. That is not much when many are accustomed to coming to the Lord’s house three times each week – and often more than that. Once you arrive, it will all seem very strange. People scattered around, no handshakes or hugs, some with facemasks, fellowship from afar. Even so, I do believe it will be good for you and me to make the most of this. And for the rest of us, when it is not our “turn” to come? Yep, Live Stream (or recorded for Wednesday Bible Study). I can hear some even now. “Sigh, oh yeah, that is still going to happen, too.”

Here is the verse the Lord gave me this week when pondering this whole new scenario and the weight of time of this whole unwelcomed pandemic upon us.

Proverbs 24:10 If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.

For me personally, the Lord said, “Gordon, are you going to “faint” in this difficult time? Are you ready to just give up? Just settle into routine? Where is your strength? or rather, Who is your strength?” And I got to thinking about some things David said:

Psalms 27:1  The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalms 144:1  Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:

I was rebuked in my spirit and convicted. This is not the time to grow weary in well doing, I will reap if I faint not. So, I asked the Lord for His forgiveness and I am continuing to pray for His strength and grace to keep pressing on for Him.

Can I invite you to join with me in recommitting yourselves to making the most of the opportunities we have before us? Ask God for a refreshment of your spirit and soul through these wearying days. Come to church on your “turn” and when not, come to the Live Stream fully engaged and eager to receive what God has for us – together.

One last thing, the Lord put a song in my heart that day, too.

Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till rest I’ve found,
“Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

God has a plan in all this and we must acknowledge His presence and working even in these difficult days. But more than that, I believe we need to ask the Lord to anoint us with “fresh oil” to embrace the day at hand and to come before His presence with thanksgiving – from “50 @ 4440 Victoria” or (insert your address). I do look forward to “seeing” you this Sunday.

1 Comment

Kevin McBride - May 29th, 2020 at 2:48pm

Take courage Pastor G & all "Worship Team" - in this "new normal," includes the tech team who makes our virtual gathering together possible. Our Lord - all knowing, all powerful, ever present - is and always will be completely in all we experience, individually and congregationally! In Christ, your brother, Kevin.