March 22, 2020
All Scripture from NIV unless otherwise indicated.
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me- -put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 4 – 9
We are living in unprecedented times. I have always avoided watching movies that deal with things like we are dealing with today. Movies like Earthquake, Armageddon, Deep Impact, and Outbreak. Why? Because I knew that, even though these movies are fictional, they are based on potentially true outcomes of potentially catastrophic events.
We lived in Southern California when they had the great Sylmar-San Fernando earthquake of 1971. Freeway overpasses collapsed on cars. Becky and I drove down to Sylmar and saw a whole wing that had collapsed off the local hospital. We drove through a neighborhood where houses were thrown off their foundation and landed on six-foot-tall brick privacy fences and in one case, on the top of a VW bus. The local dam was in danger of breaking and flooding the entire valley filled with homes. It was a scary time.
911 was a scary time, a time that helped pull our nation together for a short period of time. But like I heard someone say about that, it all happened in a day, and then people got to work cleaning up and rebuilding both buildings and lives. The scary thing about this Covid-19 pandemic is that there is so much that is unknown. I try not to look at everything that is being posted on social media, because there is a lot of misinformation and fear in a lot of what is being posted. I do however read things that are being posted that are from the medical professionals and CDC that continue to give us new information concerning how this virus works, who is susceptible, how it is spread, and what we can do to slow it down. I encourage everyone who follows social media to do the same.
The reality is that this thing is going to continue to spread. What we are being encouraged to do is to slow down its progression so hospitals are not overrun and come to the position that it has in Italy, where some people are being denied treatment because they are just too old. I don’t have to tell you what steps that you need to take, I will simply say to listen to the medical professionals and act accordingly.
I have been a pastor for 35 years, and this is the first time in my ministry, and in my life, where I have had to deal with something like this. While many are fearful for their health and their lives, the economic consequences of this are taking a toll on people in ways that have been unforeseen. I’m personally not worried about the stock markets. I believe that once we get through this, it will recover. I’m more worried about members of our church, and people in general, who are being affected by the economic pitfalls of not having resources that will help them get through these next few months. With so many businesses closing or reducing hours and staff, it won’t be long before some are out of money. The question I am asking myself, and my church membership is, how can we help those who will be in need, maybe for the first time in their lives.
I have already had some members who have said they have extra meat in their freezers, or eggs from their chickens they can’t use. I have had suggestions that those who can afford to give a little extra, donate it to our church benevolence fund so we will have the resources to help those in our church who might have a need come up. In response to these suggestions, we are putting a task force together to try and address whatever needs might come up, especially for our seniors who won’t be getting out. I am open to suggestions. I’m calling for volunteers. I’m asking those who have been especially blessed by God to consider how you might help.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me share with you from God’s Word. Rejoice in the Lord, how often? Always! It was so important to Paul for his readers and for us to understand, that no matter what is going on in our lives, we need to rejoice! You might be thinking, what is there to rejoice about right now, I’m afraid of what tomorrow might bring in my life and in the lives of those I love. And yet, Paul said, rejoice in the Lord, always.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. This word translated gentleness means forbearance and connotes a willingness to show consideration to others. Have you been to the stores lately? Many of the shelves that normally have essential items on them are bare. I still don’t get the TP hoarding, but it is what it is. What if we, as Christians, instead of becoming a part of the problem, do what the Scriptures say and show consideration to others in our purchases at the store? Buy only what you need, and things will return to normal in due time.
What if we show consideration to others by sharing some of those things that we already have in abundance and are likely not to use. Maybe some of you have meat in your freezer that you can afford to give to someone who doesn’t have any in theirs and are waiting for the shelves to be restocked. Don’t forget, the Lord is near. He knows! I find it interesting that in some of Jesus parables he tells us, not to worry about tomorrow and, not to store up treasures on earth and, don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, etc. But we do, don’t we. What if we were to really put our trust in God for our needs, and not depend on what we can do by our own resourcefulness?
Then comes one of my favorite passages in the Bible. “ 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Do not be anxious about anything, don’t worry about anything! That’s what our world needs to hear right now because there is widespread fear about this coronavirus. James tells us to “2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1¨2 & 3 Whoa preacher, I don’t think James was talking about this coronavirus when he said that. No, he wasn’t. He was dealing with things like church persecution by both Jews and non-Jews.
But I believe his words ring true today. Consider it pure joy, not for the trial you’re dealing with, but in knowing that God is using this trial to exercise your faith and make you a stronger Christian. I think people sometimes get the two ideas mixed up. You may not be joyful about the trial, I’m not joyful about this viral thing and what it is doing to our world, but I’m joyful that God is making me exercise my faith in a greater way and causing me to look at what I as a pastor and shepherd can do to help alleviate fear and meet the needs of those who are or will be struggling in the days ahead.
But back to Philippians. What are we instructed to do in response to anxiety that may creep into our lives? Pray! Pray! Pray! “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” I’m not going to parse the meanings of the words used here. Just know that Paul says if anxiety begins to creep in, pray! Pray in what circumstances? Everything! Pray for who? Pray for others, pray for self, and in my opinion the most important thing to do is to give prayers of thanks to God. By giving thanks to God when you pray for something or someone, it shows a trust in God to respond. We need to trust God to respond in His time and to respond in accordance with His will.
That passage in Matthew 6: 8 tells us that God knows what you need before you ask. In Matthew 7: 9 – 11 it also says: 9″Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” So, if you are anxious, pray. Pray for others, pray for yourself, and in our current situation, pray for the world to get through this crisis. But also give thanks because God knows what you need even before you ask, and He wants to give good gifts to His children. Thank Him in advance for what He is going to do, showing that you trust Him in everything.
The result of this kind of prayer, according to verse seven, is that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. That’s what people need right now. A peace that only God can give. A peace that we can’t even understand in the middle of this crisis. You don’t have to let anxiety rob you of your joy. But it will take a little discipline on your part. The discipline to pray and to give God thanks.
Sometimes it is difficult to get to a place of peace, even when you pray. Sometimes it is difficult to know what to pray about and how to stop your mind from racing through all the what if’s and to stop the video rewind and replay that happens in our minds when bad things happen.
But Paul had a helpful hint even to help with that. In verses 8 & 9 Paul said: “8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” I remember a time when it was so hard to focus on prayer, and by thinking about things that are true about God, things that are noble in life, things that are right, etc., and lifting those things up to God, it really helped me get away from the things that had me worried, and helped me to find the peace God wanted me to have.
Like I said at the beginning of this message, we are living in unprecedented times. Our world is in turmoil. There are a lot of uncertainties right now, but I believe that we can trust that God is still God and that the promises He made so long ago are still available today to those who trust in Him.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take for things to get better. I don’t know if I will get sick, or if I do whether I will survive that illness or not.
I do know that whatever happens in the weeks and/or months to come, I will put my trust in God.