COVID-19 and Resurrection

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Obviously the greatest impact of COVID-19 on life in the world today is the death of thousands of people. Lots of medical researchers and hypothesizers are trying to figure out the best ways to flatten the curve, to save the lives of those infected, and to create a vaccine that works.

Another notable result of this pandemic is that many events have had to be postponed, such as weddings planned for months in advance and funerals that allow little if any pre-planning. Brides and grooms can be flexible. But it’s painful to delay the grief process as the world waits for coronavirus to be brought to its knees.

In the midst of these new but hopefully temporary realities, Holy Week is upon us. The customary worship experiences of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are replicated online, from empty sanctuaries, by small choruses of disbursed voices, softly and remotely spoken words from Scripture of the life and death of Jesus.

Then, on Easter Sunday morning, the responsive greetings, this year also spoken remotely: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Especially at Easter, those of us who have lost loved ones from this life on earth cannot help but recall the joys and sorrows, difficulties and blessings that were fruits of the relationships we experienced with those dear people. That list includes beloved parents, grandparents, spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and dear friends.

They are gone but not forgotten. At this Eastertide, we give thanks for the love we shared with them, and they with us, during the times of our togetherness.

Even more importantly, we look forward to that day of reuniting with them, of seeing them again, of occupying that immortal, spiritual, imperishable body of which Paul in 1 Cor. 15 so intriguingly speaks. All because of our hope and God’s promise of resurrection.

Resurrection. I say that word with conviction when I speak The Apostles Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!” And I speak that belief when I conduct a funeral: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

COVID-19: Where is your sting? Where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Terry and I pray for each of you a blessed Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

The True Spirit of Giving

The impact of Coronavirus/COVID-19 is still foremost in the minds and lives of the world and our country these days. We’ve all read, heard, and seen reports and prognostications regarding the present and future impact of this virus on our lives. Today I have nothing new to add to what continues to be said about that topic. Life goes on.

So I’ll relive a true story from my past of a little girl I saw in church one Sunday, crying during the offering. I quickly determined that she had been distracted when the offering plate came down the pew where she was sitting with her mother. The distraction caused her to miss the opportunity to place her handful of coins in the plate. She was sorely dismayed as a result.

Across the aisle from where she sat, I observed her looking back at the ushers, who had passed her pew. They were by that time finished with their task, preparing to walk back down the aisle to return the now full offering plates to their proper place in the chancel near the altar.

I could see in the little girl’s eyes the anticipation of another opportunity to give her offering. She moved to the edge of the pew near the center aisle, with her coins ready to go into the offering plate when the ushers passed by on their way up to the altar. Alas. The usher was looking straight ahead at the altar, didn’t notice the young lass, and walked right past her.

She started crying again, which prompted me to stand up, cross the aisle, and ask her mother in a whisper whether it would be OK for me to walk with her young daughter up to the chancel where she could add her coins to the other offerings in the plate. Her mother readily agreed.

So that little girl and I walked together, hand in hand, down the aisle toward the altar. When we got to the plates, I bent down, picked her up, and helped her do what she had so fervently tried to do for several minutes. She placed her handful of coins into the offering plate. Then she smiled.

When preparing to write this week’s article, that story popped up again into my mind. I can talk all day about the different ways people like you and like me can make a significant charitable gift to our church or other favorite charity. We call that legacy giving.

But at the end of the day, if the burning desire to give is not present, I’d be talking to the wind.

So remember these words as you contemplate your life and possessions in the face of COVID-19:

  • God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7
  • Freely you have received; freely give. 10:8
  • It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35
  • Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:21

Heeding these words will help enhance within your heart the true spirit of giving.

Pandemic or Plague?

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Credit: Wikipedia

COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic. Could it also be a plague?

A few Facebook friends expressed it this way:

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “You want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”

In Exodus 7-12, God sent plagues upon the Egyptian people who were holding the nation of Israel captive, beginning with turning the Nile River from water into blood. Then came plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn children throughout Egypt. Finally, the Egyptian Pharaoh let the people go.

