Posts filed under ‘Current Trends’

The Moral Imperative of Afghanistan

The scenes out of Afghanistan these past two weeks have been nothing short of horrific. Scenes of Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a C-17 as it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to escape the predations of the Taliban, are now seared into our collective consciousness. Stories of people hiding in the wheel wells of U.S. military planes, and then being crushed by their landing gear, are jarring reminders of just how quickly this nation is deteriorating as the U.S. ends a 20-year mission there. So many people’s lives are under threat from Taliban extremists – from U.S. citizens who have not been able to leave to Afghanis who have served, often valiantly, assisting the U.S. military. Already, there are stories of the Taliban beheading Afghanis who assisted the U.S. military and fears that the group will sexually enslave women who do not follow the organization’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and was assisted by the Taliban, which provided safe shelter for Al Qaeda. In the decade prior to this, the West lived largely under the philosophical influence of Post-Modernism and its smug amoralism. Universal standards of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness were largely relegated to outdated and culturally embedded categories from a religiously superstitious era. The modern world had no need for such sanctimoniousness.

But then, planes were plowed into the tallest towers in New York City, sending them crumbling to the ground, and thousands of people lost their lives in an instant because of 19 terrorists, and the amoralism of Post-Modernism shattered. There was no way around it – what happened that day was evil. We needed the categories of morality to describe the gravity of what we all experienced that day.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Nico Jacobellis was charged with two counts of possessing and showing an obscene film at a theatre he managed and was ordered to pay fines according to State statutes. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Jacobellis’ was Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence to the ruling, he famously wrote of obscene material, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Though I may quibble over how well Justice Stewart knew obscene material when he saw it, his broader moral argument is an intriguing one. How do we know when something is obscene or not? How do we know when something is wrong or not? It is possible to make an argument that we just do. We just know it when we see it.

The apostle Paul identifies the source of this innate moral compass when he writes of people who are not believers in the true God:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)

The reason we all have an innate moral compass that knows evil when it sees it is because we are hardwired that way by God.

On September 11, 2001, we saw evil – and we knew it. The question was: how would we react to the evil we saw? We chose to go after the terrorist organization that attacked us and, in the process, made many friends in Afghanistan. As we now bring our mission there to a close two decades later, we are seeing threats of evil from the Taliban and desperation among many innocent and threatened Afghanis – and we know it. The question is: how will we react to the evil that we see?

That’s a question that, politically and nationally, we have yet to figure out precisely how to answer. But it’s a question that demands an answer – for the sake of what’s right and for the sake of people’s lives.

August 23, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Searching for Meaning in a Condo Collapse

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images via Newsweek

I first heard of the news about the collapse of Champlain Towers South, a condo complex on the beach in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday morning while staying in a condo complex on the beach in Port Aransas. The reports sounded ominous. The pictures that have emerged are dolorous. The number of people still missing is tortuous. And the reason for the building’s collapse remains mysterious.

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is natural for people to ask: Why? We have an intractable need to find meaning, even in the midst of what appears to be a desultory disaster. In our minds, a disaster is never just a disaster. There is always a reason behind it. There is always something we can learn from it.

This desire to find meaning in disaster is nothing new. The specific meanings we derive from disasters may change, but our search for some kind of meaning – any kind of meaning – remains. This search for meaning is what Jesus addresses when He references a tower collapse in His day and the meaning people had assigned to it:

Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

In Jesus’ day, there was an assumption that if a disaster befalls you, this indicates an especially grievous sinfulness had engulfed you. Jesus says that deriving this kind of a meaning from this kind of a disaster is wrongheaded. But just because this meaning cannot be derived from this disaster does not mean no meaning can be derived from any disaster.

So, what meaning can we rightly find in disaster?

Near the end of his life, Solomon, one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel, reflects on all he has done, experienced, and accomplished and compiles his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes. After much reflection, he arrives at this conclusion:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Though these words are quite famous, they also represent one of my least favorite translations in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the word translated as “meaningless” is hebel, which does not denote a lack of meaning, but instead describes transience. Hebel is a “vapor” or a “mist.” Solomon’s point, then, is this: just when we think we’ve taken a hold of something, it slips through our fingers. Solomon continues by offering a litany of things that slip through our fingers: wisdom, pleasure, hard work, and riches. And it is here with hebel that we find not meaninglessness, but some much-needed meaning in disaster. Disasters remind us that this life and everything in it is like a vapor or a mist. It slips through our fingers – sometimes when we least expect it, like when a tower shockingly crumbles. This life can be shorter than we care to admit.

