Do You Hear the Thunder? (Nov-Dec 2000)

By Matt Dabbs

by Vic McCracken
November – December, 2000

The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty / The Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.

He has established the world; it shall never be moved;

Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, / The floods have lifed up their voice;

The floods lift up their roaring.

More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, / More majestic than the waves of the sea,

Majestic on high is the Lord!

Your decrees are very sure; / Holiness befits your house,

O Lord, forevermore.

Psalm 93:1-5

Have you ever heard the thunder? No, I’m not speaking of the thunder that comes from the west, with the flickering lightning and soft rain that soaks the earth. This is a different sort of thunder. It’s deeper. More ominous. Threatening. It’s the thunder you hear on the other side of a 3:00 a.m. telephone call with an unfamiliar voice whispering apologies to you because your son has been in a car accident and will never open his eyes again ….

It’s the thunder that echoes behind your wife’s words, having come home from her doctor: “The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. We’ve lost our child.”

The thunder you hear when the bills are due, the baby is crying, and the bank account is empty.

The factory closes. The house burns. The church fractures. The parent dies. The cancer lives.

Have you ever heard the thunder? The thunder of a shattering world, the sound of the ground tottering, crumbling underneath your feet – a world once solid and stable, now quivering as if suffering an epileptic fit? Yes, some of you have heard the defening rumble of chaos that threatens to engulf your world, like raging waters that suck you under and refuse to let you up for air. As the Psalmist says, The floods have lifted up, O Lord, / The floods have lifted up their voice; / The floods have lifted up their roaring.

However, I would say that many of us can’t hear the thunder. After all, we live in a world that has excelled in its ability to insulate us from the roar of chaos. We live in world of backyard barbecues, landscaped yards, and plastic patio furniture. Our world is one of shopping malls, convenience stores, and Wal-Marts where our every need and desire may be fulfilled through the simple swipe of a plastic card. At lunchtime our only question is whether or not today it will be a McDonald’s Extra-Value Meal or an Arby-Q with a large order of curly fries, or – for those of us who refuse to give in to our culture of excess – a Veggie Delight at the local Subway. Our evenings are saturated with sitcoms and sporting events, shows gered to entertain us even as they plant latent messages about the latest clothing styles, beverages, food products, and gizmos we need to purchase in order to live a life that is truly “fulfilling.”

Last Super Bowl Sunday, the Budweiser Brewing Company reportedly spent $4,000,000 for the privilege of being in your home for just one minute to convince you that Bud Lite is less filling and tastes great.

And what about our churches? It’s not easy to hear the thunder of chaos’ waters inside our multi-million dollar buildings, with the chiseled stone veneer, the multi-media projectors, and the padded pews! And come to my office some time. It’s a large office with bookshelves full of scholarly works, a computer, a rolodex, walls covered with Kinkade prints and college degrees, fine leather chairs – all testifying to the ordered world in which we live. It’s not easy to hear the thunder of a crumbling world above the drone of the air-conditioner and the clicking of keys on the computer keyboard. No, most of the time we can’t hear the thunder, because this world in which we live is an insulated one. A world secured by our desires and our quest to fulfill them. A world built on the rock-solid foundation of wealth, prestige, intellect, and rhetoric. A world built by us, for us, intent on keeping us sheltered from the possibility of loss.

A brittle world waiting to break apart.

A world of illusion. And so many live with the illusion, believing wholeheartedly that we are masters of the universe and makers of our own destiny. But the floods lift up, and our world shatters into a million pieces. Our illusion disappears like a puff of wind. The spouse leaves. The child dies. The church disappears. The house burns. And you were only five years from retirement when you received that note from the company headquarters thanking you for the thirty years of service but telling you that they were downsizing and your services were no longer necessary. Uncertainty swirls around you and the thunder of chaos looms in your horizon. Can you hear the thunder? It’s sounding right now, at this moment. Can you hear it?

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, / The floods have lifted up their voice; / The floods have lifted up their roaring.
Cary came into the church office a few weeks ago. I was on my way through the front door to my study when our receptionist asked if I would visit with Cary. In his early thirties, well-groomed, obviously very intelligent, a warm southern drawl to his words, Cary is the kind of guy you might pass on the street and mistake for a banker or college professor. And you could smell the alcohol on his breath from five feet away. Certainly not the kind of man that I want to interrupt my busy minister’s schedule for. After all, I’ve got appointments to keep, a day-timer full of phone calls I’ve got to make before noon, curriculum to write, and a sermon to prepare for this weekend. And don’t we all know that the precise, clockwork function of that church machine will start clunking uncontrollably if we ministers allow our calendars to become frayed by the unending demands of the local drunk wandering in off the street? We’ve got priorities here. A church to run. Church systems in need of repair. Ministries to administrate.

I entered the counseling room hoping that we could end the appointment quickly. A brief listen, a perfunctory prayer, a blessing, and me with still enough hope left that I can complete my agenda for the day before the evening news begins.

But there was Cary. Slumped in the warm, black leather seat, eyes flushed and wide, staring. Lost, but looking, Cary came to the church. And what can you say to a man like Cary? I sat silent as Cary shared his reason for showing up at our door. Cary is an alcoholic and former drug addict, the son of an alcoholic father. Sexually abused as a child, Cary came to San Antonio seeking hope. He came to our church looking for help. Not excuses for why the minister had too many important errands to run. Not a canned prayer and a pat on the back. He came seeking. What can you offer a man desperately looking for a way out of a world falling down? Drowning in his guilt and pain, Cary was seeking a new life and new world different than the crumbling one in which he lived. So Cary, the receptionist, and I visited. The agenda was put on hold. And at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, Cary entered the waters of baptism. Waters far different than those from his past. On Tuesday, Cary became witness to another world.

Which is, as you know, the world that we in the church proclaim in the name of Jesus Christ. In a world of illusions and lies, we offer another world. It’s an unshakable, immovable world. Its stability is founded neither on our accomplishments nor our dreams but on a God who refuses to leave his people drowning in the waters that threaten to consume. And what a strange world it is!

It’s an upside-down world where the powerful are humbeled and the poor are exalted. It’s a world where powerlessness is the essence of life, and leaders become servants. In this world, we sing songs that beckon us away from our culture of self-centeredness to a place where devotion to the Lord is the heart of life. In this world, we offer prayers not to the fleeting gods of fame and fortune but to the Lord, “robed in majesty” and “girded in strength.” And in this world, we eat at a table open to all who call on the Lord. Sinner and saint, rich and poor, black and white, in this world the Lord invites all to partake of the same bread and the same cupt not because of who we are but because of who he is. At this table, even a man like Cary can partake, alongside other struggling souls looking for a way into a new world where sin, suffering, and death will not prevail. Every Sunday, the church proclaims the existence of “another world.” As the psalmist says, so we say:

The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty / The Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.

He has established the world; it shall never be moved;

Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, / The floods have lifted up their voice;

The floods lift up their roaring.

More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, / More majestic than the waves of the sea,

Majestic on high is the Lord!

Your decrees are very sure; / Holiness befits your house,

O Lord, forevermore.

Our worship is not our way of avoiding the thunderous sound of disorder. Yes, long after the rippling waters of baptism have become silent, Cary – and we ourselves – will continue battling the sin, suffering, and death that threaten our lives. But the good news, the gospel God offers is this: there is a world where we do not have to battle these threats alone. In the worshipping church, God brings into existence a world of hope, and speaks in a voice that is louder than thunder.Wineskins Magazine

Vic McCracken

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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