First published in 2013

 

 

joeofficial

 

You’ve seen the signs. Literal signs on billboards, flyers, T-shirts, banners and bumper stickers. “Come As You Are”, I think, kind of set it all in motion. Kurt Cobain would have been proud. Now you see everything from “No Perfect People Allowed” to “Rock and Roll Church” to “Not Your Grandma’s Church”. I have to admit that last one kind of bugs me. I’m old enough to be a grandpa myself, and I have to admit, I like me some good “rock and roll” worship music from time to time. And that is a small part of the problem. But I’ll get to that later.

I do not believe, with the possible exception of the “grandma” thing, that there is anything inherently wrong with any of the above slogans or labels. You could argue that any of them are accurate, especially if the church is living up to their proclamations.

Everywhere you look, churches are cropping up with catchy names that cry out, “Hey! We’re not Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians or any thing at all. We are simply believers!!” In just about any city with a population of 50,000 or more you can open a phonebook(they still make those don’t they???) and find cool names like “Celebration”, “Journey”, “Oasis” or “_______Family  Worship.” We even have one in my city named “A Church Called Mystery.” I’m not certain what they are about, but I have heard good things about them.

As churches move away from what they consider to be denominationalism, the names become increasingly vague. Again, I personally see nothing necessarily wrong with that. Especially if they are facilitating worship. In my experience, I have attended or served in practically every denomination there is. I have even been labeled at times a “church-hopper”. I have yet to find that term in the Bible, and I am certain the Apostle Paul might take issue with it.

Now I do not want to lump any of these bodies in with those who have left a church to start their “own”, in order to avoid submission to authority. It is sad and all too common an occurrence when a person will start a church because they do not want someone telling them what to do. Often times you will find that the “pastors” of those churches actually own the building, control the finances and hand pick the board, if they have one. They are in essence accountable to no one, and rarely recognize any accountability to God. Many border on cult status.

There are however, many churches trying to reach a different generation in what they view as the best way they know how to. And they are succeeding in ways beyond our imagination.  Many churches that are targeting in on the 20 something demographic are seeing numeric growth way beyond what they could have ever predicted. However, some of these approaches are inadvertently breeding an improper rebellion that if not recognized, could contribute more to division than actual unity. They have cloaked this potential division under the garments of “musical tastes”, “casual dress” or even “concert lighting.”  They insist on “doing” church differently and have definite ideas as to what “their church should look like.”

Sometimes, these “new churches” are birthed in and remain under the umbrella of the “main” church. “Come to our new ‘Contemporary’ service in the gymnasium!!” or “Make sure and attend our Young Adult service immediately following our regular service” is becoming a new standard within many large fellowships. This gives some folks an “out” without ever having to leave “their” church. Jesus had some definite words in respect to division, and they were not favorable. Increasingly, we see the younger generation distancing themselves from the older generation, and the side effects are not good.

Instead of engaging with the “older” members of the fellowship to see if they might add to the existing structure, they created a “new” structure, so they could do church the way they wanted to. This may work with the middle-school aged worshiper (although that may also be worthy of further consideration), but when you are in your 20’s, segregation is not necessarily the answer. When you are in your 20’s, you have increased potential and voice to lead or otherwise add to the overall mission of the church. Another aspect of becoming a 20 something is, like it or not, joining the rest of intergenerational society. Face it, you have to integrate.  So as a result, the tendency is to either start a church within a church, or an entirely new fellowship that caters to their tastes and expectations.

My purpose here is certainly not to place blame or guilt on anyone. People are attending church, and that is certainly a good thing. But part of the problem faced by the 20 something’s is that many of them have come out of a carnival like, happy-feely, lights-camera-action high-school youth environment that served more as a baby-sitting service, while trying to somehow keep them interested in Jesus; than actual discipleship. Many children and youth in church today spend more time bouncing up to the next level of catchy classroom titles, than they ever spend in actual spiritual growth. And honest pastors and other leaders are often times to busy catering to cry-babies on the “board” that they do not have time to see what is really going on during Sunday school or children’s church. In many cases, church has become a couple of hours of spending time with “people just like them.”

And if we indoctrinate our children and young people into an environment that motivates them to only desire to spend time with people “just like them”, we may very well be cultivating a form of “self-worship.”

The truth is many of us, including a 50 something like me, are hungry for something more than what we grew up in. Three hymns, an offering, a message and an altar call just aren’t cutting it. And those of us, who have a passion to reach this generation, while refusing to isolate or otherwise disregard our “older” generation, are desperate to find “something” that “works.” Especially if we have taken the time to look at the statistics, that cry out for a revolution.

