Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Tot_Lot_20200414by Stephen W. Hiemstra

On Easter Sunday I broke quarantine for the first time in six weeks to spend time with my parents. For the first time, we participated in online church, ordered pizza, and hosted a family Zoom conference. Because my parents are both eighty-nine, this was a memorable Easter for them and for me.

If you have never hosted a Zoom conference, go to Zoom.com, register, and get started. A free account will allow you to conference with any number of people for up to forty minutes.

Corona Virus Hot Spots

The United States now has the most corona virus cases and deaths. The mortality rate is currently 4.1 percent, lower than most other hot spots.

Corona Virus Hot Spots:  Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Countries, April 14, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality rate Share of Cases
United_States_of_America 9 582,594 23,649 4.1% 31.1%
Spain 1 169,496 17,489 10.3% 9.0%
Italy 1 159,516 20,465 12.8% 8.5%
Germany 1 125,098 2,969 2.4% 6.7%
France 1 98,076 14,967 15.3% 5.2%
United_Kingdom 1 88,621 11,329 12.8% 4.7%
China 5 83,303 3,345 4.0% 4.4%
Iran 4 73,303 4,585 6.3% 3.9%
Turkey 4 61,049 1,296 2.1% 3.3%
Belgium 1 30,589 3,903 12.8% 1.6%
Sub-total 1,471,645 103,997 7.1% 78.6%
World 1,873,265 118,854 6.3% 100.0%
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Cabin Fever

Although I continue taking walks with my wife, Maryam, in the evening, my experience of cabin fever has been especially intense this week. Cabin fever is named for the problem pioneers faced being stuck indoors during long winters with little or nothing to do except get sick, suffer freezing weather, and watch the food supply evaporate.

The plot of a 2014 film with Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank, The Homesman, revolved around returning three pioneer wives that went insane during the winter to their families on account of cabin fever in the 1850s. Mary Bee Cuddy, a spinster played by Hillary Swank, was not one of the three, but she ended up so despondent during the journey that she hung herself along the way.

What do you do to cope with cabin fever?

Gethsemane Moment

Where do you turn when you experience pain?

Reading media accounts of responses to corona virus suggests that many Americans do not turn to God in their time of distress. Alcohol sales are skyrocketing, pet adoptions are up, and many people are having meltdowns.

This is a good time to take an afternoon walk in the sunshine and ask God to draw you closer:

Ever-present father,

I praise you for another day and the many people in my life.

Forgive my aloofness and self-absorption.

Thank you for your hedge of protection in the midst of chaos.

Draw me to yourself. Open my heart; enlighten my mind; strengthen my hands in your service that I might rest with you today and everyday.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

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Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Midwesterners have a reputation for being friendly people. As a kid, I spent a lot of time on my grandparent’s farm where the reason for the positive attitudes was very simple. Out on the farm, you did not see a lot of people and, when you did, you were happy to see them.

Walking around the neighborhood these past several weeks, I have seen more smiling faces than all last year. As I enter my fifth week sheltering in place, I too am happy to see my neighbors.

Secondary Trauma

The relentless discussion of corona virus on television is triggering a form of secondary trauma that manifests itself as unexplained anxiety. Secondary trauma normally refers to the trauma induced in caregivers during horrible disasters, like plane crashes and earthquakes. Seeing large numbers of suffering people can overwhelm the caregivers, triggering anxiety and depression.

If you suffer from secondary trauma, limit your television time watching news reports and try getting outside. Sunshine and exercise are natural anti-depressants that you can use to keep a healthy balance.

Bright Spots

Optimism today centered around decreasing hospital admissions in NYC (probably due to social distancing) and the discovery of an antibody treatment (link) that may soon be available to first responders.

Antibody treatment is really good news, but it is not a vaccine. How quickly it can be rolled out, remains to be seen.

Social distancing works to reduce hospital admissions by spreading out the caseload over time. This allows hospitals to treat the critically ill patients without exceeding capacity limitations on staff and equipment, like ventilators. This way lives are saved that might otherwise have been lost.

Corona Statistics

For me, reviewing statistics on the corona virus is an anxiety-inducing event. The mortality rate in the U.S. rose today to 3.0 percent with the cases and deaths both rising about ten percent daily.

