Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Fear Not I Am With You

When people reach those moments where they are so frustrated they don’t see any value or have any desire to continue with something, they might begin to question the value of what they are doing or maybe even their own value. Their purpose seems clouded and they begin to say things such as “Why? Why am I doing this? Why bother? I put in all of this time and effort and look at where I am. When a people’s lives have been headed in a direction without any thought of change and suddenly a change is faced upon them it can be really tempting for them to throw their arms up in the air and say, “What now? What am I supposed to do?” These past several months have demonstrated this as we’ve been told to isolate from others, to not go to school, to work from home if you are able to work at all, and to keep our distance. And, the longer this continues the more it seems at least to me that there is something far more threatening than a virus laying below the surface. Now, as we have combined this with widespread civil unrest and people forcefully telling other people that they either buy into their agenda hook, line and sinker or they then become the cause and as the cause deserve judgment and punishment, things have really gotten nasty. People have become not only alienated, but now they have also become fearful making almost a perfect storm in which the enemy or the evil one can revel.

The crazy thing is that at the heart of all of this there really is a virus and we do have a long history as a people of not treating all people with the same love, mercy and grace which our God has shown to us. We need to be careful as we walk through trying to gain victory over this virus which means also that we have to walk in love as we care for those who respond differently to it than we might feel ourselves. And, as the voices of hurt are crying out in the midst of the unrest, we do need to be reminded that particularly in some sectors of our country racism is still very much an issue. It is not a ‘some sectors’ issue. It is a “we the people issue” as we hear stories from every sector of those who have experience it resultant discrimination on a regular basis.

There is much of this later issue that I may not be ‘qualified’ to speak to because I have not been the recipient of the treatment or resident where its roots were the most evident. But I know enough to know that going after things with a distorted purpose in a distorted way is not the answer. I also know that in anything I align myself with it is my responsibility also to make sure that I know what they stand for and that I am in agreement enough to link elbows with not only the people but the cause itself.

Twenty-five years ago, Pastor Rick Warren released a book “The Purpose Driven Church” focused on encouraging pastors and church leaders to build their churches on God’s purposes and not their own ideas of ministry. Nearly twenty years ago though, in 2002 his most popular book, “The Purpose Driven Life” was released which swept through churches around the country and even the world. It’s focus was to adapt the principles of the first book to the lives of the body of the church itself. The early versions of the book had five major focuses in answer to one leading question. That question was, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” I suspect a huge part of the success of this book and the videos and studies and other stuff that sprung from it was the connection that people had with that question itself. And it was in answer to that question that Pastor Warren sought to connect people with answers or purposes.

Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God's Pleasure (Christian Worship)
Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God's Family (Christian Church)
Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God (Christian Ministry)
Purpose #5: You Were Made for a Mission (Christian Mission)

What Pastor Warren sought to do was to take people to the Word of God to guide people in answering their questions concerning their purpose in life as His in Christ. It’s not surprising that as I looked at reviews of a later version of the book that I found one particular one-star rating to stand out. This person expressed their disappointment because as a non-Christian it did not address that individual’s own questions about purpose.  While the world as we see here many not agree, the Bible boldly declares that our purpose in Him creating us was for us to be a people in a personal relationship with Him. Anything outside of this really is outside of the purpose of the Creator. It was as man acted outside of God’s purpose and instruction that sin entered the world, and it is only through His intervention through His Son, Christ Jesus that we are restored in that purpose both individually and corporately. Outside of Christ, any search for purpose is only as good as the transient issue, cause, desire, or goals that individuals and those they align with hinge themselves.

Purpose is huge. We all want to know that we have a purpose, and when what we have become used to is yanked out from underneath us it then becomes easy to surrender and lose hope. For most this might be only a momentary thing, but for others it may persist for longer periods of time. I have seen this over the years with seniors and particularly surviving spouses. I’ve seen it with those who have struggled to provide for their families. I’ve seen it with people who have chronically struggled is issue of abuse of one form or another. And now we are seeing it even in our children as their world as they have known it has been closed off and there is no real answer for what lies ahead, especially for those whose college goals are in question as they wait decisions as to whether they will be able to “go” or not.

Discouragement or the lack of courage to continue comes when purpose doesn’t exist, is distorted in some way, or is repeatedly fought back. Encouragement comes with hope. Its with hope that people move forward today with a level of trust that some normalcy will return. Its with hope that those who have suffered at the hands of others move forward trusting that good will come out of what is happening now. And while people hope their hope is also challenged by those whose desires are not as theirs and whose means are not so virtuous.

Last Sunday I taught from Acts 18:9-22, with a particular focus on verses 9 and 10. “(9) And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; (10) for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”” (Acts 18:9–10, NASB95) In looking at these two verses I would encourage you to divide in each of them the words of Jesus into two parts (an ‘a’ and a “b’). In 9a (“Do not be afraid any longer”) and 10a (“for I am with you”) we have both an instruction and a promise that are spoken throughout the Bible in both Old and New Testaments that apply to all who trust in God. We are not to be afraid any longer. The “any longer” acknowledges that it may have described us in the past but is not to mark us for the future.

We are to stop being afraid. The reason is not found in the rest of verse 9 where Paul is instructed by Jesus in what he is to do or the purpose for which he was sent (“but go on speaking and do not be silent”). Instead it is found in the beginning of verse 10 in the assurance of the presence of Christ with him. God was with him and would never leave him nor forsake him (abandon or give up on him). And the reason he could feel comfortable in this was not even the promise that followed in the middle of the verse, “and no man will attack you in order to harm you.” No. The reason that Paul was no longer to fear was the reminder from God that God was with Him. God was on His side and ‘yes’ in that circumstance unlike many other circumstances where God also proved His constant presence, in this one unique circumstance no harm would befall him. It is then that verse 10 concluded the vision with a restatement of the purpose for Paul being there which was to reach the people that God had chosen. What Paul was reminded by God was that in sending Paul to do a work which he ordained for him beforehand that he was not to fear what the enemy might throw at Him because God’s strong hand was there for him. This was also true when he was stoned elsewhere and even when he was later martyred in Rome.

God has a purpose for those who place their trust in Him. We may not always see how that purpose is being worked out, but we do know that He does and it is our response-ability to keep our hope and trust in Him in the waiting and the walking. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) 

The details of that purpose may not always be clear and there may be obstacles in the way with detours and delays, but we should never lose hope by focusing on those things but instead always living with hope knowing that we are His and first and foremost He has called us to seek after Him and trust Him fully for every moment, every event, and every other thing that we may encounter. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, NASB95; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:13)