THE POWER OF WORDS

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That little saying that we all have heard, and perhaps said, is not true. And we know it’s not true – not because sticks and stones won’t break our bones, they will – but because words can and do hurt. Everyone reading this post has been hurt by words.

Words are powerful, and we all know that. They can not only hurt, they can also heal, lift up, encourage, warm our hearts, ask for and receive forgiveness, and do much, much more.

Earlier this week I read an eBook entitled Ancient Wisdom For Future Success. The ancient wisdom cited comes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs also offers a lot of ancient wisdom with regard to The Power of Words. There are over 100 references in the book to the tongue, mouth, lips, and words. A general foundational verse is Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit” (NIV).

Here is a verse that underscores both the potential for words to be hurtful or helpful: Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (NIV).

Here are five of my favorites that underscore ways words hurt and damage:

10:19, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (NLT).

11:9a, “With their words, the godless destroy their friends” (NLT).

11:12, Mean-spirited slander is heartless; quiet discretion accompanies good sense” (The Message).

25:18, “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow) NIV.

29:5, “Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet” (NIV).

 

Here are four of my favorites that underscore ways words help and heal:

10:11,”The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain” (NLT).

12:18, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing” (NLT).

12:25, “Worry weighs us down; a cheerful word picks us up” (The Message).

16:24, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (NIV).

 

With those verses in mind, consider these four suggestions for the way we use words.

  1. First, we must learn to listen. It may sound trite, but in thinking about the power of words we need to be reminded that we need to listen. James 1:19 gives us good advice: “My dear brothers and sisters,take note of this: “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak” (NIV). Some of us have a problem of assuming what a person is going to say before they say it. Years ago I saw a sign on a person’s desk that has stayed with me. It said “I love you enough to listen.”
  2. Second, we must think before we speak and choose our words carefully. Proverbs 29:20 says it well, “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them” (NIV).
  3. Third, we need to be honest with our words. Two of seven things God hates are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies.” I don’t have in mind here what some term as being “ruthlessly” honest. That may take us back to the destructive power of words. Ephesians 4:15a tells us “Speak the truth in love.” There is a way to speak the truth, but not in love. We are to speak the truth; but we are to do so in love.
  4. Finally, we need to take seriously Ephesians 4:29. Let me remind you of Paul’s powerful advice: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV) Unwholesome talk may include foul language and dirty jokes, but I think unwholesome talk is that tears others down and that does not benefit those who listen is sarcasm, attacking, caustic, negative, and rude.

I’m pretty sure these verses and comments give us all a lot to think about – it certainly does me. I confess, I’m guilty of violating a lot of what God’s Word tells us about how we should talk. To get the most out of these verses it might be good to go over each of them and give yourself a grade from A to F.

I close with a declaration from Jesus in Matthew 15:18, “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart” (NIV).

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EASTER REALITY THIS YEAR: SOME BORROWED THOUGHTS

EASTER REALITY THIS YEAR: SOME BORROWED THOUGHTS

Easter Sunday is almost here, but many of us have been thinking about it for several weeks. This morning I reviewed some of the articles I have read during this time and thought some who read my blog may be interested in reading them.

Looking back over these selections, I was drawn to them again as I was originally by their titles. It was the titles that got my attention because each one was so powerful that by itself it said so much.

Below are four of the titles with minimal commentary by me and the link to the article for those who might like to read more. If you don’t have the time or interest to read them, I think the titles alone will stimulate your thinking.

 

Have Yourself a Bittersweet Easter by Todd Hunter (March 31, 2020)

Bittersweet, of course, is the basic point and describes what we’re feeling as we come to the greatest day of celebration in the Christian year. Hunter says what’s true when he reminds us “a normal Easter is out of reach this year.” We rejoice that Jesus rose from the dead. But our world is shaken by the COVID – 19 impact with so many forced changes in our lives as well as victims of the virus. Hunter notes, “This year we celebrate in the context of deep lament.”  https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2020/march-web-exclusives/bittersweet-easter-holy-week-coronavirus.html

 

An Easter without Going to Church – The pandemic has laid an egg on our worship. By Daniel Harrell (March 25, 2020)

Harrell refers to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and rightly reminds us “Easter worship as we’ve known it is doomed.” However, he quotes another writer’s statement of truth, “The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered.” And then he adds, “The church remains the church online, too.”  https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/march-web-only/easter-without-church-covid-19-coronavirus.html?utm_source=connection-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=25166636&utm_content=705070787&utm_campaign=email

 

Not Even the Gates of a Hellish Pandemic Will Prevail over God’s Church (April 6, 2020) by Esau McCaulley

“The somber season of Lent seems perfectly suited to the moment. This is a time of national lament. But as we turn the corner for Easter, dare we say more?”

“If the prophets of the Old Testament have anything to teach us, it’s that precisely in the darkest moments of our history, we need divinely inspired and freshly articulated hope.”

“I don’t know what the future of Christianity holds in the weeks and months to come. I do know, however, that the church will not be overcome by a virus. I know this is not the end, and I know that we will in fact worship together again.”                                                                                                                       https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/april-web-only/easter-coronavirus-covid-19-not-even-gates-hellish-pandemic.html

 

The Resurrection Has Not Been Canceled by Timothy Dalrymple (April 8, 2020)

This just came today and sparked the idea for this post. Don’t you love the title?

“Church doors are closed. Schools are no longer meeting. Businesses are shuttered. Restaurants and cafés are empty, cinema screens are dark, and concert halls are silent. Countless meetings and gatherings, weddings and funerals, conferences and events have been canceled.

