I remember playing ball on the playground as a child. Without the internet to distract us, we play a lot. We often were in the situation where we had to choose our teams. The pattern was almost always the same. Two captains were selected. They would rock-paper-scissors for first pick. Then, they would alternate back and forth, selecting players for their teams.
It almost always went the same way. The first pick was the best player. The second pick was the next best player. And so on down the line. The last kid picked was deemed the worst player by the captains. This was a good way to evenly match the teams.
Now, when it comes to the church, God chooses his team as well. He choses those who will be in the church. Only, when God chooses his teammates, he doesn’t choose the best players first. Instead, he does the opposite. He chooses the worst players to be on his team.
To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
In other words, as the Lord builds his church, he doesn’t choose the best of people in the world’s eyes. He chooses the foolish and the weak and the despised of the world. God might be compared to the NBA player who plays on the playground for kids. Even though he may pick the worst kids on the playground, his team will still win because of the talents of the NBA player.
So it is with the church. It is composed of misfits, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). Any success that the church experiences is not because of the ability of those in the church. It’s because of our great Captain, who will bring in the victory, even on a team with weak players. As a result, we can’t boast in our own abilities. We must boast in our captain, the Lord of the church, who always leads us in triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14).
For anyone who has been monitoring the news, the events of Afghanistan have been horrifying to watch. We see mad rushes at the airport of those trying to leave. The people are so desperate to leave the terrors of the Taliban that they would rather hang on to flying jets than stay in Afghanistan and face certain death. Mothers are handing over their babies to the American military, in hopes that they might find a better life in America. To be sure, many are getting out. But many will be left behind. It is all heart-breaking.
However, there is a group of people that few in the media are talking about: the Christians in Afghanistan. They have no ties with the West. They didn’t work as translators. They weren’t trained by the U. S. military. They have no hope of leaving. But now, with the Muslim Taliban taking over the country, their lives are at great risk. The Muslim Taliban consider Christians to be infidels and worthy of death. I anticipate that many of these Christians will be killed over the next few weeks/months/years.
It is sad. It is difficult. It is heart-wrenching. Their deaths will come, not because they committed a crime, but because they embraced a Savior. The words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna are applicable. “For ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
These Christians are like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow to the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Their punishment was to be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:6). When called to give account before the king, they said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). God spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were able to walk through the fire, without as much as a single hair on their head being singed (Daniel 3:27).
These Christians are like the disciples of Christ in the first century. Saul of Tarsus was so enraged at those who followed Jesus that he went house to house, dragging of the men and women off to prison (Acts 8:3), hoping that they would be sentenced to death (Acts 9:1). Saul persecuted Christians in Jerusalem and other cities. But God spared the disciples in Damascus. When Saul was traveling to Damascus to arrest the followers of Christ in that city, he saw a vision of Jesus, which forever changed his life. Rather than persecuting the Christians, he joined them in Damascus.
The Lord is able to save the Christians in Afghanistan. He can hide them in plain sight. He can grant favor in the eyes of the Taliban. He can bring about the conversion of some of the Taliban soldiers to Jesus. But if not, we must pray that they would be “faithful unto death.”
Last September I wrote about how the media has focused most of its attention upon COVID-19 cases rather than on COVID-19 deaths. You can read it here. I want to give an update.
In the article I expressed my concern that the media was focusing upon the number of COVID-19 cases, which is difficult to measure. This focus gives a faulty picture of reality, when the vast majority of those with COVID-19 survive the disease. Also, when the media reports the number of “COVID-19 deaths,” the true picture is not seen. This is because there are (relatively) few who die from COVID-19. It is most often the case that people die with COVID-19 because of co-morbidities.
With these factors in mind, I argued that we should focus more of our attention upon the number of excess deaths we have seen since the onset of COVID-19. The excess deaths are the number of deaths occurring above average. I argued that this is a better determination of the effect of COVID-19 than the number of cases.
Anyway, here are a few updated graphs. They show the number of deaths in each year week by week. January is “week 1” and the last week in December is “week 52.” Because of the lag in reporting, the graphs are current as of a few weeks ago (i.e. early April). Further, the numbers in March and April may change slightly as more data comes into the CDC.
First of all, here is the graph of deaths in the United States:
Here are some observations. First of all, you can see the clear anomaly of 2020 (the dark-blue line). For the first 13 weeks of the year, all looked normal. However, somewhere around week 14 (mid March), our weekly death totals began to spike. Seeing this trend, our governments enforced their lockdowns. Further, the winter months were difficult for our nation as people were forced indoors. During these months we experienced a drastic increase in the number of deaths above average. Also, notice how the deaths have declined at the beginning of 2021 (the red line). We have even descended into the normal range!
Looking at the numbers, from 2014-2019 we averaged about 53,000 deaths each week (or 2.75 million deaths every year). In 2020 (the dark blue line) we averaged about 64,000 deaths each week (or 3.33 million deaths). That totals 580,000 excess deaths in 2020 above average. In 2021 (the red line) we see the numbers still above average. In looking at the numbers (as of early April), we have experienced 816,000 deaths in America, which is above the 690,000 average by this time. This means that in 2021 alone, we have experienced 126,000 excess deaths. When you total this up, America has experienced 706,000 deaths above average since the pandemic began.
So, when we speak about the number of COVID-19 deaths in our nation, this is the current number that we should be using: 706,000. Unfortunately, that’s not the way that our media is reporting deaths in the United States. Looking at our local paper for today, we are reporting 574,679 deaths in America from COVID-19. Thus, the press is under-reporting the true effect of COVID-19! Interestingly, the source of this number is the CDC! This is because of the way that COVID-19 deaths are recorded. When someone dies in the United States, he/she will be counted as a COVID-19 death if they die with a positive COVID-19 test. There are those who have died (because of some COVID-19) effect where a positive test was not recorded.
I have one final observation about the graph above. It concerns this point:
This is the point where our death totals in 2021 have sunk into our average levels of death totals in the United States. It happened about the 10th or 11th week of the year (i. e. late March). This is good news in our fight against this disease! Unfortunately, the press has been silent about this phenomenon.
Surely, this intersection on the graph is a result of the number of those who have been vaccinated in our nation. We began mass vaccinations at the beginning of the year. Although we are approaching only 50% of the population being fully vaccinated, we began with those who were most “at risk.” Thus, the majority of our most vulnerable people have been vaccinated. I would suspect that the 2021 line could continue to descend, possibly even below average, as COVID-19 hastened the death of the most vulnerable people in our society. In other words, COVID-19 brought on many “earlier-than-expected” deaths, a portion of which would have died in 2021, but were included in the 2020 statistics. We shall see.
Here are some more graphs for you to examine. First of all, a graph of Illinois (where I live):
You can see the same pattern as the United States. We had a spike in March-April 2020 followed by another gradual increase during the winter months (2020-21). We have been in the “normal” range since the 10th week of 2021 (mid-March) as the red line shows.
Here are a few others for you. I have chosen states that I included in my September article for you to compare, along with a few others I found interesting.
New Yorkers have experienced some extremes. They have spiked high and low.
The weather is nice in California. They are only indoors a small portion of the winter.
Arizona also saw a heightened spike in the summer and in the winter. Those in Arizona are often indoors in the summer due to such high heat.
Montana was flat for a long time, but had their own spike in the fall of 2021.
South Dakota has been more “open” in their handling of COVDI-19. Many were concerned about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that was held in August held in August each year (approximately weeks 32-33). It brought only an uptick in South Dakota until their big surge in November. Yet, many at the Sturgis Rally returned to their home states, where their effect may have been felt to a greater degree.
Iowa experienced a recent record low for deaths in week 11 of this year (late March). However, this number may go up a little as further reporting to the CDC comes in.
The same is true for Indiana. But again, these numbers for 2021 may go up slightly as more reporting comes into the CDC from the state.
These graphs tell their own story. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect upon our nation and upon our world. Many Americans have died. But we can see the light ahead.
It seems to me that the media is more focused on COVID-19 cases than on COVID-19 deaths. I get it. The more cases there are, the more the virus will spread. The more the virus spreads, the more deaths will ensue.
However, the number of actual cases is difficult to determine, as many with the virus are never tested. Also, there are plenty of false-positives and false-negatives. Add to that the many who are asymptomatic. It is practically impossible to measure the true number of COVID-19 cases. But in all the discussion about cases, many miss how the true impact of this virus must be measured in deaths.
The confusion is understandable. I have heard from some who have witnessed intense pressure put upon medical workers to identify deaths as COVID-19. It has led many to doubt the reality of the threat of COVID-19. ,
Further, when the media reports COVID-19 deaths, they often omit the fact that only 6% of the COVID-19 related deaths are recorded as COVID-19 alone. An overwhelming 94% of COVID-19 deaths come with comorbidities. In other words, for the most part, people die WITH COVID-19, rather than FROM COVID-19. This is why the sickly are at high risk. COVID-19 seems to bring on an earlier-than-expected death of those with pre-existing conditions. Please be careful, this 6% figure has been mis-understood and mis-applied. Here’s one article that seeks to explain: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/09/01/fact-check-cdcs-data-covid-19-deaths-used-misleading-claims/5681686002/.
So, how deadly is COVID-19? Is the reporting accurate? Can we trust the media?
Full disclosure: I’m not a health worker. I have no expertise with COVID-19. I’m a pastor, seeking to lead a local church through these trying times. With the vastness of differing opinions on these things, I have been compelled to search for objective facts in these matters.
