Author: Jon Roebuck

March Madness… Some Thoughts on the Corona Virus

Two weeks ago, it wasn’t even a conversation.  Now, it’s all that anyone can talk about.  Everyone from politicians, to preachers, to news pundits, are all offering their commentary.  The spread of this deadly virus has gone from a problem “way over there somewhere,” to a panic that has arrived at our doorstep.  Schools, universities, churches, concerts, and sporting events have all closed their doors in the hope that by somehow limiting the crowds, they will limit the exposure.  And all the while, there is so much that we don’t know.  How did it start and when?  Has it gone undetected for weeks? How many are infected?  How many have been tested? How long will the threat last?  When will life get back to normal? Should I stockpile supplies or just hope the stores will stay full?  Is it safe to eat out?  Should I work from home?

With each day, the anxiety seems to build.  Most Americans can no longer dismiss the threat or calm themselves by just using more hand sanitizer like they did a few days ago, thinking they were prudent.  How should we prepare?  Are we being overly cautious, or not cautious enough?  And, what should we do from a faith perspective?  Can people of faith approach this moment with hope, compassion, and real words of comfort?  Can we offer perspective and speak calm to the storm that swirls about us?

Like you, I have heard a lot of preachers say a lot of pious sounding but positively ignorant things over the past few days.  Some suggest that to cancel worship services because of the virus is somehow an affront to Holy God and a betrayal of one’s faith.  Not only does such a pseudo-pietistic mentality add a layer of guilt to those pastors and church leaders who truly agonize over such a decision, but it also puts a lot of people at risk, especially the elderly for whom the choice of not attending is a very real struggle.  Some defiantly proclaim that with enough faith, the storm will leap over your house.  One televangelist promised a miracle elixir to cure the virus… (for a small contribution, of course).  Another was claiming to heal those afflicted by having viewers place their hands on the tv screen.  I’m surprised that someone hasn’t suggested sprinkling a little Lysol on the doorpost of your home in true Passover fashion.  Most of us can surely see through the claims of such charlatans.  We have enough common sense to separate fact from fiction.  So how should we respond as people of faith?

Toward the close of the New Testament book of James, these words of counsel are offered… “Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-14). Let me pick up on these verses about prayer and the use of anointing oil.  Knowing that some interpret those words differently – and I certainly affirm everyone’s right to do so through the mysterious work of the Spirit – allow me to give my perspective.  I think James is offering a couple of important words to those who are suffering.  First, he commands us to pray.  In the midst of any illness, suffering, or angst, prayer is certainly the starting point for any sense of recovery.  We pray first, invoking the tender, compassionate, loving, and powerful intervention of God.  To pray is to recognize that He is the source of all healing and that we are utterly dependent upon His involvement in our lives.

Second, James asks for the elders to also pray and use anointing oil.  I believe there is power in the sharing of our concerns and in the collective strength of our petitions.  It is the right thing to do, to ask others to join us in praying for our needs, our fears, and our pains.  Our prayers are magnified through common petition.  In the first century world, the anointing oil had two roles.  It was a tangible reminder of the presence of God.  Oil was used to anoint Kings, celebrate joyful moments, and aid in healing. The oil was a symbolic way of reminding people that God’s Spirit was present.  But the oil also had medicinal value.  It was a soothing balm that helped to heal while keeping out dangerous disease, dirt, and grime.  It was one of the few medical options available at the time.  

So, in my view, James was suggesting that those who were sick, should immediately call on the grace and mercy of God, acknowledging total dependency upon Him, while seeking the best medical treatment available.  Surely, such an approach speaks to the present moment.  From a faith perspective, here’s my advice for battling the corona virus.  

First, pray… pray about your anxiety, your fears, and your situation.  Pray for the safety and well-being of your family, friends, and co-workers.  Ask others to join you in praying.  By praying you will be reminded of the Sovereignty of God.  

Second, take every reasonable precaution.  Do the things that the real experts are advising you to do… wash your hands, avoid large crowds, keep a proper social distance around co-workers, clean surfaces often.  If you feel sick, stay home.  Don’t endanger others.  In other words, be smart and use your common sense.  Also, be mindful of the 24/7 overload of information. It can be a bit overwhelming.  Though it is important to stay informed, reserve a little time for distraction.

Third, don’t be a hero, be a helper.  You are not going to win a prize for putting yourself in harm’s way.  Don’t take unnecessary risks.  However, do seek ways to help others.  Many are running errands for the elderly.  Others are self-quarantining when they suspect they might be exposed to the virus.  Some are only purchasing what they need at the store, not hoarding large quantities that keep others from having what they might need.  You can also help by being supportive of medical personnel, grocery store employees, and EMS workers.  

