Posts Tagged With: coronavirus

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

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

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




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

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