Pastor Craig Carter
Because of the world-wide pandemic that has brought about a national state of emergency, we have suspended in-person church gatherings for at least the next two weeks. That’s the bad news…now for the good news:
March 22 was supposed to be our last Sunday at the Bay Haven gym, which has been our temporary home for nearly a year and half after our buildings were destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We were scheduled to hold our first worship service in our renovated church building, the former Fusion campus, on Sunday, March 29. Well guess what? We got in a week early and we produced Sunday’s online-only worship service from our own building! Pretty good news, huh?
If you are accustomed to coming to church each Sunday, you might be thinking about the perks of online-only church. Truthfully, I can’t say I disagree… it must be nice to worship in your pajamas, to be able to get up during the service to fix a snack, to be free to sing along in your best shower voice with no regard for anyone else and even to hit the mute button if the preacher drones on and on.
But don’t get too comfortable, church! This is a temporary arrangement. As soon as it safe to do so, we’ll be back together with live, in-person worship. Until that day comes, we’re going to make the best of a difficult situation and stay connected through electronic means (both on Sunday mornings and throughout the week).
And there is no disagreeing about this being a difficult situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has even overcome many people with fear. I want to address how we can overcome that fear. Consider, that King David, when faced with a dangerous situation wrote: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? He will keep me safe in his sanctuary…I will sing and make music to the Lord.” (Psalm 27:1,5-6 NIV)
The President has declared war on COVID-19, and labeled it an invisible enemy. We know that it attacks persons physically with a high fever and respiratory ailments. But it also assaults our psyches with fear and anxiety. Most Americans already operate with a fairly high level of both, but this pandemic has caused our fears to red-line.
It was first manifested with an apparent fear of running out of toilet paper, then spread to the hording of other essentials like cleaning supplies and food staples. Many are afraid of contracting the virus, others are fearful of getting it and passing it along to someone in the vulnerable population. Some parents are afraid they’re going to kill their kids if they have to home school more than a week or two, while other people are afraid of losing their job or not being to pay their bill. And some folks are even afraid this is the end of our world as we now know it, the apocalypse.
Some level of fear and apprehension is normal and may even be helpful. Fear is a basic human emotion that protects us from danger (e.g. wash your hands, don’t touch your face) and it is a powerful motivator (e.g. obey social distancing guidelines). But Satan uses fear to control and manipulate us by distorting rational fears and turning them into irrational ones that are destructive to our well-being – both ours and those around us.
That’s why, in Scripture, God’s people are told: “Fear not” or “Do not afraid.” Someone has counted the occurrences of that phrase in the Bible and found it is repeated 366 times. What a coincidence that there is one for every day, including one for the extra day in a leap year!
So fear may be a passing emotion for Christians, but it is not to be a chronic condition. It is an enemy that must be faced and conquered. God’s Word gives us a wonderful example of how that victory is achieved.
After enduring centuries of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were released and began their journey toward the Promised Land. Having crossed the Red Sea and received the Book of Law on Mount Sinai, they finally arrived at Kadesh-Barnea, on the threshold of their destination of Canaan. Imagine the fear and apprehension they must have felt and they prepared to go in and possess the land, not knowing what hidden dangers may await them.
The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes. (Numbers 13:1-2 NLT) That’s exactly what Moses did and twelve spies were selected to investigate. He then gave them explicit instructions to discover what the land was like, whether the inhabitants were weak or strong, how well their cities were fortified, and how abundant were crops and produce (13:18-20).
This is the first step in overcoming our fears – replace the feelings with facts. In facing this current crisis, get the facts but be careful who you listen to. Many of the “talking heads” have their own agenda – political, financial, or otherwise. So don’t believe everything you hear or read. It’s not all true. Like the spies sent into Canaan, you and I need to make sure we separate the facts from our feelings, fantasies, fake news, and faulty statistics. As best we can, we (as a church) are going to try and keep you informed.
After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned…They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country – a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces.” (Numbers 13:25-27 NLT)
The spies discovered it was more than they could ever have hoped for or imagined. They brought back samples of the bountiful fruit, including a cluster of grapes that was so large it took two men to carry it on a pole between them (13:23).
Everybody agreed the land was indeed excellent, but then a disagreement arose. What followed was a majority committee report and a dissenting minority report. One group operated on fear, the other on faith.
Ten of the spies conceded the land was very good… “But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there…” (Numbers 13:28 NLT) Then they began to compare themselves to the inhabitants of Canaan and the Israelites came up on the short end of the stick: “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” (Numbers 13:31b NLT) Finally, to convince the people of their position, the spies resorted to gross exaggeration. They spread this bad report… “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” (Numbers 13:32-33)
Because of this “bad report,” the Israelites grumbled about their leaders – Moses and Aaron – and plotted to overthrow them, they accused God of letting them down, and they even considered retreating to the slavery of Egypt (14:1-4).
Several quick observations about fear:
– Fear distorts reality and makes the things we fear bigger than they really are.
– Fear is always contagious (spread from the 10 spies to the whole community).
– Fear causes us to make poor choices (Return to Egypt?!)
