Be Encouraged – The 3 Rs

by Gary Johnson

Friends,

As we bring a close to a tough 2020, the teacher in me recalls “the three Rs” we learned years ago in school: ‘readin’, ‘rightin’ and ‘rithmetic’.  But, whether we serve as elders or ministers, we need to pursue a different set of three Rs in 2021: reach, realize and remember.

Reach

Every day, every person reaches for something.  We reach for the phone when it rings and for food when we are hungry.  Reaching is both an intentional and natural action.  Similarly, leaders of the local church need to intentionally reach as a natural part of their skills.  This is particularly true in the way a leader thinks.  To move the church forward, we must think forward.

Case in point, are we thinking only about December?  It is easy for us to be mentally consumed at this time of year with places to go, people to see and things to do.  It is common for leaders to shift into neutral during the holiday season, when it is essential for us to mentally reach past December 25 into the new year.  Elders and staff need to be thinking about what lies on the leadership schedule in January.  For example, are you planning a leadership winter retreat?  If not, put Saturday, January 16 (9am-noon eastern) on your calendar.  Along with CFR (Christin Financial Resources), e2 is live-streaming an elders’ conference called Jump Start! Charging Up Ministry that Moves.  We will explore the four areas of ministry that are essential for building momentum in the local church: 1) evangelism, 2) discipleship, 3) the next generation, and 4) developing leaders.

Paul had a mindset to reach forward: “This one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Phil. 3:13-14).  Paul’s mind was set on that which awaited him eternally.  Like Paul, when we think forward, we have every greater likelihood of moving forward.  Intentionally reach for what’s next as you lead the church.

Realize

You and I need to face facts. We must realize that we can only take people as far as we ourselves have gone.  Are we developing as leaders, increasing our skills, deepening our walk with the Lord?  Are we growing increasingly like Jesus, yielding to His sovereignty over us?

Before being martyred, Peter penned this final thought: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).  The final comment to flow from Peter’s pen prior to his death was not a suggestion, but a commandment!  He told us to continue growing, maturing, transforming into the likeness of Jesus.  We must realize that we cannot offer grace to others if we do not “grow in grace.”  We must realize that we cannot help others “grow in knowing” unless we, ourselves, are growing in Him.

Case in point: what’s your leadership development plan, both as an individual and as a team?  I coach elder teams to put words up on the board that describe their team on December 31 of the following year.  From those words, compose a short paragraph that describes the team on the last day of the next year.  This is your preferred future and becoming that kind of a team does not happen naturally, but only intentionally.  To experience transformation requires self-leadership.  How can we lead the church if we are not leading ourselves?

If you would like some help with this, send me an email so that we can start a conversation.  It is our first priority and greatest passion to coach elder teams to win against the kingdom of darkness.  Remember, those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).  We have been given the trust of the local church for which we will be held accountable.  Realize we must grow spiritually if those we lead will become like Christ.

Remember

Think about these phrases: “Out of sight – out of mind.”  “How quickly we forget.”  We know and speak these phrases because they describe reality.  As 2020 comes to a close, we must look back and remember the many ways God enabled us to not only survive, but also to thrive in one of the most challenging years of ministry.

King David knew challenging seasons of leadership, yet he still wrote: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, all my inmost being, praise His holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits” (Ps. 103:1-2).  Remember the many conspicuous moments when God’s presence was intense and encouraging.  After all, one of His many names is Immanuel – God with us.  He has promised never to leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).  As well, remember God’s promises.  Everything written in the past has been written to teach us, that through endurance and the encouragement of Scripture, we have hope (Rom. 15:4)!

When we were in school years ago, we may have let as lesson or two go in one ear and out the other.  Friends, we are still students.  As Christ followers, we are life-long learners, and we must take to heart the three Rs of a leader for 2021: reach, realize and remember.  Be a doer of the Word, and not a mere hearer (James 1:22).  It’s been a tough year.  If you are exhausted and could use an encouraging, helpful word, give us a call or drop us a note.  Let us be a “Barnabas” to you, for we are “brothers of encouragement” at e2.

Lead well.

Be Encouraged

by Gary Johnson 

Friends,

Since 2013, when we started our Friday blogs, we have sent out over 600,000 emails to encourage and equip leaders.  Now that is a lot of writing!  As God continues to grow e2, we are changing the format of our Friday blog and all in hopes of building others up in the Lord. 

Joseph, of the tribe of Levi, was a remarkable leader in the first-century church.  His story is told in the first half of Acts, and something that stands out about Joseph is his nickname, Barnabas.  We are told in Acts 4:36 that the disciples called him Barnabas, meaning “Son of Encouragement.”  Joseph earned his nickname by the way that his lived his life.  And we want the same to be said of us in this ministry.

In this season of life marked by division, disease and discouragement, people – including Christians – are tired.  We are ready for 2020 to be over and done.  A friend of mine has had an exceptionally difficult year and he said to me, “I’m staying up on New Year’s Eve this year, not to welcome the arrival of 2021, but to make certain 2020 leaves!”  If there were ever a time when people need to be encouraged, it is now.

To that end, may I encourage you to BE the answer to the prayer of Jesus?  Just hours before He was nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed what we often call His High Priestly prayer in John 17.  In this longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Scriptures, we discover that Jesus prayed for us.

“My prayer is not for them alone” (i.e., His disciples).  “I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them will be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21).

The last words of people before they die are significant and memorable.  This is certainly true of Jesus and His prayer for us.  He did not pray for the churches we lead to be burgeoning with people and all of them to be in the midst of a building program and capital campaign.  He prayed for our unity; not philosophical or doctrinal unity, but relational unity.  Jesus prayed that we would be one relationally to the same degree as He and His Father are one.  For that to happen, we must intentionally pursue two traits modeled by Jesus, that when experienced in our lives with one another, result in authentic relational unity being present.   

The first trait is that of submission.  Though positionally equal to God, Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the sovereignty of God.  Every time Jesus spoke of or to God while on earth, Jesus called Him “Father.”  Only once did Jesus speak of His Father as God, and that was in the midst of His suffering on the cross – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).  Jesus obeyed God’s will, bending His knee to the authority of God.

The second trait is that of humility.  “Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  Humility means to “go to a lower place,” and Jesus certainly did just that.  He, our Creator, became human and came to this lower place called earth to live among us and die for us. 

Jesus chose to live in submission and humility.  Do we?  If we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21) and “clothe ourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5), we have every greater likelihood of experiencing relational unity in the local church.  And one more thing: Jesus prayed for us to be one “so that the world may believe” that God sent Jesus.  The degree to which we are united inside the church reflects the degree to which we glorify God outside the church.  Our internal unity impacts the external glory we bring to God.

So then, be encouraged to pursue relational unity in this season of conflict.  Be encouraged that we can submit to one another in true humility, and do so in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Be encouraged to lead like Jesus, which means we must live like Jesus. 

Lead well. 

Laugh Again

by Gary Johnson 

Every Christmas, my wife Leah says that she is going to buy me “Miracle Ear” for my gift.  To her, it seems that my hearing is waning.  Like many, I have what we call selective hearing.  Yet, there is a sound that I have not heard in recent times, and perhaps you can say the same. 
 
Where has all the laughter gone?  Have you noticed its conspicuous absence?
 
