Let’s turn to Proverbs 24. It’s so good to see you all and those of you who are live streaming. And we have a whole row up here available for happy worshipers.
In Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller titled, “Titan,” I was struck by the resiliency of this man who in his day represented the best and the worst of the American free market. He came from nothing and became the richest man in the world. He bought up companies, put people out of business, became the evil face of monopoly. Yet he provided oil at a very cheap price and literally fueled the advancement of a nation. He would give away more money many weeks than most of us will earn in our entire lives.
There are many really big lessons we can talk about from this man, this baffling Baptist billionaire (in today’s money). But one big theme I want us to talk about today he typified, and that is his response to downturn. Downturn — when everyone panicked, he remained calm. When everybody was selling off, what was he doing? He’s buying up. He had an uncanny ability of turning crises into harvests — financial crises into financial harvests. Not so much financially, but I want us to talk about that today. How do you turn a crisis into a harvest? There’s no question we are in a crisis. We could look at it from many different perspectives. We are in a medical crisis. And if you haven’t had a chance to view the five-minute video that Dr. Tom Wessel, a doctor in our church, did, and I sent out with the church e-mail a few days ago. I know we had some link issues, but they’re fixed. So, take five minutes, watch that video. We’re in a medical crisis.
We’re in a political crisis, an election year. And I know every election year is toxic, but it just seems like there’s a hostility and a toxicity that is unusual even for our country. We’ll talk more about that next week. We’re in an educational crisis as parents and kids and teachers and teachers’ unions go head to head with government officials about this upcoming school year. We are in a financial crisis as debt is accumulating at a rate that our grandkids are going to pay dearly for. We’re in a church crisis. And we could look at this many different ways, but one way you might look at it is, as churches divide over how to respond to government edicts. For example, in California John MacArthur just opened up their church in defiance to the governor. And they are now worshiping, can you believe it, for the first time. But then other churches take a different posture and are saying we’re going to comply with the governor. We’re not going to meet in groups bigger than 50 or bigger than 100. But we’re going to find creative ways to still obey God in subjection to the government.
So, the crisis, I believe, is not so much, in my view, the decision they’re making as much as watching Christians slaughter one another over the decisions that are being made. That’s going to have an impact far beyond what the immediate crisis is. If the enemy can get God’s people to turn on each other in the middle of a crisis, which is the exact time we need one another, he is going to have a heyday.
So, we’re in a crisis. Here are the three words we’re going to focus on today. Come out stronger. How can we as God’s people walk through a crisis and come out stronger at the end of the crisis than when we went into the crisis?
And this burden of coming out stronger came in a couple of different ways. One is the passage we’re about to look at. Two, a statement (He didn’t say it that exact way, but a different statement, but similar.) Mark Sayers, a pastor and cultural commentator, mentioned a few months ago. And third, just this swelling desire among our elders that this unusual season actually become a harvest rather than a debilitating point of division. So, let’s ask God to do that in our hearts at this time.
Father, we cry out to you. We need you. We long for an intervention. Stop the pandemic. Bring about what we think of as normal health, strength, freedom of movement, work, growing economy — all these things that we pray that you would bring about. But we do not pray that you would bring these things about and leave us the same. If going back to normal means going back to our own media-driven, materialistic, self-centered ways, we don’t want that. Lord, we don’t want that. We pray that whatever you have for us, we won’t settle — settle for normality, settle for apathy. We won’t settle for that, Lord, that we would run to you. “You make known the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. We need you. We pray that our time together this morning would result in all of us running to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
So, Jesus promised exactly what’s happening. He said, “You’re going to have crisis. You’re actually going to have opposition. People are going to hate you.” He told his disciples that. And he told them he was sending them as sheep among wolves. Sheep among wolves. But he called us, he called his followers, to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Wise as serpents, innocent as doves.
Jesus knew that his followers would naturally tend toward being serpents or doves. Some of us, it’s not hard to be serpent-like. Crisis comes, we automatically do the research. We’re after the data. We want to be right, in a good way. We want to know what is the truth. We want to understand it. We want to articulate it. We want to stand by it. We want to be in the right place. Serpent-like wisdom, shrewdness. We naturally, our personalities are wired toward being shrewd as a serpent. Others naturally tend toward being innocent or simple as a dove. We’re going through this crisis. Let’s go through it together. Let’s respond gently and helpfully, purely. Let’s think the best of other people, give the benefit of the doubt to the person who has an opposing opinion.
Do you understand? Some of us here are more wired toward dovishness and others toward snakishness. If you think of it, even think of those in their best possible ways. Our brains are wired that way and Jesus knows that. And so, he says, “I’m calling you in the middle of this crisis to not just be like a dove or like a serpent. I want you to be a serpent/dove remix. I want you to bring those two things together that normally don’t go together. Sounds like we need a miracle. That’s not automatically going to happen. We tend toward being one or the other, right? And when we act out that one or the other, it feels right. Right? And we look at other people and we think, “What are you doing?” The doves look like they’re compromising. And the serpents look crazy, like they’re attacking one another.
And Jesus is saying, “Hey, can we not choose between serpent or dove? I want you to be wise as serpents (look at that key conjunction), and I want you to be innocent as a dove.” It’s not sharp or soft, keen or kind, headish or heartish. I want you to be both. And in order to do this, it’s going to require a ton of humility as Steve helped us see last week. This is why the pinnacle of the prologue of Proverbs (1:7),
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Where do we need to start if we’re going to see things come together. Unseen connections as Dr. Kaminski said last week. We’re going to see things come together that don’t normally come together. You have to begin with the fear of the Lord. Awe precedes awareness. Wisdom is the child of worship. Ingenuity follows humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowing anything, of really knowing anything. And it’s definitely going to be necessary if we’re going to see the subtlety of snakes and the simplicity of doves brought together. So, the place to begin is to humble ourselves before the Lord so that we are neither cynical nor gullible in this time of crisis.
And in light of that, that’s the foundation, let’s look at Proverbs 24. “The fear the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Now, Proverbs 24:10-12 is saying #25 out of the 30 sayings. If you’re not sure what the 30 sayings are, go to Proverbs 22:20. He introduces the 30 sayings and then walks through these 30 sayings. Proverbs 24:10 is saying #25, and here it is. Proverbs 24:10-12.
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. A lot of people read that as a threat. I don’t see it that way. I mean, if you faint in the day of adversity … What’s the day of adversity? The day of crisis, the day of conflict. We’re in a time of crisis. If you lack courage, if you go limp, if you grow skittish in a time of crisis, your strength is (literally in the Hebrew) your strength is being restricted. You’re restricting the strength God provides. Your timidity or your lethargy is restricting your strength. You’re facing a crisis. Don’t go into the crisis with one arm tied behind your back, restricting your strength. Don’t go into a gun fight with a knife. Don’t run out the door without your glasses. You’re limiting, you’re restricting your strength; and therefore, you can’t see and respond the way God is calling you to see and respond in the middle of a crisis.
What do I mean, can’t see? Well, keep reading. It’s all part of the same passage. Verse 11, in a time of crisis when you put your glasses on, you can see to “rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” In this crisis, God is calling us to use the strength he provides to rescue the ones who are being taken away. If you don’t begin with the fear of the Lord, you’re not going to face the crisis honestly. And when confronted, you’re going to end up (verse 12) saying, “Behold, we did not know this.” Notice the “we” — communal ignorance. We didn’t know you had provided us strength to rescue people. We were in survival mode. We were arguing over all the politics of it. We were debating the minutia. We didn’t know you were actually bringing about this crisis so that we would have the strength to actually rescue people who are being taken away. We didn’t know.
And God doesn’t say, “Oh, but you did.” No, no, he says something deeper than that. Look at verse 12, keeps going.
“Does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”
Have you lost your mind? Do you not know who you’re talking to? God weighs the heart. He watches the soul. He rewards the works. So, in the end he is saying, “Your problem is not informational.” We didn’t know. We didn’t get the news right. No, your problem is theological. You didn’t begin with the fear of the Lord. And without the fear of the Lord, you’re not going to know, and you’re going to claim ignorance. And God is saying, “Don’t go there.”
Let’s see if we can summarize what we learned from this 25th saying in a time of crisis. So, there are two different approaches, this proverb is warning us. If in a crisis, I start with the crisis — I don’t begin with the fear of the Lord, I start with the crisis — I will restrict my strength. And by the way, I’ll end up doing what comes naturally, whether it’s snakishness or dovishness. I’ll just instinctively respond. But I’m restricting my strength. I will limit my vision. “Behold, we did not know this.” I will ignore my neighbor who is being taken away. And I will be unaware of God, the heart-weigher, the soul-knower.
However, in contrast to that, if in a crisis, I start with God (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge), I will increase my strength, not restrict it. I’m not going to faint. I will expand my vision beyond communal ignorance. I’m not going to just be swept away with the stories of the day and the interpretation of the culture. I will expand my vision beyond communal ignorance, and I will love my neighbor, rescuing rather than ignoring. And in the end, I’m coming out of the crisis stronger than I went in the crisis. That’s our goal, right? Come out stronger. I need a response from you there, okay? That’s our goal, right? To come out stronger! Yes! So, let’s take what we just heard from God and apply it. I want to apply it in three practical ways, not adding anything. We’re just trying to work out those three big ideas that we just heard from the text.
First of all, if we’re going to start with God, the fear the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Do you remember way back at the beginning of the pandemic, the first passage we turned to, 1 Peter 5:6-11? It begins with, written to Christians who were suffering, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time” he’s going to lift you up. Some of us are saying, “Hey, it’s time. Hello?” That’s what he’s getting at. It takes huge amounts of humility to humble our thoughts. So, we begin with God, so that we sense his timing, so we don’t get frustrated or begin fainting and restrict the strength he provides. Humble, watchful, hopeful. God, what are you up to? And even as I’m preaching this, I’m thinking of so many times when that is not on my thoughts.
Friday morning, I run to get a haircut. My sophisticated hairstylist, Great Clips in TR. First time in forever. I walked in, got the mask on as required. And it’s interesting, because there are hardly any seats, you know, because they’re separating everybody. I’m sitting in one corner, there’s a woman to my left and a man to my right. And normally people are just on their phone or reading a magazine. There are no magazines, of course. And what was remarkable is, we were talking. Kind of weird, huh? But what is weirder-er is, even more weird is, what we were talking about. The man to my right said, “My sister died last week.” We’re talking about that. Then the woman to my left said, “My sister died last month.” And we’re talking about that. We’re having a conversation about death and eternity in Great Clips. And I’m not saying that in a morbid way. Because you’re supposed to just talk about superficial things if you do talk when you’re waiting to get your haircut. But it was a surreal moment, and it was a wakeup call to me, because if I’m starting with the crisis, then I’m ready to debate. You want to debate masks, school openings, all these kinds of things that are … Or even more basic: I’m here for a haircut. Can we get on with it?
But if we start with God, it puts us in a different posture, right? Not that you’re not going to get your hair cut. But you’re going to go throughout your day with a sensitivity. Lord, what are you up to? What are you up to? People are really dying, and eternity really matters. That’s what Proverbs is getting at here. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is” being restricted because you’re going to be oblivious to the fact that there are people being taken away to death, and we didn’t know. We didn’t know. We’re missing a golden opportunity.
What is this opportunity? Right now, at this time, the secular salvation story is being deconstructed before our eyes. The American story is: you’re supposed to keep yourself healthy, eat right, and you won’t even have to think about death ever. Right? Because we have such a sophisticated medical world, they’re going to take care of you. If you get anything, by the time you need help, they’re going to solve all our medical issues. That story is in great disrepair right now. Again, I’m not trying to be morbid. Can we talk honestly? People are facing some things they have not honestly faced. And the point is not, let’s freak out. The point is, “God, what are you saying to us?” And this deconstruction of the secular salvation story, whether you talk about it from a medical perspective or you talk about it even from a basic plan perspective.
Last week, I was praying with a guy who, through great financial investment, time investment, opened up a restaurant in Anderson in February. You can just imagine, I mean, everything. I mean, it was exploding. His restaurant was killing it for the first five weeks, and then everything was shut down. So, hugely frustrating? Yes. But what a picture of James 4. Don’t say you’re going to do this and that. If the Lord wills. What is God up to? That should be our first posture, right? Our first question. What is God up to? Idolizing of the academy, our love of the loner lifestyle — all of these have taken a beating. Even sports, worship of sports. Now, don’t get me wrong, our family loves sports. But can you imagine what is going to happen in our region of the country if college football were to be canceled? You talk about marital issues, we ain’t seen nothing yet! Talk about depression. Now, I’m not wanting that. I don’t think it should happen. I don’t think it will. I’m just saying. How does a Christian think? Is his first response, “Oh, no. I can’t live without that.” But is his first response, “God, what are you saying to our culture that has tried to insulate itself from every difficulty? What are you up to? Help me to see and not just say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know. We didn’t know what you were doing.’” Start with God.
Second, if we’re going to come out stronger, we need to find a way to renew our strength. And that’s continual, so that our strength is not restricted. A few months ago, Mark Sayers was talking to a Christian leader in Asia, and he asked him, “What was your experience like going through SARS?” Our brothers and sisters in Asia are really familiar with pandemics, and so, they think about them differently and respond to them differently. But I thought what this Christian leader said was super insightful. He said,
“Well, when we went through SARS, it was six weeks of panic followed by months of boredom.”
Some of us do better with panic than boredom. Some of us, our strength is sapped more in a season of, “Okay, God, we’re done with this,” than in a season of intense crisis. So, some crises come in different shapes. Even in the same crisis, there will be different forms, different seasons. And if we’re going to know how to come out stronger, we need by the power of the Spirit, through his Word, to find a way to renew our strength at different seasons in different ways. Does that make sense? We’re not machines. We’re different. And the season of the crisis will come at us in different ways. And so, we have to find ways to renew our strength throughout different manifestations of even the same crisis.
So, a couple practical suggestions. One very important way, which I had all this data and these polls and everything I had to cut because of time. But bottom line, we need to gather. We need, Christians need, to be gathering together with one another to sharpen one another in the Word, by the Spirit, to pray with and for one another in whatever way that looks like. And I know it’s going to be different, especially for my brothers and sisters who fall into the vulnerable category and are live-streaming. But we need to talk about what creative ways can we ensure that our strength is being renewed continually.
In light of that, our elder team over our response to all this is, you’re going to see things open up over the next few weeks as we move into the fall. A lot of our fall ministries are going to be wide open with reasonable safety protocols. We can do that. We need to do that to renew our strength as we go on because we want to come out stronger.
One clarification I want to make, and I want us to all understand why, is our fourth service starting next week (that is our 5:00 pm service) starting next week will be a mask only, required service. All services are masks recommended, but our fourth service will be required. And there are two reasons (hear me) why this is super important. One is, we are so blessed to have the Renewal ladies in that service. This is a residential addiction discipleship program. And for many months each Sunday afternoon I was getting online and zooming with them. It’s not the same. So, their leaders have graciously allowed them to come and worship in person. But if one of them gets sick, they’re out of the program because it’s a residential program. So, out of love, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure they can worship with us as safely as possible. Does that make sense? We don’t have to politicize masks. We just, as safely as possible, we’re super excited that they’re here with us in that fourth service. Secondly, there are other brothers and sisters who fall into the vulnerable category who would like to worship together, and they would feel more comfortable if they knew everyone had a mask on. So, at least one service it’s required out of love for our brothers and sisters, we can do that. So, keep gathering.
Second, improve. This isn’t on your outline, but to improve. And what I mean by that, if you read Christian brothers and sisters who have written in the past, they often talk about improving trials as a stewardship. God entrusts you with this season of difficulty, and now your calling is to improve on it. Take John (I was about to say John the Baptist), John Bunyan, when he was ripped away from his family and social distanced in prison. By God’s grace, he wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” during that season of isolation and difficulty that has become one of the bestselling books of all time, anywhere. Improving on that difficult season. I always think of Herman and Elly Van Slooten, who went to be with the Lord recently from our church. They’re learning to speak Spanish in their 80s so that they can minister to their neighbors more effectively. So, if any of you feel isolated and have some spare time, learn another language. Improve. Use this time to improve your scripture memory, improve your relationship with your wife or husband, talk to other couples. What are you doing to strengthen your marriage? Talk to other singles. What are you doing to grow in friendship during a difficult season? So, you’re saying, “Okay, God, you’ve entrusted us with an unusual situation, and we’re going to come out stronger. And by your grace, we’re going to improve on this time, not just survive.” It’s a very different mentality, that we will not faint in the day of adversity.
