Magnificent

O LORD, our God, how incredible is Your character and reputation throughout the heavens and the Earth.

When I slow down enough to really think about who You truly are – I’m in awe. It’s amazing to consider all that You’ve done so easily and completely, and yet, You love humanity (me) as Your creation unconditionally. Even though we are sinful, selfish, people, You give us both dignity and responsibility.

“O LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout the Earth.” Psalm 8:1

God keeps His promises

Over the past few weeks, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

Langford tornadoIf God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people – including me? Right now!

 

As I was reading through the Bible (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, both physical and spiritual, that the LORD required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While the Hebrews were still in Egypt, the LORD God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

Storms of life
All photos by http://www.langfordphotography.com

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the LORD handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of His people.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45)

God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

The battles that Israel fought were real. The doubts they faced were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

Joshua’s challenge to God’s people in view of His fulfilled promises remains the same: “love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, remain faithful to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. Terrorism is still rising. Political arguments are continuing. People are still suffering. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in Him. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

State of the Union

state-of-the-unionDuring tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Barak Obama,  the president said, “The future we want – will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

What I’ve found is that find that most Americans have grown tired of politics, weary of the rhetoric, cynical of public servants, and fearful of the future of our nation. What is it about our times that government has ceased to work? Why are people simply so angry? Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s easy to be mad or, at least, frustrated by what’s going on in Washington.

How should we respond to the frustrations that so many of us feel with the current state of the union and future of our nation? How do followers of Jesus respond to politics, politicians, and government?

A Brief Historical Perspective

As long as we have had human government, godly citizens have disagreed with the policies, decisions, and activities of their governments. Times of dissent can escalate into a crisis. It’s then the we must decide, if we should actively protest or patiently wait on the government leaders with respect for their authority. Where should the line be drawn?

In the second century AD, the respected Roman scholar Celsus leveled an accusation of atheism against followers of Jesus. Because they did not worship the gods of Rome nor revere Caesar as a god, Celsus accused them of treasonous, atheistic beliefs. When persecution came their way, the early church endured it. There is little evidence of anything resembling early Christian resistance to government persecution.

Confessing Church in GermanyBut in World War II, Christians were among the boldest defenders of another oppressed people group. Faithful followers of Jesus played a major role in organizations such as the Dutch resistance, the French underground, and others that opposed Nazi aggression.  In Germany, followers of Jesus arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to Nazify the German Protestant church and stood up against the Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a founding pastor in the Confessing Church, was involved in a conspiracy with members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler, primarily for the sake of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.

Closer to home, we find in the founding of the United States of America, biblical preaching and teaching within the churches provided the justification for the revolution against Great Britain and the establishment of a new government. Alice Baldwin, writing in The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, says,

“The teachings of the New England ministers provide one line of unbroken descent. For two generations and more New Englanders had . . . been taught that these rights were sacred and came from God and that to preserve them they had a legal right of resistance and, if necessary a right to . . . alter and abolish governments and by common consent establish new ones.”

The founding of this country – civil disobedience to colonial rulers as well as the framing of the key political documents – rests upon a Christian foundation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the United States is a Christian nation, although some framers used that term. But it does mean that the foundations of the U.S. government presuppose a Christian view of human nature and of God’s providence.

A Broader Biblical Perspective

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was political chaos and government crisis in Jerusalem. King Herod, the reigning king who was paranoid and felt threatened by the prophecy of another king, murdered all the boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18).

Thirty years later, as the disciples walked the lake shore of Galilee with Jesus, they were gradually learning to embrace the principles of the kingdom of God while living under the authority of the Romans. They began to sense that their miracle-working Teacher was fulfilling the prediction of the prophet Isaiah, who said:

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Could it be that Jesus was about to fulfill the words of the prophet? Could He be the long-awaited Messiah? With anticipation of a divine takeover of the world, imagine the disciples’ wonder—and confusion—when this King told them that they owed a pagan emperor their money and respect! Yet in the days just prior to Jesus’ execution on a cross, that’s exactly what the disciples heard Him say (Matthew 22:15-22). The disciples anticipated political liberation. Shockingly, Jesus taught His followers to respect even a pagan ruler.