Corona Virus Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Region, April 7, 2020
Countries Cases Deaths Mortality Rates
Count Change 1/ Count Change 1/
Western Europe 611,964 4.4% 51,223 6.5% 8.4%
Eastern Europe 26,329 6.7% 674 14.0% 2.6%
Africa 9,758 6.7% 473 8.7% 4.8%
Middle East 110,502 6.7% 4,611 5.2% 4.2%
Asia 119,236 2.2% 3,891 0.6% 3.3%
Australia and New Zealand 6,787 2.0% 43 16.2% 0.6%
Pacific 11,290 7.8% 472 6.5% 4.2%
Atlantic 87 11.5% 9 28.6% 10.3%
North America 385,404 9.0% 11,334 13.9% 2.9%
Central America 5,469 8.8% 212 18.4% 3.9%
Caribbean 2,669 5.1% 116 7.4% 4.3%
Latin America 27,493 7.2% 1,008 12.5% 3.7%
World 1,316,988 5.8% 74,066 7.4% 5.6%
1/ Percentage change from prior day reported
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Corona virus hot spots around the world are much worse than the U.S. Europe remains the worst hit area of the world with Italy and France reporting mortality rates above 12 percent, likely because of a large elderly population. The Europe situation is particularly worrisome because European have socialized medicine not available in the U.S.

In the U.S. we have many undocumented workers and others not covered by health insurance. Think of all the people laid off in recent weeks. If these people are slow to ask for medical treatment when they need it, then they may infect others and  the U.S. mortality rates will rise to compete with European rates.

Corona Virus Hot Spots by Country, April 7, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality rates
Italy 1 132,547 16,525 12.5%
France 1 74,390 8,911 12.0%
United_Kingdom 1 51,608 5,373 10.4%
Netherlands 1 18,803 1,867 9.9%
Spain 1 135,032 13,055 9.7%
Indonesia 7 2,491 209 8.4%
Belgium 1 20,814 1,632 7.8%
Sweden 1 7,206 477 6.6%
Iran 4 60,500 3,739 6.2%
Mexico 10 2,439 125 5.1%
Note: Counties with at least 2,000 cases.
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Pre-Existing Conditions

What counts as a pre-existing condition to raise mortality rates for corona virus patients?

Your probability of death about doubles for age groups over sixty, being male, and having certain medical conditions. Heart disease, chronic respiratory ailments, diabetes, hyper-tension, and cancer are all factors more than doubling your risk. Deaths in minority communities are especially high because of these pre-existing conditions.

These statistics come from China where treatment options may be more limited. For details, see (link).

Economy

After 9-11, economists at the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, were busy doing regional and industrial studies to determine the distribution of losses in the economy and how they would affect banks.

The process of determining these economic effects was to examine the industries that would have obvious problems, like hospitality, airlines, and travel business, and look to the Census data to see where these industries were concentrated. Banks serving those areas were then assumed to have been disproportionally affected.

This week I wondered about how laid off workers would pay their mortgages in the coming months. What happens to their lenders?

Also, corona virus deaths may reach levels not previously seen–what happens to the insurance companies standing behind hospitals and individuals that pass away that have insufficient reserves? Companies like hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stories are likely to have corona related deaths where infection obviously took place on the job.

Response of Churches

Just about every church now offers some form of online worship on Sundays. Many have added midweek Zoom get togethers, Facebook parties, and video devotions. Many are quite good. Check your favorite church website for details.

Turning to God in Distress: A Gethsemane Moment

When you are in pain or afraid, where do you turn?

When Jesus was facing death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to God instead of his pain and fear.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39 ESV)

We face a Gethsemane Moment today worldwide. Where will you turn?

Spiritual Disciplines

Turn to God in your pain.

Consider reading Psalm 8 as a prayer, if you can not find the words to pray. I did this myself for about ten years.

Consider practicing continuous prayer–talking to God while you go about your day. I find prayer comes more easily when I am jogging or swimming laps. One of my own prayers is. Prayer for Shelter.

Consider daily journaling. I start my days in the morning with a daily examine–looking for God’s work in your life over the previous day.

Consider daily bible reading or study. I try to read a Psalm daily after I journal. Once I finish reading them all, I start over.

Consider joining a small group. It is a great comfort seeing people and talking with them about what you are going through. If you don’t have a group, check your favorite church website or call the church.

Whatever you do, turn to God.

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

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Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009By Stephen W. Hiemstra

During the spring  of 1973 I returned home from college to a new neighborhood in McLean, Virginia where the homes had garages rather than carports. Every day our new neighbors went to and returned from work without leaving their air conditioned houses. An electrical storm the following summer knocked out the power and, with it, the air conditioning. One after the other neighbor came outside to sit on their porch and escape the heat. That was when we finally got to meet them.

