Sunday, December 11, 2016

After the Gatlinburg file

 John the Baptist was in prison. His blunt preaching had made him powerful enemies, especially Herod, whom he had criticized for committing adultery.  John: was the messenger who was preparing Jesus’ way with his fiery rhetoric and warnings to repent.

John was confident and bold.  Then he was thrown into prison and now he is losing hope. From what he has been hearing about Jesus, he’s beginning to have doubts about him. Jesus isn’t fiery, as John expected. So, John tells his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”’

The news funneling back to John was that Jesus was eating with the tax collectors. Jesus wasn’t condemning sinners but was sitting down to meals with them and making God’s forgiveness easily available to them. Jesus was even encouraging people to forgive their enemies. Things hadn’t worked out the way John expected and now he’s locked up in prison facing death.

When things don't work out the way we expect them to, we can become discouraged.  It can even cause us to lose faith.  We, like John the Baptist, can ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?"

About two weeks' ago, my wife and I were at our vacation home about ten miles east of Gatlinburg.  It was my birthday and I had just eaten some awesome wet coconut cake for desert.  I knew that there were fires in the national park.  But these fires were at least fifteen miles away, so I wasn't concerned. 

Then I heard a siren outside and went out to check on it.  Outside, I saw a fire in the brush just down the hill from our house.  It was being driven by high winds towards our house.  We quickly gathered up just a few things, abandoned our house and headed down the mountain to safety.

As happened to us, things can change quickly.  We can get discouraged when we lose things that are close to us.  We had owned our vacation home for over ten years.  It was a relaxing getaway for us, our children's families, and our friends.  Now, it is destroyed.  We might ask:  "Where is God in all of this. Or why do bad things happen to good people."

The day after the fire was a beautiful seventy degree day in the Gatlinburg area.  It was a good day for the firefighters to get the many fires in the area under control.  Twice during the day, we visited the command post for the firefighters.  We saw several firefighters sleeping from exhaustion after many hours on the job.  One firefighter was overcome with tears at the destruction that he had seen.  Seeing their courage and their determination, made me proud and thankful for these brave young men.

We asked the firefighter in charge if he had any word about our house.  He checked his lists of houses which were destroyed and those which were safe, and didn't find our house on either one.  So, they sent a scout up the hill to check on it.  About fifteen minutes later, he radioed in that our house was down, it was destroyed.  I think they felt worse about this than we did.

As we wondered around the area, we met people whose primary residence was destroyed and others who had no insurance.  We heard stories of some who were missing family members.  Clearly, we were blessed that we had only lost a vacation home.  We were both safe and we had our primary residence in Lebanon to return to.  Many other people weren't so fortunate.

The compassion of the people that we met in the Gatlinburg area was heartwarming.  Virtually every person told us that they would pray for us.  And after we posted on Facebook, we received support from our family and friends who mourned our loss with us.

When bad things happen, it is natural to mourn and to question, even to question God.  But, over time we begin to see the love and support of the people who are with us on our journey.  It seems to me that a disaster, like fires in the Gatlinburg area, brings out the best in many people.  We see the compassion, the caring, the love for each other that is part of our human nature.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  Through each other, we feel His love for us when we are down and discouraged.

Today is Gaudate Sunday.  It is a time for rejoicing and just two weeks until Christmas, the birth of the Christ child.  All of us have reasons to rejoice today.  For me, I rejoice in my family and friends and for the care and compassion of the many supportive people that I have encountered over the last few weeks.  Rejoice in the Lord always in good times and in bad.