NOVEMBER 1, 2017
As I write this in September we just went through Hurricane Irma.
She was the mother of all hurricanes…one of the biggest hurricanes to ever hit Florida.
We’re fine. (So many of you called, wrote, asked and prayed—thanks.) There was very little damage to our homes and the Key Life building. While there was a whole lot of debris, fallen trees and limbs, loss of electricity, and some minor damage, everything is okay and quickly getting back to normal.
However there was one major tragedy. No coffee for almost three days.
So this Thanksgiving, coffee will be high on my list of things for which to be thankful. I’m also thankful that Jesus still likes me after the way I acted without my coffee. I did okay the first day without power and coffee. The second day, not so good. By the third day, I became a serial killer. Old people are already irritated about being old…add no coffee to the mix and it’s not very pretty. Frankly without coffee it was difficult to retain my usual nice, gentle, sweet, warm and fuzzy self.
In fact, I got so irritated I went out looking for an electric company truck. My wife Anna (who finds my mood puzzling given the fact that nothing bothers her) told me to just wait. “Besides,” she said, “if you find a truck it won’t do any good. That guy doesn’t run the company.” I told her that I knew that, but didn’t care because I was going to yell at someone and the truck was as close as I could get to the problem. In fact, I went out twice looking for a truck and both times couldn’t find a single one.
Anna was quite pleased and said, “Honey, that’s because of my prayers.”
I know, I know. You don’t even have to say it. Jesus already did.
Irma was a massive hurricane. Some people died, while others lost everything and their lives will never be the same. And here I was really angry and upset about not having coffee. What’s with that? Can you imagine someone being that self-absorbed and selfish?
Of course I repented. Are you crazy? Jesus told me that he wasn’t surprised. For some reason, he knows me and loves me anyway. Jesus told me he still liked me but wasn’t sure why. I wince as I write this and I’m ashamed of myself though.
Nevertheless, I’ll be very thankful for coffee this Thanksgiving and, I might say, everybody who knows me will be even more thankful than me.
Where in the world are you going with this?
Just be patient, okay?
Other than the fact that confession is good for the soul, I’ve learned (or maybe been reminded of) some lessons from the hurricane. First I learned (again) how human, selfish and sinful I really am. I’m not being “authentic” here…just honest. I tend to forget my heart is “deceitful and exceedingly corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9) until I’m in a hurricane without coffee.
I often say that our sin is a gift from God when we know it, and our obedience is the most dangerous place, when we know that. As you can imagine, I don’t believe in the doctrine of “entire sanctification” (i.e. that a Christian can come to the place of no known sin in his or her life). I don’t believe it because the Bible doesn’t teach it. But there is another reason I don’t believe it. God loves us too much to rob us of the experience and joy of his forgiveness, acceptance and love when we know we don’t deserve it. In fact, you can’t even go there until you know that you don’t have any business being there in the first place.
You may have heard of the little boy punished with “time out” in the closet. His father checked in on him and asked what he was doing. “I’m spitting,” the boy said. “I’ve spit on your shoes, mom’s shoes and your clothes. Now I’m sitting here just waiting for some more spit.” Now that’s a kid who would be hard to love. Not my problem after a hurricane. I know I don’t deserve God’s love but I can now experience it…because you can’t know love until you know you don’t deserve it.
During the hurricane I also learned what’s important…and it’s not coffee. Do you remember when Jesus visited the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus? Martha was in the kitchen fixing dinner and was bent out of shape because Mary was in the living room listening to Jesus. Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to get her posterior moving and come to the kitchen to help. Jesus was gentle, but admonished her with, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion…” (Luke 10:41-42).
What is necessary? What is the good portion? If you want to find a quick answer, go through a hurricane. As you may know, a number of years ago, we went through Hurricane Andrew (up until Katrina, it was the worst natural disaster to hit the United States). During that hurricane we (almost everyone at Key Life) lost our homes and almost all of our stuff. As we waited for Irma, while listening to all the weather people tell us we were going to die, it was impossible to put out of our minds the memory of Andrew. Those memories were not altogether pleasant, but it was still a very important time in our lives because we were reminded then (and during the past few days too) that while stuff (including coffee) is kind of important, it pales in comparison to family, friends, love and Jesus.
One more thing before I finish. I learned in the hurricane with no coffee that God is sufficient. I knew he was. (After all, I’m ordained. (: ) But sometimes we get too busy to remember. There is a danger for Christians in Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It can become a religious cliché. Sometimes it takes a hurricane, the death of a loved one, a major family tragedy, a physician’s dark diagnosis, the loss of one’s job or the death of a dream, to remember God’s sufficiency.
My life has always been relatively easy. They say that God gives us only what we can handle, and I suppose the pleasant places where God has put me is a statement from God about my spiritual maturity and strength. Isaiah said in Isaiah 42:3 (quoted in Matthew 12) that a “bruised reed God will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
Nevertheless, when I was young, I always wondered how I would handle a major loss. Would I leave the faith or maybe “curse God and die” as Job’s wife suggested he do? Would I would cave or curse, fight or flee, rest or recover? Frankly, I came close to losing it when we went through Andrew, when my brother died, and most recently in Hurricane Irma. But do notice that I’m still here—bloodied, weak, afraid and sinful—but I’m still here. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil: [not because I’m the meanest preacher in the valley, but because] You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
One of the callings of old men and women is to tell their younger brothers and sisters about a kind, generous, good and faithful God whose promises have been tested “in the fire.” Recently I spoke to our church’s SALT (seniors) group. I love being with them. I said, “I love talking to old people because you’ve lived through the dark and know that life isn’t for sissies. Having experienced the hard edges of life, you’re still here and we share a secret that God is always faithful…always.”
Jesus told this old man to remind you…especially at Thanksgiving.
But still, if there’s no coffee in heaven, I’m not sure I want to go.