I am slowly, ever so slowly learning to do stuff to websites. However, I can take no real credit for the banner. Others who are much smarter than me did that. But they did show me how they did it, basically. And I am inspired to believe that I might be able to do some stuff...maybe...possibly.
I hope that after you realize that I'm a goofball that you'll still be able to take my posts seriously. Well, I hope that you'll be able to take the serious ones seriously. You get the point.
P.S. Voila! Michigan J. Frog doin' the Ragtime Gal, compliments of Google Images. Matt, your wish is my command.
Let me do a disclaimer at the beginning of this post: If you are easily offended by bathroom humor, please do not read this post. Also, if your idea of pastors and their holiness is such that you have placed them in a non-human category, do not continue to read because you might get disillusioned.
Having said that, let me tell you how God is a creative genius when it comes to manufacturing ways to knock us off of our personally constructed pedestals. Last Sunday, He kicked me off mine, and I believe it was hilarious.
I mentioned in an earlier post how I was having to deal with a stomach virus this weekend. On Sunday morning I decided that I was well enough to go ahead and go to church and preach the services. By the grace of God, I made it through…sort of.
We have breakfast here at Church every Sunday morning. I showed up and ate some homemade biscuits covered in gravy, and I guess I had two cups of coffee. I was feeling fine and ready to go upstairs to my study and pray during the Sunday School hour.
Everything was going according to my typical routine until around fifteen minutes before Sunday School lets out and people begin filing into the sanctuary for services. That’s when it hit me. Yes, I had a stomach virus, but this was not the front end problem that struck me. My stomach, or innards, made that bubbly groaning sound that most of you are familiar with. It is the signal that means you have about twelve seconds to find a bathroom or you are going to be in serious trouble.
Fortunately for me, the bathroom is only six seconds from my office, two if you are at a dead sprint, which I was. You see, it would take me two seconds to get there and at least five to get out of my suit to the point where there would be no damage. That leaves only a few seconds to spare before certain doom. I was hustling to the bathroom to say the least.
Here’s where it gets really good. By the time I hit the bathroom and got prepared to do business, the Sunday School bell rang. My church is small, and so there is only one men’s bathroom in the Sanctuary area. The bathroom itself is rather small also. One urinal and one throne potty, both crammed in about an eight square foot area. I was sweating bullets for two reasons: One is that I was having serious stomach and bowel issues; the other was that half the male population of our Church was about to walk through the door of that bathroom…to possibly die instantly.
I was mortified. Here I was, the dignified pastor of the First Baptist Church, fogging up the bathroom with abandon. I thought about picking up my feet so no one would recognize the shoes, but it was needless. No one stayed in there long enough to notice my shoes. This was not only humiliation, it was revenge. Once upon a time I went into a bathroom at a conference, and low and behold the President of the Southern Baptist Convention was in there. He said something like, “Ya’ll better clear out” and then he went to do his business. He let’er rip. I thought that this was the funniest thing ever. I told everyone that I’d heard the SBC President fart. It suddenly isn’t so funny anymore.
I have tried to help myself through this experience by consoling myself with the fact that Jesus went to the bathroom as well. He was, after all, fully man. I don’t think that he played “pull my finger” with the disciples, but surely after all that time together he must have cut one at least once. He, after all, designed us to do that, right?
My point in all of this is that I’m not so great after all. I am a normal member of the human race. I believe that I can still maintain my dignity in business meetings after this episode, and it has helped myself (and others) not to take me too seriously. Calvinistic type pastors have often been accused of being “wine and cheese” theologians, sometimes we are viewed as just plain snooty, and most of them would probably believe that this subject matter is beneath the man of God. However, I believe that it is funny. And whatever protest they may make, they fart also.
I named my blog "Sojourner" because that's what I feel like. The Bible tells us that Christians are aliens and strangers in this world. We are, like Abraham of old, strangers in a strange land. This is not our home.
I like the idea of being on a Sojourney, but I have missed something. I should say that I am missing something. I also realized that I named the blog Sojourner for the wrong reasons. It struck me today as I was looking at art for the website.
I spend a lot of time alone by necessity. I read. Reading is something that you mostly do alone. I write things as well. I write for the blog, the Church, and for myself, and for ThirstySoul. Another thing that I do is think. I turn ideas over and over and over in my head, examining ideas as if they are diamonds. I check every facet for clarity and purity and value. It consumes time, and I believe that it can breed loneliness and depression if one is not careful.
That is why I imagined myself as a nomad of sorts. I am a Thought-Wanderer, traveling down the worn paths of the thoughts of dead theologians and philosophers. I am tracking them to see where they were going and what they were doing, and how their thoughts brought about change...for good or for ill.
I sometimes follow too far. Not because I wind up in theological error. Not necessarily. I follow too far because I go alone. At least, that's how I thought you were supposed to do things. I go up to my office, chase down greater men's thoughts, and then I capture their thoughts in sermons. It's like Moses coming down from the mountain with a shining face. I meet with God through the study of the Bible and the contemplations of holy men, and then I bring those thoughts to the people.
But that's not the whole story. What struck me as I looked for pictures of "nomads" and "travelers" and "sojourners" is that they all looked so lonely. They were often overwhelmed by the landscape in which they walked. Small figures that dotted the scenery surrounding them, barely significant by comparison. The thoughts of the Bible and great men often engulf me like that, and I become a gnat in my own mind.
What I was missing were other people. I am not the only alien around, and I am finding that through conversation (scary word these days) with fellow brothers who are still living helps me not only understand more quickly, but it makes the scenery more pleasant.
Indeed, we are pilgrims and sojourners, but we were not made to walk alone. We need companionship. We desperately need one another. We need to laugh and hear others laugh. We need to hear other people's thoughts and dreams. We need to eat pizza and grill burgers and tell stories and watch games together. We are a community of pilgrims, and I believe that pastors rot on the vine because they forget this in their offices.
Here’s how this works: If you scroll to the bottom of this blog, you will see a banner that basically says, “Click here and you could win a Bible and a book!”. Go down there and click that banner. It’ll take you to Tim Challies website, who also happens to be one of the genius’ that I have linked to this blog. He won’t spam you or giveaway your email address. He just likes to give stuff away.
Since one of my ambitions in life is to get free books, go and enter and you will do me a favor. Every time someone enters who is referred from my website, I get another chance at winning. So go and enter already!
I am supposed to be writing something of substance for our monthly newsletter, but I’m drawing a blank right now. (I’m just getting over a stomach virus, so I think being here is an accomplishment.) Instead of doing something more useful, I am scrolling through blogs, which leads me to this post.
I am fairly new to the internet/blogworld. So, I am kind of behind on the learning curve. This explains why my blog is so ugly and plain. I pretend like it is because I am a Puritan at heart, and that I only want people to visit because of the substance of my posts, but I would really like it if I had the graphic genius of the <Pyromaniac. Because I have been too proud to ask, I have had some difficulty understanding blog jargon. I have no idea what an RSS feed is. I have no idea what a “loop” is, and I am amazed that some people have the ability to put music on their blogs. I don’t even know what html stands for. I can’t even change my blog’s colors or post pictures without help. It amazes me that I have visitors at all considering how ugly this place is. But, I guess some of you actually like the posts! I can’t imagine what would happen if I had programming capability…or whatever it takes to make the place look decent.