– Fear tempts us to concentrate on ourselves and our own inadequacies (gives us a “grasshopper” mentality).
– Fears paralyzes us and stops us dead in our tracks as worry overtakes us.
– Fear causes us to question God and His motives.
When we are fearful we focus on the “here and now,” human dimension of life and forget about spiritual realities and the Lord’s presence (i.e. “We can’t go up against them!”) Notice there is no mention of God despite His nearness in leading them through the desert in a pillar of fire and cloud and providing for their needs along the way.
Like the Israelites, we spend enormous amounts of time and energy worrying about things that may never occur (and probably won’t). Were any of us worried about the virus and afraid of it three months ago? We didn’t see it coming and we don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
As a result of fear, even though we stand on its threshold, we never enter the Promised Land. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, as followers of Christ, we are still intended to enjoy abundant life (i.e. live life to the full). But fear of an uncertain tomorrow can rob us of our joy today.
As a congregation, let’s not let fear keep us reaching out to one another and our community in love (whatever that looks like). And let’s not allow fear to rob us of the joy that awaits us when we move into this place as we anticipate a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit.
God’s goodness is right now for the taking. It’s worth noting that the ten spies who gave the “bad report” never made it to the Promised Land (nor anyone in their generation).
But while the majority of the spies allowed fear to get the best of them, two suggested a radically different course of action. In their minority committee report, we discover a godly way to face and overcome things, like this virus, that cause us to be alarmed and concerned. Caleb and Joshua did not deny there might be opposition awaiting them in Canaan, but they turned the attention away from their own human shortcomings and instead, pointed out, “And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us.” (Numbers 14:8a NLT)
They put the focus where it should be – on God and His sufficiency. They went on to assert that because God was on their side, it was not the Israelites who should be afraid, but the Canaanites (see Numbers 14:9 NLT): “…Don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”
These men show us the issue when facing fear is not the reality or strength of the enemy. The real issue is: Who is stronger and in control?
If God is with us and on our side, then all perceived threats pale in comparison. So we have to confront our fear from a divine perspective, not from a human vantage point.
How is this godly viewpoint found? Later in chapter 14, God says that Caleb had a “different attitude” or “spirit.” It’s because he remembered the miraculous signs God performed in Egypt. So fear is conquered, not by looking to the dangers that lie ahead, but by recalling God’s faithfulness and past acts of deliverance. The Bible tells of an active God who is always at work in the lives of His people. And we have countless testimonies (our own and those who have gone before) that tell us God always prevails over any and every enemy.
We know this thing is going to end someday (every pandemic has). God has been with His people in the past, He is with us in the present, and He’ll be with us in the future. And when that day comes, will we have been found faithful? Will we have used this as opportunity to serve others, to bring glory to God, to have our character developed into Christlikeness?
During one pandemic, the Bubonic plague in the 6th Century, folks abandoned cities throughout the Roman Empire, but Christians rushed in to help. Their efforts resulted in mass conversions and the development of what some say were the first hospitals. When that pandemic ended, those Christians living in that area had been found faithful.
Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4 verses 17 and 18: “Our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that…will last forever. So we don’t look to the troubles we can see now; we fix our gaze on things that can’t be seen.”
This pandemic will end soon and God will still be God. Let’s join Him in what He wants to do in and through it and bring glory to His name.
Then there’s a second thing we must remember: This is not the end of the story. Caleb and Joshua knew God had something very special in store for them in the Promised Land and it was worth fighting for.
Friends, no matter how widespread its effect, COVID-19 does not get the last word. In two weeks we’re going to celebrate Easter (one way or another). And it is a reminder that God always wins.
“We often suffer, but we’re never completely crushed. And even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us. And when we’re knocked down, we get up again, because we know God raised the Lord back to life and he will raise us up too…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 14)
Here’s how I look at this pandemic: The very worst thing that could happen is if I get the coronavirus and not survive. But that then becomes a one-way ticket into God’s very presence, so there is absolutely nothing for me to fear about this virus. You see, I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read the Book, and I know how this story ends. I can tell you assuredly the coronavirus does not appear in the final scene.
Instead, here’s the way the story ends, Revelation 21: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sickness or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NLT)
Like the Israelites of old, you and I are headed to the Promised Land.
So how do we face and overcome our fears? By getting the facts and living by faith. It is faith that looks backward by remembering how our God has worked in the past and realizing how truly awesome He is.
But our faith also moves us forward as we trust and obey as the Lord leads. As 20th century author and businessman W. Clement Stone once said, “Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.”
So what action do we need to take? We need to be Body of Christ. While abiding by the government guidelines, we need to take care of another and provide hope and help to those around us. Listen and watch for ways to serve in the days ahead which will be communicated via our website, email, or text.
The other action step we can take is to pray. Let’s ask God to bring a quick end to this pandemic, healing for those afflicted, help for those who hurting, and for Him to be honored through it.
You and I can take on this menacing enemy with the confidence expressed by the psalmist: “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid; what can anyone do to me?” (Psalm 118:6) Or, as Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b NIV) Be assured, “You have already won a victory…because the [Holy] Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit [of fear] who lives in the world.” (1 John 4:4 NLT)