But what if the government tells us to renounce our faith, or abort our children, or serve in a military waging an unjust war? The Scriptures also make it clear that respect for leaders does not mean unqualified compliance or complete silence. The New Testament apostles showed us that there are times to appeal to a higher authority. When the Jewish rulers commanded Peter and John to stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles responded, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide;  for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20). When there is a direct conflict, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).

Centuries earlier, Daniel had similarly refused to comply with government actions when they forced idol worship on all the people of Babylon. For his courage, Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den. His gracious but courageous response to this injustice clearly shows that he did not have issues honoring the authority of King Darius. When he emerged unscathed from the lions’ den because he trusted God, Daniel said to the king,

“May the king live forever. My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t hurt me, for I was found innocent before Him. Also, I have not committed a crime against you my king.” (Daniel 6:21-22).

Barack Obama, John BoehnerWhen we have issues with our government in Washington, we would do well to consider the way Daniel respectfully resisted King Darius. When weighing our response to the government for the sake of our conscience, we must also consider how we are to respond to an institution that has been established by God. It’s an exercise in balance and perspective, requiring careful wisdom.

In our current political climate how should followers of Jesus respond? God has given us two clear guide-rails from Scripture as dual citizens of Heaven and of the United States or wherever you live (Ephesians 2:19Philippians 3:20):

1. Trust God’s Sovereignty. God is the One who has established government and it’s leaders as a servant in His hand to accomplish His purposes and plan.

1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.  (Romans 13:1-7; underlining for emphasis)

Governments – both good and bad – are established by God as His servant. Therefore, He will provide the submissive, obedient follower of Jesus what is good from His perspective (Romans 8:28-31) – even when He allows adversity and suffering by the hand of those in authority.

Ted CruzGod is also the One who moves the hearts of rulers whom He has established as His servants. King Solomon, intending to prepare his son to rule in his place over Israel, gave his son the following wisdom in governing a nation: “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.” (Proverbs 21:1) A farmer directs water by digging irrigation canals. Similarly the Lord directs the hearts of kings – for example, Pharaoh (Ex. 10:1–2), Tiglath-Pileser (Isa. 10:5–7), Cyrus (Isa. 45:1–6), and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:21; Neh. 2:1–8). God is sovereign, therefore, no wisdom, no understanding,  no counsel, no government, no president will prevail against Him (cf. Prov. 21:30).

Governments, people of position and office, as well as the decision-makers in Washington, may appear to wield power, but they are really under the enthroned authority of God (Isaiah 40:22-23). He can dispose of any human leader because He is over all of them. He can dispense with any government just as easily as He can make flowers wither and blow chaff away (cf. Isaiah 40:6–8). He can reduce them to a state of comparative nothingness. God is not only superior, but sovereign. Whatever form of government we may live under, God is still in control of it’s past, present, and future. Trust Him.

2. Pray for God’s Servants. God answers prayer that shapes both governments and our individual lives.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul used four different ways to describe the kinds of prayers we should offer on behalf of our governments: petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Although the first three of these words have similar definitions, it is likely that Paul intended to emphasize the different ingredients that should be part of our prayer life for those God has placed in authority over us. Taken together, Paul’s call for such prayers reminds us that God wants us to pray continually for all those He has placed in authority over us in order to express our confidence in God’s authority and sovereignty that are His alone. Pray to Him for them.

Capitol buildingHenry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience and other Essays wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” At times, it feels, like we are experiencing frustrations with government that lead to desperation like never before. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with the Fed!

It’s during times like these when I look out and feel beat down that the best option is to look up – to keep looking to Jesus. How should we respond to government frustrations? Trust God in His sovereignty and pray for the servants He has placed there – even and especially the ones in Washington.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Living by Faith

Foggy RoadIn our social media driven world today, life is viewed by what’s popular, progressive, or posted. Followers of Jesus, however, live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Similarly, Christ followers walk by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we may feel or fear. God says “the righteous will live by faith” (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:5; Romans 1:174:3922-255:1Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:23).

