Now Departing Sheol and Abaddon; Passengers Boarding at Gate C12

Destroyed LuggageSaturday, Aug. 8: It’s only 7:30 in the evening and yet, spiritually-speaking, I feel like I have been dragged behind a pickup truck for 300 miles over broken glass mixed with battery acid. My wife and I, along with our young son, have had what can only be described as a disastrous day of travel. I ​could recount the details of our daylong debacle, but doing so would risk 1) courting the reader’s disbelief and 2) only making myself more emotionally exhausted in the process. Suffice to say that ​ we arrived at the airport at 6:00 a.m. thinking we were boarding a 7:10 a.m. flight, but it would be 10 more hours before we actually saw the inside of our first airplane. As the day progressed, I found myself identifying more and more like the Jack Lemmon character in the 1970 film, “The Out of Towners.” If something could go wrong, it did. If an airline or Transportation Safety Administration employee was presented with an opportunity to be rude or indifferent, they were – though there were ​a few refreshing and notable exceptions along the way, too.

Bottom Line: Our travel plans were thoroughly dashed – as of this writing, I still have no idea where our luggage might have ended up – and everything that touched our lives seemed especially designed to irritate, provoke an ungodly response and/or tempt ​us to despair. Amidst all of the chaos and frustration, though, my wife and I were both moved to prayer more than once and felt the sure hand of God upon our ​day; even though the airport began to take on a sinister, post-apocalyptic feel and the adrenaline was yet rushing through our veins (not the good kind), both of us had our wits about us periodically, enough to look at each other helplessly and say, “OK, so I wonder what God has in mind for us today?”

Sheol and AbaddonFor the longest time, I have wanted to resist the truth that God is the One Who brings both deliverance and disaster (Isaiah 45:7). When an airport employee issues me a ticket for a flight that we have zero chance of actually boarding, my heart knee-jerks itself into a response that somehow, the sovereignty of God (Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Isaiah 46:10; Daniel 4:35) has failed in this particular time and place. “Why,” my heart screams, “would God allow someone to be so careless?” What possible meaning could be attached to my having to go through TSA security checks three (3) times? Surely God loves His kids (Romans 5:8). And I’m confident that I am one of His beloved (Ephesians 1:6). So what good was possibly served by that fellow image-bearing idiot stranding us in the terminal for nine hours?

Well, for starters, I can remind myself that God does His best work by sticking us in the fire from time to time (Jeremiah 17:10). When squeezed, I am still appalled by what shows up in my heart. My wife claims that what proceeds out of my mouth has become at least a tiny bit more sanctified, so I guess that’s something, but the disgust that I feel when I see “what I am really made of” only seems to be growing. A.W. Tozer has said that the closer we draw to God, the more we see ourselves as filthy, vile and crude. So can I put our collective airport experience solidly in the “Win” column, then? The three of us all took turns being horrible in different ways, so at least we (finally!) flew out of the airport debacle safe and secure in our realization that we desperately need a Savior (Isaiah 64:6).

These past few weeks, my wife and I have been ending our days by reading through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, so in His faithfulness, the LORD had actually been preparing our hearts for this (mild) Day of Disaster. As anyone who has read those two books will attest, they are both pretty grim in terms of how God plans to bring judgment on Israel, and they are both chock-full of verses that inescapably affirm that God is well able to both withhold or unleash disaster; the only logical conclusion Scripture ever allows is that absolutely everything that happens passes through God’s protective sieve; Satan is loose in the world, yes…but he is on a leash (Job 1:12, 2:6). God has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and loves us (Ephesians 2:4-5) and yet some ​times His good plans can and do include the unleashing of thoughtless airline employees and luggage-destroying TSA security staff.

On Our WayHow merciful! How gently God deals with His awful children! Even in the moment of our worst behavior – ​like during my third trip to the ticket counter, for example – He is gently revealing Himself a​s well as the distance ​we have to go in our sanctification. I sure hope ​Tozer is right about that drawing-nearer-to-God process, because there are times when it feels like someone hit the REV switch on my sanctification process. In the fury of my heart, ​today I ​once again felt all of the roiling anger and frustration that previously led me to profanity, alcohol…and much, much worse.

I know, I know…no one in their right mind would call what my family endured today as “suffering” and certainly not “persecution.” We readily acknowledge our difficulties today as “First World Problems.” Today, what we apparently needed was a day-long reminder of who we really are absent Christ’s merciful work ​on our behalf. The cloud of ​devilish activity only began to lift when we finally got inside our very first airplane of the day…​nine hours later than planned. Further trials and insults remained ahead, yes, but the spectre of trial-by-fire noticeably dissipated once we were airborne. The lesson had been given, the insights delivered and made clear, the temptation to even imagine that any of us had “arrived” in our walk with Christ had been entirely dynamited.

Before we arrived at the airport, we felt like we were “hitting all our marks,” and I would have told you that spiritually we were all doing pretty well. After a good long while in the spiritual Thunderdome of ​destroyed luggage, multiple useless boarding passes and $5 water bottles, though, I just had to confess that I am still closer to responding like Job’s wife (Job 2:9) than Nehemiah. Lord, forgive us. Have mercy on us, sinners all, and sinners to the last.

Safe ArrivalRomans 7:21-25 (ESV)
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness.
A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

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