The Storm

As you read this I hope you are doubling down in prayer for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey & Irma, for those in the path of a storm, or for those working to recover from a disaster. Please take a moment to do that before reading on.

What is a Christian to make of natural disasters? They happen frequently and when they do people want to know, ‘Why God?!’ Books have been written on the topic and I will not attempt to address all our concerns in this brief post. What I want to do, however, is to make three points that I pray will be helpful to you as you process the disasters on the news. I’ll speak of Irma specifically since she’s bearing down on South Florida as I write.

First, disasters are not how God punishes sin. Yes, there are a couple remarkable occasions in scripture when God actively takes ‘hold of the reins of nature to punish an evil people. Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. But scripture nowhere gives us reason to search for the sin that brought on a given disaster. Irma is not God’s response to the sin of Miami or any other city. Miami will be hit because Irma is a hurricane and Miami sits in a part of the world where hurricanes happen. Christians must firmly reject any teaching that points to a more specific moral or spiritual “cause” to a disaster.

Jesus himself warns us against victim blaming when it comes to disease and disaster.

Remember the blind man he encountered? The story is found in John 9. Jesus’ disciples want to know why this man was born blind. Was it his sin or his parents’ sin? (Interesting they thought it possible that this [grown] MAN’S sin may have caused him to be BORN blind isn’t it?) Jesus corrects their thinking. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The works of God? How are the works of God displayed in a horrific disaster? This brings us to point number two.

God is bigger. God is infinitely more powerful than the fires raging out west, the tsunamis threatening Mexico or the hurricane approaching Florida. The God you serve – the Rock of Ages who clefts for you – can, at any moment say to the wind “Quiet. Be still.” And the wind will dutifully comply. Though scripture tells us God grieves in the face of death (John 11:35) he does not feel fear and anxiety as you and I do. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm God has ushered history forward to this point. Embolden by his bigness, we then, who are small, by faith, trusting in God’s power and love, allow ourselves to be led forward from here. This includes rolling up our sleeves to help those affected and giving financially to speed along relief.

Third and finally, we should learn from disasters that evil exists. Luke 13 opens with a report that some Galileans were being butchered by the government. (They were perhaps followers of a false prophet). Sensing the people were wondering if this is God’s punishment, Jesus preempts their thinking. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! (See again my point #2 above). But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Jesus then offers another illustration from another natural disaster with which his listeners would have been familiar). Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When God takes his hand off the wheel, so to speak, when God leaves us to our own devices, disaster ensues. Make no mistake, with each and every sin you and I are requesting God forsakenness. God forsakenness is what Adam and Eve demanded in the garden. “Leave me alone God!” Evil is the natural result, the ONLY possible result of God granting that request. Of God showing what it really would be like if he were to totally and finally leave us alone. The storm is but a window into chaos. Absent the God of beauty and order, chaos is all that’s left.

This healthy fear of the Lord should drive us to our knees in repentance. As we pray for the physical safety and healing of those in the path of the storm, we then pray all the more for those in the path of eternal destruction. For those who would shake their fists at God even to the bitter end requesting, no, demanding, that he leave them alone.

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.

Minor Prophets & Major Problems

Considering Our Ways - Haggai 1:7-9

By Elder Chad Gramling

Minor Prophets Pleading for Truth Yesterday and Today

The Minor Prophets provide a great example of seeing God’s story always unfolding. In our Adult Sunday School Bible Studies, we found there is a lot of application for today’s world and key lessons we should take to heart. With their ministries taking place between 760 and 400 B.C., it means the world had not yet physically seen Jesus. However, in addition to getting a glimpse of a world BEFORE Jesus, we also see a world that is WITHOUT Jesus.

 

That frightens us. But it also emboldens us.

 

The Minor Prophets During Desperate Times

If someone asked me to give them a quick answer as to who the Minor Prophets were and what they represented, I would say they were a collective of the most faithful believers during desperate times. They risked much to follow God’s prompting. Some even left their homes to minister to people who might or might not be accepting of the message (they usually weren’t and tried to get the prophets to just go away).

 

The prophets all made a common call for repentance. Israel’s sins, after all, were legion; oppressing the poor, corrupt leadership, relentless pursuit of worldly pleasures, worshipping idols, hypocrisy and covetousness as well as following the misguidance of false prophets. The plea of the biblical prophets was urgent, reminding the world that repenting is not a “when I get to it” or “yeah, whatever” matter.

 

As the Minor Prophets conveyed, and as so many people eventually found out, complacency toward God is sinful and destructive. This is quite clear in Haggai as he encourages the remnant’s rebuilding of the temple despite their constant excuses and procrastination.

 

The simple lesson here: We must make time for God, for it is in God we have hope.

 

God’s People in Desperate Times

Just as the Minor Prophets were in their time, WE must be a collective of the most faithful believers during OUR desperate times. The human condition witness today is no different than it was more than 2500 years ago. People are still oppressing the poor. Much of our world’s leadership is still corrupt. There is still a relentless pursuit of worldly pleasure in our country and others. People are still worshiping idols. Hypocrisy and covetousness still run rampant and, of course, there are still many of our brothers and sisters who are following the misguidance of false prophets.

 

I genuinely believe God commissions us all in some form or another. I also believe we can be modern-day Amos’s: ordinary people who are brave enough to speak God’s truth.

 

Just as he did with Habakkuk, through prayer and connection, God grants understanding even when there is an absence of immediate answers. We can talk to God, we can tell him what’s on our hearts. He then brings understanding and purpose. Of course, that’s on his timing, so our continued faith is also a must.

 

In addition to faith, we must maintain personal character for the sake of our personal effectiveness and the effectiveness of fellow Christians. More than one Minor Prophet (but look specifically at Malachi) had his credibility called into question.

 

This credibility is so vital because no ministry rises higher than the character of its leaders. Like the Minor Prophets, we will meet with resistance from those still clinging to sin. Our continued work in our individual relationships with God, though, will see us through.

 

Finally, in studying the Minor Prophets, we see the many perils of ignoring God’s impending judgment. Scripture makes it clear, God WILL hold court. And when he does, all our earthly strongholds will be defeated. They will be destroyed, taken, and removed.

 

The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

When Jesus returns, on the Day of the Lord, it will be both a GREAT and a TERRIBLE day. For those basking in the light of God’s grace, it indeed will be great. However, for those clinging to darkness, for those idle and complacent in God’s commands, for those who put off returning to God despite his warnings, it will be terrible.

 

Our hearts must ache for those souls. We, just as the minor prophets did, should be found lamenting over their fates. We are to be inviting them even now to repent, to turn to the Light, and be saved.

 

 

 

You can connect with Chad and his work via Facebook, Twitter, and his home on the web at 1glories.com

Media Monsters

10 1/2 hours PER DAY! We mentioned this statistic in church not long ago. That’s the amount of time the average American adult spends consuming media, as calculated by the Nielsen Corp.

Media is simply the air we breathe nowadays. Even without a smart phone you can’t help but be inundated with voices and images vying for your attention. They seek to shape your thoughts and claim your affections. As Christians we know most of these voices are not God’s voice. Most of them do not want God’s best for us. Most of them do not align with his word. But what can we do? Retreating to a monastery sounds like a lovely option sometimes. But as a permanent solution, that hardly seems in line with Christ’s command to go into all the world.

This is a challenging topic but it’s one we’d better face. Most of us would prefer to turn our minds off and just veg out in front of the tube. Or we would prefer to fill our social media world with voices that make us feel good; that tell us we’re right. But followers of Jesus cannot approach their world this way. If we are to be on mission, that mission must start with an honest review of our own lives and, when it comes to the media we consume, a careful assessment of the situation. To help us think this through I’d like to take a page out of the environmentalist’s playbook.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Reduce. Turn the media off. Be still and know that I am God! our Lord commands us (Ps. 46:10). This is difficult advice! As soon as I sit in silence my mind wants to wander. Being still is something we have to work at. Remember the adage, whenever you say ‘yes’ to one thing you’re saying ‘no’ to something else. What are you saying ‘yes’ to that makes you want to say ‘no’ to spending time in silence with your God? Pray about it. Make a decision. And turn it off.

Reuse. Did you know there are some good television shows, movies, and music that were made many years ago? Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is to read old books. Well, likewise, you should watch old movies. Choose shows that you know are top quality, life-affirming and soul-feeding in your weekly media consumption routine. Your kids will thank you for it one day. By the way, Dad, thanks for making me watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” all those years. I’m better because of it! Hollywood needs us to believe that newer is always better and that the latest film or hit drama is “must-see tv”. But it isn’t. Your life was fine before you binge watched the latest season of the bachelor and it will continue to be fine (I dare say it will be far better in fact!) if you abstain from watching the next season.

Recycle. You’re going to spend time consuming media. Lots of time. Can we agree that at least a portion of that time will be trash time? That is, you’ll watch or listen to some things that actually diminish your quality of life and make it harder to love God, your family, and your neighbor. Recycle that trash time. You can do that by bringing godly voices into your media feed. Instead of the radio, put on a podcast during the morning commute. There’s nothing wrong with rocking out to Billy Joel once in a while (a guilty pleasure of mine!) but he’s not likely to stir your soul or ignite your mind like a Christian pastor or thinker will. Don’t know where to start? Try the Gospel Coalition podcast. They range from 10-60 minute spots on every topic under the sun from the leading evangelical thinkers at work today. Have another podcast you love? Let me know about it. Want more ideas? Drop me a line and we’ll talk.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT).