Cool Wave


Above Video is of Snowfall in Chicago Yesterday.

Today a wave of cool air spread across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, bringing a dry and refreshing breeze. No snow for us, but it was only a few short years ago that it snowed on Christmas Day … in Pascagoula! I am one of those who love cold weather, so I’ll take cool! I’m jealous of my friends to the North and West who are enjoying the early snowfall. Of course I’ve never had to live in it and deal with all of the consequences.

It has been so exciting to have relief workers in during the past week or so. They bring with them a spark of energy we have truly missed during the past five or six weeks with no helpers. Because of a problem we had I was unable to update our church website for a while. I was able to get our work crew report caught up today.  We have workers scheduled through next July. That is so exciting!

Our teens are on a retreat out at Gulf Coast Bible Camp tonight. It’s perfect weather for a retreat. I know they will have a great time and learn something as they listen to Will Collins and Brittany Fish. Will and Brittany were recently engaged and I feel that God will use them in enormous ways in the Kingdom. They have such good hearts and they are followers of the Master.

Tonight we watched A Prairie Home Companion, the movie. I think fans of the radio show will enjoy the movie. I think everyone else will wonder why this movie was made. As it was I was disappointed that there was no ‘Lake Wobegon Days’ monologue. It was an interesting story, a device that gave us entrance into the world of the production of the show without seeming like a documentary. Legendary Robert Altman is the director and the all-star cast is delightful. The soundtrack is folksy and homespun, just like that which is sent out over the airwaves every week. Imaginative, but ultimately not very interesting if you didn’t arrive to the movie ready to enjoy the experience.

There are many words we have overused to such a point that they have lost all meaning. “Love” can be that way. It is a word we use much too loosely. Another word is “Awesome”. Everything’s “awesome”. You know we do not call our ministers “reverend” because that is a term that is reserved for God (Psalm 111:9, KJV). Not that it’s a title … just a description. But because of that description we do not call men by that name. “Awesome” is a term that describes God in many ways in Scripture, but we do not hesitate to tell people that they are awesome, that what they did was awesome, that a circumstance is awesome or that a plate of food is awesome. When talking about food and sports, we combine these divine adjectives: “Wow, that’s awesome, I love that!” We still do not use ‘reverend’ that way. But none of those is the overused word which has my attention tonight.

Church. That’s the word. It is sometimes a noun, such as, “we are going to church” – referring to the building or else the worship service. I have heard it used as a threatening verb (“Your father is going to church you when he finds out what you did!”). We often, correctly, take note that the church is the people, not the building. I have heard from the time that I was a child that if the building burned to the ground or was destroyed by a tornado, we could meet under a tree and be just as much the Church as we were before. “Church” can become a doctrine. Marks of the true church, What is the church, The origin of the church, and who began the church are all topics I heard from preachers as I grew up. It should be recognized that as far as we know the early church did not own property or buildings. We only assume that it is allowable to own buildings, the Scripture is silent on the issue. Even though the Scriptures never mention these convenient places to assemble, some even have rules on what can and cannot happen within these buildings. Some have rules about the allowable attire of those serving the Supper. Some will not allow meals to be served in their buildings. Some will not allow a woman to speak within those hallowed halls. Many go to church buildings in order to pray because they sense it is in some way a holy place. It seems to me that all of life changes when we walk through those doors and we imagine that we are somehow in some kind of world where the normal things of life are put aside in order to do everything ‘decently and in order’ (a phrase so often misued that it has lost much of its meaning). With all of the emphasis we place upon church buildings, it is no wonder that “going to church” is a deeply ingrained feature of our vocabulary.

