Faith in a Pandemic

Martin Luther painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1529

As we deal with the pandemic of the coronavirus, we can learn much from something the great church reformer Martin Luther wrote over 400 years ago. I first saw this quote in a post on the Rock Point Church (of Schertz, Texas) Facebook page. Their post stated…

“When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death (Bubonic Plague, 14th-16th centuries), he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now…

‘I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.’

And so Luther stayed in his hometown of Wittenberg, Germany, along with his pregnant wife. He cared for and ministered to those dying of The Black Death until the plague had passed from his area.

Quote From: Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess.

I wanted to pass along this Facebook post because Martin Luther’s words are insightful and helpful all these years later! So are the words of the Psalmist with which we close.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”  Psalm 91:1-2 & 5-6

The Pandemic’s “Pause” Button

Remember when we used to go to sports events, movies, restaurants, church activities, social events, school, and work? And how many hours didn’t we spend in going here, there, and back again!

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the “pause” button on much that made up our busy lives. Most of it was good, and we hope we can get back to it sometime soon. But are there opportunities as we live with the pause button pushed?

Being a person of faith in God, I’ve come to the conclusion, along with multitudes of others, that if God allows something to exist or happen, such as this pandemic, then He has a plan and purpose for it. So, how does He want us to use this pause in our lives?

God’s into pauses. In the seven day week He’s designated we set aside one day a week for rest, the Sabbath it’s called, a day to pause. We’ve not always been very good at following His command on this, one of His Ten Commandments.

With much of life on pause how about asking ourselves, “What’s God trying to tell me through this?” “What lesson or lessons am I to learn?” Our busy lives have kept us from really thinking, we’ve been so caught up in doing. The tyranny of the urgent has often kept us from addressing what’s important. Now that our lives have been put on pause, in one way or another it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what’s really important in life.

We’ll need to resist the temptation to spend time grumbling, we don’t hear much from God when grumbling. Binge watching old TV shows or movies probably isn’t at the top of God’s list of ways to make the most of this time on pause either. Familiar addictions and sins over which we’ve gained ground can slip back when we have additional time on our hands, reinforcing Ben Franklin’s warning that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

This is not a time to find ways to kill time but to find ways to redeem the time! The pause button can prompt us to think, read, act, and pray our way to being a better person, more the person God wants us to be.

In spite of the need for social distancing we can find creative ways to nurture closer and deeper relationships with each other. We can rediscover that being is more important than doing, resting is better than rushing, and affirming others better than self-achievement! We can move God from the periphery of our busy life to the center of our quieted soul.

Ironically, even though life is currently on pause for many of us, it’s possible we can later arrive at a place where we discover we’ve fast forwarded in important areas of our life! How about we pause and think about that?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

Peace in a Pandemic

Ethan walking down the steps to our house with me. Ethan, his sister Grace, and their mother live at Refuge Ranch where their mother is on staff.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a major effect on every one of us in a variety of ways, from impacting our normal schedules and activities to affecting what we can purchase because of shortages of essential items. We can’t keep from thinking about the pandemic…a lot! It’s easy to worry at a time like this; it’s difficult to experience any measure of peace at a time like this.

Much is being said about the symptoms that indicate a person might have the coronavirus. There’s a symptom, however, that many of us exhibit concerning the coronavirus even though we most likely don’t have the virus. That symptom is fear.

Fear can be good. A healthy fear of the virus prompts us to take appropriate precautions and actions that can help protect us and also contribute to the containment of the virus.

This symptom of fear, however, can also be bad. Fear can distract us from focusing on our normal daily activities that continue to need our attention. Fear can be debilitating, the anxiety reaching a level of panic at this pandemic. Fear can weaken our faith in God, distancing us from Him.

I’d like to remind us of an available vaccine that can be helpful, not for the pandemic itself, but for the pandemic-inspired fear that can infect our mind, heart, and soul. Just as a vaccine often uses a very small dose of the actual disease to fight the infection, I’d like to suggest how a proper small dosage of fear can be used as an antidote to fight the big fears that infect us.

