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Two Trees And The Big Storm: a parable for children about COVID-19

Editor's note: Parents, what follows is a devotional, in two parts, to help explain COVID-19 to children, by assuring them of God’s continued control and care in this crisis. There are questions at the end of each part to help your children bring their own questions and concerns to you. ***** He is like a tree     planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,     and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers. The wicked are not so,     but are like chaff that the wind drives away. – Psalm 1:3-4 Part 1 Dear boys and girls (and everyone else), In Tree-land, as you can imagine, there were lots of trees. And ruling over all the trees was Tree-lord. He had made all the trees and now he was busy making sure that all the trees grew. There were all sorts of different trees, some growing here, others growing there. Some trees looked healthier than others. Some were bearing delicious fruit, others didn’t seem to be. Among all the trees in Tree-land, there were two trees that, at a glance, looked much the same. But their names were different, very different. Mind you, they both loved their names but for completely different reasons. You see, one was called Righteous. He loved his name because it had been given to him by Tree-lord. He was truly thankful to have been chosen by Tree-lord to receive such a special name. The other one, though, was called Wicked. He loved his name too, but not because it was given to him by Tree-lord. It wasn’t. Tree-lord would never give such a name to one of the trees he had created. No, Wicked, loved his name because he had chosen it himself. He was proud of it. He thought it was a wicked name… really cool. There was something else that Righteous loved. He loved the place where Tree-lord had planted him. It was right by a stream of beautifully clear and fresh water. He loved the fact that he could suck up as much water as he needed through his roots. On a bright clear morning, he loved opening up his bright green canopy of leaves to the sun and just feeling himself getting stronger and healthier.  Between that water, the sun and the rich soil there along the stream he had everything he needed. Oh, it’s true, he did at times have to admit that he was just a little jealous of Wicked. When Righteous watched Wicked from his place there next to the stream he sometimes wished he was like him. Wicked always looked like he was having so much fun. He never stayed planted in one place for long. He’d be in one place for a while enjoying that little bit of soil, but before long he’d be up and walking around with some other tree friends. Then he’d stop wandering around and plant himself in another part of Tree-land with some other friends. But Righteous noticed something as he watched from his place by the stream. Wicked’s friends were just like him. They, too, had chosen their own names, names like Sinner and Scoffer. Their ringleader called himself a prince. It was a horrible name. He called himself the Prince of Darkness. Whenever Wicked walked around and wherever he planted himself, Wicked was always hanging around with those guys. Sure, they looked to be having fun bullying other trees, drinking water from one stream and then from another, wandering here and there. But the more that Righteous watched them, the more he realized that they never really sent their roots down deep into the soil so that they could start being proper trees and bearing some good fruit. And Righteous noticed something else too. Wicked and his friends didn’t do so well when the weather turned bad. On a windy day, their leaves blew off much quicker than his. And once, when there was a huge hailstorm and he had lost a few leaves, Wicked and his friends had almost been stripped bare. It wasn’t pretty to look at. But Wicked and his friends didn’t seem to care. After a storm, they just kept right on with their fun, games, and stupidity. Seeing all of that, it dawned on Righteous that the problem with Wicked and his friends was that they simply ignored everything that Tree-lord had told them was good for trees. He had said, “Stay close to this stream; drink this water and only this water; let your roots go down nice and deep; listen to me and obey me so that you become strong trees and bear beautiful delicious fruit.” But Wicked and his friends would have none of it. Understanding that made Righteous realize how incredibly blessed he was. It made him look up at his huge canopy of branches and leaves and fruit, and realize how beautifully he’d been made and how much he’d grown since being planted here by the stream. He felt down to his roots and was happy to tell that they went down deep into the soil. All in all, he knew that he had a lot to be thankful for. Well, In Tree-land life was going on pretty much as normal. Righteous and his friends kept enjoying the blessing of where they had been planted. They enjoyed listening to Tree-lord and his wisdom about how to live as a tree. At the same time, Wicked and his friends kept on ignoring Tree-lord and lived life the way they wanted to. But then one day, a day when no one was expecting it, a huge storm came up. It started in one part of Tree-land far away, but soon covered the whole of Tree-land. It was a storm like never before. And it didn’t seem to let up. It kept on raining and raining. The winds blew harder and harder. And the lightning and thunder made the trees really worried. It affected Wicked and his friends but it also affected Righteous and his friends. No tree was left untouched by the storm. The trees got together and gave the storm a name… a strange name… they called it COVID-19. Questions to discuss with your children: What does Tree-land represent? Who is the Tree-lord? What does the stream represent? Who is the Prince of Darkness? What do the names “Righteous” and “Wicked” tell you about those trees? If you were a tree in this story, would you like to be “Righteous” or “Wicked”? Why? Why was it important for Righteous to stay close to the stream? What do you think is going to happen next? (Parents, you can stop now to wait until tomorrow to read Part 2 with your children, or you can continue on now.)  