Faith Over Courage

This week I was reading the notes from a webinar where Karen Swartz, an associate professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University was addressing our current pandemic. She said the Corona Virus has, “given the world its first infodemic or an explosion of information on the Internet, as people hover across various news platforms and the social media to gain information, misinformation and bad information on the outbreak.”

Her suggestion for handling the current health crisis was to limit your exposure to the news, be wary of where you get information, and don’t isolate from others. We have confused social distancing, with social isolation and that is causing a greater pandemic that the corona virus can or ever will. The call to social distancing does not mean reducing social interaction. If you remember that Adam was alone in the garden, and God said it wasn’t good. Even our introverts need a little human conversation to make it successfully through the day. That’s why we are asking you to call one another, go outside and talk to your neighbors while keeping a safe distance.

Dr. Swartz reminds us that “Anxiety goes up when there is a change in routine.” Add to that anxiety the fact that we are living in Alabama and the Bradford Pear and Dogwoods are blooming. So everyone of us have a scratchy throat, congestion, and a headache. We always have a little bit of fear just under the surface, but now it bubbles up as we wonder if we have the Corona Virus or just allergies. So how are we supposed to deal with all of this?

This week, I began to think about this great story from the book of Exodus. If you have a bible handy you can join me in Reading Exodus 14. If you would prefer to just listen that’s fine as well. I am going to be reading out of the New Living Translation.   

We are going to start in verse 10, but let me catch you up, to what’s been happening. For about 400 years God’s people, the Israelites, had been slaves in Egypt. The people cried out to God and God fought for His people. One by one God went to battle with the various Egyptian gods. It culminated with the 10th plague where God went to battle with Pharaoh himself. In his grief Pharaoh relents and finally allows God’s people to leave. But, very quickly Pharaoh gets angry, changes his mind, and comes after them. So, we are picking up the story in verse 10:

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.

Try to picture what is happening. God’s people have made it to the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s Army is closing in quickly on the other side. They’re trapped and they begin to realize there is no way out. Their first response is fear. They are terrified and immediately they begin to complain about their situation. Does that sound familiar? Do you know anyone that is dealing with their own fear about what is going on by complaining? 

They ask, Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Which is an interesting question. They can only remember living in Egypt, they have already forgotten what God had done to grant them their freedom. They had forgotten how in a moment of faith they had smeared blood on the door frames of their homes. They had forgotten the sound of the wailing that rang throughout Egypt at the death of the first born sons. They had already forgotten the passover meal they shared, and how their Egyptian neighbors had given them silver and gold. Everything God had already done, was lost in what He is not currently doing.

So often when we are struggling with anxiety and fear it is because we are trying to depend on what we can accomplish through our own strength and we have forgotten about what God can do. I can be honest enough and admit that far too many times I try to lean into my own strength and wisdom. Actually it seems to be my default position.

Yet, Moses tells the people to be still and do nothing; that God will fight for them. Which seems like a contradiction to that verse in the Bible that says God helps those who help themselves. But this week when I was looking for that verse, I was reminded that it’s not in the Bible.

What is in the Bible is that God always comes into chaos and brings peace. So, when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, when fear and anxiety have gripped your heart, maybe you need to ask yourself; Whose power and strength am I really leaning into right now?

Let’s continue with the story in verse 21…

Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea.

Every time I read this story I wonder why did God take so long to deliver His people. I mean He parted the sea, and that took all night. Why didn’t He just drop a fireball from the sky and vaporize Pharaoh and his entire army. With a snap of His fingers the entire problem goes away.

I have no doubt that walking through the sea with the water acting like walls on both sides would have been pretty cool. That is not what I would have chosen if God gave me a choice. I don’t think you would have either. What we really want is whatever it is that is causing our fear to be totally and completely gone. But here’s the thing, God is after something deeper, something that will last.

All to often I am guilty of thinking about the short term, and I ignore God’s larger story. When we are anxious or afraid, the only thing we can think about is the mountain, challenge, or problem right in front of us, when God calls us to think about Him.

Buddy Bell asked on Facebook this week, in light of the current pandemic, what brings you the most anxiety? There were close to 150 responses about health issues, elderly parents, the failing economy, strain on our marriage, kids being out of school, or college students having to go online and not doing well in classes. And we all understand those concerns. While I believe our culture was already becoming more and more isolated, at least that was our choice. This forced isolation has everyone on edge and it is shrinking our vision.

In the midst of the fear, it is so easy to only focus on the short term small story. I am not immune, a few days ago we were having a leadership meeting to discuss how we were going to face this current pandemic and my mind was racing. What will we do if they shut the church down? When people don’t show up, they don’t give. We don’t really have reserves to rely on like other churches. What are we going to do? They are going to turn off the power, the water, they are going to take the building from us. Panic and fear jumped all over in me in that moment. My story got to small. Yet in that moment I felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and asked, whose strength are you leaning into here. I’m still on the throne.

That’s why I wouldn’t have chosen how God dealt with the Israelites problem. I do understand it. God was requiring them to trust Him every step of the way. God’s response doesn’t eliminate the source of their fear. Instead He invited them to join Him as they walk into it and through it together. That’s why the Psalmist would be lead to write, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4)

God, is allowing this to be harder in the short term, because He is interested in building their faith in a way that will serve them for the long term. God opened the sea and the Children of Israel were able to walk through in faith. But, Pharaoh’s Army, the source of their fear is still there, still bearing down and gaining ground on them. Let’s pick the story back up in verse 26...

When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the Lord said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back and cover the Egyptians and their chariots and charioteers.” So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place. The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea. Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.

Finally God has taken away the source of all their fear. But only after they put their trust in God. Think about what has happened in this story. These people have been carrying this escalating anxiety since the very first time they spotted Pharaoh and his army way off in the distance. They are absolutely terrified about something that never really touches them, affects them, never even becomes reality at all for them. Isn’t that the way fear and anxiety work?

In our moments of fear and anxiety God is calling us to deeper faith. You see, muscles that never get exercised never get stronger. Honestly, faith is a lot like leg day at the gym. Most of us would prefer to skip it. We want to be faithful but we would rather live a life that doesn’t require much faith. God tells us without faith it is impossible to please Him. If that’s true the kindest thing that He could actually do for us is walk with us through things that actually help us build our faith.

I love when I get the chance to see God move mountains. But what happens when He doesn’t? That’s where faith comes in. Faith is not the removal of or the absence of mountains in our lives.  Faith is our response when this thing that makes me anxious, that makes me angry, that scares me, that I want and need to remove from my life, won’t go away.

God gave the Children of Israel the Passover meal as a simple reminder of His strength, and His willingness to walk with us through the dark and fearful places in this world. In the same way He has given us the communion service as a simple reminder that we do not have to walk through this pandemic, this crisis by ourselves. He promises to be with us. As you gather with your family today for communion, I think it would be a good time to talk about some of your fears and anxieties. And then as you take the bread and the cup, let it be a reminder that Jesus has already given His life so that we can confront our fear with faith.   

In the midst of this crisis lets strive to be a fearless church. Let me pray for us.

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