FROM THE HEART - THE SOURCE OF CALM IN A ROLLER COASTER WORLD
Dear friends and heirs of the Reformation,
The apostle Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey. They entered the cities of Lystra and Derbe. A man, crippled from birth, was brought before Paul. The Bible says, “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healedand called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” The citizenry thought Paul and Barnabas were gods in human form. Paul and Barnabas begged the people to stop.
The situation did a 180 degree pivot. Enemies of the Gospel of Jesus from other towns showed up. They turned the fickle crowds against the two. The Bible says, “They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” Paul and Barnabas left the next day.
What I find interesting is what the book of Acts says after that. Wherever Paul and Barnabas went, they strengthened the disciples and encouraged them “to remain true to the faith. They also taught, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Paul and Barnabas knew that from personal experience. Paul’s life was a roller coaster. He was loved for his message of Jesus; he was hated for his message of Jesus.
It’s no different today. All of you offend more people than you realize because of what you believe. I am certain that there are people in your neighborhoods who cast a disparaging eye on you because you are here today. They get upset because you prick their conscience knowing you went to church and they didn’t. You make them uncomfortable. I would venture to say some stay away from you because of it.
Today we are finishing our “From the Heart” series on Reformation Sunday. Psalm 46, a favorite of Martin Luther, comforted and inspired him through some turbulent times. The promises of Psalm 46 become a “Source of Calm in a Roller Coaster Life.” 1) We have our God in heaven and earth. 2) We are members of his church on earth and heaven.
If you have read biographies of Martin Luther’s life, his Christian faith made his life miserable in so many ways. People hated him. He once said, “I have passed though unspeakable trials- trial in which no creature was able to counsel me…I have passed through trials of such a nature that I thought no one on earth had them before…. I have at times thought that I endured temptations as manifold as St. Paul.”
That was quite a statement to say that he had endured trials as great as Paul. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians Paul had written about those trials, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” Speaking very short term, his life would have been much easier if God had left him alone instead of calling him to faith and then calling him to preach that faith to others.
We could conclude the same if God had never made us his people. We wouldn’t need to take it personally when people insult Jesus or his people.
Yet this psalm for today – Psalm 46 – so encouraged Luther when he felt all alone and persecuted. We are never alone. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Recently I saw the name and a photo of a mountain called ChiefMountain. I recognized the name from my days long ago when I worked in Glacier Park, Montana. While I recognized the name of the mountain, I didn’t recognize it from the photo. It had distinctly different shape as I remembered it. I began to think father time was catching up with me and my steel trap memory was getting a little rusty. Then I read the article that went with the photo. In 1992 a side of the mountain collapsed and changed the look of the mountain. Good thing it was in the middle of GlacierNational Park. No buildings were around; no one was hurt; no one died.
That is not always true when landsides occur. In 1968 a landslide in Darleejing India killed ‘thousands.’ They couldn’t even recover all the bodies to get an exact head count. Two years later the city of Yungay, Peru was buried by a land slide. 22,000 people died. The Internet supplies a list that is very long. Very literally, what the psalmist describes is true, “The earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” The heartache left behind is unimaginable.
Disasters of all kinds can put our faith under trial and test. A few evil people hijacking a couple of planes sent our nation spiraling downward a few years ago; we are still recovering. A single doctor’s visit can send someone’s life in a totally different direction that he didn’t want to go. A company can close because of one careless mistake and hundreds of people are jobless. A careless moment can spell the end of a career. Life is so fragile. The world roars and foams. We are so vulnerable.
Yet, there is such comfort to know that God does not abandon us. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,” Even though we live in a roller coaster world where we are not immune to trials and disasters, God is our refuge and strength.
Some Hebrew dictionaries say that that the Hebrew word for ‘refuge’ can mean ‘cave.’ In 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves at a place called Qumran by the Dead Sea. The scrolls were found in large jars in caves. The scrolls were preserved about 2000 years. The condition of the scrolls was remarkably good. The caves were the perfect place. The scrolls contained the oldest known manuscripts of the Old Testament. God is our refuge, our cave that protects us from a world that can be so cruel.
How? He rules the world. He holds the world together when it appears to be coming apart. He knows all that is going on. He is not oblivious to anything. “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” He searches hearts and knows the evil. While evil does occur, for the people of God he promises to make things turn out for good to those who love God.
The Bible says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Do you know what pleases him? It pleases him to preserve life on a day to day basis. “He opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.” It pleases him most of all to preserve our lives for eternity. “He is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance.” He reminds us of our sin through the commandments he gave us, but also he reminds of the sin-bearing and sin-paying Savior who took the guilt of our sins away. He promises that he loves us when the storms are roaring and the seas are foaming. He doesn’t take his eyes off us. He is reason for calm.
While our God is the reason for our calm, he has made us members of his church on earth and destined for heaven.
The inspired psalmist really changes direction from the landslides and surging waters to a quiet river. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” He takes us to the city where God dwells. He takes us to his Church.
Think about all the different ways God speaks of his church. His church is the bride while he is the bridegroom. He calls his church a building and says he is our Cornerstone and we are living stones built around him. The Church is the body of Christ; he is the head and we are the parts. Here he calls his church his holy city, where the Most High dwells and rules. We are the residents. We don’t have to worry about the mountains being tossed into the heart of the sea. When it is time to leave the church on earth, we enter the church in heaven. His city is fortressed, not because he has the best soldiers there, but because he is there.
He says, “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”
Yes, on this earth there are devastations. There have been many in history, but the Lord has intervened to protect his people from destruction. The Lord kept his church that consisted of Noah and his family safe when the seas roared and the mountains fell into the seas. God kept Israel safe at the Red Sea as they passed through by his power. Many think that this Psalm was written at the time of King Hezekiah. Assyria threatened to obliterate Judah but God answered Hezekiah’s prayers when Sennacharib’s army “melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.” 185,000 Assyrians were dead in the morning because the Lord swept through the camp.
Today is the observance of the Lutheran Reformation. In 1517 Luther posted the 95 theses and called for debate with those who headed the Roman Church over the sale of indulgences that promised forgiveness of sins through purchase of an indulgence rather than trusting the blood of Christ. Luther pointed out the scam. In the years that followed Luther stood strong with the Scripture on his side but put his life in danger because of those who devised the indulgence scheme. He stood alone before Charles V and professed, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; God help me. Amen.” The two most powerful men in the world, the Pope and the Roman Emperor tried with all their might to kill him and crush the Reformation. They didn’t. By 1530 the Lutheran princes presented their confession at Augsburg and the Lutheran church and Protestantism was born.
During these years, Luther, wrote the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” based on Psalm 46. The hymn and the psalm from which the hymn is based strengthen all who hear and believe it. We know for certain that God is our refuge and strength. By his grace we are members of his church by faith in Christ Jesus. He promises that that church of which we are part will prevail and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We thank God that by his Spirit we are members of his church here and one day his church in heaven. That’s our source of calm in a roller coaster world.