And finally, let’s stick together in this battle.  As people of faith, let’s lead the way.  Let’s be patient.  Let’s be understanding.  Let’s be kind and gracious.  Let’s act like citizens of this world who are also citizens of a far greater Kingdom.  And let us pray that this year’s March Madness will soon find resolution.

My Place at the Table

I’m a big advocate of getting people to the table.  Until we are intentional about inviting others to join us in civil, respectful, and rational dialogue about things that matter, those conversations will simply not happen.  We need to have conversations about race, immigration, gun control, women’s rights, border security, health care, and a whole host of other topics.  Social media, talk radio, and television news panels are not the best places for constructive, peaceful, and sensible words about important matters.  Sometimes we need to simply create the space and talk to people with whom we may not always agree… face to face and heart to heart. Perspective is a wonderful gift and when we learn to build relationships, the hostility and anger tend to seep away and honest dialogue occurs.

But let’s talk about our “place” at the table.  There is a difference between being seated at the table as a participant and standing at the table as an observer.  Most of us tend to think that we belong… that we should be seated at every table.  We think that our opinions, our values, our knowledge, and our experiences put us in a place of intellectual and maybe even moral superiority.  In other words, we tend to think that we are the source of all wisdom and knowledge and that others long to hear what we think.  And for some issues, maybe that’s true.  There are areas of expertise that might get us a seat at the table.  But those areas are not as many as we would like to imagine.

For example, if the topic swirled around preaching or pastoring or starting a new program, then pull me up a chair.  I’ve been there and have experience from which to draw.  Or, want to talk about raising kids?  Been there and done that.  Or consider this… I’m a fairly competent student of the Bible and can probably hold my own in terms of applying Scripture and faith to current events and cultural issues. I can talk with a fair amount of confidence about leadership and how to inspire others.  I can even talk about developing concepts and ideas into curriculum.  Or, if you ever want to talk about knee replacement surgery, I’m your guy.  Again, those are the kinds of topics with which I have had experience.  And although I do not claim to be an expert at any of them, there is enough personal knowledge and experience about those topics that might get me a seat at the table.

And then there are those topics that interest me, but don’t necessarily put me at the table.  I need to sometimes be an observer… a listener… a learner.  The older I get, the more I understand how limited any one person’s perspective can be, even my own.  For example, I can’t speak about what it feels like to be discriminated against, or what it is like to feel oppression because of gender, or denied access to education, goods and services because of my race.  That’s not my life, nor my story.  I can’t begin to tell you what it’s like to be an immigrant.  I can’t talk about how it feels to be denied healthcare.  I can’t tell you what it is like to live with perpetual hunger.  I can’t describe homelessness.  I can’t tell you about the emotional and physical pain that can erupt with an unplanned pregnancy.  I can’t tell you what it is like to be abused by a parent.  I can’t tell you what it’s like to fear the escalation of a routine traffic stop.  I haven’t earned a place at those tables of debate and dialogue because I can only learn of those things from a distance.

But learn I must.  Like many of you, I need to at least be present in the room when such topics are discussed.  I need to learn.  I need to listen.  I need to gain perspective that I don’t have.  I need to discover that moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority is never a goal to be envied, but a false notion to be shunned.  There are far more tables around which I should stand as an observer, than those around which I should sit as a participant.  May God help me to know my place.

Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director – Curb Center for Faith Leadership

Wiping Off The Lenses

I’m at that age where I require reading glasses.  I keep a pair handy in all the strategic places.  I have a pair in the car.  I have a pair next to the recliner… a pair on my desk at home… a pair in the kitchen… a pair on my bedside table.  And of course, I have a pair (or two) at work.  I keep them in my desk drawer.  Here’s my morning routine.  As soon as I arrive in my office, I fire up my computer and while it is booting-up, I reach for my glasses.  And each morning, I take out a special lens-cleaning cloth and carefully wipe away all of the smudges so that I can start the day with a clean pair of glasses and clearer vision.  It’s always amazing to me how dirty the lenses become during a day of typical use.  I sometimes ask myself while cleaning the glasses, “How did I ever see anything clearly with these?”