Here’s a graph I generated from the CDC’s data. I entitled it, “Deaths in America by Week.” Week 1 is the first week in January. Week 52 is the last week in December. Because of the lag in reporting deaths to the CDC, these numbers are current as of August 2020. Further, the numbers for 2019 and 2020 are identified as “provisional” by the CDC. I assume that this means the numbers may increase slightly as the CDC awaits reporting that lags for one reason or another.
The first thing that you notice in this graph is the spike in 2020. Before addressing this spike, notice the general trend of all the years. America regularly experiences more deaths at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. Presumably, this comes because of winter forcing us inside, where disease can spread easily. Further, note the high death rate at the end of 2017 (yellow) and at the beginning 2018 (light blue). This represents the effect of the 2017-2018 flu epidemic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017%E2%80%932018_United_States_flu_season).
Let’s address the 2020 spike in the above graph. America has experienced significantly more deaths in 2020 than in other years. In some ways, this must be due to COVID-19, as this is the only major difference between 2020 and other years. This shows the undeniable impact of COVID-19. During the peak (week 15, mid-April), America experienced a 50% spike in deaths over normal. Currently, America is hovering around 20% more deaths than normal on a weekly basis.
Of significance also in the graph above is the downward trend. Deaths in America are heading down toward normal levels. I can only surmise that this is because of the measures that our society has put in place, like social distancing measures, masks and closures. Furthermore, our medical workers have figured out better ways to treat the virus. Only God knows what the graph would have looked like had no action been taken. And we will find out whether the trend continues toward normal or toward another spike as we move indoors for the winter.
Of curious interest also is how the impact has varied from state to state. Here are a few examples (with my comments):
I live in Illinois. We have followed roughly the same course as the United States.
For all of its early troubles, New York has practically returned to normal death rates for months.
Despite some of the earliest and most stringent regulations, California still seems to be struggling.
Montana has been unfazed.
Now, let’s work to the core question of this article: how many people have actually died of COVID-19 in America? To help answer that question, the graph below represents the death totals above average experienced in the United States in 2020 from week 12 (late March) an onward. I picked this week, because this is where we experienced the first noticeable spike in the number of deaths. The number represents the difference between total deaths in 2020 and the average number of total deaths from 2014-2019. Because of the lag in data collection, this takes us through week 32 (mid August).
As you can see, this number is approaching 250,000! These are the excess deaths of people in America in 2020. By mid-August, the press was typically reporting COVID-19 numbers in the 160,000-170,000 range. Today, this number is approaching 200,000. In other words, the press (reporting CDC numbers) has been under-reporting the true impact of COVID-19 on deaths in America. You can see this under-reporting the graph below, where I have added the CDC death totals each week where COVID-19 is listed as one of the causes (or the only cause) of death.
The reason for the discrepancy in the lines above is that CDC reports a death as COVID-19 only if the deceased tested positive for COVID-19. But if a test was never conducted, COVID-19 cannot be recorded as a cause of death. So, many who died with COVID-19, but never were tested, are not included in the CDC number. Further, I can think of several scenarios where people didn’t die with COVID-19, but did die due to the impact of COVID-19 upon them. For instance, some suicides may have been caused by the isolation that came through quarantines. The same may be true of domestic abuse cases that have escalated to death when people have been forced to live closely with others without ability to separate. Also, some deaths may have come because of surgeries or treatments or ER visits that were postponed from fear of COVID-19 and other COVID-19 related pressures. Many other scenarios could be envisioned.
Regardless of how or why a person dies, the way to measure the impact of COVID-19 is to measure the number of deaths above average. So, COVID-19 is real. And the true numbers of excess deaths in 2020 are actually larger than the CDC has reported as official “COVID-19” deaths.
As you can tell, the graphs are looking quite similar to the first graph in this article, only in reducing numbers, corresponding to reducing age. That’s because, in general, more people die old. And most of the deaths from COVID-19 are older people as well.
COVID-19 has made a real effect upon our country, perhaps even more than reported. Further, I think that the protective measures we have taken have helped to reduce the spread of infection, and as a result, death. I’m thankful to God for the adaptations that medical workers have made to treat patients with COVID-19.
Yet, to put things in perspective, using the 250,000 number of deaths and using 330 million for population of the United States, only 0.08% of Americans have died due to COVID-19. That’s 1 in 1320 people. For comparison’s sake, the Spanish flu (H1N1) pandemic of 1918 killed a conservative estimate of 550,000 Americans, out of a population of 103 million (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2740912/). This is 0.5% of the population. That’s 1 in 200 people. We have a long way to go to match the devastation of that pandemic.
In these days of Coronavirus, churches have been unable to meet together physically. However, this has not prevented churches from seeking other alternatives. Most of the larger churches across our nation have simply live-streamed their worship services, encouraging those in the congregation to log in to watch church.
