GOOD NIGHT, IRENEAugust 31st, 2011
The old American folk song sings it well, doesn’t it?
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
You cause me to weep, you cause me to mourn
You cause me to leave my home
But the very last words I heard her say
Was “Please sing me one more song”
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
But nobody up and down the eastern seaboard is in any mood to sing these words, as the massive clean-up for Hurricane Irene’s devastation continues. “You cause me to weep, you cause me to mourn, you cause me to leave my home” pretty much sums it up in the aftermath of this storm—remembered more for her rains and floods rather than for her winds. Over forty dead, property damages predicted to exceed $7 billion, Irene now ranks in the top ten most expensive disasters in this country’s history.
But what caught my eye this week was the announcement that this marks the sixty-sixth disaster that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has faced in 2011. And the monies are running low, with only $900 million left in FEMA’s disaster aid funding.
So here’s a question for your own brooding: Could an escalation in natural disasters drain our national economy? I.e., is it possible that a spike in costly disasters could someday (I’m not suggesting today) actually deplete government resources, drain private reserves and diminish our collective ability to respond to nature’s emergencies? How many more hurricanes or droughts (Texas was praying for the rain of that hurricane to veer westward to relieve their own withering disaster) or earthquakes would it take to “break the bank” in the United States? (Look at Japan with a single earthquake and tsunami this year, as she still struggles to gain her economic footing.)
The US News and World Report website reported this week: “To date, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, President Obama has declared 24 emergencies and 66 major disaster declarations in 2011. So, also including those for fire management assistance, President Obama has made 181 FEMA declarations this year. That figure easily eclipses the previous record of 157 overall annual declarations set by Bill Clinton in 1996.” And the year isn’t even over. (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2011/08/30/12-states-with-the-most-disaster-declarations-in-2011?PageNr=1)
“Good night, Irene.” But could it be “Good night, America” one of these days?
Two thousand years ago, Christ made this terse prediction of global conditions that would occupy the headlines on the eve of his return: “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).
So shall we panic? Not at all. But we really do need to quit living life as though it were “business as usual.” The “usual” has long gone, and the “unusual” is now our new “usual.” So what if we lived with the quiet confidence Christ’s next sentence offers: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v 28). Is Jesus suggesting a quiet confidence in his prediction? No, but implicit in his command is an abiding confidence in the One who is to return.
That’s why our new series, “The Last Word: The Fourth Gospel for a Final Generation,” is front and center this new season—because reliving the story of Jesus can revive our faith in Jesus. Not faith in the headlines of earth’s “fourth watch”—but rather faith in the One who has promised that after the “Good night” will come the very “Good morning.” No wonder we can live the “fourth watch” with our heads up!
WHAT QUAKE?August 24th, 2011
Facebookers on the west coast have had fun, good-naturedly chiding their east coast cousins. “A 5.8 magnitude earthquake—and you’re hyperventilating?” After all, the 7.0+ magnitude quakes Californians have lived with for decades do make the temblor in Virginia this week seem a bit “wimpy.” But a quake is a quake. And the nervous chatter of “survivors” in the nation’s capital made for headline grist. Not to be outdone, The South Bend Tribune carried the testimonies of those in Michiana who felt the earth move (ever so slightly) “way out here.”
All the while Hurricane Irene is barreling up the Atlantic with the usual late summer gusto of another tropical storm turned destructive. (Remember school beginning six years ago on the heels of Hurricane Katrina?) And the folks in Texas? They were praying hard that the storm would head their way, since their state is now gripped in the most ravaging drought in its long history. Ah, the weather and quakes—Mother Nature keeps changing the subject, doesn’t she?
And as for the Arab Spring—nobody’s sure now where that “spring” is headed. Egypt struggles with her new lease on democracy. Syria’s lethal crackdown only worsens. Yemen is off the radar screen. Libya now is front and center—and nobody knows where Gadhafi might turn up or how that awkward revolution might turn out. As once again Israel and the Palestinians go at it—rocket for rocket, tit for tat. Some spring that was!
Anybody want to discuss the global economy—Europe, the U.S., China? I didn’t think so. Because, truth be told, nobody knows. Period.
Listen, do you suppose the entire planet—read, the human race—feels these mounting seismic tremblings? Could it be that all of us—God believers or not—with awkward uncertainty and mounting dis-ease stare into the unknown ahead of us?
In 1921 W. J. Yeats composed his poem, “The Second Coming”:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
“Full of passionate intensity”—the moniker of “this generation.” Then perhaps we all—God believers or not—could profit from a reflective brooding through an ancient gospel. “The Last Word: The Fourth Gospel for a Final Generation.” Because maybe the “Peace I leave with you” promise tucked near the end of the Jesus narrative (John 14:27) is earth’s most sought gift of all.
And so the journey commences right here, right now. Never mind the earth beneath your feet—stay on course until the Gift is in your heart.
THE “MAGICAL MYSTERY” BUSAugust 17th, 2011
Just as the ubiquitous yellow school busses are revving up to begin another school year across the nation comes word about President Obama’s brand new $1.1 million mystery bus. Perhaps you’ve seen it on his road trip this week through some of our Midwest neighbor states—that new Greyhound-size black bus, with blacked out windows and red and blue police lights.