The post of this rambling post is that there is some jargon out there that you need to know about. I have had to figure it out on my own, and I may be wrong on some of it, but here goes:
LOL= Laughing Out Loud (People are LOL-ing all the time on the web. It’s a fun place.)
ROFL= Rolling On the Floor Laughing (This is when something is really funny. Not just chuckle funny.)
IMO= In My Opinion (This is used when giving one’s opinion. Go figure.)
IMHO= In My Humble Opinion (This is used when giving one’s opinion in an arrogant way. Go figure.)
FWIW= For What It’s Worth (It took me forever to figure this one out, FWIW.)
FYI= For Your Information (Okay, not net jargon, but somebody may NTK! That’s Need To Know, and I made that up myself.)
There are some others, but I haven’t figured them out yet. Maybe some of my more astute readers can let me in on the jargon.
I remember lying awake as a child wondering how God could have no beginning or end. It boggled my mind. Everything in my known experience had a mother and father or had started from somewhere. But God went back forever. This truth blew me away. Now as an adult, I am still mystified that God goes back forever. This is only the beginning of the mysteries that amaze me about God.
Some things that the Bible teaches about God are hard to understand. In fact, the Bible says that we only know certain things “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This is not to say that we are completely ignorant of God. Or that our current knowledge is somehow insufficient. We know enough, and what we know brings us joy inexpressible. I compare this incomplete knowledge to my knowledge of my personal computer. I know how to turn it on, get on the internet, use the word processor, and play with the photo shop. I know enough to be amazed at the technology. However, I have no real idea how it does the things that it does. How information goes through the processor and what a gigabyte is and how it is stored on a microchip is beyond me. I don’t even know if they still use microchips. My knowledge of my computer is incomplete, but I enjoy it all the same.
With God, I know enough to know that I must know more. I have no real desire to know more about my personal computer; I can use it as I need to for now. Knowing God is an imperative. I want to know more of Him. He is my source of joy and strength and encouragement and life and love and all. The more I learn, the more mysteries I run into that convince me that He is greater than all I have ever imagined or can imagine.
When the Bible declares that God is One Being and yet three persons, some people are ready to abandon the faith for something more manageable. It is perplexing as to how God the Holy Spirit is fully God, not part God, and yet He is not God the Father or God the Son. God the Father is also fully God, and yet He is neither the Son nor the Spirit. These three are One God, equal in essence but different in person. I am so happy that this is so. I can feel that refreshing, child-like wonder that I felt on the day that I learned that God had no beginning. It makes me wax poetic and ask, “Oh God, to what shall I compare Thee?” The reason I have no category for God’s Triune nature is because there is simply nothing like God nor can there be. God is completely unique. He is totally outside any other thing in my experience, and I see Him through a veil, hidden from complete seeing and knowing.
I think also of the mystery of the passion of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the God who is man, and conversely, the man who is God. What a staggering statement. Even now as I wish to convey to you the truth of it, I find myself stammering for words. (How aggravating it is to be struck dumb over things about which I should sing most clearly!) I think of Jesus, the Holy One, sweating drops of blood and crying out to be delivered from the cup of God’s wrath: the cup which He was destined to bear, the cup which He left heaven to partake of. Yet, I see Him flinch. Is it real fear that I find in Luke 22:41-44? Does Jesus tremble only in His humanity, or did God flinch that day? I cannot see past the mystery of that veil, and yet the more I dwell on it, the more I know that that place, that time, that moment is most holy. Battle was waged in that moment. A battle whose outcome would affect the earth, the angels, the galaxy and all of creation. In one trembling, sweat-soaked moment Jesus proved Himself Savior and King of the universe. One moment of many that Jesus had while on earth. He rose and set His face toward Calvary, choosing to endure that pain of death and the weight of sin over His temptation to ease.
These mysteries are real, and they are a gift. How sad it would be if Jesus were only a man like me, and how disappointing if God were such that I could completely know Him. In some ways, Jesus was indeed a man like me. But in others, Jesus was more a man than I will ever be. Our difference lies not in the fact that He wasn’t human, it lies in the fact that I am less human than He. My humanness is fallen; His was not. I am less than I ought to be, that is why I have never sweat drops of blood over sin.
In short, it does not upset me that I do not fully understand all of the things which God has revealed in His Word. There are many mysteries which I have not even mentioned here, and there are multitudes more that I have yet to discover. Far from upsetting me, I have come to cherish and to expect them. I meditate upon them with great pleasure.
As I meditate, I do not attempt merely to understand these mysteries for knowledge’s sake as I once did. I once sought answers to the questions because I wanted to make perfect sense of God. I thought that theology meant finding out all the answers, and if I could not answer something, then I had failed. This is not the case. I certainly do not have to know all of the answers, and I can say with great joy that I know that God is Trinity, but I do not understand fully how this can be. Instead, I now meditate on the Trinity with wonder, hoping that God will more fully draw me into this mystery of how great and magnificent and unique and astounding that He is. I want to see more that will cause me to marvel. Answers are not the only things that thrill me, I greatly enjoy the mysteries as well. Besides, I have found that answers to my questions are often doors to greater mysteries!
I have two hopes in writing this short article. One is that you may see how I love the Mystery of God. The second is so that you can know that mystery is good, and that it is not shameful not to fully understand. Seek God, and the answers will come. Seek Him in the Scriptures, for that is the only place that these mysteries are revealed.
If I go suddenly silent for a couple of days, it will be because Hurricane Rita has knocked out our power. We’re getting a good bit of rain and a good measure of wind as well. We’ve already lost power once. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went out again for a good while.
We got our electricity back yesterday at noon. Hopefully, I will be able to post something of substance today.
I don't know if you have noticed, but Hollywood has given us a 'true story' about a demon possessed woman. I think that it is called, "The exorcism of Emily Rose". Naturally, people will watch this movie and wonder if people can get demon possessed, and if we can cast out demons and etc.
The first thing is for you not to freak out about all this. Yes, demons are very real. But, they are a side issue. Rest assured in this, simple gospel proclamation is sufficient to keep demons at bay. The gospel is able to drive out the wilest, cruelest demon. So just do what you have been doing and what the Apostles did: Preach the Gospel!
There is are a couple of verses that are good to know when such a discussion comes up, and I want to share it with you:
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2, emphasis added).
There are some important things to notice here. One is that I use this verse to disarm non-chalant talk about the demonic. Paul states clearly that they are presently at work in people in this world. So don't treat the topic too lightly. Look carefully at what Paul teaches:
1. When you, yes you, were dead in trespasses and sins you followed the path of Satan himself. He is the "prince of the power of the air." He was at work in some way in your life. You at least followed his example, and perhaps came under his direct influence.
2. Satan is now at work in the "sons (and daughters) of disobedience." Those who will not submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ are under demonic influence even now. Nothing short of God's regenerating power can change this.
So what do we do then? Do we break out the olive oil and start rebuking demons? I might if someone's head spun around, but that's not what freed me from demonic influence. What drove the demonic from my mind and heart? Gospel proclamation. How did you get free from the influence of the Prince of the Power of the air, if indeed you are free? Gospel proclamation.
So simply preach the gospel of the risen Lord. That's the short version of my advice.
