Letter from Pastor Koh: Forging Strength in the Small during this time of COVID-19 5/26/20 Dear VCFer, It has been 11 Sundays since I last wrote to you, and much has changed in the way church has been these 11 weeks. I know that for several of us, the season has been difficult, with th…
Letter from Pastor Koh: Forging Strength in the Small during this time of COVID-19
It has been 11 Sundays since I last wrote to you, and much has changed in the way church has been these 11 weeks. I know that for several of us, the season has been difficult, with the disappearance of many basic things we have grown to rely on over the years. Many are wondering what the oft spoken “new normal” would be like when this is all over. This applies to church, no less than the rest of life. So for example, the Sunday service assembly we have been accustomed to calling “church”, is not available to us. Face-to-face fellowship, and direct prayer with physical touch is now something we haven’t had for 11 weeks now. It is weird that fellowship over food, such a key part of VCF life, is obliterated from our church life!
Yet it seems clear to me that God has prepared us for this moment for years. When many of the normal activities in the life of the church are not available to us, we are compelled to distinguish between the most crucial ingredients of church, and the things that are good, but not as crucial for this time.
We believe that rather than trying to rush back to “normal”, this is an appointed time in which God is deeply testing, strengthening and healing the most important parts of the church, and of our individual lives, which are the crucial building blocks of church. And it is not in the large group, or in the macro-sized gatherings and activities that the substance and strength of the church is forged, but in the smallest units of spiritual life - in the home, our prayer groups, in our family life, our small groups, our one-on –one discipleship, our acts of reaching out to those whom God is directing us, our individual witness, our prayer life, our daily devotions, our relationships with our housemates, our spouses and children every day. In such basic places, we are not an anonymous part of a crowd, but singularly deciding for God, wrestling with long-standing issues in our souls and in our families. And it is in the small, domestic settings that a deeper, more thorough work is being done to prepare our church for revival. In some ways, focusing on the smaller units of church (small groups, daily corporate prayer, worshiping on Sunday with the family, ministering to each other etc.) and experiencing church in the domestics of home, we are faced with the most basic unit of our real spiritual condition. It is in the small, the domestic, that God is strengthening and healing us.
The need for this is great. Urgent, even. If the church is weak in these areas, the very bricks that form the larger church as a whole will be fragile, and unable to stand up to the pressures to come, let alone the hardship of quarantine. For example, it is not in the Sunday worship service that we learn to worship, to break through barriers, to move in the Spirit, to pray out, to operate in the gifts, to not depend on the musicality of instrumental backing, and to develop sensitivity to the Spirit, and to our own spirit. It is in the unstructured worship of the small group that we learn these things first-hand. It is in the small group that we learn to intercede, and pray in the spirit, follow the leading of the spirit, and even make mistakes so that we learn and sharpen our spiritual instincts. Without the props of rich musical backing, we learn to stir up and edify our spirits to overcome heaviness and break through in the spiritual realm. How strong we are in the spirit depends a lot on this. In VCF, no worship leader is asked to lead on Sunday if he or she is not adept at leading in the small group, because it is there that the real spirituality of worship is forged. Other than that it’s not much more than just music. The over-dependence on making church easy on Sunday makes for a fluffy church. Happy and attractive, but made up of weak bricks.
I believe that in this period, God has given us a limited time to strengthen the crucial areas that make up church: corporate prayer, small group discipleship, intimate fellowship, caring for one another, connecting in the spirit through prayer, facing up to serious problems and interceding through them through corporate prayer, leading our children in devotional life, facing the everyday realities of domestic life (with little recourse to escape to work). Several ones who have been joining for daily and weekly prayer witness to seeing a tremendous strengthening of faith and spiritual intimacy just by the faithful discipline of daily prayer in a group. Discipline has broken through to delight. It’s been encouraging to see that in these days of social distancing, we have more than doubled the number of small groups and more than doubled the number of VCFers who belong to a regular prayer group.
Our hope is that in emphasizing the small, rather than the large during this period of Covid 19, we shall be giving space to God to do the deeper work in our church, making us more solidly founded on precious jewels:
"Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. All your children will be taught of the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.” (Isaiah 54:11-13)
In a way, this period reminds me of the Church in China in the aftermath of the Revolution. Many churches closed down and many Christians left the faith under the pressure of Communism. Unfortunately, much of the work of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, for example, was devastated. There was however one of two movements that thrived during this time. One of them was the group “Little Flock” started by Watchman Nee. Many other churches depended much on the congregational model with its congregational-sized “large group meetings” complete with attractive infrastructure. Nee’s group, on the other hand, worked in small groups with a highly rigorous practice of his teachings. Even today, the depth and strength of the Christians of that movement is distinct.
