There is an old Rich Mullins song (btw, I am a huge fan of his music...so deep and rich) called Elijah about the Old Testament prophet who famously was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire (and therefore never died). In the chorus he says, "when I leave I wanna go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire."
I often joke that my dream is to be the second man ever to go out like Elijah. I mean how cool would it be to go to Heaven on a chariot of fire? Now, I realize this is unlikely. This has only happened one time ever (you can read the story in 2 Kings 2) and it's way more likely that I'll die a more normal death...but it would be cool.
In fact, none of us get to know how or even when we will see our last day. We don't get to pick the method or the hour. We have to leave those things up to God who alone knows the number of our days. But we can work to use our days well. Each day is a gift and one we should honor by not wasting it.
Recently it does seem like our church, and even my own personal life, has been visited by loss and grief more than its share. I've done and attended more funerals than I would like...and while that has been painful; it has also reminded me of the value of each day, each person, and even each moment.
I remember the words of James 4 that reminds us how short life is "you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."
Our life is short, how short we do not know, but we can use each day well, love those around us, serve God with our whole hearts and at the end of our days know that we have given it our all.
And hey, maybe, just maybe...I'll get to ride a chariot made of fire. You never know.
Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Actually, until I get a few cups of coffee in me I am almost always a bit grumpy. But sometimes, even coffee doesn't do the trick. Maybe it's the weather or something someone said or a headache or who knows what...but I am just in a bad mood. Honestly, sometimes I don't even know why. Some days just aren't good, right?
On those days I have to be careful. On those days I am prone to get mad at my kids for small things. On those days I am prone to send an email I shouldn't send. On those days I am likely to say something I shouldn't say. My feelings get the better of me and I am prone to do or say something dumb.
Feelings come and feelings go, but how I feel doesn't change the truth.
The truth is that I love my kids, even when they drive me crazy. The truth is that the world isn't terrible, just because I am in a bad mood. My feelings can cloud my view of the world and even my view of God.
The events of the world (hurricanes in Florida, mass shootings in schools, deaths of friends or family) can affect me emotionally (which is normal), and if left unchecked, that can lead to a place where I become angry with God or start to think He doesn't care about me or the world. My feelings can cloud my view of who God is or what He is like.
But God doesn't change. His character isn't affected by how I feel. He is unchanging and He is good.
Exodus 34:6 tells us that, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" and that is who God is. I may not feel it; but no matter how I feel, the truth is that God is who He is and who He is...is good.
This week, if you were in church (or watching online), you got to witness Jim and Nancy Dalton, both in their 80's, rededicate their baptisms by immersion. It was a beautiful moment and one that I will never forget, as two senior saints decided to take a public step of faith and declare their obedience to God through this act of worship. Jim had called me and asked if it was ok to do this...and I said it was more than ok, it was exciting! God had put it on their hearts to do this and I was honored to be a part of it.
You see, it is never too late. Never to late to be baptized. Never to late to serve. Never to late to turn to God. Never too late. Abraham was an old man when God called him; it wasn't too late.
And it isn't too late for you. You haven't missed your chance. If there is still breath in your lungs then there is still time for you to go, to serve, to turn to God or to do what God has called you to do. It is never too late.
Several years ago my wife and I were able to visit friends who live on Sanibel Island and while we were there we went to church with them at their home church. It was a wonderful service and I remember thinking how lucky these people were to have such a solid Bible believing church in such a perfect place (beach, sun, palm trees)...it must always be wonderful.
Well, as you know, last week Sanibel Island was devastated by Hurricane Ian. The Pastor of that church wrote a letter to his congregation and I wanted to share that letter with you today as my weekly encouragement. We never know what might happen to us, even those who live in seemingly perfect conditions might suffer harm, and our faith may be tested...and yet Christ is with us. I hope you will find this as encouraging as I did from Pastor Jeramie.
Below is a letter from Pastor Jeramie to the church family today:
Dear Sanibel Church Family,
It’s Sunday morning, October 2, 4:30am. I’m writing this from a hotel bathroom so as not to wake my wife. I couldn’t have imagined a week ago that this is where I would be today.
Normally on a Sunday morning, I would be waking up around 5:30am or so and head out for a beach walk with my poodle to pray and think through the sermon I had spent all week preparing. This Sunday in particular would have been the beginning of a new sermon series in Daniel, followed by the Lord’s Supper in our last one-service gathering.
But instead, I’m sitting in a hotel bathroom.
I don’t have a house. My earthly possessions can now fit in my truck. I can’t go to my favorite beach. I have no idea when I will preach again in my pulpit on Sanibel to my beloved congregation. And no, I didn’t get around to studying Daniel much this week.
Where are you this morning?
