Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Battling the Storms

A few weeks ago when severe weather warnings were out, we had the TV on with Wayne Hart providing the play-by-play coverage. Our boys know that if a tornado warning directly affects us, then they are to go into the bathroom for shelter. It did not appear that we were in imminent danger, but that didn’t stop our boys from doing something about it. As the wind continued howling outside as we tried to get them into bed, Toby came up with an idea. He said, “I’m gonna go get my sword and fight the tornado.” Actually, he called it a “tormado,” which is probably due to too much exposure to Bob the Tomato, and it’s easy for a three-year-old to get mixed up.

Well, they got their plastic swords out and ran throughout the house swinging and fighting the evil tornado. I’m not sure how much good they would have done in the event of an actual emergency situation, but it did help them feel like they were doing something about it. And, yes, bedtime was much later than usual that night.

There were several damaging storms were to our south, where tornados did strike and leave dozens dead and many more injured. You know about the destruction at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Union is an excellent Southern Baptist, four-year liberal arts university. If you’ve seen pictures of the campus in the aftermath of the storms, you can’t help but believe that it was literally a miracle that, despite injuries, not a single student on campus was killed.

It makes you think that maybe they got their swords out. Not the plastic kind, but the one sharper than any doubled-edged sword. I’m referring to the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). What power and protection and provision there is for the one whose trust is the Lord!

For God’s purpose and for His glory, He chose to spare the lives of the students at Union University. As Christians we are not promised a life of ease and comfort, a trouble-free or pain-free life, but we are promised the victory in Jesus. In fact, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

God would not be any less God if there were students at Union who died in that storm. He would not be any less loving, any less caring, or any less concerned about the sufferings of His people. No matter what the circumstances of life around us, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And furthermore, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

So, when the storm threatens and the sea rages and the earth quakes around your feet, you need not fear, dear friend, if your trust is in the Lord. Get your Sword out and discover for yourself the power of the Lord Almighty. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Get your Sword out and find in His Word the wonder of His presence. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Get your Sword out and examine and see that the Lord our God is mighty to save. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3).

God is boundless in His love for you, dear friend. His love for you was expressed in ultimate measure by giving His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sins, to save you from the dangers of hell and offer you everlasting life with Him in heaven. There’s a day coming that will be infinitely much worse for unbelievers than any storm on earth. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses (and some in plastic swords), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm” (Psalm 20:7-8). The battle is real and the storms will come. What, or rather, Whom, are you trusting in?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If Only

"If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me." - Isaiah 48:18-19

Why do we as believers in Christ Jesus not wholly and gladly yield ourselves in obedience to the Word of God? Just look at the peace that would be ours. Look at the many gracious promises God gives to those who follow His ways. Look at how strong and wise and able our Lord is to make good on His Word.

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." - Psalm 81:10

God reminds His people of how mighty He is to save, to deliver and to provide us with His richest blessings. He reminds us of how sure He is to answer in our distresses and bring us to the place of abundance and rest. Yet, Israel was so quick to chase after other things and ignore the clear warnings given them through the prophets.

"But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices." - Psalm 81:11-12

Those who stubbornly continue to refuse the Lord will suffer in themselves the due penalty for their sin (cf. Rom. 1:18-31). God is indeed patient with us and gives man numerous opportunities to turn from sin and trust in Him, but He will not coddle us forever. Sometimes the very worst punishment He can inflict on a man is simply to let him follow his own ways, forfeiting the protection and provision God offers.

One of our deacons came early Sunday morning to shovel the sidewalks at the church. We had just enough snow and plenty of ice this past week to make the conditions dangerous for many people. He cleared the walkways and entrances to the building so that no one would get hurt. He didn't want anyone to fall.

Anyone who pulled into the parking lot could see clearly that the sidewalks were safe to walk on. Imagine then, if someone intentionally chose to avoid the cleared walkways and tried to skate in some other way. There would be a good chance that they would slip and fall and get hurt.

God has plainly shown the way that we should walk. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105). How foolish it is for us to attempt to walk a different path! If we avoid following the commands of His Word we're missing out on the protection and provision He lovingly offers to us in this world. He longs to keep us safe from the dangers and entanglements of sin. He does not want us to stumble and fall. But if we stubbornly refuse to take His instruction, then we will suffer the inevitable consequences.

"If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!" - Psalm 81:13-14

Don't you see how the heart of God yearns to display His power and His might among His people? Why would we choose to spurn God's commands which are for our good, when He promises us such blessings?

"Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." - Psalm 81:15-16

If only we will follow the commands of the Lord. We would not only avoid so much turmoil and grief and worry and fear, but we will receive in great confidence the promises of God's protection and provision and peace. We will be fully satisfied in Him.

Monday, February 4, 2008

This Is the Day

I suppose today is an ordinary Monday, sandwiched between Super Sunday and Super Duper Tuesday. Of course, if you are a fan of the New York Giants there's nothing ordinary about it. You're telling everyone who will listen about how your team slayed the mighty dragon. For Patriots fans, well, remember, it is just a game.

Either way, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24). We can rejoice in each day, not necessarily because of the circumstances around us, but because of who Jesus is and who we are in Christ Jesus.

We can even "consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). How?
  • "Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:3).
  • Because "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
  • Because "these [trials] have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7).

God often shapes and refines us for His purposes and glory through the hardships we face. What better way to examine the depths of our faith in Christ than in the fire?

Last week I was out of commission for a couple of days due to illness. Every one of my family has been sick with something in the past two weeks. We've not been feeling well, we've been couped up together more than usual, our schedules and plans have been changed, put on hold or canceled altogether...and frankly we've been going a little stir crazy.

Not a major fire, but enough to test my faith. There were some things about mine I didn't like. The fruits of the Spirit (especially the patience thing) weren't very pleasing to taste. Counting it all joy wasn't exactly what I had in mind. And how God worked any good from it I can't tell you.

Oh, to have the faith of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego! To say to the king while the furnace blazes: "Bring it on! We'll face the fire if that's what you want. There's nothing you or anyone else can do us to us from which the Lord our God will not save us. He will rescue us from your hand without working up a sweat. And we'll tell you this - even if He chooses not to, we're still not going to deny our faith by serving your gods."

So, face the fire with faith, dear friend! Rejoice in this day - whatever may come. God's got in all under control. "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" the king wanted to know. "But, look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3).

Christian, you're going to have trouble in the world. Jesus never promised it would be easy. But He promises you peace in Him, saying "Take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Whatever hardships, sufferings, pain or trouble this day brings, rejoice in the Lord! I will say it again: Rejoice! "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-7).