The roller coaster ride we call life
Dear Christian friends,
I haven’t been to Six Flags for a lot of years. The last time our family was there was when we were living in Atlanta the first time. I am not a roller coaster fan. But when you go with your children, you have to go because that’s what they want to do. The Mind Bender was the big thing when we were there the last time. Ben and Kris were sitting in the seat in front of me. I didn’t want them looking back to see that I was turning green. I remember getting off and it felt like bubbles were rushing from my feet to my head. Wasn’t that fun, Dad? Yeah, it was. Now go with your Mom so she can have fun too. I will take care of Courtney.
Six Flags has changed a lot since we were there last. More rides have been constructed. There is Ninja. I read this review about Ninja written by a professional roller coaster rider. His parents must be happy that the college education they spent for him paid of so handsomely that he’s riding roller coasters. He wrote, “Ninja wasn’t one of the roller coasters picked by the readers for me to review. I just felt it was my civic duty to warn the masses about this ride.” That makes a person want to drop everything and run to Six Flags, doesn’t it? “I’m sure that many are drawn to this coaster because it looks really cool. Ninja’s twisted mess of red steel sits on top of a pond towards the back of Six Flags over Georgia. The Vekoma-built looper features an interesting arsenal of loops: butterfly (2), a reverse sidewinder (1), and a double corkscrew (2). Corkscrews are run-of-the-mill, but the other inversions are not… I’ll forgo the blow-by-blow account. And I mean blow-by-blow literally. Ninja’s roughness repeatedly threw my head against the restraints.” That sounds fun, doesn’t it? This man has ridden over 400 roller coasters. Even he complains of the rough and violent ride. Today is Trinity Sunday but also Confirmation Sunday here at Messiah. We have one young man who is being confirmed today. I have chosen this verse from Psalm 18 where David sounds like he has ridden a roller coaster in his life. “Life is a Roller Coaster.” 1) It has its own stark ups and downs and violent turns; yet 2) God’s steady hand calms us.
King David wrote this psalm. There is a preface that says about David, “He sang to the LORD the words of his song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” David experienced a lot of ups and downs. Let’s start with the blessings in his life.
He was athletic. No, he didn’t play left field or quarterback, but he would have been a WWF, UFC, or MMA champ. He was tough. He told King Saul he was qualified to fight the giant Goliath because “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear. He was tough.
Yet this brave man was a great musician. He could really strum a harp. When Saul was plagued by an evil spirit, the Bible says, “David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” Many of us know Stanton Lanier, composer and pianist. He has had a couple of concerts in our church. He says that he writes songs that bring “peace and rest in a hurried world.” Stanton is a good man and I love his music, but David was the original who brought peace and rest with the music he wrote and performed.
David was an athlete and musician, but also more. He was a poet. Look at the book of psalms – Psalm 23, the most beloved of all the psalms - “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want;” there is psalm 46 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give wayand the mountains fall into the heart of the sea;” Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” And so many more!
He was an incredible warrior. His troops he commanded were very devoted and loyal to him. He was an administrator who organized Israel to be the greatest nation on earth. David also had what seemed to be unshakeable faith, confident in God’s love. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” He had it all! The roller coaster seemed like it never plunged into the valleys!
But it is time to take a closer look! Do you remember the preface of the psalm where it says that Psalm 18 is a song that David wrote that God “delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” David writes in the psalm verse for today that “the LORD “reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” David had to ride some pretty big waves and also had to stay afloat in some pretty deep water.
Even though he would have received the Congressional Medal of Honor had he lived today, he ended up on King Saul’s most wanted list. Even though David killed the giant Goliath in one of the great upsets of all time and saved Israel, Saul was furious. While the people celebrated the victory, they danced and sang. But the song was not to Saul’s liking, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands.” Instead of making his national objective to keep Israel safe from Israel’s many enemies, King Saul made it his objective to kill David. He was too popular to suit him. David had to live life on the run!
