Thursday, April 30, 2020

Concentrating on the Knowns, Not Overwhelmed by the Unknowns

When confronting any crisis, whether a pandemic, a foreboding weather forecast, financial challenges, a difficult career decision, or just the fickle nature of the future, we hate having to deal with the unknown.

Years ago, Donald Rumsfeld, while serving as Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War, spoke about that in describing the uncertainties of warfare. He said there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” 

Just a few months ago we were eagerly looking ahead to 2020, expecting many wonderful surprises. Well, it brought surprises, but a lot of them weren’t what we anticipated. At the dawn of the new year, our “known knowns” were easy: Such as where we went to work, income we could count on, the place where we worshipped, and plans we were making for the months ahead. 

The unknowns in our lives were more problematic, of course. Our “known unknowns” included things like whether the economy would continue to thrive, if we would receive that promotion or pay raise we were hoping for, what new people would come into our lives, or how our favorite teams would fare during the upcoming season.

Then a thing called the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic came out of nowhere toward the end of January, becoming the greatest “unknown unknown” we had ever encountered. Who knew it was coming, or even imagined it? In its wake, many of the things we thought we knew went by the wayside. 

Lots of people had their work dramatically change; others had their jobs disappear in an instant, even if only temporarily. Money many folks counted on suddenly wasn’t there. We no longer worried about whether our favorite teams would be successful; it became a matter of if they would play at all. And our homes became our “places of worship.” It seems “unknown unknowns” can have that effect on us.

Commenting on this, Philip DeCourcy, pastor of Kindred Church in Anaheim Hills, Calif., acknowledged life’s unknowns have always been at best unsettling, at worst tragic. They can overwhelm us, dump us into states of fear and despair, or immobilize us like a deer staring into headlights. For that reason, he said, we’re wise to focus instead on the “known knowns,” those things that can serve as a refuge in the midst of a storm.

These, for those who know Jesus Christ and believe what we read in the Scriptures, can provide comfort beyond measure. Because if we were to count them, we would find hundreds upon hundreds of “known knowns” in the Bible. Truths both timeless and unchanging.

Where to start? Here’s an obvious one: “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We don’t have to worry about whether our relationship with Him will change, or if His love for us will fade. Similarly, in Revelation 4:8 we read about the angels declaring, “’Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was and is and is to come.” He is eternal, has always been and always will be.

In times of distress, we might want to cry out, “Lord, where are you?” But the Bible says that should not trouble us. Just before His ascension to heaven, Jesus told His followers, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). God made a similar promise in the Old Testament, assuring His chosen people of Israel, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). 

Does COVID-19 or its economic impact still keep you awake at night? Or maybe a problem totally unrelated to the pandemic? The Scriptures give us many promises of God’s presence, provision and protection, but one of the most familiar is Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we present our concerns to Him through prayer, the Lord promises to give us peace and assurance that He is working through our circumstances.

You get the idea: We can wallow in the wilderness of unknowns, both the ones we’re aware of and those we don’t know about yet. Or we can concentrate on the things we know for sure, especially the unwavering truths God gives us in His Word.

I like how the late author Corrie ten Boom expressed it. In her book, The Hiding Place, she tells about the horrors of World War II, and how she and her family provided refuge for many Jews in the Netherlands, sheltering them from the Nazis and the Holocaust. Corrie’s faith in Christ sustained her during that time, causing her to later write, “Never be afraid to commit an unknown future to a known God.” 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Perspective Makes A Profound Difference

"Son, how big is that plane up there?"
The story is told about the little boy taking a walk with his father when unexpectedly, the child asks, “How big is God?” Pausing for a moment before answering, the dad looks up at the sky, spots an airplane, points to it and then asks his son, “How big is that plane?” From his perspective, the young fellow replies, “Small. You can hardly see it.”

Then the father takes his son to a nearby airport and goes to an observation area. When they see a jet parked at the terminal not far away, he asks again, “And now, how big is this one?” The boy responds with excitement, “Oh, Daddy, it is huge!”

“So it is with God,” the dad says. “Size depends on how far you are from something. The closer you are to God, the bigger He will be in your life.”

Years ago I had a similar experience when I went to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. Standing along the canyon’s south rim, I saw what appeared to be a large bird in flight halfway across it. However, the Grand Canyon is 18 miles across – and that “bird” I spotted was one of the sightseeing airplanes that tourists often use. 

From afar, the plane looked miniscule, even though it likely was carrying several people my size or larger. Size depends on how far you are from something.

When we’re going through life and God seems distant – or even out of sight – could it be our fault? Have we been neglecting time with Him in His Word or in prayer? In Psalm 119:9-11, King David wrote these penetrating words, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word. I seek You with all my heart, do not let me stray from Your commands. I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

As for prayer, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says we should “pray continually,” and Philippians 4:6-7 tells us how we can overcome fear and anxiety, even in the most overwhelming circumstances: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Have we convinced ourselves that we can worship the Lord just fine on our own, even though the Scriptures admonish, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

I’m reminded of a time when my parents and I went into a department store and I became distracted, wandering off to examine a toy or something. After a few moments, the thought came to me that I had drifted away from my mom and dad. Being small in that seemingly vast store, a wave of panic quickly set in. Until I turned around – and there they were. I had imagined them far away, but they had been right there all the time.

So, how would you answer that question: How big is God? If He seems small, or far away, might it be that you’re the one that has chosen not to draw near?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

When We Don’t Know What to Do, Do What God Said

Since I write my posts a couple weeks in advance, one of these days the COVID-19 virus pandemic will thankfully have passed, making my thoughts about it outdated. But until then, I continue to ponder what God might be seeking to teach us through this unsettling “season” of our history. Maybe, among other things, He wants to remind of what He’s said all along.

For instance, the significance of prayer. We tend to regard prayer for emergencies only, a last resort. Or as something we indulge in for a few idle moments – which, until we’re engaged in social distancing and staying in place, seem scarce. But prayer is important throughout the Scriptures, and we see repeatedly that when people pray, amazing things happen.

For instance, in Jeremiah 33:3 we read, “Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.” I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the prospect of seeing “great and might things” these days, especially if the Lord is doing them. When things seem darkest, that’s when the light of Christ shines brightest.

Another of my favorite verses about prayer offers this simple admonishment: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As I understand it, prayer is not something that occurs only at a certain time, when we’re in a certain place or in a certain position. To pray without ceasing means engaging in it continually, kind of like a face-to-face conversation – which we haven’t had much recently – or chatting with someone over the phone. There might be a pause in the exchange of words, but after a few moments we pick things up where we left off.

Of late, when followers of Jesus have mentioned praying about the coronavirus crisis, skeptics have scoffed, as if to say, “What good will that do?” In actuality, it can do a lot. Praying about any situation doesn’t mean passivity; in fact, the Scriptures teach whenever we have the opportunity, we’re to take appropriate and prompt action. But when we pray, we’re not only acknowledging and praising our God, but also recognizing His power and that He can do what we cannot.

Jesus told us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Too often we fret and spit and moan and groan, when the most productive and meaningful thing we can do is pray.

There are some who have suggested COVID-19 is God’s judgment on America, or the world. I don’t know about that; such an idea is far beyond my theological pay grade. But when it comes to doing what God has said, especially when we’re unsure about what we should be doing, we have a powerful exhortation that we rarely consider.

Imagine if the millions of true followers of Jesus were to diligently and intentionally put into practice the instructions from 2 Chronicles 7:14, "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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Occasionally we see this passage trotted out for a community prayer breakfast or a similar event, but it’s something we all can do – individually and collectively – at any time. On numerous occasions we read about the people of Israel doing this in the Old Testament. They had lost interest in worshiping and following God, choosing instead to go their own way. Much as we’ve done in our nation. 

Then, when things turned bleak, the Israelites seemed to have one of those “Aha!” experiences. They repented, turned back to God, and He restored His blessings and protective care. Maybe that’s what the Lord is asking of us today. Things had been going well overall, seemingly without God’s help, but suddenly we’ve hit a major bump in the road. “What do we do?” we cry out in fear and despair.

Perhaps God is using this time to ask, “Are you willing to humble yourselves, and pray, and seek Me, and turn from your disobedience and rebellion? If so, I’m listening and eager to respond in ways you could never imagine.” Imagine that!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Thinkin’ and Prayin’

Do you remember the song, “Wishin’ and ‘Hopin’”? Written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, it was first recorded by Dionne Warwick, and then turned into a Top 10 hit by Dusty Springfield in 1964. Even if you don’t recall it, I think we’ve all been doing lots of wishing and hoping in recent days.

