Home Alone

Avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. Avoid restaurants except for pickup options.  Avoid discretionary travel.  So says the President’s coronavirus guidelines.

Most churches complied, and pushed some of the faithful out of their comfort zones. Whether your church attendance is a lifestyle that you enjoy or a duty according to your religion, the disruption of canceled services can be disconcerting.  Pope Francis acknowledged as much when he urged Catholics, “If you cannot find a priest to confess to, speak directly with God, your father, and tell him the truth…ask for pardon with all your heart.”

Jesus offers comfort for these strange times. “Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.  These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33).  We, too, are scattered to our own homes by social distancing concerns or shelter in place demands.

If you find yourself alone while working or schooling from home, avoiding groups of 10 and restaurant dining rooms, or minimizing shopping trips and travel, then realize that you are not alone. Jesus’ followers left Him to face his trial alone, and yet he found comfort in the presence of the Father.  When you are alone, consider it your opportunity to meditate on the Word of God and pray about what is happening in the world today.  The Lord is near, and He invites you into his presence.

What does God offer in these troubling times? Peace.  Jesus said that since He has overcome the world, we can have courage and peace.  The peace that Jesus describes can only be experienced in times of tribulation.  Said another way, when all is calm and bright, it is contentment that you feel.  Peace is experienced in contrast with strife, such as when your health is threatened or your job is in jeopardy. Resisting the coronavirus and its effects is the struggle that makes your God-given peace more evident.

Why doesn’t God do something about this? Well, He did.  God the Son came to earth to “overcome the world,” He said.  Of all that is packed into those three words, His tone is clear.  He is compassionate about your plight in this moment.  He made it clear that this world is not all there is to reality, and He has prepared a place for you away from the troubles of this world.

The good news is that if you follow all the coronavirus guidelines, stay home alone, and miss some church services, you can still enjoy the Lord’s presence and His peace.

Viral Response

The headlines are dire. “Coronavirus outbreak.” “Dow drops triggering another trading pause.” “Travel ban.” “Medical supply shortage.” “State of Emergency.” While the world’s leaders and medical experts mount a defense to this growing plague, believers can turn to eternal truths we hold in our hands. Here are a few meditations from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (4:4). Obstacles to rejoicing have always existed. The world is no more fallen, marred by sin, and producing war, famine, and pestilences than when these words were penned. Consider instead, that we are created by God and gifted with life. We know God and experience His love, even in the midst of the worst the world can offer. We are traveling toward another place where the darkness of disease is displaced by the Light of God. “Whatever is lovely…dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God” (4:6). We are people of prayer in good times and bad. The people of God are “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), so our role is to approach God on behalf of others. Here is a prayer: “Lord, this virus outbreak has not caught you unaware, as nothing is a surprise to you. You have the power to stay the advance of this disease. We ask that you deliver us from this evil. As in all things, we ask that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). We have no need to respond in panic, fear, or hysterics. No calamity can remove that certain peace we have in Christ Jesus. That peace enables us to move toward calamity quite willing to serve those around us, share of our possessions, and show the love of God. For our friends who do not know that peace, may God use our lives to draw them to the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls (1 Pet. 2:25).

“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (4:12). In a worst case scenario, this virus has a lasting effect not only on medicine and mortality, but on jobs, personal income, and the worldwide economy. May the Lord grant us wisdom to be content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you live out your own headline. How about, “Responding in faith, not fear”?

Forgotten Wisdom

“We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too proud to pray to the God that made us.” – Abraham Lincoln

Vice President Pence led a prayer with the coronavirus task force in his West Wing office.  His political opponents mocked him specifically, and faith in God generally.  It’s as though entreating the Creator to grant wisdom for scientists to defeat a virus is anti-science.  Those angry critics are smug in their own “superior wisdom.”

A virus is a product of a fallen world that has become something other than God’s original design.  Even so, when scientists explore nature they learn about that design. The Bible says God can be known and “understood through what has been made.” But it adds a warning.  “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).  Even Einstein recognized late in life the futility of science without God.  He said, “I want to know God’s thoughts – the rest are mere details.”

Solomon was ancient Israel’s wisest king.  When God offered to grant what Solomon might request, he eschewed wealth and military prowess to ask for wisdom.  That God-given wisdom to judge was famously on display when he settled the dispute between two women claiming the same baby (1 Kings 3).  God’s wisdom is as applicable to government now, as then.  Those who disagree have resorted to prayer-shaming those who remember to seek wisdom from its highest source.

