Community

Spirit of Sound Mind

Who am I to be weighing in on the global debate surrounding the Coronavirus?

  • True, I’m a doctor—but the philosophical kind.
  • I’m also a mother of two who takes pride in the value of “building up immunity” by allowing contact with the germs and dirt of this world.
  • And I’m a planner who has therefore thought of contingency plans for a range of crises, including those of pandemic proportions.
  • I’m a Christ-follower, and one who’s been chomping at the bit to get to heaven…like, my whole life…as in, I have to remind myself regularly that “to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)…as in, I believe so strongly that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11) that I felt it necessary to start a blog about it. I. LONG. FOR. HEAVEN. PERIOD. I also firmly believe that God is forever on His throne—and that includes now, today, and in the months from now. All that is to say, I have no cause or inclination toward fear or anxiety over the thought of death as a result of this virus.

So I suppose it could be argued that I have no business at all throwing my two cents in on the topic.

BUT….and this is a big but…

Between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon of this past week, over the span of 24 hours, I experienced a drastic shift in perspective about the so-called “Christian” response to this virus.

It’s based on the ideas that we should be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves,” (Matthew 10:16), that we should “look to the interests of others, and not only ourselves,” (Philippians 2:4), and that “God has given us a spirit of sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7), to name a few. But again, I’m NOT an epidemiologist. I’m NOT a virologist. I’m NOT a public health expert. So take what I have with a grain of salt…but hopefully with a grain of light, as well.

A couple of days ago, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t quite get it. I felt like maybe we were all overreacting just a bit. I mean, I wasn’t out licking subway polls, but I thought, “Of course I’ll go to church,” and, “Gosh, I really want to see the ‘I Still Believe,’ movie coming out next week.” But a few things intervened that caused me to begin wrestling with those thoughts.

First of all, I saw the responses of my friends living literally all over the world—Italy, Poland, France, Australia…they were responses of proactive caution, not panic or hysteria, but also not complacency or (God forbid) arrogance. I also saw the responses of the epidemiologists—yes, plural epidemiologists—that I know personally, and read the accounts they shared about how responding earlier as opposed to later might well shorten the length of time that we need to take these more severe measures. Doing so might also keep health care facilities from becoming too overwhelmed to provide needed care for those who become very ill, and by extension may save lives. And finally, I saw the responses of my friends who were adopting the attitude that all of the closures and cancellations we’re now facing are somehow tantamount to “extra vacation.” Well, at that I felt like I was looking into a mirror at my own calloused heart—and I didn’t like what I saw. I was disgusted—not with them, but with myself—and praise God, I was repentant.

Of course, we Christians have freedom from fear—but does that mean we should flaunt it? Does it mean we should cavalierly take others’ lives and eternities’ into our own hands by hastening their suffering, or their deaths? “By no means!”, in the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 6:2). If even one life or one soul can be saved by our actions, then isn’t that worth the inconvenience that comes from a little bit of social distancing and a few (okay, a lot of) changed plans?

You see, when my epidemiologist friends warn that school closures do not equal additional vacation, that this is not the time to visit the zoo, the museum, the park, the movie theater…not the time to have block parties or social gatherings of any size…I want to believe them. They are the experts, after all. Their math is far more reliable than mine will EVER be (says the qualitative researcher who only dabbles in statistics when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary). We MUST heed their warnings. We can’t wait to act until there’s “at least one confirmed case locally.” By then, it will be too late. Besides, if we stand with Moses in praying that God would “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90: 10-12), and recognize that their entirety is but a handbreadth (Psalm 39:5), then what’s a few weeks of “lost time”?

Please don’t get me wrong, I applaud the Christians of the early Church, who according to Dionysius,

“showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and
ministering to them in Christ….Many, in nursing and curing others,
transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…”

And rest assured, if and when the local healthcare facilities call on laypersons to start doing field triage, I will be the first one to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of my neighbors. However, it seems that for the moment, the better part of wisdom and godliness is to help keep that demand under control in the first place, by practicing prudence (aka social distancing).

Certainly, as in Esther’s day, should we fail to act, “relief and deliverance…will arise from another place.” But who knows? Perhaps we have been brought to this place, to our positions, “for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Lord, let not one death from this virus be on our hands—be it directly or indirectly. Guide us in your ways and give us YOUR wisdom. Amen.

 

Building Some Church

1 Corinthians 12:25-27

“…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

One day, as some of us moms were watching our kids play on the playground at church, one of them observed some workers, and construction equipment, and some loud noises adjacent the playground. A friend’s son commented that they were “building some church.” Indeed, we are in the process of expanding our physical church campus, but my friend and I laughed at the phrase, joking about how it would make a great hashtag to describe the more figurative process of building and growing in biblical community. The latter a much slower and subtler process, not nearly as easily visible as the physical processes associated with a construction project.

I was recently prompted to reflect on my own experience with biblical community—granted, it was under unfortunate circumstances. A couple of friends and friends’ family members have found themselves in the hospital lately. And there is always an internal debate—Should I go visit? How long should I wait? Do they even want me to visit? Do they want any visitors at all? Would I want visitors if it were me? And WHO would I want to see? That last question got me thinking, and I drifted off to sleep one night composing a mental list of welcome visitors for my own hour of need—from church, from work, from the neighborhood, from school, from the grocery store, and so on. The list turned out to be much longer than I’d expected.