Picture a small child, a toddler, facing a bunch of steps that he wants to go down. He’s old enough to fear falling head over heels if he attempts to go down the steps. He uses his fear to prompt him to reach out for the hand of the adult who is alongside him. Reaching up, he grasps the big hand of the adult that’s reaching down. He has the same fear of the steps, that has not gone away, but now he confidently takes the steps because he is holding on to someone bigger than himself in whom he has faith. What he doesn’t even realize is that the adult’s grip on him is far greater than his grip on the adult!

The symptom of fear that we exhibit in confronting the coronavirus can be used to prompt us to reach out our hand in faith to grasp the hand of God that is reaching down to us! And to realize that our weak grip of faith is enough, for His grip on us is far stronger! No matter what we face, no matter what will happen, He will be with us, and in the ultimate sense, it will be okay! We can have peace in this pandemic!

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” King David in Psalm 23:4a

Doing Good Beyond What We Can Do

How can we do good beyond what we can do? It sounds nonsensical, illogical. It’s not! It’s true, and it’s a truth that can really encourage us!

So often we think there’s so little we can do in a situation. We’d like to help out a loved one, but they aren’t very open to our help. We want to contribute financially to a person, family, or cause, but what we can offer seems so inconsequential. We’d like to come alongside someone in their crisis, but what can we say or do that would really make a difference? And because the something good we could do seems so small we’re tempted to do nothing good at all.

There’s a principle of Jesus’ that can help us out here. He said that God’s unleashing of His good in the world (what He referred to as the kingdom of God) is like a person planting a seed. The farmer plants the seed and may help it along by watering and weeding, but he doesn’t make it grow. As Jesus put it, the seed grows “all by itself.”

In a small garden area near our daughter’s home I built a decorative pond with a few fish next to a palm tree I planted over a dozen years ago. One of the fish is a koi. When I put it in the pond it was about two inches long. When I planted the palm tree it was about three feet tall. Now the koi is about ten inches long and the palm tree must be around twenty-five feet high! I did not “grow” the koi or the palm tree. I just put the koi in the pond and the palm tree in the earth, and with but a little care on my part they grew all by themselves to their current size.

It’s God who has built into koi, palm trees, seeds, and countless other living objects the ability to grow. We just do the small business of planting, feeding, watering, and tending and the growth happens. Jesus would remind us that this is how God wants to work in our lives.

God can use our simple words of encouragement, a small gesture of kindness on our part, or a seemingly woefully inadequate effort by us in a very bad situation to carry out His good. We just need to be God’s person in God’s place to do what little good we can do and leave the rest up to Him. We’re not called by God to do it all, we’re called by God to just do something! God takes our effort and runs with it, helping us do good beyond what we can do!

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the fuill kernel in the head.” Mark 4:26-28

The Broken World

The ball I found

I found the world broken. It lay along the edge of the road. The broken world was a foam rubber ball made to look like the world. I picked up the sad looking sphere and held it in my hand, turning it over, surveying the damage.

The small globe had seen much play and some evil abuse. Apocalyptic events had gouged out parts of the oceans, some islands, and a good chunk of several continents.

It was either discarded or lost by the child or children who had played with it. I decided to keep it, a symbol of the larger world it represented.

Like the microscopic organisms that likely inhabited the surface of the small broken world I held in my hand, the real world also has creatures, human beings, inhabiting its surface, microscopic in size and unseen when viewed from anywhere beyond our envelope of atmosphere.

We human beings experience the brokenness of this world beyond the fracturing earth’s crust creating earthquakes and tsunamis, wild weather resulting in droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, and microscopic bacteria and viruses causing sickness and death. The brokenness also exists between us and the God who made this world and us, between each of us, and within each of us.

The good news is that our broken world is not lost nor has it been discarded. God could have considered our world a lost cause, but He didn’t. He could have discarded the world as we know it, but He didn’t.

