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Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

One Week After the Storm

 

There are only two seasons in Alabama; football season and tornado season.  Actually football season never really ends here.  The teams only play 11 games but the fans talk about them 365 days a year.  Tornado season usually takes up about 8 months of the year.  There will be tornadoes somewhere in Alabama every week of the Spring and Fall; you can count on it.  Kansas has nothing on Bama.  The Wizard of Oz was supposed to be based on Dorothy from Tuscaloosa, but everyone knows the wizard behind the curtain of Bama is The Bear.  No surprise there, so they moved the plot to Kansas just to keep the story interesting.
 
A white Christmas in Birmingham is the unicorn of holidays.  In 2010 Bama had snow on Christmas day.  Last winter brought us lots of snow, another oddity in Alabama.  Then came Spring/tornado season part 1.  Tornado season is always dangerous in our state.  Last April it was devastating.  All of us have been weather paranoid since April.  We did not have snow this past Christmas, but we had thunderstorms just a few days into the New Year.  Lightning in January is another weather unicorn.  This past week only continued the rare weather that seemed to begin Christmas of 2010.  In the third week of January a series of F3 tornadoes ripped through our state.  The fact that it happened in January, once again, makes it a rare event.  This year the storms did not wait for Spring.  But this time the tornado was different for me and my family.  Not because the storm came early this year, but because this storm had a familiar face.
 
When tornadoes hit Alabama we watch it on the news and if it is within proximity we load up the following Saturday and go help.  You go to hurting people, but they are people you have never met and will probably never see again.  As devastating as the April tornadoes were to our state, and as much work as we did at the time, my heart grieved for the people impacted, but I did not know any of them.  I helped them, but I did not know them.  When the tornadoes hit our state last Monday night, they hit just up the street from my house.  I know dozens of the families impacted.  13 families in our church were affected.  My daughters go to school with children who are sharing story after story of what happened at their home.  When I watch the news I see people who I have met on a ball field, people who once attended our church, people I see almost every day.  In April I helped and watched people in North Smithfield, Tuscaloosa, and little towns all over the state.  This week it has been Jane, the Tice’s, Ms. Trice, Cheryl, Patsy, A.P. and Toni, the Bohan’s, on and on.  The guy on the news is Ken.  I remember when his kids were small.  His brother-in-law was our youth pastor.  This storm did not hit my house, but it severely damaged my home.
 
I still do not know what it feels like to look at your own house and all that’s left is a pile of debris.  I have no idea what it must be like to lose a daughter in a storm, but I was closer this week to understanding those feelings as I have ever been before.  None of it happened to me, but it happened just up the street.  The first house we put on offer on when we moved here was destroyed last Monday night.  We were one signature away from “that” house being “our” home.  I moved bricks and tossed debris at one house while a group of men crawled beneath the pile trying to salvage anything of value they could find.  I knew the people in the pictures they were pulling from the rubble.  I saw chairs and tables crushed beneath the walls of living rooms and dens where I have led families in prayer many times.  This week was a reminder that in a moment everything changes.  One storm blows through your community and in 10 minutes every scene that has been familiar for 9 years becomes barely recognizable.
 
Tornado ravaged areas all look and smell the same.  If you have seen one, you have seen them all.  Yet the world is so huge that the storm always seems far away.  Tornadoes happen, but they happen somewhere else.  Then it is your street, your family, your friends.  No one is immune.
 
Many people view the Bible as a narrative that occurred a world away and in another span of time.  Our world seems so different now than then that the two could not possibly intersect; then suddenly they do.  The Bible is honest about a world created with good intentions but ruined by sin.  Because of our rebellion in the garden the world that was created to sustain our lives will sometimes fight against us and take our lives.  Because of sin the story of the Bible is full of storms.  Because that story continues with us the storms will continue as well.  The storms remind us that the story of Scripture is not that far away.
 