Okay, I like coffee. A lot. I like it black with just one spoonful of sugar. As Mary Poppins sang, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way!” But that’s not the only way I like it. I like it with those little creamers that are supposed to mimic Vanilla Cream and Amaretto and Irish Cream and whatever. I like coffee. I really do.
I liked the coffee in Brazil and I liked the coffee in Portugal. I liked the little bitty coffee that they served in the shot-glass looking thing and called it cafezihno. I thought that it was too tiny to be of any use, but when that concoction hit my lips…it was zihno, baby. I felt like Popeye popping his first can of spinach. I was ready dar luta com o diabo.
Alas, I believe that I am now addicted. Usually, I could go without coffee for extended periods with no physical symptoms. It was as if I were impervious to its side effects. But this weekend I went without coffee, and I got a headache. A serious headache. I never get headaches. I took a Tylenol and got better, but down deep I knew what was wrong. It was the call of coffee. I had not had my fix of the sweet bitter black, and I was suffering for it.
Is it sin to be so horribly hooked on coffee? Should I tear myself away from this love of the drink? If I do, it shall certainly hurt both heart and head.
I recently posted a semi-book review of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. The book, and a few of the comments made me start thinking, and I thought that I might share some of my thoughts with you here. After all, this is a blog.
The strength and the trouble with Blue Like Jazz, henceforth dubbed BLJ, lies in the area of relationship and behavior. I will attempt to unpack what I mean by that in this post. It is a perennial struggle for the Christian who wishes to share the greatness of Jesus Christ with others.
Relationship is essential if you want to have any sort of influence on anyone. If you are a condescending jerk, no one is going to listen to you. Or, if you yourself are so completely different from someone else, it is hard for them to understand where you are coming from. You have to be able to relate on some level or real communication cannot take place. We need to be able to relate and to communicate. But, and here is the hard part, we have to do these things without compromising God’s standard of holiness. We cannot take a pragmatic, the ends justify the means approach.
The Bible teaches us that relationship and communication are something that God sees as essential. Think of the doctrine of the Trinity. We have the One God eternally existing in Three Persons. He is the model of community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always been in community. The Father loves the Son with an infinite love, and all that He has created, He has done to extol the virtues of His beloved. The Holy Spirit loves the Son as well, and His mission on the Earth is to exalt Him and to teach us to love and praise Him.
You may be thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with relating and communicating?” I would submit to you that it has everything to do with relating and communicating. How did the Father demonstrate His love for the world? What did you learn in Vacation Bible School? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Father gave us the Son, and He gave Him to us in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). God is communicating and relating to us through Jesus Christ. That is why the doctrine of the Incarnation is so very, very important, glorious, and essential. That is why the early Church fathers declared emphatically that Jesus is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.” You can find this in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD. That is why Isaiah declared that we would call Him the “Immanuel”, which means “God with us.” “In these last days (God) has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews. 1:2).
Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, laid in a feeding trough, suffered from cold and heat, pooped his diaper, nursed at the breast, scraped his knee, talked to girls, and probably even had zits. Furthermore, He experienced rejection, love, betrayal, loneliness, fear, hunger, pain, and intense suffering. He ate bread, He went to weddings, He sat around with the guys, He caught fish, and He told stories. Such wonderful stories! And He loved. He loved so greatly that it broke His heart. He wept. He wept over Jerusalem and He wept over Lazarus. He was a carpenter by trade. He walked our walk that we might walk His. “For we do not have a High Priest (that’s Jesus) who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
God speaks to us through Jesus. God dwelt with us in Jesus. Jesus related to us and communicated to us through stories, parables, and pain. He related to us so that we might relate with Him. It is a beautiful thing that God would condescend to speak to us and dwell with us and suffer for us and die for us and then bid us live for Him.
But notice the qualification. The one great qualification of Hebrews 4:15: yet without sin. Jesus related to us without sinning. He called the sinner Zacchaeus to himself without sinning. He loved the prostitute who wiped His feet without compromising His witness. Jesus got His hands and feet dirty, but He kept His soul clean.
I find that in BLJ, Miller longs to relate to people. But I find that he tries to relate, at times, at a level that compromises his integrity and holiness. Swearing is not something that a Christian ought to do, ever. We are told to put away “filthy language” and “coarse jesting” (Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 5:4). Several times in BLJ such “trivial” sins are mentioned, and in my opinion, passed off as being harmless. (Other examples are drunkenness, marijuana smoking, and etc.) There is nothing funny or harmless about those things, and I do not think that the way to reach people involved in those things is to giggle and say, “Yeah, I have done that too, but I quit because Jesus is cool.” Think about these words from the Apostle Paul, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For they you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:3-6, emphasis mine).
We are certainly to love people with compassion, kindness, and with patience. We ought to make every single person feel special because they are special. They are made in the Imago-Dei, the image of God. That’s what makes them special. Paul does not say, “Don’t love them” or “Don’t treat them with extraordinary kindness” but rather “Love them as people, but do not do what they do.” Love does not give us warrant to live sloppy, unholy lives. Love “rejoices in truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). It does not give us leave to curse and swear and smoke and get drunk so that the world will think that we are cool. That is, quite simply, not the legacy that Jesus, Paul, nor any Apostle has left us.
My point in writing this is to say that I believe there are places in BLJ where Donald Miller demonstrates brilliant, Christ-like love. (I liked the booth at Reed as well.) But there are other elements of the book that I found distasteful and unwise. I felt that he pushed the envelope and flaunted his freedom in Christ. Paul teaches, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13). We have to be careful and wise. Carelessness in words and refusing to take sin seriously can lead others down dark, dangerous paths.
So, that is the long version of the good and the bad of what I have been thinking. Be relational like Jesus. Communicate to others the greatness and wonder of God as Jesus did. But do not participate in sin in the process. Stoop to be humble. Stoop to be gracious. But do not lower the standard of holiness and thus shame your Master.
Okay, I confess, I love reading John Piper's books. He is, without doubt, my favorite contemporary theologian. He has a new book out, and I am extremely excited about it. The title of it is "God is the Gospel". You should go to Desiring God right now and order yourself a copy.
I would be gushing a lot more about this, but I think that theologians aren't supposed to be so happy about other people's works. I can't help myself though. I get pumped over good Christian theology books.
Hey, it looks like I've evolved in the BlogWorld again! I am no longer a Flippery Fish; I am a Crawly Amphibian. Since one of my ambitions in life is to get enough folks to read my blog so that I get free books, upward evolving is a very positive thing. Also, being a Crawly Amphibian matches my cool frog picture. If I make it to the Reptile Category, I dread having to catch a snake.
This is a very ‘non-technical’ book review of the book by Donald Miller entitled Blue Like Jazz. If you are looking for a review that will parse Miller’s theology, this is not the review for you While I will deal with some of that in a general way, that is not the point of his book, nor is it the point of my review here. Since this is my first book review anyway, (my Harry Potter approval excepted) this will be unpolished, non-scholarly, and therefore, perhaps, it may be actually useful to you.
Let me first tell you my motivation for reading this book. I read this book because a good many other people are reading this book. I like to be “in the know” on such things. I want to read what other Christians, and especially my church members, are reading so that we can talk about the good and the bad. There is my motivation. I have no agenda with Donald Miller. I had not even heard of him before I read this book.
