Category Archives: Coronavirus

Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust

What to say?

I’ve been having a hard time finding words to say. Perhaps it is because I’ve said them before, or perhaps I am just tired. The world now is experiencing what many of us have experienced for years.

Some of us know what it is like to have a debilitating, and perhaps deadly, illness that doctors can’t do anything about.

But I really don’t mean this to be a “I told you so” post, because it isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean it to be a comfort with the same comfort that my wife and I have learned over the years of struggling with isolation and illness.

It has something to do with idols. Where do we turn when we don’t have any answers? Where do we go when we don’t have any strength? Where do we place our trust when the world is upside down.

When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed. That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end. As long as you learn what the Psalmist finally learned:

(Psalm 33:16-22)  16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
  17 A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
  18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
  19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
  20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
  21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
  22 Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee.

Remember all of the money that you spent on conferences? Remember all of the power that you gave your favorite celebrity pastor? Remember the televangelist that promised you that you would be healthy, wealthy and wise?

Remember all the books you bought? The long theological debates that you had online?

Remember when you thought that the person you voted in office would really save you from all your troubles?

All of the times you thought that your righteousness and your own hand would save you?

Just 6 weeks ago, I spoke to someone who told me that these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….

And to a certain extent, we tend to think the same way. These kinds of things happen to others. Not to us.

We are God’s people. We are American Evangelicals! We finally won the cultural wars! We are back in the business of building that “city on the hill” for the whole world to see. The American dream!

Funny how things disappear, isn’t it? Funny how it proves true, over and over again, that we are but dust. Like the flowers of the field, we fade and die.

And God sends things to remind us that the greatest assets that men and women have – wisdom, righteousnesses, social charity, cultural wars, armies, battleships, money, power, institutions (even “Christian” ones) – will all fade and die and be forgotten. One tiny virus brings the world of men to its knees, until the Keeper of Time says, “stop now”.

It is interesting how and illness that no one can do anything about can change our perspective.

And why is this? Because God will never give his glory to another.

So here is the comfort. God has ways of stripping away our trust in horses, armies, kings, medicine, doctors, politicians, elections, church leaders, celebrities.

And the purpose for all of it is for us to finally fall on our knees and say, “Our soul waits upon the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”

We can’t even get toilet paper unless he decrees it. And that is a wonderful thing, for he is good and his lovingkindness is forever.

We hope in YOUR lovingkindness, O Lord. Remember us, for the sake of Christ. He is our help and our shield.

Amen.

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Filed under Coronavirus, Trust

The Sabbath and Life

6 Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered.
7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.
8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood.
9 Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”
10 And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
11 But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luk 6:6-11)

I keep hearing very disturbing things from churches. There are so many who are exposing themselves right now for who they really are. Some things never change. I have heard certain Christians argue like this: “God has commanded us to gather together on the Lord’s day. We must obey God rather than man. God will protect us from the virus if we honor him with our obedience. And if not, it is better to obey and lose our lives than to disobey.”

The Pharisees of Jesus day reasoned the same way. And Jesus looked at them with anger.

The Pharisees, in the passage above, were far more concerned about the ceremony of the Sabbath than they were about the meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to Israel that they might understand that it is God who heals and saves and gives life. It is God who will overcome the curse, not us.

13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying:`Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Exo 31:13)

The Sabbath was given so that God’s people might learn to rest and wait for the Lord of the Sabbath to do his work, which only he can do.

For that reason, it was necessary that Jesus heal on the Sabbath, since that is what the Sabbath was for – to point to the one who heals, apart from any works of ours.

But the Jews turned the Sabbath rest into a work to be performed in order to earn God’s favor! The exact opposite of what it meant. In fact, the Sabbath was given to teach us that only God sanctifies and we have nothing to do with it. We rest. God sanctifies. Get it?

Fast forward to the Lord’s day. We gather on the first day of the week, the Day of Resurrection.

In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “Today he rose and left the dead, and Satan’s empire fell” (Isaac Watts).

The Lord’s Day is the day of resurrection, of life! Death is conquered, the enemy is cast out!

Shall we then take that which was meant to celebrate life and use it as a means to spread death? God forbid!

