I basically gave up on watching local television news early in the virus panic. I previously referred to the local newscasts as “The Giggle News” due to the typical on-air banter. We used to joke about the nightly lead story of “Breaking News” from an area suburb, where there always seemed to be a shooting or policing event. But with the virus coverage, I finally quit watching for the most part. We might tune it to the news to check the weather at a quarter past the hour, but simply don’t care about big hard-hitting stories about the staff at The Daisy Hill Puppy Farm knitting hundreds of masks to donate. I don’t care about people howling or barking at a particular time each evening to supposedly recognize medical professionals, presumably those treating virus cases and not the ones who were idled by the imposed shutdown. I don’t care about pandering newscasters observing social distancing by sitting on opposite sides of the set, or people doing their segment from home.
Long ago I gave up on the broadcast network national news broadcasts, regarding them as generally Leftist propaganda, watching only occasionally when there might be a major disaster or weather event such as a hurricane. I continue to receive the local daily newspaper, noting the sources for articles, picking and choosing what to read, sometimes little of it, sometimes when I’m in the mood for “opposition research” reading more of it. Nevertheless, looking at a variety of sources, I consider myself well informed, just careful and thoughtful of what I might accept as fact.
Just as in matters of faith, understanding culture and current events requires discernment. Check sources and evidence. Look at and analyze source data. Not everything in a newscast or the newspaper is true. The internet is full of “fake news.” Analyze. Consider data carefully. Even good and correct facts can lead to incorrect conclusions when the facts are considered out of context and out of the context of other data. The human-caused climate change debate is famous for this.
Throughout recent months, induced fear has been everywhere in our society. The run on products like toilet paper and other consumer staples showed the widespread fear. Recently I was on the road over Loveland Pass, at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet. At a parking area, few people were around, on a sunny day, with some wind blowing as it always does there, I noticed two little girls, perhaps early elementary age, get out of a car. Both had on masks. Statistically, the coronavirus does not affect children, adolescents, or young adults (yes, there are exceptions). Not my business, they are free to wear masks, but I noted that they would have had to make an effort to get within 10 feet of anyone. While there, well away from others of course, I sneezed without so much as raising my hand or arm to my face, just for the sheer joy of it. I’m tired of the whole distancing thing.
People have lost businesses and jobs in the shutdown, others have lost educational opportunities, others have suffered postponement of needed medical procedures. Economic loss and financial disaster are all too real. The recent civil unrest and riots have arguably been as bad or worse than the virus shutdown. Fear – legitimate fear – is everywhere. Fear for the life and health of loved ones. The fear for one’s own life, health, and well-being. The fear of the early-stage dementia patient, seeing no one except a staff person or two in a mask and medical garb. The anxiety of an aging person unable to visit with anyone face to face.
“Cases” (positive tests). “Outbreaks” (two or more positive tests in a facility, group, or place of employment). An athlete or celebrity tests positive for the virus; not actually ill, just a positive test. “Surge.” “Spike.” “Emergency.” Somber tones. Mass death. Panic. Despair. Be afraid. But maybe some fears are induced, overblown, and unnecessary.
A few weeks ago, I ran across an article by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a journalism professor at Cardiff University (referenced in the monthly devotional booklet “Turning Points” from David Jeremiah’s organization). The article is titled “Feeling Panicked About Coronavirus? Media Coverage of New Epidemics Often Stokes Unnecessary Fear.” In the piece the author writes,
“New contagious diseases are scary. They frighten us because they’re unknown and unpredictable. The ongoing outbreak of the novel coronvirus COVID-19 has received extensive media attention — coverage that can tell us a lot about how uncertainty in the face of such an epidemic can all too easily breed fear.
For about a decade, I’ve been studying the role of emotions in journalism, including in the coverage of disasters and crises. Media coverage is vital to our shared conversations and plays a key role in regulating our emotions, including fear. While fear is an emotion that we frequently experience as individuals, it can also be a shared and social emotion — one that circulates through groups and communities and shapes our reactions to ongoing events. Like other emotions, fear is contagious and can spread swiftly.
Media coverage sets the agenda for public debate. While the news doesn’t necessarily tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about. In doing so, the news signals what issues merit our attention. Research has consistently shown that when issues receive extensive media coverage and are prominent in the news agenda, they also come to be seen as more important by members of the public.”
“Research on coverage of earlier disease outbreaks show a similar emphasis on fear. In the case of the SARS epidemic in 2003, a study by historian Patrick Wallis and linguist Brigitte Nerlich found that “the main conceptual metaphor used was SARS as a killer.” Along the same lines, media scholars Peter Vasterman and Nel Ruigrok examined coverage of the H1N1 epidemic in the Netherlands and found that it was marked by the “alarming” tone of its coverage. Like the coronavirus, these historical outbreaks were characterized by uncertainty, breeding fear and panic.
To put these observations into perspective, it is instructive to compare them with coverage of seasonal influenza, which is estimated by the World Health Organization to kill 290,000 to 650,000 people around the world every year. Since January 12, 2020, world newspapers have published just 488 articles on the seasonal flu without also mentioning coronavirus. In sharp contrast to coverage of this novel coronavirus, fewer than 1 in 10 stories about flu (37 of 488) mentioned “fear” or similar words or phrases.
The prominence of fear as a theme in reports of the coronavirus suggests that much of the outbreak’s coverage is more of a reflection of public fear than informative of what’s actually happening in terms of the spread of the virus. Franklin Roosevelt probably overstated the case when he famously said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But at a time rife with misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories, it’s worth remaining alert to the dangers of this contagious emotion in the face of uncertainty.” *
In Hebrews 12:27-29, Paul wrote,
“Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Commenting on this passage, Charles Spurgeon (updated by Alistair Begg) in his “Morning and Evening” devotional, wrote,
“We have many things in our possession at the present moment that can be shaken, and it is not good for a Christian to rely upon them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet we have certain “things that cannot be shaken,” and I invite you this evening to think of them—that if the things that can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken and that will remain. Whatever your losses have been, or may be, you enjoy present salvation.
You are standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, trusting alone in the merit of His precious blood, and no rise or fall of the markets can interfere with your salvation in Him; no breaking of banks, no failures and bankruptcies can touch that. Then you are a child of God this evening. God is your Father. No change of circumstances can ever rob you of that. Even if by loss you are brought to poverty and stripped bare, you can still say, “He is still my Father. In my Father’s house are many rooms; therefore I will not be troubled.” You have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of Jesus Christ. He who is God and man loves you with all the strength of His affectionate nature—nothing can affect that. The fig tree may not blossom, and the flocks may dwindle and wander from the field, but it does not matter to the man who can sing, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” Our best portion and richest heritage we cannot lose.
Whatever troubles come, let us play the man; let us show that we are not like little children cast down by what happens to us in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is fixed in heaven, and therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean, we will see the wreck of everything earthborn and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.”
David the Psalmist wrote, in Psalm 37,
Do not fret (worry) because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.
Do not despair because of evildoers – racists, rioters, Marxists, destroyers. Do not worry because of diseases, disasters, disappointments. Do not worry – it only causes harm.
