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Finding GOD When The World's On FIRE
Strength & Faith For Dangerous Times
By Charles R. Swindoll
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Charles R. Swindoll
All rights reserved.
FINDING GOD WHEN THE WORLD'S ON FIRE
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames.
Jude 1:22–23 NLT
There's something about the human heart, that when the heat is on, it softens toward things of the Lord.
Devastating forest fires don't suddenly erupt full force — they ignite with a spark and expand. All of us can recall in our minds the bleak images of a raging fire consuming thousands of acres of forests and homes as high winds and extremely dry conditions combine with all things flammable to create a fiery monster, upending the lives and threatening the livelihoods of countless unsuspecting people.
As enormously devastating as these conflagrations become, forest fires, like all fires, begin and progress in a short series of eerily predictable stages.
First, there is the incipient stage — where the fire initially ignites. Extremely dry conditions and elevated temperatures combine with some outside element, usually very small. A half-smoked cigarette flipped into a patch of dry weeds. The inevitable burst of sparks from an evening campfire landing randomly on dry underbrush, half a mile away. A bolt of lightning from a summer storm hitting the arid ground. The fire begins incipiently.
Next comes the growth stage. Soon the smoldering ember whips into a flame that then begins its insidious advance across the dry, wooded area, vacuuming up oxygen and heat and dry particles from its surroundings — growing into a moving and ever-increasing wall of fire.
The third stage follows as the fire becomes fully developed. In this stage, the fire is at its hottest, most dangerous level — spreading rapidly, at times up to twenty or more miles per hour — consuming everything combustible in its path. Firefighters fear this stage most because of what they refer to as the dreaded "flashover" phenomenon, when a treacherous wall of fire can literally leap a barrier, as if in a daring surprise attack, and overwhelm those furiously battling the frightening advance.
Finally, fires enter what's called the stage of decay. This is the point at which the flames begin to die out, either because of moister, cooler conditions, or because the fire simply runs out of consumable fuel sources. Still, the danger lurks, because this is the stage when a "backdraft" can occur, as oxygen drifts back into still volatile, confined spaces and reignites the flame.
WHEN THE WORLD'S ON FIRE
Evangelist Billy Graham was prophetic in his instincts when he wrote, decades ago, his powerful volume, World Aflame. In it, Dr. Graham warned of a coming time in history when life as we know it would be consumed by evil. That evil wave — like a forest fire — would begin incipiently, virtually unnoticed, but eventually, unchecked, it would blaze across our culture with devastating results.
Most of us who were quietly going about our festive Thanksgiving celebrations in November of 2015 still remember the shocking images broadcast on our television screens — bloodied corpses strewn across a large concert hall in downtown Paris. Several hooded and heavily armed radical Islamic terrorists had stormed into the loud and darkened music venue and had gunned down patrons in cold blood, shouting allegiance and praise to Allah.
Remember that dreadful scene? The longer that night dragged on, the more clearly the horror of what had actually unfolded came into view. The footage being broadcast from Paris was absolutely gruesome. ... We couldn't believe our eyes. When I heard that ISIS had quickly taken credit for the hideous ordeal, a tingling chill shot up my spine. If they can make it to Paris, what stops them from coming here? If we're not even safe going to a musical concert, then why would we think it's okay to go to a mall?
The raging flames of Islamic terrorism have grown into a fully developed forest fire of fear, mind-boggling violence, and a seemingly complete and total disregard for boundaries to its destruction.
In shock, we ask, Are You there, God?
I have lived to see presidential assassinations, prejudicial assassinations, political assassinations, and horrible suicide attacks. I watch young veterans of our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan stumble back to America's shores, many struggling in the grip of post-traumatic stress, unable to rebuild their lives since they are crippled, blinded, or paralyzed from devastating wounds of both the body and the spirit.
I've stared at pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the wake of the bombing, of deadly explosions in the harbor at Texas City, at the Twin Towers in New York, at the Boston marathon, and at the US embassy in Benghazi.
With tears welling in my eyes I ask, "O Lord, are You there?" In my over eighty years on this earth, I thought I had just about seen it all ... until the brutal beheadings began. Stunningly broadcast live on the Internet — Christians and Muslims, children and fathers, sons and community leaders — mercilessly executed before our very eyes by ISIS, in the name of their diabolic religion of rage.
What started incipiently decades ago as a spark of conflict in the arid deserts of the Middle East has now exploded into a fully developed raging fire of sickening evil unlike any the world has ever known, and it is spreading across the continents.
In shock, we ask, Are You there, God?
What we believe about the proponents of this violence is that they are evil and demonic. Their tactics are designed to instill terror and paralyzing fear through their repeated and increasingly savage acts of aggression.
The most recent acts of heinous violence demonstrate to the world the limitless depths to which ISIS and other radical Islamic extremists are willing to go to throw even more fuel on the fire.
Yet a question lingers in my mind: In the midst of the flames, is it possible for someone to find God? There's something about the human heart, that when the heat is on, it softens toward things of the Lord.
Solomon wrote, "Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us" (Ecclesiastes 7:3 NLT). And "Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life" (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT).
The late Ray Stedman, my longtime friend and ministry mentor, once told of a conversation he had with a retired sea captain. The seasoned mariner recounted stories of navigating his ship through wild waters as storms of enormous strength battered his vessel. He told of one particularly intense storm where he wasn't certain anyone on board would actually survive.
"Yes," he sighed, "the Lord heard the voices of many strangers that night!"
I'm convinced God is hearing the voices of many strangers during these treacherous days. Maybe one of those voices is yours. Perhaps in the midst of the raging flames of fear and the searing heat of such perilous times, you are beginning to ask, "Can I find God when the world's on fire?"
I want to assure you, you're not alone.CHAPTER 2
WHEN THE FOUNDATIONS SHAKE
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
How Firm a Foundation, Rippon's a Selection of Hymns, 1787
Where is God when the world's on fire?
On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, the well-known evangelist, D. L. Moody, preached to the largest congregation that he had ever addressed in Chicago. His text that evening was, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22 KJV). At the conclusion of his sermon he said, "I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sabbath we will come to Calvary and the Cross, and we will decide what to do with Jesus of Nazareth."
Moody's song leader, Ira D. Sankey, stood to lead in singing the hymn,
To-day the Savior calls;
For refuge fly;
The storm of justice falls,
And death is nigh.
Sankey never finished the hymn. While he was singing, the rush and roar of fire brigades sounded from the streets outside the church, interrupting the service. Before morning, much of the city of Chicago lay in ashes.
What had incipiently begun as a small fire in a farmer's barn rapidly grew into a raging conflagration that overtook the city in a matter of hours. Many lost their lives; countless others, their entire possessions.
The great D. L. Moody never fully recovered from the regret of not calling people to repentance that very night. In his own words, Moody confessed:
"I have never since dared," he said, "to give an audience a week to think of their salvation. If they were lost they might rise up in judgment against me. I have never seen that congregation since. I will never meet those people until I meet them in another world. But what I learned that night which I have never forgotten is when I preach, I will press Christ upon the people then and there and try to bring them to a decision on the spot. I would rather have that right hand cut off than to give an audience a week now to decide what to do with Jesus."
As a preacher, I can relate to Moody's burden. The burden of offering people truth when life swings in the balance. Almost without exception, rarely has a month gone by in recent times when we've not witnessed the smoldering aftermath of another brutal terrorist attack, another car bombing, another dreadful downing of an airliner filled with hundreds of unsuspecting travelers, another murder of a police officer, another rampage on students in their school, or another village brought to its knees by the barbaric advance of ISIS. Preachers like myself are forced to wrestle with the tension of continuing in what we've been teaching or turning our attention once again to the question at hand: Where is God when the world's on fire?
Images remain indelibly cauterized in my mind of the hours and days following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on multiple targets in the United States — the Twin Towers being the most notable. The remnants of the towers, an entire section of the US Pentagon, and an obscure grassy field in rural Pennsylvania lay smoldering in ashes for days. It was yet another "day of infamy," times three.
On the weekend following that horrific day, every preacher I know — in fact, most preachers across the globe — scrambled to change their sermons for Sunday, September 16, 2001.
The series that I was presenting at the time on the life of the apostle Paul suddenly seemed irrelevant in light of our back-to-back tragedies. Like all the other pastors, I changed direction and immediately began to peruse the events in which we found ourselves, in hopes of finding some calming words for our chaotic times.
It is amazing how history repeats itself.
And just like the Sunday following the events of September 11, 2001, I find myself again lifting those words of hope from the ancient yet ever-relevant book of Psalms.CHAPTER 3
FEAR OR FAITH?
I trust in the LORD for protection. So why do you say to me, "Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety!" Psalm 11:1 NLT
If our foundations are in place, then nothing else really matters.
Cynthia and I lived in Southern California for almost twenty-five years. I recall how often I was amazed at the frequent forest fires that ravaged the land. Fortunately, we did not experience any loss from these fires, but we knew some who did. Since moving to Texas, I still feel a familiar pang when the newscasts report that the California fires have ignited again, or similarly, as I listened recently to reports of the massive Fort McMurray fire in Canada. What is equally tragic are the many who ignore the warnings to evacuate.