The Bible tells us that faith is confidence in God’s promises and the proof of what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Furthermore, without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who seeks Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who trust Him and His Word (John 1:1-510-1418; Hebrews 11:6).

We have many examples (biblically, historically, and personally) of imperfect, yet faithful men and women through the ages who have trusted God’s promises through the dense fog of pop culture (2 Timothy 3:1-5), believed them regardless of ridicule (Matthew 5:11-12; John 15:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:12-13), and viewed themselves as foreigners and temporary residents on this Earth (Hebrews 11:13). Following their examples, let’s walk with God by faith in His Son, Jesus (John 17:3; Ephesians 2:8-10Colossians 3:1-4), and love others as He loves (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18;  Psalm 86:15; 103:8; Jonah 4:2 ; Joel 2:13; Nehemiah 9:17-25John 15:12-13; Romans 5:6-8Colossians 3:12-14) as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and ambassadors here on Earth (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Run the raceSince we have so many great examples of those who have walked with God by faith, let’s lay aside defensiveness, selfishness, and sinfulness that so easily trips us up. Let’s run with perseverance, patience, and purity the race of life that lies before us, looking up to Jesus, the creator and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy of Heaven endured the cross on Earth where He was ridiculed Himself (Hebrews 12:1-3). Let’s follow Jesus who is preparing an eternal home for us while praying for us at the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven (John 14:1-4; Philippians 2:8-11; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 21:3-4).

Many people today may view those of us who choose to live by faith in God and His Word as narrow-minded (Matthew 7:13-14), old fashioned (Deuteronomy 32:7Psalm 78:1-7; 143:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17), foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18), and intolerant (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Yet, those who see themselves as open-minded and progressive are making lifestyle choices that have been made before (Judges 17:6, 21:25, Romans 1:21-25). There really isn’t anything new on this Earth (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Christ followers, also, live by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we feel. So, let’s refuse to react in fear to the recent changes and outrages in our world (2 Timothy 1:8). Instead, let’s recognize that our battle is not against people, police, politicians, or protestors, but against the invisible, spiritual forces of evil that are real (Ephesians 6:12). That’s why we must reject our natural reaction to use the same weapons that are used against us, but rather, put on the spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit, which is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:14-17). And above all, we put on love so that the peace of Christ will control our hearts (Colossians 3:14).

By faith in God’s Word, we believe there is an enemy who is called the Devil and Satan; the one who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:8; Revelation 20:10). According to Jesus, deception is an essential element of Satan’s nature “for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Devil disguises himself as angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), but the Bible reveals his true intention to exalt himself above God’s rule and his desire to take God’s glory (Isaiah 14:12–17). As the god of this age, Satan has blinded the minds of people so they cannot see the true light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan’s latest deceptions involve a repeat attack on the image of God in mankind (Genesis 1:26–28; Genesis 3:1-15) and assault Christ’s love for His church reflected in biblical marriage between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:22-32). Our cultural and moral battles are not with the ones who have been blinded, but with the ancient deceiver who has blinded them.

So rather than give in to fear or try to defend our faith with the weapons of this world, we resist the Devil and stand firm in our faith in God and His Word, knowing that the grief and sorrows we are experiencing today are not new, but are the experience of fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9).

Shine like stars on the roadLet’s live our lives by faith so that our words and actions of Christ-like love go viral (Philippians 2:13-15). Let’s live and love in such a way that God gets the credit for the good others may see in us (Matthew 5:16). As for me and my family, we’re choosing to live by faith in God who has given us life in His Son and trust the goodness of His boundaries for living (Joshua 24:15; Micah 6:8Romans 12:1-3).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Those in other parts of the world – and probably even my city – would consider some of my daily anxieties silly because I’ve never had to wonder about my next meal(s) or worry about an empty closet to keep me and my family warm. From a purely physical perspective of basic human necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, I have never been deprived – I’ve never had to worry.

Sparrow chicksNonetheless, there are some times when I am worried. There are days I feel overwhelmed. I’ve experienced terrifying moments of fear. I’ve had dark days of discouragement. There will be days of disappointment from not getting what I wanted or thought was needed.

