Honest Thomas

In the evening of the day of his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples, filling them with joy that he’s actually alive. All the disciples are present except for Thomas. Maybe he needed time alone to process the events of Good Friday and the women’s reports of the empty tomb from earlier that day. But by not being with his friends, Thomas misses encountering the risen Christ. (If there’s a moral to learn here, it’s got to be: “Show up with when your brothers and sisters in Christ are together!”)

When Thomas later hears his friends say they’ve seen Jesus, he is brutally honest and says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe.” And he’s been known as Doubting Thomas ever since.

The following week, Jesus shows up again when his disciples are together – and Thomas is with them this time. And Jesus’ grace towards Thomas is amazing. Jesus doesn’t kick Thomas out for his doubt or even reprimand him or demand some sort of confession or apology. Jesus invites Thomas to do exactly what Thomas demanded: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put into my side.” Jesus comes to Thomas where Thomas is at. Just as he did before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus – the Victor over death and Lord of life – continues to accommodate, honor, and serve others.

Personally, I think we should start calling him Honest Thomas and stop seeing him as a negative role model. Jesus is not afraid of Thomas’ honesty and doubt, and he is not afraid of yours or mine. (Of course it helps if we’re sincerely searching for truth and not just being negative and cynical.) In short, Jesus meets Thomas where Thomas is. And Jesus is still doing that with you and me.

Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again on the third day only for people who have their acts together and who always make the best decisions and who hold perfectly to the truth. (Are there even any people like that?) The risen Jesus desires to encounter you and me just as he met Thomas. Regardless of how faithful (or faithless) you or I have been, Jesus is faithful and gives us new opportunities to meet him and grow.

Doubt of Thomas artwork by Sadao Watanabe

The Bible says Thomas has a twin, though it never says who his twin sister or brother is. Maybe it’s an invitation to admit how I sometimes feel like I have a twin inside me: On good days, I’m filled with faith and certainty, but I have a “twin” who likes to show up with doubt and even fears. Or maybe by not saying who Thomas’ twin is, the Bible invites me to think of myself as Thomas’ twin so I can join him as one who can doubt with the best of them, and one for whom Jesus comes alongside with grace, inviting me afresh to believe and trust in him as “my Lord and my God!”

These reflections appear in today’s edition of the Rock Valley Bee.
I’ve written about
Thomas before too.

Sad but hopeful

Like Jesus predicted, a rooster crowed when Peter denied Jesus. Graphic found with Google
My message yesterday at Trinity CRC was about Peter denying Jesus while Jesus was standing trial for His claims to be the Messiah. While Jesus affirms His identity as God’s Son, Peter denies His identity as one of Jesus’ followers. When a servant girl confronts Peter, she at least says the name of Jesus, but Peter won’t even utter His best friend’s name, distancing himself from Jesus as much as he can. It’s a sad story of Peter, nicknamed The Rock, disintegrating into a pile of sand (to quote David E. Garland).

Yes, it’s indeed sad, but it’s not without hope. Read ahead in the story and you’ll find that Jesus rescues and forgives Peter completely. Even when Peter is at his worst, Jesus remains faithful. That assures me that even when I am at my worst, Jesus remains faithful.

I love how Alastair Sterne puts it:

“God’s presence isn’t contingent on my performance.”

When I, like Peter, have denied and distanced myself from Jesus, Jesus suffered, died, rose again, and now reigns so I can receive the loving Father’s grace and be forgiven. That indeed makes Good Friday good and Resurrection Sunday worth celebrating.

Confession is good for the soul (and the rest of your body too)

Confession graphic found via GoogleIn a culture that downplays sin, the concept of confession may sound like an outdated relic from the past. Yet I have found confession to be vitally important in any relationship, whether with people or with God. When I confess something, I acknowledge the mess I’ve made, admit I was wrong, and place myself in the best position to experience reconciliation with the one I wronged or hurt.

