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The Spirit of God in Daily Life: God in the Storm

June 5, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  God in the Storm
Text:  I Kings 19:3-13; Psalm 29:3-4; Exodus 19:16-19; Psalm 36:1-2, 10; Mark 4:35-41


This morning we begin the new sermon series The Spirit of God in Daily Life.  Several years ago, I preached a sequence of sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit.  Some will ask, “Is this a rerun?”  No, it is not.  You can still find those sermons through our website if you choose to do so.  At that time, I came at the issue of the work of the Holy Spirit from the point of view of God’s Spirit in action in our lives.  Now I propose to look at how we actually experience the work of God in daily life.

When we think about God’s activity in our lives in this way, it is important for us to be very clear about what we mean by the Spirit of God.  Sometimes we might call it the Spirit of Jesus.  It is the same invisible presence of God that we define as the Holy Spirit.

I want you to come with me this morning to Mount Tabor, a mountain in the central portion of Galilee.  The story is that after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan there, David actually cursed the mountain.  From that point on, no trees grew on top of Mount Tabor.  The peak of the mountain is completely bald.  Most people believe this to be the mountain we know as the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus went with his disciples – Peter, James and John.  On that occasion Jesus was shrouded in light, and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son.”  There on that mountain, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.

Before we think for a moment about how these three men understood the voice of God, we will have a brief lesson.  The word “voice” in Hebrew is kol, spelled with a “k” or sometimes with a “q” in English.  This Hebrew word can be translated either as voice or thunder.  In Psalm 29:3-4, we see that the context determines the meaning:  “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Clearly, the psalmist is describing the splendor of God in a thunderstorm, in an electrical storm.  From the perspective of ancient Hebrews, these storms were a display of majesty.  All of our technology – Doppler radar and the rest – has honed these occurrences down so that we see neat little colored pictures moving across the television screen.

A storm is often an exhibit of splendor for me.  Just this week, I sat on our back porch and watched a thunderstorm pass.  Clare does not like for me to do that.  It scares her to death.  Her grandmother thought that sitting quietly in the center of the house with all the shades closed was the best recourse to take during a thunderstorm.  I certainly do not want to be exposed to the lightning, but I do like to sit outside where I can hear the thunder and see those flashes of light in the sky.

One beautiful sunny day I was hiking with a group of young people on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  When we reached the top of Mount Rogers and continued down to a ridge into what is called Rhododendron Gap, I looked off the west and saw a large dark cloud rapidly moving our way.  I realized that we were going to be trapped on that ridge during the imminent thunderstorm.  I got out a little tarp tent that I carried in my backpack, and seventeen of us – fourteen kids and three adults – all huddled together under it beneath a granite ledge.  The storm was magnificent but somewhat frightening.

While the rain pelted down around us, I had the opportunity to share some stories from the Bible with that group.  I want to share some of those stories with you today.

Moses had the responsibility of tending to the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the wilderness of Midian.  While doing so, he saw a strange site, a bush that was burning but not consumed.  Moses moved close to the bush and realized that he was on holy ground.  It was there that he had a remarkable introduction to Yahweh, the Lord.  From the bush, God spoke to him, calling him to go to Egypt and declare liberation for His people.  Moses heeded that voice.  Persuading Pharaoh took a long time.  Only after much cajoling and the onset of ten plagues, including the death of the firstborn, did Pharaoh agree to Moses’ demands.  You know the story of the Passover.  The angel of death passed over the Israelites who had spread the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their home.  You also know the story of how Pharaoh first decided to free the people but then changed his mind.  What a remarkable experience at the Red Sea!  Fifty days after the Israelites left Egypt, according to tradition, they returned to the bottom of Mount Sinai where Moses had seen the burning bush.  This time God called Moses to go up on the mountain.  There he heard the voice of God in what sounds to me like a thunderstorm.  I want to read to you this account from the book of Exodus, Chapter 19, beginning at Verse 16:


16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.


Are we to say that God is in storms that are destructive?  Are we to say that God is in storms that take lives?  Are we to say that God is in those tornadoes that destroy homes and businesses?  Of course, insurance companies call that destruction an act of God.

Let’s look at an experience of Elijah on that same mountain, now called Mount Horeb.  This particular mountain, a holy mountain, has two names in the Bible:  Mount Sinai and Mount Horeb.  Elijah had just had a remarkable victory on Mount Carmel where he defeated the prophets of Baal.  Now running for his life, he took refuge in a cave on this holy mountain.

I Kings 19:3-13:

3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, 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. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 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?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The “gentle whisper” mentioned in Verse 12 is a difficult construct to translate.  Some scholars say a still, small voice.  Some say a gentle wind.  Others say utter silence.  Regardless, the presence of God was remarkably different from the storm itself.  God was with Elijah after the storm.

Until just recently, Wednesday April 3, 1974, had been called the worst day for tornadoes on record.  Three hundred and fifteen people lost their lives that day, and over 5000 people were injured.  In a twenty-four hour period, 148 tornadoes touched down in what was called a super outbreak.  Thirteen states were affected.

