How many of you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? I do … I was in my office at First Baptist Church Moss Bluff when someone told me to look at my computer … and those horrendous scenes were played out on the screen before me. I know many of you have similar stories …
I think it may be similar with the crisis we are facing now. This may be a game-changer – of the kind we haven’t seen since 9/11. 9/11 changed the way we live and do things ever since — as our mission team saw as we made our way through the airport on this trip.
It may well be the same with this coronavirus crisis … we may see lasting changes coming out of this that will impact our lives for years to come.
The world is changing, and as Christians, we need to respond to it from the perspective of the word of God. I don’t know of a better scripture for this situation than the one I shared on Facebook earlier this week, from II Tim 1:7 …
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
I. THE RESPONSE OF THE WORLD: FEAR
Here Paul refers first of all to the world’s “spirit of fear.” Fear is characteristic of the world. Our whole world is driven by fear.
The Bible speaks often of the fear that engulfs the world and its people:
—Isaiah 13:7-8 speaks of how the world will be engulfed in fear at the day of the Lord: “Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified …”.
— Revelation 6 speaks of how in the last days the “great men of the earth,” “kings and commanders and the rich” will greatly fear and hide themselves among the caves and rocks. The world is characterized by fear.
We don’t have to look far to see that do we?
I saw on Facebook while we were gone: Mikey G posted a picture on Facebook of shelves empty. He talked about how the other day he was just going to get some regular groceries – and he said people were lined up before the doors were open, like they were at Disney World trying to be the first to ride Space Mountain — only it wasn’t Disney; it was the grocery story — and they were running down aisles to get toilet paper, water, meat. Why? There are no shortages in our country. It is just fear!
But that’s how the world responds. They respond with Fear. With Panic. With Selfishness. And Hoarding – where does all the hoarding come from? It comes rom fear.
Before we went out to work at the children’s home each day with Back-2-Back missions in Mexico, Meredith Shuman did some great training on how so many of the problems of difficult children (and the actions of difficult adults as well!) arise out of fear.
Our world is immersed in fear – SO many people today are driven by fear. That’s the reaction of the world – they live in what Paul calls “a spirit of fear.”
II. THE RESPONSE OF THE CHRISTIAN: FAITH
Paul goes on to say in this verse: “God has not given US …” “US” here is the Christian. We are not to be like the world.
— Jesus was speaking to His disciples in Matt 20 about how people in the world live, and then he said, “But it is NOT to be so among you!”
— I John says 2 “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.”
God says in His word that we as Christians are to be different than the world. This is a basic principle that is often overlooked, or neglected: that there is a substantial, basic difference between the follower of Jesus and the person of the world.
Many of us have missed this, because for too many years the church has been focusing on trying to reach the world by being as much like the world as we can be. NO! We’re not going to win the world by being like the world — the world knows how to be the world — they can be the world far better than we can ever be the world, because that’s who they are.
No, if we are going to win the world, we have to show them something DIFFERENT from the world; something better than the world — and that is what Paul shows us here.
We are to be different. And our response in times like this has to be different. Paul says the world around us fears, but NOT the Christian person.
I have heard quoted several times in recent days, that 365 times in scripture, God says: “Fear not” – that’s one for every day of year! (If you have a problem with fear, you could take those 365 verses, and make your own “fear not” daily calendar!). God does not want His children to be afraid.
We are not to live in fear as Christians. We are different. God has saved us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He made us to know and love and serve Him, but we separated ourselves from Him by our sin. But Jesus came to die for our sins on the cross, and He rose from the dead to prove that He is our Savior. And when we repent (turn back) from our sins and turn to Jesus, He forgives us, and sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts. And His Spirit changes us, and produces certain “results” or “fruits” in our lives.
We see 3 specific fruits/products of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life here in II Timothy 1:7:
People often think of power as “miracle power “ – and sometimes God does do miracles. But I’ll tell you a miracle: the power over the kind of fear we are seeing today – that is a miracle!
