Storm Day

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One of my cousins, posting on my Facebook Wall, mentioned how Superstorm Sandy again demonstrates how God can suddenly bring us to a standstill with just the smallest demonstration of His power.  Sandy was seemingly the most powerful storm ever to hit the east coast.  Yet she was just a small expression of the power of creation.  Earthquakes, volcanoes have even more power.  Tsunami can deliver so much destruction.

Up here in Franklin County Maine, its raining, but the house is dry and the lights are still on.  We feel secure against "Mother Nature" but only because her full force has not been brought to bear on us.

Consider this passage:

Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man's heart will melt. They will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, Their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. (Isaiah 13:6-11)

When we see storms like this here or around the world, when we see nature rise up and disregard us, we see the shadows of what this verse describes.  Limp hands and melted hearts.  Some hearts are harder than others and take longer to melt.  Indeed, Revelation tells us that even during some terrible times of judgement, men will shake their fists to heaven and curse God.  It won't matter.  Just like someone thinking they can outsmart the forces of nature only to be washed away, God, in His power, will eventually silence all.

There are many who point out that people have been predicting God coming back for a long time, only to not have Him arrive.  They therefore mock the idea that He's coming.  What's facinating to me is that the Bible even predicts that.

But first you must realize that in the last days some people won't think about anything except their own selfish desires. They will make fun of you and say, "Didn't your Lord promise to come back? Yet the first leaders have already died, and the world hasn't changed a bit." (2 Peter 3:3-4)

Peter then makes it clear that there is a reason it has taken longer than man thought it would take (and all those people who ignore Jesus' statement that no one knows when only add to this confusion).

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God's not late, nor has He given up.  To the contrary, He is giving man more time to come to Him and be forgiven.  Every day that a person accepts His free forgiveness and enters into a relationship with Him is a day worth waiting for.  Patience only goes so far, though, and He will not delay forever.  Peter reminds us.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)

The storm is coming.  Everything, and I mean everything will stop.  No longer will it be possible to pick and and go on.  All will eventually face God whether they knew Him, believed in Him, or even admitted He existed.    If Superstorm Sandy can disrupt and in some cases end our lives so much, how much more should we take seriously the God who created the earth.

Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? Haven't you heard these stories all your life? Don't you understand the foundation of all things? God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas-- yes, like a tent canvas to live under. He ignores what all the princes say and do. The rulers of the earth count for nothing. Princes and rulers don't amount to much. Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted, They shrivel when God blows on them. Like flecks of chaff, they're gone with the wind. "So--who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?" says The Holy. Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name --so magnificent! so powerful!-- and never overlooks a single one? Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, "GOD has lost track of me. He doesn't care what happens to me"? Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening? GOD doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. (Isaiah 40:21-28, Message)

Storm Forcast

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If you haven't heard of Sandy and what this storm means for us on the Atlantic Seaboard, you soon will.  What began as just a possibility a day or so ago has now grown to a 90% probability that northeastern United States is about to get walloped.  I am a weather junkie and a news junkie, so I've kept up on reading the alerts and the forecast discussion online.  Right now it looks like the more-likely scenario is a direct hit somewhere between Northern Virginia and New York City.  There is still a possibility it will hit further north.  Either way, this storm is so large that an amazingly large area will be impacted.  The National Weather Service, which tends to be very conservative is warning in all its fine print that this situation is so rare that they don't have models that easily predict what is happening.

That's something.  Already people are being warned to prepare for the possiblity of a big hit with loss of power and flooding.  Although it looks like we will probably be spared the big stuff and just have some heavy rain and some wind (no big change from recent weather), it still makes me glad that I have a wood stove and don't live anywhere the coast.

All the warnings and the uncertainty of the predictions did make me think of one other thing.  The Bible tells us that the great and powerful Day of the Lord is coming.  It will bring much more punch than even a "Frankenstorm."  Like this storm, there is certainty that it is coming, but uncertainty as to when.  Today it is nice and sunny, what could go wrong?   The Bible warns that most people will not be looking for the Day of the Lord, will not even believe He is coming, and will be totally surprised and unprepared for His return.

Once the storm hits, it is too late to prepare.  Stores close, streets become impassable.  These days, often emergency responders explain that they will not go out until the most severe threat is past.  C.S. Lewis said the same thing about those who think they will wait and see what happens before they spiritually prepare.  "When the author walks on the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right...something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left.  For this time it will be God without disguise...it will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up."

I pray for all those in the path of what looks like a monster storm and we can hope that it weakens and falls far short of the predictions.  More than any one weather phenomenon, no matter how massive, I pray for those unprepared for the day when Jesus returns.   To weather that storm, you don't need the Red Cross, you need to cross of Christ.

My Favorite Church

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Sunday morning, the head of the Deacon Board called all four of us pastors up onto the stage and expressed the church's appreciation for us and presented us with a tangible example of that appreciation in the form of a gift card to a local restaraunt which represents a night out for my wife and I.  After the regular morning service, we had our quarterly business meeting which went smooth as usual and included the exciting information that giving is above budget while spending is below.  For a penny pincher like myself, that was exciting.   Neither of these facts was the most exciting part of the day.  Watching people grow together in unity, watching the church come together in strength of purpose and love.  Meeting with the small group leaders who are eager to lead Bible studies.  All these things are the most exciting parts of being in Bean's Corner Church.

BUT...

Bean's Corner is not my favorite church.  It has a lock on second favorite to be sure, but it isn't #1.  I'm with my most favorite church this morning.  I'm sitting at our kitchen table typing this on my laptop while my two oldest children are sitting with me, quietly doing their language arts.  My third child is quietly singing to himself in the living room as he builds with the Lincoln Log train track, and my fourth is down for his nap.  Mom is at her last day of work at CEF, having given her notice.  After 13 years she is getting done to have more time for the demands of homeschooling three and raising an infant while also participating in church and camp ministry.

THIS is my favorite church.  My primary calling is to shepherd this family.  I am in a state of constant learning how to do it, but I am enjoying learning and I love the relationships I get to build here at home.  Laying on the floor with the baby, encouraging him in learning to push himself up.  Pitching in with the teaching on my day off, reading to them at night when I'm home, spending time just talking things through with my wife.  These are the wonderful parts of shepherding.

I find as I do a good job learning to be a shepherd at home, I become a better shepherd at my second favorite church.  The gentleness, communication skills, the ability to correct someone in love and guide someone without pushing are all skills that I develop at home and then am able to utilize at church.  I truly believe that is why Paul insisted that the church look at a man's shepherding ability at home before it placed him in a position of shepherding at church.

So sorry, Bean's Corner, but you're not my first love as a church.  You'll always be second.  I think we'll all stay happier that way.  :)

Promises of Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is hard.  I have blogged about it before over the last three years.  You see the tension of forgiveness in Christians a lot.  On one hand, we know that we have been commanded to forgive, as Christ forgave us.  On the other hand, when the other party doesn't seem to be sorry, or won't admit wrong, or did something really bad, forgiveness is really hard.  As a result, we often see more talk about forgiveness than practice.  From Peacemaker Ministries, here are the "Four Promises of Forgiveness."  They are based on Matt. 6:12; 1 Cor. 13:5; and Eph. 4:32.

1.   I will not dwell on this incident.

I personally think this is the hardest promise.  Shutting down that mental tape requires supreme effort and focus on Christ.  This is a TOUGH first promise.

2.  I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.

I'm reminded of a funny quote from the old animated movie "Gay Purree", "If the opportunity arose to do him a disservice, I might not be able to resist it."   Sometimes we are just storing it up for that day when "justice" will be done.

3.  I wil not talk to others about this incident.

We want to bring it up, talk about it, gain support, sympathy, etc.  When we bring it up, we are quietly bringing just a little justice.  "I know God will repay him/her/them, but in the meantime, look how bad they are."   There is a satisfying thing in reviewing wounds we received from others.  But that is NOT forgiveness.

4.  I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Imagine how hard this can be.  Now there is a difference between this and granting trust.  If you stole my credit cards, I'm not going to trust you to hold my wallet.  That is not a punishment.  But if I treat you coldly, or even with a light coolness, if I withhold friendship from you, that is.

What about abusers?  Avoiding someone who is an active abuser is not about punishing them or not forgiving them.  It is about you being safe.  Forgiving someone who will put you in harms way does not require you to enter into harm's way.   The trick will be being able to pray for them with compassion and not anger or hate.  That would be the trick.

Forgiveness is hard, and even with Christ's example, many Christians find it difficult to truly practice and demonstrate it.  I'm still working on it myself, but may we never let ourselves off the hook by sitting on our but.  As in, "I forgave them, but..."

Sarcasm

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My extended family was always very sarcastic.  I grew up being really good at sarcasm.  My own parents didn't use sarcasm with us, which was good, but I was able to develop the skills anyway.  I'm not alone.  We live in a sarcastic society these days.  A lot of people speak sarcastically without even thinking about it.  Its second nature.  So much of humor today is also set in sarcasm, so when we try to be funny we often resort to sarcasm as well.

There is a problem with this.

I have worked hard to stop the sarcasm in my life.  I'm not always 100% effective, but I have cut it way back to almost nothing.  Why?  Because it is a rotten way to communicate, especially for someone seeking to live in Christ.  Jesus said, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37).   He was talking about not needing to take oaths to prove you were telling the truth.  In other words, mean what you say.   When we use sarcasm, we do not mean what we say, that's the point of sarcasm.   "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29).   I think you would be hard pressed to honestly identify a time where a good sarcastic comment is what is needed in a moment to give grace.  Sarcasm bites, pokes fun, expresses disdain, but does not have as its purpose, building up and giving grace.

Now I don't mean we can never make ironic statements for humor's sake.  But in our personal communication with others, we need to put the sarcasm away and speak honestly, lovingly, and uprightly. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." (Colossians 4:6).  Once again, we see that our speech is to be with grace.  A good sarcastic zinger fails that test.

Sarcasm is not how my wife and I communicate at all with each other, and certainly not how we talk to our kids.  I'm sure my kids will learn sarcasm in time, but so far they are not exposed to much of it.  That's one family legacy I'm happy to leave behind.

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