Tag Archives: Earthquake

Beginning the End of a Shaky Year

Beginning the End of a Shaky Year (CaD Ps 175) Wayfarer

When the earth and all its people quake,
    it is I who hold its pillars firm.

Psalm 75:3 (NIV)

It is the first day of December, and the end of the year approaches. This is the month when news and media outlets release lists of the best-and-worst, highs-and-lows, and the top stories from the past year. This is the month we collectively reminisce about the year that has been, hit the reset button for a new trip around the sun, and make resolutions for the year to come. I have a feeling that most of the collective conversation this year will be a giant good-riddance to 2020 and desperate, hopeful pleas for better times ahead.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 75, was a liturgical song of thanksgiving, likely used as part of worship in Solomon’s Temple. You can tell by the fact that the four stanzas have different voices. It’s possible that different individuals, choirs, or groups were appointed to sing the different voices of the song:

The congregation proclaims corporate thanks to God in the first verse.

God’s voice then speaks from heaven in verses 2-5, proclaiming that He will bring equity and judgment at the appointed time.

The voices of the people then faith-fully affirm God’s authority in verses 6-8, proclaiming that the wicked will ultimately be brought low and made to drink the dregs of God’s judgment.

The song ends with a personal pledge to praise God forever, trusting that He will bring down the wicked and raise up the righteous.

The tone of the song suggests that it is a time when the Hebrew people felt particularly insecure. Scholars believe that it may have been written when the Assyrian empire was threatening to lay siege to Jerusalem. Ironically, the Assyrian army was mysteriously wiped out over night. One of the explanations scholars suggest for this historical event is a sudden and deadly viral pandemic within the Assyrian camp.

Ancient Mesopotamian cultures envisioned the earth as flat and held up by giant pillars in the underworld. In times of trouble and threat, they metaphorically spoke of the world “shaking” as in an earthquake. The pillars holding the world up were unstable. When Asaph, who is attributed in the liner notes with writing the song, gave voice to God saying, “I hold the pillars firm” it had tremendous meaning for the Hebrew people singing it and hearing it. When their entire world was threatened, they were trusting that God would be their stability, just as David called God his “rock” and “fortress.”

Which brings me back to 2020 with all of its uncertainty and chaos. I certainly feel like the world has been shaken up in multiple ways. And while it has undoubtedly been the most tumultuous year of my lifetime, history and today’s song remind me that it’s one of a number of “shaky” moments that routinely dot the Earth’s timeline. Or, as Motown psalmists the Shirelles put it: “Momma said there’d be days like this.”

In the quiet this morning, I find my heart welcoming December and, with it, the annual reset button that comes with New Year’s Day. No matter where I’ve been on this life journey and no matter where God leads me, I will echo Asaph’s ending refrain: “As for me, I will declare this forever. I will sing praise to God.”

Tectonic Shift in the Spirit Realm

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake….”
Matthew 28:1-2a (NIV)

I have not experienced an actual earthquake. I should actually say that I haven’t consciously and physically felt the effects of an earthquake though a sensitive seismograph might have indicated that the earth shifted deep beneath me. In my travels to the west coast and the Pacific I’ve wondered if I’ll ever have that experience. It’s just curiosity, though you can believe me when I tell you that I’m perfectly content never to experience it.

As I finished Matthew this morning I was struck by the earthquake that accompanied the events of the resurrection. It brought to mind that Matthew also recorded that an earthquake that shook Jerusalem the previous Friday afternoon as Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross.

Throughout the Great Story we find a connection between God and creation. Unique events in the natural realm are regularly an indicator or agent of things happening in the spirit realm: flood, fire, cloud, fish, locust, river, ocean, drought, rain, wind, storm, plague, and earthquakes. Jesus is crucified. A massive shift occurs in the Spirit realm, and the earth cries out. A few days later the Spirit realm experiences another massive shift as Jesus is rises from the dead. Once again creation cries out in the form of an earthquake.

We know that earthquakes occur when massive tectonic plates shift far beneath the surface of the earth. It’s happening all the time, even though we can’t necessarily feel it. I went out to earthquaketrack.com this morning and was surprised to find that there have been 10 earthquakes in the past few days here in the southern part of the midwest region of the United States. Who knew? Yet when the shift or collision of the plates is strong enough we not only do we feel it on the surface experience its life changing effect.

God’s Message says that God’s invisible qualities and eternal nature can clearly be seen by what has been made. Creation reveals the Creator. So it is this morning that I’m meditating on the spiritual word picture God reveals in earthquakes. God is constantly moving, shifting and at work underneath the surface of our lives. We may not feel it feel it for days, months, or years, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t moving and shifting things. Once in a while, however, the tectonic plates of the Spirit make a massive shift and we both feel it and experience its life changing effects.


Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Blow Ye Winds of Fortune! (and Fear Not)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,

    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)

For a kid raise in landlocked Iowa, God gave me a sailor’s heart. My mom will gladly share stories with you stories of my childhood when I wore a sailor’s hat all the time. I would go to bed with it on and even jumped into the pool a few times forgetting it was still on my head. Perhaps my sailor’s heart is why I can still remember the old sea shanty “Blow Ye Winds” that we learned in Mrs. Gross’ 3rd grade class at Woodlawn Elementary School. In fact, it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter.

In case you didn’t hear about it, earlier this week an Italian court held two scientists guilty of manslaughter because they failed to accurately predict the severity of an impending earthquake. I can only imagine the ripple effect of this decision among scientists and meteorologists. Fearing the possibility that they might face legal challenges should they fail to predict the severity of an upcoming “act of God,” they will constantly cry wolf in a public game of C.Y.A. (aka: Cover Your A$$).

I often feel as if our culture has become one of fear, but we do it in the name of public safety. Schools start canceling classes, not because snow is actually falling, but because of the meteorologist’s threat. It’s as if our culture has become the helicopter parent who dresses her kid up like the marshmallow man because the temperature might just drop to freezing.

Forgive my little rant this morning, but I so appreciated the opening lyric of today’s psalm. Those who walk the path of faith are called to an eternal perspective that recognizes the sovereign designs of the Creator. Earthquakes and hurricanes will come, yet our trust should always trump our fear. I’m all for public safety and reasonable precaution, but I’m also against irrational fear and the cultural insanity it produces (remember Y2K?).

So blow ye winds of fortune, and blow ye winds heigh-ho! I’ll be alright.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 16

When I was a teenager working in a bookstore at the mall, I came across a quirky little book called The Philippian Fragment by Calvin Miller. The premise of the book is wonderfully simple. A pastor mysteriously uncovers and translates an early Christian manuscript of letters between Eusibus, an early pastor of Philippi, and his friend Clement of Coos. The letters are a rib-tickling reminder of one of my favorite themes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As I read today’s chapter and the experiences of Paul and Silas in the Philippian dungeon, I was reminded of Pastor Eusibus’ experiences in the same cell with Coriolanus, a member of his flock (who was constantly a “thorn in his side”).

Here is 3 Clement Chapter 7:

1. Coriolanus has been arrested and has now become my cell mate. At first I protested to God that there was no justice in the universe. Coriolanus now and my own possible martyrdom in the future! Gradually I am adjusting.

2. We have lived together without resentment. 3. Tuesday night Coriolanus made a magnificent discovery. Near the base of the wall he found the Latin names Paul and Silas etched in the stone at the end of a prayer. 4. We noticed that the cell wall was crossed by fissures that could have been caused by a great earthquake. 5. Suddenly it dawned on us that perhaps this was the very cell where the Apostle Paul was a prisoner.

6. Remembering how Paul and Silas sang at midnight as God sent an earthquake to open the doors of the jail, we took courage. 7. “Do it again, God!” cried Coriolanus near midnight. He began to sing a hymn in monotone, and I joined in. We praised God at full volume with some of the great songs of the faith. 8. Ever and anon we stopped to see if we could hear even the faintest rumblings of a quake. By three in the morning we still had not raised a tremor and decided to give it up. There seemed so little to rejoice about. 9. Suddenly a jailor who had heard us singing sprang into the cell.

10. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked.

11. We told him in great joy.

12. “I can’t do that,” he said. “It’s too risky.”

13. As he left, he yelled over his shoulder, “Would you cut out the noise. It’s three in the morning.”

14. Still, I felt better for simply having praised Him. Praise clears the heart and dusts the mind of selfishness. It lifts the spirit and transforms the prison to an altar where we may behold the buoyant love of Christ. 15. It is not jailors who make convicts. It is the self-pitying mind that makes a man a captive.Praise frees us. The jail cannot contain the heart that turns itself to attend the excellency of Christ. 16. “Gloria in excelsis!” deals with stone walls and iron bars in its own way.

17. When morning finally came, I was elated. I found a flint rock in the cell and scratched our own names above the etching of Paul and Silas: 18. “Eusebius and Coriolanus—We sang at midnight and felt much better the next morning.”

19. Was it foolish, Clement? 20. It is always right to praise God, and maybe my inscription will help the next who occupy this cell to remember the principle, earthquake or not.

Miller, Calvin (2011-04-11). The Philippian Fragment (Kindle Locations 875-889). NOVO Ink. Kindle Edition.

I am reminded today that God doesn’t always work in formulas. Just because Paul and Silas’ songs of praise raised an earthquake doesn’t mean it will happen the same way again for me. It’s still a good idea to sing praises, however, if only to raise our spirits.


Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 52

When Jehoiachin king of Judah had been in exile for thirty-seven years, Evil-Merodach became king in Babylon and let Jehoiachin out of prison. Jeremiah 52:31 (MSG)

I’ve been amazed at some of the stories coming out of Japan after the terrible earthquake this past week. Amidst the horrific scale of the tragedy, the news is dotted with small stories of amazing courage and hope like the man who had been washed nine miles out to sea by the tsunami and survived by floating on what was left of the roof of his house. He was rescued by the Japanese navy days later.

The small ray of hope in the midst of overwhelming darkness is a universal theme. We need a silver lining around the storm cloud. We need a hope on which to cling in the midst of tragic circumstances.

It’s interesting that the editor of Jeremiah’s writings ended the volume with this footnote about King Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin was eighteen when he ascended to the throne. He was just a kid who found himself thrust onto the throne at a time of national crisis (anyone seen The King’s Speech?) as the Babylonian army was about to sweep into the city. He ruled three months and was then carried of into exile, where he rotted in a Babylonian prison for well over 30 years.

Reaching the end of Jeremiah, I feel the tragedy of the people’s rebellious spirit, the weight of Jeremiah’s woeful prophesies, and the stark reality of their fruition. Getting through Jeremiah feels like it’s been a long haul. Nevertheless, it ends with a small act of redemptive kindness for Jehoiachin, who was just a clueless kid tragically swept up in a historical drama that was so much bigger than him.

And with that, I walk away from my journey through Jeremiah reminded that even in darkness, light dawns.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 49


“Ah, Edom, I’m dropping you to last place among nations,
   the bottom of the heap, kicked around.
You think you’re so great—
   strutting across the stage of history,
Living high in the impregnable rocks,
   acting like king of the mountain.
You think you’re above it all, don’t you,
   like an eagle in its aerie?
Well, you’re headed for a fall.
   I’ll bring you crashing to the ground.” God’s Decree. Jeremiah 49:15-16 (MSG)

I, along with the rest of the world, watched with fascination over the weekend as Japan struggled with the aftermath of the strongest earthquake recorded in that country and the subsequent tsunami. I thought back to my post from Jeremiah 47. I guess I could add another bullet point to my list of doomsday predictions.

The events of the previous few days came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. There’s a big difference between healthy skepticism when people are quick to proclaim “the end of the world” and blind arrogance about our own personal safety and well-being.

In Jeremiah’s day, the people of Edom lived in caves in tall cliffs. It was almost impossible for armies to successfully lay seige to the area. The people of Edom, therefore, felt a strong sense of security. “No one can touch us up here in our caves,” they said to themselves. Thus, Jeremiah’s prophesy reminded them that they should watch it with the big head. And, so should we. We may never live to the end of the world, but it quite possible that we’ll see the end of many things as we’ve known them.

I try not too worry too much about tomorrow. Today has plenty of worries of its own. Still, reading Jeremiah’s words and watching the news feed out of Japan remind me not to put too much security in the things of this world. A tsunami of events might just wash them all away on a moments notice.

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