Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds. When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway.

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon – Video Version.

God’s Got This? When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry.”

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus IN FAITH . . .

(This is part four in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Who will take the first step? Who will trust God? I like to imagine the conversation among the Hebrew men as they stood before a divided Red Sea, with walls of water to the left and to the right. Sure, God did made that happen. But can God be trusted? Who will take that first step of trust? I can also imagine one of them saying, “since this is a rescue operation, perhaps it should be women and children first?”

There were already trust issues when God’s people stood between the Egyptian army and the sea;

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:10-11

Moses encourages the people to trust in God;

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:13-14

But even Moses himself seems to have some trouble trusting;

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. Exodus 14:15

The sea divides. They are to walk through! But who will take that first step? Will they trust God? This is not exactly a trip through Ripley’s Aquarium! They all took the step and walked through in faith.

When we invite people to walk with Jesus, we encourage them to trust God every step of the way. It may sometimes feel like there are walls of water to the left and right and an army behind. The Christian may endure suffering, trials and tribulations. Is God really with me as I keep plodding along the bottom of the sea? For someone who is not a Christian, the first step of faith may feel like the hardest. ‘I will be misunderstood and mocked. People will think I have lost my mind.’ A person on the verge of faith may feel like they are standing at the sea with a very scary fist step ahead. As a church family, we are to help people walk with Jesus in faith whether they have been walking with Him for a long time, or considering a first step. Each step with Jesus is the very best next step you could take no matter where you are right now.

Walking in faith means we trust in the promises of God the Father. Like God’s people feeling trapped at the sea with the promise of a rescue, we have promises to hang onto. Walking in faith means we trust in the work of God the Son. Like Moses, we don’t need to cry out for what has already been promised. Our reconciliation has been accomplished in Jesus. Our part is not to ask over and over again for God to save us, like a child begging and pleading with an unwilling parent. Our part is to keep walking with Jesus. Walking in faith means we trust God to be present though the Holy Spirit. Just as God’s people walked through the Sea while God’s presence kept the Egyptians back, we can trust that God is not going to suddenly change his mind and leave us to the enemy. As a church family, we are to help people trust God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, with every step.

When some hear “faith” they think “blind faith, belief without any evidence, or belief despite the evidence”. Those outside the church may think of church as helping you maintain a blind faith and will say no, thank you. Those within the church may respond with “you just gotta believe” and quote Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

But are we really to help people with a “blind faith”? We should ask what is “unseen” in Hebrews 11? What can’t be seen is the future. When the people walked through the Red Sea, they could not see the future, but they took the step of faith, trusting that God would rescue them.

Faith in Hebrews 11 It is referring to what we have not seen fulfilled yet, what God has yet to do. Before God’s people stood before a divided sea with a decision to make, they had known the works of God. They saw what God did to the Egyptians. They had evidence upon which to take a reasonable step of faith. They had not yet seen what God was going to do, but they had seen what God had already done.

We are not called to help people believe something despite a lack of evidence. We are called to help people trust Someone because of the evidence. We do well to step into the world of apologetics and become familiar with that evidence. In addition to the lines of evidence which we can present to others, there is evidence that is personal to us. We know the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Moses had his own burning bush experience which he could tell others about, but which some might have trouble believing. However, he could also point to the evidence of God’s hand at work which the others had seen with their own eyes. In the same way we can each have and speak about our own personal experiences of God which others have not seen or experienced. But we can also point to those lines of evidence which can be seen.

The people did trust God:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

To the glory of God, may we help people walk with Jesus, may we help them trust Him every step of the way, knowing that every step with Jesus is always the next best step.

(All Scripture references are taken from he NRSV)