We all just recently celebrated our nation’s Independence Day on July 4th, 2011. This nation was founded on principles that gave our citizens the freedom to praise and honor God as they saw fit, and God has blessed this nation tremendously. Though our nation faces many challenges today, Independence Day was a time to reflect on the freedom that we enjoy, and on the sacrifices that so many have made, and continue to make, for that freedom.
While many enjoyed our nation’s anniversary, for anyone that has paid any attention to the news over the past months it has truly been a challenging time, some say an unsettling time. We’ve all been saddened at the loss of life in wars over the years, but in some ways we understand the danger that is involved in such struggles. Recent months, however, have really struck us with the suddenness with which our world, and that of others, can change.
Just in the area of natural disasters, we’ve seen a surge and scale that many simply cannot comprehend. On April 27th, a mile-wide EF4 tornado struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama killing 44. On May 22nd, Joplin, Missouri was struck by an EF5 tornado, with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour that remained on the ground for six solid miles. This became our nation’s deadliest tornado in six decades, with a loss of life totaling 158, property damage exceeding $3 Billion, and debris that is said to be able to fill a football stadium one mile high. But, nothing compares to the estimated $210 Billion in property damage, and loss of life exceeding 20,700, counting dead and missing, from March 11th’s earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. And, that doesn’t even factor in the growing risks from their damaged nuclear reactors.
In each case, in the blink of an eye, devastation struck - man, woman and child, friends, coworkers, the lonely, the churched, the unchurched, the good, and the bad. While most of us expect every day to be pretty much like the one before, these sudden disasters leave many asking “Why? Where is God in all this? Why has he forsaken us? What purpose could something like this serve?” Well, those are all pretty good questions, and as I thought about them the word that kept coming to mind was Relationship, and though God doesn’t causethese tragedies to befall us, he does use them for his good purpose.
If you are at all like me, maybe you too slip sometimes into focusing too much on the here and now, on your job, your stresses, your family, your leisure, what your plans are for next week, next month and beyond. As someone said, you slip into a focus on the Horizontal and lose site of the Vertical. Focusing only on those things around you, the Horizontal, you lose sight of what is most important, your relationship to God, the Vertical. But, tragedies cause those impacted to reevaluate what is important, and in most cases they determine that it isn’t the things they had, but their relationships that are the most important. And at that point, God has an opening in those people’s lives.
This earth and all within it are passing away. You know that from observing the passage of time, the aging of the people you love and the things that you own. But God is eternal, not bounded by the constraints of this world. His love for us knows no limits, and his desire is for us to be with him in heaven forever. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, our relationship with God was broken. But God had known this and already had his plan in place to bring us back into oneness with himself through the Holy Spirit and the saving grace of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to restore the relationship between us.
God remains patient and long suffering, waiting for us to turn back to him. God’s blessings of provision fall upon us all, as shown in Mark 5:45 where Jesus teaches about loving your enemies, saying “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He does this so that all may embrace the truth in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And as in Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”.
Many may feel that they are too far gone, sinned too badly, to have such reconciliation with God, but as Romans 10:13 states “… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And God’s acceptance of them is well modeled in the parable of the Prodigal Son, where Luke 15:20 states “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Relationship – it’s what is clearly most critical to us whenever we suffer tragedy, and it is what God is seeking to restore between each one of us and himself everyday. As these two pictures of a church from before and after the Joplin tornado show, even in your most difficult times, the cross remains and is your path to restoring your relationship to our heavenly Father.
Thank you God for your grace and love, and may our hearts turn towards you as we are reminded of the most important thing, that being a right relationship with you. To you be all the glory, in Jesus name we pray.