Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

God Lessons Learned in the Storm (Part 2 of 3)

Unique days are never forgotten. Those moments impact a person by marking them for life. Wednesday, April 27 was one such day in my life. It was a defining moment that will guide me for the rest of my life.

I awakened to the news that a tornado had struck downtown Cullman about 40 miles north of my home. My first thought was of two friends who are church planters and lead Desperation Church near the center of the downtown. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited…and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

The weather was deteriorating, moving quickly from bad to worse. The television meteorologists were tracking a huge storm that was bearing down on Tuscaloosa. They were using descriptions and scale numbers far above the levels they had been taught in school. I have family in Northport and two more friends who are church planters and lead Refuge Church in Tuscaloosa, so I prayed…hard.

I will never forget the next few minutes. One of the television crews had parked on a hillside east of Tuscaloosa and was filming the horizon when a gigantic black tornado over a mile wide at the ground appeared and began moving from left to right across the screen. Homes, businesses, trees, and people’s lives were sucked up in the churning vortex of this monster’s mouth and obliterated in its massive jaws. A numbing helplessness crept over me as the tears ran down my face.  Familiar places were disappearing before my very eyes—the Big Lots, the Chevron Station on the corner of 15th and McFarland, and the Full Moon Barbeque—all gone in a moment—in the blink of an eye. Places I had been just a week earlier. Homes, apartments, and businesses vanished. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited….and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

This particular storm stayed on the ground and headed north toward Birmingham—churning its way through Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, and eventually Fultondale, leaving a path of devastation, desolation, and death. We heard its roar as it passed seven to ten miles south of where we live. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and then I prayed some more.

Prayer is the equivalent of throwing your hands up in surrender without giving up hope.  Let me explain what I mean. There are moments (far many more than we are willing to admit) where we are helpless. In prayer we surrender the selfish independence that makes us think we can take care of our own selves. We can’t! In prayer, we cry out for provision or protection from One who is unlimited in power—omnipotent. We call for the Lord God to come—to help—to protect—to defend—to whatever it is we need in those moments. And…God always comes. He never leaves us, even in the midst of a killer mix of swirling wind, unrelenting hail, twisted metal, and the blackness of lost hope.

Twenty-three tornadoes bathed in countless prayers finally brought this horrendous day to an end. The day is past, but the physical and emotional cleanup will take months and years to complete—if ever. God is answering the prayers. Stories are surfacing of miraculous moments in the midst of those monsters’ grips. His faithfulness is being shown in a myriad of different ways.

And…during that day two welcomed texts—one from Cullman and one from Tuscaloosa appeared without warning on my cell phone. Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers!

Holidays or Holy Days?

What do you do when all the turkey’s gone and the dressing is just a faint memory exemplified by some solitary crumbs scattered across the pan? What happens when you wake up and Black Friday has become an even blacker Saturday and Cyber Monday turns into penniless Tuesday? The holidays have become a mind numbing scramble for what can I get and how much. The motto for many during this season is: Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the lid, and poison the rest. Sadly, the holidays have degenerated into a selfish materialism ruled by the terrible triplets Me, My, and I.

What do you do when the holidays become horror days rather than holy days? Thanksgiving was once a day of sharing the bounty of God’s blessings, and Christmas, a birthday celebration for the greatest gift ever given. Not the mindless grabbing and snatching at 3 am in the morning in the dim glow of a blue light special or in the rush of pushing and shoving to get that early bird special on sale. Will you even remember what you bought on January 1 when the credit card bill comes; or even worse, will you even know where you put it?

The original intent of holy days was to celebrate the gifts of God and His magnificent grace shared with those who had nothing and absolutely no hope of ever having anything. God gave…and gave…and gave. Something is terribly wrong with this picture if we are called to imitate Him (make no mistake we are), and all we do is take…and take…and take some more. Consuming, but never giving; blind to the needs of those around us, but stuffed, bloated, and selfishly addicted to our own selves.

There is a better choice—a far nobler pursuit available, but it will mean the tenacious application of what many consider a dirty word—“no.” There. I’ve said it; and you’re probably in shock that a pastor would say such a thing! Surely you don’t mean that I should tell me, myself, and I no. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. To borrow a slogan of another day and another cause…just say no!

Take the two hundred dollars you would have wasted on another mindless video game for the kids and buy some groceries for a family that’s struggling. That money you would have spent on a top-of-the-line battery powered drill that would have looked so good in your tool box—spend it on soap, socks, and coats, and drop it off at the local homeless shelter. Instead of wasting your money on a designer handbag and matching shoes that will not be in vogue next season, invest in the life of a family that will have nothing for Christmas.

The rush of the holidays will come to a screeching halt, and the joy of the holy days will return when imitating Jesus becomes more important than entertaining ourselves. Remember, Jesus did not come to be served, but to seek, to serve, and save those who are lost. I know, I know—you’ve been standing in line a long time, awaiting your opportunity to give this glitzy department store money you don’t have for something you don’t really need. Step out of line and allow that person behind you to take your place and then take that fist full of dollars, open your eyes wide, look around, ask God what He wants to do with the money He has entrusted to your care, and then give it away.