Somewhere I read where a cancer researcher predicted that when the cure for that dreaded disease is found, it will not be in one “Eureka!” moment, but in small increments.
The rebuilding of New Orleans and its re-creation into whatever plan the Father has for it is coming about in the same way: in small victories.
A mission in the Ninth Ward–New Christian Life Baptist–is rebuilt by Florida Baptists and reopens its doors on Saturday. It’s one of the few houses of worship to be rebuilt and reopened in that devastated neighborhood, thanks to the leadership of Pastor Will Mack and the dedicated labors of Florida Baptists.
Sunday, the First Baptist Church of Luling burned the note on a loan for the construction of their educational building. Pastor Todd Hallman challenged his people to build on the faith of the past generations to meet today’s changing culture.
Down in Lower St. Bernard, the Delacroix-Hope Baptist Church worshiped for the first time Sunday in their “new” building, previously the Creedmore Presbyterian Church. The plant was given to them by the Presbytery of South Louisiana. Pastor Boogie Melerine and his little congregation have done extensive renovations and will be having a grand opening soon.
A church welcomes a new pastor. Someone prays with his neighbor as he gives his heart to Christ. A displaced resident decides to move back to the city. Someone completes the renovation of his flooded house and moves back into the neighborhood. The city paves a street. Someone gets serious about prayer. An offering is dropped into the offering plate at church. A business owner decides to take a chance and reopen his store.
Little by little, one step at the time.
No one knows at what point the tipping will occur.
You recognize the expression, I’m sure. Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller from a couple of years back, “The Tipping Point,” forever established the truth in our people that some small act may make all the difference and turn everything around. The problem is that we never know at the moment when an action will be the deciding influence. So, we keep on keeping on.
If we could say one thing to God’s people of all denominations scattered throughout this region, it would be, “Little things can make a big difference; stay focused; do your job.”
The Old Testament prophet Zechariah made numerous predictions about the coming life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ hundreds of years in advance. Anticipating the ho-hum response of his readers as well as the overly-sophisticated (read: too-impressed-with-itself) culture of today in which people feel they have been everywhere and seen it all, the prophet asked, “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10)
We can appreciate the question.
We have no way of knowing how much Zechariah understood about his Messianic predictions, but he was on target in anticipating that people would not be particularly impressed with Jesus. Think of it: the living God decides to do something about earth’s rebellious ways and hellish destiny, so what do we get? A baby in a stable in Bethlehem, a young Jewish couple who on dedicating their baby in the Temple had to make the poor offering of a couple of birds, then 30 years of silence while the Baby grew up, followed by three years of teaching and preaching interspersed by the occasional healing, and finally death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem.
Impressive, huh? Hardly. And yet this is how God in Heaven chose to remedy earth’s ills.
It was indeed “a day of small things,” but only a fool or the ignorant would despise such a day. Millions of people all over this small planet bear an eternal gratitude to that One of whom Zechariah spoke. They confess that He was the very embodiment of the Living God, that He lived and spoke as no one before or since had ever done, that His touch brought healing, His word brought life, and his presence opened up hearts and revealed secrets. His death on that cross atoned for their sins and provided the key to undoing all the wrong which Adam and Eve’s rebellion had introduced into the world. And one thing more. One very big thing.
He rose from the grave on the third day. No one had ever done that before and no one has done it since. The importance of that single act is still coming into focus for us today.
Had Jesus stayed in the tomb, no one would be worshiping Him and calling Him their Savior. In fact, only a few archaeologists and ancient historians would know about Him.
His resurrection confirmed all the bodacious* claims He made, such as “I am the resurrection and the life” and “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”
Let us not leave this subject without revisiting some of the grandest claims to deity ever uttered–and this wayward planet has heard quite a few over the centuries–by this itinerant Preacher from Galilee. Let none of us buy into the postmodern junk that alleges Jesus was a good man and certainly a fine role model but not “a God” and most assuredly not anyone’s Savior. No “good man” speaks the way Jesus did unless He can back up the words.
You already know his statement that “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” That’s John 14:6, and so amazing a claim that if you’ve heard of Jesus at all, you’ve heard of that.
But that’s not all He said.
“No one knows who I am except the Father.” He said that, and we will grant Him this because in a sense, all humans are pretty enigmatic. But then Jesus turned that sentence around and handed us its opposite and mankind has been choking on that claim ever since. “And no one knows the Father except the Son and they to whom I reveal Him.”
Yep. He said that. It’s Luke 10:22.
Just before laying that on us, Jesus prayed, “Father, I praise Thee that you hid these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them to babes. You did this just because you wanted to.”
Babes. Small things.
Turns out the day of small things is still with us. And small people and small acts.
“If you have faith as a mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
“Whosoever…gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
Sunday morning at First Baptist-Luling, Pastor Todd Hallman burned the note from their old debt on the educational building, read from Ephesians 4 about unity and dedication, then he told the congregation of a couple of hundred people, “This church was started on this property in September of 1954 by a small group of people who were characterized by unity, passion, and commitment. For its first two decades this church was program-driven and it was a good thing and it prospered. But people change and what they want in a church changes.”
He said, “We’ve not scratched the surface on our accomplishments for Christ in this city. Katrina has changed everything quickly. People are upset easily, impatient, and volatile. How can we reach them for Christ? I’m calling us to be radically committed to Jesus Christ, to do His work in new ways, ways we’ve never tried before.”
“I’m calling you to pray until you have callouses on your knees, to renew your commitment to Christ to walk in faith, and to reaffirm your passion for this community.”
I sat there thinking of the members who sat near me, wondering if the next time the church is called on to take a big step of faith–to build a building, invest in a new ministry, bring on a new staffer–if they have learned the lesson of God’s faithfulness in the past. It’s so easy to brag on our parents who made the tough decisions and built the great institutions, then turn a blind eye and deaf ear and cold heart to the opportunities God staring our generation in the face.
Todd Hallman admitted he does not know what the next steps for their church will be, and that he has the same trepidation as anyone else about stepping out and being radical or innovative. And yet, the Lord knows what He is about and He is trustworthy.
It was just a sermon. A little thing. Monday’s newspaper will not mention it and the newscasts will have ignored it. God alone knows the difference it can make, however, when received by people of faith.
A Louisiana pastor facing an uncertain future in his church, a teenager in Idaho struggling with issues of faith, or a New Orleans director of missions staring at a city filled with spiritual needs, all pray the same prayer: “Lord, what would you have me to do?”
No prayer has ever been found better than this one prayed by Paul outside Damascus. (Acts 22:10)
Pray that and get ready. You have just lit a fuse.
Someday, when we all look back to what God has done in our lives, our church, and this troubled city, we may end up concluding that what made the difference was a prayer. Just a little prayer. But one that provided the tipping point.
Thank you for praying that prayer, for yourself and for us.