Walking in the neighborhood evenings with my wife, Maryam, the past couple weeks, I have seen more kids and adults outside than at any point since my childhood.

Year of the TV Preacher

Over the past two Sundays just about every church that I am associated with (6-8) has started holding services and meditations online. Some have even added midweek online sessions to match Sunday services. TV preacher Joel Olsteen recently reported having broken online attendance recordsabout five million viewers (link).

Local churches have typically not had a sophisticated online presence and the move online has been challenging. At one church that I know, giving is down about fifty percent in recent weeks.

How are local churches to compete in this new online-only environment?

Two observations come to mind.

First, recognize that local churches are unlikely to compete with Joel Olsteen for media sophistication. Don’t play a game that you are not likely to win.

Second, media sophistication is not what most people want today. People are hurting, lonely, and in need of reassurancethey desperately want to see familiar faces. This is where the local church can shine.

My advice to pastors is to check out what other churches are doing and find a format online that fits your style and audience. Personally, I think that the pastors offering online services from their living room couch with the spouse at their side provide the best fit for the current environment—the visual says from my family to yours. This reassures that pastor and parishioner are in this together.

Stat Wars

The daily news is grim. As a former chaplain, my heart goes out to all those patients and hospital staff contending daily with the grim reaper without family support. As field hospitals are built and American companies have diverted their facilities into producing medical supplies, we are writing the book on pandemic response.

Meanwhile, I feel like a contestant in a macabre game show as I spend my days reverse engineering the statistics that Dr. Fauci reports on the daily news. He has earned my respect repeatedly as he focuses on keeping the media and the administration focused on a reasoned response to the crisis. Science has become a contact sport. Perhaps, it always was.

Corona Virus Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Region, March 31, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality Rates
Count Change Count Change
Western Europe 391,444 7.6% 26,292 11.3% 6.7%
Eastern Europe 13,585 7.0% 196 16.0% 1.4%
Africa 5,043 10.7% 160 15.1% 3.2%
Middle East 62,919 11.2% 3,032 5.9% 4.8%
Asia 104,090 1.1% 3,603 0.6% 3.5%
Australia and New Zealand 5,204 12.0% 20 17.6% 0.4%
Pacific 6,608 15.6% 280 10.7% 4.2%
Atlantic 51 8.5% 1 0.0% 2.0%
North America 172,248 15.3% 3,265 26.8% 1.9%
Central America 2,712 8.3% 66 29.4% 2.4%
Caribbean 1,375 7.2% 52 8.3% 3.8%
Latin America 12,519 9.6% 305 18.2% 2.4%
World 777,798 8.7% 37,272 11.0% 4.8%
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

A key estimate by Dr. Fauci this week was that this pandemic would cost two hundred thousand American lives. Two hundred thousand is two percent of ten million corona virus cases.

Two percent has been the estimated mortality rate for the United States reported since this pandemic began and probably comes from the 1918 experience with the Spanish flu. Today’s rate for the U.S. is 1.9 percent, while the world average is now 4.8 percent (see the table). Italy has a mortality rate today that is 11.4 percent.

Ten million is an estimate of the eventual total case load of corona virus cases for the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. population is around three hundred million, suggesting a much larger number of cases.

If I had to guess, Dr. Fauci’s estimate is the result of a government oversight committee negotiation, focused on managing the optics. While this sounds political, managing fear is on every leader’s mind because fear compounds the underlying problem. Whether you consider the mortality rate or the caseload assumed in this calculation, the estimate is the most optimistic figure that could be reported with a straight face.

The two million death figure, which entered the briefing styled as a worst case scenario, arises from considering the population, not caseloads, and reflects a more reasonable set of assumptions. It may still be optimistic. Two percent of three hundred million is about six million, not two and, if the U.S. eventually sees worldwide mortality rates (4.8 percent today), then you have to more than double that figure.

Endgame

The statistics on mortality depend critically on how one expects this pandemic to end.

Social distancing works to reduce mortality rates by keeping the number of critically ill patients under the carrying capacity of the hospital system, thereby minimizing deaths.

For example, if the Washington metro area has thousand beds with ventilators and support staff, and the caseload remains under a thousand, then deaths are minimized (1.9 percent). As the caseload increases over a thousand, the mortality rate rises (4.8 to 11.4 percent). The mortality rate cannot remain at zero because even well-staffed and supplied hospitals will lose patients with pre-existing conditions.