Life today is not a laughing matter.  COVID is making a comeback across the country and around the world.  Businesses that were told they could open are now being told to close.  Our nation is divided politically as never before.  Civil unrest is unrelenting.  Even Christians are at odds with one another.  Even the American Psychological Association recently stated that 70 percent of Americans say this is the lowest point in US history they can remember.  These are heavy-hearted days and there is little about which to laugh.
 
Yet, we need to laugh again – loudly and often.  We need to enjoy belly-busting laughter.  And why?  Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that “laughter is good like a medicine.”  We all want a vaccine for the virus, but we already have some great medicine for our souls that is readily available – laughter!
 
Laughing actually improves our breathing, increases our blood flow, reduces our stress, activates our “feel-good” hormones in the brain, and makes for a stronger immune system.  Knowing this, who would not want to “take this medicine” and laugh out loud?      
 
Think with me.  Jesus had a fun side.  In John 21, the resurrected Jesus appeared to some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee.  Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing.  It wasn’t an afternoon of recreational fishing, hoping to get a few bluegills for supper.  The text reads that they fished through the night – and caught nothing.  Ashamed for having denied knowing Jesus three times, Peter reverted to his old ways and went back to commercial fishing.  Jesus appeared to them early in the morning and the boat was about one hundred yards from shore.  He could have called out to them, “Hey guys!  It’s Me, Jesus!  Get in here!”  But, He didn’t.  He told them to “throw their nets on the other side of the boat,” and as they did so, the nets were filled with 153 fish!  Been there.  Done that.  Jesus performed this miracle with the disciples when He firsts met them some three years earlier.  Immediately, they knew it was Jesus and they took off for the shore.  Peter even jumped in the water and swam, the laden boat moving too slowly for him.  Talk about a practical joke.  I can “hear” the gut-busting belly laughter coming from Jesus.  Luke reminds us that Jesus “was filled with joy through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and the same can happen with us.  After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes joy (Galatians 5:22).
 
We have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God has a sense of humor.  We often think of God as being serious 24/7, but we need to think of God as being our ultimate joy-giver.  In Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (HarperCollins, 1977), gifted author and pastor Frederick Buechner describes a joyful moment from Genesis 18.
 
The place to start is with a woman laughing.  She is an old woman, and after a lifetime in the desert, her face is cracked and rutted like a six-month drought.  She hunches her shoulders round her eyes and starts to shake.  She squinnies her eyes shut, and her laughter is all wheeze and tears running down as she rocks back and forth in her kitchen chair.  She is laughing because she is pushing 91 hard and has just been told she is going to have a baby….  The old woman’s name is Sarah, of course, and her old man’s name is Abraham, and they are laughing at the idea of a baby’s being born in the geriatric ward and Medicare’s picking up the tab.  Maybe the most interesting part of it all is that far from getting angry at them for laughing, God told them that when the baby was born, he wanted them to name him Isaac, which in Hebrew means laughter.  So you can say that God not only tolerated their laughter, but blessed it and, in a sense, joined in it himself.
 
Does it look like we have been baptized in vinegar and weened on a pickle?  Maybe it’s time we start smiling and laughing again.  Let’s resolve to watch more comedies than we do action, suspense, or even horror movies.  And speaking of horror, rather than binging on fear-driven news updates, let’s read humorous stories.  Are there funny stories from your past?  Tell them again and again as if they were happening for the very first time.  And let’s not forget to laugh at ourselves! 
 
Years ago, someone gave me a piece of art as both a gift and a reminder.  This piece of art has never left my desk.  It is a well-known sketch of Jesus.  Drawn in 1973 by the late Canadian artist Willis Wheatley, Christ, Liberator (probably more commonly known as “Jesus Laughing”) became a sensation.  Why?  Few Christians ever gave thought to Jesus having a sense of humor.  This sketch reminds me to laugh like Jesus.  After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
 
Go ahead.  Laugh out loud.  People will wonder what we’re up to. 

News Story by Vancouver Sun about Willis Wheatley and the image:
https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/meet-the-creator-of-the-laughing-jesus-photo/

Traveling a Rough Road

by Gary & Jared Johnson

All of us have driven on rough roads from time to time.  Whether the road was poorly constructed, hadn’t been maintained in a long time, or a detour took us onto some rough pavement, every mile was difficult.  We quickly wanted to get back on smooth pavement so that we could move along at a good clip.

As elders, we may feel that way about life in the present.  Soon into the new year, we discovered 2020 to be one of the roughest roads of life on which we have traveled.  A new and deadly virus began sweeping the globe, and before that crisis had passed we found ourselves surrounded by protests, sweeping across our country, against systemic racism.  Like it or not, we find ourselves on a rough road and we are going to be traveling on this route for a while.  Since a quick transition to smooth pavement is “miles” off into the future, elders need to provide practical help and genuine hope to the local church they serve.  How can we do just that?

Practical Help

First and foremost, pray.  When we hit a baseball, we always run to first base; and life is no different.  With the dawn of every day, always run to God.  Life in America is indescribably broken and as elders, we must pray.  Pray bold prayers.  In the full hearing of the people, Joshua prayed aloud, boldly, for the sun and moon to stand still – and the earth stopped turning (Josh. 10:12)!

Not only should we pray for God’s healing from COVID-19, but also from the deadly disease of racism.  Specifically, we must pray prayers of repentance on behalf of the church we lead.  As a God-follower, Nehemiah recognized the deplorable state of God’s people: “When I heard [about Jerusalem’s trouble], I sat down and wept.  In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”  (Neh. 1:4).  From exile, the prophet Daniel did the same: “O Lord, you are a great and awesome God!  You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong…” (Dan. 9:4-5).  Individual repentance for corporate wrong is entirely warranted in the face of such pervasive, society-wide sin.  The text is clear: when society is broken and sinful, we all own it.

Second, we need to act on those prayers.  Paul preached that we “must repent of [our] sins and turn to God – and prove [we] have changed by the good things [we] do” (Acts 26:20); and as elders, we must lead by example (1 Cor. 11:1).  In a time of so much tension, when people have already experienced great loss due to COVID, elders must provide compassion-driven kindness and outrageous generosity.  Greek-speaking widows – an ethnic group – “were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1-7).  When they were threatened by starvation and this problem was brought to the attention of the apostles, they took initiative, acted immediately, and solved the problem.

After centuries of racial inequality, elders must take the initiative and be intentional peacemakers in times of conflict.

  • Paul took the initiative to begin healing the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).
  • Barnabas encouraged, comforted, and mentored young John Mark when Paul had rejected him as a part of the ministry team (Acts 15:39).
  • Paul took the initiative to heal the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon (Phlm. vv 10-20).

Paul told the Corinthian Christians outright that when a small part of the body suffers, we are all suffering with it (1 Cor 12:26), and in those moments, “we weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).  When were we last driven to literal tears by someone else’s pain – COVID, racism, or otherwise?  Look for opportunities to lead the local church, proactively, both individually and corporately, by example.  Later in Nehemiah’s story, public, corporate repentance played a major role (chapters 9-10).  The practical help you, as an elder, can offer will strengthen your brothers and sisters to stay the course when the road of life is difficult and rough.

Genuine Hope

As elders, we not only provide practical help, but we point people to God, who provides us with genuine hope.  First and foremost, “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Ps. 34:18) in these difficult days.  God’s presence is real.  It’s His nature to be with His people – from the opening pages of Scripture when He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8) to the closing pages of Revelation when God makes His dwelling with us on the new earth (Rev. 21:3).

