Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The God of Glory Thunders

As I sit here and observe the heavy rain and the high winds, my heart began to race a little.  I sat inside the safety of this building, but if this were a tornado, not even this building may be safe.  I sat and listened in case the sirens went off, warning of an impending tornado.  I learned the following day that this storm had done it's share of damage to buildings, signs, and even knocked out the power in certain areas.

My mind went back to other Nebraska storms I had seen.  A couple of years ago, I saw a tornado dipping down from the sky to the land.  Fortunately, it was at least three or for miles away and was not headed in my direction.  At another time, I remember a tornado warning in my area.  I was at a friends house who lived right on the river.  I was not too worried because tornadoes do not typically hit the river.  But then a flash flood warning came over the radio.  I decided the odds were better facing a possible tornado than a flash flood, so I headed home.  I can remember the two feet of water rushing down the street in the middle of town.  Fortunately, our home was on higher ground and I made it safely.  The following day, I went out to see the aftermath.  That water had actually torn up the asphalt all over the lower parts of town. 

I remember the aftermath of tornadoes in the city when I was growing up.  I was in elementary school back then, but those scenes of houses lifted right off their foundations are still vivid in my mind.

Storms can make person feel small and insignificant.  I still remember storms that came of the gulf when I was stationed there.  The amount of rain and the high winds made me feel like I was irrelevant to everything happening around me.  Fortunately, none of those storms during my time there developed into hurricanes.  I have seen photos of the devastation that a storm that starts at sea can make when it hits land.

I am reminded of the 29th Psalm: 

Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array.

The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The LORD is over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful,
The voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everything says, “Glory!”

The LORD sat as King at the flood;
Yes, the LORD sits as King forever.
The LORD will give strength to His people;
The LORD will bless His people with peace.

This passage poetically reminds us that Yahweh is the all powerful Lord of the storm.  The army of the Lord is the wind, rain, flood, and lightning.  He shakes the ground when he thunders.

Here is what I find encouraging.  He does not reach down to destroy us, but to give life.  His voice causes his creation to skip and dance with life.  His voice causes his creation to give birth.  His voice gives his people strength and peace. 

Oh what a curious mix of trembling, fear, hope, and joy!  Truly he, and he alone, is the one that brings down to the grave and makes alive.  In the midst of the storm, I am reminded that God sits as king above it all.  He displays his power, which is not against me, but for me.  As my heart beats faster when I hear the wind howling and the hail beating against the roof, I am reminded that I am always safe in the arms of Jesus.  When might bring fear actually brings a sense of peace and calm.

I am reminded of Jesus, who was fast asleep in the middle of the storm.  His disciples were with him and had not yet grasped the full significance of who they were with.  Jesus, who tramples down the waves of the sea, who commands the wind with a single word, who is Lord of the storm, is our master and Lord.

The storm comes in many forms does it not?  Cancer may come and attempt to blow away my courage.  Sicknesses of various kinds may come threaten to topple my confidence.  Missed expectations in my walk with God may send the whirlwind against the walls of my faith.  Suffering may throw hailstones on the roof of my bravery. 

But then God reminds me that I am in the boat with Jesus, and there is nothing to fear.  The boat may seem like a scary place to be, but Jesus is not worried at all because he is Lord of the storm.  Jesus will lead me safely to the other side.  Even if the storm topples my tent, the tent was temporary anyway.  I am looking for a permanent home with the Lord that will never be destroyed.  Jesus will lead me safely to his eternal home where there will be no more sorrow, death, sickness, or pain. 

I am now reminded that our Lord will not lead us safely around the storm, but will lead us safely through the storm.

Here are some passages that are a good reminder of the various ways our Lord thunders from the Heavens.

Nehemiah 1:2-8

A jealous and avenging God is the LORD;
The LORD is avenging and wrathful.
The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.
Bashan and Carmel wither;
The blossoms of Lebanon wither.

Mountains quake because of Him
And the hills dissolve;
Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence,
The world and all the inhabitants in it.

Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
And the rocks are broken up by Him.

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of its site,
And will pursue His enemies into darkness.

Job 37:2-13

Listen closely to the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth.

Under the whole heaven He lets it loose,
And His lightning to the ends of the earth.

After it, a voice roars;
He thunders with His majestic voice,
And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.

God thunders with His voice wondrously,
Doing great things which we cannot comprehend.

For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’

He seals the hand of every man,
That all men may know His work.

Then the beast goes into its lair
And remains in its den.

Out of the south comes the storm,
And out of the north the cold.

From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen.

Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud;
He disperses the cloud of His lightning.

It changes direction, turning around by His guidance,
That it may do whatever He commands it
On the face of the inhabited earth.

Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

Psalm 107:23-32

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;

They have seen the works of the LORD,
And His wonders in the deep.

For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind,
Which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths;
Their soul melted away in their misery.

They reeled and staggered like a drunken man,
And were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distresses.

He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad because they were quiet,
So He guided them to their desired haven.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!

Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people,
And praise Him at the seat of the elders.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Following the Example of Christ

He couldn't believe what he saw. He drove around the block to see if he saw what he thought he did. Sure enough, there was a lady on a wheelchair trying to shovel her driveway with a snow shovel. He noticed many drivers going by straining their necks to see this unusual sight. "Hmmmm," he thought to himself, "I wonder if I should stop and help." There were still a bunch of errands he needed to get done before it got dark. Then he remembered, "I am a Christian. My Lord washed his disciples feet, and one of them had become his enemy." With that, he stopped the car and got out. She looked startled at first as he walked toward her. Then she smiled. "Would it be okay if I were to help?" He asked. With a smile on her face, she handed him the snow shovel. Then she said, "I am trying to clear it off so I can get in and out on my chair." The city snow plows had gone by and created a hard mound of snow at the end of her drive way. He introduced himself and then went to work on the driveway. The snow was hard and icy at the end of the driveway. There would have been no way she would have gotten it off in her wheel chair. After he finished, he looked up and saw she was still smiling. He handed the shovel back to her. The look on her face was one of deep appreciation. "Will that do it?" He asked. "Yes, and then some," she replied. "God bless, and have a happy New Year," he said. He could see the look of relief on her face that the job was done. He knew another snow would be coming, so he made a mental note to go by again and see if she might need help.

Jesus stated emphatically that he did not come to be served, but to serve (Mt 20:28). He demonstrated this toward the end of his ministry.  At the last supper, even though he was the head of the table, he got up, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, and went to work washing his disciples feet Jn 13:1f).  This demonstration of servanthood must have shocked his disciples.  After all, he was their teacher and Lord.  It has been pointed out that this was the job for the low man on the household servant roster.  It would have been like that job no one wants that always goes to the new guy.  When I picture Jesus volunteering to do that task that goes to the low man on the totem pole, I begin to get a sense of why Peter reacted in the way that he did. 

The text says that Jesus "loved them to the end," and therefore began to wash his disciples feet.  Love trumps pride.  Love gives generously.  Love serves above and beyond.  Love is the example that Jesus demonstrated for us.  He asked, "Do you understand what I have done for you?  You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for this is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feed, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set an example for you to do as I have done for you.  Truly I tell you that no servant is greater than his master…"

I need to remember that I am not greater than him that I should find any kind of service beneath me.  Love for God and love for neighbor should motivate me to serve.  I am reminded of those historical accounts where outsiders found it strange among the Christians that masters were serving their slaves.  But this is nothing unusual in the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom turns the world's values on its head.  The nobody becomes somebody, and the somebody becomes nobody in the kingdom.  The ground at the foot of the cross is level.  God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted.  Jesus said that a mark of discipleship is to love as he loved (Jn 13:35).  Jesus demonstrated part of what love looks like in the upper room. 

Years ago, I heard a story about a woman who had just about lost hope, and stumbled onto a church and walked in asking, "Is this the church that helps people?" The brethren all came together to help this single mother, from repair of her car, to helping her get a new home for her family and finding a job. She was overwhelmed at the benevolent goodwill of these brethren. She experienced the love of God through these brethren. She became a Christian and promptly began a lifestyle of also helping other people even through her humble means. She felt it a great blessing to have the ability to help other people.  This is not extraordinary, but is rather ordinary in the Kingdom of God. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Deuteronomy 1): Age of Accountability

In my reading, I was reminded of a question that comes up regularly.  At what age should my son or daughter consider being baptized?  When I was younger, I remember discussions about reaching what people called the "age of accountability," which is a point in a person's life where they become mature enough to be held accountable as an adult.  Of course, the problem was that no one seemed to know what that age of accountability was.  Some placed it as young as 10, others placed it closer to age 16.  I always felt a little uneasy about baptizing a ten year old for the simple fact that in no other area of life would we even dream of holding a person that young accountable as an adult.  We would not support marriage at such a young age nor would we hold someone legally accountable as an adult at that age.  If being baptized is analogous to becoming married to Christ, then it is a very adult decision.

When God redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, he led them to freedom toward a new home.  However, they were rebellious and stubborn and initially refused to enter the land, opting to elect a new leader and return to Egypt.  As a result, God told them this:

 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die" ( Numb 14:27-35).

The children under 20 years old would suffer for the sins of their fathers by being stuck living in the wilderness for forty years.  However, God does not hold those under twenty years responsible in the same way he does those who are twenty and older.  Those under twenty would enter the land after their parents had all died in the wilderness.

In Deuteronomy, those who were under twenty are now adults and their parents have all died in the wilderness. Moses is preparing them to enter the land God granted to them.  Moses recounted their history, and how their parents had rebelled against God, refusing to enter the land, making plans to return to Egypt.  Then Moses reminded them of what God had said:

"When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 'No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.'

Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, 'You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it" (Dt 1:34-39).

This text jumped out at me: " And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land…"  This group included everyone under twenty years old.  God did not hold those who were under twenty responsible as an adult. 

This reminds me of some of the scientific literature I have seen on human growth and development.  Apparently, the brain is the last part of the human body to physically mature.  Even though the rest of the body looks like an adult body, the brain is still developing until about age twenty.  This is why a seventeen or eighteen year old might respond to a situation more on emotion and impulse rather than sound judgment.  Perhaps this is why God does not hold them responsible as adults.  They were not yet fully mature.

As I think about the implications this has for the conversion of children, I wonder about the wisdom in pushing teenagers to be baptized.  If it is an adult decision, and if it is the most important decision one will make in life more than even marriage, then pushing a teen toward it may not be the best course of action.  Expecting a life-long adult commitment, with adult understanding that requires an adult level of emotional maturity may be setting a teen up for failure and discouragement, not because he or she is not committed, but because he or she may not yet be emotionally capable of such a decision.  This means that if a child wants to be baptized, a parent may hold them off for the same reason they would hold them off from getting married.  One would not disfellowship a child for the same reason one would not try a juvenile in an adult court.  The child is the responsibility of the parent until he or she begins to transition into adulthood.  Childhood is a time of preparation, training, instruction, and encouragement.

As a practice, I do not discourage children who want to make that commitment.  They love God and want to please him, which pleases God.  They want to follow Jesus, which I encourage.  However, it is a marriage, and I explain it in terms of marriage.  It is a very adult decision.  I have often thought about whether starting a tradition of a formal period of betrothal up till the day of baptism would be a good thing.  This would involve instruction and guided growth in service and ministry.  Something to act as a symbol of that betrothal might help to strengthen a child's faith and commitment.  This might help with the child's desire to express his commitment to Christ even though he or she may not be emotionally or spiritually ready for baptism. 

In the end, I suppose the encouragement for parents in this regard is to not get bent out of shape if a child is not yet beating down the doors to the baptistery yet.  The more important thing is not so much whether they have been baptized, but whether parents are instructing them regularly, whether parents are including them in service and ministry in the name of Christ, and whether parents are modeling love for God and for the neighbor.  I have known kids who were pushed toward baptism by parents, but they were never really committed.  Baptism is not some magic ritual that equates to commitment. 

I think of my own experience with my own children.  I included them in ministry, service, and discussions about God, scripture, and service.   I had not yet considered the age twenty marker that God identified in the text from my reading.  My younger two children were older teens when they made the decision to be baptized.  However, they had reached a level of emotional maturity that they understood the level of commitment this would take.  They were what some people called, "an old soul."  They have been involved and committed and are still faithful Christians today.