A More Perfect Union

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union… 

These words, from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, have inspired millions over the past 232 years. But as we celebrated our nation’s independence two days ago, they’re also cause for reflection.

A more perfect union…

It certainly doesn’t feel more perfect. We have a political system that is broken. We have a pandemic that is raging. We have nagging questions about racism that are perplexing. And we have plenty of anger and distrust that is disheartening. 2020 does not seem to be the year to talk about a more perfect union. Just last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll on Americans’ satisfaction level with how things are going in our nation. The results seem to indicate that most people think our union is becoming “less perfect” rather than “more perfect.”

Moreover, this same survey found that only 17% of respondents feel proud of the state of our nation, while 71% feel angry and 66% feel fearful.

Our dream of a “more perfect union” seems to be dimming.

Of course, a “more perfect union” has always been framed as a receding goal. The founders wisely realized that though human beings might desire perfection, they can never achieve it. They may work toward “a more perfect union,” but they can never arrive at simply “a perfect union.” Human aspiration is always thwarted by human depravity. The very people who can dream of perfection are too sinful and broken to achieve it.

This is why, ultimately, our hope for perfection cannot be found in something that we form, but in what Christ gives. If we desire perfection, we must fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

This does not mean that the Constitution’s aspiration is a bad one. Quite the contrary: it is a very noble and good one. But it is also a convicting one. There is still plenty of work yet to be done in our union even as there is much to be thankful for about our union, which is what Independence Day is all about. Our union may have plenty of room to grow, but our union is also free. For this, we can – and should – be thankful. We should also be thankful that even if our union is not perfect, Christ is. And ultimately, our union with Him is what matters most.

If we have been united with Christ in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. (Romans 6:5)

July 6, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

All The Stuff We Don’t Know

COVID-19 continues to be stubbornly confusing. As researchers push to discover treatments and develop a vaccine, their efforts and preliminary conclusions concerning the virus and its treatments have been plagued by some embarrassing mistakes. Most recently, a study that appeared earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has come under fire. The New York Times reports:

The study claimed that mask-wearing “significantly reduces the number of infections” with the coronavirus and that “other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public.” It also said that airborne transmission was the primary way the virus spreads.

Experts said the paper’s conclusions were similar to those from others – masks do work – but they objected to the methodology as deeply flawed. The researchers assumed that behaviors changed immediately after policy changes, for example, and the study failed to take into account the seismic changes occurring across societies that may have affected the reported incidence of infection.

It turns out that even when it’s generally agreed that a particular study’s conclusion is broadly correct, the methodology researchers use to arrive at their conclusion can still be suspect, which is part of the reason so many of these types of studies raise more questions than they answer. The more we try to learn, the more our enduring ignorance about this virus becomes apparent.

An article in The Wall Street Journal summarizes the state of our ignorance sharply:

What is the true mortality rate? What is a safe social distance? How contagious is the virus? What percentage of carriers are asymptomatic? We still don’t know any of these facts with certainty.

There was a time when we had a certain bravado about what our scientific studies could solve. The 19th century patron of scientific positivism, Auguste Comte, once confidently proclaimed: “From science comes prediction; from prediction comes action.” But Comte’s aphorism now seems to be a summary of the struggles with our response to COVID-19 rather than a pattern for how to get our response to it right. Predictions are consistently changing. And our actions must be continually revised to keep up with these provisional predictions.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth, they, too, like we once were, are quite confident in their knowledge. He says about their confidence:

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! (1 Corinthians 4:10)

The Corinthians, however, do not know as much as they think they do. The Corinthians are divided over their spiritual leaders, so Paul has to admonish them:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

If the Corinthians are one spiritual temple, they should not be fighting over different spiritual leaders. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul isn’t done yet. The Corinthians are also ignorant of the proper boundaries for sexual morality as they celebrate a man among them who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Paul must warn them again:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Paul says that the sexual immorality of one man affects the spiritual vitality of the whole Corinthian congregation. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul still isn’t done. A couple of chapters later, Paul has to remind the Corinthians that they need to support their spiritual leaders so they, in turn, can support their families:

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The Corinthians should not be stingy with their leaders, but generous. And again, the Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

It turns out that human ignorance is as old as the Scriptures and part and parcel of our finitude. There is so much that we should know – or would like to know – but simply do not. Thus, instead of living with arrogance, we are called to approach the mysteries of life – the spiritual as well as the scientific ones – with a healthy dose of humility. One of the most important things for us to know is that there is so much we don’t know.