In the Bible, the psalmist writes of the pain (physical? mental? emotional?) he experienced when he tried to ignore his guilt and then of the relief he felt when he confessed:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long…
My strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 32:3‑5

It reminds me of a story told by author Mark Buchanan about Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia in the 1700s. On one occasion he was inspecting the Berlin prison. As he walked through the rows of shackled men, they fell pleading at his feet, protesting their innocence. They claimed to be falsely accused, models of virtuous living, completely innocent of all crime.

Only one man didn’t do this. Frederick called to him, “Prisoner, why are you here?”

The prisoner replied, “I robbed a man, Your Majesty.”

“And are you guilty?” asked the king.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the reply.

Frederick called the guard over. Pointing at the man who confessed, he said, “Release this man immediately. I will not have this scoundrel thief kept here where he might corrupt all these other fine, virtuous, and innocent men.”

That’s the lovely irony of confession: The one who actually confesses gets out of prison and goes free.

These reflections appear in today’s edition of the Rock Valley Bee.

Identity and sexuality

Gender symbols graphic found via GoogleA few posts ago I wrote about how a baptized believer’s first and primary identity is in Jesus. I said that how believers identify themselves in connection with, as examples, their family, occupation, wealth, nationality, and political leanings all fall under the lordship of Christ. One other example I gave was how one sees oneself sexually, adding that “if you are straight person who loves Jesus, you have more in common with a gay person who professes Jesus than you do with a husband and wife who profess nothing.”

A few people asked me to clarify what I mean by that. It was also suggested to me that only straight people are part of God’s Kingdom. Based on Scripture and my particular church tradition along with knowing Christians who do not see themselves as straight, I cannot believe that. Here’s my attempt to clarify and explain.

First, it’s important to hear that I was writing about identity not behavior, though I recognize the distinction between the two is often tenuous. I was referring to the labels one might put on oneself or have put on them by others.

Every human being on the planet is created in the image of God, and every Holy Spirit-filled person has Christ at the center of their being. Yes, sin brings catastrophe to our world, to our relationships, even to our selves. Yet God saves us by His grace, equipping us to do good in his world as His ambassadors. This is critical and central to who a Christian is.

Contrary to this biblical worldview, voices in our culture – both within the church and in society more broadly – would advocate that who one is sexually is at the core of their being, as though whether you identify as straight or as part of LGBTQ+ community is the most important thing about you. Such a stance, however, puts one’s sexuality above the lordship of Christ, saying implicitly or explicitly that being straight, gay, or other is beyond the range of Christ’s redemptive work. Jesus, however, “is Lord of all.”

My tradition, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, holds that one’s sexual orientation on its own neither qualifies nor disqualifies a person to be a follower of Jesus under His lordship. It’s what people do in light of their sexual orientation that reveals whether they are in Christ and Christ is in them.

In contrast to “homosexualism” (defined as “explicit homosexual practice” that “is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture”), same-sex attraction is something many genuine followers of Jesus experience. I know some who are comfortable with the LGBTQ+ label; others are not. Regardless, these are Christians who participate in God’s Kingdom-building endeavors and who will enjoy eternity with Jesus.

Therefore it makes sense that, to continue quoting the CRC’s position statement, “persons of same-sex attraction may not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement. Same-sex oriented Christians, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the cause of the Kingdom. Opportunities to serve within the offices [i.e. deacon, elder, and pastor] and the life of the congregation [i.e. participating in ministry and fellowship] should be afforded to same-sex oriented Christians as well as to heterosexual Christians.”

This posture shows the church is different from the world in that a worldly label can never ultimately define a person. One’s identity in Christ supersedes all other identities, including sexual identity. The alternative would be confessing that Christ is not actually Lord of all. And that is a confession I am unwilling to make.

Godly joy

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Nehemiah

“My brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Paul

"Joy – Abstract" by Shevon Johnson, FineArtAmerica.com

This past Sunday I spoke at Trinity CRC about joy, how it is a gift from God and a spiritual discipline God’s Spirit prompts His people to grow within themselves as individuals and in community with one another. I quoted a couple helpful resources on the subject and share them here too.