I wish that I could clean my “life lenses” with the same ease.  It happens to us all… slowly, subtly, and steadily.  Over time our view of the world gets a little jaded.  We begin to perceive the world around us with distortion.  We begin to look at things through the lens of past perceptions and experiences where opinions, biases, and even prejudices quickly smudge our vision.  We no longer see the world with fresh eyes but with suspicion, anger, hatred, and even regret.  We no longer have the capacity to see the humanity and worth of every person. We no longer have the capacity to see to face of Christ in every person we encounter.  We no longer have the capacity to see others through the lens of Christ’s compassion, grace, and tender mercy.

We’ve even lost the ability to see ourselves with the proper perspective.  For some of us, we see only our failures and mistakes when we look at our image reflected in the mirror.  For others of us, we only see what we want to see, which forces us to ignore the changes we need to make in our lives.  We see a distorted image of self-importance and self-perfection.  Both ways of looking at self, blind us to the realities around us.  One view causes us to think too little of ourselves, while the other view causes us to think too highly.

We no longer see anything clearly anymore through our clouded eyes and harsh opinions.  We’ve lost sight of a better world that Christ hopes we will one-day claim as His.   So how do we change our perceptions, our outlook, and our view of others?  Can we wipe off the life lenses and see things differently? Is there a special cloth that can cleanse our eyes, refresh our minds, and open our hearts?  The simple answer is no… there is no quick fix or magic eraser. Most of us have spent years layering our prejudices, our attitudes, and our opinions.  It’s foolish to think that we can remove our cataracts with one simple operation.  It takes time to see the world differently.  It takes times to see with the perception of Jesus.  It takes times to change the human heart.

It all begins with the confession that we need better vision.  I remember denying for several years the fact that I needed reading glasses. I didn’t want to admit that was getting older and not seeing things with the clarity that I desired.  It’s hard for all of us to admit that none of us see with perfect clarity.  We all have a little distortion when we gaze upon others.  But we can start to heal, to change, and to see differently.  Some of us need to spend way less time on Social Media.  If you find yourself getting angry every time you log-on, it’s probably better to step away. Caustic comments made by others can damage your viewpoint.  Some of us need to rethink relationships.  Paul said that “bad company corrupts good character” (I Cor. 15:34).  When you surround yourself with only people who look like you, think like you, vote like you, and worship like you… you limit your outlook tremendously.  Some of us need to rethink how we engage the world.  I have found that people who learn to give themselves away, tend to see the world differently.  They find value, warmth, and meaning in the relationships where they judge less and love more.

It’s time to wipe away the smudges.  The Spirit of Christ within you demands that you see the world with fresh eyes… compassionate eyes… respectful eyes… peaceful eyes…His eyes.

  • Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director, Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership

The Voice

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”– Isaiah 30:21

Some voices you just know. You recognize the tone.  You remember the cadence.  You are familiar with every nuanced inflection.  Blindfold your eyes and listen to a 100 different voices and with certainty you could pick out the ones most familiar.  When my dad calls me on the phone, I never have to ask, “Now who is this?”  When my kids call to say “hey” in the midst of a busy day, I don’t need caller ID to tell me which one is calling.  When my wife speaks my name in the midst of a room full of voices, I can always discern her speech.  Some voices you just know.  For a number of years now, I have had the honor of appearing on Sunday morning television with a minute-long devotional thought that I call, “Moments that Matter.” I’m recognized often in and around town. But sometimes, it’s my voice that gives me away.  It’s not uncommon for someone to look up and say, “I know you… I recognize your voice.”

There are certain leaders whose voices we immediately recognize.  Take the voices of presidents for example.  If I were to play you some sound clips, you could discern the voice of Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan, or Jimmy Carter. Even George W and George H have distinguishable voices.  Pay attention long enough, and soon the voices become very clearly recognized in your mind.

But what about the voice of God?  Do we recognize it?  Can we distinguish it among the millions of others voices on the planet?  Do we hear it with clarity and offer our careful attention?  Remember that it is never a question of whether or not God speaks… it is always a question of our willingness to listen.  Sometimes we don’t hear the voice of God because we don’t want to hear the voice of God.  We would rather listen to the voice of self-reliance deeply embedded in our brains. We would rather listen to the voice of human nature over the voice of Spirit whisper.  We would rather listen to the winds of culture that blow through our minds rather than the breath of the Spirit that seeks to speak truth into our hearts.

Isaiah once promised the Israelites that God would direct their paths and give guidance to every decision.  He spoke of a voice that would be heard in their ears, a voice that would whisper which step to take.  He assumed that they would be listening for the voice in the first place.

