Before the Storm

During and after the recent hurricane, I found a number of Scripture images coming to my mind.

On the Friday night we were expecting the storm, as we fearfully waited for what might come, I read Psalm 107 for our evening worship:

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
They see the works of the LORD,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

When morning came, I ventured outside; it was still raining and windy as I surveyed the neighborhood, mainly fences and trees down. The next day I drove around the surrounding blocks, and saw some roof damage and one smashed garage. But nothing in my neighborhood compared to the scenes we saw on TV from Bolivar and the West End of Galveston—a house spared amidst destruction; a house destroyed amongst untouched homes. I thought of the saying of Jesus: “One will be taken and the other left.”

I looked at those images of Crystal Beach, block after block of beachfront homes gone, and I thought of another statement of Jesus, in Matthew 7:26ff:

“everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.

In the days since, we’ve seen lines of people at gas stations and at FEMA’s “points of distribution.” Some were frustrated that these were not up and running sooner. Twenty-four hours had not gone by when channel 13 reporter Miya Shay was belligerently questioning city and county officials, demanding to know when these PODs would be established so that people could get food and water and ice. And I thought, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this why we are told to get food ahead of a hurricane—three days of food and water? Didn’t these people do that?” And that’s when I thought of the Scripture story of wise and foolish virgins, some of whom were prepared, and some were not.

How do we prepare for a storm?

We could consider this just on a very practical level, and review some basic information about what it means to prepare for a hurricane. We live on the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes are a fact of life. The hurricane season goes from June 1 to December 1. We still have over two months to go. One storm is over, but there could always be another, just as Rita followed Katrina. We might have a week’s notice, as with Ike—or one could suddenly materialize in less than a day right off the coast, as with Humberto a year ago.

One storm is over, but we must stay prepared for the next, and so I’ve posted some useful links on our church webpage. I’ll just summarize here. If you’re told to evacuate—do so. If you’re not told to evacuate, don’t. Prepare to shelter in place. Have a disaster supply kit, with food and water for 3 to 7 days, first aid kit, batteries, lanterns, radio, a charged cell phone, tools, and a full tank of gas. Get your house prepared, making sure you have flood insurance and, if you don’t have storm resistant windows, put up plywood. These are practical ways to prepare for the storms that are sure to hit us because of where we have chosen to live.

But a greater storm is coming—and that’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 25.

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

The most basic tenet of our Seventh-day Adventist faith is that our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, who stooped and took our human nature, who died as an atoning sacrifice, who was raised from the dead and sits now at the right hand of the Father, interceding as our great high priest—this same Jesus will come again.

Are you ready?

Are you prepared for the storm that is soon to engulf the world?

To help answer those questions, let’s take a look at what we might call the Bible’s storm survival checklists. You’ll find one in Matthew 24 and 25. Jesus gives us signs of his coming and the end of the world: signs in the sun, moon, and stars; wars and rumors of wars; false prophets, lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold, tribulation and persecution.

We see those signs in the world today. We see terrorism and war with no end in sight. The Wall Street Journal proclaims that we are in the worst “Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight.” We hear of diminished oil, Global Warming, dead zones in the sea, bees disappearing. We see democracies excusing torture and suppressing freedom of speech and religion; we see euthanasia legalized, and the killing of unborn children defended as “a personal choice.” Divorce is rampant, even among Christians; fathers abandon the mothers of their children; the marriage of homosexuals is promoted even by some Christians as “equality.” The church is lukewarm, like Laodicea, neither hot nor cold, regarding itself as rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing. And Jesus asks, Matthew 16:3–“Can you not read the signs of the times?”

But though Jesus gives us plenty of signs, he warns that no one knows when it will be. It will come upon many unawares. As in the days of Noah, some will not pay attention. They will not heed the warnings. As on Galveston and Bolivar, there will be those who will laugh at the evacuation notice, and sit back, and crank up the music, and pop the top of another beer.

Matthew 24:36–“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

What does it mean to be ready? To help us understand that, Jesus then gives a series of parables. To be ready means to be alert, to be on guard—as you would be if you knew someone was going to break into your house at a certain time. It is to have oil in your lamp. It is to practice good stewardship—to take care of the things that the master has given you charge of. To be ready is to be investing your talents now, taking advantage of the time you have, to do the work of the master.

What is the work of the master? Jesus spells this out in Matthew 25, starting with verse 31:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

What separates the sheep and the goats? Do they feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison? That’s the work of the master.

We have plenty of opportunity to do that this week, and in the weeks and months to come (again, see the church webpage for some links).

But is this anything new? Is it only in the aftermath of a hurricane that people are hungry, or thirsty? Is it only then that strangers and aliens pass through our community? Is it only in times of crisis that people need clothing, or are sick, or are in prison?

Why do we wait till disaster strikes to do these things that should be the very work we do day in and day out through the year?

Being about the work of Jesus is one aspect of our preparation. But we can’t do the work of Jesus if we are not in loving communion with Jesus. If we, the branches, are not connected to him, the vine. If we, the sheep, are not following him, the shepherd.

It is the connection with Jesus that makes us Christian, that makes us unique. That gives us our reason for existence and our mission. We aren’t the Red Cross. We aren’t the National Guard. We aren’t FEMA. We are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. In Ephesians 6, starting with verse 11, Paul gives us another storm survival list–this one focused on our personal spiritual preparation.

Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.

We’ve seen National Guard soldiers throughout our area. It reminds me of my years in the National Guard and the Army Reserve as a chaplain. They’ve got their combat uniforms on, and Kevlar helmets, boots and gloves, LBE (a belt and suspenders to carry equipment), CamelBak hydration systems so they don’t have to stop for a drink of water, MREs to eat as well as to share; and when they go out patrolling to prevent looting, they’ll add body armor and an M-16 and clips of ammunition.

Are you prepared spiritually for the storm?

Do you have your spiritual armor on?

There are many lies and perversions in the world today—fortify yourself with the truth.

There is evil in the world—clad yourself in righteousness.

There is strife and warfare over the things of this world—walk through it bearing the Gospel of peace.

There are many things calling you to doubt—hold on by faith to Jesus Christ.

There are many who would lead you to hell—but you are promised salvation in him.

There are many who would tempt you with human reason or deceptions—trust the Word of God.

The storms and strife of this world lead many to curse or to despair—lift up your voice to God in prayer, for yourself and for others.

The struggles of this world exhaust many—persevere in your struggle through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And the promise of Scripture is clear—if you do this, “you will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Matthew 7:24-25. “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

This is how we can be prepared before the storm. Build on the rock. Put on the armor of God. Do the master’s work. If you do this, you don’t need to fear. If you do this, you don’t need to panic. If you do this, you won’t be running around at the last minute, like the foolish virgins, when it is too late—or like the folks on Bolivar, who found the ferry shut down and the one road off peninsula under water. You’ll be ready.

And if you are ready, if you are established on the rock, if you are wearing the armor of God, if you have been about the master’s work, you will greet the coming of this storm with joy.

Luke 21:25. “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

That’s the message of hope to take today. As you see the storm surge overflowing the coast, as you see financial crises panicking those whose hopes rise no higher than the balcony of the stock exchange—Look up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near.

It’s midnight. The cry is sounding: Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet him!