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Growing Through Crisis - Part 1

Read this message transcript from the "Standing Strong When Things Go Wrong" message series

Matt Sturdevant: I want you to imagine with me that you’re fourteen years old, you’ve just finished junior high, and you’re in the middle of your summer vacation. You are looking forward to starting high school. Now imagine that you and your family decide to take a weekend getaway trip to a lake that is out of town from where you live. You wake up on this morning in July, and it happens to be July 10th. Early that morning, you got up on skis for the very first time, and you were so excited for having accomplished that. Then you go about your activities for the rest of that day, and you find yourself now at about 6pm. You have just finished sort of relaxing on the beach, and you decide, “Hey, let’s go do some more inner tubing. We did it earlier. Let’s go around for another round of inner tubing.”

So, you get in the boat, and you have a great time on the inner tube. Then what happens when one inner tubes is eventually you fall off of the tube. Well, at least if you’re having a good time, you do. But, you look up, and you see a boat coming right for you. The boat that is coming for you is not the boat that was pulling you on the inner tube. It’s another boat. Ok, I want you to stop imagining now, at this point, because I can tell you what the rest of the story was. I can tell you how it turned out because, you see, that story that I asked you to imagine was actually reality for me. You see, when I was fourteen years old, I found myself in that very position. I’d fallen off of an inner tube, and there was a boat coming straight towards me. Here’s what happened. The boat actually never saw me. In fact, it never saw me because the driver of that boat was drunk, and he was driving the boat drunk. I was run over by a boat, there on the lake. 

Immediately, we rushed to the shore, and the emergency people were called. They took me to a local hospital there. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much they could do for me at that local hospital, so I was flown by a plane to a trauma center that was probably about six hours away if you had to drive. They assessed me, and I had several, very serious injuries. I had a collapsed lung. Part of my liver was severed. I had lacerations on my torso and my arm and my hand. I ended up spending ten days in intensive care and then was in the hospital there, out of town for about three weeks total. Now on the day that I was released from the hospital, I found out from the doctors that they had never seen someone come in the hospital as bad as I had come in and actually leave the hospital. They had only given me a 30% chance to make it when I arrived at the hospital that night. I am certain that it is only by God’s grace and mercy that I am standing here before you today and relatively unscathed. I’ve got all of my arms and all of my limbs except for the wear and tear that happens to the normal person who is over 40. I don’t really have any limitations or setbacks from that accident that happened a number of years ago. 

Today, we’re going to continue our series, Standing Strong When Things Go Wrong. It’s in this series that we’re taking a look at how we do that. That was a lesson that I had to learn at a young age. At 14 years old, I had a crisis in my life, and I needed in that moment to stand strong. I needed to figure out what that meant because being run over by a boat is certainly something that has gone wrong. What we want to do with this series is to give you the tools to know how to stand strong when things are going wrong. Right now, we’re all in the middle of this coronavirus, Covid-19 pandemic, and this has certainly been a time when we need to stand strong because there are things that are not going right. There are things that are wrong in the world around us, but I don’t want to just look at this time right now. I want to look at how we, as followers of Jesus, stand strong when things go wrong. I want to look at the Biblical principles that we have that God tells us in His Word, so that we can stand strong when things go wrong. 

When we started the series last week, we looked at three big questions...probably three big questions that we should have an answer to anyway but especially when we find ourselves in a moment of crisis. Especially when we find ourselves with things gone wrong, that’s when we ask these questions. Just to review, those questions were: “Is there more to life than I’m experiencing?” “What’s the purpose of life?” “What kind of foundation should I build my life on?” Those are the questions that we looked at last week, and for the next two weeks, though, I want to look specifically at growing through crisis. Just so we’re on the same page, though, I want to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing when we say, “crisis.” Because that’s sometimes a relative word, maybe a crisis for one might not be a crisis for another.

Here’s how I’m simply going to define the term, crisis, as we have this discussion this week and next week. Crisis is this; it’s a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. That’s how we’re going to define it. One of the realities is that throughout our life we find ourselves in times where we just aren’t in control of the environment. We’re not in control of what’s happening around us. This happens to be one of those times. Even when we can’t control the environment and the things that are going on around us, there is still something that we can control. The thing that we can control is our response. How do we respond to the crisis? That’s actually something within our power to control. In fact, how do we control our response specifically related to our thoughts, our attitudes, our words, and the actions that we take? Those are something that we can control in the middle of the crisis. 

What do we do, though, with the pain and the trouble as we’re walking through it? How do we navigate that time? But not just navigate it, how do we even grow in the middle of that? Just in a quick survey of God’s Word, the Bible, we find all kinds of examples of men and women who walked through their own crisis. We see the lessons that God taught them and the ways that they grew as they grew closer to God. In fact, one of the stories that particularly comes to mind for me is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. By the way, when we say, “stories in the Bible,” we’re not talking about make believe stories. These are real stories of what actually happened in the lives of men and women who trusted God and who walked with Him. One of my favorite stories is the story of Joseph.

Joseph was the favorite son of his father, and his brothers were extremely jealous of him. They were jealous of that position that he had, so they decided to get rid of their problem by selling their brother into slavery. Then, he was wrongly accused when he was a slave, and he was put in prison. Then at just the right moment, God gave him an opportunity to have an audience before Pharaoh, before the king of Egypt. Joseph, through God’s help, was able to come up with the answer, to come up with what it was that Pharaoh needed. In an instant, he was elevated to the second in command in all of Egypt. Years later, he has this interaction with his brothers, who actually come to him for help. They don’t know that they are coming to their brother, Joseph. They come into the land of Egypt for some help, and I love this statement that Joseph makes to his brothers. He tells his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

Joseph faced significant crisis in that time in his life, yet years later, he was able to say those words to his brothers. Years later because he trusted in God and because he forgave his brothers, he could say those very words. When it comes to crisis, here’s the challenge that we all face. Don’t just go through it, but grow through it. When you face a challenge, don’t just go through it. Don’t just try to make it through, but actually grow through the time of crisis. Right now, there’s no question or mystery of the crisis that we’re all facing with the Covid-19 pandemic. One of our challenges is to actually grow through this time, not just sit back on the couch and hope to make it through but to actually grow through this time period. Perhaps in the middle of this crisis, growing is not even something you’ve thought about. You’re saying, “Matt, I’m just trying to survive right now. I’m just trying to make it.” I want to invite you to think just for a minute. How would you like to be different, say on June 1st? What kind of growth would you like to experience?

There are all kinds of ways to grow. You can grow spiritually; you can grow physically. You can grow mentally; you can grow relationally. There’s all kinds of different ways we can grow, but how would you like to grow? For myself as I thought about it, I thought about two ways that I just quickly want to share with you. The first one is I actually don’t want to grow. You see, there’s a thing that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about that is the “Covid 15.” It’s kind of like the “freshman 15” when you went to college. We’re at home, and our routines are disrupted. I actually had some fitness goals set for myself back in the beginning of the year, and I was making some good progress on them. I was actually down 10 pounds from where I started the year. I had been working out and building my endurance. Now, one of my goals during this time when I get to June 1st, is that I don’t want to have gained back those 10 pounds and more. So, I have a fitness goal, a physical goal during this time.

But then another one that’s just a simple one...that’s just a personal that I’d really like to help my daughter learn how to ride her bike. When she had her birthday back in January, she got a big girl bike. There were some training wheels on that bike, and we let her do it with training wheels for a little while. Of course as things sort of blew up like they did, our plan got a little off track. Now, one of the simple things I want to do is I want to help her be able to ride her bike without the training wheels by the time we come out of this crisis or at least by June 1st. Those are just a few ways I want to grow, but how about you? How are you seeking and wanting to grow during this time that we have?

In fact, I gave you a place on your handout where you can just simply write down ways that you would like to grow by June 1st. So I want to take just a moment right and give you like 60 seconds to write something down on your handout. Now as you think about growing through a crisis, I want to take the rest of our time today, and I want to look at three myths that I think are there that can get in the way of growing and what not to do in the middle of a crisis. 

