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Making Sense of the Storm (Annual Re-Post)

Making Sense of the Storm (Annual Re-Post)

I pray no storm ahead of me trumps the tragedy of this fateful day now almost 6 years ago.  Yet every year, the first storms of spring always remind me of what was for so many in our area at the time and what could have been for me and for my family.  Storms not only bring destruction, but they also bring questions.  Storms are weather occurrences, but the word also seems to be used often as a metaphorical description of the various trials of life.  So, as it seems we are in for some wind tonight in our area, here is my annual repost of Making Sense of the Storm.  Hopefully it will be a blessing to you whatever your weather.


On Wednesday afternoon our youth pastor and I took a generator to the home of a family in our church that had been hit by a tornado that morning.  They were scrambling to try repair their home to the point that it would be secure.  We all knew there were more storms coming and they would be worse.  I am not a carpenter.  In moments of urgent carpentry all I am is in the way.  When I go on a missions trip my job is to carry stuff in Jesus’ name.  So we did not stay long and I was home by early afternoon settling in for a long night of wild weatherman radar watching. 

Some people may think tower-cams are cool, I think they are nearly useless.  Anytime there is a storm we get a tower-cam image of a sleepy wet town.  Most of the time you can see little to nothing because the camera is drenched and shaking.  The weather man then discloses what the rest of us didn’t know, that it is windy and raining in Podunk.  Wednesday was different.  On the Tuscaloosa tower-cam entered a dark cloud that reached to the ground.  As it got closer you could tell it was circulating.  In a few moments it revealed itself to be a perfectly formed tornado, grey and sinister.  My wife and I watched in stunned shock knowing that property was being destroyed, lives were changing, people were dying.  As the camera panned to include a shot of Bryant Denny Stadium with a massive tornado in the background the screen went green; disconnect.  I have lived in Alabama long enough to know how these storms track.  I looked at my wife and said, “That thing is headed straight for us.” 

Within the hour we were hunkered down in the basement.  My daughters were crying.  We were praying knowing full well that the words, “It is all going to be O.K.” may not be within the realm of possibility.  I have seen hundreds of disasters on television.  Never have I had one headed for me.  The awful part of it all was that there was no evacuation, nowhere to go, there was no escape.  All you could do is wait and wonder if this would be the last time you would know your home as it is.  You wondered if you may be hurt or if you may die.  I tried to convey none of these ideas to my family, but I didn’t have to.  Though we didn’t verbalize what we felt each of us were easy enough to read.  We prayed and prayed and prayed.  I tweeted, “Praying for all our people.  Serious situation here.  May God be merciful to us.”  After the obvious questions we were left with only one, “Would God answer our prayers?” 

The tornado that destroyed Tuscaloosa and West Jefferson County tracked 180 miles across Alabama.  We live in a span of about the only 30 miles in which it did not touch down.  As it passed our home the air was still, then green, then violent, then black as night, then light as day.  For about 30 minutes before and after it passed roof shingles, sheet metal, splintered wood, insulation, and paper fell from the sky.  My wife found a $6,000 check in our driveway.  The moment was surreal.  I had no doubt that God had done something for us, but as I picked up the pieces of other people’s lives raining down on my yard I wondered, “What had God done for them?”

I know thousands of people across that 180 mile stretch of death prayed as hard as we did and believed just as much as we did.  Some of them are dead.  Some of them lost everything.  Some of them, like us, rejoiced that we were spared.  Situations like this foster questions from both believers and skeptics.  My wife heard a woman on the radio crying asking why God didn’t answer the prayers of the people who died?  As she ripped through her list of questions she rattled off, “Did they not have enough faith?”  Some people call tornados an act of God.  Insurance companies do.  Some people see them as so random and unforgiving that they conclude there cannot possibly be a God. 

How do we make sense of a storm?