During an early press update on the COVID-19 virus, a reporter challenged President Trump for his seemingly overly positive assessments, accusing him of offering “false hope.” The President responded by stating that while he did not want to be unrealistic, he understood most Americans were looking for hope in a very troubling time.

Like him or not, the President was right: We all look for hope, especially when days seem dark and dismal. And we have lots to be wishing and hoping about, even beyond the end of this pandemic. We all want health, for ourselves as well as our friends and loved ones. Many people have lost jobs, at least temporarily, and they’re hoping to return to gainful employment once things return to normal – whatever that might look like. The people who employ them also are eager to resume usual activities, hoping that will be sooner than later.

There are other important, although slightly less critical hopes and wishes. Students have been hoping for their schools to reopen, so sports could resume, proms could be conducted, and graduations might be held. For parents thrust into home schooling roles, they’re also looking forward to the day when they can shout, “Get up, Tommy (or Tonya). Time for school!” More than one mom or dad has muttered – perhaps very loudly, “If I had wanted to be a teacher, I would have studied to become one!” 

Then there are the more mundane matters, such as the hopes that despite everything, there will be pro and college football seasons in the fall. Without the thud of foot against ball, crunch of pads, or ecstatic cheers after a touchdown, can there really be a fall? Others are hoping for the day they can again go shopping, or go to see a movie, or dine at a restaurant.

But we’re not really sure about any of the above, are we? Our wishes are just wishes. Our hopes amount to little more than hope-so’s. As optimistic as we’d like to be, we can’t be sure until it happens. This is where everyday hope distances itself from the hope about which the Bible speaks with such certainty.

Biblical hope pertains to ironclad promises and assurances from God. Or as I like to define hope: “earnest expectation” or “confident assurance.” 

Romans 8:24 powerfully expresses it this way: “For in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Regardless of circumstances we encounter from one day to the next, as followers of Jesus Christ we have an unshakable hope anchored in our relationship with Him.

The progression of the virus has preoccupied our minds, but the Scriptures give us many examples of believers whose hope in the Lord enabled them to endure great adversity. Writing from a prison, with no likelihood of release, the apostle Paul could say, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ sill be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).

Ultimately, biblical hope rests not in the fickle, unpredictable nature of temporal life, but in the earnest expectation of a glorious life to come that we can hardly imagine. “A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2).

Perhaps, more than anything else, what the Lord wants us to gain from our current challenges is a certainty that no matter what happens, however long things persist, our future in Him is secure: “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

Do we have that certainty? Do we know, that we know, that we know we have it? Good questions to answer, especially in times like these. While we’re wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’, do we have the hope that transcends whatever we have to face?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Wanted: Effective, Consistent Witnesses in the Workplace

Wow, how life can change in such a short time! Only a few weeks ago, everything was humming along, the economy was robust, nearly everyone that wanted a job could find one, and many were anxiously anticipating the annual basketball obsession called “March Madness.”

Then the China virus, Wuhan virus, Coronavirus, COVID-19, or whatever you want to call it, burst upon the scene. Suddenly, up was down, and down was up. “March Madness” took on new meaning. Millions having service-related jobs became unemployed, or at least laid off for the duration, and lots of folks were discovering what working from home is all about.

I’ve had a home office for years, so it’s not much of an adjustment for me. But this whole social distancing thing, avoiding close interpersonal contact of any kind, is different even for people who can handle large quantities of “alone time.”

We all wish there were a specific ending time for this massive, international health crisis. Besides the fear, we also hate the uncertainty, not knowing the what’s and when’s and how’s. But as they say, inside every dark cloud is a silver lining, and as we’re self-quarantining, maybe we can use this as a time to “reboot,” to reset our perspectives and priorities.

When things were normal, many of us perceived work as a “necessary evil.” We considered our jobs as a means for paying the bills, and they also consumed time between weekends. But for lots of people, if they could find a way for eliminating work, they’d quickly respond, “Where do I sign?” Circumstances changed, of course, and lots of folks can’t wait to report for work again. Home’s familiar confines have become too familiar, and everyone’s ready for a return to normalcy.

