WHAT VALUE A LIFE?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:28-31 (ESV)]

sparrowAs the economy tanks and COVID-19 spreads, we hear economists and politicians speak of making a cost-benefit analysis to determine the cost of a prolonged shutdown of business and industry with millions out of work versus the cost of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people dying. How do we put a price tag on life, especially if the life is ours or that of someone we know and love?

By reducing the human body into its basic elements, DataGenetics concluded that the grand total of materials in a typical human body is a meager $160. I suppose that means the larger the body, the more valuable it is. FinanceDegreeCenter found that all our body’s organs (hair, blood, bone marrow, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.) could be worth up to $45 million when sold on the black market. That value, however, would depend on our nationality, health, blood type, age, and the purchaser’s urgency of need. According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency values a life at $9.5 million, which is their benchmark for determining whether to clean up a toxic waste site.

Does our value change with age? Is a baby’s life more worthy of saving than that of a seventy-year-old? During the George W. Bush administration, the lives of people over 70 were valued at 67% that of younger people when calculating the cost-benefit of regulating soot emissions from power plants. Although AARP’s backlash put an end to that model, could appraising all ages equally devalue the lives of young people? Along with considering the deceased’s age, juries in wrongful death law suits consider things like income, quality of life, and earning potential. Their valuations can range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.

How can any society assess the trade-off between economic well-being and anyone’s life? What is the value of one person? What is an acceptable number of fatalities? Yet, when we look at the dire economic consequences of a total shut-down, we find economists warning that making people poorer (with the resulting loss of food, shelter, essential services, mental health, medical care, opportunities, and sanitation) also has severe health consequences for the entire nation.

I’m neither economist nor politician and I can’t imagine doing a cost-benefit analysis between lives lost and a tanked economy. I’m thankful that the tough choices they are facing are not mine to make. Let us continue to lift in prayer our nation’s leaders and policy makers so that they will be guided by God’s wisdom in making the difficult decisions necessary in the days ahead. Although we hope that medical research and decisive government action will quickly put an end to this crisis, our ultimate hope lies in God.

As for any person’s value—all I know is that, from conception to death, the life of each and every person is cherished by God. He doesn’t value us by size, health, race, nationality, age, works, sex, income, potential, or even religion. Having formed us and breathed His life into us, God values each one of us as if we were His only child. We are so precious to Him that Jesus suffered and died for us—not for our economy but for our salvation! Every life is worthy of the salvation offered by Jesus—even that of a repentant thief who had but a few hours left to live as he hung on a cross beside Jesus.

Because of God’s enormous love for us, let us face today, tomorrow, and all of the days to follow with faith, hope, and love!

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. [Heidelberg Catechism]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (ESV)]

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HAUGHTY EYES

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Mattew 7:1-2 (NLT)]

peacockWhile I learned about international finance and Brexit at a women-only seminar, I also learned something more important by my reaction to two of the attendees. Their plumped up lips, wrinkle free faces, and curvaceous shapes indicated the work of a plastic surgeon and their perfect coifs and make-up caused me to wonder if they’d been professionally done that morning. Dressed from head-to toe in designer wear, it was obvious they shop at stores like Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, and Fendi rather than Kohl’s, T.J Maxx, or Old Navy. One woman’s long cardigan sported Gucci’s trademark red and green stripes and her purse, belt and shoes all displayed the designer’s gold double G logo. The other woman, with her very blond hair, heavy make-up, lavender rabbit fur vest, matching silk blouse, swanky jewelry, and glittery Lucite heels, looked like she belonged in an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Granted, their appearance was over-the-top for a meeting that called for “business casual” but the women did nothing to justify my negative reaction to them. Later, a quick internet search told me that they run in a far different circle than do I and frequently attend local charity fundraisers (the kind where tickets range from $350 for lunch upwards to $1000 and more for dinner). While their lifestyle is significantly wealthier than mine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. That they choose to spend money in a way that seems extravagant to me doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent, compassionate, generous, kind, or even devout Christians. For all I know, along with their affinity for designer clothes, they also tithe to the church, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and regularly go on mission trips!

I thought of Jesus’ words about judging others. I certainly didn’t want someone to judge my value based on my attire and I had no right to do the same with theirs. Then, realizing I would have been more accepting of someone arriving at that same meeting in jeans, scruffy sneakers, and sweatshirt, I recalled the Apostle James’ words about discrimination. Written to the early church, he told them not to show partiality to the rich. If it’s wrong to favor the rich over the poor, isn’t it as wrong to favor the poor over the rich or the ordinary over the flashy? Granted, James didn’t want the early church to show favoritism to the wealthy in hope of getting financial assistance and this situation was different. Nevertheless, his point was that prejudice and discrimination is wrong. The rich and poor have the same value to their Father in Heaven!

