Of Masks and Meds

On May 16, the CDC updated its guidance regarding mask-wearing: “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.” It goes on to list exceptions, including local regulations and businesses as well as workplace guidance. As someone who hates having had to wear a mask when entering businesses and other public buildings over the past year, I am thankful for this change. Last month I chose to become fully vaccinated primarily because of the increased freedom that I will soon have.

Whether to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is a choice, and I respect those who have chosen not to; in fact, I know some of them. Some have chosen not to because they have previously contracted COVID and thus have antibodies. In fact, there is plenty of research to suggest that people who have recovered from COVID are even better protected than people who have never had it but have been vaccinated. Other people have chosen not to because they want to wait for further research about side effects. The point is that becoming vaccinated or not should be a choice; there are those who have foolishly said, for example, that it’s “patriotic” to get the COVID vaccine, implying that it’s “unpatriotic” to refrain from getting it. There has also been talk about “vaccine passports.” It wasn’t that long ago that medically-based decisions were personal and thus private, but there are those who seem to think that this doesn’t apply to the COVID vaccines.

As mentioned earlier, I hate having had to wear a mask, and there are four reasons for this. First of all, having to remember to put it on when I am about to enter a public building has been annoying. Second, and more importantly, there were times last year when my wife and I were hiking in state parks, and masking was required. Breathing is more difficult when wearing a mask, especially when doing something more strenuous than walking in my neighborhood or shopping. As a result, I had my mask off most of the time and then quickly put it back on when other hikers were approaching. Third, I’ve gotten tired of muffled voices, which make it more difficult to understand others. For example, I love using ATMs, but last year I had to enter a bank to speak with a teller. It was very difficult to understand him, and he ended up making a mistake, which I later had to rectify by making an appointment and sitting down, masked of course, with another bank employee. Finally, does anyone besides me miss seeing faces when out and about? Thankfully, virtually everyone in my neighborhood goes maskless when outside, but in other contexts, I have sorely missed the non-verbal communication of facial expressions, especially smiles.

That said, I have complied with mask-wearing guidelines when in public buildings. I have also complied with them during a couple of outdoor get-togethers with brothers and sisters from my church. Speaking of: our church is about to reopen, and we have been discussing many details related to it. Not surprisingly, mask-wearing has been a hot topic. Parents of young children, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, have been one concerned group. Another group has been the elderly; even though they have been vaccinated, some have expressed some fear; at the same time, they are the ones who are most eager to return to in-person worship. We have also discussed what to do if a visitor enters the church and is reluctant to wear a mask. As my wife and I discussed this, the biblical principle that came to mind is this one in Romans 14:13: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” Similarly, I Corinthians 8:9 says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” I think these verses clearly apply to our elderly brothers and sisters who have expressed fear because even though they have been vaccinated, they are at higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID. However–and I give credit to my wife for this insight–I think it also applies to brothers or sisters who are reluctant to wear a mask at church. I think that the elderly should certainly be free to wear a mask, but also that those believers who are adamant about not wearing a mask should be free not to wear one. For the time being, I am willing to wear a mask at church, but I admit that I am not willing to do so forever!

I hope that as the reopening of the U.S. continues, people will be considerate of one another and not look down on those who choose to treat mask-wearing differently than they do. And especially for those of us who claim the name of Christ, I trust that we will be considerate of one another as well.

Changing Attitudes Toward Lying

In Proverbs 6:16-19 we read, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” I find it striking that two of these detestable things are about lying; “a false witness who pours out lies” is a subset of the more general “a lying tongue.”

With this in mind, I thought it would be instructive to dig a little into research about lying, specifically what Americans think about various kinds of lies now compared with the past. I came across an interesting article that compares attitudes toward lying in 2006 and 2018. For example, in 2006, 93% of Americans said that it was never OK to cheat on your taxes; 12 years later, that number had dropped to 84%. That’s a significant drop, but here’s a much more stunning example: in 2006, 88% of Americans said it was never OK to lie on a resume, compared with 63% in 2018. In another stunning work-related comparison, 66% of respondents in 2006 said that it was never OK to call in sick when you’re not, compared with just 40% in 2018. A side note: As a man, I’m sorry to say that in all six of the scenarios that respondents were asked about in both 2006 and 2018, women tended to value honesty more than men! Here’s the link if you’re interested in reading more: https://www.deseret.com/2018/3/28/20642361/americans-are-increasingly-comfortable-with-many-white-lies-new-poll-reveals.

I’m also sorry to say that these survey results were not surprising to me; Americans are becoming more prone to accept lying; I believe that one of the reasons for this is that too many of us want to be seen as “tolerant.” And of course, if you are more tolerant of other people lying, then you are also more likely to tolerate it in yourself. However, the Lord does not “tolerate” lying; in fact, Proverbs 6 tells us that He hates it!

While this is not a “political” blog, I feel compelled to write something about lies in politics and the media; unfortunately, the party in power and the vast majority of the media seem to feed off each other. As an example: when referring to the January 6 attack on the Capitol Building, the Democrats and the media like to refer to it as an “insurrection,” when “riot” is a much more descriptive, and honest, term. Speaking of: the left prefers to refer to the riots that raged throughout so many American cities last summer as “protests” and “demonstrations,” in spite of the widespread destruction and at least 25 people who were killed during them; for the sake of comparison, five people died on or around January 6, and four of those were rioters; the other person who died was Officer Brian Sicknick. The left relished repeating the lie that he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher and died as a result. However, he was not hit with a fire extinguisher, and he died of natural causes.

One other example I’d like to mention is the chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border. There have been so many lies and attempts to cover up what has been happening that I don’t want to even attempt to enumerate them here. Instead, I would like to focus on this question: why did the Biden-Harris administration in effect open the border, and why do they allow it to continue? They say that it’s because of “compassion” and “American values,” as if we have neither the right nor the responsibility to protect our own borders. However, the border chaos has allowed untold numbers of undocumented, unprocessed immigrants to enter the U.S., and the Biden Administration is attempting to remove the requirement of citizenship to vote. Who do you think these immigrants are going to vote for? If you combine removing the citizenship requirement to vote with the beginnings of an attempt to add four justices to the the Supreme Court and the attempt to add D.C. as a state, I think the answer becomes clear: the left is attempting to put in place measures that will keep them in power for a very long time. This is hardly an original thought of mine, but I think what the left is attempting to do is becoming increasingly clear.

The question has been asked: Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? The answer, of course, is neither. I realize that those on the right are certainly not free of lying and scheming, either, and I would be more than willing to call out the Republicans if they were the ones engaging in this naked power grab. However, this attempt by the left to maintain political power for generations to come in this country is unconscionable on many levels; for example, there’s no systematic COVID testing at the border, to put it mildly, so we’re welcoming some COVID-positive people into our country.

The Lord hates lying on an individual level, but He also hates it on an institutional level, which certainly includes our federal government. We need to repent of lying in our own lives, but we also need to hold our elected officials accountable for their lies.

“Phobe” Name-Calling as a Means of Intimidation

It wasn’t too long ago that a phobia referred only to an extreme or irrational fear of something. Acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of small, enclosed spaces), and aquaphobia (fear of water) come to mind. In recent years, however, new “phobias” have been added to the lexicon as a way of deflecting criticism and/or questioning. Along with this, the word “phobe” with specific prefixes has come into vogue as a way of name-calling. Let’s take a look at four of them and at what Scripture has to say about them.

Homophobe: a person who is supposedly afraid of homosexuals. This word is freely applied to people who have the gall to question homosexual behavior. In a previous post about whether a Christian should attend a gay friend’s wedding, I wrote about what Scripture has to say about homosexuality. To again quote Romans 1:26-27, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Now, since the Bible is very clear that homosexuality is sinful, does that mean that I am a homophobe for believing so? There is a sense in which I am, especially when it comes to the indoctrination of our children in schools to believe that homosexual behavior is OK. Matthew 18:6 tells us, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Transphobe: a person who is supposedly afraid of trans people. This word is applied to those who think that gender identity is biologically determined at birth, not by what you may “feel” your gender is. And of course, some trans people go all the way, physically mutilating themselves and transitioning from one gender to another. Here’s what the very first chapter of the Bible tells us (Genesis 1:27): “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” People who reject their biological gender are telling God, whether they realize it or not, that He made a mistake! Now, am I afraid of trans people? There is a sense in which I am, especially (but not only) when it comes to the protection of children; I refer you again to Matthew 18:6.

Islamophobe: a person who is supposedly afraid of followers of Islam. This word is applied to people who are ostensibly afraid of Muslims. Let me say first of all that as an ESL teacher, I taught many Muslims, particularly over the last ten years of my career. I found them as a group to be very respectful, and I had no fear of them whatsoever. I sought to show them–and my other students–the love of Christ in my teaching. In the U.S., the vast majority of Muslims self-identify as moderate Muslims, which means they don’t follow the teachings of radical Islam. However, if you study the history of Islam and investigate the culture of the majority of the Middle East, you get a different picture. Those who dare to at least mention this are quickly branded “Islamophobes.” What does Scripture have to say about this? Let’s focus on what the Qur’an says about Jesus. Since it denies His deity, Scripture tells us that Islam, like all religions other than Christianity, is wrong. The good news is that ever since the 1960s, Muslims have been coming to saving faith in Jesus in large numbers. A Wind in the House of Islam (2014) by David Garrison is an eye-opening look at this incredible phenomenon.

Xenophobe: a person who is supposedly afraid of people from other countries. I noticed this word being used a lot last year in reference to people who sought to discover the origin of COVID-19, specifically those who investigated the source as possibly being a lab in Wuhan, China. I have noticed it picking up steam this year in reference to those who are trying to investigate the chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border. At issue is whether the U.S. has the right to “close” its borders, meaning to carefully regulate who crosses and who doesn’t. What does Scripture have to say about borders? Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” If you think that borders are not important, take a look at Joshua 14-19, where the Lord meticulously lays out the borders for each of the tribes of Israel. Or read the book of Nehemiah, where under his leadership, the Israelites rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem after their return from Babylonian exile. I would say that not only do we have the right to “close” our border with Mexico, but that we have the responsibility to do so. After all, one of the primary responsibilities of a government is to protect its own citizens, and Scripture is in agreement with this.

On a personal note: the majority of students in my ESL classes were from Mexico, and I found them very respectful as a group and had no reason for fear. However, many people, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, seem to be confused about compassion, thinking that it applies as much to governments as it does to individuals. Many years ago, after my class had ended, a student from Mexico who was in another class entering the room asked me what I thought about illegal immigrants. I answered her with a question: “If I entered Mexico illegally and was discovered, would your government allow me to stay? What would happen to me?” She was silent.

There are people who like to resort to name-calling with words like “homophobe,” “transphobe,” “Islamophobe,” and “xenophobe” because they don’t want to hear any criticism of the behavior of groups of people or of government policy in relation to them. As always, these people like to say they are “tolerant,” but only as long as other people agree with them. People who disagree are “intolerant” and “phobes” of various kinds; I have mentioned only four. As with everything, however, we have to examine it with the lens of Scripture.

How Should We Respond to Mass-Death Events?

It’s been nearly 20 years since 9/11/01, when almost 3000 people died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93. Before that, there were terrorist attacks around the world as well, but since then, the pace of such attacks has dramatically accelerated.

Another type of mass killing that had been accelerating pre-COVID, at least in the United States, is mass shootings. The most infamous one prior to the new millennium was at Columbine High School in April of 1999, in which 15 people died. In April of 2007, 33 students and teachers were shot dead at Virginia Tech. In June of 2016, 50 were killed in Orlando, and in what seems like a deadly “game” of one-upmanship, 61 were killed in Las Vegas in October, 2017.

I should also mention other mass-death events that are natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and of course plagues like COVID-19. There are a number of ways that one could analyze these mass-death events, but for the purposes of this post, my question is: how should we respond to them?

On the morning of 9/11, when the horrifying events were unfolding in real time, I found myself thinking about Scripture and what might give me the best perspective. What came to mind was a passage that I didn’t remember very well, but I knew it was somewhere in the Gospels. That passage is Luke 13: 1-5, which I’m writing here, in its entirety:

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.'”

The first event was a mass killing of (likely) Galilean rebels ordered by Pilate while they were offering sacrifices; the second was a “natural” event, in this case the collapse of a building. Notice that Jesus did not say that the people who died in these two events were “innocent;” He said that they were not “worse sinners” (verse 2) or “more guilty” (verse 4) than the survivors. This was to counter the widespread belief that those people who suffered, or even died, were somehow worse sinners than those who didn’t die or who didn’t suffer in a similar way. Even Jesus’s disciples were not immune to this belief, as we can see in the first three verses of John 9: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” Jesus then goes on to heal this man of his blindness.

However, notice that in Luke 13, Jesus warns us, twice, that even though the people who died in the two events were not worse sinners than the survivors, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” In other words, if you are not already a believer, repent and trust Jesus; if you don’t, you will go to hell when you die. That does not mean all of the Galileans or the 18 people who died when the tower fell on them were unbelievers; however, it is a warning to the survivors because they still have a chance to repent, unlike those who died in their unbelief.

Several months after 9/11, my wife and I were talking with a close friend who was not a believer but who was seeking. She was in anguish because her close friend had died. Among other things, our understandably upset friend mentioned the events of 9/11 and how horrible it must have been for the passengers when they realized that they were about to die. She said that she would rather die instantly, without knowing death was coming. We told her that at least those passengers who didn’t know Jesus had a chance to trust Him in their final moments, whereas those who die “instantly” don’t have that opportunity at the end.

We have since lost touch with that friend, who moved to another city; whenever I think of her, like now, I pray that she will turn to Jesus in saving faith before it’s too late. For everyone who has not died from COVID or some other mass-death event–or from anything else!–and has not put their faith in Jesus, His message is still the same: Repent while you still can. If you are reading this and have not trusted in Jesus for your salvation, I pray that this will be the day for you.

Evidence for the Resurrection

For some people, supporting evidence for what we believe does not seem to be very important. There’s a song that my daughter and I like called “All This Time” by Britt Nicole. She sings in one part, “I hear these people asking me, ‘How do I know what I believe?’ Well, I’m not the same me. And I saw the proof I need. I felt love; I felt Your grace.”

While I like that song very much, and I’m not discounting the importance of feelings, having objective evidence has always been very important for me. I’ve been a Christian for 41 years now, and early in my Christian walk, thanks in large part to Charles Colson, I began to learn about various kinds of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ that have strengthened my faith immeasurably.

  1. Where is the body? This is probably the most obvious evidence for the resurrection. It would have been easy to disprove Jesus’ resurrection if someone had found His body. In fact, this is what the Jewish chief priests and elders told the Roman guards to say in Matthew 28:13: “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'” Sadly, in verse 15, we are told, “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” It’s very easy to say, of course, that someone “stole” Jesus’ body, but of course, it was never found.
  2. Notice the burial cloth. This is a detail that absolutely fascinated me the first time I came across it. In John 20:6-7, we are told, “He [Peter] saw the strips of linen lying there [in the tomb], as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” Why is this detail significant? If someone had stolen Jesus’ body, would they have taken the time to fold up the burial cloth? Really?! Highly unlikely, as they would have been in a hurry to escape with the body.
  3. More than 500 people saw Jesus post-resurrection. If you read John 20:10-18, you will see that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Continuing in John 20 and then John 21, plus Acts 1, you will see that four separate times, Jesus appeared to His disciples. In Luke 24:13-32, one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, Jesus walks and talks with two of the disciples. In verse 27, we are told, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” How I would love to have been one of them! Finally, we are told in I Corinthians 15:6 this amazing nugget: “After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Now, is it possible that these 500 people experienced a mass hallucination, as has been suggested? If you know anything about psychology, the suggestion is laughable. Or is it possible that they all lied? That brings me to the fourth piece of evidence.
  4. Torture and death of martyrs. I think the best way to express this is an extended quote from Charles Colson: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead; then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world–and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” Let me add a couple of things to Colson’s incredible observation: all 12 of the apostles (including Matthias, who took the place of the traitor Judas Iscariot) except John were martyred, and even John died in exile. In my most recent post, I wrote about persecuted Christians and how we should pray for them. Suffice it to say here that in the 20th century, it is estimated that more people died for their faith than in the previous 19 centuries combined–and that martyrdom continues in this century. These believers, now in heaven, continue to give evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

In I Corinthians 15:13-14, we read, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Then in verse 20 we read, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

As we approach what in some Christian traditions is known as Holy Week, culminating in that most glorious of days, Easter, the resurrection has taken on added significance for me; two of my sisters have preceded me to heaven within the past six months, but I know that I will be with them again, and that eventually, we will receive new bodies, imperishable ones that will live with the Lord forever.

The resurrection of Jesus was, and is, very real; the Bible tells us so, and there is a plethora of evidence that gives us assurance. Have a very blessed Easter!