Fire that Brings Forth God's Love - Isaiah 41:8-10

Bullet Points:

  1. Fire that destroyed our Home – May 17, 2010

    1. Scripture –

Isaiah 41:8-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

    8 But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
    9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
    10 do not fear, for I am with you,
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
    I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

  1. Point of Faith – Living and walking with God driving in the midst of the world, but with hope now and in the future.

  2. Story – It was at the point where we were staring to get used to life again in the new way.  We had each other, and we had a foundation – the church, the community, the Marine Corps, and the house.  The home was a rock for Amy and the kids, and they got rocked – almost as much as I did when I had the stroke, when it burned down to the ground.  But I saw God’s palpable presence, and love from the church, the community, and beyond. 

  3. Conclusion – It shapes us now (as your life shapes you).  It can be a downer or upper depending on how you look at it.  For Amy, it was the triple whammy, and uncertainty set in to her life.  It is still picking up the pieces from the three trials in six years, but there is hope – as there has been all along, when you look at it the right way.  God is there and has been there all the steps of our and your life.  My children - Sam, Ashley, Sarah, and Jacob – were all affected in different ways, but they are stronger because of it.  As God did with us, He is shaping you to be a vessel for His Holy Spirit, and so that you can be complete, and a witness to Him and His glory. 

Sermon:

Prayer:  Father God, we praise You and worship You.  You guide us, comfort us, and You love us.  Let us feel Your love each day as we walk this earth.  Let Your love flow forth from us into others, as we walk more like Jesus.  And let tragedy show your love in ways that cannot be explained, with us as the vessels.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Intro:  Through the past two (days, sermons) I have talked about Trust and Hope.  Both essential things to make it through this world.  Today I’m going to talk about God’s love.  You know, when Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law,” by a trickster Pharisee, He said paraphrased “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” and “the second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]  Jesus said all the law and the prophets hang on this.

So it seems like God is love.  In fact, the apostle John said that in 1 John 4:16.[2]  But what does that mean and can love happen when tragedy happens?  Is God’s love there, or is He far away and doesn’t know that you’re hurting?  And that is where we begin our story of the fire...

The Beginning of May 17, 2010:

                Monday, May 17, 2010 was a rainy day.  My girls are into Dance, and the dance recital was the next weekend, so the girls were at Westlake Performing Arts Center – which is about 35 minutes from our house) from 4:00 p.m. until 10:30 or 11:00 that night.  As a result, our babysitter – Bristol Galbraith – and my two boys were sitting at home.              It was a rainy day and night, so much so that it was dangerous to drive, and the creeks were rising. 

                I was at work, after my chiropractic treatment and my workout, and so I came from downtown Austin, and Amy came from Dripping Springs with the girls.  Ashley was almost 10 and Sarah was 7.  It is and was a beauty to watch them dance.  Sarah has stopped dancing and has gone onto other things, but Ashley still does it and she is a wonder to see!  I watched and marveled that something so beautiful as my two girls – up on stage – could have come from me!  Then I realized that God was the creator and he had something pretty spectacular to work with – Amy – and I was thankful that God leaned toward Amy’s genes in creating Ashley and Sarah.

                Ashley had a couple of more dances to rehearse, so Sarah and I started home.  It was 2 ½ years since my stroke.  I couldn’t drive for four months after I became a Stroke Survivor, but took the test and the Texas DPS said I passed.  I look back and I don’t know how!  But I had been driving for two years now, had switched from the left foot (which was the only one working at the time) to my right foot, and my right arm was assisting with the wheel.  Having said all that, it was still new to me, though, and I received a call while driving down Fitzhugh Road.  If you haven’t been to Dripping Springs, or Drippin’ as we like to call it, Fitzhugh Road is a two lane road that is windy and has hills and two creek crossings in the seven miles it takes after you turn off 290 until you get to our house.