Blue Like Jazz is basically a book about Miller’s life and how it has been shaped by his Christian experience. It is written like a conversation. Almost as if you were sitting with Miller, and I want to call him Don because I know so much about him now, and having coffee and he was telling you about himself. If this helps, I would personally be alright with that conversation.
The thing that I admire about Miller is that he tries very hard not to be ‘judgmental’ of people. He enjoys hanging out with ‘fruit nut’ types. (His words, not mine.) He likes artists, weirdoes, and hippy types, and he seeks to cultivate genuine relationships with them. He even spent time at Reed, which is like the revolutionist, hippy, ‘fruit nut’ Mecca. His stories are hilarious, and often touching. I could relate to much of what he said.
In his relationships, Miller seeks to ‘share Christ’ by sharing himself. (My words, not his.) He cannot stand ‘selling Jesus’ as one would sell something on an infomercial. He wants to be authentic, understanding, compassionate, and he wants to be himself. In his writing, he is extremely self-depreciating in a very likable way. It’s hard not to like the guy.
Here is the issue with Jazz that I think is worth talking about. Miller want to reach the ‘fruit nuts’ of the world by loving them. I think that he is right about that. If his book is accurate, he seems to have seen some success in that area. (He is a member of the Imago-Dei Church, about which I know nothing other than was Miller wrote about in his book. Perhaps an enlightened reader can help me here.) But here is the catch for me personally, and here is the area with which I struggle: How long can we be engaged with ‘fruit nuts’ before we have to talk about sin? It’s easy to be friends with people as long as you do not assert truth with a capital “T”.
I think that Miller feels the same tension. This is evident in the fact that the people who he likes the least are Fundamentalists. (Though I think he would like me. I am pretty charming, once you get to know me.) He doesn’t like Fundies because of the rules. He has a pretty big disdain for rules. He equates fundamentalists with rules and legalism, not doctrine and love for God. He views fundamentalists as a people who offer only a conditional love. That is, they love you only as long as you toe the party line by keeping the rules, once you break those rules the love is withdrawn: the rules such as smoking, drinking beer, dancing (in some circles), watching rated-R movies, and cussing. You can’t win the fruit nuts if you aren’t willing to put up with a little cussing and beer drinking and pipe smoking. You even have to be patient with fornicators.
Admittedly, the man has a point (not so much about having to put up with sin, but that we have to pointedly and tangibly love those who are not Christians). I know that my fundamentalist friends just passed out, but that’s okay. When you wake up and read the rest you’ll feel better. We have to love the ‘fruit nuts’, and we must treat people outside the church with redeeming grace. They just can not stay fruit nuts. (Being non-fruit nut does not mean becoming a voting Republican.) They have to become people in pursuit of God, through Jesus Christ, and they have to have a zealous pursuit of godliness. This is something that only the Holy Spirit can bring about. Rules just won’t cut it.
Miller’s book made me think, laugh, and sometimes he seriously irked me. In the end, I will say that if you want to, you should read the book. It is no theological masterpiece, but I think that it will give you a feel for the mindset of the “emerging church” types.
I have an irrational fear, but you will not catch me showcasing it on Jerry Springer or Oprah or Dr. Philgood. I can promise you that. But I do sympathize with these people. Irrational fears are horrible, horrible things. They are, well, irrational.
When I see/hear my irrational fear, it is like the feeling of sheer panic. That’s because it is sheer panic. You want to run, but you can’t. Your heart accelerates to about four hundred beats per second, you start shaking all over, a wave of nausea sweeps over you, and sweat pours out of every pore in your body. Meanwhile, everyone else is looking at you like you are nuts, and you are fairly confident that they are correct. Actually, I have had people laugh at me while paralyzed with this irrational fear.
So here, I confess to you my fear: I have an insane, irrational fear of small children choking. I also have a nine month old son who puts every thing he finds into his mouth. It is like God testing me hundreds of times a day.
What sets off this fear is children coughing. The sound of a small child coughing sends me into immediate fight or flight mode. Not given to flight, I tend to want to fight. So basically, if your child starts coughing around me because he jammed his finger too far down his throat (WHY DO THEY DO THAT??!!) you may find me dangling him upside down by the leg whacking him on the back. Not too hard. Just firmly and with determination. Or, I may just stand there nearly catatonic. I can never tell which will happen.
Let me tell you the true story of how this awful nightmare began. I was around twelve years old and was visiting with my grandparents for the day. My brother was there, and at the time he was around nine. My first cousin was also there. He was about three years old on this day of infamy where his utter disobedience and sheer stupidity would scar me for life. I am being particularly harsh because he not only scarred me for life that day, but even though I literally saved his life he does not even have the courtesy to read my blog.
My grandparents had gone outside to pick some tomatoes out of their small garden in the backyard. I, even at this tender age, was reading a novel. I have been a nerd since day one. I vividly remember laying across the bed, minding my own business, and being engrossed in my novel. (It was a book by Terry Brooks, who wished desperately that he was J.R.R. Tolkien.) As I was reading, I became aware of another person in the room. They had entered silently. I would soon find out why.
My goofball cousin, the little three year old, was the one who had entered. His face was as red as a beet and his hands where clutching his throat. I believe that his eyeballs were also bulging out. He was not coughing; he was not gasping for breath. The boy was dying right before my eyes.
I freaked out. I mean I mad freaked. I started screaming like a banshee and running about like a total fool. My brother, who had been doing who knows what who knows where, came running into the room as fast as he could. We he saw my cousin, he dead stopped and stared. His mouth gaped open in shock. He stood staring, I was running around screaming like a madman. My cousin was standing between us, silently strangling to death.
It is in moments like these that we are defined as people, I think. Providentially, just a couple of days before, I had seen Batman demonstrate the Heimlich maneuver on Robin while watching Superfriends. I am not kidding. (This is why Batman is the greatest hero in history. At least for my cousin.)
So, I grabbed him up from behind, and started yanking his guts out. My little brother, who had recovered from his torpor, began to yell and holler and run around like a maniac. It was utter chaos.
On about the fifth yank, a projectile fired from the mouth of my cousin and bounced across the carpet. I’d say it went about three feet. It popped out like the cork from a champagne bottle. My brother stopped screaming and stooped down to look at this little curiosity like it was some sort of odd insect. He said with wonder, “It’s butterscotch.” My cousin, the little miscreant, had gotten into the butterscotch when he had been told not to, thereby almost killing himself and scarring me for life.
Now, while my brother was surreally gazing at the piece of butterscotch, I had hit panic mode again. My cousin had passed out. He went as limp as a dishrag. When I sat him down, he just flopped down on the floor. I thought he was dead. So I did the only thing a sensible twelve year old would do. I screamed in his ear for him not to be dead, and then I pried open his eyelid to check his eyes. Sure enough, they were rolled up in his head. This confirmed my suspicions. He had died.
At about the same time, my brother and I realized that there were some adults just outside in the garden. Adults could fix anything. And these adults were special, they were grandparents. We both bolted out of the house and down to the garden as fast as we could run, screaming and hollering like idiots the entire way, “Chris is dead! Chris is dead! WWWAAAAHHHHHH!!!”
Needless to say they freaked out too. But they did so on a more adult level. My grandfather and grandmother charged the 100 feet up to the house like Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders at San Juan Hill. We all piled in the door at the same time, and we all stopped dead in our tracks the moment we got through the door.
