“In such a time as this

I want to tell you about New Orleans . It's more than a want, it's a compulsion. A need bubbling up from within that there are things that need to be told about what has happened here, what is happening now, and most importantly what may happen in the near future.

It's not just New Orleans that I am referring to, it's little compounds all across the Mississippi delta. It's the Gulf coast; towns and cities from Texas to Alabama ; and points North, South, East, and West. When you get down to it, it's about Pakistan and Guatemala and anywhere else that God moves in ways that involve catastrophe. It's about people, about pets, about cars and houses and buildings and streets, and really about everything that has suddenly been shaken, stirred, rocked, rattled, and in many cases completely destroyed.

Literally millions of people have had their lives turned upside down and many are asking why, what can it all mean, how can this be turned to good, and what am I going to do now? Try to imagine, for example, a pastor standing where the pulpit used to be in a church building whose interior has been reduced to a smelly, moldy pile of rubble. Every parishioner he has is dispersed across the nation. Such a man could surely be forgiven for sitting there in that silent building and asking God how on earth he can ever move forward, how he can provide answers to his flock when he cannot begin to find answers himself, or even know where his flock is.

A few days ago I found myself in a section of New Orleans I had not yet visited and it really began to bring some of what's happened here into perspective. I drove for many long minutes through an entire area of the city without seeing a single resident. The houses were abandoned, their doors left open, for there is not one thing worth stealing in any of them. The cars are marked with a succession of waterlines, bearing mute testimony to how hour by hour the floods reduced each of them to so much scrap iron. The trees and plants are mostly dead, slaughtered by the briny water, and when I stopped to listen I could not hear the sounds of traffic, people, or even birds. There was simply nobody left and nobody seemed to be intending to return. The silence spoke volumes about what has happened here. If one tries to consider each individual house and business as a testimony to an entire family having their lives suddenly shattered, it becomes a deafening cacophony of chaos, even in the silence.

I spent several minutes trying to take it in, took a number of pictures, and slowly drove away.

How can one make sense of something like this? How does one sing praises a good and loving God sitting there in that silently crying, empty neighborhood?

I would encourage every reader of these words to just take a moment and try to imagine their own house, their own neighborhood, and their own lives disrupted so completely that there is nothing recognizable remaining. I do not urge this to create a sense of despair, nor do I urge this with the intent of creating an outpouring of sympathetic donation, but in fact I urge this moment of imaginary experience so that you may have some inkling of how God works in such a time as this. When the entire familiar world is suddenly torn away, when our comfortable (or otherwise) reality suddenly becomes a waking nightmare, and when all that we hold to in the natural world turns against us, what are we left with? For millions of Americans this type of scenario is a distant thunder, often seen and heard of in media images, but rarely experienced. Now however this reality has visited our nation on a far greater scale than anything we have experienced in recent generations. For many dozens of years we have been a nation that for the most part enjoys a level of material wealth that has never before existed in the history of our world. For most of us the experience of having our entire physical, economic, cultural, and governmental system disintegrate before our eyes is something that we say “tsk tsk, how sad” about when it happens to another country on our evening news. Now however, God has brought some of this reality to our doorsteps and I believe that how we respond as a Church and as a people will have considerable effect on the course of events in our nation's future.

The fact that these events have been centered around one of the least godly cities in our nation has not been lost on most of us. It is natural for us to interpret these events as the actions of a wrathful God, full of vengeance against those who defied and mocked him, even as the storm passed New Orleans without seeming to cause much damage, that is, until the levees failed. I must say, however, that this is far from a satisfactory explanation of what has taken place here. Consider the thousands of God fearing Christians who have had their lives shattered, and consider also the perspective of the many pastors who have preached for years against the debauchery of Bourbon street only to see their churches wiped from existence while the bars of Bourbon street never even closed for business. No, God has more for us here than simply a stroke from heaven against the wicked and godless, but what is it?

Let me add another observation from the front lines for you to consider. If you look around this city and the surrounding states where this disaster has struck and then further afield to the many evacuation centers and shelters, what you will find is that while the government and the red cross are very active, time and again it is churches who are providing the shelter, churches who have marshaled up teams of people to provide every need, and churches that are reaching out to people and other churches in ways that many have never done before. The fact is, this sequence of events has affected churches, and churches have in turn affected people in ways that have not been seen in this country for quite some time. However, even in this state of heroic action and engagement, the majority of churches and Christians in America have done little more than send some donations and offer sympathy and words of consolation.

What I would ask us each to consider is this: if you were God, and if you wanted to provide a wake up call to the Church in America , would you simply wipe out a corrupt city with a terrible stroke of vengeance? Or would it make more sense to send a calamity to saint and sinner alike, and to create a scenario where the believers in the nation must choose to rise up and respond to see the churches and people rebuilt and healed or else choose to make a few donations and then sit back and mutter about the state of affairs of this world while the affected area resumes its old ways and the few churches left standing lack the resources and partners to do much other than slowly slide into a self absorbed state of inaction, disengaged from the majority of the people they are meant to serve?

There are many complaints around our nation about the bureaucracy of FEMA, the high overhead of certain charities, and generally the corruption endemic to all of man's activities, but I ask you, who has God charged with helping those in distress? Who has been given the mandate to speak hope to the hopeless, healing to the sick, and good news to the oppressed? Is it FEMA? Is it the Red Cross? Of course not. We all know that as a Church we have a responsibility that we have simply not lived up to, the heroic efforts of some churches and individuals notwithstanding. The reality is that the situation we now face in the aftermath of the hurricane season of 2005 is that a historic challenge and opportunity are placed squarely at our doorstep by a loving and ingenious God, who, by his spirit and though our hands and hearts, can not only bring hope and healing to an entire region, but can in fact bring a revival so grand that the glory of it will ring across continents and generations!

I believe that such a revival of which I am speaking can only come about if we as a Church step forward and spare no expense, be it personal or as a body, to see that the churches and people in the storm affected areas can have no other response than to shout “Praise God!” when they see what God has wrought here. I believe that we must reach out and communicate, interconnect, and most of all step forward in ways that we have never done before, both as individuals and as church bodies, or we will have to face the sad reality of seeing God's magnificent offering to us pass away into history as one more missed opportunity to glorify Him and be His hands and feet as His plans are brought to pass.

I am calling on each reader of these words to connect with others, speak out, and make and fulfill plans to get involved, whether it be in Louisiana or Texas or Florida or even Pakistan . I am calling for literally every God fearing believer in the nation to pray about where they fit in during this time of upheaval and spiritual promise, and I rebuke every thought of inaction due to circumstances, age, health, financial concerns, personal busyness, or the many other ways that our enemy has tricked us into inaction in the past. I have personally witnessed volunteers from ages 14 to 82, volunteers with vast wealth and volunteers without little more than the clothes on their back shouldering God's burdens and praising God for the ability to participate in such a time as this.

Let each of us in his own way take up this challenge from our Lord and Savior and pray about what our part is, and let us go forth praising God for his goodness and love in allowing us to see his glory revealed in such a time as this.

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