This pandemic ends when one of two things happens. Either we develop an effective vaccine or so many people get the virus that it can no longer spread (herd immunity). Best estimates that a vaccine is 12-18 months away so the most likely case is that the virus burns itself out like a forest fire that stops spreading because it runs out of forest. This is why Dr. Fauci’s estimate is optimisticten million cases is not the forest.

Caveats

Three caveats are worth mentioning.

First, researchers have been working to develop a therapy involving a direct transfer of antibodies from patients already infected to those in dire straits. This is a novel approach, but it is untested. Other existing therapies are also being tested that relieve the stress that patients experience, improving their chances of survival.

Second, researchers will soon have a quick-turnaround test for corona virus antibodies. While this may not yield a new therapy, it may allow those who have recovered to return safely to work—a critical need in standing up our troubled economy. For many people, getting back to work not only means that they can pay their bills, it improves their access to medical services.

Third, existing conditions kill by offering a one-two punch combined with the corona virus. Continuing to work out and keep a positive attitude improve your chances of survival because a positive attitude strengthens your immune system.

Flu Versus Corona Virus

The story about the flu is helpful in understanding our current dilemma with the corona virus. Influenza is a human pathogen, which implies that the human race has a long history of developing immunity to flu. Johns Hopkins University research recently reported  annual deaths ranging from 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. These statistics are well-known, which is why I get a flu shot every year.

While the annual death toll from the flu currently seems high relative to this epidemic, the above statistics are annual numbers while the current death toll from corona virus covers only a couple of weeks. Annualizing (take a weekly death figure and multiply by 52) the current number of deaths from corona virus (3,170 today) yields a number from 80-100 thousand, still a low number compared to estimates above that may suggest an alternative way to understand the Fauci estimate.

****************************************************************************

Keep in mind that annualizing losses is wildly sensitive to your technique for coming up with a weekly rate from a number increasing exponentially over time. Averages (a linear estimator) are not representative of nonlinear processes (like exponentially growing numbers), which to the non-mathematically inclined means that this is a very weak method for forecasting mortality rates.

****************************************************************************

Corona virus is not a human pathogen, but a virus that has jumped species from bats to pangolins to humans (link). This is why the virus is so lethal and why we do not have a natural immunity. Apparently, the Black Plague was a pathogen with a similar genesis.

Gethsemane Moment

When you are in pain or afraid, where do you turn?

When Jesus was facing death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to God instead of his pain and fear.

 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39 ESV)

We face a Gethsemane Moment today worldwide. Where will you turn?

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

 

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Authentic Grief

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristFor godly grief produces a repentance 

that leads to salvation without regret, 

whereas worldly grief produces death. 

(2 Cor 7:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss.

American society does not cope with grief adequately. In a strong sense, we mask our grief with physical ailments to garner support that would otherwise be withheld. Supporting the grieving in their mourning can therefore promote both their emotional and physical well-being.

Godly Grief

The tension that we feel within ourselves when we mourn forces us to make a decision. Do we lean into our pain or turn it over to God? Standing under the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus had to decide whether to be obedient to the will of God and proceed to the cross or to seek another future (Matt 26:42).

Because of the ubiquitous nature of pain and the decision it poses, our response over time to grief defines our character—who we become. It is interesting that grief is the only emotion that appears on the list of Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matt 5:4).

Widening Our View of Grief

Our grief arises out of the loss of the things that are important to us. In writing about the second Beatitude, Graham (1955, 20-26) identified five objects of mourning:

  • Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness;
  • Repentance—before you can ask for repentance, you must recognize your sin;
  • Love—our compassion for the suffering of our brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our love of God;
  • Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost around us; and
  • Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 36-45) widen this list to identify six major types of loss, including: 1. Material loss; 2. Relationship loss; 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream; 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy; 5. Role loss—like retirement; and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin.

What is surprising about this list is that each loss must be separately grieved. Elderly people find themselves experiencing many of these losses and grieving them surrounded by loved ones who may be completely unaware. But we all face losses in our daily lives that challenge the assumptions that we live by. With each of these events, we find ourselves in a “Gethsemane moment.” Do we surrender ourselves leaning into our pain or do we surrender our griefs at the foot of the cross and stay the course as disciples of Christ?

Ministering to Those in Pain

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve? Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug? VanDuivendyk (2006, 12) observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain. Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut. Jesus openly cried over Lazarus and the widow’s son, and raised them both from the dead even though no words of faith were spoken (John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17), suggesting that we have permission to mourn rather emulating the stoics with their stiff upper lip.

Worden (2009, 39-50) sees the process of grief as divided into four tasks:

  1. Accepting the reality of the loss,
  2. Working through the pain,
  3. Adjusting to a world without the deceased, and
  4. Finding connection with the deceased while moving on.

The first task is to get beyond denial—a funeral with an open casket helps mourners get over the denial. The second task has to deal with the pain that may be accompanied by anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, and loneliness. The third task is to account for all the activities that the deceased shared with you and to find alternative arrangements. The fourth task is the re-evaluate your relationship with the deceased while moving on.

Unresolved grief—getting stuck in one of the tasks above—results in anxiety attacks and physical ailments when people refuse to honor their pain and are forced to pretend that it does not exist. American culture is complicit in promoting unresolved grief because co-workers, neighbors, and friends often give a grieving spouse or parent about two weeks before signaling that something is wrong if you are not over it. This is why it is important to give the grieving permission to grieve in the funeral to signal to their support group that two weeks is unlikely to be a sufficient period to complete the tasks of grieving.

References

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

VanDuivendyk, Tim P. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Worden, J. William. 2009. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practioner. New York: Springer.

Authentic Grief

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/TakingCare_2019

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Managing Change: Monday Monologues, August 19, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on managing change.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Managing Change: Monday Monologues, August 19, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/HotWeather_2019

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Blessed are Those Who Mourn

New Life
New Life

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, May 20, 2015 (translated from Spanish)

Welcome

Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul this afternoon at Trinity Presbyterian Church. My name is Stephen.  I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church.

Today’s message focuses on the need to take a new attitude about grief.  When we are in pain, do we turn to God or lean into the pain? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We especially give thanks for life, our health, and the riches of fellowship that we have in your church.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

New Testament Reading

Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:4.  This is the second beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount.  Hear the word of God::

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)[1]

The Word of the Lord.  Praise be to God.

Introduction

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

I remember in my case the death of my sister, Diane, in 2007.  I am the oldest in the family so she was 2 year younger than I.  For this reason the loss of my sister was especially difficult, but also because we were friends our whole lives.  My father was a student during much of my youth and we moved around a lot during those years.  Consequently, Diane was my only real friend until I was 8 years old. We learned about life together. Now, Diane was in heaven and I was alone with my memories.  The following year, 2008, I began my seminary studies.  Were those 2 events related?  Maybe yes; maybe no.  At this point, I believe they were.

What have you learned during your experiences of loss? (2X)

Old Testament Reading

The second beatitude comes directly from Isaiah 61:1-3 where it reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

We remember this passage well because Jesus read it during his call sermon in Luke 4.

Who receives consolation in these verses?  Two groups stand out:

  • “all who mourn” and
  • “those who mourn in Zion”.

The context of these verses is the Babylonian captivity which came in response to the sins of the Judeans.

But, why does God mourn? (2X) God mourns for our sins because our sins come between us and a Holy God (Gen 6:5-6)[2].  Our sins separate us from God.  Therefore, when we mourn our own sins God promises to offer us consolation.  Jesus Christ says:

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Analysis

There is a second reason why the second beatitude offers God’s consolation.  Grief is a kind of lamentation. A lament is a song (or prayer) of mourning and there are many laments in the Book of Psalms.

A lament has a important form consisting of 2 parts [3].

In the first part of a lament one tells God everything that burdens your heart.  All the pain, all the fears, all the anger.  It is important to be very honest with God.  It is good to be even angry with God because God is great and your anger makes it obvious that you take God really seriously. This part of the lament is finished when all the pain has been emptied.  At this point, the soul is quiet.

The second part of a lament arises exactly because the soul is quiet.  At this point, it is possible to recall the blessings of God in your journey of faith. This part of a lament consists primarily of praise. So it is ironic that a lament is for many people, many times the path to salvation. Here we see the consolation of the second beatitude:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

In my case, I was in the process of lament when I started by studies in seminary.  But, up to this point, I never put those two things together in my thoughts.  Did God use my pain to draw me closer to himself?