While on this rough road, it is essential that we grieve; something that we as Americans do not do well.  Our culture likes to “move on.”  COVID has caused many people much loss: jobs, retirements, graduations, weddings, and lives.  Centuries of racism has caused much loss: lives, human dignity and worth, equal opportunities, freedom from fear, livelihoods and more.  We must grieve our losses.  We must sit in lament because in those moments God’s presence is felt and known.  He is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us.  God promised to be with us in times of trouble; rescuing, protecting, and delivering us in those moments (Ps. 91:14-16).

We can also experience genuine hope in God’s power.  With Israel’s impending destruction by Babylon, Isaiah reminded the people of God of His hope-filled power.  The prophet reminds us that God does not grow tired or weary, that He gives strength to the weary.  When we anchor our hope in the Lord, He renews our strength to press on from day-to-day (Isaiah 40:28-31).

As elders, let’s keep “our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up” (Heb. 12:2-3).

When the road we are on becomes a detour of rough pavement, we are tempted to use Google Maps to find an alternate route – one with smooth pavement.  Though the road of life on which we find ourselves now is more than difficult, stay on it.  God has a purpose for us.  By His grace, serve the church, leading her over this rough road in a God-honoring way.

LINK TO ALL THE SCRIPTURES REFERENCED

Provision During Pandemic

by Gary Johnson 

I have lived in Indianapolis for 31 years.  The month of May here is all about the Indy 500: a festival, a mini-marathon, parades, celebrations of all kinds, practice sessions and Carb Day, all culminating in 33 cars vying for the world-famous checkered flag on Race Day.  This year, race officials looked ahead, through the impact of the COVID pandemic, and rescheduled the race to August 23rd.  Looking ahead, they took necessary steps to make the race happen.  

Are we doing the same in our local church?  Are we, as elders, looking ahead and making plans for the steps necessary in light of all that has been happening?  Are we working with the church staff to determine how we are going to address our summer schedule, change our ministry methods, and more?  Let’s consider three essentials in taking our next steps.  This is part of strategic planning – a skill that elders must cultivate in leading the local church.  Below, we have included a link to our e2 Talk on Strategic Planning.  It’s free for the time being on our YouTube channel and may be a benefit to you. 

In the news cycle’s dominance by COVID-19, one story came and went quickly, but still caught my attention.  It told of how teens had completed driver’s education, but because of social distancing, were given waivers on their road tests. 
 
That story brought back memories of my driving test.  After pulling out of the parking lot and going through all the paces, the examiner had me pull onto the expressway.  It was both exciting and unsettling.  I remember glancing in the rear-view mirror to see who I left behind as I sped off. 
 
Teens are not the only ones who have learned to drive during this pandemic. 
 
As elders, many of us have had to put the proverbial pedal to the metal.  We were forced to the on ramp of leading ministry in ways never experienced and for which we were not prepared.  It was unsettling for many of us to merge onto the virtual church expressway.  We worried and were greatly unsettled about who we were leaving behind while racing down this new ministry path.
 
We suddenly found ourselves bumper-to-bumper with every fellow American church on the digital highway.  We learned to drive virtual worship gatherings, hold leadership meetings and life groups, pursue student ministry, etc., all on screens.  We have now spent more than two months barreling down this virtual highway, often simply hoping that we would not run out of gas.  We urged people to help refuel the church by giving digitally, and fortunately, many chose to do so. 
 
After being forced to drive the virtual expressway, did we look in the rearview mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of where we had been prior to COVID-19?  Did we look back and wish we could do a U-turn to pre-COVID days?  If we hope to navigate this new road well, we cannot keep looking back.  With steeled determination and Spirit-given courage, we must drive the Church forward – and to do so, we must think forward. 
 
Our Provider
Through all of this, God has been, and will be, our faithful Provider.  One of His many gifts to us is the ability to think.  Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), we can think and reason, having been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). 
 
To what degree are we using these minds God has provided?  Are we taking time to simply think?  Dr. Thomas Edison would sit for hours at the end of his dock in Fort Myers, Florida.  The good doctor did not like people bothering him while he fished; so much so, that he often did not bait the hook.  He simply wanted to sit and think, with absolutely nothing to bother him – not even the fish!  
 
The COVID crisis has intensified our need to think critically and strategically.  God expects us to ask Him for His wisdom (James 1:5).  There are at least three ways this challenges us and for which we need God-given wisdom. 

A New Perspective
COVID-19 has forced us to adjust our ministry worldviews.  We have all merged onto the expressway of virtual church.  While many of us were not early adopters of “streaming church,” here we are now.  Remember, the sons of Issachar had “minds to understand the times and they knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  We must understand our culture and know how to respond; what next step to take.  Have we been seeing obstacles or opportunities these last couple months?  How you and I answer that question has much to say about our perspective. 
 
Thinking – and asking – the question “what’s next?” is a discipline of leadership.  Elders must develop this as a regular practice.  Thinking forward moves the church forward.  If we fail to think about the future strategically, the church is in ‘park’ or ‘neutral’ while we simply rev the engine – making a bunch of ministry noise and spending resources to capture the attention of people, but making little or no measurable progress.  Thinking “what’s next” helps us develop and implement a strategic plan for the church.  God provides us with minds to cultivate this perspective.
 
A New Platform
The coronavirus shut down the traffic in Lane A, forcing everyone to merge into Lane B, where everyone did ministry on a digital platform.  With Lane A reopened or soon to be, do not go back!  Merge, instead, into Lane C, where we do ministry in a “both-and” world.  We can be an embodied, gathered church, and a church with global, virtual reach. 
 
God provides us with minds to understand that technology is the way the world works.  We even have wearable technology that syncs to our other devices.  We must make use of digital platforms to preach and teach the Word, to disciple others, to conduct meetings, plan events, receive donations, and more.  The list of possibilities is endless.  Church is not relegated to Sunday only in a specific building.  Our digital platform opens wide the door of the church 24/7.  God provides us with His wisdom to leverage this platform in myriad ways for each unique congregation.
 
A New Place
Gathering physically for church will never be outdated, but cyber church is also here to stay.  Retail stores with a strong internet presence move people from clicks to bricks; from their websites into their store sites.  We can do the same.  What will it take for us to move people from just viewing to actually visiting the church?  Will we invest in our virtual campus, hiring staff, buying necessary equipment and more?  Think with me.  People from all five living generations are online, from websites to Facebook to TikTok. We must meet them there with the Good News.  
 
Before, during and after the crisis, God was, is, and will be faithful.  He provided for all that we needed and more.  Being that God doesn’t change, He has been, and will always be, our Provider.

O.P.E.N. – 4 Things Elders Must Do

by Gary Johnson 

Believe it or not, this Sunday, May 3, has been declared “ReOpen Church Sunday” by Liberty Counsel, an organization that defends the rights of churches.  Though we may have the legal right to do so, elders must determine if now is the right time for their local congregation. 
 
Throughout America, we hear of many states and communities reopening businesses, parks, offices, stores, malls and more.  Some churches have already reopened.  Last Sunday, churches in Montana were permitted by their governor to resume gathering.  It appears churches may be opening sooner than later.  But what about the church you lead?  Your elder team must determine what is best for your church. 
 
When people are stopped at a red light, individuals respond differently when the light turns green.  For example, when the light goes green, some people look to their left and right one last time to be certain no one is speeding into the intersection, and then they proceed with caution.  Yet, if you are like me, I put the pedal to the metal and I am off and running!  Similarly, when your governor gives your state the green light to reopen, your elder team must determine how your church will respond.  Think O.P.E.N.
 
OVERSEE
At e2, we have coached over 7,000 elders and church staff to practice elder governance as found in Acts, and one responsibility of elders is to on-board policy.  A policy will be needed to reopen the local church.  President Harry Truman is well remembered for having a sign on his desk declaring “The buck stops here.” Truman did not think that he had ultimate authority in the country, but that he had ultimate responsibility for leading the country.  As shepherds of the church (1 Peter 5:2-4), we are responsible for the wellbeing of the congregation and must oversee when and how the church reopens. 
 
PLAN
Long before the light goes green, your church needs a plan to follow for its reopening.  This doesn’t mean that the elders dot every “i” and cross every “t” of the plan, but you must give thought to major components of the plan and then trust the church staff to develop and execute the details.  For example, elders must decide if the church will practice social distancing or not, and if so, the staff then determines how to implement that decision.  Elders must decide if the church will be a “touch-free” environment, and if so, the staff determines how to observe communion without passing plates, etc.  Elders must decide if children’s ministry will open right away, and if not, the staff need to design family-driven worship services. 
 
ENGAGE
Elders need to engage the congregation with essential communication.  Once the plan is completed, it must be communicated to the congregation before they arrive for their first Sunday back on campus.  People need to know what to expect when they pull into the parking lot for the first time.  Use the website, email, video, even snail-mail to creatively and thoroughly communicate specific information with the entire congregation about your reopening.  And be sure to communicate the WHY behind your well-thought out plan, which is simply to create as safe an environment as possible for everyone to appreciate. 
 
NEW NORMAL
All of us are moving into a new normal.  We will never be “back to business as usual” on the other side of COVID-19.  The word bittersweet best describes the day we are back in church.  It will be sweet to worship the Lord with one another.  Yet, there is a bitter aspect in that many people will be grieving loss.  In addition to the loss of life, untold numbers of people have lost jobs, retirement savings, businesses, memories of canceled commencement and wedding ceremonies, and much more.  The new normal demands that we acknowledge these losses and help people cope with grief and fear.  Joshua led God’s people into a land where they had never been, and we will be leading the local church into a new social environment where we have not yet been.  Just as He said to Joshua, God calls us to be “strong and courageous”.  After all, God will be with us every step of the way (Joshua 1:9).  Welcome to the new normal.
 
As of this week, the CDC reported 91% of fatalities to COVID-19 are Americans 55-years of age and older.  People in that age group are well represented in congregations as regular church attenders.  If we fail to develop a plan for as safe an environment as possible, we will put far too many people at risk of infection.  As shepherds, we must work to keep the flock together and safe.  Elders must determine the when and the how of reopening the church. 
 
You can watch a video discussing these four essentials by clicking the button below. 
 
Also, we asked 16 leaders what ONE CHALLENGE each of them would give to elders to pursue on the other side of the coronavirus.  These #LifeAfterCOVID mini-podcasts are also available on our YouTube channel through the button below.

Sermon: Contagious Hope

by Gary Johnson, e2 Executive Director 

 

Text: 2 Chronicles 7:14 

Introduction

The numbers are staggering – and I’m not referring to the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or the number of people who have died from this virus.  The staggering numbers that have caught my attention are the number of coronavirus cures that are being developed.  An article appeared in Forbes indicating that there are “no less than 267” cures being developed across the country and around the world (Forbes.com; “Handicapping the Most Promising 267 Potential Coronavirus Cures” Nathan Vardi, 04/08/2020).  Of the 195 countries in the world, 185 nations have confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Aljazeera.com 04/12/2020).  Immunologists around the world are working around the clock to find both an effective treatment and vaccine for this highly contagious – and in some cases, lethal – virus.  Nations – including the United States – want to be healed.

In this third and final message in this mini-series called Contagious, we will explore an ever-familiar text to many Christians.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  What does the Lord mean when He said, “…and will heal their land?”  Can God heal this land and all others?  The people of planet earth want a cure from the coronavirus. We want the land to be healed.

More than the coronavirus is contagious.  Fear, panic, uncertainly, grief and more are all contagious.  But, there remains something that is far more contagious.  In the first of these three brief messages, Psalm 11 spoke to us of a contagious faith, and in the second of the three, Habakkuk 3 spoke to us of a contagious joy.  Finally, 2 Chronicles 7:14 speaks of a contagious hope.  This verse is familiar to many people.  From refrigerator magnets to plaques on walls, people often recognize this verse from the Old Testament. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

Context Before Content

This verse is often taken out of context, much like Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  That statement of Jesus was not about a worship service or small group gathering.  It was about discipline when a believer sins against another believer.  Context is of vital importance in understanding the content of a verse or passage.  Similarly, it is very easy to twist the content of this verse and passage when we fail to establish the context.

In 2 Chronicles 3-5, King Solomon built and furnished the temple of God in Jerusalem.  Once finished, Solomon dedicated the temple as described in 2 Chronicles 6.  All of Israel attended the dedication.  It lasted fourteen days, and Solomon sacrificed 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats.  That was the biggest bar-b-que on record!  This offering was to be eaten by the people, and at the end of the two week celebration, Solomon “sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done…” (2 Chronicles 7:10).

During the temple’s dedication, Solomon offered an incredible prayer (see 2 Chronicles 6:14-42), and not long after that dedication, the Lord spoke to Solomon, and this ever-familiar verse was a part of God’s response to Solomon (see 2 Chronicles7:12-16).  God spoke first of the nation’s relationship with Him, and then God spoke to Solomon about his relationship with him (vv. 17-22).

To be clear, God spoke to King Solomon about the nation of Israel.  The “land” to which God referred was the land of Israel.  When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, there would be suffering (i.e., no rain, plagues of locust or disease).  But if they responded by humbling themselves, by praying, by seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.  Simply put, that is the context.

Does this, then, apply ONLY to Jews today, and specifically those who happen to reside in the nation of Israel?  Can it possible apply to Christians in America?  I believe that it can speak into our lives.  Before his execution, Paul said: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Paul also wrote to believers throughout the region of Galatia: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Paul went on to say in that passage, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-27, 29).

It is suitable and appropriate for any Christian – a child of God – to obey the spirit of this verse; trusting God to hear, forgive and heal when the believer becomes humble, prays, seeks God and turns away from wickedness.  This is timeless truth to be pursued by Christians the world over.

There’s one more insight from the context that we do not want to miss.  God spoke this as a warning to Solomon and the people of Israel.  That was nothing new to God.  From the beginning of measured time, God has spoken words of warning to those whom He loves.  He warned Adam and Eve not to touch the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but they did.  God spoke words of warning to people in the days of Noah before the flood, but people didn’t listen.  God warned His people before they entered the promised land to be faithful, but they didn’t.  Over and again, throughout Scripture, the one, true living God – who is slow to anger and abounding in love – has warned people before a calamity came.