So, what are we to do in light of life’s transience? On the one hand, Solomon says, this kind of transience should lead us to live joyfully in this day because we do not know whether another day awaits us:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

On the other hand, life’s transience should also lead us to search for something that is not transient – something that lasts. This is why Solomon says in the next verse:

I know that everything God does will endure forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

This life may not last. But what God does will. This means that when God sent His Son to bring life, He brought a life that lasts – a life that is eternal. Tragedy may remind us that this life doesn’t last. But God gives us hope for a life that does – a life that extends far beyond this one. And that’s not just meaning we can take from a tragedy like the Champlain Towers collapse; that’s hope we can have no matter what tragedy we may face.

June 28, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

New Discoveries of Old Scrolls

Last Tuesday, researchers unveiled newly discovered fragments of some Dead Sea Scrolls. These fragments represent the first discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls in over 50 years and contain verses from Zechariah 8:16-17 and Nahum 1:5-6. And there’s plenty notable about these discoveries.

First, the text of these fragments is written in Greek, the language of the New Testament, instead of in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, even though Zechariah and Nahum are Old Testament prophets. This is because these scrolls were written in the first century AD when the world spoke Greek. This is a reminder that the Jewish people treated their Hebrew Scriptures as eminently important, so they translated them into the lingua franca of the ancient world so that as many people as possible could read them and learn from them. They believed their Scriptures were good for the world and needed by the world.

Second, these fragments seem to indicate that there was some debate over how certain passages should be translated from their original Hebrew into the contemporary Greek of their day. The translation work in these fragments represents a revision of an older Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. So, for instance, in Zechariah 8:17, the older Greek translation renders a Hebrew word ish as “each other.” The verse reads, “Do not plot evil against each other.” This fragment, however, notices that, in the Hebrew manuscript, ish is the first word in the sentence and therefore leaves it there, and translates it using its most common meaning of “man.” It translates: “As for a man, do not plot evil against his neighbor in your heart.” This shows that, dating all the way back into the first century, people took translating the Scriptures seriously, even debating how to best translate various verses and difficult grammatical constructions. Their goal was to provide as accurate a rendering as possible of the original language texts they had because they held the Scriptures in such high regard. They wanted to be supremely careful in how they translated these holy documents.

Finally, these fragments also, quite uniquely, use the personal name for God: Yahweh. The scrolls leave the name of God in Hebrew with Hebrew letters, even though these are Greek manuscripts. Traditionally, in an attempt to avoid coming even close to misusing God’s name, translators would address God formally as “Lord” instead of invoking God’s name personally as “Yahweh.” But these manuscripts get personal. These translators seemed to have wanted to emphasize that there is a personal God who cares about people – personally.

A discovery like this reminds us that people have long revered the Scriptures and treated them with the utmost care. These were always considered to be sacred documents. They were not exalted to such a status later. This discovery also provides us a window into the faith of our forefathers, who trusted in a personal God and His personal concern for them. From them, we have learned the faith. From them, we have learned the Gospel. And for them, we should be thankful.

March 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The COVID-19 Vaccines

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It’s been a long year, but there finally seems to be some good news in the battle against COVID 19. New infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are down. Vaccinations against the virus are up. Two weeks ago, vaccination sites across the nation doled out 2.2 million shots in arms. The CDC has also issued fresh guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated, allowing them to gather in small groups without face coverings or social distancing. In even more good news, new research shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective at neutralizing many of the virus variants. Hope seems to be dawning, even if there’s still more work to do.

But with new hope comes new questions. One of the most concerning questions I have heard recently has to do with how the COVID-19 vaccines are connected to abortion. Abortion is one of the gravest moral issues of our day, so a concern like this deserves and demands our serious consideration.

