Posts Tagged With: coronavirus

New Beginnings

“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:18–21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

In a recent article, former Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady asked his readers, “Have You Set Your ‘GPS’ for 2021?” In this case, GPS stands for Goals, Prophetic word, and Special prayer.

I generally do not make New Year’s resolutions. I believe Christians should be ready to make changes any time that God directs them. Lent and Advent are good times to seek His will in a way that can change our plans and purposes. Yet this article—especially the part about the prophetic word—spoke to me:

“Sometimes God gives me a verse from the Bible. Other times I get a phrase or simply one word. As I was praying for 2021, for example, the Lord said, ‘This will be a year of reaping.’ He also spoke to me from Habakkuk 3:17–18 that I must rejoice even when I don’t see fruit.”

Grady is not urging us to just pick a word or phrase that we like and “claim” it for ourselves. Instead, I am sure that he means that we should listen to the Spirit of God to speak while we read the Bible and pray. If God has a word for us, He will speak to our hearts while we study Scripture and seek Him in prayer, praise, and worship.

The phrase the Lord spoke to my heart was “new beginnings.” Several passages of Scripture guided me to this even before reading Grady’s article. The article simply confirmed and reinforced that I should recognize this as a word from God to me for 2021. Perhaps God may be speaking a similar message to you as well.

Many of us saw our lives flipped upside-down in 2020. My church held all worship services online for several months, with drive-up curbside communion available. When we could finally meet again, with limited attendance, I found that some friends had experienced drastic life changes as a result of the state’s stay-at-home order: Some were forced into early retirement; others were unemployed; others had their hours and wages severely cut; some who were self-employed had to make significant adjustments in how they conducted their business; some, including myself, were able to continue working full-time jobs with full-time pay while working from home. With all of the changes in our lives, it was easy to feel like we were exiles in a foreign land while locked up in our own homes.

For me, there were other changes in 2020. All of my church activities were placed on hold when we ceased worshiping in person. Most of them have not resumed as we have limited attendance due to social distancing. As a former assistant pastor who has been very active in the church for his entire adult life, this has been a painful change.

Personal habits also changed for me in 2020. When my company initially closed the office and ordered everybody to work at home, we thought it could be for only two weeks. Like many others, I treated it like a semi-vacation: Continued working but slept later, relaxed, stopped working out, etc. Although we have been home for 10 months (and my company will not return to the office until July at the earliest), I have not resumed normal activity. I used to go to the gym at my company’s building two or three times per week, but exercise has fallen by the wayside. Social life has declined. In-person midweek church activities have ceased, as well as Saturday brunch with a few longtime friends I have known since high school or earlier.

I am sure each of you has similar stories about how life has changed. Maybe the details are different, but most people I know can list ways their work, social activities, church involvement, and other aspects of their lives were disrupted in 2020.

Life may return to some form of normal in 2021. Vaccines are available, and many experts are optimistic that the new coronavirus will cease to be a major public health threat soon. Perhaps social distancing restrictions will relax soon. Maybe restrictions on public gatherings will relax and churches can fill to capacity again. Maybe we will be allowed into stores without wearing masks.

Photo by form PxHere.

Some things will not return, though. Some people’s pre-coronavirus jobs are gone forever. Companies went out of business when they were forced to close “temporarily.” We may have adopted new habits, good and bad. Temporary changes in worship format or ministries may become permanent.

Instead of viewing such changes as a loss, we can see them as open doors for new beginnings.

The future remains uncertain, but it does not have to be gloomy. Old opportunities have ceased, but God is the Lord of new beginnings. I am currently in training to serve in a pastoral caregiving ministry. I will remain open to any other new doors God may open for me. This can include seeking new avenues as a writer.