Self-righteous, I’d pridefully compared my modest attire with their showy display of wealth which, in their circle, probably isn’t showy at all! Other than their wealth, I really knew nothing about the women and yet I’d instantly viewed them as one-dimensional stereotypical “trophy wives” rather than individuals. I’d even shared catty comments with the woman beside me. While looking down on these two women instead of looking at them, I’d judged others without noticing the huge log of haughtiness in my own eyes! Although the Lord detests “haughty eyes,” [Prov. 6:16-17] I’d been looking through them and it was my haughty, arrogant, self-righteous eyes that caused me to belittle those women.

We shouldn’t judge people by their economic status any more than we should by their race, religion, gender, age, nationality, accent, politics, disability, appearance, or marital status. It is as wrong to fault the rich for their wealth as it is to discount the poor for their poverty. Everyone is our neighbor, a child of God, and someone to love.

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. [James 2:8-9 (NLT)]

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A NEW NORMAL

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything. [James 1:2-4 (NTE)]

hoary comma anglewing butterflyBy the end of the phone call, tears were rolling down my cheeks; yet another loved one is seriously ill. Given my age and that of my friends, I shouldn’t be surprised; we are nearing our expiration dates so receiving news of someone’s illness or death is becoming my new normal.

As I added this new name to my lengthy prayer list, I considered the new normal for those on it: chemo, radiation, weekly blood work, reconstructive surgery, chronic pain, widowhood, Parkinson’s, financial troubles, Alzheimer’s, the challenges of staying sober, and the demands of 24/7 care giving. Their normal certainly isn’t one they would have chosen deliberately.

Then I thought about the new normal to which all of us are adjusting because of COVID-19: social distancing, elbow bumps and toe taps, streaming church services, travel restrictions, hand sanitizers and bleach wipes, phone calls and emails instead of meeting over coffee, broken supply chains, cancellations, working from home, lay-offs, school closings and on-line classes, along with hoarding, shortages, and price gouging! None of us are immune to COVID-19 and many of the people I know and love will be touched by it. Things will get worse before they get better and there will be more tears before this ends.

COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives and, while we have little control over the virus, we do have control over navigating our new normal. The eight bottles of tequila in one woman’s cart told me how she’s planning on doing it! Three women in Australia got into a brawl over a cart of toilet paper while, in Italy, a man’s inadvertent brush against another erupted into a fist fight that ended only when the police and an ambulance arrived. Don’t let that be us! While we can’t discount the threat, our new normal must not be one of anger, violence, alcohol, fear, complaint, drugs, denial, depression, paranoia, panic, or anxiety.

Let us remember that we have a God who loves us. Life isn’t perfect, but it hasn’t been perfect since Eden! Nevertheless, life is doable, not on our strength, but through God’s power. Coronavirus (like pain, disappointment and loss) is just another one of those unwelcome gifts that come with life in a fallen world. Like Job, we will never know the “Why” of it but, as Christ followers, we know in whose hands we rest.

Jesus told us trouble was inevitable; no one gets a free pass. Nevertheless, a pastor friend often says, “It’s all good.” In itself, COVID-19 isn’t good any more than are cancer or the death of a child. Nevertheless, it’s “all good” because God, in His infinite wisdom and love, will bring good out of it. We may not see it, we don’t always like it, and rarely do we understand it, but it is all for good. While we may have tears, R.C. Sproul reminds us, “For believers, there are no tragedies!”

Because of Christ, we have victory over sin and Satan; Romans 8:28 assures us that we also have victory over our circumstances. Let us stand on God’s promises and boldly navigate the next several weeks while praising, thanking, praying, walking in faith, and bringing light into the darkness (while frequently washing our hands)! Let the joy of the Lord be our strength in this new normal.

We know, in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28 (NTE)]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

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SINKING

Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation. [Matthew 7:24-15 (TPT)]

Mt. Hayden - Grand CanyonWhile summer is hurricane season here in Florida, early spring is “sinkhole season.” For most property owners, a sinkhole is little more than a headache but, for some, it means the loss of their homes and possibly their lives. Seven weeks ago, two families north of here lost their homes and belongings as the earth collapsed beneath them, leaving a chasm at least 40-feet wide and 60-feet long. Back in 2013, a man went to sleep and literally disappeared as he, his bed and then his entire bedroom vanished into the earth; his body was never recovered.

