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!

Liberals, Conservatives, and Defining Terms in Political and Theological Life

Ever since the late 1990’s and the discussion of the definition of “is”, as well as the meaning of a few other words uttered during Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, one need has become more and more obvious. I am speaking of the need to define terms. Not only do people have limited vocabularies, we also have a vocabulary that is constantly changing.

By change I am not merely referring to the fact that some words become “dead” due to overuse while new words are being added every day. I am more specifically pointing out that certain words occasionally change meanings with various contexts. Therefore, not understanding a specific context in which a word is used can cause one to skew its meaning and perhaps incorrectly judge the political or religious position someone is taking.

So let’s try to clarify a few terms which have been known to cause a little confusion.

We will begin with the word conservative. Almost any thesaurus will list words like traditional and moderate as being synonymous with conservative. However, on the political spectrum, a conservative is someone who is clearly to the right of a moderate on most issues.

I actually see more confusion when conservative is erroneously equated with traditional when it comes to religious life.

Theologically, I am a conservative. By that I mean that I believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who literally died for our sins and physically rose from the grave. I believe that salvation only comes through faith in Christ, that there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, and that Christ is returning one day to make all things right.

As a conservative, I accept as authoritative all the Bible teaches us concerning creation, miracles, angels, the roles and differences of men and women, marriage and family, human sexuality, and the mission of the church in the world.

But the word conservative does not necessarily mean the same thing as the word traditional when speaking of the church. A church can be conservative theologically and very contemporary stylistically. On the other hand a church can be extremely traditional in style and at the same time be liberal theologically.

Let me illustrate. Years ago a lady shared with me that her church was much more conservative than the church that I pastor. I was surprised to hear her say this. I happened to know that at that time her pastor did not believe in the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ, the infallibility of Scripture, or the reality of an eternal hell. The church was lacking in godly male leadership in most ministry areas. They had rejected so many conservative ideals which our church had always embraced. Yet she assumed we were more liberal by comparison?

Actually it quickly occurred to me what she meant. The style of worship at her church was more traditional. They were going to sing songs from a hymnal usually accompanied only by a piano and organ. They were going to hold tight to traditional Baptist programs. So in her eyes that made her church more “conservative” than ours. I would have described her church as more traditional, but far more liberal theologically. She was focused on style while giving little thought to doctrine.

To reiterate, it is possible to be conservative theologically while at the same time contemporary or innovative stylistically. And it is also possible to be liberal theologically and very traditional in style. While conservative evangelicals actually took the lead in the modern contemporary style movement, style can no longer be an indicator of a church’s theology. You will have to dig a little deeper than outward observations to see where a church stands theologically. Neither musical preferences, elements of worship, Bible translations used, nor the appearance of the facilities serve as clear indications as to where the church stands doctrinally.

Let’s look further at the word liberal. Again, context will determine connotation. The Bible encourages us to be liberal in areas such as giving to meet needs, offering forgiveness, and showing love. The Bible says that God liberally gives us wisdom when we ask for it without doubting (James 1:5-6). But that is not what we are referencing when we refer to a theological liberal.

A theological liberal is one who usually rejects the infallibility of Scripture. Often having been influenced by Darwinism and higher criticism of the Bible, theological liberals reject doctrines like the exclusivity of the Gospel, a literal eternal hell, and the virgin birth of Christ. A theologically liberal church may have a worship style that is traditional and often very liturgical.

In politics, and occasionally in religion, liberals embrace the title progressive which is a reference to certain social reforms they deem necessary for making progress. The assumption is planted in the minds of young students that political conservatives do not like progress. However, conservatives and liberals both believe in progress. They just bring different sets of values and convictions by which progress is defined and measured. What one calls progress, the other sees as disruptive of progress because we have vastly different goals, standards, and visions of which we are in pursuit.

The word moderate is also a biblical concept. The Bible speaks of moderation as being a healthy thing when it comes to certain areas of diet or exercising religious liberties. But when the word moderate is used as an excuse not to take a stand on an issue in order not to offend someone who is more conservative or liberal on the same issue, we need to be reminded of the many biblical admonitions to have convictions and standards. I would not want to use the concept of moderation to excuse the lukewarm condition Jesus rebuked in Revelation 3:16!

What’s my point? In today’s world we must do more than embrace labels or judge others by the labels they embrace. We need to find out what they mean by these terms, if they even know for themselves. And we need to clearly articulate what we mean when using the same terms… as I’ve tried to do here. I sure hope it helps!

Standing in Agreement When We Disagree on So Much

Endorsing or standing in agreement with people of influence, when we do agree, doesn’t mean that we endorse everything about that person’s beliefs or character.

Can I confess a great struggle to you? This is a subject that I am learning to navigate my way through, both spiritually and intellectually, with more grace as I get older. Its the struggle of applying Romans 12:18 and “as much as depends on [me], live at peace with all men.”

I am speaking primarily of the ability and need to stand in agreement with those with whom I find so much to disagree on.

There seem to be a couple of extremes to approaching this subject. The sanctification of the church and the defense of the faith says, “Come out from among them and be separate!” (2 Cor. 6:17) And often the “them” I speak of are folks with whom I disagree on many things. But not necessarily everything. At other times I find myself in strong disagreement with “them” that are a part of the church. So I want to be clear where I stand by whom I identify with.

On the other hand, Romans 13 suggests that even pagan governments can stand for what is good at times, in which case I should support them and cooperate with them unless their statutes are clearly contrary to God’s Word (Acts 5:28-29). We are also warned that there should not be factions within the church (1 Cor. 1:10-13).

When you consider the whole of Scripture, we should come to a place where we stand in agreement in areas where we find agreement, but clearly communicate where there is disagreement on things that are sacred and of utmost importance. No need to sweat the small stuff and make a big deal of little things… which is another discussion all together.

So let me give you a few areas where I have to address this issue with wisdom, grace, and (hopefully) maturity.

The Sanctity of Human Life. While I have significant theological disagreements with Mother Theresa, I know she was one of the greatest advocates ever for the unborn. I stand with many Roman Catholics on this issue of abortion, but reserve the freedom to disagree with their understanding of the sacraments, prayers to saints, and other beliefs that I perceive as extra-biblical.

While on the subject of the sanctity of human life, we must not neglect the speaking out against racism. As with Mother Theresa, I also have theological disagreements with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I can stand in agreement with powerful and truthful statements against discrimination.

Endorsing or standing in agreement with people of influence, when we do agree, doesn’t mean that we endorse everything about that person’s beliefs or character. For we all have flaws.

Speaking of that, is there a more polarizing subject than President Donald Trump? If I agree with a statement he makes on religious freedom, the economy, or the sanctity of life it doesn’t mean I endorse everything he says or does. I can vocally disagree, and have, with many other statements he has made as well as language he has used. Discerning people commend that which is good and reject that which is vulgar.

I can’t recall a president in my lifetime with whom I agreed with on every issue. My support of George W. Bush did not prevent me from warning people of the dangers of the strings attached to some of his faith-based initiatives.

It seems that with famous people, you are supposed to love all they represented or reject them completely. I don’t get that. Only Jesus was perfect all of the time!

What about various denominations of the Christian faith? I am not one of these pastors who believe the very existence of denominations is evil, anymore than Israel having various tribes or Sunday School programs having a way of organizing people according to age or subject matter would be considered evil.

Denominationalism, or the worship of a denomination, on the other hand is a problem. But when we realize that our denomination is not the equivalent to the Kingdom of God (I hear a Baptist gasping, “It’s Not?”), denominations can actually promote unity by keeping us from arguing over many secondary issues while we unite for missions, evangelism, and theological training.

Therefore, when we a major on the majors with other denominations, we need to lock arms with them and stand in agreement for the sake of God’s glory and His church. I have dear friends from a variety of denominations, including that denomination of non-denomination, who agree with men on things like:

  1. The authority of the Bible.
  2. The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, literal resurrection. and certain return of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Holy Trinity.
  4. The exclusivity of the Gospel.
  5. Our call to win the world to Christ.

Certainly many denominations are forsaking these convictions. But with those who haven’t we can and we must stand together in agreement on such convictions. Even then, however, I reserve the right to disagree with them on polity, hermeneutics, and strategies for which I personally find it difficult to support with Scripture. Perhaps that is why you attend the church you attend. Interestingly, there are more Southern Baptist churches than of any other evangelical denomination. Yet you are not likely to find two of them very much alike in style and structure in a given geographical area.

One more popular conversation in this area has to do with church music. I recently read a post about old hymns that we sing which we “didn’t realize had bad theology.” I agreed with some of the observations, and disagreed with others. But I had a problem throwing out solid songs with good lyrics even when the author had been exposed to bad theological foundations.

As theology professors have often said, “All truth is God’s truth wherever it may be found.” If I were to go all David Koresh or Jim Jones in the future, it wouldn’t make the truth I have proclaimed in the past any less true.

In the same way, there are modern worship movements whose theological foundations I question. But as the old adage goes, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.” Occasionally a powerful and truthful song (sometimes even the simple recitation of Scripture and creeds) comes out of a movement that embraces some things with which I disagree. If they proclaim “Christ is risen” while asserting some weird stuff in other songs and sermons, we do not have to avoid singing “Christ is risen!” Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Bottom line? Use discernment. Learn to stand in agreement when you agree. Don’t interpret one’s agreement with someone else on an issue as a total endorsement of all they stand for.

If various denominations and political parties can gather in a stadium to cheer on the same football team, surely we can stand together on a few other things of greater relevance.