Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Aftermath: Louisville Tornado 2014

"This is where Sam and I saw the dead man's body." When he said those words yesterday, I thought I'd heard my brother-in-law wrong. He repeated them. No. I'd heard right. 

Those weren't the words of a terrific hook line in the opening of a book (although I plan to use them for that very thing). My brother-in-law was remembering his experience as a first responder. 

After the F-4 tornado roared through Louisville, MS, population 6,463, on April 28, 2014, life changed dramatically for their citizens. At least ten people were killed. Many more were injured. Homes weren't just damaged. They were completely leveled. People were picked up by the tornado and literally tossed through the air to land not just a few feet away, but a few streets away.

My family volunteered in Louisville after the tornado. My sister picked up debris in what was left of the yards of homes that were completely destroyed. My niece and her daughters helped sort the mountain of supplies that were donated. 

I sat inside a tent and dispatched volunteers. I helped fray the frazzled nerves of volunteers who'd had too little sleep and too much junk food since their arrival. I hugged those who'd come for help. I politely bossed people around.

My nephew and my brother-in-law were there as first responders. They expected to cut trees and clear roads. They did that, but first they helped those who were injured. A triage team had gone through to locate the bodies of the dead and near-dead and identify those wounded who needed emergency care. 

They carried the ones most in need of medical care (by hand) on backboards to the first clear road. Vehicles waited to transport them the rest of the way, either to the morgue or to treatment in a make-shift medical relief area. They had a tent soon, but at the first, emergency care was done in the open air.

We drove past a row of school buses in Louisville yesterday and Joe, my brother-in-law, said, "All the windows were blown out. Glass was everywhere. People with eyes gouged out. People with broken arms. Bloody heads." 

At first, I thought he meant people had taken refuge in the bus and had been hit by the tornado. He didn't. 

There were too many injured for individual ambulance transport and the hospital had been destroyed. (I write this and realize that the ambulances may have been destroyed, too.) The roads were blocked by trees and debris, and emergency vehicles couldn't get into the area. 

A damaged school bus was used to transport the wounded because it was all they had.

It was horrifying at the time. When we toured the damaged areas yesterday, I realized it's still horrifying. 

This town of 6,900 people has done a fabulous job of recovery. A new hospital is almost finished. The local pulpwood industry is being rebuilt. Many homes have been repaired, restored, rebuilt. They still have community gatherings, honor their veterans, teach their children.

However, there were many empty slabs where homes once stood. There are still piles of debris on now-empty lots. Debris still dangles from a few trees. Broken tree stumps still stand as silent reminders of the utter devastation that can happen in a matter of minutes and take decades to overcome.

On April 30, 2014, there was so much devastation that I couldn't take it in. I saw the big picture, but, for the most part, I missed the one-person-at-a-time devastation the storm had left behind. 

Yesterday, I finally got it.

One family after another was completely missing from their neighborhood because they had not been able to rebuild. 

A dead man was found here. A severely injured woman was found there. The man with a broken arm was transported here. 

I saw the storm through my brother-in-law's eyes and it chilled me to the bone. Lives will never be the same. Never.

I hate to admit this, but I'd forgotten about Louisville. I'd forgotten about their losses. I'd forgotten about their sorrow. I'd forgotten about their needs.

I remember now.

We never know when tragedy may hit our own lives. What matters most is to be prepared for eternity. Having our possessions safe will not matter a bit if we meet our Maker without our eternal destination secured. 

Following Jesus is not a Sunday Social Club. Following Jesus is a 24-7-365 walk that can carry us through anything that comes our way.

The aftermath of life's storms (not just tornadoes) can last for decades. It's up to those of us on the outside of the storms to offer whatever help we can. For as long as it's needed. 

Despite the devastation, hope reigned in the little town of Louisville. Their downtown is bustling. There is a sense of optimism that is obvious from the moment you drive into their town. 

Their website explains why. Mayor Hill writes that they are "abundantly blessed" and "Louisville is the place where people make the difference." 

He's right. Tin, and wood, and stone will pass away, but the hearts of their people will last for eternity. And that's what matters most.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed... Death is swallowed up in victory..." 
1 Corinthians 15: 51-52, 54 nasb

Be sure to check the updated Prayer List 

 #louisvillemstornado2014 #recovery #whatmattersmost #faithlife #linesfromleanna #leannahollis

Friday, March 18, 2016

Choosing Molech and Sacrificing Children

A passage in Deuteronomy 18 caught my eye today. Following its trail led me to an unexpected lesson. 