I’m not sure if you will ever hear the audible voice of God in your ears, telling you what to do or what not to do.  I’m not saying that it won’t happen, or doesn’t happen.  In fact, I certainly don’t discount the claims of the faithful who truly believe that God has spoken to them with an audible voice.  For most of us, however, it doesn’t happen that way. The prompting of God is more of a whisper, a tap on the shoulder, a sudden prompting of when to act or which direction to take.  It’s more than intuition.  It’s more than just a “gut feeling.”  It’s a purposeful prompting that makes sense when held up the light of God’s continuing work in our lives.  It’s a discernment… an undeniable affirmation that this is what we are supposed to do with this moment.

We should not be surprised when we feel His leadership… in fact, we should be surprised when we don’t. Again, it is my belief that God speaks all the time.  His Spirit offers direction in both the large and small aspects of our lives.  But understand… the Spirit assumes that we are listening.  Maybe we need to take our fingers out of our ears and attempt to listen.  Maybe we need to turn down the voices of social media, the drone of television, or the incessant rattle of culture.  God longs to speak and we need to listen.  Who knows… in the quietness of a moment we just may hear The Voice.         – Dr. Jon Roebuck

Integrity & Why It Matters

As a nation and as a people, we have a problem with integrity.  Somewhere along the way we seem to have discounted the importance of telling the truth, of being forthright, of being honest.  We have accepted a narrative that suggests a comfort level with half-truths and casual lies.  We no longer hold ourselves or others accountable for the stories we tell, the facts we convey, or the news we disseminate.  We are on a very dangerous and slippery slope that seeks to undermine everything from relationships to religion.  Our willingness to accept a lack of integrity has eroded trust in both institutions and leadership.  Such a lack of trust will be difficult to reverse.

There are some professions that, through the years, have taken on the moniker of being dishonest. Whether fair or not, there are some people that we have been conditioned not to trust or believe.  For example, on the scale of trustworthiness, used-car salesmen have to be near the bottom, right?  We look on such folks with disdain and go into any conversation or transaction with them having our “distrust antenna” raised in the air. It’s the same with weathermen.  I once heard the expression, “If a weatherman is talking, he’s lying!”… a reputation earned when forecasts go astray. Or what about attorneys?  Story after story is told of dishonest men and women who practice law, not to bear out the truth, but to make the biggest buck. You probably have your own list of folks that you just can’t trust.

A recent nation-wide Gallup poll listed firefighters and nurses as the two most trusted professions. Grade school teachers were also near the top.  Clergy didn’t fair too well… 17thon the list. Senators and congressmen were 36thand 37threspectfully.  Insurance salesmen came in at 40th.  And the least trusted of all professions was that of telemarketers.  The fact that such a list even exists should be telling.  Why shouldn’t integrity matter at every level?  Why should anyone be untrustworthy?  Why should we accept dishonesty within our culture?

I can’t speak for you, but when I go the bank I want my banker to be accountable for how safely my money is being kept.  When I go to my doctor, I want her words concerning my health to be accurate and honest. When I listen to my political leaders, I want them to represent the integrity of their office and not the opinions of their party affiliation.  And when I go to my church, I want the words of my pastor’s sermon to be noble, trustworthy, and representative of Christ.  Here’s the danger when leaders fail to maintain integrity.  Whenever we no can longer trust their words, we begin to no longer trust in the institutions they represent.  We become cynical of everything and everybody.  Such negativity begins to eat away at the spirit of our nation like an ugly, aggressive cancer.

We should expect better. We should demand better.  Not only should we expect and demand better from our leadership, we should expect and demand better from ourselves.  Trust is not easily earned.  It is forged on the anvil of consistency, integrity, and honesty over the long-haul.  It starts with the small things… a promise given, a word kept, a trust maintained. Those who are willing to fudge on the little things, can’t be expected to be faithful with greater ones.  We need to hold ourselves accountable.  We need to demand high standards in our personal lives.  We need to realize that the longings we have for greater morality, integrity, and truth within our nation begins with the longing to establish such a reputation in our own lives.

Let’s be honest when we talk about things… honest when we talk about someone’s reputation or background, honest when we talk about broken laws, honest when we talk about news reporting, honest when we talk about policies, honest when we talk about abuse, honest when we talk about racism, honest when we talk about immigrants, honest when we talk about everything.  And let’s be honest when we talk about the things in our culture that Jesus would have endorsed and the things that He would not have endorsed.  Let’s not mar His reputation by connecting Him to the demonic and dark prejudices of our day.

We have a national integrity problem and it will only get better when each of us decides to live with truth as a way of life, and not as a selective, occasional option.

– Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director, Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership