“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone wo hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Jesus (Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:24-27)
DISCLAIMER: I want to state right off the bat that this will not be a post about how disasters like the recent one punish wicked people and leave good people standing. There are cases where someone survives against all odds, but that only proves that God is merciful. In fact, it is only by the grace of God that we haven’t all been wiped out by now. “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
As some of you know, we have a time-share in Sanibel Island, Florida, and have been going there for many years. We attend an outstanding church there with deeply committed people. When I think of Sanibel, I think of that church, with its original tiny chapel over 100 years old, where the die-hard traditionalists meet early Sunday morning for a brief service and communion. I think of their second sanctuary, now the fellowship hall, where Bible studies and special events like the missions breakfast are held, and the large sanctuary that was lovingly built and dedicated a few years ago to accommodate the swelling congregation. (My life verse and signature are somewhere in the walls, along with many others.) This is where we’d go for glorious worship and preaching on Sunday mornings – “contemporary” (with a band) at 9:00, “traditional” (with a choir) at 11:00. I think of the beautifully landscaped courtyard with its palm trees, flowers, and waterfalls, where the flock would gather in the sunshine for coffee and fellowship between services and where every February missionaries would stand at their booths, giving out literature and describing what the Lord is doing in their corner of the world.
When my friends first started sharing with me the news reports about the approaching tropical storm, becoming a hurricane, our condo entered my mind briefly, but my thoughts and prayers centered around my beloved church and the people who make up the Church – the Body of Christ – on Sanibel Island. And while we all prayed the hurricane would turn away and go out to the Gulf and dissipate, we knew that prayers like these don’t always get answered the way we want them to.
Friday I was sent these “before and after” pictures of the lighthouse on our beautiful island …
These photos are not evidence that God is powerless or uncaring, but rather, proof that we live in a fallen world.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:22
Later that same day I received this picture of our beloved church …
After seeing the pictures of the lighthouse, I couldn’t believe the church building was still standing. The flowers and palm fronds are gone, the courtyard a mass of mud, but the church is still standing. Even the crosses on the roof remain intact, under an expansive blue sky, like the unshakeable promises of God, pointing heavenward.
I’m not going to fool myself into thinking the building is fine and that there won’t be massive water damage (as in “mold everywhere”) by the time any repair teams get there. The causeway connecting Sanibel to the mainland is destroyed, so it may be a year or more before the island can be reached other than by boat. Once trucks can finally cross, there will no doubt be a need for renovations of virtually everything.
No, it it’s not the building that inspires me. This photo to me is a picture of the resiliency of the people of Sanibel Community Church, and the Body of Christ (the universal Church) in general. Jesus said those who hear His words and obey them will be LIKE a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the house stood firm in the storms. The strength I see is not of the building, but of the spirits of God’s people, even as they are battered and worn when “life happens.”
Disasters bring out the best and the worst in humanity. I expect in the coming days we will see varying reactions to the devastation. My friends who evacuated before the hurricane are already eager to get back to the area, not just so they can start rebuilding their lives, but to see how they can help the Church help the community. Other congregations in the area – those on the mainland whose buildings are still usable – have immediately reached out to SCC, offering their facilities for meetings (SCC is meeting for worship in one of them tonight.) and to help the displaced church staff find housing. While local authorities have to deal with looters, and social media trolls argue politics from a safe distance, Christ-followers are giving of themselves, reflecting the overcoming love of God. They are the ones whose lives are built on the Rock – on Jesus.
(By the way, did you know the name “Ian” means “God is gracious”?)
Prayer: Father, we look at this fallen world, with nature groaning as in the pains of childbirth, and we can feel our lostness. Considering our collective sin, we know it is only by Your mercy that You haven’t destroyed us all. As we cling to our comforts and our “stuff,” give us divine perspective. Give us right priorities – to use things and love people, not the other way around. And whatever tomorrow brings, help us to rest secure in knowing that our eternity is in Your hands, through Your Son Jesus, amen.