A few nights before writing this, a tornado touched down on the west side of Indianapolis.   Though no lives were lost, several buildings were damaged, and thousands were left without power.  The storm front came late in the evening, soon after the sun had set.  We saw the storm approaching.  Even though it was dark outside, the storm front looked darker still.  It was a defined wall of darkness pushing over the city by ever-increasing winds – and it was then that the storm sirens began to sound.  Have you heard a blaring tornado siren, one that warns people of a coming calamity?  When the siren sounds, we are to take immediate and appropriate action!

Could COVID-19 be a warning to us?  How about H1N1 in 2010?  Could the terrorist attack of 9-11 in 2000 have been a warning sign?  How about Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Andrew and Irma – and a host of tornados as well – could they have been warnings to us?  And what about famines and earthquakes and tsunamis?  Could they all be warnings?  Jesus spoke of these types of moments just days before He died on a cross.  

Matthew 24:6-8

You will hear of wars and rumors of war but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

When an expecting mother has birth pains, it’s a warning that something is going to happen.  Similarly, God allows, He permits suffering the world over to warn us that the end of this life is yet to come.  The return of Jesus Christ is going to happen and God wants no one to perish eternally, but for everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)

Do we want to be healed of COVID-19?  Absolutely.  Yet, we need to understand that the ultimate healing we need across America, and around the world, is spiritual because the ultimate event that will eventually occur is the second coming of Jesus Christ!  The contagious disease sweeping across the country and around the world is not merely COVID-19.  It is the ravaging of sin – and there is already a cure!

There are certain steps to be taken to be cured of COVID-19; they could be taking acetaminophen for the fever, a z-pack or other medication for infection, receiving breathing help whether elevated oxygen or use of a ventilator, even receiving antibodies from a person who had and beat COVID-19.  If a person has cancer, there are steps to be taken to be cured of the disease.  A cancer patient may receive radiation or chemotherapy to shrink a tumor so that it can then be removed surgically.  In this verse, there are FOUR clear, easy-to-understand steps to be taken to be cured of our sin sickness.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The first treatment step is humility.  In Hebrew, the word humble means “to bow the knee” or “to submit with humility.”  It is an intentional decision and action to be humble.  And how we think determines how we act.  If we think with humility, we will act in humble ways.  In this passage, people were to bow the knee to the sovereignty of God – and nothing has changed.  The same must happen today if we are to be healed of our sins.  Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Think of “nothing” here as a zero – and then erasing the rim!  That is how much we can do apart from Jesus.  Just how humble are you and I?

Here’s a quick quiz to determine if we think of “me, myself and I” too often.  Let’s ask ourselves: how often do I need to be first in line to check out at the store, or first in line at the stop light?  How often do I use the pronouns, “me, mine, my, myself, I,” etc.?  Can we pass the quiz?  Just remember that “God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6), and I would not want God against me.

This is not only essential for individuals, but for a nation – like that of America. God requires a nation to be humble.  How can God lead a nation if that nation refuses to admit their need for God?  If COVID-19 is another wake-up call from God, we had better humble ourselves and admit that we need Him; that it is in God that we truly trust.

A leader in America once said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!  It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness” (Abraham Lincoln; March 30, 1863, Proclamation for a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer). 

His words back then are words perfectly applicable for today.  

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The second treatment step is prayer.  The word “pray” in this verse is collective, meaning that the nation is to pray for the nation.  The people of Israel were to pray for their nation, and the same would benefit America today.  Would it not?  What IF tens of millions of Americans prayed for the healing of our nation, not only from COVID-19, but from our sins?  Moreover, the Hebrew grammar in this word and verse means that the praying continues!  It wasn’t just a “one and done” kind of prayer, but prayer that doesn’t cease; similar to what Paul commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, when he said, “Pray without ceasing.”  What if a miracle drug was found to not only cure COVID-19, but even to prevent it, and it was required of every person to take this drug every morning – one pill, every morning of every day?  Without taking the miracle drug, a person would contract the virus and certainly die.  Would not every person take this one pill a day every day?  Certainly.  Unceasing, unending prayer is the same vital necessity.

We learn from good examples, like those of Jesus. Mark 1:35 states, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and left the house and went off to a solitary place where He prayed.”  Prayer was a vital part of the life of Jesus, and Jesus was God!  Even on the final night of His life, Jesus prayed with His disciples—and that prayer is the single longest prayer of His recorded in the Bible (John 17).  From that time of prayer with His disciples, Jesus went to Gethsemane, where He prayed so intensely that drops of blood came from His forehead.  Even from the cross, Jesus prayed (i.e., Father, forgive them…; My Go, My God,why…; Father, into your hands…”)!  And, we will never pray as individuals or even as a nation until we first humble ourselves and admit our need for God.  

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The third treatment step is to seek His face.  The word “seek” means to “search out or to run hard after;” whereas the word “face” refers to the personal presence of God.  Putting those words together, to “seek my face” means to pursue an intimate, personal, authentic relationship with God, our Creator, Sustainer, our Father.  Does that describe us, whether individually or as a nation?  When we look at the impact of COVID-19 particularly on the American culture, it’s easy to see that this could be a birth-pain of something yet to happen, a warning sign of a coming calamity.

God warns His people in the Old Testament not to worship any idols, but to worship Him alone.  Being that God is immutable (i.e., unchanging), it is logical to believe that God wants us to be faithful to Him and not worship anything or anyone other than Him.  I like how Bob Russell describes this moment in time across America: “We worship money, and the booming economy comes grinding to a halt.  We worship sports, and the biggest games are canceled.  We worship entertainment and parades along with concerts are postponed, bars and restaurants closed, and the party life shut down.  We worship science, and the leading medical experts disagree as to the proper course of action to counter the pandemic.  We worship our impressive churches, and now even our church buildings sit empty on Sunday morning.  Is this mysterious period a mere freak of nature?  Or is Almighty God warning us – begging us to turn to Him for life that is truly life?” (Bob Russell Ministries; March 29, 2020; “Lord, We Need You!”)  When we individually – or even as a nation – seek God for a personal, authentic relationship with Him, we will be healed. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The fourth and final treatment step is to turn from our wicked ways.  “Turn” means to turn back, to stop going in the wrong direction; whereas the word “wicked” is the strongest word in Hebrew for sin, and the word “ways” translates as “roads or journeys.”  But those three together and we are to turn away from the vile, vulgar way we walk day-to-day on the wrong road of life.

Famed psychologist Karl Menninger published a book in 1973 that became a bestseller, Whatever Became of Sin?  He noted: “The very word, sin, which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word.  It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word.  It described a central point in every civilized human being’s plan and lifestyle.  But the word went away.  It has almost disappeared – the word, along with the notion.  Why?  Doesn’t anyone sin anymore?  Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”  Dr. Menninger observed that was redefined as a crime committed by individuals or a symptom of a disease to be treated psychologically.  Whatever became of sin?

Individually and as a nation, we need to come to grips with the fact that our sins are against God, and it is our sin that put Jesus Christ on a cross!  Jesus didn’t just have to be arrested, tried and mistreated. He had to be killed in the most brutal and humiliating way.  He had to experience – for the first and only time in His life – the complete rage and wrath of God on our behalf.  He HAD to die for your sin and mine.  COVID-19 is still rampant in the world and it is highly contagious, but so also is sin.  And everyone has it.

