Tropical storm Debby it taking its good old time beating up the gulf coast of Florida. Deb is moving at a slow crawl of about 2 mph while she unleshes her power on thousands of Floridians and disappointed vacationers. We can now thank Debby for a tornado in Naples, a power outage in Marco Island, rip currents and 60 mph winds. By the time it is all over we might be looking at as much as 10 inches of rain fall and a possibility of rivers flooding over. Check back in tomorrow around 4 pm - until then flood warnings abound.
The news media is flocking to the shores of Tampa and Pensecola, tracking every wind gust and wave heighth, keeping the 24/7 cycle of alerts and pictures coming. This is the stuff The Weather Channel lives for. I think they secretly pray for hurricans.
Of course, many people take these storms very seriously. The roads become sparse, home owners break out the sand bags and water gets purchased in bulk. This is millenium preperation in the middle of June.
It reminds me a lot of a snow storm up north in the middle of February. Life comes to a screeching hult.
This morning, sitting in church, I was taken back to Erie in the middle of winter enduring a harsh lake effect blizzard. Just like during a snow storm the church this morning was a ghost town. When I showed up I questioned whether or not the whole thing had been called off. Where rows of cars are usually parked I saw only soggy, wet, car-less grass. In a blizzard the scene would be quite similar if you substitue snow for rain and soggy for icy. The result is the same: low attendance and empty pews.
It is so easy to find an excuse to stay in bed on a Sunday morning when the weather outside is threatening. When it is an Erie snow storm we are warned not to drive for fear of slipping and slidding on slick roads. When it is a hurricane season and the raging waters dump rain without ceasing and blow winds that could carry away small children, we are told to stay in the interior rooms of our home for fear of a funnel in the sky. The conditions are ripe for such an occurance - better safe than sorry, right? In mass, we heed the warnings. We keep our TVs tuned to our favorite news station and get in comfy sweat pants for the duration. We resolve to run our errands another day, eat whatever is left in the fridge and forgo the plans we had that would take us away from the protection of home.
And what about church? Well, of course, it goes by the waisteside too.
The empty seats to my right and left, and all down the rows of the church stood as a stark picture of how easily we can put God on the back burner. We hit a storm, a trial or anything unpleasant and we forget God. When we hit a bump and we immediately reach for the steering wheel of our life. We reasons that we must take control, that circumstances are such that we have to do something! We want to make things happen, change our circumstances, try to secure our own safety and future.
But is that really the way God wants us to approach the challenges of this life? Are we supposed to feel the compulsion to step in and take over?
It is easy to talk the talk when it is sunny out and the roads are dry. Those are the days it is pleasant to take a drive to church in the morning and maybe even chat with a few friends outside after the service. Getting up and out is easy when the birds sing a welcoming tune and the breeze is refreshing. When you arrive at church your hair looks the same way it did when you left the house, as opposed to a drowned rat like it might have this morning, for instance. Unlike during the blizzard, you don't have to leave the house twenty minutes early to make it to the service on time. When the weather is good the going to church is easy. But once that tide turns and the sky turns black, the roads look tretcherous and the temperature plunges, we find reeasons and excuses to stay home.
We can choose to overcome the storm outside and get to the church on time, or we can give into the little voice that says, "It's okay, just skip it."
When trials come we have the same choice. In the midst of our challenges we can abandon obedience, prayer and reliance on God, rationalizing our actions because times are tough. Or, we can turn TO God - finding comfort in his house during the storms of our life.
There are only two ways to handle the tropical storms that are bound to beat against us while we journey through this life. We can go to God or we can go at it on our own. Going to God might look like a challenge. It may even look physically impossible or daughnting to say the least, but if we take that first step of faith God will see us through. After all, he created the winds, rains and waves of the storm - what makes you think he can't get you through them?
This morning I was a soggy mess by the time I made it through the front doors of the church. How fitting, don't you think? God doesn't require us to show up with everything in place, looking as if we just stepped out of the picture perfect family portrait. God simply requires that we come. That's it. In the storm and in the sun, just come to him. He takes us as we are - squeaky shoes, wet hair and all.