Those of us who call ourselves Christians believe God did something absolutely astonishing. We believe God came to our broken world as one of us, became broken Himself on a cross, broken unto death, for us. He didn’t stay broken, however, but became alive again, good as new. He did this so we wouldn’t have to be broken in a relationship with Him, could have healing in broken human relationships, and inner healing from what’s tearing us apart inside.

I’m keeping the broken world of a ball. The good news is that it still can be played with as a ball, as broken as it is. This, to me, is like the larger world it represents. My world, your world, our world, is broken, no doubt about it. The good news is that God can and does work with it all and some day will make all things new again!

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Revelation 21:5

Planting and Painting a Palm Tree Island

Tom painting the palm tree island

The scraggly small palm tree that could be a cousin to Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree stood alone on the tiny island that graces the entrance to our older subdivision. Our neighborhood may have had a homeowners’ association, an HOA, at one time, but no more. The island appears to be a no man’s land.

Then one day two newly planted palm trees were growing on the small island, lovingly propped up by wood braces to keep them standing in strong wind. Who planted them? Who owns the little island? Who cares?

Heading out on my morning walk one day I met a man painting the small island’s curb bright yellow. Striking up a brief conversation with him I found out his name is Tom and that he lives in our neighborhood one street over from where we live. It turns out he also planted the trees. Upon further questioning he told me that no one’s paying him for the planting of the trees and painting of the curb and that he paid for the trees and paint out of his own pocket. He just thought the entry to our neighborhood needed some sprucing up. Wow!

I’m planning on getting to know Tom better. Anyone who puts forth the time, money, and effort to fix up something that’s not his has to be some kind of special person!

We need more Toms in the world. I need to be more like Tom! For most of us it’s our default mode to ask before we put forth time, money, or effort, “What’s in it for me?” Tom’s planting and painting of the palm tree island is a reminder that this default mode is a serious fault!

There’s an old Greek proverb that states, “Society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they shall never sit.” Tom’s 73 years old.

From the most casual of our relationships to our most personal of relationships and from the smallest and most obscure of opportunities to the large and life altering opportunities we can choose to give of ourselves when there’s no guarantee we will receive anything back. In fact, we can choose to give of our ourselves when there’s the guarantee we won’t receive in return! Plant a tree under the shade of which you will never sit!

Tom told me as he painted the curb that in recent years he’s lost his wife of 47 years, a daughter, and a grandson. Still, Tom seemed happy with his planting and painting of the palm tree island. I don’t wonder why. Giving rather than grumbling is always a better response to the pain that comes to us in this fallen, broken world. That’s the lesson I learned from Tom, the planter and painter of the palm tree island.

“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:12-13

An Emptying and A Filling — a Faith Fable

Once upon a time there was a furniture maker who not only was known in his village for his fine craftsmanship but in the nearby villages as well. He had no shortage of work, was wealthy, and bragged that he was the finest furniture maker that there was, which no one disputed.

On one particular day the village pastor was paying him a visit, as he had done many times before. The furniture maker had resisted the pastor’s efforts to help him find God. The pastor exclaimed in frustration, “I don’t know what else to tell you. I’ve told you the truth about God time and time again. Why can’t you accept it?”

Bent over a piece of wood, sanding it, the furniture maker shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. I believe what you say is true about God. I just don’t need that truth right now. My life is good.”

The village pastor moved to a chair in the corner and, remaining silent, watched the furniture maker work, not knowing what to say that could make a difference. Just then a friend of the furniture maker walked by the open door of the carpenter shop and paused. The village pastor, seated in the shadowed corner went unnoticed by the friend in the doorway. Raising a jug he was carrying in his hand, he said, “My wife has just made some fresh squeezed lemonade that I’m taking to my son and his friend who are working in the hot sun. Would you care for some?”

“I certainly would,” said the furniture maker. Looking about he saw and retrieved a mug from on top of a stack of boards. He glanced into the mug, moved past his friend in the doorway and tossed the contents of the cup into the street. He then extended the mug to his friend and let him fill it with fresh lemonade.

