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Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years After Katrina: Healing through Praise

Yesterday, New Orleans paused to remember the evacuation, destruction, repopulation, and rebuilding of the last five years in the wake of one of our nation's largest disasters, Hurricane Katrina.

The Gulf South took a blow the likes of which few have to remember, as in some regions homes were literally lifted off of their piers and floated away, boats and belongings ended up in previously unimaginable places, and the things which help us hold memories eroded beneath the water line and the mold.

In the New Orleans area, the military was suddenly in control on American soil. Curfews were imposed to help stem the tide of looting and lawlessness. Military vehicles rolled down the roads which had previously ushered soccer-moms into the carpool lanes of elementary schools. People returned home with the ever resounding and haunting question, "How much water did my house take in?"

For some, home was rebuildable. For others, it was time to leave. For most, life was indelibly changed.

About three and a half years after Katrina, I was called to pastor a church in New Orleans. Most of the stories I heard made my jaw drop, as people recounted the unthinkable in the context of what came to be known as normal. Outside of the mainstream of meetings, many would tell me their story of loss and reclamation, and I've noticed that the journey of rebuilding goes far beyond the temporary, and more to the heart and mind.

As I've driven through the city, I've often asked members of my congregation about abandoned homes and buildings; about destruction apparently untouched since the storm. "They just chose to move on" or "they took a payout and just didn't rebuild" have been common denominators of the replies. For some who returned, life simply went forward; for others, life is haunted by the experience. Successful men and women, the common-man, if you would, is changed in many ways that simply do not bear reversal.

Imagine losing everything that reminded you of your history. Wedding albums, important documents, walls that spoke of children growing inches over years of marking "this year's growth" and so forth. Imagine watching military vehicles roll down your block. Imagine not knowing exactly what's next with anything near the level of certainty your family has come to know over several generations. Imagine sifting through the stuff that reminds us of memories and tossing it in the dumpster because of the water, mold, and mildew. Imagine standing on the porch that just recently saw you relaxing, and now smelling the stench of rotting food in forgotten refrigerators on your suburban block. This was, in part at least, the reality of New Orleans after "the storm," as it has not-so-affectionately come to be called.

And now, five years later, the scars and wounds of Katrina are left on the hearts, souls, and minds of New Orleans.

As a pastor here, I see it come up in the most interesting places and at the most interesting times. Someone reacts in an unexpected way, but when weighed against the aftermath of "the storm" it suddenly makes sense. Children struggle to hurdle developmental challenges, but when factored with the impact of "the storm" somehow the math adds up. Winces and internal gut-wrenching that probably only pastors see in the eyes of our congregants when preaching and teaching the Word of God, make my soul long for healing in the lives that hold the eyes I see before me.

So how do we get there? How does the Bible guide us? What should we do with the pain?

Over the course of the week, I heard reports of highly emotive services and remembrances. Some of my congregants seemed to be drawn to that, others repelled by it.

What does the Bible say? How can we heal wounds that have lasted five years only to suddenly seem fresh again?

Of course we weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), but how do we move to healing when weeping has only led to more weeping?

In the end, I recalled a very hard-learned lesson from my days of planting churches. Over the course of my life and study, I have noticed how the Biblical pattern of healing seems to revolve around rejoicing... and as ridiculous as it sounds, I've found it to be painfully true. Let me explain.

When the children of Israel encountered trials, punishments, and persecutions, and as they sought and found the salvation, provision, and victory of God, they praised Him. In fact, I've often been reminded of the story of Jehoshaphat who obeyed the Lord and sent the musicians out at the front of the army simply on God's word of provision, praising God as they led Israel's forces out to the encounter what should have been certain destruction, and simply trusting God that the victory had happened, or would happen (II Chronicles 20:20-22). And countless examples loom wherein monuments and altars were established, with little regard to the pain of the past except as a platform on which to proclaim, with exuberance, the remembrance of the victory of God's faithful provision for generations to come.