And maybe that’s the problem – me.

When I’m concerned about what I want, what I need, or what I think I need more than what God wants, I become anxious. When I’m concerned about good things and important people (like my family, my friends, and even my church) more than what God desires, I become worried. That’s why Jesus says,

Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

Life is so much more than basic needs, personal feelings, perceptions, desires, and wants here on earth. The greater reality than my physical, mental, and emotional needs is the spiritual reality that Jesus, the Messiah, is my whole life. Trusting God to meet my needs displaces all the fear, worry, and anxiety that fills my heart when I focus on me.

As a recovering people-pleaser, there are times I fret about not meeting the expectations or desires of others. Jesus spells out my problem with one word – idolatry.

Don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31-32)

In it’s most basic form, idolatry is putting anything or anyone in the place that God alone deserves. The most basic solution to this human problem is trusting God. He alone is the source of life, the source of all good things, and the One who is worthy of our complete attention and devotion. Jesus speaks to me when my heart is set on the wrong things or people.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:33)

The cure for my idolatry is the same cure for my worry – set my mind on Who and what is in heaven rather than who and what is on the earth. Seeking the kingdom doesn’t mean we ignore the good things and important people in our lives. Seeking the King and His kingdom is a matter of prioritizing our attention. Trusting God is not a passive rest, but an active search for God’s will by praying, reading His Word, and obeying what He has made clear. And one day, when Jesus, who is my life, is revealed, then I will also live with Him in all His glory.

SparrowIn the spring of 1905, Walter and Civilla Martin were visiting the Doolittles – friends in Elmira, New York. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for over twenty years. Her husband was, likewise, an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived joyful lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while the Martins were visiting with the Doolittles, Walter commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them the secret of their joy in the midst of pain. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “If His eye is on the sparrow, then I know He watches me.” The beauty of this expression of simple faith gripped Civilla’s heart and that same evening she wrote the words for this song:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

If you’re prone to worry like me, follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Is God fair?

All Photos by James Langford; langfordphotography.com
All photos by langfordphotography.com

At an early age, we develop a strong sense of fairness. Not long after uttering the longed-for words, “Momma” or “Dadda” comes “mine.” And then, a little while later we learn to pout, “That’s not fair!” The question of fairness arises whenever a coach makes a decision to start an undeserving player over another or director gives a lead role to one over another. As we get older, the stakes get higher. Why does an ice storm break the trees of one house and leave a neighbor’s unbroken? Why do some have electricity and while others are without? Why does a tornado level one house and skip another across the street? Why would God allow a drunk driver to survive a crash while killing an innocent victim?

Life isn’t fair. But what about God? We know God is great, but is He good? Is He fair?

The question of God’s justice is not just a weighty theological issue, it’s a crucial, personal matter of the heart. The issue arises in Scripture with the truth that God sovereignly elects some, but not all, to salvation.

“What should we say then? Is there injustice with God?” (Romans 9:14).

TX_Icestorm_2In courtroom-like proceedings, notice Paul’s intentional choice of the noun “injustice” rather than the adjective “unjust” to avoid posing a question about God’s character. The question is not a matter of denying the truth of God, but rather a question about the fairness of God’s dealings. Why should God choose to love one brother, Jacob, and hate the other, Esau (Romans 9:13)? Is God’s purpose of sovereign election a travesty of justice?

We may not think of it in terms of injustice, but we may wonder just the same, “Why did God allow an event to happen that way?”  “That doesn’t seem fair.”

On November 21, Mike and Julie’s 20 year old daughter, Audrey, a junior at SMU, was broadsided on Northwest Highway and remains in a coma in critical condition. There are countless unanswered questions. Why would God allow this? Why now? Why her? It just doesn’t seem fair.

TX_Icestorm_3“Is there injustice with God?” Paul quickly denies any possibility of unrighteousness on God’s part – ”Absolutely not!”  When life seems unfair, there may not always be a human reason, but there is always a divine purpose.

