Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I have just recently returned from a week in Joplin, MO, and I must tell you about my personal and dramatic change in perspective. When I first learned of the F-5 tornado that cut through the southwest central part of the city destroying 8000 structures and leaving 10,000 people homeless, I inwardly reacted with a predictable question: “Why Lord….why Joplin? It is the center of so much Kingdom-building activity! It is a primary source for church leadership, global evangelism and missionary outreach!” I had difficulty processing this tragedy, in light of Hosea 8:7, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” But, Joplin is not a place that has sown the wind! It is a geographical place where things right in the sight of God have been sown! It does not deserve to reap the whirlwind!

But then I arrived on the scene….I spent three days driving and walking through a veritable junk yard/refuse dump a mile wide and six miles long, that had only two weeks earlier been a thriving community. An occasional stark stick in the ground where there once stood a beautiful tree….hundreds of cars twisted and mashed into unrecognizable shapes….lumber and furniture scattered as far as the eye could see…. And, I also saw something else…

I saw God’s providential preservation of huge numbers of people. My first thought as I initially surveyed the devastation was, “How in the world did only 140 people die in this widespread carnage?” Would you believe that the evening the tornado struck, the Joplin High School graduation ceremonies had been moved from the [totally destroyed] high school campus to an auditorium at the state university on other end of town, resulting in the saving of literally thousands of lives.

I saw crosses standing. The first one standing high above the rubble of a Catholic church….elevated and untouched, while literally everything around it had been shredded and flattened….another cross on the only remaining standing wall of the Blendville Christian Church where we had worshipped and served from 1973-1977….another cross on the only remaining standing wall of the St. Paul United Methodist Church. Folks, it was surreal. But, it was also real. I am not making this up. It is as though God Himself shielded and preserved the symbol of the only hope this world [destined for ultimate destruction] has….the cross of Jesus Christ. I stood beneath the first cross and softly sang to myself the words of an old hymn, “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of time. All the light of sacred story, gathers around its head sublime.” It was a devotional moment I will not ever forget.

Then I saw the Christian community carrying the city on its shoulders. Christians and churches were first responders and they will be there long after the government agencies have left town for the next trouble spot. College Heights Christian Church, Ozark Christian College [housing and feeding the personnel and strategic relief efforts of the Red Cross and FEMA], Forest Park Baptist Church, Joplin Family Church, Samaritan’s Purse, Feed the Children, Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, IN, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY and many others were there in the Name of the Lord supplying the resources of prayer, money, food, generators, shelter, personal items, baby supplies and thousands of tireless workers. No cynic or skeptic will be taken seriously in Joplin again. No critic of the church will get a hearing. What do you say when you are down and out and the only hand reaching out to you is the hand of Jesus extended through His body, the church? The conversions have already begun. Church attendances are spiking as the community is experiencing spiritual renewal and revival. They now know what matters. Their values were realigned in only a few minutes as the tornado struck and then in the following weeks as Christ-followers have responded to the need for everything from blood to bottled water. Listen, my friends…. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount…. Matthew 5:45, “[Your Father in heaven] He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So, New Orleans, perceived by many to be our present day Sodom, experienced Katrina. And, Joplin, perceived by many to be the buckle of the Bible-belt, experienced the worst direct hit tornado in the history of the nation. But, here is the thing…. God, in His Providence, is allowing our preparation for what will eventually be….the end of all things that are attached to this life as we know it. And He is letting the world see that the church of Christ alone is the ‘ark of salvation.’ It is the only source of help and hope.

And here is my redeemed perspective: I no longer ask, “Why Joplin God?” Now I declare, “Thank You God, for choosing Joplin, for trusting Joplin, to be the place, of all the places in the world, where you have allowed this most graphic demonstration of Christian compassion and most dramatic proclamation of Christian witness.

Pray with me…. Father, we see it in Jesus. In His suffering, Your love and Your grace was at once convincing and convicting. He himself said, “If I am lifted up [on the cross], I will draw all people to myself.” And so, it is often through the experience of our human suffering that we wake up to your presence in this world in the person of Your Son and His church. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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