Coronavirus Can’t Cancel This

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I’m sure the powers that be in all the major US sports leagues and associations are expending as much brain power as they can muster to devise plans for salvaging their seasons. I wish them well. But the sad fact is that some of the things that are always there, year after year, may be missing from 2020’s calendar when all is said and done. Will the NBA and NHL be able to put some of kind of a period on their seasons and hold playoffs? Will the PGA be able to reschedule the Masters? Will MLB’s season come close to its usual 162 games? (Of course, with double-headers, they might just pull it off). What of NASCAR? And what’s to be said of the upstart XFL? This could not have hit at a worse time for them.

You may have tickets to concerts and plays that have been scheduled for months but will never happen now. Some carnivals, fairs, and festivals may decide to just pack it in for 2020. Some things may be rescheduled, which may cause people to say, “It’s not the same.” Other things will just be cancelled.

One thing that can never be cancelled is Easter. And, even though celebrating it online or in a parking lot may prompt cries of “It’s not the same,” those temporary logistics are merely differences in the trappings of Easter celebrations, not in the day itself. Easter is still here as much as it ever was because nothing can change the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and that is what the day celebrates.

Some people in this world never get to celebrate Easter in large public gatherings because they live in places where they have to meet in secret. But their Easter is no less than our Easter because their Lord is our Lord, and He is risen. You could be lost at sea, adrift in a lifeboat, and celebrate the fact that He is risen. You could be confined to your house with no visitors and no Internet and celebrate the fact that He is risen. You could be in a hospital with Covid-19, living out your last few days, and celebrate the fact that He is risen.

Covid-19 cannot cancel Easter because nothing can cancel Easter. All Covid-19 can do is alter the way we celebrate the resurrection, and that could actually be a good thing. Perhaps this year, when we are unable to have the Easter dresses and bonnets, Easter banners and flags, choir cantatas, packed-out pews, and all the other things we may associate with Easter, we will be forced to focus on the One Easter is about–the One who breathed His last on the cross and then walked out of the tomb alive on the third day, dying in our place and rising in a victory that we share if we have received Him.

And even if Easter celebrations as we know them were to go away forever, Easter can still assure our hearts that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we who know Him will spend eternity worshiping at His throne, which will be off-the-charts good, like nothing we have ever known.

On Being a Neighbor During Covid-19

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“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” –Mark 12:31

I was walking our dog Poppy just now. It has turned into a very windy day. On our earlier walk this morning, I noticed a breeze but not the wind I felt this time. I also had noticed on that earlier walk that one of our neighbors had hung up some spring-themed flags. There was a small one hanging from a little stand stuck into the ground, and there was a larger one hanging from a flag pole attached to the house. As Poppy and I had passed that house on that morning walk, I had smiled at the thought of spring.

On the afternoon walk that we just took, I noticed that the flags had blown off their stands and were lying in the yard. They appeared to be in danger of blowing down the street in the wind if they stayed there much longer, so I entered the yard and picked them up. Rather than knocking on the door, I figured I would just rehang them.

Poppy’s excitement at being in this yard for the first time had her pulling on the leash and making it difficult to use both hands. Nevertheless, I got the smaller flag rehung on the yard stand. The larger flag, though, would have required me to remove the flag pole from the side of the house. Since I have never actually met these neighbors, I did not want to spend all that time with my head right by one of their windows (and Poppy was trying to pull me into their flower bed!), so I secured the flag to the wrought iron railing that leads up to their door, knowing that they would find it there, and walked on.

As we walked, I could not help but think of news stories about how long Coronavirus lives on various surfaces. “How long did they say it lives on cloth? Oh, well.” And on we walked. Two blocks later, outside an auto mechanic’s shop at the far end of our block, I saw a tiny James-Bond-type, red, convertible sports car with what, from a distance, looked like an awning blown against it. As I got closer, I found that it was a large, torn-open, cardboard box. I thought about how it might have staples in it or some other thing that could scratch the car’s paint. So I opened the door to the shop and stuck my head in, telling the young man on duty what I had found. We were at a safe distance until he rushed to the door, thanking me very much and coming within two or three feet of me. I backed out of his way, which put us back at a safe distance. He thanked me again, and Poppy and I turned for home.

As we headed for our house at the other end of the block, I started thinking: “Hmmm. I touched the doorknob to the shop and had the young man come within two or three feet of me. This was after I had touched the two flags, stand, flag pole, and stair railing. Is that a cough I feel coming on?”

Once we got home, I had to touch my keys and doorknob with my potentially contaminated hands. I took off Poppy’s leash, gave her some cheese for being a good girl on her walk, and headed straight to the bathroom sink for 20 seconds of handwashing. “Is that a postnasal drip thing I feel starting?”

There is no doubt we need to continue taking precautions during this time. But I find it sad that the simple act of being a neighbor–one who seeks to love his neighbor as the Word teaches–could carry with it such a sense of apprehension. But I think we need to maintain a sense of neighborliness, lest our six-foot safe zones lead us into fear and suspicion and then on to isolation. As my friend Michael wrote in a devotional he penned about how “physical distance” would be a better term than “social distance,” to love our neighbors, “we can reach out with phone calls, with conversations from across the street, with email and texts, with handwritten letters, with every means we can think of to stay socially connected.” Those are good words.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. May it also be a neighborly day in the beauty wood.

Our Changeless God in Uncertain Times

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I’m staring out our living room window at the tops of some trees across the way. Those trees look the same as they do in late March of any given year. Our lives have changed during this pandemic. There is apprehension in the hearts of those around us, maybe in our own hearts. But the trees look the same as they always do.

Even moreso the Creator of trees, in whom there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And on a more personal level, nothing can separate us from His love for us–not “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:35)–“for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Those are wonderful assurances for people who know God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord is a powerful focal point when navigating uncertain times like these. In fact, He is a powerful focal point for all times and places, for He keeps in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on Him, the one who trusts in Him (Isaiah 26:3).

The Fickle Treasures of this World

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See what havoc is wreaked on the treasures of this world by a microscopic virus. The markets falling. Planes keeping their schedules with empty cabins. Grand stages on which man is tempted to play out his own glory–NBA courts, March Madness arenas, Major League Baseball diamonds, PGA tour tournaments–are shut down until further notice. Vast riches and praise that the eyes can behold–stifled by something that cannot be seen without a microscope. Thus is the fickle nature of the things of this world.

Jesus said not to lay up treasures on earth (see Matthew 6:19-20). Those treasures can be eaten by moths, be stolen by thieves, or simply wear out. Indeed, a microscopic virus can take them, too. Instead, Jesus said, lay up treasures in heaven–eternal treasures that can never be stolen or destroyed and will never wear out.

Having nice things (including money) in this world is not the issue here. Some godly people who are cast in a positive light in the Scriptures had such things. Others did not. The issue, though, is, what are those things to you? Are they blessings over which you exercise good stewardship to the glory of God, or are they the treasures of your heart? Jesus went on to say in v.21 of the above passage, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If you treasure the things of this world, they will capture your heart and can easily become idols. They can become gods to you. And fickle gods they are, too. You could have them all and yet forfeit your soul for lack of a pursuit of the true God through faith in Jesus Christ, a scenario of which Jesus asked, what does it profit such a person (Mark 8:36). You could have them all and one day die with them all still in your possession. You may think the one who dies with the most toys wins; but you still die, and then comes the judgment. Or you could have them all and lose them quickly from the havoc wreaked by a microscopic virus. You can’t even see the doggoned thing; if you contract it, you may do no more than cough and sneeze for a few days and wonder, “What’s the big deal?” And yet, for what that virus is doing to the fear-prone sensitivities of the world, it could cause you to lose it all. Such is the fickle nature of the treasures of this world.

But there is something that is not fickle. It is rock solid. It is what caused the apostle Paul to say “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him (i.e., Christ) who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). So certain was Paul’s faith in Jesus for eternal treasures that he pressed on through much suffering for Christ–beatings, imprisonment, etc.–and declared, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12).

The certainty that Paul had was not for him alone. It is for all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, trusting the sacrifice He made on the cross to pay for your sins against God. It is such faith that causes Paul to say, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to ALL who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

No virus can take away the things of which Paul speaks. In fact, nothing can take it away (John 10:28; Romans 8:1, 31-39; 2 Timothy 2:13). To trust in the cross-work of Jesus Christ is to trust in that which paid our debt in full (“It is finished,” Jesus said just before dying). To receive Jesus is to be given the right to become a child of God (John 1:12). It is to be born again by the mercy of God into a living hope and “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Faith in Jesus is faith in the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). There is nothing fickle about that.

Quiet, Reverent Respect

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When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.”

(1 Kings 6:7)

When the first temple was constructed in Jerusalem, King Solomon gave orders that the stones to be used should be prepared at the quarry and not at the building site (1 Kings 5:17-18). There would be no loud banging of tools echoing through the temple as it went up. There is something striking about that. The quietness of it makes me think of words like reverence and respect. The noise made by mere creatures would not fill the air in the building of the house dedicated to the Creator’s name.