Here in the “Sunshine State,” our homes are built on limestone that dissolves easily in rainwater; as a result, the underground becomes honeycombed with cavities. Sometimes, a cavity becomes too big to support its ceiling and collapses, leaving a gaping hole at the surface. Too much or too little water can trigger these sinkholes. Although cavities filled with rainwater can support their ceiling, when drought causes them to empty out, they can’t. On the other hand, in a heavy rain, the sudden flood of groundwater rushing into a cavity combined with the weight of pooled water on the surface also can lead to the ground’s collapse.

When purchasing our house of poured concrete, I knew it was hurricane resistant but I never gave any thought to the strength of the ground beneath it. Many of us build our lives in much the same way. Attention is given to looking good on the surface but our lives are not built on God’s bedrock. Instead of a drought or torrential rains jeopardizing our stability, it’s things like job loss, illness, miscarriage, divorce, addiction, mental illness, teenage rebellion, betrayal, depression, boredom, and loss that threaten our weak foundation.

As a carpenter, Jesus knew all about the building of houses when He spoke about foundations at the end of His Sermon on the Mount. Two houses experience the same challenges but only the house built on rock can endure life’s storms. In case his listeners didn’t understand His point, Jesus clearly explained it: a life built upon His teaching was built on a foundation of bedrock and wouldn’t fail.

Since most sinkholes occur in the central part of our state and only a few small ones have occurred near us, I’m not worried about them. Nevertheless, we do look for signs of trouble such as leaks or structural cracks in our floors or walls. Sinkholes can be prevented if geotechnical experts are called in time and the necessary repairs or remediation are done. Those houses I mentioned didn’t have to disappear into an abyss and neither do our lives. Lives built on shaky foundations can be saved. The salvage expert to be consulted is Jesus who will shore up our lives with His living word. Moreover, unlike that man who disappeared into the ground, nobody can fall so far into the abyss that Jesus can’t lift them out. Let us all build our lives on the bedrock of Jesus Christ!

But everyone who hears my teaching and does not apply it to his life can be compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand. When it rained and rained and the flood came, with wind and waves beating upon his house, it collapsed and was swept away. [Matthew 7:26-27 (TPT)]

Could there be any other god like you? You are the only God to be worshiped, for there is not a more secure foundation to build my life upon than you. [Psalm 18:31 (TPT)]

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GIVE A WAVE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronA man down the street has surrounded his home with security cameras pointed in every direction. I’m told that he’s an unpleasant old coot but I wouldn’t know; in all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen him. He has, however, managed to irk one neighbor enough that she salutes his cameras with her middle finger every time she passes by his house.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris claims the middle finger sign of rudeness is one of the oldest known insult gestures. Aristophanes wrote of the gesture in his play Clouds and the Romans called the middle finger the digitus impudicus or indecent finger. Sadly, in this day and age of rudeness, road rage, and irate neighbors, we frequently see it.

Several years ago, one of our pastors suggested that we give the “thumb’s up” gesture rather than the middle finger salute. He frequently repeated that thought until one day he misspoke and suggested the finger rather than the thumb! Popularized during World War II when pilots used it to signal ground crews their readiness for take-off, the “thumb’s up” gesture generally has a good connotation in English speaking countries. Unfortunately, it has a negative meaning in Greece, Russia, Sardinia, parts of West Africa and much of the Middle East. A full-fingered wave probably is a safer suggestion than thumb, especially when accompanied by a smile!

We all have moments when we’re angered or upset but, hopefully, we’re mature enough to refrain from giving that middle finger or yelling nasty words and escalating the situation. Nevertheless, it’s easy to mutter bad words to oneself, have hostile thoughts, and mentally give that rude gesture. After a reckless driver cut us off and nearly caused an accident, my husband growled angrily, “Here’s the thumb for you!” Although he refrained from a rude gesture, I gently reminded him that we’re not supposed to be thinking the finger when giving someone the thumb! Not doing the wrong thing is only half right; we also need to think and do the right one.

While Scripture never specifically refers to vulgar gestures, it does say a great deal about how we are to treat our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor—including the driver who cuts us off, the man who doesn’t clean up after his dog, the woman who pushes ahead of us in line, and the recluse down the street with his dozens of security cameras.

Not everyone who crosses our path is going to cross it nicely; nevertheless, there is no excuse for returning incivility with more of the same. Let us respond with grace and humility. Since we’re told to pray for our enemies, instead of merely refraining from nasty words and gestures, we could say a quick prayer for the person who’s offended us. While asking God to encourage our offender to improve both skills and attitude, we might want to ask Him to do some work on us, as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s give a friendly wave in actions, thoughts, and prayers!

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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