Part 2 The trees got together and gave the storm a name… a strange name… they called it COVID-19. Not that there hadn’t been storms before in Tree-land. Of course, there had. But this storm with its strange name had the trees worried more than ever before. Never before in Tree-land had all the trees been talking about the same thing all at the same time. And the more the trees talked about it, the more afraid of the storm they became. In the meantime, it kept on raining and hailing. The thunder and lightning didn’t stop; night and day it stormed; on and on it went. The important trees in Tree-land tried to find ways to stop the storm. Most of them thought they were smart enough to work out a way to make the storm go away. But they couldn’t. And Wicked and his friends? Normally when a storm came, they just shrugged it off and kept right on living their lives once the storm had blown over. Even during a storm, they normally didn’t worry too much. But this storm was going on for so long and was so bad that Wicked and his friends couldn’t keep living the way they were used too. And that got them really worried… scared even. Wicked and most of his friends felt like they were going crazy. They could talk about nothing but the storm. They wondered where the storm came from. They talked on and on about how long it would be before the storm stopped. They kept looking at the dark grey sky. Every time there was a loud thunderclap they wrapped their branches around their trunk to block out the horrible sound. Every time there was a bolt of lightning they ducked down close to the ground, scared that they were going to get hit. What was even worse was the wind – it blew off their leaves! It was blowing so hard that Wicked and his friends were finding it really difficult to stay standing upright. They could feel that their roots didn’t have a good grip on the soil, and they kept worrying that at any moment a huge gust of wind might topple them over and blow them away. Righteous was feeling the storm too. “This sure is a bad one,” he said to himself. But because Righteous had been planted close to the stream and had spent years listening to Tree-lord’s wisdom he knew something that Wicked and his friends didn’t know. He knew that Tree-lord, the one who had made all the trees in Tree-land, and who had made Tree-land itself, was in control of the storm. He knew something else too. He knew that sometimes Tree-lord would send the storms into Tree-land. He would do that to make all the trees think about how important it was to stay planted by the stream that Righteous and his friends were planted next to. Righteous knew that Tree-lord wanted all the trees to realize that their roots had to go down deep into that soil and drink water from that stream. And thinking about that made Righteous feel especially blessed and thankful for where he had been planted. He called up his friend Holy who was planted further down the same stream. “What’s the storm like out your way?” he asked. “It’s pretty bad and it’s been going on for so long,” replied Holy, sounding a bit tired. “You standing strong?” asked Righteous. “Have you been damaged at all by the storm?”  Right then and there, a huge rush of wind like nothing Holy had ever felt before suddenly blew up against him. His leaves were flapping back and forth furiously; his branches were creaking and bending; the fruit hanging from his limbs were bobbing around like crazy. Righteous could hear it all through the phone. “Holy,” he called out, “you still there?” “Yes, I am,” called back Holy over the noise. “Aren’t you a bit worried?” asked Righteous, anxiously. “A little,” replied Holy. “But remember, Righteous, that Tree-lord has promised us that if we stay planted by his stream, if we make sure that our roots are always deep into the rich soil he has put there, then no storm, not even this one, will be able to blow us over.” “I know, it’s amazing isn’t it?” said Righteous. “We do need to remember that. And I’ve noticed something else. Even now, even though this storm has been going on for a long time, and even though I am feeling it in my branches, my leaves are still staying green. And do you know what else I’ve noticed, Holy?” “What’s that?” gasped Holy, as he strained under the power of the storm. “My fruit is still growing… even now, it’s still getting bigger and juicer! Isn’t that incredible?!” “I had noticed that too,” said Holy, “although I thought it might just be my imagination. But it isn’t, is it? It’s true! My fruit …” he paused to take a breath, given the wind… “my fruit is still growing too!” “I knew it would be,” laughed Righteous. “It’s because Tree-lord planted us next to his stream. It’s here, and only here, that trees can stay strong and have their roots deep enough to be able to stand up against the biggest of storms.” Holy laughed with happiness too. “Well,” he said, “let’s make sure that we keep drinking our water from this stream. Let’s keep listening to Tree-lord and then we don’t ever have to be scared, doesn’t matter how long this storm goes on for, or how much worse it gets.” “It’s true,” said Righteous. “We know that Tree-lord is in control of the storm and will always be there for all of us who are planted along this stream. He knows us, he knows what we are going through with this storm, and he will always give us what we need.” “Thanks for the reminder, Righteous, I appreciate it very much,” said Holy. “Let’s keep in touch and remember, never uproot yourself from next to that stream!” “Thanks,” said Righteous, “I won’t. This is by far the best stream in the whole of Tree-land and with Tree-lord’s help I’ll stay here forever.” Questions to discuss with your children: Why does God sometimes send terrible things, like disease, into our world? It sounds like Holy was having a hard time with the storm. How come he could stay standing? It’s amazing that even in the storm both Righteous and Holy’s fruit kept on growing. How was that possible? What do you think the fruit on Righteous and Holy represent? What fruit do you have in your life? Your Dad and Mom probably talk a lot about COVID-19. Are you scared? Why don’t you have to be? Right at the end of the story, Righteous says that he is going to stay next to the stream “with Tree-lord’s help.” What does that mean? Rev. Rodney Vermeulen is the pastor of the Attercliffe Canadian Reformed Church....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