Could COVID-19 be God’s way of dealing with a wayward world? “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chron. 7:14

While the idea of the God of the universe being the cause and source of destructive, disrupting, and deadly disease is frightening at worst and distasteful at best, it’s surely a question for pondering: Is coronavirus a pandemic disease or a divinely initiated plague?

Be that as it may, consider this prayer of Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm, pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Seattle, Wash., sent to me by longtime friend Bill Siegrist:

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have had to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

Nothing

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Nothing on grocery store shelves. Especially in toilet tissue and hand sanitizer departments. But things have improved in the past few days.

Nothing going on in schools. They’re closed for at least the next two weeks. Some longer. Parents juggle regular chores, work, and other duties with unexpected home schooling.

Nothing happening in churches? Gatherings of 10 people or more are discouraged. Crowds of 50 or more are outlawed. Public worship services have been shut down. Live streaming is in. Christian love is being shown in many ways every day. By pastors. And by other godly people.

Nothing in the offering plate? Maybe not nothing. Just not enough. Now’s the time to start electronic giving. Try it. You’ll like it.

Nothing on TV really worth watching? At least for sports enthusiasts. Sports events cancelled. Netflix and Amazon movies abound.

Nothing to hope for as high school and college athletes look forward to being recruited or hired? Won’t have the exposure needed to get recruiters’ attention. Life goes on.

Nothing to look forward to as a senior in high school or college? Commencements probably won’t take place. At least not on time. These memories will last.

Nothing to alleviate the sadness of brides and grooms whose weddings have been in the planning stages for months if not years? Private ceremony? Honeymoon postponed? What to do with the cake? And the flowers? And the tuxedos? And the mothers’ dresses?

Nothing to take the place of spoiled vacations? Cruises. Flights. All cancelled. Staycations are in.

Nothing going on in thousands of businesses shut down for the foreseeable future? Will they be able to bounce back when COVID-19 is gone? Time will tell.

Nothing in the bank account? Stock market debacle. Businesses closed. Employees laid off. No paycheck. Unemployed workers left to fend for themselves. Facing real financial challenges

Nothing.

Oops. Almost nothing: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)

Nothing. But hope and confidence in Christ!

Lent and Coronavirus

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Credit: Grzegorz Krupa from Pixabay 

Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter, not including the Sundays of the season. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday, the last day of feasting before the historic practice of fasting for the Lenten season.

Some folks I know observe Lent by depriving themselves of favorite food, beverages, habits, activities, or pleasures. Others proactively do something significant, like reading the Bible more faithfully, praying more fervently, or doing generous acts of kindness and love more freely.

Giving up something of value during Lent hasn’t always been an admirable quality in my life. One year I gave up black and white TV, not only for Lent, but also for good. I was only 26 at the time. Studies show that the male reptilian brain matures at 25. I suppose I was a late bloomer.

The purpose of the Lenten season is to remember with a penitent heart that Jesus gave his life for us in his suffering and death on the cross. Many people do that by attending worship services not only on Ash Wednesday but also each Wednesday during Lent, plus Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

As Lent begins this year, worldwide attention is focused on Coronavirus, a most unwelcomed intruder. It began in Wuhan, China, but quickly spread to other countries, notably Iran and now Italy. As today’s article is being written, this deadly epidemic has infected more than 81,000 people, claiming the lives of 2,700. Lord, have mercy!

What do Lent and Coronavirus have in common? Both are intimately connected with death. Lent emanated with the death of Christ for the life of the world. Coronavirus has brought with it the premature and untimely death of thousands of human beings who were planning to live a lot longer than the age at which they actually died.

The Bible says death is the result of sin. The mortality rate is 100%. It’s just a matter of how, when, and where. For each of us.