Often things aren’t as simple as they seem. Sometimes they actually are.
An article titled “NAE calls on Christians to pause, mourn 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in US” was featured a few weeks ago in an on-line publication. The piece stated that “The National Association of Evangelicals is calling on Christians and churches to pause and lament the death of more than 100,000 Americans from COVID-19 on Pentecost Sunday, ” and quoted the NAE’s president’s observation that “It’s a reason for us to pause, to remember the dead, to mourn their passing, and to lament the fact that we have not been able to grieve as we typically would as Christians.” The piece further noted that “The call is being made by “an unprecedented group of 100+ national faith leaders—from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country.”
The same article related that the founder of the organization Sojourners said “One hundred thousand people, citizens, friends, and family dead is a terrible marker we must not miss or pass by quickly or easily. We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor. And we must lament which is to feel and bear great grief and sorrow, and to reflect upon it.” The executive director of Sojourners commented that “Every one of the over 100,000 lives in the U.S. lost to COVID-19 is precious and sacred. While the need for social distancing has precluded funerals and other traditional forms of mourning, we can and must find ways to grieve and lament together as a nation. These tragic deaths include so many heroic frontline and essential workers who risked their lives to heal, protect, and serve others.”
These are not necessarily doctrinally solid organizations, but there is nothing explicitly wrong with and in fact everything right about sound churches and individual Christians supporting people who have lost loved ones and friends to the virus. Paul wrote in Romans 12:14-16, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.” But what about the tens of thousands of survivors of diseases like malaria, typhus, or dysentery, which largely occur in less developed countries, and those who have lost loved ones to such diseases? What about tens of thousands of cancer survivors or those who have lost loved ones to that condition? Or auto accidents? Or seasonal flu? Or old age? Or poverty? What about a special day for them? Why single out COVID-19 just because it dominates the secular news cycle? Is it a hook to somehow attract people concerned with a current and on-going event? Or is it maybe because some would let society and current events set the agenda for the church with the thought that addressing solutions to the societal problems of the day is primary to the mission of the church?
Sound churches sometimes purport to aspire to “change their city” or perhaps “transform their community for Christ.” But is that really the role of the church? Or is the purpose of the church to be something both more basic and ultimately more important? Jesus commissioned his followers to go into the world and preach the gospel and to make disciples. To reach people with the message that Christ came to atone for their sin and if they will respond to the gospel and call on Christ in faith they will be saved, not just from disease and calamity, but from eternal judgement. The church cannot cure any disease. But in understanding and fulfilling its real purpose the church can help people see the One and Only Cure for their most fundamental underlying condition, sin.
In a book published in 1983 titled “Idols for Destruction,” Herbert Schlossberg wrote that “Now American religion is full of the contradictions and paradoxes that come from the attempt to merge a true gospel with the faltering creeds of the surrounding society” (Page 9). Later (Page 38) he observed that “God is still active in history and still makes himself known in blessing and judgement. The message is as unpopular now as it was then, and there are many places in which the church is faithless to its charge, preferring to preach on popular themes that find ready acceptance among those who have rejected the first principles of the Christian faith.” Surely those words are even more true now than they were in 1983.
What is the mission of the church? What are we supposed to be doing? The changing of people is surely fundamental to the mission of the church, but the only way to change people is to lead them to Jesus Christ – the Jesus Christ of scripture. The only way for the church to change people is to declare the gospel. The mission of the church is primarily redemptive. The mission of the church is the gospel, the scriptures, declaring the gospel and then “teaching them to observe all things” that God in His Word has commanded.
Attempts to be contemporary, to be “relevant,” ensures irrelevance. By constantly responding to current events, the disease or disaster of the day, or the media event of the week, churches completely lose their unique and fundamental function. The desire to sympathize with suffering aside from declaring the nature and cause of that suffering – human rebellion and sin against God – sacrifices eternal truth on an altar of misguided sympathy and emotion. The church becomes just another voice in the crowd. Current societal upheavals pose a huge risk of being sidetracked for many in the American church, even in sound circles where the gospel is believed. “Social justice” concepts are not merely a distraction from the gospel; rather, such things are antithetical to gospel. Where social justice is accepted, the gospel is twisted.
The Great Commission speaks of Christ’s followers being a witness to people of all nations, men and women of all races and cultures. Evangelism and the gospel message is the absolute and only starting point for all Christian teaching and discipleship. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Believers and churches thus must be engaged in confronting the lost and presenting to them the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. But Christ did not limit His teaching to the message of individual salvation from hell. Discipleship follows and involves training in the Christian faith. The New Testament affirms the Old Testament teaching on fundamental marriage and family relationships. Both testaments speak much of material goods, affirming private property rights, affirming the necessity of industry and work, saving and deferred gratification, honesty, and instructs as to the relationship between rich and poor and employer-employee relationships. Throughout the Bible is instruction on all areas of life and relationships to others. Scripture enjoins believers to live all of life under Christ’s authority. When that occurs and becomes the focus, when individual believers throughout society begin to live out the gospel and its ramifications for life, governments, societies, and communities are changed.
In a sermon reprinted in the February 2020 Decision magazine titled “The Answer to Our Deepest Needs,” Billy Graham said,
“Yet here is where the tension in the church becomes acute. What is the church’s primary mission? Is it redemptive or social—or both? When most major Protestant denominations have their annual councils, assemblies or conventions, they make pronouncements on matters having to do with any number of issues, but very rarely are any resolutions passed that have to do with the redemptive witness of the Gospel.
The changing of people is the primary mission of the church, and the only way to change people is to lead them to Jesus Christ. Then they will have the capacity to live up to the Christian command to “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39).
There is no doubt that today we see social injustice everywhere. Looking on our American scene, Jesus would see something even deeper. The great need is for the church to call in the Great Physician, who alone can properly diagnose the case. He will look beneath the mere skin eruptions and pronounce on the cause of it all—sin. If we in the church want a cause to fight, let’s fight sin. Let’s reveal its hideousness. Let’s show that Jeremiah was correct when he said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Then, when the center of man’s trouble is dealt with, when this disease is eradicated, then and only then will man live with man as brother with brother.”
People don’t need a vaccine for the virus so much as they need the cure for sin that is found in the blood of Christ.
We don’t need to pander to the crowd. We need to declare the gospel to the crowd.
People don’t need sympathy or advice from the church. They need clear teaching from the Scriptures.
We don’t need politics or more government. We need to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Eternal King.
We don’t need to argue. We need to in deed and in word clearly, lovingly, and forcefully proclaim Christ as the only hope.
We don’t need to march arm-in-arm and sing “Kumbaya” with protestors. We need to invite them to join us in the eternal chorus of “Worthy is the Lamb.”
Lost people don’t merely need physical healing or reconciliation to each other or social reform. They need the reconciliation to God that comes only through Christ and the gospel.
We don’t only need to decry the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed. We need to tell both of their need to repent and believe the gospel.