                Well, you can imagine that, with basically one hand operational, it is difficult for me to talk and drive.  And it was raining cats and dogs.  But I did, and it was Bristol, our baby sitter (and now a pseudo-member of our family).  She said she heard a thud and the lights went out, but they were on again and everything seemed fine.  I asked enough questions to satisfy myself that they would be fine till I arrived, and then hung up.  I can still remember where I was when that happened – right after the first creek.  I told her I would be there in 3 minutes, and ended the call.

                I found out that not only was I wrong is assuming they would be alright, the lives of my family, Bristol, my church, the community, and the Austin area would be different in about 2 hours...

Scripture: 

                You’re probably wondering what Scripture I’m going to attach to this story.  Matthew 22:36-40, which I read about the Greatest Commandment, is pretty powerful and on point.  But I have chosen Isaiah 41:8-10 as the Scripture for this sermon.  It reads:

Isaiah 41:8-10 New International Version (NIV)

8 “But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Exegesis:

41:8        This is a writing that was for the Israelites, in Babylon, preceding the time Cyrus the Great was King of Persia.  He was the one who conquered Babylon.  It is for Abraham’s seed, which at the time, was Israel (Genesis 17; 28), and now has been, through the New Testament (Paul, Gal 3:28-29) taken to all who believe in Jesus as the Christ. 

41:9        This is the first time that Isaiah has referenced Israel as a “servant,” noting that God has chosen them and not rejected them.  This was a comfort to those Israelites in captivity in Babylon, and it should be so today, because we are not of this world, even though were are in it (John 17:16).  But servant is directed at the seeds of Abraham, meaning the ancestral lines that attached to Israel and now to us.  But also, it dovetails into the New Testament, and Jesus being a servant and wanting His followers to be servants.

41:10     Now, the crux of this passage for today, for the LORD is with them, and with us, as Abraham’s seed.  He is our God, and He is with us, through thick and through thin.  The promises of God were true then, even to the captives in Babylon, as they are today.  He loves us, and will provide for us, so we should not be dismayed!

The House at 15970 Fitzhugh Road

                I grew up on the Northeast side of Austin, in an area they called diverse.  The House at 15970 Fitzhugh Road was a dream home to me.  As I drove up to it and looked at it when we were thinking about moving to a bigger place, things about it spoke to me inside.  From the trees which majestically stood outside, to the wet weather creek that runs along the west border, to the land, to the steps which rise up to the front door (there are nine steps), to the front doors made of Iron and glass, it was perfect.  I lived every day thinking this was a dream...

                Well, on May 17, 2010, the dream ended.  I got to the house, and a strange vehicle was parked in the driveway, with the door open.  I looked up, at the vents which stood at the top of the roof were pouring smoke.  I went toward the garage, and saw Bristol and my two boys – Sam and Jake – were in her car sitting away from the house (Sarah, who was with me, went to be with them).  I went inside the house to see what was wrong, and the downstairs was fine – except, I heard a cracking noise inside the walls, and the air conditioning vent that used to blow cold air poured water from above (you remember it was raining outside). 

                Seeing that the problems were upstairs, I went and gradually traversed the stairs (I had gotten out of the wheelchair, and had graduated from a cane to several braces on my right leg, to walking on my own again, but stairs were a different story!) – when Bo came in from outside.  Bo and Daisy were lab mixes that I found while drilling at Ft. Hood, in the training area, and they came home with me because whoever owned them moved away and left them to forage.  As a result, they hunted in the wild.  Do you think, once re-domesticated, they liked our cats?  No, except they looked like food! 

                So I took Bo outside and by that time, the volunteer fire truck came.  The driver told me to turn off the propane at the source (which I could not with one hand), and then the flames came out on the backside of the house.  When that happened, the fireman told me that I couldn’t go back inside!  I had three minutes and I got nothing out of the house.  I didn’t think the whole house would burn down – but it did.  And I, Bristol, Sam, Sarah, and Jake watched it.  The house virtually imploded in the pouring down rain.  The firemen were doing their best, but it didn’t make a difference.

