A Thrill of Hope

It’s that time of year when Christmas music fills the air. We all have our favorite songs of the season, and one that is usually on everyone’s list of favorites is “O Holy Night.” It’s a classic old carol with an interesting story behind it.

The song was composed and the lyrics written in the small French town of Roquemaure, in the 1840’s. The church organ had recently been renovated, and to celebrate the event the parish priest asked a local wine merchant and poet named Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem, even though Cappeau had never really shown any interest in religion. Soon afterwards, Adolphe Adam composed the music.

It’s strange that one of our favorite songs about the birth of Jesus was written by someone who did not profess to be a believer in Him. And yet the message of the song is profound in its understanding of what transpired that “holy night,” when our Savior was born. It is also strange, when you read the literal translation of the song from French into English, how some of the phrases turned out. Here’s the first verse:

Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

Of course, here’s the way we know and sing it now, rewritten by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The one line that seems to have translated best are those familiar words: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”  And really, that is still the message of Christmas for us, 163 years later. If ever there was a descriptive term for our world today, it would be “weary,” and if ever there was something we need the most it would be hope. And we find that, not just in Christmas, but in the Christ who came.

You may have heard the story about Larry and Elmer who were out hunting in the woods and got lost. Trying to reassure his friend, Larry said, “Don’t lose hope, Elmer. All we have to do is shoot into the air three times, stay where we are, and hopefully someone will hear and come find us.” They shot into the air three times, but no one came. After a while, they tried again but there was still no response. They decided to try once more but not before Elmer said, “I hope it works this time. We’re down to our last three arrows.”

Perhaps you feel like you’re down to your last three arrows. Maybe you are feeling hopeless and helpless, and for you, ’tis not the season to be jolly. Instead of a Norman Rockwell painting, your holiday season looks a little more like a Griswold Christmas.

The promise of Advent is a promise of hope, grounded in the past and assured for the future. No matter what you are facing, no matter how weary you feel, there is hope in Jesus. I hope you will rest in His hope this Christmas season, and all the year round.

The High Road of Humility

If you didn’t watch the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush on Wednesday at the National Cathedral, you have probably at least seen video clips or news articles about it by now. There were moving testimonies to the legacy of a president whose politics didn’t always excite people, but whose character and “kinder, gentler” personality will be what he is best remembered for.

It was a rare occasion with all five living American presidents in attendance, along with five vice-presidents. There were dignitaries and heads of state from around the globe as the nation and world paid final respects to our 41st president. President George W. Bush delivered an emotional eulogy, calling his father “a great and noble man,” and “the best father a son or daughter could ever have.”

The elder Bush had a distinguished career in politics before being president. The former World War II fighter pilot, who survived being shot down in the Pacific during the war, later served as a U.S. Congressman, ambassador to China, CIA director, chairman of the Republican National Committee and two-term vice-president under Ronald Reagan, before being elected president in 1988. He led the nation during the first Persian Gulf War, and was president during the historic fall of the Berlin Wall.

More than that, he was a faithful husband to his wife Barbara, who died in April after 73 years of marriage, and a beloved father of seven children, one of whom died at the age of three, but several others who have had successful careers in politics themselves.

Regardless of your view of his politics, you cannot deny that his civility, decency and sincerity are often missing in today’s highly charged political climate. As often is the case in politics, his accomplishments are being recognized more in his death than while he served. At the very least, he was a man of unassuming character who never brought disrespect to the office of president, and he was a gentleman.

President Bush was never outspoken about his relationship with God, and sometimes even seemed uncomfortable articulating his faith. But those who knew him best spoke of his deep sense of God’s calling on his life and a deep responsibility of stewardship to serve others. At his funeral, his pastor spoke of the peace and assurance the president had as he awaited his homegoing to heaven.

One verse that served as a theme for his life came from the words of Jesus in Luke’s gospel: “To whom much is given, of him much shall be required.” That is, the blessings you receive form a mandate for your life. You show gratitude by serving, by living for a greater cause than yourself.

Another favorite verse of the former president was Proverbs 27:2: “Let another man praise you, and not your own lips.” As writer Stephen Mansfield wrote, “It was nearly the Bush family creed. Never vaunt yourself. Never set yourself above. No good will come of it, and God is watching.”

