We live in a time of chaos and uncertainty. One of the things that make humans different from all other living things on this planet is that we require hope. Animals do not require hope to be in a state of good health. They live moment-by-moment as long as their immediate needs are met. If an animal has food, shelter, and perhaps companionship, they need nothing else. Humans are different; we wither away in the absence of hope. Christians receive that from the God of hope.
Catherine Madera describes why we need hope: “Hope connects us to the future and prevents us from becoming stuck in past history or present challenges. It projects out, like a beam of light, illuminating things on the horizon to look forward to. Hope is defined as a feeling of trust and expectation, a desire for a certain thing to happen.” (From Guideposts Strength and Grace, August/September 2020, page 58)
Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Even with discouragement, depression, illness, loss, frustration, and failure, we can trust in God and that His Spirit will eventually work things out for our good (Romans 8:28).
God doesn’t just give hope; He is the God of hope. This is one of the great blessings of being a Christian. We can always have hope that answers will come, and having that hope gives us a measure of joy, peace, and contentment–even in troubled times like these.
I sometimes get a heated letter, email, or phone call chastising me for advocating something that isn’t possible or safe. I can understand the concerns, and yet it is hard to miss the clear teaching of Matthew 25:35-40. How can we do we what Jesus told us to do? The fact is that it is safer and easier to do those things today than when Jesus spoke these words. The examples of the first century Church in Acts 2:44-47, of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-39, and of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15 give us clues as to how we can be doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25.
HUNGERED AND YOU GAVE ME MEAT. Every major city in America has a food bank, operated by Christians, that needs volunteers and donations.
THIRSTY AND YOU GAVE ME DRINK. There are Christian groups like “Healing Hands” drilling wells and putting in water purification systems in areas without clean water. They need help and donations.
A STRANGER AND YOU TOOK ME IN. Churches near major hospitals such as Hands of Compassion near the Mayo Clinic provide housing and help strangers–and they need support.
NAKED AND YOU CLOTHED ME. Programs like “Coats for Kids” are operated by churches in nearly every major city in America. Finding and distributing coats to needy people is always a work that needs help.
SICK AND YOU VISITED ME. Visitation programs to hospitals are operated by groups of Christians and local congregations in every hospital in America. Hospital chaplains can integrate workers into visitation programs.
IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME. There are prison ministries in virtually every prison in America and national correspondence programs like ours that offer programs free of charge to anyone who is incarcerated.
I get frustrated with the fact that my mailbox is stuffed every day with requests for help in works like these. Then I think about the fact that Christians do what most people in this world won’t do, and that is doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25. If you can’t find any of these things close to where you live, we can help you find a national and/or local group where you can serve.
I have seen many national elections, and I have seen some loud arguments among people who share the same religious or skeptical views. Many years ago, two of my atheist friends got into a fight over a political issue that put both of them in the emergency room. I have also seen religious people want to disfellowship someone for supporting a presidential candidate who favored abortion. Certainly, the current election has polarized our culture more than any other in recent years. With increasing frequency, my mailbox has received inquiries about, “How should a Christian vote?” The broader issue is how Christians should deal with politics.
Let me first of lay down some facts historically and biblically:
*Jesus and the scriptures give us no command to get involved in politics, and no condemnation if we do so. *There is a need for political authority. See Judges 17:6 for the alternative. *The scriptures tell us to obey political authority. Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1 make that clear, even though the government of that time was corrupt, immoral, and violent, Christians used political authority for their well being. See Acts 23:23-35. *Political leaders aren’t always evil or corrupt. See Luke 7:3-10. 23:50-53. John 3:1-10 and 19:39 and Acts 10:1 for examples.
We can see the answer to how Christians should deal with politics in Matthew 22:15-21, where Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman government. The question was a trap. If He said “no,” He could be put in prison for defying Caesar. If He said “yes,” He would violate Jewish tradition and law. Jesus answered by giving us in a single sentence how Christians should deal with politics: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Like people today, the people who asked the question did not understand what Christianity is about. Later in the same chapter, they ask a question about who a man would be married to in heaven when he had more than one wife on Earth. Jesus responded by saying, “You don’t know the scriptures”!
The point of Christ’s teaching is that God is concerned with the spiritual, and politics is concerned with the physical. Ephesian 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not flesh and blood. Christians must be good citizens by obeying the law and honoring our leaders. We are not to bring politics into the Church, nor is the Church to engage in political work. If you want to be involved in politics, do so. Don’t demand the Church to endorse you or to constrain its members to vote for you. Church funds should not be used for political purposes. Read Matthew 25:31-46 to see what the Lord’s money should be used for.
I am an American, a veteran, and a believer in democracy. Those are physical things I support. More importantly, I am a Christian and am in a war with Satan and evil. Ephesians 6:12-18 defines my spiritual emphasis, and Ephesians 3:9-11 reminds me that this battle has been going on since before creation. I will vote and express myself in physical matters for America. However, I will spend most of my energy and time on the more important work of spreading the gospel and doing the work of Jesus Christ.
One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?
