Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tornadoes Don't Blow Sin Away

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress… O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.” - David in Psalm 4.

Storms absolutely ravaged this part of the country. 150 tornadoes ripped through the Southeastern US leaving 300 dead and missing, with multiple homes blown apart and businesses destroyed. We’re still tallying the damage but it’s evident that it will take a while for these scars to heal.

During the storm, we had a small community huddled in the basement. We spent time checking on the raging turmoil through the windows, calming our children and munching on home-made muffins provided by Melissa. It was a curious feeling, being so close with these brave few, calming our fears and praying for safety.

Curiously enough these storms did little to effect the Universe of Philip. It’s sad to admit, but I had a very mixed reaction to all the craziness. The day after the storm I felt compelled to get out and help in any way I could. As I searched, I felt completely overwhelmed, first by my incompetency (can you be an All-American Male without a chainsaw?) and second by the chaos and destruction. I didn’t know what to do. I felt paralyzed, anxious and depressed.

I visited folks, checked on my Grandparents and chatted with a family I knew whose house had been picked up and moved off of its foundation. People were wandering streets that looked like one of those end-of-the-world movie sets. One house had a 2-by-4 sticking out of the front of it, as if the storm had been playing darts. It was eerie.

Part of me, and I really have a hard time admitting this because it’s really ugly, rejoices when stuff like this happens. There’s a very deep evil that resides in me. My thought process goes something like this: “Maybe all these wicked sinners will wake up to reality through this tragedy. Maybe they’ll even fund me to do my ministry.” This thought enters my head almost unbidden, but something in me is drawn to it, to its alluring nature and to the energy it’s bitterness provides.

I think of myself as not such a bad guy. But thoughts like this prove otherwise. Little do I know God’s grace. Little do I know compassion. Little do I know how to react to real suffering.

At the risk of depressing everyone who reads this, I will delve deeper into my own inner struggle. Removing brush the day after the storm brought on a pretty severe allergic reaction to all the pollen in the air. I must have sneezed a hundred times. At one point I sneezed a wad of snot on my 4-year-old nephew who in true all-boy fashion simply wiped it off with the an unspoken sentiment of, “Oh that happens all the time.”

After the storm, my in-laws house was over-populated. Screaming and whiny children were getting the best of tired and pollinated parents. My feelings of ineptitude as a parent, a provider and a child of God were getting to an all time high.

How can I stew in my own personal depression when all around me is chaos and need? I find that I’m pretty capable.

“No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes…” This song just popped on and I think it’s pretty apt. Except I have hazel eyes.

But as I was saying, I’m pretty adept at stewing in my own personal storm of emotions when all the world is in chaos around me. Now I’ve got to give God some credit, it’s not like I laid in bed all day and bemoaned my state, at least not most of the day. It’s just that I was definitely in the place of feeling like the “terd at the center of the universe.”

And, instead of helping folks, I ended up going for some long mountain bike rides to try and clear my head. The exercise did a great deal of good and it reminded me that people, even people in crisis, are perfectly capable of getting by without Savior Philip.

So where am I now, why am I writing all this and how does it tie in to the Psalm above? This Psalm speaks to me of a God who answers his people who are being beset by lies. While my lies come mostly from within, I see that God will vindicate himself and will be honored. The lies that swirl through my head and tempt me to believe “vain words,” will be defeated by the God “who sets apart the godly for himself.”

Do I feel all that “godly?” Not really. Especially after describing the ugliness above that has been dominating my thought life. But through the wondrous nature of a real and powerful grace I am godly. I am God’s. I am righteous.

The lack of care for others, the bitterness towards “all those sinners,” the comparison, the escape, the depression, the feeling that I’m constantly being watched and judged, the selfishness, and the tendency to control, manipulate, pout and moan when stuff is simply not going my way and (on top of all this) feeling like my face is being rubbed in a huge tulip, is covered. It’s covered. God’s answers me when I call to him.

He is not only the God of physical tornadoes but he’s the God of personal emotional tornadoes. He is the God who “knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.” He’s the God who has compassion on his children.

It’s a good thing, because if I was God I’d be tempted to wring my little ungrateful neck. How in the world, in light of such tragedy, can I still think so much about myself? Rarely will someone admit, say after 9/11 or something, that they are still consumed with the fact that they have a head-ache or a really bad hang-nail. Most people say things like, “Wow, this really puts a lot into perspective.” Or “My prayers are going out to them.”

I’m a big sinner. And so the cross gets bigger, all the time growing in my life. Man I need this guy Jesus.