It was some forty years ago, and I was flying home from somewhere, the last leg of the trip being from Memphis to Columbus MS where I pastored.
It was a dark and stormy night.
And the planes assigned to our Golden Triangle Airport by Southern Airways were the ancient Martin 404s. Prop jets, maybe they are called.
We bounced all over the sky that night. Lightning flashed around us, rain pelted our little plane, and thunder crashed.
You’ve heard of white-knucklers; this was the mother of them all.
The next day in the supermarket, a woman whom I did not know introduced herself. “My husband was on that awful flight from Memphis last night.”
Oh yes. That was unforgettable, I said.
“But he told me every time he began to panic, he looked up and saw the pastor a few rows ahead of him, and you seemed to be fine. And that gave him confidence.”
I told her I was glad, but I was frightened out of my wits.
Why is it, we wonder, that some people think if a preacher or a nun or priest is on board, God is somehow going to take extra care of an endangered flight? As though He loved them more than the others. “God is no respect of persons,” Scripture says somewhere.
No one gets by with anything with the Heavenly Father just because they are His favorite children.
They’re all His favorites.
September of 1965. Hurricane Betsy was bearing down on Louisiana and Mississippi. Less than five months earlier, Margaret and I had moved with our two-year-old son into an apartment in back of the church situated on Alligator Bayou, 25 miles west of New Orleans in the tiny Cajun community of Paradis. The eye of Betsy passed over our village that night. During the lull, I walked outside to find peace and calm, and could see the stars in the sky. Ten minutes later, the storm was back, this time blowing in the opposite direction.
It was a frightening night. And since we were from north Alabama, this was our first experience with hurricanes.
Our friends Ron and Jane Adema from Birmingham were visiting with us. Ron was an up-and-coming preacher like me, and we were trying to encourage one another. So, when we scheduled a revival that September, we invited Ron to preach.
Our church structure was two buildings from some army camp in and around New Orleans. Paradis Baptist Church was birthed in May of 1945, just as some bases were winding down and the buildings became available. The fledgling church purchased (or was given) a base chapel for the sanctuary and a four-plex for the educational building. One of the “plexes” became a pastor’s home; the rest were turned into church nursery and classrooms.
That night, just after dark and before we lost power, our phone rang. Someone from down the street was calling. “This is scary,” she said. “But it’s so comforting to look across the street and see lights on in the pastorium.”
Readers who know me will nod your heads at what this reveals about your friend Joe-, but I said, “Well, we’re not doing anything religious. We’re playing rook.”
I wish I could be counted on to say the more righteous thing in such moments. But, that was how I was (and remain to a certain extent to this day, a half century later). “Lord, help me to grow up into a mature man,” I pray.
Or not. I’m not real sure if I want to be overly religious. (Martin Luther’s favorite verse–Ecclesiaste 7:16–fits here. “Do not be overly righteous; Why should you destroy yourself?”)
The community took a lot of damage that night. Because of the huge live oak tree in the front yard, our buildings were spared. Since the greatest damage inflicted by hurricanes is always on the eastern side of their path, New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish paid the heaviest price with wind damage and flooding.
The preacher was frightened. The preacher prayed. And God did what He wanted to do, in line with Psalms 115:3. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
Israel sometimes thought they had a get-out-of-jail-free card from God, and could do as they pleased since “the ark is in Jerusalem” and “His name is on us.” They learned the hard way God had higher standards for His people and held them to stricter requirements, and they would pay dearly for missing that. I Peter 4:17 says, “The time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God.”
No one gets a pass.
We are all sinners. We are all in need of a daily outpouring of His grace. And we should all be showing grace and mercy to one another.
What we should not do is expect because someone is holy that the Father is duty-bound to show them special treatment.
Every pastor I know constantly reminds the congregation to “Pray for me.”
Indeed. If anything, they need more prayer than anyone else.