We will NEVER turn from our wicked ways, until we seek His face.  And to seek His face means that we will pray. But we will never turn from our wicked ways, seeking His face in prayer until we humble ourselves.  These four essential and necessary steps to healing are inseparable!  They are tightly woven together, fully and completely dependent on one another.  Moreover, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not a one-and-done experience.  These four steps to real healing are a lifestyle.  Jesus Christ wants us to live in a constant state of humility, corporate prayer, spiritual growth and repentant, both individually and as a nation.  When we do, we position ourselves to experience God’s best for us, individually and as a nation.

When it comes to COVID-19, we continue to hear good news with the bad news.  We hear of people who test positive with the virus and then they are healed of the virus.  Now, there’s good news about the “sin” virus.  IF we pursue the four steps to cure our spiritual sickness, God responds in three specific ways.  What happens is conditional.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

God didn’t say, “Perhaps I will hear from heaven,” He said, “I will.”  Remember, God is immutable.  The God of the Old Testament is still the same in nature in the New Testament.  God said, “Call to Me and I will answer you.  I will show you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).  God does not fail to answer.  He doesn’t put us through to His galactic voice mail.  He always answers; it’s just that we fail to recognize His answer as His answer is not THE answer for which we hope.  And keep in mind what the psalmist said: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened…” (Psalm 66:18).  When we seek His face, turning from our wicked ways, God hears our prayers.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

And in that moment, God forgives us of our sins.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  God’s forgiveness is beyond our comprehension!  He removes our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), and buries them in the “depths of the seas” (Micah 7:19) where He “remembers them no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

God still heals the land of nations.  After all, God causes nations to rise and to fall.  He is merciful to individuals and entire nations.  The prophet Jeremiah wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom.  In his profound grief, Jeremiah declared: “Because of your compassion we are not consumed.  Your mercies never fail, they are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  The Hebrew in this text means that every morning comes with new mercies not experienced before, and that from a loving, compassionate God who allows and enables us to exist from day-to-day.

A Warning of a Coming Calamity

Tornado sirens warn of an approaching storm with lethal winds.  Likewise, throughout the centuries God has allowed hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, wars, disease and more to give us pause; to stop us in our tracks and to look to Him.

Whether COVID-19 takes our lives or not, we will someday die.  Whether we die of a disease or a disaster, we will leave this world and enter a realm beyond the door of death.  Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed for everyone to die and then face the judgment before God.  Those who are not followers of Jesus Christ face an eternity without God in a place of everlasting suffering – Jesus said so.  Yet, those who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, live eternally with Him on a new earth (Revelation 21:1 and following)—and it is all because Jesus Christ died for our sins and we trust Him completely for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life.

In a harsh environment, we can live for three weeks without food, for three days without water, for three hours without shelter or clothing, and for three minutes without air.  In the harsh environment of COVID-19, we can’t live a second without hope, and such hope is contagious.

Peter wrote his letters to believers who were discouraged.  Because of the great persecution sweeping across the Roman Empire, many Christians were driven from their homes, separated from their loved ones, imprisoned for their Christian faith, and many lost their lives.  Peter wrote to them, saying… “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Notice the phrase “living hope.”   People put their hope in money that runs out, cars that rust out and clothes that wear out.   But Christians put their hope in Jesus Christ.   Jesus provides us with a living hope based on the historical fact that He was raised from the dead, conquering sin and the grave.   Jesus Christ is alive forevermore and He alone is our Living Hope!  There’s a hymn that was written in the 1800s and that we have sung many times over the years, and the opening line declares, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  Let’s build our hope on Jesus Christ – and when we do, that hope becomes contagious!

Hope has a name … “Jesus.”

 

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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, written permission is required. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259).

Sermon: Contagious Joy

by Gary Johnson, e2 Executive Director 

 

Text: Habakkuk 3:16-19 

Introduction

Lamentations 5:15 states: “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.” In America, our dancing has certainly turned into mourning, and it’s true not only across America, but of countries around the world. As COVID-19 spreads across our country, so also does increasing sadness. Grief is more than real.

Most of us have experienced grief, particularly when someone we loved passed away. Grief is triggered by loss, and most of America is grieving because of who—and what—we are losing. Our dancing has turned into mourning. Yes, thousands of Americans have died from COVID-19. We grieve their loss. As well, our grief has been triggered by the loss of jobs, the loss of a healthy economy, the loss of being with one another, the loss of a high school or college commencement, the loss of a wedding and reception, and more. The list of what we are losing only grows with each passing day, and a collective sadness spreads across the country and around the world as fast as the coronavirus. Our dancing has turned into mourning.

But what IF our mourning could be turned into dancing? Is it even possible? The answer is unequivocally, yes! From Psalm 30:11, we sing these words: “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” We will discover in the Scriptures HOW we can most certainly turn our mourning into dancing; our sobbing into singing.

This is the second of three brief sermons, “mini-messages” called CONTAGIOUS. Not only is COVID-19 highly contagious, but so also is fear, panic and uncertainty. This weekend, a couple in their early 50s in Illinois were victims of fear as they died in an apparent murder-suicide (link to local news story). When they thought they had contracted the virus, their fear and panic so overwhelmed them that they ended their lives abruptly. Their autopsies revealed they did not have the new coronavirus.  Remember, fear will always knock at your door, but just don’t invite it in to stay.

While we are in what is thought to be the worst of the pandemic, I feel lead of the Spirit to write three simple messages on three specific texts for a time such as this. Last week, Psalm 11 revealed how we can experience a Contagious Faith instead of a contagious fear, and this week, we discover that Contagious Joy can be more than real when the Lord turns our mourning into dancing.

Years ago, the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief to us. As we grieve the impact of COVID-19, we experience denial when we think “this virus won’t impact me.” We then move to anger as we consider lost physical or financial health, graduations, weddings, family gatherings, and more. Next, we begin to bargain as we think if we social distance for a couple of weeks, everything will be fine—right? Then, as we move into depression we are convinced that this will never end, that life will never be normal again. Yet finally, we arrive at acceptance and we resolve to move on in life, to take the right and necessary next steps through this season of loss.

Someone in the Bible came to a place of acceptance, and his name was Habakkuk. His story is told in the Old Testament. Though Habakkuk came to a season in life of horrific suffering and his dancing was turned into mourning, he came to know real joy – and so can we when we make his story our story.

Habakkuk’s Story…

Let’s take a look at Habakkuk’s story first from the proverbial 36,000’ as we need to understand what was taking place. Though Habakkuk has a difficult writing style, we can quickly understand that something painful was about to happen. These three short chapters reveal that a storm is building on the horizon and it is not happening atmospherically, but spiritually. Not only has the Northern Kingdom (i.e., Israel) been carried off into exile by the Assyrians, but the same will soon happen with the Southern Kingdom (i.e., Judah). Why? The people of God have rebelled against Him and have rejected Him. They have turned to idols of all shapes and sizes and have become unfaithful in the most ungodly of ways.

Now, Judah is about to be invaded by Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar will marshal his vast army and will destroy the city of Jerusalem—including the temple of God—and take survivors into exile. Habakkuk’s dancing would be turned to mourning, and in roughly eight short years from the time of his writing his “oracle” (1:1). Life as they knew it to be would be radically changed. Not only would thousands of people lose their lives, but they would lose their homes, their crops and livestock and more, bringing wave after wave of grief. Yet, his mourning would be turned back into dancing.

