A lot has been spoken about our hopes for a post-corona world. But recently I heard a discussion about life “with corona.” The advice was about fully living in the present rather than exhausting ourselves with impatience for a quick resolution. There is a popular legend that frightened ostriches bury their heads in the sand in the hopes that trouble will pass them by. I guess it’s that much easier to turn a blind eye to reality. To live “with corona,” in contrast, suggests having eyes wide open to better recognize opportunities and overcome obstacles in the season we are in right now.
I remember the conversation I had with a mentor many years ago. He was battling cancer back then. To my question, “Are you fighting well?” he answered, “I stopped the fight. I decided to befriend it now. It still wages war, but I respond with thanks for reminding me of the pain Jesus bore for me. The pain comes and goes, but now I can thank God for it.”
Doing all things and bearing all things becomes possible when we find ourselves in Jesus Christ, no matter how heavy the challenges we face. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” declared Apostle Paul in his letter to Philippians (4:11-13), after explaining “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” It must be this secret that my mentor was referring to while living with cancer.
Over a decade ago, I was asked to be an advocate for a pastor who was charged by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC. The advocate had to be an elder in full connection, and an attorney-at-law was assigned to assist the advocate. I was puzzled why the defendant chose me as the advocate. His reasoning was that I’m known as the “best fighter among Korean American pastors within the UMC circle.” The trial lasted for several months. Traveling biweekly from Atlanta to Philadelphia was not easy, but I learned a lot over the process. But still to this day, I can’t help but laugh that people saw the best fighter in me.
Long Island East and West districts are jointly hosting a Pastoral Ministry Seminar via Zoom this Tuesday. I’ll be offering training as a follow-up to my presentation at the September LIE clergy gathering. ‘Change from a dysfunctional to a functional, healthy congregation’ is the primary theme of my presentation. And I often receive the same question from the audience: “How does a pastor win against people who oppose and stall the efforts to build up ministry?” And my answer, as always, is that ‘Jesus Christ must always be the only winner in the church.” And I say this from personal experience. There were times in the past when I tried to win, or when I mistakenly thought I had won. But at the end of the day, I would learn a hard lesson that we can’t please God unless Christ, who is the Lord of the church, wins every time.
The prolonged pandemic will leave lasting scars on our bodies, hearts, and souls. The pain is felt deeper among the lonely and vulnerable. I pray that we, especially pastors, could be a more caring and loving presence for church members who feel isolated or alienated. Isn’t that how we shine light in the darkness, be a voice for the voiceless, give hope to the hopeless, and be the friend of a wounded heart? I believe that’s what the Bible calls us to be, over and over again.
I pray God’s love will grow more abundantly in us in times of crisis.