What’s a myth? A myth can simply be defined as “a widely held but false belief or idea.” When it comes to growing through crisis, I think there are at least three myths that get in the way for us that will at least slow our progress. It could stop it altogether, and we don’t get to experience any growth. So, I want to look at those three myths with you. The first myth is that life should be problem free. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true? Sometimes I think that we think that. We think that life should be problem free. Somewhere along the line we’ve just let that idea sink into our minds and into our thinking. For those of us that are living in America and that have grown up in America our whole lives…compared to the rest of the world, and I have traveled all over the world...compared to the rest of the world, it looks a lot of times like our life is problem free. That’s just not simply reality. That’s not simply the way that we live life. There are problems in life.

When we hear ourselves saying things like, “It shouldn’t be this way. It’s not supposed to happen. It’s supposed to be different.” That’s an indication that some of that thinking is seeping in for us. This myth really has to do with our expectations because unmet expectations are what set up disappointment for us. If we think that life should be problem free and that’s how we’re operating, when we do come into problems, we’re going to keep running into a bigger problem because this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We trip over ourselves, and we don’t really know how to navigate moving forward.

For me when I was in college, one of the greatest lessons I learned about life in general I learned from a pastor who mentored and discipled me during that time. He asked me this question relentlessly. The question is “What does the Bible say about that?” So it’s really good and really important that we as followers of Jesus know what the Bible says about the things that we’re thinking about and basing decisions off of and operating in. When it comes to this myth of “Should life be problem free?,” what does the Bible say about it? What does God’s Word say? I want to share a verse with you that upfront I want you to know that it’s not the most encouraging verse that you’ll find in the Bible. I think it’s really important and really relevant to this discussion of life being problem free or not. 

Psalm 90:10 says this. It says, “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” I told you that wasn’t going to be the most encouraging verse that you’ll find, but it is a picture of reality. Life really is filled with trouble and sorrow. Now we can experience all kinds of good in this life that we have, but because of the fall because of rebellion because of sin, there are problems in this world that you and I encounter and that we experience. If we expect there to not be problems, then we’re going to have a hard road ahead. 

The second myth that I want to look at is the myth that “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Have you ever said that? “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.” For me personally, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about and reflecting on is this idea that we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. I think often we walk forward in life thinking that we’ll have tomorrow and I’ll get to it tomorrow, but it’s times like we’re walking through right now that it’s really evident that we don’t have a guarantee for tomorrow. In fact, James 4:14 says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” 

Tomorrow is simply not a guarantee. As we walk through life, we really need to remember that. We need to enjoy the moments that we’re in because there’s no guarantee that we’ll have the next moment or tomorrow. In fact in my own personal time with the Lord each morning, one of the things that I have been trying to consciously do every morning, regardless of how tired I am when I walk up, is to thank God for giving me another day, for giving me the strength to get out of bed and giving me that morning, that moment right there, to spend with Him. Then, I’m asking Him to help me as I walk through the rest of my day. 

The third myth I’d like to look at really quick is just that no one understands my problems. It’s true that each one of us has our own unique set of problems in life because we’re all different. One of the things that we talked about last week is that life is our training program. The things that are on our plate, the things that we have to deal with, are what God uses to train us. We’ll look more at that next week, but even though your program and my program may have some similarities, there is some uniqueness to it. So that is true, but it is a myth to say that no one understands my problems. Again for me personally when I think about this myth, Hebrews 4:15-16 is really encouraging to me, and it says, “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin. So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.” 

If there is literally no other human on the face of this planet right now who can understand the problem that you’re walking through, there still is Someone who can understand. That Someone is Jesus. Jesus understands the problems that we have. In fact as you study the New Testament, particularly the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and as you read Jesus’ life, you get a good picture of the problems and the situations that He Himself walked through. When the verse says He “understands every weakness of ours,” He really does. What did He experience in His time here on earth? Well, we’re told that Jesus wept. He experienced sorrow. He was frustrated. He was weary; He got disappointed. He was also rejected and ridiculed by the very people that He was trying to help, by the very people He was hanging on a cross dying for their sins. He experienced rejection and ridicule. Jesus understands what we’re going through. He understands our problems.

One of the common tactics that the enemy uses is isolation. He tries to get us isolated by ourselves, so that we can think we’re the only one. Then, he begins to wear down on us. I know that this is difficult right now because we’re being told to practice social distancing. But notice that the term “social distancing” is not “isolation,” because there are still all kinds of different ways that we can be connected even if we have to be physically apart by six feet or further. Just don’t get isolated.

So as we think about growing through crisis, I want you to meet someone. I want you to meet Meghan and hear part of her story. She chose faith in the middle of fear, and she chose to face her fears head on. I want you to listen to what she did and what the Lord brought out of that time. 

Meghan: I put Psalm 46 to music in my senior year of college. There were just a lot of uncertainties and unknowns about the future. For me personally, I really tend to get into worry and fear pretty quickly. So as I was reading God’s Word, I came across Psalm 46. I was just really encouraged by the verses, so I wanted to put it to music and be reminded whenever I get into fear or worry and even doubt about the future I can be reminded of God’s Truth. He is my Refuge; He is my Strength, and I do not need to be afraid. 

(Music) “Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. 

And the waters roar, and the waters foam. 

And the waters roar, and the waters foam. 

We will not fear. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Come behold the works of the Lord.

He causes wars to cease from the ends of the earth.

And He breaks the bow, and He cuts the spear.

And He breaks the bow, and He cuts the spear in two.

We will not fear. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Be still and know that He is God. 

Be still and know that He is God.

He will be exalted among the nations.

He will be exalted in all the earth.

He will be exalted among the nations.

He will be exalted in all the earth.

We will not fear. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

(Pastor Matt) Sometimes as we walk through crisis and uncertainty, we choose some strategies, and we choose some ways of dealing with them that are ultimately ineffective and can actually get in the way of our growth. I want to quickly look at three things not to do in the middle of crisis. We will talk about some things to do, but I want to start with what not to do. So in the middle of crisis, don’t turn away from God. Don’t do it! There are all kinds of sources of the pain and trouble that we experience in this life, and two of the common sources are these. One is just our stupidity...the stupid things that we do that cause us problems and cause us pain. The other thing that’s really common is sin. It’s our sin and the sin of others. Those are two really common sources to problems and crisis.

Proverbs 19:3 makes a really interesting statement that relates to not turning away from God. Listen to these words. It says, “Some people ruin themselves by their own stupid actions and then blame the Lord.” We should never turn away from God in the middle of the crisis regardless of the source, whether it’s our own stupidity or it’s the sin of someone else or something else that’s caused the pain and crisis. The answer is not to turn away from God but rather to turn towards Him. I love what Meghan said when she shared her story with us. She used that time to turn towards God, and the Truth that we find in Psalm 46:1 that God is our refuge and our strength, and He’s very present in our times of trouble. In the New Testament, James also addresses this, and James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” If you feel like you want to pull back from God in the moment of crisis, don’t. Don’t pull back from God. Draw closer towards Him.

The next thing to not do when you get in crisis is not to get bitter. Remember, we have control not over the circumstances that we’re in, but we do have control over our response, over our thoughts, over our feelings, over our actions, the way that we handle it. Sometimes maybe you have been struggling with this yourself or maybe you know someone who has walked through a crisis, a very difficult time, and the truth is they really never got over it. They just parked right there; they stopped. They never worked through whatever they need to work through. Instead, they just became increasingly bitter over time and resentful and really negative. Don’t do that. Don’t let this sense of anger or frustration or whatever you might be feeling turn to bitterness because again we’re talking about growing through crisis. Don’t get bitter, but instead let God use the crisis to help you get better. 