For some it may be way too early to read this.  For others it may be too late.  Yet I write this so that you may “Feel my Faith” and perhaps to help those of you who find this on time to sort through what you feel, and perhaps find some Biblical basis for it all.  If the Bible promised us what many preachers have tried, that if you have enough faith, do right, and believe God then all things will be wonderful - then Wednesday would have made me an atheist.  Yet the Bible is more honest about life and its storms than many Bible Belt preachers have been over the last few decades.  The Bible is full of storms and God.  In fact, Jesus used the illustration of a devastating storm as the concluding illustration of what many regard to be His most famous teaching, The Sermon on the Mount. 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”  Matthew 7:24-27

The Bible is honest enough to tell us that there will be storms and we are candidates to be materially devastated no matter what we believe or how much or how little faith we have.  In 180 miles atheists, agnostics, preachers, babies, mothers, Christians, and otherwise all died in the storm.  We live in a world that was devastated by sin long before it was devastated by storms.  These moments are a part of our story.  Because we live so small we fail to realize there is evil everyday.  There are pockets of the world in which people are swept away by the hundreds and we simply sleep, or watch football, or eat burgers.  It could be argued that our daily indifference is evil.  At the very least storms reveal to us that we are unaware and bank too much on what is totally insecure.  Jesus interprets the true power of the storm.  Storms have nothing to do with what buildings are made of.  We have yet to build one strong enough to withstand the storm.  Storms are about what we are made of.  Storms make us question what we believe.  That is what we are doing.  Storms are also a litmus test to tell us whether what we believe is strong enough to help us make sense of reality and survive.

The Bible is honest about the reality of storms.  We live in a sin scarred world.  The Bible is also honest in telling us that none of us have ever suffered from the evil in this planet like God has.  God lost His Son in an incredibly unjust storm.  The storm of the crucifixion had nothing to do with weather, but people.  The wrath of man that Jesus suffered was unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving.  Yet in the midst of the storm, He forgave us (Luke 23:34).  That moment changed everything for us.  Then the meaning of that moment was secured when Jesus rose from the dead.  The honesty of the Bible is that everything about this life and the planet that hosts us has gone wrong due to sin.  There will be storms.  The honesty of the gospel is that there is coming a day when everything will be made right in Jesus.  When this happens, there will never be another storm.  The hope of the gospel is that everything we experience in this life is temporary.  Storms prove that the size of your home is inconsequential.  Yet, the decisions we make, the way we respond, the things we believe are eternally consequential.  The gospel gives us hope that there is eternal life; immune from pandemic, safe from the storm, victorious over death, Hell, and the grave.  What was taken from us on Wednesday, in Christ, can be returned, raised, and redeemed.  If we die in Him, we will live again. 

What did God do for us in the storm?  There is no accurate way to use the storm to prove or honestly question whether there is a God, though many will try.  The crucifixion settled the question of theodicy.  We constantly resurrect it.  The news media will continue to flash before us the death toll.  Has anyone taken the time to count the miracles?  Those stories will emerge, but will they be reported?  Yet none of this will help us make sense of the storm.  We will never be able to adequately calculate the ways of God.  So how do we make sense of this?  We realize that sin has devastated the world.  The storm is only symptomatic of a greater problem.  As long as this world continues as it is, we will rebuild, and other storms will come and destroy what we have done.  We will never engineer something eternal and we will never become immortal.  Storms are not about stuff, storms are about people.  They reveal whether we believe in something strong enough to endure, that give us hope beyond the grave, that places our values in something greater than things that can be easily blown away.  Storms teach us that ultimately nothing in this life is secure.

So I stood there praying, looking at my family, wondering if this would be the last time I would see them on this side of the storm.  When I saw the tornado hit Tuscaloosa I knew that no matter who I was, or how I prayed, the reality was that I too was a candidate to suffer great loss.  In that moment all I had was the gospel.  I knew that if we lost everything, our home, our church building . . . that everything would be fine.  I knew that if I lost my family, I would be devastated, but they would be fine.  I knew that if I died, they would be devastated, but they would know that I was fine.  Whether we lived or died, with our lives hanging in the balance we too could say with confidence as Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”  That is how we made sense of the storm and will continue to do so. 

May the people of God rise up and help one another recover and to make sense of the storm.  And may the days ahead be filled with love, recovery, healing, and the gospel.

