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Random Thoughts on Friday 2/3

Shannon and I celebrated 15 years of marriage this week.  The official wedding anniversary gift almanac says that this is our crystal anniversary.  I did not buy Shannon crystal.  Instead I bought her tickets to Wicked.  This is our wicked anniversary.  Strange to hear a preacher say something like that.

I am continuing to trudge through the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a gifted theologian with an amazing story.  There are plenty of books about his life that will help you get the jest of who he was without reading the most recent 500 + page edition.  I'm not saying the book is bad, it is just really, really, really detailed.  At this point I am too far in to put it down and I have too much pride to quit.  There is just something nerdy cool about saying you read a 500 page biography about a German theologian.  Another thing keeping me in the book is to see how many casual conversations I can drop the name Bonhoeffer into and share an obscure fact about his life.  If you are having a hard time finishing a book, make it a game to keep you in it.

Greg Garrison at the Birmingham News wrote up a nice article this week on the response of area churches in the cleanup effort.  You can read it on al.com here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2012/01/birmingham_area_ministries_chu.html
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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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Hypocrites and Tornadoes (Just Ask)

Question:  I am dealing with people in my family not wanting anything to do with church because of hypocrites. I need help in this area.  What can I do?
The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that means “an actor on a stage.”  It describes someone who is able to play a role in a certain context, but who lives a very different life “off stage.”  This is certainly true of many people in the church.  The Bible is honest about their existence.  We also know that Jesus did not shy away from using the word in His confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23).  We certainly have warrant to use our common sense and discernment to recognize people who are hypocritical.  They are not difficult to spot.
The existence of hypocrites in the church, however, does not give one warrant to reject the church.  Some would say that they can follow Christ without the church.  This concept is foreign to the New Testament.  Biblically it can be argued that one cannot follow Christ without the church.  Therefore, it may sound more noble to reject the church because of its hypocrites, but it is really foolish.  
Not going to church because there are hypocrites is like saying you will never again eat bananas because there are brown spots.  Yet exposing the illogical and foolish nature of the argument may only add to your frustration or sorrow in dealing with your family over this issue.  The best you can do is to continue to proclaim the gospel to your family and live it out before them.  Don’t be a hypocrite!  In the end it is important for your family to know that the hypocrite and those who despise them are all in the same boat, sinners in desperate need of Jesus.    Those of us who are not hypocrites are merely more honest sinners than they.  Jesus died for all - the honest sinners and the hypocrites alike.
Question:  What is Ridgecrest (the church I serve as pastor) doing as a whole to help the victims of the tornado?  I know other local churches have groups together and designed teams to go and volunteer; what is RBC doing?
This has certainly been a surreal week in our community.  13 homes in our church family have suffered minor damage to total destruction.  One family in our church suffered injury and has spent the week in the hospital.  Since the storms members of the pastoral staff, deacon body, and membership at large have been extremely active in our community helping families remove trees and salvage belongings.
This weekend there will be several opportunities to serve.  If you will contact the church office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. we can share with you some specific work sites where you may volunteer.  We are also encouraging our people to partner with other works, churches, and organizations in our area.  Responding to a storm of this magnitude is a team effort.  No one can do it all alone.  Below are a few listings and opportunities that have been passed along to me.
The Birmingham Baptist Association - sending out teams daily, contact:  http://bbaonline.org/
ClayRidge Baptist in Clay is looking for volunteers to carry meals into Centerpoint on Friday and Saturday.  They especially need men to help through the weekend to help make delivery more secure.  There are also debris cleanup crews meeting and leaving from the church parking lot.  
The following note comes from Jae Skinner, one of our members and a teacher at Erwin Elementary:
Hey! If you don't have to work, we need HELP AT ERWIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL moving classrooms for the Centerpoint teachers. If you can come help, please do! I (Jae) will be there at 8:00. Call me 966-7133 and I will get you plugged in somewhere. Trying to get the school ready for kiddos so they can get back to a normal routine!
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Panorama from Pilgrim's Rest

I went out again this morning to help those impacted by the storm.  From the information we have gathered, there are 13 families at Ridgecrest who have suffered minor damage to total loss.  This morning I spent some time at the Hickman home, pictured here in a panorama I took with photosynth.

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We have had reports of several families in our church whose homes have been destroyed or damaged.  At this time we know of only 1 family with injuries.  Mr. Wheat (Jane Hikman's father), Hope Hickman, and Hope's nurse were hurt in the storm.  Mr. Wheat suffered the most serious injuries (broken ribs) and will be recovering at UAB.  Hope will be at Children's Hospital as her medical equipment and medicine were a total loss.  At this time the area is blocked from Deerfoot to Chalkville Mountain Road.  As always we will be partnering with the Birmingham Baptist Association for cleanup and relief.  For updates, see our wall posts on the Ridgecrest Baptist page on Facebook.  Please pray for our families and we will share information as it becomes available.

Gal. 2:20
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The Spirit After the Storm

Keith Rice and I with a family in Smithfield
On Saturday I spent a few hours helping clean up from the storm at a member’s house and another couple of hours checking on other situations in which we might be able to help in the coming week. It was not until Monday that I was able to join with the Birmingham Baptist Association and enter into some of the most devastated areas of our city.

There is no string of adjectives I can use that would adequately describe the scene, nor are there any words I could use that you have not already heard over and over again. All I can do is share my pictures, which, again, are not much different than any you have already seen. Nevertheless, I will submit my entry to the ever growing online album.

I would like to share my thoughts about involvement and how we continue to minister going forward:

1. The Body of Christ is awesome. In times like these you realize how significant the gospel is and how the Holy Spirit truly unites His people. The depth of cooperation and love right now between the churches cannot be duplicated by any other entity or organization. I hope this continues long past the storm.

all that's left is the inside steps
carpet is wrapped around the tree
2. The storm was an incredible tragedy, but the greatest tragedy will be if we simply clean up and move on. This is an incredible opportunity for us as a people to seek the face of God and experience revival. Over the past few days I have prayed with people at gas pumps, in driveways, and in living rooms that no longer have ceilings and walls. The gospel is flowing through the streets right now.

3. This week will not be the end of it. It will take months and months for us to erase the marks of the storm. The rescue phase is over. Recovery of possessions is winding down. The rain yesterday may have indeed ended this phase. Demolition and rebuilding are next. These are the phases that will be most costly, especially for those who are uninsured. It costs us little to nothing to use a rake, carry furniture, or use a chainsaw; but to rebuild homes is going to be astronomical. For the church, the next phases of the project will have to be less general and more specific. Instead of moving into areas, the church will have to move into families, adopt them and walk with them in the months to come.

4. The parasites are coming. In working with victims of Katrina I heard story after story of fraud and corruption. Looters are cowards without a heart. They are thoughtless and heartless. The people who are coming next are calculated, charming, cunning con-artists. They will deliberately prey upon people’s emotions and sense of desperation. I don’t know how to go about this, I know the local law enforcement community will do all they can to prevent this from happening, but somehow the church and all of our surrounding neighbors need to come together as an antibody against the parasites. There are many people who are devastated by the storm now. When the parasites come and con them out of what money they had for recovery, the word devastation will not be adequate enough to describe the subsequent hopelessness. We need to educate ourselves and then educate one another on the schemes of the parasites.’

5. I appreciate our governor. I saw a brief portion of his speech yesterday, and like everyone else I have seen his leadership night after night. This is a man who unashamedly loves the Lord, quotes Scripture, and cares about people. We need to pray for him. He must be tired.

There is an awful scar in Alabama right now, but a wonderful spirit that I have not experienced before. Surely it will last until football season – after that, who knows! In any event, I love watching the Body of Christ at work. It is inspiring to me and I know it is an incredible witness to others.

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Devastation in Ringgold, GA

My family is fine.  Thank you to everyone who has asked about them.  Here is an aerial of the damage.  The school property is Ringgold High School.  The school to the right of the tennis courts is Ringgold Jr. High.  It is really sad to see these places so devastated.  I am a '91 graduate of RHS.  Lots of great memories there.  Let's pray for all the families impacted by these storms.  May many people come to know Christ as we recover.

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