From a distance, it was that humility that most characterized President Bush, and all the more because it served in stark contrast to others in positions of power in the political arena. Former Senator Alan Simpson, a close friend and colleague of the former president, provided one of the more memorable quotes while eulogizing the president in the memorial service. He said, “Those who travel the high road of humility are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

Indeed, men like George H.W. Bush are few and far between these days. He was, as his son President Bush the 43rd, said at his service, “the brightest of a thousand points of light.” May we learn from his example of quiet faith, faithful character and genuine humility in our generation.

Grounded in the Truth

About a half-century ago, a man named Paul Little wrote a book aimed primarily at college students called “Know Why You Believe.” It was a response to the anti-establishment counter-cultural mindset of the late 1960’s when there was such an upheaval of the belief system across our country, especially on college campuses. It was a tumultuous time in which the notion of absolute truth was undermined and the long-held beliefs of orthodox Christianity were constantly questioned.

Little was a seminary professor who had spent a great deal of time discipling students through the ministry of InterVarsity, and, before that, with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He had a good feel for the pulse of Christian thought across the country, and wanted to provide an apologetic resource for those who sought to defend their faith. The focus of the book was the “reasonableness” of Christianity, and he affirmed the truths of the Bible with intellect and cultural relevance.

After the success of that book, Little followed it up with another, “Know What You Believe,” spelling out the basic doctrines of historical biblical Christianity. Both books became classics from that generation and are still in print today. I read them in my own college and seminary days and they were helpful to ground me in what and why I believed.

I bring that up because, some fifty years later, Americans are still grappling with what they believe and why. A recent survey by Ligonier Ministries revealed some alarming statistics and disturbing trends in regard to the beliefs of professing Christians in America. “The State of Theology: What Do People Really Believe in 2018″ came out in October, with evidence of the effects of increasing relativism in our post-modern culture, even among church-goers.

Findings from the polling data show that less and less Christians are confident of the long-affirmed orthodox doctrines of our faith. One of the things that stood out was the illogical inconsistency of belief among American Christians. For example: 91 percent of evangelicals affirm that people are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, but 51 percent of evangelicals also believe that God accepts the worship of all religions. If one believes that people can only be made right with God by faith in Christ, and Him only, how can he or she also believe that God considers valid the worship of other religions? Such is the understanding–or misunderstanding–of “truth”in our mixed-up world today.

The past few weeks our students in junior high, senior high and college have taken the same survey that Ligonier conducted, as we seek to gauge where our students are and what kind of foundation they have in basic Christian doctrine and theology. Some signs were encouraging, especially in comparison with the American church as a whole. Many of our students have a firm grasp of sound Biblical teaching. Others, not so much. There’s no doubt that we are in a battle in our culture over Biblical truth and ethics, and we want to make sure that we are equipped for the battle as we minister to our students, and our entire church body, based on the data we have collected so far.

Like Paul Little, it is our desire at The Church at Shelby Crossings that each follower of Christ would be grounded in the truth of Scripture, and would know what and why they believe. Likewise, we want to make sure they know who it is they believe in, namely Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. As important as doctrinal fidelity is, we miss the mark if we don’t have a living and vibrant relationship with Christ.

The last couple of weeks we have joined together in Sunday worship to affirm a simple truth in song, that we believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life.” That verse from John 14 is a pretty good starting place for all of us. I hope you know Him, and that you are committed to growing in maturity and depth in His word.

I’m sure glad we are in this thing together.

Fans and Followers

Thanksgiving weekend means different things to different people. For some it’s all about food, for others it’s family, for others’s it’s faith….and for others, it’s…football.

In addition to the non-stop football on TV all weekend, I understand there’s a pretty big game being played just down the road this Saturday. And although the game has lost some of its luster this year, it’s still quite a big deal for most people who live in our state. At the very least, there’s still “braggin’ rights” at stake for fans of both schools.

The sad truth is, however, that so many folks in these parts base their worth, significance and happiness on the outcome of a football game between young adolescent men, most of whom they’ve never met. And even if their heart and soul is wrapped up in a game, they themselves won’t be participating or competing in any way. They are, merely, fans.

