Fear Not

A Christian’s perspective on the coronavirus pandemic

My husband and I traveled to San Diego in February. By some miracle, we avoided infection by the coronavirus, even though we went through four different airports. Naturally, we were aware that the coronavirus was running rampant in China, and that there were already a few cases in the United States. Having a background in science and biology, I was a little concerned, but I admit that I didn’t think much of it. My husband certainly didn’t seem to be worried, and he followed the news more closely than I did.

All the information I heard amounted to this: 1) COVID-19 is an upper respiratory infection like a bad case of the flu that could develop into pneumonia 2) it’s lethality is restricted to the elderly and immunocompromised 3) the media is just trying to get everyone hyped up, as per usual 4) there aren’t many cases in the U.S. and 5) we’ve got this coronavirus thing under control.

“We’ll ride this out, just like we did with SARS and H1N1. This too, shall pass.”

That was the lulling siren song I subscribed to until we returned home from California. Until the reports grew ever more alarming – it was spreading like wildfire in Italy and young people were dying – and people had begun to die here, too. Here. In the invincible U.S. of A.

Far too quickly, this stealthy evil was found to be present and advancing throughout my home state. The peril is among us. If it continued unchecked, there was a real danger of overwhelming our health care system. Social distancing quickly became my new mantra, and I realized that our fragile eggshell society could crack and collapse beneath the weight of this threat. After all, I’ve always believed that – collectively – we Americans are a complacent and arrogant set of entitled brats who require humbling.

What if that is God’s will?

I guess we’ll find out, eventually, won’t we? This too, shall pass. In the meantime, I will trust in God. I pray for all our health care workers and all people in danger of contracting this virus (ahem, i.e. everyone). So far, my family has been spared, and for that I praise God. My husband and I are both still employed and working, and for that I praise God. We still have internet access so that our boys can keep up with their schoolwork, and for that I praise God. I have an outlet in my writing, and for that I praise God.

Throughout all of this, I am thankful for one other thing: so far this disease appears to be sparing young children. God-willing, this will continue to be the case until the end.

I can only pray that during these troubled times we see one another as beloved children of God, instead of as possible sources of contagion and therefore objects to be feared and avoided.

“May you live in interesting times,” indeed! I have always considered that saying as both a curse and a blessing. However, there is much to learn and much to be thankful for. There are opportunities for Christians to shine a light into the Stygian darkness.

Some words of comfort

Our savior is a risen Lord who has conquered death – namely, the fear of death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior from sin need have no fear of death, the sinful world, or the devil. God has promised us that this is the case, and he is a God who keeps His promises. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read the entire Bible and point out a single instance where God made a promise and did not eventually deliver the goods. Keep in mind that we are creatures bound by time but that God is eternal.

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He took up our weaknesses and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:17 (After Jesus heals a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, and many other people)

In all things, God’s will is done and it is good. That is a bitter pill to swallow in times like these, when we look at the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases online and grow even more anxious and afraid. It might seem like God has abandoned us, but He has not. Our prayers for Him to take away this horrible new evil that spreads so efficiently via asymptomatic carriers seem to fall on deaf ears. However, this is not the case. God is always listening. He is not a wishing well, but He always answers our prayers…in His time and according to His good purpose. Meanwhile, our loving Father wants us to keep talking with Him and read His messages to us in the Bible. This is an excellent time to lay your fears down at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.

Philippians 4:6,7

Good health is a blessing from God. Our personal health is neither a prize for us to obsess and fret over nor is it a possession to abuse in debauchery. God gave us the precious endowment of good health for use in benefiting others, not only ourselves. If you remain healthy and symptom-free, praise God! And then, maybe instead of hiding inside of your fortress built of 200 rolls of toilet paper with your 14 bottles of hand sanitizer, you could be looking for ways to help others less fortunate than yourself. At the very least, you could donate a few of those containers of hand sanitizer to your local hospital or clinic.

In every way I gave you an example that, by working hard like this, we need to help the weak and to remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

We are not in control. It was all just an illusion that we cultivated while things were going well. The fact is: we never were in control. God is and always has been in control of the universe that He lovingly created. It is human beings in their sinful arrogance that wrecked everything and brought death into God’s perfect creation. We have only ourselves to blame for this pestilence. Fortunately, despite our continually rebellious and arrogant nature, our loving God had a plan to redeem us all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

And finally, one of our pastors preached last Sunday on Psalm 42 & 43. I suggest you visit our church’s website and watch his sermon.