Contrast that with my hospital stay 7 years ago, when Tijge was born. We were new to town, even newer to our church, and hadn’t made a whole lot of friends. I honestly couldn’t think of a single person (other than Chris, of course) I would have wanted to see. That was okay. It was a special time of bonding as a family and getting used to the newness of motherhood. But I would have felt the same way about visitors even if I’d been in the hospital for some other (less joyous) reason.

So, I guess the revelation is this: whatever else I’ve been doing over the past 7+ years—raising kids, working, building a home and a life in perhaps the most unexpected of places—I’ve also been, you guessed it, building some church. And I’m so grateful for the blessing that has been. Thank you to all of you who have been part of this journey!

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Where 2 or 3…Sleep

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Not long ago, our pastor preached on Matthew 18:20, a passage he argued is often taken out of its intended context of reconciliation and misplaced into the context of prayer. It’s encouraging to be reminded of the truth that our prayers are not dependent on the faithfulness of flawed fellow humans. Because how often have we brought our burdens to our community of believers, requesting their prayers, only to have those requests fall on deaf ears, or get lost in the shuffle of daily life or the litany of other requests that occupy their time and attention? But God hears and responds to our prayer, no matter who joins us in them. This is evident throughout scripture, actually. For instance:

  • Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Still, if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to respond with an air of resentment…misplaced, though, because let’s be honest—unless you’re that lady from War Room, you’ve probably dropped the ball on a prayer request or two yourself. I know I have.

So how should we respond when we are disappointed and when our prayer warriors let us down? Fortunately, Jesus Himself offers us some guidance on that. In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus shared His burden with Peter, James, and John, saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He asked them to keep watch and pray. And did they? No. Instead, they fell asleep. Even John—the beloved disciple and the one who may arguably have loved Jesus the most. And not just once or twice did this happen, but three times! But Jesus recognized that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Scripture also tells us that the disciples’ “eyes were heavy” and that Jesus left them sleeping and continued to pray. Finally, after they’d slept through the entire ordeal, Judas showed up to turn Jesus over to the authorities. And Jesus woke them up and said, “Rise! Let us go!”

I see Jesus doing four things in this passage:

  1. He asks his friends to pray—and more than once. He doesn’t give up on them, just because they’ve let him down.
  2. He understands their weakness and weariness. He recognizes that their failure is not a result of them not wanting to pray or not caring. He sees that their eyes are heavy.
  3. He continues to pray, even in isolation. He knows that the Father hears and answers prayers—whether we are joined in those prayers by our fellow believers or not.
  4. He doesn’t give up on the disciples. Even though He does eventually allow them to slumber, he wakes them up when it’s time to go, and summons them to join Him.

My hope is that you and I will take our cues from Jesus when faced with our own disappointments, and that we will remember, as God does, that we are all but dust (Psalm 103:14).

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Who I Am–Part V

Deuteronomy 6:5-9
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

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Sitting here reminiscing and trying to chronologize some of the exciting adventures I’ve had, I realize I’m at a loss. Case in point: I remember scuba diving in the Bahamas, but when exactly was that? Was it during my “two years of travel” (AKA my last two years in the Air Force)? Or was it after I got out? And if it was after, was it before or after my missions trip to New Zealand? It matters only in that the two trips are now indelibly intertwined on the outside of my left food. The tribal design featured in the above tattoo is a Maori symbol for “hammerhead shark.” If you look closely, you can kind of see the unique head shape of the shark. I was intrigued by both the design and its muse.

Now, I’ve been on a number of dives, in a number of places, and two or three of those dives were shark dives. But on none of them did I see a hammerhead. It’s on my bucket list, for sure. And just so I don’t forget, it’s right there on my foot.

I’ve always figured that God created hammerheads with such an odd head shape for some ingenious reason. Well apparently, the shape serves numerous purposes. According to Wikipedia, those include “sensory reception, maneuvering, and prey manipulation.” I wonder why this particular shark needed this particular shape? For its unique diet? Or its unique environment? I don’t know, but I know the one who does. But do you know what I just learned about hammerhead sharks? I learned (again, from Wikipedia) that hammerheads travel in schools—at least during the day. This also is unique among sharks. At night, they hunt alone.

As I reflect on that existence, I see distinct parallels between a school of hammerheads and the Body of Christ. I can see the need for community and corporate worship, along with the need for individual spiritual nourishment and rejuvenation. In our church bodies, we see a variety of passions, gifts, and abilities that allow us to function as a family of believers, and as a team of effective witnesses of and for the Gospel.

They allow us to serve one another when we’re in need, to comfort one another in times of pain and loss, and so much more. But we can’t serve these purposes and respond to our God-given callings if we don’t also seek Him in the quiet of our own hearts. These aren’t new truths to me, but the added significance and reminder provided by my tattoo is new. I don’t believe I will ever look at it in the same way again.