After a few days off, re-entry into the world you left behind is often difficult under the best of circumstances. What with piles of mail, clothes to unpack/wash/put away, email to answer, getting back onto the treadmill… it really kind of “undoes” a vacation. But this week-end was a particularly rough ‘re-entry’.
I made a decision that I would try to avoid being gone on Sunday’s this summer with the possible exception of taking Nathan to college. I was out of the pulpit more than I like in the first quarter of this year due to missions trips and chaperoning the Senior Trip, so I felt it would be healthier for the church if I arranged my personal time off to permit me to be home on Sundays. So… after five days in Orlando, we loaded up the gang and drove like mad all day long Saturday so I could be here to preach and teach in three services Sunday.
We pulled in the driveway around 8:40 or so Saturday evening. There was just enough light remaining that I took a quick tour of my garden and checked in on the flock of chicks I inherited from one of our school teachers the last week of school. The kids found 3 MORE baby kittens (if you want a kitten…PLEASE call us… and soon. I have a dozen now that are ready to go.) My garden was…well…MAGNIFICENT. I can’t believe how great it looked. My squash was loaded with baby summer squash and zucchini. The green beans are ready to pick. The tomatoes are 4 feet tall and loaded with blossoms and little green tomatoes. The sweet corn was lush and tall. The lettuce is even still bearing. I walked into the house and told Julie, “That is the BEST garden I’ve ever raised in my entire life.”
Then at about 11:15, the worst storm I’ve seen in a couple of years rolled up. Lightening flashed, the wind howled, branches were falling from trees, it hailed, it rained — it looked like the end of the world for about 30 minutes. About 15 minutes into the storm, most of the power went out. I say “most” because there was enough left to allow the incandescent bulbs to cast off an eerie glow and the fans to spin very slowly. I’m not electrician, but I’m pretty sure that is very hard on appliances and electrical gadgets, so we started scrambling to unplug anything and everything we could. I looked down at the church and could see the same thing happening there as the parking lots went dim, but I could see the eerie glow of the security lights inside flickering.
We called Duke Energy to report the problem. I have no idea why we had a “little” electricity, but shortly we were sitting by candle light. The little kids were so freaked by the howling and thunder and darkness, we had a family prayer meeting in the living room. Then all was silent. Dead silent. All night long. Oh, yeah, and it was HOT, HOT, HOT.
If you know me, I like it cold and I also sleep with 2-3 fans on to provide a background noise that allows me to sleep. Right before the storm hit, I had popped an Ambien so I could rest well for Sunday. It’s the only way I got any rest at all Sunday night.
When I came to, I realized that the power was still off in spite of the fact that Duke Power had promised to have it on by 4:00 a.m. I looked out my window to see my garden battered beyond recognition and my corn lying flat on the ground. I got dressed and went down to the church where the operations staff was running around trying to figure out what to do. The outage was basically limited to our campus and the trees that fell on the lines were near our operations center. Someone reported the smell of burning electrical parts to me — that’s NEVER a good sign.
People would be arriving for our 8:00 a.m. service and we had to make a decision. Our auditorium is huge and dark. There was no way to use it or get sufficient candlelight in there. The chapel which seats about 250 was an option, but has stained glass windows and was very dark, plus it was very hot and many of the folks who attend the 8:00 a.m. service are elderly. We decided on using one of the cafeterias that had windows and cross ventilation.
It turned into one of the sweetest services I can remember in a long time. A couple of hundred folks crowded into the room. No instruments, just great old Gospel songs being sung by memory accapella. My sermon was on my laptop with no way to retrieve it, so I pulled out one I’d preached about six years ago and freshened it up. It was just a nice time of fellowship and singing and preaching and it reminded me of some of the old country services of my childhood.
With no power coming on, we held our Sunday School/Bible Fellowships all over the campus. Some toughed it out in their rooms, others took chairs out under the magnolia trees, others met in the halls where ventilation was better. Now there were hundreds more people on campus. There was simply no space available to have our regular celebration service. Too many to put in a parking lot setting without a PA, too hot anyway, too much noise from I-85. So we just cancelled the second service.
I’ve never had to cancel a service like that. I hated to do it. Because I live on campus, we don’t even have to cancel for snow or ice. I can just slide down the hill and meet anyone who shows up. We’ll take a huge financial hit because we weren’t able to receive a regular offering….that may not sound like a big deal, but a ministry our size has a weekly offering budget of nearly $50,000. Right now, we have a pile (and I DO mean pile) of fried harddrives, cameras, servers, monitors and other electronics headed for the dumpster due to the surges and so-forth. We may be piecing things together for a couple of weeks, but that’s OK….we’ll manage just fine!
And don’t forget….God is Sovereign. This didn’t catch Him by surprise. He ALWAYS takes care of our needs. Even in adversity, we learn things about Him and us. It just wasn’t the way I planned on re-entering after 5 days with family.
Speaking of “5 days with family”…. my gang and my sister and her gang spent 5 days in Orlando. I’ve said often that I don’t miss Florida at all (I lived there for 17 years) and this week just reminded me of how much I really mean that. If I never go to a Disney park again it will be too soon. I did enjoy Sea World and Universal’s “Islands of Adventure” — both were family friendlier and better maintained in my opinion.