The friend having left, the furniture maker sipped the lemonade as he returned to his woodworking project. The pastor stood and walked out of the shadows to stand near the furniture maker. “What was in the mug before your friend filled it with lemonade?” he asked.

“Yesterday’s coffee,” the furniture maker replied.

“Why did you empty the mug of the stale old coffee before letting your friend pour you some of his lemonade?”

With an incredulous look on his face, the furniture maker said, “It’s obvious, isn’t it? I had to empty the mug of the stale coffee before having it filled with the lemonade.

The village pastor started to leave, but as he did so he said, “I too have offered you something better than anything you now have, but you cannot receive it. You’re so full of your old self that you cannot be filled with the newness of God.” And with that the village pastor left the furniture maker to his thoughts.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

The Toothpaste Tube War

I want to give up! I don’t think I can squeeze any more toothpaste out of the tube. I try anyway, because I know my wife Diann wants me to do so. I squeeze with all my might and a small amount oozes out, but as soon as I release my two-handed grip to pick up my toothbrush, the toothpaste oozes back into the tube like some timid albino worm.

I know Diann can miraculously get another week’s worth of toothpaste out of it. Fine, she can have at it; I’ll start a new tube!

In our 47 years of marriage we’ve made peace about where to squeeze the toothpaste tube. I would squeeze it wherever, she insisted it be squeezed from the end. I’ve yielded to her way, though I still backslide and squeeze the middle on occasion. However, when it comes to finishing off a tube of toothpaste, I stand my ground! Why she insists on getting another few days use out of it is beyond me.

By our 50th wedding anniversary I calculate she will have saved us maybe one tube’s worth of toothpaste by attacking the crinkled tubes like a boa constrictor. Perhaps on our 50th wedding anniversary I’ll give her a gift certificate for the one tube of toothpaste we’ve saved. Or maybe not. It could dampen the celebratory nature of the anniversary, you think?

I’m convinced marriage attracts opposites. I suspect that in many marriages there’s one who is a bottom toothpaste tube squeezer and the other is a wherever-I-can-grasp-it-best squeezer. This is why marriage is all about compromise. We’ve compromised; I now squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom and she’s willing to finish off each tube while I start another. It works for us.

How we deal with tubes of toothpaste is just the beginning of how to have a good marriage, or how to make good any other relationship. Many of the conflicts in relationships aren’t really big deals. Our differences are often simply a difference of personalities or of preferences. One person sees details and the other sees the big picture. One likes to relax by reading a book and the other by watching TV. One is a people person and the other likes time away from people. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong but of simply being different.

We blow things out of proportion when we turn a personality characteristic or a preference into a principle. Principles help us see something as either right or wrong, whereas with personalities and preferences there is no right or wrong, just differences.

God’s made us each unique. We acknowledge, accept and celebrate what God has done in making each of us different when we cut each other some slack, show some grace, laugh over our differences, and come to appreciate those differences!

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-4

“The Two Sides of a Healthy Relationship with God”

When I first started dating my wife Diann nearly 50 years ago we were on our best behavior with each other. Over the next few months, like many couples having newly fallen in love, we viewed each other through starry eyes, which distorted our perception, causing us to see little that annoyed us in each other.

Then we got to know each other better! We discovered aspects and facets of each other that were less than perfect. Then too, we not only had to deal with each other’s imperfection but the imperfection in our self that each of us pointed out to the other.

In any relationship experiencing the stern side of each other isn’t as much fun as experiencing the kind side. However it’s absolutely essential if there’s to be a developing, maturing, and deepening relationship. Of course, a relationship of all sternness is not healthy nor will it survive, it needs much kindness, but neither is a relationship healthy and maturing if it is all kindness but has no sternness.

Just as we need both kindness and sternness in healthy human relationships, so too we need both in a relationship with God. I’ve seen people who have focused on either the kindness of God or the sternness of God at pretty much the exclusion of the other. It makes for an unhealthy, twisted, and distant relationship with God.

Some, for instance, have been deeply wounded by a church or a religious authority figure (which may be a parent, relative, friend). The sternness of God is all they can think of or can picture. It’s all about sin and judgment. They feel they can do no right when it comes to God. There’s no joy.

Others focus only on the kindness of God. They may admit they’re not perfect (the socially acceptable thing to do), but they also don’t think they’ve done anything seriously wrong that would upset God. There’s little or no confronting the fact that God is not always pleased with them. They’re like the archer who shoots an arrow at a blank target, draws a bull’s eye around the arrow, then considers himself an accomplished archer.

A relationship with God needs to be balanced, like any healthy human relationship, with both a kind and stern facet to it. Those that have experienced primarily the sternness of God need to be actively and intentionally open to the fact that God is also kind! Those who have made God into their own comfortable image where He rarely, if ever, confronts them with their own sin need to be intentionally open to the fact that God is also stern!

In reality, most of us swing from one extreme to the other, maybe even several times a day. Sometimes we need to compensate by being more receptive to the kindness of God and sometimes by being more receptive to the sternness of God. A relationship with God, like that with another human being, is not static but always dynamic. This is good and as it should be. We just need to be open to that fact, to the two sides of a healthy relationship with God.

“Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.” Romans 11:22

Have a great week!

Dave Claassen

Amazing Grace

“Thank you” is what I try to remember to say when someone gives me a gift. It may be a gift of a tangible object, sometimes actually gift wrapped. Many gifts, however, can’t be gift wrapped: the giving of time, the long journey for a visit, making the effort to help, forgiveness, or words of affirmation. I express thanks, or at least I should, for that which I didn’t earn or don’t deserve, often called grace.

The word grace means “undeserved favor” which has much the same meaning as the idea of a gift. You don’t earn a gift; if you earned it then it becomes a payment, not a gift. When someone shows us grace it means they’ve given us the gift of what we did not earn and, therefore, don’t deserve.

Sometimes being extended grace means we are not given what we do deserve! I’ve had this kind of grace extended to me by more than one police officer who stopped me for a traffic violation. I could have been issued a ticket, but the officer decided to simply give me a warning instead. He showed me grace by not giving me what I deserved.

My wife Diann also extends grace to me on many occasions, cutting me some slack when I don’t do what I should do and when I do what I shouldn’t do. Almost everyone I know has extended me grace. I know, then, from personal experience, that grace that is received feels so good!

Sadly, we can take for granted grace that is extended to us, then we miss it altogether. An attitude of entitlement can also blind us to grace given us, thinking we deserve it. Some of the saddest, angriest, or most discontented people are those who’ve not acknowledged the grace given them. It’s only when we’re grateful for grace being extended to us that we’ve unwrapped the gift of grace and can truly enjoy the gift!

Not only is the role of grace so essential to human relationships, it’s absolutely crucial to a relationship with God. As long as we think we have to earn God’s favor we’re going to feel like a miserable failure on our worst days and a prideful super achiever on our good days. Neither is the way to be close to God. Grace is the way, accepting God’s grace extended to us.

The word grace appears about 114 times in the New Testament of the Bible. As far as I know there’s no other religion in the world that has such a focus on grace. The message is clear in the Bible: it’s only by the grace of God that we can be in a personal and eternal relationship with Him. Being a truly religious person is responding with gratitude to God’s grace!

Now that I’m gray haired, wrinkled, and well into my senior years I’ve come to the conviction that the concept of grace is of supreme importance. It’s so important that if I had to determine how effective a person, who I did not know personally, was in his or her human relationships and in their relationship with God I wouldn’t ask them to talk about faith, hope, or love. I’d ask them to tell me about their understanding and experience of grace.

Coming to a deeper understanding of grace and being intentional about living a grace-filled life is the key to living a fulfilled life. Grace is so amazing!

“For from his [Jesus’] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16