Hulk Hogan, former wrestling personality, cheesy ‘actor’ and handlebar moustache aficionado.
Yeah, that guy.
He wrote (in part) the following, about the whole pandemic:
“God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. ”
While referencing the plagues of Egypt out of context, Hogan is correct that this Corona virus pandemic is depriving us of things we’ve taken for granted, and possibly even things we worship in place of God. He writes that with our distractions removed from us that we should put our focus on Christ.
Profound for a lowly wrestler. His salient point is that in the midst of all that is going on, and all that isn’t going on, that we should fix our eyes on Christ and our relationship to Him.
A tradition that has emerged every St Paddy’s day is for the wife to buy me a pack of Kilkenny Irish cream ale, to celebrate my Celtic heritage.
It’s a supposition mind you. I’ve no chain of birth certificates and so on to prove I’m part Irish, but I do find Riverdance irresistible.
It’s been a muted St Paddy’s this year. Kilkenny sold out, but that is the least of our problems. The time between St Paddy’s day and Easter has become all about Covid-19.
A lot of people on social media are apologising to 2019 for all the things they said about it when considering what 2020 is shaping up to be.
At the moment, the year 2020 seems to fit hand-in-glove with the maxim of Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Put more gently, and in another way, you will never find a lost article until you buy a replacement.
Or, matter will be damaged in direct proportion to it’s value. Or, you’ll never stub your toes, but the day you hurt one, you will continue to stub it even if you try to be careful.
Murphy’s law is more tongue-in-cheek than anything, however there are recognisable laws that operate consistently because of human nature.
Parkinson’s law holds that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So, essentially no matter what an employer does to implement a process or system to get work done faster, that improved process or system creates more work to handle. That’s why there’s always so much work to do without enough time.
Student syndrome identifies a human behaviour where people leave things to the last minute. Seen most acutely in students who become experts at cramming right before an exam or assignment. This is apparently also true in the business world where tasks are deliberately not assigned too far in advance of a deadline. Productive panic is evidently better than procrastination.
I last wrote about Paul’s book of Romans back in November 2019. A lot has happened since then, and for the last few days – apart from this global pandemic – I’ve been thinking about the two laws that Paul writes about in Romans.
The law of sin and death.
And the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
“Death ends all obligations and contracts. A wife is no longer bound to her husband if he dies because death ends that contract. If her husband dies, she is free from that law.” In the same way, a Believer is freed from trying to please God through the law because he is – in a way – dead to it.
Paul writes that the law is good and it points to the standard of how we ought to live. But we could never abide by it. The law of sin and death basically boils down to the law being vulnerable to sin using it.
Paul writes that he once was ‘innocent’ of coveting (enviously desiring what someone else had) but when he was exposed to the law that said not to covet, that sinful desire used the law to channel sin into that forbidden activity.
Its not that Paul had never coveted before, but when he became aware of the law against coveting, his sinful nature amplified the desire for the forbidden. It is sinful to break the law of God. It’s doubly sinful of sin to use God’s law to break God’s law.
You may be able to imagine Paul becoming aware of his sinfulness in the light of the law with the same blushing realisation of Adam and Eve realising what they had done. But that realisation didn’t change Adam or Paul. Their desire for the forbidden became more acute.
The law of sin and death.
The law was intended to be good, and it is good, however the flaw is not in the commandment but in man’s sinful nature. It’s entirely perverse that sin could use something good (the law) and use it to stimulate rebellion. The Greek word Paul uses when describing sin seizing the opportunity evokes the idea of sin establishing a beachhead on our territory, using it as a fulcrum from which to launch ever bolder attacks.
The law of sin and death is that we could never follow God’s law. We tripped up. Every time. Sin leads to death. Paul writes that Christians should no longer live that way.
The law can give us the standard to follow, but it could never empower our flesh to be changed and follow it.
The law of the Spirit who gives life (in Christ Jesus) has set us free from the law of sin and death.
This is what Paul was talking about when he described Believers who have ‘died to the law through the body of Christ’ and ‘now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7: 4, 6).
The key is ‘in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). Not living by the flesh, but by the Spirit. It is a mystical and spiritual union between Believers and Christ:
Christ in Believers by his Holy Spirit.
