If you’re looking around and you’re wondering why things are a little bit different. I’ll get to that in just a second. But before I do that, good morning, everybody. And welcome to the Broward Church. If you’re new here, maybe this is your first time visiting, or if you’re watching online and maybe you’re new to this family, I want to introduce myself. My name is Tony Fernandez.

I serve as an evangelist here. If you’re not sure what an evangelist is, it’s kind of like another name for a pastor in other churches. So that’s what I am here. And I just want to say welcome, welcome and grateful that you’ve chosen to be with us. Over the last three weeks, we’ve been having a conversation on culture and community, and this week we’re going to continue in that very same vein, and we’re going to talk about something that’s a little bit challenge for all of us.

And certainly all of us have had impact on and so many of us have opinions on. And there’s a much more discussion on this than almost anything else in our culture today. But today I want to talk a little bit about community and the culture through Covid 19. COVID is and has been a threat to almost every aspect of our lives. You would agree that it’s impacted our work, it’s impacted our personal lives, it’s impact our schedules, it’s impact our health. And it’s really it’s impacted every single thing we experience in life.

And over the last two weeks, I’ve been saying that culture has a way of working its way into the Church. And the same can be true for the culture of COVID. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum or on the thought for spectrum or the thought spectrum, we’ve all been exposed to wave after wave of fear and concern and frustration and anger and confusion and disappointment because of this pandemic. And so we should not be surprised that though the last 17 months have been incredibly difficult, that those difficulties have made their way into this community, who we are and how we relate to one another have been impacted by what we’ve experienced.

In a moment the reason these chairs are here is because the elders are going to share a little bit for us. We’re going to have a little bit of a family talk tonight or today tonight, because it’s very dark in here. But before we get there, I just wanted to set it up a little bit and tell you about why it’s important we’re talking about this. To my thinking, it is the leaderships, the pastors, the elders responsibility to do this, to help the people under their care, to interpret the world around them through the lens of God’s will.

It is very easy for us to interpret everything through the lens of culture, to interpret everything through the lens of our opinions or our upbringing. And it’s the role primarily of the leadership of the Church to help the people within the Church to think about life and help them navigate life through the context of God’s will in His way. One of our roles is to help people see God and to hear Him through every obfuscation the world arises. See it’s hard to hear God’s voice and see God and to understand God in the midst of chaos.

This is actually what God had set up for the prophets to do in the Old Testament. It’s what the prophets in the ancients did. People like Moses and Joshua and Caleb and so many others in the Old Testament. Their job was to help people interpret the world around them. It was their job to help them calibrate to consider, what would God have us do in this season, how should we be thinking about the world around us. And certainly each of us have the responsibility to figure out what pleases the Lord.

But it’s the leadership, the Church’s leadership responsibility to give all of us tools to understand the world around us. This, as you might imagine, is not an easy task. It’s something that even the greatest profits struggled with. Isaiah 42, a passage I read several weeks ago highlights this, that we are not very good at interpreting the world. It says this, Hear you deaf and look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind, but my servant and deaf but my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as a servant of the Lord.

He sees many things, but he does not observe them. His ears are open, but he does not hear. He sees we see many things, but we can’t seem to grasp how to connect the dots. We can’t seem to understand how to make it all work together. In this part of history, Isaiah is making a point that the people of Israel, the servants of God, did not do well at their primary job, which was helping people interpret the world because they refused to see and they could not hear what God wanted them to hear and see.

In many ways, our task and challenge as a leader has similar obstacles. Our primary goal is to help us again, see and hear right things. Like one of my main goals that I think about is to teach people how to better react and interpret the times that we live within, and to help them interpret them in a way that’s less cynical, less doubtful, and more full of faith. And that’s what we’re hoping to do for you today. I want you and I encourage you to listen carefully to the words of the elders, to listen to them carefully and to carefully consider the instruction that they’re given, because I believe they’re helpful at helping us interpret the world around us.