There was my idiot cousin, smiling, laughing even, standing in the middle of the living room and sucking on his finger. I looked at my brother in bewilderment. My grandparents looked at us in anger. They thought we were lying. We pled with them that we were not kidding, all the while my cousin kept trying to dig his fat little hand back into the butterscotch jar.
Ever since that day, I lose it when a child coughs. It is completely irrational, I know. I further know that if they are coughing, then they can still breathe. This head knowledge does not help me with my panic.
Now I have a son who sticks every conceivable object into his mouth that he can fit into his hand. Today he strangled on a leaf. It made him vomit. It made me faint…almost. I hope that God cures me of this ridiculous phobia soon. I am turning into a paranoid nut. I already chop the boy’s food into microscopic sizes before feeding him. He has six teeth, and he hasn’t gotten to use them yet.
And Chris, if you are reading this, you still owe me big time.
Today I am continuing with the story of my Christian walk. I want to make a disclaimer again at this point. I am not holding up my experience as the “norm.” As I read the Scripture and see how God deals with His children, I find that every single person is unique. God enjoys variety. The creation teaches us so. God also wants you to feel special. He wants you to feel special because you are special. He has never given anyone else the adventure that you live. Your sojourn, your life, your story is unique. God does not make cookie cutter children. The body of Christ is wonderfully and marvelously diverse. I very much look forward to getting to know each and every member in the near future.
Having said that, let me hasten to add that the criteria by which we gauge all of our experiences in this life is that which is established in Scripture. Our hearts are tricky, deceptive things. They are not to be trusted. That’s why we need Scripture to guide us in our sojourn on this earth.
We also need something else to guide us. (I know, I know, I saw some of your hands fly to your sword-hilts, but hang on a minute. I believe whole-heartedly in Sola Scriptura.) We need teachers to keep us from twisting the Scriptures to please ourselves. And we need the fellowship of the Church community to keep us from going mad with loneliness and goofy theology. The Church is more than just a collection of disjointed individuals. It is a living thing of which we are a part, and it is holy and good.
I am sharing my walk with you because I want you to be encouraged by what you read. If I am nothing else, I am an example of, not what God can do, but of what God does do in the lives of normal people. I also happen to believe that it is a good story. I mean no boast by this. It is hard to write statements to demean yourself without it sounding weird, so I won’t. It will suffice to say here that I am altogether unworthy of the affection and position that it has pleased the Lord to bestow upon me. I am a charity of grace. And like a beggar, I have greedily extended my hand to receive all that it pleases Him to give. If He can do these things for me, then He will certainly do them for you.
I have often talked with people about how to find “God’s plan for their lives.” So I thought that it might be beneficial to tell you how I came to be what I am: a pastor and teacher. Hopefully, my story will at least demonstrate that living the Christian life is far better lived in wisdom and patience than burning bushes and signs from heaven.
I guess I should begin with a short version of how I came to feel “called” to the ministry in the first place. I became a believer in Jesus Christ my second sophomore year of college. (It took me five years to get out, okay?) I was twenty years old. I had no idea what I wanted to major in, much less what I wanted to do in life. But after I knew that Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God and Savior of the World, I knew that I wanted to serve Him.
So being the new Christian that I was, I prayed. I prayed that God would show me what I was supposed to do with my life and how He wanted me to serve. God answered my prayers, in part, about six months after He saved me. (Yes, I know that He really saved me a long time ago on the cross, but as someone once said, I only found out about it recently.) It would be more than a few years before I would even begin to understand what this answer meant.
I remember it vividly. I had just written a letter to a friend of mine who was serving as a missionary overseas. After I sealed the envelope, I prayed for my friend. During this prayer, I suddenly knew that I was a teacher. I just knew it like I knew that Jesus rose from the dead. It was an epiphany from God.
I know that people say that God talks to them all the time and that He tells them to do things. That sort of talk makes me extremely nervous. It can happen, I’m sure. It has happened to me twice, but it wasn’t really God “speaking” to me. The first time it happened is when He crushed me with the knowledge that He is God, I am a doomed sinner, but that the death of Christ Jesus avails to me. That was the night I got saved. This revelation did not have me running around the room and shouting. I shook with fear and broke into a cold sweat. It was a terrifying experience at first. But after I realized that Christ could and would save me, I felt joy and peace. It was a peace like falling in love.
The second time it was the opposite. When I knew that I was a teacher, I felt peace. It was as if a great burden had been lifted. It gave me direction for life. That moment has dictated every step I have made from that day to this one. However, the peace did not last long. It was soon followed by fear.
After I finished praying, I settled down to continue a Bible study that I had been doing on my own. My Bible study consisted of reading the Bible. I did not have any guides or anything to help me. I just read. You’d be surprised at how effective that is.
I had been working my way through the book of James. That night, I was supposed to pick up at the beginning of chapter three. When my eyes fell on that passage, I instantly memorized it. It was as if it were seared in my brain with a hot iron. It reads, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Quiet time was over. One verse read, one magnificent lesson learned. The God whom I loved and feared was going to be particularly strict on me in the great day of judgment. I was stunned. I still am.
At the time, I was not even active in a particular local Church. I honestly did not know which to attend, so I went to a few different Churches in town. The closest thing I had to a “Church” was Campus Crusade. That’s not even a Church. The fact that I had no Church, and therefore I had no idea which Church I should teach in, bothered me a great deal. I had a lot of studying and work to do. After all, my judgment will hinge on what I teach people. I had better be accurate, and I had better be humble and open to correction.
This is the beginning of my understanding of my sojourn in this world as a teacher and pastor. I am going to write a few posts as to how my understanding of what it means to be me has grown over the years, especially the last year and a half.
I am currently on a mission to read through the Bible in a year. My brother-in-law and I decided that it would be a good idea for us to attempt this together for accountability purposes. It is hard for me to stay on track with a daily Bible reading plan without someone to make me feel guilty for being a slacker. (Besides studying for sermon preparation, which is something different.)
Recently, we read through the book of Esther. I had forgotten how much I love that story. It is one of the best stories in all of literature, in my opinion. There's romance, killing, tremendous irony, and heroism galore. I love that story. The best thing about it is that it is a true story. Mordecai and Esther are my heroes.
So, if you're looking for a book of the Bible to read, go and read Esther. It is fabulous. Currently, I'm working through Job. I have a long post coming on that one, I believe. If I can get time to do something of substance.
I have a place that I go in my imagination when I am tired of thinking too much. I have to confess that I am not the best thinker in the world. It takes me a lot of time and effort. To others it comes more easily, more quickly. I am slow like a bear. I like to imagine that when I am aroused I can be dangerous like one, but for the most part I just feel slow and ponderous.
I had a friend in school that I used to debate with often. He always made me look fairly foolish even when I was right. He was funny and witty and he had the innate ability to process information with stunning speed. He once quipped, “Brad Williams may shoot straighter, but I draw quicker.” Truer words have never been spoken.
I have been blessed with the ability to read and remember things. I can store large chunks of information. It’s processing it that takes me forever. I’m like a computer with a large hard drive for storage but a rather dated processor for speed. I feel like a Pentium One in a Pentium Five world.
So, I spend a lot of time in the office processing the information that I take in. It is wearying work. Almost everyday, my legs go to sleep from the back of my thighs down from sitting and reading and thinking. Sometimes, I sit and stare blankly for good periods of time. Someone observing me would probably think I am a vegetable. I have a hard time convincing my wife that it is during these times that I am doing my best work.
When this thinking and being vegetative wears me out, I begin to long to get out of here and do something. Something vigorous, yet peaceful. Something manly. This is what the little secret place that I go to in my mind is like. I do not know where it is because I’ve never been there.
Wherever this places is, it smells fresh. Fresh like flowing water. It also smells sort of musty like woods. My secret place is a large, rapid flowing stream. It is as clear as crystal. You can see the mossy rocks as the water flows over them. And the water is as cold as it is pure. It makes you want to drink deeply from it just by looking at it. The stream flows through a shaded woody area. All the trees are alive with green leaves. But that is the background. The stream is the focus of my secret place. Also, there are no mosquitoes allowed in my little sanctuary. Other bugs may come, but no mosquitoes.
I stand in the middle of that place dressed like someone out of Field and Stream magazine. I have a boony hat with flies hooked on it. I have on a pair of waders, and I am casting a fly rod like Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It”. I’m drifting dry flies down the stream, just waiting for some gorgeous trout to suck it down so I can reel him in. I can hear that stream running now.
The weirdest thing about my dream is that I have never fly fished in a stream in my life, but I have always wanted to. I’ve only bass fished for the most part. But ponds are muddy things compared to the flowing stream. The waters of lakes are murky, and no one is tempted to drink from them. Even swimming in one is sort of gross. There are weeds and slime in still waters like those. Give me a fresh water stream over that any day.
Today I would like to really go to that stream and catch some of those trout. I want to hear the water trickle by in its endless flow to who knows where. All I need now is a fly rod, some waders, a boony hat, some flies, a stream, an out-of-state license, vacation time, and a lot of money. I think that I’ll stick to the day dream for now. It’s cheaper, and in my dream I always catch fish…without a single annoying mosquito bite.
In case you didn’t know, I also have a website called ThirstySoul It has been sorely neglected since my arrival in the blogworld, but it has finally been revamped and updated. And, IMHO, it looks fabulous. There, you may download sermons as you wish, much to my humiliation.
Also, I have several articles there that I have written that are, I hope, more profound than the things that you will find here. The articles there are longer, and they are more theological in nature. Basically, they aren’t just things I “pop off” like I do here.
The schools are absorbing the children who have been displaced. I am glad for this, but it brings difficulties as well. It has caused a good deal of unrest in the local schools.
Some of you know how difficult it can be to be the new kid in school. Now imagine the stress of losing your home, being seperated from family, and being the new kid in school. Further, the schools here all require uniforms. The town has literally sold out. So, you go to your new school without a uniform, which means the kids there immediately know that you are an evacuee.
For the schools, the problem is equally difficult. I believe that the local Junior High had approximately 480 children in school before the disaster. In the last week, they enrolled 90 new students, give or take a few. That is a huge increase in students, and that type of influx is typical Parish-wide.
On top of these problems, some of these kids were problematic while they were in tough New Orleans schools. Here, they have come to a rural setting where teachers aren't used to that sort of behavior. It is a trying circumstance.
Here comes the good part. They got so desperate today that they asked me to come and counsel students. They did not even care if I shared the gospel. If I could stop the cursing and fighting, I could have probably gotten away with an exorcism if it helped.
So, I spent a few hours counseling students out of New Orleans. I was amazed. I sat with them one on one (except with the girls, there was a lady present in the background) and we just talked. One girl in particular, her name is India, was a particularly hostile child to the teachers. I didn't really know how to handle the situation except pray that God would give me wisdom. I believe He answered my prayer.
I want to say that the principal of the school is a wonderful woman. So are the teachers. But they were overwhelmed and exasperated with the children. They were convinced that these children were afraid of nothing, and that the school should just send them all back to the shelter. They actually tried that, but they came right back for some reason. It was a mess. But the teachers and the administration were trying to make the best of the situation.
After they told me the horror stories, they set me up a room to counsel in. Here's what I did. I went to the classroom, got the child, and I introduced myself as Brad Williams, the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Plaquemine. In every child I counseled, that immediately changed their demeanor. They softened instantly.
As I sat with those children and talked to them, I was amazed to find that they listened to me. I listened to them as well. We talked about the flood, New Orleans, their families, their churches, and about God. It was a great time.
Here were my impressions:
1. Most of these kids had already been through things more horrible than Katrina.
2. Most of these children had never had an adult sit with them and listen to them and encourage them. Ever.
3. It grieves me that we cannot have godly chaplains in our schools.
4. These children are strong in mind and body. They are tough. With proper guidance, they could do anything they wanted.
I learned some other things from my talks with these children, and I hope that it made a difference to them. When I left each of them, I told them that I would look for them in the shelter. At that, each one told me exactly where to look. I found that highly encouraging. The school liked me enough to invite me back Monday, and they told me I could eat school lunch for free. I pray that this door will remain open and that I will have an effective ministry amongst these children.
I spent the day going from shelter to shelter in my parish and the West Baton Rouge Parish. I talked to the people in charge of those shelters, and for the most part, they have everything that they need. My Church has now received two diesel truck loads of supplies, including a large amount of prescription medication. We do not need anymore "stuff" at the present time.
I still have a few worries.
One worry is that some of these folks have no transportation. Some have jobs waiting in Baton Rouge, but they have no means to commute to them every day. Also, some of the more rural shelters, such as Addis, are less crowded but it will take FEMA and other organizations longer to find them.
My second worry is even worse. Some of these evacuees come from government housing, where they have been living off of government checks. As the days wear on, I am becoming more and more concerned that some are just waiting for the government to rebuild some projects for them to move back into. That way they can get their check sent to them. That is, of course, a government check.
This point was really driven home today as I talked with people in the shelters. I think the only word I heard today was "FEMA, FEMA, FEMA, FEMA..." It was like a mantra. To make matters worse, a lot of the evacuess saw that people in Houston got $2,000 debit cards to go and buy stuff. They did not get that here. You can imagine that this situation did not help things at all.
Let me clarify this by saying that this concern of mine does not come only from fatigue. It has been a concern since the beginning. But I also know that helping out at the shelters will wear on you, so I am trying to be careful with my thoughts. I would ask for you to pray for me and my Church in the coming weeks about this. Many of the peole we serve here are grateful, and they want to get back on their feet. But there is a number of people who are, shall we say, ungrateful. They complain about everything. These are the ones who refuse to clean up after themselves, go look at the job boards, or basically contribute anything helpful to the situation. I confess that I do not deal with this very well.
I met with a group of ministers and governmental officials today as well. We were supposed to talk with the governor, but she had to do something else. (I told my wife that I'd give her $5 if the governor actually showed up.) We were brainstorming about how we could now best help people since the urgent need of food and shelter is now worked out. Here is what I said:
"If I were in there with my family, and we now had shelter and food and the basic necessities. These are the two things that I would be worried about:
1. Getting a job. 2. Getting a job."
I told them that those two priorities were not necessarily listed in order of importance.
