When You See a Tornado

4099585916_053b450ffa_bWith Easter just ahead of us, I have been asking myself why I don’t think much about storm shelters. A very natural question you must agree. These valuable, lifesaving devices spend whole years of my existence without serious thought. Part of the reason is that storm shelters are mostly underground and don’t draw the eye very much. They usually aren’t specifically made for aesthetic appeal.

It is the nature of purely function items to draw our attention much less often than flashier ones. Compare your favorite TV show (with no practical value) to the plumbing in your house (with immense practical value). Which one draws more of your attention? Which are you more thankful for?

The answer to that question will likely depend mostly on whether you have been without indoor plumbing before.

So this raises the difficult question of why I am not particularly thankful for storm shelters. Surely I should give a fleeting thought of gratitude for the men and women who thought of ways to protect me from dangerous storms. Why am I so prone to forget that they even exist?

Part of the problem is certainly that I am not often reminded of the need for them. If a tornado came tearing through my neighborhood once a week I would hold them in high regard. Not only that, I would invest heavily in one to make it secure and comfortable for my family when a twister comes barreling through. I would feel strongly about others having one as well and would consider anyone who doesn’t have one a fool.

Sitting in that shelter with the wind blowing in the ground above me, I would thank God that he had this kind of protection for us. I would hug my kids close and be so grateful this protection existed for all of us. I would send out Facebook messages talking of the wonders of my storm shelter. One of my greatest possessions would be my storm shelter.

But the fact is tornadoes do not weekly pummel my home. I don’t even own a storm shelter.

I think this is the fallacy I believe when I see Jesus on a cross and I don’t feel anything. I see the shelter but not the storm. I see the rescue but not the danger. If there really is a Hell and a Heaven, then Jesus’ rescue of my soul becomes sweeter than anything else. I go from apathetic about Jesus to a wonder-filled love of him.

The reason I am sometimes apathetic is that I don’t really believe there is a storm coming. If Heaven and Hell aren’t real, then Jesus’ cross is useless. Does it feel useless to you?

You obviously don’t think the storm is coming.

-Chip

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2500 Tons of Awesome….or Awful

pacificrim_trailer_hd_screencaps_21One of the best movies to come out last years was Pacific Rim. Sure it had some plot holes, but that was more than made up for by interesting characters and delightful action.

The most endearing character to me is a scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (or Newt). He is fascinating because as he fights the monsters (Kaiju), he is fascinated by them. This is highlighted in an exchange that happens with Newt.

Newt: (The Monster) was two thousand five hundred tons of awesome. [uncomfortable pause] Or awful, you know, whatever you wanna call it.

Hermann: Please, excuse him. He’s a Kaiju groupie, he loves them.

Newt: Shut up, Hermann. I don’t love them, okay? I study them. And unlike most people, I wanna see one live and up close one day.

Raleigh: Trust me, you don’t want to.

To be honest, I’m with Newt.

There are no Kaiju in the real world, but there are awesome and awful things. Why does a storm chaser look for a dangerous tornado? Why does the Seattle volcano evacuation literature remind people not to go toward an erupting volcano? Why do we watch videos of fire and hurricanes with fascination?

Let’s be clear, these events are human tragedies. Hurricane Katrina cost over a thousand lives. In 1985, the eruption of the Colombian volcano Nevado del Ruiz sparked a lahar that killed 23,000 people. The 2004 tsunami killed at least 184,000 people and displaced millions.

When Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillipines in 2013, I was watching it closely. Part of me was excited to see suck a magnificent and powerful force of nature. The typhoon was exceptionally beautiful to see and awesome in the power it was releasing.

I also was worried. There were millions of people in front of one of the most powerful storms ever. I prayed for them. They weren’t prepared (no one could be) for the kind of power that storm was releasing. The weeks that followed highlighted the immense human tragedy that the typhoon caused.

article-2501471-19594E8400000578-211_964x676One of the most poignant images for me is this one. It shows a father carrying his daughter who died in the flooding. My heart breaks for this man. I can’t imagine carrying my Rosie. The weight of that loss is too much for me.

