Pay attention, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit." You don't really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. Here's what you ought to say: "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." - James 4:13-15
Pay attention, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit." You don't really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. Here's what you ought to say: "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
- James 4:13-15
This last week has certainly been a wild one in the Pasadena area. Debbie and I have often commented that one of the reasons we like living in Southern California is because we seemingly get a different natural disaster (or human disaster like a riot) about once a year which forces all of our friends and family to get in contact with us to make sure we are okay. We have found that it's a good way to maintain long distance relationships.
The winds last Wednesday night into Thursday morning were simply awesome. Not in a skater sense of "that's awesome dude," but in the sense of truly forming a sense of overwhelming awe. Driving around and witnessing the destruction the winds caused around Monrovia, Sierra Madre, and Pasadena has been awe-inducing. Trees that have been standing longer than any of the currently living humans have been around fell to the winds with their deep and complex root systems now exposed for all to see.
This certainly wasn't the way those of us at PazNaz hoped to make the national news, but the destruction of the roof caused by what some speculate to have been 100 mph wind gusts or better was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. Long, heavy sheets of metal had been twisted into every conceivable shape and were scattered in no discernible pattern.
About 1:30am Thursday morning the three of us (and the dogs) with bedrooms at the back of the house were awakened by the flying debris hitting the windows and so we huddled together in the front of the house praying that the trees would stay up and the roof would stay put. In that moment I realized something critically important. At a very significant level we are all powerless in the face of greater powers. I had no way to stop the wind. No way to keep the trees up. No way to make the shingles on the roof stay in place. If the winds wanted to continue until everything clinging to land had been blown into the Pacific I suppose that it could. And there would be nothing available in any of our humanness to stop its force.
Call me Exodus obsessed, but I couldn't help but think about Pharaoh Thursday morning while I laid fearful in the dark. I couldn't help but think about Pharaoh with all of his power and wealth, Pharaoh with all of his mythology of universal control, huddling behind a wall in his palace powerless to stop another of the plagues sent by Yahweh through Moses. Apparently one of my staff members at church thought of Pharaoh also because as we were trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces at the church Thursday morning, one of them said, "It seemed so Apocalyptic last night that I felt like someone should say, 'Okay, stop the wind, cue the locusts.'"
Some of the apocalyptic talk came about because I have been preaching through Mark 13 during this Advent season. We are two weeks into Advent and I will admit that it has been a challenge. These days Advent has really become an extended celebration of Christmas filled with frankly sappy songs, stories, and movies about family, mistletoe, and gentle drifts of snow on the roof. I like all of those Hallmark-ish kind of things, but it has been really hard to figure out how to fit biblical texts about the desecrating sacrilege in the Temple, the moon turning to darkness, and the stars falling from the heavens around tinsel, baby Jesus, and cute little children dressed like shepherds and angels.
The advent of the Santa Ana winds may have saved my preaching this year. The season of Advent really is about being reminded that things that seem permanent - Rome, Caesar Augustus, Herod, taxes, Temples, over-populated cities, Black Fridays, Cyber-Mondays, BCS standings, stock market downturns, presidential politics, and continuing wars on terror - are not only temporal but are quietly being subverted by a kingdom that actually is eternal. The Temple becomes rubble, the moon turns to darkness, and the stars fall because another empire that believes itself to be eternal (an empire that drinks the same kool-aid as Pharaoh) is being replaced by a new heavens and a new earth.
So in a strange way I'm thankful for the Advent Santa Ana winds that blew away an awful lot of what seemed permanent in the San Gabriel Valley. It is an important reminder that we are very, very temporal and that we live most of our days living out Pharaoh's same myth of control. James is right. Our language should more often reflect what ought to be a deeper conviction. We more frequently ought to say: "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
I found myself on Thursday morning deeply thankful for God's mercy in not allowing the winds to keep blowing. But I also found myself more grateful for what I do have, grateful for the kingdom work I have been gifted with today, and grateful that I am ultimately free from the burdensome myth that I am ultimately the one that controls all the outcomes of my existence.
It took ten plagues to try and teach Pharaoh that he was not in control. His hard heart never learned the lesson and so his mythology of over-blown self-importance came to an ugly and unfortunate end at the Red Sea. I'm sure by this time next week I too will be right back into my self-reliant mythology of control, but I am thankful for this moment of grace to try and break out of my Pharaoh-complex. But I'm sure it will be back soon. So, cue the locusts.