I was struck by the number of out (and I mean “OUT”) homosexuals that worked at the parks — particularly Disney. I know it’s the “American Way” but the prices for food and drinks in the park is just obscene. We carried water and snacks, but at some point, you have to get something more substantive and it is a royal rip-off. I’d think they’d sell much more and make a larger profit if they’d just reduce the prices a little more. I bought exactly ZERO $3.50 ice cream bars. Had they been $2.00, I’d probably have bought a half dozen. But now I’m just whining. Otherwise, we had a great time with my sister, brother-in-law and their three kids. I’m so thankful to have a family with whom I always enjoy spending time and I’m equally thankful that they are willing to spend time with me.
So, I’m back home and will be catching up this week. We start Vacation Bible School tonight. I’m excited about that. We are welcoming Frank Shimkis to our team as our new “Student Ministries Pastor”. Frank hails from PA where he graduated from Baptist Bible College in Clark Summit. He played semi-pro basketball in Germany until an injury ended his career. Most recently, he taught AP English in an inner-city school in St. Petersburg, FL. You are going to love him! Pastor Ben Rudolph is now our “Church Planting Pastor” as he gets Providence Church going in Denver, NC. I’ve got a TON of emails to answer and phone calls to return. Please be patient with me if you are expecting to hear from me.
And, oh yes, I’m aware that Northside was featured on the front page of “The Sword of the Lord” as some kind of screaming liberal, neo-evangelical, seeker-driven, rock-n-roll’n bastion of all that is wrong in Christianity today. All my friends(?) who still read the Sword having been sending me messages all week horse-laughing the absurdity of what was written. They think I’m the most conservative (some even say legalistic) guy they know. Our mention was part of a larger series of articles being written by self-described “fundamentalist journalist” “Dr.” (It’s not real, but no surprise there)Don Jasmin at the request of Sheldon Smith (Sword editor) on the recent International Baptist Network meeting that we hosted in April. It is so filled with exaggerations, mischaracterizations and outright lies, that it is mind-boggling.
But I’m really not surprised. That’s become par for the course of those who have lost sight of historic fundamentalism and are trying to redefine it into something it has never been. Sadly, it’s just this kind of badgering, manipulative, agenda-pushing garbage that is driving hundreds of our younger men toward stuff that is philosophically unsound and even Biblically questionable. What they claim they are trying to “save”, they are indeed destroying. One young guy wrote me privately last week to say, “The reason I left the Independent Baptists and became part of the SBC is exactly this kind of stuff.” I think he’s wrong — the SBC has just as much pettiness and as many problems as the IB guys do. But I understand what he’s saying.
I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll respond in this blog or not. At one level, I frankly could not care less what Jasmin or Smith think of me, the church or anything else for that matter. Jasmin is an extremist, KJVO nut who speaks in conferences with the likes of Pete Ruckman and Herb Noe. He publishes a little gossip sheet similar to David Cloud’s and thinks that makes him a “journalist.” (Oh, and he charges for the privilege of reading his rag. For people like he and Cloud, their willingness to feed virulent appetites for controversy provides a network for them to peddle their books and tapes and to line their pockets.) Smith has overseen the demise of one of Fundamentalism’s more credible newspapers running it into the ground as he has become more extreme with each issue due to trying to maintain some sort of constituency. He personally lied to me in front of witnesses right after he became the editor of the Sword about where he stood on issues within fundamentalism and how he would be using the pages of the Sword. The Sword has virtually no credibility these days with thinking fundamentalists and even less influence. It’s a sad chapter in a paper that at one time had a major influence in my life and which still sends me royalties for a pamphlet they picked up and published a decade or more ago.
So, “IF” I get around to it, I “MIGHT” set the record straight as to some of the more egregious misrepresentations. I would only do that because I love the people of my church. (Interestingly, to date — not one member of my church other than my assistant who got a call from one of my friends, has mentioned the article which says a lot about the readership of the Sword these days.)
I may also address what I consider to be a DANGEROUS and UNBIBLICAL practice of sending “reporters” undercover into local, Bible-Preaching churches to evaluate them and then disseminate the information. And for the record, Don Jasmin never asked me a question, requested an interview, wrote me a note or in any other way solicited information or background for me. Yeah, that’s real journalism, all right.
But anyway, indeed, most of those who cling to the extreme branch of fundamentalism exemplified by the Sword are not folks who we’re wanting to become part of our church family. We’re about reaching the unsaved, developing discerning thinkers through expositional preaching and teaching, engaging in personal discipleship, worshipping the Lord in “spirit” and in “Truth”, fellowship with the called-out assembly, ministering to those within and without the Body and being a place of prayer and grace. I do not apologize for what we believe and the implications of that throughout our church. So let Jasmin and Smith rail. We’re just going to keep doing what we are doing as humbly and Biblically as we possibly can. And they can keep dredging for gossip, scandal and negative tales while living out the shrewish and controlling strategies and agendas that motivate them.
Northsiders, I’ll now be starting my series on “A Few Good Men — Developing Biblical Manhood in the Home and Church” this coming Sunday due to the weather problems of last week-end. Don’t forget the kick-off of our Men’s Ministry on Monday, June 19th in the FAC. Load up your cars with non-Northside kids for VBS tonight and all week long! We’re going to have a great week!