There are many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most tragic of these lessons has been the vilification of science. Many politicians and preachers have acted as if science is something to be opposed and feared. Many of our national leaders view science as an enemy of the economic welfare of the United States. Some preachers have portrayed science as an attempt of Satan to shut down the Church and prevent Christians from meeting together. What is the truth about science and COVID-19?
The first problem here is a failure to understand what science is and how it works. Webster’s Dictionary defines science as “systematic knowledge.” Knowledge is simply an understanding of facts. God gave Israel into the hand of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was to separate the best of the children who were “well-favored, and skillful in all wisdom and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science” and take them to Babylon (Daniel 1:3-4). This led to Daniel becoming a huge asset to Israel. The Psalmist repeated over and over that scientific information builds faith. Psalms 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge.” Psalms 119:66, and 139:6 praise knowledge. Proverbs 1:22 and 1:29 talk about people who hate knowledge. Colossians 2:3 tells us that God has within Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Peter admonished Christians to escape corruption and add to their faith virtue and knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-6).
In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul tells Timothy to “keep that which is committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so-called.” There is a vast difference between knowledge and babblings or oppositions. Science deals with the facts of the COVID-19 virus. How we respond to what we know of the facts is up to each of us.
Science tells us to practice social distancing or wear a mask. The motivation behind rejecting those health practices are worldly pleasures and greed. Trying to test God by expecting Him to void the logical consequences of our actions is like handling snakes or drinking poison.
I am sure you have heard the old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Perhaps someone used it to give you a warning about the danger of curiosity. In other words, they wanted you to stay just as you are and not ask questions.
However, asking questions is part of being human. The truth is that cats are not particularly curious. If you observe them, you may notice that they are extremely cautious. They may watch from a distance or test something cautiously with one paw. Humans, however, are not so cautious in their approach to things.
Humans are born into the world with a lot to learn, and they have to do it in a short time. Perceptual curiosity is the tool babies use to learn about the world. Adults who know the dangers of the world are always putting up barriers because the infant hasn’t learned the danger of curiosity.
However, perceptual curiosity is not restricted to humans. Animals such as dogs and crows (and even cats) display curiosity as they randomly explore unfamiliar objects. They may be thinking, “Does it move?” or “Can I eat it?” That is not much different from an infant’s investigation of the surroundings.
There is another level of curiosity only seen in humans. Psychologists call it epistemic curiosity. Jordan A. Litman of the psychology department at the University of South Florida wrote a paper on epistemic curiosity in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. He defined epistemic curiosity as “the desire to obtain new knowledge (e.g., concepts, ideas, and facts) expected to stimulate intellectual interest…or eliminate conditions of informational deprivation.” Epistemic curiosity requires an understanding of complex language and the ability to think and reason. It goes beyond infant or animal curiosity. Humans display epistemic curiosity after their perceptual curiosity has given them the necessary tools.
Epistemic curiosity leads humans to go beyond creating simple tools, which some animals can do, to imagining and inventing new creative possibilities. It has paved the way for creativity in music, art, and science. Humans have an intellectual interest in things beyond what is required for mere survival. We want to eliminate “informational deprivation.” We wonder what would happen if…, and what will happen when…” We want to know if there is a God. We want to know if this life is all there is. This ministry seeks to encourage that curiosity and encourage people to follow the evidence where it leads. The problem comes when people choose to stay at the perceptual curiosity level. “If our senses can’t detect it, then it doesn’t exist.” “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” “Curiosity killed the cat, so, therefore, don’t be curious.” “Don’t ask too many questions.”
If someone wants you to stay just as you are and avoid the danger of curiosity–beware! Don’t be afraid to ask the crucial questions. Sadly, it is not always unbelievers who avoid the danger of curiosity. God is not afraid of our questions. Let us, like Job, not be afraid to ask the questions–and accept the answers.
It is interesting how difficult it seems to be for humans to practice social distancing to control disease. Scientific American published an article about social distancing in animals. Disease control is a basic need for all animals, but only humans create vaccines. So how do animals in the wild prevent the spread of disease?
Research on spiny lobsters shows that lobsters infected with a virus called Panulirus argus give off a smell in their urine that causes other lobsters to leave the area. Because of the economic value of lobster populations, much research has gone into understanding how this social distancing works.
A particular fungus spreads its spores by physical contact between ants. Other ants keep infected ants away from the colony and especially away from the queen and the nurse ants that take care of the brood to protect the ant population from the threat. Researchers have discovered social distancing in animals such as finches, guppies, mandrills, and mongooses. They all have procedures to isolate infected individuals and prevent the spread of disease.
Interestingly, God’s design for life includes social distancing in animals to stop viruses and fungi from spreading among their populations. Humans should not only be concerned about distancing from infected humans, but also from those animals that can spread diseases that affect humans. Trying to have animal pets that can carry diseases that threaten humans seems to be something we should all reconsider.
We hear all the talk about “flattening the curve” concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. There is another pandemic without a direct viral cause, and the curve of that pandemic keeps getting steeper. Suicide is the other pandemic.