After the storm we rush in, desperate to save a life.  We become desperate to make things right.  Yet ultimately we realize that insurance helps us recover but it does not help us redeem.  I visited a man in the trauma unit who told me that this was not his first trip to the hospital after a storm.  No matter what we rebuild we know we may be hit again.  Our rescue efforts, volunteer cleanups, and insurance policies can make the moment somewhat better but we are powerless to ultimately make it right.  We are incapable of looking any of our neighbors in the eyes and saying, “I promise, this will never happen to you again.”  It is a cruel reminder that we cannot save ourselves.  We need good news.
 
The Bible is honest about the storm and it is confident about redemption.  Along with the angry palpitations of our planet there are also promises of hope.
 
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:18-25
 
The good news is that the world was not supposed to be like this and because of Christ it will not always be like this.  The difficulty is in the waiting, but we do not wait hopelessly, we wait with hope.  Waiting hopefully does not mean we passively subscribe to Christ and wait patiently to die.  Waiting with hope means that we live for Him now.  Waiting hopefully means we must realize that recovery is not simply about extending Christian charity, but about spreading the gospel message.  It is calling people to repent of sin and submit to Christ as the ultimate expression of hope.  Some may charge that calling for repentance at at time such as this seems cruel, but if we merely rebuild homes in Jesus’ name, we have redeemed nothing.  All we have done is recovered and rebuilt something that may be destroyed again.  The message of the gospel is that in Christ we enter into a new hope that will sustain us in the storm because we know one day He will come again and return the world to right.  We wait for Him to come then, but in the waiting we live for Him now.  The promise of the gospel is that one day Christ will end the terror of sin.  When sin ends, so will the storms.  In the weeks to come our task is to rebuild, but our call is to tell.  We must rebuild homes, but we must also give people hope by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
These are our neighbors.  These are our friends.  This is my community.  Jesus Christ is our hope. 
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Tales of a First Grade Atheist - Reposted

 

This is the week of the year when people publish their "top tens", reviews, and resolutions.  For the final week of the year I will offer some of my favorite posts - reposted.  Feel My Faith.com has been online a few years now.  It is time to bring some old material back to the top.
_______________________
 
“If I can’t see God, how can I believe in Him?” I could tell we were progressing past the usual questions of curiosity that we had grown accustomed to for the last six years. You know, the questions designed to make parents squirm. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, I know God laughed. “Daddy, why is my sister in mommy’s belly?” And before I could clear my throat, “Daddy, was I in mommy’s belly?” “How did I get in mommy’s belly?”
 
“Well, um, honey. . .it just. . .you see. . .when a mommy and a daddy. . .” and now that God is laughing, by His grace, in the infinite expanse of time and design, by His predestined purpose, before the worlds were framed, He placed a Chic-Fil-A, with a playground, and ice cream in your path. There you make a hard left, “let’s play on the playground.” And the child screams with glee. The secrets of biology are safe, preferably until she’s thirty.
 
But this question scared me, not so much due to the question, but because she’s only seven, and she was serious. If the eyes are a window to the soul, I could see deep within her, and I could not see God. I could only see a soul that had been thinking consistently about this long before she asked me about the existence of God. And my soul, her daddy’s soul, panicked. And it panicked hard. Has my first grade beauty become an atheist? Is public education truly a tool of the anti-Christ? Is that lump in my throat more than nervousness, could it be the early stages of cancer? I can’t breathe, do I have asthma? Could it be true that my child was not only losing baby teeth, but also losing her faith?
 
I have read tons of Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Josh McDowell, and Francis Schaeffer. I was stunned, but I was armed – and so I fired. Picking up the nearest Junie B. Jones volume from her nightstand I said, “Have you ever met this lady who wrote this book, Barbara, have you ever met Barbara?”
 
She stared at me.
 
“Well don’t you believe Barbara is real even though you haven’t actually seen her?”
 
And I did that with a dollar, with a doll, with a Disney princess. I did that with almost every artifact which cluttered her floor. Every toy, book, and doll became a part of my apologetic arsenal. Tonight the tools of theology, tomorrow she must clean her room.
 
That’s theology, that’s great apologetics, that’s something that no seven year old in her right mind could refute; the fact that even though we cannot see these people, and have never met these people, the proof of their existence is clearly seen by the evidence of their creations. And so I proudly waited for the seven year old to surrender, for the intellectual dust to settle, for the daddy of theology to kiss her goodnight, say her prayers, turn out the light, having once again successfully explained the secrets of the universe to a seven year old. And this time without a Chic-Fil-A bail out.
 
The dust settled, and in her eyes, in her soul, only doubt.
 
This went on for several days. She played on the swing set, I taught her how to hit a softball, she pretended to be a princess, she took a bath, she went to bed, and she became an atheist. The eyes of her soul full of doubt, the question consistent, “If I cannot see God, how can I believe in Him?”
 
How can this child not see God? I am a pastor, we own a hundred Bibles, we go to church – even on vacation, we pray – a lot, how can this child not see God?
 
And as the nights progressed my soul began to break. And it was hard for me to see my child at seven begin to lose her faith. It was hard for me, in this, to see God.
 
Isn’t there a formula for raising born again kids? I know there are books about it. I took a family class in Bible College; I know we talked about it. I am sure I have heard or preached a sermon with a sure fire list of five, three, or eight ways to raise born again kids. There must be a formula – perform a list of steps, pray a certain prayer, memorize a chapter, claim a verse, have twenty minutes of quiet time a day, never let your daughter see you screw up (at least not very much), and even go to church on vacation – and you should be guaranteed that God will not plant a child in her mommy’s belly that will turn into an atheist – at seven.
 
But it wasn’t working.
 
There have been a number of things in my life that have brought me to the conclusion that there is not a formula for spiritual things. I can teach, model, preach, suggest, advise, regurgitate, talk about faith with my daughter, but only God can make faith come alive within her. And I needed God. So my prayers about this matter began to lose formula, and moved to soul cries of a dad who desperately desired to see faith bloom in the heart of his little girl.
 
But she continued to question me, and I continued to question God.
 
Why will God not flip the switch, plant the seed, make faith simple – seven year old simple, again? There are a lot of things in my life right now about which God is silent, and for some reason, He will not move. But this was, to me, the cruelest of all, for God to allow me to lose grip on my daughter’s faith. Why?
 
And I grew closer to joining her, wondering why do we believe in a God I could not only see, but I could not hear, that I could not feel, and now seemed would not answer? Do I believe? And the battle moved from her bed into mine. Deep into the night I prayed and I wondered about my own faith.
 
She dressed a doll, she played with her Gameboy, she ate a pop-sickle after supper. She took a bath, she went to bed, and there it was again, those contemplative, empty eyes – a doubting soul.
 
And so I reached down into my soul and grabbed it to see what was there. “Morgan, I believe in God. I have given my life to Him. I believe Jesus died for me on the cross, that He loves me and that he has saved my soul. I may not understand everything about God, and I may never be able to really answer your question, but I believe in Him. And Morgan, I pray for you every night, that God will give you faith and cause your heart to long for and believe in Him.”
 
She hid her face under the covers. All I could see was the bow I had forgotten to take out of her hair. And then I heard her cry. My heart broke.
 
I begged her to tell me what she was thinking. I could tell, whatever it was, it was coming from a place deep within her. Finally she sat up. Wiping her tears, clutching her pink patchwork quilt, broken and teary, she pressed it out of her mouth, “Daddy, I’m just so happy to know you pray for me.”
 
I grabbed her in my arms and held her tight. My eyes grew watery, the lump in my throat – growing. She shook in my arms and I could feel her tears now saturate my shirt. But I must confess, the unregenerate, sarcastic monster that lives within me wondered where she had been for the last seven years as her mother and I have religiously prayed for her? Seven year olds – a mystery.
 
