Why Harvey?

If God is good, why is there a flood in Texas?

That’s the question my eight-year-old had for me this week when I picked him up from school. It made me proud. I wasn’t exactly expecting it but it made me proud.

I want to make sure that the faith of my kids is their own faith, not just some hand-me-down faith from their pastoral father. Questions like this one lead me to believe that their faith is their own. Kids just looking for a Get Out of Hell Free Card tend not to ask questions like that.

So I talked to my son about sin and all of its ugly consequences. And I told him about the drastic actions God took to undo those consequences and the living hope all believers have for a new heaven and new earth, one without hurricanes. I kept my answer general.

It’s not my place to say specifically why God allowed Hurricane Harvey to happen. Preachers and pundits like to do that sort of thing but it amounts to nothing more than taking God’s name in vain. They say things like, “God was punishing the gulf for their (fill in the blank with whatever pet sin they hate more than all of the others at that particular moment).” God most certainly can and does punish sin in a variety of ways. But rather than causing us to make reckless assertions about Houston, it should cause us to get our own house in order.

When I finished talking, I asked my son if he understood.

He said yes and went on to thinking about the Cheetos that he was going to eat when we got home.

But I didn’t quit thinking about that question. Isn’t it interesting how kids have a way of saying things that stay in your head and heart days later?

Our country is divided. Everyone is fighting. And it’s all over the news. In fact, I think that the news kind of likes the fighting. You can see the excitement in some of the reporter’s eyes. With each new riot, it’s like they can see their Pulitzer getting closer.

Bloodshed is good for business.

Last week that excitement shifted from the riots to the hurricane in the gulf. As Harvey increased in categories, they could see their ratings increase.

Bloodshed is good for business.

But something strange happened on the way to the Emmy Awards show.

People got unified. Well, people on the gulf coast of Texas did at least. There were still rioters on the other coasts but not as many people were paying attention to them. And the talking heads on the news were still blaming one another’s political persuasion for the hurricane. But not as many people were listening.

Most people were too busy watching Americans save other Americans. Of course, there were first responders doing what first responders do. But, by no fault of their own, they were overwhelmed. There’s no way to really have the man power for a storm of this magnitude.

So neighbors started saving neighbors. Guys with huge trucks rescued total strangers from their flooded homes. A black man carried a white man and his confederate flag from the rising waters. Pastors went door to door in bass boats, looking for people in need of help. And when they found their targets, they comforted them with a hug and words from Scripture. Even Chick-fil-a got in on the helping. That shouldn’t surprise us.

Everything is political these days. You can’t even sell a chicken sandwich anymore without having to jump through certain hoops and appease those who pride themselves on being on the right side of history. But, for a while at least, all of that stopped. There were no Antifa or white supremacists boats. When rescuers assisted women and children, no one said anything about gender being a social construct.

Don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that this storm has fixed America.

The national debt hasn’t gone away.

There are still racists out there doing what racists do.

Politicians are still blaming each other for pretty much everything.

But not on the coast of Texas. No, on the coast of Texas, people are loving their neighbor in the realest possible sense of the phrase. And, in a lot of ways, that’s been going on long before Hurricane Harvey was a thing.

It’s just a shame that it took the storm of the century to get reporters live on the scene.

Self-sacrifie for the good of another, it turns out, isn’t so good for business.

Earlier this week I was talking to my son about the new heavens and the new earth. He wanted to know what it would be like when Jesus comes back. He wasn’t interested in what 666 meant or who the AntiChrist was. He cared more about the main point. I wish we were all more like that. Before I finished talking he cut me off.

“I wish Jesus would come back right now.”

I couldn’t disagree with him.

But watching the people in Texas help each other made this broken world a little more bearable while we wait for Jesus to come back and fix it.

image credit

Ice Road Workers

photo-11

Thursday, February 13, 2014  11:00 a.m.

There is a pot of soup on the stove a few feet away from me.

Thanks to the ice storm of the century, I’ve spent the last two days working from home. With my kids. So that means that I’ve had to take a break every 30 minutes to build a Lego spaceship. When I work alone at my office I only take breaks every 45 minutes to build Lego spaceships.

This is the part where I’m supposed to complain about cabin fever and the kids getting on my nerves. But I can’t do that. I can’t do it because there are a lot of people in my church who would love to have cabin fever with their kids.

Before the ice storm hit us I called a lady in our church. She just moved down here from the midwest. I wanted to make sure that she was ready for her first Georgia ice storm.

“I moved down here to get away from this stuff.”

She went on to inform me that ice was different from snow and that nobody, no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon Line they come from, can drive on ice.

The police in my county agreed with her. They spent Wednesday night encouraging all of us to stay off of the roads. They even offered a free ride to work for anyone who needed it. The message was clear.

Stay home.

But, like I said, several people in my church didn’t take that advice. It’s not that they were being stubborn or rebellious. They just had a job to do.

Matt is a police officer. He spent all day Tuesday tracking down an escaped inmate from another county. And then an inch of ice fell on us. So he spent the rest of the week making sure that the people who had to get out on the roads were okay.

People like Clint. He works for a power company. While I was sitting at home, smelling soup and working on my sermon, he was with a bunch of other men making sure that the electric stoves we all cook our soup on still had what they needed to function. I thought about him every time our lights blinked off for a second or two. That’s about as long as we ever lost our power. A second or two.

Justin slept at the airport. He wasn’t stuck, waiting for his next flight. He was at work. That’s where he’s been most of the week. Without coming home. Without seeing his wife and daughter. There was a job that needed to be done and there were only a few people who were able to do it. Justin made sure that he was one of those people.

There are others. Danielle slept at the hospital where she works. Randa chased her kid around while her husband was stuck at work.

I’m a pastor. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see the fruits of my labor. Being a pastor is not like cutting grass.

Yesterday the grass was tall.

Today it’s short.

I did that.

Some pastors go years before they ever experience that feeling of accomplishment from their work. Some pastors never see it. But we’re always looking for it.

Social media can fool us. It can make us believe that our people have to start non-profits or dig wells in foreign countries before they are ever truly Christ-like. Those things are great but modeling the love and life of Christ isn’t confined to those things. You can also see it in a man who willingly sleeps on a bench where he works in order to provide for his family during an ice storm.

The ice in my yard is starting to melt. Soon, the roads will be clear and families in our church will be reunited. This ice storm brought with it a reminder. A reminder that being like Jesus doesn’t require starting a trendy ministry, preaching a sermon or writing a book.

Sometimes being like Jesus just means going to work when going to work is hard because you might not be coming back for a few days.

I’m blessed to pastor a church full of people with that attitude. People who know who they represent. People who know who they’re really working for.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

Blame It On The Rain

It was the worst summer of my life. The year was 1994 and I had just completed my first year of college. I think that it rained every day that summer. I spent all day indoors working at a cheese factory. I showed up for work every day just as the sun was coming up. When I left work every afternoon it was always raining. I felt like I was living in a Tim Burton movie.

Cheese. Rain. Sleep.

Cheese. Rain. Sleep.

By the end of that summer I had one wish. I didn’t want to see rain again. Ever.

My wish came true. For about the next 20 years the state of Georgia was under a severe drought. I remember being in church services where we prayed for small towns that were on the verge of running out of water. During those two decades, the absence of rain wasn’t the only problem. It was hot too. Years later when Facebook came along, almost every status update said something about the temperature.

Sheila Jefferson Blankenship It is soooooooooo hot!!!!! This is crazy. Somebody up there turn on the AC. SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then there would be a picture of the car thermometer showing us all that it was 106 degrees in Sheila Jefferson Blankenship’s Volvo. That’s before she turned on her AC.

By the end of last year, I noticed a strange phenomenon. The ponds in my community were drying up. The places where people once fished and cows once did whatever disgusting thing it is that cows do in ponds now looked like giant mud puddles. Again, we all prayed for rain.

And God answered our prayers favorably.

It feels weird to say this but this summer we’ve had more rain than we have seen in 20 years. It’s still hot but it’s not unbearable. For the past week or two, we’ve gotten a good rain at least once a day. Ponds look like ponds again. People’s gardens look like jungles.

And that leads to another strange phenomenon.

Nobody is happy about the rain. There are no special church services thanking God for blessing us with all of this rain. Only complaints.

