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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DELIGHT, DELIGHTFUL, AND DELIGHTED

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to do something I rarely get to do. Jan and I stayed with our six year old grandson while his mom took his older brother to one of his commitments. For some reason Ryan was into grandpa this early evening. We sat on the couch together and I fed him while we watched Scooby Doo.

After he had eaten, he snuggled up to me and we gave all our attention to the gang and the Mystery Machine as they solved the mystery. Later when his mom and brother returned she asked how things went. My response was, “It was delightful!” And I then explained why it was delightful.

Since then I’ve been thinking about this trio of related words delight, delightful, and delighted. And to my surprise, I have noticed other people using the words that I hadn’t noticed before. Think about the three words delight, delightful, and delighted – pleasant and positive, aren’t they?

So I looked up the definitions. As a verb delight means “to please greatly” and as a noun “great pleasure.” Delightful means “causing delight, very pleasant, lovely, and greatly to one’s liking.” Synonyms include congenial, enjoyable, pleasing, and what I meant when I said my grandson was delightful: darling. A short definition of delighted is “feeling or showing great pleasure.”

After looking up the definitions I remembered a verse from the Bible that used the word delight. I looked the word up on biblegateway.com and I was partially right. Delight and delights are used not just once, however, but 105 times in the Bible; 91 of which are in the Old Testament!

Many of those verses point us in the direction of things in which we should delight and things in which we should not delight. Two of my favorites are Proverbs 10:23, “A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes, but a person of understanding delights in wisdom,” and Proverbs 18:2, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

The verse I remembered that used the word delight is Psalm 37:4 that declares, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That isn’t a promise that if we delight in the LORD we will always get what we want, but that delighting in the LORD is a challenge filled with God’s promises. I’ll leave it up to you to give some thought to what is involved in “delighting in the LORD.”

In reading the verses in Proverbs I was encouraged by two that tell us that God delights in us (see Proverbs 11:20 and 12:22). My summary take on these two verses is that God delights in us when we follow his ways. And perhaps following his ways is one way we delight in him.

I’m challenged and encouraged to delight more in my life, to be delightful to others more often, and to be delighted as much as possible. Perhaps you too are challenged and encouraged as well.

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HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW?

The question asked in the title of this post is not specific and could refer to any number of things. It could concern knowledge of a person, a subject, something that happened, a plan, or pretty much anything.

In the last chapter of a book I recently finished the author noted something about himself that got my attention. In words that expressed both wisdom and humility, he told his readers “I learned long ago how much I do not know.” How interesting!

The wording of his acknowledgement is somewhat of an oxymoron because he learned how much he did not know. Usually when we use the word learn it points to something we did not know we now do. It sounds strange, but the point is that we can and should learn what we do not know.

Learning and knowing how much we don’t know seems to me to be an important thing to learn, but is harder for some than others. The learning process seems to take place as the years pass. Experience is a great teacher, and sometimes it teaches us what we don’t know that we thought we did.

I still remember a comment a class member made to me over 35 years ago in a Sunday School class I was teaching. Someone asked a question for which I did not have an answer, but I gave one anyway. He wasn’t being critical or mean, but was actually being funny when he responded, “That’s it – If you can’t show ‘em snow ‘em.”

Over the last 33 years I have taught a number of classes in churches, colleges, and a high school. I have fielded numerous questions about many things in the Bible and Christianity. And I have answered many of them. However, the answer I think I have given the most is “I don’t know.”

Although I do sometimes apologize for not knowing, I don’t think we have to be embarrassed to admit that we do not know something.

I’m confident most readers of this post have learned how much they don’t know. Realizing we know to a degree how much we don’t know is comforting, but that is no reason to quit learning things we would like to know.

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A WORD OF CAUTION, A WORD OF CHALLENGE, AND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

In my reading the last several days I have come across several thoughts and observations from a variety of authors that have impacted me. In this post I want to pass on to readers three of the things that struck me.

The word of caution that grabbed me is from Pastor J.A. Medders and his observation, “One of the greatest dangers of studious Christians is loving the study of God more than God himself.” Certainly we are to study the Bible and what scholars and others have written about God and his revelation, but Medders points out the danger of getting so caught up in studying and increasing our knowledge that we forget the primary purpose of learning.

Medders cautions about what he calls “theological trophy hunting” in which some “read the Bible to get more verses on [their] side . . . so [they] can win an argument, or show how much [they] know.” We must be careful not to be like the Pharisees, who in the words of Professor Bruce Metzger emphasized the WORD of God rather than the word of GOD. Medders’ primary point is that we are not just to love the study of God or books about him, but to love God.

The word of challenge that got my attention is from Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein concerning our regrets in life. Inspired by something Ralph Waldo Emerson said, Bernstein’s “advice is to accept the fact we all make mistakes, apologize to those we’ve harmed, forgive oneself, and focus on our personal strengths and gratitude rather than regrets from the past.”

The challenge for me is in those two words accept and apologize. I hope none of us will use the observation that “we all make mistakes” to minimize our mistakes because everyone makes them. And of course we should apologize to those we’ve harmed; but more than that, as Christians, many times we should not just apologize, but ask for forgiveness as well—from both those we’ve harmed as well as the Lord. With regard to focusing “on our personal strengths . . . rather than regrets,” my sense is we should not be too hard on ourselves; but acknowledging our personal strengths does not erase our mistakes.