Here’s a scripture that maybe can be a guiding thought. This is Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watch over you, as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. In this passage, we’re given a command, and then we’re given another implication. The command is that first line, have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.

Have confidence in the people who God has allowed to lead the Church and listen to them. Listen to them, and you wonder why. Well, the next part is important because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. So the thought is the eldership, the leadership of the Church has to give an account for you on the day of judgment. Every person under the care of this Church has to be given an account for when we get to Judgment Day. That’s the leader’s responsibility.

And so they’re trying to carefully consider the information they’re going to give to all of us so that at the end of days, God will look at them and say, Well done, good and faithful servant. The reason this is so difficult is because the Church is an interpretive community, meaning one of the goals of the Church is to think about life and to help us connect all of the dots. It’s an incredibly challenging thing because sometimes right and wrong is actually quite cloudy. Sometimes it looks more black, and sometimes it looks more white and we’re not really sure where to land on some issues.

And so what we have to do is realize that the people who got is placed in our lives to sort of be shepherds of the Church, take a lot of time in prayer, collective wisdom. They take consideration to try to best thwart errant theologies, but also to try to help us navigate and focus on the God’s words so that it can be applicable to the lives in which we live. This is harder than it seems. You and I have to decide, or the people who are in leadership have to figure out the information to give to you so you can chew on it and make it have it impact your life.

That’s really challenging, especially with the Church with as wide of political and wide as sociological spectrum as we have currently in this congregation. But let me tell you why it’s even harder than any of those things. The reason it’s really hard is because our culture right now has pushed away external authorities and embraced instead a post truth narrative which says that the most important authority in your life is your own heart. Who is right but ourselves. I am always right and my ways my views are supposed to be seen as right.

The mantra of our society is Live your own truth and follow your own heart. The Scriptures, however, teach something that is actually contradictory. The teachers that scriptures teach Jeremiah 17, the heart is deceitful above all things. I love this last part, and beyond cure. So we’re taught to follow our heart at our own peril. We might think it’s freeing to do whatever we want to do and to not have anybody else helping us guide our ways through life and help our thoughts and help our opinions through life.

We might think it’s freeing, but I actually believe it’s opposite. It may seem counterproductive, but committing yourself to a Christian community with elders and overseers is actually what really is freeing. And I’ll tell you why. Well, it’s because a Church community with elders and community group leaders and overseers frees us from the crushing weight of our own self obsession. It frees us from the constant need to be right in our own eyes. It frees us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It frees us from the bias-confirming bubbles of only being exposed to, likeminded people who always affirm us and never challenge us.

It frees us from the burden of being accountable only to ourselves. It’s freeing. So as the Elders share, I want to encourage you to embrace the gift of biblically minded, interpretive authority. Embrace it. Don’t get caught up in the beliefs that our ever changing values and our limited understanding are actually more biblically sound than the Eldership. Have time to just sit and embrace it, to sit and embrace it. The reality is the reality is, if we don’t embrace this, what Church becomes is just a consumer commodity that exists merely to serve our own interest on our own terms.

The reality is that Church is a source of wisdom precisely because it does not exist to serve our interest on our terms. It doesn’t exist to agree with you. It doesn’t exist to agree with popular ideologies, doesn’t exist to affirm everyone’s authenticity. It doesn’t exist to shape shift, to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings. The point is, the Church exists to glorify God, and so it’s a great place to draw wisdom from. So I want to encourage you, as they share, to accept the simplicity of that and joyfully commit yourself so that it will go well with you.

At this point, I’d like to invite our elders on stage, and as they do, I want to just also acknowledge John Brush is not here. He’s out of town. But all the other elders will be sharing. And at this time I want to ask you, you acknowledge them and you honor them as a share about community in Covid

We have one lead evangelist and his wife to Tony and Cassandra Fernandez. And we have four eldership couples, and we make a leadership team. And we are like blood brothers, like we love being together. And we meet collectively the five couples on a regular basis to try to plan and be in touch with the needs of the congregation. You guys that we love so much. I wanted to let you know that speaking for the Eldership, we believe Tony is the right man for the job. We think he’s doing a great job and we fully support him.