I am a pastor, I go to church. . .even on vacation. I can turn Bible passages into formulas, put them on PowerPoint, and preach them systematically. I own a ton of Bibles. I overreact. She was nowhere near atheism, but her faith was challenged, and so was mine. If my little girl cannot look into my eyes and see that my soul is connected with God – why would she believe? At seven, she understands religion is my job. And there are times she looks into my eyes, and that’s all she sees, a job in religion. What she wants to know is that her daddy knows God and actually talks to Him about her. Not in formula, but in conversation. When my girls destroy my nap, pounce on my outstretched stomach, crushing my vital organs, and begin to “waller” me to death – can they sneak a peek into my eyes, my soul, and see God? I wonder how many times, praying over green beans, have they actually been listening to my voice, listening for it to connect with God? When I pick up the Bible, do they wonder if I have truly met the author – or is our relationship strictly apologetic?
 
I saw God in my daughter’s eyes again. Her faith and my faith, a little more elastic, stretched, and growing. I realize she and God have something in common. They are wondering if I believe in someone I cannot see.
 
Dear God, come alive in me.
Dear God, come alive in her.
God give us faith to see You.
BB
Gal. 2:20
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Tales of a First Grade Atheist

“If I can’t see God, how can I believe in Him?” I could tell we were progressing past the usual questions of curiosity that we had grown accustomed to for the last six years. You know, the questions designed to make parents squirm. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, I know God laughed. “Daddy, why is my sister in mommy’s belly?” And before I could clear my throat, “Daddy, was I in mommy’s belly?” “How did I get in mommy’s belly?”

 

“Well, um, honey. . .it just. . .you see. . .when a mommy and a daddy. . .” and now that God is laughing, by His grace, in the infinite expanse of time and design, by His predestined purpose, before the worlds were framed, He placed a Chic-Fil-A, with a playground, and ice cream in your path. There you make a hard left, “let’s play on the playground.” And the child screams with glee. The secrets of biology are safe, preferably until she’s thirty.

 

But this question scared me, not so much due to the question, but because she’s only seven, and she was serious. If the eyes are a window to the soul, I could see deep within her, and I could not see God. I could only see a soul that had been thinking consistently about this long before she asked me about the existence of God. And my soul, her daddy’s soul, panicked. And it panicked hard. Has my first grade beauty become an atheist? Is public education truly a tool of the anti-Christ? Is that lump in my throat more than nervousness, could it be the early stages of cancer? I can’t breathe, do I have asthma? Could it be true that my child was not only losing baby teeth, but also losing her faith?

 

I have read tons of Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Josh McDowell, and Francis Schaeffer. I was stunned, but I was armed – and so I fired. Picking up the nearest Junie B. Jones volume from her nightstand I said, “Have you ever met this lady who wrote this book, Barbara, have you ever met Barbara?”

 

She stared at me.

 

“Well don’t you believe Barbara is real even though you haven’t actually seen her?”

 

And I did that with a dollar, with a doll, with a Disney princess. I did that with almost every artifact which cluttered her floor. Every toy, book, and doll became a part of my apologetic arsenal. Tonight the tools of theology, tomorrow she must clean her room.

 

That’s theology, that’s great apologetics, that’s something that no seven year old in her right mind could refute; the fact that even though we cannot see these people, and have never met these people, the proof of their existence is clearly seen by the evidence of their creations. And so I proudly waited for the seven year old to surrender, for the intellectual dust to settle, for the daddy of theology to kiss her goodnight, say her prayers, turn out the light, having once again successfully explained the secrets of the universe to a seven year old. And this time without a Chic-Fil-A bail out.

 

The dust settled, and in her eyes, in her soul, only doubt.

 

This went on for several days. She played on the swing set, I taught her how to hit a softball, she pretended to be a princess, she took a bath, she went to bed, and she became an atheist. The eyes of her soul full of doubt, the question consistent, “If I cannot see God, how can I believe in Him?”

 

How can this child not see God? I am a pastor, we own a hundred Bibles, we go to church – even on vacation, we pray – a lot, how can this child not see God?

 

And as the nights progressed my soul began to break. And it was hard for me to see my child at seven begin to lose her faith. It was hard for me, in this, to see God.