I think that for those who are willing to make a start, we need to come up with some way to get them legitimate job offers to match the skills that they have. I believe that the government can do a great service in this area. There are a few things that I believe the government could handle doing better than another organization:
1. Find legitimate jobs and list them via internet. That way, people could look them up, and printouts could be put up in shelters.
2. When a person finds a match, the government could help with transportation. By this I mean they could help folks get out of state if need be.
I'm just thinking here. But I know that people have to have jobs, and they have to have a way to get to them. At least, that's how I perceive the way things should be. Instead, I heard, "FEMA..." But what I wanted to hear was, "Job..."
I promised to write a post about my aggravation with the Red Cross, but I have since decided that it is not the Red Cross that I am aggravated with. It is the mentality of the Church.
The Red Cross does not promote Jesus Christ. They are purposefully secular. I have a problem with that. The Red Cross can do whatever it wants, but so can I. And if I choose to do disaster relief, I will be certain that the cup of cold water given out will be done in Jesus’ name. Shouldn’t that be the focus of all Christians?
The Southern Baptists have the third largest relief agency in the United States. You probably will not hear that on the television, but it is true. If the Red Cross serves a hot meal, then it is most likely that a Southern Baptist volunteer cooked it. Why aren’t Christians investing more money into such Christian organizations?
I am afraid that the answer is that Christians would rather support a secular agency than a Christian one. If that is not the case, why do Christians give more to the secular than to the sacred? Why should the coffers of the Church be drained to pad the pocket of a secular organization when the Christian organization can do a better job? Why not direct those funds somewhere else? Why not organize your Church as a shelter, if you have the means? Why not support a Christian organization to support?
Have I been misinformed? Is it, or is it not the policy of the Red Cross that folks not speak about “God” while working for the Red Cross? If the answer is yes, then, thank you very much but I will find an alternate way to help the people. If the answer is yes, then they should seriously consider changing their name to the “Red Plus”. Also, I wonder if the Red Crescent has the same restrictions. Somehow, I doubt that is the case. Muslims probably would not stand such secularism.
I know that some of you out there like the Red Cross. So why do you support it over a Christian organization?
I'm going to be busy most of the day at the shelter here in Plaquemine. We were up late last night cooking a monster spaghetti for 400 people. I still stink like onions. We had to cut up about 30 lbs. of them for the meal. We were all weeping like crazy. We had an onion revival.
Today, we will be serving our spaghetti concoction for lunch. Food for the hungry in the name of Jesus. That's a good way to spend a day. Later, I'm going to blog on why I'm irked about the Red Cross some more.
I know that many blogs are probably dealing with the sticky question of “Where was God when Katrina came to town?” My guess would be that some are doing a better job with this question than I will here. But, for my own sanity, I am going to work it out right here before your eyes.
I have no doubt that God knew that Hurricane Katrina was coming. I believe in a God that knows everything, so He certainly knew this. Further, I believe that God had the power to stop this disaster, and I believe that He chose not to do so.
I believe whatever God ordains also comes to pass. Look at Amos 3:6. It reads, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” Granted, Amos’ situation is different than ours. But the statement still has validity. A hurricane hurtling across the ocean cannot escape the notice of God, if He be God at all. And if He is powerful enough to stop such a disaster from overwhelming a city, then the natural question to ask is: “Why?”
The Bible is very clear on the nature of human beings. You can take it or leave it, but you leave it at your peril. It teaches that our “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If you refuse to believe this, look at what is going on in New Orleans right now. It is as if the veil has been lifted, and we can see clearly into what lurks in the hearts of men. The only thing that restrains people from lawlessness is threat of punishment, lack of ability, and the presence of law.
Further, it teaches that we rebel against God. We wish that we were God. In our vanity, we exalt ourselves, and in our proud we believe that we know better than He. We refuse to see His handiwork in creation, though it speaks of His glory like words on a page. We will not bow to His will nor submit to His commands, even though they are made for our good, His glory, and our joy.
If these things be true, then God is just when He strikes us. If we be rebels against God, and if God is all-good, then it would be shameful for Him not to do so. Justice cries out for a punishment to fit the crime.
If this is true, then if God whipped up wind and wave to crash in on New Orleans, then He is just and right to do so. No one can question Him and succeed in their case against Him. He is altogether good and lovely, even if He should rain death from heaven.
The problem is that not everyone in New Orleans was a reprobate. There were good men and women in New Orleans who lost everything in that flood. Men and women who have had all their sins forgiven. They will never suffer God’s wrath for against sin, for they own Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet, they are not above His correction.
The Bible teaches that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). For the Christians of New Orleans, God has promised that even this horror will turn to their good. The Lord Jesus Himself suffered many things, and through His sufferings He was made a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 2:10). We, through the crucible of our sufferings, will be molded into the greatness which God has prepared for those who love Him.
For those who do not love Him, for those who do not love His only-begotten Son, this tragedy will not be for their good. It will turn out for their bad. God will not work this out in their favor. It will be an end for them. A sad, rebellious end.
Did God send a hurricane to New Orleans because it was particularly evil? I cannot say so for certain. But I can say that this situation, in the end, will serve to demonstrate the majesty of God. He is, after all, God. If you can bare it, the Bible teaches that He spoke the heavens into creation by the Word of His power. By His Word He formed the seas, the lakes, the land, the birds, and the beasts. The creation declares His genius. We are a people dwelling on a tiny blip in the universe in and our lives are as short as a breath. The vastness of creation surrounds us for one purpose. The universe is not about us. The universe is not about itself. It has one message: Our Creator is glorious. From the beauty of the sunrise to the terror of the storm, nature declares God’s sovereignty.
The question is why did God allow this to happen? The answer: To display His glory to the world. Love Him or hate Him, He is God, and there is no other. Yet He is also compassionate and loving. He withholds no good thing from those who would embrace Him. The greatest treasure in all the universe, a treasure so great that the stars in heaven are dim by comparison, is Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man. And what did the Father do with His greatest treasure? What did He do with the treasure that has been the object of His affection from before the dawn of time? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If a person had to trade all worldly belongings to see the wonder of the Christ, then there is only one word for such a trade: Gain. Yes, it is infinite gain.
To sum up, I believe that God allowed this to happen to New Orleans to display His sovereignty and to benefit those called according to His purpose. I cannot see it now, nor can I understand it. The doom is too fresh, and the dead are unnumbered. But I have faith that in the end, when God’s purposes are revealed and we see the wonder that He has wrought, I will bend the knee and cry glory. May God grant every survivor of this disaster the grace to see such a vision.
In the next few days, blistering criticisms are going to fly about who is to blame for the disaster relief debacle in New Orleans. George Bush will get hammered, Governor Blanco of Louisiana will get hammered, and so will the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin will catch his share of flack as well. That’s politics, folks.
They will catch it because thousands of people remain stranded without water and food. They will catch it because there is looting in the streets. They will be the whipping boys (and girls) for the general mayhem that is taking place right now in downtown New Orleans. Make no mistake, it is anarchy there now. People are being shot, raped, and robbed. And it is all the government’s fault.