In view of the recent CCP- sponsored persecution of churches (teachers asked to denounce their faith, taking down of crosses, demolishing of churches, neighbors used to report on Christians etc.) house churches that are growing in size are re-emphasizing small groups, rather than high-visibility congregational meetings. It’s not hard to imagine this for our own situation.
I believe that God is preparing us as a church for revival, but also for testing. It seems unmistakable that this period is a preparation for both.
We don’t know how long this period of social distancing will last. We are committed to following the mandates given us by the County and State in preparing for an ordered and conscientious return to services in our Sanctuary. Our return to the Sanctuary will happen. All precautions will be closely followed so that all will be safe. In the remaining time we have under these restrictions, may I heartily urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to join the daily and/or weekly prayer, as well as the small groups, bible-studies and discussion groups such as The Gathering (click here for more information). And do help your children to plug into our CM and Youth sessions. In an age in which public institutions endeavor to marginalize the influence of families and churches as much as possible, the urgent task of parents is to be wise and present disciplers of our children.
Letter to VCF: We are Going Virtual - Effective 3/19/20
Starting March 19, 2020, Vision Christian Fellowship is going virtual with all of our meetings in compliance with local, state, and federal guidelines. This includes prayer gatherings, small groups, Sunday Worship Service, and even one-on-one meetings. While the latest guidelines allow social gatherings of less than 10 people, we have decided to avoid all face-to-face gatherings in the spirit of minimizing the further spread of the coronavirus. We anticipate that we will be in this mode for quite some time.
Therefore, as a church, we will be transitioning to a period of virtual meetings, which allow us to continue to meet together (Hebrews 10:25) while remaining subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). We understand that connecting to virtual meetings may be new for some and will do our best to help everyone be connected during this time.
Visit our Livestream page for all the information for connecting to all of our meetings. If you have any questions or require assistance connecting to virtual meetings, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
We will keep you posted on further details.
Pastoral Letter regarding COVID 19
As the COVID-19 virus affects more and more spheres of life, it would be good for us to reflect on what God may be doing in these peculiar times. It’s easy to be caught up with the quickly fluctuating winds of change that affect how we gather, how our hearts are affected, and how we follow God. It’s crucial that we are grounded in what God, in His foreknowledge, has been preparing us for up to now. You will be receiving communication from the church on many practical, health and logistical levels. From a pastoral viewpoint, here are a few thoughts:-
- Scripture is clear that there is indeed a protection for those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High. Psalm 91 promises that “he will deliver you from the …deadly pestilence” so that we will not fear the pestilence that stalks in darkness (Ps. 91:3-6). In v.7, we are even told that a thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand on your right hand. In Exodus 15:26, the children of Israel are told:
If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.
The mistake that some Christians make is in interpreting these promises to mean that there is a blanket legal and unconditional right to immunity from diseases because of the word of God. The obvious counter argument to that belief is another mistake - that since we already know of Christians who have died of diseases, these promises are not applicable, and therefore should be discounted. What these 2 opinions fail to see is that there is a great blessing in these words if we take them seriously, and allow their power to take hold.
These promises are invitations to us to enter into a powerful dynamic that is active, though unfortunately, elusive to many.
The real power is in the invitation to dwell in the secret place of the Most High- not in a facile passivity that isn’t engaged with God, but by being increasingly filled with the Spirit.
It is in our spirits that the divine life of God is resident. And God has been longing for us to draw into the fire of His presence in our spirits, not just in our minds or emotions. To be in the refuge of God takes effort but is founded upon simple trust in the truth that He is true to His word. It is not our striving efforts that arm us, but the grace of God. But it is whole-hearted and often strenuous prayer against the resistance of the flesh that activates that life of God, the faith of God and the power of God in us. When that life of God issuing from our spirits permeates our mind, emotions, will and bodies, we are transformed and lightened by God’s presence. In Psalm 34, when we look intently to God, our faces are enlightened and delivered from all our fears. We have been talking a lot about the real dynamics of being face to face with God. By patiently waiting on God, slowly, a change occurs in our whole being. Our double-mindedness, our distraction is singularized into a steady gaze upon God. The importance of waiting until singularization of our souls grips us, cannot be overestimated. To dwell in the secret place is to extend the momentary occurrence of this experience to a continual abiding. This does not mean that we will never die of disease, but if we walk in the Spirit, we will certainly not die an untimely death.
