Monday, November 16, 2015

How Firm A Foundation

Yesterday, to close our worship service, we sang the old hymn “How Firm a Foundation” to encourage us to look at God and his word in the testings of life. I post it here for your meditation as you face whatever God has brought or is bringing into your life.

Remember the form of this hymn. The first verse is a call to Christians—the saints of the Lord—to take hope in the sufficient (“what more can he say”) Word of God to us. The remaining verses are all God speaking to us, and encouraging us with his promises.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

“When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

“Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.”

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

For those interested in helpful meditation on these truths, David Powlinson has an excellent and helpful chapter in the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. The chapter is entitled “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings” and it begins on p. 145. You can buy the book here or download a free PDF here.

I encourage you to find Powlinson’s chapter and read it. It will be worth your time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Love of God on the Bottom of Superior

Today, November 10, 2015, is the fortieth anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Edmund Fitzgerald was a Great Lakes freighter that was built and launched at Nicholson Docks just a few blocks from where I now sit. It was the largest Great Lakes freighter of its time, measuring more than seven hundred feet. On November 10, 1975, it was making its last run south with a load of iron ore headed for Zug Island (just about a mile north of here).

The weather forecast on Lake Superior was turning dangerous. Before long, a storm blew up with winds over fifty miles an hour kicking up waves twenty to thirty feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald maintained radio contact with nearby ships until its last transmission at 7:10 p.m. Sometime shortly after that, the ship sank to the bottom of Lake Superior near Whitefish Point, taking twenty-nine souls with her. She remains there to this day.

Gordon Lightfoot memorialized the shipwreck in 1976 in his “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It’s not a great work of musical art (or any other kind of art for that matter), but it has survived the years for its occasion. It gets played today all over. It’s morbid and sobering.

And it raises an interesting and difficult question:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes

When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

Where does the love of God go when suffering comes into our lives and the lives of others? Where is God in the midst of tragedy?

This is, in a nutshell, the problem of evil. If God is so powerful and so loving, why do bad things happen?

The whole problem of evil and tragedy in the world is a difficult one for Christians. I am not yet convinced there is a good answer, at least good in terms of making sense in our finite human minds.

I think there is a perfect answer bound up in the perfections of a sovereign God. But that remains for another world to be explained, if we could even grasp it then.

Truth be told, Christians aren’t the only ones with the problem of evil. Atheists and other non-Christians have the exact same problem. In fact, their problem may be worse since they do not have a coherent framework for even the concept of evil, much less its existence.

But what about the question? Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

What should we say to these questions, whether raised by our own minds or the minds of others?

Well, first I would say the love of God doesn’t go anywhere. Of course, I am sure that Lightfoot wasn’t attempting to make a theological point by his use of the word “goes,” but I think the theological point should be made. The love of God does not go anywhere or cease to exist in the face of evil and tragedy, whether of human making or an “act of God,” as the insurance companies like to say. God’s love is constant, unchanging, and unmoving because it is who God is. When the Edmund Fitzgerald when down, God’s love was the same as it had been the day before or the day after, or forty years before or forty years after.

But second, in the midst of tragedy, I would not focus on the problem of evil. In fact, I would try to avoid it for the time. I would simply say, “We don’t know.” It is a mystery which we simply do not have the tools to solve at present. It is, in one sense, like an untimely death. You don’t know what caused it until the autopsy. But the autopsy must be done by someone with the knowledge and skill to reach right conclusions.

The problem is that in human tragedy, there is no one with the knowledge and skill to perform on autopsy for the Edmund Fitzgerald, or Hurricane Katrina, or an earthquake, or cancer, or anything else. We simply cannot explain the workings of God in this age except to say that we live in a broken world that groans for the redemption.

For now, rather than attempt to give answers, we weep with those who weep. We mourn with them in loss and grief. We share their confusion. We resist the urge in the moment to theologize, to explain, or to rationalize. There will be time for that later perhaps, when the fog has cleared a bit. But even then we must be cautious not to speak for God where God has not spoken.

For now, we take hope in Christ who rose from the dead in whom all the promises of God are yes. We take hope that one day he will right all wrong, will wipe away every tear, and will make all things new.

Until then, we recognize the this earthly life is but a temporary station that will be over all too fast in the best of situations. Don’t waste it by explaining the inexplicable. Use it to minister the grace of Christ to the hurting and love them for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Everything But the Band …

The Saturday game between Miami and Duke had everything but the band.

Oh, and competent officiating.

Now, I am not one to complain about officiating. In fact, I only complain when they are bad. I realize that sets me apart from everyone else, but I gotta draw a line somewhere. And “bad” is where that line is.

But I digress. The last play was amazing. Eight laterals and a touchdown later, Miami wins 30-27.

Then the replay process started.

Nine minutes later, Miami is still the winner.

Then the league got involved.

Twenty-four hours later, Miami is still the winner, but now with a huge asterisk.

The league admits that the officials got it wrong both on the field and on the replay. A Miami player was down prior to his lateral, meaning that the game should have ended right there with Duke having won.

The league takes this so seriously that they suspended the whole officiating crew, replay officials included, for two games.

But they don’t take it seriously enough to actually fix the problem. And the result is that Duke is hung out to dry. With a win, Duke controls their own destiny. Run the table and show up to be a sacrificial lamb for Clemson in the ACC championship. With one loss (that the league declared wasn’t actually a loss), they can still get there, but it’s harder now.

Here’s the thing (and I have changed my opinion on this slightly): The ACC can and should fix this. They should declare Duke the winner. Because they already did declare Duke the winner. The only place they haven’t declared it is in the only place that matters—the standings.

Let me use a golf illustration. A player hits his second shot on a par 4 over a hill towards the green. He walks up to putt and can’t find his ball. He declares it lost and goes back and plays another ball which would now be his fourth shot (because of the penalty). This time he putts and makes the putt for a bogey, only to find that his original ball is in the hole.

What’s the ruling?

It’s a birdie, not a bogey.

Why? Because under the rules, the hole is over when the ball goes in the hole, even if you don’t know it. Thus, the second ball no longer matters.

In the Miami-Duke game, the game was over when his knee hit the ground. No matter how many laterals, yards, minutes, or days later, the game was still over. The rest of the play was nothing but exercise.

There were no other plays that perhaps could have changed the outcome of the game.

It’s not a judgment call in which you are undermining the officials by second-guessing their ruling (such as a pass interference call, as Lions’ fans [if there are any left] will remember).

No, this is black and white. A game-ender. Duke won.

The ACC should agree with their conclusion and fix the standings. Give Duke what they earned—which is the opportunity to control their own destiny.