                It was surreal.  Combat, and stroke, and now this!  What else could life or the devil throw at us – was what I thought.  All of our stuff up in flames or damaged with soot and rain.  Pictures, memorabilia, things that just can’t be replaced were destroyed!  But, on the flip side, we had the humans out of there and it was just stuff – other than the two cats that died.  I called Amy (who was at the recital rehearsal) and told her – dead-pan – what had happened.  She didn’t believe me at first, then crumpled to the ground crying.  It was that hard to walk through...

Love Showed Up

                But, a funny thing happened.  As I was watching my house burn down, in the rain, God’s love showed up.  It was in the form of people first.  The man in the truck and the firemen were first.  Fitzhugh Road was closed, because all the firefighters could manage, with so much water to throw at the fire, was a catch-all that they built in the street to catch the rain, and then through the hoses, throw it onto out house.  But that backed up the traffic up the hill.

                So, one by one, other people came it seemed from nowhere.  There was a sight to see, and the flames and smoke lit up the evening sky, but I saw friends.  David Embrey was the first one there, as he lives adjacent to me on the left and is a deacon in my church.  Lonny and Deanne Poe, my senior pastor and his wife, were there, along with Pastor Connan Coker, John Kroll, David and Becky Brock, Alan Atwood, Drew Hardin, Russell and Maryann Nelson, Michelle Webb, and others came and loved on me and my family offering us hugs, prayers, and whatever else they could do (like a place to keep our labs – Amy’s uncle, Jim, volunteered for that).  Gregg Brown, from my law firm, also was there.  That was just the beginning...

                There were two families that took us in; there was food until we could get a place to call our own; there were clothes that fit each of us, provided by the church and community; there was money and gift cards, provided by the church, community, and members of my law firm; there was people who built the house we have now, from taking the structure that was remaining down, to paying for it (USAA from the policy), to designing it, to building it (John Hagy Homes); there was love that permeated each of those things and more; love from the people and ultimately from God.

Footprints in the Sand

                I think about a poem I read years ago, that sticks with me in times of trouble.  Some of you may have heard it:  it’s called “Footprints in the Sand.” It goes like this:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."

                The promise, stated back in Isaiah, to a people who were in exile 2500 years or more from today, is just as true for us.  You can trust that God is there, because He said so, but also because – in our experience – the LORD is there and picks you up “during your trials and testings.”  He does all that because He loves us!

My House Burned Down:  Ashley Dancing

                It’s strange how pain or hurt drives a person.  Some don’t know what to do with it, others use it as a driver for performing their art wonderfully or creatively.  They say to be a real artist, you have to have a life of sorrow and then use it to perform.  I think lots of things can drive you to excel, but I have a story about Ashley Little, who was almost 10 when our house burned down.  She didn’t react overtly, she just went about her business.  In fact, you would have never known she hurt or was in pain, except her dancing. 

               In the summer, the dancers at Premier Dance Company have classes in the night, as they do all year; but then they have classes all day for a week at a time.  They work on different things, and then they dance at the end of the week, practicing what they’ve learned.  That week was practicing solos, such that they would perform a different solo (if they wanted to) during the year.  Now, Ashley can dance, but she was only ten that summer. 

               Ashley chose “The House that Built Me,” sung by Miranda Lambert.  It was written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, and was based on the house in which Allen grew up in Huffman, Texas.  The Chorus goes:

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could walk around I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.[3]

               To look at Ashley dancing to the tune, everyone in the dance studio (and watching it) knew that, for that day, it was about our house on 15970 Fitzhugh Road.  The pain and hurt on her face were evident, but there was more.  There was wonder in it, as she gracefully went through her dance.  And there was almost a joy that went with it, as if getting the agony out pleased her soul. 

               When she finished, there was not a dry eye in the studio, and I felt my face wet as well watching it after the fact.  There was love that she had for that house and all the memories that went into it, and we watched it unfold in her dance.  It was majestic!

Conclusion

                I have talked about Trust, Hope, and Love over the past few (days/sermons).  It seems that there was a lot my family went through, and some of you are asking:  “Why?”  But sometimes it is not the reason, but what you do with it.  When I was praying to God, after my stroke, all I got back was “This is what I (God) want at this time, what are you going to do with it...”  My answer was to persevere, trusting God, relying on hope, and looking for God’s love as an answer to whether He was with me.