Since they have been keeping track of such things, it has been evident in business and culture, and increasingly in the church, the recognition that the “younger generation” functions like a type of radar, seeking out and reporting on what is happening in culture, both good and bad. The younger generation has an understanding of where things are headed way before anyone else. This is one reason why churches are beginning to look and sound more like what young people are feeling and/or experiencing. Major corporations have tapped into the reality of this “radar”, and use it to their full advantage. Companies like General Electric and Texas Instruments proactively rely on the ideas, and even leadership of younger people. Young adults in the church offer much of the same insight, but are too often faced with resistance from the older generation. The results of which continue to perpetuate a division that has its roots in the removal of children from the sanctuary for being “disruptive.”

So besides the counter-productivity that comes from such division, another element is slowly rearing an ugly head:

Arrogance.

I hesitate to write this, but I rarely follow my own hesitation. At any rate, there are churches all over this country, which will remain nameless, that have the most arrogant bunch of people attending that I have ever heard of. It sickens me how they are so elitist that they poison the Gospel as far as I am concerned. The sad part for me personally is that I know several well meaning seekers who attend them religiously. I pray for them. And I mean that.

But the arrogance is not just among the younger set. It’s coming from both sides of the aisle.

And whenever arrogance is present, it is almost always accompanied by a heart unwilling to submit to authority. The result of which causes one to pull away from, or out of, the church you have been part of. So we either create a church within a church, leave to start our “own” church, or leave church altogether.

The truth is that this spirit of arrogance festers in both competing generations. The older generation has refused to heed to the younger voices around them as contributing members of leadership. At the same time, the younger generation has put their own tastes and desires ahead of those whose wisdom and dreams paved the way to the front door of the church. The common denominator is fear, which provides the fertile ground for the broken relationships between the generations to flourish. The older folks are often afraid of change of any sort. Even if they may be in favor of a “new” idea, they fear their inability to execute it. They fear disrupting the “way things have always been” or fear what their peers may think. At the same time, the younger generation is afraid that they may be forced to conform to traditions or “dress codes” that will result in the loss of their identity. These fears become a breeding ground for division, and whenever fear is present, control tends to be the natural response.

Regardless of which generation we find ourselves part of, when we think of “church”, we all have different ideas as to what that means to us. We would be wise, in any generation, to reexamine what Peter stated in the 2nd Chapter of Acts when he quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel:

“Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” 

This is a timely reminder that any significant movement within the Church will be an inter-Generational one that is sensitive to the Spirit of God. God gave that dream to Joel thousands of years ago, but each of us should consider the present day application of it. A combination of the dreams and visions that God is so generously pouring out through His Spirit, to the old and young alike, will unite us to become a force equipped to storm the gates of hell.

In any generation, the men and women who have made worthwhile and lasting contributions to the Kingdom, have had a touch of rebellion attached to their actions. Attacking the institution of the church, as opposed to the dream of God known as The Church, is a worthwhile use of this rebellious nature. We must get past our arrogance and fear, regardless of our age, to become a responsible and productive part of this time in church history. 

We must get past the “next generation” and “church of the future” mentality to begin accomplishing this mission. We limit ourselves through terms and labels that divide instead of unite. This so called “future generation” is using mass-media, they are earning and spending money and they are starting families now. They are not on the side-lines, they are in the game. Yet in the eyes of too many elders, deacons and pastors, they are looked upon as going to “someday” be part of the church. The truth is, they are parts of a body known as The Church, and they are actively living out the visions God has given them. But unless we actively work to keep the body together, we will continue to see “new” churches popping up that cater only to the tastes and wishes of those who start them, and lose the dream God gave to Joel.

As a 50 something, I have to take some responsibility for the division I have helped to create. Partly because I personally dig the “Come as you are, no perfect people allowed, rock and roll, church unusual, perfect place for imperfect people” places of worship I am drawn to. But the thing is, it’s not about me. And if I insist on church being designed to cater to my tastes in order to contribute, then I completely miss the purpose.

Like “Rebellious Lovers” The Book by Joseph Johnson on Facebook by clicking here.

(C)2014 All rights reserved

 

 

joeofficial

 

NOTE: This piece is not intended to reflect on any particular person or church. It is based on several years of observation-Joe

Before she accepted Christ, my mother used to say, “I’ll go to church after I get my life straightened out.” Although she kind of had the process backwards, her heart was in the right place. She refused to be a hypocrite.