After Hurricane Katrina, we waited almost 14 months to make any real improvements on our church building. Like things are in every church, there was a mixed review of this strategy. Some liked it, some didn’t. However, the leaders were committed to the relief effort and helping people before we fixed up our auditorium.  Now that we are earnestly involved in repairing our building and we could see some major progress in a very short period of time, I want to be especially mindful that we do not forget what the church is. We have been studying through the book of Acts on Sunday mornings and noticing that the church is a Spirit-Filled family of believers who are committed to sharing the gospel with the lost world. Without our mission to reach the lost world, the church is nothing but a country club … or an educational facility … or a club made up of nice people who do nice things together. The true nature of the church is to be found in the places where Jesus found himself … at the table of winebibbers and gluttons, being annointed by whores, offering eternal life to thieves and divorcees.

What a disappointing ministry it can be. You invest in the down-and-out, and they leave you high-and-dry. You spend time and energy bringing a blessing to their lives, and in return you discover their lack of interest in the Lord who taught you to be a servant. Though it is true that the rich and middle-class folks sin and have a multitude of problems that only Jesus can solve, it is also true that the poor have lost their dignity and often do not have the resources to hide their sin from your eyes. It takes a lot of strength and guts to walk away from addiction. It takes a lot of humility and trust to speak openly about the struggle. The church is called to dine at the table with these broken souls, ministering to them from our experience. Yes, we are all broken souls. Sometimes we see wonderful transformations, sometimes they run away in shame and we never see them again. Either way, we are called to be the church … the body of Christ living out the Kingdom of God in our daily lives. We are a Spirit-filled people committed to sharing the good news of Jesus with lost people.

And that’s why the concepts of the church being the right organization that was started at the right time by the right people with the right rule of law is powerless by itself. When we focus on doing everything in the RIGHT way, we are overlooking the fact that it is our calling to reach out to the WRONG kind of people. That kind of thinking about the church produces people who come to a place expecting to receive affirmations that they believe correctly. Never have we been so close and yet so far.

These thoughts are not directly related to the renovation of our auditorium. They are specifically aimed at my own heart, and the hearts of our congregation. Will we embrace the mission of Jesus or not? Pretty walls and seating will not get the job done, nor will it hurt the effort. They are neutral aspects of the situation.

Well, this is getting long. And it’s the weekend, so I know that fewer people will be dropping by to read. So I thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday Night on the Coast

I shot this video of Gary Boswell and Rochelle Harper today at the blood drive (noisy background!)

Greetings, friends! Thanks for checking my blog for updates!

Today started with a trip to Biloxi. Not long after Hurricane Katrina hit, and we were getting our building cleaned out and cleaned up, some pews arrived. I think the pews came from several different places, although no one seems to know where they all came from. I learned later that some came from the Rodenberg Church of Christ in Biloxi, and I do believe some others came from the church at Gulf Shores. We tossed in some mixed chairs and that is what we have been sitting on during our worship assemblies for 14 months now. When we flattened our floor and painted our walls, we had to remove the pews. It seemed a good time to return the pews to Biloxi. So this morning I rode over to Biloxi with four other men to deliver some pews. It was great to see my friend Joe Powers and get to greet him. He is one of the hurricane relief heroes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He is an eternal optimist and although he has done so much to help others, most people will never know his name. He is unconcerned about that, though, as long as the Lord knows his name! I was also able to meet the new preacher at Rodenberg, Lyle Willis. And as an added bonus, I was able to greet my friend and former minister at that same church, Roger Mills.

No sooner than I got back to the office, I headed out for Ocean Springs for a preacher’s luncheon at McAllister’s. There I met with Les Ferguson, Al Sturgeon, Roger Mills, Lyle Willis, and Cornell Johnson. Al Sturgeon has posted our picture and wrote a bit about our lunch together. You can find that post HERE. The picture here is of Roger and Lyle. Roger was minister at Rodenberg Church of Christ on two separate occasions. He is most beloved by the Christians on the Gulf Coast and he has retired to Florence, Alabama. We miss he and Thelma so much! Lyle has moved here and started his work at Rodenberg just a month ago. We look forward to getting to know him more as days go by. Roger reports that the people of Rodenberg love Lyle already and think so highly of him. I’m glad it’s that way.