What then do you tell your congregation five years after their whole life seemed to be changed?

Yesterday, I sat on a wooden stool at the front of our worship center, and talked to the people. They came ready to mourn again, but I knew something was missing.

Where were the singers and musicians who proclaimed the favor of the Lord? Where were the remembrances of God's provision and faithfulness these five years hence? How do we get past the pain, wounds, and scars to find the victory of the Almighty God; Who wasn't surprised when the levees broke; Who saw it all coming and has been there with consistent provision despite whoever stands to bear the blame depending upon political winds and currents and positioning of the day?

The answer and mandate was clear... doing it was the tough part. This morning, as I re-read the story of Jehoshaphat, I wondered if he got some of the same looks that I got yesterday. A lot of head-nods; some heads bowed, seeming to accept the need for praising but struggling to get there; and some out-right scowls from others. I wasn't here at Katrina. I learned the lesson of praise by losing my life in planting churches. Memories washed away because the ministry needed funding, or the electric bill needed to be paid and the offerings just didn't support a salary enough yet; drives to and from the work filled with tears and disillusionment, forcing my palms turned toward Heaven to praise God for provision and victory that I couldn't even fathom, much less see. Answering the eyes of my father who wondered at the not-so-monetarily-profitable results of such an expensive education, but proud of the impact on lives as we all just learned together about the life of a church-planter. I learned that the scars don't go away, and that praise solicits the movement of God, and that somehow those work together, but only on His timing. I learned to turn my attention toward His provision, even as I was gutted by the death of dreams and ambitions.

I have learned through many pains to turn toward praising the God Who is always faithful; I have learned that God's victories are in God's timing, and that they are flawless and beautiful, but sometimes only realized in the rearview mirror of life; and yesterday it was time to lead my congregation to that reality.

Over the next few Sundays, we'll strive to engage that reality together more and more... and in that pursuit we will undoubtedly cry together, grow together, and produce together a testament to the victories and faithfulness of the Almighty God. Our praises written around a simple proclamation of faith, and hung on the wall of our church, so that all who stop to read it might know that God is here... that He never left us... that He never forsook His children who lived here... that He is, HE Was, AND HE SHALL ALWAYS REMAIN FAITHFUL in every way.

This is our praise, and our testimony to all generations, that "God heard our prayers, and we testify to His love on this fifth anniversary of hurricane Katrina!"

Though the pain lingers, let Him be praised through the pain! Though our lives be scarred, let the scars sing of the healing hand of God. Though endurance may in some sense be praise in itself, let our voices sing in adoration of our Savior and ever-present Provider; and may we proclaim His victories even amidst the storm and it's percussive echoes; for He is the Almighty, and Always Faithful God of Heaven and of Earth, and we shall not be remised to praise HIM!

May Heaven hear the songs of His people, and move amongst us so that we might serve Him all the more!

In the Peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Friday, August 27, 2010

Things I Love About JeeP

Today, I'm having a meeting with my son, JeeP. We love having meetings... sometimes at home, sometimes at the donut shop, sometimes at the coffee shop, and sometimes at the park.

JeeP tends to charm his entire surroundings with interesting antics.

This morning, I find the list of things I love about my boy piling up in my thoughts, so I thought I'd share them with you.

JeeP has a great imagination! Often times we play hide and seek completely within the confines of our booth. Today, after a great round of hide and seek, we even fed Bear-Bear some of our muffins. He (Bear-Bear) proclaimed them as, and I quote, "YUMMY!" (insert my best bear voice)

I love that JeeP sees fun all around him!

I love that JeeP smiles at people!

I love that JeeP considers time with Daddy a high priority!

I love that JeeP knows what he wants!

I love that JeeP says "ROAR" both to silly and to scary things and people!

I love that JeeP loves to fish!

I love that JeeP knows we are both cowboys at heart!

I love that JeeP can't wait to go hunting with me!

