Be Strong and Courageous

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:

Strong and Courageous

Sermon for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists 

March 14, 2020

Texts: Psalm 46:1-7, Joshua 1:1-7, Matthew 14:22-27

Hymn: O God Our Help in Ages Past. 

God is our refuge and strength, 

always ready to help in times of trouble. 

Therefore, we will not fear 

when earthquakes come 

and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam. 

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! 

There is a river that brings joy to the city of our God, 

the sacred home of the Most High. 

God dwells in that city; 

it cannot be destroyed. 

From the very break of day, 

God will protect it. 

The nations are in chaos, 

and their kingdoms crumble!  . . .

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; 

the God of Israel is our fortress.  

[Psalm 46:1-7 NLT] 

We are in a time of trouble. And we need a refuge. 

If we were wealthy, we could put our family on our private jet and fly to some remote island somewhere seeking a refuge. But we can’t do that.

So where can we turn for refuge?

God is our refuge and strength.

An ever ready help in times of trouble.

This conviction, this confidence-that God is on our side and that God is active on our behalf–this is what it means to be a believer. And the question naturally arises at times like these: How does this conviction, this confidence become operational in our lives?

If you’re watching the news or reading Facebook or talking with your friends, it is natural to feel utterly overwhelmed. What are we going to do? How can we find a place of confidence and quiet. How can God be our refuge and strength?

Psalm 46 offers a helpful poetic picture.

God is our refuge and strength, 

An ever ready help in times of trouble. 

Therefore, we will not fear 

when earthquakes come 

and the mountains crumble into the sea. . . .

There is a river that brings joy to the city of our God, 

the sacred home of the Most High. 

God dwells in that city; 

The great cities of ancient civilization were built on rivers. Babylon, Damascus, Ur, the great cities of Egypt. Then you come to Jerusalem. What was the river of Jerusalem? The Jordan River? No. That was many miles away and thousands of feet lower in elevation. Jerusalem had no river.

So what is this river that the Psalmist speaks about? Jerusalem’s river was a tunnel carved through solid rock. A tunnel that still exists to this day. Called Hezekiah’s tunnel. It brought water into the city from a spring that was outside the walls. Before that, women had to go outside the walls to supply the daily water needs of their families. The people had dug cisterns. So they had some capacity to store water during the winter rains. But they could not store enough water to see them through an entire dry period. So during times of siege, they were vulnerable. An invading army could simply surround the city and wait for them to run out of water.

Then Hezekiah built his tunnel, a river that ran underground, hidden from enemies. And the city had a steady secret supply of water.

There is a river that brings joy to the city of our God, 

the sacred home of the Most High. 

God dwells in that city; 

The poet imagined God as that secret river, that everlasting spring. God is our refuge and strength. An ever present help in times of trouble.

How do we access this sweet water? Through regular times of devotion.

We shape our souls by what we give attention to.

This coming week, the news will attempt to occupy all of our attention. We will anxiously watch the numbers. How many new cases? Where? We will fret about testing. We worry about the stamina of our medical professionals. And what about all the families impacted by school closures. And all the businesses, especially small businesses, that suddenly have no cash flow? Every time we look to the news there will be more trouble to occupy our attention. And what holds our attention will shape our soul.

Even if we were one of those people who could fly away to some remote island in our private jet, because the US is so deficient in testing capacity, if there are Americans on the plane or on the island, you’ll be terrified that someone close to you has brought the virus with them. 

So what to do?

Let’s take ourselves to the secret river. The river that brings joy to the City of God. Let’s give ourselves daily to the contemplation of the promises of God. 

We can refuse to let the news occupy all of our attention. You can learn everything you need to know in ten minutes or less. Check out the Seattle Times coronavirus information page and in just a few minutes you’ll have all the information you need. All the information you can act on.

Then turn your attention away. 

Take yourself to the secret spring. Memorize some of these reassuring passages in the Psalms.

Psalm 62:5-8 NLT

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. 7 My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 8 O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. 

Psalm 23:.

The Lord is my shepherd,I will lack nothing.He makes me lie down in green pastures.Leads me beside still waters.He restores my soul

Don’t “study” these passages, savor them. Don’t analyze them like you would if you were going to write a paper or critique. Lose yourself in them. Rehearse them. Memorize them. Give yourself to them in contemplation. Turn the words over in your mind, tasting their sweetness.

God is our refuge and strength. An ever present help in trouble.
So we don’t have to freak out.

Let’s do the prudent, responsible things, of course.

Practice social distancing.

Wash our hands.

 And let’s accept the reality that some of us will die. This virus is likely to kill someone we know. I’m in one of the high risk groups–in my late sixties with a history of asthma. We have friends who are in their nineties and hundreds. The virus may kill us. But let’s be realistic. If the virus doesn’t kill us, something else will. We do not live forever here in this world.

Our hope is the secret river. The promise of resurrection and a better land. 

There is a river that brings joy to the city of our God, 

the sacred home of the Most High.

 If you have children at home, this would be a perfect time to work with them on memorizing some of the sweetest passages in the Bible. Helping your kids or grand kids memorize is probably the very best way for you to improve your own memory of Bible passages.

 God has another way of speaking to us. Go outside. Yesterday, after working on my sermon, I got on my bike and rode for an hour. It was 36 degrees and raining. And the wind was blowing. At one point I was pedaling downhill and had to be in low gear because of the force of the headwind! Obviously, this was not the kind of weather that smilingly beckons one to go outside. But as I rode and my body warmed up, I felt the bracing exhilaration. So, especially in this time of plague, get yourself outside. Taste the rain. Enjoy the sun. Pay attention to the daffodils. Marvel at the crab apple trees lining the streets. The blossoms on the plum trees. Taste the secret rivers God has provided.

And then . . .

Then . . . 

Be strong and courageous.

Joshua 1:1-2, 6-7 NLT:

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. … 6 “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.

Don’t let fear dominate your life. Or frustration. Or anger. Yes, the U.S. has massively bungled its response to this epidemic. We can point fingers. But it will do us no good right now to do that. This is a time for us to be strong and courageous. To act. To do something. I have a particular request:

Pick up the phone and call people. Imagine you are sitting in your Sabbath School class. Now, in your imagination look around the class. Can you remember the name of each person?

Good. Try writing down the names of everyone in your class. If you get stuck, call the class teacher. Make a list. Capture it in writing. Then once a week while we are in quarantine, call every person in your class. Say, “I am calling just to let you know I was thinking of you.”

You don’t know their phone numbers? That’s why we have a church directory. I hope you have the directory on your phone. Many of you have paper copies of our directory. Make a list of people’s names and phone numbers and once every week between now and when we resume regular weekly services call everyone on your list. And every day, pray for everyone on your list.

What if you and your teacher cannot recall everyone’s names? Call me. Maybe I can help you with a name. 

Next assignment. Imagine you are sitting in church. My guess is that you sit in approximately the same place every week. And the people in the room in front of you and the row behind you are the same people every week.

Who are they? Do you know their names? Call them.

Don’t know their names? Call me. Let’s see if we can figure out who they are.

People are going to get sick and need to stay home. We can provide meals. Or pizza. Or soup. Or groceries. And not just for our fellow church members, but also our neighbors.

The world is full of fear and anger.

We don’t have to be.

God is our refuge and strength. An ever present help in trouble.We have a secret river.

The world is wild and scary.

God calls us to trust in him.

And then . . .

be strong and courageous.

Let’s do what we can.

We have been to the river.

Now, go. Be strong and courageous. As the people of God.