Since 1999 the suicide rate in the United States has risen over 33%. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in the U. S. among people ages 10 to 34. Males have a higher suicide rate than females, and both show a rate increase of over 2% a year. The Center for Disease Control tells us that among young people between the ages of 10 and 19, suicide attempts increased 8% every year between 2006 and 2015.
The experts are giving all kinds of explanations for why this is happening. Some blame the use of digital devices, with cyberbullying being a significant factor. Research shows that there is a one-to-one connection between unemployment and suicide rates, and the collapse of the economy in the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive unemployment.
We would suggest that the growth of atheism and the rejection of God is a major factor of why suicide is the other pandemic. Christianity teaches that the body is the dwelling place of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and the description of the judgment in Matthew 25:34-39 make it clear that Jesus expects his followers to use our lives in a productive way. In Philippians 1:21-26, Paul made it clear that he wanted to leave this life and go and be with Christ, but he knew God wanted him to help address the problems of the Church and humanity.
If I base my life’s decisions on being the most fit and realize that I have no hope of ever being the fittest, ending this life seems like the logical thing to do. Atheism and agnosticism offer no motivation to continue living. If I know I cannot find pleasure as I once did and the future looks bleak, why would I want to continue to live? Life has no ultimate purpose without God, and suicide is a way out.
Job’s wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). If you do not have a purpose in life, that option can look very attractive. When you read Job 42:1-6, you see Job coming to a full understanding. He realized that he is part of something so grand and powerful that he can only vaguely understand it. We, too, may not fully understand what God is doing through our lives, but destroying ourselves so that God can’t use us is a huge mistake with catastrophic results. (See 1 Corinthians 3:11-23.)
There is an interesting relationship between anemones and clownfish. If you have had the joy of snorkeling in undeveloped areas, you may have had the unpleasant experience of bumping into one of some 800 species of anemones. Their tentacles contain toxin-filled capsules called nematocysts that fire stingers at anything that touches them. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely painful.
I finally learned to stay away from the anemones and just look at them. I saw that some fish died when they touched the tentacles. Interestingly, other fish, shrimp, and crabs lived among the tentacles and seemed unaffected by their stings. The very colorful clownfish lives right in the middle of the tentacles and appears to be immune to the anemone’s poison. Spider crabs and shrimp live at the base of the anemones. Crabs carry around baby anemones using them as defensive weapons. Even a baby anemone could deliver a nasty sting to my finger.
The clownfish seem to have the greatest skill for avoiding the anemone stings. When the clownfish is threatened, it will dive into the anemone tentacles for protection. The anemones eat algae remains that float in the water, and also small fish, sea urchins, shrimp, and some crabs. The clownfish benefit the anemones by removing parasites from them while the anemones provide the clownfish protection from predators.
So how do the clownfish avoid being stung by the anemones? They secrete a very thick mucus that does not trigger a response from the nematocysts. The clownfish can be all over the anemones and not get stung. Scientists are studying the mucus of the clownfish because it has potential uses for humans. The mucus is an anticoagulant and disrupts the gill function in sharks, making it an excellent shark repellent. Some researchers believe that the clownfish gets the mucus from the anemones, but other research studies show that the clownfish has a gene that produces the mucus. Research continues in the study of anemones and clownfish.
Science has a lot of data without a clear answer to how anemones and clownfish live in such a well-orchestrated symbiotic relationship. It would appear that the design of this symbiosis, like many others, is a product of God’s design and is not naturally acquired.
Someone asked me, “Why did God do it that way? My only reply was, “I don’t know. I would not have done it that way. I guess you’ll have to ask God.” Why is it that we want God to do things the way we would do them? Are we remaking God in our image?
One of the objections that people have to God’s existence is that they think a loving and omnipotent God would do things differently. Why does God allow suffering? Why did God create viruses? Why didn’t God do a better job of designing (insert anything here)? Like Job in the Old Testament, we think we are smarter than God, and we want to tell Him how to do things. God set Job straight by giving him some challenges such as: “Do you know how to make (insert item here)?” – “Where were you when I did (this thing)?” – “Do you know how (this works)?” Job suddenly realized that he didn’t know everything. He was not as smart as the thought he was.
I could list several things right now that I think God should have done differently. But, before I do that, I have to look at my own failures and weaknesses. I have to look at times when things didn’t work out the way I planned, and I am thankful they didn’t. Small changes in my life’s circumstances would have led me in a completely different direction. God knew what was going to happen. He knew what was best. I can only be thankful that God has not allowed me to remake Him in my image.
We are created in the image of God, but sometimes we become guilty of remaking God in our image. Can we fully understand God and why He does things the way He does? Absolutely not! Can we trust Him to do things right? Absolutely yes! J. I. Packer, the late Bible scholar and author of Knowing God, was interviewed at age 89 after losing sight from macular degeneration. When asked how he felt about no longer being able to read, write, and teach, he replied, “God knows what He’s doing,…this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from Him.”
We need to stop remaking God in our image and simply trust God to be God. He knows what He’s doing.