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My radioactive body brought me shame. But I learned how to bring my fears to the Cross.

When I was radioactive, I carried a card in my wallet to explain why I set off alarms at the airport with my body. The card read, “Rachel Jones has undergone nuclear medical treatment.”

I keep the card in my wallet, even though I no longer need to show it at airports. I love the card and I hate it. I love it because it says I had nuclear treatment, which simply sounds awesome. I hate it because that awesome-sounding treatment didn’t give me the ability to fly or glow in the dark. I love it because not everyone gets to step through an airport scanner and explain to the TSA staff why their body is lighting up the screen and that makes me feel special. But I hate it because it means I have cancer, which also makes me feel special, but not in a good way.

I have thyroid cancer. I had a total thyroidectomy followed by radioactive iodine treatment, which meant the pill a nurse delivered inside a lead container and only touched with gloved hands and a pair of tongs, I put into my bare palm and then into my mouth and swallowed. There was nothing epic or momentous about the moment of swallowing the little pill, other than the Imagine Dragons song Radioactive, which echoed on endless repeat in my mind.

I took the pill, walked out of the hospital, drove home, retreated to the basement, and isolated myself for three days from all humans and animals, hoping that the cancer would die.

I was now a danger to society. As my body leaked radioactivity, I could damage someone else’s body simply by proximity. No touch, no shared space, no common utensils or toilets. Everything I touched needed to be scrubbed down, the space in which I breathed needed to be ventilated. No one could come within eight feet of me.

The COVID-19 ...

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Joy invades the most sorrowful spaces. It reminds us that beauty and goodness and life can grow even in the most unpromising soil.

Today’s musical pairing is Saint-Saëns’ The Swan performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott. Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
James 1:16–17 (ESV)

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
John 15:11

Day 12. 1,056,777 confirmed cases, 55,781 deaths globally.

At first it felt like a cramp. Like a long hand had reached into my chest, wrapped its fingers around my heart, and squeezed. I wondered if my body was dehydrated and the muscles in my chest were clamping down. Surely I could not be suffering a heart attack? I was only 38 years old, and I had just finished exercising at the gym. But the pain was not on the left side or the right side. It was in the middle.

I laid down in the hope it would pass. Slowly it became harder to breathe, harder to speak. We called an ambulance. My children were in the childcare room 30 yards away. Should I say goodbye, just in case? By the time my wife arrived, my face was ashen.

At the first hospital, tests showed “irregularities.” I should be moved to a different hospital. On the way, I heard the ambulance driver say the words “heart attack.” I sent text messages to the family of my birth. Apparently I’m having a heart attack, I said. When I arrived at the next hospital and entered the procedure room for a stent, I told the doctor, “I have a wife and young daughters,” in the hope it might inspire a little extra determination to keep me alive.

That’s what it felt like to have a heart attack. Then it felt like flashes of fear in the night as you ...

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As COVID-19 spreads, dozens of Protestant converts are still denied access to clean water in Catholic-controlled villages in four states.

While many people around the world are reaching for soap, water, and antibacterial hand gel to prevent the transmission of the new coronavirus, Angelina does not have that luxury.

Her family and a neighboring family had their access to water and sewage services cut off by local authorities in January 2019. Fifteen months later, they still have no access.

All in an attempt to force them to renounce their Protestant faith.

As of April 2, Mexico had reported more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19, with 50 confirmed deaths. Just three days prior, the government announced a national health emergency, suspending non-essential activities, banning gatherings of over 50 people, and encouraging the population to “stay at home for as much time as possible.”

Angelina, 50, with her three adult children, lives in the central state of Hidalgo, which reports 26 confirmed cases, 3 deaths, and a further 65 suspected cases. With this number all but certain to climb in the coming days, her family and others like them lack access to one of the first lines of defense against this invisible threat.

Article 4 of the Mexican constitution states: “Everyone has the right to access, disposal, and treatment of water for personal and household consumption in sufficient measure, safely, acceptably, and affordably.” However, this right is not enjoyed by all people. Nor is the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Mexico is currently on a monitoring list for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), having previously been considered a Tier 2 country. Moderate and severe violations of religious freedom remain common, particularly in the states of Hidalgo, Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. [Editor’s note: From 2015 to ...

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Whether COVID-19 or ISIS, believers from Iraq, Syria, and Egypt know “neither plague nor persecution can snuff out the church of Christ.”

Christians around the world are about to lose their usual Easter celebration—the highlight of most congregations’ annual life together.

Yes, there will be a livestream. Their pastor will likely call them. They may even chat on Zoom with friends and family.

But it will be different. The community of believers has been sundered by the new coronavirus. And threatened with it is Christ’s body, his bride, his temple for his presence in the world.

If there is any consolation, it is that this is not the first time.

“There are forces of nature—and forces of man—that challenge our ability to experience the presence of Christ,” said Gregory Mansour, the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn.

“[COVID-19] is different from persecution. But it is the same.”

A born-again Catholic led into personal relationship with Christ by the Navigators, Mansour later reconnected with his ancient Lebanon-based church. His clerical colleagues there received thousands of ISIS-fleeing Christians from Syria and Iraq.

“There was a deliberate desire to obliterate churches, hymnals, prayers, and people,” he said. “The only thing we had left was a spiritual communion.”

Though his own diocese is far removed from those events, it remains in the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 outbreak. One female doctor in his church is serving on the front lines, reminding Mansour of the plague of St. Cyprian (249–262 AD): that when all others ran away, Christians ran in to help the suffering.

Trying to find solace for his people in light of losing Easter, Mansour turned for inspiration to St. John-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.

Vianney grew up during France’s anti-clerical Reign ...

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Our leaders are seeking endless ways to stave off the fear and anxiety that those under our care are feeling.

“Mental health issues in general and burnout in particular are real issues for pastors and leaders as we minister today in our complex world.”

When I wrote those words this past January, I couldn’t have imagined that our complex world would become one that looked almost unrecognizable only three months later.

Three months later, we see burnout on a different scale. Pastors are tired. Staff are tired. Our leaders are seeking endless ways to stave off the fear and anxiety that those under our care are feeling.

Today, I started to try to look at my inbox. It has 552 emails in it that I need to reply to— many from my staff who are waiting on me for a few things. Others from pastors with serious and significant questions. And, I think I will probably be working on these emails throughout the weekend.

But, who remembers what a weekend is anymore. There is no Monday, Friday, or Sunday for many of us. There is just day, day, and day.

And, burnout— for many of us— is close.

A Staff Held High

When I think of where we are today, I think of Moses. In Exodus 14, when the Lord God set his people free from the harsh rule of Pharaoh, God

…said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground”… Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land” (Exod. 14: 15-16, 19).

Holding up the staff in trust must have been exhausting. In fact, we see later on in Exodus 17 when Israel is fighting the Amalekites that Moses needed help with that ...

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If the old me stays alive, I never escape hell. Instead, I live it.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We’re dead either way. The grace is that we get to choose which death we die.

Lent, the season of solemnity and contemplation, has become this year a global grappling with sickness, loss, and death not seen in generations. There is no spiritualizing away this novel coronavirus, tying it up in neat religious packaging. Yet there remains opportunity to be confronted not just by headlines and disease, but by God’s Word and the depths of mortality.

Scripture is clear: Before Christ comes into our lives, we’re dead in our trespasses, even while we live (Eph. 2:1–3). We’re not injured, not dirty, but dead. It’s offensive, for we can be so proud of the lives we construct. I know I was.

Yet even without the Bible telling us so, sometimes we can suspect that what we’re experiencing is death-life—that there must be more. Desperate activity and disappointment creep into the corners of our lives like clouds of mustard gas, reeking of mortality. We exhaust ourselves trying to gain or prove or establish, sometimes finally giving up.

Perhaps some of us are indeed chasing righteousness, hoping it will bring life. More likely, we’re addicted to something else that promises the same: CrossFit, essential oils, or something garden variety like money, sex, or a particular relationship that’s captured our attention. We 21st-century Westerners love self-improvement, ever seeking the next upgrade for our lives and selves. We believe in it; we deeply believe in life, liberty, and ...

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When the biological appears diabolical.

Author Katherine Stewart let Christians have it last Friday, at the least the “ultraconservative” ones, the science-deniers, and the uncritical thinkers. Laying the blame for the pandemic in part at our feet, she cites as an example the pastor who hosted the president last month at his church in Miami. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus?” he asked his full house. “Of course not.” Such conviction led many churches to gather together last Sunday for worship, a defiance defended as faithfulness, though as it turned out the virus indeed infects the righteous and unrighteous alike.

I’m sympathetic to Stewart’s concern that Christians are not listening to medical science, and I’m sympathetic to the pastor’s sentiment too. One year ago this week I stood in Capernaum, reading from Luke 4 about Jesus exorcising demons while in the very synagogue where he did it. I stood there with my late wife who was dying of pancreas cancer, its own kind of demon. Our tour guide, a non-religious Jew, suggested we pray for healing, given all the healing that happened here. As a pastor, I felt embarrassed—why hadn’t I thought of that? Where was my faith? Did I believe God would bring his people to his house and let cancer win? Of course not. But my wife did die.

Such questions haunt Christians, a chronic thorn in our theological flesh. We crave simple answers, the sort Stewart describes in political arenas as “a battle between absolute evil and absolute good” (which she resorts to herself, with her overly simplistic characterizations). We live in a day when everything gets reduced down into binary, either/or simplicity ...

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Court finds Lighthouse Events used ministry funds to repay expensive short-term loans instead.

A Christian concert promoter has been ordered to pay almost $5 million for misleading investors and misusing funds that were supposed to go toward events that “spread the message of Christ.”

A United States federal court issued a summary judgment against Lighthouse Events and its founder Jeffrey E. Wall this week, finding Wall and his organization had “fraudulently rais[ed] more than $3 million in unregistered offerings from approximately 145 investors.”

Lighthouse books Christian acts at churches and venues across New England. Last year’s lineups included Needtobreathe, Danny Gokey, for King & Country, Sanctus Real, and Kirk Cameron. The company drew in financial partners by inviting them to help spread the gospel through its shows, promising to pay back the investment plus 20 percent after the events.

The money was supposed toward deposits on summer festivals. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil complaint accusing Lighthouse Events of fraud in April 2019.

“Wall had promised investors that their funds would be used solely to promote and host Christian music concerts and festivals and that their investments were ‘secured’ and ‘guaranteed,’” according to the SEC. “In reality, Wall and Lighthouse used investor funds for a variety of other expenses, including payment of Lighthouse’s existing debt and payments to earlier investors.”

After 20 years working in Christian radio, Wall started Lighthouse Events in 2008 and put on more than 350 concerts within a year, growing to partner with more than 1,000 churches. In additional to individual shows and regional tours, Lighthouse previously put on festivals like the River Rock ...

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While nearly all pastors say their church held in-person worship services at the beginning of March, the situation had changed radically by the end of the month.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The coronavirus outbreak has had ripple effects across the country, including in U.S. churches, according to a new study of pastors.

Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked Protestant pastors how the pandemic has impacted their congregations and what their plans are for the near future.

While nearly all pastors say their church held in-person worship services at the beginning of March, the situation had changed radically by the end of the month.

On the weekend of March 1, 99% say they gathered, while 95% held services the next weekend. By March 15, that number dropped to 64%. And by March 22, 11% of pastors say their churches gathered in person. On March 29, only 7% of pastors say their congregations met in person.

“Gathering for worship as a local church is a fundamental expression of the body of Christ, but so are valuing life and loving others,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “As mitigation guidance first impacted large churches, the majority of churches with 200 or more attendees were not meeting by March 15, and only 1% of them met March 22 as guidance continued to shift.”

Almost half of churches (47%) say they have already decided they will not meet in person for Easter. A small number (3%) say they will have an in-person gathering no matter what.

A significant number say they are in a wait-and-see situation. Close to 1 in 5 (18%) say they will have an in-person gathering if authorities allow gatherings of that size. Another 15% say they will do so if local authorities do not recommend against it. Fewer (7%) say they will have an in-person Easter gathering if in their own judgement they feel it is safe. One in 10 say they’re not sure.

Online ...

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Los Salmos de lamento se sentían hiperbólicos antes de COVID-19. Pero en medio de 13,000 muertes, mi iglesia en Roma, cerrada por el encierro obligatorio, resuena con el lamento de David más que nunca.

La pandemia de COVID-19 ha cambiado la forma en que los cristianos italianos oran y viven su fe, en medio de una nación que se recupera de más de 13,000 muertes —la cifra más alta del mundo— entre 110,500 casos confirmados, solo superados por los Estados Unidos [al 2 de abril].

Durante este periodo de aislamiento, ya no podemos reunirnos los domingos o en grupos semanales. Las reuniones sociales, los viajes y las bodas han sido suspendidos, así como la mayoría de las actividades. Si alguien es descubierto fuera de su casa sin una razón válida, puede haber una multa muy alta.

Pero esta temporada de exilio nos ha ayudado a descubrir tres facetas de la oración que a menudo descuidamos en tiempos de abundancia.

1) Oraciones de Lamento

Los salmos de lamento a menudo se sentían como una exageración apenas hace un mes. Por ejemplo, la queja de Asaf de que Dios ha hecho que su pueblo “beba lágrimas en abundancia” podría haber parecido excesivamente dramática; El grito de David a Dios de “¿Hasta cuándo esconderás de mí tu rostro?” era un sentimiento distante.

Pero a medida que la humanidad lucha por contener una pandemia que provoca miedo y ansiedad, el lamento parece tener una nueva relevancia para todos nosotros. En marzo de 2020, el Salmo 44 parece resonar perfecto:

¡Despierta, Señor! ¿Por qué duermes? ¡Levántate! No nos rechaces para siempre. ¿Por qué escondes tu rostro y te olvidas de nuestro sufrimiento y opresión?Estamos abatidos hasta el polvo; nuestro cuerpo se arrastra por el suelo. Levántate, ven a ayudarnos, y ...

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