Life will continue to change for all of us in 2021, but we do not have to be caught unprepared. We can prepare ourselves for the new beginnings God has planned for us. Perhaps you can prepare yourself by spending time in prayer and asking God to search your heart and life with the following questions:

  • What have I stopped doing since the pandemic began? Did it cause changes in your home life, work, social activities, church involvement, etc.?
  • How many of these changes were voluntary and how many were forced upon me by others? I cannot choose to return to the office next week, but I can find a new way to exercise without the gym. I have a kettlebell and exercise video that can provide a suitable replacement for treadmills and weightlifting machines.
  • Which activities can I resume doing exactly as I did before the coronavirus lockdowns? Which can I resume with some simple adjustments? Some of my friends are not comfortable gathering at a diner on Saturday morning. Would they be open to scheduling a Zoom session so that we can have a few laughs and catch up with each other online while enjoying our coffee and bagels?
  • What new things is God calling me to do? Let us each remain open to hearing His voice and seeking new opportunities throughout the year.

The ancient Jews endured 70 years of exile in Babylon around 2500 years ago. Eventually, God returned them to their homeland, but life was never the same. Synagogue worship and the ministry of rabbis grew out of the aftermath of that exile. It created the religious environment into which Jesus was born and raised. His ministry would have been very different if His ancestors had not endured that exile. Likewise, our lives will be different after the current pandemic ends, but that does not mean we will be worse off. This can be an opportunity for new and better things. God is leading us into a season of new beginnings. Are we ready to follow Him?

How has life and your relationship with God changed in the last ten months? What new beginnings do you think God has in store for you? Does God has a prophetic word for your life in 2021? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

2020: The Year So Far

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:1; all scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

Four months ago, I shared a New Year’s Day post in which I referred to 2020 as “The Year of Vision.” 20/20 is considered perfect vision in optometry. It seemed to me like 2020 would be a great year to re-examine God’s vision for our lives. What is He calling us to do? What passions has He given us? What is our purpose? I wrote:

As we begin 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

Surely none of us saw the past seven weeks coming! In spiritual matters, 20/20 vision is usually reserved for the past. The future remains cloudy. Many people approach a new year with optimism, hoping the next 12 months will be filled with blessings and lacking the difficulties of the previous year. However, nobody expected “self-quarantine” to become a trendy phrase. Fewer knew what “social distancing” meant. Only armed robbers would have thought “I’d better put a mask on before I walk into that store!”

With that in mind, let us revisit that New Year’s message with the following observations and lessons from the year so far:

Prepare for anything. Expect the unexpected. We have all learned the value of being prepared. Less than two weeks before New York instituted stay-at-home orders, my wife and I bought toilet paper at a wholesale club. This store does not sell standard four- or six-roll packages. There, toilet paper comes in bulk packages of over 20 rolls. We ended up buying a 32-roll package that day. My wife wondered if we really needed it. I figured that since we have room to store it, and it will not spoil, we might as well go for the best price-per-roll package. We had no way of knowing that, two weeks later, many of our friends would be going crazy trying to find toilet paper in the store. I think we are set!

My broken glasses can be seen as a good description of the Year of Vision so far. (Photo by the author.)

Even earlier than that, about a year ago I bought new eyeglasses and decided to keep my old frames with new lenses, as a spare pair for emergencies. That proved to be a wise decision. About one week after “nonessential businesses” were closed, one of my lenses fell out of my glasses. The frame had popped loose (I think one of the screws broke). Unfortunately, eyeglass stores are considered nonessential (although liquor stores are “essential”). Fortunately, though, I have a backup. I can wear my old-frame-with-new-lenses glasses until I am able to get my newer frame repaired or replaced.

In both cases, the lesson is the same: You never know what the future holds. Be prepared for anything.

That does not justify the people who hoarded 6000 rolls of toilet paper, leaving their neighbors trying to figure out how to handle their hygiene needs. That brings us to the next point.

Look out for others. Our choices affect others. Like many other cultural crises, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed divisions in our society. Government regulation vs. individual choice and liberty; the needs of the many vs. the rights of the individual. Economic prosperity vs. public health has become the great conflict now. Many people throw themselves to one side of each issue, but often the best decision addresses both sides.

