An Open Letter from a College Dad during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Kent and Karis,

I remember being on vacation at Oak Island, NC with you both, a toddler and a 4 year old, on September 11 of 2001. That’s the day that our nation was rocked like never before in my lifetime. We watched in awe as the Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and terrorism left its ugly mark on our land and on our souls. Oh, but you were so young, and we shielded you as much as possible. But you would grow up in world that was different from the world in which I had spent my first thirty-one years. At least in the USA. We had been victims of terrorism, but never-before like this. The world was different.

Though thousands lost their lives that day, and thousands more since then by fighting the war on terrorism, this nation bounced back. And from the day President Bush stood on a pile of debris at ground zero and promised that the world would hear from us, I had no doubt that America would rise quickly. And we did!

In fact, the past two decades have been filled with life, love, joy, challenges, and opportunities. You have grown up watching the political pendulum swing back and forth in prototypical American fashion. You have seen a resurgence in appreciation of the military. You have been a part of a family that values and passionately celebrates faith in God. You have said good-bye to dear friends and family members who are with Jesus now, some leaving us too soon. And you have LIVED!! You have embraced life’s hurts and blessings knowing ultimately that there is a Sovereign God who is the giver of life, and that He has blessed, and often judged, his people and the land in which you have lived.

So here we are at the beginning of a new decade. And suddenly, like in 2001, the world is not the same anymore. This time the attack didn’t happen in a manner of minutes. The COVID-19 Pandemic didn’t happen suddenly by surprise. It hasn’t been like a fatal car accident or a fatal heart attack. It has been more like the cancers that have taken from us so many we love. We saw it coming a couple months out, prayed for the impact not to be so severe, and realized how fragile life is this side of heaven.

Well, what does a father say to his college age children at a time like this?

First, don’t quit believing in a Sovereign God. We are talking a lot about the mortality rate these days. I promise you this: Jesus Christ is alive forevermore! And those who know Him have nothing to fear. For we will live forever with him. For the believer, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). While a healthy respect for this virus is warranted, I am saddened to see so many believers trembling in fear for their lives.

Unfortunately, though, the mortality rate for the human race is 100%. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgement (Heb. 9:27).” I know we aren’t hoping to go to heaven on the next load, but life is a vapor compared to eternity. So always live as a pilgrim here, always on mission, holding on loosely to things of this world, and always ready to report to your eternal home when God calls. No need to fear when your faith is real!

The second thing I want to tell you is: don’t quit believing in the resiliency of the values that have brought this nation back again and again. In fact, our very Declaration of Independence from our beginning would cost this nation nearly 7000 lives in a war. Some 25,000 when you count deaths due to disease, imprisonment, and civilian casualties of the war. Yet this nation would prevail because of convictions like those of Patrick Henry who would rather risk death for liberty than pursue a safety that compromises freedom.

A Civil War and the depravity of humanity would cost this nation over another 600,000 lives, not to mention the collateral damage. Many around the world thought that would be the end of America. But, once again, we would prove stronger once the war was behind us. What about the First and Second World Wars, including the attack on Pearl Harbor? Over another half million lives, but we emerged as one nation under God, still in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

Well all of that was before my lifetime. And while we have not always lived out our principles as fairly and passionately as the great generations who fought for them, we’ve come a long way. I’ve seen soldiers return from a war for which they got little respect fighting. But that is beginning to change. Better late than never I suppose. I’ve seen this nation place men on the moon and land spacecraft like airplanes. I’ve seen hostages return from Iran, and watched a president bankrupt our enemies during a cold war. I’ve lived long enough now to have watched the market rise and crash enough to know that I should not put my faith in it, nor should I panic when collapse seems imminent.

What I am trying to say is, we have a history of rising from the ashes when we value liberty over safety, when our government realizes its limits and depends on the people, and when circumstances bring us to our knees again. And I didn’t even mention the famines, depressions, diseases before the age of modern medicine, assassinations or civil rights movements.

I am not saying that you should throw caution to the wind during this pandemic. I have advised otherwise. This is a serious virus that could take someone we know and love. I am saying that you should keep a discerning eye on the national leadership and on your friends and classmates. Don’t let folks slip into having an unhealthy dependency on government mandates. Make it clear that the answer to this and most crises is personal responsibility, not excessive government intrusion.

Third and finally, don’t quit enjoying life. Some who avoid this current virus will shorten their lives in a practical sense. Stress, worry, and fear will cause them to cease to truly live and will lessen their quality of life and possibly the length of their life.

At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it is going to be advisable to get back out among people. And the virus will still be out there. When the risk versus reward factors loosen the social restrictions currently in place, the chance of you catching and dying from this disease could probably still be somewhere between dying in an automobile related death (40,000 Americans per year) and dying from heart disease (650,000 Americans each year). I don’t think we will hit those numbers this year. And who knows, if we flatten the curve, find better treatments, and the disease weakens over time (all things that have happened before with other diseases) we may not come close to the heart disease numbers, ever.

My point is, if we were daily following the numbers of all other diseases and activities that cause you to live at risk, you would never leave the house. Let’s cooperate with our communities as an act of love while we strive to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, show love to our vulnerable citizens, and give health professionals and national leaders time to get their minds around this. Let’s pray for healing in our land, grow in ability to communicate creatively at a distance, and serve those who are hurting physically, emotionally, and economically. But don’t be frozen by fear. And don’t feel guilty for loving life, despite its risks, and quickly and courageously getting back to normal social interactions sooner than others. God didn’t call us to risk-free living, but to a life of faith and courage.

The Apostle Peter spoke of the ability to “love life and see good days (1 Peter 3:10).” This doesn’t mean trials will not come. The church Peter was addressing was under great persecution with a very high mortality rate. But believers in Jesus knew the deep secret of abundant life. You know it, too! And one day the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 will be added to the events listed above as another trial that this nation overcame. And you will remember that when your kids are in college!

Love Always,

Dad

PS. And if one of the crazy conspiracy theories turn out to true, God is sovereign over that as well!

The Seven Summits

The life of a Christ-follower is a journey. Jesus offers us a full and meaningful life (John 10:10). He is the only source and giver of eternal life and the one and only way to the Heavenly Father, the one true and living God (John 14:6).

The choice to trust Christ, embrace His Gospel, and follow Him as a disciple is a choice to take a narrow trail in life. Most of humanity will take a wide road and enter a broad gate that leads to destruction. But followers of Jesus Christ have decided to walk through a narrow gate and embrace a difficult path and become part of the few who really experience life this side of heaven and for eternity (Matthew 7:13-14)

Though the trail we take is difficult and unpopular, I agree with the words of singer and song writer Steven Curits Chapman who testifies decades ago that “there is no better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven!”

The Seven Summits at Trinity Baptist Church refers to the fact that our spiritual journey is along a narrow and adventurous trail. Each section of this trail, however, leads to a beautiful summit of celebration. Though the way is not easy, it is an empowered way. We are guided by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have taken Jesus by the hand and said, “I will walk with you through this life until you say it is time to step into eternity.”

This way is also a fulfilling adventure. Our souls are redeemed by the blood of Christ by grace through faith in His atoning death and victorious resurrection (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This places us on a new path of discipleship.

The Seven Summits provide us with competencies to actualize our core values and biblical vision. That vision is summarized in the words “leading our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation to know love and serve Jesus Christ.” These competencies are both sequential and concurrent. First, we look at them sequentially as a paradigm for coming alongside the home to bring up a generation of Christ-followers from birth until they are launched from the home in pursuit of a calling, career, continuing ed, marriage, family, etc. Second, we look at these summits concurrently as a tool for spiritual check-ups in our lives as adults, in our homes, and in evaluating the various ministries and programs of our church and their effectiveness.

So, what are the Seven Summits?

(Click here for the sermon series that introduced the Seven Summits to Trinity.)

(1) Provision Summit: We are committed as a church to provide, and equip families to provide, an environment where the love of God is made manifest and where His Word, the Bible, serves as His perfect authority in our lives. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment is central to this summit.

The corporate expression and celebration of this summit is seen our parent/child dedications. From the moment of birth and throughout the preschool years children are able to be established in the facts that God loves us and His Word is true, and a love for God and His Word will always remain foundational for the journey on the narrow road for all ages.

(2) Presentation Summit: We are committed to present, and equip families to present, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and call for a faith response to the Gospel. The fact that God loves us is the basis for His sending of His only Son to die for us that we might have everlasting life by believing in Him (John 3:16). During the grade school years children are becoming able to express remorse for sin, the need for a savior, a comprehension of the Gospel, and what it means to express repentance and faith.

