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What the First Half of 2020 Tells Us about True Character


The year began as 1973 with impeachment. Then it became 1918 with the pandemic. Then 2008 (and hopefully not 1929) with the recession, followed by 1968 with civil rights protests.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash along with seven others. Wildfires swept Australia. Locusts swarmed East Africa. Earthquakes struck Turkey and the Caribbean. 

And as of today, the year is officially only half over.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Senate committee yesterday that he is very concerned about the surge of coronavirus infections in many parts of the US. He stated that he would “not be surprised if we go up to one hundred thousand cases a day if this does not turn around.”

On the heels of his sobering warning, this news broke: a new flu virus in China has the potential to become a “pandemic virus.”

Chinese researchers discovered a strain of influenza in pigs that has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” according to a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Pig farm workers showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood. As a result, “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented.”

The good news is that scientists say there is no evidence that the virus is circulating among humans. The bad news is that the World Health Organization made the same statement about COVID-19 last January.

Supreme Court rules on state aid to church schools

It’s easy to become discouraged in discouraging days. The Supreme Court’s decision striking down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion was deeply disappointing, for instance. 

Then the court issued a ruling yesterday that gave religious conservatives reason for hope, striking down a ban on state aid to church schools. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the five-to-four majority, stated: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

One lesson the first half of 2020 has taught us is that we cannot predict the second half of 2020.

Joe Biden is leading President Trump in the polls. However, in 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had a seventeen-point lead over then-Vice President George H. W. Bush in a midsummer Gallup poll. In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan were nearly tied in the polls until Mr. Reagan excelled in a late-September debate and surged to a landslide victory.

In a week focusing on the consequences of character, here’s a lesson we should learn and embrace: we are not in control of our world or our souls.

It is tempting in our scientifically advanced, technologically sophisticated culture to think we can control our natural world, but natural diseases and disasters give the lie to such suppositions. It is likewise tempting in our existentialist culture to predict the future based on the present, but recent months prove how uncertain our lives really are.

Similar deceptions tempt Christians who seek godly character.

"Beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man"

Jesus prayed for his followers: “Sanctify them in the truth” (John 17:17). Paul similarly prayed for the Thessalonian Christians: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). He told the Corinthians that despite their former sins, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). 

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described the way sanctification works: “The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ his kind of thought and life ... into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.”

As sinners, we cannot sanctify ourselves. Just as we required Jesus’ atoning love for our salvation, so we require his Spirit’s transformation for our sanctification. We cannot make ourselves more holy, no matter how hard we try.

However, our obedience is nonetheless essential to the process. Not to earn God’s sanctifying grace, but to receive it. When we pray, read Scripture, and obey God’s word and follow his will, we position ourselves to be made holy by our holy Lord.

We will explore the imperative of obedience more tomorrow. For today, let’s choose to make praying for holiness a regular, consistent commitment and discipline. God can give only what we will receive and lead only where we will go. If we do not ask him to make us holy, he cannot make us holy.

A prayer I encourage you to make your own

To that end, I invite you to make this prayer by Henri Nouwen your own. I have prayed it for myself, slowly and thoughtfully, and encourage you to join me:

“O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you, everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion.

“Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?

“Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let me die to the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn of praise to you.

“I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom.”

Will you walk that road today?

Publication date: July 1, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Panuwat Dangsungnoen

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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