More Analysis

When we grieve it is true that we experience real loss. We need here to make a decision:  will we turn to God or lean into our pain? (2X)

This decision is important because pain is a powerful emotion which has the capacity to cause changes in our identity.  It is a Garden-in-Gethsemane moment in our lives (Mateo 26:36-43). In a real sense, our identity is a collection of all the decisions about pain in our lives.  Ultimately, is our identity in Christ or in our pain? (2X)

Over what do you grieve? (2X) Jesus reminds us:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, beloved Son, ever present Spirit, we praise you for your gracious love and consolation in times of pain and loss.  Cleanse our hearts of these losses, the fears, the shame, and the evil passions that cause us to sin.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

[2] “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen. 6:5-6 ESV)

[3] Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Albrecht Durer, 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (John 17:1,9,20 ESV).

Jesus is our role model for prayer.

The Gospel of Luke records the most verses in which Jesus prays.  The first incidence of prayer is during his baptism when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (3:21-22).  When crowds gathered following miracles of healing, Jesus retreated to a desolate place to pray (5:15).  When the Pharisee attacked him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus climbed a mountain and prayed all night—the following day he chose the twelve apostles (6:12).  Jesus, when praying alone among the disciples, posed the question:  “who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18). While praying with Peter, John, and James on a mountain top, Jesus is transfigured (9:28).  Jesus was praying when the disciples asked him:  “Lord, teach us to pray…” (11:1). On the night before his death, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41).

The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is not found in the Gospel of John.  Instead, in the same time slot in the passion narrative records the prayer in John 17 which is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  Although Jesus is best known for the Lord’s Prayer[1], chapter 17 records Jesus’ longest prayer—true intercessory prayers tend to be long.  In the Luke passage, Jesus prays his passion:  Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42 ESV) which is paraphrased in Mark 14 and Mathew 26.  The focus in John’s prayer is on Jesus’ ministry[2].

The prayer in John 17 has three main sections:  an introduction (vv 1-8), prayer for the disciples (vv 10-19), and prayer for the rest of us (vv 20-26).

Introduction.  Verse one begins the prayer with these words:  he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father (v 1). This phrasing reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer which begins:  Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  Interestingly, the introduction begins with Jesus speaking about himself in the third person and then moves into the first person.  For example in verse 1 it reads—glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you—while verse 4 reads:  I glorified you on earth (v 4).  The two statements both underscore the close relationship between God the Father and God the Son—they glorify each other.  Verse 3 reminds us that eternal life consists in knowing the Father and the Son.

Prayer for the Disciples.  This section of the prayer reads like an ordination service.  Who are the disciples; what is their mission; and how they need protection in the world are all topics addressed.  Interestingly, their sanctification consisted of receiving the word—in other words, scripture! (v 17)

Prayer for the rest of us.  We are identified with these words:  those who will believe in me through their word (v 20).  Our appearance in this prayer is likewise a function of scripture—the word of God written down by the Apostles.

Two themes in Jesus’ prayer are praise (note the repeated use of the word glorify) and focus on the role of scripture.

What themes are found in your prayers?

Footnotes

[1] Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.

QUESTIONS

  1. John 17 is a prayer. What is it about?  (Hint: Three parts:  vv 1-8, 10-19, 20-26)
  2. Where does this prayer take place? What is our expectation from the other Gospels?  (Hint:  Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32)
  3. How is Jesus described as approaching prayer? (v 1)
  4. What does this verse remind you of? (Hint: Matthew 6:9)
  5. What seems different? (Hint: Matthew 6:5-7)
  6. What claims does Jesus make in verse 2?
  7. What is eternal life? (v 3)
  8. What is glory? (ἐδόξασα; v 4) What does Jesus say about it? (vv 4-6).
  9. What does Jesus say about “the name”? (v 6) Who is addressed?
  10. What did Jesus teach? What did it consist of?  Where did it come from?  (vv 6-8)
  11. Who does Jesus pray for? Who not? (v 9)
  12. What does Jesus pray? (vv 11-12, 26) What does he mean by “in the name”?
  13. What is the petition in verse 13?
  14. What brings on hate? (v 14)
  15. What do you understand from Jesus’ references to the world? (κόσμος; vv 14-16, 18, 25)
  16. What is truth? (ἀλήθειά; v 17)
  17. Who sent Jesus? Who sends us? (v 18)
  18. What does Jesus mean by to consecrate? (ἁγιάζω; v 19)
  19. Notice the parallel between verses 18 and 19. What is not parallel?
  20. Who is Jesus praying for in verse 20?
  21. What is his petition? (v 21)
  22. Where does love come from? (v 26)

 

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

Also see:

JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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