The resurrection is not canceled. God is always in the business of bringing life out of death. Jesus emerged from the tomb so that we can do the same—on Easter and every other day. There is nothing in all the world that could have stopped the resurrection of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, and there is nothing that can stop it today.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/april-web-only/coronavirus-easter-resurrection-not-canceled.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=15819991&utm_content=706425458&utm_campaign=email

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ANOTHER PALM SUNDAY COMING?

Because of the situation in which we find ourselves, Palm Sunday this past weekend was not the usual day of celebration, praise, and worship that it traditionally is. Yet with our technology for broadcasting worship into our homes, many of us still marked the day that launches what is called Holy Week.

Palm Sunday marks the final entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is called Palm Sunday because the common people waved palm branches as Jesus entered on a colt in the same way a king would be welcomed. Because of that greeting given to Jesus, it is also called his Triumphal Entry.

The triumphal aspect of Jesus’ entry melted the following days as both the religious leaders (Jews) and the Roman governor (Pontius Pilate) moved to get rid of Jesus. Following a few days of conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus was arrested and tried by them Thursday night, and ultimately tried by Pilate and sentenced to death by crucifixion on Friday.

Most Christians will focus the rest of this week on the events following Palm Sunday, but I want to share something new to me related to Palm Sunday I learned yesterday when I watched a Palm Sunday sermon online.

Dr. Sam Chand, a pastor from India, was the guest preacher for Palm Sunday at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, GA. His talk was informative, encouraging, and inspirational. He not only dealt with the accounts of Jesus’ entry, he also referred to a passage in the Old Testament about waving palm branches (Leviticus 23:40) and one in the New Testament book of Revelation (7:9 and 10).

It was the reference in Revelation that grabbed my attention:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

It sounds like there is going to be something of a repeat or another Palm Sunday like event in the future in heaven. Christians will be standing before Jesus dressed in white holding palm branches. Like the first Palm Sunday they will be shouting praise to King Jesus; and I can’t help but think they will also be waving those palm branches they are holding.

That is something all of us who have decided to follow Jesus can look forward to!

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ARE YOU AFRAID?

Right now the question “Are you afraid?” relates to the current Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s a question that can be asked in many situations. I’m not going to ask you the question, but I know some are afraid. I don’t know that I’m afraid, but at my age, and with diabetes, I am well aware of the need to be aware and alert.

I have not counted for myself, but I’ve always heard that the instruction “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Does that mean that to be afraid is a sin? My definitive answer is “yes” and “no.” Fear is not always a sin, but it can be.

While he was writing in a different time and under different circumstances, Paul’s reminder to Timothy in II Timothy 1:7 is applicable to Christians today, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline”(NIV).

Note Paul affirms that God gave the same spirit to both Timothy and himself. My sense is that he is speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to everyone who determines to follow Jesus. That means, I think, that Christians today can claim that God’s Spirit does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

The word translated timid in the New International Version is the only place it is used in the New Testament. Other translations render the phrase “a spirit of fear” or “a spirit of cowardice.” The New Living Translation covers two bases with “a spirit of fear and timidity.”

So God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but he gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control. What is a spirit of power? It doesn’t mean power in the way we usually understand it, but rather strength of character to “go boldly forward” (NT scholar Donald Guthrie).

What is a spirit of love and self-control? It means that the power (or strength) God gives us is to be used in the guidance of love and under self-control. While some use the word enabling, I don’t because of the negative connotation is sometimes has. My preference is the word empower. If we take advantage of the spirit God has given us, he will empower us to deal with fear (I don’t believe we will always be free of fear) and help us live the way he has called us to live.

That’s what I’m trying to do and what I encourage you to do as well.

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SOME GOLD NUGGETS AND GEMS

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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ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE DISCOURAGED

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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IS IT TIME TO PRAY?

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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A NOT SO ODD PLACE TO PRAY

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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SHOULD WE BE WORRIED?

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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WHAT IS LENT? (Not Lint!)

Even though most readers know about Lent, since it begins this Wednesday I want to highlight some basics about it in this post. Called the Lenten tradition, Lent is a 40-day season in which Christians focus on their faith as they look forward to and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Often associated with Roman Catholic tradition and practice, Lent is certainly not limited to Catholicism as many believers in a variety of denominations and churches participate. While much of what takes place during Lent has biblical connections, the actual Lenten season is not prescribed in the New Testament. As meaningful as observing Lent can be and is for many Christians, not all observe it nor are they commanded to do so.

The first mention of the practice of Lent is found in the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. The celebration of Easter Sunday and Jesus’ resurrection, however, began much earlier. The emphasis upon 40 days comes from the biblical account of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness following his baptism. The time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday is actually more than 40 days, but Sundays are not counted – Sundays are feast days because Sunday is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

Ash Wednesday and the marking of Christians with an ashen cross was added in the 600s. The usage of ashes underscores human mortality and our need for repentance. Participation in Ash Wednesday is not required in order to participate in the Lenten season. There is no one way to observe Lent as Christians have celebrated the season in a variety of ways.

Simply stated, engaging in Lent is a season of intentional focus on reflection, repentance, prayer, Bible reading, confession, humility, and devotion in anticipation of remembering, acknowledging, and celebrating Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Many believers also include fasting as a part of their expression of devotion during this season. Fasting usually refers to eating and food, but is not limited to food. Nor is fasting in terms of eating always a total fast from food. People have fasted from meat, desserts, coffee, soda, and a variety of choices for a day, a week, or the entire period of Lent. Beyond food and drink, some fast from TV, radio, the news, or other activities that they set aside or give up to focus on the season.

Through the years I’ve tried a lot of things during this season to focus and enhance my faith and devotion. Some have been more helpful than others. I’m look forward to beginning tomorrow a book of readings entitled TO SEEK AND TO SAVE: DAILY REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS by Sinclair B. Ferguson. I hope these thoughts have been informative and encouraging.

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