And here are the Psalms:

An Exile’s Prayer: Why Are You Cast Down?

Heading

For the choir director. A maskil by the Sons of Korah.

Longing for the Temple

As a doe pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and appear before God?
My tears have been food for me day and night,
while people are saying to me all day,
“Where is your God?”

I am overcome by my emotions
whenever I remember these things:
    how I used to arrive with the crowd,
    as I led the procession to the house of God,
    with loud shouts of thanksgiving,
    with the crowd celebrating the festival.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for salvation from his presence.

Remembrance of the Lord

My God, my soul is depressed within me.
Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your rapids.
All your breakers and your waves have swept over me.
By day the Lord commands his mercy,
and at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go around mourning because of oppression by the enemy?”
10 It is like breaking my bones when my foes taunt me.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”

Refrain

11 Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

Psalm 43

A Plea for Vindication

Judge me justly, O God,
and plead my case against an ungodly nation.
Rescue me from the deceitful, wicked man.
I know you are God, my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go around mourning
    because of oppression by the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth.
Let them guide me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and gladness.
Then I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

An uplifting message from neighborhood kids.

Hello, it is Ash Wednesday

Sun of a Beach!
A view of the Pacific Ocean from a beach in Carlsbad, California

Greetings! We have officially entered the 40-day season of Lent! One derivation of the word “lent” comes from the Old English term lencten which possibly means “to lengthen,” a reference to the longer days as spring approaches (thanks, wikipedia). This seasonal shift takes longer in snow-drifted Wisconsin than in say, sunny California; however – God-willing – eventually spring will be sprung in the Midwest, too.

Holy Snow!
And this is my backyard, in Sun Prairie Wisconsin.

According to age-old tradition, Christians are supposed to give up some enjoyable and/or luxurious item in Lent. Formerly, this was abstention from meat or alcohol. Nowadays it seems to me that Lent is typically used as an impetus to kick some persistent bad habit – such as smoking – or to revive the New Year’s resolution diet/exercise plan that conked out after the first week.

Self-improvement is all well and good. God wants our bodies to be healthy temples wherein His Spirit dwells. However, there is a danger that one focuses on purely physical health to the detriment of one’s spiritual health. One could lose sight of the true reason for the Lenten season: walking with Jesus Christ, the sinless sacrifice for our sins, to his death on the cross and also to prepare our hearts to receive the gospel message of his triumph on Easter morning (spoiler alert – he rises from the dead!)

So, go ahead and abstain from eating [insert favorite junk food here] for Lent, but why not ADD some good practices to the mix – such as studying the Bible more and having more frequent scriptural devotions? If you are having trouble knowing where to begin, here is a good verse to start with:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

In case you were wondering, the high priest referred to in the verse is Jesus. As high priest, he sacrificed himself (the unblemished lamb) to atone for our sins. Have you ever heard of a high priest who served both roles – the one offering up the sacrifice, and the one being sacrificed? Yes, I know it sounds weird, but this is how our almighty God chose to carry out our salvation. Only Jesus could accomplish this, because only he is both fully God (totally perfect) and fully human (able to die). Writing of this, I am suddenly reminded of another Bible verse:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23

Now, go ahead and do whatever special thing you were planning on doing for Lent – whether it be giving up chocolate, vanquishing bad habits…or taking up better ones. As for me, I plan on reading more of my Bible during Lent, and paying more attention to what my savior has to say. His advice is always good. In fact, I’ll even go out on a limb and say that his advice is the very BEST.

Apropos of nothing: did you know that California has a Mediterranean climate?

Postscript: I wonder if I can claim that I gave up California sunshine and beaches for Lent?

Taming the Tongue

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!

My thoughts on James 3

How many times do you find yourself thinking: “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that to or about so-and-so” or “Maybe I could’ve worded that criticism in a kinder, more constructive way?” Perhaps snide comments you made out of spite or envy have gotten you into trouble. Well, you are not alone. I, too, have suffered from diarrhea of the mouth. We all have a sinful nature, a “restless evil” within us that poisons everything that we think, say and do. I’d wager that everyone on the planet has at some point in their life said things in a foul humor to someone else that they regret afterward.

Indeed, every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is being tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no one is able to tame the human tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:7-8 (EHV)

My friends, this is a prime example of how desperately we all need Jesus Christ. Our vilest thoughts are always seeking expression and often burst out of our mouths despite our best efforts to cage them. We cannot tame the sinful nature on our own. Only Jesus vanquished that ravening beast.

It’s bad enough to think nasty and hateful thoughts about others, but once you utter the deplorable words aloud to someone it is too late to call them back. You might regret what you said as soon as you say it, but the fact of the matter remains: you spewed forth vitriol with the intent to harm. Unless your companion is completely oblivious to reality you most likely – at the very least – hurt their feelings. At worst, you have irrevocably marred your relationship with that individual and their perception of you and by extension whatever group with which you are affiliated. We are judged by others based on our words and deeds among them. This is especially true for pastors of church congregations and anyone who is prominently in the public eye. James, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, points out this struggle:

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. To be sure, we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a fully mature man, able to bridle his whole body as well.

James 3:1-2 (EHV)

The words we use and the way in which we speak shapes our relationships with other people and their perception of us ever after. Furthermore, how we choose to wag our tongues reinforces the spirit or attitude in which we speak, feeding back into our own unique worldview. You’ve probably heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” right? Well, I believe when one constantly vomiting forth negativity one also has a tendency to feed upon the same. Even worse, we not only hurt ourselves and others by giving voice to our spitefulness but we damage our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit inspired James to warn us that if left unchecked we could lose our faith and our wagging tongues will steer us straight into hell.

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they will obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Although they are very big and are driven by fierce winds, yet they are guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot wants to go. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it also boasts great things. Consider how a little flame can set a large forest on fire! And the tongue is a fire. It is set among the parts of our body as a world of unrighteousness that stains the whole body, sets the whole course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.

James 3:3-6 (EHV)

The imagery James uses here isn’t accidental. The bits used to control horses – a large animal – are rather small pieces of metal. The rudder is a relatively small plank of wood but a single person can use it to steer a huge vessel in the water. And I think we all learned from Smokey Bear how a single small flame can set an entire forest on fire. James likens our tongues – our words – to a fire capable of raging out of control. We can all agree that words have more power than we’d like to think, sometimes. If left unchecked, our tongues can stain the rest of our members with unrighteousness through lies, sarcasm, ridicule, gossip, and approval of evil actions. Garbage in, garbage out, and garbage back in again in a vicious cycle.

It is difficult to think of our tongues “guiding” us anywhere, isn’t it? Don’t our brains consciously control everything that we say? Well, yes. But what James is really telling us is that we need to exercise self-control. And for that we need to ask God for help, because we cannot do this on our own. Not for long, at any rate…just up until the point that we have to interact with another person.

Indeed, every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is being tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no one is able to tame the human tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. 11 A spring does not pour out both fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree bear olives, my brothers, or can a grapevine produce figs? A salt spring cannot produce fresh water either.

James 3:7-12 (EHV)

Our words often show us to be hypocrites, don’t they? I praise God in a church service on Sunday mornings and not two hours later I’m cussing out someone for their failure to follow basic traffic laws. In front of my children, to boot! It is so easy to slip into unwholesome talk, diabolically easy when we are among those who thrive on malicious gossip. I have been guilty of feeling a delicious thrill when I heard some juicy, secret detail from someone’s life that really isn’t any of my business. Sarcasm is also one of my guilty pleasures; it is a popular form of humor that never seems to get old. Unfortunately, it is difficult to trust a sarcastic person because you can never be entirely certain that what they are saying is what they truly mean. But trust me when I say this: we as Christians have to maintain constant vigilance over our tongues and pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.

13 Who among you is wise and intelligent? Let him by his good way of living show that he does things in wise humility. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast and lie, contrary to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but it is worldly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 In fact, where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and every bad practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then also peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who practice peace.

James 3:10-18 (EHV)

Everywhere we turn – on the Internet, the television, the radio – we hear people saying nasty things about each other. Some of these nasty things might even be true. But in what spirit are these facts presented to the masses? Is it merely to entertain or provoke impassioned responses and thereby gain glory through a multitude of “followers” who “like” the information that one shares? Are people speaking out of a sincere desire to help or warn others of danger, or are they spreading negativity out of envy or selfish ambition? In this day and age, Christians – all of us, really – need to watch very carefully what we share on social media as well as the words that come out of our mouths.

And not just to save ourselves from looking like idiots. Although that might be a lost cause, in my case.

James might seem to dwell on the negative side of the tongue’s power, but don’t let that discourage you. It’s not all bad news. Never forget the power of God’s Word, through which the Holy Spirit kindles saving faith in unbelieving hearts and nourishes the struggling saint-sinner’s soul. We are empowered by faith in Christ to use the power of words for good, too! We can encourage peace rather than saying things in order to get people riled up. Even when it is necessary to rebuke someone or speak on an unpleasant topic, we can do so discretely and with compassion, always keeping the best interests of others in mind. We can avoid perpetuating vicious rumors – no matter how juicy – and avoid those conversations whenever possible.

Or, when all else fails in a tricky social situation and you don’t know what to say, you can always fall back on my great-grandma’s advice:

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”

Day of Pentecost

I apologize for the late blog post; yesterday I was attending the graduation party for a person very special to me.

The Holy Spirit descends

Thus begins the season of Pentecost, which is the non-festival half of the church year. The first Pentecost occurred 50 days (Pentecost comes from the Greek pentēkostē, meaning “fiftieth”) after Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter. Just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem because He would send the Holy Spirit to them. Sure enough, the Day of Pentecost arrived, and with it came the Holy Spirit in a sound like rushing wind and tongues of fire hovering over the apostles’ heads! In addition to the physical sign, He enabled the apostles to speak in many different languages so that they could proclaim the gospel message to Jews from different lands. And not only this, but thanks to the Holy Spirit, the apostles were able to fully understand everything that Jesus had taught them. If you are interested in learning about this miracle in more detail, the entire account is recorded in the first few chapters of the book of Acts.

The Holy Spirit is a heart transplant surgeon

Oddly enough, the sermon for today’s service was not on Acts 2. This morning, the pastor preached Psalm 51. Now, in order to understand the significance of this psalm, you first have to read 2 Samuel 11, which is the account of King David committing adultery with Bathsheba (who of course gets pregnant), and after all his finagling fails, the king then arranges the murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah in order to cover up his first crime. In the next chapter, the prophet Nathan rebukes the king with an allegory. The end result is that David repents of his sin and goes on to write a beautiful psalm.

Verses 10-12 and 17 are particularly of note:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV)

The sacrifices God wants are a broken spirit.

A broken and crushed heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (Evangelical Heritage Version)

The NIV uses the word “contrite” instead of crushed in verse 17. I used a different translation for the last verse because even though the message is the same, the imagery of a broken and crushed heart is much more profound. King David had committed horrible sins and he was sick unto death because of the guilt crushing him. Now, not everyone is guilty of such serious crimes as adultery compounded by murder, but this is how we should feel about any kind of sin. Even those sins that the world claims are “not so bad” or denies are actually sins in this enlightened age of secularized society. After all, nowadays it is okay to live in ways that God frowns upon because nobody appears to get hurt.

But David knew better. He knew the agony and torture of his guilty conscience. He knew that even above and beyond what he had done to harm Bathsheba and Uriah, that his sins hurt God.

Well, now that our hearts are pulverized beyond all recognition due to guilt and grief, how do we continue to survive? Even the most ignorant person knows that you can’t live without a heart! But who will give us a new heart? When one receives a new kidney, there is a chance that the donor is still alive. However, whenever a patient has a heart transplant, you know that the donor gave up their life in order that another should live.

This is what Jesus Christ did for us. He died that we might live. And this is where God the Holy Spirit comes in. He is the heart transplant surgeon. He replaces our broken and crushed heart with a newly created one…from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died that we might live forever with Him in heaven.

On a more “earthly” note, my toilet gardens are blooming! Go ahead and laugh. If you have any comments, please post them.