Which brings me to a book I read a few years back entitled “Not a Fan.” In it, author and pastor Kyle Idlerman contrasts the difference between being a fan, and being a follower, especially in our relationship with Christ. In a media-driven culture where sport and celebrity have become an obsession for so many millions, it would do us all well to understand that difference.

The dictionary defines a fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” The word itself comes, of course, from the idea of being a fanatic–and we do understand that in our state. But it’s important to note that in reality, a fan sits in the crowd and cheers for the player, the actor, or the cause, but never really gets directly involved. It rarely costs him anything, other than the price of the ticket, the attire, or the required accessories.

But being a follower of Jesus is much more than being a fan. It requires sacrifice, sold-out commitment, and getting in the game. No more sitting on the sidelines. No more kicking back in the Lazy Boy with the pizza, wings, chips and remote control. There is blood and sweat and tears to be offered.

“If anyone would come after Me,” Jesus told His disciples, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). That’s not the call to be a fan, but a disciple. And it’s my hope and prayer for each of you, that you would move beyond being merely a fan of Christianity, and take your place in the lineup as a fully committed follower of Christ.

I hope all you football fans enjoy the big game on Saturday, however it turns out, even though I realize that about half of you will not be happy with the result. More than that, I hope you’ll realize that at the end of the day, it’s just a game. But the call of Jesus to follow after Him is the stuff of real life, for eternity sake.

May He be honored as you follow Him today. I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving.

Giving Thanks Always

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” –Ephesians 5:20

That verse was part of last week’s passage from Ephesians, in our current message series through this important epistle. And it is an appropriate reminder for all of us as we head into a week we set aside for celebrating thanksgiving.

We all learned in school about the history of the American holiday we call “Thanksgiving,” how it originated in the harvest celebration of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1621. I still can recall tales of Pilgrims sitting down with Indians for a first thanksgiving meal, with oversized buckles on their hats and belts and shoes. And of course, the menu was turkey. And who can forget drawing a turkey with the outline of your hand?

After the Pilgrims, the early fathers of our nation encouraged the celebration of Thanksgiving, and president George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789. President Abraham Lincoln made it official during the Civil War in 1863, proclaiming a national holiday of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” on the final Thursday of November. It was FDR who moved it to the fourth Thursday, during a five Thursday November in 1939, to give merchants an extra week to sell their goods and help draw the nation out of the Great Depression.

One thing that is often overlooked is how the harvest celebration of those first Americans had its precedent in Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, there were feasts in Israel that included giving thanks for the blessings of the various harvests. The Feast of Firstfruits in the early spring, the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost in late spring, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall all focused on thanksgiving for harvests during the agricultural year. And the assumption behind every feast was recognizing from whom those blessings had come. Thanks be to God.

Now, we know that in the New Testament Christ fulfilled those ceremonial feasts so that there were no more official days of thanksgiving. And that’s where verses like Ephesians 5:20 come into play. We don’t just offer our thanks at a certain season, or even on a certain day, but we are “giving thanks always,” and we do so “for everything.” Which means, as I said in the message on Sunday, for the follower of Christ the “season” of Thanksgiving lasts from January 1 to December 31 each year.

But are we really “giving thanks always”? We live in a world that is characterized by discontent, always wanting more and rarely grateful for what we have. You certainly hear a lot more complaining in our day than any expressions of gratitude. To be truly thankful and to live like it is to go against the flow, to be downright counter-cultural.

That’s why, in some ways, Thanksgiving is the quintessential Christian holiday. It is a statement of contentment in God’s providential provision, it is a recognition that there our blessings originate outside of ourselves, in a God who is good to us, and it is making the intentional effort to express our gratitude to that God for His faithful provision. So, let us give thanks always, for everything, for God is good to us.

Here’s wishing you a blessed Thanks-giving, this week, and all the year round. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18)

Still on the Throne

In case you missed the news, there was a political election a few days ago. I exercised my right and responsibility as a citizen and went to the polls, even if I didn’t post a selfie on social media to prove that I had done so. I still think my vote counted, even without the photographic documentation.

If you are anything like me, you are probably glad the whole thing is over, if only because you are sick of all the candidate signs on the side of every road, and the non-stop talk of politics on every news program and every platform of social media. Sadly, that’s how most elections turn out these days; by the time election day gets here most of us are just ready to get it over with.

I read a few places this past week that this was “the most important election of our lifetime.” I can’t say I really believed that, for a couple of reasons. First, I think they said that the last election, and the one before that. After a while, after we’ve heard the boy cry “Wolf!” enough times, we just don’t buy it. Also, experience has proven time and time again that as important as elections are, and as privileged as we may be to participate in the electoral process, for the most part very few things in our day to day lives will change because of a political election.

I remember a few times in my life on election night when my candidate didn’t win and I was devastated, feeling pretty hopeless and worried about the direction of our nation or state. But in the end, not that much was different. I was certain it was “the end of the world as we know it,” but I have come to realize it was just politics. And the same goes when your candidate or party wins. Life goes on.

One of the sad realizations of our over-hyped media-driven world, as it relates to politics, is that it shows that everyone is putting too much faith in politicians to begin with. When one Supreme Court justice retires and you see a complete meltdown on social media and in the news about the future of our country, that’s too much power concentrated in the hands of a single person (or group of people). A simple civics lesson reminds us why our founders included a separation of powers in our constitutional republic, so that they would keep any branch of our government from getting too powerful. And yet, we still buy into the drama that our very future hangs in the balance of every election or political process.

One thing I have been reminded of time and time again: no matter who is elected to an office, God is still on the throne. He still sovereignly governs the affairs of men, and He still can be trusted. We certainly are privileged in this nation to participate in the political process, but we mustn’t put our faith there. Scripture reminds us that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, and our faith rests only in God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Now that this election is over and a new group of politicians will go to work in the new year, I hope you’ll be praying for those who were elected, whether you voted for them or not. That is our biblically mandated responsibility, by the way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  I also hope you’ll make sure to cast your vote for Jesus as the Lord of all your life. It’s a vote you’ll never regret casting.

And one more quick note while we’re on the subject of voting and freedom and citizenship and such….a very special thank you to our veterans who have served our country on our behalf to preserve our freedom and rights, including the right to vote. We are grateful for your service, and we pray you’ll know how much you are appreciated this Veteran’s Day. 

On Vision and Purpose

“For we walk by faith, and not by sight.” –2 Corinthians 5:7 (KJV)

Last week my bride and I took an overnight trip to the northwest corner of Alabama for my birthday. We toured two different Muscle Shoals recording studios, made famous by a bunch of hit songs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (You may remember hearing that “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers; they’ve been known for a song or two…”). We also went to nearby Tuscumbia, where we took a tour of Ivy Green, the birthplace and childhood home of Helen Keller.

You probably learned about Helen Keller in school, or maybe you read her autobiography, “The Story of My Life.” Or perhaps you have read the book or seen the old movie, “The Miracle Worker,” about the work of her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan. Her story is one of the most remarkable of any woman in American history. Winston Churchill called her “the greatest woman of our age.” Mark Twain included her–with Napoleon–among the two greatest characters of the 19th century.

Helen was born into a wealthy family in Tuscumbia in 1880. When she was nineteen months old, she developed an illness that resulted in both blindness and deafness. In that day, most blind and deaf children were institutionalized, but Helen’s parents kept her at home and sought help for her. They consulted with Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf, and he suggested they hire Anne Sullivan from Boston as Helen’s teacher. This decision would change Helen’s life forever.

Anne arrived at Ivy Green to meet Helen and her family in 1887. Anne Sullivan was a determined young teacher who had lived with blindness herself until undergoing successful surgery. She soon realized the tremendous challenge she faced, since Helen had received little discipline in her young life due to her physical challenges. Anne had to teach her student proper behavior in everyday situations along with academic lessons.

Despite her disabilities, and with great help from Anne, Helen was able to lead a happy and successful life. She mastered Braille by age 10, learned to use a typewriter by age 16, and went on to graduate with honors from Radcliffe College. She became an author and lecturer, met presidents, and traveled the globe, inspiring millions of people around the world until her death in 1968.

Touring her childhood home, hearing the stories of how she learned to communicate, reading her letters–and even seeing the famous water pump where she learned to spell out “w-a-t-e-r”–I was fascinated anew by Helen Keller’s stubborn optimism and faith. I was also challenged by her determination to be an overcomer and to never allow circumstances to dictate her attitude. She never allowed herself to be a victim.

Helen Keller had a sense of purpose and vision for her life, in spite of her obstacles. Someone once asked her about the challenges of being blind, and she answered, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Truly, Helen Keller had a vision and faith, a strength of character that came from the inside out.

In so many ways, even for those of us with physical sight, there are parallels between Helen’s story and our lives. Without Christ, we are blinded by sin, and the ways of this world, and we will continue to walk in darkness until we see His light. And we all must make the choice to walk by faith and not sight, as the apostle Paul wrote. Genuine faith is grounded in hope, and is not based on circumstances, good or bad, but in the faithfulness of God. We trust, even as we persevere, and we press on, knowing that God has a purpose for our lives, and we don’t dare want to miss it.

May our lives be lived with a God-directed vision and purpose, and may we be faithful to the calling He has given to each of us.

Giving What You Have

I don’t have a billion dollars, because I didn’t win the big Mega Millions lottery this week.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I didn’t buy a ticket.

I’m not saying that because I consider myself morally superior, but because I can do math. If ever there was a bad investment, buying a lottery ticket would qualify.

I saw a meme this week that compared the odds of winning the lottery to being killed by a lightning strike, or being hit by a tornado, and various other unlikely events. Let’s just say you have a much better chance of being struck by lightning–multiple times–than you did of winning a billion dollars in the lottery. 

I did find it interesting to read several social network “friends” mentioning what they would do with the money if their lotto numbers were called. One said he would build his church a new sanctuary. Another fellow Blazer fan promised that UAB would finally get its long-awaited on-campus football stadium if his number came up. Yet another suggested that he would help his mom buy a new house and get out from under her financial woes.

It reminded me of a story I heard a while back about a Sunday School teacher who asked the children in her class if they would give a million dollars to the missionaries. “Yes!” they all screamed. “Would you give a thousand dollars?” Again, they shouted “Yes!” “How about a hundred dollars?” “YES, we would!” they all agreed.

“Would you give a dollar to the missionaries?” she asked. The 6-year old boys all exclaimed “Yes!” again, except for one little boy. “Eric,” the teacher said, as she noticed the boy clutching his pocket, “Why didn’t you say ‘Yes’ this time?”

“Well,” he stammered. “I HAVE a dollar.”

It’s one thing to talk about what you would give if you had it–when you don’t–but it’s another thing altogether to actually give what you have. The reality is, that’s all God wants from us–to give Him our time, our money, and our talents, from a willing heart. Like the little boy who gave Jesus his lunch, when we release what we have to Him, He uses it and blesses it, and blesses us in the process.

You don’t have to win the lottery to have something to offer the Lord. And you don’t have to have a million dollars to support the missionaries. But you can give what you do have, and better yet, you can give of yourself. That’s better than blowing two bucks on a lottery ticket, and the dividends on your investment will bring a return for eternity.

The Fool Says in His Heart…

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” –G.K. Chesterton

This past Tuesday, the final book from the late world-acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking was published, seven months after his death. The book was entitled “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” and in it Hawking takes on some weighty and complex issues, including the existence of God.

“Do I have faith?” he asked in the book. “We are free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe, and no one directs our fate.”

He goes on to say that this “profound realization” led him to decide that “there is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either.”

Hawking was a brilliant man and renowned physicist who overcame serious disabilities to impact the world of physics and science for nearly half a century. He was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, at the age of 21, and given just two years to live. Instead, he lived another 55 years until his death in March of 2018. His theories changed the way many scientists look at the universe. At the time of his death, the NASA Twitter account tweeted that “his theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we and the world are exploring.”

My first thought when I read his “brief answer” that “there is no God,” comes from Scripture: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1)

It certainly seems a little crazy to suggest that someone with the intelligence that Stephen Hawking possessed was a “fool.” But the Bible does that, on more than one occasion. We are also told that, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

I would guess that when you have that level of intellect it is not hard to feel that you don’t need a god, and it would therefore be natural to set out to prove that you are the master of your own fate. However, simple logic reminds us that it is impossible to prove a negative, and ultimately for the fool and the wise, the learned and the ignorant, it all comes down to faith.
The reality is, Stephen Hawking had faith; faith in his theories of physics, faith in his belief system that there is no Creator who directs the affairs of the universe, faith that there is no God to whom we all must answer, and faith that in the end there is no real transcendent purpose for any of our lives. Ultimately, his faith was in himself, while our faith is in the real God that we know, who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. 

I take no pleasure in believing that Professor Hawking has come face to face with God, and that his very real eternal destiny was a most unpleasant surprise for him. We should wish hell on no one, because even God Himself wishes that no one should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) Even atheists.  So I am not here to throw rocks at someone who in his brilliance foolishly missed the Truth that was right in front of him, and that even sadder, missed a relationship with the one who is “the way, the truth and the life,” who loved him, and gave Himself up for him on Calvary’s cross.

Sadder still perhaps are those of us who shake our heads with condescension at atheists and agnostics, profess our own belief in God, but then live like He doesn’t exist. If our belief in God doesn’t produce “the fear of the Lord” in our lives, then our faith is empty, and we are hardly different than someone who proudly writes, “There is no God.”

My prayer for you is that you know God, not just intellectually and theologically, but personally and experientially, that He has changed your life–and that He is changing it still. May each of our lives be evidence to a lost world of the reality of the existence of a loving God. 

In the Path of the Storm

We enjoyed some much needed vacation last week, and arrived home from paradise on Tuesday. Then we watched live on social media and television the next day while another piece of paradise just down the road from us was pulverized by Hurricane Michael.

This was a hurricane that was hardly on anyone’s agenda only a few days before it formed as a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico. It escalated quickly into a monster storm, leaving little time for thousands of people in that area to make the decision to evacuate north. The storm continued to increase in intensity all the way up until the time it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as the strongest hurricane on record ever to hit the Florida panhandle.

As I write this, we are just now getting a glimpse of the levels of destruction, from familiar vacation sites in Panama City Beach down the highway some toward lesser known Port St. Joe and Apalachicola. And of course, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia were hammered pretty good, and now South and North Carolina are getting hit with more rain, even as they continue to try to recover from the flooding from Hurricane Florence a few weeks earlier.

For me, it’s not hard to put myself in their place, seeing that I was on the beach myself the day before this hurricane came ashore (even if it was more than 1,800 miles away). We had a couple of hurricanes in the vicinity where we were, but they stayed to the west of us and, other than some particularly high tides that were fun to plan in, we never really saw any effects of those storms. I guess we dodged a bullet, or two.

In these parts, we have plenty of experience with dodging bullets, especially as it comes to tornadoes, which are obviously more arbitrary and usually arrive with much less warning than a hurricane. Often, one house is left standing and another completely destroyed; one family escapes unscathed while another faces loss of property and even loss of life. And every time, it makes you wonder why some are in the path of the storm, while others are missed.

Jesus once told the story–in rather abrupt terms–about a similarly tragic event that had taken place in Jerusalem. That story, recorded in Luke’s gospel (13:4-5), mentioned that eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam had fallen on them. Jesus asked, “Do you think those people were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  (He answered His own question with an emphatic “No!”)

His point was, it could happen to anyone. You may have survived Michael, or Florence, or a tornado that came near your neighborhood, but there’s no guarantee you will the next one. As Jesus stated elsewhere, the rain (and towers…and, even hurricanes) fall on the just and the unjust. His bigger application was summed up when He concluded: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

In other words, since we’ll never know the exact forecast about when or where the storms–or falling towers–will come, then we had better be ready and right with God if and when that time comes.

I am praying for those in Michael’s path who are trying to piece their lives back together this weekend. Perhaps we can get a group together in the coming weeks to go down and spend a few days helping out.

I’m praying for you also, that you will take advantage of the gift of life God has given you today and live for Him.