Some would suggest that the current coronavirus pandemic is a message from God. Perhaps it is a harbinger of the end times, or a warning of divine judgement. We have certainly learned how easily mass panic can be engendered in the age of the internet and the constant bombardment of “news,” and how easy it is to get people to fall in line with growing governmental involvement in their lives when it is presented as necessary for their own good and the perceived good of the community. But a “sign of the times?” I don’t think so; there are no “signs of the times” to look for. Christ will come suddenly for His Church, and then the prophesied events that precede the second coming and the establishment of the kingdom will come to pass. But nevertheless, there is a profound reminder of scriptural principle for us in the situation.
My wife and I often have occasion to watch our little granddaughter. Both parents are employed, and we split daycare duties with the other grandparents and have done so since our daughter returned to work from maternity leave. As the baby began to become mobile, first crawling, and then crawling faster, now toddling, generally during the day we have kept her in our family room most of the time. The room is never too hot or too cold, always just right. Her diaper is checked and changed regularly. Bottle feeding was administered per her mother’s instructions, and now at some fourteen months old she is given age-appropriate nutritious food, and water is almost always available. Toys and books are readily available as well as someone to read to her or play with her almost constantly. Naps when she is tired are facilitated and encouraged. Grandpa often carries her around the house, showing her “baby” – pictures on the wall, most featuring her, the baby. Yet, invariably, she attempts to disregard the barriers to her exit from the room. She attempts to escape and crawl up the stairway to the upstairs and has always been intercepted and scooped off the stairs, with, in my case, a pronouncement of “Not Yours.” Attempts to get to something that might harm her, or to “mess up” something in the house, are met with “Not Yours.” She wants the television remote, the lamp cords, anything placed out of her reach. Taken into the room full of her toys and stuffed animals and books and told that “These are Yours,” she will soon attempt to escape to what is “Not Yours.”
She has enjoyed going outside in recent weeks and loves it. In our back yard, we let her toddle around for the most part at will. She may be met with “Not Yours” when she puts plant material in her mouth, but otherwise we enjoy watching her explore. It is natural and healthy for her. Over coming weeks, months, and years, we will enjoy watching her grow and explore. That is what should happen. That is for her enjoyment and benefit as well as for the profound pleasure of those who love her.
The Bible affirms that God created man for His own divine purposes. He created the world around us explicitly for us. The writer of Genesis, the Psalmists, the Old Testament prophets affirm the glory of creation. From the subatomic particle to the vastness of outer space, God created a perfect world, immensely beautiful and complex, a display of his grandeur, a place for people to explore and learn from. The Edenic environment was perfect for the first created humans. It was no doubt stimulating and awe inspiring, an environment in which humans could grow and explore and have fellowship with their Creator.
But the unimaginable happened. Mankind rebelled and sinned against the Creator. The principle of “Not Yours” was violated. God, for His own unfathomable purposes, had created humans with the ability to disobey Him, and they did. Their nature fundamentally changed. They no longer had unimpeded communion with God, and in fact even their relationship with their world, with self, and with each other was damaged. We can infer from Scripture that cataclysmic change occurred throughout the natural world when sin came. And now everywhere we look, we see the glory of creation juxtaposed with the destruction of sin and rebellion against God. There was no death in Eden, no pain, no tears, no suffering. Mankind was created with a perfect environment. But displaying their own will, the first humans rebelled against God. Flood and drought. War. Misery. Disease and pandemic. Above all death. All obviously allowed by Sovereign God, none part of His original creation.
The world didn’t merely become “broken.” My granddaughter has some Lego-like plastic blocks. Sitting on the floor with her, I can assemble a few into a shape. She takes apart what I put together – she breaks it, the blocks easily reassembled or assembled into another shape. A while back I attempted to glue back together a Christmas ornament that fell and broke, a ceramic egg picked up as a travel souvenir. Almost as good as new, missing just a few tiny pieces, seams showing just a little glue and fitting almost but not quite perfectly. That is “broken.” But the Fall is something far beyond that. The rebellion of creature against Creator was and remains something more massive, with consequences displayed everywhere we look. Creation and the Fall. The first two parts of God’s great plan for humanity.
The apostle Paul reminded in Romans 5:12-19,
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
The fallen nature that we inherited from Adam plagues all humans. Even my granddaughter. The principle of “Not Yours.” But the story does not end there. As the Romans 5 passage reminds us, Christ came and has overcome the consequences of the Fall for us. Rebellion against God required a solution of nothing less than Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, coming to earth as man to die on the cross for human sin. The third part and culmination of God’s great plan for mankind that is explained in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us. He made a way for us as sinners to return to fellowship with holy God. It is incumbent on humans to be born again, to respond to the gospel and to the Spirit and recognize that we have by nature and by choice violated “Not Yours,” to turn in faith to Christ, to end our rebellion and call out to Him. The necessary atonement for human sin has been made by the Second Adam. Centuries after the Cross, we live in a world still plagued by the effects of the Fall, by disease and disaster and death, but we can individually know redemption and restoration. The first Adam sinned and brought destruction and ruin; when we go toward what God has told us is “Not Yours” it brings problems to us individually. God’s divine purpose is to call out people who are in violation of “Not Yours” and save them if they will turn to Him in faith. Christians eagerly await the final part of God’s great plan, the end of the age and the eternal state, the restoration of all that was lost in the Fall. An eternal age when we will know Him as Creator. An eternal age when we will know Him as Redeemer.
An eternal age when there will be no more pandemics.
I had a cookie and coffee before bed the other night and didn’t sleep well; probably shouldn’t snack before bed, certainly no caffeine. I woke up from a dream the next morning.
In the dream, as best as I can recall it, there had been media reports of several tragic auto crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board began advocating for something to be done, and media pressure soon became intense. After reports of several more accidents, the president bowed to the building political pressure and appointed a task force. Working quickly, recommendations were made, and swiftly implemented.
The “Safer and Safest Plan” was announced. In Phase 1, “Stopped is Safest,” automobile and motorcycle traffic was to be immediately removed from the roadways. Essential truck traffic would continue, but only with reduced speed limits of 20 mph in cities and 30 mph on highways. Mass transit continued, within the reduced speed limits. Air travel stopped, as most airports required passengers to travel to and from the airport in an automobile. Schools and businesses of course closed. After a couple of weeks, limited auto travel was to resume. Schools would remain closed – to protect the children – but businesses could then begin to reopen. Opposition developed, particularly in small towns and rural areas that had no mass transit options and where lengthy travel was often required.
Businesses of course suffered, and most people were out of work. Congress quickly approved a plan to help. A few trillion dollars was ginned up in order to send a check made out to “Cash” to everyone in the country, with extra checks sent to politically favored organizations to distribute so no one would be missed. Poignant media interviews with families of people who had died in accidents were prominently featured on a regular basis. Personal injury lawyers continued to advertise incessantly on television. Fear began to grow.