Few details of the bus have been released, although the Christian Science Monitor website has conjectured what the imposing bus might be like. If it shares similarities with the familiar black presidential Cadillac limousine, nicknamed “The Beast” by the Secret Service, then it, too, is built like a tank, with “8-inch thick armor-plated sides, special bulletproof glass, and Kevlar-reinforced tires . . . mounted on specially designed rims that can continue to drive even if the tires are missing.” Similarly the new bus “is probably airtight, and likely has an advanced fire suppression system, oxygen tanks, and is built to withstand a chemical attack.” And on the bus, as in The Beast, “bags of Obama’s blood” are surely on board in the event of a medical emergency. But because the bus is significantly bigger, it no doubt contains more than The Beast’s tear gas cannons, shotguns and night vision cameras. How many satellite phones and communication wizardry—to connect with government officials and world leaders in the event of a terror event—is anybody’s guess.
Actually, the Secret Service commissioned the Hemphill Brothers Coach Company to build two such busses, since the Republican presidential candidate next year will be given similar protection. Total cost for these two “mystery” busses? $2,191,960. (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/The-Vote/2011/0817/1.1-million-bus-used-by-Obama-has-high-tech-defenses-but-what-are-they)
So how are you planning to travel this new year? Forget about a bus. If you’re like me, you’ll be glad for your trusty old bucket of bolts to simply survive another winter! But would you like to travel even better than the President?
The title for this new blog, “The Fourth Watch,” comes straight out of a dramatic emergency (as last week’s blog noted). “Now in the fourth watch of the night [Roman reckoning for 3-6 a.m.] Jesus went to them, walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25). There’s no president alive who can travel like that! When Peter recognized it was Jesus walking the wind-lashed swells, he called out into the fury if he might come. “Come.” And Peter did, with all the bravado of a seasoned fisherman. “But when he saw the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (v 30). In that split second the Savior grasped Peter’s flailing hand. “Walking side by side, Peter’s hand in that of his Master, they stepped into the boat together” (Desire of Ages 381).
Did you catch that? Side by side, hand in hand with the God of the universe. No mystery bus or The Beast. Instead a walk through the fourth watch, through the raging storm, with the Savior. Which is why I hope you’ll join me next week at Pioneer or this website in a life-changing journey with Christ through the Gospel of John—“The Last Word: The Fourth Gospel for a Final Generation.” That Peter walked on water isn’t the surprise—that Jesus wanted him to is. So pray with me L. D. Avery Stuttle’s prayer:
I cannot, dare not, walk alone
The tempest rages in the sky
A thousand snares beset my feet
A thousand foes are lurking nigh
Still Thou the raging of the sea
O Master! let me walk with Thee.
THE FOURTH WATCHAugust 11th, 2011
Are these crazy times, or what? With a bit of self-talk, I actually enjoy careening roller coaster rides (mostly when they’re over). But the plunging ride Wall Street and the global financial markets have taken us on these last few days as the result of America’s credit rating being cut–no amusement park fun at all. With the nation’s retirement funds on the line, the innocuous bromides the talking heads are dispensing are small comfort: “sit tight,” “be patient,” “don’t panic.” Especially when one market analyst this week had the temerity to describe this ride as “America’s final plunge” (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-america-%E2%80%9Cmakes-cut%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-so-what-happens-next).
Crazy times these are. “London’s burning” is now more than a nursery rhyme. And Syria’s burning, too. And summer vacation isn’t even over yet.
Welcome to the Fourth Watch–a new blog in print and online (www.pmchurch.tv) –a running, weekly commentary on the times that are fast becoming the fourth watch of history.
For centuries the ancient Jews divided their nights into three watches. But with the ascendency of Rome, by New Testament times Jews had adopted the Roman four-watch night: first watch (6 – 9 p.m., called “evening”); second watch (9 p.m. – midnight, called “midnight”); third watch (midnight – 3 a.m., called “cock-crowing”); and fourth watch (3 a.m. – 6 a.m., called “morning” –see Mark 13:35 for all four). The fourth watch was the last watch before the break of day, the darkest hour of the night before the dawn.
And not surprisingly it was the watch Jesus mastered. “Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25). But are you surprised? Wouldn’t the blackest hour of the night belong to the God “who knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22)?
So how dark is the night you’re traversing these days? Darker than your physician understands? Darker than your closest friends will ever know? As stormy and dark and uncertain as this civilization’s economic fourth watch? No matter how dark life has become, one terse line from the Gospel story declares that in the blackest watch of all, Christ walks the dark and the storm. No shadows, no storm, no night so dark but that he hurries to you, too. You do not walk alone. “In the darkest hour [the fourth watch], Jesus will be our light….In every condition of trial, we may have the consolation of his presence” (RH 4-15-1884).
Which makes William Whiting’s prayer the right prayer for a university on the eve of a new year and a civilization in the fourth watch of the night, doesn’t it?
O Christ, whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word
Who walkedst on the foaming deep
And calm amidst the rage didst sleep
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee…
A prayer for the Fourth Watch. Amen.
COUNTINGAugust 3rd, 2011
Do you remember learning to count?
What kinds of things did you count?
What kinds of things do you count today?
What kinds of things should you be counting?
This summer I started recounting some things. Our family went to Italy this summer. My daughter was taking a college class (yes, my little girl is now in college), my husband and I were spiritual leaders on the trip. I experienced the collision of two worlds. Although I had had my reservations, I was not prepared for the visceral, emotional, physical, and spiritual reaction I would have. I am praying that today’s sermon will not be a travelogue, or a monologue, but that the Holy Spirit will engage your heart in a dialogue as you see the collision of two worlds for yourself.