The 21st-Century American church seems far removed from the quietness of such respect. When we gather in our local versions of the Lord’s house, we often fill the air with the sounds of our self-promoting voices. We promote our superior worship services and children’s ministries and all the other things we offer. Of course, it is helpful for members and attenders to know what is going on–what ministries are available for them. But there is a line we sometimes cross where we move from being informative to making a sales pitch. “Check out all the things we have to offer, and you are sure to want to stay with us rather than some other church.” We become fine with the idea of other churches losing people that we might gain them. How much of the noise in the sanctuary is devoted to such self-promotion?

I never heard any of this in the church when I was growing up. What I did hear in the sanctuary on the occasions where I arrived early was music playing quietly as people sat and prepared their hearts for worship. I don’t think I appreciated that beautiful quietness back then. But there is something about quieting ourselves in reverent respect for God that can turn our thoughts away from ourselves and onto a contemplation of His glory and of how that glory is why we are here.

The Effects of Sin on This World

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Every life–even the great lives–eventually becomes a testimony to the effects of sin upon this world. A case in point is King David. His was a life of great success and strong victories. God chose him as a boy to one day become King of Israel. Prior to becoming King, he would become a great warrior for God’s people, gaining numerous victories on the battlefield, including his most famous victory over the huge, battle-hardened Philistine warrior named Goliath. David would eventually succeed Saul as King and, while not perfect, would be a great King who generally reflected the heart of God. He is one of history’s examples of a great and successful man.

As great as David was, though, his life, too, would reach the point of being a testimony to the effects of sin upon this world. In the opening four verses of 1 Kings, we see David as an old man. This once great warrior and leader is now so frail that those close to him commission a young woman to lie at his bosom to keep him warm. While our modern minds might immediately think of this commission in terms of something sexual, the text makes it clear that it was not that. David simply needed a warm body to lie with him that he might be able to get warm. The once vigorous King was nearing death.

Death exists because of sin (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:19; Rom. 6:23). Whether we die young and unexpectedly or waste away to death at a good, old age, we all die. Hence, we all become testimonies to the ultimate effect of sin on this world–death.

But praise Jesus! He has overcome sin and death by taking our sin upon Himself, dying in our place on a cross, and rising from the dead victorious over sin and the grave. He gives that victory to everyone who believes on Him for it. Have you believed on Him as your Savior?

Our bodies may be declining, and we may all be heading toward our eventual death, but if our hope is in what Jesus has won for us, death will not have the last word. “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Far from Fading, It Only Intensifies

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I am sometimes surprised by how quickly the joys to be experienced in this world can fade. For instance, I think back to a day when, after more than forty years of playing golf, I finally holed out a full-swing shot from the fairway. I instinctively extended both arms straight up and let out a big “Woohoo!” I was excited to tell my wife about it a few minutes later, but the thrill of it had already begun to fade. It didn’t take long for that “woohoo” moment to become just another story to tell.

I remember years ago driving my wife and kids in a Ryder truck packed with all our belongings into Western Massachusetts to begin my first pastorate. The area is very beautiful, and I remarked to Nancy at the time that we were moving to a vacation paradise. But it didn’t take long for all that beauty to seem common – to become a barely-noticed background to our lives.

Have you ever had a meal in a restaurant that you were certain was the best meal you had ever eaten, and the next time you went to that restaurant you ordered the same meal and found it to be good, but not magically good like it had been before?

We humans seem to be constantly on a quest for the thrill, the joy, the satisfaction that lasts, only to discover time and again that the things this world has to offer–even the best of things–do not bring constant joy. And so we go looking for more, searching for something that satisfies and never fades, like Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper. But Willy Wonka is not real, and unfading joy does not exist in the things of this world.

There is something, though, that is new every morning:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Great is Your faithfulness!
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul.
“Therefore, I will hope in Him.”
(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)

The key is in making the LORD your portion–the Place where you seek satisfaction–the One who fills you up. The world’s offerings are like bags of chips; you keep shoveling them into your mouth but are never satisfied. The LORD is like three hearty, nutritious meals, and when you get up in the morning, the table is set for a new day. When you know Him through faith in Jesus, spend time with Him through prayer, learn from Him through the Bible, and walk with Him in obedience and ongoing confession of sin, the world may still knock you down, but the LORD will pick you up–He will lift you up–He will fill you up–day after day after day.