Think of it. You see the fear in you child’s eyes but can’t stop the water from coming. Selfishly, I would rather die than live with that memory.

So which is it? Are these forces of nature awesome or terrible?

There is an ironic reality to this. They are both. I think they are necessarily both.

Think about it, when we see a tornado swirling in the distance with its massive power and strange grace, we are awestruck. This thing is magnificent because it is like God. It spins with power and yet it is controlled, staying within a fairly cleanly defined area. It is awesome power just beyond what we can understand.

God is like that. We look at him and he is both awesome and terrible in his power. Not terrible in the sense of evil (for that matter, the tornado isn’t evil either), but terrible in the sense that should we defy him, terrible things will happen to us. Think of what Jesus said.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV

It is not cool to mention that we should fear God these days. We have a hard time reconciling this with the god we have made up in our heads who only loves us and gives us whatever we want. But the God of the Bible, he is one to be feared. In Job, he chose to come in a storm (possibly a tornado). In Exodus, he come to his people as a fire on a mountain.

The fact is, God is awesome and terrible too.

So what are the typhoons and earthquakes and volcanos? They are little images of a much more powerful God. Just like cool breezes and sunny days are there to remind us of the gentle and loving father we have in Heaven, the asteroids and solar flares and tsunamis are there to remind us that we serve a powerful God. One that we can’t control. One that we should get out of the path of his wrath.

Just as people prepare for disasters that we know to be coming (see your grocery store when a blizzard is coming). We have been warned to get out of the way of the ultimate disaster which is the just anger of God at foolish sinners. Paul warns us of the wrath of God:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:5-6

The wrath of God is coming and you and I are guilty of most, if not all, of the items on the list above. So what should we do?

(I)f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 ESV

What is the shelter from the greatest disaster of all? Jesus, he is the one who protects us.

But back to the original question, how should I feel about these great forces of nature. I should be awestruck by them and stand in amazement of them as little images of the much greater and powerful force that is God himself. I should be amazed by them as I am amazed by Him.

I should also mourn. These are terrible disasters and the human suffering also breaks the heart of God as well. But in that mourning, I should not think that a typhoon or tsunami is the great danger. Those things can only kill me. No, what I should fear most of all is God himself.

And then I should do whatever it takes to get out of that disaster’s way.

-Chip

Getting What I Deserve

you-deserve-it-abc-tv-showNext time you watch the Super Bowl, count the number of times that the commercials use the word ‘deserve’. No doubt, you will deserve a car, a soft drink, a burger, and a beer according to the advertisers. As easy as it would be to blame the advertisers for this, we must remember that they only say this because we believe it.

We feel that we are owed a car, a soft drink, a burger, and a beer. Why do we deserve it?

I am very cautious with the word deserve. It speaks of the just rewards we get for our actions. We assume that because we are good people that we are entitled to good rewards. God owes us. He should give us what we deserve.

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-31

While I have not murdered anyone it is possible that from time to time that I have been insolent, boastful, disobedient to parents, and covetous. Paul seems to think that far from deserving a beer, I deserve to die. And not just to die.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. Romans 2:6-11

The last line there, “For God shows no partiality” is a way of saying God is fair. He is giving us what we deserve. Notice as well what happens “who are self-seeking”, they will get what they deserve: wrath and fury.

What we deserve is Hell! We deserve for the eternal and holy God to punish us.

I don’t want what I deserve.

Many of the sins we commit come from this sense of entitlement. How much complaining, coveting, and doubting God’s goodness do we do because we don’t really believe that we deserve Hell? Imagine the gratitude we would feel if we fully believe we deserved Hell and then found a God who gave us Jesus, pizza, snowflakes, galaxies, friends, air conditioning, and Frank Sinatra music. We would be overflowing with gratitude for a God who did not curse us in our sin but instead pulled out his full creativity to think of ways to bless us.

The fact is that Jesus got what I deserve (which was not a Lexus). He took what i deserved and he gave me what he deserved (which is better than a Lexus). The God of the Universe looked at me and said, “I let my son suffer for him.” Why would he do this? I’m not really sure.

But I don’t want what I deserve.

-Chip