I love that JeeP loves the Jeep!

I love that JeeP loves his Daddy... he's my boy, and we're a team!

The list could go on and on; and over the years, I'm quite certain that it will!

And that is just a little window into my heart today on a pastor's "day off," and just a few of things I LOVE about my boy, JeeP!

May the peace of Christ overwhelm us all!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Simple Life

I cook the fish I caught,

eat the game I hunt,

dance with my bride in the kitchen,

and laugh with my children 'till we're tired.

I follow the God who saved me,

I live for the Christ who leads me,

and I'll die for the cross He held for me.

In the end, life is simple, I guess.

God loves me,

My bride dances with me,

and my children want me around.

All-right then.

Live long, ride hard, and die in that saddle!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

God's Grace in Action

Our individual embrace of the grace of Jesus Christ can be as UNIQUE as our own fingerprint, and will be as ALIKE as the design of GOD. When and how did you admit WHO JESUS IS and WHAT HE DID, CONFESS your sins to Him seeking His forgiveness, and COMMIT your life to follow Him?

Tell me about God's grace and let's see our COMMON GROUND in Jesus Christ!

(Post Responses through the "COMMENTS" button.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Grace of God

Have you ever wondered at the grace of God? Ever stood back, taken a good look, and allowed yourself to be 'wowed' by His perfect timing and provision?

Have you ever found yourself having to apologize to the God who made you for ever doubting Him in the first place?

I am reminded of the Apostle Thomas, who demanded to actually feel the crucifixion wounds of Christ in Jesus' living, breathing, resurrected body before he would believe that Christ was indeed alive. Do you remember what Thomas said when confronted with the risen Jesus face to face?

Thomas, confronted by Jesus Himself, simply says, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28, NASB).

I've been there... haven't you?

All of life seems to be crashing in around you; faith is challenged to its very core; and then Jesus is simply, suddenly, and without exception IN COMPLETE CONTROL. Suddenly you realize that this was always the case. A wash of realization pours over your spirit and there are really very few things to say.

For as much grief as we give the Apostle Thomas, I think he gave as good of a response as plausible given his situation. Don't forget, the other apostles all had the benefit of seeing and experiencing the risen Christ before him. In that upper room, even though his faith had been weak, he got it right when he said, "My Lord and my God!"

Can we learn from Thomas' lack of faith? Of course we can. Should we at least try to do as well as he did... I believe it is a loftier goal than we might like to admit.

The unfailing grace of the Almighty God. Now that's something to write home about!

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cherry Sours

I love cherry sours!

I admit it... there you go... I LOVE 'EM!!!

When I was growing up, I used to love to get them on road trips... or whenever else it came to be an option. I love Cherry Sours!

Yesterday, as I swung through our local ma and pa grocery store to pick up some "whatever we needed," I noticed the long forgotten prize right there on a special candy rack, just my side of the grocery carts, with the State of Texas emblazoned on its front like it was screaming to me, "Hey you son of Tejas... come on and get some CHERRY SOURS!"

Yep, I brought cherry sours home yesterday from the grocery store.

Jordan tried one, and decided immediately that she, too, LOOOOOOVVVVEEEESSSS sour stuff! JeeP tried one and spat it out after making a really entertaining facial expression.

This evening when Jordan decided she wanted another cherry sour, of course JP could not be denied... and a few seconds later, his hand was headed for the bag of my long lost favorite candy (of course, I made them both promise to brush their teeth extra well tonight)!

As I look down beside the computer and hear the sugar infused energy stomps of my children, I see what might just be the great triumvirate of the day: my Bible, my sunglasses, and my CHERRY SOURS!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... you know that's right!


It's Worth Considering...

In the sublimation of doctrine, opting for the rise of unfounded opinion and emotive satisfaction, foundational security has eroded to a near non-existent state.

It is not the opinion of man from which we derive hope, but the grace of the Almighty God.

It's worth considering.

