Title: Disaster Pastor 

Sermon Summary 

This message was preached at Coastal Oaks Baptist Church in Rockport TX when Pastor Larry traveled there to encourage their pastor, staff, and congregation in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. Ironically, Northshore Church had cancelled their services due to the predictions we would receive a direct hit from hurricane Nate. Thankfully, Nate weakened and moved a little to the east. This message flowed out of Pastor Larry's experience with Nothrshore Church during hurricane Katrina in which the church, his home, as well as staff and church members flooded or experienced wind damage. This message encourages the people to know that it is very normal and natural to ask questions and to even feel bewildered at times and that God doesn't get angry when we ask hard questions. In fact, it gives God a chance to speak to our hearts and to draw us closer to Him. Pastor Larry used several other examples of facing tragedies and how God was faithful to be with him and get him through each and every disaster life has thrown at him. 

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. What is one of the toughest questions you've ever asked God?

2. Have you ever wondered why a loving God would allow bad things to happen and why is there evil in this world? There are some questions we don't get the complete answer to in this life. God doesn't get made at us for asking the tough questions, rather, He uses them to speak to our hearts and to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. Read the following questions from Habakkuk and then his decision to trust God no matter what. Discuss how how God has used your questions to draw you closer to Him. 

Habakkuk’s Question

Habakkuk 1:1-4

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.                                             How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?                                                                          Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.           Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk’s Decision 

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.                           19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.

3. Rick Warren's book, Purpose Driven Life, has a chapter titled, "Transformed by Trouble." Just before hurricane Katrina our church had used that book as a guide during a sermon series. During the storm several of the books washed over into another part of the building. Upon settling back down to the floor, two of them were found open to chapter 25. I first thought someone had come in and opened the books to that chapter, however, little twigs, dirt and trash had settled down on top of them. The pages underneath were clean and white. It was obvious this happened during the flood event. I was amazed. Many people who came in the weeks afterwards to help would stop and take pictures of these two books. I realized that at some point the books might be scooped up and thrown into the trash so I carefully picked them up and they have been placed in shadow boxes. I presented one to the church in Lockport as a gift of encouragement that God is going to get them through their storm and use it to "transform" them in special ways! How has God used troubles in your life to transform and make you stronger?

2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Disaster Pastor

Full Sermon Notes

Let’s pray!

Father God, I humbly come before You today acknowledging my total dependance on You! Life's circumstances can be overwhelming at times and sometimes we just don't know what to do but reach out and let You take us by the hand like a little child would take his or her Father's hand. You are many things to us, but loving Heavenly Father is one of the most comforting! Those of us who are earthly fathers need You to teach us how to hold on to our faith no matter what life throws at us so our families will see in us what it means to have a Godly perspective on everything! I pray today's message will speak to Dads, Moms, Sons, Daughters, married, single, young and old alike! Please let Your Holy Spirit anoint the speaking and the hearing this day! We want to be a people who trust You and follow You no matter what we face in this life! Thank You for being there for us through all of life's circumstances. We love You and we trust You no matter what! In Jesus Name I pray and I believe, Amen!!

My executive pastor, Jay Victory, helped us run many of our disaster relief crews after Hurricane Katrina. Someone jokingly called him the disaster pastor. I could relate. When I was the associate pastor at First Baptist Pleasant Grove Alabama, an F5 tornado tore through our community. It went through my back yard. 33 people lost their lives. I spent that night searching for survivors.

I would spend the next year leading our church's response to the families who had been affected. Little did I know that God was preparing me for things to come. In 2001 I moved to Slidell, LA to start a church. Slidell is on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, New Orleans is on the south shore. We had our first Bible study that July in our living room with 17 folks. It wasn't long before we had a full praise band with drums, bass, keyboard, lead guitar, acoustic, and and two vocalist. Needless to say, things were tight. We moved to a local golf club and met on Wednesday nights. We continued to grow and then in February of 2002 we found an old gymnastics building and launched Sunday services.

On our launch Sunday we had around 167 folks come. It was an exciting time. 
It wasn't long before we were in two services and the building we were in had almost no parking and one bathroom. It looked like we would have to move, yet again. That's when we found an old pottery world building. We negotiated a lease purchase to build out 16,000 square feet. Palm Sunday would be in 5 weeks so we said, why not? God worked a miracle and with our own people and volunteers from all over the state, we actually had our first service in that building on Palm Sunday 2004. Talking about exciting!! Fast forward about a year and 1/2, and on Sunday August 21, 2005 we had 394 people in two services. I was humbled and excited at the same time.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Katrina Video

I had evacuated with my family to McComb, MS. and stayed with my parents. Of course we were glued to the tv and the reports. On Thursday I drove back into Slidell. What I found was not good. The church and my home received 5 1/2 feet of water. There was not a soul in my whole subdivision. Cars were scattered in random places where the water had left them. I remember walking into the church. Didn't need a key, the doors had been blown open and twisted by the force of the water. I walked back to my office. What a mess. Looked like someone had ransacked the place! Books scattered everywhere. Wet and muddy. Sound equipments, computers, everything, a big mess. I walked outside and looked back at the building. Sadness, disappointment, uncertainty, fear, and tears. Four years of really hard work. It seemed all blown away by the storm. Why Lord? I just don't understand! Just two Sundays ago, we had our largest turnout ever. Now, what are we going to do? Why did this have to happen? Why Lord, and what am I to do? This is so sad. I'm so sad.

Like so many others after the storm, I was just numb.

I went over to the one place that had gas for sale, a walmart gas station. The walmart was closed. Electricity was out everywhere, but they were pumping gas. The line was a circle around the whole walmart parking lot. As I stood there waiting, helicopters were flying over and landing at the Northshore Hospital. They were bringing people out of New Orleans. I knew what I had to do.

After I got gas, I went straight to the hospital. I told them who I was and asked if there was anything I could do. They said they were hoping a pastor would show up. They took me to the command center and I was asked to go door to door and offer to say a prayer with each person. It was one of the most touching nights of my life.

As I drove the twenty miles north to the old abandoned church I was going to call home for the next three years, I realized that this area was going to need ministry now more than ever and a verse of Scripture became so applicable to my life...

Esther 4:11-16 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

In other words, Esther accepted Mordicai’s words that she was called by God for this very time to save the Jewish people from annihilation. She then said if I perish, I perish. In other words, sink or swim, live or die, I’m trusting God with my life! What a powerful M.O! What a powerful faith! What trust in God! No matter what comes, I’m trusting God. So I knew God had called me to Slidell for such a time as this and I needed to trust He had a plan, a power, a peace, and provision for whatever would come my way. My resolve was immediately put to the test!

The people that owned the building we were lease purchasing decided to void the contract, which they could legally do, and they pocketed the insurance money. So we were officially a homeless church! No building. Over the next four to five years we met in all kinds of places. Other churches on Sunday nights, a gymnasium that was neither heated nor cooled. Crazy Carl’s firework’s stand. Our decor was “no smoking” signs! And in July, while they were selling fireworks, we had to meet in a tent in the parking lot! During this time something hit me, I guess you could call it an ah ha moment! I had always said and preached that the church is not a building but the people with Christ as its leader. Then it hit me, if we can’t be a church without a building, what kind of church will we be with a building?

So we continued to worship wherever we could gather and do ministry during the week. While we were at Crazy Carls, a young lady with our military kept leaving her apartment on Sunday mornings and saw cars at the fireworks stand when it wasn’t fireworks season. She came to see what was up and met Jesus! She got transferred, but came back last year to be Baptized! She’s now a commander and what a witness!

We then found an aerobics room at one of the local athletic clubs. We set up every Saturday night, tore down every Sunday after noon. One Sunday we realized my flatbed 16 foot trailer we used to transport our chairs from a metal container to the front of the building had been stolen. When I met the police officer at the club so he could take my report I invited him to church. He said he and his wife had been talking about going to church. They came!!
Satan got a trailer, we got a family for Christ and Drummer to boot!