Some of you are also in hotels on the east coast. Some are staying with family and friends, wondering how long the arrangement will work. Others are up north watching this disaster from a distance, filled with more questions than answers, and plagued by a vexing sense of helplessness. Some are in the Ft. Myers area without power or internet or consistent cell service. They can’t even read this email. Some are stuck in shelters at Shell Point because the storm surge wiped out most of the cars there. Some . . . I don’t know where they are.
Is it sinking in yet or are you still in shock? The feelings and thoughts come in waves.
I haven’t had much time or capacity to reflect on the events of the past week. Most of my mental energy has been spent on trying to coordinate efforts, solve problems and find people. But this morning, sitting in my bathroom office unable to sleep, I find myself in a rare moment of contemplation. I’m thinking about Psalm 46:
1 God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.
2 Therefore we will not be afraid though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depth of the sea,
3 Though the water roars and foams and the mountains quake with turmoil.
The Psalmist meant the roaring sea as a metaphor for turmoil and danger, particularly the danger of hostile nations around Israel. But this week we saw the literal reference for that metaphor. We saw the sea rise up and swallow homes, cars, bridges and lives. The storm cut the causeway islands in half. The incredible power of the sea flung boats and cars all over Iona. Ft. Myers beach is completely devastated.
The Psalm describes an earth-shattering ocean storm. These verses will never again be an abstraction for us.
Yet we must not forget how the Psalm begins. “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.” God is our refuge. No storm touches God. God needs no insurance policy because he reigns above the flood. He is the only safe place. God is our strength. God never loses power or fuel. The Lord doesn’t feel anxious or perturbed and has no troubled thoughts about the future. Our heavenly Father is not passing through phases of shock, grief and despair. The Triune God dwells in perfect peace, joy and delight at all times. He is not exhausted or depleted. A helper who is always found. Unlike us, our God is not helpless. He isn’t stuck watching the news, imagining himself renting a boat so he can sneak onto the island and do something. He is our helper who is always found in times of trouble. Trouble comes and goes. Hurricanes pass. But our helper never changes or leaves us. Even when our future is uncertain and our lives have been completely overturned, we know these things about God. He is almighty, he is eternal and he loves us.
No wonder the Psalmist can look into the tempest and say “Therefore we will not be afraid.” The psalmist is not in denial about the power of the storm. Rather, he beholds the greatness and power and lovingkindness of our Lord toward us. God is infinitely willing and able to help his storm-tossed people. The fury of hurricane Ian is a gentle breeze compared to the might of our savior God.
And if the Psalmist knew these things about the Lord, how much more should we who live in light of the cross. Our Lord Jesus has rendered the ultimate aid. He bore the terrifying storm of God’s wrath to save us from our sins. The cross is our refuge. Jesus is our strength. He is risen and ever present to help us. Let us go to his throne boldly for mercy and grace.
This faith in the Lord as our refuge, strength, and help gives us an internal strength that stands in stark contrast to the chaos of the storm:
4 There is a river—its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.
5 God is within her, she will not be toppled, God will help her when the morning dawns.
Yes, there is a raging ocean. But remember, there is also a river. From our Lord flows peace and life. We have been shaken but because the Lord is within us, we will not topple.
Look to the Lord brothers and sisters. We won’t topple. We won’t collapse. Sanibel Community Church still stands—and I’m not talking about the building on Periwinkle.
And this stream isn’t just for us. The Lord wants his living waters to flow out of our lives into the lives of others. I bet even in the pain and confusion of this past week, the thought has crossed your mind, “How will the Lord use this to advance the gospel and display his glory?” Keep asking that question. Turn it into a prayer.
God’s calling on his people to be salt and light and to bear witness that Jesus has not changed. Our mission remains intact. We are still here to multiply maturing disciples of Jesus and healthy churches for the glory of God and the good of the world. All that has changed are the circumstances and contexts where God is calling our congregation to execute that mission.
On Wednesday as the storm raged, I was sitting in a mall in Boca Raton trying to get internet. One of the stores had a TV with news coverage of the storm. Starved for information, I walked over to watch with a few others. We started talking and I told them I was a Sanibel refugee. The strangers around me stood in shock as I described what little I knew was happening on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers.
The conversation ended, and I returned to my computer. A few minutes later one of the store employees came over and said, “I’m sorry but I just have to ask. Why are you so calm? You’re losing everything and yet you seem so nonchalant.” It was a funny question because I didn’t feel calm or nonchalant. Yet that’s what he perceived.
So I started to explain, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I pastor a church…” I didn’t get to finish my sentence. His face lit up and he said, “Of course! You have God. I got it! It all makes sense.” And he walked away smiling.
I bet there are lots of conversations like that waiting for us in the coming weeks and months.
I pray today that wherever you are, you may take time to sit beside the river of God and be filled with his peace. And then take his Word, his gospel, and his love to a helpless and hopeless world that’s still sinking.
Love in Christ,