None of this is to say that we should end our efforts to combat COVID-19, nor is it to say that we should abandon our search for effective treatments and a vaccine. Science’s value to discovery and progress is not in question. But its limits must still be admitted and respected. The positivism of a prior age simply cannot face all the facets of a pandemic like this one.

So, let’s show grace, patience, and pay appropriate respect to our scientific researchers as they continue to carry out their important work while also holding onto faith as, together, we continue to walk into the unknowns of COVID-19 with the One who knows all things – God Himself.

With Him, we can face what we don’t yet know.

June 29, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Rayshard Brooks and the Human Heart

The cuts seem to keep getting deeper. The pain seems to keep getting sharper. The questions seem to keep getting bigger.

Another week has brought another unfolding story of a black man shot and killed by a police officer. It all began a week ago Friday when an employee at an Atlanta-area Wendy’s called officers because a man had fallen asleep in his vehicle while waiting in the drive-thru line and was blocking traffic. When officers arrived at the scene, they found 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks asleep behind the wheel and, after rousing him, it became quickly apparent he was intoxicated. The conversation between the officers and Mr. Brooks remained friendly until 40 minutes in when the officers explained to Mr. Brooks that he was under arrest. He began to violently resist the officers, took a taser off one of them, and then, while trying to escape, he turned and attempted to tase them and was shot and killed by Officer Garrett Rolfe.

Mr. Rolfe was immediately fired from the Atlanta Police Department and then, this past Wednesday, felony charges were filed against both officers by the Fulton County District Attorney, who alleges that Mr. Rolfe kicked Mr. Brooks while he lay dying. According to The New York Times:

At a news conference on Wednesday to announce the charges, prosecutors said that Mr. Rolfe declared, “I got him,” after firing the fatal shots at Mr. Brooks. Mr. Rolfe kicked the victim, prosecutors said, while his partner stood on the fatally wounded man’s shoulder.

Mr. Rolfe and his partner, Devin Brosnan, both of whom are white, then failed to render aid for more than two minutes, said Paul L. Howard Jr., the Fulton County district attorney.

These charges, however, are now being called into question in light of the fact that the District Attorney is himself under investigation for corruption, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The GBI has opened an investigation of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and his use of a nonprofit to funnel at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta funds to supplement his salary …

The criminal investigation comes at a time when Howard, Fulton’s DA since 1997, is being challenged in the Democratic primary for reelection and is facing allegations of sexual harassment, which he strongly denies.

Some are accusing the District Attorney of pressing charges against the two officers involved in Mr. Brooks’ shooting merely to distract from his own legal troubles. Moreover, the legal counsel for Mr. Rolfe flatly denies the charges the District Attorney has brought against him, saying in a recent television interview that they are simply not true.

Is anyone else wondering which way is up in this case, or am I the only one?

There is still much about this case we don’t know, but this much we do: this case is devastating. It is of course devastating for Mr. Brooks’ family. A wife has lost her husband and four children have lost their father. It is devastating for the Atlanta Police Department, which is now grappling with a deeply disturbing case of alleged police brutality. It is devastating for the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, whose integrity and motivations face serious scrutiny. And it is devastating for our nation, as we not only rightly debate and discuss – but also sadly divide ourselves over – questions of racism, policing, and brutality.

Whenever we are faced with a case like this, and ether of disbelief tends to permeate the air. “How in the world could this happen?” we wonder. “How could people behave so recklessly, so dishonestly, or perhaps even wickedly?”