I can easily make excuses not to wear a mask in public. I am healthy. I do not feel any symptoms. I have not been close to anybody who showed any signs of sickness. I have a pretty strong immune system. Honestly, in a way, I would want to catch this disease already so I can build up antibodies and get it over with!

However, I do not know what kind of risk I would bring to others. I live in an apartment building with about 200 or so other tenants. What if I catch this disease and leave germs on the doors, in the elevators, in the stairwell? I might be okay; what about some of my neighbors with health issues?

Similar questions will come up all of our lives. It may be magnified during a crisis, but we always should remember that we have to balance our perceived rights against the needs of those around us:

“[D]o not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

This time should have allowed most of us some time for self-examination. I have had some extra time: although I am working from home, I do not have my commute to and from work every day (about 45 minutes to an hour each way), and a lot of other activities are canceled. I have had more time to read, pray, and reflect. I suspect of you have had more free time as well I am learning a few lessons:

  • Patience is not one of my strongest attributes. When Advent began in early December, I urged readers to pick out one area of weakness to bring before the Lord for deliverance. Patience has always been one of my weaknesses, and this “shelter in place” order has tested it. As many have said before: be careful about asking God for patience! He will allow circumstances to come your way to test it. What areas of weakness, emotional or spiritual strongholds, or sins have been brought to the forefront at this time? Take a look back at the “One Year, One Thing” challenge and see if there is something God wants to work on in your life.
  • This season has reminded me of the need to serve the Lord in a spirit of obedience and submission. I may not get to do the things I enjoy doing as much. One ministry that has gotten busy has been participating in our emergency prayer chain. It is probably the least visible ministry I am part of, yet it has become busier while most other ministries are essentially on hold. I have also been asked to participate in online-focused ministries. May God’s will be done. There are still ways to worship God, serve His church, and fellowship with other believers. We need to look for opportunities, but they are there. Participate in an online worship service; bring groceries to somebody who cannot get to a store; call a friend who needs to hear another voice.

The coronavirus crisis has been an endurance test for many of us. What have you learned about yourself and about God? Feel free to share a comment!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

[PS—If you are looking for an online worship service, you can visit my church at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM ET on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Balanced Christian Response to Coronavirus

The previous post looked at some of our responses to Covid-19 and the resulting isolation it created. In the midst of the humor, there are some grim facts to face. As of April 12, 2020, at 2:07 AM GMT, there were 1,780,312 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide, according to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. The United States has the most cases by far (532,879). Over one-third of America’s cases, and more than one-tenth of the confirmed global cases, are in New York State (161,504), and Nassau County, where I live, is currently the hardest-hit area. The official worldwide mortality rate (total deaths per 100 confirmed cases) is over 6% (108,827 deaths), while the mortality rate in the USA is approaching 4% (20,577 deaths). Both percentages will probably be even higher, since the number of confirmed cases includes people who currently have the disease, some of whom will die before all is said and done. In addition, some deaths may not be counted in this tally if the person was not diagnosed while alive, and many more people may be dying from other illnesses, either due to the strain on the healthcare system or sick people’s inability or unwillingness to obtain medical attention. The number of deaths at home has increased by about 200 per day in New York City during the Covid-19 crisis, some of whom may have had undiagnosed cases of the disease, while others did not get the care they needed for other life-threatening conditions.

Such numbers can seem cold and meaningless. It can hit home more clearly when we make it personal. Some experts claimed that Covid-19 would infect 50-70% of the population within a very short period of time without social isolation measures. So, imagine the 100 people you care most about: family, friends, co-workers, etc. Imagine if 70 of them caught this disease. Now, imagine if three or four of them die of it. Imagine that one or two other friends or loved ones do not get the care they need.

A lot of the complaints about social distancing do not consider that. Yes, it is a colossal inconvenience. People have been laid off or even lost jobs. People are going stir-crazy sitting around the house all day. This may set a precedent for future government intervention over a health threat. We should all hope our elected officials do not decide to seek such drastic measures during the next seasonal flu outbreak.

