My Dear Shepherds,
A young fellow came to our door the other day selling security systems, including a little camera allowing us to see who is at the door. No matter how good it is, there’s a threat that camera would miss. “Sin is crouching at your door,” God told Cain, with a warning that echoes down to us. “It desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7).
In these difficult days you have sought to strengthen your people in the face of their fears. You’ve fortified their faith with the promises that God knows and cares about their needs and reminded them that this world is not our true home. You have encouraged them to be lights and salt. But don’t forget about sin.
Sin, of course, is always our greatest threat, always stalking us, always crouching at our doors. But in these days temptations find new toeholds because of our new fears, our isolation from most people, and from the inescapable company of a few. Temptations lurk in our boredom, frustrations, and the disruption of healthy routines. This is not only true for our people but for us as pastors. Sin knows where our doors are, too.
Going to church—gathering every Sunday with fellow believers—has always brought both a restraint and a relief from sin. The whole experience of gathering together is a means of grace. Simply seeing fellow believers generates a kind of sweet, unspoken accountability. Being among the saints helps us be saintly. Singing together harmonizes our hearts to lyrics of worship, grace, faith, humility, and yearning. We pray together to build God’s kingdom and for supply of our needs, for forgiveness, and God’s protection from evil.
And there is preaching. If you’re the preacher you’ve tried to engage with your flock through camera and screen but we need our people in the room with us, where words take on life and potency, undiluted by pixels. And, for my part at least, I miss giving and receiving the benediction—the blessing and birthright of God covering us as we go.
All those benefits help guard against sin and find assurance of pardon. But for the time being, pastors will have to fortify ourselves and our flocks less directly. In the contacts you and other leaders have with your people pray with them that God will preserve them from temptation and deliver them from the evil one. In your notes, calls, and video chats remind them to be on guard against the prowling devil and hearten them in their God-blessed walk of righteousness. Affirm their faithfulness whenever you see it.
That said, let me assume that we have sinned and that our people have also sinned, and that our enforced isolation from fellow believers may have left us with stagnating guilt and spiritual atrophy. Sin is always doing more harm in our peoples’ lives than we realize. So bring them to the cross of Christ! Not a week passes when our people do not need our High Priest’s intercession. Every sermon does not need to be on this theme but in one way or another bring your people often to the throne of grace.
For me, in dealing with my own sin, the Holy Spirit has led me recently to two grace-rich resources. One is Dane Ortlund’s wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The other balm of mercy is music. I’ve been listening to a concert of grace including, “He Will Hold Me Fast,” “The Blessing,” “It Is Well with My Soul,” and “Is He Worthy?” I’ve especially loved the rich poetry of a song by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, based on a line from a sermon by John Newton who said:
If our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.
Be ye glad!