The prophet Jeremiah famously said:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Both Jeremiah’s statement and question are important. His statement reminds us that the human heart harbors all sorts of sin. Congresswoman Val Demings from Florida, who used to work in law enforcement in Orlando, recently held a press conference where she outlined the problems she sees in policing. She explained:

When I see things go wrong, just like I did at the police department, there were either one of three things: bad mind, bad heart, or bad policy.

This strikes me as fair summary. But it’s not just a fair summary of a police department; it’s a true summary of human beings universally. We all have “bad hearts.” Indeed, the deceit in our hearts runs so deep that, often, we don’t even recognize the wickedness of our hearts. Hence, Jeremiah’s question of the heart: “Who can understand it?”

The apostle Paul once complained:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)

Like Jeremiah, Paul knew that he did not and could not understand the deceit of his own heart that led him into the wiles of wickedness. His heart was craftier than his goodwill.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, by our confusion at a case like this one. We can’t quite seem to make moral sense out of it because human hearts, as the Scriptures say, often do not operate morally. Which is why we need not only the warning about the human heart from Jeremiah, but this promise for the human heart from Jeremiah:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

God wants to overwrite the wickedness of our hearts with the righteousness of His way. For this promise, we should most certainly pray.

We need better hearts now more than ever.

June 22, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Someone Needs Your Encouragement

A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

Take, for instance, the story of Raquel and Derek Pearson, who live in Idaho with their eight-month-old son, Lucas. Lucas has a cardiovascular condition that puts him at high risk for serious complications should he contract COVID-19. His parents, working to minimize their family’s contact with the outside world, are having everything they possibly can delivered to them. They also posted a note on their door, thanking the delivery people who risk their health delivering packages far and wide. You can imagine how touched Raquel and Derek were when they caught an Amazon delivery driver, Monica Salinas, on their video doorbell stopping to say a prayer for little Lucas as she delivered a package to them. The story has since gone viral, being featured on NBC Nightly News. Her little bit of encouragement went a long way.

There is also the story of Kassandra Diaz, a server at Che Restaurant in Delray Beach, Florida. She has been struggling to make ends meet in an industry that has been crushed by COVID-19 and is struggling to recover under the strict social distancing guidelines in place in many regions. So, you can imagine how shocked she was when she saw a $1,000 tip from a customer on a $164 check. The big tipper was Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who left her this note along with his tip: “Thank you for being amazing!” For Andre, the tip was generous, but not bank-breaking. He’s worth $27 million. But for Cassandra, the tip was life-changing. She didn’t even know who Andre was when she was serving him, but after figuring it all out, she posted on Instagram: “I was shaking and had tears of happiness after what he left me.” His little bit of encouragement went a long way.

In Acts 9, we meet a man named Barnabas who brings a new convert to Christ named Saul –who was a former persecutor of the Church – to a skeptical group of apostles:

When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

Barnabas’s name means “son of encouragement” – a name he certainly lives up to. When the apostles want to reject Saul because they don’t believe his conversion to be genuine, he encourages them to give Saul a chance. Because of his encouragement, Saul, who is known better in the New Testament as Paul, becomes the greatest missionary in the history of the Church, planting congregations all over the ancient Mediterranean basin. Barnabas’s little bit of encouragement went a long way.

Who can you encourage? Is it someone for whom you can pray? Can you leave a larger-than-usual tip to make someone’s day? Can you welcome someone who has been marginalized by those around you?

In a time that feels plenty discouraging as we wade our way through peaks of a pandemic, questions of racism, and waves of civil unrest, we all need some encouragement. After all, a little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

So, let a little bit of encouragement begin with you.

June 15, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Cries of Those Lost

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This has been another long week for our nation. There have been difficult, but critical, conversations about racism. There have been demonstrations. There has been violence and looting. There have been tears. There have been deaths. This past Thursday, there was new evidence presented in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man who was shot and killed in Glynn County, Georgia.