We will not understand God until we understand this about Him: God is the happiest being in the universe. Yes, God also knows sorrow. Jesus is remembered, among other things, as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” But the sorrow of God, like the anger of God, is His temporary response to a fallen world. That sorrow will be banished forever from His heart on the day the world is set right. Joy is God’s basic character. Joy is His eternal destiny. God is the happiest being in the universe. And God’s intent is that His creation mirrors His joy.
– John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted

::– –::– –::

[Experiencing joy] does not depend on perfect circumstances or happy feelings. Even in prison, Paul and Silas found something to sing about. And Jeremiah, the weeping prophet … found reason to delight and hope in God even in a lament.

The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day… Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. God has not left us alone – and that in itself is reason to celebrate.
– Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Remembering and living into this reality grows God’s joy within us. . Finding and imitating “joy mentors” help us practice joy in community. Identifying people or things (TV or social media, perhaps?) that tend to suck the joy out of us can help us guard our hearts and respond well even when we can’t avoid them. And thanking God daily for at least one thing teaches us to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to His presence and provision which form the perfect foundation for joy.

Rest you merry

The churches in which I grew up and have served as a pastor did not often sing the Christmas carol “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.” That’s a shame. Perhaps its archaic language forms a barrier, but, once you decipher it, it’s very meaningful.

The word “rest” does not here refer to sleeping or taking a break; it means “to keep.” It reminds me of Aaron the priest’s blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you…” And we use the word “merry” often enough this season, but seldom otherwise; it makes us think of holiday festivities, but it has a secondary meaning of “being alert.” A couple hundred years ago, people used the expression “rest you merry” to encourage one another to keep well. Knowing this helps explain the comma between “merry” and “gentlemen:” The opening line could be seen as an invitation to gentlemen (a gender exclusive reference to people in general) to allow God to keep them alert and well. Less poetically, the carol says, “May God keep you alert, everyone!”

Why do we need to keep alert? Because it’s easy to experience “dismay” (using the carol’s word) in the various circumstances of life, especially considering the chaos of this past year. Because it’s easy to get consumed with the distractions of this season and forget “Jesus Christ our Savior was born upon this day.” And because it’s easy to become enticed by “Satan’s power when we were gone astray” as we were in the past. That reminds me of the apostle Peter’s words: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I constantly need God’s help to keep me alert, to keep me “merry!”

When I put my trust in God, I can rest (there’s that word again!) assured that I am secure in him: Nothing can snatch me from his loving embrace. In the same text where he warns about the devil’s schemes, Peter reminds his readers of how “God cares for you.” Peter also refers to God’s ongoing work of restoration in his people’s lives. Peter finally promises that in Christ, we will remain “strong, firm, and steadfast.” If all that isn’t a cause to be filled with joy, I’m not sure what is! These are indeed “tidings of comfort and joy.”

It goes without say this has been a difficult year. Time magazine proclaimed it was the worst year ever, which I personally feel might be a little hyperbolic. Regardless, this is a time in which I especially need to hear “tidings of comfort and joy.” Probably you too.

In this Christmas and New Year’s season, with its cheer and trouble, may you experience the kind of comfort and joy that’s only found in Jesus, the Son of God born in Bethlehem. He will “rest you merry.”


This adapts a recent message I gave at Trinity CRC
and will appear in next week’s Rock Valley Bee.

Identity

Some of my favorite worship services are those that include baptisms. Through the water of baptism, “God reminds and assures us of our Baptism graphic found with Googleunion with Christ in covenant love, the washing away of our sin, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Everyone who is baptized – regardless of denomination or tradition, regardless of the language or culture – is united in Christ. As someone who was baptized, my primary identity comes from knowing that, together with the rest of God’s people, I am united to and belong to Jesus.

That means for those of us who are baptized, we find our identity in Christ even before we see ourselves as…

  • a daughter or son, father or mother, husband or wife
  • a banker, farmer, mechanic, nurse, salesperson, teacher, or truck driver
  • straight, gay, bi, or other
  • wealthy, middle class, or poor
  • American, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, First Nations, Guatemalan, Mexican, Native American, Romanian, or Venezuelan
  • a Democrat or a Republican; or a Conservative, Green, Liberal, NDP, or Bloc Québécois supporter
  • a member of the NRA or the ACLU.

