Swirling Clouds and Songs

Great is Your Steadfast Love

Psalm 86 — A Psalm of David

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and worship before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant,
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

In an Instant

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

It was sudden.  Even with sirens, there was no warning for what was about to happen. 200+ mph winds. Shattering glass. Roaring thunder. Pitch blackness.  Crying people. Leveled buildings.

And God’s amazing mercy.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

February 5, 2008

The first storm came that afternoon.

The forecasts warned of such strong storms that the city’s public schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?

As the children left, I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus. Wind gusts howled around the corners of the building and thunder stormed overhead from this, the first storm.  A little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on.”  She laughed and move on.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

What was our promise that day? Safety? Preservation of possessions? Is it only with those realities we can say that God is good?

The First Song

Two songs stand out in my mind. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came with its lasting changes.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.  I could plan, and prepare, and pray, knowing that at every second my God would be with me.  He would be with me for one of two ends: either to preserve my life or to bring me safely from this life into His presence.

The Second Storm

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.

In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course and nothing would happen.

Then we heard a train.

The lights flickered.

Our ears started popping.

We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.

I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  The tornado seemed to last an eternity, but it probably only took a matter of seconds.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  It felt as if the sound were vibrating through every organ, bone, and muscle in my body. The wall I was leaning against for protection shook from the tornado’s fury.

Surely I had mere seconds left to live.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the time had come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what might happen in those intervening moments.

And I was afraid… afraid die in a building torn apart by a tornado.

Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.

A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

It was so dark in the bathroom that we could not see one another.  We called family members to let them know we were okay. We prayed. We cried. We sang to our God because He had saved us.

Then we heard the news being shouted from outside. “Hurt and Watters are gone!

Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route we soon saw with our own eyes.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  The buildings that weren’t leveled were missing walls and roofs. People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends were dead.

Was God still good?

The Second Song

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.

The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  Cars were flipped upside down and dragged across parking lots.

The view behind my dorm

At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God was good?  Was that the proof of God’s love for us?

My Final Hope

Scripture is clear: God is love and his love never fails.

In every circumstance, God is good. He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would have been the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.

The truth is, I was an enemy of God from my birth and marked for destruction. I didn’t need my own actions to condemn me — although those came soon enough.  I was condemned because of my sinful heart.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am now saved from judgment to belong to God forever.

One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise and I will rest in it because the steadfast love of God never fails.

 

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Monday Musings: In Need

2015/02/img_3217.jpg

Ps. 18:6 “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”

Going through old songs and rediscovered this beautiful prayer. Thankful it is answered with Ps. 23:5-6, and many other promises like it:

“You fill my cup to overflowing. Surely Your goodness and love will be with me all my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.”

Psalm 34:9-14

Oh fear the LORD, you his saints,

for those who fear him have no lack!

The young lions suffer want and hunger;

but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.  Ps. 34:9-10

After reading about the LORD’s goodness, shelter, and communion with mankind, it may seem strange that the next sentence from the psalmist is to fear the LORD. Why would David fear Him in whom he had found such refuge?  “You his saints” means the ones who have found forgiveness of sin and freedom from His wrath… and yet they still fear the LORD.

The right fear of the LORD is not a cowering fear that prompts a person to flee Him.  Rather, a person should see the LORD’s goodness, His holiness, and His righteous, white-hot wrath against sin.  His saints have God’s Word hidden in them that speaks of His judgment coming against the earth — against all who oppose Him with their idols, arrogance, and other evil ways. This should drive that person to the LORD as the only place of safety.  What other refuge can protect against the LORD’s judgment of sin except the LORD Himself?  For the wicked, however, “There is no fear of God before [the wicked’s] eyes” (Ps. 36:1), so they do not walk in obedience, but in arrogance of heart, for which they will be found out, their sin hated, and themselves condemned.  True saving fear of the LORD seeks His face for forgiveness, and, as the psalmist writes in 34:11-14,

Come, O children, isten to me;

I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

What man is there who desires life

and loves many days, that he may see good?

Keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from speaking deceit.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.  Ps. 34:11-14

This way doesn’t seem profitable in the world; it is against the world’s ways and the world cannot understand it.  But the promise is that “those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”  There is no gift in the LORD’s favor that is beyond His power to give, no want felt that He does not see, no want withheld that was not done so out of goodness, no good gift that does not come from Him.

Psalm 34:8

Oh taste and see that the LORD is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!   Psalm 34:8

In all of His works, the LORD shows Himself to be good.  Always.  Without fail.  But those who do not run to Him, who do not taste, who do not seek will only look from a distance and say “my way is disregarded by him; he is not good.”  This is the way of everyone unless the LORD in His mercy draws a person to seek Him.  Those who “taste and see” take refuge in Him.  And the LORD is such a strong refuge that a person can be called blessed, even while their troubles roar and surge at them. They are blessed because their trust and peace — because they themselves — are in Him.

Psalm 34 (part one)

I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1

“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34)  If the heart and mouth were so full of the praise to God and the mind so occupied with His goodness, what contentment and blessing that person must feel.  What joy must be felt within.  Bitterness, complaining, self-pity, and self-seeking cannot live long in the presence of contentment focused on God’s grace.  It is not that this person had less grief than others — King David certainly knew his share of heartache from enemies, family strife, betrayal, and his own sin — and it is not as if he never faltered.  It is, however, that he fixed his gaze on the One who bore all our griefs and carried our sorrow.  Self-sufficiency will disappoint at every turn, but not the One from whom true, lasting life and all other gifts come.

Whether for correction or for his land or for love…

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

What is God’s promise?  Some people will say that the promise is prosperity, or health, or that my life will turn out the way that I want.  I’ll get to graduate.  I’ll be healed of my sickness or pain… When bleak situations turn out well, I often hear and say, “God is good.”  But is God good only in happy circumstances? Can it be that He is still good when everything seems hopeless?  The answer is there in the Bible (Psalm 86, for one example.) – God is always good – but sometimes God also sends life events that help me believe more deeply what I say I already know.  One such event was three years ago today…

It had already stormed once that afternoon.  The forecasted weather warned of such strong storms that the schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?  Sometimes this process also involved tracking down new numbers.  During one such mission, I was on my way to one of several classroom trailers outside the school building.  I opened the door as wind gusts howled around corners and thunder stormed overhead.  As I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus, one little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on inside.”  She laughed and went in.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

This event came with two songs. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

 

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.  In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, and laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course, nothing would happen, and classes wouldn’t be canceled the next day (hence the homework in the bathroom).  Then we heard a train.  The lights flickered.  Our ears started popping.  We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.  I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  The tornado seemed to last an eternity, but it probably only took a matter of seconds.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  The wall I was leaning against for protection was shaking.  I realized that I could have only a couple seconds before I was standing before God.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the moment had finally come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what was going to happen in those intervening moments.  And I was again afraid to die in a building torn apart by a tornado.  I was afraid of the pain.  Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.  A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

Hurt and Watters are gone. Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route from the McAfee Residence Complex to White Hall, we saw Hurt and Watters.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends had died.  Was God still good?

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

 

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.  The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God is good?

Yes, I believe God is good.  He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would be the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.  I was born marked for destruction and an enemy of God because of my sinful heart.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am saved from judgment to belong to God forever.  One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise.

People sometimes ask, “What was a defining event in your life?”  Looking back on those moments, I am amazed at how God has graciously provided.  As John Piper wrote:

“Gratitude exults in the past benefits of God and says to faith, ‘Embrace more of these benefits for the future, so that my happy work of looking back on God’s deliverance may continue.’” (The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. 1995. New York: Waterbrook Multnomah. PP. 30.)

On the three-year anniversary of one such defining event in my life, Gratitude is looking back on the last three years.  As she gazes again on those events, she can’t help humming a few lines from a favorite tune, and then softly she begins to sing, “His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

(These photos are from the FB group “I survived the Union Tornado 2008)