So We’Re going to be talking about a question, and that question is, can you thrive spiritually during a pandemic? Can you do well spiritually? And that is our hope, and that is our aim. And I know many of you in these difficult times have been maintaining and even growing spiritually, and that’s our goal. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. And we’re so proud of this congregation, and we really love you guys. Let me get rolling here. So we’re going to be talking about, as you can see, principles and practices to thrive spiritually.

And our spirit about this is also found in third, John, Chapter one, there’s only one chapter, verse two, where John says, Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. And that’s our spirit is that we want this congregation to do well physically, and we want this congregation to do well spiritually. And so I do not want any of you to construe what we say is that we’re asking you to take greater risk with your health than you feel comfortable with.

That is not our intent. Our intent is not to encourage you to take off a mask when you want to wear it or to come to a Church service when you don’t feel safe coming. And for those of you joining us online, I’m glad if that’s your decision that you’ve made that decision that you’ve done in your risk management, that decision. We support that idea. We want you to be safe. But what we do want to highlight is your spiritual well being. And you guys know how I like graphs and charts.

So I hope you’ll bear with me on this. But on the left, I put that in our priorities physical health and the pandemic has kind of forced us to be highly aware of our physical health. That is as it should be. But what today is about is about is in your priorities take care of your spiritual health also. And the reason I have put an arrow in that is that I really want to highlight and put forth this idea that we actually believe that your spiritual health is even more important than your physical health.

Both are important. Both are crucial. Please catch the spirit of what I’m saying. So I’m going to start you’re going to hear from every one of the eldership couples, some are out of town. John Brush had to be out of town to meet some needs with his adult children. But you’re going to hear a little bit from each eldership couple, but I’m going to start with a thought for all of us. And it’s this, in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you. And the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Bible’s illustration here, it’s not talking about human anatomy. It’s using human anatomy as an illustration for the Church. And what it’s saying is, the Church functions like a human body. Every part of the body is needed by other parts of the body.

You and I need each other. And if you say to yourself during the pandemic, I really don’t need other people. We believe that that’s a mistake, that this is an enduring principle that we need each other, and in whatever way you find safe and secure, you need a hug, right? You need a hug. You need to sit across from your kitchen table or sit across from somebody at wherever place you feel safe and have face to face, eye to eye contact with somebody, even if it’s not the whole Church.

We all need that. And so we’re going to discuss ways to do that. The next person up is my wife, and my wife is going to share from a unique perspective, and that is because my wife is a physician. She’s board certified in family medicine and has been in practice for 33 years. But she also was baptized in 1978 and has been a faithful and fruitful disciple through all of that. And I believe that she can lend us both a physical health perspective and also a spiritual health perspective.

Dr Pamela Sterns.

In the last 18 months have been the most challenging time of my 33 plus years of practicing medicine. Battling COVID has been a relentless, alarming and often tragic fight with an ever moving target as we try to develop strategies to stop this devastating infection. And even more so recently, with the recent onslaught of cases in Broward County, over running our hospitals and overwhelming our physicians just when we thought we had a respite from this insidious and elusive enemy. But the greater alarm is the effect that this has had on our spiritual health.

I want to commend the Church for springing into action when the pandemic first broke out and each Sunday providing us with exceptional spiritual nourishment as well as continued lessons and encouragement for our midweek, I have to admit it was easy for me to get used to rolling out of bed on Sundays and participating in the worship service from my couch with a cup of coffee in my hand. But when we return to in person worship services my first Sunday, I was moved emotionally and I broke down in tears, even though unlike so many of you, I’ve never had to work from home but went to the office daily where I was surrounded by Christians and even my neighbors across the street are disciples and coming home every day to my husband, who’s a Minister of the gospel.

I still desperately, desperately needed the connection to the body to you guys. And just as important, even if my needs were getting met, I needed to be there for others who needed me, it was time to get out of survival mode and get Proactive spiritually. I often say as a doctor, the best I can do is postpone death and ease suffering. But as a Christian, I can offer healing and the chance for eternal life. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.

Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell are not two sparrows sold for a Penny, yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of your Father’s care. What Jesus is acknowledging in this Scripture is that there are physical dangers to be aware of, but that our spiritual well being is paramount and takes precedence. Lacking a connection with the body of Christ, and allowing our fears to keep us from engaging in the work of God can and will affect our relationship with God and ultimately our eternal Salvation.

Now, having said that, I’m not advocating being irresponsible about how we do this, but instead consider how we can do it in a safe manner. First Corinthians ten it says in verse 23. I have the right to do anything you say, but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything, but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good but the good of others. I had COVID a year ago last August, but due to the fact that I have an autoimmune disease and I’m on immunosuppressive treatment, I did not Mount an immune response.

Being a physician, I was eligible to be vaccinated early in January of this year, but my immune system again failed to Mount an immune response. I therefore do the responsible thing. I wear my mask and protective gear not only at work but at Church. And when I meet in various Church related groups. I avoid unnecessary and high risk activities because I’m obligated to keep myself safe as it affects so many other people, not the least of which are my patients and staff. But in light of what is at stake, that is our spiritual safety, I think it’s crucial not to panic and give up meeting together, but rather do it in a safe way, being careful to be considerate and protect one another. We all have rights to do whatever we feel is best, but please weigh your actions and conduct in light of its effect on other Christians. In other words, consider the welfare of others above your own. Think about what you can do that allows for other people to be part of the community. Let’s not put a stumbling block in each other’s way, but instead seek the good of others in every way possible. Thank you.

Good morning, Church. It’s good to be with you all. You know, our Church throughout its history has found ever more creative ways to be devoted in brotherly love and fellowship. Like that popular song from Earth, Wind and Fire. We need devotion. It’s not optional. We need it. It is part of the human condition built in to us because we’re made in the image of God. You know, when you think about some of the churches throughout history that I’ve had to be devoted to one another in perilous times, you can go back to some of our churches in South Africa.

They met a mixed fellowship when it was against the law during apartheid, where they could be arrested for doing so because they recognized their need to be devoted. Some of our young churches in China, they have to get on bikes and ride out of the city to be able to read their Bibles and pray together because they recognize their need to be devoted, even though it was against the law. We have churches that are still underground in Muslim countries where even worse things than just being arrested can happen to you.

And yet they meet together because they know that there is an absolute spiritual need to being devoted. Being devoted is not an option for us as Christians, even our own Church here in Broward County. There is a time when we didn’t have a building, so we met in high school, middle schools, hotels. When you share your faith and invite someone to Church, you oftentimes didn’t know where you were inviting them to go, so you have to make sure to get their phone number. But we still grew as a Church because we were devoted, right?

We were devoted to one another. 1st and 2nd century Christians would go so far as to meet in the Catacombs in Rome, underground in the darkness with the dead, to be together because being devoted was not optional for Christians. We have a definite need to be devoted to one another in brotherly love, as it says in Philippians chapter two, verse three and four.

Do Nothing out of selfish, ambition or vain conceit rather in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. You know, this scripture talks about how we need to do nothing. That’s a radical call. It didn’t say, do some things. Right? And not looking to our own interest, but look to the interest and welfare of others. In the early days of the Pandemic, it was really easy to operate out of fear and to be really concerned for self, right, and to do what was important as far as we could tell, that was good for self. But because as Christians, we know Jesus has taken care of our most important problem, eradicating sin and conquering death we actually don’t have to operate out of the fear of death any longer. But we can operate out of brotherly love. So if what that means for us individually is that we decide we want to be a part of a small group and we develop a small group Covenant where we know we’re going to be socially distant in certain circles, but we’re going to meet together, mashed up where we can see each other, then so be it. If that’s what it takes to be devoted. For others of us because of taking care of family members who are sick or enfeebled or whatever the situation is, we need to continue to meet over FaceTime or Zoom. So be it. As long as we’re devoted to it. That’s what God calls us to. My wife’s going to share a little bit about what this looks like in practice, because many of us are doing these things. But I think it’s important for us to know that these things are happening amongst us in the body, even today, while we’re living this out.