This means that across our land, worship bands are playing to empty auditoriums. And pastors are preaching to empty pews. All the while, people are at home, on their couches, idly watching the participants on the screen worship God and preach to them. Admittedly, something is lacking in this dynamic.
When people attend a worship service on a Sunday morning, they are able to engage. They can sing together with the throng. “I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you” (Psalm 35:18). They can amen the preacher. They can fellowship with those who attend the service.
In other words, worship services aren’t merely vertical toward God. They are also horizontal. You talk with people on the way in. You interact with people on the way out. You are encouraged by others. You seek to be an encouragement to others (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Sadly, all of this is lacking in the live-stream experience. We know this. There’s a big difference between watching church and being engaged in church.
We are in the midst of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world. We are currently doing all we can to stop the spread of the virus. This includes lockdowns and social distancing and face masks.
Historically, face masks have been used as means to prevent the getting the disease. However, due to the nature of COVID-19, this has changed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that studies have revealed that “a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html).
This means that we all need to change our perspective on face masks. Face masks are not just for those who want to prevent sickness. Face masks are also for those who might be sick and who might transmit COVID-19. Thus, “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” (ibid).
For face masks to be accepted in our culture, we need to begin understanding that those in public with face masks on are not trying to protect themselves, but are actually trying to protect others. In this way, they are actually showing love to all of us. Face masks are a sign of live.
This is similar to the cross of Christ. The cross was an emblem of sin and shame (Hebrews 12:2). Yet, Jesus went to the cross as an act of love for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It was upon the cross that Jesus “bore our sins in his body” (1 Peter 2:24).
For those who don’t believe in Jesus, they need to change their perspective about the cross. It’s not a sign of sin and shame. It’s a sign of love.
I pastor a small church (a little over a hundred people). This means that if any ministry is accomplished, it’s either me or one of our small group of volunteers. With this in mind, consider the representative conversations that I have had with some who attend larger churches.
“We sent missions teams to over a dozen nations last summer!”
“We go to the jail for ministry every Tuesday evening and every Saturday afternoon.”
“We planted three churches over the past decade.”
As a small church, we cannot possibly hope to do even a portion of these things. Our resources are simply too thin. Each if these things take much manpower to accomplish.
When I have inquired a bit, I have often found out that the one I’m speaking with has had no involvement in any of these ministries personally. They haven’t gone on a missions trip. They haven’t been to the jail. They haven’t even visited one on the churches that they planted. Yet, they have boasted in what “we” have done. The “we” in this case doesn’t mean “me.” It means “the church I attend.”
I think it’s great that the Lord uses larger churches to minister on a scale that smaller churches can only dream of doing. Yet there is a great danger to those who attend these churches. It can easily be the case that they are actually doing little, while thinking they are accomplishing some of these great things.
I guess my observations simply come as a warning to those who might think that they are doing great things for the Lord, while doing nothing. Just because their church is doing wonderful things doesn’t mean that they are doing anything. May they not be deceived.
Theologians often talk about “The Perspicuity of Scripture.” That is, the clarity of Scripture. Theologians use this phrase to explain how the Bible is plain for all to read and to comprehend.
To be sure, there are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to understand. Even Peter agrees on this point. He commented on Paul’s letters by saying, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Further, there are many passages that speak of the spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:11-13; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
Yet, for the most part, the Bible is very easily read and understood. It is filled with many stories of heroes and villains, which are easily grasped by children. It tells plainly of how to be made right with God: through faith in Jesus.
How ironic that theologians have chosen such a difficult word (perspicuity) to explain how easy the Bible is to understand.
In the 1960’s the Frito-Lay company introduced it’s famous slogan, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” They popularized it by a very successful advertisement campaign both in print and on television.
We all have experienced it. We eat one potato chip and it tastes so good that we crave another one. This often leads to many more chips being consumed. There’s something about the fat and the seasonings on the chip lead us to crave more and more. Even when we aren’t hungry, once tasted, the chips can seem irresistible. It’s called “hedonic hyperphagia,” eating for pleasure.
The same is often true with sin. Rare is the time that we only commit one sin. Sin will often lead to more sin, either because we desire the pleasure or because we are forced to deal with the consequences.
This was the case with Adam and Eve. She sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. She further sinned by enticing her husband. They both sinned by trying to hide their sin from God. You can read about it in Genesis 3.
This was the case with king David. He sinned with Bathsheba. It didn’t stop there. It continued on with his cover-up plan. When Uriah didn’t go along with the plan, he ended up having him killed in battle. Then, more and more deceit as David refused to acknowledge his sin. You can read all about it in 2 Samuel 11-12.
The solution is to be aware of this tendency of our hearts and confess our sin quickly. David explained his trouble. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). But when he confessed his sin to the Lord (Psalm 32:5), he found great blessing (Psalm 32:1-2).