The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: COVID-19 (Page 1 of 2)

Return From Exile

My friend Smith Hopkins preaches for the Oliver Creek Church of Christ in Bartlett, Tennessee, and there are so many things I appreciate about him as a thinker, a minister, and a leader. During this season of pandemic and quarantine, he has been producing a series on YouTube called Light In The Darkness, and recently, he invited me on to have a conversation about the transition out of quarantine and back into some semblance of normalcy.

From my perspective, the biblical notion of Exile is instructive for us as we think about living during a pandemic and the interruptions and struggles that come with that. But in Scripture, following the period of the Exile, we have the Return from Exile, seen especially in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I think there are some lessons from that biblical period that are helpful for us as we begin to think what our own “return” looks like. Here is a hint: don’t place your hope in the wrong things.

I hope this discussion is helpful for you!

The Christian Response to a Broken World

Over the weekend, my family and I passed the 50-day milestone of our COVID-19-inspired home isolation. I have tried to view this as an opportunity for growth, and there have certainly been some benefits to this season, but like the vast majority of folks, I acknowledge its challenges and am ready to move on to something else.

There is no denying that this is a rough time all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and millions have contracted COVID-19. Financial uncertainty is widespread, as millions have lost their jobs.  The quarantine directives have been particularly devastating in parts of the world with food insecurities where starvation is a legitimate threat. Closer to home, financial stress and sheltering-in-place have created a volatile mix that, according to some reports, has led to a spike in abuse, mental health issues, and suicide.



In light of what is literally a worldwide crisis, you would like to think that perhaps this shared experience could bring us together somewhat—unify us in a time of need as we all pull together to jointly overcome. To be sure, that has happened to a degree, but louder, shriller voices continue to sow discord and division, placing blame along party lines and even promoting wild conspiracy theories.

From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.

The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses that I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:

(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about isn’t really a big deal or worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when He will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21.4).

(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsibility to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by questioning the statistics that are released, distrusting the media, or berating government officials, and more by being present with those who suffer, and looking for ways to aid those who are in need: offering a shoulder to cry on (even a socially-distant one!) for the grieving, a card or phone call for the lonely, a bag of groceries or a check in the mail for those with financial needs.[1]

(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent and ongoing events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians, we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that sin, illness, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am equally certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.

This is an updated version of an older post


[1]If you have been blessed with financial means and would like to share with those who are in need, please contact me. I am working to help some ministers in impoverished areas who are providing food for vulnerable populations who are at risk of literally starving, and I would be happy to help your gift get to a place where it could accomplish much good.

Perspective: Reframing Quarantine as a Season of Growth

Making the Most of our Trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

(James 1.2-4)

When James wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago, he certainly didn’t have the worldwide effects of COVID-19 in mind, but once we realize that these aren’t directly about us, we can still see that they teach principles that do apply to us today.

First, in various ways, people all over the world (whether they are believers or not) find themselves facing trials. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones who have perished because of coronavirus. Others are worried about their health or the health of others they care about. Some people have lost jobs or are dealing with diminished income. Others are reeling from the negative mental and emotional effects of social distancing directives. So, it’s a trying time. That seems clear enough.

But I also think there is a significant point of connection in the way we view this current season of quarantine. At the heart of James 1.2-4 is James imploring his audience to reframe their situations. Rather than spend their time lamenting over the trials they face, he encourages them to reframe their trying experiences by viewing them as opportunities for growth, specifically in the sense that they can bring about perseverance and maturity.

It is only natural to respond to this current season with complaining, fear, laziness, selfishness, isolation, and mindless consumption. But here’s the thing: as a disciple of Jesus, I believed that I am frequently—no, constantly—called to rise above my natural inclinations and live a redeemed life, reflecting the reality that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.

So, in this post, I want to share some practices that I have been working on (habits that I am trying to form) to help me rise above my natural inclinations and view this season as an opportunity for growth in various aspects of my life. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I am doing this flawlessly; indeed, it is a constant struggle for me to reframe the COVID-19 quarantine as an opportunity for growth. But, that is the goal. Also, some of these practices may not be possible for everyone. However, my hope is that you will find some ideas in this post that will be helpful for you as you seek to grow in this season.

