2020, COVID, RIOTS, AND THE CHURCH
It is 1:00 am and I am wide awake. Not for the first time.
Earlier in this year of 2020, our world turned upside down and inside out when it was hit with a mysterious new virus which then turned practically overnight into a full-blown world-wide pandemic. Some called it a war with an “invisible enemy.” Indeed, it is—in more ways than one. The medical community was trying to learn as much as possible about this new enemy, and giving as much information as possible, but then the media got involved and turned it into a full-blown misinformation propaganda campaign.
By the middle of March, we were plunged into lockdown, forced into isolation from our families, support groups and churches. Some began frantically searching for answers online but were confused upon hearing so many conflicting reports. With everything locked down and fear pouring out of our news sources, several things seemed to be happening at once. The narrative from different medical organizations and doctors seemed to change every day, and those who expressed disagreement with the CDC, the United Nations WHO, and other governmental models, were being cancelled and banned from social media and news.
It began to be clear that over and above what anyone said or felt about this virus, there was something much, much bigger going on and we were being manipulated and pushed into believing the narrative or face consequences—this was and is happening and accelerating.
Preaching the Gospel
When our churches closed, which may have been the most difficult part, God began to show up in amazing ways on the Internet through many wonderful teachers and pastors—we found out we were facing something bigger than most understood, but the Church came alive online and we could see that when Jesus said the Gospel would be preached to the whole world and then the end would come, it suddenly made sense. Online, the Gospel was being preached and the body of Christ was being changed and new lives were brought into the Kingdom of God. The messages that had the most impact were those who were connecting the dots between what was happening on the ground and what the Bible taught would indeed happen in the world as the coming of Jesus drew near, and what our response should be as believers during this time. Those messages were messages of the encouragement we all needed, training and raising up believers to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might, to move into position as the overcomers facing a worldwide war. These messages were coming from those who might be called the last days “Children of Issachar,” who according to 2 Chronicles 12:32 had “understanding of the times in which they were living.” There are those today who understand the days in which we are living, as it relates to what the Bible teaches about these very days, and who are able to speak truth into the current situation, without hype or overblown speculations.
The Response of the Church
In the beginning of course, the church as a whole complied with the new rules of the health experts and closed the doors to their buildings, corporately, for the first time maybe in the history of the Church. It was the right thing to do under the circumstances and with what information we had. However from Mid-March until June, the scene changed rapidly and dramatically almost on a daily basis and many churches, realizing that there seemed to be an agenda in singling out churches to keep their doors closed, began to search the heart of God in the matter to see what He would have them do. After being completely closed down, while other venues of commerce were being opened back up, some churches, such as Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, Jack Hibb’s church, felt he needed to really seek out what God would have them do. He said that after much prayer he simply heard the date: May 31. As he shared this with some other leaders in his church, he found that they too had heard that date, and apparently there were other churches in California doing the same. Shortly after, Hibbs announced that his Church would be opening on that day—which unbeknownst to him, happened to also be Pentecost Sunday. The significance of that did not escape him—the anniversary of the birth of the Church 50 days after the crucifixion of Christ. After his announcement, some 3,000 other churches in his state followed suit. They did open on that day and it was an amazing sermon. It wasn’t an act of rebellion against government authorities, it was obedience to God. On that following Wednesday, he held a solemn assembly prayer in his church—a repentant, falling-on-faces before God, crying out for Him, gathering of believers and it was truly awesome. There was no program, no guest speakers, no glitz, lights, or vapor machines to create a mood—it was simply Jack Hibbs on the platform, on his knees, and the entire church engaging in prayer for two hours, asking for God to forgive the sins of the nation, as we read in Daniel 9. It was the body of Christ prevailing upon God as Habakkuk prayed a couple thousand years before “In wrath, remember mercy.” God did move during that service. I joined this prayer time online because it was exactly what I had been seeking and longing for throughout the months of the lockdown. As I spent the two hours in my own living room praying with this group, God moved in me and on me, and I thanked Him that someone understood what was really needed during this whole season of chaos and confusion.
Below the Line/Above the Line
In the midst of what God was doing above the line, here on earth, as confusion reigned, I was reminded in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” This chaos and confusion is not from Him. What is happening is the work of that ancient malevolent battle we call the “Cosmic Conflict,” and it is in full blown operation. I have taught for years that we as believers are privileged to live in two systems: the “above-the-line” system where we can soar above what is happening on the ground, and enter directly into the Heavenly system where God dwells, and begin to understand events through His perception above it all. The other system is the “below-the-line” system where things are happening here in our temporal existence and where Satan, the “Prince of the Power of the Air” operates (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus Himself speaks of it, warns of it, and trains us how to fight in this invisible battle (Ephesians 6). It is an ancient war that has been taking place in the Heavenlies since before time began and we were told it would only increase as time begins to wind down and Satan’s rule is about to end. In this current manifestation of the conflict, there is truly an invisible yet tangible enemy—the Covid virus. But then, it must be understood that behind the scenes, forces of darkness are at work, invading through media, politics, world conflicts, health experts, and now instead of simply learning to deal with a pandemic, people were being tossed to and fro, in fear and panic and sadly, dividing up into little “personal opinion” camps.
But Who Is Behind It All?
A pandemic, fear, panic, chaos, misinformation, lies, and now divisions among otherwise close-knit groups—Oh yes, this was clearly the work of that old serpent, the dragon, the Prince of the power of the air. His fingerprints are all over it. Where are we in the body of Christ?