Let’s now descend into the text from our 36,000’ perspective. As we look at some of the verses, we need to know that there is something very unique in this book of the Bible. This book is a conversation between God and Habakkuk! 

Habakkuk 1:2-3

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Habakkuk wasted no time in his conversation with God. Speaking TO God, Habakkuk began with the hard questions: “how long” and “why”. Habakkuk began with persistent, ever-familiar questions. He wanted to know WHY the “destruction, violence, strife and conflict” were plentiful in his nation had rejected and turned away from God. And Habakkuk wanted to know HOW LONG his suffering would continue. And check out God’s answer in verse 5.

Habakkuk 1:5-6

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.

And then God continues in the following verses, saying how He—God—has ordained, set apart the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem and the land of Judah for their rebellion. It was a harsh answer to the hard questions asked by Habakkuk. In verse 5, the word “you” is not singular. Over and again, it is plural, meaning that this was an answer for everyone to hear. It wasn’t only for Habakkuk, but it was for Habakkuk to share throughout the city of Jerusalem and beyond. One more thing, the word “oracle” in verse 1 (and elsewhere) means “burden.” First, the word “oracle” means burden. Habakkuk had the heavy burden of communicating this news to all of God’s people. It’s one thing to share good news, yet entirely different to be the bearer of bad news. The name Habakkuk means “embrace.” Habakkuk had some bad news that he had to embrace, and the only way he could do so was to embrace God as his refuge and strength—which is exactly what he did.

Descending yet deeper into the text, check out how the conversation between Habakkuk and God ends. Though the conversation begins with hard questions and harsh answers, it ends with real hope.

Habakkuk 3:16-19

I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer, he enables me to go on to the heights.

All of chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer to God, remembering and acknowledging the indescribable power of God as in times past. And thinking of what lay ahead, not only for the Israelites but for the Babylonians as well, Habakkuk was shaken. He doesn’t like what he hears, the answer he has received to his questions. In response to God unleashing His power in times past, Habakkuk was physically shaken. His “heart pounded” in his chest and his “lips quivered” in fear, while he became so weak that his legs trembled, making it difficult stand and move (v. 16). Moreover, Habakkuk would wait for calamity to engulf the invading Babylonians, for suffering and hardship to sweep over them.

And there was more. In all the ways that Israel was strong, they were suddenly weak. The agricultural and economic health of Israel was unexpectedly gone. There were no figs on the trees, grapes on the vines, and a complete crop failure when it came to olives. And to make matters worse, there were no sheep or cattle to be found! The food chain and economic engine of Israel was abruptly gone. This was a harsh, hard reality for Habakkuk. Yet, Habakkuk was able to make decision; an intentional, a deliberate decision. Without the evidence of God’s material provision and protection, Habakkuk chose to rejoice in the Lord, to be joyful in God for the Lord was his strength. Despite how bleak life looked, Habakkuk chose to rejoice in God. He would be victorious and not a victim.

Push Pause

We need to pause briefly in the conversation between Habakkuk and God and see some similarities with life today. America and much of the world has been invaded by COVID-19. Massive losses are real; from the passing away of people, to the loss of jobs, and much more. As COVID-19 spreads across the country, so also does fear, panic AND grief. A tsunami of sadness drowns people in despair. Like Habakkuk, we ask “WHY” this is happening and “HOW LONG” until it is over. And after asking the hard questions, we don’t like the harsh answers and observations we see, such as the increasing numbers of people testing positive with COVID-19 and the rising number of people who have died of this virus. We do not like empty parking lots and idle businesses. We do not like canceled commencements and closed churches. As in the day of Habakkuk when the olive crop failed and sheep and cattle were nowhere to be found, we find ourselves shaken to the very core. Our dancing has turned into mourning.

Think with me. There’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is rooted in our circumstances. For example, people get a promotion and raise at work, a student wins a scholarship, a company has record sales, and more. People are of the mindset that winning the lottery brings immediate happiness. Yet, research proves time and again that winning the lottery makes misery a reality. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 7 out of ten people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years. It’s called the curse of the lottery. Easy come, easy go. Divorce, depression, tragedies are a part of winning the lottery. [Melissa Chan, “Here’s How Winning the Lottery Makes You Miserable,” Time (1-12-16)]

Not even money – and lots of it—can make us happy. Money, and the things that money can buy, do not bring us joy. There is a difference between happiness and joy. We learn from Habakkuk how to find joy. Like Habakkuk, we CAN turn our mourning into dancing. We CAN experience a contagious joy. How did Habakkuk’s sobbing turn into singing? Knowing that his city would be destroyed and his life forever changed, how was he able to rejoice in the Lord? And, how can we? The answer lies in chapter 2. Think…www.joy.

Habakkuk 2:1

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Habakkuk mentioned an important, a vital practice in his day – and that being the city watchman. It was essential that men be stationed on the ramparts of the city wall to look for any threat advancing coming towards the city, as well as for anyone approaching with that which was good for the city. For example, in 2 Kings 7, enemies of Israel had surrounded the city of Samaria, laying siege to it. The resulting famine claimed many lives of people in that city, but four men left the city and walked into the enemy camp to turn themselves in—only to discover that the camp had been abandoned and mountains of food was left behind. These men returned to the city and called out to the watchmen on the walls and at the gates that they had good news.

W for Watch!

While in the midst of COVID-19, make certain to watch for God’s goodness, and we will be able to rejoice in the Lord. Our mourning will turn into dancing. The media continues to feed us a constant feast of bad news. Remember, we become what we eat – not only physically but also mentally. If all we hear is one piece of bad news after another, we will be crushed by the weight of hopelessness and worry.

Amazon keeps track of your highlights and mine. When we read e-books and we mark sentences, Amazon knows what we highlight, and they take note of it. Amazon released a list of the most popular passages in some of its bestselling books. Amazon even indicated the most highlighted passage in the Bible. It wasn’t John 3:16 or Psalm 23. It is a text that speaks powerfully into a worried world, and it is Philippians 4:6-7. [Robert J. Morgan, Worry Less, Live More (Thomas Nelson, 2017, p. xiii)]. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, he wrote a letter to a church in Philippi, and in that letter, Paul said…

Philippians 4:4-8

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or trustworthy—think about such things.

“Think” is a word in Greek from which we derive our word logarithm, which is a very difficult part of math demanding some prolonged thinking! Throughout this crisis, take time throughout the day to look for the “goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). Call it a “take 10” break…ten minutes to focus on specific good in life right now. Count them on your fingers – food to eat, a roof over the head, a car to drive, a phone in my hand, an internet to surf, a Bible to read, family and friends to love, the Spirit who never leaves me, Jesus who saves me and a Father who loves me, etc.

W for Word!

Did we notice that in addition to watching, Habakkuk said that he would “look to see what he will say to me.” He would look to hear a word from God. God has been speaking from the beginning of measured time when he said, “Let there be light,” and being that God does not change, He is still speaking today. The question is: are we listening? In our hands, we have the timeless Word of God and it is filled with words of strong promise and wise counsel. It is a “lamp to our feet and light to our path” (Ps. 119:105). Romans 15: 4 reminds us that “everything written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” Are we spending more time reading the news or the Word, more time playing video games and binging on Netflix or reading and thinking on the Word? When we turn to the Word of God, we hear from God and when we hear from God, we can rejoice in God – and our mourning will turn to dancing.

W for Worship!

Habakkuk 2:20

The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.