Changes in Perspective

I mentioned above several of the “natural” responses that I think a lot of us are currently experiencing. Although each of these could likely merit individual posts, briefly, here is how I am trying to reframe these responses:

  • From Complaining to Thanksgiving: Maybe you have felt the urge to complain at times during this current season of quarantine. I certainly have. Many of my plans have been altered or canceled. My routine has been changed. I am limited in the places I can go to and the things I can do. As a disciple of Jesus, I am not called to complain, however, but to give thanks. And really, I don’t have much to complain about, but have much to be thankful for: my family and I are healthy, we have a nice home in which to “shelter in place”, and we have plenty of food. In a time when millions of people have been laid off of work, my wife and I both have jobs where we can continue to work from home.
  • From Fear to Trust: The uncertainty in our world right now makes it easy to be fearful. We have to stay away from other people to limit the spread of disease. Economic forecasts are concerning. Future plans are up in the air. Even as we begin discussions of “opening America back up,” no one knows how long we will live in this limbo period before things are back to “normal”. As a disciple of Jesus, my life should not be characterized by fear or anxiety, but an unrelenting trust in the protection and provision of my heavenly Father.
  • From Laziness to Activity: Especially for those who are not working, or whose workload has diminished significantly, this can easily be a time of boredom and laziness. It can be hard to find the motivation to get up and do productive tasks. As a disciple of Jesus, I do not want to be lazy; I want to be healthy and productive. I want everything I do to be done as if I were doing it for the Lord (Colossians 3.23).
  • From Selfishness to Generosity: This is somewhat related to fear, but in times when it seems that there is not enough to go around, it can be very easy to hoard as much as we can, and keep what we have to ourselves. As a disciple of Jesus, though, I am not to place my confidence in material possessions, and I am to share what I have with others who need it.
  • From Isolation to Community: By necessity, we are physically isolated from one another right now, but that doesn’t mean that all of our relationships and interaction with people should be suspended. As a disciple of Jesus, I know that we were created for relationship, and it is important that I continue to cultivate and maintain relationships with others.
  • From Mindless Consumption to Thoughtful Consumption: Like many others, I am spending virtually all of my time at home right now, and much of it is spent on the computer or in front of a screen. There is an endless supply of content to be consumed. Some of it is actively harmful; some is perhaps less sinister but is still mindless and thus, not helpful. As a disciple of Jesus, I want to be more thoughtful in what I consume—I want to focus on that which is true, honorable, lovely, excellent, etc. (Philippians 4.8).

Helpful Practices

Here are some specific actions I have begun to do which reflect one or more of the changes in perspective mentioned above:

