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The Lectio Letter - Issue #5 - 4 Things the COVID-19 Crisis is about for Followers of Jesus

Welcome to Issue #5 of the Lectio Letter... “Beware of the person of one book.” – Thomas Aquinas
The Lectio Letter - Issue #5 - 4 Things the COVID-19 Crisis is about for Followers of Jesus
By Liam Byrnes • Issue #5 • View online
Welcome to Issue #5 of the Lectio Letter…
“Beware of the person of one book.” – Thomas Aquinas

To Begin...
Thanks for your patience as I get into the rhythm on these member only newsletters.
Given the extraorindary times we are in, I’ve chosen to make this newsletter publicly accesible, but the usual members-only newsletter will operate again from next week. If you’ve accessed this publicly, you can sign up to the Lectio Letter here and access the archives here.
As you will all be aware, the world has been captured in the commentary and reality of COVID-19.
The Lectio Letter was created to resource disicpleship and spiritual formation and so I’ve been reflecting on this crisis from that stand point.
God made us to change. The influences we experience shape us for good or for bad. There is no such thing as no formation or no discipleship; the reality is that we have been formed by something and we follow something or someone. Christian discipleship is merely a way of recognising the truth of how we have been made and affirming that God has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ, to be our guide and way maker. So what does formation and discipleship look like in the age of the Corona Virus?
4 things this Crisis is about for Followers of Jesus
1. It reveals our character
A crisis like corona-virus does far more that influence and inform our intellect. It recruits our desires and fears in ways that lead us to react out of our character rather than cognition. Crisis has a way of drawing out of us who we really are, in one sense, giving us a low-tide mark for our formation and discipleship. 
It has become common in recent times, when someone loses their cool or acts ‘out of character’, to say “that wasn’t really me”. Christians have the practise of repentence exactly because that was you, and there is way to be forgiven through God’s kindness and His Spirit-filled people. We need to tell the truth about where we are at, where our low-tide mark is, in order to allow God to meet us where we are and help us to grow. Rather than sink into self-judgement and a sense of failure, when you recognise your reactions are not rooted in God’s Spirit, simply offer that to God and ask for the grace to begin changing. This is the process God has ordained for us to grow into maturity with the empowering of His Spirit.
Character formation is one of God’s slow miracles.
2. This is about Love vs. Fear
Rachel and I have been involved in the decision making for two discipleship programme’s over these last couple of weeks and in the midst of it we have been keenly aware how the leadership we operate in through this season has the ability to create an abundance of fear or invite people to an abundance of love.
This distinction was wonderfully named by the pastor of a friend of ours in Boston and deeply informed our decision making. As I said above, there is no need to demonise others or our own anxieties as they relate to this global health crisis. Indeed, at some level, some form of concern is certainly warranted. But Anxiety rather than healthy concern is the practise of imagining the future without God’s presence. There is very practical spiritual warfare to be done in our minds, hearts and actions to refuse to be moved by fear, and continually root ourselves in the love of Christ.
3. This is about Other orientedness vs. Self-protection
Throughout church history, some of the most impactful Christian witnesses have been from those willing to die on behalf of others.
While powerful people (most of us reading this), are able to flee, protect ourselves and become self-reliant, Christians in past eras have shocked the world with their ability to love their neighbours and give themselves up. While we need sincere Spirit-given wisdom in this season to discern the way of love, I join many of voices, which have called for us to consider the weak (Romans 15) and not to love our own lives. Contrary to the Church’s historical witness this may mean that we self-isolate, but out of love rather than fear.
4. This is about Listening to short term stories vs. the story of God
I received a senior healthcare official’s comments here in South Africa who advised that in terms of the impact of COVID-19 we should be “very pessimistic in the short-run. But be unwaveringly optimistic for the long-term.”
In one sense, I believe that is a perspective that lives, which are immersed in the story of scripture, could take in the midst of difficulty. Jesus himself promised us “In the world you will have tribulation — but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We should recognise that we are yoked together with our neighbours in the midst of this. I don’t believe we as God’s people are promised to be left untouched by crisis like this, but we do have a vision and hope, one centered on our resurrected King Jesus Christ which roots us in the trust that death and sickness will be defeated and will not have the final word.
While many of us as Christians can affirm this, in situations like this it doesn’t feel true in our bones, as it where.
In this way, this crisis is is apocalyptic as the biblical understanding of that word, which is literally, ’revealing things for what they truly are’. While I don’t subscribe to the idea that God has orchestrated this crisis, I believe, as Romans says “..we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” and that one of the unexpected gifts of this crisis is the ability to self reflect and gain self-knowledge.
Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God. - John Calvin
This year, Rachel and I felt freshly challenged to engage the practise of Sabbath. Although we have had wavering success in implementing it in an already full start to the year, one reason we ‘unplug’ and reflect, is to dwell in God’s reality. We are invited, not to navel gaze but to deep examination of the reality of our inner life with God. When the the muchness and manyness of our exterior lives subsides or becomes overwhelming we are faced with where we are truly at. As we allow God’s Spirit to illuminate the reality of our inner lives we also invite Him to root us more deeply rooted in the truth of the Scriptures and the reality of God’s overarching story which is really good news. It is a story that calls these dead bones together to be an army of other-worldly witnesses in a world of worry and fear. 
And.. finally “Do not neglect Gathering”?
Rachel and I have spent much of the last 10 years helping people to gather as Church in small simple churches. While in good times, large celebratory gatherings are a gift and a witness to the broadness of God’s people, they don’t offer us a place to be deeply known and challenged in our discipleship to Jesus. In smaller groups, over time, you can’t hide your giftedness or your brokeness. These spaces of Jesus-focussed community offer us the gift of self-knowledge and of neighbourly love. I am trusting that many people who, in this season, will have only the option to gather in small numbers will be refreshed and envisioned to live as faithful discipleship of Jesus and discover that ‘where two or three are gathered I am in their midst’.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Jesus
Excellent Further Commentary and Resources
When I began writing this there wasn’t much commentary relating to faith and this crisis. In the last few days, folks that can write faster than I can (and in many cases with more skills and expertise) have pubslished excellent resoruces. Here are a few of the ones that have helped me;
  1. Jon Tyson’s communication’s to their church in NYC
  2. Our friend Martin Clarke’s communications to their Church in Scotland
  3. Andy Crouch’s phenomenal article on Medium
  4. The letter from the Pastor in Boston I referenced
  5. Wheaton College’s Faith-based centre for Humanitarian Disaster’s 21 page plan
  6. Flatten the Curve
  7. Reddit Thread of COVID-19
Grace and Peace to all,
Liam
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Liam Byrnes, 1 Montrose Close, Noordhoek, Western Cape, South Africa