The deep waters David had to survive didn’t stop there. Even a member of his own family, his very own son Absalom, wooed the nation away from his very own Dad. A betrayer from his own family! No one did more for Israel than David to make it safe and secure and respected. But people are fickle and have short memories. The nation turned against him because of Absalom’s message of hope and change. Dad David had to make an embarrassing retreat from his palace in the capital city. I can’t imagine how much that must have hurt David.
Then there was a little known incident that occurred in David’s twilight years. It was clear that David’s youthful fighting years were over. The Bible says that David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines. A Philistine by the name of Ishbi-Benob vowed to kill David. David just didn’t have the stamina anymore. He told his men that he was tired. “But Abishai, son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” You’re too old, David! You just can’t do it anymore. I would imagine that was tough for a warrior to take. The water…it’s deep!
Why am I saying this to you? Life is a roller coaster with its ups and its downs. We have a confirmand whose life is in front on him. We have a confirmand who has a great family and great God-given gifts and a great God given personality and a great God-given faith. But life also has its stark ups and downs and violent turns. No one is immune. Sometimes life hurts. Life can be like a violent sea. When David writes, “he drew me out of deep waters,” the Hebrew word there means waters with deep channels. This is not three feet of water. It is like the ocean whose average depth is 12,000 feet. There is no taking a deep breath to touch the bottom to come up again.
Aimee Copeland found out. She just wanted to have some fun. She gashed her calf while zip-lining giving an opening into her body for a flesh eating bacteria. She just wanted to have fun, but by the end of the day she was fighting for her life. She still is. A leg was amputated. Her fingers were amputated. She is still not out of the woods. As long as she lives in this world, her life will never be the same. The activities director at one of the nursing homes we serve wanted to talk after the service this week. She was in tears. She was going to get married to a man she reconnected with after twenty seven years. He was killed in a car accident in Yuma, Arizona two weeks ago. I am not trying to throw cold water on a very happy day today, but this is realistic. Life has its up, but it really has its downs too. Ever since Adam and Eve, the roller coaster ride of life can take anyone of us into the very deep and violent waters.
But even though life is like that, it is so great to be a child of God because even in the violent and deep waters, we have a God who stays with us. Let’s focus on the rest of the passage, “The LORD reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”
The Lord reaches down from heaven. He can do that. He is all- powerful. The Bible speaks often about the right hand of God; Jesus sits at the right hand of God; Jesus intercedes for us at God’s right hand. It is a figure of speech. What it means is that God is powerful – all powerful! That can sound scary but the people of God don’t need to be afraid of that power. For God’s people that power is connected to God’s compassionate heart. He would rather love than hate; he would rather show mercy than punish.
He proved it. The Father didn’t want us to pay the punishment for our sins, instead he allowed his Son’s right hand and his left hand to be pierced and nailed to the cross. He put the burden of our sins upon his shoulders. While we aren’t immune to the deep and violent waters of life, he assures us that his right hand will be with us and use his power to make it work for our good.
The Children of Israel literally faced some deep waters a couple of times! When they were fleeing Egypt their backs were against the Red Sea with the powerful Egyptian army having Israel in their sights. God saved them. He opened the Red Sea. When they got to the Promised Land, they faced a raging Jordan River at flood time and the raging river kept them from entering into the Promised Land. The Lord backed up the waters so they could cross. Isaiah refers to those crossings when he writes, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.” God says in the Psalm 18, “he drew me out of deep waters.” Again, be clear on this! God never promises that we won’t have the waters to contend with, he assures that he will be with us on the trip. He promises to turn it into a blessing.
Besides that, think about this. The prophet Isaiah once asked rhetorically, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? No mere man can do that! Yet God not only measures the waters, he also holds them in the hollow of his hand. Even if we were a sailor in a raging storm and went overboard, we would still be in the hollow of his hands. What a graphic and comforting way of expressing the Christian doctrine of God’s omnipotence and his loving providence. What a graphic way of describing the believer’s ultimate destiny. No matter what the adversity we endure, whatever happens in life, we remain in the hollow of our God’s hands.
Yes, life is a roller coaster with its ups and downs. Yet Lord’s hand is our safety net in the Roller Coaster Ride we call life.