The question of how the COVID-19 vaccines are connected to abortion arises out of how these shots were developed and tested. They were developed and tested using fetal cell lines, grown in laboratories, that began as fetal tissue from elective abortions, though the cells used in conjunction with these vaccines are now thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, to the best of my knowledge, were not developed from fetal cell lines, but were tested on fetal cell lines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a different story. It did indeed use a fetal cell line in the process of its development. In the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, then, a fetal cell line was an actual source for the vaccine. Without that fetal cell line, there might have, ostensibly, been no Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In the cases of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, their vaccines could have still existed quite apart from any interaction with a fetal cell line.

Do such interactions with these fetal cell lines raise serious ethical questions? Yes. Are the answers to these ethical questions easy or straightforward? Not so much. Some Roman Catholic archdioceses, for instance, are encouraging people to try to avoid taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of how it was developed while other archdioceses are encouraging people to take whatever vaccine is offered them.

As I’ve been considering the complicated questions involved in the development and research of these vaccines, there is a biblical framework that has been helpful to me. When an angry crowd demands Jesus’ death, they do so in a great act of evil. But from Jesus’ unjust death springs forth awesome life, as Easter so wonderfully demonstrates. Likewise, these fetal cell lines spring from abortive acts that tragically and painfully brought about death. But even after these abortions, life has stubbornly held on in fetal cell lines. Though I continue to have weighty ethical reservations about these cell lines, this framework does provide me with a surprising reminder that no matter how final and grim death may seem, life will ultimately prove victorious.

If you are trying to figure out whether you should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, I would encourage you to prayerfully, carefully, and conscientiously consider the ethical concerns and questions, and consult with your physician. The benefits of receiving a vaccine are immense. That researchers, scientists, and medical professionals developed a vaccine for a novel coronavirus inside of nine months can be rightly regarded as astounding. But I also understand the ethical questions are real. I am thankful for these vaccines. I also look forward to the day when, just like we work tirelessly to save lives at risk in a pandemic, every life in every womb will be honored and celebrated.

March 15, 2021 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Texas Snowstorm

That was interesting.

I’ve lived in the Lonestar State since the mid-90s and I’ve never seen anything even close to what Texas just experienced. The snow in San Antonio – where I live – was beautiful. The power outages, frozen pipes, icy streets, and water pump failures that followed were not. An arctic air mass pushed way south and brought Texas record-shattering low temperatures that, in many areas, dipped into the single digits. The rock bottom temperatures managed to freeze out coal and gas power plants, a nuclear power plant, and a host of west Texas windmills, which forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power for the state, to quickly ration power in order to prevent a catastrophic blackout that could have stretched on for months. Everyone who was not part of a grid that provided power to critical services like hospitals was left in the dark – and in the cold.

A natural disaster like this is certainly perspective-shifting. On the one hand, this kind of weather, and the havoc it brings, can make you feel powerless. Human ingenuity can constrain – but it cannot restrain – the effects of the natural world. On the other hand, a disaster like this can remind you of the things for which you should be thankful, but that you also usually overlook. Reliable power. Running water. Climate control. You don’t notice these things until you don’t have them.

Of course, a time like this can bring out the best in people. Neighbors did help neighbors. People who had power opened their homes to those who did not. The long line I waited in to buy groceries at a dark H-E-B that had only enough generator power to operate a few checkout lines was full of generally chipper and friendly people who were thankful that the chain was doing everything it could to provide Texans with the staples they needed.

In Acts 27, the apostle Paul is sailing for Rome when he encounters a massive storm. For fourteen days, Paul and the crew on the ship hang on for dear life. They finally wash ashore on the island of Malta, where they encounter some friendly residents:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. (Acts 28:2)

I’ve come to appreciate a good fire when it’s cold.

But just when it looks like Paul’s luck is finally changing, tragedy strikes again:

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6)

Of course, Paul is neither a murderer nor a god. But he does serve the one, true God – the God who saw him through this terrible storm. And this is what Christians still believe – that for every crisis, every storm, and every difficulty, there is a God who sees us through. And even though He doesn’t protect us from every tragedy, He is present with us through every tragedy.

As Texas’s power grid continues to stumble back online, there will be changes to the grid that will need to be made, officials who will need to be held accountable, heroes who will need to be thanked, and people who will need our help. But through it all, we can be thankful that the God who made the world – and us – cares for us. This is why He sent the One the prophet Malachi called “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) – Jesus Christ – to us.

The “sun” sounds awfully nice right now.

