What a summer! I know that summer is usually hot, stormy and all-around crazy, but this particular summer seems to be the absolute limit. It’s hot everywhere, dry everywhere, storming everywhere. Here in Colorado alone we have at least 11 wildfires being fought, and there are nearly 100 fires burning across the US. Even the East Coast, which is usually too humid and wet to worry about fires, has seen several significant wildfires over the past 2 or 3 months. The fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, and have cost many millions of dollars to fight and recover from. And then yesterday the whole eastern half of the country was subjected to intense winds, rain and lightning, leaving several people dead, and millions (yes, millions) without electricity, just in time for temperatures in the 100’s. People are blaming these conditions on a wide variety of things: poor land use, global warming, cyclical weather patterns, God’s judgment, and so on.
I’ve come to realize that the real cause is that living here on our rapidly spinning planet is a wild ride. To the above fires and storms add all the hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, wars, terrorist attacks, floods, droughts, famines, and so much more. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened, and keep your hands and arms inside at all times, folks! Because we live in a world scarred by sin, we are constantly faced with sorrow, pain, disaster and fear. Just take a look at the news – most of it is trouble, trouble, trouble (makes me want to sing Music Man) and even the good news is usually about someone’s response to something bad: “Dad saves toddler from grizzly bear” or “Brave young boy calls 911 after seeing mother shot”. When was the last time you pulled up the online news or opened a paper and read a headline along the lines of “People all over the world are joining hands, starting a love train”?
I’ve heard from a lot of people that times are getting worse. Not having lived in a random sampling of centuries and eras, I can’t really tell for sure. I think as history moves along, a lot of times we simply trade one evil for another. We may not have gladiators, but we revel in violence movies and books. We may not have slavery here in America, but we tacitly condone it in other countries by the way we conduct business and choose our consumer goods. We might not have to worry about the Black Plague or typhoid, but we have AIDS and addictions. Women may have more rights and opportunities, but they are also more objectified than ever through every source of media, from the obvious degradations of the porn industry to the subtle messages of the beauty and fashion worlds. We have more technology and communications, but less common courtesy and understanding. We have international courts, multi-national organizations and peacekeeping forces, and yet there are still genocides, revolts and civil wars being waged all around the globe. Apartheid, segregation and eugenics may have been abolished in many countries, but people all over are still wary of “the others”. Communism has been largely defeated, and yet nation after nation is falling prey to debt crises, financial scandals and recessions. Obviously we can’t get a firm reign on business and finance, no matter if we’re communist, capitalist, socialist, or anarchist. We have more college educated people than ever, and incredibly high unemployment. The job security of taking over the family farm or shop is a thing of the past, now that we must each make our own way in the world. So is it getting better? I don’t know. Is it getting worse? I think that’s a hard argument to make.
Since the very first choice to live in willful disobedience to God’s command, the whole fabric of the world has been warped, stained and wrinkled. Sin equals suffering and sorrow. I not only suffer from the consequences of my own sins, but I suffer from the sins of Adam and Eve, the sins of my neighbors, the sins of my relatives, the sins of people 300 years ago, and the sins of people halfway around the world. That might not seem fair; why would God allow us to suffer because of something we didn’t do? But look at nature. Lightning strikes a tree and sets in on fire. That fire spreads from tree to tree, from trees to undergrowth, and from the forest to our homes. Why does the 100th tree have to burn? He didn’t stand tall and attract the lightning. Or what about pollution? I ride my bike around town as much as possible, so I’m not contributing nearly as much carbon emissions and the person who drives 30 miles a day, 7 days a week. And yet I still have to breathe just as much polluted air as the person who drives an SUV. It’s the way God created everything. We talk about webs and circles of life, food chains, being part of the local and global community. We weren’t made as standalone objects which can exist independently of one another. We can’t avoid affecting and being affect by every living thing and every natural force around us. What you and I do affects us, and affects others. Eventually our actions will have an effect on people in distant times and places.
But this is actually the best news we could have. Because our world is ordered this way, we have the opportunity to set into motion things that will benefit others, perhaps for hundreds of years. We may not ever fully see the effects of our actions and choices. Do you think that the person who first inspired Jonas Salk to love science was thinking, “If I can just get him interested, he’ll come up with a way to prevent polio”? Did Moses’ mother hide her baby because she thought, “If I just keep him alive, he’s going to change the course of history and religion and be world famous for thousands of years”? Did Florence Nightingale’s father allow her to go against the grain and seek a career in nursing and statistics because he knew she would forever change the practice of nursing and military medicine? No, each of these people was simply doing what he or she knew to be the right thing.
Every day you are asked to choose between right and wrong, between good and best, between selfish and giving, between immediate and eternal. The way you respond will have a lasting impact on the world. Eventually the fires will be contained and extinguished, power will be restored, homes rebuilt, rains will return, the temperature will go down, and this summer will be just a memory. What you do this summer, that can live on forever. You may be relaxing and renewing your mind and energy, or you may be running around busier than ever. But when we get to September, and the classic, “What did you do over the summer?” is asked, what will your answer be? What lasting effect will your actions have? Please don’t miss the fact that the smallest actions can have enormous effects. I’m not suggesting that you try to go out and be a Salk, or Moses, or Nightingale. If you can, that is wonderful. But you might just be the encouraging friend, the nurturing mother, the inspiring father, the caring mentor. And that is a calling that has eternal effects.
Have a Glad Summer!