God was working in each of these things. However, all of the uncertainty and the hassle of having to rent an off site office space, I began to get discouraged and felt that maybe I should have fought harder to have gotten back into our building. I was talking with Dr. Jeff Nave! He asked me a question. “What would we have done right after the storm if we could have gotten back into our building?” I said:”we would have cleaned that place up, replaced the walls, fixed the concrete floors that had buckled and we would have a place to gather and worship instead of all this craziness!” He asked me another question.

“What did we do?” I said “what do you mean?” He repeated the question, “what did we do?” I said, “Well you know, we cut trees, gutted homes, took work orders, managed work crews from all over the country, and then helped people put sheetrock back on their walls!” What he said next changed my life and perspective!

“Do you think God wanted us working on our place of worship or meeting the needs of the hurting people who had been personally devastated?” It hit me like a ton of bricks. We were being the hands and feet of Christ, we were showing the love of Jesus in such a tangible way, we were being the church instead of going to church!

And let me tell you this, God provided the resources for us to be the church! He won’t call you to do something and not provide for you to be able to do it. God sent people and resources to us for the work He had called us to do! It was amazing and humbling all at the same time!

We could not have rebounded after Katrina like we did without the power and resources of Almighty God? No indeed! Christian people from all over this country and even from the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti, came to our aid and brought resources.

A Christian school in Port-au-Prince where I had done a benefit concert some years before found out what had happened and they raised $4,000.00 U.S. dollars and sent to us? It would take a Haitian almost 10 years to work for that much money at the average salary of 400.00 per year. I cried when we got that check along with drawings and notes from the children letting us know they were praying for us!

And churches large and small gave funds to help us rebuild and sent groups from all over this country from as far away as Idaho, Illinois, Texas, the Carolinas, Alabama. And some groups came back as many as 20 times or more. Birchman Baptist was one of those churches. So you see, when God has a vision and gives a vision, He'll make sure that vision is accomplished no matter what happens! 'Cause He's God! 

Our purpose, mission, and vision.

When God called me to plant the church I went to a church planter’s boot camp. It was there I had to develop a purpose statement. And during this time I was also working on my doctorate on leadership. Through all of this I discovered that a church needs three guiding statements. Purpose, Mission, Vision!

Purpose is why we do what we do!
Mission is what we do!
Vision is what we hope to accomplish through what we do!

To see the One who gave His life for us exalted, and the ones He gave His life for transformed!

Transforming worship, people and the world!

To raise up a healthy church that will impact the world with the life changing message of Jesus Christ!

Now here’s the question I had after Katina: Lord, if you gave us that noble purpose, that critical mission, and awesome vision, why would you allow all of this destruction, devastation, despair, and discouragement? 
Is it wrong to ask those kind of questions? I don’t think so. Maybe sometimes God allows some things so we will ask and seek!

Have you ever wondered why a loving God would allow bad things to happen? Why is there evil in this world? Is this a new question? No it’s not and here’s one of the reasons I love this book called the Bible so very much: The writers of this book did not hide their questions about God or their faith.

They were intellectually honest almost to a fault. In fact, sometimes I get a little uncomfortable when some of the writers of the Bible start what seems to be grilling God or interrogating Him about things. But God patiently listens to their complaints especially when He knows they genuinely have questions and don't understand something.

He listens because He understands they don't understand! And then He ask them to listen to Him as He explains things to them. Now He doesn't explain because He has to, but because wants to. He desires a personal relationship with each of us and honest dialog is a must in any good relationship!! And not only does He desire a personal relationship with us, He also desires to work in our lives!

He wants us to get a God perspective on things and believe me when I tell you this: Perspective Changes Everything! If you always only look at life and circumstances from a human perspective it's going to be difficult, not impossible, but very difficult to have hope in this world and impossible to have hope beyond this world. Why? Because human perspective is limited at best!