This is the mind of power that the Puritans of the 1660’s had. A great plague hit the city of London, and thousands upon thousands died. It was so bad that all the ministers of the Church of England left the city and ran from the plague. But the Puritans, who had a genuine faith in Christ, but who had been banned by the official “Church of England,” STAYED and ministered to the people. They prayed with the sick and dying, and ministered to their families, and performed their burials. They were not afraid of death. THIS is power! This is the power of Christ; the difference that He makes!
And He still makes that difference today. Cheryl have a former church member and friend in Louisiana by the name of Kim Eaves. Kim wrote this testimony on Facebook yesterday:
“Chaos. That word kept coming to my mind all day yesterday. And last night as I walked through the grocery store, because we really needed groceries, I looked around and saw emptiness. Everywhere. It was at that moment that all I could think about was the fear that so many are living in. And I immediately felt an overwhelming peace. Because while the world is in a frenzy, I am confident in knowing that no matter what happens, The Lord is protecting us and fear is a liar.
If you feel that emptiness right now, dig into the WORD. Pray. Trust. He is so much bigger than any virus…”
Our friend Kim didn’t mention it in that particular post yesterday, but she is also in the process of fighting cancer. But in this whole thing, she is not afraid. THIS is the power of Christ:
It is just like that great song: “In Christ Alone”: “No guilt in life; no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me …”!
As God’s people, we are not like the world. We are not afraid of death. Jesus has given us power: power over death. Is death the worst thing the coronavirus can do to us? We are not afraid of that. Now, as we shall see, that does not mean that we should be reckless — our recklessness may hurt others: senior adults, those with compromised immune systems, etc. So we are going to be responsible. But we are not afraid. There is a big difference. Through Jesus, we have power over death.
Would you ask yourself this morning: Do you have that? Do you really have the power of Christ that gives you victory over death. Can you sing with that song, “No guilt in life, no fear in death; this is the power of Christ in me”? If you really are His, you CAN say it. He has not given us a spirit of fear, bur a spirit of power — even power over death!
Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who comes inside us when we are saved. Galatians 5:22, tells us of the “fruit of Spirit”, and the very first one is: Love
Now, we need to understand that love isn’t a feeling; real, Biblical love is action. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, every one of the qualities that describe love in the famous “love passage” of I Cor 13 is a VERB – love is action!! When we have the Holy Spirit in us, we don’t withdraw in fear, but we reach out on acting, serving love.
Cheryl & I saw that an example of that on our way home from the Mexico mission trip from Kyle & Jackie Chamblin. As we were headed home, Jackie asked Cheryl what we needed since we had been gone for a week — well the fact is, we had eaten all of our food before we left, cleared out the refrigerator, and didn’t buy anything since we were gong to be out of the country for a week, so we had almost literally nothing in our house to eat. So they got us OJ, milk, bread and lunch meat – and Cheryl’s favorite Doctor Pepper — when they had already braved the store once earlier in the day for themselves. Instead of just “hunkering down “ and hoarding things for themselves, they did like Philippians 2 says, and “did not look out only for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” THIS is the Christian response in crisis — not “hunkering down” in fear, but reaching out in love.
Yvonne Bunton, a youth pastor friend’s wife in North Carolina, wrote yesterday:
“If you could please stop the panic for a minute could you think about the elderly around you who might need some things from the store.??? Or the single mom with children who barely makes ends meet.?? They may need some things”
— So let us not worry, but pray.
— Let us not hoard, but GIVE!
— Let us not withdraw in fear, but look for opportunities to witness, and serve those around us.
This will open doors to witness: why are you different? Why are you doing this? Let’s show how Christians are different in this crisis.
There are a lot of things that we cannot do in this time — but there are also some things we CAN do. Would you determine to pray and watch and see what God shows you that YOU can do? Psalm 5:3 says “in the morning I will order my prayer to You — and WATCH”! So pray in the morning — and then WATCH and see the ways God shows YOU in our situation that you can demonstrate Christ’s love during this time. Don’t fear; LOVE!
C. Sound Mind
This word translated “sound mind” is used only here in scripture, and it means: “safe-minded, issuing in prudent (“sensible”) behavior that “fits” a situation, i.e. aptly acting out God’s will by doing what He calls sound reasoning.”
This means doing the prudent, sensible thing. That is from God. It is not from God to act foolishly, recklessly, and without thought about how what you are doing affects others. It’s like, “use some common sense.”
Is why we can do restrictions like we are this week. We are not opposed to doing reasonable things like these.
There is a great quote from Martin Luther that has been going around the internet this week, and a couple of our folks shared it. Luther was dealing in the 1500’s with The Black Death plague when he wrote these words:
”I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash no foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess)
Martin Luther was a very practical man, and those words, are words of a “sound mind.” That is what God is talking about here. Not being rash or foolhardy, but being committed to acting wisely.
We don’t need to live in fear, as we said, but must also not be afraid to take reasonable, rational steps which witness to our community, and also help protect the community where God has placed us. So we are making some changes in what we will be doing as a church for a time:
— For the time being — it may be just this week, or it may be a couple of weeks; I don’t know how long this will last — we have to be flexible and respond appropriately as this thing unfolds — we are going to postpone ALL church activities except Sunday morning worship. We want to support our local school and other officials who are trying to squelch the spread of this virus by cancelling classes at school — but it does no good for them to cancel school if all of our churches turn around and have Sunday School and youth and kids activities and mix the same kids who would have been at school together, and end up spreading the virus. I just don’t think that is wise, or being a cooperative citizen of our community. So NO activities besides morning worship. Please adhere to this. And if the virus begins to spread in our community here in Brazoria County — and the latest update is: we read in the paper this morning there are now two cases in the county — we may need to temporarily suspend morning worship as well. Just stay tuned; we need to be flexible, and we need to take this seriously.
— And when we meet, we will NOT do a “meet and greet” with handshakes, and we will not hold hands at the end. That’s just wise in light of the scenario we find ourselves in right now. (Maybe we can learn to greet like they do in India — not “namaste” but “jai masiki” or “Jesus is Lord,” or “praise the Lord”! It may be a good new habit!)
— And if you are sick; you have a cough, or whatever, please STAY HOME. (Actually … we shouldn’t save this for a coronavirus emergency; we should ALWAYS practice that!)
— There will be NO visitation in the hospital or nursing homes right now. I love seeing our folks at Country Village, but Deb Peterson told us the nursing home has suspended visitation until April. That’s wise; those are the very people this virus is most dangerous to.
So we’ll take these steps and more. BUT the thing is, we are NOT doing these things from a motivation of fear. We are doing them out of a sound mind. We are doing them rationally. We are doing them to be good citizens; to cooperate with our community; to evidence a spirit of love and concern for others — Paul speaks in Corinthians about how we have freedoms as Christians, but there are times when we need to restrict our liberties because there are others who could be hurt by it. This is one of those times. Love says it is not all about us. A sound mind says it is not all about us.
BUT the MOTIVATION here is what is important- we are not taking these steps that we are taking, from fear. We are like Martin Luther – we are making these decisions rationally, from a sound mind, because they are the right thing to do. But if, despite everything we try to do from a sound mind, and all the steps we take, somehow the Coronavirus bursts through all our precautions and everything we tried to protect against — we aren’t in a panic. We aren’t afraid of a coronavirus, or any other virus, or even death itself. For us as Christians, death is not the tragedy the world thinks of it as. “It is not so among us”! It is different for us. For us, death is just the door to heaven and eternal glory that we can’t even begin to imagine. So we will not fear; but we will trust God — and like Martin Luther said, if God wants us, He knows how to find us!
But when He finds us, may He find us faithful — NOT walking in a “spirit of fear” — but in HIS Spirit, like this verse says, a Spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”