FREE BOOK: Coronavirus and Christ

by John Piper 2020 / 112 pages  What Piper offers us in what he calls this “historic moment of bitter providence” is a lesson in how to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The secret of “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” is this: knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. Some Christians want to “rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering” – they want to say God is not responsible for the coronavirus. But, Piper notes, such a "rescue" can only be done if we also “sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for our good” – if God is not responsible for the coronavirus, then He is not really in control, and we can’t rely on Him to do as He has promised, turning all things to our good (Romans 8:28-30). However, God is in control. Therefore... The very sovereignty that rules in sickness is the sovereignty that sustains in loss. The very sovereignty that takes life is the sovereignty that conquered death and brings believers home to heaven and Christ. It is not sweet to think that Satan, sickness, sabotage, fate, or chance has the last say in my life. That is not good news. That God reigns is good news. Why? Because God is holy and righteous and good. And he is infinitely wise. We don’t know all the reasons God has brought the coronavirus. But we do know He values us, and loves us so much He gave His Son for us. We do know He is in control. So we do know He can and will do as He has promised, somehow, in some way, turning even this pandemic to the good of those who love Him. It is a short read, but an encouraging and also challenging one. It is also free, both as an e-book, and as a 2-hour audiobook. Both can found at DesiringGod.org/ books/coronavirus-and-christ. You can also find the audiobook on YouTube here. The book trailer is available below. ...