In 2003, more than twenty people lost their lives in a series of fires where the flames moved faster than many residents could flee. When people complained that officials didn't offer enough prior warning, Sergeant Conrad Grayson responded, "We're begging people to leave, and they don't take us seriously. ... The ones who listened to me left the area and lived. The ones who didn't, died."
The only prudent response to a dire warning is to flee. That's certainly true when you find yourself in the path of a raging, out-of-control forest fire. But what about when circumstances in your life make you feel out of control?
Psalm 11 is the place to go. It was written by David, Israel's shepherd king, at a time when his life began to feel unhinged. He was being hunted and haunted by King Saul, who was determined to kill him. David's words offer insight into the reality of fear and the contrasting power of faith.
David had received a word of warning from a close advisor, urging him to run for the hills like a bird flying to the mountains for safety. Instead, David paused and considered a compelling question: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (11:3 NKJV).
Great question! Webster tells us that a foundation is "the basis upon which something stands or is supported." Every house has a foundation. Every significant structure, every multiple-storied high-rise has a foundation. The taller the building, the deeper and more substantial its foundation. Destroy the building's foundation, and you've toppled everything.
A particularly devastating strategy of ISIS has been to move into the areas they overtake and begin destroying the foundations of that particular culture. Historical monuments and long-standing remains of ancient structures as well as intricately preserved works of art and architecture are systematically leveled by the terror group. Not only has the landscape been irreversibly altered, the collective psyche of the inhabitants of these lands has been forever ravaged and diminished.
Foundations are everything. If our foundations are in place, then nothing else really matters.
That is precisely David's point in Psalm 11. David is not referring to literal structures or great works of art or even layered stones that comprise enormous fortress walls. David's psalm is about standing firm in life when one's entire world seems on fire, when devastation seems imminent.
The righteous — people whose lives are rightly related to God by faith in Jesus Christ — stand on a firm foundation.
Now, should the foundation of a life be destroyed, that life crumbles. But if the foundation remains secure, no amount of stress — in David's case, no brutalattack on his life by Saul or painful backstabbing from his own son Absalom — would cause his life to fracture or ultimately crumble. David envisioned those threats as arrows coming from warriors. In his psalm, he uses a vivid word picture: "The wicked are stringing their bows and fitting their arrows on the bowstrings. They shoot from the shadows at those whose hearts are right" (11:2NLT).
In those days, the warrior was an excellent marksman, known for his keen ability with the bow and arrow. One of the most effective weapons in David's day was a sharp, slender arrow as it slipped from the bow, guided by the archer's eye to the target. David's point was that the wicked had him secretly in their sights; they were stealthily getting ready to attack.
What a fitting metaphor for our times! We face a constant threat of unseen, spontaneous attacks — terrorists bursting into crowded theaters; suicide bombers standing in long lines of innocent men, women, and children. And then the threat becomes real as the terrorists release their "flaming arrows" of devastating explosives and scattered shrapnel.
We can relate to David's advisors, whoever they were at the time, by responding in fear and panic as we retreat. Yet David would have none of that. He strengthened his resolve to respond in faith, not fear.
He declared at the outset of his psalm, "I trust in the LORD for protection," and again, "But the LORD is in his holy Temple; the LORD still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth" (11:1, 4NLT).
What a magnificent declaration of confidence in the Lord his God!
David's soul was definitely not on the run. His spirit refused to melt amid the encroaching flames of opposition and danger. His refuge was in the Lord. A refuge is a place of hiding — a place of secure protection. The term is chasah in the ancient Hebrew. A chasah is a protective enclosure that provides safety from that which would otherwise consume everything in its path. It's an impenetrable firewall of protection from danger and distress — from anxiety and fear. David makes it clear that the Lord alone is his chasah. He remained firm in his confidence in the Lord. His "foundation" of trust would not be shaken. He was fully human, but he found incredible stability in his divine refuge.
The old country preacher was right when he said, "I may tremble on the rock, but the rock don't tremble under me." Keep in mind: David has no corner on such confidence. Faith is our solid foundation too. A foundation of faith, not fear, is our refuge; it enables us to stand firm against the advancing threats of terror.
Excerpted from Finding GOD When The World's On FIRE by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2016 Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Finding God When the World's on Fire,
2. When the Foundations Shake,
3. Fear or Faith?,
4. A Very Present Help in Tight Places,
5. We Need Not Fear,
6. Confidence in Uncertainty,
7. Identify the Enemy,
8. Clear Direction for Treacherous Times,
9. A Courage Transfusion,
10. The Final Command,
Selah: Let It All Sink In,