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t blame a blind man for stepping on your foot”? Prayer-shamers don’t know any better.  The Bible says “the word of the cross is foolishness” to them.  Unbelief deprives a person from knowing the ultimate expression of wisdom, which is not about science or government.  It’s about a Person.  “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1). To know Him is to know Wisdom.

No one wants to be a fool.  You need wisdom to make sense of the world, discern whose counsel to accept, and anticipate the consequences of your choices.  The good news is that the Creator offers the benefit of wisdom to those who ask.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously” (Jam. 1:5).

Lincoln’s charge is still valid today.  Heed his warning to be humble and remember to pray that God grant you wisdom far superior to your own.

Timeless Meaning

You cannot step into the same river twice – Heraclitus (500 BCE).

Why is that? Because the river is different, and so are you. At no point in the future will both you and the river be the same. You might imagine you stay the same, but then you remember what you wrote, said, or wore in the past and you know you would not repeat that. Whatever changed you is marked by time. We humans are so immersed in time that we could no more imagine a world without chronology than a fish imagine life outside of water. To contemplate the vastness of time makes one feel rather small. And pointless.

In Carpe Diem Redeemed,” Os Guinness describes that feeling. “Our own small enterprises and endeavors appear to be whistling into the winds of history. In the end, the sands of time will cover everything without a trace of who we are and what we have done. Or so it seems.” So, what then is the meaning of life’s endeavors? Why live to make a mark or leave a legacy if time laughs at the irrelevance of it all?

However bleak the questions, you have reason to hope. God placed you on the scene when and where He wanted you to be. “In your book were all written the days that were ordained for me” (Psa. 139:16). Consider Queen Esther. Her step-father Mordecai urged her to risk her life by approaching the king to stop a plot against their people. “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14). Any day of your life could be the most meaningful for history and the purposes of God. Guinness writes, “Under the twin truths of God’s sovereignty and human significance, time and history are going somewhere, and each of us is not only unique and significant in ourselves, but we have a unique and significant part to play in our own lives, in our own generation, and therefore in the overall sweep of history.”

That part is best played by seeking to know your Creator. He “gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God” (Acts 17:25-27). That is why you are alive in these times.

Your life has meaning not because you found a way to make it so, but because your Creator has a purpose for you. Time is not a cruel eraser that removes your mark on this world. It is the context in which you find meaning in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, who loves you. So step into that river, and be refreshed.

Crisis of Contempt

Dr. Arthur Brooks spoke at the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. His message was not well received by some, but it is a message we need to hear.

America is facing a crisis. Scorched earth politics, demands to “fundamentally change” our country, and violence against political opponents are symptoms.  Dr. Brooks, a Harvard professor, identified the problem as a crisis of contempt, defined as “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”  How did we get there? Market-driven reporting and ill-informed opinions foment outrage, which triggers contempt, which erupts into the headlines of the day.

People who disagree with your politics have the same worth as you, made in the image of God. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). You express God’s image within you by loving even those who hate you and pray that they, too, rise to the image of God within them.  God loved you before you loved him, so likewise, you may have to be first in tamping down your own outrage and contempt.  By the way, recognizing the image of God in every person includes not only your political opponent, but also the aged, infirm, disabled, people of different race or creed, and unborn humans.

When Christians follow Jesus, we lead the way to reconciliation. He taught a lofty ethic, the way we ought to live.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).  Can partisan D’s and R’s really love each other?  If you follow Jesus, you have no choice.  To do otherwise is to lose sight of what it means to be truly human.

Dr. Brooks said, “True moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree, on behalf of those with whom you disagree.”  Don’t let people who do agree with you get away with contempt for those who don’t.  Speaking up is your opportunity to follow Jesus, to bend the curve toward a kinder, gentler nation.

“I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other,” Dr. Brooks said.  When you make the ethics of Jesus your own, your world is a better place. But the one who chooses love over contempt is the one who benefits most, by relieving stress on body and soul.  You can only carry contempt in a bucket of outrage, a weighty load indeed.

Why Me Lord?

Kris Kristofferson had reason to ask such a profound question. Packed into it is the sense that he found a treasure that rightfully belongs to someone else.

He came from a military family and became an Army officer himself, a helicopter pilot. In 1965 after achieving the rank of captain, he turned down an instructor position at West Point. He moved to Nashville and accepted a job as a janitor at Columbia Studios. His family promptly disowned him.

Kristofferson began to have some success as a songwriter, but his career took off when Johnny Cash noticed him. He was hard to overlook when he landed a helicopter in Cash’s front yard! But as with many artists, success led to hard living and self-medication.

During those years, Kristofferson penned the song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”  “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. I’d smoked my brain the night before with cigarettes and songs. On the Sunday morning sidewalk wishing lord that I was stoned, cause there’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.” It was a ballad of a hurting and lonely life.

But one Sunday morning was different. In 1971, while driving back from a concert with singer Connie Smith, he agreed to attend church services. Evangel Temple is where Smith, Johnny Cash, Larry Gatlin and other artists attended. Smith recalled, “He hadn’t been in church for 20 years.” Rev. Jimmy Snow offered the invitation to receive Christ Jesus as Savior. Kristofferson said, “I remember thinking, that’ll be the day. Then I found myself walking down front to kneel down. I was weeping. It was an experience unlike anything I had gone through before.”

That night, he had a new song. “Why me Lord, what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you’ve shown? Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so, help me Jesus! I know what I am, my soul’s in your hand.” He knew he did not deserve the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Does the Bible answer the question, “Why me?” Indirectly. It’s more about God than you. “We were by nature children of wrath…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:3-7). How sublime is God’s love, mercy, and grace for you!

So God rescues you, makes you more alive than you have ever been, and continues that kindness “in the ages to come.” That raises a better question. Why not you?

No Longer I

The new elastic case came from Amazon.  Dreading the tedium of setting up the new phone, I figured at least slipping on the case would feel like progress.  I removed it from the package and began to stretch it over the phone.  I failed.  I rededicated myself to trying harder.  For a moment I thought I had it, but I failed again.  I finally realized it would never work because of the size difference between an XS and XR, or something.  I needed to exchange the case.

Exchange is such a part of life.  You exchange your labor for a paycheck, and your paycheck for whatever you need more than money.  You can’t wait to exchange an elected official for one less outrageous.  Maybe you tried exchanging a job or even a spouse for a new shot at success or happiness.

What if you could exchange your life for a better one?  The Christian gospel offers something quite like that.  Even professing Christians can miss this vital point.  Apart from this exchange, you will not know the power of God’s grace.  Listen to Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

The 19th C. British missionary Hudson Taylor called this the “exchanged life.”  He discovered this truth when fellow missionary to China John McCarthy wrote to him, “To let my loving Savior work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace.  Abiding, not striving, not struggling; trusting Him for present power in the conscious joy of a complete salvation.”  Trusting the changing power of Christ is not just for missionaries or preachers.  It is the basic Christian life!

Yet the struggle to live rightly before God is real.  Brenan Manning (The Ragamuffin Gospel) writes, “Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy.”  Apostle Paul is embarrassingly transparent when he admits nothing good dwells in his humanity and he does not always perform well.  “Wretched!” he says.  Then he thanks Jesus for setting him free from the human condition, and for not condemning him for it. His point is that you can live by the Spirit of Christ in you (Rom. 7, 8).

If it doesn’t work, exchange it.  If you are riding the roller coaster of trying but failing, exchange that ride for the sky lift of living by grace through faith.  For a peaceful life well-lived, set your mind on the Spirit.  Then you will experience the exchanged life lived by faith that says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

Seen and Known

The great contradiction of our technological age is that so much information can be gathered about us, yet that does not satisfy our basic need to be known.

The slogan in George Orwell’s fictional Oceania is “big brother is watching you.” That phrase has become a metaphor for modern surveillance methods and concerns over personal privacy. We are way beyond the days of wiretapping. Facial recognition software and artificial intelligence make all kinds of surveillance frighteningly possible. China has implemented “social credit system” technology that monitors who goes where, and for what purposes. In America, they say TV’s are looking back at you and Alexa is always listening. The National Security Agency can intercept phone calls and track web browsing. American politicians rail against spying on ordinary citizens because people do not want everything they do to be known by the government.

Yet we yearn to know and be known. The lyrics of pop culture captures that sentiment. Back in the day, The Who sang, “Who are you? Who who? Who who? I really want to know.” Modern Swedish artist Zara Larsson sings, “Nobody sees, nobody knows. We are a secret can’t be exposed. That’s how it is, that’s how it goes.” Culture decries a life lived in secrecy or isolation as a tragic loss for humanity. We are created for community.

It is particularly lonely if you think not even God sees or knows you. Yet, the Bible says, “From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works” (Psa. 22:14-15). The God who fashioned you, understands you. The context here is that God knows when you are trying to be independent and self-reliant. But He looks for something else. “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death” (v.18-19).

Don’t caricature God as Santa Claus, who sees you when you’re sleeping or awake, and knows if you’ve been bad or good. God already knows you’re bad – “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). He looks into your life to know whether you “exchange the truth of God for a lie” or worship your Creator (Rom. 1:25). When you accept what God knows about you and trust Him with your soul, then you know what it means to fear Him.

God knows more about you than any technology can capture. The God who fashioned you also sees you, loves you, and invites you into community with Him. It is His mercy that gives you hope. As you rely on Him you have reason to rejoice that He knows you personally. Is there any other way to respond to the One who sees?

Listen Well

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting.” So begins each session with a call to listen carefully to important words about to be uttered.

Even though listening is a high virtue, we still have to remind each other to practice it. A coach tell his noisy team, “Listen up!” A mom tells her recalcitrant teenage daughter, “You’re not hearing me.” In a business meeting, I heard someone quash a frequency-jamming word barrage with, “You need to stop transmitting and switch to receive for a while.”

Did you know that some version of the words “hear” or “listen” occur over 700 times in the Bible? Are we so deaf to truth, one wonders? Perhaps the reason for that Biblical theme is this candid challenge: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15).

It is easy to be right in your own eyes, especially in beliefs about God. But well-intentioned people can fall into error. Sincerity plus freedom of thought is no formula for truth. Before you can live the truths of God, you must listen to them.

Saul was a murderous persecutor of the Way (followers of Jesus). He sincerely believed he was doing the work of God. But then his Damascus Road experience happened, when Jesus spoke to him. He listened. It so radically changed his life that his enemies became friends.

The Hebrew prophet Samuel often found himself bearing the Word of God to people who did not want to hear it. He counseled them not to demand a king. He warned them not to turn away from God. He rebuked the King who failed to listen. He had the confidence and courage to stand firm in critical moments because as a boy, he experienced the power of a receptive heart when he said to the Lord, “Speak for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:10).

God has spoken to you through creation, the Bible, and in His Son. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The most profound message you can hear is the truth of Christ that results in faith. Only then are you who God intends you to be, in relationship with your Creator, Savior, and Counselor.

In 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address at his son’s graduation. His theme was that the trials of life are a tutor. He said, “I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others.” No one likes to be ignored, particularly not your Creator who offers love, forgiveness, and eternity. To live well, listen well.

Good Question

The purpose of the Museum of the Bible, opened in 2017 in Washington D.C., is not just to display relics. It shows how the Bible has impacted human history, individual people, and every area of life.

What a timely message, since modern voices claim Biblical teachings are stifling and oppressive. Last year, a British court ruled that belief in the Bible is “incompatible with human dignity” in punishing a Christian physician for disagreeing with certain modern sentiments.  It even cited a specific verse (Gen. 1:27) it found offensive.  That is a logical sequitur from Karl Marx’s declaration, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”  History repeats itself, as in “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord” (Jud. 2:10).

Would America be happier without Christians? Consider a few facts. Our oldest universities such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton were founded by Christians.  Each year, one in six patients receive care in hospitals founded by Christians.  Over 350,000 congregations help alleviate the pain of human need for over 70 million Americans each year with $20 billion in donations.  In post-Katrina New Orleans, churches in Louisiana distributed 62 million pounds of relief supplies.  Pastors provide about 140 million hours of counseling and mental health services annually, at no charge.

The world is better when it embraces the Christian concept that all people have value, and are made in God’s image. Look at the video clip of Tim Tebow talking about his “Night to Shine” worldwide prom initiative on “The Tonight Show,” then dancing with Judy.  What a contrast to the world Jesus stepped into, where the Roman practice was to discard unwanted girls and babies born with challenges or deformities.  If killing innocent humans is despicable today, it’s because of Jesus.

Today’s culture is sailing into turbulent waters, blown by winds of secularism. As the saying goes, “You might get what you want, but you might not want what you get.” Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion admitted, “I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, insofar as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, was instrumental in the founding of the Museum of the Bible. He writes about the revolutionary preaching and ministry of Jesus and notes, “Within three centuries, this nonviolent movement had swept the Roman Empire.  Doctrines of racism were laid aside, crucifixion and the cruel gladiator games of the arenas were ended, the dignity of life was taken to new levels, the seeds of the emancipation of slaves were planted, and the groundwork of modern science was laid.  It was the beginning of countless blessings bestowed on the world by the Christian church.  Why would anyone want to see that end?”  Good question.