Just as it seemed the Country could begin opening back up, another war erupted—worse even than the virus. Suddenly the virus took a back seat as attention was turned to another uprising, this time over a police incident where a black man was killed and the country erupted in anger, mob rule, name-calling, violence, looting, burning. Again, the tactics of the enemy became clear—dividing, rioting, accusing, “stealing, killing, and destroying.” Again, where were our spiritual leaders? Who would bring truth against the lies that were being spread? Should we enter the fray, join in the divisive opinions, go out into the streets, get involved in the politics? No, we don’t enter into the fray, we rise above the fray, looking down on the fray from the perspective of God, who is above it all. Step out of the fray and into the secret place of the Most High (Psalms 91:1), and gather together as one to call upon our God, who alone knows the beginning from the end.
As the word got out that a group of protestors were coming up from Phoenix to hold a protest in our little city, I learned that a local woman I know had been doing what I and others had done many years ago—pray-walking around the courthouse square. She, with a group of college kids from her Church, had been doing this for a few weeks, and I joined them in a prayer gathering at a local park on the day that the protestors were coming to our city. Sitting there on the grass with around 30 others, college students, teenagers, moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, all finally out in the open air, and crying out to God with one heart and one voice, my own heart found what I had been longing for—meeting together, face to face, and going into the Sanctuary of God. It was a breath of clean, fresh, air.
What Is Our Response?
There are many instances in Scripture showing what Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament did when faced with a national crisis. They gathered together, bowing down before the Creator of all things, and moving above the line. King Jehoshaphat, King Hezekiah, and many others found themselves at the end of their earthly resources in the face of critical wars, and they fell face down (“Shakah”), before the only One who has the answers. Psalms 107 speaks this very thing.
We see this in the Psalms many times. In Psalms 73:17 we see King David lamenting that all he could see was trouble surrounding him on all sides—lies, evil, immorality, threats to the kingdom he ruled, and it threatened to overcome him, until, as he writes: “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end” (Psalm 73:17).
Until he went above the line—above the fray—above the cacophony of voices and noise—into the center of the peace of God which passes understanding. There, in that place, God trained his hands for war, gave him His perspective of it all and spoke truth to him. There he met the One who promised “You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.”
This is overcoming life. Oswald Chambers wrote that “God doesn’t give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome.” Is the Church overcoming in the midst of this war?
I wrote a blog on March 10, four days before we were ordered to quarantine, and it was from the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived in a period of time over 2600 years ago, much like the one we are living in now. He cried out to God, wanting to know why things are happening that are happening and why God doesn’t do something about it. He wrestles it out with God and God gives him an “above-the-line” explanation, “I am doing a thing in your midst that you would not understand if it were told you.” That is where we are now. God is doing a thing that we do not understand, but whether we fully understand it or not, we must follow Habakkuk’s admonition in his prayer.
So, this is where I am stationing myself—as the Book of Habakkuk says, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” And the Lord answers: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Then He goes on to tell what that is–” bitter and hasty nations who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome…” (He goes on to list details of this). And this is where we are, right now.
From above-the-line, Habakkuk then sees that God allowed this as a judgment on Israel’s sins. Are we being judged for the sins of our nation? Yes, we are. Passages such as 2 Timothy 1:1-8 and Romans 1 give descriptions of what happens when a nation has begun to stray from God: “In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power…” Romans 1 outlines the slow downward spiral of a civilization which begins with men rejecting the truth of God, then worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. It says that God “gives them up,” to uncleanness, in the “lusts of their hearts to dishonor their bodies among themselves; gives them up to vile passions; gives them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…”
It is where the nation was when Habakkuk cried out. And this is exactly where we are. God doesn’t bring judgment on a nation or nations, until He sees that the sin has reached a certain measurement. He has shown mercy and grace to us for many years, but at some point He has to say, “Enough!” I felt from the start of these recent events, as did many others, that God Himself had shut down the world and that He was sending the message—“Stop! Return to Me!” It was a window opened into Heaven.
Habakkuk, after listening to God’s answer as to why He is allowing these things to come upon them, prays a beautiful prayer in chapter 1, and now that he is “above-the-line” seeing it all from God’s perspective, he says what I have always considered one of the most awesome things and exactly what God is calling all of us in the Body Christ, to follow: “I will stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” The Lord then tells Habakkuk to write out the vision so that he may run who reads it, and that “the vision is yet for an appointed time” (that usually means that the fulfillment will be at a future day, possibly the end times that we are seeing now), and God says, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” After He lists once more the sins that have forced Him to judge, He ends with “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
How does Habakkuk respond after God is finished speaking? He prays mightily. It seems this is exactly how we must be reacting and responding today:
“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, set to wild, enthusiastic, and triumphal music. O Lord, I have heard the report of You and was afraid. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make Yourself known! In wrath remember love, pity, and mercy…. I heard and my whole inner self trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against my people him who is about to invade and oppress them. Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, though the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation! The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hind’s feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make spiritual progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!” (Hab. 3:1-2; 16-19 AMPC).
This is my message from God after listening carefully to what He seemed to be speaking to me. This is the truth–all of the other chaotic, fear-mongering, and lying reports that we are hearing must be stored in the secret place of the Most High (Ps. 91:1). We don’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. We don’t go out and march and protest or sit in fear over every news story. We understand exactly what is happening from God’s perspective and then we wait, and we pray, and like soldiers waiting for the call to come, we are on call when He calls, ready to go out at the appointed time.
The Lord is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before him! Amen.