Okay the picture behind me is the Siatti family, and we got to live this out with their daughter, Gabby, preparing to get baptized. Gabby wanted to get baptized at the beach and, of course, Hollywood Beach. And just to set the scenario up for you, a bunch of us got together and decided we were going to be devoted. We wanted to see her make Jesus Lord of her life. So we got there no parking spots to be found. Everything was crowded. When we did finally get a parking spot, we went to the beach.

And of course, as you look to your left and to your right, as you can imagine, it was crowded, wall to wall, people everywhere. You know, we thought, how could there be a pandemic going on? There’s so many people out at the beach, more bodies than sand on the beach. But at any rate, literally, and you’re probably wondering, like we were wondering, how in the world will we find each other? Well, all of us that were there to support Gabby and her family. We had our mask on, so it was easy to identify each one of us.

So we were the only ones there with masks on. But it was an incredible time, family, because we were able to sing songs to encourage Gabby and her family. We were able to pray. Many shared about Gabby, and we got to hear her share from her own heart. And then afterwards, she was baptized into Christ and became our sister, which is incredible. And that’s not just the only example. We have other examples. We don’t have enough time to recount all of them. But that’s an example of the devotion and practice that we had there and that we continue to see.

And as I think about it, brothers and sisters, we live in troubling times. We’ll always live in troubling times. If it’s not the Corona virus and the pandemic today, it will be something else tomorrow, something five years from now in the future. But what we have to do is to hold to God’s word and His scriptures into the devotion that we have to one another. It’s not an option. It’s an obligation that we do have to one another. So just in closing up here with all of that, just know and be encouraged that the gospel is not limited by anything or anyone.

And it’s a call for us, an admonishment to others of us and are urging for some of us to be faithful, to be considerate and to be devoted to one another.

Thank you. Well, just thanks for coming out this morning, Mary and I usually attend the 09:00 service but, man, I it’s great to catch up with brothers and sisters, but maybe I need to start going to both, because. But even with you guys here, it’s amazing that it’s been over a year. I think Pam, like 18 months since I’ve seen some of you guys face to face and be able to give you hug. And that really saddens me. Before I get too emotional here. You know, I’ve been known to be a meanie as some have called me or a cry baby. And as I was preparing for this lesson, I didn’t know how it was going to come across because I have a conviction about some of the things I want to share with you. But at the same time, I hurt for you. I know, especially for some of us who are dealing with things because of our own past medical issues. And I really appreciate and I don’t know if you guys caught what Pam said, but because of her auto immune system, she had Covid, she’s had the shot, but she doesn’t have any antibodies, which means she can be very susceptible to getting again.

But yet she works with sick people, especially a lot of them today at COVID patients. But that doesn’t stop her from going to work and doing what her calling is. How much more important is for us to do what our calling is. You know, we are reaching out and helping people with their spiritual sickness. And when we can help people get spiritually connected, that’s the route to heaven. If we’re not doing that, who is? Tony talked about the church’s special sauce, and I really like that because I love sauces, especially the special sauce.

And I’m going to read to you guys, this scripture in Romans twelve four to twelve, I think, is the ingredients of that special sauce that really make us a unique Church. Want you guys to see my face. So Romans twelve, starting verse four, for just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function. So in Christ, we though many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the Grace given to each of us.