February 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A March for Life

This past Friday was the 48th annual March for Life. As with many other events, this year’s march looked different from every previous year. It was held virtually in response to the continued spread of COVID-19. The virtual nature of the march, however, did not mute its message. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, an estimated 62 million babies have been lost. And though the number of abortions is going down overall, there have been some pockets of increases.

The fierce fights over abortion show no sign of abating. Sadly, the topic has often been treated more as ammunition in a culture war instead of a pressing moral question with life and death consequences. So many pay a hefty price each time an abortion is performed.

First, there is a baby who pays the price of his or her very life. The heartbeat of a child in utero can usually be detected between the third and fourth week of development. This means that any abortion performed after this stops a beating heart. Scientifically, there is a broad consensus that the life of a human organism begins even earlier – right at conception. In a recent study at the University of Chicago, 95 percent of biologists surveyed, many of whom self-identified as pro-choice, agreed that life begins at fertilization. Many Christians believe that life begins at conception because, Scripturally, life is celebrated and sacralized throughout a child’s development in utero. As the Psalmist says to God about his own creation and gestation:

You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Second, there is the mother who pays a price. For every high profile incident of people celebrating abortion, there are other instances of women who struggle with regret or outright emotional trauma. And these struggles can present themselves long after the event – often 10 to 15 years later. The price of a broken or guilt-ridden heart cannot and must not be overlooked.

Third, low-income communities pay a price. Half of all women who get abortions live below the poverty line, and 75 percent of women who get abortions are low-income. Many of these women choose to abort because they know they will be single mothers if they carry their babies to term and they are scared that they will not have the resources or support needed to raise a child. Their decision to abort, then, is less of a freely-willed choice and more of a perilous predicament that forces the hands of already hurting women.

We must count the cost of abortion. We must stand up for those who bear the burden of abortion. We can stand up for children in utero and advocate for their lives. We can stand up for women who struggle and lovingly present alternate ways forward if they are considering an abortion or offer grace and support to those who are struggling with the decision they made to have an abortion. We must stand up for impoverished communities by promoting the value of families, by holding men who would run from their responsibilities as fathers accountable, and by offering what we can in the way of financial resources, friendships, and modeling to demonstrate different and more hopeful paths forward for at-risk women who become pregnant.

For me, abortion is personal. I have two children because of the choice of two incredible women to put their babies up for adoption. I have a family because two women chose life. To them, I offer a teary-eyed “thank you.” Your choice for life changed my life. And the chain can continue. More choices for life can change more lives.

What a great choice to make.

February 1, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Pandemic Fatigue

Credit: Anna Shvets / Pexels.com

The book of Leviticus is filled with all sorts of rules and regulations, many of which address cleanliness and purification in the face of infectious diseases. Here’s a sample:

When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days.On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a rash. They must wash their clothes, and they will be clean. But if the rash does spread in their skin after they have shown themselves to the priest to be pronounced clean, they must appear before the priest again. The priest is to examine that person, and if the rash has spread in the skin, he shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease. (Leviticus 13:2-8)

This passage was the kind that used to make people roll their eyes and groan with boredom and wonder why God bothered to include such pedantic instructions concerning something as seemingly insignificant as a skin rash. Now, passages like these feel strangely relevant and current.

In these verses, we have it all: a health screening for signs of disease, a quarantine, a demand that a person test negative for that disease, and special concern with disinfecting practices. Sound familiar?

Beyond the specific instructions for addressing sicknesses, passages like these make a larger point: God cares about our health and wellbeing.

As we enter into the eleventh month of our battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, a fair amount of pandemic fatigue has set in. At least, it certainly has for me. I am looking forward to the day when the vaccine for this virus will be available for anyone who wants it. In the meantime, however, Leviticus 13 with all its regulations can serve as an encouragement to us: God sought to take care of His people by attending to their health. We can do the same as we continue to endure screenings, quarantines, testing, and disinfecting. Remember, we’re getting closer to having this pandemic under control! And for that, I rejoice and am extremely thankful.

January 18, 2021 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Jarring Protest at the Capitol – How Do We Respond?

Not that we needed any more convincing, but yesterday’s events reaffirmed that we live in tumultuous times. The events that unfolded in and the pictures that came out of our nation’s Capitol were disturbing. As we try to process what we saw, felt, and experienced, I have noticed two main reactions to these historic – and infamous – events.

The first reaction is that of anger. The protestors who stormed the Capitol were angry that Congress was moving to formalize the electoral college results because they believed the election results were infected with fraud. Others are now angry at those at the Capitol who were angry, seeing their actions as an attack on American democracy. And the anger continues to boil.

The second reaction is that of fear. The scenes at the Capitol were undeniably scary. The level of distrust of Americans at American institutions and at other Americans is startlingly high. We are scared of what we are seeing at places like the Capitol and we are scared of each other. And this fear shows no signs of abating.

As in our time, the night before Jesus’ death was a tumultuous time – for Jesus and for His disciples. And as things turned increasingly dark, the disciples’ reactions were utterly predictable. Sometimes, they reacted with anger. When Jesus is arrested by a mob of His detractors in the Garden of Gethsemane, for instance, Peter responds in violent fury:

Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

After Peter’s violent protest fails and Jesus is nevertheless arrested, the disciples react with unalloyed alarm:

Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled. (Matthew 26:56)

The disciples’ reactions, like our reactions, are understandable. But Jesus has a better way for them – and for us – to react to tumultuous times.

When Peter reacts with violent anger to Jesus’ arrest, Jesus rebuffs him:

Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

And right before Jesus and His disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus calls on them to not fall prey to fear:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. (John 14:1)

So, if anger and fear are off the table, how does Jesus want us to respond to tumultuous times? After Jesus tells His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, He tells them how to be rescued from fear:

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

The way forward when the world feels like it’s closing in around us is the way of peace. This is why, when tempers flare at injustices and offenses – be they perceived or real – we are called to respond peacefully:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)

This is also why, when we are scared of others, Christians, just like Jesus did with His disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection, are called to offer peace to others:

When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

Growing up, I remember being told, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” It’s a truism, but I’m not so sure it’s actually true – at least biblically. Biblically, “Peacefulness is next to godliness.” As the apostle Paul writes:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

No matter what we may believe politically, listening to Paul’s appeal would be good for us – and for our nation – spiritually. May we be people of peace rather than anger or fear. May we demonstrate our godliness by our peacefulness. And may we pray for our leaders. They need it. And we do, too.

January 7, 2021 at 1:31 pm 6 comments

More Than A New Year

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What a year 2020 has been. When this year began, I never dreamed that the way we do commerce, attend schools, worship at church, interact with each other, and generally live would change the way it has because of a virus that began spreading halfway across the world.

As this year draws to a close, I’ve heard people say again and again, “I sure am glad 2020 is almost over. We need a new year!” I understand the sentiment. I’ve felt it, too. And yet, we all know that a simple change on a calendar doesn’t mean the end of a pandemic. It also doesn’t mean the end of the frustration, fear, fury, and funk that this messy world can bring.

I’ve heard other people say, “This year has been bad, but we can still be thankful because it could have been worse!” This is certainly true. For example, the number of COVID cases to date is just now passing the total number of causalities during World War II, which were a shocking 75 million. But just asserting that things could have been worse doesn’t mean they couldn’t also have been much better. This assertion, even it’s true, isn’t really helpful. We can’t look at life through a Goldilocks lens. Just because something could be worse or could be better doesn’t make what we’re experiencing right now just right.

At a time like this, what we ultimately need is something more than a new year. We need a new creation – one that is not saddled with economic downturns, social isolation, and highly contagious viruses. We need what one of Jesus’ followers named John once saw in a vision:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

John saw an age where all the pain, struggling, and suffering of this world would be wiped away. We’re certainly not there yet. But the promise is that we will get there.

I don’t know when John’s vision will come to pass. And the wait can get frustrating at times. This is why, after John has this vision, the voice from the throne continues:

“I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

While we struggle through this age waiting for the next, this voice from the throne wants us to know that He is in the process of making everything new – right now. And we can see it if we look for it. Every time an impoverished person is helped, things are being made new. Every time a lonely person is comforted, things are being made new. Every time a sick person is healed, things are being made new. And every time a person far from God is brought near in Christ, things are being made new. Yes, a lot of things are not new yet. But newness is on the march. And newness will win the war against “that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (Revelation 20:2). A new year might not get rid of some old problems. But God’s persistent forging of a new creation will.

A new year may do us some good. But God’s new creation will is making everything great.

December 28, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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