Sermon series: Open Your Trauma Toolbox
Sooner or later, it's going to happen to you. Someday, calamity will come crashing into your life. Sometimes there is a forewarning; sometimes it just explodes under your feet. But we all must take our turn at it. Life can go from zero to panic attack in seconds, wrenching from your grasp anything resembling normal. The question is, in that moment, what will you do?
On the evening of February 25, 2007, Christian author Philip Yancey was driving his Ford Explorer from Los Alamos, New Mexico to his home in Denver after a busy weekend of speaking. He was thinking about his wife Janet and the wedding of one of their friends that they were attending in a few days. In the fading light, he didn't notice a sharp left curve ahead.
Traveling about 65 mph, he tried to negotiate it when his vehicle began fishtailing. Yancey describes the moment: "I tried to correct, but as best as I can reconstruct what happened, my tire slipped off the edge of the asphalt onto the dirt. That started the Explorer rolling over sideways, at least three times and probably more. Amazingly, the vehicle stopped right side up. All windows were blown out, and skis, boots, laptop computer, and suitcases were strewn over 100 feet or so in the dirt."
When emergency personnel arrived, they strapped him to a rigid body board and immobilized his head for the hour-long ride to the town of Alamosa. The early images of Yancey's neck revealed pulverized C-3 vertebrae. The emergency room surgeon told him that the break didn't touch his spinal cord, but likely punctured critical arteries that serve the brain. Just hours before, Philip Yancey was on his way home to his wife of 37 years. Now he is alone in the busy emergency room of a small community hospital, wondering if he will live beyond the next few minutes. (Philip Yancey, "Yancey: 'I'm Okay! Honest;'" (posted March 2, 2007), online at http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2007/marchweb-only/109-52.0.html)
Just after her baby was born, Nancy Guthrie knew something was wrong. All the plans and dreams shifted when Hope was born with clubfeet, extreme lethargy, and an inability to suck, among other problems - all symptoms of Zeilweger Syndrome, a disorder that causes the body to retain the toxins it normally throws off. Hope would live for 198 days.
In the meantime, it was discovered that Nancy and her husband both had the recessive gene for Zeilweger Syndrome to occur. The Guthries decided David would have a vasectomy to prevent another pregnancy. But one year after Hope died, Nancy was pregnant again. Prenatal testing revealed their next child would also have Zeilweger Syndrome. Gabriel was born on July 16, 2001. They knew what to expect. Their son's first day was his best. Jennifer Schuchmann, "A Woman Called Job," [condensed] in Today's Christian, July/August, 2007, pp. 22-26.)
That's how it happens. You're going through your ordinary life with its predictable rhythms when suddenly you're sideswiped by crisis. You hear the ambulance siren as it grows louder and louder. You've heard that sound many times before. But this time, it's headed to your house. The moment seems surreal, disjointed from reality. Things that were important just minutes before are completely irrelevant now.
The telephone rings and you answer, with no idea what is about to happen to your life. Right after you say "hello," the caller tells you the news. You stand there in body-numbing disbelief as you hear that one of the most cherished people in the world to you is gone. There wasn't even time to say a final goodbye.
There's a knock on the door and you open to a man calls your name, then hands you a legal document and a clipboard for you to sign, acknowledging your receipt of the document. You can feel time stand still as you take the pen to sign your name. You knew your marriage was in trouble, but you had no idea. You scribble your name and shut the door. You can hardly breathe. (Adapted from Robert Wolgemuth's "7 Things You Better Have Nailed Down Before All Hell Breaks Loose," Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.)
Some of you haven't had one of these ripping experiences yet. What are you going to do when the bottom drops out? Some of you have lived these stories or something similar. You know that sense of desperation, so gut-wrenching you can't breathe. There's nothing you can do about what's happening. You feel weak, vulnerable and afraid. What did you do? Where did your mind take you? Was it a freefall or did you have something to hang on to?
Someday, trauma will walk right up and sock you in the teeth. These are the times when you and I need the rock-solid things that do not - and will not - change. And we need them nailed down before the crisis strikes. All you will have in those defining moments is what you had before they hit you.
So over the next several weeks, we are going to present six truths that you will need in that hour. They are simple and deep, basic yet so often missing. And when they are missing, tragedy leaves a wake of ruin in our lives. I want to open up your trauma toolbox and see if you have what it takes inside. (Pray)
What's the most important truth you'll ever hear? What one overarching thought commands every dimension of your life and thinking between now and the day you breath your last? Until we get this first thing nailed down, the inevitable crises will be our undoing. Fix this in your life, though, and your purpose will be defined, your peace will be certain.
Basically, to say it like the psalmist did, The Lord, He is God! (Ps. 100:3, NKJV) That's it; pure and simple, right? In North America, giving assent to the existence of God is no big deal. Over the years, the polls have reported the same thing: around 90% of us say we believe in God. But when we're suddenly pushed over the edge of our comfort into chaos, our easy claims often prove hollow.
Not so for Isaiah. When he faced a personal crisis, his testimony and actions show us a man who had this truth nailed down. Read his journal entry with me in Isaiah 6:1-4.
The first phrase defines the crisis for Isaiah for the Judah, which was the southern kingdom of the now-divided Israel. King Uzziah, who had ruled over Judah for 52 years, was dead. Don't read that too casually. Some of us can remember the feeling when President Kennedy was killed. For those who can't, imagine hearing the news, "Air Force One is down. The president is dead."
Only for Isaiah, it was worse. The throne of David was vacant at the worst possible time. Rumors of mighty Assyria's rise to power had been circulating for years. Stories of their bulldozing armies traveled on the wind. Now Assyria, sensing it's moment with Judah, is on the march, drawing near even as Judah is reeling.
