For you [Lord] have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.—Isaiah 25:4
The other day I wrote a blog post about creation groaning in light of the recent tornadoes and other natural disasters. Little did I know then, how close to home that would strike.
On Wednesday I made the hour and forty-five minute trek from my present home to my hometown for the funeral of a friend and neighbor (the man was a much much nicer Mr. Wilson to my not so hyperactive Dennis the Menace). On the way there I drove through a storm that at the time seemed like your garden variety late spring thundershower.
By the time I made it to Sedalia, MO, the town was under a tornado warning from that very same storm. Though, as I have said elsewhere, aside from being a pastor I’ve been a storm chaser for over a decade, I wasn’t thinking much about this one. The funeral would be delayed, but I still had to get ready. But my mom, of all people, suggested that since we had some time, we could go out and look at the storm.
So we got in my car, leaving my dad at home (he was a pallbearer, and he had to leave before us) and drove the mile to the new high school on the south side of town. Sitting in the parking lot we watched the wall cloud slowly lumber to our south, and a few minutes later an area tightened its rotation and almost instantly put a sizeable tornado on the ground.
As the tornado continued to grow and track, we had to move from our location (a building just 25 yards to our east was virtually destroyed after we moved), and swing around the back side of the high school. When we emerged, this is what we saw:
Now the meteorologist and storm chaser in me wanted to keep filming; but a different reality also hit—at the moment the radio was saying nothing about the tornado, we could hear no sirens, and the thing was moving in the direction of my parents’ house/my childhood home. I put the camera down, called my dad, and told him to the get to the basement. He said it was still calm when he headed downstairs and by the time he went and looked out the west basement window, trees were falling like dominoes, debris spun through the neighborhood, and he could see the top of the funnel overhead.
The neighborhood was fortunate, though. The heart of the tornado passed just to the south and they only faced the weaker, outer circulation.
When all was said and done, an EF-2 tornado struck my hometown, virtually wiping out a trailer park and doing heavy damage to several homes, yet no one was killed and 15-20 people suffered only minor injuries. With the events of Joplin, MO still fresh in everyone’s mind, the town and people were very fortunate.
The whole event, however, brings to mind a Scripture passage: Isaiah 25. Here the prophet praises the name of God and exalts him for all the wonderful things he has done—everything from judgment to shelter. To the poor and the needy, those abused and neglected by others, God is a stronghold; a shelter in the storm.
Peter says we all like sheep have gone astray. We are all like a hapless sheep in the middle of a field, unprotected and powerless. Our sin ensnares us and holds us down. Spiritually speaking we are all poor, needy, and neglected, abused by our temptations to which we refuse to say “No!”
We are like a town in the path of a violent storm—there is nothing we can do but watch and hide.
Yet Jesus is the Good Shepherd who comes out after his straying sheep. He fights off our enemies, picks us up, and carries us home where he cleanses us, feeds us, and places us in the safety of the flock. God is a shelter in which we don’t just hide, we take refuge—knowing that even as the winds beat against the walls and the debris swirl around, we are safe.
The biggest, most ferocious storm we all face is death. Sometimes it comes after a long expectation and a losing battle, as with my neighbor-friend; other times it happens suddenly and without much warning, as those lost in the tragedy of natural disasters.
But for his people, God’s stronghold extends to death as well.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
A mountain is a place of strength, power, fortitude, and security. God is that mountain for his people. In Jesus and the cross, death was swallowed up. When Jesus returns, death will be swallowed up forever. The picture of Revelation 20—death itself cast into the lake of fire.
Death will be no more, and God’s people will feast with a feast like no other. We will feast and find perfect joy where there are no tears as God takes the reproach of his people away from the earth.
This great shelter; this great celebration…
For the Lord has spoken.