Thursday, March 23, 2006

This Strange Wasteland

The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me…the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners…They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:1,4)

When one thinks of “ruins” and “devastated” places, often pictures of crumbled jumbles of stone and wood come to mind…destruction so profound there is nothing to do but sweep it away and begin again. All along the Gulf Coast one can see just that: houses reduced to splinters, row after row of empty slabs, mere skeletons of what was once a thriving area. Not so with New Orleans.

Ours is a different type of destruction, one which (I think) is very symbolic. In most areas of the city, homes stand just as they were before, perhaps a little dirtier, but otherwise standing - windows and doors and roofs in tact. The only things that hint at the reality are the waterlines and (in some cases) piles of trash at the curb. New Orleans is typically a dirty city, so dirt and debris are nothing new. Clear those away and a casual observer could drive the same route I take to work each morning and think things are pretty close to normal. But if that same casual observer were to stop a minute they would see a different picture.

Our wasteland is contained inside shell after shell of homes and schools and businesses. To pass down a street and see the dirt and the side-effects of cleaning isn’t really seeing the whole picture. The inside tells the real story. Open a door, peek in a window and you will see the truth…you will see how far from normal things really are…you will see ruins and devastation.

And isn’t that the way it is with us?

The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27)

…the innermost parts. That is where the true story is told, both in New Orleans and in man. If we do not look past the veneer we will never see the true reality…never grasp the magnitude of what needs to be done. For this City, the reality is that it was a wasteland long before the flood waters came and unless God intervenes, we will simply create shiny new shells to hide the truth. This is our nature, to cover up, hide, make things look like something they’re not. Just ask Adam and Eve.

For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

The Lord looks on the heart of man and the heart of the
matter. He looks on this strange wasteland and sees that what this City needs (what any City needs) more than rows of prettied up homes, regular trash collection and a strong plan for economic development is for each man and woman to be reconciled to God. There are indeed many decisions to make and obstacles to overcome and plans to prepare. Homes do need to be repaired and restored and people and businesses do need to repopulate the area…they do. But, these are not of first importance. They are, in fact, almost a given. People will rebuild and put a plan together and go about their business…that also is our nature. What is not our nature is surrendering all of that and ourselves to God – our nature is actually opposed to this. Without the move of His hand, the guidance of His wisdom and submission to His will, all we do or plan to do will be about purposeful and meaningful as “chasing after wind”(Ecclesiastes 1:14). And like chasing after wind, it may be momentarily pleasing but will end in disappointment.

O Lord, let us not chase after wind. Draw our hearts to you. For those who know you, lead us into joyful submission no matter what the cost. For those who are counted among your enemies, subdue and win them. Begin your restoration of our lives and the life of our City with the innermost parts so that what is on the outside may be a reflection of the truth – your truth - not a covering for it.

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