In a Brunswick courtroom, a judge found probable cause for pressing murder charges against Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan. According to evidence presented by the prosecution, the three men pursued Mr. Arbery in pickup trucks until they were able to corner him. Travis McMichael then shot Mr. Arbery three times, fatally wounding him. After his death, Mr. Bryan testified that he heard Travis McMichael utter a racial epithet over Mr. Arbery as he lay dying. Evidence was also presented that Travis McMichael had used this same epithet repeatedly on social media and in text messages. It was an alleged pattern of hatred that can only be described as wicked and vile.

In Genesis 4, we read the story of history’s first murder – Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. God, however, will not let such a heinous act go unchecked. He confronts Cain, saying, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). It turns out that even if the voices of our slain brothers can no longer speak, their blood still does. And God listens to their cries.

When the apostle Paul witnesses to the Athenians, he explains that, contrary to their fashionable polytheistic and religiously pluralistic sensibilities, there is only one God, who “from one man made all the nations” (Acts 17:26). In other words, ultimately, we are all brothers and sisters, for, ultimately, we all share a common ancestry and a common Creator. Ahmaud Arbery, then, is our brother. And our brother’s blood is crying out. And just like God listened to Abel’s blood, He continues to listen as more blood is spilled and speaks. We can listen, too.

This Thursday will mark 57 years to the day since President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation from the Oval Office and asked Congress to enact legislation protecting and promoting Civil Rights. As part of his address, he said:

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated …

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives …

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. 

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality. 

As a nation, it feels like we are walking through a deep valley over which death has cast its long and sinister shadow. But in this deep valley, we can stand together “recognizing right as well as reality.” In this deep valley, we can mourn the blood of fallen brothers, while also rejoicing in the blood of our risen Savior. In this deep valley, we can lift up our eyes to a hill called Calvary that shines with forgiveness and hope. As the old hymn says:

Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.

May Jesus’ blood pardon us in our sin, and keep the souls of the slain safe in His care until He returns to raise them – and us.

June 8, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Racism and Reconciliation

Our nation is hurting.

It was hurting when Ahmaud Arbery was cornered by two men in a truck who shot and killed him in Georgia. It was hurting when George Floyd died after an officer held his knee on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis. And it is still hurting as protests have erupted over the death of these two men.

Many of these protests turned violent and spread across the nation over the weekend – beginning and Minneapolis and then moving quickly to Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and continuing to fan out across many other cities. Businesses have been looted and burned. Communities have been terrorized. In Detroit, one man was even killed.

Did I mention our nation is hurting?

It can be difficult to know how to respond as we watch all of this unfold on our TV screens and in our cities. I myself have grappled with what to say. I also know, however, that, as a Christian, I am called to offer hope to the hurting. So, here are four – admittedly limited and incomplete – thoughts as to how we can respond in the midst of a national inflection point of pain.

We can mourn.

When two men – along with, tragically, many others – die unjustly under racially tinged circumstances, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. When violent protests shatter communities, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. The apostle Paul reminds us that we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). To take a moment to feel with and listen to those who are hurting, angry, frightened, and confused should be a cornerstone of a Christian ethos. To not empathize with those who are hurting flies in the face of a God who would take on human flesh to experience everything we experience – including hurt, anger, fear, and death itself.

This weekend, I saw a post from a man who regularly walks with his daughter and dog through his neighborhood. He explained how he worries that, if he walks alone, he could be profiled in an unfavorable way because he is a black man. One commenter responded with a bevy of studies and statistics concerning how many African Americans are shot by police and implied that this man’s fears were unfounded. I am all for studies and statistics. They can help us understand trends and identify problems. But to criticize a man’s personal story of fear with studies and statistics strikes me as akin to criticizing mourners at a funeral by bringing actuarial tables to the service and explaining how their loved one’s death falls within a standard variance of mortality rates. Even if it’s statistically true, it’s also emotionally cruel. Let’s take the time to mourn with those who mourn.

We can work for justice.

