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In The Flood: What We Do Understand When God’s Voice Thunders And We Don’t Understand


PTSD-like, I jolt upright, eyes saucer-wide in midnight’s strobing light. At a single crack, I’m on high alert, as the thunder rolls and the lightening strikes.

As the rain pours down, again.

Because it used to be that I’d snuggle cozy undercover in a thunderstorm, as the rain poured down. But that all changed last week. And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain?

But I know the answer to that, and you know, too. We know who stops-and sends and makes lightenings for- the rain.

Yet I’m wide awake and wet with sweat and flashback to the flood that came last Wednesday morning. And I wonder, still I wonder, How long O Lord? Will it all begin again? And as I wonder,  these words, His Words, for one reason or another roll one to the next to mind. Some are hard words,  but all of them give comfort and courage and hope.

In wrath remember mercy, He does.

The cattle were saved. Huddled on high ground with flood water muzzle-high on the twin calves. Someone drove by at four and sent word to the farmers up the hill. Then, just before dawn came their deliverance.

As were the days of Noah. These days.

Yes, God’s Never again rainbow promise stands forever. But the Son of God said, They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.  And as the thunder rolls and the lightening strikes, I think how  I don’t want to be caught of guard.  He will come again.

For I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you. Jonah knew.

The storm you’re in isn’t always because of you,  Pastor had said the Sunday before the flood. The sailors on Jonah’s ship weren’t to blame for those waves. Which isn’t to say that in infinite love, God doesn’t  use floods and storms to shake us and shape us.

He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He does.

Carp crossed the road Wednesday morning and cars could not get out to take workers to work. Saints and sinners unsifted. Some were untouched. Some woke to water a foot deep on the ground floor of a home they might never wake up in again.

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” We ought.

This wasn’t in any of our plans for Wednesday. I wasn’t planning to spend the rest of the week waging war with wetness, rolling carpets, pulling mats. Jim thought he’d be at work until that carp crossed the road. Yes, only if the Lord wills,

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood, He does.

And over the aftermath. Over the carpets and couches and boxes and bins and pads piled high around houses and in heaps beside the streets. And over the mold and the mildew and the bleach and the fans and gutted out basements in Burlington. Enthroned.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways. He does great things beyond our understanding, Elihu and Job knew.

But what happens when we hear God’s voice thunder, and cannot understand? Job heard and worshiped.  I stood in awe of the power that erodes roadsides and overflows dams in mere hours hours. We still call these acts of God, don’t we?

It would be very wrong to pronounce the flood was divine  judgment on the special sins of Burlington. But would it be just as wrong not to see God’s hand in the flood at all?

God’s voice thundered; the flood was beyond our understanding. But just because it’s beyond our understanding doesn’t mean there’s nothing to glean. Should we write off the  flood of ’17 as a meaningless,  chance event? And just  bleach our basements, lay new carpets and move right along

Power Perceived

We’d best not, I think. Because God’s still in charge. He still plants his footprints in the sea and rides upon the storm. He still speaks. Not just to the waterlogged us, but all of us who saw the National Guard and the Red Cross  and ServPro trucks roll in and took pictures of rivers in roads and of lakes where once were yards.

I think God is saying something to all of us.

John Calvin explained that if natural things always flowed in an even and uniform course– not like the 8 inches in 2 hours that Burlington got early last Wednesday morning- that,

the power of God would not be so perceptible. But when he changes the face of the sky by sudden rain, or by loud thunder, or by dreadful tempests, those who before were, as it were asleep and insensible, must necessarily be awakened, and be tremblingly conscious of the existence of a presiding God. Such sudden and unforeseen changes manifest more clearly the presence of the great Author of nature. 

Beyond that, and seeing in the flood a warning borne of love, we’d probably be unwise to assign specific why’s.

Love Warns

Burlington was no more evil than neighboring Elkhorn. Just like the sun that dries up all the rain, the rain fell on the just and the unjust. Even the Good Lord refused to place blame when he was questioned about the why behind little apocalyptic falling of the tower of Siloam.

Jesus didn’t say why. But he did say glean. Russell Moore writes, “Jesus doesn’t avoid talking about the ultimate Apocalypse either. He rejects a personal sin-disaster correlation but then says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:4-5).

Yes. Rolling Thunder, we heard your cry. And now alert, in turn we cry Mercy. For you are the God of mercy.