If your gift is prophesizing, then prophesy in accordance with your faith. If it is serving, then serve. If it is teaching, then teach. If it is to encourage, then give encouragement. If it is giving, then give generously. If it is to lead, do it diligently. If it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. To me, this is the icing on the cake. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil? Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal. But keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient and affliction faithful in prayer. Well, we are a very diverse Church in so many different ways, which I think makes us wonderfully beautiful.

A Hand painting by God. Where We’re not diverse is our walk with God. We are one body, and all of us, all of our parts need to be functioning so we can do it well. We need to consider how can I honor God in these difficult times? Brothers and sisters, what more of a time do we have to be a shining light in these crazy times? So what does that mean for me? For some of us, we’ve been vaccinated. Some of us, we haven’t. And we have our different reasons why we have or haven’t.

And some of us have been vaccinated, but still have to be super cautious about going out because maybe we have someone at home that hasn’t been we’re taking care of an elderly parent or an elderly friend. We just want to make sure that they can be as safe as possible. But that doesn’t stop us from being with one another. If you can’t do it in person, there are a lot of other ways we can do it. It starts out by being connected to a community group.

If you are not connected to a community group, you need to repent and get connected. That’s where that’s where all this starts is being with one another in that community group. So if you’re not a part of a community group, you need to find one. If you’re not sure where, reach out to Joe or Michael. Both of them community group directors can help you find that community group. But, hey, if you are a part of the community group, but you’re afraid to meet in person. Man, that’s why God gave us Zoom.

You might be Zoom fatigued. Well, you got a cell phone. You can start out as simply enough of just reaching out to another brother sister and forming a prayer group, or have more than one. You know, you can do it by Zoom, or you can do it by phone. But you can be connecting with each other through modern technology. But nothing beats meeting together. And there is a bunch of places that you can meet outdoors and be social distanced wearing your mask, but yet be in person.

But if you’re fearful of that, I get it. There are times where I’m fearful of that. You can do it through modern technology. But, hey, when you are on Zoom, if you’re always a community group, man, are you being connected? Or do you just have it on the background? You know, I bumped into a brother and sister and I was talking about that morning service because they’ve been powerful, man, tony and the rest of the gang through the summer just did a phenomenal job. And I asked him about it, and they said, oh, we’re gonna watch it later.

You know, I should have discipled them, because to me, being connected is when there’s a 09:00 service or 1115 o’clock service that I’m there watching at 09:00 or 1115 not when its convenient. And if I’m watching that service, I need to be singing with the singers, not just sitting there like I’m a spectator, but be participating, taking notes, saying Amen. Yeah, you may be the only one there, but are you connected with us or not? It’s easy just to turn it on and sit back and forget who we are.

We are God’s people, and it starts with that connection with one another. And hey, that’s what chats all about. You can say Amen. No one’s going to hear you, but they can say amen on the chat and we all heard you right? And let me tell you, as a speaker, that feedback means so much to us. I recently taught a finance class, had about 40 people on average watching it, and only about four of them had their cameras on. And it was tough for me because I really depend on that feedback, you know, on just how I’m doing and how I’m connecting.

Pat Brush shared with me about two sisters, and I just want to share this with you because to me, well, it’s convicting. One of the sisters are in as part of her community group into Roxanna Alvarez. When Roxanna became a Christian a little over two years ago, she was a cancer survivor of three years. Her mother, who is with her is bed bound with Parkinson’s and dementia. She has to schedule her activities away from home, making sure her mom is cared for. She works two jobs and fills the responsibility of staying healthy because if she gets sick, who will take care of her mom?

Plus, she could pass the sickness on to her mother. So she is very cautious. Even so, Roxanna really understands the value of community and staying connected. Every zoom community group meeting and or zoom book club. She makes sure she is present camera on, making comments, and even if she has to leave for a few minutes to do something for her mom, she comes back. She and another sister and her community group pray on the phone together every morning. She regularly sends greeting cards by mail out to her community group and people she reads about on Realm, even though she’s never met them. A sister from La Church recently joined their Zoom book club, and when they decided to take a break for the summer, Roxanna sensed that the La sister was somewhat isolated and distressed. So she continued the book club just between the two of them. It’s that kind of stuff that’s our special sauce. When her community group meets in person to celebrate birthdays, she’s always the first to help. Even she can’t stay longer than an hour because she drives from Hialia to then Run Pines, which were the community group meets or the Church building to join.

During the pandemic she and Pat have regular coffee times together where either it’s on the phone during her lunch break or in person the outside at Panera near her house. Another sister that Pat shared about is Andrea Morrison, who was here this morning, has served on the hospitality team faithfully since January. She takes care of her father, who is now receiving Hospice care at her house, so she is cautious. She’s not willing to come into the auditorium during worship, but she sits with Pat out in the foyer to listen to the sermon.

She brings her son, David, to help on the team, knowing that he needs to engage with others to be spiritually healthy. She talks with visitors outside as they leave the building and tries to keep them connected to the Church. They have reasons not to come, but they understand the importance of being connected.

In the last few months, some familiar words of Jesus have found new meaning for me. All this, let’s see. Here we are. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I’ve said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Well, my heart has certainly been troubled and afraid. For the past year and a half, I’ve tried to wrap my head around this pandemic and all that has brought, and still, even after 20 months, it’s troubling. Do not let your hearts be troubled is a great promise, and I’m struggling to make that my reality. I still have a lot to learn about sorting through and surrendering to God, my concerns that are legitimate versus concerns that are hijacked by fear. For me, I think about, well, what does fear look like?

For me fear pulls me into an isolated head space, and it pushes faith away. Quarantines lockdowns and social distancing our public realities. But I can allow them to fuel my fear, and it’s an assault on my spiritual health. After months of not meeting together with the Body of Christ and watching Church online, I was really surprised at my own reluctance to reengage in a meaningful way with my brothers and sisters and meet in person. Fear only sees the obstacles of being with people, and it doesn’t seek solutions and look for ways to obey God.

I’ve taken precautions to protect my health. I did COVID testing. I’ve gotten the vaccine. I wear a mask, practice social distancing. I don’t believe that adhering to safety protocols equals a lack of faith, but I underestimated the damage brought about by disconnection from others. I did not protect my heart from another kind of disease that’s hard to detect and that’s indifference. I used a pandemic sized excuse to take a break from the messy and sometimes heartbreaking work of loving you. Loving my brothers and sisters. I understand why there’s a warning in Hebrews 1025 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.

It’s easier not to engage with other Christians regularly now that we’re not in the habit of meeting together. Like the saying goes out of sight, out of mind. So I have to ask, what about my love for my brothers and sisters and my need for others like Pam and others have talked about here today. I think living through a pandemic presents a unique opportunity, a teaching moment for each of us. It’s like a chance of a lifetime. Face your fear encounter with the counselor like Jesus talked about in John 14, who wants to teach us all things.

Whether I’m here in this building or at home on my Zoom Book Club call, will I allow the counselor to teach me how to dismantle my indifference and care deeply for others? I have many Broward T shirts that say A Church, not for ourselves. Will I allow the counselor to teach me what that looks like in a pandemic and how I can live it out now? Fighting my indifference means that I will look for those teaching moments and for creative ways to connect with others and not give up because I know what’s at stake.

I’m fighting to find these ways, and I’m finding lots of outdoor spaces in Broward County where I can meet up with others and have some meaningful conversations. Jesus said that the counselor will also remind us of his words, which is really good because I’m prone to forget. I must remember Jesus’s words that loving God and loving others is still the greatest commandment pandemic or not. When I’m tempted to fear that all the things I enjoy will be taken because of COVID, Jesus’s words remind me that the most important things will be given to me if I seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.

The virus variant may continue to be caused for great concern in the months ahead, but the counselor is at the ready, eager to teach new ways to face fear and find solutions to be with one another. You know, after 20 months of pandemic living, I really have found a new understanding in Jesus’s words in John 14 that the only peace worth having is the peace only Jesus can give. Thank you.