The word of encouragement is three quotes from The Art of Aging by Sherwin B. Nuland. Hopefully, even younger readers will be encouraged as well as those of us who are older. Early in the book Nuland observes, “Used well, an aging brain can become a more useful brain, and often a wiser one” (p.32). Late in his book Nuland states the obvious, “The getting of wisdom is, of course, a process, and it has no end point.” He continues, “The wisdom that we seek with age is not something that comes without effort, nor is it unearned consolation for the passage of years. Rather, it is the result of reflecting” (p. 253).

In reading Nuland’s observations I’m sure you can see how at the age of 68 I am encouraged by what he writes. I think I am using my aging brain well; I also believe I’m still in the process of getting wisdom; and with the continued passage of years I find myself reflecting more and more. No matter what your age, I hope you are encouraged.

I realize this is an out of ordinary blog post, and I thank you for reading it. Let’s all be open to and look for words of caution, words of challenge, and words of encouragement.

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A REMINDER ABOUT REALITY

We’re only four days into this week and I’m feeling like we’ve been reminded about reality.

It began on the first day of the week (Sunday) with the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. Whether you are an NBA, Lakers, or Kobe fan or not, I’m sure you have a sense of his greatness as a basketball player. There have been many tributes to Kobe since his passing on the news and from individuals who admired him.

What has impressed and encouraged me is the reports of how much Kobe grew and matured the last few years. Since his retirement he had been doing many good things and contributing in many ways. No matter what anyone thought about him as a player, I think everyone would agree that Kobe’s death at the age of 41 is a huge loss.

But it was not just Kobe who died in the accident. There were eight others, including one of Kobe’s daughters, who were killed in the crash.

Sunday night I learned of another unexpected death that understandably did not get the attention of the day’s earlier death. The father of a longtime friend and ministry partner of mine passed away early Sunday morning. He was in his late 70s, but his death (as was Kobe’s) was unexpected. And like Kobe’s family, friends, and fans, my friend’s dad left family and friends to grieve his loss.

This week I have had multiple conversations with members of our church’s senior population about hospital visits and medical procedures. Some of the reports have been more encouraging than others.

The reality is that all of us are going to face and deal with problems of all kinds including health issues and eventually death (if Jesus doesn’t return first). And with regard to death, we won’t know the how or when until it happens. Both Kobe’s passing, and my friend’s dad’s death, remind us of that.

In my conversations with people about death I usually tell them I’m prepared, but not ready. I realize some hear that as a contradiction, but what I mean is that if I die unexpectedly I am prepared, but at the age of 68 I’m not really ready as I hope to keep going for a while.

One final thought about reality that should encourage us: “Biblical faith insists that God doesn’t love us because we’re worthy; we have worth and value because God loves us” (Peter W. Marty). Hallelujah!

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THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF AGING

When I retired in 2014 I bought and read a variety of books about retirement to learn as much as I could about my transition. A lot of what I read was informative and helpful, and I wrote some blog posts about retirement.

Since officially retiring I have continued to work part time and for the last couple of years have had the privilege of being Pastor to Senior Adults at our church. A couple of weeks ago in our Encore Bible Study we began a study of what comes after retirement: aging.

While we are digging into a variety of Bible passages, we are also reading and discussing a book by J.I. Packer entitled FINISHING OUR COURSE WITH JOY: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. The title says much about its content and the brief 99 pages are giving us seniors a lot to think and talk about.

Yesterday we began our meeting with several participants answering Packer’s question, “How should we view the onset of old age?” Packer suggests “The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss” (p. 14). Someone in our group wisely noted “it is inevitable.” In one of his books (written over 35 years ago) Charles Swindoll affirms “The fact is that all of us are getting older. There is no getting around it.” Most of us, I’m sure, are more open to aging than we would be to the alternative.

There are a couple of unvarnished assessments of aging in the Old Testament. One is by a man named Barzillai in II Samuel 19:31-37a. I find his evaluation to be pretty negative. A better known assessment is from the wise man Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. Using a variety of metaphors he describes the process of loss in aging. You can go to a commentary for help with the metaphors, but here is the passage from New International Version:

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

For those who may be interested, Psalm 71 is a noteworthy read as well in what Derek Kidner calls “A Psalm for Old Age.”

In my collateral reading for our study of Packer’s book I also read an older book by Sherwin B. Nuland entitled The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being. I think his observations give us some things to think about in terms of aging:

“Nothing is accomplished by soft-pedaling the physical and emotional realities of aging” (p. 10).

“. . . individual men and women age at different rates” (p. 23).

“Aging is not a disease” (p. 24).

“It is not the adversity itself that determines the shape of the future, so much as our response to the adversity” (p. 114).

It seems obvious that one’s outlook and attitude is extremely important in terms of not only the onset of aging, but the process of aging. As the title of this post suggests, for most people aging will include both the good and enjoyable as well as the bad and troublesome.

At the age of 68 I’m into the process and mostly enjoying it. However, I also realize a lot of the things Ecclesiastes 12 looks forward to will be coming to me in the years ahead. My hope and prayer is that Packer’s book title will be true for me – that in the coming years God will allow me to finish my course with joy.

Hopefully whether you are young or old or in between, you too will stay on course and finish it with joy.

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