Pastor John

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Moment in the Sun

Yesterday, I put my head down and got through my work as quickly as possible... I had somewhere big to be.

In the blazing hot sun, I rolled up my sleeves and put the top down on the Jeep... it's been rainy here lately. Then I took the tops off of the doors and stood back to ask the question, "Is that how Jordan will want it?"

Not too many moments later, I was en route. As I pulled into the parking lot, I caught several glances over my way from within the stolid silence of air conditioned automobiles, and I thought, "Man, it's good to have the Jeep!"

I sat in line with the vents blowing on me, the occasional breeze blowing either from the swamps or the lake, and the hot Louisiana sun reminded me that it was still summer time... but the sun felt good on my face and life was as it should have been.

A little while longer and the line began to move; and a few minutes later, it was almost my turn. I waved my traditional "hey ya" wave to the headmaster, and pulled into slot #4 where the object of my quest stood smiling for Daddy at the end of our first day of first grade. I shouted her name and gave her a big wave over the top of the wind shield as I pulled up to the respondent jumps and smiles and the "Hey, Daddy!" I've come to love.

As she got settled and started telling me all about the day, and as we waited for our turn to exit the parking lot, I snapped a picture of us. We looked at it together this morning before she left for day number two of our new year at school, and it said enough. That moment in the sun was simply perfect... and I don't think we get many of those, or maybe we just have to train ourselves not to miss them. They take great preparation, incredible amounts of inconvenient intentionality, and deserve to be savored as some of life's finest things... for that is just what they are.

In the end, only God knows when the high times like these will hit, and I'll trust Him with them. For my part, I just want to remember them all and be ready for the next one. Every hug, every Jeep ride, every snow cone, and every inconvenient interruption has the potential to become, and I don't want to miss a one of them! Even now as I write, JeeP has crawled up into my lap, and whispered back to me, "I wuv you too, Daddy!" and I stop to breath it in.

Yesterday was just a hot Southern Louisiana day in the middle of old swamp land... sweaty, steamy heat beating down on an open topped Jeep holding a crazy in love with his kids Daddy. It should have been miserable out there, but it was nothing short of a magical, incredible moment in the sun.

Now that's some of the good stuff in life!

Peace in Christ!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Dull Cry of Dusty Words

Are we pulled so easily in the days of rapid fire information hemorrhaging, that we should neglect the simple source-work which might easily guide us to success?

We choose our fads, it seems, with the shades of our shirts... employing those principles which seem most pleasing to us in the moment, or the era. In one era, the fear of God must never be mentioned lest the hurting heart be damaged... or in reality, lest the room of teaching be not filled; in another era, the fear of God is the only salve for the heart laid waste, for the folly of the first sends us to the exclusive idea of the second. The tides are declared by the best sellers list. The movements made massive by the gurus of knowledge and insight. In few do we hear that while the fear of God will provide bandage for the wounds of our sin, His love will provide medicine for our healing. But then, that would no movement make, but balance incur; and excitement expel to find another best-seller.

Could it be that the faddish fetish for the popular has led us to the quirky denial of the simple?

To what source do we turn to find bedrock?

To what modern movement may we look to find Truth?

Should we not return to the God of our fathers and learn from men and women who sought Him as we might dare sojourn to do?

In the midst of being led this way and that, there is a text I have found. Dusty and maligned, often softened and turned this way and that to find a place of palatable portage... but remaining, despite our most extensive efforts, in pristine and living format. You will not find it easy, but simple will its message be.

We will not find it given to the ever-moving mob of fad-worship, but willing to be ignored for a day rather than changed.

We will find it constant and unchanging as the Being to Whose instigation it is ascribed.

"Sola Scriptura!" cry the old ones. "Sola Scriptura!" through the ages forgotten.

The drum rolls cease and symbols give no life for introduction, for long ago did we abandon the given Word of the Almighty God.

What more dull and unexciting movement might we suggest than such a slow and arduous text? Shall we devote ourselves to it unless it be reformatted into potable language? Shall we actually submit to something so classically bound and collected; something so anciently written; something so seemingly archaic?

"Sola Scriptura!" cry the old ones, and few hear the cry, for it does not package well. But this it does... it changes everything.

See then what has been traded for Truth, and how the two shall compare in the stomach of fulfillment.

When hunger supplants the insatiable desire for imposter fulfillment, perhaps we shall return... but I fear it might only be until the pipers play a different tune.

May it be not so with us. By some great hand of Providence might we return to Truth, and in patient consumption find the satiated appetite of our souls? Perhaps. It is to hope and dream in a day of many currents.

The Peace of Christ to you this day and always,

Pastor John

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Church

A Common Faith... A Common Purpose... An Uncommon Fellowship

The Church.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor John

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good Morning...

Monday morning... yes it is.

There is a freshness in the air today. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was beginning the week yesterday in a wonderful time of worship and celebration of the grace of Jesus Christ; maybe it was finishing Sunday in an awesome time of discipleship; maybe it's beginning Monday with the renewing of my mind in and around the Word of God. Whatever the cause, there's a fresh breeze in the air today.

As I read through my One Year Bible assignment for the day, I came upon Psalm 31. There were a few passages within the psalm that really grabbed me, but verse three held the most impact... "and for Your name's sake You lead me and guide me." (esv)

Two verses later, we actually find the Christological quote, "Into Your hands I commit my spirit;" and today it all seemed to make sense. For King David, this statement was a cry of trust and dependency in the midst of attack and in light of possible death. For Christ, it was in the very face of certain self-sacrificing death. Both find efficacy in the prayers of Heaven's remembrance because of the realization of the earlier statement, "and for Your name's sake You lead me and guide me."

Today, the fresh breeze does not blow for me, although I am allowed to enjoy it's refreshing. It is the movement of the Almighty God, which fills the sails of His people toward the glory of His name.

On this premise, we find the purpose of life in the purposes of God. Upon this understanding, we find the peace which allows us to join both with David, and with Christ, when they said, "Into Your hand I commit my spirit."

Today, this morning, I hope to live like that.

It is not enough that I might offer to God a half-measure of devotion... for such has not been offered for me, but sacrifice in full. Today I would run with the full measure of life and devotion which is, according to the Apostle Paul, my reasonable act of worship.

For Your name's sake lead me and guide me, O God; for into Your hands I commit my very soul.

May the peace of Christ sustain you, overwhelm you, and guide you this day and always!


Monday, August 2, 2010

The Call

In a day of flux and fury within the ranks of the American church, I am stirred by the simplicity of the Gospel through which I am saved. While the temporal movements of the day whir and push this way and that, I continue to find simplicity in the mission of the Gospel of Christ to which we are charged.

Simply put, that we are called to live out the very Gospel of Christ Who saves us; to submit ourselves joyfully within the one true religion of the One True God; a religion centered upon a relationship of service to the Almighty; a life centered upon sacrifice to Him and rewarded with fellowship both human and Divine; a fellowship centered solely upon becoming and making disciples of Jesus Christ. The centrality of the Gospel is simple and strong. It is the security of forgiveness in Christ which gives us hope for tomorrow, for the next day, and for eternity.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not of this world, but is found in the collectives, the churches, of Christ's followers as we continue in faith to serve the God Who saves us.

This is our message to the world around us, that Jesus loves; Jesus forgives; Jesus saves. There is life that will last into the life that is to come; that it is found only in Him; and that this life that is eternal is worth more than I could ever give for it's ransom!

This mission is beyond the movements of our day. This mission transcends the body politic. This mission goes beyond national, international, and global fads, pushes, and trends. This mission is simple... it is Christ Jesus, Savior to all who cast their lives upon His grace.

I pray that we would not forget that by which we ourselves have found hope.

This is what consumes me... Christ, the hope of all mankind!

Pastor John