So I have some concluding remarks, and I know we’ve gone a few minutes longer than normal. Please bear with me. I just have a few moments of concluding remarks. At the end of that time, I’ll say a prayer so that we can share the Lord’s supper together. As you guys know, I like charts, so I’m going to show you a chart in a minute. But I just want to share the scripture with you where it says above all else, Guard your heart for everything you do flows from it, and that’s our encouragement to you is that you will guard your heart.

And so I want to talk a little bit about some specifics of this. There’s the guarded, the healthy heart, where you’re watching out for your heart spiritually. And there’s the unguarded heart. And what we want to encourage you to do is to continue to be obedient to God because the scriptures and the teachings and the scriptures are timeless, even through a pandemic. And not let this pandemic make you a dormant disciple where you’re deciding I’m going to recommit to Christianity later. Please do not do that.

Christians, through the centuries have been through all kinds of hardships and kept their active faith. That’s our encouragement to you. As we’ve already talked about, a guarded heart, a healthy heart is going to maintain and even grow in your Christian friendships rather than becoming reclusive. Please don’t let the pandemic make you become reclusive. Even if technology is the only way you can connect, that’s fine. Don’t become reclusive. And every one of us is managing risk. Are you going to go to the grocery store? Are you going to go to an event?

You know, you have to weigh the risk and decide if you’re gonna go. Well, what we want to do is encourage you when you weigh what kind of risk you think is tolerable to factor in your faith. Please don’t have the unguarded heart. Where you’re willing to accept a higher level of risk to go to Disney Disney World to go to an event, maybe a music concert, but you’re not willing to gather with other Christians. And so I’m not asking you to take your greater risk than you’re accepting.

I’m asking you to factor in faith even over leisure. Please do that. And of course, I think that our concern for this pandemic has us so focused on receiving news, getting the latest updates that can kind of crowd out the kind of solitude and focus on God that we have in prayer and Bible study. Please don’t let your fear or your concerns push out your walk with God. And the last slide I have is I just want to quickly go through some specifics. If your meeting in person choose people that you can safely meet with in person, what I have for the last bullet point and there is create your own bubble.

And what I mean by that is pick a group of people that you feel safe being around other Christians and meet with them. Like I already talked about, we all need a hug. And so find a group of people a great place to start, as Tom talked about is your community group. Now, even a lot of the community groups are having a mixture of some people meeting in person and some people meeting on Zoom. That’s great. Whatever you guys feel good about, it doesn’t have to start with coming on a Sunday service.

Although I’m so grateful that many of you have been willing to do that. Start in a place that’s safe and find your own bubble. Of course, as many of you know, meeting outdoors is a great place to start. The community group that I’m in goes to a park, and we actually do Zoom from the park. Some people meet in person, and some people join us by Zoom. If you’re going to get together with people and engage with people virtually, please make available the technology. Please get used to it.

I know even after 17 or 18 months or however long it’s been, maybe some of you are not yet comfortable with video conferencing. Get some help. Rather than becoming reclusive and not engaging. Initiate conversation. Please don’t wait for people to come to you. As Pam talked about be Proactive. And perhaps what you can do if you’re connecting virtually is even have regular routine times that you talk to each other. Every Monday, my wife and Pat Parnell pray together on the phone. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about where you can get into a routine.

And that way you’re not always having to choose to initiate. You’ve got something scheduled that may be help helpful to you. I hope this has been helpful. Please take care of yourself. We love you, and we want you guys to do well. I’m going to say a prayer as we share the Lord Supper together as a body of Christ. Holy Father, we praise you that you started with Jesus Father and how sacrificial you are and in how loving you are and God help us to imitate you and imitate your son by having sacrificial love for each other.

Lord, as we take the Lord Supper together, help us to have hearts filled with gratitude and hearts filled responsiveness. As we think of your love and the love of your son Jesus, we pray these things in your son’s.