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:37-39, 44

In love, we are warned. Because Gpd is patient, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And I pray none of us- with wet basements or dry- will miss in this flood a  loving alert. No, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise.

The WHY Is No Surprise

The Bible helps us face life when calamities like floods come. Job faced incomparably worse than we did in the Flood of 2017.  Enemies with swords and thunder from heaven and great winds killed his cattle and servants and all of his kids. His wife said, Curse God and die. He didn’t.

Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed by the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21).

Dr. Martyn Lloyd- Jones preached a sermon on those verses in response to epic English flooding in 1953. He preached then, and it’s still as true, that we waste too much time trying to figure out why.

We already know why, he said: 

Sin. Disasters and calamities, earthquakes and floods…are the direct outcome of sin and the Fall. The Bible does not promise us anywhere that these things will not happen. The Gospel is no soothing syrup. There will be wars and rumors of wars and calamities. While there is sin left in this world these things will happen. We should not be surprised. Only those who do not know the Bible will be surprised by these things…

From the biblical standpoint, the remarkable thing is that worse things don’t happen. The remarkable thing is that God causes his sun to rise on the just and the unjust, that he allows such gifts to people who curse him to his face.

The HOW Matters More

What matters more than why is how we face these things, Lloyd-Jones said.

My HOW was a bad how: I was all of harshness and impatience and a smattering of  faithless catastrophizing in the days following, as the wetness crept into more carpets and the boys likened the downstairs smell to- well, let’s just say a dank, dark smell that would make you flee far away.

So I’ll leave you with a picture of some friends who’ve been through the flood and responded to God’s thunderous voice with far more grace than me:

Bill and Genie woke up Wednesday with a 39 inch pool in their basement. Before they could pump an ounce out- the generator was in their also waterlogged garage- the power went out for two days and besides that there was no place anywhere near their house for the water to go. They left their home.

Genie  told me Sunday after church that the water was still 39 inches deep. She told me how she had watched her family’s mainstays and memories – Q-tips to Christmas decorations- afloat down below.

 But it’s okay, Genie said. It’s all God’s anyway.

Bill and Genie are waiting for adjustor to come this week. But they’re not hanging their hope on that. I know because I heard Bill loud and strong  on Sunday.

Pastor’s sermon was on Jonah again. He’d just said something about how we all need to get to that place- and most of us get their without time to reflect in the belly of a fish- that place where where we can say,

My hope is in God alone and I  know there is no other Savior. 

That was when Bill’s voice thundered behind me,

Amen! I heard it boom.

We heard God’s voice thunder last week. Bill and Genie, like Job, worshiped in the flood.

Did we?

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 135:5-7

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Bid Envy Cease

“Envy” panel, from Hieronymus Bosch’s,
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, c. 1500 
Both the service and the reward are all of grace. The service itself is given us of God, and God rewards the service which he himself has given. We might almost speak of this an an eccentricity of grace…
So it’s all of grace from first to last, and must never be viewed with a legal eye. 
-C. H. Spurgeon, from The First Last, and the Last First

The music on the first Sunday of Advent was rapturous.

Simply soulful. O Come, O Come Immanuel sung to four part harmony. That’s not all. Now Thank We All Our God, sung with parts from a hymnal! Beyond bliss.

Your voices blended so beautifully. It sounded just wonderful, I gushed as I ran into the soprano and bass parts after service.

Praise God, both humbly replied.

Which is, I suppose, as it should be. To the praise of his glorious grace GOD arranges the parts. Especially since I can’t hold a harmony to save my soul. 

My genes include Irish tenor mixed with tone-deaf (or blissfully unaware) hippopotamus. Truly–my mom’s second grade music teacher said she sang like a hippo. 

Or so the legend goes.

Deadly, Green-eyed Envy

Envy is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing of others. Aristotle (350 BC) said it was the pain that comes with others’ good fortune. It’s strong and powerful: Wrath is cruel, anger overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?  And we know it rots the bones. 

The vineyard owner’s words, Do you begrudge my generosity (Matthew 20:15) are literally, Is your eye bad because I am good? To envy is to resent God’s goodness; to have an evil eye. An evil green eye.

The eyes surely have it. Matthew Henry describes envy’s deep roots:

The eye is both the inlet and the outlet of this sin. Saul saw that David prospered, and he eyed him (1 Samuel 18:9). It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others…Envy is unlikeness to God, who is good, and does good, and delights in doing good; no, it is an opposition and contradiction to God; it is a dislike of his proceedings, and a displeasure at what he does, and is pleased with.

Envy tempts me to compare with others. Worse, envy tempts me to doubt God; to think his grace will run out. Or that God is all wrong in his allocation of gifts. Envy is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19). We’re told to put it away (1 Peter 2:1). It violates the two great commands at once. Love for God and our neighbor are both lacking when we begrudge God’s generosity to him.

Envy’s grip is strongest close to home.

Which explains why my envy isn’t aroused so much by hearing angel voices-my half-hippo heritage never aspired vocally-as by reading brilliant blogs. The more focused we are on a hope or goal, the more intense the green-eyed gaze when the someone else reaches it. So it’s not all bloggers that tempt me to envy. Not Kevin DeYoung or Jon Bloom. Gifted as they are, they’re outside my circle.

It’s the blogs written by wise, youngish, Christian women bloggers. Jen Wilkin and Jean Williams are two such; grounded deep in the Word. I bid envy cease, and thank God for the spurring, gracious words he’s gifted them to write. Find Jen and Jean at http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/  & http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com/.

How do you kill this Deadly?

Hint: The same way you fight against anger, pride, lust or greed. Kill it with the sword. Wield the sword of the spirit, the Word of God

Joe Rigney suggests we try to see ourselves in the biblical narratives. Envy is certainly no stranger to Scripture’s pages.  
As you read, ask yourself, An I more like:
  • Abel or Cain, whose face grew downcast when God favored his brother?
  • Joseph or his brothers, who hated him because Jacob loved him most?
  • Jonathan or Saul, who grew angry and displeased hearing how David killed his tens of thousands? 
  • Nicodemus or the chief priests, who out of envy delivered Jesus to be killed?

If you see yourself in Cain and Saul, claim these envy-slaying truths:

1. Give thanks to God for his gifts to you.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. God’s will, His highly sought, prayed for will is this: give thanks. For life and love, for food and friends; For everything thy goodness sends, Almighty God we thank thee. Ministry, work, health, family, forgiveness…keep on thanking.In this short podcast, author Joe Rigney explains why it’s “Hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart.” I know it’s true. Many an envious grudge has been driven out of my sinful heart as I jog along or sit and jot my thanks to God.
2. Quit comparing and follow Jesus.

He’d just assured Jesus of his love and been given a sacred task, and his martyr death foretold. Then, Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. Was it just curiosity or envy creeping up? Maybe it sounded like, But Lord, that’s not fair if John isn’t killed the same way I’ll be.

So Peter asks, Lord, what about this man? Then, the One-perfect in all his ways and loving in all he does-answers,  If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow me! That’s the way to kill the green-eyed monster. Follow Jesus. Press on to know Him. 

In our house, we have a saying. It’s mostly heard when one piece of pizza has more pepperonis, or one cookie has more chips. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.Baby steps.

3. Give thanks to God for his gifts to others. 
This is the clincher. Love inequality. It is counter-cultural in our egalitarian age. But, as Joe Rigney observes, God is unequally lavish. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians thanking God for them, because of the grace of God that was given to them, in every way [they] were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge.

Do you DIGLI? Do you delight in God’s lavish inequality? I want to own this truth. I want to DIGLI. Sunday it was easy. But I must do it more.

To bid envy cease embrace God’s sovereignty.

Can we affirm with Abraham, against the green eyes of envy, that surely the Judge of all the earth will do what is just? And say with Job, in the midst of great loss, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him? So help us, God.

The owner of the vineyard gave the same payment for an hour’s work as for a full day’s work. It hardly seems fair. But he hadn’t promised fair-equal pay for equal work, when he hired. Only, whatever is right I’ll pay you. A denarius sounded good when the laborers hired on, whether at 7 am or 9 am, 12 noon or 3 pm, or, even at the 11th hour.

Can you allow God, even thank God, for being on the throne? We allow God to be in his workshop fashioning worlds and stars; C.H. Spurgeon said, and in his storehouses bestowing bounty. 

But to give thanks to him as Sovereign, giver of all good gifts—and unequally has he scattered his gifts—now, that’s a supernatural work.

It is the work that bids strife, quarrels and envy cease.

Friend, I am doing you no wrong…
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? 
Or do you begrudge my generosity?
-Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 20:13, 15

Even so does the God of heaven and earth ask this question of you this morning. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”  Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. 

C. H. Spurgeon, Divine Sovereignty