Count. Care. Gather.
Words of encouragement From Elder Norman Vaughn
Spoken on Sunday March 22, 2020
Good morning, Bethel Family.
At a time like this, when I get to speak to an empty room, I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle John in 2 John 12:
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
If I could paraphrase that to fit the situation today, I’d say, “Though I have much to say to you, I’d rather not use a livestream to do it. Instead I hope to be with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
There’s a lot to be said about talking face to face. About being gathered together with each other in one place.
We are Bethel Temple Community Bible Church. The name is a little redundant because we are a community, and we are a church. In Spanish, instead of the word “church”, what do we say? We say iglesia.
In the New Testament, the greek word that gets translated “church” is Ecclesia. That’s where we get it from in Spanish. But it means more than just a building or a group of people.
Ecclesia means a “gathering.” It’s a gathering of people in a place for a specific purpose. At Bethel Temple that purpose is “to make disciples, to reach the lost & to renew our neighborhood, all in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Let me read to you a passage of scripture from Hebrews 10:24-25:
“... let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
But if we are not allowed to gather, how can we be called Ecclesia, the church, the gathering? How can we obey this verse that tells us to “not neglect to meet together?”
I want you to listen carefully to this: From everything we know today, statistically speaking, odds are you’ll never get Coronavirus. Especially if you do all the things we are being told to do, like washing your hands, not touching your face, keeping 6 feet away from others. And of the people who do get Coronavirus, 86% of them recover just fine.
But, the danger of this pandemic is far greater than just a physical danger. The far greater threat is not the virus itself; it is the spiritual threat that we face.
What do I mean? For most people, after just 3 Sunday of missing church (that’s 21 days) it grows harder & harder to get back into the habit of gathering. New patterns, new habits form.
That’s why over and over again in the Bible, 40 days is such a crucial period of time: it’s habit forming - it takes 20 days to break old habits and 20 days to form new ones.
In the Bible we see:
Moses: transformed by 40 days on mount Sinai
David: who rose up during a time of crisis to meet Goliath’s 40-day challenge
Ninevah: who were given 40 days to repent (& they did!)
Jesus: who spent 40 days in the wilderness at the start of His ministry
The Disciples: 40 days following the resurrection before Jesus ascended into heaven
...and there are many more examples like this found in the pages of scripture. 40 days of transformation.
Likewise, for you, these next 40 days can be transformational in your life in either a negative way or a positive way.
Here’s what I mean by transformational in the negative sense: You get out of the habit of gathering. You get out of the habit of giving. You get out of the habit of serving. New habits form. Me-centered habits.
The way this happens is simply by doing nothing. The old habits die off. The new habits take their place. But we don’t want these next 40 days to be transformational in your life in the negative. We want them to be transformational in your life in a positive way. \
I’m going to ask you to commit to 3 new habits over the next 40 days. Three new habits. Ready?
Even though you’re not here in the room with me, I can hear what you're saying. You’re saying, “wait a minute, Norman. You just said not to develop new me-centered habits.”
That’s true, and I’m glad you’re paying attention. Taking care of yourself sounds selfish at first, but let me explain:
When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why? Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their oxygen mask.
This is an important metaphor for those of us who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you experience burnout, stress, fatigue, anxiety, frustration, sleep problems. In short, your mental & emotional health suffers.
Each morning, put on your oxygen mask first by getting enough rest, exercising regularly; eating right; spending time every day in God’s word & in prayer. Care for your own mental, physical, emotional & spiritual needs.
We are of no use to others if we are running on empty ourselves.
Why is this important? Because right now it’s easier than ever to see negative things going on around us: The store is out of the things we want. Our job situation is not what we want it to be. Our lives seem like they are turned upside down.
So I want you to Count your blessings. Every day, write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Maybe it’s because you’ve got food to eat. You’ve got a house to live in. You have your health. God gave you His word. You have a church family who loves you.
You’ve got a lot to be thankful for. We’ve got way more to be grateful for than we have to complain about. So, write them down every day.
I don’t care where you write these three things down. Use a journal. Make a daily post of your 3 things on social media. Tape it to your bathroom mirror or on your fridge. It’s not important where you do it.
What’s important is that you get into the daily habit of being grateful.
You say, “Keep gathering?!? I want to, but now we are not allowed to congregate. We’re not allowed to gather!” That’s why this becomes a new habit. Or maybe for many of us, it’s an old habit played out in new ways.
Even if you can’t meet together with your church family in person for the moment, make a daily commitment to keep in touch. Although texting & social media can be useful, for this habit I want you to use your voice and your face, not just typed-out words on a screen. Connect with people.
FaceTime a member of your church family. Or, call someone and talk on the phone with them for a few minutes. Pray with someone. Tell others what you have been reading in God’s word, tell them what you are grateful for, and tell them how they can pray for you.
Do it every day.
In conclusion, let me say this: Keep at this. Form these new habits. Don’t get discouraged. As Pastor Eric would say, “Stay encouraged.” This won’t happen overnight. Remember, it takes 20 days to break an old habit, and another 20 days to gain a new habit.
God bless you. Remember, you are not in this alone. We are in this together, and most importantly, God is with us.