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Virtual Worship Sunday 4/5/2020

Dear Church Family,

I pray you are all keeping healthy and well.  As we prepare to worship together as a church tomorrow, together with another church, I wanted to share a few more thoughts on how the Scriptures speak to the uncertainty we are all experiencing about the future right now.  

I know that some of you have lost your jobs while others are working harder than ever.  We’ve all lost social interactions that are meaningful to us, and we are all getting used to not finding everything we were hoping to find at the grocery store.  The restrictions have increased on us this week, and the timeline for lifting those restrictions has been pushed back.  There is understandably a lot to be anxious about.  For most of us, that anxiety comes and goes in waves as we are able to take note of the little blessings we were prone to overlook in happier days and the ways the Lord continues to provide for us even now.  For others, this anxiety never seems to go away.

Into all of this uncertainty and nervous energy (or nervous deflation of energy as it may be), the Lord speaks the words of Philippians 4:4-10: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

At first read, it almost sounds too simplistic.  Just rejoice!  Just be thankful!  Just be reasonable!  But how can we when so many things we loved have been taken away, when we don’t know when, or if, we will ever get them back again in any recognizable form, when there’s no definite end in sight to which we can look forward?  But if you look again, you may notice that the command “do not be anxious about anything” is not based on what our circumstances look like.  In fact, throughout the whole passage, our circumstances aren’t even mentioned once.  It’s as if they’re irrelevant to the question.  “How can that be?” you may ask.  Because the basis of our peace is not what we don’t have; it’s the one thing we have that can never be taken away: “The Lord is at hand.”

The Lord’s presence is a comfort to us in times of uncertainty, not only because "he comforts us in all our afflictions” (2 Corinthians 1:4), not only because He reminds us that our eternal outcome is secure, that whatever “‘light and momentary affliction” we are enduring now “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17), but also because he invites us to bring our concerns and our anxieties to Him.  We can find comfort for our fears about the future because the Lord is near, inviting us in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let our requests be made known to God, that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, would guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  

When we present our concerns to Him in prayer, He is faithful to guard us, not from anything ever happening to us, but to guard our hearts and our minds from the overwhelming effects of our fears, which often cripple us in the face of potential danger.  But placing those fears in the hands of our ever-present God does the opposite.  Trusting Him to handle anything that comes our way in His omnipotence not only addresses the fear itself with His strength rather than our lack of it, but it also strengthens us by unburdening our hearts and minds from the crippling fear, enabling us to endure whatever comes our way, knowing that He is watching over us.

But notice, too, that it’s not just our anxious hearts, but also our minds which need this guarding, which is why the Apostle also calls us then to turn our thoughts not to those things which make us anxious, not to dwell on our circumstances, but to a list of attributes that can only describe Jesus Himself.  To put it in the words of an old hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”  If our hearts are strengthened by bringing our fears to God in prayer, our minds are guarded by addressing our anxious thoughts with the truth of the gospel.

Notice that I didn’t just say “try to ignore our anxious thoughts.”  That’s the direction we might be tempted to try to take - to push down those anxious thoughts and just think about how great Jesus is - and it’s not a bad instinct.  It’s definitely better to think about the greatness of Jesus than what makes us afraid, but the gospel is actually greater than that.  The Lord doesn’t just tell us to ignore our fears, but to bring them to Him, so that He can address them directly with His goodness and strength, leaving us nothing to be afraid of.  

All of this brings us back to that first command, though.  Why does Paul spend so much time telling us how God addresses our anxieties if we’re not supposed to be anxious about anything in the first place?  Because the command “do not be anxious” doesn’t mean that it’s a moral failing if we’re ever afraid of anything.  The Lord expects us to be afraid and anxious at times in this world.  There’s a lot of scary stuff in this sinful, broken, fallen world, a lot of reasons to be anxious and afraid.  Paul Himself spoke of being anxious in Philippians 2:28 and 2 Corinthians 11:28.  What’s important is not that we just puff out our chest and face it all with a stiff upper lip, pretending that it doesn’t phase us, but that we remember that He knows our frame - He knows that we are weak.  Instead of shaming us for weakness, our gracious Lord invites us to “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  

Jesus offers Himself as the solution to our anxiety by taking it on Himself, and He invites us to lay our fears on Him in prayer.  Then He addresses each of our anxious thoughts with His own truth, justice, purity, loveliness, excellence, etc., so that we can remember His answer to our fears and be at peace.  May God grant us the grace this week to pray to Him and remember the gospel when we are nervous and afraid, and may it lead us to thankfulness in Him for His provision of Himself.

The church we are worshiping with this week is Huntersville ARP Church in, you guessed it, Huntersville, NC.  The pastor is Rev. Lee Shelnutt, who served as the Moderator of our Synod (denomination) for the 2017-2018 year.  His preaching, devotionals, and emphasis for the other preachers and contributors to the denominational magazine that year were a great encouragement to me, and I’m excited that we get to worship with their church this week.  As you prepare yourself for worship tomorrow morning, remember to pray for Pastor Lee and the HARP church (their acronym makes a nice nickname).  In my correspondence with him this week, he mentioned that while none of the members of their church has come down with COVID-19, some have family members who have, including at least one who is currently in the ICU.  Please pray for them as well.

Here are the details for joining the service tomorrow:

Please click hereto open the bulletin for Sunday, April 5, live streamed service. 

Please click here to view the worship service livestream. This link will be active starting at 11:00 am tomorrow morning, Sunday, April 5.

If you have any questions or prayer requests, please feel free to reach out at any time.

With my prayers,

Jonathan

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