Healing Rain

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Michael W. Smith, Healing Rain

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming nearer to this old town
Rich and poor, weak and strong
It’s bringing mercy, it won’t be long

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming closer to the lost and found
Tears of joy, and tears of shame
Are washed forever in Jesus’ name

Healing rain, it comes with fire
So let it fall and take us higher
Healing rain, I’m not afraid
To be washed in Heaven’s rain

Lift your heads, let us return
To the mercy seat where time began
And in your eyes, I see the pain
Come soak this dry heart with healing rain

And only You, the Son of man
Can take a leper and let him stand
So lift your hands, they can be held
By someone greater, the great I Am

Healing rain, it comes with fire
So let it fall and take us higher
Healing rain, I’m not afraid
To be washed in Heaven’s rain

To be washed in Heaven’s rain…

Healing rain is falling down
Healing rain is falling down
I’m not afraid
I’m not afraid…

Healing. We all need some healing from God’s merciful touch. Our own hearts need healing. Our families need healing. Our country needs healing. And our churches need to be healed as well. Somehow we have arrived at a place where we have time to demonstrate a fascination with trivia while those within our touch remain in pain. As I read through the gospels I notice that the only one that gives a leper the time of day is the Son of God. The rabbis and the teachers are too busy counting beans to notice the bloody body on the side of the road. The disciples themselves are shooing away children so that that Prince of Peace may perform his miracles without interruption. The Romans go about their state business, without so much as a glance at the lame man at the gate. Good thing one lame man had some friend to drop him through the roof to be placed strategically in front of Jesus. The crowds who were ooohing and ahhhing at his teaching certainly couldn’t be bothered to get out of the way. And we are no different.

Just watch us as we territorially claim our pews at the church. Can you believe we actually talk about “our pews” and who is sitting on them? And we focus on what people are wearing, noting who has something new and who should have given second thought to their current outfit. We note the hair and the smell and the shoes of others. It’s either too cold or too hot in the church building. Someone prayed too long, or they used a phrase I didn’t like. The preacher is too cynical, or too sarcastic, or too boring, or too loud, or too soft spoken, and why doesn’t he stand still? Why do I never hear sermons like we used to hear? What version of the Bible is he using this week? You would think that someone would take that noisy kid out. Don’t they know they are going over time? And by that time the ‘worship service’ is over and we head out the door.

I know that this is an exaggeration. It’s not that bad. Is it? Even if it is only a half-truth, it would be hard to deny that these kinds of things go through our minds when we assemble. And if those kinds of things are crowding our minds, I wonder if Jesus has much of a chance of getting there? And I wonder when it is that we might take a look around and notice the one who is dressed the worst, smells the worst, acts out of place, talks much too loudly, and isn’t much to look at. I mean we look for those people because there in our midst is an opportunity to share the love of God with someone who needs Him so desperately. Some of “those people” may have more faith than we do! They certainly cannot depend upon their money, jobs, families, and savings to get them through tough times. It very well could be that while we share our love with them, they could share their faith with us.

A Spirit-filled family of believers looks beyond these outward circumstances to the beautiful person within. More than that, we seek to reach the broken heart of people who need to know His mercy. We are never more the church than when we offer a kind word, a helping hand, a follow up call, and a genuine smile. And that is the kind of definition of ‘church’ that seldom gets any air time. A friend recently went to a christening at another church. The baby that was being christened was newly born into this family … longtime friends of my friend. It is a family that has had a horrific time recovering from Katrina. As a show of support and love, my friend missed assembling with us to stand by his friend in a time that was important to him. It’s the wrong time to ask about theological differences between friends. It is the right time to be the heart and voice of Jesus.

And that’s troubling my heart about the church these days. Not just Central, practically every church I know. And not just churches of Christ. Theological battles are raging between people reading the same Book. Lines are drawn in the sand and division becomes common. While we eat one another alive, tell me where is the church that does not ignore the poor people all around their building? Where is the church that is not operating to keep wealthy, socially-connected, employed-with-benefits kind of people happy and satisfied? Show me the church where decisions are made based upon the incredible needs of the community, reaching out in every effort to bless those who have no one to care. It is my theory that a vast majority of people in this country who call themselves “Christians” mean by that term that they are nice people who assemble most Sunday mornings at the same church. If this is so, even those who are theologically correct still do not qualify for the title they bear.

I know this is not always the way it is. There are many exceptional people who break the mold.

What I hear reported, though, is that in most congregations there are a very few people who are carrying the load of mercy. Our communities need the healing rain of God’s mercy and grace. But pinpointing problems is a lot easier than solving them. What do we do about it? More in the coming days.

Cool Wave

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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

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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.

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Wednesday Night on the Coast

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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.