When orders started coming out to avoid groups larger than 250, then 50, then 10, many organizations were affected. The NBA season ended almost immediately, NCAA’s March Madness tournament was canceled, Major League Baseball has yet to have opening day, concerts have been canceled, and theaters have sat empty for a month. Churches are also place where regular meetings of more than 10 people occur, and they were affected as well. And, while sport and concert tickets can be refunded, and movie release dates pushed back, very few churches have chosen to go completely idle during this time.
Some people may just accept it. Others, though, may wonder why, and some people may completely not understand. If you can rewatch your favorite series on Netflix, why not rewatch or relisten to your favorite sermon? Nearly everyone owns at least one Bible, and even if not, Bible Gateway is free! Just read the Bible for yourself! In this installment, we’ll look at the concept of “church during a pandemic” from the Christian worldview, and see why its practitioners feel it is essential.
Scripture Commands and Exemplefies It
The best-known verse cited as a reason to gather regularly is Hebrews 10:25, presented here in context with verse 24:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
We also see it in the example of the early church, meeting together every day!
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is far from exhaustive (remember the “bite-sized” nature of these posts), but from these origins, believers have regularly met together. And, while I’m not aware of a church that has the full Sunday morning treatment every day of the week, there are churches that have activities nearly every day. These activities help believers obey this command and follow the example of those who came before us.
An interesting companion study of Scripture is to study times where Christians did not meet together, or where they adjusted their techniques due to government persecution. That would push this way longer than I’ve planned to write, but there are examples of people separating themselves for sickness, and of abandoning the temple for smaller gatherings in homes. I know of no orthodox Christians who have continued their normal services during these times.
Christians Need It
Notice that, in the above two passages, there was more than just a command or an example - there was a recognized or promised benefit. In Hebrews, believers meet together to stir up each other towards love and good works, and in Acts, they had glad and generous hearts. Meeting together with other believers was commanded because God knew that we, as Christians, would need those benefits. In one of his earliest recorded letters, Paul is discussing various spiritual gifts, and this is what he says as he concludes that discussion:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Christians can get these benefits virtually, and many have been. Prior to this, we would have scoffed at Zoom Sunday School classes; now, we are grateful for the tools that allow us to stay connected. I can’t remember who I first heard say “the Internet is a terrible place to go to church” (and they were right), but in a pinch, it’s been a great way to continue in fellowship with other believers. (Once this all goes away, these go back to being true; in-person is still preferable. There are many benefits these tools don’t provide.)
We All Need Hope
This is a dark time for many people. They have lost jobs and have no idea where money is coming from next week. They have lost loved ones, and weren’t even able to see them for the last weeks of their lives. They are depressed, the normal routine of a life they enjoyed exchanged for a house that feels like a jail. These are not people who need to “suck it up” and get over it – these are people with real, genuine hurts, and the world offers them very little in the way of comfort or hope.
Jesus, though, offers hope to hurting people. He spent His entire earthly ministry “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We, as the church, carry on His ministry today; but how can we offer hope if all we have is a greatest hits playlist? Hurting people need acceptance, a listening ear, and kind words; these pre-recorded messages may have truth, but struggling people “don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Jesus offers salvation, which addresses the root of all of our problems, and He offers hope and peace between here and Heaven; we are the ambassadors He’s trusted to share that message.
Churches also need to meet to mobilze help where it may be needed. Most churches have several members who struggle to get out and get the things they need when nothing is wrong; under these conditions, they simply can’t do it. Most churches also have able-bodied, healthy members who can care for those who are struggling. We cannot build up the body (physically or spiritually) if we do not know the needs.
So, that is why you see churches live-streaming, driving CDs around, renting FM transmitters to let people park at the church and attend from their cars – it is that important. And, I’ll wrap up with a bit of afflicting the comfortable – shouldn’t our “salt and light” be so self-evident that no one wonders why we’re still meeting?
As I enter week 5 of working from home, our nation is walking through its 2nd month – and the world is wrapping up its 3rd month – dealing with SARS-CoV-2 (AKA “novel coronavirus 2019,” the virus behind COVID-19). Responses to this virus are testing Americans’ worldviews like nothing else in our current lifetime. Things are moving fast, and scientists and doctors are learning how to fight a new disease on-the-fly, while the fatality rate continues to creep up, and is at 3%+ as of this writing. Authoring a definitive tome on the entire thing is outside my abilities (and time constraints), but I thought I would write about some individual aspects, and consider how each one meshes with my understanding of a proper Christian worldview.
This first one came to my mind as I wondered “what form of government is best at handling this?” As I’ve read about various efforts at prevention and management from around the world, the answer to which I arrived was “none of them.” To be fair, some countries have fared better than others; but, to also be fair, comparing countries is a pretty terrible way to understand this pandemic. Communist countries, socialist nations, democracies, and republics have all fallen victim to this disease, especially in their larger population centers. No nation has been able to prevent the initial spread of this virus into their borders.
This does not match the expectations many people are levying on those governments. The clamoring has been loud and long for tests and treatments, and many of these people seem to think that government can just have these things at the ready, long before a need for them arises. They have a view of government and science that simply does not jibe with reality. When doctors make harmless mistakes, or miss a diagnosis that they eventually catch, we sometimes joke that “that’s why it’s called medical practice.” But, in reality, that is exactly why the term exists. To be sure, there is established science and a body of medical knowledge that, were its practitioners to ignore, they would be considered negligent. However, there is always the possibility that a doctor is encountering something that is either unknown, or presenting differently than current wisdom or protocols suggest.
Even if the medical care was there, though, the Federal government is wholly inept at doing anything, on a large scale, quickly and correctly. This is not a knock on it per se, and deeper discussions of government, both good and bad, will appear in future installments. The biggest reason for this broad statement is simply its size; it is nearly impossible to get a large organization to do anything quickly, much less something as large as a national response to this crisis. Think of the RMS Titanic - there is a reason they couldn’t avoid the iceberg, even though they spotted it before they struck it.
So, how does the Christian worldview address this? Quite simply - “duh!” Of course we are not in control. This world is fallen, cursed with sin, and subject to all manners of calamities.* Job experienced a lot of calamities, and asked God a lot of questions. When God came to answer him, though, He asserted His sovereignty over this entire planet:
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2 "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”
We trust that God is continuing to work His will on this earth, whether through a pandemic or in spite of it; and, we also trust that He is big enough to protect us through it, and give us wisdom as we navigate these changing times. We also give thanks that God’s size does not affect Him the way it does our human institutions.
* As I finish writing this, I’ve learned that my high school alma mater was devastated by a tornado overnight; be praying for Grace Baptist Church and Academy, and all of those throughout the southeast who lost something much more precious than a building.
Another American election year has come and gone. Four years ago, many thought our nation made a great stride in electing our first black president, and that we had eliminated racism. We didn’t get very far into the following year before we realized that no, there was no substantive change; anyone who was opposed to the president’s policies must be motivated by racism. Would 2012 bring any changes? I believe it did, and not the way we could have predicted at its start.
We are at a point in this country where the accusation of racism is a joke. (Read that closely - the accusation is the joke.) “I don’t like my coffee black.” “RACIST!” (As it happens, I do, SO THERE!) There’s even an entire meme based around it. More and more Americans are seeing these overhyped charges of racism, looking at the actual thing accused, and realizing that the racism just isn’t there. Noticing differences among ethnicities and cultures is not racist; in fact, if we don’t notice these differences, how in the world are we going to incorporate them into the American melting pot/salad bowl?
Alfonzo Rachel, host of ZoNation, made an interesting point in his video released after the Republican National Convention in September. The whole thing’s good, but the crazy part starts at 3:01.
If you can’t watch the video, it’s a clip of MSNBC’s convention coverage, starting with a soliloquy from Touré.
But more to what I want to talk about - two main points. You know, he loves this line of “our rights come from God and nature” which is so offensive to so much of America, because for black people, Hispanic people, and women, our rights do not come from God or nature. They were not recognized by the natural order of America, they come from the government and from legislation that happened in relatively recent history in America. So that line just bothers me to my core.
You want to talk about offensive lines, sir? You just dropped one. That has got to be some of the most ridiculous talk I have ever heard. It’s almost like you believe that the Constitution created God! God-given rights are rights whether a government recognizes them or not, and this is not limited to America; our founders merely recognized these rights that are inherent to all humans.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I’ve been to Georgia and Mississippi pretty recently, and I’m pretty sure I saw people of all races living, working, and playing together harmoniously. I don’t see anything in that speech about government being the grantor of rights; in fact, it almost looks like he’s referencing the white-guy-written Declaration of Independence as if it’s a good thing. Huh. If Touré wants to stand on the shoulders of a legacy, it certainly isn’t Dr. King’s.
The race card has been overplayed, to the point where it has lost its value. That, I believe, is a good thing; the only people keeping racism alive in this country today are those who claim to see it lurking in the shadows of every conservative’s innocent words. However, these continued accusations run the risk of causing a backlash, and becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s a guy I know who says “If I’m going to be accused of something, I want to be guilty;” if the innocent are going to be accused of racism, they may find little motivation to even try to be sensitive of those of other ethnicities or cultures. This could lead to the further coarsening of our societal debates, which would be a bad thing.
May modern-day racists continue to be exposed for the fools that they are, as the rest of us see Dr. King’s dream lived out in our nation.
Only a month late (when I originally wrote the bulk of this - now it’s more like 8 months late), this is the 8th annual “Sanctity of Human Life” post. It’s going to be a long one; please don’t TL;DR it. There’s too much to this topic to do it justice in 5 paragraphs, and putting it out in parts would invite debate and assumptions about the parts I’d left out. This post is free of my typical snark, and also free of (atypical for me) hyperbole; I am completely serious, and have reviewed my words to ensure they are the ones I intended to use. The premise is simply this - abortion is morally wrong (which we now know, given advances in medical science), and as such, should not be legal nor easy to obtain.
Let’s start with the framework within which I view the issue. I believe that man was created by God and placed here on this planet to live for His glory, and that He has given us the earth for our pleasure and enjoyment. I believe that evil exists in this world, that bad things happen, and that actions have consequences. I generally believe (though not always) in erring on the side of caution. I believe that, as God’s creation, all life is sacred. I believe that God has enabled man to discover many beneficial things in the area of medicine and health care, and I believe that He expects us to use this knowledge within the framework and principles laid out in His Word.
(I fully realize that many of you reading this may not agree with that framework. Feel free to debate about what appears below, but the above paragraph contains things that, for me, are past debate. I’ve heard the arguments against it, and I’m simply unconvinced.)
In looking back through my archives, the post entitied “Abortion: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Passed” was my 5th post on this blog. In this post from 2003, I mentioned (without citing) the medical advances that had happened since 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. This page has a good description of what happens day-by-day. At 21 days (3 weeks), the heart begins beating. With ovulation occurring 14 days after menstruation starts, and another 14 until it’s due to start again, a woman would likely not even realize she’s late before her baby’s heart is beating. 9 days later, at 30 days, this heart is circulating its own blood supply, completely separate from the mother’s, thanks to the placenta. Day 35, we’ve got a 5-fingered hand, and on day 40, we have brain waves. By one and one-half menstrual cycles, we’ve gone from nothing to a beating heart and brain waves.
Let’s look at what happens up to 12 weeks, which is when pretty much anyone who approves of abortion thinks it’s OK. The liver starts making blood cells, and the brain is controlling the limbs in week 6. Week 7 brings the jaw, tooth buds, and eyelids. Week 8, and I quote, “the fetus has everything found in a fully developed adult,” including stomach acid and a complete nervous system. Fingerprints, fingernails, and hair appear in week 9. In week 10, “the fetus can bend, stretch, make fists, open hands, lift its head, squint, swallow and wrinkle its forehead.” Week 11 brings urination, and in week 12, the baby is breathing amniotic fluid, has sleep/awake cycles, and does exercises. All this knowledge has been gained due to ultrasound technology and other study.
Now, God, morality, and everything else aside - read those descriptions again. Does that sound like an unviable tissue mass? Sure, it’s dependent upon its mother for sustenance, but how is that different from a newborn baby? It isn’t - and that’s what we’ve learned. It’s not a blob of cells that represent an inconvenience, it’s a new creation that has been entrusted to the mother. Even without counting abortion, an estimated 25-33% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth (according to HopeXchange, an organization that help people cope with these types of losses). With numbers that high, it would seem to me that the tissue masses that are unviable are taking care of things themselves.
Respect for life is one of this country’s core principles; “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Laws against murder are nearly universal, even in countries that cannot claim the God-seeking history that ours can. It is simple human nature that reasonable humans understand - it is wrong to take the life of another without cause. (This is not to imply that I am anti-death penalty or anti-military; there are limited times when life-taking can happen in a moral way.) With science again backing up Scripture, we see that the developing fetus is simply a pre-born baby that is being knit together in its mother’s womb.
So now, let’s look at the whole “safe, legal, and rare” thing, a phrase used by many pro-choice supporters to describe their desired state of abortion. It’s a given that “safe” doesn’t apply to the unborn baby - they suffer near 100% fatalities. (Yes, near.) But is abortion as we know it today safe for the mother?
A recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that abortion accounts one in ten of every adverse mental health issue women face as a whole, correlating to greater-than-double risks for alcohol abuse and suicide, and triple risks for marijuana use. Melissa Clouthier has a great summary of this study, as well as some commentary.
Recent medial studies have found that there is an increase in breast cancer risk for those who have had abortions, similar to those who have given birth prematurely (before 32 weeks). The reason is that the cells that the body produces during the early stages of pregnancy are immature, cancer-prone cells, which mature during the final two months of pregnancy.
There are many risks to the uterus as well. Risks of uterine perforation, cervical lacerations, and placenta previa all increase due to the trauma on the internal lining of the uterus.
Now, childbirth brings its own complications, to be sure; I don’t mean to imply that birth is completely safe. However, birth does have the advantage of being how our bodies are designed to work. Given the risks, I believe abortion is unsafe for both mother and baby.
We’ve established unsafe; how about legal? We know that Roe v. Wade “legalized” abortion, but there are still laws regarding its practice. Different states have different laws; nearly all states permit abortion through the first trimester, and some allow it through the second trimester. Few permit it in the third trimester, and there is now a Federal law against “partial-birth abortion,” a practice so abhorrent I’m not even going to describe it here. But, do its practitioners follow these laws? Some do; others, like Kermit Gosnell (link gone) do not, and Lila Rose has made a career exposing the unethical and often illegal practices at the nation’s #1 abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Hmm - we’re 0 for 2.
How about rare? Well, let’s look at the statistics. In 2008, there were 1.2M, down a little from the previous year; however, births were also down 2%, to 4.2M births. So, we prevented 22% of the pregnancies from resulting in births. I would not consider something that happens between a fifth and a quarter of the time rare, and I don’t think anyone else would define it that way either. What it comes down to is this: if it’s safe and legal (as we’ve been told, and those who question are ridiculed), it won’t be rare.
Now, let’s contrast this with the opening paragraphs. Abortion is not safe; it kills the baby, and causes health problems from the ex-mother. It’s not rare; it occurs in over 1 out of 5 conceptions. As a person with the beliefs I laid out above, this is an absolute no-brainer. God created our bodies to reproduce; it’s a natural consequence of the act that leads to conception. The easiest way to avoid conception is to avoid intercourse (also advocated in Scripture for those who are not married), and the fruits of that intercourse are, time and time again, referred to as gifts from God.
As an American, I see 20% of two generations now cut down before they breathed their first breath. I see counselors having a very easy time convincing people not to have abortions, simply by using ultrasound to show these ladies the life that is living inside them. I hear of post-abortion counseling groups with waiting lists. Have we aborted the person who was to find the cure for cancer? The scientist who was to determine how to produce food in desolate regions? The person who was to invent the flying car? Who can say what the long-term consequences have been for our folly of convenience.
It’s not safe. If it’s made illegal, only then can we hope to make it rare.
As most of you know, this past two weeks have been quite an experience. We were supposed to leave for a trip home, visiting Dollywood, seeing family and friends, and in short, having an actual vacation. That’s not how it went down…
Wednesday evening, having gotten our vehicle completely loaded, we sat down to eat. Michelle had cream of chicken soup, and when she was through, she said that she felt a little off. About a half hour later, she was having abdominal pain so severe that it was making her black out if she tried to get up out of bed. She called a specialist who was familiar with her history, and he said that it sounded like she needed to go to the ER with a suspected a gall bladder problem. She also had a hernia that she’s had since our third son Jameson was born; she had been consulting with this specialist to have it fixed January/February of next year. At the ER, they ruled out a blockage in this hernia and gall bladder problems, and it looked like we may have been sent home. Michelle asked the ER doctor to talk with her specialist, and once he did, she was admitted. The next morning, this specialist evaluated her, and said that the hernia had become incarcerated; it wasn’t blocked, but blood flow had been cut off to it, and the intestines were starting to die. This hernia repair became a 4-hour, 15-minute emergency surgery, followed by a day in ICU, two days in a step-down unit, and four days in the standard post-surgical inpatient unit.
Although this situation was scary at times, there is a whole lot more about which we can be thankful. For the balance of this post, I’d like to take some time to, as the old hymn says, “count my blessings.”
First, look at all the good things dealing with the timing of this. Praise the Lord we were here in Albuquerque, and not somewhere on I-40. It is highly unlikely that the diagnosis would have been made, and surgery performed, were we not where Michelle’s history was already known. Even if they had, the week-long hospital stay in some unknown town would have been difficult; as it was, we were able to use our home, and rely on our network of friends here for support (more about them next). Michelle’s specialist, who made the correct diagnosis, is only in Albuquerque once a month, but he was here that night; we found out later that he actually stayed over an extra day to do this surgery. Also, a surgeon whom he trained as a resident (and called his “star pupil”) is the director of surgery at Lovelace hospital here in town; he and she both were able to work together on the surgery. And, while we knew this surgery was coming, the fact that it had to be done as emergency surgery means that it’s automatically covered; no paperwork hassles and waiting for referrals! I had already lined up time off from work, so I wasn’t expected to be there.
Second, I’m exceedingly grateful to my friends here in Albuquerque. I won’t name them all publicly because I haven’t asked their permission, but there were many families that came together to help take care of our children (even offering for them to spend the night, which never did materialize). There were also many other families that made meals for us, bringing us so much food that we were able to get at least 2 meals out of each one. Phone calls, visits, and e-mails of support also helped Michelle and me during this time. Finally, prayer - I know that the one thing that has made the difference in this situation was the intercessory prayer on Michelle’s behalf, and prayers for me as I was working through everything else. During the entire time, I was never worried; I had a peace that the doctors were going to figure it out, and we were going to be OK. While I try not to let on too much, that mindset is pretty rare for me when facing medical situations - my mind wants to go off and worry about these worst-case scenarios, rather than trust God in the scenario in which He’s placed me. As I put prayer requests out via Twitter (more on that below), we often saw near-immediate change in situations. Both Michelle and I are very grateful for those of you who lifted us up in prayer.
Third, special thanks go to our families. From the time they heard about what was going on, the planning was continuous. Everyone worked together, and the children were able to still get to go visit them. Thanks to our families, they were even able to spend a few days at our vacation condo in Pigeon Forge and meet up with friends with whom we were going to be vacationing. Having the children safely with grandparents, I was free to focus on Michelle, and helping her during her stay in the hospital. It’s also helped her to be able to focus on her recovery now that she’s at home. The children will be coming home soon (in time for Christmas), and we’re really looking forward to seeing them.
Fourth, Twitter was great. Sure, it may seem strange to offer thanks for a social networking site, but Twitter really helped me during this time. Facebook would have seemed to be the solution for keeping people informed, but Michelle has friends, and I have friends, and some of those cross, but some don’t. Since you have to be friends to see updates, I would have had to have double-posted. (I don’t even know if the Facebook client on our phones lets you easily manage dual accounts; and while I’ve boasted about Seesmic Web’s ability to dual-post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time, Seesmic for BlackBerry doesn’t support Facebook.) Twitter, being public by default, was what I needed. I didn’t need to give the same update by phone 14 times, and I didn’t need to fiddle with changing settings. “Pull up the box, type my 140 characters or less, and press send” was much easier for providing up-to-date information to people who wanted to know it. There was a little resistance from some folks, but once I reassured them that my profile page was a simple web page with no account needed, they got it. I’m now grateful for the micro-blogging platform I scorned for so long.
Finally, I want to praise the Lord for this outcome. Although it wasn’t our timing, God knew when this hernia needed to be repaired. It’s been hanging around (pardon the pun) for nearly six years - the fact that it’s in the past, even now, I don’t think has truly sunk in yet. The doctors who needed to be here were here. We avoided the disaster of being sent home from the ER with the problem unresolved. While, obviously, Michelle isn’t completely healed from surgery this extensive in two weeks, her healing progress has been in line with what the doctors have expected; this isn’t an exercise in “speed-healing.” Looking back, we can see how everything worked together to ensure this bad situation had a good outcome. Thank you, Lord.