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On "Inside the Minds of Animals" from TIME 8/16/2010

I have always enjoyed Saturdays.  Saturdays usually mean second sleep, waffles, college football in the fall, less of a schedule, and a long quest for stuff.  Only on a Saturday can you be satisfied with spending half the day looking for a deal on a chair, or a shovel, a rake, or an aquarium.  Saturday is a weekly celebration of doing and buying miscellaneous stuff.  I have only recently added another glimmer of hope to my Saturdays with a subscription to TIME magazine.  TIME magazine assures me that I get some piece of Saturday mail that is not a bill or some stupid ad for a car lot with the winning key attached.  I subscribed to TIME for two reasons.  1)  I need to be more current.  2)  I wanted to know what people who are nothing like me think about.  According to the cover of this week’s TIME magazine, people nothing like me are currently thinking about animal intelligence. 
When I took my Saturday walk of hope to the mailbox, pulled out the current issue of TIME, saw an ugly dog on the cover and read the headline “What Animals Think”, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  I even showed it to my neighbor Chuck as we contemplated Saturday stuff like trampoline enclosure nets, and quipped, “With all the stuff happening in the world right now, this is the best we can come up with?”  Some of the other stuff is in there, but at some level the folks at TIME thought that knowing what animals would think would be a bigger draw for the newsstand customer than a rapper running for President in Haiti, corruption on Capital Hill, or the weekly TIME update on life and times of the Clintons.  The Clintons are TIME magazine’s reality show. 
For this series of blogs About TIME, I have chosen to respond to the cover story each week with the exception of one.  When I saw the doggie on the cover this past Saturday, at the moment it was a no brainer.  There was no way I would write about what animals think.  But I have obviously reconsidered.  I engaged in this assignment About TIME to not only help me become a better and more current communicator, but also to help others see that the Bible relates to every issue of life.  For the most part people who believe the Bible are losing their seat at the round table of ideas.  We are being categorically ignored.  I am not sure how well I am helping our camp get an invite back to the table, but I do intend to crash the party, stand in the back of the room and boogie to the music everyone else is listening to.  Maybe if others see that I am having a great time they won’t kick me out and others may even join my awkward dance.
If I could quickly sum up the argument in Jeffrey Kluger’s article it would be that since animals are smarter than we think, we should probably rethink not only the way we treat them but also reconsider their place in life and society.  Kluger calls attention to the 1975 book, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  According to Kluger this book launched the modern animal-rights movement (I learned something new here).  “The ability to suffer, he argued, is a great cross-species leveler, and we should not inflict pain on or cause fear in an animal that we wouldn’t want to experience ourselves.”  Kluger documents startling research that shows that animals can not only communicate, but form societal bonds, solve problems, and use tools.  He even asks the controversial questions of, “Can they feel?  Do they experience empathy or compassion?  Can they love or care or hope or grieve?”  Again, the answers to these questions along with the consideration of the research, raises the question, “What does that say about how we treat them?”  Kluger does mention the Bible in his article, “For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument of all.  Human beings were granted ‘dominion over the beasts of the field,’ and there the discussion can more or less stop.”
My interpretation of Kluger’s statement on Scripture, coupled with findings of Science, is that the Bible offers an archaic view of animals that leads to uncontested abuse, but science is helping us find our way into a more ethical view of animal life.  The fallacy here is that science is actually saying something new that the Bible does not say.  If the issue is primarily how we treat animals, the Bible answered this long before a monkey invited Kluger over for coffee (see the opening paragraphs of the article).  The idea of human dominion over animal life was never an endorsement of barbarianism toward the beasts of the field.  The idea of Scripture is for humans to subdue the earth.  God brought about creation from chaos.  