I returned home just in time to head up to the Jimmy Gammill Blood Drive at Dantzler United Methodist Church in Moss Point. Jimmy is the grandson of one of our elders and his wife. Jimmy had leukemia, and has come out on the other side healthy and happy, at five years old. I don’t relish being stuck for blood, but it is always a lot of fun. The Boswells go all-out, especially Loree. She usually has a good crowd lined up to give blood. She also cooks big pots of chili and provides live entertainment, in the form of her husband Gary and local celebrity Rochelle Harper. I shot a few videos of their songs as they played…but one is too big a file for youtube … I also tried ifilm … but don’t know if it’s going to work yet.

This evening I went up to the dining hall where David Kilbern was frying up a ton of fish fillets and okra and there were lots of extras. I said ‘thank you’ and ‘nice to meet you’ to several folks I’ve enjoyed meeting this week. I am especially thankful for the friendship I’ve started with Lee Robison. He is a man with a godly heart. Tomorrow morning a group will leave early for home, Sturgis, KY. Awesome people with a wonderful group of kids. I enjoyed being around all of them during the week. They are a smiling, happy, service-oriented, Jesus-like people. After breakfast, Lee and his group will head back to Sarasota, Florida to be back in place at their church on Sunday (website HERE). The group from Eva, Alabama is here. The group from Colorado will go home Saturday. A dozen or so from Berry’s Chapel Church of Christ will  arrive tomorrow evening sometime, driving in from Franklin, TN. I believe Jeff Campbell talked to this group originally, before he left town.

Tonight we went to Wal-Mart where I picked up a movie that I missed while it was in the theaters. In fact, I do not think it ever played on the Gulf Coast. A Prairie Home Companion looks like it should be lots of fun to watch. I’m a fan of the radio show, so I’ll let you know what I think of it. Have any of you seen it? Speaking of movies, my copy of Second Chance arrived today. I mentioned it a few days ago. Along with the questions that movie raises, we should consider Gary Kirkendall’s thoughts on Why The Poor?

And looking around the blogs…

Ben Overby has made it to his new home and is getting settled in.

Marcia relates how thanksgiving should precede requests.

Marvin Phillips has Pascagoula on his schedule. Yay!

Milton deals with a difficult transition in life.

Caption Phil’s Picture!

Preacherman Ponders What The Israelites Thought About Heaven / Hell.

Rick Reflects on our inner pain, and how it is often the source of the way we hurt others.

Royce Ogle considers his life, a new ministry effort, and other ways that God has been at work in his life. Do not miss his appeal for help / prayers for the fledgling Bayou La Batre work.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Wednesday Night on the Coast

The above video is a little experiment to see if I could make my own and post them…and it worked! It is a video of groups from Kentucky and Florida as they paint the inside of our auditorium today. These crews, plus one from Colorado, have done an awesome job this week. They are so happy and such servants. These groups continue to affirm my confidence that we have met the greatest people on earth. They came right here to Pascagoula, Mississippi over the past 14 months.

Tonight we set up all of our tables and chairs on our newly level floor and had a great time of worship. We had a really good crowd and a fantastic message from Lee Robinson. Lee’s message from Genesis 32-33 about Jacob was full of wisdom for living and a passionate appeal to give our lives to Jesus. There was a lot of excitement in the air as we all enjoyed looking at the progress being made on our building.

There are many signs of progress in Pascagoula. So many have been here and done so much … it is impossible to estimate the amount of work that has been accomplished. But there is plenty more to do. David says that we have found two additional houses that have had nothing done to them since the storm, and elderly people are living in them. I can’t imagine what this has done to their health, their dignity, and to their spirits. Pictured here is the Pascagoula Post Office. I took that picture today (Wednesday). There are no signs of activity in restoring or demolishing this needed building. This building stands as a silent reminder that there are many homes yet to be repaired, and many hopless people who may never live in their homes again. Every day when I read in the obituaries of some elderly person in our city that died, I wonder if they were able to spend their last days in their home … or in a camper.

 Yes, for those who were following the KINGDOM COME posts, they will return. This has been a crazy week of catching up. Tomorrow looks to be active from beginning to end. We will return some pews to the Rodenberg church that we have been using since the storm. We also will be having a preacher lunch with Roger Mills tomorrow. Then I’ll be giving blood in the early afternoon.

And now surfing the blogs…

 Al Sturgeon’s Wednesday Post connected 9-11, Lidle, and McClaren.

Bobby Cohoon is ready to Deck the Halls!

Larry James reflects on spiritual leadership.

Wade Tannehill ponders preaching.

Coca-Cola Offers Calorie-Burning Tea!

News that caught my eye…

Site of school shooting razed.

Only Ten Years in Prison for Double Murder?

First Day of School Since Katrina for Pass Christian High School.

Hurricane Season Appears To Be Over Early.

The Most Common Disaster: Are You Ready?

And now for a smile…

Did you hear about the chicken who swallowed a yo-yo?
She laid the same egg 5 times. (from PHC)

Hope your Thursday is a great one! Thanks for reading!

Late Night Tuesday on the Coast

Thanks for all of your comments and prayers for James, and your encouraging comments for our work here. We did not see James much the next day (Monday). He needs your prayers, for sure. Even though I’m pretty sure he is not willing to give up drugs yet, his conscience moves him toward the right path. Perhaps He will follow that path sometime soon. I believe he can be helped. His story is reflective of the life that we can fall into because of substance abuse. There are few families that can claim that they are free from that influence. A short glance at the family tree will show that we are all affected by this choice that ruins lives.

This week saw some significant changes to our church building. As many of you know, we have put off repairing our building so that we could serve our community first. This is not lost on our guests and many have commented about this aspect of our work. I am convicted that it was the right thing to do and appreciate our leaders for their heart in this matter. Yesterday a crew from Kentucky and Florida used a machine that stripped the tiles from our floor in the auditorium. Central folks Jim Ingram, Mac McGuire, and John Robert Dobbs, along with volunteers, toted garbage cans full of old floor tile to the dumpster most of the day. The pews were moved out that night and the next morning the cement truck arrived.

Our auditorium floor is sloped downward almost 3/4 of the way toward the front where it takes a slpe upward to the pulpit. Our borrowed pews have been rocking and sliding on these sloped floors for months now. Today cement was poured in the building and we now have an even floor that will allow us to easily utilize any seating arrangement we choose. It also creates a large space that can be used for more purposes than the old floor allowed. I think the next big project is to deal with the overhead lighting. It is designed in such a way that insulation blows down into the lights and it always looks bad. I’m not sure HOW this will be done. Next I’m sure we will be ordering chairs, painting, and laying carpet. Anyone want to come help?

I look forward Wednesday night to our Central Family Devotional. We will set out the tables and chairs received from Healing Hands International some months ago. We will also have the opportunity to hear Lee Robison speak. Lee has been the minister for the Sarasota Christian Church for twenty five years. He is an engaging brother who tells me that their congregation is involved in cooperative efforts in Sarasota with some of the churches of Christ there.

This is the first time I’ve talked about volunteers in a while, because it is the first time we’ve had any in a while! There is also a group that is staying at the TLC (volunteer housing provided by the county). They are from Colorado and have been very interested in our work. The church of Christ at Eva, Alabama will be returning this weekend for yet another trip. They have made several. We also have a group of high schoolers coming in from Franklin, TN.  Floyd from Florence has been here for a week or so and is working hard as well. We are so blessed to have great people working with us! You see very few volunteers in Pascagoula these days.

I was able to visit for a little while with Robbie today. He is pictured here with Keith. Keith is the brother who was hit by a truck on his way to work … riding a bicycle. He has a great spirit and is healing up nicely. I thank God for these men and others like them who have such genuine hearts and who look for ways to be of help to others. When they face adversities, they get back up on their feet and trust God to see them through. I admire them in many ways.

 While I was posting tonight, the midnight hour has arrived. So, I will say goodnight…even though most of you will be reading this tomorrow. Anyway, I’m glad you read and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

James

At the end of the sermon and invitation song he walked down the middle aisle with head held low. It was the kind of moment that you realize that the dynamics of the past hour were about to change dramatically, and there’s no way to tell just how it’s going to turn out. Obviously in need of a shower, he humbly approached me without making eye contact. His white tee-shirt was marked with smudges of dirt, and the rest of his clothing betrayed his homeless status. He stood very close to me at the front of the aisle, facing the communion table, unable to turn and face the people in the pews. He must have felt every eye in the place on him. Even though he tried, he could not speak.

I asked this young black man what his name was. He said, “It’s James, you know me.” I didn’t recognize him, but the reason for that is that I had only spoken with him and prayed with him over the phone. Only a few weeks ago he called me and wanted me to give him fifty dollars to pay a debt to someone who was looking for him. I do not, and we (as a church) do not give money. Not long after that he solicited some money in the neighborhood, claiming to be from the Central Church of Christ. Unfortunately for him, Kathy has been very involved in hurricane relief and attending our church. She knew he was attempting to defraud others in the name of the church, and she strongly encouraged him to cease this behavior. The story even ended up in the local paper.

And now here he is standing with his back to the congregation, tears streaming down his face. In this situation that is very unusual for us, not a sound was to be heard. Even the children were rivited by this sight. All he could whisper were things like “It’s so hard” and “I need God to be in this.” I tried to be helpful and suggest that he simply apologize and we would pray, letting him know that he would be treated kindly. He was not about to let himself off the hook that easily. He turned around and faced an auditorium full of strangers.

Then it came pouring out. A heart that was broken in it’s own sin was exposed with a rare frankness. He pulled four dollars out of his pocket. He had asked a man for some money for food and received that four dollars. He went straight to the drug-infested FEMA trailer park near him and looked for even a small amount of the drug that gave him escape from his shame – and increased his shame. I doubt that many in the room could hear him, but I didn’t dare offer him a microphone. This was an expulsion of demons long held in. When he couldn’t find any drugs, he wandered into a nearby church. The smell that comes along with homelessness, and his attire, and his own guilt made him feel uncomfortable there. He offered a man his four dollars to drive him to Central Church of Christ.

James expressed his repentence, his desire to follow God, his hope to escape addiction, and his heart for helping others who are in his same situation. He pointed out Kathy, who had confronted him about the fraud. He told us that she was not ‘nasty’ with him, though he deserved it. Kathy stood up and said something like, “I’m very proud of you for your courage. You did the right thing and I pray that God will give you the strength you need.” It was an amazing moment of grace. Kathy and her husband, Bud, are faithful blog readers who encourage me often. I’m proud of her.

Though it seemed hours, it was only about fifteen minutes. To him, I’m sure, it felt like days. Some got up and left. Most couldn’t hear him. But God’s attention was surely focused upon a broken man exposing his sin-sick heart to a redeemed people. Our prayer was for James to have the strength to break the bondage that has such a strong hold in his life. We were able to feed James, let him get a shower, have a place for a night, some new clothes, and tomorrow we will talk about some more permanent solutions. 

Look at my heart again, look at the mess I’ve got it in.

I’m trying to trust in You, To know that you’ll see me through. 

— The Space In Between Us, Building 429

You Take Me Back

This is a message I always long to hear from my Father God, presented musically by Jeremy Camp. I pray that your Sunday is filled with the good news of God’s grace. He is the One who puts lives back together again.