                Do you have struggles? Of course, we all do.  It may look – in the world’s eyes – that yours are better or worse than others.  Do you have issues in your life?  Welcome to the club!  No, the point is it doesn’t matter.  Each of God’s children has this assurance:  God will never test us beyond what we can handle – with God.[4]  So you have a decision to make as you walk in this world, and that decision will craft your view of the world.

                Sometimes we say this world has it in for somebody.  The world probably thinks I did something to bring on God’s wrath (or just unlucky, I guess).  The disciples thought that about the man who’d been blind from birth, saying his parents or he did something sinful.  But Jesus said he was blind from birth “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” and healed him (John 9:1-3).[5]  I think we are tested (or call it trials or tribulations) so that we came come closer to God, not farther away.

                With Trust in God, hope that it will get better (at least in eternity), and love coming from God by people who are vessels spilling it out to you when trials or tribulations come, you have the keys to walk in this fallen world.  It may get dicey at times, painful to walk through, but know that God is watching over you, and He is there with you during your struggle. 

                Let me leave you with a mental picture:  It is of Novlene Williams-Mills, a Jamaican runner who attended the University of Florida.  She recently ran for Jamaica in the 400m in the Rio Olympics, and is a participant in the 4 x 400 relay.  A runner all her life, she got the news the she had breast cancer right before the London games in 2012.  She hid it from the world, and ran the 4 x400m relay to help Jamaica win the bronze.  Then, she had a double-mastectomy in 2013 and tried to get back to running.  She did well, despite all that she had gone through.  Then, the unthinkable happened:  she developed a thyroid condition that zapped her energy in 2015.  At 31, then, she had all the reason to quit.  But she didn’t!  That’s all reason to stand in amazement, but there’s more from a Christian standpoint. 

                She is going out and speaking for women who have cancer.  She said in an interview in ESPN.com: 

Though I've always been reluctant to talk about my health, I've learned that sharing my struggles can be an encouragement to others. Of course, fans and supporters can also be an encouragement to me. Last fall I participated in a charity 5K in Jamaica, where I met Rushed Goodall, a 5-year-old girl with stage 4 bone cancer. Here's the thing: She was the happiest child I've ever seen.  Rushed reminded me how important it is to enjoy every day, to enjoy my journey to Rio, no matter how I'm feeling physically.[6]  

                Ms. Williams-Mills has hope!  Why?  In her NBC interview the other night when the Jamaican women advanced to the final, she gave Glory to God!  She was humble, and trusted in God for everything.  She is a Christian, and knows the God loves here in the midst of her struggles – and in the midst of her joy!

Let us pray:

Prayer:  Father God, you have a mystery about you that we cannot comprehend in these physical bodies.  Thank you for giving us Your Word, though the Holy Spirit, to know something about the grandness of Your majesty.  Thank you for giving us Your Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ, to model what that looks like.  And thank you for giving us Louis Zamperini, Novlene Williams-Mills, and a million other persons who have walked this earth following the Way of Jesus to exemplify what that looks like in human – but not divine – form.  We are Your children, and we want to witness to You by or actions.  Let that be true in joy but also in the valleys of despair.  I pray it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

[1] Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 22:37 Deut. 6:5

Matthew 22:39 Lev. 19:18

 

[2] 1 John 4:15-17 (NIV)

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

[3] GooglePlayMusic, “The House that Built Me,” accessed August 18, 2016, https://play.google.com/music/preview/Txfohkhcblgzl3t2vb7hgoo2eoy?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics.

 

[4] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)

13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

See also 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:13 The Greek for temptation and tempted can also mean testing and tested.

  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13 The Greek for temptation and tempted can also mean testing and tested.

1 Corinthians 10:13 The Greek for temptation and tempted can also mean testing and tested.

 

[5] John 9:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

[6] ESPN.com, “Novlene Williams-Mills,” Olympics, Novlene Williams-Mills: 'I had completely lost confidence in my body', http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/16432407/novlene-williams-mills-had-completely-lost-confidence-my-body.

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