The truth is, my mother’s reasoning was not unlike that of others. Many have the impression that they must have their life in order “before” they claim Christ, or start attending a church. In all actuality, God will meet you right where you are, regardless of your condition, issues or circumstances.

That is part of what is called Grace.

God does not expect us to be “perfect.” Yes, He is honored when we strive for perfection, but if we could obtain that in this world, then there would be no need for Grace. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Often times I believe confusion sets in when we interpret those words to mean that we will never sin or fall short of the Glory of God. I fully believe that the closest we can come to perfection, while still breathing the corrupt air of this planet, is when we choose to love God with all of our heart, strength, body and soul as we love our neighbors as ourselves.

When we are able to reconcile our imperfections with the Truth that God loves us anyway, we are free to worship Him without religious restraint. And if we are blessed to find a church that recognizes this, then we are able to fellowship without fear of judgment.

However churches are led by humans, and by virtue of that, the term “imperfect” is vicarious at best. Recognizing that we are all imperfect, yet setting standards as to the limits or specific imperfections allowable, borders on playing God. In other words, “Your ‘sin’ is acceptable, as long as I approve of it.”

One of the dangerous results of this can arise when a person joins a church of “imperfect” people, feels accepted and un-judged, only to be cast out with the dogs when their imperfection crosses some invisible line. They would have probably been better off at the creek on Sunday mornings.

Throughout the years I have noticed this pattern in the smaller churches that that tend to be called “fringe churches.” Although I do not necessarily believe “fringe” is an appropriate term, it typically refers to a church with no specific emphasis on a particular denomination. Often times these churches come into existence because the pastor has an aversion to submitting to authority. They will start their “own” church because they do not want someone “telling them what to do.”  Most often, you will discover that the pastors of these churches actually own the building, personally control the finances of the church and refuse to have a “board” because the word does not appear in the Bible. In other words; no accountability. In some cases, if they receive some sort of government assistance or exemptions which requires a board, you can bet that the board is either hand-picked or fabricated.

The sad part is that these men play the dual role of Pharisee and Jesus. They draw the line in the sand and they alone determine what acceptable and un-acceptable imperfection is. Grace is relative and mercy is subjective. Too often the result is that the wounded souls that find their way to the doors of these churches end up leaving with new scars.

In the final analysis it appears that acknowledging your imperfections is acceptable, however itemizing them may cause you to run the risk of crossing the invisible line in the pastor’s mind. Your imperfections are fine, as long as they are perfect.

vanessablog

 

Hypocrisy: The act of pretending.

For some, “pretending you have it all together, so that you don’t appear evil.”

I was told once by a man whom I looked up to that I needed to be careful of what part of my testimony I share; that if too many people knew that I had committed adultery (in my previous marriage) that I would push them away from Christ.
I remember thinking, “But I’m delivered from that, and forgiven why can’t I share it?”; That is who I was, but not who I am now. I also remember thinking, “If one of the lepers that Christ healed told their testimony about their healing, would people see the healing? Or would people run from him since he had leprosy before?” Back then people would have been more accepting of the change.

Why would people run from me?

I then began to think of the prostitute that came into the home of Simon the Pharisee; a man who refused to wash Christ’s feet or kiss Him. And she, in the midst of her repentance, came boldly to the throne and fell at the feet of the Man who would redeem her of her adulteress reputation and washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, and poured out her entire jar of fragrant oil on His feet, and created the most intimate love story in the Bible. (in my opinion) She was beautiful, and didn’t care what other people thought. At any given moment she could have been stoned for displaying such affection; she didn’t care because she was focused on Christ.

This was the woman I was. And still am. No longer bound by my sin, but free. I ended up losing my “life”, my marriage collapsed and as I grew closer to God, my husband at the time and I grew further apart; and I was tired of pretending. Tired of hiding my deliverance. So I began to walk again, live again, feel again after years of apathy and hate. My heart began beating again, and the numbness, turned into breathing.

I will not hide my testimony.

Don’t ever let anyone steal your testimony; that is what Satan is here to do. He tries to steal your praise. Give the glory to God the only One who can redeem you. Share your testimony, someone might need to know that even Christians are real; with real life struggles, and following Christ has a price: called complete surrender, an when he becomes your One and only God, you may lose everything you thought was dear, but you will find out that it is all worth losing.

