Archive for September, 2018

Hurricane Florence Batters the Carolinas

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Credit: NASA Johnson

The remains of Hurricane Florence continue to pummel the East Coast.  The devastation already done by the monster storm is startling.  The death toll seems to rise nearly by the hour.  Nearly one million are without power.  And by midday Saturday, North Carolina received over 30 inches of rain from the storm, shattering the previous rainfall record of 24.06 inches, set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

As the storm sluggishly dissipates and the recovery begins, we are once again left grappling with the chaos that is endemic to a creation disordered by sin.  The pictures pouring in of wind-battered beaches, tree-split homes, flood-ravaged communities, and terrified-looking residents speak for themselves.  The cleanup and rebuilding process will most certainly be long and arduous.  This summer, I vacationed in Port Aransas, Texas with my family, the spot where Hurricane Harvey came ashore last summer.  The condo complex at which I stayed still had whole buildings that were missing their roofs.  The amount of work yet to be done in that family-friendly beach town is simply more than contractors can complete in a timely manner.  I have a feeling the coastal towns of the Carolinas will be enduring much the same experience.

When Jesus’ disciples find themselves in the throes of a massive storm of the Sea of Galilee, they come face-to-face with the chaos – and the danger – of a disordered creation.  As they are battered by the wind and the waves, they cry out to Jesus, who is in the storm with them, “Lord, save us” (Matthew 8:25)!  And He does.  He “rebukes the winds and the waves, and it is completely calm” (Matthew 8:26).

The disciples’ simple and desperate prayer is still a plea worth making, even as Florence passes.  The Lord can still help, even after the wind and the waves have been stilled and the floods have receded.  He can give us empathy for the injured and a resolve to rebuild.  And so, we pray that God would provide us with all that we need during a time that is fraught with exhaustion and heartbreak.

J.I. Packer, in his book on prayer, quipped that we should ask God “what we ourselves might need to do to implement answers to our prayers.”  As the Carolinas begin the process of rebuilding, this is certainly a question worth asking.  We can make donations to the victims.  We can help our loved ones – and, perhaps, even strangers – rebuild.  And we can refuse to forget that, long after the headlines of the hurricane fade, the need will continue to be real.

For all the damage that Florence has done, we must never forget that Jesus was in the storm, lovingly caring for all those who suffered – and continue to suffer – from the storm.  Jesus does not always stop storms, but neither does He shirk them.  He stands in them with us.  And He’s a good guy to have when you’re in the wind and the waves.

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September 17, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Who Needs Friends When You Have God?

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A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that those who have a strong faith in God are often isolated from others.  Todd Chan, a doctoral student at the university, explains:

For the socially disconnected, God may serve as a substitutive relationship that compensates for some of the purpose that human relationships would normally provide.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but studies like these do not seem to provide consistent results.  W. Bradford Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, has found that:

…religion generally fosters more happiness, greater stability, and a deeper sense of meaning in American family life, provided that family members – especially spouses – share a common faith.

In other words, contrary to what Mr. Chan found, faith in God can actually deepen and sustain relationships instead of serving as a substitute for relationships.

Certainly, there are people of deep faith who find themselves bereft of human companionship and, consequently, lonely.  The Bible admits as much, while also seeking to offer comfort and a promise of companionship to those in isolated situations:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.  (Psalm 68:5-6)

God does indeed promise to be there for someone when they have no one.  But He doesn’t stop there.  He also “sets the lonely in families.”  In other words, He doesn’t just serve as a substitute for human companionship, He actually grants human companionship.

Christianity has always confessed a Triune God, in relationship with Himself from eternity, as the model for and the giver of deeper and better relationships with others.  This is part of the reason why Christianity first took root in the more densely populated urban areas and why it was initially less prevalent among more rural areas.  As Rodney Stark notes in his book The Triumph of Christianity:

The word pagan derives from the Latin word paganus, which originally meant “rural person,” or more colloquially “country hick.”  It came to have religious meaning because after Christianity had triumphed in the cities, most of the pagans were rural people.

Christianity first flourished in cities because those were where the largest communities of people were.  Christianity, it turns out, is irreducibly communal.

Jesus famously summarizes the whole of Old Testament law thusly:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Jesus is clear.  A relationship with God can and should lead to better relationships with others.  Regardless of what Mr. Chan’s study may assert sociologically, theologically, God is not a second-string substitute for human relationships.  Instead, a human, who had an intimate relationship with God and was Himself God, became our substitute on a cross so that we could have a relationship with God in spite of our sin.  God is not a last resort relationship when you’re lonely, but a first love relationship who promises never to leave you alone.  And there’s just no substitution for that.

September 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Everybody Wants To Be Famous

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Credit: Wikipedia

Simon Cowell has finally received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – an honor that was long overdue, at least if you ask Mr. Cowell.  He began his remarks at a ceremony honoring him by quipping, “Before we start, I would just like to ask you: why did this take so long?”  He quickly added, “I’m kidding.”

Mr. Cowell rose to fame in the early 2000s when he joined Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson as a judge on the hit show “American Idol,” which he created.  His acerbic personality, which often revealed itself in biting criticisms of the show’s singing contestants, garnered him both affection and hatred from the millions who watched him.  But whether you loved him or hated him, you knew him.  He was – and still is – famous.  Hence, his newly concreted star in Hollywood history.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Cowell noted how much he enjoyed being famous: “If anyone says fame is a bad thing, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s the best thing in the world.”  I appreciate that Mr. Cowell admits what many of us only secretly think:  fame is awesome!

People covet fame because it generally rests at the intersection of money and power.  With fame, there often comes a fat paycheck as people are willing to pay top dollar for a star’s appearances and work.  With fame, there also normally comes throngs of people who hang on a star’s every word and an entourage of handlers who attend to a star’s every wish.  It’s no wonder Simon Cowell thinks fame is awesome.

But, of course, this is not a complete portrait of fame.  Scripture is clear that with great fame comes great responsibility – and no shortage of great danger.

One of the most famous figures in the Bible is King David.  David gained his fame by his monumental military accomplishments.  2 Samuel 8 outlines David’s victories in battle and includes this note: “David became famous” (2 Samuel 8:13).  But David’s fame went to his head.  He not only set out to conquer Israel’s enemies, just three chapters later, in 2 Samuel 11, he set out to cover up his own sin.  After having an affair with a woman who was not his wife, he had this woman’s husband Uriah, a famous warrior in his own right, killed when it was discovered that she was pregnant by David and that her husband would be able to quickly discern that the baby was not his.  A man who had made a name for himself in battle killed another man who had made a name for himself in battle all in an attempt to ensure that his fame would not become infamy.

Nearly 400 years after David, the prophet Habakkuk wrote:

LORD, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

Habakkuk knew what fame chasers often forget – the most important fame we can desire is not our own.  It is the Lord’s.

The Lord freely grants fame to people out of His grace.  The Lord gave Israel “fame and honor high above all the nations” (Deuteronomy 26:19).  He made Joshua’s “fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27).  Fame, in and of itself, is not bad.  But man’s fame, as the old saying goes, lasts only briefly – 15 minutes or so, if you believe Andy Warhol.  God’s fame, however, endures.  Which is good.  Because God is famous for His compassion, grace, and salvation.  And everyone should know about that.  Because everyone needs plenty of that.

September 3, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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