Instead of watering down God’s sovereignty in order to make it more palatable, Paul restates it more passionately and without apology. God defends His righteousness in mercy and judgment through Paul’s words:

15 For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. Romans 9:15–16

God cannot be unjust because He is Holy. God cannot be unjust because He is Good. God cannot be unjust because He is Righteous. Not so sure about that? Consider Exhibit A: Moses (vv 15-16).

TX_Icestorm_1When the whole nation of Israel rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf (Exod. 32-33), God took the lives of only 3,000 of the rebels. He could have justly wiped out the whole nation – more than a million. God is righteous when He exercises His mercy. His mercy caused Him to do something that appeared to be unjust. In Romans 9:16, the LORD God reminds us that is not man’s desire or effort that causes Him to be merciful but His own sovereign choice. God is under no obligation to show mercy or to extend grace to anyone. If we insist on receiving just treatment from God, what we will get is condemnation (Rom. 3:23); none of us really wants justice. When faced with reality, we cry out for mercy.

There is nothing we can do to earn favor with God except rely on God’s mercy to draw us close to Himself. No one will be able to point to God’s foreknowledge and say He chose them because He knew they would choose Him. No one will ever be able to stand before God and prove they were chosen because of something they had done. It is not our choice nor our work that gets us to God. Rather, it’s only His mercy. “He has mercy on whom He has mercy. He has compassion on whom He has compassion” (vs. 15). We contribute nothing, absolutely nothing to God’s mercy. It’s not because we’re lovable that God loves. He loves us because He is loving.

Once we come to grips with the reality that we are chosen by God’s mercy and His love, we then are faced with another question of why God chooses some but not all. “Why did He have mercy on Isaac and not Ishmael? Why love Jacob and not Esau?” and personally, “Why me?”

Paul takes up the question of God’s fairness with Exhibit B: Pharaoh. God raised up Pharaoh, hardened His heart so that God’s power would be proclaimed.

“He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden.” Romans 9:18

TX_Icestorm_4The issue is this: If it is God who harden’s hearts, how can He be fair to punish someone for something He’s done? If we don’t get the answer correct to this question, we’ll have a severely cold view of God…and ice cold hearts.

While the book of Exodus repeatedly says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there are also many verses that say Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Two realities exist: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  Both are true. God’s hardening of anyone’s heart, however, is always a response to the sinfulness of the individual person. God used Pharaoh’s selfishness to harden and humble this powerful ruler and display His power and plans to His people and to the Nations. God did it, but it was Pharaoh’s responsibility.

What happened to Pharaoh serves as a warning to us.  Throughout the ten plagues, God gave Pharaoh ten chances to repent and obey God. But each time, Pharaoh chose to resist and reject God’s plans. Somewhere along the way, God “gave him over” to the hardness of his own heart because he wouldn’t accept the truth about the God of Israel. No one does anything to deserve God’s mercy and compassion, but anyone who repeatedly resists the mercy of God has done plenty to deserve God’s hardening.

TX_Icestorm_6Individually, each one of us has the freedom to choose to trust God’s sovereign plans or the freedom to harden our hearts. The same sun that melts the ice will harden the Texas clay this summer. The same God who shows mercy to the brokenhearted also hardens the cold hearted. He gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to trust Him.

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” thru the experiences of life that seem unfair. Trust in the God of mercy and compassion in Christ Jesus. When life seems unfair, there may not always be a human reason, but there is always a divine purpose.

Life isn’t fair. But God is. 

Where is God when the Earth shakes?

Over the past week, the reports, pictures, and videos following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11 have overwhelmed us. Since the initial earthquake, dozens of aftershocks have continued to shake the island nation including an aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 that struck Tuesday in the eastern part of Honshu, Japan. Thousands of lives have been lost. Millions of people have been displaced or are without electricity or water. Explosions at the quake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant raised more concerns about possible radiation leaks.

The fears of living on Planet Earth are not limited to the Japanese. Over the last several years, we have seen several earthquakes that have rocked our planet and our world. The people of China, Haiti, and Chile have witnessed how quickly an earthquake can change lives and take lives. Many around the world are living in fear of the natural, physical, and economic disasters looming ahead. In the Bible, we are told that earthquakes are ultimately from God. God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. “He also is wise and will bring disaster” (Isaiah 31:2). “The LORD is good” (Psalm 100:5). Therefore, God has good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedies that are both public and private.

