A New Message in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Week 1)

“Fear Not… GOD IS WITH US!”

Key Verses:  Psalm 91

I have put aside the sermon I wrote for this Sunday in the reality that we must respond to the 9-11 moment of this generation: The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) international pandemic that is slowly, but surely impacting the lives of most every person in the world. It was at one-time a distant conversation with no impact, but now it is damaging economies, closing colleges and schools, shutting down sporting events, and locking down military bases, nursing homes, prisons. There is an enemy out our gate, but instead of one that very visibly flies airplanes into towers and threatens the American way of life, this one invisibly threatens to overwhelm our existing medical infrastructure and simply stated, threatens every life.


On 9-11-2001, I was a Captain in the US Army and was away from home on assignment at Fort Carson, Colorado when the planes flew into the towers. I remember exactly where I was the moment I found out: I was in line for breakfast at Burger King before heading to my meetings for the day. Needless to say, life changed, not just for us soldiers, but for everyone! The base locked down and airports closed for day. In fact, I was on the first flight out of Colorado Springs a few days later to head back to my home at Moffett Airfield, to be reunited with my wife, and life was different. People were very scared! I know people, 19 years later, who still are…


In the same way that the National Guard was called in to protect us in 2001 and Americans experienced a change of lifestyle, this time it is our Health Department who have been called in to work for our safety and security in the face of an enemy that, once again, threatens our safety and security, and is confronting the illusion of invulnerability that we Americans like to return to as quickly as possible.


In both cases, we are called to respond to the enemy at our gate. We must respond as a community and as a nation. Our response will be different this time than it was after 9-11-2001 because the threat is different, but this one thing I know, God is with us!


The enemy may have different packaging, but the enemy is the same: FEAR!


As I was reading from the Psalter this morning, as part of my daily, early-morning rhythm of getting in the yoke of Jesus (I read 1-2 chapters from the OT, I read and reflect on a Psalm and then write and do a “breath prayer”, then I read a chapter of the NT, and then pray). It is a way of focusing my mind and heart on Jesus and getting my body in rhythm with Jesus for the day.


Psalm 64:9-10 said this morning, “Then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!”


I wrote this breath prayer in response to this:

  1. Get your body in a good physical posture to focus your mind and heart on God.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 5-7 seconds, “The Lord is my refuge!”
  3. Hold slightly and focus your mind on God’s Truth.
  4. Breathe out for 5-7 second through your mouth, “Fear not, I am with you!”
  5. Repeat as many times as necessary to align your mind, body, and soul to God’s Truth.


Reading your Bible and praying, including what I am calling a breath prayer, are not new practices to God’s people, and please know that just because I am asking you to breath while you pray does not mean that this is not some new age thing. This is a focused way of praying to learn how to love God with all of you heart, soul, mind, and strength. God wants to align your whole human person to His will and His ways. And trust me when I tell you this: FEAR will find a way into your mind, heart, body, and soul if your faith is nothing more than an intellectual understanding of God!


In moments like this, when there is real reasons to be scared, nervous, worried, or anxious, God is not discounting the human reality of fear, He is inviting you to a better way to deal with your fear, anxiety and worry than giving yourself over to the fear, anxiety, or worry.


The reason the Bible says so much about the human experiences of fear, anxiety, worry, and such joy-robbing, life-threatening realities is because they are a reality of the human experience!


To fear is to be human and to be confronted by a fear-inducing situation is to be alive in a broken, fallen world where people fly airplanes into building and viruses exist that threaten national security and community well-being.


Let me give you a biblical principle from the Bible. Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”


Here is what we need to know:

  1. Anger is real and in and of itself, a human emotion, not a sin.
  2. When you have a real human emotion, do not give yourself over to it and sin.
  3. Deal with the situation, QUICKLY, in such a way as to invoke God’s power and presence.
  4. If you give yourself over the human emotion, you are not helping yourself, or others, because you are giving the devil a foothold.


This teaching is focused on the human emotion of anger in Ephesians 4:26-27, but the principle applies to all human emotions that can lead to sin: sexual desire, ambition, fear, worry, anxiety…


With that principle in mind, you should hear the following promises of God:


From Philippians 4:5-7, “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.”


Let’s apply the principle:

  1. Anxiety is real. Anxiety is generalized fear (like a spider web that captures us when there is an enemy at our gate). For Americans, anxiety is the current reality, if not a predisposition that threatens any aspect of our way of life.
  2. Name it when you experience it, but don’t give yourself over to it.
  3. Deal with the situation QUICKLY through prayer and thanksgiving!
  4. God’s Peace will guard (military imagery) your heart and mind from the Devil.


Again with James 4:6-8, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”


Let’s apply the principle:

  1. Pride is a real threat for every human. Pride is the opposite of humility, the enemy of meekness and submission.
  2. Confess and repent of your pride by humbling yourself before the Lord.
  3. Deal with the situation, Quickly, by drawing near to God and resisting the devil’s urging of you to give yourself over to arrogance (the American mindset that I know better than those in authority over me, in fact, I don’t need anyone over me…)
  4. God will draw near to you!


I could go on and on. In fact, as you are hearing on Christian radio and as many Bible teachers are teaching right now, there are so many verses about “Fear Not!” in the Bible that you can follow this template with a unique Bible verse for every day of the year. I read one Christian author say that God has given us a reason to not to fear for every day of the year, including leap year.