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 prohibits the practice of witchcraft and idolatry. It specifically prohibits the practice of "making his son or daughter pass through the fire." Every time I read that, I think, "What parent would put their children in the fire?" 

Historically, many parents have done that very terrible thing, and they have done it for a kind of personal gain. Molech was an Ammonite god to whom child sacrifices were made. Some sources say the large idol was built with outstretched arms. A fire was kindled inside the idol so that the arms became red hot. The child was placed into the heated arms of the idol as a living sacrifice to the god of fire. When the child was sacrificed, the parents believed they would receive some sort of "blessing" in return.

The idea that doing evil will somehow result in good is utter foolishness.

"Whoever does this is detestable to God... because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you..." Deuteronomy 18:12 nasb

Several verses were dedicated to the banning of child sacrifice and I wondered about how much Moses had written. Was this a problem for people in the desert? Weren't they far from Molech and people who worshipped Molech? 

Amos 5 gives us the answer. Yes. It was a problem. No. The children of Israel were not far from the worship of Molech at all, because they carried the idols with them on their journey from slavery. 

Even after the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, even during the years of miraculous provision in the wilderness, the people kept their idols close at hand and worshipped them. It may not have been public worship, but scripture makes it clear that they sacrificed to the idols.

"Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth (Moloch) and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus," says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts." Amos 5:25-27 nasb

God warned the people not to associate with those who worshipped these pagan gods, yet they would not obey. They would not remove these tools of idolatry from their midst. Eventually, their foolish rebellion led them to sacrifice their own children.

Lest you think this was the foolishness of slaves, it was not. King Solomon became involved in the worship of Moloch (also spelled Molek) after he married foreign wives who drew his heart away from God. Both King Manassah (2 Kings 21:6) and King Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:1-4) sacrificed their own sons to Moloch. 

Jeremiah tells us that this sacrifice of children was one of the reasons for the captivity in Babylon.

The enemy of our souls comes to steal, kill, and destroy. When we snuggle with the things of darkness, when we cling to bits of the world, our choices will extract a steep price and we should not be surprised.

God did not warn His people against worshipping evil because He was harsh or unkind. His warning was designed to protect us and our children from the toll that must be paid to the evil one when we bow down to him.

We have a choice. Will we cling to God alone or try to divide our heart between the worship of God yet still hold to a bit of darkness? The children of Israel found that a divided heart would cost them a terrible price in the end. It always does.

We live in a dark and desperate world. There is much evil here, but the people of God must turn from the darkness and embrace His light. We are the light of the world, but choosing darkness will make our light indistinguishable to people in need of Christ. 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; 
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." 
John 10:10 nasb

Our choices affect our children for generations to come. If we believe what we say we believe, let us shed our hidden idolatry and allow God to purify our hearts. 

Is there anything of the world in us? Let us join with David, who prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O, God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

Be sure to check the updated Prayer List 

 #molech #childsacrifice #faithlife #linesfromleanna #leannahollis

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Being Altogether Joyful

In the midst of Deuteronomy's chapters about the law and punishment for disobedience is a chapter about feasts and parties. The Jewish year began and ended with feasts and celebrations before the Lord.

The first month, known as Abib (the Canaanite name) or Nisan (the Jewish name) is in early Spring. (March/April). In the month of Abib/Nisan, they were to celebrate the Passover. For the Christian, this is a reminder of Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins. 

For seven days, they were to eat only Unleavened Bread. All leaven was to be purged from their houses. This was a symbolic purging of sin and represents the importance of not just repenting of our sin but turning from it. It was to be celebrated with a solemn assembly. (A worship service and time of both individual and corporate repentance)

I fear that, as believers, we are often a little like Scarlett O'Hara; not terribly sorry we sinned, but very sorry we were "caught" and have consequences for that sin.

Repentance involves not just saying sorry, but allowing God to remove our sin from us, so that we stop doing the sin of which we have repented.

The Feast of Booths was celebrated at the end of Tishri, after the autumn harvest. The week-long celebration was a reminder of the years of living in tents in the wilderness on the journey from Egypt. I love how this feast is described.

"Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God... 
because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce 
and in all the works of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful." 
Deuteronomy 16:15 nasb

Over the course of the year, the people would have several feasts that reminded them of their slavery in Egypt, the deliverance of God, and His abundant provision. They would symbolically remember the price of sin and celebrate removing that sin from their lives.

At the end of the year, they would celebrate the deliverance of God and His ongoing provision. 

Remembering the past was done to bring rejoicing for the future. Celebrating the removal of sin prepared the way to rejoice over the purity only God could provide.

