The Unchanging In A World of Change
As a family we used to play a game called Survive, which was one of Jonathan's favorite games. The idea of the game is that the island in the center is being destroyed by an earthquake and you have to get your people to the solid ground on the corners of the game board by using boats or by swimming.
Psalm 93:3 says, "The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring." In the middle of this Psalm this verse speaks of the turmoil of flooding waters which is an image that speaks of frightening and disturbing changes in our world. When that kind of turmoil is in our life, where is the solid ground?
I. Ever Changing Turmoil
We moved to Rosenort in 2000, three years after the 1997 flood. For about the first three years after we moved there we heard many stories about that flood. We heard about the personal care home which had to be evacuated, was flooded and was never rebuilt. We heard about people who worked hard for days in a row to try to save their home but were forced to give up the fight and let it be flooded. We visited people who lived in Rosenort in nice new houses, only to learn that the reason they had new houses and were living in town was because their house in the country had been destroyed by the flood.
We also heard stories of floods that had happened in earlier years, particularly in 1950. Before 1950, many of the people had cattle. When we lived there, no one had cattle. The reason was that in 1950 cattle were lost because they couldn't get them evacuated in time because the water came up more quickly than expected. After that no one wanted to raise cattle in that area any more.
During the time we lived there, we experienced several floods. By this time most houses had flood protection, as did an area of about 8 square miles around the village of Rosenort. Yet flooding still was a major problem. Some people who had dikes around their house still had to be evacuated or had to get around by boat, which was often dangerous when it was windy. One man lived about 5 miles from his place of work in Morris. When the flooding came he had to take a boat to get to his truck and then drive about 25 miles around the flooded area to get to work. Those who had dikes around their homes had to stay around to make sure the pumps kept going, while their families lived in a hotel in Winnipeg. During this time business and schooling was disrupted. After the flooding was over, there was almost a full summer of cleaning up the mess left behind by the straw and logs which floated in on the flood waters. I have seen mats of straw several feet thick, which have to be moved by hand quickly if you want to save the grass underneath and you can't use tractors because they would tear up the grass.
Several years ago they put up a monument to commemorate the floods and it has markers showing the depth of different floods that have occurred over the years. As you can imagine, these people understand Psalm 93:3.
Yet in spite of all the devastation they have experienced, few if any people have lost their lives due to the flooding. Several months after Hurricane Katrina, I was in New Orleans and saw the places that were suddenly flooded when the levy's gave way. The marks on the houses indicated whether people lost their lives in that home and many homes had such numbers on them.
The turmoil of flooding is not the only turmoil which we experience in this world. Isaiah 8:7, 8 says, "therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck..." Here the flood waters refer to the instability and turmoil caused by the nation of Assyria.
Some of you have an intimate knowledge of what that means. Some of you have grown up in countries that had political instability. During times of revolution and war families are uprooted, homes are destroyed and some people starve. Some of you experienced this in Russia during the second world war and came out of that country as refugees. Many of the people who are coming to Canada as refugees from Africa today have experienced similar instability. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in Syria today. I have heard gunshots in a residential neighborhood once when I was taking a course at the seminary in Fresno. That was frightening enough, but I can't imagine what it would be like if the whole country was in a situation of instability. Where do you go when the government can't control the rebel forces. What do you do when the efforts of rebel forces trying to bring about a new government create significant danger.
For most of us the turmoil caused by flooding or unstable nations are not in our experience. Yet life still brings with it many other types of instability. There are always things changing and some of the changes are difficult. As a teenager in high school I remember the turmoil of trying to fit in. Just when you have achieved your goal by graduating, a new turmoil enters your life and you have to figure out what to do next. Even marriage, a good job or having children do not bring stability. Things are still changing. There is the possibility of losing your job, of illness or of an accident. When you begin to get older there is also much that is changing, particularly in regards to your health. Life is uncertain, things are changing and there is much instability in our world. If we interpret Psalm 93:3, broadly, and I think we have every reason to do so, we also understand what it means when it says, "The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring." We understand the changes, the instability, the fear and the dangers of life. Waltner puts it well when he says, "Every generation lives with the reality of unsettled areas of chaos not completely abolished in creation. Tumult and the raging of nations surround every attempt at an ordered world."
II. Ever Certain Stability
It is interesting to note that verse 3 is exactly in the middle of the Psalm. It may be in this position to state the obvious reality that in the midst of life there is great turmoil, but the presence of verse 3 in the middle of the Psalm has another significance. Surrounding verse 3 are verses which show that there is a solid and unchanging reality around us. I believe that the way to read this Psalm is not to focus on the instability in the middle, but rather the great pillars of certainty which surround us. The significant thing in this Psalm is the presence of certainty and stability which surrounds us at all times and to which we can go whenever we do experience instability.
What are the solid pillars which are available to us in life? What is the solid ground on which we can stand when the floods are threatening? In the verses which surround verse 3, we see seven unchanging pillars.
A. God Reigns!
On July 31, 2006, Castro delegated his duties as President of the Council of state, President of the Council of Ministers, First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and the post of commander in chief of the armed forces to his brother Raúl Castro. This transfer of duties was described at the time as temporary while Fidel recovered from surgery.
On April 19, 2011, Castro resigned from the Communist Party central committee, thus stepping down as leader of the party. Raúl Castro was selected as his successor.(Wikipedia)
These are things that every country does. They do not want to be in a situation where there is no one in charge. I don't know if you have ever gone into a business establishment and not been able to find anyone there? It is an unsettling experience. If the turmoil of the world is the ultimate reality that is an extremely unsettling situation. It is not, however the reality. There is a solid ground, a pillar of hope in our world and that is the recognition which we find in Psalm 93:1 where we read, "The LORD is king…"
Even if we don't understand everything God does, it is nevertheless comforting to know that He reigns. God is in charge of this world and if we know that, we can have hope that ultimately His will is going to be accomplished.
B. God Has Power!
In the Old Testament there are some very humorous passages which mock those who trust in idols. For example in Jeremiah 10:3 we read, "…a tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan; people deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move…they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor is it in them to do good."
We do not see too many people who make and worship idols in our society. At that time, people were tempted to trust the idols because they believed that they had power. We don't have idols, but we are still tempted to rely on various powers. We bow with desire to the monetary power of the economy. We bow with hope to the strength of the military. Yet all of these fail. The heavily supported military might of the United States could not prevent 9/11 nor has the war on terrorism stopped the threat of terrorism. The sudden and growing wealth of Research in Motion previously has not prevented its stock price from falling more recently.
In light of this turmoil Psalm 93 gives us solid ground to stand on when it says, "The LORD ... is girded with strength." He alone has power to overcome enemies. He alone has power to provide all that we need and so we must bow down to Him alone. Reliance on God was the foundation which Paul recommended in II Corinthians 9:8 because he understood that God has the power to help. There we read, "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance..." Reliance on God, even in the face of death was the hope which Abraham counted on as he was preparing to offer up his son because, as Hebrews 11:19 says, "He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead..." God's power gives us a foundation that is more than rock solid.
C. God Is Creator!
The end of the world has been a popular theme of movies such as Deep Impact and Armageddon in which comets or asteroids threaten the world. These movies are not entirely fiction. One website reported that "A new NASA survey has pinned down the number of asteroids that could pose a collision threat to Earth in what scientists say is the best estimate yet of the potentially dangerous space rocks. The survey found there are likely 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids, plus or minus 1,500 space rocks, that are larger than 330 feet (100 meters) wide and in orbits that occasionally bring them close enough to Earth to pose a concern.
Another danger to earth are the environmental disasters that threaten the world. Scientists are concerned that if climate change results in the melting of the polar ice caps it could have devastating results for ecosystems and for cities which are near oceans. We really have no idea how serious these things are and for many people they are very frightening possibilities.
Yet once again both of these potential disasters need not be feared. Psalm 93:1 assures us, "He has established the world; it shall never be moved…" Although the evidence seems to indicate that we are damaging the world which we have been given dominion over and need to take better care of it, none of these disasters are outside of the rule of God. He is the creator and He is the sustainer of the entire universe and whatever happens will never be outside of the power or control of the one who has created it all. This is solid ground and we can rest on it secure in the knowledge that God is creator.
D. God Is Eternal!
I suspect that nearly everyone here remembers when digital cameras came out. We got our first one about 10 years ago and it instantly made our Olympus film camera obsolete. Before we got it, I remember seeing a couple taking pictures when we were vacationing in Banff. She was carrying a film camera and he was carrying a digital camera. We thought that we might do the same, but after we got a digital camera, the film camera went into the cupboard and I haven't used it since.
I remember even further back when my parents purchased the equipment to be able to process color photographs in the photo studio. In 1950, black and white snapshots were still the norm, but by 1960 color was much more common, even though it was more expensive. Today black and white photography is a novelty used for art photography.