Without His “images” or “agents” who carry out His will working to subdue created life, creation would descend again into chaos.  Like God, we are to be creative, life giving.  The idea actually implies that if people did what God sent them here to do it would benefit not only human life, but every form of life including plant and animal life.  The Bible teaches that God is aware of and cares for animals (Matt. 6:26, 10:29).  God commands people to care for animals (Prov. 12:10, 27:23).  One should consult the laws concerning livestock in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to see that God requires compassion for animals and renounces cruelty.  Even the animals get a Sabbath (Exodus 20:10).  The message is very symbiotic, you need them to live and they need you – get along!
As far as animals being marvelous and intelligent, again, science is saying nothing new.  God directs us to marvel at the efficiency of the ant (Prov 6:6-8), and to learn from the fish and fowl (Job 12:7-10).  The eagle and the lion are often used as teaching metaphors for theological truths about God.  Even Jesus is a lion and a lamb.  And lest you thought it was only the monkeys that talk, in Revelation 5:13 some translations read “talk” others read “sing”, but all the living creatures speak praise to the one who sits on the throne.  Kluger shouldn’t have just asked Kanzi the bonobo for coffee, he should have asked him for a song.
Somewhere the message of Creationism has been misconstrued.  By default most people believe that creationists do not care for animals like evolutionists.  Somehow creationists are excluded as legitimate environmentalists.  It appears to me that unless one sells his soul to the animals in such a way that elevates animal life and demonizes human life, that he cannot possibly care anything about the planet.  I would contend that the Biblical position of exercising dominion over the animals and subduing creation in order to better facilitate human life is a greater benefit to the animals than simply allowing chaos to run its course.  The Biblical position is not one of destruction or unbridled consumption, but of management.  I would call attention to the fact that the Christian church does need to have a greater conscience when it comes to animal cruelty, especially when it comes to pets and livestock.  There are practices within both industries that are cruel to animals and hazards to human health.  In observing the strict practices of sacrifice and animal consumption in the Old Testament we would find not only a much more ethical treatment of animals, but also, in time, a more fit and less diseased human population. 
Where I, and most Christians, find disagreement with the prevalent ideas of the animal rights movement as demonstrated in Kluger’s article, is that it is not necessary to equate animal rights with human rights in order to find a more ethical treatment of them.  Let’s be honest.  While Kanzi the Bonobo’s use of 384 words and his invitation to Kluger for coffee is impressive, it is not the same as human intelligence.  If Kluger had stumbled into a remote part of the jungle and found a pack of monkeys sitting at a table, percolating coffee in a machine, making espresso, and debating the ethical treatment of the orangutan, I would have been impressed.  That would be something new!  Yet the fact remains, animals use tools, but have yet to adopt the combustion engine or find ways to harvest energy.  They do not write op-ed pieces about animal rights.  There is no organization amongst the Lions for the Ethical Treatment of Gazelles (LETGo).  Yet there is a PETA – that fact alone, ironically enough, demonstrates we are not animals and animals are not the same as humans.  This is where the Bible is clear.  Human life is infinitely precious.  There is no contest.  Animals are not to be abused, neither are they to be deified, worshipped, or elevated beyond what they were created to be.  In a culture that misses the Biblical ethic of life one can legally abort a human baby, but will go to federal prison for breaking the egg of an eagle.  We should appreciate animal life and conserve it.  We should honor human life and protect it.  We should not forget, monkeys could care less that it is Saturday.  Perhaps the things we do with Saturdays alone are enough evidence that we are very different creatures indeed.    
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In a culture that seeks gratification as its supreme good, fed by sound bytes and images, we become obtuse to the long term consequences of our decisions. We want an economic collapse that has been in the making for years to be remedied in a moment. We want choice without consequences. We want someone to blame. We have no conscience.

