COVID, Statues, Violence, Law Enforcement

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These days the national news is largely about those four topics.

COVID-19 is still rearing its ugly head, particularly in some parts of the country. Numerous re-opened business establishments have been closed again. So have some churches.

Masks are now mandated in most of Texas and in other parts of the country. Social distancing and sheltering in place are still recommended. Some people are scared. Others are skeptical.

In the meantime, we’ve seen historic statues and other monuments splashed with paint, covered with vulgar graffiti, or altogether torn down and tossed into nearby bodies of water.

Why? Because those who don’t like what the statue represents decide it should be destroyed, often violating federal law in the process. What gives them the right to act so sanctimoniously?

When such concerns are legitimate, the statue may be moved peacefully to a less public venue. How and by whom that decision is made is important. Cancel culture? Erase history? Says who?

And the violence continues. Between this past Thursday evening and Sunday midnight, 87 people were shot in Chicago, 17 fatally, including a seven year old girl and a 14 year old boy.

In New York City, 64 people were shot over the Fourth of July weekend. Ten of them were killed. In Atlanta, 23 people were shot, five fatally, over that same weekend.

Not much has been said about racial motivation for these shootings. You know and I know that many of these shootings were done by people of one race shooting people of the same race.

Manifestations of violence are not motivated solely or primarily by race but by immature thinking, impulsive behavior, broken relationships, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, revenge, lust, and passion.

Violence knows no racial boundaries. Whites kill blacks. Blacks kill whites. Whites kill whites. Blacks kill blacks. White people or black people or brown people or purple people do acts of violence, both to people of other races and to people of their own race. That’s just a fact.

The reason we have law enforcement officers in our country and in our world is to provide protection for the innocent from wrongful actions of people who either believe the law does not apply to them or for any other reason willfully violate the law.

Dismantling police departments and defunding law enforcement providers will not be helpful for maintaining law and order and protecting innocent people from violent actors.

Governing authorities are God’s servants, sent for our good, for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. I believe that includes law enforcement officers. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. See Romans 13.

Lord of the universe, bless and protect those who have been sent to bless and protect us!

Who’s to Blame?

Lots of anxiety going on in our country today. It started in March with what turned out to be COVID-19. Most schools, churches, restaurants, hotels, department stores, barber shops, beauty salons, and other establishments were shut down. Many are just now reopening.

World Health Organization reports that more than six million people worldwide have become infected and 370,000 of them have died. In the United States 1.7 million confirmed cases have been reported and more than 100,000 people have died.

Who’s to blame for this pandemic? Lab workers in Wuhan, China? The Chinese Communist regime for withholding warnings? The World Health Organization for not acting more quickly and definitively? The President’s task force? Pharmaceutical companies for not waving a magic wand and coming up with a vaccine? Yesterday? People who laughed at social distancing?

Then, just as light began to appear at the end of that tunnel, another oncoming train appeared. On May 25, George Floyd, an African-American man, was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill and lost his life in a neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, Minn.

Mr. Floyd was arrested, handcuffed, and pinned to the ground by police officers. One of them unrelentingly pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Mr. Floyd was unresponsive when paramedics arrived and later was pronounced dead.

There’s little if any doubt that the officer in question is at fault. He has been charged with second degree murder. The other three officers on the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting that murder. Any or all of the four could spend many years in prison.

Community response initially included peaceful protests demanding justice for Mr. Floyd’s death. Along with those pleas for justice, protesters also decried racism, undeniably a sin.

Incredibly, those protests attracted or catalyzed rampant riots in Minneapolis and other cities across the nation. Some rioters appear to have been imported and paid to participate.

Rioters shattered windows, looted stores, vandalized buildings, torched police vehicles, dismantled and emptied ATMs, defaced churches and national monuments with graffiti, and tried to attack the White House, exhibiting violent and vitriolic behavior. At least 40 cities have imposed curfews. National Guard has been activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C.

Who’s to blame? Racially biased and discriminatory law enforcement officers? Policemen who arrested Mr. Floyd and whose actions led to his death? Rampant racism embedded in our country’s culture? Rioters who burned, robbed, damaged, destroyed, pilfered, and plundered small Mom and Pop establishments along with Big Box stores? Parents of the perpetrators of violence? Municipal, county, state, and national politicians? The U.S. President for insensitive or inflammatory remarks? His critics and opponents who want him defeated? All the above?

Who’s to blame? I’d start with Satan: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Pet. 5:8. What we’re seeing these day is absolutely demonic!

And I’d quickly add mankind’s sinful flesh. In the Old Testament, the Lord said: “… the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Gen. 8:21.