God was then and will also be worthy of our worship. Even when Jerusalem was destroyed, God was still in His holy temple, sovereign and in control. And remember that silence before the Lord is not only for reverence, but also in acceptance of God’s judgment. Habakkuk was accepting the grim reality that God was about to punish the Israelites by the Babylonians. It left Habakkuk silent before God. We worship God not only with our songs, but with our silence.

Habakkuk asked God WHY suffering was happening in the land of Judah and HOW LONG it would last. Though it wasn’t the answer he was hoping to hear from God, Habakkuk accepted what God had to say and, in the end, Habakkuk chose to “rejoice in the Lord.” The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We can know this joy when we watch for the goodness of the Lord, hear the Lord speak to us in His Word, and we sincerely worship the Lord, know that He is in His holy temple, worthy of our worship. Happiness is rooted in circumstances, but joy is rooted in our relationship with God.

Friends, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His disciples: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus has overcome the world.

We are beginning to hear in the news of people who tested positive for COVID-19, struggled with it, but in the end overcame it. Now, their blood is being drawn and antibodies from their blood are given to people struggling with the virus – hoping that it will help people conquer COVID-19. That news story reminded me of another story from years ago. When diphtheria raged throughout Europe, Dr. Felix Ruh, a friend and colleague of Louis Pasteur, infected twenty healthy horses with the bacteria and one by one, each horse died, that is, except one. That strong horse conquered diphtheria, it overcame the pandemic. Dr. Ruh then took blood from that horse and inoculated over 300 hundred babies in Paris nearing death from diphtheria, and they lived. They were saved by the blood of the overcomer. And so are we! The bad news is, yes—in this world, we will have trouble. If its not COVID-19, it will be something else. But the good news is this, Jesus is the Overcomer! He alone is the One who saves us.

Joy is real. We may watch a spectacular sunrise or sunset and we don’t want it to end. We may travel and see a spectacular site where we’ve never been; seeing and swimming in an ocean for the first time, looking and walking into the Grand Canyon for the first time, and we don’t want that moment to end—but it does. Whatever that joy filled moment is, we say or think: “I don’t want this ever to end,” but it does. When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and we trust in His death on a cross for the gift of eternal life, we will be with the Lord and one another forever. There will be unspeakable joy. We will say or think: “I don’t want this to end. I want this to go on forever,” and it will. This is the Gospel, the Good News from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That word – “Gospel” – also means “the joy news.”

My parents were kids during the Great Depression, and when they were in high school, World War II impacted them—and everyone in America. Then, it was the Korean War, and then the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the list goes on and on. Over 100 times, we read a phrase in the Bible that just simply says, “And it came to pass…” The Great Depression came to pass, as did World War 2, as did Korean War, and more. It came to pass, and this crisis will come to pass.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Let’s spread some contagious joy!

 

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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, written permission is required. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259).

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).

Play #9: Crisis Response

by Gary Johnson 

In Acts 27:9-44, Dr. Luke provides a detailed account of a storm. Paul was standing trial and he appealed his case to Caesar in Rome. Hence, Paul was on a ship, en route to Rome, when it was caught in a storm. According to Luke’s account, the storm was both 1) sudden and 2) serious. The storm was a “northeaster,” and from that word we derive “typhoon.” It was life-threatening. Moreover, the crew took drastic measures to save their lives, such as in the passing of ropes under the ship to hold it together, as well as throwing the cargo and rigging overboard to lighten the ship. In reading carefully through the text, Paul provided exceptional leadership throughout the two-week ordeal, helping all 276 men aboard to survive.

Similarly, every day, everywhere in the world, crises happen. A crisis can be both sudden and serious, causing great fear and distress to the people impacted by it. Elders, like Paul, must lead courageously and competently through the crisis for the well-being of the local church. Elders are called “shepherds” – and shepherds protect sheep. Ergo, elders must protect the congregation in times of crisis.

Being that crisis response and management is an enormous field of study and leadership, this article provides merely a simple step-by-step template to follow in the event of a sudden and serious crisis impacting the congregation.

Step Identification: Like clothing, crises come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Not all crises are alike; one may involve the church building (i.e., a fire, flooding, etc.); whereas, another crisis may intimately and personally impact the lives of people (i.e., sexual abuse, injury, etc.). A “one-size-fits-all” response to a crisis is not appropriate. Elders must identify the type of crisis impacting the church and then move to the logical and right next step.

Step Safety: Again, depending on the nature of the crisis, step 2 is essential when there is a threat of harm to individuals. In the case of fire, an active shooter, injury to individual(s), etc., an immediate call to 9-1-1 must be made. The church must have an evacuation plan that is known to the congregation, in the event of fire, sudden storm (i.e., tornado), active shooter, etc. The local church must have an emergency response team within the congregation. These individuals can be volunteers with training in first-aid, security skills, etc. Moreover, first-aid equipment should be available in the church to use until emergency response personnel arrive on the scene.

Step Triage: The elders must appoint an emergency response team whose responsibility is to triage the crisis. Just as when individuals are taken to a trauma center following a massive accident and the medical team is trained to triage injuries, so also must the local church have a trained and identified team of individuals who will triage the immediate steps to take in the event of a crisis. This team, appointed by the elders, must be given authority, along with their responsibility, to act on behalf of the church with immediacy. When a serious crisis suddenly occurs, there is little time to call an elders’ meeting.

Step Communication: A communication strategy must be developed. Should a crisis occur that is immediately visible to the public (i.e., a fire, a shooting, etc.), media representatives will appear at the church, wanting to interview people. One person should be the designated spokesperson for the local church so that this individual alone is providing information to the media. Also, a communication strategy includes the manner and method in which the congregation will be provided with appropriate information. For example, if there are allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, this information must be expertly handled with both law enforcement and the congregation. Again, the nature of the crisis dictates the type of communication that is necessary in that very moment.

Step Professional Assistance: The elders must contact the insurance carrier providing coverage for the congregation. Whether storm, fire, flood, abuse, malpractice, etc., the congregation must carry adequate and appropriate insurance coverage, and the congregation’s insurance agent must be contacted immediately and informed of the crisis. Moreover, the church may have an identified attorney who provides legal services to the congregation. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the elders may contact this individual with information of the crisis at hand.

Step Damage Control: The elders and staff must work with one another as the crisis unfolds in the following days, weeks, months and even years. A strategy for continuing appropriate communication must be developed, and it must address what is being posted digitally on social media platforms. Moreover, the long-term response must include ministry to individuals directly involved in the crisis (i.e., victims of the crisis).

Back to Paul. When reading through Acts 27, it’s important to notice Paul’s great declaration. To survive his sudden and serious storm, Paul shouted over the wind that he “had faith in God,” and not in the ropes placed under the ship, nor in the pilot of the ship, etc. His was an anchored faith! Moreover, Paul yelled to the men in the midst of the storm, “So keep up your courage men…” His was an active faith, as he attempted to encourage and build others up, pointing them to God, as they faced fear head-on.

Like Paul, elders must anchor their faith in God, believing that He alone is the source of unlimited wisdom and strength to survive any and all crises. Moreover, elders must point people to God, actively sharing their faith in hopes that others caught in the storm of crisis will survive by the great mercy of God. 

Running the Play: 

During a crisis, action is preferred to inaction, especially acts of faith and ministry that are obviously selfless.