Shelia Jefferson Blankenship What is up with this rain? Enough already. Somebody up there turn it off! SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is followed by a picture of Shelia Jefferson Blankenship’s frowning kids dressed in their swimsuits but unable to go to the pool because of a thunderstorm.

It’s never enough for us. If it’s raining, it’s too much rain. But if it’s dry, God must have forgotten about us. We want God to give us what we want but we don’t even know what we want. And so we complain.

There’s more behind all of these complaints than just a bad attitude. Each time we question the amount or timing of rain we are implying that we know more than God. That our plans to take the kids to the pool are somehow more important than his sovereign will.

We’re in good company.

In the Bible, a man named Job was quick to question God. And God answered him. But it wasn’t the kind of answer one gives to explain his actions. It was the kind of answer one gives to explain his absolute sovereign rule over all things.

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?” Job 38:34-38 (ESV)

And later.

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Job 40:2 (ESV)

Job eventually got the point and we should too. We are not God. There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and he has been doing an excellent job of managing the universe from the moment that he created it (Colossians 1:15-17).

I learned something in the summer of 1994 and the nearly 20 years of drought that followed it. God blesses us in different ways. But if we’re too busy worrying about our agenda, we’re going to miss those blessings. Sometimes they’ll even start to look like curses.

But God is gracious.

Through all of our complaints and rebellious acts against his sovereign will, God continues to bless us. And typically his greatest blessings are the ones that we don’t think we need.

Lord Jesus, help us to see the world with your eyes. Help us to learn to be thankful.

Editor’s Note: I don’t know anyone named Shelia Jefferson Blankenship. Shelia, if you exist, I meant no offense. I hope you have a great summer. And I hope your kids make it to the pool. 

Three People You’ll Meet This Summer

Summer is almost here and it’s important for you to know what to expect. If you live in the south, you can expect really hot weather. But the hot weather has its way of bringing other things along with it. Like people. Here’s your warning.

The Complainer

You’ll know him when you meet him. Trust me. You’ll start up some conversation about the weather and know exactly who you’re dealing with.

You: “Sure is a nice day.”

The Complainer: “I guess. But we sure do need some rain. I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Two weeks later.

You: “Sure is nice to get all of this rain. We really needed it.”

The Complainer: “I guess. But _____________________ (Insert: “it’s not nearly enough.” or “we didn’t need this much all at once.”) I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Nudist

This is the person that’s just a little too happy about it being summer. It’s the same guy who, during the winter months, frequents the local Golden Corral and Wal-Mart in his pajamas. In the summer, he still visits Golden Corral and Wal-Mart but he does so in his bathing suit. The one he wore in the third grade. When he was 200 pounds lighter. And by “bathing suit”, I mean cutoff jean shorts.

To finish off this little fashion statement, The Nudist is wearing his Crocks, only now without socks what with it being so hot outside and all.

The Protector

In the south, it’s hard to make it through the summer without spotting a snake. Snakes like to surprise you. Dogs can be annoying but at least they give you some advanced warning. Snakes have a way of just appearing. And when they do appear and you tell the story about it later on, The Protector is usually somewhere within earshot.

You: “And then I looked down and there it was. Man, it must have been 6 feet long.”

Your Friends at the Table with You: “No way. I hope you killed it.”

The Protector (seated three tables over): “Excuse me. I know that you don’t know me but I just happened to overhear your conversation and, judging by your description, it sounds as though you were talking about the Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake. You know that it’s against federal law to kill those, right?”

You: “But it was wrapped around my car and spitting at my infant son.”

At this point, The Protector turns into Sally Struthers and starts trying to make you feel sorry for the Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake.

The Protector: “Please don’t ever kill this snake. It helps to keep the bad snakes away and the oils from its skin helps to regulate blood pressure in men over 50. In fact, for just the price of a cup of coffee you could sponsor your very own Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake.”

Never, ever sponsor a snake. It’ll come back to… never mind. Just don’t do it.

But if you really want to give some money away maybe you could buy a new Florida Gators tank top for The Nudist to wear with his “bathing suit.”

Have a great summer!

It’s been great sitting next to you in English class all year!

LYLAS!