They were to plan, in advance, for a celebration of the abundant provision of God because it would be given. They didn't have to worry or be afraid. God promised to bless them in their produce and in every work they did with their hands. 

The blessings of God were not simply to give them enough to eat. The blessings of God were to result in complete and total joy.

Jesus began His ministry on earth at a wedding celebration (a party) and His last time with his disciples before His crucifixion was spent celebrating Passover (another feast/party). 

We serve a God who delights in celebration. In rejoicing. In total joy.

We, as followers of Christ, should be the most joyful of people, for we have much to celebrate. 

Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is coming again.

Let us live as those who have been redeemed, so that the world can see the joy only God can give. Rejoice today, for our God is a Holy, Mighty, Good God and He is able to deliver and provide. 

Be sure to check the updated
 Prayer List 

 #celebrate #altogetherjoyful #feast #faithlife #linesfromleanna #leannahollis

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Casting Stones, Forgiving, and Forgetting

Today's topic is one about which my mama would say, "You've gone to meddling now." My reading this morning was in Deuteronomy 13, and the topic is casting stones.

Moses gave clear instructions about stoning a false prophet who tried to lead the people to serve false gods. Everyone was to take part so that they would understand the penalty for idolatry and leading others astray. Seeing and participating in the execution was to serve as a deterrent to the sin.

Deuteronomy 13:9 gives the instructions about stoning the false prophet, but there's a verse before it that's easily overlooked. Deuteronomy 13:4 comes before verse 9 for a reason. 

"You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him." Deuteronomy 13:4 nasb 

Before we attempt to deal with sin in others and purge sin from our midst, we are to be certain we are following, fearing, obeying, listening, serving, and clinging to God as we ought. 

We are to address our own sin first, before we attempt to address the sin of another.

In Jesus' day, a group of men wanted to stone a woman for her sin of adultery. Jesus looked at the group of people holding stones and at the woman who waited for them. She had committed adultery with a married man. There was no question about her guilt. She deserved the punishment that was about to be given. 

Jesus stopped the execution in its tracks with a few simple words.

"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 
                                                            John 8:7 nasb

We read about all the countries that still use stoning as a form of execution, and are shocked, but we have our own form of slow death by torture. It's know as gossip. When we malign another's reputation by spreading gossip, even in the guise of a prayer request, we are participating in a form of "stone casting". 

As the body of Christ, it's our job to act like Jesus. Praise God, He doesn't spread our sin around for all to examine, and neither should we. 

Perhaps equally as harmful to those who have sinned is holding to their sin for years. "I can forgive but I can't forget," is our justification, but we aren't fooling God with that attitude. 

(I am not speaking of "forgetting" about the one who continually wounds, but about the one who has repented and turned from the sin.)

Forgiving does not remove consequences, but it should change how we treat the one who has sinned against us.

Jesus doesn't hold on to our sin, or the sin of others, once we've repented and been forgiven, and neither should we. 

Unfortunately, it is commonly said of the church, "They are the only army in the world that shoots their own wounded." This should not be. 

I recently spoke to someone who surprised me with the way they held to someone else's sin. The sin of another person was recounted with as much fervor as if it had happened yesterday. It had occurred more than half a century before. 

Why not forgive that sin and let go of it? If we expect God to forgive us, we must forgive. Even if the sin of another left tremendous destruction in its wake. 

Why? Because God, in his mercy, offered us forgiveness for our own heinous sin. 

When Jesus walked the earth, He was maligned by the religious leaders because he ate and drank with sinners. And He did. People just like you and me. 

He spent time with them because He loved them. He offered them a new way of life and, to everyone's surprise, they responded to His love, accepted the offer of forgiveness and change, and spread His love all around the world.

That's what Jesus did for me. He loved me in my sin and, to everyone's surprise, He loved me right out of it. 

I am not the same woman I was when He saved me. Perhaps we would find more great sinners serving our great God with the love of Mary Magdalene and the fervor of Peter if we treated them the way Christ did.

He loved and forgave. Even to death on the cross and beyond. We should, too.

Be sure to check the updated Prayer List 

 #forgiveandforget #faithlife #linesfromleanna #leannahollis

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What God Requires

Moses' sermon to the Israelites started with a review of all the wonderful things they had seen God do on their forty-year journey from Egypt. In Deuteronomy 10, he finally gets to the "and now". 

Moses' "and now" is the point of everything. It's the reason God brought them out of the Egypt, refined them through the years in the wilderness, and helped them take the Promised Land. 

God had rescued them, protected them, provided for for them and He wanted something in return. 