In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his faith in justice even as he called for justice:

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Later in his speech, he quoted these words from the prophet Amos:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

When injustice is perpetrated, we cannot make excuses for it. We cannot minimize it, rationalize it, or justify it by claiming that there are other injustices that have been worse, so the current injustices we are facing must be no big deal. And we certainly cannot ignore injustice because it doesn’t affect us personally or fit our interests politically. The Fifth Commandment – “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) – was meant to protect Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd just as much as it was meant to protect any of us.

We are a nation whose creed is “liberty and justice for all.” If the liberty of any person is compromised by murder, manslaughter, or any other untoward act that leads to death, it is an injustice that should concern and upset us all.

We can call for peace.

In the same speech that Dr. King called for justice, he also described how he worked toward and fought for justice:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Dr. King knew the struggle for justice is not best paved by violent deeds.

The scenes of violence that have erupted across the nation have hurt many innocent people. They have taken eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth, but they have not recovered or restored the lives of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd. Their families are still grieving. Their sons, husbands, and fathers are still not coming home.

In His Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is important to understand that peacemaking can be quite different from peacekeeping. Peacekeeping can sometimes imply simply covering for or overlooking sin so that no one gets upset. In other words, peacekeeping can often be an exercise in little more than keeping the status quo. Peacemaking, however, means calling sin what it is and then working to restore peace from the ground up – not with excuses, but by repentance, and not with hatred, but by forgiveness. This is the kind of peace toward which Christians are called to work.

We can love.

Racism is rooted in hatred. To stand against racism, then, we must address the hatred endemic to it. How do we do this? Jesus shows us the way:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

During these months of pandemic, a refrain has arisen: “We’re in this together.” This refrain is similar to the one uttered by Dr. King on the Washington Mall all those years ago as he was fighting the racism of his day:

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

Dr. King is right. We cannot walk alone. So, let’s not. Let’s stand shoulder to should, side by side, and arm in arm. Our race may be a part of our humanity, but it is not the sum total of our humanity. Our humanity also includes:

Being somebody’s son or daughter.

Being somebody’s husband, wife, mother, or father.

Being somebody’s friend, coworker, and neighbor.

And being made in the image of our Creator.

These are the ties that bind us.

In a press conference on Saturday, Minnesota’s governor not only mourned acts of violence, but highlighted acts of love. He talked about protestors who had come out not with firebombs, but with brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows to help their neighbors clean up their communities. They refused to let their neighbors walk alone. They walked together – both to protest injustice and to love each other.

We can, too.

June 1, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Hope Beyond the Pandemic

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Credit: Ron SmithUnsplash

It has been difficult navigating all the changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. But this past week brought some good news in our protracted battle against the virus. Last Wednesday, the CDC updated its safety guidelines to indicate that the virus does not spread as easily via contaminated surfaces as experts first thought, which means you may not have to scrub down your milk jug with a Clorox wipe after picking it up at the grocery store. We also learned of some promising testing on experimental vaccines. Last Monday, the biotech company Moderna announced that eight people who received two doses of their vaccine fared well against exposure to the coronavirus. Then, on Wednesday, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published research showing that their prototype vaccine protected monkeys against exposure to the virus.

All of this good news, of course, is subject to change. After all, plenty of what we thought we knew about COVID-19 has changed – sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. But news like this does offer us a glimmer of what we all need during a difficult time like this – hope. Indeed, The New York Times, at the news of promising vaccine trials, ran this headline: “A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope.”

As Christians, it is important to understand what hope truly is. Hope is not just a convenient wish for something to work out well regardless of how outlandish or unfounded that wish might be. Instead, hope is a confidence about tomorrow based on what we already know to be true today.

This is why the Christian hope is not just some nebulous wish that, after we die, we may be able to live on forever rather than merely dissolving back into the cells from which we came. Instead, the Christian hope is a true hope based on what the Church claims is a real historical event: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, writes about the Christian’s hope:

Through Christ you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21)

Peter says our faith and hope are in God because we have seen what God can do – He can raise Jesus from the dead. And if God did this with Jesus, our hope is well grounded and founded that He can do the same with us, too.

I truly hope that COVID-19 does not spread as easily via surfaces as experts once thought. And I truly hope that an effective vaccine against the virus is produced faster than any vaccine ever has been in history. I don’t just wish; I hope. I hope because of what I can read in these newly released scientifically-rigorous studies. But, of course, my hopes could be dashed. Scientific studies can – and often do – err. The CDC could shift its guidelines. And the now promising vaccines could turn out, upon further trials, to be busts.

Though my hopes for what this pandemic’s future holds may be dashed, I am thankful that my hope in Christ will not. After all, Christ has 2,000 of history, human trial, and study behind Him. And He still stands resurrected. While other hopes may fail, hope in Him will not.

So, here’s to hoping for what lies ahead.

May 25, 2020 at 5:17 am Leave a comment

Overwhelmed At Home

Stress At Home

One of the many things that has shifted during this pandemic is how and where children are being educated. What once happened in a classroom with career teachers is now happening in homes with parents who have other careers. Homeschooling has gone from being boutique to being ubiquitous.

But not all homeschoolers are equal.

An interesting – and somewhat humorous – poll conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times found that half of fathers with children 12 and under reported spending more time homeschooling their children than did their wives. The ladies, however, saw the division of homeschooling labor differently. Just 3 percent of the mothers surveyed indicated their husbands spent more time on homeschooling the kids than they did. The New York Times article about this study noted:

Years of past research using time diaries have consistently shown that men often overestimate the amount they do, and that women do more.

All of this plays, of course, to a certain humorous stereotype of men who are oblivious to just how much their wives do for their household. The stereotype may feel overwrought at times. But statistically, there seems to be something in it that is true.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, being oblivious to another person’s efforts, challenges, or selfless service is not an option. When Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth, he says:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

Although we do not know the specific troubles to which Paul is referring in this verse, we do know that while Paul was in the Asian city of Ephesus, he got crossways with a silversmith named Demetrius who made shrines for a Greek goddess named Artemis. When Paul shows up and starts teaching that Jesus is Lord and not Artemis, Demetrius in not pleased and rallies the city with a speech:

You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (Acts 19:25-27) 

Demetrius’s speech turns out to be so persuasive that a riot breaks out and Paul and his companions are driven out of the region. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:8 may refer to this situation, or they may refer to some other situation. But whatever the situation, this much is certain: Paul has faced plenty of challenges in his efforts for the gospel. And he wants the Corinthians to know this. He does not want them to be oblivious to the challenges he has faced for the sake of the Church.

Do you know what challenges the people closest to you are facing during this time? Or, are you so caught up in your own worries and concerns that you are uninformed of all that even a person as close to you as your own spouse is dealing with?

If you have not said “thank you” to someone for what they have done during this pandemic yet, now is the time. Husbands, you can start with your wives – especially if they are educating the kids, tending to the house, and working an outside job all at the same time.

A survey like the one published in The New York Times reveals just how much we love to debate who works hardest through difficult times. Perhaps, instead of defending what we do – and often overestimating it – we should instead notice what other people do – and celebrate them. This will keep us from feeling overwhelmed by our own responsibilities when we see all that others are doing – and it’ll make them feel better about their responsibilities when we notice and appreciate them.

So, take some time to appreciate someone today. You – and they – will be glad you did.

May 18, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Seeking the Good of Others

Cities and states across the country are beginning to reopen. Already, health experts are issuing warnings of a second wave of COVID-19 to come. The Associated Press reports:

From the marbled halls of Italy to the wheat fields of Kansas, health authorities are increasingly warning that the question isn’t whether a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths will hit, but when – and how badly.

In India, which relaxed its lockdown this week, health authorities scrambled Wednesday to contain an outbreak at a huge market. Hard-hit New York City shut down its subway system overnight for disinfection. Experts in Italy, which just began easing some restrictions, warned lawmakers that a new surge of infections and deaths is coming, and they urged intensified efforts to identify victims, monitor their symptoms and trace their contacts …

U.S. infection rates outside the New York City area are in fact rising, notably in rural areas. 