Whether our life will end as a result of Coronavirus or cancer or heart failure or stroke or accident or any other cause, it will end. But our life will continue in heaven because of what Jesus did. That’s also what Lent is all about.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Live every day as if it were your last. And don’t forget that at the end of Lent is Easter, the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

Prime Time Debauchery

As you’re likely aware, the first Sunday in February is the date of the annual Super Bowl. For the uninformed, that’s the final NFL (National Football League) game of the season, between AFC (American Football Conference) champions and NFC (National Football Conference) champions.

This year’s game in Miami was the 54th since the Super Bowl began. For the non-Roman numeral aficionados among us, that number looks like this: LIV. Next year’s game, the 55th, will be LV.

For a number of years, Terry and I have watched the first half of the game at the beautiful west Austin home of my first cousin, Dick Rathgeber. Dick and Sara are gracious hosts who entertain 150 or so of their nearest and dearest friends at their annual Super Bowl party. Our friend Dr. John Mehl, executive director of Mission of Christ Network, joined us. With Dick’s blessing.

To facilitate guests’ conversation, the numerous TVs around the house were muted. So we watched the game, with no audio, and the $5.5 million dollar per 30 second commercials, also muted.

At halftime we thanked our hosts and drove home to fast forward through the first half of the game, which we had already seen, and to play the commercials, which had been seen but not heard. We decided to skip the halftime program, to watch and listen to the second half of the game and the second half commercials, in order to get to bed at a God-pleasing hour.

The next night, Terry and I decided to watch the halftime show. It featured a duo of popular performers, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. I had heard from ladies at the office that the show consisted of a lot of Latin music, writhing, jiggling, and other sexually suggestive movements.

They were correct. And slightly understated. The word “debauchery” comes to mind.

Debauchery is a term defined by the following synonyms: wickedness, sin, depravity, corruption, decadence, iniquity, wantonness, immorality, shamelessness, licentiousness, impiety, self-indulgence, intemperance, hedonism. Some of those terms are stronger than others, providing a bit of leeway when they are used. And not all of them are accurately descriptive of the Super Bowl halftime show. But some of those words tell the story.

The gyrations of the two headliners, with poles and ropes, and of the groups of male and female dancers accompanying them, were not just a little over the top. That’s especially true considering the prime time audience watching, which surely included children, some of whom actually participated on stage with their scantily attired “role models” leading the way.

Our children and grandchildren will be exposed to debauchery soon enough, and maybe already have been. But it shouldn’t be coming into their own living room. From their family television. Before their bedtime. National Football League, I think you can do better than prime time debauchery!

Iran

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The news of United States President Donald Trump’s authorization of the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been a topic of interest since that killing took place. Reports indicate that such authorization was issued seven months ago. The event actually occurred via drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Some say this was a dastardly deed that should never have happened. Others say it was an act of war that should not have been initiated without congressional approval.

Still others point to the violent record of a man directly or indirectly implicated in the death of hundreds of Americans. He was also actively involved in widespread death and destruction and called “an architect of bloodshed and chaos in Iraq, Syria, and Israel.” (https://lucas.house.gov/press-release/lucas-statement-death-qasem-solimani)

The New Year’s Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad was seen by some as a catalyzing event, resurrecting images and recollections of what happened during the 2012 Ansar al-Sharia attack on United States government facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

What’s intriguing to me is to learn that Iranian protests following January 3 have largely been staged by Iranian citizens who are relieved and thankful that Soleimani, responsible for the deaths of many of his own countrymen, is gone. Reports I’ve read indicate strong support of Iranian protestors for democracy and freedom.

If these reports are true, and I pray they are, thanks be to God for this positive development.

I’m reminded of words from Scripture I shared in person with then President George W. Bush on September 20, 2001, a little more than one week following the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

“The one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rom. 13:4

Political interaction involving military confrontation with hostile and evil international leaders is not easily accomplished. Decisions are made by leaders charged with responsibility for the safety of American citizens. I don’t agree with every decision our leaders have made in the past or will make in the future. You most likely feel the same way.

That’s why it’s so important to hold our leaders in fervent prayer for informed wisdom, restraint when necessary, and courageous action when required. Lord, have mercy!