Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
Our son Stephen and daughter-in-law Susanne have been asking Carolyn and me to take their daughter_our granddaughter, Grace_to see the bayous of South Louisiana where my father and mother did mission work in the 1930s. And, I have been wanting to see how the area fared after Hurricane Katrina. In particular I wanted to see Grand Bayou, which is about 50 miles south of New Orleans near the Mississippi River.
In the early 1930s, my father pitched a tent on the banks of the Mississippi River and led a revival that had a great impact on the area. About two miles west of the Mississippi, Grand Bayou runs parallel to the river, and there was a community of mixed-race people living in segregated isolation. These people existed by shrimping, fishing, trapping, and fighting mosquitoes.
One of those that came to the revival was the settlement’s “strong man” who controlled the community. He came to Christ and virtually all of the community followed. Not long after, my Dad helped build a small white wooden chapel on Grand Bayou.
Among my early memories were those Sundays when Dad would drive to the canal at “Foster’s Landing,” get a skiff, and I would ride with him as he rowed it for more than one mile until it intersected with Grand Bayou. Then, he would row south toward the chapel where happy people would gather to worship. They loved Dad and he loved them. I wondered now how it was with them.
So, recently, we drove south of New Orleans and finally found “Foster’s Landing.” The last twenty miles spoke loudly of the devastation from the hurricane. My cousin had told me that a thirty foot wall of water had spilled over the Mississippi River levees and covered the marshes. From the air it appeared that the Gulf of Mexico had made its way fifty miles inland. Only the tops of telephone poles were visible. Ten feet of water remained for days because the levees further inland trapped the water in a basin. Even now, one year later, boats remain perched in the badly battered trees, and debris is still everywhere in spite of massive recovery efforts.
“Foster’s Landing” that I remembered as boy, had been long gone, and as we parked on the empty land surveying the vast marshes, a pick-up truck came toward us stirring up clouds of dust. The truck stopped and I told the two men inside who we were and why we were there. The older man remembered the church and knew about the revival 70 years ago.
“But no one lives there now,” he said. “Even what wasn’t completely destroyed by Katrina is still unlivable.” He offered to take us by boat, but I declined, since the afternoon was getting late. However, I decided to drive down the rough, dirt road along the canal and get as close as I could to Grand Bayou. The road ended before it could take us all the way there. But in the distance, I could see the still standing structures like a ghost village from the past.
We got out and walked to the bank of the canal where sunken boats were like grave markers for a life destroyed. One man was attempting to clear some of the sunken debris. Another lived with his wife on a still floating boat. I went over to talk with him; he had lived in Grand Bayou for sixty years, and on this boat since Katrina. His eyes lit up when I mentioned my cousins who had lived in “Happy Jack,” a village not far away. He knew them.
I walked to the bank of the canal; I could still hear Dad’s voice and the oars rubbing against the side of the skiff. For a moment, I was a little boy riding with Dad to the chapel on Grand Bayou, it was hard to hold back the tears_the winds, waves and time had taken it all away, but it still lived inside of me. We were not casual, curious tourists; our hearts and history were there.
During the past year, friends have given approximately $300,000 to CSM’s Hurricane Relief fund. We are deeply grateful for the generosity, and we have distributed these funds to those who desperately needed it in the affected areas. Federal, state, and local governments have poured billions of dollars into the effort along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but the size of the task is incomprehensible. While most of the focus was on New Orleans, the area of devastation covered thousands of square miles. And many thousands of proud, hardworking people still struggle to live and rebuild.
Of course, the area that I described is only one of many touched by disaster and tragedy. I recently listened to a missionary describe her experience in Indonesia, where the terrible tsunami of December 2004 destroyed many villages and lives. The area where she served was one of the most intensely Islamic areas of Indonesia. She had been forced to leave some months prior to the tsunami by the hostility of the people. But after the tsunami, she returned to help in the relief effort. Loving her enemies, she found friends and revealed Christ to a people once closed, now open.