 

joeofficial

Jesus comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. His basic facial features stay somewhat consistent, but He appears to be experienced fully through a Spiritual encounter, as opposed to a clonish substitute.

In the gospels of St. Matthew 16:15,  St. Mark 8:29 and St. Luke 9:20, there is a question in the text that is reported as to have been asked by Jesus Christ Himself. The question was: “Who do you say I am?” 

In the Gospel of John, as well as other places in the aforementioned three Gospels, Jesus seemingly answers this question.

In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.”

In John 8:12, He says, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

In John 10:9, our Savior says, “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

Two verses down, in John 10:11, He says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.”

In the next chapter of John, in verse 25, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.”

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

And finally, in John 15:1, He says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

One thing is for certain; based on these seven verses, as well as many others recorded in the four Gospels, as well as the Book of Revelation, Jesus has a definite awareness of who He is.

The question is: “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Or put another way, “Who is Jesus to you?”

In an online poll that I researched, this question was asked to random people: “What do you think of Jesus Christ? (God)” There were over 69,000 of responses to the question. Here is a small sampling of those replies:

Someone calling themselves “Star” from Sherman, Texas stated: “I think God is my best friend and I can talk to Him about ANYTHING.”

“Liza” from Kirkland, Washington replied with:”I think Jesus might have been a good person in his time. Today he is a monument to the stupidity of Christians. Just like Allah is and the rest of the so-called Gods are.”

Lance Winslow who simply states that he is from the U.S., in a rambling comment stated the following: “Schizophrenia can be self-induced, this is a known psychological fact. Invisible friends are a way to cope with stress. It is interesting that we tell children to believe in Santa Clause but send them to the psychologist if they still believe by age 10. If they have invisible friends while young that is okay, but after age 12 there is a problem, unless it is a religious figure then it is okay for some reason? Well, maybe we need some mental re-evaluation in amongst these humans?” (I have to admit that I corrected Lance’s may spelling errors for this piece)

A person calling themselves “My Heart Bleeds” from Dallas, Texas, had the following to say, “When the going gets tough, the weak get religion. Nothing good ever came when a nation became zealous about a belief, we will be no different. Faith and religion are two VERY different things, and can NEVER be reconciled. Faith is good, and very much a PERSONAL thing, religion is the source of most misery, and very much a PUBLIC affair. The differences are obvious, except to the stupid and their keepers.” (Here I must admit that I am a bit confused as their final conclusion)

“Rusty” from Houston, Texas responds with the following: ”Question to our theological scholars, Why didn’t Jesus write down his parables and teachings instead of letting someone else do it or dictate it. If he was God, then he knew that his sayings were going to get misinterpreted. As God or the son of God, he could of made things clearer.”

Finally, someone referring to themselves as “Argus” from Columbus, Ohio states, “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF YOUR JESUS. NO FIRST CENTURY AUTHOR EVER WROTE OF YOUR MIRACULOUS CHRIST. THE ROMANS AND GREEKS, WHO WERE METICULOUS RECORD KEEPERS, HAVE NOTHING OF THIS JESUS.” (Sorry for the all-caps, but that is how “Argus” wrote their reply. I think this means they we shouting)

In response to Argus’s statement, I would like to point out that the 1st Century historian by the name of Josephus, whose writings have been authenticated wrote, right around 62 AD, the following:

“And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus… Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Those were random responses from “everyday” people. I would also like to include some quotes from some well known people in regards to the question of just who Jesus is:

The late John Lennon once said, “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”

Bob Dylan was quoted as saying, “Being noticed can be a burden. Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed. So I disappear a lot.”

Billy Ray Cyrus, and for those of you who may not know who he is, he’s Miley Cyrus’ dad, He once said, “I am and always will be a sinner. But that’s the beautiful thing about Jesus. I’ll always try to be a better person in the eyes of God. But I’m not all of a sudden stepping up on a pedestal and saying I’m holier than thou, ’cause I’m not!”

And finally, pop-star Katy Perry is quoted as saying, “I got this Jesus tattoo on my wrist when I was 18 because I know that it’s always going to be a part of me. When I’m playing, it’s staring right back at me, saying, ‘Remember where you came from.’…Most of us have heard of Katy, what you may not be aware of is that she recorded her first album, a Christian album, at the age of 15 as Katy Hudson.

Again I ask, “Who is Jesus to you?”

The late Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, had this to say in regards to Jesus, “Faith makes the difference. You can study the Scriptures until your eyes fall out, and without the gift of faith you’re not going to believe Christ was the Son of God. The miracle is faith itself.”