Believers in Christ by faith.
I have discovered through experience that Paul’s description of the human being who tries to live by the law is accurate and frustrating. But I’m also relieved that being ‘in Christ’ isn’t a metric that I need to attain on a graph but a position I enjoy.
Once upon a time, there was the steady, authoritative voice of Walter Cronkite, the most trusted name in America. A newsman trusted to be straight with the public.
How far we’ve fallen. With a business model that is obsessed with clickbait, disaster is great for the news biz. Hype, opening monologues dripping with hyperbole and emotion, punditry in place of detached reporting, a 24 hour cycle that looks for a breaking disaster at the top of every hour, there are few trusted names in news.
And the media just love the whole corona virus saga.
I’ve been guilty of letting them feed the paranoia and fear straight into my consciousness.
Not today. For the first time in perhaps a week, I prayed on the commute to work, lamenting the time not spent in Scripture. I currently have a streak of 54 in the YouVersion app.
As I prayed, an image emerged of a hungry Christian dipping his finger to the dinner plate for just a taste of Scripture, when a meal is ready for the eating. I’ve been feeding on a meal replacement diet of media generated hysteria and I feel sick of it.
Thinking of food, I remembered how prayer is like a fragrance in His nostrils. I like how the author of this article uses the morning aroma of coffee to introduce the idea of God’s children praying to him:
“like [my] coffee, it wasn’t simply the fragrance itself that pleased God, but what it represented: the constant prayers of his people.”
This morning my prayer was in part for dependence on Him, seeking peace in these crazy times, and salvation for those who don’t yet know Him.
A glance through social as well as mainstream media shows people looking out for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with prepping, but it’s too easy to skip town and skip past God.
I’m thinking of the poor people of Italy who have been so hard hit, and I’m thinking of Samaritan’s purse. While everyone is running to ground, these Christians are not drawing back from those in need. They’re going into the hot zone, having evaluated the risk, made a plan to minimize it and trusting the Father for the rest.
Watching my way through a classic James Bond film recently, something stuck out at me: The chess master Kronsteen thinks he has conceived of every possible variable in the plan to set up and finally kill the ultimate gentleman spy (From Russia with love).
Kronsteen misses the possibility that the Russian femme used to pull James Bond into the plot may in fact fall in love with the English spy, and it is this wrinkle in his plan that causes his abrupt and unforgiving termination from SPECTRE via a poison-barbed boot.
I noticed the same temptation in me: to try out-think every problem and scenario until I have a solution, even if I’m powerless to implement the solution.
This is a deeply ingrained habit of my thinking, moulded by reductionism and the belief that every problem, like every physical artefact or system can be reduced to its components, analysed and conquered through the application of logic.
Reductionism is useful and technically competent, however it has shortcomings when looking at the world through the eyes of faith.
Recently I’ve been reading through a series on YouVersion: Get out of your head (reading plan from Jennie Allen). She starts off by pointing to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and the idea of taking every thought captive.
As Christians it’s easy to think incorrectly. John Piper provides a more comprehensive theological perspective, framing thinking as a battle. Paul uses combat and siege imagery: Destroying arguments, taking thoughts captive. However this refers to the thoughts of those who oppose God in the context of the passage.
What does that have to do with the Christian? Plenty. The Christian often comes out of an unregenerate mode of thinking and old habits can attempt to re-emerge. To say nothing of the idea that sin can corrupt our thinking. If Adam – with all the advantages of being innocent up until that point – could reason his way into original sin, then we can fall short as well. And do.
Piper summarizes it in a way that makes it easy to understand. The Christian should submit their thinking to Biblical scrutiny and ask the Holy Spirit to work in their thought life.
This is not a strength of mine. Often I don’t consult Scripture and opt instead for the counsel of Google and other online forums. I look at the problems in front of me: ill health, Bernie Sanders and the prospect of a socialist juggernaut in America, the South African economy in its second year of recession. You name the problem and I war-game it. Multiple angles, looking for solutions, using everything except perspective.
Like breathing in anxiety and breathing our panic.
Biblical perspective is what I need. What we all need.
A weary mind playing 4D chess, but needing Biblical perspective. Less news. More truth.
Its February, not even fifty days into the New Year and Yours truly has reached the point of decision fatigue.
Aside from the frivolous decisions that present themselves in the morning, such as which socks to wear and what cereal to have for breakfast, we have to make decisions so frequently that we seldom give them a conscious thought.
‘Chicken or beef?’
‘Would you like fries and rice with your platter? Or just fries? Or just rice?’
‘Are we going to go for medical aid option A or B?’
‘Are we going to go left at the robot? Or go straight?’
‘Budget or straight?’
During the lean Obama years, I had a book by George W. Bush delivered online titled ‘Decision Points’. President Bush’s larger point was that at its core, the job of president was about making decisions.
Bigger decisions about larger ethical dilemmas than many of us have ever had to face. As human beings living within God’s larger ethical framework, one of our core competencies should be about making good decisions, which by definition are decisions that are consistent with His will as he has revealed it.
Since I’ve crested the summit of 40 years old on the way to the next plateau, my decisions have become less reckless and more sensible. A childhood memory that made an impact on me is a song by Jiminy Cricket about playing it safe and making responsible decisions.
Slavery to obedience leads to righteousness and the slavery of sin leads to death. If you consider it, sin is our default position. Incremental, deliberate, sinful decisions lead to sin as a destination. Making no decision in respect of God and his demand for righteousness is a decision.
For the Christian, we make a decision for Christ. Paul writes that we ‘have come to obey from [our] heart’ the pattern of teaching that has ‘claimed [our] allegiance’. A primary decision to accept Christ and walk in his ways leads us to amend the decisions that we would have thoughtlessly made before.
Incremental, deliberate, sinful decisions lead to sin as a destination. A decision to accept Christ leads to Christ as our destiny
A pattern of teaching to correct our pattern of behaviour.
As my favourite commentary explains, “The idea is that God wants to shape us – first He melts us by the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Then He pours us into His mould of truth – that form of doctrine and shapes us into His image.”
Christians have been completely changed the way they made decisions from before. The default position of the sinful man is passive in that it doesn’t resist the ruts. The Christian chooses to follow Christ, and moulded into a new paradigm, having chosen Christ, the Christian then chooses to follow Christ daily.
In truth, I was able to choose Christ because the Father first chose me in eternity. There’s a whole separate and deeper discussion around predestination.
In a lonely apartment in London in 1999, in a state of relationship single-ness, I read Joshua’s choice offered to the children of Israel:
“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”
‘Janu-worry’ is typically a long month for the average South African, with the implicit pressures of shopping for Christmas and having to stretch the budget for essentially a month and a half, while spending twice as much.
Having returned from the States in mid-January, our family entered a two-week period where at overlapping times everyone was sick. When you’re sick you go to the doctor and klap your medical aid savings. Great, more money spent on consultations and meds.
Exhausted and with a giant frog in my throat one morning, I was thinking about the apostle James’ word to the Believer to consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Clearly I’m not the most spiritual sort, because I relayed to the Lord that I wasn’t focused so much on my faith pushing through a tough situation, but I just wanted it to be finished.
Paul prayed about his thorn in the flesh, that the Lord would remove it. As he wrote, the Lord didn’t remove it. The circumstances and reasons are different, and Paul is way more hard corps than me.
Without trying to sound like a tough guy, I don’t like trials, but if they have to happen, I’d much rather they happen to me than my loved ones. And when everyone needed doctors and specialists, I just wanted it to end. I don’t greet my troubles, I agonize over them. I don’t want to see them as practical, illuminating the tough kernel of faith that persists.
It’s not that I’m embarrassed or anything, its just a fact: my faith is not as strong as I would like.
Finally in the last few days, we reached what I call FLUEXIT. We gradually improved until a semblance of normality just a day before the United Kingdom experienced BREXIT.
Having reached this point now, it’s almost like my faith had the flu and I need to start it up again, back to the basics, re-entering a routine that had become disturbed…
…reading a daily verse, saying the Lord’s prayer. And it stands out to me:
The commentary of David Guzik explains that temptation (or hard testing as it is translated in the CJB) “literally means a test, not always a solicitation to do evil. God has promised to keep us from any testing that is greater than what we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).”
