Archive for February, 2020

Meanwhile, in Britain…

February 10, 2020

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been banned from a speaking tour in Britain because all seven of the venues he was scheduled to speak at have cancelled.  Lawmakers there several years ago wanted to deny Graham a visa to enter the country.  At issue is the Biblical stance on gender and sexuality which Graham has the audacity to adhere to.

What’s really disturbing is not just how quickly society and culture have changed in the last century.  I mean, Billy Graham visited Britain many times between 1955 and 1989, where millions of people came out to listen to him.  Billy Graham met with Queen Elizabeth on several occasions over the course of his career, and was knighted in 2001.  One wonders if he would be as warmly welcomed today.  Based on his son’s treatment, I’d wager not.  The Queen’s silence on this current manifestation is telling.

But the more disturbing thing is that Christianity and the Bible are being redefined by a small but vocal group of Christians who wish to eradicate clear Biblical teaching on gender and sexuality.  Nearly 2000 years of nearly unanimous teaching and doctrine in this regard are being classified as hate speech because of a small group of Christians in the past few decades who have decided they are free to make such an assertion.

The Church should welcome LGBTQ people.  As the church should welcome adulterers, liars, thieves, murderers, and, well, everyone.  Sin is sin.  The problem is when a small group decides the Bible can be ignored regarding sin.  That we are free to declare sin as not-sin.   That current public opinion overrides the Word of God.

Sinners need to hear the Word of God, because only there will they find the cure for sin and the death it leads to.  That solution is not a demotion of sin to a lesser or non-existent issue, or to determine some sins are no longer sinful.  Jesus is clear this is not acceptable (Matthew 5:17-20).  So I would welcome all kinds of sinners to come and hear the Word of God.  All of that Word.  Because that Word has power, as I suspect those who rejected Graham understand.  Because that Word diagnoses us with a terrible and lethal condition to which there is only on cure.

The cure for sin and the death it leads to are in repentance and trust in the resurrected Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  Simply declaring we are no longer in need of a cure, or that we can dictate the cure on our terms arbitrarily is ridiculous.  Only when the underlying assumption is that there is no such God and therefore no Word of God and no Savior can we possibly presume to override God’s Word.  The results of this are and will continue to be disastrous.

Telling people what they are doing is sinful is no more hateful than a doctor diagnosing a patient with cancer.  Certainly some Christians and congregations do this poorly.  But to pretend people aren’t dying from sin – whatever that sin might be – is as unloving as a doctor holding back the prognosis from someone with cancer so their feelings aren’t hurt.

Franklin Graham may not get to preach in Britain, but the Word of God continues to go out in myriad forms and through myriad channels.  And when all is said and done, that Word will be the only and final word that stands.  May the world continue to seek solace and peace there, now and eternally.

Reading Ramblings – February 16, 2020

February 9, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ February 16, 2020

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37

Context: The Word of God. It guides us in life and to life. It is the only reliable baseline definition of good and evil. The only unchanging rule to which we can entrust ourselves completely. But when we think we have mastered the Word, plumbed the depths of what it tells us and gives us and commands us, we find there is so much more still to hear, receive, and obey. The Word gives comfort but never a comfort grounded in our ears or hands or hearts, but only in the Son of God who, as He told us himself last week, comes to fulfill the Law and prophets because we cannot.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Moses’ parting words to the people of God he has reluctantly led for decades in the wilderness are coming to an end. Moses will shortly end his address, dictate the Law to be written down, and indicate Joshua as his successor. Then he will praise God, bless God’s people one final time, and make his way one last time up a mountain to gaze on the inheritance he cannot receive but the people will. He has seen, prophetically, much of what will happen in the years and decades and centuries to come. He knows God’s people will continue to disobey, continue to take for granted his mercies, continue to rebel in their hearts. He exhorts them, though, as a true prophet must, in spite of what else he might know. He exhorts them to life, and life is found only in obedient relationship to the God who created them. There will be many ideas in the centuries to come about what is right or wrong, prudent or rash. Many different voices claiming to know the way, the truth, or the life. But only the commandments of God can offer a reliable guide. They alone are trustworthy – more so than even the best of intentions which might seek to set them aside just briefly. To follow them means life. To ignore them means death. It doesn’t get any simpler or clearer, though it may not always be easy.

