In the Storm

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“The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because He was angry” (Psalm 18:7).  David’s Psalm is full of vibrant imagery describing God’s anger and wrath: trembling, quaking and shaking, smoke, fire, darkness and rain, hailstones, and bolts of lightning coming like arrows. It is very clear – something is not pleasing to Him and He is responding in righteous judgment. This is a frightening scene, one that makes us want to find a safe place to hide. Unless we understand the reason behind the storm.

Just before the earth begins to tremble in verse 7 David says, “In my distress, I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears” (v. 6). David is in grave danger, “The cords of death entangled me, the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me” (V. 4). God is angry because His beloved is being threatened. He is coming to the rescue. The wrath of God – the storm and the shaking – is not directed at David, but at David’s enemies. In verse 16 the king said, the Lord “reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters . . . He rescued me.”

Sometimes it is hard for us to understand what God is doing. We see the lightning, we hear the thunder, we feel the ground shaking and we are afraid. It is a natural reaction to God’s extreme response. But He is not fighting against you, He is fighting for you. As a child of God, you can be at peace in the storm because the God of the storm is coming to your rescue (v. 19). The fearsome things you see and hear and feel are not directed at you, they are directed at whatever – or more aptly, whomever – threatens you. I know this is true, I’m in that storm right now. I am soaked to the skin by the rain but I still have peace because I trust my heavenly Father. I know He will never harm His daughter. I know He is coming to my rescue. It can be very frightening to witness God’s wrath unless you know that the Lord is on your side. Don’t fear the storm Beloved; just trust in the One who “parts the heavens and comes down” to rescue you (v. 9).

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Stormy Seas

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Brave, confident Peter stood up and stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the liquid surface of the lake – and the water held him up! That is until he looked around to see if what he thought was happening really was. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). The laws of nature overrode his faith in Jesus. 

Peter knew Jesus – he had heard His authoritative teaching and had witnessed and participated in His miracles.  But in a moment, all he knew about Jesus sank into the waves with him.  He was overcome with fear.  Can you relate? Sometimes we seem to be doing good – walking along in our faith with our heads held high.  Then something happens – a crisis hits, the bottom falls out, and suddenly we are sinking and crying out for help.

I have walked with Jesus for almost 50 years and there have been many ups and downs, some pretty awesome highs and some very deep lows.  I wish I could say that I’ve always been a model of unwavering faith – but that would be a lie.  What I can say is that every trial has built my faith by degrees.  We’ve been through some very stormy seas the past three years.  At times, it all looked very dire, and we were sinking fast.  All I could do was cry out, “Lord save us!”  And He did. 

Here’s what I know – and what I want you to know.  God’s hand was in Peter’s stormy sea – and ours.  He stirred up the wind and the waves that rocked our boat and tossed us into the water. Why would He do that?  Because His was the hand that would reach out to rescue us.  Because I needed to know the power of His saving grace and the depth of His everlasting love.  And so do you.  You need to know that when all seems lost, God will rescue you.  When you think you’re about to drown, God will pull you up.  Your storm is real – but so is God.  Start looking for His hand over the waves.

Life Lessons

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I hate to shake whatever fine image you have of me, but I’m not a model of wisdom. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid a high price for many lessons. Still am. Mom’s words remind me of a couple of lessons from Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. The Bible is full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. He was talking about obedience to His Word. While a house and a life built on sand can be brought down by the wind and rain, no storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on knowing and obeying the Word of God.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up. Aren’t you glad that our merciful and gracious God gives multiple second chances? The mistakes we make, our failures, and our missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you can be forgiven, so you could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Lay it all before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take that hard-won wisdom and start walking in the right direction.

Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

When God Gets Angry

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“The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because He was angry” (Psalm 18:7).

David’s Psalm is full of vibrant imagery describing God’s anger and wrath: trembling, quaking and shaking, smoke, fire, darkness and rain, hailstone and bolts of lightning shot like arrows. It is very clear – God was “on the warpath.” Something was not pleasing to Him and He responded in righteous judgment. This is a frightening scene, one that makes us want to find a safe place to hide. Unless we understand the reason behind His anger.

Just before the earth begins to tremble in verse 7 David said, “In my distress, I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears” (v. 6). David was in grave danger, “The cords of death entangled me, the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me” (V. 4). God was angry because His beloved was being threatened. The fire and smoke and lightning meant He coming to the rescue. The wrath of God – the storm and the shaking – is not directed at David, but at David’s enemies.

Sometimes it is hard for us to understand what God is doing. We see the lightning, we hear the thunder, we feel the ground shaking and we are afraid. It is a natural reaction to God’s extreme response. But He is responding out of His great love to save you. The fearsome things you see and hear and feel are not directed at you, they are directed at whatever threatens you, His child. I know this is true, I’ve lived it myself. It can be very frightening to witness God’s wrath unless you know that the Lord is on your side. Don’t fear the storm Beloved. Just trust in the one who “parts the heavens and comes down” (v. 9). He is coming to rescue you.

In the Storm with Jesus

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Mark 4:35-40 is the familiar story of Jesus calming a storm at sea. As He and His disciples tried to make their way across the water there was a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37). A storm at sea was a terrifying thing and the disciples wondered if they would survive. As they fought the wind and water, we wonder, “Where is Jesus?” Was he holding to the lines to keep the sails from twisting? Was He bent over with bucket in hand, bailing out the water that threatened to sink them?  No – “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). What on earth!?  What kind of person sleeps through a storm at sea? One who is not afraid. But the disples were and they awakened Jesus saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Then Jesus “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39).

Storms in life have a similar effect as storms at sea. They are terrifying and we wonder if we will survive. We also wonder sometimes, “Where is Jesus?” “Does He even care about what’s happening to me?” But before we answer those questions, there’s something else I want us to see. Before they all climbed into the boat Jesus told them, “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35). Before the storm hit, Jesus has given them His word that they would all reach “the other side.” When He spoke, it was assured, though they still had to ride through the storm. That’s where you and I need to settle our peace. Right in the promise He spoke before the storm. Did He say, “Take care of your sick, grumpy family member.”? Did He say, “Let go of your precious granddaughter and trust Me.”? Did He say, “Go be My witness in a hostile workplace.”? Did He say, “Move your family to a far-away mission field.”? Then find the peace you need in the assurance of His words. When Jesus speaks it is accomplished. He will not call you to failure and no storm will ever render His words null and void.

Mark 5 starts with these words: “They went across the lake . . .” Jesus kept His word to the disciples. He will keep His word to you too Beloved. All the way to the other side.

This Day

“This is the day the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Yes. This day. This Monday. This 2nd day of November. In this year 2020. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This day. The day before election day in the most volatile political season in my lifetime. Let us rejoice and glad in it.

This day. With masks in place and distance between us. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This day. Recovering from storms in the Gulf Coast regions.

This day. With a mountain of laundry and a house to clean.

This day. Headed to the same old job – or no job at all.

This day. With achy joints, a fevered forehead, little kids with runny noses.

This day. Toting a stack of school books or a stack of papers to file.

This day. Gripped with the fresh pain of grief.

This day. When unkind words are thrown in your face.

This day. When you can only sigh with a heavy heart.

This day. When the bills are stacked high and the money is very low.

This day. Because this is the day that the Lord has made. Despite the struggles and pain and challenges of this day – it is a gift from God. He made it and wrapped it in brilliant colors just for you. It is full of promise because He is the Promise-Maker. There is hope in this day because we can hope in Him.

This day God is for you and He loves you. Take this day Beloved and rejoice and be glad in it. God made it with you on His heart.