Under Phase 2, “Slow is Safer,” automobile traffic resumed with the lower speed limits. But auto drivers and passengers, of course wearing the car’s safety belts, were to wear bike helmets or an equivalent, and cars were to be filled with pillows. Factories were pressed into service immediately to produce these, at government expense. The state’s governor, fully supportive of the program, was holding almost daily televised campaign even – er — press conferences, and soon appeared wearing a helmet featuring the state flag, holding flag-emblazoned pillows to match. Numerous charts were presented, showing how many people might or might not die depending on how many people obeyed the speed limits, wore the helmets, and stuffed their cars with pillows. There were a few unintended side effects – sometimes the pillows interfered with the driver’s field of vision. There was continued and growing opposition to the whole plan, with many people wanting to just junk the whole thing.
Another plan was formed, to develop a new, safer “normal.” The government would create tens of trillions of dollars and confiscate the auto manufacturers. Small, electric, “safe” cars would be mass produced. The cars, equipped with safety belts that would have to be buckled before the car would move, would be equipped with all sorts of air bags that would deploy on collision, so the helmets and pillows would no longer be needed. The cars would be self-driving “smart” cars, preventing driver error as well as enabling a governmental agency to control speeds and monitor the location of the car at all times. The new transportation normal would at last be safe.
About here I woke up from this dream. I got up, and after my morning devotional reading and coffee, thought that I might take my wife out to breakfast and then maybe go get a haircut. And then I remembered . . . Later in the morning, we got in the car and took a long drive.
A timid sort by nature, I nevertheless am willing to take some risks. But there is one risk I was never willing to take. The Bible’s book of Hebrews tells us,
He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:26-28)
The “appointed for men to die once” part is universally, if begrudgingly, acknowledged. We will all, at some point and in some manner, die. It is the “but after this the judgement” that is not always acknowledged and is the most troubling. But like millions of Christian believers throughout the ages, I have, as it were, eliminated the risk. As I child, I heard and believed the gospel, acknowledged Christ as Lord and Savior, acknowledged His “Sacrifice of Himself” when He “was offered to bear the sins of many.” Still living in a fallen world, still subject to calamity, still subject to physical death, but safe in the providence of the Sovereign Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
I once watched the speaker at a post-evangelical megachurch deliver his Easter weekend message. Broadly, it wasn’t bad, centering on an appropriate Easter theme as he spoke about the concept of faith in Jesus. At the conclusion of the sermon, he climbed a ladder, perhaps twenty or more feet in the air, and, wearing a tethered harness, fell backward off the ladder, gently lowered back to the stage, as an illustration of faith. As I reflected on this rather dramatic illustration and the entire talk, I was somewhat troubled. I thought back to an experience earlier in my business career.
The company for which I worked for many years hired an outside firm to conduct a rather elaborate company-wide training, team building, and motivational series of events. Always a bit of a skeptic and cynic, I nevertheless played along, as I was a low-level manager at the time, and so had to participate without too much outward protest. One event was an off-site event for groups of employees, conducted over a few days for groups of several dozen people. At that event, I was introduced to the trust fall, sort of a highlight of the meetings. A trust fall is designed to be a team-building group exercise game in which a person deliberately falls backward, relying on a group of a few people standing behind to catch him or her. We were all encouraged to take a turn as the person falling. At the end of the day, I thought the whole thing a waste of likely six-figure money, and it didn’t motivate me or any of my peers or subordinates to trust each other. But again, I plead guilty to being a skeptical cynic.
Back to the megachurch. There was encouragement in the sermon to have faith in Jesus, but there was little of the concept of turning away from sin and embracing Christ as Savior and Lord. Likely the word “sin” wasn’t mentioned, or the necessity of Christ dying as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of sinners. In short, as I reflected on it, it almost came across as faith defined in some manner as “take a chance on Jesus.” A trust fall. Biblical faith – saving faith, and sustaining faith for life – is something profoundly different than that.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” When the Gospel of Christ, contained and recorded in the Bible, is internalized by the human mind and heart and applied by the Spirit, saving faith is the result. Paul further says we are saved by grace through faith which is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9), a gift from God that is the result of embracing the message about Christ and His salvation. We hear the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the only solution to our alienation from God. The Word produces faith within us and regenerates us. We hear the message of the Gospel, we believe it, we acknowledge sin and turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, and the Spirit makes us a new creation in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).” How this gift of God mixes with the human response is a mystery that maybe cannot be totally understood, but salvation is far more than deciding to take the proverbial leap of faith.
Faith is the Spirit-given conviction that the Gospel is true, that the resurrection is a fact, and then acting on that conviction. Saving faith does not simply originate within a person. It doesn’t just sound good or inspiring or reassuring or affirming and so make us want to jump on the bandwagon or trust our teammates or join a club. It is the gift of Jesus Christ and of the Spirit. It is Christ who is both the source and object of faith.
Often, we hear people say that “their faith” has sustained them in a time of difficulty. I would be so bold as to suggest that such an attitude can in fact be a feel-good deception. In Luke 7:50, it is recorded of Jesus, “Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”” She did not here merely show faith in faith. She had come to Jesus. Beginning in verse 44, the account tells us, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me nowater for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me nokiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” The object of her faith – was Jesus.
It is Jesus – the real Jesus Christ of Scripture – God the Son Who atoned for my sin on the cross and has conquered sin and death – that has saved me and will save all who will but end their rebellion against God and embrace Him as Savior and Lord. It is He – the object of true faith – Who saves and sustains.
On a recent Sunday morning, the streets were snow packed after overnight snow. As I drove our small all-wheel drive SUV cautiously at the speed of traffic, in the right lane on a major street, a car from behind in the left lane sped around me, swerved in front of me as he passed the vehicle in the left lane ahead of me, and veered back into the left lane as he sped on. I was glad the car didn’t spin out on the slick street. The previous Wednesday evening, a few blocks from this area on the same street, a car whipped around me to my right and drove through a corner gas station rather than slowing and using the turn lane in order to proceed up the street to our right. Both drivers obviously showed a lack of common sense.
I scan the Denver newspaper every day, and usually catch a local newscast as well. Lack of common sense is a constant unstated theme. The left-leaning paper campaigned for decriminalization of marijuana for a couple of years before it happened in Colorado. Since recreational pot has become legal under state law, the paper fawns all over the burgeoning pot industry, regularly championing recreational marijuana as well as celebrating alcohol consumption – promoting local microbreweries and drinking establishments, for example. The lifestyle pages regularly celebrate and promote drinking. Funny thing, though. Almost every day one finds reports of crime, traffic accidents, middle-of-the-night shootings, etc., very often committed by intoxicated persons, often crimes against other intoxicated persons. What I’ve missed are the stories of how marijuana or alcohol consumption makes one a better citizen, a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee, a better driver. (I’ll allow that, conceivably, there may be a medicinal purpose for substances found in marijuana. Further, I’ll concede the obvious that the great majority of social drinkers are neither alcoholics nor criminals.)
Perhaps I’m prejudiced. My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic back when an alcoholic was referred to as the town drunk. I only met him a couple of times, as the family broke up before my birth. Growing up, I remember the alcoholic couple across the street, coming home occasionally – actually, more than occasionally – drunk. Falling out of the car drunk. Laying in the driveway or lawn, drunk. Falling off the front step, drunk.
