Posts tagged ‘Hope’

Dealing with Depression

This weekend at the church where I serve, we began a two-week series on mental health. A new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that symptoms of depression in adults across the country has more than tripled since the COVID-19 pandemic began:

In the weeks after the outbreak prompted quarantines and stay-at-home orders, 27.8% of those surveyed had at least one symptom of depression. That compares to just 8.5% of people in 2017 and 2018.

And it’s not just that the proportion of people experiencing signs of depression had increased by mid-April – the burden of those symptoms increased as well. After the pandemic caused a radical shift in daily life, there were “fewer people with no symptoms and more people with more symptoms.”

None of this is particularly surprising. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the societal upheaval we have endured over these past few months does not have an effect on our mental health.

Struggles with mental health are nothing new. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist has a line that jumped off the page at me as I was reading it as part of my morning devotions this past week:

My soul is weary with sorrow. (Psalm 119:28)

I wonder how many of us can relate to these words because we feel the weight of these words?

The question, of course, is: What do we do when we do feel the weight of these words? In the series we are at my church on mental health, we are talking about how there is both a clinical and a spiritual side to depression. Both must be addressed. Clinically, depression can – and often should – be treated through professional counseling and, perhaps, medication. Spiritually, the Psalmist offers a great place to start in order to address our depression:

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word. (Psalm 119:28)

To heal in our depression, we need a word from the Lord – a word that He loves us, that He will take care of us, and that there is hope for us.

If you’re struggling in depression right now, please know that you’re not alone. Please seek clinical help if you need it. But please also meditate on God’s Word. It is full of people who felt like you do. And it is full of people who God helped like He will you. Depression does not need to be determinative. God has a word of hope for you in His Word.

September 14, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Divorce Inquiries Climb as the Pandemic Lingers

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Among the casualties of the coronavirus are many Americans’ marriages. New released data indicates that sales of divorce agreements have soared by 34 percent during the pandemic. The pandemic seems to have had especially adverse effects on new marriages, with couples married five months or less pursuing divorce at double the rate of 2019. According to The Daily Mail, “the combination of quarantine life, wavering finances, mounting unemployment rates, illnesses, deaths of loved ones, mental illness and child care” has led to the spike in divorce inquiries.

As long as there has been marriage, there have been stressors and strains on marriages. History’s first marriage featured a husband who ill-advisedly blamed his wife for his bad behavior after he ate some forbidden fruit. When he was confronted by God over his sin, he claimed: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). His was quick to blame his wife instead of taking responsibility for his own sin. And couples have been following in his footsteps ever since.

In Jesus’ day, countless numbers of marriages were crumbling. Many Jewish rabbis in the first century permitted husbands to divorce their wives for pretty much any reason. There was one school of thought that actually taught that a husband may divorce his wife “if she spoiled a dish for him,” or “even if he found another woman more beautiful than she.” Jesus, however, was having none of this. He pointedly declared: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus wants couples to remain together, even during trying times.

COVID-19 has certainly brought its share of trials. Many marriages are struggling. Some are not surviving. But hope is not lost. Jesus, at the same time He confronts those who don’t take seriously a commitment to marriage, also comforts those who are struggling in marriage. He knows circumstances can become difficult, and He cares.

So, if you are struggling in your marriage, now is the time to ask for help. You can certainly reach out to the church where I serve, Concordia, and we would be happy to talk with you. COVID-19 has created enough casualties. Let’s not add our marriages to that sad list.

September 7, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Processing a Pandemic

“When the pandemic is over…”

I’ve heard these words spoken over and over again by many people. And, I agree with them. I do believe this pandemic will eventually pass. But in my darker moments, I must admit that I also wonder about these words. I want to ask: “You say, ‘When the pandemic is over.’ When, pray tell, might that be?”

I have a feeling I’m not alone in asking this question. Not only am I not alone in asking this question among those around me; I am also not alone in asking this question among those throughout history.

In a really interesting long form piece for New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan takes his reader on a whirlwind tour of plagues throughout history. His descriptions of many historic plagues are gruesome. Take, for instance, the plague that swept through Rome in 536:

Black rats arrived in the Roman port of Alexandria. They carried with them their own parasite, a flea that lived on the rats’ blood and could survive up to six weeks without a host – making it capable of enduring long sea voyages. And as the bacteria spread among the rats, and their population began to collapse, the fleas, desperate for food, sought alternatives. Living very close to the rats, humans were an easy target … For several days after infection, you were asymptomatic, then grotesque black buboes appeared on your body – swollen lymph nodes near where the fleas had bitten. Death often came several days later.

John of Ephesus noted that as people “were looking at each other and talking, they began to totter and fell either in the streets or at home, in harbors, on ships, in churches, and everywhere.” As he traveled in what is now Turkey, he was surrounded by death: “Day by day, we too –  like everybody – knocked at the gate to the tomb … We saw desolate and groaning villages and corpses spread out on the earth, with no one to take up [and bury] them.”