For three decades abortion has been defended as pro-choice. The image we are fed is a mother in danger, undone, and desperate. Without the right to choose her life will be ruined. Her rights should be defended at all costs. This image is a smoke and mirrors illusion meant to hide the grotesque underbelly of what is actually happening to women and babies in the communities in which we live. It is an illusion of choice meant to hide a world bathed in blood.

In the final presidential debate Senator Obama sold America on the illusion once again. When asked about his opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act he answered with smoke and mirrors. I would commend you to follow the following link and read the article posted by Robert George & Yuval Levin of The Witherspoon Institute. It will not only reveal the fallacious nature of the current presidential campaign (which is happening on both sides of the aisle I might add) but also expose the truth of what “pro-choice” actually means. This is not a debate about choice, it is about the right to life; not just for babies, but for all of us. Living humans, beware. With legislation and blood thirsty leadership any of us could be deemed medically undesirable!

Obama and Infanticide

Originally accessed through “Between Two Worlds.” (I would recommend anyone to subscribe to the “Between Two Worlds” blog and follow it closely. They cover a wide variety of topics).

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A Dollar's Worth

I want to recommend a blog to you from a friend, current church member, and co-laborer in Christ. His name is Jason Dollar and he posts some interesting articles from the field of Christian Apologetics. Jason really stays on top of the current trends in popular thought, does a great job discerning the issues, and has a great way of communicating to a broad audience. Currently (8/11) he has posted an interview he conducted with a former Jehovah Witness leader from his hometown. Jason has put a lot of work into this one and it is a very informative read.

Also, if you are looking for a great speaker I would highly recommend Jason. Although his primary ministry focuses on teens, from what I have observed of Jason he is effective in any audience setting. Youth pastors – once you get over your summer hangover and start planning for next year you must include Jason on your calendar for D-Now or camp!

Access Jason’s article here.

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Review of "Simple Church"

Simply stated, Simple Church (B&H, 2006, 252 pages) is the millennial version of Rick Warren’s 1995 Purpose Driven Church. Another way to describe Simple Church is that it is Purpose Driven Church with really good research. Substituting Warren’s “purpose” for the more kinetic term “process” Rainer and Geiger seek to prove the thesis that catchphrases and slogans are not enough for church growth. Churches must actually facilitate a linear path that will move a person into a deeper level of commitment and service. Be a church that has made a “great commitment to the great commission.” Use a very cool alliteration to describe yourself – but find a way to implement your vision and allow those words to actually shape congregational life.

Citing examples from the Google homepage to the iMac the authors demonstrate that “simple is in.” The effectiveness of the program driven church of the 50’s-80’s era has been replaced by the vibrancy and growth of churches that are able to keep it simple. The mega-church era called for high quality programs, lots of them, all of them, all at the same time. Every conference and book recited a long list of “must have” programs that promised an immediate return. Pastors went to conferences with wheelbarrows, but Rainer and Geiger carefully demonstrate that the program heap does not add to congregational life. The heap actually confuses the membership. No one really knows what the church is about. Furthermore the program heap diminishes effectiveness as it continually calls for more energy and time from each member. The alternative is simplicity. Set your path. Work the plan. Refuse everything that does not fit the vision. Rainer and Geiger submit four words to the reader to describe the process: Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus.

While not the most profound book I have ever read I did find it timely as our church is just weeks away from moving into a remodeled factory site that will be our new campus. Although the information was not new per se, that does not mean it was not helpful. Thom Rainer was for all practical purposes my pastor while I was a short term student a Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY (this was just before my eleven year break). While serving as interim pastor of an area church I attended, Dr. Rainer preached the greatest series on the Book of Acts I have ever heard. In a lot of ways his series was formative to my current ministry. That being said, Dr. Rainer is a powerful communicator but he is also an academic and one can get lost in the research statistics charted in Simple Church. But this does not diminish the book, or others like it as a must read for those who are outside the circle of church leadership and academics.

Pertaining to this book and others like it, this would be my recommendation. First of all to pastors and church leaders, read books like Simple Church cite them, reference them, glean from them, but openly credit and recommend them. Let people know these books exist, put them in their hands, and teach them to read! Most people think their pastor exists in a fantasy land and that his ideas are birthed in the REM stage of sleep, which explains why the word “change” is a four letter word in the church. We have led our people to believe we have no reference point because we are notorious for neglecting to make “reference.” So what if it’s not your idea. Be honest and open with people, introduce them to the academics, the Rainer/Geigers of the world, do yourself a favor and add to your credibility.

And now to the laity. . . Read books about church. Your pastor doesn’t sleep much and so he hardly ever experiences REM. His ideas are more founded than you may believe. Give your holy man some credit. Support your pastor by keeping current on the trends and ideas birthed by solid research. Everyone who claims the name of Christ is called to educate themselves in all things that would add to godliness. Studying church would surely be in that fold. Read theology, Bible studies, Christian life, even Christian fiction, but don’t leave out books about church. I know books like Simple Church are usually exiled to the dusty boring parts of the bookstore called “pastor helps”, but just so you’ll know – Dr. Rainer is THE man at Lifeway – Simple Church will be right out front! Even still, while you’re there, go to the dusty, boring, exile section of the bookstore and pick up Dr. Rainer’s The Unchurched Next Door. For all practical purposes “Unchurched” it is a much better read than Simple Church. My staff and I actually took our people through The Unchurched Next Door a couple of years ago. It was a highly beneficial experience.
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