I could literally go on for hours sharing quotes from celebrities, theologians and folks just like you and I in regards to their views on Jesus, but I will give you just one more from one of my favorites. Mother Teresa. This saintly woman once said this concerning Jesus, “The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved–they are Jesus in disguise. Through the poor people I have an opportunity to be 24 hours a day with Jesus.” Clearly she took Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25 concerning “the least of these” literally.

Around 2000 years ago when Jesus posed this question, “Who do you say I am” to Peter, all three of the aforementioned Gospels record the same response, “You are the Messiah.” Literally, Peter answered that Jesus was the anticipated Savior of the Jews. In the Greek, Jesus is The Christ.

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question had profound implications in regards to the Jewish people. Yet we are all well aware that there are infinite implications the answer holds for us some 2000 years later.

2 Peter 3:9 states that it is not God’s will that anyone should perish. In short, Jesus is the Savior of the world. He died and rose again to save the Jew and Gentile alike. In fact, while He walked this planet wearing our fragile skin, He redeemed a half-breed woman from Samaria. Jesus shows no favoritism when it comes to the blood He shed on the Cross. That same blood was shed for the Catholic, as well as the Muslim. He died for the child-molester as well as the pre-school teacher. He bled for the homosexual, as He did for my mother, and yours.

Who do you say that He is?

Thomas, the disciple proclaimed, as he thrust his fingers into the wounds on Jesus’ body, “My Lord and my God!”

Again, who do YOU say that He is?

I say that He is the obedient son who turned water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.

I say that He is the man who healed the servant of a man who whose employer would eventually order Jesus’ crucifixion.

I say that He is the man who reached out and touched a leper, breaking every boundary that had been built to separate the ultimate outcast.

I say that He is the man who cast out demons, healed the blind, caused the paralyzed to walk and fed thousands with nothing more than a child’s sack lunch.

I say that He is the man who walked on water, raised people from the dead and produced money from the mouth of a fish.

I say that He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

I say that He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

And in John 15:15, Jesus says that He is my friend.

I am going to be posting a few more essays about my friend Jesus in the weeks to come.

 

Among his other diversions, Joseph Johnson is a writer who lives with his family in the Ozarks. He has written and published numerous words which have resulted in sentences, and ultimately, paragraphs.

may22

I am not 100% certain it has to do with “age”, but I am beginning to enjoy my rest, especially sleep, more with each passing year. When we are asleep life basically stops.

At least in our cognitive awareness.

When we are asleep, we have no perspective. The truth is the good, bad and ugly ceases to exist. When we awaken, life begins again, and we awaken anew. How we face this “new” makes all of the difference. We may have made plans for this new day, but as we are all aware of, plans often times change.

Have you ever been asleep, only to find out the next day there had been a serious storm throughout the night. I have. I have slept through neighborhood shootings, hurricanes, earthquakes and yes, even tornadoes; totally oblivious to what is going on around me. We awaken to find things different from when we closed our eyes. The question is: How do we respond? Often times our response depends on our perspective.

As I write these words thunderstorms, some quite severe have passed through my neighborhood. Tornado watches have been issued, and people are understandably on edge. Tornadoes have already taken lives, and caused considerable damage. Baxter Springs, Kansas and Quapaw, Oklahoma got hit pretty hard.

A couple of days ago, my wife, son and I were sitting in CiCi’s Pizza, when the alarm sounded. My 15 year old son became particularly anxious. I drove us all to a “safe room” at a friend’s house. When the sirens sound, fear is all around us, and I can not fault anyone for the anxiety they are experiencing.

During his lifetime, Jesus encountered many storms. During one particular storm, He walked on water, directly into the midst of it. But I would like to take a look at another storm Jesus’ found Himself in the middle of, and His response to it.

This account can be found in Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4: 35-41 and Luke 8:22-25. We will be taking a look at Mark’s testimony primarily.

As our story picks up, Jesus has had another full day of teaching. In this case, the crowd was so large that He actually sat in a boat on the water’s edge. There is a mixture of excitement and satisfaction that may come with giving a Divinely inspired message. And as in this particular case, when a large crowd is present, hungry for a Word from God, it has the potential to produce a sensation that borders on ecstasy. On any given day, amazing things can happen.

May 22nd is no exception.

On May 22nd in the year 337 A.D. Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome, has died. Although death may seem like a negative thing when using the word “amazing”, the good news is that he had to be born first. And what makes his life so significant is that he was the first Roman emperor ever to be converted to Christianity, thus ending almost 300 years of severe persecution of Christian believers. In addition, during his reign, crucifixion was abolished.

On May 22nd 1803 the first public library opened in the U.S. in Connecticut.

On May 22nd 1892, a man by the name of Dr. Washington Sheffield invented the toothpaste tube, so people didn’t have to share the act of dipping their brushes in to a common container.

On May 22nd 1906 the Wright Brothers received a patent for the airplane.

On May 22nd 1933 the Loch Ness Monster is first reportedly sighted.

And finally, on May 22nd 1967 “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” had its debut.

All of the above events, if not necessarily amazing, were positive none the less.

We now begin reading in Mark 4, beginning in verse 35:“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”

Matthew’s account says, “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.”…..”Suddenly”, out of nowhere, things can go from awesome to terrifying.

Again, May 22nd is no exception:

On May 22nd 1987 thirty people were killed in a Saragosa, Texas tornado.

On May 22nd 2004 the town of Hallam, Nebraska, was wiped out by a powerful EF-4 tornado that broke a width record at an astounding 2.5 miles wide. It also killed one local resident.

And finally, on May 22nd 2011 an EF-5 tornado hit the city of Joplin, MO, killing 161 people. At that time, it was the largest and deadliest tornado ever recorded in U.S. history.

The news story accounts, along with the books and videos have left practically no stone unturned in regards to the tragedy, as well as the heroic efforts that came about as a result of the tragedy that struck Joplin. Some of you reading this may very likely have your own personal stories. I know I do. But beyond the stories, there was at least one occurrence in regards to the tornado that hit Joplin that I personally find quite ironic.

In the early months of 2010, in Joplin, Missouri, several evangelical leaders got together to create an event that would become “The Four-State Awakening.” An executive committee was formed, media announcements were made, flyers were printed, speakers and musical groups were scheduled, a university sports stadium was rented and crowds gathered. The proclamation was delivered, “It is time to awaken the area. It is time for the church to come alive and reach out into our communities and claim them for Christ!!!”

Something good almost always comes out of a gathering of Believers worshipping God, but I also know this; following the “awakening”, homelessness in the are continued to rise, domestic violence rose, child abuse cases rose and the poverty level increased. And less than a year following this “awakening”, the devastating tornado hit Joplin.

You CANNOT schedule an awakening.

On that note, following the May 22, 2011 whirlwind that hit Joplin, an “awakening” did occur. Churches rose to the occasion, as did other non-religious groups and organizations. On practically every other street corner in the city, somebody was giving something away. Whether it was food, shelter, water, clothing…whatever, folks were practically begging you to take something. It was like a city wide block party. On many vehicles that passed by one another, you could see bumper stickers that read, “Pray for Joplin.”

What an interesting thought.

I often wonder if the block parties and prayers had been happening prior to May 22, 2011 if the tornado would have struck at all. No one will ever know. At any rate, following the tornado that hit Joplin, many questions arose, among them, “Where was God?”

In the case of the storm we have been reading about in Mark, God in the flesh, was asleep. Picking up at verse 38:“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Have you ever felt that perhaps God may be sleeping? There are some things that happen throughout our lives, when we must wonder: Is God even there?

The truth is, on any given May 22nd over 3000 babies are killed by abortion, 26,000 people die world-wide of starvation, 88 people take their own lives, 5-6 children die of child abuse, over 1,870 rapes take place…Where are the candle-light vigils for these people? Where are the fund-raisers and benefits for the families left behind? I am not trying to take away from the grief and heartache of those who lost so much in the Joplin tornado. I myself was involved in the search and rescue that fateful day.

My shift on Search and Rescue began at around 10pm on that Sunday. When it was over at around 11am Monday morning, I returned to the Joplin Memorial Hall with blood, filth and who knows what on my clothes. I sat down in a seat and just balled. As I opened my eyes, I looked down and saw something stuck in the laces of one of my boots. It was a daisy, and it made me smile. That stated, I believe that in the big scheme of things, May 22nd is no different than any other day of the year.

Verse 38 continues: “The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Keep in mind that several of the men screaming this panic driven question were seasoned sailors. Men who had battled storms most of their lives. I believe it could be fair to say that this particular storm must have been quite intense to cause so much fear in these men.

And as seasoned as we may be to the traumas and heartaches that may come our way, we will still from time to time have the wind knocked out of our sails from a storm so intense that we wonder if we will survive. Yet here we are, living and breathing as another May 22nd approaches.

