Do Not Be Afraid

There have been a few times in my life when I have been struck by genuine fear and terror.

Maybe the first time I had a paralyzing fear was when I heard of the bombing in Oklahoma City. I was just married, living in Kansas, and I never thought that this kind of home grown terror would ever strike so close.

That was until I watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/ll. We were uncertain of the cause, unsure of what this kind of global terrorism would mean for our future, and I was genuinely concerned for our friends who lived in New York City.

Perhaps the worst fear I’ve ever known, though, was the time my  youngest son was hit in the chest and stopped breathing. In the midst of prayers and tears I administered chest compressions until the ambulance arrived. He’s fine, healthy, and strong. But I knew fear that day.

We live in an age of fear. There is a virus spreading around the world and no one is sure how easily it spreads or how lethal it may be. Affecting more than just the physical health of the world, the markets have taken a beating as business are shutting down and citizens are required to shelter in place. The media only seems to fuel and thrive off of the ensuing panic. I visit with church members and fear is the thing that we are dealing with; fear of the future, fear of the virus, fear of the unknown.

Isn’t it remarkable then, to know that the most often command repeated in Scripture to the people of God is this: “Do not be Afraid.” Just a quick search on Logos Bible Software brought up over 85 occurrences of this direct command from God. I don’t have the space to write of all the times this charge is given in God’s Word – so allow me to summarize.

The command is given when the people are rightfully afraid:

When they were facing tremendous obstacles – For example, when Joshua was leading the people into the promised land, repeatedly God commands him to be of good courage, to have no fear. When enemies were attacking, God would often remind his prophets and people not to fear, for He would be with them to deliver and protect them (Isa 41 & 43; Jer 42; Ps 46).

When they are encountering God – We especially hear the command “Do not fear” when the Lord appears to His people. When the angel of the Lord visits (Abram, Hagar, Gideon, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds in Luke 2, etc.), the people are rightfully terrified.  They are in the presence of the Holy One, and they are not holy, therefore standing under the judgment of God.

In every circumstance, whether encountering the living God, or facing the terrifying circumstances of the day, the repeated command is clear: Do not be afraid.

Why?  What is the source of courage in the face of terror. What assurance do we have in overwhelming circumstances? What hope do sinners have in the presence of a holy God?

We do not fear for God is with His people. Isaiah 41:1 & 5 say, “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine… Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.'”

God is for His people. Rev. 2:10 says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

I think it is helpful to remember in the midst of trials and suffering that God is greater than the terror we are facing; and God often works through seasons like these to bring about His ultimate purpose for His glory. What man, or nature, intends for our harm, God uses to draw us close to Him, to help us see His mighty hand is able to save, and to wean us from the false and empty gods of this age.

So I encourage you, d.o not be afraid. I know that is easier said than done. But remember His promises. Remember His goodness. Remember what God has done for you in Jesus Christ to bring about your salvation. And remember, if God has done all of that for you, nothing you face in this life can ever separate you from God’s love and saving grace (Rom 8:38-39).  Do not be afraid in these times, but look to your Savior Jesus Christ and be of good courage.

SDG

Outbreaks & the Church

I know that the outbreak of Covid19 (Coronavirus) has been on everyone’s minds.  If you go to the stores, there’s been a run on some of the staples (and toilet paper for some reason), and many of the non-essential activities in the community have been canceled to encourage “social-distancing” to slow the speed of the virus.

How should the Church respond? This has been the pressing question your elders have been asking, but it’s not a new question. We face this question every time there is severe weather making travel to the church unsafe. We’ve faced this question when there has been an outbreak of the flu or other community crises.

This is an interesting and unique situation.  The virus spread quickly and easily, and it affects the elderly and immunity-compromised more than any other group. We are reminded to wash our hands well and often, to avoid touching our faces, and to limit interaction with others so as to not be exposed to the virus or pass it along.

Still, there are few standard responses that apply to every situation that we should remember. Like washing your hands, these are always applicable:

  1. Pray – If you are healthy, take the time to pray and give God thanks for keeping you healthy and strong.  But also remember to pray for those who are affected by the virus, those who are sick, full of anxiety, or facing financial difficulties because of loss of work.
  2. Love – Pandemics and social crises tend to bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen how this current issue has been politicized, only adding to deep divisions in our nation. We’ve also seen how there has been a run on essential needs in the stores, as people race to make themselves secure.  Let us not forget that, even in times of crisis, we are to love one another and care for each other.  Remember to put the needs of those around you before yourself, and as we’ll hear in the sermon on Sunday, to be willing to lay down your life for the sake of your brothers and sisters.
  3. Be-Sober Minded – This is one of my favorites instructions in Paul’s letter.  Basically, in today’s vernacular, Paul is saying, “Don’t lose your head.”  Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Remember that death has no power over the Christian, and that no pandemic, no virus, no sickness, can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Trust in the Gospel truths, and let them stand as your bedrock when the rest of the world is shifting sand.
  4. Remember Who Is In Control – When the government, the press, the scientific community, and even social media get’s everything wrong and can’t seem to get their act together, this is a reminder that those who put their faith in the strength of man will be ultimately disappointed. Put your hope and truth in God, for He is still on His throne, and even this is part of His good and glorious design.

Here are some links to a couple of things I’ve read/watched, that may be encouraging for you as well:

Should Christians Be Anxious About the Coronavirus? From Todd Wagner writing for The Gospel Coalition – With the increasing coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across the United States wonder how to respond to the increasing alarm. What would God have us do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Cancel travel plans? How should we help a panicked world?

How did John Calvin and the early Reformers Respond to the Plague?  This is a video from a PCA Pastor Matthew Everhard on how Calvin and the company of pastors in Geneva cared, at great cost, for those affected by the plague.