“Is it lawful to save life, or to destroy?”

Close your churches, people. Quit thinking that the ceremony must be kept, even though it might mean the deaths of thousands. Shall we tempt God?

And I, being a pastor, do truly believe in the value of the Word and Sacrament, and the gathering of ourselves together. The word and Sacrament are the ordinary means of grace, which is another post. In ordinary times, we should do it as long as it is possible for us to do so.

But our wooden, outer keeping of the Lord’s Day matters nothing when we destroy lives by doing so. When we gather together while an unstoppable virus threatens, we are corrupting our Lord’s day with the leaven of the Pharisees – trying to squeeze a blessing out of God through our sacrificial law-keeping. But the Lord’s day isn’t about that. Christianity isn’t about us offering ourselves to God. It is about God offering himself for us. Christ died that we might be freed from the curse of the law. How monstrous it is to think that God, who sent his Son to die for us, requires that we put our lives at risk in order to keep the ceremony of the Lord’s Day!!

Jesus looked around in anger at the Pharisees. They reasoned the same way that many are reasoning today.

When we despise the lives of his people, he also looks in anger at us.

Something to think about.

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Filed under Coronavirus, sabbath

Fear, Death and Panic

As most of California, we are staying at home.

I also have symptoms. I’m not worried about me. But I certainly don’t want to spread anything around, out of love for my neighbor.

As I watch the stockpiling of weird supplies, the fist fights in the lines,  the empty shelves ravished by frightened people, I remembered what Satan said to God, accusing Job of loving the Lord simply because the Lord gives him things.

4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. (Job 2:4)

The power of the devil is the fear of death. It is HIS voice that causes the panic and the fear and the bargaining.

And that makes me sad. Life is a vapor (James 4:14) and we have no control over it anyway. Virus or no virus, every moment we are under the sentence of death, and held in bondage by the fear of death.

All that a man has, he will give for his life.

But this is not us, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus became flesh, united himself to us and was obedient unto death. The sword fell on him and the sting of death is removed. And then, in this flesh, he rose from the dead for our justification. When the sword of God’s wrath fell on Jesus, Satan’s greatest weapon was destroyed – the fear of death.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14-15)

For us, we are now no longer in bondage to the fear of death, since death is now no longer a punishment for sin, but a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
(Phi 1:19-24)

Whether we live, then, or die, our concern is for the glory of Christ and the good of our neighbor. If he calls us home tomorrow, or down the road apiece, we still belong to Him and our prayer should always be that Christ be magnified in our bodies, whether we live or die.

This does not mean that we willfully put ourselves in danger. It does not mean that we act foolishly. And it certainly does not mean that keeping the outward ceremonies of the law (the physical gathering of the church) should outweigh our neighbor’s life. This was the mistake the Pharisees made, and it made Jesus angry.

It means this: Love your neighbor. Don’t sell your dignity, honor and birthright for a case of toilet paper. Don’t take all the eggs. Leave some for someone who needs them more than you.

Consider that person in line as more important than yourself. “Will God not clothe you, O you of little faith?”

And don’t prove the devil right. Don’t sell everything in exchange for your own skin. It’s a bad bargain, and you will lose it anyway.

“What shall it profit a man if he corner the market on eggs and toilet paper, and lose his own soul?”

The fact is this: One day – maybe sooner, maybe later – you are going to stand before your Maker. He has given you one talent, and maybe more. But one that he has given you is your life, like a tiny flower, on this earth for a little while.

How did you use that gift? In love and service, in quiet and calm, resting in him, magnifying the Lord Jesus in your body?

Or did you bury it in exchange for your own skin? Do you die alone surrounded by all the eggs and all the toilet paper and all the cartons of milk?

It’s a metaphor, people! I think that love for our neighbor requires that we practice what we are told to practice. Shut yourselves in for the good of your neighbor.

But you don’t have to hoard. You don’t have to panic. You don’t have to fear.

Don’t sell your peace and don’t sell your dignity and don’t sell your birthright to save your own skin.

Let the peace of God rule your hearts and minds.

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Filed under Coronavirus, Providence