Continuing in Mark, we read, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Notice that Jesus did not chastise the disciples for being afraid. Yes, He did pose a question in regards to their fear vs. faith, but He has His Daddy’s DNA; and a Good Father does not punish His child for needing Him. If anything I would suspect that a loving daddy, especially our Heavenly Daddy, is somewhat grieved over our child’s apparent lack of trust and possible fear of abandonment.

As I stated earlier, there are so many stories that came out of the Joplin tornado, ranging from the heartbreaking, to the heroic, to the miraculous. One of the stories that stands out in my mind originated from the destroyed home of a Joplin man by the name of John Hunter, who lived at 2402 Montana. After the EF-5 moved on from his home, the only wall left standing in the house displayed an inspirational painting by Webb City, Missouri, artist Jack Dawson called “Peace in the Midst of the Storm.” Completely untouched by the horrific storm.

If you have never seen that particular painting, I can tell you that it portrays a raging waterfall, pounding against the rocks. The background displays a terrific storm, with dark clouds and tremendous lightening. Yet, if you look closely, you can also see that a small bird has found a hiding place in the cleft of the rock.

Yes, as the disciples battled that raging storm, the Son of God slept peacefully. Yet, God the Father was wide awake, and His Son knew this. God is always looking down upon us, in the calm and the storm. He sees the horror of abortion, suicide, and rape. He sees the tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes. He sees the daddies as they walk out the door, the junkie taking the fatal shot and the bloodied and bruised hooker.

Yes, our Heavenly Father sees, and His response is this, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I fully believe that we can all find peace in the midst of the storms of life, yet I also fully believe that we can avoid many of those storms by taking heed to those words found in 2Chronicles 7:14. But have no fear, when the inevitable storm does come though, our Daddy will not leave us nor forsake us.

To read the story about John Hunter’s experience, click here.

To view the painting, “Peace in the Midst of the Storm”, click here.

Among his other diversions, Joseph Johnson is a writer who lives with his family in the Ozarks. He has written and published numerous words which have resulted in sentences, and ultimately, paragraphs.

I have often said that “our humanity may be the reason behind our stumbles, but it should not be an excuse.”

As I reflect upon these words, I have come to the staggering conclusion that I am a liar. Not necessarily in the accuracy of the statement, but in my personal application. In my opinion, a liar is someone who refuses to practice what they preach. Of this, I am guilty as charged.

If I had chosen to use the word” imperfections” in place of “humanity” in the above quote, then perhaps I would have provided a better “out” for those of us stumbling through life. We feast on our imperfections, allowing them to overshadow the Cross. We make a conscious decision to “stumble” and then scream “I never claimed to be perfect…just forgiven!”

We wear our imperfections like a badge of honor, and in the process, any actual perfection is all but noticeable. And as the Master Craftsman works to make us increasingly perfect, we fight tooth and nail to keep a death grip on our imperfectness. Face it, we find comfort and solidarity there.

The other side of the coin is those who claim to be perfect. Yes, they exist, and they are annoying as hell. For in their acclamations of perfection, they tend to also become judge, jury and executioner.

What we lack as a chosen people, is balance.

I know I may have lost a few of you with that word, “balance.” Trust me, I am barely hanging on myself. I am chronically imbalanced. If we were to visualize it as a scale, I believe that in most of our views, the imperfections would far out-weigh the perfection. One reason may be that one is a plural, which implies “more.” That may make some sense upon an initial consideration.

I believe that a reason behind this is that we have forgotten who we are, and Whose opinion matters the most. If you are a parent, I would like to ask you to honestly ask yourself this question:

“Do I focus more on my child’s imperfections or their perfection?”

To be fair, I am asking myself this very same question even as I type these words.

I have been given the privilege to have three young children enter into my life in the past couple of years. I married their mother, a decision they had no real voice in. Recently, the oldest of the three, a nine year old, said this to me:

“I wish you had never met my mom.”

At first, I just chalked it up to an emotional outburst from a child who was not happy with being called out on their inappropriate behavior (see imperfections) and was lashing out at me.

But upon reflection, I realized that these words came from a highly intelligent and gifted child who puts a tremendous amount of thought into everything they say and do.

“I wish you had never met my mom.”

And in my heart, I fear that she may be echoing the very thoughts of her two younger siblings, who may be too afraid of the potential consequence of expressing that which is attempting to pry its way into their tender hearts.

