Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Remember those you're supposed to remember this weekend

It's Memorial Day Weekend, extra time off for almost everyone. It's sad that many think of it as just that and nothing more, a three-day weekend. Picnics and parties, the first weekend at the lake for many, cookouts and the kickoff for summer, a great big good time. But all those celebrations too often obfuscate the real meaning of Memorial Day.

. Monday wasn't set aside to celebrate the beginning of summer, but to honor the many men and women who died to give you the freedom to celebrate the beginning of summer. It wasn't set aside as a day to gorge yourself on hamburgers, hot dogs and beer, but to reflect and remember the sacrifice of those who fell in service to this great nation. It wasn't set aside for you to test the water temperature at your favorite lake, but to pay tribute to those men and women who died so that you can be free to celebrate, to eat, and play howsoever you choose.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ~ John 15:13

Most people who never served don't realize, that fighting men seldom fight for themselves. At the front, with that rifle in his hands, it's not him he's fighting for. When he kills, it's not his own life that he's trying so desperately to preserve. And when he dies, he dies hoping that he was able to save the lives of those who stood beside him. Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. These are the men and women who should be foremost on your minds this weekend. Those men and women who did just that.

So take time and thank God for the men and women who fought and died so that you can have this weekend.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bib #13 at Toad Suck 10K Today...

I kind of fell off the wagon this week as far as miles go. But at least God blessed me to have a few banked as of the end of April. Working in Vilonia since Monday took it's toll and I just couldn't pull myself out of bed early enough to run on Thursday and Friday. But I've seen amazing things this week from students, coworkers, friends, and complete strangers. So many people poured into this little town to help. Physical labor, heavy equipment, and more supplies than an army could use, all came here to help those struck by the storms. Today, I felt a little guilty as I laced up my running shoes and headed to run the Toad Suck 10K instead of returning to help clean up.

When I picked up my packet and pulled out my bib, for an instant I wondered if I'd done the wrong thing. #13 was my bib number for the race. 13...what most consider an unlucky number. And that's the first thought that came to mind when I saw it. It seemed a sign that my guilt was not misplaced and maybe I was supposed to be back in Vilonia, helping with the clean up.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; ~ James 1:13

But then, in a matter of seconds, those thoughts were replaced with others and I began to feel a peace about being there. What changed? The verse James 1:13 came to mind, a verse that I have often called upon since we lost Amanda, a verse that tells me God is not capable of evil and He is not to blame for the tornado that roared through our community. We often blame God when evil pays us a visit, but it is in fact Satan who terrorizes us in an effort to turn us from Christ and back to the world.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

Something else I'd heard before then came to mind...what Satan means for evil, God can use for good. I saw a post shared on Facebook the other day that said this better than I can. Here is her post.

I've been asked and I've asked myself why does this keep happening to our community... Why such a Christian-based community that has to endure such pain and emotional trials... Then I see the interviews of survivors and majority if not all have references God and his mercy... I realized we aren't being punished or any kind of abomination... God knows that we are his people... People that will witness to the nation about our Faith and how we know he is in control... That we will Praise God in the Storm... He has used our communities to witness to the world... We don't get on camera and doubt God's Plan... We thank him for his protection and blessings... So proud to be from an area that is faith strong and blessed in so many ways! We will praise him through the storm... We don't doubt God's Will. Proud to be an Eagle... Bleed and cry red.

Another post from a kid, a senior in high school, who lost everything...

People Want To See Angels, Take A Walk Through Vilonia And Look At The Volunteers Helping Throughout The Town. There's Your Angels!

There are times when our hardships seem too difficult to bear. Times when we wish things happened a different way. Times when we just can't understand.

But I'm proud of this little community, proud to be a part of it. A community where kids didn't see missed school days as an opportunity to goof off or wallow in self pity, but an opportunity to work and help their neighbors in need. I work in a school where teachers didn't consider staying home because school was cancelled. I was so proud of my colleagues who showed up in work clothes and climbed into piles of rubble, trudged through briars, woods, and fields to help clean up and recover anything that might be salvageable. And I was proud of the victims who refused to be defeated by Satan's attempt to shake their faith, who boasted of God's love and proclaimed Him sovereign to anyone and everyone who asked them how they're getting through this.

I thank God for the opportunity to work with such great people in such a wonderful community. I often tell people they'll have to kill me or fire me to get rid of me. That's more true now than ever as we once again come together to help and to heal.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Praising God, Even in the Storm!

Exactly three years before the April 27th tornado struck Vilonia this year, I wrote this post describing the inspirational way our community was dealing with another destructive tornado only two days prior. "Faith, Love, and Hope at Work in Vilonia" I titled that post.

Here we are, three years and a few days later and I'm writing another post-tornado blog, again describing an amazing community already making significant progress toward recovery, only five days after another, even more destructive twister.

This time, we lost twice as many residents in the tempest. This time, those deaths hit a lot closer to home. A former student was taken that night. Both parents of another former student were lost to the tornado. Several teachers at our high school lost everything they owned, twenty seven students at the high school (not counting kids at the other schools) have nothing left, and many, many more suffered significant losses in the storm. To say it was terrible does not even describe the devastation visited on the town of Vilonia on April 27th. This system was far worse than the one three years ago.

Most would expect people here to be paralyzed from shock, unable to cope. After all, many of the victims lost everything for the second time in only three years! I even spoke to one couple who was hit by both tornadoes and had trees blown into their home five years ago by strong, straight-line winds. But this is Vilonia, and that's not what I've seen.

It's amazing how quickly and strongly this little town is bouncing back. Already, most debris is piled and smoke is rising from flames consuming the rubble to ready this town for rebuilding. Residents, relatives, and many with absolutely no connection to Vilonia except through what they saw on the news leaped to action as soon as the sun rose the next morning and got to work. Packing and storing what was salvageable, piling what was wasn't. Relief centers quickly filled to overflowing with supplies. I swear I think we have enough bottled water in this town to float Noah's Ark. Supplies came from within Vilonia and a thousand other places. It seems everyone jumped in to help.

The amount of help is inspiring. It will restore your faith in humanity when you see it. Here, I have to mention how proud I am of the students I teach and the teachers with whom I work. We haven't been in school all week, but I've seen my students and my colleagues every single day, out there working, piling debris, digging for salvageable possessions, moving furniture, and doing anything and everything they can to get this town back on its feet. One student who lost everything posted on Facebook earlier today, "People Want To See Angels, Take A Walk Through Vilonia And Look At The Volunteers Helping Throughout The Town. There's Your Angels!" So many people helping, from here and elsewhere, from all different walks of life, have joined together to help people in need, and it's an awesome sight to behold.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. ~ James 1:12

But going back to that post about angels, I think that exemplifies what impresses me the most through every aspect of this tragedy...the victims themselves. I've talked to several, worked with several, and know several. Every one of those I've worked with, every one I know, and even the ones I've seen interviewed on television have continued to praise God even after losing everything! That is amazing!

These people have lost every material thing, yet still they praise God. It made me think of the many I see so often, even myself sometimes, getting upset and frustrated and even angry about things that seem so petty in comparison to the devastation I've seen these past few days.

So yes, the volunteer effort has been impressive. I'm so grateful that so many from here and from other places have come together to pick up the pieces. But without a doubt, the people who impress me the most in this situation are the victims, the victims who lost everything but haven't lost perspective. The victims who continue to Praise Him in This Storm!

I'm proud to work in such a wonderful community, filled with so many wonderful people. Praying for everyone affected by the tornado, and praying that God will continue to be glorified through it all!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.