This is not even the worst of Mr. Sullivan’s descriptions. His recounting of the 1918 flu pandemic here in the States is even more jarring:

In her book Pandemic 1918, Catharine Arnold notes that “victims collapsed in the streets, hemorrhaging from lungs and nose. Their skin turned dark blue with the characteristic ‘heliotrope cyanosis’ caused by oxygen failure as the lungs filled with pus, and they gasped for breath from ‘air-hunger’ like landed fish.” The nosebleeds were projectile, covering the surroundings with blood. “When their lungs collapsed,” one witness recounted, “air was trapped beneath their skin. As we rolled the dead in winding sheets, their bodies crackled – an awful crackling noise which sounded like Rice Crispies [sic] when you pour milk over them.”

But as the summer of 1918 began in the U.S., relief spread. Maybe it was over. And then, in the fall, confident that a vaccine was imminent, several cities, notably Philadelphia, hosted war-bond parades, with large crowds thronging the streets … In the coming weeks, the city morgue was piling bodies on top of bodies, stacked three deep in the corridors, with no ice and no embalming. The stench was rank. City authorities were reduced to asking people to put their dead loved ones out on the street for collection.

This is horrifying.

But Mr. Sullivan is not simply content to leave his reader with dreadful descriptions of plagues past. He also invites us to grapple with some hard truths that our being revealed by our present plague, like this one:

We are not in control.

This is most certainly true.

Christians, for millennia now, have known this and proclaimed this. But they have also trusted in and told of One who is in control – One who can, and even does, heal the sick and raise the dead.

Mr. Sullivan notes:

Reminding humans of our mortality, plagues throw up existential questions. 

They do. Whether we take the time to grapple with these existential questions, however, is up to us. Historically, people have answered threats to their existence in one of two ways:

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (Isaiah 22:13)

Or:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Some are confronted by a time like this and simply resign themselves to revelry, for they believe that this is all there is. Others are confronted by a time like this and hope for a restoration, for they know this is not how things should be – but they also believe that there is One who will make things as they can be. And they believe that this One remains with us to comfort us, even during a pandemic.

Which way will you respond to this present moment? Choose wisely.

August 17, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Disaster in Beirut

When I first saw the video footage out of Beirut, I, like so many, was horrified. As so many others have noted, what began as a raging fire turned into what looked like an atomic bomb explosion in the heart of Beirut’s harbor – complete with the mushroom cloud that literally knocked people down for miles around.

But it was not an atomic bomb. It was not an attack by some nefarious force or enemy nation. The culprit here was negligence. It is now being reported that at the site of the explosion, there were thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored alongside a cache of fireworks. How they got there is a case study in incompetence. The Guardian interviewed a former port worker, Yusuf Shehadi, who explained that the Lebanese military had demanded that the ammonium nitrate be housed there. Mr. Shehadi explained:

We complained a lot about this over the years. Every week, the customs people came and complained and so did the state security officers. The army kept telling them they had no other place to put this. Everyone wanted to be the boss, and no one wanted to make a real decision … The port workers did not put the chemicals there in the first place. That outrage rests with the government.

The fireworks stored there date back all the way to 2010, after customs confiscated them and needed a place to put them. Apparently, a decade was not long enough for customs to find a more suitable storage spot for the fireworks. In other words, this was a disaster waiting to happen. Of course, now that the disaster has happened, there is plenty of finger pointing, but little to no responsibility taking.

After history’s first disaster – humanity’s fall into sin – just like with Beirut, there was plenty of finger pointing, but little to no responsibility taking. When God discovers that Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree He had forbidden to them, both of them are quick to try to pass the buck:

The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13)

Sadly, this finger pointing did not solve anything. It only led to death – just like in Beirut. In that town, the latest death toll stands at 154 with more than 5,000 people injured.

When Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate, there is plenty of finger pointing going on. “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king,” some say as they point at Jesus (Luke 23:2). “He stirs up the people all over Judea by His teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here,” others accuse (Luke 23:5). And just like in the Garden and just like at Beirut, this finger pointing leads to death – Jesus’ death. But this death is different.

The prophet Isaiah says of Jesus’ crucifixion:

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering. (Isaiah 53:4)

Rather than taking the fingers of His enemies and pointing them right back at them in their sin, Jesus willingly took up their finger pointing and he took up responsibility for the sinfulness and brokenness of the world.

It is unlikely someone will actually step up to take responsibility for this tragedy. In reality, no one person can. There are no doubt dozens if not hundreds of people who were complicit in this dangerous storage setup. And besides, no amount of human finger pointing or human responsibility taking will bring back those who have lost their lives in Beirut’s tragic explosion. There is only One who can take responsibility in a way that will actually solve this tragedy – in a way that will actually bring those who have lost their lives back in a resurrection. And His name is Jesus.

He takes responsibility for what we cannot.

August 10, 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

Credit: Sean Rayford / Getty Images

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

Keeping Perspective in COVID-19 Times

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Credit: cottonbroPexels

At Concordia in San Antonio where I serve as one of the pastors, we are sending out a weekly “check-in.” People can voluntarily “check-in” with us by answering a few questions about how they’re doing during this pandemic. For a lot of people, just knowing that someone cares and is concerned about them is enough to give them a little boost in their spirits.

This past week, I had an old friend, who is also a pastor, call and check-in with me just to see how I was doing. We caught up on a whole host of ministry triumphs and challenges and talked about how we are navigating a situation the likes of which neither one of us has ever seen. They don’t offer a class on “pandemic response” in seminary. Or, if they did, I missed it.

To keep my spirits up during this time, I have had to fight to keep my perspective. These words from the apostle Paul have become words I’ve turned to again and again when I’ve felt like my spirits were sinking and my perspective was darkening:

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There is so much perspective packed into these few verses.

Many of us feel like “we are wasting away.” Whether we have contracted COVID-19, or are just struggling to keep ourselves in shape when gyms are closed, junk food is plentiful, and the sofa is inviting, a lot of our bodies are taking a hit. But even apart from a pandemic, our bodies would waste away anyway. Every body eventually breaks down and falls prey to the wages of sin, which are death. And yet, Paul says, we can be “renewed day by day.” God – one day at a time – can meet us in His Word and refresh us by His Spirit. Our bodily wasting away does not need to result in a deeper spiritual decay.

Paul continues by comparing “our light and momentary troubles” with “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This little word “far,” in Greek, is a three-word-phrase: hyperbolen eis hyperbolen. We get our word “hyperbole” from this word, which refers to something that is over-the-top. The glory that awaits us in eternity, Paul says, will be over-the-top and so over-the-top that we will look back and scoff at the troubles we are now facing. God’s glory will one day wipe away this pandemic’s gory sicknesses and deaths.

Because we long for this glory, Paul concludes, we should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because “what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, instead of fretting over this day’s news, we are to be people who look forward to the day when all things will be made new in Christ Jesus. What we are seeing now is temporary. What remains unseen – but what will one day be seen when Christ reveals it to us – is eternal.

I wish I was better at keeping Paul’s perspective. I, just like anyone else, can get caught up in “our light and momentary troubles.” But when I’m tempted to fall prey to pity, these words call me back. These words give me hope. And because of hope:

We do not lose heart.

April 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Holy Week for Unholy Times

art-cathedral-christ-christian-208216.jpgThis week is the beginning of what is, in the history and tradition of the Christian Church, called Holy Week. It is a commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ life before His death on a cross in anticipation of His victory over death on Easter.

Yesterday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds hail His arrival by laying palm fronds at His feet (John 12:13). Palms were a symbol of Jewish nationalistic pride. In 164 BC, after the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had persecuted and murdered many Jews, was defeated, the Jews waved palms in celebration of their victory. On Palm Sunday, the crowds are hoping that, just as their Greek oppressors were taken down almost two centuries earlier, Jesus will be the revolutionary who takes down their Roman oppressors.

Then, this Thursday, we will observe Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is a derivative of the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” On this night, Jesus gives His disciples two commands. This first command is one of love:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

The second is a command given when Jesus institutes a supper, which we now call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instructs His disciples:

Do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)

Thus, on Maundy Thursday, Christians across the world will partake in the Lord’s Supper – not just to obey a command, but to receive what Jesus promises in this holy meal: “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

The day after Maundy Thursday is Good Friday – the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it. Jesus is arrested by His enemies and condemned to die not because He has committed a crime, but because the religious elites of His day hate His popularity among the crowds in Jerusalem. Even the man who condemns Jesus to death on a cross, Pontius Pilate, knows that it is “out of envy that they had delivered Him up” (Matthew 27:18). This is a dark, unholy moment. As Jesus says to His accusers when they arrest Him: “This is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). And yet, even in this dark, unholy moment, holiness cannot and will not be defeated. Righteousness will reign. For even though Jesus’ enemies commit an unholy crime against Him, He is giving His life for them. His sacrifice is what makes Holy Week truly “holy.”

The times in which we are living right now feel dark and unholy. “Stay-at-home” restrictions are getting stricter. The curve of infections and deaths from COVID-19 is rising steeper. For millions of people, life is getting harder. And yet, this week – Holy Week – can remind us that holiness is found in the most unholy of places. After all, an ancient instrument of torture and execution – the cross – has now become a worldwide symbol of consolation and hope. And so, even if this week feels unholy, this week can still be a Holy Week – not because we live in a holy world, but because we have hope in a Holy One.

April 6, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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