It was a terrifying moment, so I did what any self-respecting 21st Century man would do. I picked up my phone and started rolling Live on Facebook. June 29 had been a warm, sunny day, but as the afternoon wore on, ominous clouds gathered and it was clear we were in for a storm. The TV stations began to bark that this might be more than just a normal summer thunder-bumper. Jenni took the grandkids down to the playroom in the basement, the safest room in our home, and Deserai, my daughter-in-law, and I poked our heads out the front door to take a gander.
I am told that the experts with all their fancy machines say the tornado didn’t touch down until it was past us and in Sgt. Bluff a mile or so beyond us. They are the experts. All I know is that as I looked down our road between my church and the Assembly of God I saw something that shook me up. I barked at Deserai to get downstairs and we rode out the storm there. I got some video out of the windows in the basement and I was surprised we didn’t end up in Oz on top of a wicked witch.
About the time the worst of the storm blew through, the Hailpocalypse began – some of those rascals were bigger than golf balls. When it was all over, I went outside and our entire neighborhood was a mess – looked like a war zone. No one was injured, to my knowledge, and our home escaped serious damage, by the grace of God. But it took days to clean up the mess.
And today, I look back on the June 29 Hailpocalypse as one of the greatest blessings we have had in a long time. This scary, horrifying event was manna from heaven!
The reason for this is a little thing called insurance. I didn’t even realize that there was damage to my truck – it wasn’t immediately noticeable. But after a rain (I let rain wash my truck) I saw a few pock marks, so I decided to call insurance. A couple of days later I had a check in my hand that paid off about 60% of the loan remaining on my truck. It will be paid by May.
But the biggie was our roof. We have a large home – it’s what happens when you sell at the height of the Cedar Rapids market and buy in the depressed Sioux City market in 2005. And we needed a new roof on that large home. To make things worse, our roof has cedar shakes and those things are kind of spendy. In fact, I have now found out that to replace our roof was going to cost $33,000!
I know to you southern guys, that’s pocket change, but we didn’t have it. We needed a new roof and we couldn’t afford it. No possible way. But after the insurance company came to visit, I now have a check in the safe in my office that will cover the entire cost of replacing our roof.
So, this horrible storm that scare the stuffing out of me was actually one of the greatest blessings we have received in years. That is our God’s specialty. He takes messes and he blesses. He takes impossible situations and causes his glory and our good to result.
That is a narrative that runs through the entire Bible. In almost every story there are two voices speaking loudly to the people of God – the voice of God and the voice of circumstances. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-9, Paul differentiates the earthly way and the heavenly way, walking by faith and walking by sight.
6 So we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 In fact, we are confident, and we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him.
God’s people live hearing these two voices and we must decide to which we will listen. The first voice is the loud declamation of circumstances, that which we can see and hear and touch with our human senses – “the real world.” The second voice almost always stands in conflict with the voice of circumstance. It is the voice of God, the word of God. The Spirit of God at work within us uses God’s word to speak truth to us. Our lives are a constant conflict between what God says and what our circumstances say.
Pick a biblical story and you will likely find this conflict. They had to choose whether to walk by faith, believing what God said, or to walk by sight, believing what their eyes saw and their ears heard. Circumstances spoke loudly to them that things were hopeless and that God was not going to come through. The enemies were too strong. They should give up, give in, or go with the flow.
But the voice of God spoke a different message. God said “Trust in me and obey and I will make a way. I will be faithful. Do not believe your eyes, believe in me. I am in charge and I will never leave you or forsake you, whatever circumstances seem to say. Your enemy seems so strong and it seems that you cannot stand, but I am with you and in my power, you can stand to see the glorious victory of the saints of God!” God calls us to trust him and obey him no matter what is happening in this world.
Remember Elisha’s servant? He was sure that they would die because of the enemies that surrounded them. Then God opened his eyes and he saw that “those who are with us are greater than those who are with them.” If we look at the world alone, we will always assume that the kingdom is losing. We must “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”
Circumstances call God a liar and God calls circumstances a liar. You have to decide who you will believe. Walking by faith is believing God despite what your circumstances say. Walking by sight is believing your circumstances despite what God says.
Think of Abraham. God promised him descendants like the sand on the seashore. It was an odd promise to a 75 year old man with a barren 65 year old wife. So, circumstances spoke loudly and clearly. “God has forgotten you, Abe and he is not going to come through. You are 99 years old and your wife is 89 and if it hasn’t happened by now it isn’t meant to be. You and Sarah will die without a child together.” But God has something else to say, and it made Sarah laugh! “I am the kind of God who keeps his promises and can give a barren 90 year old woman a beautiful baby boy.”
Circumstances spoke but God spoke louder.
