Sermon: Contagious Faith

by Gary Johnson, e2 Executive Director 

 

Text: Psalm 11:1-7

Introduction:

In the early 1990s, an advertising campaign was launched that still impacts people to this day. The commercials showed many famous men and women and each person appeared to have a white mustache, which then prompted the question: “Got milk?” It’s a product brand for which many dairy producers are exceptionally grateful. The advertising campaign was an overnight success – and it remains memorable to this day, some twenty-five years later.

Regretfully, in these challenging days, when we hear someone cough or sneeze, we are not asking, “Got milk?” To the contrary, we ask or think: “Got it? COVID-19?” When we acquire some aches and pains, we ask ourselves: “Got it?” When we develop a sore throat or begin to feel a little warm, we ask ourselves: “Got it?” In this new year, a new virus has caused us to live in a new way – and in a way we do not enjoy.

Every day, we hear of how the coronavirus becomes increasingly contagious across the country and around the world. It has become a pandemic (i.e., a disease that spreads across a country or around the globe) and one that is foremost on our minds. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that there are other pandemics that have spread—and in some cases continue to spread—around the world, such as:

  • Malaria: In 2018, the World Health Organization reported 228 million people with malaria throughout the world, and with over three billion people at risk of contracting malaria. Regretfully, over 405,000 people died of the disease, and it takes the life of a child every two minutes.
  • AIDS: Since the initial diagnosis of AIDS, the World Health Organization reports that over 75 million people have contracted the disease, killing more than 32 million individuals. In 2018, 1.7 million people contracted the disease.
  • H1N1 (Swine Flu): The CDC reports that in the flu season of 2009-2010, more than 60 million Americans contracted H1N1, with 274,000 people hospitalized, and over 12,469 Americans died of this pandemic.
  • Seasonal Flu: The CDC reported for the 2018-19 flu season, 35.5 million Americans contracted the flu, resulting in 34,200 deaths, including the deaths of 136 children. In this current flu season (2019-2020), 38 million Americans have contracted the flu and 23,000 have died from it.

Each of these viruses have reached pandemic levels because of being highly contagious. But not only does the disease spread, something spreads along with it: fear, panic, uncertainty and more. In this current pandemic of COVID-19, people the world over are gripped by fear of the unknown: “Will I or someone I love contract the virus, be laid off from work, become bankrupt, lose my house, etc.?” Fear is as contagious as the virus itself.

Yet, what IF we—the Church—were contagious in another way. What IF we had something that began to spread from across town where we live to across the nation we call home? What IF people wanted what we have? Can we—the Church—become contagious in this way?

 

In response to COVID-19, we ask the question:

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

This question was first asked nearly 3,000 years ago when a young God-follower was being chased by King Saul of Israel. The young fugitive was David, who would become the king of Israel in place of Saul – and Saul knew that to be true. He knew that his days were numbered and that is why Saul was determined to hunt David down and kill him. David’s closest friends and advisors looked at life in Israel under Saul and they concluded that life—as they knew it—was being destroyed. The foundations of law and justice under Saul were all but gone, destroyed by Saul’s jealousy and hate, prompting the question: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Some 3,000 years later, we could make the same assessment. When it comes to life as we know it, some people would say that the foundations are being destroyed. When COVID-19 began to spread across our country, it wasn’t long before the economic foundations of the USA were being destroyed, or medical service infra-structures were destroyed, or school systems, or insert whatever aspect of society you wish. But remember, it wasn’t a statement that was first posed 3,000 years ago, it was a question. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” And today, as COVID-19 appears to many people as destroying the foundations of life as we know it, what can we—followers of Jesus—do in response?

As we dive into the text, it is vital that we understand the context before we look at the content of Psalm 11. When David wrote this Psalm, he was being chased by King Saul who wanted David dead. Saul was hunting him down like an animal to be captured and killed. David’s friends feared for him and urged him to flee to the mountains, hiding from Saul and his thousands of soldiers. But David had a different idea, and therefore, a different response because how a person THINKS determines how a person ACTS. Now for the content.

Psalm 11:1-7

1 In the Lord I take refuge.   How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? 4 The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them. 5 The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates. 6 On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see his face.”

This Psalm has two basic parts or sections: verses 1-3 and verses 4-7. In part one, young David was told…

Contagious Fear

In verses 1-3, David asked his friends, his counselors, his advisors: “How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.”

Simply put, David rejected their advice to run for the hills, to flee in fear (i.e., “how can you ask me to flee like a bird to the mountains”). Saul and his soldiers had their bows bent with their arrows ready to fly and pierce the hearts of David and his men. David’s friends and counselors were well aware of the looming threat Saul posed. For whatever reason, these men quaked in fear and their only advice to David was to flee, to run for a hideout in the hills because according to them, “the foundations were being destroyed.”

But in response, David chose NOT to listen to them. He chose NOT to take their advice. He chose NOT to be overwhelmed with fear.

Contagious Faith

In verses 4-7, David responded in a far different manner than expected by his friends and counselors. The first words out of David’s mouth to his friends and counselors were: “In the Lord I take refuge” (v. 1). David wasn’t about to hide in a mountain cave. He took refuge in God Almighty! Why? David had learned to put his faith in God and God alone. After all, this battle with Saul was not the first in which David anchored his faith in God—even when others did not.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of David confronting not only a warrior named Goliath, but the entire army of the Philistines. When King Saul and Israel’s army refused to confront the enemies of God, David did. And why? Young David was not overwhelmed with fear, but he was overcome by faith in Almighty God.

1 Samuel 17:45-47

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands.”

While the entire army of Israel quaked in fear, David stood—and acted—in faith. David fulfilled the definition of faith as provided in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” David was sure that God would empower him to conquer not only Goliath, but the entire Philistine army. Moreover, David was certain of this victory though it was still unseen. Such faith is contagious.

In his Psalm, David wrote of three reasons WHY he had a contagious faith in God and did not run in fear (see verses 4-7).

  • God is in control.

David declared that the Lord is “in His holy temple” and “…on His heavenly throne” (v. 4). Simply put, God is in control, complete control. David was emphatic in this declaration in that he said the Lord IS, not perhaps or maybe or that He might be—in His temple and on His throne. David declared absolute, unchanging truth. David had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and knowing that God is in control, David knew that he would eventually be Israel’s king and not killed by Saul.

  • God is concerned.

Also, in verse 4, David declared that God “observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them.” David repeated this comment in verse 5: “The Lord examine the righteous…” David knew that Almighty God was fully aware of what was happening in his life moment-to-moment. David had faith in God that the Almighty was truly concerned for him. David would write in Psalm 139:2-3, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

Moreover, in verse 5, the phrase “examines the righteous” means “to test, to prove” something about those who are God-followers. This is yet another dimension as to God being concerned. God is concerned for His followers that they pass the test, that they prove to be faithful to God in difficult trials. David knew that God was testing him while Saul was chasing him. God was watching David to see if David would anchor his faith in Him in the face of difficulty and death.

  • God is consoling.

David was able to anchor his faith in God because of God’s great consolation. David found God to be consoling in both His Person and His Promise. David declared that the Person of God is both “righteous” and that He “loves justice” (v. 7). Righteous God will do only that which is right, and He is just. As well, the Promise of God is that those who follow Him “will see His face.” God promises eternal life when every one of His followers will finally see Him face-to-face.

Contagious fear did not capture David. To the contrary, David’s contagious faith in God enabled him to face every day in the strength and confidence of Almighty God – no matter how close Saul came to take his life.

How Does This Speak into Our Lives?

In Romans 15:4, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” The story of David speaks loudly and clearly into our lives some 3,000 years later.

We are being “chased down” –not by a person—but by a virus that threatens our lives. It is easy for us to reach the conclusion that “the foundations are being destroyed” here in our country.

  • Our economic foundations are being destroyed as jobs are lost, savings are spent, investments no longer exist, and our nation’s economy crumbles.
  • Our social foundations are being destroyed as people are urged to disconnect relationally for an unknown period of time.
  • Our political foundations are being destroyed as politicians continue to argue with and accuse one another in unrelenting conflict.
  • Our medical foundations are being destroyed as hospitals across our nation are crushed with tens of thousands of people needing treatment of all kinds.

So, the question remains: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” From David’s psalm, there are two answers to that question. We can be overwhelmed by…

Contagious Fear

Remember, the word “contagious” means that a disease passes from one person to another, it is communicable by contact.” COVID-19 is not the only virus spreading across America, but a virus of FEAR washes over our nation like tsunami. Some of the news coverage – whether in print or media formats – has ignited fear among Americans with one story of “breaking news” after another. An article that fueled fear across our nation was run in the New York Times entitled “Worst-Case Estimates for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths” (NYT; Sheri Finks, 3/13/2020) and the article quoted the CDC as saying, “As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.” Statements like this causes fear to explosively spread across the US just as if we were to throw a five-gallon can of gasoline on a bonfire.

Fear is contagious. It spreads. It knows no bounds. Children and teenagers can become “infected” with fear as it spreads from their parents and grandparents. The elderly and those at-risk of contracting the virus often struggle with fear as they hear news reports of deaths involving their demographic. Fear envelopes employees, business owners, health care providers, and more.

To prevent contagious fear from “infecting” us, we need to practice “media distancing” in a real way. Change the channel and watch something other than “breaking news,” which is nothing more than repeating the same news stories from yesterday. News outlets spread stories of gloom-and-doom with rolling statistics on the screen of the growing numbers of people infected with COVID-19 and those who have died. Why don’t we hear the GOOD NEWS of those who have not only contracted COVID-19, but have been cured of the virus?

Contagious Faith

Like David, the better and right response for us to have is one of contagious faith. When the foundations are being destroyed, the righteous can—and must—live by faith. AND it can be contagious – spreading from Christian to Christian!

Remember, God is immutable. God doesn’t change. He even declared in Malachi 3:6, “I, the Lord, do not change.” Therefore, God is STILL in control. God is STILL concerned for us. God is STILL consoling us. Nothing has changed about WHO God is or WHAT He is capable of doing.

Australia is moving – literally. In 2016, National Geographic reported that the continent moves 2.7 inches per year in a northerly direction and in a slight clockwise motion (Brian Clark Howard; “Australia is Drifting So Fast GPS Can’t Keep Up;” 9/23/16). Since the last correction of their GPS coordinates in 1994, the nation moved 4.9 feet. Moreover, Australia’s GPS adjustment in 1994 was a correction of 656 feet! The reason for the shift in location is due to the tectonic plates on which the nation is built. Deep underground, there is subtle and continual movement in the rocks under Australia.

Much is changing around us, and not only the continent of Australia. As God-followers, we must remember this: God does not change. When coronavirus is changing so much in our lives, our faith is built on the unchanging truth that God remains who He is—forever.

On the night before His death, and as their world was suddenly coming apart at the seams, Jesus told His follower, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Looking closely at that phrase, the word “troubled” means upset, frightened, even terrified. With Jesus about to be taken from them, these men were suddenly upset, frightened and terrified. As well, this phrase was not a suggestion. It was a command that was to be continually obeyed 24/7 (as it is a present tense imperative). No matter the time of day or the day of the week, and no matter the circumstances in life, these followers of Jesus were NOT upset, frightened or terrified. But how can that be?

Jesus went on to say: “Trust in God. Trust also in Me.” The word “trust” means to be convinced that it something is true, to be persuaded that we can place our confidence in God and Jesus. When they took Jesus at His word, they could anchor their faith in Him. Psalm 20:7 states: “Some trust in chariots. Some trust in horses. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Our currency and coins state: “In God we trust.” Do we?

In this time of contagious fear, do we trust in God? Jesus commanded us to do so. The question is: will we obey?

Remember this fact: how we think determines how we live. It bears repeating; how we think determines how we live. HOW we think about God determines HOW we live on a daily basis. We must be convinced and persuaded that God is in control, is concerned and is consoling us. Then, we must live in a manner that demonstrates our beliefs.

The mouth of the Amazon River is more than ninety miles across and its current is so powerful that it pushes freshwater two hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Centuries ago, when seafarers floated for days without the wind blowing and drinking water supplies dwindled on board, they would often call out to nearby boats asking for life-giving water. Much to their surprise, a sailor would call back, “Put down your buckets! You’re in the mouth of the mighty Amazon!” All they could see was their fear of dying of thirst. They were blind to the fact that fresh water was within their reach.

As breaking news continues to spread contagious fear across America, we must never forget that God is within our reach. He is Immanuel, God with us – and He is for us. God is bigger than COVID-19 and the fear it brings. Like King David, do not listen to people who urge us to run, “fleeing to the mountains.” Instead, stand on the promises of God and become infected with a contagious faith that spreads from us to our families, to our circle of friends and beyond.

Jeremiah 32:27

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is there anything too hard for Me?”

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Copyright 2020 by e2: effective elders. All materials presented by Dr. Gary L. Johnson are copyrighted material. You may use this material for your teaching purposes. In doing so, please retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices on this document, and do not make any modifications to the materials. For any uses other than this, please contact gary@e2elders.org for permission. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259).

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