Psalm 119:1-8 – The great acrostic psalm, all 176 verses sprawled across 22 octets, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and all extolling the word of God. Truly God’s word is the reliable source of right and wrong, and the one who can follow it perfectly would be truly and completely blessed! Yet the best we can do is resolve to be obedient and steadfast in our resolution.. But our resolve is weak and our resolution often fails us, leaving us to cry to God for mercy, and not to forsake us in our sin. It is not by looking to our own obedience that we can have confidence in God’s abiding mercy, though. For that we need to look to Jesus, to the only one to perfectly fulfill the Word of God, and to offer his perfect obedience to us through our baptism in faith.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – Unfortunately this is the last piece of 1 Corinthians we will read in order as part of the lectio continua. Transfiguration Sunday next week is the last regular Sunday before Lent begins, when our readings will focus us towards Holy Week and our Lord’s great sacrifice on our behalf. Paul’s words last week warning against the untrustworthiness of worldly wisdom compared to the folly of Christ crucified allows him to circle back to what he started to talk about at the start of his letter in Chapter 1 – the divisions among the Corinthians based on which evangelist or apostle different people followed or preferred. Such divisions are not the mind of Christ (2:16) but reveal a very immature worldliness. Rather than accepting the things of the Spirit they cling to their human ways of evaluating things – judging the message in part by the eloquence of the messenger. Paul is serious here. He fully expects the Corinthians – who possess the Holy Spirit in faith – to be able to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading and discern the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Their inability to do this is not because they are not equipped otherwise, but because they insist on clinging to the ways of the world. Paul is building to a point – it isn’t just that the Corinthians have preferences among evangelists and apostles. The reality is that many of them have decided that Paul – who brought them the Gospel initially – should be replaced in this place of honor with others who are more handsome or more well-spoken. Paul’s apostolic authority is being challenged, and before he can call the Corinthians to obedience in the remainder of his letter he needs to remind them of not just who he is but who called him to his ministry. It is the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ that supercedes all other words, and it is Christ himself who calls Paul to be his messenger, and the Corinthians should think twice before they decide they don’t need to listen to him any longer.

Matthew 5:21-37 – Jesus has just warned his disciples and the crowd around them not to place their confidence and faith in their obedience of the Law. Undoubtedly they all nod their heads. Of course their confidence is in the grace and mercy of God! But then Jesus begins to speak to these children of God, this chosen people. You have heard it said you shall not murder. Of course they have heard. And already their hearts rise in pride. We have obeyed this command! We have never murdered! Then Jesus continues, But I say to you and the pride disappears into uncertainty and fear. Is that what God means? Not just what I do but what I think and feel? This is not good news.

Jesus is not finished yet. You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery. Again this crowd of religious people nod their heads. Perhaps not as many of them, but most of them. We’ve never committed adultery. And once again Jesus continues But I say to you…and again fear and ashes where a moment ago was pride and confidence.

We know we aren’t to place our confidence in our own righteousness but we secretly do, checking and comparing with others, assuming we stack up just as well and perhaps a bit better. We run for the cover of grace and forgiveness in our failures, but easily hop on our high horses again when we’re feeling better, more confident in our righteousness. But this too is forgiven. This too is laid on our Savior who comes to do what we cannot so we might be saved. The Law works on us, drives us to despair and confession and the sweet absolution and forgiveness that come only from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and never from our own righteousness.

We must read this section of Jesus’ teaching linked to the previous section and the previous assertion that the Law does not pass away and we dare not attempt to lay it aside for ourselves or others, but rather look to the one who fulfilled it completely.

Dreadfully Disappointed

February 8, 2020

My post the other day generated more than a few comments from people who know me personally.  Worry.  Potential offense.  I’m reminded that it’s impossible to control how someone else hears what you say, a lesson learned in homiletics and years in front of classrooms and now years in the pulpit.  Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t.  Words are tricky things, as are ears and hearts.  I’m grateful for the concerned feedback, a reminder that as often as it feels as though I’m shouting into a void, these words are being heard in different places and different ears, some of them close at hand.

Dreadfully disappointed is a powerful phrase.  In a culture that demands a facile self-confidence, to express disappointment in oneself is less and less commonplace.  In our drive to replace genuine hope with vague, unmerited self-congratulatory honors, where everyone wins a prize even though every player knows darn well who actually won, our psychological radars go off when someone says something negative about themselves.

So while I have clarified my original post somewhat, the statement remains.  There are moments – not a continuity of existence but certainly moments – when I am dreadfully disappointed.  Dreadfully aware of how much more I could and should be.  Better son, better husband, better father, better pastor, better neighbor.  When I’m aware that such sentiments are probably what Martin Luther struggled with in some sense but I know I’m not a good enough linguist or theologian to employ the German word he used to describe it.