Sometimes I forget that. Relationships require "give and take" and our relationship with God does, too. One of the nice things about our relationship with God is that He tells us what He expects. We don't have to wonder. We don't have to guess. 

We know what God wants from us because He has told us. If we don't get it right, it's because we choose not to do so.

"And now, Israel, what does the Lord require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?" Deuteronomy 10:12-13 nasb

Moses asked a question. What does God require other than this? The answer was simple. Nothing. 

The response God requires is an active response. Fear. Walk. Love. Serve. Keep. Attending a church service once a week will not be enough. It is an active, personal response, and it permeates every fiber of our being, every moment of our lives.

If we have a holy fear (or deep respect) for God and love Him with all our heart and soul, we will walk in His ways, serve Him without reservation, and obey His commands.

Moses knew it would be hard for his people, so he gave a one-sentence secret for perfect response.

"Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more." Deuteronomy 10:16 nasb

Cut away all the excess in our hearts, all the desires and idols in our lives, and stop stiffening ourselves against the Lord and His ways. 

Let go of what we want (and the things that keep us from loving God with our whole heart) and embrace what God wants.

It's simpler than we realize, and infinitely better than life on our own, without God. 

Today, let's soften our stiff necks and invite our Lord to look at our hearts. Let's allow Him to find that which needs to be cut away, and do what must be done. Circumcise our hearts. Cut away that which displeases Him. 

What does God require? Hearts filled with respect and love for Him and a demonstration of that respect and love by the way we live our lives. 

Let's love and live in such a way that the world knows the goodness of God by knowing us.
Be sure to check the updated Prayer List 

#whatgodrequires #loveandlive #faithlife #linesfromleanna #leannahollis

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Infinite Pi and the One Who Created It

Today is 3.14.16. For math lovers everywhere, it's known as Pi Day.

In case you've forgotten your high school geometry, Pi, is a mathematical constant, also known as Archimedes constant. It's the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Pi = C/d  (circumference divided by diameter). The area of a circle can be determined by multiplying the constant Pi (3.14....) by the square of the radius of the circle. 

Pi is an "irrational" number. It can't be expressed as the product of a fraction and, as a result, it has an infinite number of digits. It's been calculated to a million digits so far, and no repeated sequence has ever been found. 

It's infinite and it can't be completely defined, but we are completely dependent upon the truth within it. Pi is fascinating because of its mathematical properties, but it fascinates me most because it reminds me so much of God.

No human could devise Pi. No human did devise Pi. 

What's odd to me is that we have no problem believing in the existence of the Pi ratio, yet people struggle with believing in the existence of God. 

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:3 nasb

Pi exists. 

It's one of those "wonders of the universe" that we will never completely understand this side of eternity. One day, though, we will stand in the presence of the One who created everything that has come into being, including Pi. 

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13"12 nasb

We don't understand it all now, but one day, we will. Until then, I'm acknowledging Pi and putting my faith in the One who created it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How Will We Respond to God: Fear or Faith?

This morning's Scripture reading had a verse that was so unutterably sweet that I'm still in awe of it. The passage in Deuteronomy 5 is part of Moses' farewell address to the nation of Israel. 

Moses recounted the time God spoke to the people from the fire. 

(Leanna paraphrase coming up.) When God spoke, the people were terrified. "This fire will consume us if we stay here and keep listening," they told Moses. "You listen to God for us and tell us what He said." 

The people backed away from a personal encounter with God because of fear. They obeyed His commandments because of their fear.

Moses had listened to God ever since the burning bush. Being close to God was a treasured spot. In His presence was the safest place to be, and Moses knew it without a doubt. 

Moses drew closer to God. He obeyed God from faith. From love.

We, too, will respond to God in one of these two ways. God will allow the fear response if we choose it. He will still give us His commands, His watch care, His provision. 

When we choose the faith response, however, He gives us all that and more. 

When Moses stood in faith, God extended an invitation that is breathtaking in its magnitude. It's the invitation I most want for myself and my family. 

"But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you..." 
Deuteronomy 5:11 nasb

When we draw close to God, He draws near to us. He speaks with us as a man speaks to his friend. He knows us, and we know Him. It is a place of indescribably holiness, overwhelming sweetness, incredible peace. 

Standing by God is the place where we learn to trust Him, and it changes everything. Limits fall away, because we know He will see us through whatever He asks of us. It's the place of faith, love, intimacy. 

Our Lord offers the same invitation to us today. "Stand here by Me, that I may speak to you." 

Will we move closer or step away? Which will it be?

The decision is ours. 

Be sure to check the updated Prayer List 

#fearorlove #chronologicalBible #JesusChrist #linesfromleanna #leannahollis