  • Morning Walks: Most days, I wake up and take a long (usually 60-90 minutes) morning walk, and while walking, I pray and also listen to audiobooks and/or podcasts. This accomplishes several objectives. The walks themselves help me stay active and healthy. The time in prayer helps produce an attitude of thankfulness within me, and moves me in the direction of trusting in God and thinking about the needs of others. Listening to books and podcasts is an example of thoughtful consumption, which I will mention more below.
  • Reading: Instead of binge-watching Netflix, I have tried to spend a lot of time reading and listening to books. I listened to Atomic Habits as an audiobook, which was outstanding, and provided me with the motivation to implement some of the habits I am attempting during quarantine. I am four books into The Chronicles of Narnia, which provides imaginative distraction from current reality, and also helps re-orient me from fear to trust. Listening to the After Class podcast and Seth Godin’s Akimbo have been helpful as well.
  • Careful Reading of COVID-19 News: It is an extremely unfortunate sign of the times in which we live that the COVID-19 crisis has become so politicized. There are a ton of people out there offering viewpoints on what is going on, and some of it is extremely dishearting, riddled with doomsday predictions, conspiracy theory rantings, or political ax-grinding. I try to limit how much of this I consume, period, and what I do read, I try to limit credible sources. Usually, I am looking for factual information; when I read analysis of the situation, I try to expose myself to well-written, if slanted, pieces from both sides of the political spectrum (like The Atlantic and National Review).
  • Workout Alarms: Monday-Friday, my cell phone alarm goes off 4-5 times per day on the hour as a reminder to get up from my chair and exercise. I have a routine of pullups, burpees, squats, and pushups that I have followed successfully (an evening routine of stair-walking, curls, and dips has been less successful). This helps me stay active during the day, and along with walks, has helped this to not be a season of sedentary weight gain. I’ve actually lost some weight over the last month, and I have gotten noticeably stronger—when I moved to Searcy last summer, I could barely do a pullup; I am now doing sets of 7-10 at a time.
  • Doxology Hand-washing: I confess that I am one of those for whom COVID-19 has completely altered my hand-washing habits. Unless my hands were coated in mud or paint or something like that, I never spend 20 seconds washing my hands, so that has been a massive adjustment. To help me wash for the appropriate amount of time, I sing Doxology while washing. In addition to helping me develop a healthy habit, this also means that every time I wash my hands for 20 seconds, my heart is inclined in grateful praise to God who provides all that I have.
  • Zoom Bible Study: I don’t really like Zoom; I look forward to the time when I do not use it regularly. But it has been a blessing in that it has enabled me to continue to teach Bible classes and participate in Bible studies. This is not only a crucial opportunity for connecting with other isolated people; it is also a constant re-ordering of my mind away from myself and my immediate circumstances and toward God.
  • Family Walks: Paired with my usual habit of morning walks, we usually take family walks in the evenings. This is another instance of exercise, but also helps our moods and attitudes (it is so nice to get out of the house), provides the opportunity for conversation, and also seeing and visiting with neighbors.
  • Driveway Church: Like many churches, our congregation has started sharing a lot of content online, including weekly worship services. We appreciate that and tune in each week, but there’s no denying that virtual worship misses the key component of fellowship that you get from being there in person. For the last few weeks, we have had Driveway Church, where we met with other members of our church who live in our neighborhood in our driveway, observing social distancing protocols. We sing, pray, read Scripture, and partake of the Lord’s Supper together. In one sense, it’s nothing profound or special; in another sense, it is incredibly profound and special.
  • Generosity: Caroline and I have both been blessed to keep our jobs and work from home, which means that we are not suffering financially as many are. We have looked for opportunities to give money to others, and also to support local businesses by getting more takeout and food delivered than normal (and, who am I kidding, I like Mexican food a lot!).

I am not going to pretend that I am enjoying everything about this current season of life; I certainly do not. But trying to change my perspective and reframe this as an opportunity for growth has been helpful for me. Whenever this ends and I am able to return to a more “normal” version of life, I hope to do so better than I was before: stronger, healthier, more generous, more thoughtful, and more dependent on God.

It is my hope that this season can be similarly beneficial for you.

Why Are You Afraid?

In Matthew’s gospel, he follows the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 with his account of some of the extraordinary miracles that Jesus performs in chapters 8-9. The power of Christ overcomes a variety of maladies: He cleanses lepers, heals paralysis, casts out demons, restores the blind and mute, and brings a little girl back from the dead.

It is in this context that Matthew tells the story of Jesus miraculously calming a storm:

And when He got into the boat His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.

And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us Lord; we are perishing.”

And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

(Matthew 8.23-27)

There are several lessons we could take from this remarkable event, but I just want to focus on one. Jesus’ disciples are so terrified that they wake Him up in fear of their lives. His response is astounding: “Why are you afraid?” He asks. At first glance, it seems that Jesus is being incredibly obtuse—a great storm had arisen and the boat was being swamped by the waves; obviously the disciples are afraid because of the storm!

But Jesus was not obtuse; indeed, He was the most perceptive of all men. He certainly understood why His disciples were afraid, and so His question must have been about something else. He wasn’t seeking information; rather, He was prompting transformation.

The second part of Jesus’ statement is telling, as He calls His disciples “you of little faith.” Tied to His question in this way, the implication is clear: if the disciples had more faith, they would not be afraid! Jesus’ disciples had just witnessed His marvelous power in a variety of different situations. This should have bolstered their faith and enabled them to realize that their Teacher was more powerful than the storm which threatened them!

Currently, our world is under siege by a viral pandemic. Millions are sick; hundreds of thousands have died. Millions more have lost jobs, or at least had their incomes diminished. Virtually all of us have had our lives altered in some way. Our plans have been canceled, we are stuck in our homes, we are having to distance ourselves from family and friends. Our worship routines have been disrupted.

What is unique about the current situation is only the scope of the storm; the reality is that, in a variety of ways, we are constantly buffeted by the storms of this life, and the waves threaten to swamp us:

  • A middle-aged man learns that he has been laid off from his job and is plagued by financial uncertainty as he wonders how he will provide for his family.
  • A woman learns that her husband of twenty years, the love of her life, has been carrying on an affair with another woman.
  • Two young parents learn that their infant son has a genetic condition which will greatly limit his life.
  • A single mother of two teenage boys is diagnosed with stage four cancer and told that there is no hope.
  • A house fire destroys a family’s home and all of their earthly possessions.

When the storms of life come, like the disciples, our tendency is to run to Jesus and ask Him to save us. And I wonder if He responds similarly: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t understand our storms—the good news of the Incarnation is that Jesus stepped into the human condition in a unique way. He understands our fears, our trials, and our heartaches. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4.15). But the same Jesus also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33b).

The Christ who calms storms knows what frightens us, but He also asks us to realize: truly, ultimately, with Jesus on our side, the scary things of life aren’t scary! He is more powerful than the storm!

Lord, increase our faith!

The Doc File during COVID-19

What a wild time to be alive! I hope as you read this, that you and your family are well, and that you are doing what you can to stay safe and healthy. To those for whom health and safety are not true possibilities right now because you work in the medical field or some other essential industry or occupation that brings you into contact with many people, please know that you have my continued prayers and personal gratefulness.

It has been almost four weeks ago now that I wrote this post in response to the rising COVID-19 situation. I didn’t expect that post to go viral the way it did, but it struck a nerve because of the shared experience that we all find ourselves navigating at the current time.

As I mentioned in that post, I tend to not write a lot in direct response to what is going on around me, so at least initially, it was not my intention to repeatedly write about coronavirus, life in quarantine, or things of that nature. At the same time, I was so busy trying to figure out how to do ministry digitally while working from home, playing with children, and generally being less productive, that I didn’t have time to write anything in this space, related to COVID-19 or not.

Over the last few weeks, things have changed. My family started isolating ourselves at home a couple of days after I first wrote about COVID-19, because our daughter Kinsley is immunosuppressed and, therefore, at higher risk of contracting the disease. Today marks the 25th day of our extended “staycation” as I am choosing to call it. Over that time, it has become abundantly clear that this is not a short blip on the screen of our lives before we can resume our regularly-scheduled activities, but rather, a season of anomaly that will both last for an extended period of time and also leave its effects upon us indefinitely.

With that in mind, here is how I will aim to produce content for The Doc File during this current season:

  • On Mondays, I will try to provide something that I think is beneficial for this time of social distancing with its accompanying financial concerns, and anxiety about our health and the future. That will be a mix of a lot of different things: devotional thoughts from Scripture, reflections upon doing ministry in a pandemic, suggestions for healthy practices in a quarantine-style life, book reviews (because I assume some people have extra time to read), and more.
  • On Thursdays, I am going to start on a series that I have been wanting to do for some time, called “A New Heaven & A New Earth: What The Bible Teaches About Eternity.” This series will chronicle what has been the most significant theological shift for me over the last decade or so, and I hope it will be beneficial as well; for me, it has been a great source of hope, encouragement, and confidence.

There’s no denying it; it is a difficult time that we find ourselves in for a host of reasons. I hope that this can be a place that gives you encouragement and offers helpful resources as we seek to grow as disciples of Jesus during this season, loving God and our neighbors.

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