More shortcomings.

If only I had studied Latin.  And German.  And more Greek and Hebrew.  If only I read more non-stop, except for those non-stop moments of fulfilling all my other vocational hats.  To  be smarter, more eloquent, a better example…there are moments when the weight of those cumulative shortcomings hangs heavy and then passes.  I see that heaviness in others sometimes.  Something dull behind the eyes and in the tone of voice.  Sometimes we just need to acknowledge where we are and who we are.   Not necessarily so that others can talk us out of it, but so that others can stand with us.

There are moments when everything is just right – including myself.  When there is harmony and unity and things are easy.  There are moments of confidence.  But there are also moments of dreadful disappointment.  Of a desire to be more, and a wondering when such longings and disappointments will pass.

I know when they will.  A day of trumpets and clouds, a day of shouts and songs and cries.  A day when body and soul are reunited and when they are finally whole and one and perfect.  A day of deliverance, the final judgment and the final verdict before an eternity – finally – of peace I can’t even know how to desire properly now.  That’s what the Body of Christ encourages one another towards and with.  More than just slapping a smiley face sticker on someone, but simply acknowledging that this too shall one day pass.  By the grace of God and the Word that became flesh to understand my dreadful disappointment and bury it forever.

Praying for Your Pastor

February 6, 2020

Self-improvement is hard.  Mostly because it is rarely something imposed on us.  Perhaps pastors are unique in this to some degree.  Once they’ve run the gauntlet of seminary (assuming such a gauntlet is necessary to their ordination), they graduate, are examined, ordained, installed, and then pretty much left with the assumption they are doing the right thing.  Continuing education is something encouraged and exhorted to in seminary and by ecclesiastical supervisors and leaders, but at least in my denominational circles, it’s not something that is enforced.  It could be, but it isn’t.

For those of us with an acute awareness of our faults and shortcomings, self-improvement and continuing education are necessary.  I can’t avoid it for very long because I’m so dreadfully disappointed with who I am.  Perhaps this is a unique function of making the Word my vocation.  That I can never get away from the reminder that regardless of how the world perceives me and even how I’d like to think of myself, God knows better, and when I am honest with myself, so do I.  Perhaps another seminary will help.  Another book.  Another degree.  Another experiential sort of thing.  There is always so much more to learn.  So much more to master.  So much more to become, that who I already am pales in comparison.

So it is that I ordered a couple of books on preaching this week and have begun reading both of them.  The first is Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy-Tale.  While there are places we differ significantly theologically (particularly in regards to what Scripture is), he has already breathtakingly demonstrated what a woeful story-teller I am through a breathtaking character development of Pontius Pilate just prior to asking Jesus What is truth?  (John 18:38).

The second book is One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills.  I’m not sure how helpful it will be (I’m only on the second exercise).  The first exercise was to create a group to pray for me as I’m working on  the sermon through the week.

At first, I wanted to skip over this.  I know my people pray for me.  I’m grateful for this.  But it’s hardly an exercise for me to hone my skills.  The author suggests a small group who covenant to pray for me through the week, and each week I send out reminders to them on a daily basis of how they can specifically pray that week.  It’s a good reminder that pastors need prayer and sermons need prayer and even though I balked at first, I’m going to ask my prayer group for some volunteers to take this on.

But he referred to a great little essay on the topic of How to Pray for Your Pastor on Saturday.  And while I don’t know much about the author of this article, at  the very least he does an admirable job of describing the issues a pastor faces on Saturday and also on Sunday morning leading up to worship and delivering a sermon.  In particular, his description of what it is like to step up into the pulpit and survey the congregation and how that can impact the pastor powerfully in those final seconds before opening his mouth and starting to preach is noteworthy.

I do need prayer.  So do pastors everywhere.  Speaking the Word of God to the people of God is risky business.  It’s risky when they all love you and risky when they don’t.  So if you don’t already, pray for your pastor, that he do his job well and faithfully whether you like what he will say or not.

 

The Holy Spirit

February 5, 2020

One of the best parts of my job is conversations with people about faith and life and how they intersect (everywhere).  It’s unfortunate if people are made to feel that asking questions is somehow unfaithful (or just threatening).  We don’t always have answers for things, but we can be honest when that’s the case.  But discussion and honesty is crucial to growth and health in the life of  faith.

