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"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Essential Connections for the C Crisis

A week ago, my wife and I went for a walk keeping our 6 foot distance from others.  Two children rode up on their bikes, a brother and sister ages 8 and 6.  They asked us to come to their house so we could play with them.  When we stopped at our daughter’s house, our granddaughter drew blue circles in the street with sidewalk chalk 6 feet apart so we could visit.   Their neighbor asked me if I had ever seen anything like the Covid-19 crisis that we are experiencing.  I said, “No, I am only 73.”

This is unique in our lifetime.  We have never seen Americans encouraged, if not ordered, to stay in their houses and isolate from their neighbors. 

Silence has settled over the earth.  Gone are the roars of the crowd from baseball stadiums in America and soccer stadiums in Europe.  Arenas stand starkly empty and quiet where amplifiers vibrated the air and tens of thousands danced and sang.  Churches are vacant, amplifiers and organs silent. Children’s laughter has vanished from playgrounds and parks, replaced by a whispering wind and an occasional bird.  Waves wash up on empty beaches closed to tourists and residents alike.

We believe a better day will come. But now we need the love of another human being, a smile, an embrace, a kiss on the cheek.   Now, more than ever, we need to know God’s love.  We have been shocked to discover how fragile our lives are, not just for the aged and infirm, but for all of us, for the entire human race.  For China, Iran, India, South Korea, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and us. This is global.  We are faced with a stark reminder that we are all human and we are all mortal.

Previous generations walked where we walk and discovered what we need to discover: that even death cannot separate us from God’s love. David wrote, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.  As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.  But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13-18).

While most of us expect to survive this crisis and look forward to resuming life as we knew it, there are thousands who will lose loved ones. Their stories are heart-rending.  Thousands are dying in isolation, their families unable to comfort them or gather for their funeral.  It took one month for the first 1,000 to die. Two days for that number to double.  I have no idea what the numbers will be when you read this. At the same time stories of kindness, thoughtfulness and sacrifice abound.

We have an opportunity to listen, to embrace God’s lovingkindness demonstrated in Scripture through the life of His Son.  We have the opportunity to emerge on the other side with appreciation for the true treasures we have taken for granted: the laughter of children playing on the playgrounds, dinner at the table with neighbors and friends, assembly in churches for worship, congregational singing, hugs and kisses.  

The whole world has been connected through common suffering and loss. We have been reminded that every single human life is important.  Every human being needs God. He will never leave us nor forsake us.  His love is everlasting.

Bill's ebooks, Authentic Disciple: Sermon on the Mount and Bold Springs, a Civil War novel are available FREE on Amazon as eBooks April 1-5, 2020.  Click images to the right.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Weathering the C Crisis Together

Last Saturday afternoon, March21, my wife and I invited a group of our neighbors to bring their lawn chairs and meet in our driveway.  Ten of us showed up and positioned our chairs 6 feet apart. (If more had come, we were prepared with a second driveway across the street). A few had met, but most did not know each other.  Our neighborhood has been typical of most suburbs. We pass each other coming and going to work, then disappear into our garages.  We occasionally see each other walking our dogs, but we rarely speak. Faces may become familiar, but we don’t know each other’s names. But this Saturday was different.  Under the ominous cloud of the coronavirus, our neighbors were hungry to meet each other, to talk and to share.

The group included a widow in her 70s, two young couples in their 20s, a couple in their 30s recently moved from Philadelphia and a couple in their late 40s, recently married and adjusting to a blended family.  My wife and I married over 50 years ago. The gathering was not somber. There was much laughter. One couple brought gifts of toilet paper with a card: “Just a little something to show that we got your back.”  But there was a serious undercurrent, not knowing what comes next. We each introduced ourselves and shared how the COVID crisis is affecting us and our families. At the end, I led the group in prayer.

We are praying for the people of the world.  We are all in this together.  The pain and suffering includes Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.  All the nations of the earth are being affected. We are praying for the sick and the dying, and for those who have lost loved ones. We are concerned for first responders, for our medical professionals, for the elderly and the weak. We pray for students whose studies have been disrupted, whose classes have been cancelled.  We are burdened for those who are suffering economic disaster, for hourly workers, minimum wage employees, those who live week to week, who cannot pay their rent next month or afford food for their children. 

We are discovering in this crisis that the place to which we can turn is to God and to one another. We are discovering that more than big government, more than money, we need people. We need our families and we need our neighbors and we need God.  Instead of seeing a society implode in anger and frustration and chaos, we are watching people step up to stand in the gap.  We are looking for ways to encourage one another, to support each other. We want to help. 

Jesus taught us this amazing truth about human nature centuries ago when an arrogant young lawyer asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”  He replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Across the ages in every culture where the message of Christ has been told, that story has enabled people to overcome and withstand the most severe catastrophes.  Instead of “passing by on the other side,” instead of just thinking about ourselves and our own concerns, we must stop and help just one, somebody for whom we can make a difference.

One of my neighbors reminded me that often Jesus stopped to help just one. That’s what we need to do. That is what we each can do, like the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Looking for a Better Day - Lessons from Fred and Ethel

Last year two robins built their nest in the Aspen tree in front of our house.  I named them Fred and Ethel. Ethel, it appeared, was in charge.  Fred helped.  But, as with most females, the nest was hers.  Fred brought twigs and did his best, but Ethel corrected his mistakes, laid her eggs and faithfully incubated their young while Fred foraged and occasionally got distracted.

They made their appearance March 9, perched side-by-side on the fence near our deck. I don’t know where they have been.  Maybe they spent the winter in Mexico, flitting around some sunny beach, maybe Acapulco!  After all, a wall is nothing to a bird. They can literally fly right through customs, or over any man-made barrier whenever they choose. But then, again, maybe they settled for southern California, munching on grapes and black berries.

Fred greets the morning, before sunrise, with song.   Maybe Fred has been hanging out with Willie.  He seems happy to be “on the road again.”  The red-wing black birds join him, their red epaulets flashing in the sun as they fly to the grassy marsh behind our house to build their nests.  After a joyful winter foraging with friends and family in distant places, they are coming for a summer of hard work.  A nest to build, maybe two or three broods of young to repopulate the planet.

The trees are still bare-limbed and the grass is not yet green. We will likely have another snowfall or two in Colorado, but the temps are spiking into the 50s and the Aspen are starting to bud.  Fred and Ethel seem oblivious to the coronavirus, the devastated stock market, school closings, suspended athletic contests, closed concerts and shuttered cafes.  They know the sun will rise and that spring will come, so they are getting ready.  Fred and Ethel are confident a better day is yet to come. 

In the midst of our disrupted lives I find it comforting to watch the birds.  They have survived hurricanes, winter storms, attacks from predators and their own diseases.  They don’t give up. They just keep singing, and building their nests and raising their young.    Maybe we can sing while it is still dark, before the sunrise.  I like the song, 10,000 reasons … “The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning.  It’s time to sing my song again.  Whatever may come and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.”

We are enduring one of the greatest tests of my life-time, which includes 3 quarters of a century. Fortunately the fiction writers who penned and produced the doomsday stories were wrong. When the world population is tested, as we are today, most people refuse to dissolve into chaos and selfish survival. We help one another. We care for one another.  We cheer each other on.  We pull through together, like the birds.

Though these days are difficult and confusing, spring will come. Summer will follow.  A brighter day is yet to dawn with much laughter and joy and celebration.  Like the captives who returned to Jerusalem, we will be able to say, “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’” (Psalm 126:1-2).

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Finding Faith in Difficult Days

We are drowning in bad news.  The coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread. Many corporations are instructing employees to work remotely from home.  Colleges are shifting to online classes.  The The NBA has suspended its season.  March Madness will be played without fans in the seats.  From one case in Wuhan, China, in less than three months, it has spread throughout the globe.  All of Italy has been placed under a lock down that closes all schools and prohibits all public gatherings and suspension of religious gatherings including weddings and funerals.  Israel has imposed a 14 day quarantine on anyone entering the country.  The list is long and growing.

The Stock Market hit the skids on Monday, March 9 with a drop of more than 2,000 points.  Retirement accounts that include stock portfolios were hard hit.  People are worried. It seems like a perfect storm.

Suicides are up. The South Bend Tribune ran an article last week about the alarming rise of suicides among Midwest farmers.  More than 450 Midwestern farmers took their own lives between 2014 and 2018.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that farming is the most vulnerable occupation to suicide in the nation.  At the same time, suicide among the young has escalated. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among young Americans age 15-24.  The suicide rate for those age 10-24 rose 56% from 2010 to 2017.  In 2018 the U.S. recorded 1,400,000 suicide attempts.

Clearly something is wrong.  Many are being overwhelmed by fear.  While we must use caution and avoid unnecessary risk, we must not become paralyzed by fear. 

Our forefathers have something to teach us here.  Previous generations have survived plagues, economic crises, wars and persecution by putting their faith in God.  God alone can sustain us in the most difficult times.

The Bible is rich in reassurance regarding the ultimate source of life and hope.  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. … The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul” (Psalm 121:1-7).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, not depth, nor any other thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-38).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Image and First Impressions

As the Presidential race heats up, candidates are vying for the best image and a positive first impression. But, historically, image and impressions are often deceiving.
Abraham Lincoln was called an “ape.” His voice had a Midwestern twang. He only had one year of formal education. Edwin Stanton first met him in Cincinnati in 1855.  Lincoln had been invited to assist Stanton in an important civil case. Stanton described him as a “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end.”
After Lincoln introduced himself and suggested, “Let’s go up in a gang,” Stanton decided to have nothing to do with him. He even refused to invite Lincoln to dine at his table.

Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address, few listened. The Chicago Times panned the speech stating, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances."

Abraham Lincoln is now regarded as perhaps our greatest president. Every year millions visit his Memorial that overlooks the mall in Washington, D.C. And the speech that the Chicago Times called "silly and flat” is memorized by most students of American history. Edwin Stanton, who later served as his Secretary of War, choked through tears when Lincoln drew his final breath and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

By contrast, in an open and free election on March 29, 1936, Adolf Hitler received 98.8% of the German popular vote. His spellbinding oratory and promises mesmerized an entire generation. He was proclaimed the savior of Germany. At his peak, more than a million gathered in Nuremberg each year to praise and adore him.

 But beneath those appearances lurked a sinister ego-maniac who would exterminate approximately 20 million people including Jews, the mentally ill, the infirm and the elderly. Today, Hitler’s name is synonymous with evil. References to him have been virtually erased in Germany, except for the Document Center in Nuremberg, preserved as a reminder of the nation’s darkest days.

Describing Christ 800 years before He was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Public images and first impressions are often deceiving. What truly matters, for each of us as well as our leaders, is that which is within. The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).