Baptism welcomes us into God’s family and makes us citizens of His Kingdom before we identify with or pledge any other allegiance.

As a male, I personally have more in common with a woman who is among God’s people than I do with another guy who is outside the faith. If you are a Kingdom-minded blue collar worker, you have more in common with a professional in a suit submitting to Christ’s rule than you do with a guy in grease-stained coveralls outside the Kingdom. If you are a straight person who loves Jesus, you have more in common with a gay person who professes Jesus than you do with a husband and wife who profess nothing. If you are an American who follows Jesus, you have more in common with a Palestinian or Iraqi Christian than you do with a fellow American who does not yet know Jesus. If you are a Republican who loves Jesus, you have more in common with a Democrat who dedicates their life to Jesus than another Republican who does not yet live for the Lord.

Author Lee C. Camp writes: “There is, for those who have been clothed with Christ in baptism, a new identity, an identity that transcends economic class, ethnic grouping, and citizenship.”

In these divisive times, I especially need to touch, see, and hear the water of baptism to remind me that more fundamental to anything that divides me from other believers is the foundational union I have with Christ and with one another.

This repeats some things I said Sunday evening at Trinity CRC.
It’s also what I contributed to the Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee, in which I noted I’d like
the date of my baptism included in my obituary some day.

Gifted

We’ve been learning at Trinity CRC how the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to glorify God and build up the church. (This connects with what we believe about the priesthood of all believers, that all believers are gifted by God to serve him and one another, which, in turn, connects well with Reformation Day today!) Usually when Christians talk about Spiritual Gifts logo from Trinity CRCspiritual gifts, things like administration, creative ability, serving, and wisdom come quickly to mind. Those are indeed important gifts Christ gives the church and it’s a great idea to discover, celebrate, and use the gifts God has given you.

But when the apostle Paul talks about gifts in Ephesians, he doesn’t begin by listing things. Paul emphasizes that the gifts God gives the church are first of all people! The gifts Christ gives the church to help it grow in unity and maturity include “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” It’s a diverse mix of people – and I personally do not take it to be an exhaustive list of the kind of gifted people with which Jesus fills the church. What’s more, I’d dare say you can see yourself somewhere in this list of people.

Yes, on one level, apostles were those who saw the resurrected Lord and were commissioned by Him to tell others what they had seen. But, as Ben Aguilera writes, if you’re the kind of person who creatively thinks about the future and builds bridges over barriers, you are like “the apostles” listed in Ephesians 4, “helping others see, feel, and touch the love of God” (this and the rest of the non-Bible quotes in this paragraph come from Ben Aguilera’s devotional). When Paul says “prophets,” imagine deep thinking Christ-followers (perhaps like yourself) who “encourage” – even challenge – more people to follow Jesus instead of just going with the flow of culture, sometimes even church. When Paul says “evangelists,” think of words like “recruiter” or “inviter,” which might be you if you have ever “welcomed a stranger, helping them get involved in the life and work of a community.” Among the synonyms for “pastors” in the original Greek are “caregiver” and “guardian;” if you have “deep compassion for the needs of people,” you have a pastoral streak in you. Some people reading my blog are already “teachers,” so that one’s not a stretch, but even if teaching is not where you get your paycheck, you may have biblically grounded wisdom that “makes the Gospel understandable and clear” in everyday life, in your words and actions.

At this point, some people might be tempted to say that these are roles only for men. Would you be surprised to learn that the Bible shows both men and women serving in each of the categories of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers?

Or you might say you’re too old or too young to serve like that. Would you be surprised to learn that John received the visions that became the book of Revelation when he was an old man? Would you be surprised to learn that some of the disciples were likely teenagers (maybe even tweens) when Jesus called them and that Paul needed to remind Pastor Timothy not to let anyone look on him because he was young?

Just within the categories of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher there is diversity in the Bible. There is diversity within the roles themselves and, on top of that, all sorts of different people – male, female, young, old – have filled these roles since the time of the early church. And we haven’t even touched on how early Christians differed in marital status (Peter was married; Paul single), blue collar and white collar occupations (Levi worked in finance; other disciples fished for a living), and polar opposite political convictions (Levi collaborated with the Romans while Simon the Zealot came from a group plotting the overthrow of the Roman regime). Yet they grew in unity and maturity as they worked together.

My point is this: The gifts God gives the church are first of all people – including you and me – even in all our diversity and differences. No one in Christ can say, “I’m not a gift to the church.” On the contrary, God is at work in all who are in Christ. We each have something unique to contribute, and the church is lacking when any one person holds back. As God’s people, we are called to see ourselves and one another as God’s gifts to the church.

Bibles in the church

Graphic found at Groundwork.ReframeMedia.com

Once upon a time there was a church that found itself in a global pandemic. In addition to physical distancing and mask wearing, health officials recommended removing items that could transfer germs from one person to another. So the church leadership reluctantly agreed to remove the Bibles from the sanctuary.

The devil on his dark and lonely perch took an interest in this development. And a smile cracked his pale, dry lips. “A church with no Bibles?” he laughed. It’s just what the devil had long hoped for – a place of worship (where people worshiped his archenemy) without the Story and Guide directing that worship.

The pastor and church leadership, however, remained confident. They knew that God’s Word is not contained to typed letters in justified margins on thin leaves of paper bound between two covers. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Word works in the minds and hearts of those committed to that Word, helping God’s people recall specific verses and general principles. Moreover, the congregation remained free to bring their own Bibles, whether in print or in pixel. It helped people get in the habit of carrying a Bible with them, adding to their public witness of their allegiance to the divine Author.

Realizing these things erased the smile from the devil’s flinty face. But he took solace in his expert ability to watch for another opportune time.

Eventually the pandemic began to subside. Physical distancing and mask wearing were still encouraged, but the Bibles could return to the sanctuary.

From his perch, the devil watched each Bible carefully placed back in its spot. And a new smile cracked through his otherwise stern and joyless face. “A church filled with Bibles again?” he laughed. This too turned out to be a dream come true. No longer did members have to carry Bibles with them to worship. No longer would their allegiance to his enemy and the Word be so obvious to the world. No longer would biblical truth be easily at their fingertips with their Bibles in hand.

The pastor and church leadership, however, remained confident. They knew that God’s Word is not contained to typed letters in justified margins on thin leaves of paper bound between two covers. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the prophets and apostles also spoke through the words from the pulpit – memorable words that the congregation carried in their minds and hearts into the week. Moreover, the congregation was equipped by that same Spirit to live in light of the Word even in moments it wasn’t open in front of them.

Realizing these things erased the smile from the devil’s face and he looked a little less cunning than before. He would watch for yet another opportune time. But he found those opportune times were becoming more and more ineffective.

::– –::– –::

This is a little parable based on the decisions we’ve been making at Trinity CRC due to COVID-19. It was initially strange to see all the Bibles removed from the sanctuary. In the end, however, I would have been fine with them remaining out for longer: It encouraged people to bring their own Bible, to get used to having a Bible on hand. Granted, it was easy to forget and sometimes it feels awkward carrying a Bible in public. (We did begin keeping some in the back for people to pick up and return.) But I remain encouraged knowing that God’s Word works in the lives of the members of Trinity CRC regardless of whether they happen to have a Bible in their hands or under the seat in front of them in the sanctuary. The Bible is in the church (God’s people) even when the Bible isn’t in the church (the building).

Falling down with my enemies

To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus gives the encouragement to keep holding on. They have little strength left from enduring rejection and persecution from the leaders of the local synagogue who deny Jesus is Lord. But they can indeed hold on knowing their current situation will not last forever. Jesus promises He is coming soon, giving the church hope that the time is coming when wrongs will be righted.

More than that, Jesus tells the Philadelphian church they can look forward to the day when those who hurt them will “come and fall down at [their] feet.” Those opposed to God and His people will one day experience the return and victory of King Jesus. At that time they will hear Him say He is on the side of His people and He loves them.