I communicate pretty regular with a young man who attended our church for  a short time before relocating.  In our recent flurry of communications, he raised the vexing issue that many in the Church struggle  with as they read the Bible – why is it that the early Church (particularly described in the Book of Acts) experienced so many miracles of the Holy Spirit while many, many congregations don’t see those things today?  Is there something wrong with our theology that makes it harder for the Holy Spirit to work in our congregations than in other sorts of congregations where manifestations of the works of the Holy Spirit are not only welcome but expected?

It’s an interesting question.  Interesting in part because this past Saturday evening as I struggled to finalize the sermon for Sunday I was treated to the very loud preaching of the pastor of the Hispanic Pentecostal congregation that leases access to our sanctuary.  They were having some sort of special service and the sound system was on full blast.  I listened as he preached for at least an hour after I arrived.  My Spanish is quite poor so I understood very little of what he said, but what he said seemed to be rather repetitive and notable not necessarily so much for what he was saying as how he was saying it.  Yellings, growlings, shoutings, cries of agony, all responded to in growing fervor by his congregants with Amens and Hallelujahs.

Hills of emotional exhortations would be crested and descended from only to rise up another, larger one until the final exhortations, when the congregation was now in a constant state of loud wailings and prayers and other emotional responses.  Music began to play.  Those  who wanted to sing sang for a while while others (mostly male) exited into the hallway just outside my door to anticipate the meal that would follow.  Whatever emotional and spiritual ecstasies were just experienced seemed to have vanished into the banter of friendly conversation in Spanish and English.  The pastor himself, who just moments earlier seemed on the brink of emotional break-down as he preached, now could be heard laughing and joking with his members as though nothing had happened.  Or as though whatever had happened had been sufficient.  Now it was time to relax and enjoy the meal together.

I am not a Pentecostal.  Nor can I or will I attempt to determine whether the Holy Spirit was moving either the preaching or the response.  I trust the Holy Spirit was present, but delineating between what is the Holy Spirit’s actual workings and what are our workings on behalf of the Holy Spirit is a discernment I don’t dare attempt.

But I can admit the experience was baffling to me.  Because I presume that to some degree each worship service is more or less like this one.  Building to an emotional and spiritual catharsis.  Perhaps of repentance and sorrow and rededication to the Christian life.  In some part the emotional and spiritual experience is the goal, the measure of whether the service was good or  not, the preacher was good or not.  I presume at some level this is linked to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit moved you, then all is well, regardless of what comes after.  If He didn’t, either there’s a problem  in you or in the service/pastor.

I welcome correction on this if these assumptions are incorrect.

There’s an expectation that the Holy Spirit will not only show up but move and act in particular ways.  Which gets at  what my young friend was asking about a few days later.  Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit do this more often?  Why are we tempted to mock Christians who claim He does?

I think the confusion comes when we ascribe to the Church those things rightly ascribed only to the Holy Spirit.  Is the Holy Spirit present?  Yes.  Always.  I (as a Christian) don’t have to invite him to be here or hope He’ll show up.   I have been told by the Son of God himself He is present.  He is at work.  But how He works is up to him, not me, not a congregation, and not a denomination.

The disciples didn’t sit around and plan out Pentecost.  They didn’t determine how big the tongues of flame would be or how loud the sound like rushing wind would be.  They didn’t allocate who would be speaking in which languages.  They had no idea what was coming or how the Holy Spirit would work.  What’s more, they had no  idea what would result.  Thousands of converts.

As much as congregations talk about wanting growth, I can’t imagine that many if any congregations desire the kind of growth that happened that Pentecost.  Imagine 3000 people showing up for worship  Sunday morning.  Where are they going to sit?  How many services are you going to provide to accommodate that many converts?  How many times is the pastor willing or able to preach?  What about the altar guild or the folks who set up Communion?  Pretty sure Walmart doesn’t sell disposable Communion cups.  Where are you going to get that much wine on such short notice?

The early Church adapted to the way the Holy Spirit  worked but they couldn’t plan for it or predict it.  We  are in the same situation today.  The Holy Spirit can and will do what He wants.  We must and will adapt to whatever He does.  In the meantime, we’re going on with our lives, both individually and as the Church.  We make our plans and our decisions using the best information we have available, knowing at any point the Holy Spirit could render those plans obsolete or irrelevant or inadequate.  Thanks be to God!  But we don’t presume we can plan out the Holy Spirit’s activity and the results.

I’m pretty sure Luke bothers to record the miracles in the Book of Acts because they were exceptional!  They happened over a several year time-frame and in different locations and ways.  Nowhere am I given the expectation they will happen on a predictable basis, or their distribution curves will be in any way predictable.  My faithfulness is not a leash on the Holy Spirit.  Nor is my faithfulness an abdication of my duties in anticipation of divine intervention.

I can’t predict how or where or when the Holy Spirit will work.  Beyond pointing to the glory of God and the creation of faith, I can’t even speak to the why.  But what I can do is struggle to maintain the tension between affirming his presence and power and dictating what that will look and feel like.  It’s not a particularly enjoyable tension, but it seems to be Biblical.  God’s people respond in faith and trust to his gifts of life and salvation, but must leave the details of those things on a larger scale to his wisdom and means while being faithful in living out our lives as his people.

 

 

 

 

Reading Ramblings – February 9, 2020

February 2, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 9, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 58:3-9a; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2; Matthew 5:13-20

Context: What is the life of faith in Christ like? Is it a settled comfort on the world’s terms? Does it abide by the status quo or popular culture or the latest scientific or philosophical theories? Or is the Christian life grounded elsewhere, in something that does not change, is not subject to revision, does not change in truth even though it appears out of fashion with current thoughts and trends?

Isaiah 58:3-9a – What is the spirit of the Law versus the letter of the Law, and which would we prefer to follow? We opt often for the letter of the Law, presuming that by satisfying the mechanistic instructions we are somehow placating God. Or we opt for the spirit of the Law, ignoring what is actually said in favor of doing things they way we prefer to do them, thinking God will be pleased with our creativity or innovation. But in either case we err. The spirit and the letter of the Law go together, and what we do is no more important than how and why we do it. If we think we can buy God off with obedience in one area while we take liberties in another, we are wrong. God knows our hearts and minds. He sees through our shams of self-righteousness. The Law is unrelenting, pursuing us until we cry out that we are indeed guilty, begging for mercy rather than haughtily presuming to stand on our few laurels. The Law cannot deal otherwise with sinners, but once we acknowledge our sin and inability to fulfill the Law, once we receive the Savior and Redeemer given by God rather than insisting on justifying ourselves on our own terms, the Law becomes a blessing to us, guiding us in obedience and the blessings of God.

Psalm 112 – The assigned reading for today excludes v.10. Perhaps it seems harsh and out of keeping with the overall joyful and positive tones of the first nine verses? But it tracks very well with Paul’s message to the Corinthians in today’s reading – those who are led by the Spirit operate by a different standard that will often be offensive to the one who is not led by the Spirit. Any way that is not God’s way will ultimately perish and come to nothing, whether the intentions of those who create and follow it are good or evil. This psalm articulates a truth we are often inclined to downplay – that the righteous, those who follow the way of God in faith through Jesus Christ – are blessed by God. And this blessing may well involve material blessings. Focusing on exceptions – where the righteous suffer or are persecuted by the world or crushed by the sin rampant around them or in the natural order – does not change the truth presented in this psalm. We should also be careful not to overly spiritualize this psalm. It speaks materially as well as spiritually. To be right with God is to be blessed, and those blessings are not exclusively eternal or spiritual but are realized in what we have here and now, treating whatever material riches we possess not as ours but rather as God’s, and handling them lightly in respect to our quickness to share with others and bless those in need. It may appear as folly to the world, but the one who is led by the Spirit understands the true source and nature of God’s blessings both here and now and in eternity.

1 Corinthians 2 – First century Roman society valued a good speaker. For centuries Greek and Roman scholars had taught the ways of thinking clearly in logic and philosophy and speaking eloquently and persuasively through rhetoric. Oftentimes this would involve elements of flattery soas to render the hearer well disposed to the speaker. Oftentimes this would be towards the benefit of the speaker in patronage or other types of support. Telling people what they want to hear has always been an effective way of making one’s way in the world. But to tell people what they don’t want to hear, what offends them and drives them to despair – that’s a difficult message to speak and oftentimes does not result in great affection on the part of the hearers! Contrary to the wisdom of the world, the cross of Christ stands stark and bare, and Paul crafted his message soas not to soften that starkness. To abandon following false gods and goddesses with their promises of material benefit or health in favor of the God-man who calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him to death – what a very difficult message! How counterintuitive! How unwise – by worldly standards! But God is the sole possessor of wisdom and discloses this wisdom through his Holy Spirit. What you and I could not conclude on our own is revealed to us by God the Holy Spirit, so that we recognize true wisdom from the myriad alternatives the world constantly offers or demands we pay tribute to. Those in Christ, those with the Holy Spirit of God revealing wisdom to them will often disagree with what the world says or how the world says they should live. Such disagreement is not folly though the world will call it such. The wisdom of God will one day be vindicated publicly and completely, just as the wisdom of God in Jesus the Christ was vindicated through his resurrection from the dead. We must cling to God’s wisdom even if it means forsaking the approval of the world around us.

Matthew 5:13-20 – The Christian life will look different from all other lives. There will be overlaps and similarities, but there will be places where the injunction to love our God and love our neighbor separates us from all other forms of generic kindness. To think of the Christian life as no different from any other life is to fundamentally understand the Kingdom of God Jesus brings into existence during his work of salvation and in our lives today by extension of the Holy Spirit. However this fundamentally different life is not to be a source of pride, as though we were somehow earning the love of God. Nor do we envision or preach or practice a Christian life apart from or separate from the Law, because only the Law of God is perfectly wise and perfectly in tune with the will of God in creation. Jesus comes to do what you and I cannot – fulfill the Law perfectly. This does not free us now for disobedience, but rather frees us from the fear that must naturally accompany any law we are unwilling or unable to perfectly follow. Christ frees us not from the demands of the Law but from the condemnation our failure would otherwise bring us.

This sets us free to be salt and light in a bland and dark world. It sets us free to act boldly in the confidence of the grace and forgiveness of God, not seeking out sin and disobedience but not allowing Satan to batter us with our sin and failures. Only in Christ is there true and complete and eternal freedom, empowering us to live for him, to love with him even when the world would rather we didn’t or threaten us not to. The world has no power over us, because we have been given the world in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). He has overcome the world for us and set us free from it!

Perspective

February 1, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in China is now a public health crisis in the United States.  I’m going to assume that what this essentially means is people traveling to and from China will now be subject to mandatory testing, evaluation, and/or quarantine to ensure they are not infected with the virus.  I can’t believe how much of my news feed seems dedicated to the terror of this new viral outbreak, and I can only imagine how much fear is being created by non-stop news reports in other media.

Some perspective.  There have been six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US so far.  Or more technically, six cases traced in some way to the current outbreak in China, which is where the virus was first identified as a new form of coronavirus.  There is a family of coronaviruses we already know about.  This is just a new one.

Six cases in the US and no deaths so far.

In China there are believed to be 11,000 cases of this particular coronavirus with a total of 200 deaths attributed to it.   In fact, by and large, this coronavirus is not a lethal one except in cases of complications.  But numbers cause people to panic.  One in 55 cases of the coronavirus in China have resulted in fatalities.

By point of comparison, the Centers for Disease Control released statistics on the influenza rates in the US.  Interesting details:

  • They estimate 19 million flu cases in the US alone during the 2019-2020 flu season so far
  • There have been 180,000 hospitalizations for flu-related issues in the US thus far this season
  • There have been 10,000 deaths associated with the flu  in the US thus far this season

The relationship of the flu virus to fatalities seems like a tricky one to me.  For instance, this news story highlighted the tragic and unexpected eath of a 34-year old woman from the flu.  However it also notes she had an undiagnosed pre-existing condition that contributed to the flu virus being fatal for her.  No mention of what that condition was, but it sounds to me like it wasn’t just “the flu” that killed her.

I wonder how many of the coronavirus fatalities were due not exclusively to the virus itself but to complicating factors that aren’t included or noted in the statistics?

To break down the numbers:

  • Roughly 1 in 17 people in the US get the flu – far more prevalent than the coronavirus thus far
  • Of those who do get the flu, only one in 10,000 dies from it (or  from complications associated with it, as noted above)

The CDC itself admits this flu season is pretty typical both in terms of the number of flu infections (both diagnosed and estimated) as well as the number of deaths resulting from it.  They claim there is no reliable data yet to determine whether the flu shot has been efficacious this season, but they claim the flu shot is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications.   I’m not sure how they can make such a blanket statement, but there you go.  They also note that the major flu strains identified so far this season are all susceptible to FDA-approved antivirals.  Which means if you get the flu, it’s likely you will be greatly helped by an antiviral prescription.

There is no vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus or any of  it’s previously identified relatives.  Overwhelmingly if you get it, you’ll get flu-like symptoms that will go away with no long-term residual effects.  No more than an ordinary cold or flu, at least.

Try not to panic.  Especially if you aren’t traveling to China or spending time with sick people who have.  Turn the TV off and go outside for a breath of fresh air.  It will do you more good than digesting hours of panicked updates on the coronavirus.