News

The TP we need in the COVID crisis: Trust & Perspective

Toilet paper (TP) has become a hot commodity. It’s hard to find. Just mention Charmin and it evokes a wide range of emotions: frustration, greed, and anger just to name a few. So much for enhancing our soft side. All the TP in the world won’t give us comfort. Perhaps some physical comfort but that’s about it. What we need is real comfort. Spiritual comfort. A better TP. We need trust and perspective. Satan hurls a lot of flaming darts at us. One of those darts is doubt. He loves it when we doubt God’s word. “You surely won’t die,” he said to Eve. “If you are the Son of God,” he taunted as he tempted Jesus. And he sows seeds of doubt in us when we don’t seem to have the right answers in the midst of calamity and suffering. We’re vulnerable. So, he tells us lies. He’s good at that. He’s the greatest at that. He’s the great deceiver. Trust... The psalms remind God’s people of the need to put their trust in Him and His name. “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Ps. 9:8, 10). “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps. 20:6-7). “In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name” (Ps. 33:20-21). In this COVID crisis, believers may and should put their trust in the Lord. We can trust Him to do that which is good. We can trust Him to turn all things for our good. Trust in God is key to Christian living: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land find safe pasture” (Ps. 37:3). and perspective… We need this Biblical perspective. Life is full of blessings, action, work, charity, faith, and relationships. Life is full of hopes, dreams, changes, and experiences. Life can be full of sorrow and regrets. Life can be full of confusion, disappointment, discouragement, and questions. The word of God brings us to our knees and gives us the proper perspective and reminds us what life really is. It reminds us of Who life really is. In moments of despair, grief, fear, and sensationalism God’s word comes alive. Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life. Jesus is life! In this time of the COVID crisis, we need to re-cultivate an eternal perspective in our thinking. Stocking up the shelves for the long term won’t cut it. Let alone loading up on TP.  From a Christian’s perspective there is sickness and death in this world. God has overcome that. He comforts us in times of trouble. He is still watching us 24-7 in all our comings and goings. ...open up opportunities As people of God, we have a clear perspective. A hopeful perspective. Life is about opportunity. Opportunity to love God. Opportunity to love people. Opportunity to serve God. Opportunity to serve people. And we do so because Jesus is our life. He is our only comfort in life and in death. And it’s this perspective that we need to present to our communities and to our civil authorities. We’ve got the real TP that our society needs to load up on! Trust and perspective. Ed Hoogerdyk is the Alberta Manager of the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada....