Yet, on any given Friday night, I stand before a group of youth and loudly proclaim that “YOU are God’s chosen generation!” Like I wrote earlier, I am a liar. I fail to practice what I preach. What good am I if I “save” the world while losing my family?

How we view things is as much a matter of choice as how we listen, react or live.

A child can go through a dozen blank pieces of paper in order to create a drawing that they are satisfied with. Upon completion of their current “masterpiece” they will present it to us for our approval. Our reaction will mean the difference between perfection or imperfection in the heart of that little one.

Every move they make is a part of the masterpiece being shaped and formed by their Creator, and we play the part of critic. We create failures or artists with every word we speak.

Consider this: When God looks upon us, do we desire for Him to focus on our perfection or imperfections?

Although the answer to that question may seem to be obvious, I do not believe it to necessarily be so. We tend to flaunt our imperfections. Perhaps it is because we know somewhere deep within us that He sees past them. He sees His perfect creation; and even though on some level we believe this, we refuse to accept it.

Grace.

Grace is the coating that tips the scale and polishes our imperfections. It smooths out the rough edges and allows our perfection to shine through the blemishes of imperfection. I have a strong tendency to extend much more grace than I am willing to receive. I have been “accused” of being too wrapped up in grace; that I use it to justify “bad behavior.”

It has taken me awhile to admit that there may be some truth to that. But even if it is true, I am simply a poor representative of the Author of grace. Grace, I am convinced, covers our imperfections. It is NOT a license to sin, but it is a blanket that warms the cold heart from where our sin originates.

The truth is, Grace is much more than simply a “get out of jail free” card. It is a power that keeps me from taking my own life. It is a power that keeps me “sane’ when my mind wants to evaporate. It is a power that draws me back, time and time again into the presence of my Father.

I have made the mistake of thinking that I totally understand it. But I can no more quantify it than I can fully accept it. I believe that I will fully come to grasp its full capacity when I one day stand before my Father.

For it will only be by the Grace of God that I will be able to do so.

Former Joplin, Missouri Chief of Police David Niebur would be proud. For those of you who remember, the lawman led the Joplin Police Department into battle from 1992 to 1997. During his reign, he unleashed the the local cops onto the populace like Heinrich Himmler on an acid trip. “Jack-booted thugs” was a term tossed about frequently when the JPD cruisers prowled the neighborhoods.

The jury is out as if to whether or not the cops have mellowed some since Niebur’s departure, or if they have simply gotten sneakier. At any rate, they are now in a position to make a grand entrance whenever Joplin suddenly becomes plagued with land mines or ambushes on…well, a MRAP.

What I am referring to is the Joplin Police department’s acquisition of a MRAP, which is an acronym for a military “mine-resistant, ambush protected” vehicle. The armored vehicle is a former ride used in the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The good news is that the $733,000 vehicle did not cost the taxpayers anything. The bad news is…it’s here. According to Joplin Police Lt. Sloan Rowland, it will only be used in rare instances that may include situations where there is an active shooter.

When we think of an “active shooter” we tend to imagine some madman opening fire at some location like a mall or a school. Movie theaters seem to be quite popular as well. Security professionals recommend that if you find yourself in a situation like this, you should immediately take cover. That makes a hell of a lot of sense. Find any place you can and get out of the shooter’s line of fire. Sadly though, the people who are in the gunman’s immediate vicinity are the first to take fire.

Generally, when a situation like this occurs, someone manages to call 911. When that happens, best case scenario suggests that the cops who have gone through the training to be able to operate the MRAP happen to be sitting in it, waiting for that “rare instance that may include situations where there is an active shooter” that Lt. Rowland spoke of. The odds of that scenario are highly unlikely.

A more realistic scenario suggests that once the police dispatcher receives the 911 call, “regular” cops are dispatched to the scene, while the “special” MRAP/SWAT cops are being rounded up. In the mean time, the “regular” cops have managed to pull themselves away from the rampant bicyclists who refuse to use headlamps at night and arrived at the scene to set up a perimeter; waiting for the MRAP and SWAT to arrive. Once the SWAT team decides on their point of entry, they move onto the shooter. Typically, they are now inside the building, while the MRAP is sitting outside waiting for its photo-op.

If the shooter happens to fire outside of the building towards the bystanders with their cell phones on video, the ones who happen to be on the far side of the MRAP will probably be safe.

That is, if the cops let you near it.

 

This story was first published under the pen name of “Dr. Raoul Hunter”