And then finally, as part of that, get help if you’re struggling. Porn use is up. Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation — all up. If you’re struggling, and inside you’re thinking, “You’re talking about coming out stronger, I’m not even sure I’m going to come out.” I want to tell you, our counseling team is ready to go. We can do it in person, we can do it on Zoom. Ready to go! I’m going to put up Sheron’s email. And even if you don’t feel comfortable with sharing on email what the struggle is, Sheron is our counseling administrative assistant. She is the gateway to get help in this area. We have a new Conquer group starting, a couple Conquer groups ready to start for those who struggle with addiction, addictive thoughts, porn. Get help! Don’t just sit and struggle and fail. Reach out. We want to help you, whatever your struggle. Come out stronger.
And then finally, the third big idea in our passage is, rescue the stumbling. When we’re thinking clearly, and we’re beginning with God, and we’re renewing our own strength, we look around and we see people struggling. And I don’t mean just one specific way. Obviously stumbling toward eternity, but even stumbling in life. We want to be a church where we are ready to help. Allan Sherer, our Pastor of Outreach, recorded just a little video that summarizes just a couple things that are happening overseas, a couple things that are happening here, just to whet our appetite. Watch this.
Brothers and sisters, we are not pressing pause on the work Jesus calls us to do as his church. Yes, we are facing some pretty big hurdles right now because of the worldwide disruption caused by COVID-19. No doubt about it. Some places are more or less completely shut down. But you need to know, COVID has actually opened some opportunities we have never seen before. Internationally, some exciting things are happening right now. In India, where you invested more than $250,000 through your giving, our partners continue to drill wells, plant churches, lead tens of thousands of people to Jesus, and free more and more children from child slavery. That work is not really slowing down at all. At the beginning of this year we started a new partnership in Syria with an Arab Christian leader. Last week, he sent me a detailed report relating how 28 new house churches have been started in Syria this year. There are actually many encouraging reports from the field about how COVID is actually opening opportunities.
But I want to tell you about two local opportunities we’re pursuing as a church right now. For eight years, we’ve operated a ministry through our church, a summer educational program called SCORE. This ministry is in partnership with Brook Glenn Elementary, a public elementary school that’s right around the corner from us. We take elementary students who are performing below level and work with them to get them at or above level. And it’s been amazingly effective. Many of these children go from a trajectory to educational failure to a college prep track. We also do character formation and life skill training. It’s a beautiful, powerful, cost-effective collaboration between our church and our community. Now, we’re moving to expand this program to operate during the upcoming school year to support minority, low-income, and children of single moms so that rather than these children getting washed out in the disruption of the upcoming year, they actually can move forward. And we’re in discussions to expand this program to other churches in our community. We’ll be sharing more details about this program soon, so stand by and pray for open doors.
Secondly, we’re pursuing a partnership with Soteria Ministries, which is led by Jerry Blassingame. Jerry was once a drug kingpin in this city, and he wound up in prison where he was radically saved. He now leads a ministry for men transitioning from incarceration to find dignity, identity, and purpose in our community. Less than 4% of the men with which Jerry works go back into incarceration. Our goal is to mentor 12 men in Jerry’s program over the upcoming year.
There’s so much that’s happening right now. We believe this moment is our moment as the church of Jesus Christ. From the deepest part of my hear, I want to say thank you to everyone who continues to give faithfully to make these things possible. Stay tuned for opportunities to participate in these amazing initiatives. We hope to bring you more details very soon. Hey, North Hills, let’s come out stronger! Thank you.
If you have any questions about what we talked about today or just about COVID in general, relating to the church, our response, we are going to have another podcast this week. Each week during the “Serpents and Doves” series we will have a podcast wrestling with questions related to what we’re talking about. So, be sure to send in (text or email) your questions, and we will address those this week in the podcast. Let’s pray.
Father, we pray that you would turn a crisis into a harvest. You are the Lord of the harvest. You can turn a season of division, confusion, anarchy, skepticism into revival. And so, we pray for that, so that we as your people, your church in this country, we would come out stronger when this is over. So, show us as individuals, show us as a church, pour out your Spirit, and even now as we cry out to you, we pray that you would move on our hearts, that we would stop fainting, explaining away. We didn’t know. We don’t have the strength. Lord, we don’t want to restrict your strength because your strength is unlimited. When you are in us, we walk forward in the power of your resurrection. We thank you, Jesus. Amen.