The current push for transgenderism is rooted in part in a lack of common sense. Great compassion is due to many on this unfortunate path, usually victims of things like bad parenting or childhood abuse, deceived by media, deceived by friends, deceived by medical professionals, ultimately “victims” of their fallen nature. Gender-neutral parenting – raising children in a manner which allows kids to explore different gender roles regardless of the sex the child was assigned at birth – has apparently grown in popularity, with parents somehow hoping to remove perceived societal pressure from their kids when it comes to gender roles. A human being is of course male or female from the moment of conception. This is fixed as the embryonic baby grows, his or her hormonal system confirming it throughout development before birth. Imagining that one’s sex can be changed is, ultimately, a violation of common sense. Pumping one’s body full of hormones and being surgically altered cannot change what became a reality at conception, and will never make a person truly fulfilled. It flies in the face of common sense.
I saw a story on local news a couple of weeks ago. A group of mostly female students at a local university was staging a protest, demanding that administrators “do something” about sexual assault. I wondered why the protesters didn’t themselves do something. Perhaps they could commit to remaining sober, to not attend parties or socialize in bars with intoxicated individuals, to returning to their dorm rooms or apartments by, say, midnight, and to recruit other students to do the same. Just a guess, but it seems likely that most college sexual assaults happen at night and involve intoxicated individuals. Common sense might cause one to take responsibility and consider avoiding such situations.
Lack of good judgement, prudence, and sensibleness is not a recent development. It has plagued human experience since the beginning of time; it is not a phenomenon confined to any particular generation, any one social class, culture, or nation. American pundit Will Rogers observed three generations ago, “Common sense ain’t common.” But it almost seems that in American society today we are seeing a growing loss of common sense. Family breakup and the decline of adherence to traditional marriage, addictions, alcohol and drug use, a victim mentality, an entitlement mentality – the list goes on – only accelerate this decline in personal responsibility and common sense.
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
(Romans 1:18-23; 28-32)
Ultimately, for the Christian, one who has come to faith in Christ and the gospel, common sense in life in large measure derives from biblical wisdom, observing God’s mandates to us, seeing life from God’s perspective, and responding accordingly. The Bible’s book of Proverbs is known as a book of wisdom and gives us a detailed explanation of the value of gaining wisdom. In Proverbs 2, we read
“My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path.
When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, . . .”
Living wisely is to be a priority in life for the Christian. Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 9:10 similarly tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The appreciation of the fact that the sovereign and providential God is present in our lives, and then living accordingly, is the basis of true wisdom. A life of worship, awe, and submission to God both brings wisdom and expresses that we possess a measure of wisdom.
Ultimately, the primary way we gain godly wisdom is by learning God’s Word and putting into practice what we know from Scripture. When we begin to understand the written Word of God and include the knowledge of the Lord in every aspect of life, we make decisions and react to circumstances based on His approval. We live with the knowledge that the Creator of the universe is involved in even our mundane daily affairs, which results in living a life that pleases Him and brings us true joy and fulfillment. Without God’s wisdom, we may be educated, we may become successful, we may attain a measure of happiness, but it is the wisdom derived from Scripture that enables us to live the life God wants for us and to live in anticipation of eternity. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16 that we should “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The challenge is not merely to gain academic knowledge, but allowing the Word to “dwell” in us, being cautioned and instructed by Scripture and by the Spirit who speaks to us through the Word, growing in relationship with God, putting the wisdom of the Word into practice. In no small measure, we will then develop and show wisdom even beyond –
Anxiety, worry, and hopelessness seem to increasingly characterize American society. The reasons are many and perhaps difficult to understand. It only takes a quick look at previous generations to realize there has always been a long list of anxieties. Our parents and grandparents experienced blizzards, droughts, heat waves, floods, epidemics, the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, recessions, and job uncertainty, just to name a few. Today we have more economic and financial security than ever. Fewer people are hungry than at any time in the history of the country. Unemployment is at record low numbers; almost anyone willing to work can get a job. Health care is almost universally available. Americans are better educated, better sheltered, and have more leisure time than ever.
And yet despair is seemingly everywhere.
Columnist Kimberly Ross, in a recent article in the “Washington Examiner” entitled “Couples who skip children because of climate change aren’t just silly, they’re hurting society,” wrote that “The doomsday quality of the climate change movement is on track to harm more than it helps. Fears of impending environmental doom have actually spurred some to abandon their plans to have children. Not only is this behavior sheer nonsense, but it will work to weaken society as a whole.” The piece noted that
the country’s birthrate is “at its lowest in 32 years, with 2018 being the fourth consecutive year of decline.” Even though climate change isn’t the only worry, it is now listed among more tangible problems like debt, employment, and the economy.”
“The birthrate is a barometer of despair,” Dowell Myers, who studies this data at the University of Southern California, concluded when the latest numbers were released earlier this year. “Not a whole lot of things are going good, and that’s haunting young people.” On the list of “not good things” (lack of long-term job security, mountains of debt, the likelihood today’s children will not do as well economically as their parents), the climate crisis, with its specter of droughts, famines, fires and floods, is near the top.”
Even science journalist Michael Marshall, who views climate change as a problem in need of a solution, writes how unhelpful it is to assign apocalyptic end dates to the issue: “The point is that the climate is not so simple as to give us a neat cutoff date for action. Indeed, there is an argument that putting it in terms of deadlines just creates a feeling of hopelessness when we inevitably miss them.” In addition, this hopeless alarmism often seems more like a political push toward socialism than it does legitimate addressing of the problem.
A recent Bloomberg article, “State of Health Report Shows Growing Despair Among Men” cited a National Center for Health Statistics report which noted data indicating that life expectancy at birth for males declined to 76.1 years in 2017 from 76.5 in 2014, perhaps in part due to deaths attributable to despair. From 2007 to 2017, the mortality rate from drug overdoses increased 82%. Over the same 10-year period, suicide rates increased 24%, to 14.0 deaths from 11.3 per 100,000 resident population. Males had twice the female drug overdose death rate in 2017 and rates for men have virtually doubled since 2007. Suicides among Americans have also increased sharply — from 26,869 in 1980 to 47,173 in 2017.
The suicide rate among children aged 10 through 14 has nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017, while the suicide rate among older teenagers has increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017, federal data show. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among those aged 10 through 24 years has increased 56 percent over the last decade as violent deaths (suicide and homicide) continue to be leading causes of death for that age bracket. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14, teenagers 15 to 19, and young adults ages 20-24.
Similarly, a recent Wall Street Journal article referenced new research suggests that many American adolescents are becoming more anxious, depressed, and solitary. Growing numbers of adolescent girls describe themselves as vulnerable to our increasingly digital culture, with many of them struggling to manage the constant pressures of social media along with rising levels of anxiety and adolescent emotions. While girls in 2019 tend to be risk-averse, focused on their studies and fond of their families, they are also experiencing high levels of depression and loneliness. A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36% of girls report being extremely anxious every day. They are especially worried about school shootings, melting polar ice and their ability to afford college.
Research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project shows that, since 2007—the dawn of the smartphone era—girls have dramatically decreased the amount of time they spend shopping, seeing friends or going to movies. This is true of both young males and females. The glow of screens is unavoidable. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that 95% of American teenagers have access to a smartphone. Common Sense Media has found that contemporary teens spend an astounding six to nine hours a day online—and that 72% of teens felt manipulated by tech companies into remaining constantly connected. Gaming, sports-related activity, movies, social media sites, and texting consume enormous amounts of time and attention, and viewing pornography is rampant. Leading in many instances to anxiety, depression and disconnectedness.
A “Washington Post” piece, “Lockdown drills an American Quirk, out of control,” noted
Here are some recent headlines from schools around the country: In Indiana, officials played a segment of a 911 call of a teacher in a panic during the Columbine High School shooting to students. In Ohio, officers fired blank shots during an active-shooter drill. In South Carolina, an officer dressed in black posed as an intruder on an unannounced drill. In Michigan, a school is spending $48 million on a renovation that includes curved hallways and hiding niches, in hopes of protecting students from a mass shooting. In Florida, a police officer arrested two 6-year-old students for misdemeanor battery. In Colorado, teachers received buckets and kitty litter for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged school lockdown.
A recent “Jobsite” study focused on the “negative effects” of Secret Santa and “it found that some millennials . . . have been suffering from anxiety as a result of their workplace Secret Santa,” reports viral news site Twenty-Two Words. The study, they say “found that younger workers are often spending more than they can afford on presents for their colleagues” in order to avoid being “judged” for their selection or thought “cheap” by their peers. Even though most Secret Santa groups set a budget, Millennials say they feel pressure to “up their game” in order to fit in with their colleagues. Beyond that, Millennials apparently report that they feel “angry” at office party organizers who don’t take their much-reported dire financial straits into consideration when instituting a Secret Santa game. That builds resentment among these workers which can lead to inter-office tiffs and a decline in workplace morale among Millennial colleagues. Poor babies.
An Associated Press story noted that
More college students are turning to their schools for help with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, and many must wait weeks for treatment or find help elsewhere as campus clinics struggle to meet demand, an Associated Press review of more than three dozen public universities found.
On some campuses, the number of students seeking treatment has nearly doubled over the past five years while overall enrollment has remained relatively flat. The increase has been tied to reduced stigma around mental health, along with rising rates of depression and other disorders. Universities have expanded their mental health clinics, but the growth is often slow, and demand keeps surging.
Long waits have provoked protests at schools from Maryland to California, in some cases following student suicides. Meanwhile, campus counseling centers grapple with low morale and high burnout as staff face increasingly heavy workloads.
The social and economic costs of family breakdown are evident and overwhelming. Studies estimate that divorce and unwed childbearing cost taxpayers over $110 billion each year. Children raised in single-parent homes are statistically more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, exhibit poor social behaviors, commit violent crimes, and are more likely to drop out of school. When it comes to fighting poverty, there is no better weapon than marriage; in fact, marriage clearly reduces the probability of child poverty. Meanwhile, the idea of traditional marriage continues to fall further from favor.
Alcohol abuse is rampant. Illicit drugs damage and destroy far too many people. Marijuana use is no longer viewed negatively; in fact it is celebrated, threatening to unleash a whole host of problems. Educators and some parents tell their children that they can choose their own gender and ridicule traditional ideals of morality and fidelity.
It is all quite depressing.
But what if, at least at the societal level, things aren’t really so bad as they sometimes seem?
Climate has modulated throughout recorded history. In studying the causes of the fall of the Roman empire, I ran across this: “In recent years, explanations that focus on environmental factors have been especially prominent. Some of these ascribe not only Rome’s fall to changes in climate, but its rise as well, arguing that the Roman Empire was only able to attain the size that it did because Roman imperialism had the good fortune to coincide with a period of unusually warm, wet, and stable climate across the Mediterranean basin that began around the 3rd century BC and lasted until the mid-2nd century AD–precisely the time of rapid Roman political and economic expansion.” Over the last four or so centuries, since the Little Ice Age, there has been a slight but demonstrable rise in average temperatures. Sea levels have risen perhaps as much as three inches. Some of the effects may have been negative, some positive. We still await the climate disasters predicted twenty years ago. Due mostly to technology and economic advancement, today we are less likely than ever in history to meet with harm or calamity due solely to climate or weather.
In a column titled “Climate Myths Perpetuated by the Alarmists”, John Stossel
“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood!” insisted teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction!”
Many people say that we’re destroying the Earth.
It all sounds so scary.
But I’ve been a consumer reporter for years, and I’ve covered so many scares: plague, famine, overpopulation, SARS, West Nile virus, bird flu, radiation from cellphones, flesh-eating bacteria, killer bees, etc. The list of terrible things that were going to get us is very long.
Yet we live longer than ever.
Now I’m told global warming is different.
The Earth’s average temperature is rising. It’s risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. The U.N. predicts it will rise another 2 to 5 degrees this century. If that happens, that will create problems.
But does that justify what’s being said?
“We have 12 years to act!” says former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change!” adds Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Twelve years? That’s the new slogan.
The Heartland Institute invited some climate alarmists to explain the “12 years” and other frightening statements they keep making.
The alarmists didn’t even show up. They never do. They make speeches and preach to gullible reporters, but they won’t debate anyone who is skeptical.
Over the years, I repeatedly invited Al Gore to come on my TV shows. His staff always said he was “too busy.”
At a Heartland Institute event I moderated, climatologist Pat Michaels put the 12-year claim in perspective by saying, “It’s warmed up around 1 degree Celsius since 1900, and life expectancy doubled in the industrialized democracies! Yet that temperature ticks up another half a degree and the entire system crashes? That’s the most absurd belief!”
Astrophysicist Willie Soon added, “It’s all about hand-waving, emotion, sending out kids in protest. It has nothing to do with the science.”
Is that true? I wish the alarmists would show up and debate.
Alarmists say, “Miami will soon be underwater!”
Few serious people deny that the Earth has warmed and that sea levels are rising. But Michaels points out that even if the warming increases, humans can adjust.
For example, much of Holland is below sea level. “They said,” Michaels recounts, “we’re going to adapt to the fact that we’re a low-lying country; we’re going to build these dikes. Are you telling me that people in Miami are so dumb that they’re just going to sit there and drown?”
Climatology professor David Legates added a point the climate alarmists never make: “The water has been rising for approximately 20,000 years and probably will continue.”
But aren’t sudden climate changes happening now? Aren’t hurricanes suddenly far more violent?
“No, they aren’t!” responded Michaels. “You can take a look at all the hurricanes around the planet. We can see them since 1970, because we’ve got global satellite coverage. We can measure their power … There is no significant increase whatsoever—no relationship between hurricane activity and the surface temperature of the planet!”
He’s right. That’s what government data shows.
Nevertheless, activists and politicians demand the United States move toward zero carbon emissions. That would “put you back in the Stone Age,” says Michaels.
Another myth is that carbon dioxide, the prime creator of greenhouse gases, threatens the food supply.
But carbon dioxide helps plants grow. “There are places on Earth where it is greening up like crazy,” says Michaels.
But if the crisis isn’t real, why do governments race to respond to it with regulations and big spending projects? Why is the U.N.’s Panel on Climate (IPCC) so alarmed?
Well, IPCC does stand for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Legates says, “Governments want to keep control … Carbon dioxide becomes that molecule by which [they] can take control of your lives.”
Government is the real crisis.
In an article republished October 15, 2019 in the Denver Post, columnist Sergio Pecahna wrote,
Here are some recent headlines from schools around the country: In Indiana, officials played a segment of a 911 call of a teacher in a panic during the Columbine High School shooting to students. In Ohio, officers fired blank shots during an active-shooter drill. In South Carolina, an officer dressed in black posed as an intruder on an unannounced drill. In Michigan, a school is spending $48 million on a renovation that includes curved hallways and hiding niches, in hopes of protecting students from a mass shooting. In Florida, a police officer arrested two 6-year-old students for misdemeanor battery. In Colorado, teachers received buckets and kitty litter for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged school lockdown.
Mass shootings, meaning incidents with at least two deaths, in schools are horrifying. But it is highly unlikely that a child would ever witness one. Research indicates that some security measures brought in to make schools safer — like realistic shooter trainings — may be causing children more harm than good.
It is 10 times more likely that a student will die on the way to school.
Our chances of dying in a fire are also much greater — 1 in 1,500. But we don’t overreact.
More children have died from lightning strikes than from mass shootings in schools in the past 20 years. Still, we don’t obsess about them.
Exactly how common are school shootings?
In the two decades since Columbine, there have been 10 mass shootings in schools, according to a recent analysis by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University who has been studying school violence for several decades. In total, 81 people have been killed, 64 of them students. That’s an average of four deaths per year, three of them students.
Even one death is too many. But for perspective, 729 children committed suicide with a firearm in 2017, and 863 were victims of homicides by guns that year.
Nearly every public school in the country now conducts lockdown drills, and even the youngest students participate (last year, one school adapted a lullaby to prepare kindergartners). But very few studies have looked into the efficiency of these drills. One of them concluded that the practice can be helpful to teach students basic safety procedures. But to the author of the study, Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, there is no point in dramatizing the drills. “All that causes is fear,” she said.
Restaurants have 10 times as many homicides as schools. Why do we want to arm teachers and not wait staffs?
“There’s a misunderstanding in where the dangers are,” said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. “Kids are at far greater danger going to and from school than they are in the classroom,” he said. “School counseling, academic support, that’s gonna do far more to keep our communities safe.”
We all rely on news reports, editorials, magazine articles, television broadcasts, websites, podcasts and books to stay informed and develop a perspective about what is happening around the country and across the globe. Turn on the television or open a web browser and you will see stories about war, crime, terrorism, corruption, natural disasters, political dysfunction and environmental destruction. Most news reports and editorials show us the world through a dark lens of tragedy and loss that leads to a distorted perspective, namely that we live in a horrible world at a terrible time – and the country is rapidly going to hades in a handbasket.
You might remember your childhood or young adulthood when things seemed simpler, easier, better. But nothing is more responsible for “the good old days” than a bad memory. Most of us have fond recollections of our early days. But was society itself better? Not if you were drafted to serve in a distant war, or needed a drug, medical device or surgical procedure that hadn’t been invented. Nor was life necessarily better if you didn’t have running water, central heat and air, health insurance, instant communications, safe transportation, a personal computer, a TV, or the hundreds of other modern conveniences – electronic and otherwise – that make our lives more comfortable today.
Educational attainment has never been greater. Standards of living have never been higher. U.S. household income and net worth – adjusted for inflation – are at all-time records. Advances in medicine and technology have eliminated most of history’s plagues, including polio, smallpox, measles and rickets. There has been a huge reduction in infectious diseases. Heart disease and stroke incidence are in decline. The annual rate of new cancer diagnoses has dropped steadily over the last couple of decades.
We complain about the rising cost of health care, but that’s in part because we routinely live long enough to depend on it. The average American life span has almost doubled over the past century, partly because we’re living longer but also because childhood and infant deaths – formerly a depressing part of everyday life – are now so rare.
Maybe life in today’s world isn’t so bad after all.
On a more personal level, however, sometimes life can be, well, pretty overwhelming. Christians are not exempt from the consequences of living in a fallen world; we still are subject to the aging process, disease, accidents, financial reverses, job stresses, relationship issues, and ultimately, death. We lose cherished love ones. Some are melancholy by disposition and prone to anxiety and depression. And in fact as believers we may have a whole new set of anxieties. We are concerned about our children, not only their health, happiness, and success, but their spiritual development. We may have stress about the state of our church. We may feel pressures generated by our testimony for Christ, and in some situations even encounter persecution for our faith.
But we as Christians have a Resource far greater than the issues we face in the world.
Psalm 42:11 reminds us, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs defined contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” The Psalmist in 121 wrote,
I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lordis your keeper; The Lordis your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.
Puritan cleric Jeremy Taylor, who lived during a period of great conflict, wrote, “It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”
The Psalmist in 77:11-12 wrote, “I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds.” Psalm 119:114 reminds us “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.” When the ancient prophet Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and everything around him, he promised the people that it was God’s plan to give them “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Jesus said, recorded in John 14, “Letnot your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.In My Father’s house are manymansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.And if I go and prepare a place for you,I will come again and receive you to Myself; thatwhere I am, there you may be also (verses 1-3). Verse 27 records His words, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century English preacher, was often afflicted by depression. His ministry, greatly successful in his day, continues to have great influence through his writing. In a devotional in his “Morning and Evening,” reflecting on Deuteronomy 33:27a, “The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms,” he wrote (revised and updated by Alistair Begg):
God–the eternal God–is Himself our support at all times, and especially when we are sinking in deep trouble. There are seasons when the Christian sinks very low in humiliation. Under a deep sense of his great sinfulness, he is humbled before God until he hardly knows how to pray, because he appears, in his own sight, so worthless.
Well, child of God, remember that when you are at your worst and lowest, even then “underneath” you “are the everlasting arms.” Sin may drag you ever so low, but Christ’s great atonement is still under all. You may have descended into the depths, but you cannot have fallen so low as the uttermost; and He saves “to the uttermost.”
Again, the Christian sometimes sinks very deeply in sore trial from without. Every earthly prop is cut away. What then? Still underneath him are “the everlasting arms.”
He cannot fall so deep in distress and affliction but what the covenant grace of an ever-faithful God will still encircle him. The Christian may be sinking under trouble from within through fierce conflict; but even then he cannot be brought so low as to be beyond the reach of the “everlasting arms”–they are underneath him; and, while he is sustained, all Satan’s efforts to harm him achieve nothing.
This assurance of support is a comfort to any weary but sincere worker in the service of God. It implies a promise of strength for each day, grace for each need, and power for each duty.
And, finally, when death comes, the promise will still hold good. When we stand in the middle of the Jordan, we will be able to say with David, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We will descend into the grave, but we shall go no lower, for the eternal arms prevent our further fall. All through life, and at its close, we shall be upheld by the “everlasting arms”–arms that neither flag nor lose their strength, for “the everlasting God . . . does not faint or grow weary.”
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
I’ve long been a baseball fan. With zero athletic ability, I never played much, but as a boy I followed the game. At night, I sometimes picked up games on AM radio stations in major league cities, and often listened to the games of our local Denver Bears triple-A minor league team. I looked at box scores each day in the newspaper. My brother and I collected baseball cards, and we selected teams and played a game with those cards and a deck of playing cards. On Saturday afternoons as a boy, I often watched “NBC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week,” with announcers Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. This was before cable television, and since my city did not have a major league team then, this was usually the only televised baseball I saw. Those games were televised from different stadiums in different cities each week.
The major league stadiums that were in use during the era of my childhood are mostly all gone. Places like Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and Comiskey Park have been torn down. Even most of the multi-purpose stadiums built in the 1970’s and 1980’s have met the wrecking ball. Three iconic baseball venues, however, remain in use – Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, built in the early 1960’s, and Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston, both built early in the twentieth century.
My wife and my son both enjoy baseball; our son played the game in high school, and baseball remains a connecting point between us. He and I drove to Omaha for a couple of college world series games the year of his high school graduation, and the next year we flew to Arizona for a few days at Colorado Rockies spring training. Last year, after some thought and discussion, my wife, my son, and I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago. I still remember in my youth watching games that were televised from that stadium; I remember the names of many of the Cubs players from those days. I carefully planned out the trip, shelled out the cash to buy airfare and tickets to the games, and we attended two games along with a stadium tour where we were able to go onto the field and stand in front of the unique ivy-covered outfield walls, and had most of a day to go into downtown Chicago as well. Wrigley Field lived up to our hopes. A modern scoreboard has been added along with a few renovations, but the stadium retains its charm. It sits partially surrounded by an older residential area, and the footprint of the stadium is small; we walked all the way around it several times, along Waveland Avenue, along Sheffield Avenue, along Addison Street, and Clark Street, the main street in front of the stadium. The Cubs won; the fans sang “Go Cubs Go.” For a baseball fan, Wrigley Field is an iconic venue. We’d like to go again.
This year, we are going to Fenway Park in Boston. After thought and research, a pile of cash even bigger than last year has been invested. Tickets to two games have been purchased from the ball club and are in a drawer (yes, old fashioned paper tickets), along with documentation showing the purchase of a stadium tour. I’m not going that far without the proper admission documents in hand, and airline tickets were purchased only after baseball tickets were purchased, at a stadium where sell-outs are common. A hotel a couple of blocks from the stadium has been reserved. A day will be available for a visit to a couple of historic Boston sites. We’ve planned a great trip and visit to historic, iconic Fenway Park and hope it lives up to our visit last year to Wrigley. We await the trip with much anticipation.
As a boy, I also learned of an Iconic Venue that far exceeds the grandeur of any baseball park. The cost of entering this Place is incalculable. But I learned that the Designer and Builder of this Great Place wants me to come, wants all to come, and so paid the vast cost of admission Himself. While the requirement to enter was not something I could pay and it was paid on my behalf, nevertheless something was required from me. I had to humble myself and ask; I had to acknowledge that I was unable to gain admission on my own merit but needed to request admission based on the immense price that had been paid for me. That wasn’t too difficult for me as a boy, but that process of humbling oneself, admitting one’s inability to meet the entrance requirements, admitting that one has in fact no right to enter, proves a great obstacle to many.
And so, in my childhood – I don’t know the date – I came to believe the promise of the Great Designer and Builder of this venue, humbly asked Him, and received my entrance credentials. I did not receive a paper ticket, but rather gained every confidence in my innermost being that my future entrance into the iconic venue is assured. I believed the gospel, and the witness of the Spirit speaking through the Word. I don’t know the future date or the circumstances of my eventual entering this place, but I know that the One Who has paid the price for me does. By faith in Christ and what He paid on my behalf, I have lived in anticipation of one day entering this Place; in a way, in that innermost part of my being, in my mind and in my heart, I am already there.
Biblical Christianity has a profoundly future focus. For many who will one day enter this Place, those living under persecution or those living in difficult circumstances, going there is their daily hope and expectation. Entrance into this great Place has a downside, however, at least to me as a prosperous, healthy, and happy American. Unlike going to a ballpark or going on a vacation, one never returns from this place, and I am not anxious to leave my life in this world. I have a great life, with many places to go, many experiences to experience. My beloved wife and I have plans for a great future. I enjoy my new grandchild; maybe there will one day be another. As life here continues, perhaps the Designer and Builder of the Great Place will enable me to help someone in their life as they look forward to that Place, and certainly He wants me to encourage others to humble themselves and seek their own admission. The Apostle Paul wrote (Philippians 1:21-24),
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”
The great old sports stadiums are mostly gone, and those that remain will eventually be gone too. The Great Place where I will one day go will last forever. Many people expressing the ideas of folk religion might speak of “going to that great ballpark (or, great “fill-in-the-blank”) in the sky.” Heaven is far more than that; it is the eternal home of believers who know Christ as their Lord and Savior. I do not know exactly what one does, what one sees, or what one experiences, after entering this place. I do know that it exists for the honor and glory of its Creator and He has designed it exclusively for those who have humbled themselves and asked for admission on His terms, and so we will worship and praise Him. I know that, because He Himself has paid the inestimable price of admission for those who enter, He loves us greatly and will delight in our enjoyment of our life in this Great Place. We will be free from the presence of sin and the results of sin; we will have fellowship with God.
God’s redeemed people should live in the perpetual anticipation of the eternal home He has prepared for us. The American evangelical church seems to have forgotten this. Pastors speaking to self-absorbed audiences talk much of topics like prosperity and success and happiness and better relationships and social justice, and imply that following Jesus is merely a way to have a better life in this world. The church seems to try to reflect and conform to society as much as possible, incorporating current entertainment trends and current social topics in place of speaking clearly and often of the the gospel and eternity. It has decided to meet human desires and perceived needs rather than calling men to faith and repentance, the necessary entrance requirement to enter eternal life. Many churches avoid speaking of or singing of topics like salvation from sin, death, and the second coming of Christ. This is a grievous error. As in the past, sermons in sound churches today often concern heaven and how to get there, although unfortunately sometimes to excess and failing to remember to also speak of the important implications of the gospel in daily life now. Hymns and gospel songs often remind us of sin and salvation, heaven, and the return of Christ. The motivational talks of today’s seeker-sensitive church no longer feature such themes, and the contemporary entertainment that has replaced singing of hymns and gospel songs in many churches does not do so. The gospel must affect every part of our life in this world, but we must never forget that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through,” and our real task is to offer the gospel so that others might believe it and come to live their lives in anticipation of their eternal home. Christians live with the perpetual consciousness that this life can meet with disaster or even end at any time, but we have an eternal home awaiting us. Further, Christ may come at any moment and bring the present evil age to an end. This is our hope.
In Revelation 21 John wrote,
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”