Think of Moses and the people of God at the Red Sea. Not a single circumstance there gave them the smallest measure of hope. They were, as my kids used to say, dead meat – no ketchup. Their backs were to the sea and geography blocked their escape to the north and the south. An angry horde was bearing down on them breathing death and destruction. The armies of Pharaoh were grieving, angry, and ready to exact vengeance for the loss of their firstborn on the bodies of the Israelites. Circumstances screamed loudly, “You are about to die. Better to live as slaves in Egypt than to get slaughtered in the desert.” But God was not silent. Moses said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” and God shouted, “I will make a way when it seems that there’s no way.”
Circumstances spoke but God spoke more clearly.
It happened over and over and over again. Gideon. David. Hezekiah. Elijah. You pick the story. Time and again circumstances told God’s people that they couldn’t trust him, that they were going to die, that God would fail them, that nothing good would come of their service to God. It is impossible, sight said, but faith shouted, “nothing is impossible with God.” Our God makes miracles out of messes.
- When circumstances are hopeless, God gives hope.
- When there is no way, he makes a way.
- When failure is inevitable, he lifts up the fallen and empowers the weak.
- When darkness is overpowering, he shines a light.
- And when death seems to have won, he speaks life.
On a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus hung on a cross, the most lonely man ever. The horrible words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” hung in the air. He was beaten beyond recognition, bleeding, suffering unspeakable things both physically and spiritually. Men gathered to laugh at him and enjoy the show as the prophet of Nazareth was being silenced. Circumstances were shouting loudly on Golgotha that day. “The rebellion has prevailed and the kingdom belongs to the prince of the power of the air! Sin and death and hell cannot be defeated by anyone or anything in this world!”
But Jesus struggled to gather a breath and to speak the word of heaven. “It is finished” With that, sin was defeated and Jesus stepped on Satan’s neck. Darkness could never prevail in this world because Jesus paid it all and the fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s vein plunged sinners in its flood and they lost all their guilty stains!
At the Cross, circumstances spoke but the Blood of Christ spoke redemptively.
But Jesus died and they buried him and once again circumstances spoke forcefully. They rolled a stone over the tomb and set soldiers to guard it. Things were bleak. People don’t come back from death when they are buried in tombs blocked by stones and guarded by fierce soldiers. What could anyone do for a dead man in a tomb guarded by the power of Rome?
But God had something to say. The earth shook and the soldiers quaked and the stone rolled away. “He is not here. He has risen.” God spoke as loudly as he has ever spoken when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead, once and for all defeating death and hell and demonstrating to all that Jesus is Lord of all.
At the Empty Tomb, circumstances spoke, but the Risen Christ spoke victoriously!
But then, 40 days later, Jesus was taken up into heaven and things looked bleak again. The wonder of Christ’s ascension was followed by the emptiness of his absence. And it left the disciples in charge, men who had hardly proven themselves to be the best and the brightest. Any movement needs competent, capable leaders to succeed – these were not them! Men of vision, wisdom, and courage they were not. Circumstances declared pessimism about the future of the church. With leadership like this, what hope was there?
But God spoke again, this time with tongues of fire in the Upper Room. He said, “You WILL receive power when my Holy Spirit comes on you” and the world will never be the same. God filled the disciples with his Holy Spirit and turned them into the Apostles who turned the world upside down in 30 years.
In the Upper Room, circumstances spoke, but the Spirit of God spoke powerfully.
Circumstances will always tell us that that God’s word is not true and his promises will fail. When you look at the storm it will say, “It is impossible. Nothing is ever going to change. It is hopeless.” Obeying God is pointless and you will only be disappointed if you trust him. “You have to live in the real world.”
Will we walk by faith or by sight?
When you walk by sight, you will always have a bevy of friends telling you that you are doing the right thing. “You have every right…” “Everyone knows…” “It just makes sense…” When you walk by faith there will always be people criticizing you, questioning your sanity, your integrity, and the genuineness of your faith. But we must walk by faith and not by sight.
The Christian life is a constant choice between faith and sight. Will we live by God’s word or will we do what circumstances, logic, and emotions dictate? Circumstances will generally tell you that God and his word cannot be trusted. God calls you to trust and obey even if you cannot see how it will work out.
Remember that our God specializes in taking messes and using them to bless. Abraham had a son. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Gideon defeated the Midianites. On and on it goes. When circumstances shouted, “You can’t trust God,” those who walked by faith found out differently. Sometimes, perhaps, the reward may only be received in glory – faith is about giving ourselves to God not getting stuff from him!
But when you are in the storm and things look bleak do not be tempted to doubt God. It is normal for circumstances to call God and his word a liar. But God is true. Not your logic. Not your circumstances. Not your emotions. God is true. His word. The Spirit of God uses the word of God to do the work of God in the people of God.
Walk by faith and not by what you see!