But let me remind the few readers that I have of who this government belongs to. When you watch the talking heads on the news gripe about what should have been done, and the words, “It’s the government; it’s the government…” wash over us like waters from Lake Ponchatrain, remember this quote:
It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Government of the people, eh? Do you know why folks are being robbed and killed and evacuations of the sick and dying are being called off? Do you know why Wal-Mart and other stores emptied of computers, GameBoys, football jerseys, and shotguns faster than it emptied of bottled water and food? It’s George Bush’s fault, right? Gov. Blanco, where are you? Why didn’t you guys do something?!
The reason the efforts have not been as successful as they should be might be because of a lack of preparedness, but I do not think that is the whole story. I think that there is a cancer growing in America, and I believe that the raging waters have exposed the filth.
I vividly remember a particular line from Mel Gibson’s The Patriot. In an early scene, he is at a town hall meeting where some people are trying persuade the people to rebel against King George of England. Gibson’s character quips, “Why should I trade one dictator a thousand miles away for a thousand dictators one mile away?” That was a gem. You see, if we want a government of the people to work, then at the most basic level the people have to have a measure of morality, self-control, benevolence and love for neighbor. If they don’t, then after watching television and working at the shelter in Plaquemine for the past few days, I cannot imagine a more hellish form of government, but I am afraid that’s what we are getting.
Every time I see someone crying about what the government ought to do, I wonder what that person has done to contribute to society. I wonder if they are someone who looks for the government to send them a check every month for sitting on their hind end doing nothing and living in a project that the government pays for. Or, I wonder if they are someone who is content to pull a check from work, pay taxes, and watch football. I wonder if they have ever in their life went to a town hall meeting to discuss something that has come up. Most people only holler at the government because they expect someone else to be doing something and not them. The words that roll around in my mind at such talk are these: OF THE PEOPLE!! OF THE PEOPLE!! We are like spoiled children getting ready to go to school, and when we find that our favorite shirt is dirty we throw a fit. Why isn’t this shirt clean! Why didn’t someone launder it before now? We have a perfectly good washer and dryer and electricity, why didn’t you clean this shirt, mom??! *SLAP!* Wash the shirt yourself, you little ingrate.
I know that George Bush and Gov. Blanco aren’t perfect. I also know that they do not read my blog. But if somehow they did, I want to say that this isn’t all your fault. We are worse than spoiled children, and parts of New Orleans were a cesspool long before Lady Katrina ever came to town. And increasingly, it seems that the cesspool morality of the people is running the country for the people and that this slide into doom cannot be halted by the people without intervention from a God who has been forgotten by many.
There was a strange moment at the shelter today. At least I think it was today, it could have been last night. Time flows weirdly when tragedy strikes.
My friend, whom I will dub DeadCoyote, had a Red Cross T-Shirt. That's because he is a Red Cross volunteer, sort of. Anyway, it makes him look official so that when he tells someone to get into the food line they go. I thought of wearing my blood donor Red Cross shirt to give me the same look of authority, but I decided against it.
Anyway, the DeadCoyote is standing there in the midst of all of this desperatness, and all of this homeless hungry people are grateful for the help. The Red Cross volunteer (note the singular usage) is obviously overwhelmed. He had a million things to worry about: few volunteers, moving 600 people back and forth to showers, finding them food, finding them linens, having adequate security, and etc. The man had a lot on his mind, I'm sure.
Suddenly, he looks at DeadCoyote and says, "You know you can't talk about God while wearing a Red Cross T-Shirt." Here they are, surrounded by this mass of displaced humanity, my friend is scrambling to help FEED PEOPLE, MOVE THEM, AND CLOTHE THEM, and this guy is worried about us TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT GOD WHILE WEARING A RED CROSS T-SHIRT.
(I have never used all caps in my life, but I somehow feel better now.)
So, DeadCoyote laughed and said he'd keep his T-Shirt on and say what he wanted. The Red Cross guys shrugged, and said sheepishly, "Well, I just have to tell you that." Note to Red Cross guys: No you don't have to say such silly things, even if the Red Cross tells you to.
Last night when I went to bed, the shelter had around 270 people and were expecting up to 500 by the end of today. When I woke up at 6am, they had 612 people and had turned away bus loads of people. Some people were coming in soaking wet with no other clothes.
The Russian novelist, Alexander Solshenitzi, once told a journalist that “It is impossible for a man who is warm to understand one who is cold.” Mr. Solshenitzi should know, he spent years exiled to the barren wastes of Siberia. However, as he sat by his fire years later, he found that he could no longer really feel the cold as he once did.
I know that if you are reading this right now, you most likely have a warm home to sleep in, and you have electricity, and you can go take a nice, hot bath if you wish. I have spent my day working for people who have nothing: absolutely nothing but the clothing that they have on their backs and a few odds and ends stuffed in a suitcase.
The refugees keep on piling in. When I spoke with the director today at lunch, he said he had no idea how he would feed the people lunch tomorrow. I volunteered our Church and told him we would make it happen. I can’t have 300 hungry bellies on my conscience all day when it is in my power to do something about it.
It is numbing work. It is stressful. The head of the Red Cross here in Plaquemine is already wearing out. He is a man with a lot on his mind. By the way, he is a volunteer who took vacation to come here. He is a normal guy with a normal job doing an extraordinary work.
The thing that strikes you the most are the children. They play as if nothing in the world is wrong. Some of them seem to be having the time of their life. After all, they just found a hundred new playmates. But the eyes of their parents tell a different story. They are tired: the kind of tired that is just the other side of despair. It’s when you have lost hope and the tired settles straight in the bones. It’s the kind of tired that a person has when he is too heartbroken to worry about how he is going to feed his kids, and where he is going to go, and if he could even get there if he thought of someplace. It’s the kind of despair that makes a grown man wish he could go home to momma instead of being someone’s daddy.
Tonight as I was organizing the setup time with the Red Cross volunteer, I found out that there was a four year old boy orphaned in a neighboring city. His parents were gone, and he was alone. I volunteered my home. My wife and I waited for two hours at the shelter waiting the ride with the sheriff to get Colt. We could not imagine sending a four year old boy into the midst of 300 strangers to sleep on a floor with no one to tuck him in or change his clothes or feed him. After two hours they informed us that we could not take him. We came home and I cried.
I have heard a lot of people say in a very upbeat way that God will turn this to good, and I believe it. They say that God will bring glory to His great Name from this, and I believe it. They say that someone out there needs to hear the comfort of the gospel. I tell you the truth, tonight that someone is me.
Tonight I need to grab that good news with both hands and ride it into the sunset. I need to know that beauty will come from ashes. I need to know that my efforts are not in vain, and that tomorrow’s gumbo will make a difference, and that little Colt is under the care of my Father. I need to know that the light of the gospel will pierce the veil of darkest despair. Tonight, I am glad to know that I have a great High Priest who knows what it is suffer. Tonight, I am glad that there is one exception to Mr. Solshenitzi’s rule. Jesus suffered, and He never forgets.
Lest you think I shall utterly despair, let me say that tomorrow, God willing, I will wake up at 6am to begin cooking gumbo and rice for 500 people. Five hundred people who have lost everything. Five hundred people who are dependant on the kindness of strangers for shelter and their next meal. This reminds me of the saying of Jesus that goes, “Whatever you did to the least of these my brothers, you did also to Me.” If that is true, and I believe that it is, tomorrow I will serve my Lord 500 meals. That’s just the kind of good news I needed to go to bed with, and that’s the kind of good news that makes me look forward to the dawn.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.