Everyone was preoccupied with world news and updates on Assyria. Dread and terror crawled up inside every citizen's heart. Isaiah's world was falling apart. But then he saw God for who He is, and he never mentions his king again. What does he see and say about God, and what do we need to know today?
I. God is alive
Uzziah is dead, but God lives on. Ps. 90:2 says Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God. God was the living God when this universe exploded into existence. He was the living God when Socrates drank his poison. He was the living God when William Bradford governed Plymouth Colony. He was the living God in 1966 when Thomas Altizer proclaimed Him dead and Time magazine put it on the front cover. And He will be living ten trillion ages from now when all the puny potshots against His reality will have sunk into oblivion like BB's at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord." There is not a single head of state in all the world who will be there in fifty years. The turnover in world leadership is 100%. In a brief 110 years this planet will be populated by ten billion brand new people and all six billion of us alive today will have vanished off the earth like Uzziah. But not God. He never had a beginning, which means He depends on nothing for His existence. He always has been and always will be alive.
II. God is in charge
"I saw the Lord sitting on a . . . throne." No vision of heaven has ever caught a glimpse of God plowing a field, or cutting grass or filling out reports or loading a truck. Heaven is not coming apart at the seams, barely holding out against its attackers. God is not having to catch a second job to make ends meet. He is never at wits' end with His heavenly realm. And He sits on a throne. All is at peace there; He has absolute control.
The throne describes His right to rule the world. We do not give God authority over our lives. We do not "make Him Lord." He is the Lord, exercising authority whether we like it or not. Isaiah's crisis and mine are not beyond the scope of His Lordship. I Cor. 10:13 reminds us that no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.
III. God is omnipotent
The throne of His authority is not one among many. It is high and lifted up. "I saw the Lord sitting upon a high and lofty throne." That God's throne is higher than every other throne signifies God's superior power to exercise His authority. This is the declaration of Scripture regarding Him: My plan will take place and I will do all my will." (Isaiah 46:10) "He does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand . . . " (Daniel 4:35).
By contrast, we are but creatures, weak because of our sin, mere specks on a smaller planet in a universe that is mind-bogglingly vast - the universe that God made. We are dependent, needing power outside ourselves. Where does this power come from? The Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, sustainer of all things. To be gripped by the omnipotence of God is either marvelous because He is for us or terrifying because He is against us. Indifference to His power simply means we aren't paying attention. He reigns.
IV. God is resplendent
"I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple." We've seen paintings of monarchs with the train of their royal robe following a few feet behind them. We've seen pictures of brides with trains that stretch over the steps of the platform. What would the meaning be if the train filled the aisles and covered the seats and the choir loft?
God's robe fills the entire heavenly temple! His splendor and glory are peerless and beautiful. He is marked with dignity, wonderful to behold, and regal in His majesty.
V. God is revered
"Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew." No one knows what these strange six winged creatures with feet and eyes and intelligence are. They never appear again in the Bible at least not with the name "seraphim." Given the grandeur of the scene and the power assigned to the angelic hosts, we do well not picture chubby little babies fluttering about the Lord's ears.
According to v. 4, when one of them speaks the foundations of the doorways shake. We would do better to think of the Blue Angels diving in formation before the presidential entourage and cracking the sound barrier just before his face. There are no puny or silly creatures in heaven. Only magnificent ones.
And get this: not even they can look upon the Lord nor do they feel worthy even to leave their feet exposed in His presence. Great and good as they are, untainted by human sin, they revere their Maker in great humility. An angel terrifies a man with his brilliance and power. But angels themselves hide in holy fear and reverence from the face of God.
VI. God is holy
"And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts..." Here is the word, the word "holy," that carries us to the edge of our language when talking about God. This word carries us to the brink and from there on the experience of God is beyond words.
The reason I say this is that every effort to define the holiness of God ultimately winds up by saying something like, "God is holy means God is God." You see, the root meaning of holy is "to cut or separate." A holy thing is cut off from and separated from common (we would say secular) use. Earthly things and persons are made holy when they are distinct from the world and devoted to God. So the Bible speaks of holy ground (Ex. 3:5), holy assemblies (Ex. 12:16), a holy nation (Ex. 19:6); holy garments (Ex. 28:2), a holy city (Neh. 11:1), holy men (2 Pt. 1:21) and women (1 Pt. 3:5), and so on. Almost anything can become holy if it is separated from common use and devoted to God.
But notice what happens when this definition is applied to God Himself. From what can you separate God to make Him holy? The very God ness of God means that He is separate from all that is not God, which means that God is one of a kind, in a class by Himself. In that sense He is utterly holy . . . which is just another way to say, God is God!
He is incomparable. You can call it His divinity, His greatness, His value as the pearl of great price. In the end, language runs out. "The Lord is in his holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence." (Habakkuk 2:20) But before the silence and the shaking of the foundations and the smoke, we learn a seventh final thing about God.
VII. God is glorious
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth." The glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. "God is glorious" means God's holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of who He is.
In Leviticus 10:3 God says, "I will show My holiness to those who are near Me, and I will reveal My glory before all the people." When God shows Himself to be holy, we have seen God's glory.
This is the kind of God I need - with the power to handle my problems; with the knowledge to guide me through the mazes I face; with beauty that captures me and glory to command my allegiance; a God who is utterly different from me, yet calls me to become like Himself--a God who forgives me and has purposes for me; a God is there for me. Oh what unexplainable strength comes to us when, in the darkest night, we trust in the God of Isaiah as our God!