We need to consider all of these factors. We should walk in faith and wisdom, not in fear or carelessness.

We cannot take Covid-19 lightly. The mortality rate in America is high. People are dying, and we cannot ignore that fact.

On the other hand, we should not live in fear, especially as Christians. If I have to step outside, I bring a mask in case I am near other people, and I wash my hands frequently, keeping hand sanitizer with me always. Beyond that, I pray. I ask for the Lord to protect me and those close to me. I have a pretty strong immune system and will probably recover fairly quickly if I do catch the disease, but I do not want to pass it on to others who are less healthy.

Especially as Christians, we need that perspective. We serve a God who humbled Himself, sacrificing His very life for us. Are we willing to sacrifice a brief period of our lives and some comfort and convenience for others? For those of us who consider ourselves to be pro-life Christians, protecting the well-being of others should always be a priority.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Look Back at Lent: Coronavirus and Perspective

A recent post on this blog said “Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.” After several years of attending at least two church services between Holy Wednesday and Good Friday, in addition to Easter Sunday, this year’s church activity was reduced to watching live-streamed or taped services for my church, followed by drive-up curbside communion on Sunday morning. Most Americans—indeed, people in many countries—have been through a strange few weeks. The last few weeks have given us a most unusual Lent.

Americans have been urged to follow the above advice for most of Lent. Christians can use it as an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord. Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Many Christians give something up for Lent, perhaps a favorite food or activity. I usually give up donuts, cakes, and pastries. However, beginning on March 16, my company’s CEO told us to give up coming into the office; we would work from home until further notice. Within a few days, President Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered and/or advised all citizens to take more strict measures to stay at home. I have started to joke that I could have given up wearing pants instead of eating donuts. (I realize that is not practical. Apparently, most businesses that sell donuts expect you to be fully clothed.)

Many people have used humor to cope with the anxiety caused by Covid-19 and social distancing. If you are on Facebook, your news feed probably contains a medley of memes joking about the situation interspersed with politically-oriented rants about whom to blame, fears and worries about possible exposure, prayer requests for those battling the disease, etc. I admit that I have joined in sharing some of the amusing memes. However, I feel for those who have lost jobs or loved ones or are battling illness.

It can be easy to give in to fear, paranoia, panic, and worry. Satan loves to fill our hearts with anxiety. Humor gives us a chance to remind ourselves that there is something positive even in the worst moments. It also allows our minds a few moments of escape from the fear. There is a famous, albeit controversial, scene at the end of the movie Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The film is a spoof of Bible-based about a man named Brian, who was born next door to Jesus on the same day, who throughout his life is mistaken for the Messiah. At the end of the movie, while Brian is being crucified, the man hanging next to him breaks into a perky, upbeat song entitled “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Optimists will find something positive in any situation. I tend to see the ironic, the absurd, or the silly in almost everything I see, which is usually my best defense against seeing every setback as a catastrophe. Recently, after using a bandana in lieu of a face mask while buying food, I posted on Facebook that “I never thought I would see the day that I would wear a bandana over my face in a convenience store!” The humorous irony, that this protective measure would have been considered an armed robber’s modus operandi just a few weeks ago, makes it a bit easier for me to accept this inconvenience.

While seeking comic relief, perhaps we could also have used our season of isolation as a time for reflection. I believe it is no accident that many of us were quarantining ourselves during a season when the Church invites us to contemplation and self-examination. We have had an opportunity to examine ourselves. Have we done that successfully? Has our perspective on Covid-19 been guided by Christian faith and a biblical worldview, or has it been guided by personal biases, selfishness, fear, anger, etc.?

We hope and pray that the spread of the virus will slow down soon and people can return to work and other activities that have been canceled. In the meantime, let us use this season of solitude as a chance to examine ourselves and renew our faith and devotion to Jesus. Lent is over; Covid-19 is still here. Jesus is still on the throne, and we still have time to seek Him and use this time as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Him.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Christian’s Mission in a Time of Social Distancing

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Images of coronavirus. From https://www.scientificanimations.com via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons copyright.