Pennsylvania was my favourite state and we spent the build-up to Christmas in fairly rural Lancaster county.
Part of the appeal of Pennsylvania is the history of the state. Called the keystone state because of its involvement in the Second Continental Congress and two of America’s founding documents drafted by the founders there: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (Independence hall in Philadelphia).
Pennsylvania is also interesting in the people that settled there and live there today: the Amish, descendants of German Christians, and Mennonites. From our visit to the Mennonite information center, I discovered that in terms of their being Anabaptists, I had no cause to disagree with the Amish or the Mennonites in their doctrine.
Anabaptists hold to adult baptism and separation of church and state. Nothing wrong with that.
For the first time in a decade or more, I found myself in the theatre watching a play. Twice in one week. We attended a Christmas play at a large 2 thousand-seater auditorium which was well put together and included live animals and stunning props, actors and backgrounds, which really brought to life the birth of Christ.
The other play was more contemporary and intimate with a much smaller venue. The setting is a fictional town called Paradise. I found it more emotional, especially the portrayal of the mother with dementia, Hazel, who at the climax of the play suddenly remembers a large portion of Scripture and quotes it verbatim, reveling in Christmas.
Christmas miracles in 2019 Paradise, PA, where even dementia can’t keep away the meaning of the birth of Christ. ‘Just another day in Paradise’.
At first glance it may seem like the name of a fictional town, but there really is a town in Pennsylvania called Intercourse. Which I imagine is one of the ways the town population persists.
I first saw a Trump bumper sticker in Pennsylvania, a state that unexpectedly broke for him in 2016. The people I met were genuine and down to earth.
We attended a small church of around 10 souls in Strasburg with traditional hymns, organs and a member of the congregation playing a mountain dulcimer (which I’ve read is part of the zither family of instruments).
Far from bustling New York, Lancaster county was an oasis, a place of tranquility and simple faith and a man could be happy there.
I started off 2020 by taking a few hours with family to visit the iconic city of New York, scene of a thousand movies and television programs, and home to 8.55 million residents.
The average South African would find the regular sight of homeless people familiar.
The unquestionable highlight was the 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard about September 11 on the news and when President Bush made remarks later that morning (afternoon for us in South Africa) to the effect that the United States was going to ‘go after the folks’ who committed those acts, I felt a flood of righteous indignation towards the perpetrators.
In a way, and it wasn’t only me but many people the world over, I had an instant kinship with the people of New York and indeed the Unites States.
The 9/11 memorial site was busy and lines snaking into the museum would have taken hours which we didn’t have.
I saw names on the memorial panels that I knew from reading hundreds of articles. People I’d never met but knew something about their lives. Fire chief Pfeifer, Franciscan friar, Fr. Mychal Judge, Lauren Grandcolas and her unborn child.
It was surreal. As we wandered through the site, air traffic directed the attention skywards, helicopters every few minutes, commuter jets as well as light aircraft from nearby JFK, or possibly La Guardia.
Police were everywhere, NYPD and PAPD. Hundreds of police, reportedly 38 thousand NYPD with another 10 thousand or so auxiliary, around 2 thousand PAPD officers spread over New York and New Jersey.
I thought of the people whose names I knew but I lingered on Kevin Cosgrove. I’m 46 now, the same age as Kevin Cosgrove on 11 September 2001. He was an executive working for the Aon Corporation in the South Tower.
He was on a 911 call when the tower collapsed, his cries immortalised in sound.
A short walk away was Trinity Church. In the middle of a bustling city and a short distance from Wall Street is a cemetery with gravestones hundreds of years old, almost quiet and intimate. I thought of my sister.
While looking for Wall Street and the infamous ‘charging bull’ we came across ‘The Trump Building’ at 40 Wall Street, a surreal experience illustrating Trump’s link to New York.
Later, coming up out of the subway at Columbus circle we spotted the ‘Trump International Hotel and Tower’ on Central Park West. I suppose New Yorkers are used to seeing President Trump’s name around like its normal.
New York is busy, teeming with people. It was quite an experience and utterly iconic but I’m glad I don’t live in a city that huge.
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. Ephesians 6: 10, 11