Insurance companies often refer to these disasters as “acts of God.” I do not share that view. Acts of God are those caring souls who follow tragedy with compassion and generosity. Acts of God are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and comforting the afflicted.
I believe that God desires to bless us, and has blessed us. When I entered the ministry, He promised to supply all of my needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:19). He has done so, beyond my expectation. When Dad rowed the little skiff to Grand Bayou, we had very little in the way of possessions, but because of God’s grace, and Mom and Dad’s faith, we have known God’s faithfulness.
Our nation has also been blessed because of God’s grace shed upon spiritual fathers and mothers who led in the great revivals of the past. Those brave souls took great risks in faith, to give us a heritage of blessing.
Years ago, I learned that I had been grafted into the Abrahamic Covenant and received His blessing through faith. He has given to us the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, in whom we have a great salvation and Divine favor. We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit and given a future and a hope, all of this through no merit of our own, by simple faith in Jesus. Praise Him!
This is a season to celebrate the blessing of Jesus’ birth_the birth that brought blessing to a devastated world. The storms of evil had swept across the earth, blowing away man’s best efforts. Thank God, then relief came in the form of a baby, born in poverty, but bringing great riches to earth.
Why has God blessed us with so much? The primary reason is that He loves us in spite of our frequent failure. He is a God of compassion. As Jesus saw the multitudes and had compassion, or saw Jerusalem and wept; the Lord our God is full of compassion toward us. Does He weep? Jesus did.
God made it clear to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, why He would bless him. He would do so in order that Abraham’s descendants would bless all of the people groups of the earth. Abraham became very wealthy, but everywhere he went, people prospered. So it was 2000 years later: his Seed, Jesus, left a great blessing everywhere He went. And today, 4000 years later, everywhere the Gospel goes, it leaves a blessing.
As I stood on the banks of the canal devastated by an evil wind, I wondered, “How can I leave a blessing here?” The Lord will show me. I went back to read the Christmas story once again to see how Jesus brought a blessing.
I was struck as I read the story how the blessing of Jesus spread through the world: Gabriel said to Mary, “You are highly favored.” Elizabeth blessed Mary and praised God upon seeing her. Joseph blessed Mary by believing the angel’s message, “This Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and you shall call His name ‘Jesus’ for He will save His people from their sins.”
The shepherds were blessed by a song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to men of good will.” Wise men blessed Jesus with expensive gifts. Simeon was blessed to live to see the “Consolation of Israel.” And Anna, whose name means favor, broke forth in prophecy when she saw Him.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with “blessed.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. And bless He did. He was blessed, to bless.
We have blessings and we have the power, therefore, to bless. We are not owners of blessings; we are receivers and givers of blessings. We are blessed to bless. “Owners” think of themselves as having earned the blessings and therefore feel free to consume those gifts upon themselves. In so doing, they corrupt their gifts and themselves. Yes, the sower has first rights on the harvest, but he cannot eat it all. Building bigger barns is not the aim of a steward.
Stewards use their blessings in the manner that the giver desires. Each month, CSM receives “designated gifts.” By law and by desire, we use those offerings in the manner that the giver designates. Most of our funds are not designated, but some are. All gifts are a trust to be used to the glory of God. So it is with God’s gifts to us. They are often “designated” for someone else; it is a trust from Him to us.
Our desire is to affect the people that will affect the world. It is to extend the kingdom of God_one person at a time. We do this by teaching and ministering the truth as we can understand it and supporting other ministries. I take no salary from CSM and have not for several years. My support comes from those that I pastor and from other efforts. We want our publishing to be a gift “designated” to you.
I deeply appreciate your faithfulness in giving and prayer. This has been a year of tests in our family and ministry. But the Lord has been faithful to supply all our needs. And you have stood with us to bless others. Thank you. Please remember us in your year-end giving and in your prayers.
And please continue to support your local church and pastor. Your leadership is also a great gift designated just for you. It is the season to bless those who bless us_and also those who desperately need our blessing.
Scripture Reference: Genesis