It was 1939. War gathered in the distance as German military might rumbled like a deadly thunderstorm rolling across the open plains. Brits looked toward the horizon and saw dread tumbling their direction. It was inevitable. It was widely accepted that German bombers would darken the sky and rain fury on England’s prominent cities once war began. Tension rose; fear increased. Doom was imminent.
It was then the British Ministry of Information produced posters of what has become one of the world’s most iconic slogans intended to strengthen morale in the face of impending danger.
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Tennesseans, like everyone else, find themselves adrift in the global sea of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that has washed across the world like a biological tsunami. Throw in the devastating tornados that ripped through Middle Tennessee two weeks ago and one easily becomes disoriented physically, emotionally, spiritually. People are bordering on panic (many are already there). Desperation looms.
Some mockingly scoff at the situation’s severity, but others look to the horizon and see dread tumbling in their direction. Many are without hope.
Take heart. It may feel like crucifixion Friday, but resurrection Sunday is coming.
Yes, we find ourselves in a serious situation, but we are not without hope.
Very early in my pastoral ministry, I once asked Jerry Vines how he constantly kept his cool under so much pressure. Dr. Vines was pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, Fla., and a hero of mine. His reply: “At our church we have an earth-shattering experience every week. The earth hasn’t shattered yet.”
Keep Calm and Carry On.
That’s exactly what we’ve tried to do here at the TBMB over these past two weeks, and what we’ve tried to help Tennessee Baptists do as well. Now is the time for prudence not panic; wisdom not fear.
Yes, we are facing significant challenges, and we must take very practical steps to combat the spread of coronavirus by washing hands, keeping highly-trafficked areas clean and disinfected, responsibly removing ourselves from the presence of others if we’re feeling sick, and covering our mouths when we sneeze and cough.
We also need to be wise about gathering in groups. Our TBMB leadership team made the difficult decision last week to cancel both the Youth Evangelism Conference and WMU’s Get-Together & Connection.
They were difficult decisions because we know the work and prayer our staff and so many from across Tennessee have invested to make those events God-honoring. The decision to protect our guests attending those events was the easy part. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have advised against gathering large groups of people in confined spaces. We would have gathered close to 9,000 people between those two events. We didn’t think that was responsible or the best way to fight the spread of this virus.
However, what about gathering in churches? I’ve been asked that a lot, so here is my answer. Use prudence. Every church is different and so there is no single right answer. Some of our churches have a high percentage of older adults who are most terminally susceptible to the coronavirus. Use prudence.
Also take precautions like alternative giving methods for tithes and offerings: on-line giving, mail, drop it by the church office or have a “drop box” or an usher holding a receptacle to avoid “passing the plate.”
People have asked specifically what I am going to do. My answer was in a tweet. “This Sunday I’m taking my wife, my Bible, a little bottle of hand sanitizer and a good dose of common sense, and I’m heading to church to worship with our Lord and my brothers and sisters. I refuse to take fear, anxiety and pessimism with me.”
To do that, we cannot succumb to fear the way the world does. It is impossible to live in fear and simultaneously share hope. They are in opposition. Fear is a fleeting emotion dictated by circumstances and hope is an unwavering certainty founded in the promises of Jesus Christ. Which will you embrace? Kill the former; embrace the latter.
While we may be facing some significant challenges, please understand these days also offer significant opportunities. As with 9/11, people are deeply unsettled and more aware of their spiritual uncertainty when there is a “catastrophic” event. This is not only a great opportunity for us to be the hands and feet of Christ in a very practical way serving our communities, it is a prime opportunity to press into the world with the hope of the gospel and be Great Commission disciples of Jesus.
Yes, clouds of despair may gather, but we were made for this. Nail your poster to the wall as a reminder: “Keep Calm and Carry the Gospel.”
It is a joy to be on this journey with you, especially in these challenging days.