Once this crisis starts fading in the rearview mirror, however – as crises eventually do – the gratitude we feel for having somewhere to go to work will begin to fade, too. Sooner than we might expect, it will regain “necessary evil” status. Which is unfortunate, because that’s not what it’s intended to be.

From the start, God planned work to be a blessing, not a curse. In the Bible’s opening chapters, it’s clear He ordained labor – although at first it was neither hard nor tedious. It says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Humankind was given the privilege of overseeing the Lord’s creation.

Then, of course, the first man and woman messed it all up by disobeying God’s simple command to stay clear of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The result of their sin was the proverbial game-changer: “…Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you…. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:17:19).

So when your boss says you have to rewrite that proposal you’ve worked so hard on, blame Adam and Eve. When that sale you expected to close falls through, blame them. When you’re teaching a class in school and the kids won’t pay attention, blame the first man and woman. And when you’re working in your yard and find weeds growing faster than your flowers, yup, it’s their fault!

But it’s that way for everybody. Even the best job gives its pains in the neck. So we can grumble and complain or, given this bit of a respite from our accustomed “rat race,” we can re-examine the Lord’s desire for us as His emissaries. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 puts it, “Christ’s ambassadors.” Many of us spend more of our waking hours in the workplace than anywhere else, including at home or in church, so as Jesus’ followers, there’s no better place to represent Him.

How do we do this? There are lots of ways, but here are just a few:
    - We can pursue our work, no matter how mundane, with excellence. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Someone has said, “God doesn’t make junk” – and we shouldn’t, either.

    - Recognize our work is part of God’s calling on our lives. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Again, our work is more than whatever our boss tells us to do; it’s a sacred, God-ordained assignment.

    - Our work also can provide a platform for us to serve as witnesses for Christ, through our performance and attitudes, as well as our words. The entirety of 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 

Many of the people with whom we work shoulder to shoulder – when we’re not practicing social distancing – won’t ever darken the door of a church on their own initiative. So, in a sense, the workplace is where we can bring Christ to them. Acts 1:8 declares, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Exactly how are we to do this? Colossians 4:5-6 tells us: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

This global virus crisis has disrupted everyday life and work for all of us. Perhaps this is a time when God would want us to pray, acknowledging He’s calling us to represent Him in the best possible way through the high quality of our work, and asking for wisdom to recognize opportunities He sends our way.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Pulling Silver Linings Out of Dark Clouds

With news about the coronavirus breaking so rapidly, it’s hard to anticipate what the latest “scoop” will be. I recall the late Gilda Radner’s “Saturday Night Live” character, Roseanne Roseannadanna, who used to say, “It’s always something!” Bad news seems to beget bad news.

But no matter: Out of any crisis, big or small, important lessons can be learned. And most of the time, good emerges out of bad, pulling silver linings out of dark clouds that hover over us. For example:

Did you know that as traffic has dramatically reduced in many cities because of people staying home, air pollution also has noticeably declined? So have traffic accidents. And did you know that in the beautiful Italian city of Venice, best known for its canals, those typically polluted waterways have cleared up in the absence of tourists? So there’s definitely some good coming out of a very bad situation.

In case you haven’t noticed – if you’ve observed stay-at-home recommendations – gasoline prices have been dropping dramatically. And it wouldn’t be a shock to learn other forms of illness have declined due to social distancing and reduced germ transfer. We could find other positives arising out of this global negative, but what about a little closer to home – our own lives?

Many of us have found ourselves spending more quality family time in our own homes. A lot of people have re-discovered the joy of sitting around the table together, sharing a meal and actually talking with and looking at each other. TV viewing has increased, but so has the neglected practice of reading books. Some families have actually resumed playing games together. It seems silk purses still are being fashioned from sow’s ears!

Perhaps the greatest benefit from this societal pause has been the opportunity to re-examine where our hope and trust really lie. Fear and uncertainty have a way of unsettling us. That can be a good thing if it causes us to revisit important matters such as faith, purpose and meaning in life. 

During prosperous times and living in a materialistic society, it’s easy to focus on things we acquire and accumulate. But being unsure what the next day will bring can prompt to ask ourselves a question like the old movie from the ‘60s posed, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Why are we here? What’s life all about, anyway? Should there be more to life than getting up in the morning, cleaning up, going to work, coming back home, having dinner, watching little TV, then going to bed so we can do it all over again tomorrow?

