Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Time for Courage

Jacopo Tintoretto
Saint George and the Dragon
In Eastern Los Angeles, panic has swept through the population. Grocery shelves are empty. Toilet paper is gone. Schools have been shutdown. Libraries are closed. Events are cancelled. Church gatherings shutdown. Even the boxing gym I attend is closed until March 31st. Generally, people are afraid to go to public places.

But for those who follow the Christian faith - we must not let fear seize us. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control." From the Old Testament, Psalms 23:4 says, "Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me."

I find it disheartening how many Christians I know are terrified of this disease. It's a terrible testament of our faith. I'm not saying we shouldn't be prudent and prepared, but as Pastor Francis Chan pointed out, according to Charisma News, "It's a test of our faith - not to be foolish but to show that we fear nothing, especially not death. And we are anxious about nothing." Chan tells how Chinese Christians are witnessing their faith in Hong Kong, even amongst the coronavirus outbreak there.

During this crisis, if we can't draw on faith, love, and hope, what kind of testament are we to this world? How are we the light? How are we salt? If salt loses its saltiness, it's thrown away.

We're called to be strong in crisis, because "If you're weak in crisis, you're weak indeed." (Pro. 24:10, GNT).

The Bible never promises us that we'll live forever on this earth. So why are Christians and others believing in this lie? We act like we're all entitled to immortality here.

I'll repeat it again. We're not going to live on this earth forever. What counts is what you do with your time here and now, no matter how short it is.

In fact, Scripture says "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it."

Suffering is a plight Christians are all called to endure. That's what it means to take up your cross daily.

And yet, I had to be taught this lesson by an atheist civil rights attorney. In Russia, I staged a protest, because the Russian government in Saint Petersburg wouldn't let me board my flight without paying a bribe. I was placed in indefinite house arrest within the country. It was an upsetting experience, where my State Department did nothing for me. Kind Russian people I had barely known, however, stepped up and gave me compassion; hospitality; and most importantly - their time. The lessons I learned there stayed with me for life.

When I returned home, my atheist attorney praised me for what I did.

And I asked her, "But what did it accomplish? I could've got really hurt. One of the officer pushed me to the floor."

"If anything, it's good for you. It cleanses your soul," she told me.

How shameful for the Church that I had to learn this lesson from someone outside of the faith - who understood the lessons of suffering better than I've ever heard from any sermon preached.

The solution to this kind of disobedience is repentance to God. The sin is clear. It's placing fear above Him. And in doing so, he is no longer God of your life, fear is. It is written - "Worship no God but me." That includes the god of fear.

I end with a verse in 1 John 4, which reminds us all of the purpose of our being: "There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment."

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