News, Theology

Calvinism in the time of coronavirus

When I was about nine or ten, at the height of worldwide panic about AIDS, I stumbled across a newspaper article that outlined the symptoms of the dreaded disease. I can still recall reading, to my horror, that one of the telltale signs was “thick, white matting on the tongue.” You see, I had a few small but obvious patches of white matter on my tongue. And my ten-year-old self became utterly convinced: I had AIDS. The fact that I was in the world’s lowest-risk category didn’t matter, nor did the fact that I was asthmatic and regularly took large doses of medication that left white deposits on my tongue. For at least a week, I was convinced that my end had come. In my early 20s, it was a brain tumor. After all, I had a few really bad headaches on the way to university one week; what else could it be?! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become slightly more sanguine, but I’m still highly susceptible to fear setting in. Honestly, I feel like I’m tempting fate (even though I totally don’t believe in “tempting fate”) by even writing this piece. I am a card-carrying hypochondriac. So you can imagine how the last few weeks have made me feel. I’ve had to dig in and battle hard to not give in to the paralyzing fear of the coronavirus that’s been sweeping the globe. How have I fought this battle? I’ve armed my household with facts, vitamins, soap, and statistics (but no, not with extra toilet paper as yet – I live in New Zealand, not Australia). I’ve chewed off my wife’s ear about how the media is blowing it out of proportion, mostly preaching to myself in the process. But underneath all those strategies, I’ve fallen back on one simple, underlying reality: God is completely sovereign. I’ve always found it slightly surprising that Christians find the notion that God is completely sovereign (sometimes called “Calvinism,” after theologian John Calvin) to be so controversial or complex. Maybe it’s the way Calvinism was initially taught to me when I was a young Christian. It was totally plausible, and just seemed the obvious, inevitable conclusion that anyone should reach from studying the Scriptures: God is completely in charge of everything, and nothing takes him by surprise. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not belittling anyone who finds it hard to grapple with the many thorny issues that this topic raises. Far from it. A high view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t numb the pain of real-life or provide cheap, easy answers. We should all sympathize with the Psalmists who bring their laments to God and cry out, “How Long, O Lord?” But the basic concept itself has (thanks be to God) always just seemed obvious to me. Can I really conceive of the God who spoke the universe into existence now sitting fretfully on the edge of his throne, desperately hoping that everything will pan out? Can I picture the God who raised Jesus from the dead muttering, “That wasn’t supposed to happen! Oh well, I guess I’ll try again tomorrow”? But more than that, I’ve also struggled to understand why some people see this as an obscure, irrelevant question – a topic for the “ivory tower – rather than as a real-life game-changer. As I was once told, there is nothing as practical as good theology. The sovereignty of God has been an enormous comfort to me again and again and again in my life. So while we may be tempted to think that the panic-inducing Covid-19 is no time to get all theological, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s moments like these where we need the deep realities about God to sustain us. If, like me, you’re even slightly given to extra nervousness at a time like this, it might be worth stepping back and planting your flag on some simple yet marvelous truths about our great, sovereign God. Remember, there is no such thing as "luck" – even moments that seem totally random are controlled by God (Proverbs 16:33). Remember, not even a tiny, insignificant sparrow falls to the ground without God’s say-so – and you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29-31). Remember, God shapes the decisions and the fate of the world’s most powerful people (Proverbs 21:1). Remember, whether or not your plans for tomorrow come to fruition depends far more on God than on you (James 4:13-15). Remember, God can do all things (that’s a lot of things) and no purpose of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Remember, God works all things (which, again, really is a lot of things) according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). Remember, God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask him to do and all we think He can do (Ephesians 3:20). Next time you get sick, remember that God never faints or grows weary, not even for a second (Isaiah 40:28). Remember, God never sleeps or slumbers; He never takes a day off (Psalm 121:3-4). Remember, even the very faith that you place in Jesus is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), and God is in charge of the fruitful spread of the gospel (Mark 4:14-25). Remember, God forms the light and creates the darkness; He makes well-being and He creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7). And even if some things – including coronavirus – remain a mystery to us, we can trust that He’s using his sovereign power for our ultimate good. For He didn’t even withhold his own Son from us; we shouldn’t doubt that He’ll also give us the other good things we need. (Romans 5:6-8; Romans 8:32) Remember, the days God formed for you were written in his book before you lived even one of them (Psalm 139:16). When the whole world is in a panic, when people are inexplicably hoarding in a desperate attempt to calm their fears, when our neighbors fear that the sky is falling, it’s easy to join them and give in to anxiety. But it’s unnecessary. And it’s wrong. One of the best ways for Christians to love one another, love our neighbors and honor the Lord during this time is simply to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9) That promise was to Joshua, but we have even more reason than Joshua to be sure that those words apply to us. We have the gospel of Jesus. We have a Savior who has promised to be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We have a loving God who is not far away, but who is near to all who call on him, and who is mighty to save. Knowing all this, we are invited to entrust ourselves to God: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) Trust the sovereign Lord of the ages who is working out his plans and purposes for the world, and for you, moment by moment, even (especially) when things are scary or unknown. Tell your children that God can be trusted more than hand-sanitizer. Boldly bear witness to a frightened world – a world that’s having the deceptive veil of safety and security pulled back before its very eyes – that there is a genuine, lasting source of security and peace. Take your stand on the Bible’s great truths about our sovereign God, now and forever. And try not to touch your face. This article first appeared at GeoffRobson.com and it is reprinted here with permission....