Recently I read a psalm that recounts hardships the people of Israel experienced. Many times, after enduring great bitterness and travail, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:6,13,19,28). In good times they would forget about God, reveling in their perceived self-sufficiency. But whenever difficult times returned, they would seek Him again.

The normal pace of life has become so hectic that many of us have lost the ability to reflect, to ponder what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. When we encounter a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, however, we find more time on our hands than we realized. When things seem spiraling out of control, we’re reminded once more where to go for hope and stability.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to look to the government, medical experts, scientists, whoever is “in charge.” But their wisdom and expertise go only so far. To find answers to the deeper questions of life – and death – we need to go elsewhere.

A verse often comes to my mind: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Do you ever feel like that, sensing that despite being surrounded by so many material advantages, we still live in a dry and weary land?

At such times we can embrace this assurance from another of the psalms: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you” (Psalm 84:11-12).

The Scriptures tell us we are blameless in Jesus Christ, and that He offers us direct access to the Father. As we listen to news reports about COVID-19, or some other calamity, and find ourselves tempted to descend into fear, even panic, these promises urge us instead to turn to and trust the God of the past, present, and all eternity. That’s a silver lining no dark cloud can obscure. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Celebrating an Easter Unlike Any Other

Almost forgotten in the non-stop coverage of COVID-19 is the soon-arriving celebration of Easter. In years past, people rushed around, fussing over such things as Easter bonnets and new Sunday outfits. Easter egg hunts were scheduled, and parents were “consulting” with the Easter bunny about what to leave in their children’s baskets. Then, once we got past the commercialism, we began remembering that  Easter is really about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This year, despite the hopeful optimism of some of our government leaders, it’s likely the doors of most churches will be closed, with congregants having to settle for online Easter observances. For many followers of Jesus, Easter without physically attending a worship service is almost unimaginable. How can we worship without doing so in “the house of God”?

Not to minimize the value and experience of joining with other believers to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Some of the most powerful moments in my spiritual life have occurred on Easter, not only singing (as best I could) the traditional hymns but also hearing talented vocalists perform such selections as “We Shall Behold Him” or “Rise Again.”

However, there’s good news. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly assert that we don’t need to go to a building, or even be in the physical presence of other followers of Jesus, to “go to church.” Because, we are told, He lives within us. Consider the following:

“Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). There was a time when I foolishly believed that when I entered a church building, I was entering into the presence of God – and that when I exited the building, I also was leaving His presence. This passage assures us this is not the case.

Another verse says much the same: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). So in a real sense, in normal times when we can “go to church” together, it amounts to an assembly of “temples of the Holy Spirit.”

Even better, we don’t have to be around others who profess their allegiance to Christ to live as He would want us to do. The fact that He lives in each of us through His Spirit means we don’t need to rely on positive peer pressure for living rightly. As Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” As Jesus promised, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Hopefully, once the coronavirus is under control and a vaccine has been developed, we’ll enjoy the delights of joining with fellow believers in rejoicing over Jesus’ resurrection. But even now we can reflect on what that means for us, both for the present and for eternity:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. But Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:13-20).

There’s more to the story. In a time when the specter of death seems ever-present, we have the promise – the absolute confidence – that for all who have received Jesus Christ, physical death is not the end. It’s only a pause before a new beginning:
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that was written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Even if our contact is only through words appearing on the screen of a computer or some other electronic device, let me extend to you a greeting that Christians have shared through many centuries: “Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Monday, April 6, 2020

Crises Create Extraordinary Opportunities for Kindness

We see it over and over – a major crisis arises, and almost immediately the very best of humanity begins to emerge. We’ve observed this following natural disasters, such as floods, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes. People and organizations mobilizing almost immediately to offer assistance in various forms. And we’ve been seeing it manifested as well in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Maybe many of us weren’t aware of it, but thousands of children from impoverished homes depend on free meals they receive at their schools daily. When the schools were closed because of health concerns, that left a void – and potentially empty young stomachs. But compassionate, ever-resourceful individuals and businesses have been stepping up to fill it.

One of my daughters took her children to a locally owned pizza restaurant for lunch. While they were awaiting their to-go order, she witnessed an extraordinary act of kindness. A mom with her little boy came through the door. The business had publicly offered a free meal to any child needing one, so she had brought her son to take advantage of the gracious offer.

A member of the restaurant staff looked at the little fellow and asked, “Are you hungry?” He nodded and quietly replied, “Yes.” “What would you like, a slice of pepperoni or cheese pizza?” the staff person asked. After he answered, she also handed him a paper bag containing a sandwich, crackers, apple, banana and grapes, along with small cartons of milk and juice. This act of generosity, as I understand it, has been repeated many times at the restaurant.

My daughter was so impressed by the gesture that when she paid for her own pizza order, she added a substantial tip to help offset the cost of the free food the restaurant was distributing.

I also read about a woman in another city who, in paying her restaurant bill, left a “tip” of $2,500 to be divided among the store’s employees, since many of them would be receiving reduced pay because of restrictions being enacted to contain the virus.

Then there was the major restaurant chain that delivered hundreds of meals for hospital staff working long hours to treat victims of COVID-19. In normal times, it’s so easy to focus on instances of selfish, self-centered behavior we often see displayed in society. But at times of crisis, it’s so heartening to see how people respond to opportunities to demonstrate care, compassion and generosity.

To me, this provides simple, straight-forward evidence that we’re not the products of some mindless, random, evolutionary process. Rather than taking a survival-of-the-fittest attitude, many of us rally together and find ways to help one another. Which points to the Judeo-Christian values that have served as the foundation for our nation since its beginnings. 

We have Jesus’ command to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). Perhaps you have been a recent recipient of someone else’s kindness. Even if not, wouldn't we all appreciate such a gesture if we found ourselves in great need?

When asked to define the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Then He added, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”  (Matthew 22:37-39). Is there a better way to love our neighbors than to offer them our help?

Another passage gives a similar exhortation: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). It is one thing to speak about the love of Jesus Christ; how much more powerful and effective it is to put the love of Christ into action when occasions arise. 

And the best thing about it, we don’t have to wait for another crisis. Even if we’re still practicing social distancing, it’s never too early to start envisioning some simple, caring acts. Kindnesses extended just because we should. If you ever wonder, “What would Jesus do?”, that’s something He would do – because He did them all the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Grim Reminder of Why We Need Each Other

Social distancing. Up until a couple of months ago, who knew that was even a thing? (Then again, who knew Coronavirus was even a thing?) But here we are, practicing the new virtue of social distancing, at least for the not-too-distant future.

Introverted individuals might not have known the term, but they’ve been cool with social distancing all their lives. So they’re adjusting to the new social norms pretty easily. No crowds? No problem! More people-oriented folks, however, have been discovering anew what “stir crazy” means. Their socializing tanks have become depleted, yet they’re instructed not to be around others who could refill them. Crisis upon crisis!

One of these days the pandemic will have come to an end and, hopefully, we can get back to normal mingling and interacting. But in the meantime, we have a grim, daily reminder of an important principle: We need each other. And it becomes even more evident when precautionary practices like social distancing and self-quarantining are instituted.

The reason for this is simple – it’s how God designed us. Since the dawn of creation, humankind’s need for fellowship has been evident. After deciding, “Let us (the Trinity) make man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26), the Lord ordained for the first man, Adam, to have companions. After creating “all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air,” He decided having animals around was insufficient. Adam needed a human companion and created the first woman, Eve (Genesis 2:19-23). We might say that was both good news and bad news!

But our need for others goes even further. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 we read that just as the human body’s health and proper functioning is dependent upon its various parts working in concert, we as followers of Jesus Christ also need each other:
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, whether would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be….”

Even as we tolerate social distancing for a while, consciously and subconsciously we realize we are dependent upon each other – even the socially reluctant.

Another passage in the Scriptures underscores the importance of being with others. To grow in our faith, we need to support one another. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The next verse adds another sobering reminder: “and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This refers to the promised return of Jesus. 

For the moment – at least as I write this – we’re being admonished to semi-isolate, to avoid gathering in groups where germs from the virus could potentially be passed from one person to another. Before long, we hope, that necessity will have ended and we can again mingle to our hearts’ content. 

But let the lesson be learned about how we really do need one another, not just for how they can benefit us, but also for how we can be of benefit to them. Maybe this reality will make such an impression on us that we can actually get our noses out of our smartphones! We can only hope.