It is interesting to think back about all the changes we have seen in our lifetime. Some of you have seen a lot of life and a lot of changes, yet in terms of human history, all of us are quite young and in terms of God, our lives are very short. Psalm 93:2 tells us, "your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting."
What kind of stability does the eternity of God provide to us in the midst of turmoil? The eternity of God assures us that God has seen it all. There is nothing new under the sun for God. The eternity of God assures us that God is not subject to all the changes which create turmoil in our world. Many kingdoms have come and gone, but God remains and will remain for all eternity. Revelation 12 presents us with a cartoon like image of the entire history of the world including all the threats which have been launched against the reign of God. In the end of the story, God remains for He is eternal! The eternity of God assures us that just as God has always been reliable, He always will be reliable. He is the everlasting God and that is a foundation on which we can place our hope!
E. God Is Majestic!
About four years ago I was very happy to be able to accompany a man who had been a missionary to Paraguay on a visit to that country. We visited missionaries and saw the work which had been done in that country by them. His son was one of those missionaries and one day we drove with them into Brazil and saw Iguazu Falls, which are on the border of Brazil and Argentina. It is probably one of the most majestic places I have ever seen. There are a lot of beautiful places on earth. Mountains, rivers, oceans provide us with scenes that are magnificent. Yet Psalm 93:1 tells us, "The LORD … is robed in majesty…" and Psalm 93:4 compares God to the flood waters when it says, "More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!"
We have a propensity to be impressed with that which is the best. For example, there are no shortage of hockey games in Manitoba. If we want to see hockey, we can see hockey even without the NHL. But the NHL players are the best and because of that, we want to see NHL hockey.
God is the most majestic of anything. He is the best in every respect and more wonderful than we can even imagine. He does not change in that majesty therefore hope in His majesty is a pillar on which to rely in the destructive turmoil often found in this world.
F. God's Word Is Sure!
I have on occasion had debates with people and with myself about various issues. For example, an issue which is currently being debated in various church circles is the issue of gay rights. We will no longer be able to ignore it or believe that people in church circles are not wrestling with it. Debates about what is truth and how we should live are not new in the church. Even in the New Testament we see that God's people were talking about many different questions and issues. Throughout that time and even in the current debate, the temptation among some is to allow the opinion of the many to determine their view. Yet Psalm 93:5 reminds us of another foundation on which we can rely in the midst of all turmoil. There it says, "Your decrees are very sure…"
This is the consistent message of God to us. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Therefore, we do well to rely on this solid ground and to make sure that whatever opinions we may have are formed by the solid rock of God's Word. In the end it is God's Word that will judge us. Luke 21:33 reminds us that the Bible is not just ancient literature. It reminds us that, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
If we are looking for guidance, the Word of God provides it. If we are looking for understanding, for clarity, for wisdom, for direction for life, God's Word is the source. It is the sure foundation on which we can build our lives in the midst of whatever turmoil life brings.
G. God Is Holy Among Us!
The final foundation, found in Psalm 93:5 is that, "… holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore."
Holiness refers to that which is set apart. In regards to God, it tells us that God is perfectly set apart and without comparison in moral perfection and righteousness and that He is perfect and right always. What a wonderful foundation to know that God is holy. In a world of unrighteous judgments where great people are imperfect, it is wonderful to know that we have a God who is holy!
The mention of God's house is a reference to the temple which adds another layer of wonderful to the holiness of God. It tells us that God's holiness is not so distant that we know nothing about it. God's holiness is present among us. It was present among the Old Testament people in the temple. It is present among us through the Holy Spirit who indwells the modern temple of God which is the people of God, individually and as a church. Imperfect as the church sometimes appears, yet the holiness of God is present in the midst of it. That also is a foundation on which we can rely.
We were at the lake canoeing and a person who had not canoed very much was out paddling around. All of a sudden they capsized and were panicking as they floundered in the water. Fear was on their face because they had been suddenly overwhelmed by the water. From the safety of shore, we tried to get them to calm down and suggested that they only needed to stand up because the water was only about 2 feet deep. They were afraid because they were unaware of the solid foundation just a short distance away. When they stood up, everything was fine.
There is turmoil in the world and in the middle of our life. Sometimes the turmoil threatens to overwhelm and we are thrown into a panic. Yet so near to us are these seven pillars which solidly provide a firm foundation. Our awesome God who reigns with power, who is creator, who is eternal and majestic, whose Word is sure and whose holiness is our sure foundation. May we quickly stand on this foundation and declare each day that He is worthy of praise.