I was in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time, sitting in my office at Ormsby Village Treatment Center.  The forecast had merely predicted showers on the east coast and thunderstorms across the Midwest.  I looked out of my window and saw a huge tornado – not a graceful funnel cloud – moving like a mighty fist across the landscape, destroying numerous transformers in its path.  When I realized that my home was right in the path of the storm, I jumped in my car.  I found that law enforcement officers had blocked many of the streets.  Even though I told them that I had to get to my family, they refused to allow me to pass.  I circled around and drove across a fellow’s backyard in order to get into my subdivision.

When I parked and ran to the front door of our home, I saw that it was open.  I could see that my wife, Clare, had somehow moved our huge dining room table, one made out of white pine shelving, into the hallway of our home.  I had built this table before we got married at the lumberyard with a guy who worked in the shop.  I walked into the house and saw my dear wife under that table with our three-year-old and our eleven-month-old boys.  Clare had surrounded them with cushions and pillows from the sofas and chairs and collected water, flashlights, and stuffed animals.    She had just finished reading Watty Piper’s The Little Engine that Could and had begun The Cat in the Hat.  Those two little boys were having the best time.  I was so grateful, so grateful, that they were safe.

That storm, which stayed on the ground for fourteen miles, destroyed much of Louisville.  You can still see evidence of the damage if you travel there.

When I asked Clare how she knew about the tornado, she explained, “Kirk, I had a Coca-Cola bottle sitting on the window sill.  I was trying to root a little cutting that I had gotten off one of the plants.  When I grew up in Cullman, Alabama, which is in Tornado Alley, we always kept a Coca-Cola bottle on the windowsill.  If it started to sweat, we knew it was time to take cover.

Where do you hear the voice of God when the storms come?  Sometimes it is a still, small voice, or a sweating Coca-Cola bottle, or a calm young mother reading The Cat in the Hat.  Sometimes it is in midst of the storm itself.

This year another super outbreak occurred, one that topped the 1974 record.  During April 25-28, numerous tornadoes, moving from Alabama through Georgia, killed 340 people.  Debris from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was found nearly 200 miles away in Rome, Georgia.  Lives were devastated.  Homes were wrecked.

Some of the churches that were severely damaged immediately set up relief centers, providing shelter and meals for the homeless.  Have you listened to the comments of those Christian people who were providing assistance in those churches?  If you have paid attention, you have heard them say, “The storms have been terrible, but we are going to be right here with these people as the presence of God in this community.  We are not going to leave.”

With the tornadoes of May 22 in Joplin, Missouri, we are close now to 500 fatalities this year.  2011 is one of the worst years on record.  Not many storms in the last thirty-five years have exceeded 500 fatalities.  Wildwood Baptist Church in Joplin, Missouri, had to close their doors for one day but then reopened the church, saying, “We began treating patients and offering shelter to people.  We are not working through any specific organization.  We have put messages on Facebook and on Twitter, just trying to do our best to serve the people that God sends our way.”

In the midst of a storm, where do you find God’s voice?  Sometimes we find God in the storm itself.  Sometimes we find God in the quiet voices that come after the storm.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day, a different kind of storm – the storm of war.  It is a day remembered as one of the most significant military operations every conducted. On June 6, 1944, beginning at 6:30 in the morning, the Allied Infantry, using armored divisions and paratroopers, began an assault on the German army in the country of France.  The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, involving almost 200,000 naval and army forces from a variety of countries.  On that day, about 160,000 troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.  My Uncle Buzz was in the second wave of those amphibious vehicles that took soldiers to the beach.  His commander told him not to look back once the soldiers left the boat.  In the only time I ever heard him talk about this experience, he told me, “Kirk, I did look back.  If one of those boys was still standing, I did not see him.”  Uncle Buzz said to me, “Kirk, the way I got through that event was by remembering Psalm 46, which my mother had told me to memorize prior to going into battle.”  “The Lord is my refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear…Be still, and know that I am God.”

In the midst of any kind of storm, that still, small voice of God, the Spirit of God, is trying to whisper to us words of hope, words of comfort, words of encouragement.  Mark 4:35-41:

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Then he arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace.  Be still.’”


We see two storms that day, both external and internal.  The external storm occurred on the water with the strong winds and the mighty waves.  The other storm occurred in the hearts of every disciple who was afraid.  These internal storms threaten to undo us, to devastate us.  It is not so much the external but the internal storms that defeat us.  The words of Jesus, “Peace.  Be still,” are spoken not only to the natural world but also to the human heart.

Jesus wants us to know his peace.  His voice comes like a gentle whisper, as it did for Elijah.  Elijah took courage in that whisper and continued his ministry.  Though Moses protested “I can’t do this.  I am not man enough to do this,” God insisted.  Moses did what he had to do.  That same small voice comes to us, saying, “Peace.  Be still.  Take heart.  Take courage.  I will be with you.”

Consider these words of an old hymn:


 I’ve seen the lightning flashing.  I’ve heard the thunder roll.
I felt sin’s breakers dashing, which almost conquered my soul.
I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, bidding me still to fight on.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone!

Do you know Jesus?  Have you accepted him as your Savior?  If not, could I invite you to make that decision?  You can count on Jesus not to leave you alone.  Simply acknowledge Christ Jesus as your Savior.


Kirk H. Neely
© June 2011

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