The celebration of this summit is water baptism. This is the first step of obedience for the one who, at whatever age, turns from sin and self and places their trust in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for forgiveness and new life.

(3) Preparation Summit: We are committed to prepare, and equip families to prepare, the next generation and all of those who have been saved by grace to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Sequentially, as children are “preparing” for adolescence it is important for them to be established in their identity with Christ and His Church. At this point they can learn the various spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, Bible study, witnessing, and serving in the church. Concurrently, all believers need to be sharpened on this section of the narrow road.

The celebration of this summit is to encourage a retreat with parents and their “tweens” where they set aside time to discuss identity in Christ, spiritual disciplines, and prepare them for adolescence with talks about the changes that they are beginning to experience in their body, mind, and emotions. Yes, this includes having the birds and the bees talk!

(4) Purity Summit: We are committed to promote a lifestyle of purity and consecration unto our Lord. Holiness as a way of life particularly begins to be tested during those latter middle school years. If habits of purity and personal commitments to live a life of virtue aren’t made during these years, the high school and college years can be an almost impossible season to right the ship. In an age of smart phones and laptops, the purity of our students is under attack like never before. The church and the home must step up and teach that God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, specifically that we are guarded against sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

The celebration of this summit includes a right of passage ceremony for young men and the presentation of a purity ring (during a special father/daughter date if possible) to young ladies as near their thirteenth birthday as possible. Concurrently, the life of holiness and a commitment to biblical manhood and womanhood shall be constantly admonished in our student and adult ministries.

(5) Purpose Summit: We are committed to equipping our families to understand their biblical purpose and mission in life. As we look at the summits sequentially, we realize that those early high school years demand that Christ-followers know what they believe and have something solid to stand on and stand for. They can only say “no” to sin for so long unless they say “yes” to something of far greater value, that pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). As we embrace the joy of living life on mission for Jesus Christ, we find the motivation to continue in purity and power as an effective witness. Again, concurrently, this is an area (as is each summit) of sharpening for students and adults of all ages.

To celebrate and reinforce this summit we encourage students, accompanied by parents if possible, to participate in a mission trip. We offer opportunities in our community, throughout North America, and even internationally. Our church is committed financially to backing such endeavors. We pray that it will be the beginning of a life lived on mission for Christ.

(6) Passion Summit: We are committed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to igniting a passion in our students and adults for a life of service to Christ through and alongside His Church. During the latter high school years students are full of passion that can be righteously channeled for the glory of God. This should be a season of discovering one’s spiritual gifts, developing talents for Christ, committing to biblical stewardship, committing to God’s standards for marriage and family, and growing deeper in the spiritual disciplines and Christian apologetics. This is most certainly a section of the trail that adult believers should revisit again and again.

The celebration for this summit is a junior/senior retreat where our 16 to 18 year-olds are challenged with the aforementioned commitments. While our parents and small group leaders will be presented with resources to assist their leadership in these areas, our church staff and leaders desire to be equipped to answer life’s most difficult questions encountered when hiking this section.

(7) Pursuit Summit: We are committed to continue alongside our young people as they launch out from the home to pursue God’s plan for their lives. As they pursue a career, a season of continuing education, a spouse, military service, or anything else, we want to empower and commission them to do so for the glory of God with great enthusiasm (Colossians 3:23-24). Concurrently, the principles of this summit will be reviewed often in the pulpit and in various small group ministries within the church.

The celebration for this summit is two-fold. Corporately we will have a Graduate Recognition service each May where we recognize and publicly charge our high school graduates to pursue God’s call on their lives. We also encourage families to host their own celebration at a venue and in a context where parents can speak words of public affirmation into the life of their child.

These are the seven summits. While the philosophy behind the summits seems very “next generational,” you need to know that it is never too late to enter through the narrow gate and join the exciting journey down the narrow path that leads to life!

We will continue to develop and sharpen each of these summits. This process will include an evaluation of curriculum and programming for our preschool department, children’s ministry, and student ministry. We will also continue to recommend and provide resources to parents and all adults to facilitate this discipleship strategy in the home. Finally, if you pay close attention you will notice the themes of these summits continually resurfacing in the pulpit ministry at Trinity.

So, grab your hiking gear and join us for the journey of a lifetime that continues until Christ calls us home!