Because of the current pandemic I have not needed to prepare my usual three classes for each week or be able to play golf. On the bright side, I have spent much more time with our two grandsons. In addition to that, I have also had a lot of time to read. In this post I want to highlight what I think are a few gold nuggets and gems from some of my reading that I hope will encourage you, challenge you, and stimulate your thinking.

One article I read was written by David French and entitled “Coronavirus, Courage, and the Second Temptation of Christ” and subtitled Discerning the difference between courage, cowardice, and recklessness. French reported a variety of pastors, churches, and Christians who have resisted federal, state, and local authorities’ instructions to slow the spread of the virus. I am embarrassed by some of the quotes from believers French cited who were defying the mandates. My take on this is that there is a difference between faith and prideful stupidity.

I also read a sermon entitled “Christians and the Coronavirus” that gave me a lot to think about. My favorite part was the preacher’s answers to his question, “Where is God?”

He’s at a wedding and at the funeral. God is there in our good and in our bad days.

He is the God of Good Friday and the God of Easter Sunday.

He is the God of the spectacular and God of the ordinary and mundane.

He is the God of the hills and the God of the valleys.

He is God in the midst of our laughter and in the midst of our tears.

He is God when the market is up and God when the market is down.

He is God in the light and God in the dark.

Where is God? God is with us. He’s in both places—He’s in all places.

Another pastor made some suggestions from Romans 8:28 and what the good is that God is causing. Here are a few from his list:

God is letting us realize just how vulnerable we humans are in a broken world.

God is letting us experience just how much we are not in control of our existence.

God is using the common crisis to minimize our divisions and divisiveness.

God is showing us that when we all begin to look out for others, life is richer.

God is in mercy bringing us to the place to cry out for healing.

Professor Gary S. Shelby, professor of ministerial formation at Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan College and borrowing from a C.S. Lewis character, wrote a piece giving practical advice from Screwtape (the devil) for dealing with the present. A few suggestions:

What you should do is imagine all the bad things that could happen.

He would counsel us all to nurture interpersonal hostility at this time, something easily done when we are flooded with anxiety.

It’s especially important at this point to narrow your imagination, so as not to nurture compassion.

Screwtape would urge us to avoid the simple pleasures and beauties around us.

Think about how you are going to get ahead, as everything’s shifting and changing in this current situation, and strategize your future successes.

Finally, Screwtape would want us to ignore any painful awareness of our precarious state, as humans who exist in time. In moments like this there’s a real risk we’ll be confronted with our mortality, limitations, and lack of control.

From Tim Challies March 27 blog (condensed):

We are in a strange period right now when for a matter of weeks, or perhaps even months, many of us are not able to meet as local churches. Due to the prevalence and risk of a deadly disease, and due to our desire to submit to the directives of our governments, we cannot gather together in the same space. Many churches have taken to broadcasting services through the internet. There are some Christians who are concerned that this sudden swell in online services presages a coming decline in actual church attendance. There are some who are concerned that when our churches once again open their doors, many people will be content to remain at home, having now experienced a virtual equivalent. I am not concerned. I am not concerned that committed Christians will reject actual church for cyber-church. Christians need to be together to carry out the purpose and meaning of church membership.

Here are a few Gems from Sinclair Ferguson’s readings for Lent:

Speaking about those Jesus encountered as he traveled to Jerusalem the final time: There was something they all had in common: they were either drawn to him in their need or repelled from him by their pride.

About Martha in Luke 10 when she complained to Jesus about Mary: It is a double complaint. Martha is angry with her sister; and she is angry with Jesus too.

About the Pharisees in Luke 11: They made a pretense of devotion to God in order to be admired by men.

Observation about the greedy brother’s order to Jesus in Luke 13: It is always a danger sign when we start telling the Lord what he should be doing.

A Reflection: We should never be more interested in theological questions than we are in knowing Jesus himself.

From an article in Christianity Today by B.G. White entitled Fighting Anxiety with the Old Testament: As someone who has sought professional help for anxiety, I can say that my own recovery has always been rooted in the Bible, especially the Old Testament passage: “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).

From David O. Taylor’s chapter on Prayer in his book Open and Afraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life:

My own prayer life comes and goes. At times I have prayed faithfully every morning before starting my day’s work. At other times I have managed only tired prayers at the end of the day, and they have often not been very good prayers. At still other times I have found myself without prayer, or more truthfully, without any desire to pray.

Prayer is a funny thing, of course. In its simplest terms, it is about talking to God and listening to God.

This is a God who cannot be manipulated.

The Psalms reassure us that a willingness to talk to God is all that matters.

Finally, from C.S. Lewis in How to Pray:

Simply to say prayers is not to pray.

Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God.

All prayers are heard, though not all prayers are granted.

Those who do not think of their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own.

We all go through periods of dryness in our prayers, don’t we?

I hope you find these samplings from a variety of writers and sources both comforting and assuring as well as provocative. Feel free to let me know with a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

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Are you discouraged? With all that is happening in the world, our county, and our lives, I’ve been thinking about the potential for and reality of discouragement. I find myself among those who are discouraged – probably more than some, but less than others.

One definition of discouragement suggests “your enthusiasm and optimism have been replaced by doubt and negativity.” Having lost confidence or enthusiasm, you may be disheartened. To encourage is to “give support, confidence, or hope to someone – to inspire with courage: to HEARTEN.”

Spending so much time at home the last several days, I have been reading even more than usual. And some of what I have read has been discouraging while some has been heartening.

For example, in a two page article entitled On Living in a Pandemic Age, author Matthew Lee Anderson’s sober observation is both true and somewhat discouraging: “A virus reshapes the whole texture of how we relate to one another, introducing a layer of fear and suspicion that other cataclysmic evils simply cannot do.”

Later in the article Anderson makes another honest assessment: “COVID-19 is a palpable reminder of how deeply insecure our lives really are, of how vain our pretenses to control the world can be. Fear of the coronavirus is not the fear of the Lord.” His next sentence both convicts as well as encourages me: “Yet it a sign of such a fear, a shadow that has fallen across our path that reminds us to look upward as we walk” (emphasis added).

I’ve also been reading a new book by W. David Taylor entitled OPEN AND UNAFRAID: The Psalms as a Guide to Life. In 14 chapters Taylor writes about 14 topics in the book of Psalms. The chapter that most got my attention (perhaps other than the first chapter on Honesty I read online and convinced me to buy the book) is on Sadness. Sadness is a new designation to me for this topic as most writers and teachers call the Psalms that deal with the subject Lament Psalms.

The Lament Psalms are mostly prayers of complaint. Taylor summarizes the complaints “may be about God, about one’s life, or about a presumed enemy” (p. 71). On the next page he notes “One of the most striking things about these lament psalms is that they include interrogation of God.” However, the complaints are “the sign of an active, not a passive, faith” (p. 73). In light of the example of the writers of these psalms, it seems that with our faith, we too in our prayers can question God as well as complain.

Taylor assures us “Faith certainly frees us to embrace the goodness of God in the face of suffering. But it does not mean that happiness will always mark our lives” (p. 74). “When nothing makes sense, the lament psalms give coherence to the incoherence of our world” (p. 75).

(If you are interested in reading some of these prayers, here are some examples of both individual psalms of lament as well as communal psalms of lament: 6, 11, 26, 74, 79, and 83.)

Some who read this post may be somewhat discouraged. That does not mean you are weak in your faith. I hope you are heartened by these quotes from Matthew Lee Anderson, W. David Taylor, and these Lament Psalms. Keep the faith, keep praying, and look up to the Lord as you walk!

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The title of this post is not hard to answer, is it? Of course it’s time to pray; for Christians it is always time to pray! There are occasions, situations, circumstances, and seasons when our prayers are more intense, but as children of God and followers of Jesus we are a people who are invited, encouraged, and taught to pray. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “there is a time for everything,” To borrow from that, I’m thinking “anytime and all the time is a time to pray.”

The record of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels makes it clear Jesus was a person of prayer. Three passages especially get my attention:

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).

Jesus has not only set the example for us, by his example he has given us direction.

We’re not surprised that the Apostle Paul, the most prolific writer in the New Testament, also set the example and gives us direction. Reinforcing the point of this blog, Paul challenges us:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Paul also models for us asking for prayer from other believers in Romans 15:20, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

Yes, it is a time to pray, and it is always a time for believers to pray. To repeat what I wrote in the first paragraph is this post: there are occasions, situations, circumstances, and seasons when our prayers are more intense. I think we all will agree we are now in one of those situations and seasons. Right now our list of people and needs to pray for is longer than it usually is. I encourage you to reread the passages quoted above and follow the examples and instructions of both Jesus and Paul.

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This past Monday I had an MRI of my knee to determine what can be done to make it better. Because I have had MRIs in the past, I was anxious because I am claustrophobic. What a pleasant surprise when I learned that I would only be in the machine from my waist to my ankles,

The attendant told me it would take about 35 minutes and to let her know if I had any problems or concerns. She asked me what kind of music I would like for her to play. I chose “country music,” but the country music she played wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

So I decided not to worry or be uptight, but use my time praying. It turned out to be an uplifting and encouraging time of meditation and prayer. As I have done in other times of extended personal prayer, I addressed all three members of the Trinity. We pray to the Father through, or in the name of Jesus; and the Holy Spirit helps us with our praying.

I began by addressing God and soon moved to reminding myself of how often in the Bible he is spoken of as Creator. That spurred my talking with him about my knee in specific as well as everything else that was going on around me. After acknowledging him as Creator I moved to my favorite designation of Father. Calling him Father was assuring.

I then prayed to Jesus and kept in mind three titles for him. I thanked him for being my Savior and quoted to myself the words of the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” Jesus is our savior, but he is also our Lord. As important as it is to have Jesus as our Savior, it is equally important to know him as our lord. That reminded me of the need to do some confessing and I was more than willing to do so. Those thoughts led me to my final designation for Jesus: Friend. Remember Jesus told his followers he was their friend – in John 15:13 he affirmed “greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” In John 15:14 he told them “you are my friends if you do what I command.” In John 15:15 he reminded them “I have called you friends.”

I concluded my time of prayer by addressing the Holy Spirit with several of the words describing his role in John 14-16: advocate, counselor, helper, comforter, and others.  Helper and comforter were especially meaningful as I thought ahead and what I think will be a knee replacement in the near future.

In retrospect I’m confident I’m not the first person to pray during an MRI. Even if some think it is an odd place to do so, I must disagree. Maybe we can be reminded that we can pray anywhere and anytime. I often pray while I’m driving – and if you’re wondering – no, I don’t close my eyes!

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Yesterday and today I’ve been taking note of news’ headlines from a variety of sources. One headline confirmed what I already knew: “Today’s news cycle is dominated by one thing: the rise and spread of the novel coronavirus.” Here are some other headlines that verify the one I just quoted:

“Washington state confirms 10th coronavirus death”

“Alex Azar encouraged by proposed coronavirus vaccine timeline”

“Coronavirus delays James Bond movie ‘No Time to Die’ release date”

“When the Coronavirus Comes to Church: Are You Prepared?”

“California reports first death related to coronavirus”

“Korean Churches Close for the First time as Coronavirus Cases Hit 3,700”

“The Dow Is Up 900 Points After Congress Agrees on $8.3 Billion Package to Battle             Coronavirus”

And these are just a few of the many headlines dominating the news cycle.

Not only have I been taking note of the headlines, I have also listened to a few interviews and discussions with people who know a lot more about this virus than the rest of us do.

So my question is, should we be worried? And my answer at this point is, I’m not sure. Fear is certainly rampant with many, but others do not seem to be concerned at all. Should Christians be calm or anxious? There is a lot of teaching in the Bible about worry and faith, but I don’t think it teaches us to be uninterested or unengaged or oblivious to what is going on around us and in the world. Perhaps we should neither be panicked nor carefree.

What seems to me not to be helpful is distorted information passed along by those who do not really know what they are talking about. Neither is the blame-gaming of politicians; one writer noted they are “turning a health issue into a political football to be kicked around.”

I’m in no position to tell anyone else what to do, but I’m thinking I need to be aware, alert, and responsive to people who know far more than I do. I also hope to learn more about this illness as the experts continue to share information with the public. It seems reasonable to me as a believer that we can be concerned without being filled with worry. Having faith and trusting the LORD does not mean we have no responsibilities for others and ourselves.

One other thing I plan to do, and encourage you to do as well, is regularly pray about this attention getting situation in which we find ourselves. Let’s pray for our leaders, our medical personnel – doctors, nurses, caregivers, and those working on a vaccine, those who have the virus, and those who have lost loved ones due to the virus.

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