 

Isn’t there a formula for raising born again kids? I know there are books about it. I took a family class in Bible College; I know we talked about it. I am sure I have heard or preached a sermon with a sure fire list of five, three, or eight ways to raise born again kids. There must be a formula – perform a list of steps, pray a certain prayer, memorize a chapter, claim a verse, have twenty minutes of quiet time a day, never let your daughter see you screw up (at least not very much), and even go to church on vacation – and you should be guaranteed that God will not plant a child in her mommy’s belly that will turn into an atheist – at seven.

 

But it wasn’t working.

 

There have been a number of things in my life that have brought me to the conclusion that there is not a formula for spiritual things. I can teach, model, preach, suggest, advise, regurgitate, talk about faith with my daughter, but only God can make faith come alive within her. And I needed God. So my prayers about this matter began to lose formula, and moved to soul cries of a dad who desperately desired to see faith bloom in the heart of his little girl.

 

But she continued to question me, and I continued to question God.

 

Why will God not flip the switch, plant the seed, make faith simple – seven year old simple, again? There are a lot of things in my life right now about which God is silent, and for some reason, He will not move. But this was, to me, the cruelest of all, for God to allow me to lose grip on my daughter’s faith. Why?

 

And I grew closer to joining her, wondering why do we believe in a God I could not only see, but I could not hear, that I could not feel, and now seemed would not answer? Do I believe? And the battle moved from her bed into mine. Deep into the night I prayed and I wondered about my own faith.

 

She dressed a doll, she played with her Gameboy, she ate a pop-sickle after supper. She took a bath, she went to bed, and there it was again, those contemplative, empty eyes – a doubting soul.

 

And so I reached down into my soul and grabbed it to see what was there. “Morgan, I believe in God. I have given my life to Him. I believe Jesus died for me on the cross, that He loves me and that he has saved my soul. I may not understand everything about God, and I may never be able to really answer your question, but I believe in Him. And Morgan, I pray for you every night, that God will give you faith and cause your heart to long for and believe in Him.”

 

She hid her face under the covers. All I could see was the bow I had forgotten to take out of her hair. And then I heard her cry. My heart broke.

 

I begged her to tell me what she was thinking. I could tell, whatever it was, it was coming from a place deep within her. Finally she sat up. Wiping her tears, clutching her pink patchwork quilt, broken and teary, she pressed it out of her mouth, “Daddy, I’m just so happy to know you pray for me.”

 

I grabbed her in my arms and held her tight. My eyes grew watery, the lump in my throat – growing. She shook in my arms and I could feel her tears now saturate my shirt. But I must confess, the unregenerate, sarcastic monster that lives within me wondered where she had been for the last seven years as her mother and I have religiously prayed for her? Seven year olds – a mystery.

 

I am a pastor, I go to church. . .even on vacation. I can turn Bible passages into formulas, put them on PowerPoint, and preach them systematically. I own a ton of Bibles. I overreact. She was nowhere near atheism, but her faith was challenged, and so was mine. If my little girl cannot look into my eyes and see that my soul is connected with God – why would she believe? At seven, she understands religion is my job. And there are times she looks into my eyes, and that’s all she sees, a job in religion. What she wants to know is that her daddy knows God and actually talks to Him about her. Not in formula, but in conversation. When my girls destroy my nap, pounce on my outstretched stomach, crushing my vital organs, and begin to “waller” me to death – can they sneak a peek into my eyes, my soul, and see God? I wonder how many times, praying over green beans, have they actually been listening to my voice, listening for it to connect with God? When I pick up the Bible, do they wonder if I have truly met the author – or is our relationship strictly apologetic?

 

I saw God in my daughter’s eyes again. Her faith and my faith, a little more elastic, stretched, and growing. I realize she and God have something in common. They are wondering if I believe in someone I cannot see.

 

Dear God, come alive in me.

Dear God, come alive in her.

God give us faith to see You.

BB

Gal. 2:20

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