The devil and our sinful, evil flesh, working together, are at the root of both racism and rioting. In this case, the same culprits have resulted in the loss of a man’s life and have turned peaceful protest against racism into stealing, looting, torching, and destroying.

What’s the cure? Spiritual, parental, legal, moral, and behavioral reformation? Yes. But not easily accomplished. Many moving parts.

Two highly respected Black leaders have modeled helpful thoughts about responding to the sin of racism in a peaceful, non-violent manner:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was described this way: “Never burned one building. Never robbed one store. Never destroyed one town. Changed the world.”

And Dr. Ben Carson said: “We, the American people, are not each other’s enemies. The enemies are those people behind the curtain jerking everybody’s chains and trying to divide us up by age, by race, by income. Peaceful protests of unfair practices are good and are part of what makes America a strong nation. But senseless destructive violence must be recognized and resisted.”

Additionally, a heretofore unknown man named Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s own brother, said: “I’m asking for peace the same way my brother would ask if he could see the situation, if he was here. Peace. Peaceful protests. It is the best option we have to bring justice.”

I obviously concur with Holy Scripture and couldn’t agree more strongly with these three men.

Lord, have mercy and help us live in peace in this troubled world, regardless of who’s to blame.

The History of Pandemics

Doctor, Dentist, Dental, Clinic, Medical, Surgeon

You’ve likely seen comparisons of COVID-19 to other diseases prevalent over our country or world. Today I’m sharing a comprehensive, chronological listing that caught my attention. In descending order of approximate death toll, here’s the list, more poignantly visualized at https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/. All dates are A.D.

Dates……………………………Name of Plague…………………………..Approximate Death Toll

1347-1351…………………….Black Death (Bubonic Plague)…………………200 million
1520…………………………….Smallpox…………………………………….…………..56 million
1918-1919…………………….Spanish Flu………………………………….………….50 million
541-542………………………..Plague of Justinian………………………..……..30-50 million
1981-present………………..HIV/AIDS……………………………………………..25-35 million
1855…………………………….The Third Plague………………………………………12 million
165-180..………………………Antonine Plague………………………………………..5 million
1600s……………………………17th Century Great Plagues…………….………….3 million
1957-1958…………………….Asian Flu……………………………………..……………1 million
1889-1890…………………….Russian Flu………………………………………………..1 million
1968-1970…………………….Hong Kong Flu…………………………………………..1 million
1817-1923…………………….Cholera 6 Outbreak……………………….…………..1 million
735-737………………………..Japanese Smallpox Epidemic………….………….1 million
1700s…………………………..18th Century Great Plagues…………….……600 thousand
2019-present………………..COVID-19…………………………………..……….256 thousand
2009-2010…………………….Swine Flu……………………………….………….200 thousand
Late 1800s……………………Yellow Fever…………………………..……100-150 thousand
2014-2016…………………….Ebola…………………………………………………..11 thousand
2012-present………………..MERS………………………………………………………………..850
2002-2003…………………….SARS…………………………………………………………………770

This list, totaling more than 400 million deaths, is shared not for the purpose of minimizing the severity and danger of COVID-19 but only as a reminder that what we’ve been experiencing the past two months is surely nothing new. Pandemics dare not be taken lightly.

Add to this list nearly 500 million people killed in 160 wars around the world, from the time of Cyrus the Great in 549-530 BC through the Yemeni Civil War today. That number includes only the military conflicts resulting in more than 25,000 causalities each.

All told, nearly one billion people have lost their life from war or pandemic. A stark and sobering reminder of the fragility and brevity of life. It’s a gift of God, not to be taken for granted. So continue to be safe. Be vigilant. Wash your hands. Keep praying. God bless you!

An Unexpected Blessing

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Credit: MustangJoePixabay 

This past week I spoke with several fellow pastors, as I often do. One reoccurring question asked by almost every one of them was what I expected church to be like after the COVID-19 pandemic is slowed to the point that life might return to some semblance of normality.

My answer was a prediction that when people are allowed to gather in groups larger than 10, the return to public worship services will probably be gradual. Slow at first because of lingering anxiety about exposure to the virus. Then, over time, the number of worshipers might grow.

My further prognostication was that pastors and other worship leaders who have been live streaming or pre-recording worship services dare not stop that practice. Why? Simply but significantly because the audiences reached by the medium of video are proving to be much larger than the number of worshipers who used to sit in the pew on a regular basis.

Pastors tell me that the Easter Sunday online audience was twice as large as the typical Easter Sunday in person attendance. They also tell me that the online audiences include both active members, previously delinquent members, and non-members. It also includes strangers who call or email with words of appreciation for the music, the message, and the medium.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise. But it is. An unexpected blessing!

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!