It seems ironic that most Americans spent the second half of Lent in self-isolation due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic spreading across the country and around the world. At a time when the church has historically called believers to a season of contemplation and self-examination, many of the other things that occupy our attention—movies, sports, social activities, and even work for many of us—have been stripped away.

However, it was also predictable that, sooner or later, somebody would use this tragedy as an opportunity to proclaim the wrath of God. As with any major disaster, self-proclaimed prophets step forward to tell us that Covid-19 is an “act of God” to judge sin.

Let us be careful there. I personally know only a handful of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 so far. Most of them are committed Christians. My wife has a college friend who, for several weeks, was fighting for his life before beginning to slowly recover. He is a missionary. If God is trying to judge sin, it sounds like He is confused and keeps missing His targets.

Such attempts to pronounce God’s wrath have a terrible habit of backfiring. I saw a headline about an Israeli politician who claimed God sent the disease to judge homosexuals; he has now contracted the disease. Several years ago, one church pronounced that God is judging America because of homosexuality by sending a devastating tornado to Joplin, MO. At the time, I proposed that this must have meant that He could not figure out how to smite both San Francisco and Greenwich Village at the same time, so He just picked a place about halfway between them. Similar claims were made about Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and other natural disasters.

By the “God’s judgment” logic, people with Covid-19 are worse or more evil than those who do not catch it. Perhaps those people who die from it must be in hell. The only other rational conclusion from this logic is that God is an unjust buffoon unworthy of our worship. This is pure nonsense.

Godly Christian wisdom and the love of Christ should prohibit us from making such proclamations. No matter how customary it has become in Christian circles to try to connect current events with end-time prophecy or God’s judgment, this is not our job. The Christian’s calling is not to proclaim God’s wrath but to reveal His mercy.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:6–8).

Like many Christians in Bible study groups today, the disciples asked the Risen Christ a question that could be rephrased as, “How does all of this tie in with the end times? Is God going to finally judge the Romans?” Jesus’ response was essentially, “That is not your business. Don’t worry about it. Your job is to preach the Gospel.” Around that time, He gave this instruction:

“Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:44–49).

This was their mission. As we conclude Lent, celebrate Easter, and continue to face the challenges posed by Covid-19, our mission as Christians is the following:

  1. To continue in self-examination: Instead of seeing God’s hand of wrath in Covid-19, I am more inclined to take notice that God allowed this to happen in America during Lent. Many of us were cloistered in our homes. Even most essential workers who continued to go to work 40 hours a week were forced to spend more time at home than normal. This was a prime time to devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, a personal moral inventory, etc. Did we do that? Did we spend more time with God, or more time with Facebook and Netflix?
  2. To proclaim the Gospel: That Gospel is summarized by Jesus in Luke 24:44–49. He has died and risen from the dead. We proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we were on Facebook, did we share this Gospel, or did we try to find somebody to blame for this disease (perhaps an entire ethnic or racial group)?
  3. To serve others in whatever ways we can: If you are able to go to a store, have you purchased or delivered food or other essentials to people who are unable to leave their homes? Have you called friends or family who could be in need to make sure they are okay? When there is a natural disaster, epidemic, or pandemic, we must commit to serving those who are afflicted; we do not have the right or authority to judge them or analyze what God is doing to them. Perhaps there is little you can do at this time. If you cannot serve others right now, it is a good time to ask God, “How can I help others when life begins to return to normal?”

It is not wise to try to figure out where God is whenever misfortune strikes. Instead, we should make sure that we remain in the center of God’s will, no matter what the circumstances are. Our mission is simple: To proclaim the Gospel at all times and to use words when necessary. Those words should be words of grace. In a world where people are living with fear and anxiety, words of judgment and condemnation bring no relief. Those who are bound by fear need to know that there is a God who loves them even when the entire world seems to have turned against them.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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