Why I keep wearing masks

Do you remember how you felt last year when the reality of the pandemic was unavoidable?

If you and I had conversations when it all began, remind me what I felt, please. I don’t quite remember. It’s a blur. I know I had to make tough decisions that affected our church. And I do recall thinking a lot of my family.

Other than that, I may have been too occupied learning how to be a video evangelist to feel anything more.

I also remember taking time to read about the last time our nation endured a pandemic. I wanted to see what we learned from that experience. If there was anything worth bringing to mind this time around.

In a nutshell, I took away that what helped us before was cooperation. It was the willingness of communities to engage in an array of social distancing practices. Those places willing to do so for extended periods of time helped the nation curb the spread until a vaccine was available.

Nothing new under the sun.

We used masks back then, too. As you can imagine, the masks people used then weren’t as helpful as some we have today. But it was something.

Now, I’m thinking about all this because recently my state governor informed us about his decision to rescind social-distancing mandates.

First, let me assure you that I understand the concern many people have about allowing governmental entities to mandate such practices at all. There are obvious lines we approach with these kinds of decisions.

Second, let me also share with you why I continue to wear a mask and keep with social distancing practices. It has to do with an illustration from our scripture reference today.

When I read from 1 Peter 2, I can’t help but think of the stones erected in the Jordan River after the people of God had passed through.

I’ll let you read Joshua 4 yourself to fill in all the details.

But do recall now that those stones were a reminder to future generations. They would remind all people of God’s faithfulness and mighty works.

As standing stones ourselves, we are witnesses to the same power.

The love of God in Christ Jesus is the ultimate power of God that we experience. His sacrificial love is what saved us. As a result, Christ has taught us that the most important way to live is to love God and to love people.

In that light, as I continue to wear a mask, for example, I am keeping in mind that we have learned this is an easy, albeit imperfect way to care for other people. To demonstrate the love of humanity while we endure such a crisis together.

Masks and social distancing were never about fear. They continue to be about care. Pandemic or not, I want my life to be a standing stone.

It’s been over a year now. By most credible accounts, there is still about another year left before we can say we are past the dangers of COVID-19. Government mandates or not, we’re going to have to decide how we best care for each other. 

Standing stones point to the power of God, the love of God in Christ. Peter also called Jesus a living stone. And look what Jesus did with his life.

Stay blessed…john

Is spiritual warfare real?

Spiritual warfare is real.

You believe it is, too.

At least if you made your baptismal vows in the United Methodist Church. When we baptize someone, we ask several questions of them. Their baptism also reminds us of ours. So, we all reaffirm what they say we believe.

One of the questions we ask is: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?

Why would we renounce spiritual forces if we didn’t believe they were real? And if they’re real, how do we reject them?

Scripture often uses militaristic imagery. Think of Ephesians 6. The armor of God. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul also talks about our weapons of warfare.

So why are many of us in mainline denominations so timid about spiritual warfare? We don’t talk a lot about it. Whenever I do it feels necessary to make sure we know what we’re not talking about so as not to lose anyone in the conversation.

To be sure, I don’t have in mind much of the sensationalism one might come across on a Christian TV program. No, there is something much more pervasive to acknowledge.

The story that helps me best qualify this conversation for us modern disciples of Jesus is the healing of the Gerasene. Three of the gospel narratives tell this story, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

We often note Mark’s hurried story-telling nature. He moves his stories along at a rapid pace. That teaches me to pay attention to any details Mark does include. When it comes to the man who had the legion, Mark gives us more information about him than the other gospel writers.

So, pay attention!

We know his condition drove him among the tombs. No one could restrain him, even though they tried with chains and shackles. He was strong and prowled day and night howling and bruising himself with stones.

I imagine people tired of trying to help him. Who could blame them?

If Jesus had not shown up on the shore that day, do we suspect the man would have remained as he was? If chains and shackles didn’t work, what would be the next level of force to subdue him?

Spiritual forces already subdue people. Those people don’t need others trying to subdue them any further, even if their goal is to help. Spiritual warfare, then, is the fight against such suppression. What I gather from Mark is that suppression comes in many forms. 

Was there anything else the other people could have done for the man? I suppose so, but they didn’t know what.

Is that why we don’t talk about this much? We don’t know what it requires of us? It’s easier to bring a food dish or write a get-well card, isn’t it?

Consider what Mark tells us about the man’s healing. When the people came to investigate what happened, they found the man sitting with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. He was restored.

We renounce spiritual forces of wickedness because they take something away from the personhood of another child of God. Sometimes that child of God is us. But even if it’s not, like Jesus, we engage in real spiritual warfare.

Stay blessed…john

It sounds backward, but it’s the way to go

Years ago, I decided to accept my limitations.

Having had conversations like this with youth, I recognize how defeated that sounds. But the opposite is true. When I made that decision, I didn’t defeat myself. I freed myself.

I relate it to a childhood conversation I had with my mom once. She told me to be the best at whatever I do. If I was a teacher, be the best teacher. “I don’t care if your job is to be a trash man, be the best trash man,” she said.

Now, she wasn’t telling me to be better than everyone else. Be the best over everyone else. She wanted her boy to give all he had to be the best he could be at whatever he set his heart out to do.

I can’t be better than everyone, but I can be my best.

Acknowledging my limitations is always a part of that process. Doing so allows me to recognize what I’ve already learned and what areas I need to further develop skill and knowledge.

Now, I’m not sharing this with you to sound like a life coach or inspirational speaker. I’m doing so to confess to you my inadequacies when it comes to some things of faith.

For example, the command to sacrifice Isaac. Scholars label it the Akedah, the Hebrew word for binding.

It is one of the more difficult readings in scripture. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that has been said about it. On the contrary! So much thought has been given to this passage that it’s a bit overwhelming. What can I add to what brilliant, faithful and thoughtful people have already said?

Limitations.

That doesn’t make me a bad Bible teacher. It doesn’t make you an inept Bible student if you have nothing new to add either. Knowing our limitations helps us grow. If I thought I had it all figured out, I might not have a need to listen to what others thought about such a passage. I might not even care.

When it comes to our walk with God, surrender is key. I must surrender my vanity. Surrender my ego. Surrender my need to feel as if I need to have all the answers anyway.

Surrender is our armament. As much as embracing our limitations sounds backward, professing a call to surrender seems foolish.

But that is what I see from the binding of Isaac.

I don’t know what God was thinking. Why would this be an okay thing to ask of Abraham. Surely we could have found another way to speak against the practice of human sacrifice.

It helps me to focus on Abraham. He surrendered to God. All he could do was obey what God called him to do. I recognize how foolish that sounds in light of what God asked of Abraham. And I know many people do things they say God told them to do that seem just as outlandish.

Still, what I’m left with is surrender. We can’t become what God has promised us if we aren’t willing to surrender the life we think we want.

Stay blessed…john