Finally, what not to do...don’t give up. Please, don’t give up. Don’t give up right now as we walk through the middle of this crisis, all of us together. Don’t give up the next time you face a crisis. Whatever type of crisis it is, don’t give up because remember, there are 7.8 billion people walking through the same thing that you’re walking through. From the time that I was run over by that boat that I mentioned earlier...from the time that it happened until I was taken into surgery, I was conscious the entire time. I never lost consciousness; I never passed out. I was very aware. In fact, I have some very vivid memories of the time, and that time period was about three hours. It happened about 6pm, and it was about 9 o’clock before I had made it to the trauma center and they had assessed me and decided what they were going to do. 

I was 14 years old, so I think that I probably didn’t understand all of what was happening and what what was going on. But I was 14, so I knew this was a serious situation. I knew that this was a dire situation, and for some reason, I think it was the Lord that brought it to mind. I remembered seeing this poem called “Footprints in the Sand.” Perhaps, you’re familiar with that, but I remember I think we had one somewhere in my house as I was growing up. I remembered that, and I knew this was a moment that I needed God. I knew that I needed Him to help me. I just had a simple prayer as I was being wheeled into the operating room. “God, I need You to carry me right now during this time.”

I want to share that poem with you, because I found it particularly encouraging in that moment. I prayed just a simple prayer in line. I’ve seen a lot of different versions of this poem, so I’m going to read one by Carolyn Joyce Carty. You may have heard of this one before or not, but let’s look at this poem. It says…

“One night a man had a dream.

He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.

For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:

One belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints 

in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one 

set of footprints.

He noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it:

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way.

But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times of my life, there is only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why when I needed you the most you would leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.

During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

In my moment of crisis when I was 14 years old, I remembered just those simple words from that poem, and I gave a simple prayer of “God, I need You right now. I need You to carry me as I walk forward through this crisis.” Sometimes in the middle of our crisis, it’s hard to see the big picture. Last week we talked about being nearsighted in our moment of trouble, when all you can see is the thing right in front of your hand. You can’t see anything past. The same is true for us in the crisis. We can’t see the bigger picture. We can’t see the God-sized picture. Even when we don’t know what to do, there are some things we should not do. Don’t turn away from God. Don’t get bitter, and don’t give up.

I want to leave you with this point of encouragement. God has a purpose behind every pain that we encounter. We may not understand it in the moment, just like Joseph didn’t understand in the moment what was happening on the bigger scale when he was being sold into slavery and he was later put in prison. But God was working, even in the midst of that situation. We may not understand the purpose of the pain and of the crisis in the moment, but God is working in the midst of it. If we don’t see Him, if we can’t feel His presence, if we can’t see His footprints in the sand, it doesn’t mean that He’s not here. He is here. He is our refuge and our strength, and He is very present in our time of trouble. 

Next week we’re going to take a look at some ways that God grows us in the middle of crisis. We’re going to look at some specific things that He wants to do and grow in each one of our lives. Then, we’re going to look at some action steps that we can take in the middle of the crisis, even if we maybe don’t have the big picture or know what the end result will be. There are still steps that we can take, so I want to invite you to join us again next week as we continue talking about how to grow through crisis. 

Would you bow with me in prayer now? Father, thank You that You are our refuge and that You are our strength and that You are very present in our time of trouble and our time of need. Thank You that You know and that You see the bigger picture of this world. You see the bigger picture of our lives and that You can see beyond the moment of crisis regardless of what we can feel or think or see or just what we have blocking our vision. God, You are above it all, and I thank Youi for that. Thank You that we can also admit that wrong is wrong, that evil is evil, and that we can cry out to You In our moment of need. There are lots of hurting people in this world right now, Father. We ask that You would please help us. Please draw near to us as we draw near to You. Give us Your peace; give us Your comfort. Help us as a church, as a nation, as the entire world, as we walk through this Covid crisis together. Help us as we walk through crisis in the future. Thank You, Father, that we can call out to You and that You hear us and that You care about us. It’s in the name of Jesus that I pray. Amen.