This is a worrisome prediction. And yet, if a severe second wave does sweep across our nation, Christians can be uniquely positioned to be a force and a source for hope and help.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth, he confronts a strain of selfishness that has infected many in the congregation. It seems as though some of the Christians at Corinth have come to believe that just because they can do something, they should do it if they desire to, regardless of whether what they do hurts or offends others. Paul has to remind them that the call of Christianity is not to live for you and your wants, but to live for others and their wellbeing:

“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. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

As cities and states reopen, I am thankful that I will be able to patronize businesses I have not been able to shop at for a while. I am thankful that I will be able to go places I have not been able to go for a while. And yet, even while restrictions are blessedly being loosened, I still try to keep in mind those who I am called to serve – my family, my friends, and my congregation. I try to remember that how I handle my own health and safety can directly affect the health and safety of others with whom I come into contact. I may have the right to do many things. But I would rather seek to do the most beneficial things – for the sake of my family and my community.

As Christians, we are called to be neither restless over what will happen nor reckless as we confront what is happening. Instead, we are called to be selfless – always seeking the good of others. As Paul writes a little later in this same chapter to the Corinthians:

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

Paul shows concern for everyone – for his fellow Jews with whom he grew up, for pagan Greeks who do not worship the God of Israel, and for those who are part of the church of God and follow Jesus. Whether they are like him or unlike him, Paul puts others first, for Paul knows that, when he does so, he is not just being kind, he is witnessing unto salvation.

May we do likewise for others. They need us – and they need Christ.

May 11, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Casting Your COVID Anxiety on Christ

As states, cities, and businesses begin what will likely be a long, slow, and uncertain process of reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to show signs of receding, a new normal is sure to emerge. Social distancing will likely continue for some time. Face masks will likely be commonplace. E-commerce will almost certainly dominate. And we will be encouraged to sanitize, sanitize, and sanitize.

For some, the transition out of staying at home will be exciting. They are ready to go. Others I have talked to are experiencing a fair amount of anxiety over re-entering workplaces and public spaces. There is, after all, still a lot uncertainty surrounding how far this virus will continue to spread and how much more damage this virus will continue to do.

In the early 60s of the first century, one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, was living under a lot of uncertainty. The ruler at this time was a Roman Emperor named Nero, who became a famed persecutor of early Christianity. When Peter writes his first letter to the church-at-large, though he does not quite yet know the future holds, he knows he has to encourage Christians to be ready for potential trials and persecution to come:

You greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6)

Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you … If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12, 16)

Such looming trials, understandably, caused a lot of anxiety among many in the early church because they did not know where, when, or if they were going to suffer and be persecuted.

Peter, however, does not want these Christians to be trapped by their anxiety. So, he writes these famous words:

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Peter knows that anxiety often arises because of circumstances that are beyond our control. In order to deal with anxiety, Peter instructs us to give what we can’t control to the One who is in control. And He assures us that what we can’t control is safe with Him, because “He cares for you.”

When Peter invites us to cast all our anxiety on the Lord, the word “cast,” in Greek, is a participle – “casting.” This verse, therefore, can be translated as a phrase that piggybacks on the verse that comes before it:

Humble yourselves…under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

It turns out that casting our anxiety on the Lord not only helps us feel better, it helps us learn humility, because it reminds us that we are not masters of our own destinies and captains of our own ships. Our calling is not to be in control, but to humbly submit ourselves to God’s control – to live under His mighty hand, which, Peter promises, will take care of our problems, even when our problems are as thorny as how to re-enter workplaces and public spaces in the midst of a still-very-ominous pandemic.

As anyone who has dealt with intense anxiety knows, anxiety is not an emotion one can simply “turn off” or “un-feel.” It bubbles up inside of us, often when we least expect it. But even if we cannot stop it, we can confront it. Clinically, we can receive help for it. And spiritually, we can cast it on Christ. He’s strong enough to take care of it. And He’s compassionate enough to take care of us.

May 4, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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