But that does not mean that you won’t experience fear, anxiety, or worry. It’s just saying that God knows your human condition and has given you a way of victory.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”


There is way of victory in this time, as there is in every human encounter with fear: “God is with you!” This is His promise and it is the one that I have been reminding you in every communication I have made to you all week as the Coronavirus has escalated to where we are today. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for our nation, our community, or your family, but I do know this, this one thing I know: GOD IS WITH US!


That sign that we put out on SR3 on Friday will stay out there as long as needed. It says, “Remain Calm & Pray… God is with us!” That is my message to you today in the face of a community trying to brace itself for an unseen enemy at the gate. The reason we are cancelling programs and events for 2 weeks, including providing an on-line (instead of in-person) service, is because we are locking arms with our community leadership and health department to respond as one people.


This is not a lack of faith! Anything but that. Your elders, staff, and leaders have been praying and are faithfully responding to the needs of the community. This is community cooperation that shows our community that we love them and are here to serve them. If our vision statement is “we desire to see communities thriving to the glory of God” and when we ask the health management experts of our community the best way possible to bring human flourishing to our community and love our neighbor as ourselves right now and they tell us to limit the exposure of people to the virus for 2 weeks (that allows for 2 cycles of exposure and manifestation of symptoms according to what they know about COVID-19 as of yesterday at 4 pm) by closing down our big venues of gatherings, then that’s what we are going to do. This is not a government edict, it a request for our participation in a potential public health crisis that would overrun our hospitals and capacity to care for the least vulnerable in our community—the elderly, the children, and those with preexisting medical conditions. Friends, if you know our congregation, that is a lot of our gatherings—our elderly (defined by the healthy management officials as 60 and older), our children, and our people going through cancer or who have complicated medical situations. Have you seen our prayer guide lately? That’s us!


Let us be honest, if we opened our doors for services today or next Sunday, guess who would show up, even if I asked them not to—you got it, the faithful remnant of God would be here because we, your pastors and elders, opened the doors of the church—our elderly, our people with complicated medical situations, and many of our families. And I love that about us and you, but that is the very reason we are closing the building. Because our faithfulness to gather no matter what is what could rapidly spread a virus that doesn’t show symptoms right away. By closing down our large gatherings, cancelling events and meetings for two weeks, we are giving our community leadership and health experts time to get ahead of the Coronavirus.


I join with other community leaders in this sentiment,

In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much,
but it will be QUITE apparent if we under-reacted or did too little”
(unknown source, but passed on to me by a member of FBC).


As I said in my announcement to the church last night, “By making this decision, we are locking arms with our community and its leaders, instead of standing opposed to them. Please pray for us as we continue to make decisions and please pray for all of our community leaders and all who are being impacted by the COVID-19” (https://www.newcastlefbc.com/hp_wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2020-03-14-Closure-Announcement-Letter.pdf). 


We love you! I love you! “Fear not… GOD IS WITH US!” And yes, I already know it is happening, judge me and us—your elders and pastors—as you may, to your own detriment. Someone has to make the hard calls and until you’ve sat in the seat of responsibility for one of the largest gatherings of people in our community that gathers on a weekly basis, then please know that your judgments are nothing more than the rantings of children. We love you as parents love their children. We are prayerfully providing faithful, wise leadership to you in this time. And just like every parent has had to tell their children, “no, you can’t have that” or “no, we can’t do that” even in the face of their cries and anger and protests, we, as under shepherds of Jesus, are prepared to provide that same kind of loving care to you now.


We applied the principle:

  1. The enemy is at the gate and fear is gripping the hearts of people. This is real!
  2. We brought it to the Lord: confessed, repented where necessary—our pride to think our plan to have 2 services and keep all programs and services open, no matter what the experts said, because we are people of faith and that’s what the world needs to see. Honestly friend, we, as elders, didn’t want our standing upon faith become a mutation of American arrogance or lack of submission to experts or straight up stupidity in the face of common sense requests made by the health department at this once in a generation threat.
  3. We are dealing with the situation QUICKLY, rebuking the devil, with prayer and thanksgiving. We believe God is going to use this time to confront the idols of Americans, the hypocrisy of the American Church, and call many to faith and repentance.
  4. God’s peace is guarding us! His presence is with you and me, with us!


After days of gathering in prayer about this and after last night’s meeting with the Henry County Health Department, this is the best way for us to fulfill our vision as a church to see our communities thriving to the glory of God. This is the first, but not last, step on how we can love our neighbors as ourselves. I am calling you now to love your neighbors in real and practical ways:


  1. Call on the elderly, those shut-in, those who are the most vulnerable.
  2. Check on friends, family, neighbors who have complicated medical situations to ensure they have food.
  3. Send cards and hand-written notes to people.
  4. Help deliver food and be a part of the solution in our community.
  5. Be the hands and feet of Christ. I’ve asked our elders to lead us and organize us in this effort, not only for our congregation, but to help our communities.
  6. Volunteer your time to the Henry County Health Department and become a part of the response effort.
  7. FBC is going to partner, as a church. Will you, as a member of the church?


As we always say, “Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell your storm how BIG GOD IS!” Yes, we must take sober steps in this time, but we do so in faith, wisdom, and partnership, trusting God’s providence to use His Church in this time. We are God’s people and we trust in the promises of God, so we can respond with faith and not in fear!


Let me close with the reading of Psalm 91:


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”


Are you dwelling in God? Are you trusting Him in how you now talk about this, pray about this, and serve others in this time?


Walk through the steps I’ve given you today… “Fear not… GOD IS WITH US!

You can listen to the Audio here:


You can watch the video HERE.