Every time a disaster happens anywhere in the world someone recklessly tell us it’s the judgment of God being poured out on sinful people. It has become increasingly difficult for me to think in those terms. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the equation the entire creation was impacted. All creation fell and “has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22). Since fallen humans live in a fallen creation we can expect disasters like the Japanese earthquake to happen from time to time. We use the term “natural disasters” because can be expected to occur quite naturally in a fallen world.  There are specific instances in the Old Testament where God used natural disasters to express His judgment on a nation or people. However, this was not the norm in ancient history. They too had their share of disasters occurring naturally in the context of a fallen world. In Luke 13:15 Jesus clearly teaches that tragedy is not necessarily the consequence of greater sin for then none of us would escape. To begin with, He made it clear that human tragedies are not always divine punishments and that it is wrong for us to ‘play God’ and pass judgment. Rather, tragedy should be seen as a warning to all that unless they repent, a similar doom would come upon them. Job’s friends made this same mistake when they said that Job’s afflictions were evidence that he was a sinner. If we take that approach to tragedy, then we will have a hard time explaining the sufferings of the Prophets and Apostles, and even of our Lord Himself. So the earthquake in Japan or other natural disasters yet to come do not need to be placed in the context of a judgment from God. If earthquakes are not God’s specific judgment on a specific people, then what is God’s purpose?

Indeed He has hundreds of thousands of purposes for all things in life (Romans 8:28), most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?”(Romans 11:33-34). “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Here are a few possible purposes for earthquakes revealed in the Bible that believers in Jesus Christ may pray will come to pass.

  1. Earthquakes are God’s patient calls to repentance. “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation are meant as calls to repentance to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
  2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as “the beginning of the birth pains.” That is, they are a wake-up call to this oblivious world that God’s kingdom will soon be born; so be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
  3. God’s unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that He is sovereign over all of His Creation. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is more than our physical possessions — life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to Him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to His own will and owes us nothing. He has a right to children (2 Samuel 12:13-18) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to our Creator and Savior rather than ignore Him till it is too late.
  4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33 ). Natural disasters and the suffering that follows either pushes us away from God or pulls us toward Him. A fear of earthquakes can lead to a healthy fear of God involving worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect. Most of the world does not recognize the Lord God of Creation and therefore lacks saving wisdom.
  5. The suffering and pain that comes from earthquakes is incomparable to the eternal suffering of those who reject Christ (Matthew 8:12, 25:46; John 5:29; Romans 2:8-9; Revelation 20:11-15).  Patrick Fuller, a Red Cross Spokes person in Japan, says what he’s seeing is “a scene from Hell.” Without a taste of Hell on earth, we would not see its horrors or feel much motivation to do everything possible to avoid it. Earthquakes serve as a warning and foretaste of eternal suffering that can get our attention and prompt us to turn to God by faith.

When the earth shakes under your feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? The Answer: God Himself.

The psalmist proclaims:  “God is our refuge and strength, a Helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil” (Psalm 46:1–3).

May the Lord fulfill at least three other purposes from this painful catastrophe.

  1. Pray that Christians would turn to the Lord Jesus in the last days and be prepared to serve Him. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
  2. Pray that Christians, around the world, step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father’s judgment. As followers of Jesus, we have hope knowing that the temporary sufferings are not worth comparing with the eternal glory of living with Christ in heaven (Romans 8:18, 24-25). To live well, suffer well, and die well, our eyes must lock on the invisible God. When they do, God makes Himself visible to us and to others through us. They will know Christ by our Chrsit-like love (Matthew 22:37-40; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8, 14-17).
  3. Pray that unbelievers in Japan and around the world would examine their hearts, repent of their rejection of Jesus Christ, and turn to Him by faith. Operation World notes that in Japan, Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population. May the temporary suffering from Creation’s groanings draw mankind’s attention to eternal life-and-death realities far greater than natural disasters.