Priorities unmasked

The novel coronavirus has changed our lives. And the changes keep on coming, daily, almost by the minute.

How to analyze this?

Take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. That seems to be the best approach.

No one wanted the NCAA basketball tournament to get shut down. No one wants restaurants to close, offering only takeout and delivery. No one truly wanted schools to close for an extended period. Worship services, gym classes, libraries … all closed.

Why now? Why not during previous pandemics?

Contagious and deadly

Perhaps the nation wasn’t ready for such a response previously. Or, perhaps, earlier pandemics didn’t have the potential far-reaching consequences. For example, during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic:


From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.


From what I can tell, the COVID-19 virus is much more contagious and deadly than H1N1. If 60.8 million people get the coronavirus this spring, our hospitals would get overwhelmed, and some people could die waiting for care.

Also, according to the same CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) article, most of the H1N1 sufferers were younger than 65, which “differs greatly from typical seasonal influenza epidemics, during which about 70 percent to 90 percent of deaths are estimated to occur in people 65 years and older.”

The fact that the COVID-19 virus appears to inflict minimal damage on children is crucial. Schools were closed to prevent young people from becoming carriers of the virus to the rest of the population, as well as to keep them from getting it.

Senior citizens older than 70 and those of us with medical conditions are at greatest risk from suffering and/or dying from the new virus. Although I am healthy, I am not allowed to visit my parents, ages 86 and 83, because two weeks ago they moved into a senior living facility in Michigan, which now is under quarantine.

How do I know I’m not a carrier? From what I can tell, we can be carriers for several days, perhaps up to two weeks, before any symptoms show.

This is why nearly all public gatherings – of any size, now – are being canceled. We unknowingly could transmit the virus to each other, spreading it further around the country.

The hope is to isolate the virus, that it will die because it’s not being transmitted anywhere. That’s why we are asked to stay home or practice “social distancing.”

Is this overreaction? Maybe, but probably not. If very few people die in the United States because of all the shutdowns, then it will have worked.

Some will say that would prove the shutdown was overkill. Actually, that proves the opposite. Look at Italy, which did not meet this virus head-on early and is suffering escalating casualties:


Italy on Sunday reported 368 new deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as the country’s death toll hit 1,809 while the number of positive cases rose to 24,747 from 21,157 on Saturday, the country’s civil protection authority said.


In China, where isolation measures have been implemented, very few new cases are being reported now:


Hong Kong (CNN)For the first time since the novel coronavirus was first identified last year, there are now more reported cases outside of mainland China than inside, marking a new milestone in the evolution of the global pandemic.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 16 new confirmed cases and 14 deaths, as of end of Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 80,860, of which more than 67,000 patients have recovered.



This is our hope: By isolating the virus, we can reduce and eventually eliminate its severe impact on society.

Time for …

How long will that take? It’s anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, many of us have a lot of free time on our hands. No NCAA basketball tournament – the best television of the year, in my opinion – means the TV is turned off. I volunteer at a food pantry – it’s closed, because many of the clients (and volunteers) are vulnerable.


What are our priorities in life? Sports? Politics? Family? Faith?

This virus is testing us, big time. Strip away most of what we do with our lives, and what’s left?

In my regular Bible reading, I’m going through the Old Testament minor prophets these days. Yesterday I read Haggai, both chapters. My study Bible offers this commentary on the prophet’s message:


We find ourselves rushing through life, attending to the necessary, the immediate, and the urgent. Too often, the important is left in the dust. Our problem is not the volume of demands or lack of scheduling skills, but values – what truly is important to us.


That commentary was copyrighted in 1989. Haggai itself was written in 520 BC. The prophet Haggai chastised the Israelites who had just returned from exile to a destroyed Jerusalem and were building their own houses and living it up while ignoring God’s temple, leaving it in ruins.

Your priorities are wrong, Haggai told the Israelites.

They got the message and rebuilt the temple.

How about us? What are our priorities? We may not have to rebuild a temple, but are there family or friends we should reconnect with?

Crisis shows our heart

This is not about politics, but real life. President Trump hasn’t done much to stop the spread of the virus, but the governor of my state of Ohio – also a Republican – has. Indeed, Mike DeWine was first in the nation to close public schools, and was first in the nation to close bars and restaurants (except for takeout and delivery).

Are DeWine’s orders extreme? Maybe, but other states are following suit quickly. So, perhaps he’s just being proactive.

DeWine has no desire to shut down the state of Ohio. He does have the desire to halt the spread of COVID-19. His top public health official is a medical doctor, and she’s playing an active role in state policy.

The sooner public gatherings are stopped, hopefully, the sooner they can resume – without a huge number of illnesses and deaths. This is the goal.

It’s not politics. It’s real life.

Rather than fight it, we need to respond to it. Schools and pantries are closed – how will children and families get fed? How will parents go to work when their children, normally in school, now are home? How will bartenders and waitresses, gym workers and others provide for their own daily needs without a paycheck?

We are at war with a deadly and very contagious virus. Each of us must play our part in fighting this battle.

When we come out the other side, I think we will be a better country for it.

We find out what our true values are in a crisis. We’re in one now.

Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4


A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.


Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.


Christianity’s future lies in Africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.