This season has been so difficult in so many ways. There are times I worry the fabric of society is being rent asunder. Even worse, there are times it seems we are knowingly doing so.
And yet, there have also been times over the past few years when I have experienced God’s presence in indescribably powerful and intimate ways.
And every single one of them has been with other people.
Here is one example of many:
We heard a testimony to the transformation and new depths of love a woman received through a simple commitment to read Scripture daily. And the blessing she experienced by joining with other women to search the Scriptures and pray.
The first song we sang was “Holy Water” by We the Kingdom. If you haven’t heard it, you should stop what you are doing and listen to it. The song is about our desperate need for God’s forgiveness. The song has beautiful imagery, comparing the forgiveness the gospel of Jesus Christ brings to honey on our lips, a symphony in our ears, and holy water on our skin.
The song is just great. And it would have been a blessing to have sung it in worship in any context. But it was all the more amazing because it could not have been more appropriate for the message God had given me on James 5:16.
The Holy Spirit was present in a tangible way. It was so good. I want to encourage you because this happened even though attendance was much smaller than normal and I was struggling to see how people were responding in mask-covered faces.
And this was the case in all three services. God is so good!
This morning something came into focus this morning I hadn’t quite seen before.
By far the greatest source of unity I have seen over the past five years has come through the public worship of God where people call on the Holy Spirit to come and make his presence known in their midst. There is a movement of worship that is well underway where people are hungry and thirsty for the Lord.
And it is glorious.
I am no longer surprised to look up a worship song online and find that it has millions of views. So many people are hungry to meet with God.
And we meet with God when the church gathers under the common affirmation that Jesus is Lord.
This is a foretaste of heaven. Dividing walls of hostility are broken down. People created in the image of God come together and are united because their eyes are on Jesus and their common worship of Jesus.
Here is John’s vision of heaven:
I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,
‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’
– Revelation 7:9-10
Contrast this to what is happening in the world. Division is increasing. People are being canceled and declared irredeemable. There are demands for repentance with no hope of reconciliation and redemption.
The world seems to be demanding repentance and getting division. The Spirit graciously brings unity when people, from any and every background, come together to worship the Lamb.
Christians know the One who promises to freely forgive all who confess and repent of their sins. We can call for repentance because we are absolutely certain that forgiveness will be offered to all who repent by Jesus Christ.
Asking for confession and repentance without hope of forgiveness is cruel. And it is not the way of Jesus.
But Jesus is gentle and kind. And he will forgive all who confess their sin and ask him to forgive and pardon them.
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins – and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
– 1 John 2:1-2
There are so many wonderful things about being a Christian. One of my favorites is having absolute confidence that everyone can find forgiveness, pardon, and healing in Christ Jesus.
Here is what hit me today: The community gathered to worship Jesus is the greatest source of unity in the world today. And Covid-19 has been a direct attack on the very gathering of that community.
I am not suggesting that we act like there is no such thing as Covid-19. I am not trying to say that it is not a big deal. And I am not trying to shame you or compare where you church is at to another church.
If you are feeling attacked right now, please reread the last paragraph. This is a hard season. I believe you are doing the best you can. I am for you and your church.
I am saying that Covid-19 is a spiritual attack on the Body of Christ in addition to being a virus that attacks people’s immune systems.
We need to see this for what it is. And we need to do everything that is within our control to find ways to regather the flock that has been scattered.
And we need to commit ourselves in a new and deeper way to reaching out past the people already in our churches out into our communities with the good news of Jesus, the radically life-changing gospel of Jesus.
No one is beyond redemption in the eyes of our Lord. No one has committed a sin which has no hope of forgiveness (even though there may well be consequences from that sin that the person has to live with). There is hope for everyone. The gospel is for everyone.
But we are not in a position to demand that our forgiveness and healing come on our terms. We must submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must open our hands, showing that they are empty, in order to receive what we cannot give ourselves.
We must resist the temptation to turn confession and repentance into an exercise in accusing others and confessing the sins of others. And we must take a long uncomfortable look within and confess our own sins.
I can only confess and repent of what I have done, not what you have.
Worship is bringing a deeper unity to many parts of the Body of Christ. At the same time, the enemy seems to be sowing division. This should not surprise us. Scripture tells us to “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Will we join together and worship the Lamb? Will we join our voices together and say, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ Or will we choose the path that leads to destruction?
Joining together in worship is where God is bringing forgiveness, healing shame, and breaking chains. Even now. Even in the midst of a pandemic.
Jesus, draw all people to yourself for your glory. Fill us with the Holy Spirit. Glorify your name. Father, give us the grace to say together with one voice, “Jesus is Lord.”
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.