But as Lou Lotz once noted, this talk of enemies groveling at one’s feet smacks of triumphalism and vengeance, and seems to be out of character with Christ’s command to love our enemies. True, but the picture of poor souls who have always resisted Jesus and harmed the church bowing down to Jesus’ followers helps me in two ways: 1. I’m given hope: Ungodliness will not endure forever. One day, to quote Pastor Lotz, “the tables will be turned, and God’s people will be vindicated.”

2. This picture also offers inspiration: Christians desire to love their enemies, to love their enemies to Christ. The more Christ’s reconciling grace is in me, the more I want no one being punished at my feet. I’m not saying there won’t be anyone; I’m just saying Christians love their enemies and the church’s enemies with the dream that all of them will change and love Jesus today and in eternity.

I’m fascinated by the actual words used in Jesus’ letter to Philadelphia, that those who oppose Jesus and His church will one day “fall down.” This is the same language used elsewhere in the Bible (in Revelation 4, as one example) for falling down in worship! I think I’m supposed to love my enemies, praying that they’ll fall down in worship with me and all God’s people.

Graphic found with Google

Morning star

Photo found with Google
In his letter to the church of Thyatira, Jesus gives that church and the church today one of the most encouraging promises you’ll ever receive. To the church that, by grace, repents and holds on, Jesus promises “the morning star.”

One of my favorite professors at Regent College was Darrell Johnson. He taught me that the morning star is the star that “appears at the darkest time of the night… It usually emerges at that point when the night is as dark as it’s going to get. When it appears, there is no sign of the dawn. But when it appears, very faint and small at first, you know that the night cannot withstand the dawn; it is just a matter of time until the dawn wipes the night away.”

Even when things are the darkest, Jesus assures me He is with me – and not only with me, but also ruling over all things and caring for me until the last bit of darkness in my life has dissolved forever.

I said that in a sermon at Trinity CRC a couple weeks ago. And people said “Amen!” I’m glad they were encouraged too.

COVID-19 and creation

With all the devastating health and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought (which I do not wish to minimize), it’s a relief to hear about one positive effect the pandemic is having: In some ways, the pandemic has been good for the environment.

Less traffic, grounded airplanes, and decreased production in factories have improved the air quality in many places. In India, for example, people are seeing mountain ranges in the distance they haven’t seen in decades due to pollution. Satellite imagery over China shows reductions in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide being pumped into the air. Cities such as Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York are Average NO2 concentration in northeastern US. From theconversation.comalso reporting improved air quality.

I’m aware there have also been environmental setbacks. For example, cities report the collection of more garbage (including personal protective equipment like disposable masks).

I nevertheless remain encouraged by the news of improved air quality. Again, I recognize COVID-19 has resulted in lost jobs, economic chaos, illness, and death, and I do not downplay those. But I do wonder whether the pandemic is giving humanity a little preview of how, when it comes to the environment, things could be better.

As a Christian, I believe God calls me to care for his creation. It is among the first tasks he gives to the first humans in the first garden. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible. In addition to mandating a weekly sabbath rest, God also commanded his people to give creation a Sabbath rest: “In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest… Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.” God promised that if his people obeyed this command, their land would produce enough in the sixth year to provide for them through the seventh year and beyond. God designed creation so that when we care for it, he will direct it to care for us. I wonder if COVID-19 is forcing us to give the land and sky an overdue sabbath rest.

And that leads me to wonder whether instead of trying to go back to normal, we can investigate ways to create a “new normal” in which we can restore jobs and improve the economy while also carefully tending the land and keeping the air clean. Can leaders in government, industry, agriculture, and business find innovative and profitable ways to run things both so people can work and so creation is respected? I ask myself where in everyday life I can recognize and change my greedy and consumeristic tendencies that harm creation. Can I buy a bit less? Can I reuse things more? Can I travel fewer miles? Can I conserve energy?

In the middle of the pain of the pandemic, there has been an unexpected blessing of the environment faring better than six months ago. Can we receive that as a fresh invitation from God to care for creation? I for one would like the air we breathe to not go back to what we called normal prior to COVID-19.

I wrote this article for Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee.