Monday, August 22, 2011

Lessons of Destruction in the Aftermath

In the days following the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin, I spent hours driving back and forth searching for God to reveal Himself to me in the midst of the aftermath. He showed me many things, not really about the storm, but about life during those long drives.

The first thing was about the destruction that lay before me, and at times all around me.

The morning following the storm, as I drove into Joplin I was rerouted and missed the true picture of the destruction. So many times in life that is what happens as we step into sin. We reroute off the narrow path into the broad road. We don't see how the sin is impacting us, and so we see no reason to stop.

The second day, as I left I drove directly into the destruction. It was overwhelming to say the least. I so wanted to get out of it, but I didn't know how to because I couldn't see my way out. There were no road signs and no structures to guide me to where I needed to be, so I had to go through the destruction that the tornado had cause. I realize so many times we get into a life of sin and lose our way. Then we realize that it is overwhelming and we don't want to be in it. Unfortunately, we often have to work our way through the destruction to come out on the other side.

When I went back on the fourth day, I was able to go more of my regular route. I made it into Joplin before I saw any signs of the destruction, and even those were deceiving to the real damage. I saw a road sign, and two billboards destroyed. I thought about how sometimes, people will see that we are headed into destruction and they can see what is going to happen, they see the signs and try to warn us about the destruction we are headed for, but we ignore it and continue on.

A few weeks after the tornado, I went and helped a coworker whose home was destroyed, but there were some things in the home salvageable. The coworker had written everything off, but was willing with some convincing to let us come help with "clean up." I thought about how many times, even as Christian's we write off people as destroyed when they are in the midst of personal sin and destruction. I thank God that He doesn't write us off, but instead convinces others to come along side us and show us the truth of our worth and value. I thought how many lives could be salvaged for Christ if Christians would just be willing to roll up their sleeves, offer hope to the hopeless and be willing to help people clean up their lives.

As I see the destruction today, my heart still sinks at times. It can be so overwhelming, as the television and pictures are nothing to the reality of what is there. However, I am also filled with hope for the future. I know that we, that the Joplin community will rise from the destruction. I see and hear the resiliency that as Christians we should also have, as we know the end of the story. We know that no weapon formed against us shall prosper and that no mater what we come up against, no matter where we derailed that with God all things are possible if we just believe and stand in faith.

Psalm 107:19-21(NKJV)Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destruction. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Purpose and Blessings in the Storm

It has been three months today since destruction hit Joplin, and indirectly impacted my life as my workplace was destroyed and life as I knew it was changed.

Many thoughts have come to me as I hear the stories from people at work, patients, families, that were directly impacted by the tornado. People who were in it. People who lost everything. People who lost loved ones. There are days still that my breath is taken away as I hear people tell their stories. Stories they need to tell to heal.

One thing that sticks out most to me about the tragedy is the compassion and unity that was birthed out of it. Shortly after the tornado, I started hearing things and reading thing about how the destruction was God's fury at Joplin. I admit, that certainly enraged me. God is a God of love, and is not willing that any should perish.

While God can and does calm the storm, sometimes it is what is birthed out of the tragedy that is God's desire, not the destruction itself. As I looked around Joplin the day following the storm, and even today three months later - one thing stands out. People helping people. On a small scale, I know that was there before, but tragedy on the scale of what happened in Joplin, has a way of bringing people of all types together for a common cause.

People, as a whole, support the community of Joplin. They support the rebuilding. They want to help and they want to find a way to give time, money, resources. Even those with what would be considered nothing, want to help. That is to be the purpose that comes out of devastation - to wake up the world to reach out and help each other. Any other time, we go about our daily lives completely oblivious to the world's pain around us. On occasion, we might be bothered to help a friend or family member who is in need, but rarely do people reach out and help a stranger.

And yet, that is what has been happening for the last three months. Strangers from across town, across the county, across the state, across the nation, and even across the world have been reaching out to help complete strangers. So when I hear people ask where God was, I know the answer. He was right there in the storm.

Isaiah 25:3-4(NKJV) Therefore the strong people will glorify You; The city of the terrible nations will fear You. For You have been a strength to the poor, A strength to the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, A shade from the heat.

And when I hear people offer hurtful explanations to the destruction, I am reminded that sometimes the storm is for our blessing, and to call us into the actions that will bring us that blessing.

Matthew 10:40-42(NKJV)“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

Small Christianity

There are a lot of nice things about living in a small town, but on my way to work I became frustrated with a small town I drove through. First, the highway I usually take is closed due to bridge work. I have to take a small farm road to get back to another highway to take me to the interstate. I came to a train track with the little rails that come down to block your way and flashing lights. The lights were flashing, one rail up and another down. I waited a few minutes and then it was clear a train wasn't coming, I drove around the guard, through the ditch.

Then I turn on my highway to take me to the interstate, and I waited 45 minutes for a wreck to be cleared. It must have just happened as I drove upon it, because much of the wait was for emergency personnel to get through the line of cars, who decided impatiently to turn around in the 2 lane road, thus blocking the emergency personnel and tow trucks from getting to the scene. The unfortunate thing was after that long wait, a sure test of my patience, I finally decided that I had to get out of the line of traffic and find my way down another farm road that might eventually lead me back to the highway I needed to get on to get to work.

I realized that sometimes, Christians are like that scene in the small town. First, God puts things in our path from going the wrong way, or for our safety. We decide it is easier to go around than back track or wait on God's timing. We don't call for help, like maybe I should have to help out the next person who came along to the flashing lights and guards. Instead, we do it our own way, in our own timing, often without consideration for anyone else. We don't stop to think that God puts roadblocks in our path for a reason.

Many times, Christians are insistent on the one way things are always done. I drive to work the same way every time, barring a road closure, which has happened a lot lately. I can't count the number of times I have heard someone in a church meeting say "That's how we have always done it." There are other, possibly better ways to do things, but as Christians we get stuck in a rut, conforming to things around instead of being transformed from faith to faith. We begin to trust our routine more than we do God to provide and help us grow.

On the way home, I had one more thought about small towns and how they can relate to small Christianity. It was almost midnight, and everything was black because things were all closed, no cars on the road, and only a few street lights. I was reminded of a quote I heard "If your church disappeared, would your community notice?" Hopefully we don't allow church to be contained in the four walls of a building, so that our lights stop shining with services are not being held. The world is dark without the light of Christian's sharing the good news of Christ. As Christians, we have to be out in the world to illuminate the darkness, lights don't shine very brightly when they are surrounded with light.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

I was gonna title this Small Town Christianity, but I thought some might think I am implying that those in small towns can't live God-sized lives, so I changed it! Small groups have the ability to do great things for Christ!