- I would encourage us all to pray in the spirit throughout the day.Let this time which coincides with Lent, be a sanctifying and purifying time that comes with extraordinary blessing. This is an important time to allow God to search us, to “see if there be some wicked way in me” and to allow repentance to flow. This is hardly a time to withdraw and isolate from prayer, but to mount up with strength as with eagles’ wings. If we are forced into more social distancing, we will use technology to pray together. We are increasing corporate prayer with the help of the internet, and you will be hearing more presently.
- This is a season of opportunity. God is at work, and in many ways, He has surely been preparing us as a church for this time and for times like this. Many people – and nations -- are being shaken, and there are many whose hearts God is opening in an unprecedented way. This is the time to be focused on the leading of the Spirit, in some ways, to get our news from God, and not just from the news media. So much of what He has been speaking to us over the years has been meant for times like these. I remind you of the scripture that we have spoken about many times:
Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people: but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1,2)
While taking all precautions for your health and safety, please do look out for the elderly and those who are vulnerable, especially those in the household of faith. While most people’s preoccupations are upon their own fears, we have been prepared to seek out God’s will and leading. “But the people who know their God will display strength and take action”
- Finally, please communicate with others in the body often. Don’t isolate yourself. And don’t let “social distancing”, an important precaution notwithstanding, distance you from fellowship, albeit through different media. Please do not hesitate to contact your small group leader, the office (626-304-2688), or myself (626-695-7844) if you need anything.
Senior Pastor Michael Koh
VCF Precautionary Measures
We are planning to have our Worship Service at Vision Christian Fellowship this Sunday, March 15. To prevent the spread of COVID 19 Coronavirus and Influenza infections, we will be implementing some practical measures effective immediately, until further notice:
- Attendance Restrictions: If any of the following apply to you, we ask that you please remain home for your safety and the safety of others:
- Adults age 65 and above - The elderly population is most susceptible to the severe respiratory complications of COVID-19.
- Children (grades 5 and under) and infants - Due to the difficulty of implementing social distancing with the children, we ask that parents please stay at home with your children. For two parent households, we encourage one parent to still attend service if the other parent stays at home with the children. Please note that Children's programs (age 1 to grade 5) are cancelled until further notice.
- If you are sick or have symptoms of illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath).
- If you recently returned from a high-risk area and had close contact with those who are sick
- If you have other health problems and/or are immunocompromised
- Livestream: For those who are unable to join us in person, we will livestream the service starting this Sunday via Facebook Live on the VCF Facebook Page ( https://www.facebook.com/Visionchristianfellowship). You can also find the livestream embedded on our website: visioncf.org/livestream.
- Call-in Number: If you do not have internet access, you can also call in to listen to the Worship Service over the phone: 423-720-0218 PIN: 448 355 715#
- Single Point of Entry: We will have a single point of entry to the Sanctuary and everyone who enters will be screened by one of our Connecting Team Members. You will be asked if you have any symptoms of illness and if so, will be politely asked to return home and invited to watch the service via the livestream or call the conference line to listen to the service remotely.
- Offering: We will not be passing the offering bags. Available giving options include: donating online via our website (https://visioncf.org/other/give-online) or the Church Center app (available on iOS App Store or Google Play Store) or you may drop your gift in the designated offering container in the front of the Sanctuary.
- Healthy Hygiene Practices: We continue to promote healthy hygiene practices including: frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the face (nose, eyes, and mouth). Hand sanitizer will be available. Surfaces people touch will be cleaned and disinfected before and after service. Tissues and waste baskets will be readily available should anyone need to sneeze or cough.
- Social Distancing: To the extent possible, we will practice social distancing. Providing 6 feet of space between each other, while we are gathered together, will reduce the likelihood of community transmission. Those who live together in the same household may feel free to sit close together.
- No Food or Beverages: We will not be serving food or beverages in the Narthex.
- Communion Packets: Packets will be available for individuals and families to take Communion at home.
- Prayer Ministry: Prayer ministry will be available after the service. Prayer Ministers will not be laying hands on those seeking prayer and will maintain 6 feet of distance while praying.
We will keep you posted as further developments take place. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we implement these changes. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact any of the church leaders.