Human perspective is always subject to the powers, authorities, circumstances, situations, and realities of your earthly position and place! Human perspective can be no bigger than the human! And if a person choses not to see things from a Godly, eternal perspective, then all of their hope is logically tied up in whatever time and resources they have in this life, nothing more!

Let’s listen to the Psalmist. You might be able to relate to how he was feeling…

Psalm 77:1-9

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Seals You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion? ”Selah

The Psalmist cried out to God for help. You might say, "well of course, he's the Psalmist!" But, as most of you know, even people who never darken the doors of a church building, when they are faced with a tragedy, will say things like…"My God" "Dear God" "Jesus, why did this happen!" 
I have an atheist friend. One night we were sitting around a campfire talking.

It was getting late and I told him I was going to bed. I walked back up the hill towards the house. But then, just for a little fun I walked down another path in the woods and then eased my way towards the fire. As I got closer, my friend began to hear something. So he looked towards the woods. He shined his light, but didn't see anything. I came closer. The woods were very thick with underbrush. As I got closer, I would make a little noise with my hands in the leaves like an armadillo rooting. But each time he would shine his light I would stop. This went on for some time and I could see his face by the firelight and could see his concern. I then bolted out of the woods with a growl, and my atheist friend called upon the Lord for help!

The Psalmist had gut level questions, and he was brutally honest with God about his feelings. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to tell you about a time as a very young 24-25 years old firefighter, I had one of those talks with God!

Because I was in seminary and the youth pastor at my church when they needed a chaplain I was the one. Even though I had no training. One day a 16 year was killed in a car wreck. The Dad came to the scene and I was the one who told him his son had died. He fell to his knees and cried. I just held him and prayed. When I got home I scooped my little boy up into my arms and had a long conversation with God. I said, "this hurts to bad, I don’t know if I can do this!" God spoke to my heart with these words...“You've wanted to know My heart. Today you got a glimpse. You saw one tragedy, I see every one around the world every day!" I said, "Why don’t you just come back and put an end to this madness?" He said, “Remember the Ark, when I shut the door those who were in where in and those who were out were out. I’m not ready to close that door. There are still people who have yet to receive my love and forgiveness! I will give you the strength to help others and to be there for them when they have heartbreaking questions and wonder if I love them. You will be light and my love to them."

And I can tell you God has been so faithful to allow me to have the strength to be there for hurting people! To show them the hope that I’ve found in hurricanes and personal tragedies. Because I’ve experienced God in the midst of my tragedies I can assure people He will be there for them in their tragedies. There is hope! A blessed hope! Not a hope so someday, but a know so one day! Hope, not with a question mark, but an exclamation point!

I read something the other day and it said people don’t need to drop the Romans 8:28 bomb on people when they are going through tough times, but I don’t understand their thinking. Romans 8:28 has carried me so many times and I’ve seen it fulfilled over and over in my life.

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

That verse doesn’t say all things are good! Some things just aren’t good and you can’t make them good, but God can do the miracle only God can do, He can make good come out of the bad for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose! And listen…

1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Paul didn’t say give thanks for all things, but in all things give thanks! Why in all things? Because I’ve learned that in all things, God is there with me, His power, His presence, His Provision, and His peace carry me. I have a friend who wrote a southern gospel song and it talks about trials in life and then says…
“It’s another chance for God to be God!”

It's easy to tell others to trust God in their tragedies, but when it knocks on my door, what then? Do I really believe? I know the 166 firefighters who I serve as their chaplain have wondered that about me. Well they found out a year and a half ago.I got the call about a plane crash. I arrived on scene. It was my best friend! It just got real people. I was stunned, saddened, and broken, but not destroyed, not dismayed, not deterred from my faith. Why? God kept His promise to never leave me or forsake me!

Wayne loved Jesus with all his heart and we often talked about the glorious day when our work on earth was done and we were allowed to graduate to our eternal home. I preached Wayne’s funeral and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there. He was former military, a law enforcement officer for two parishes, he flew their helicopters. After the funeral many people said, “I want what Mr. Wayne had!” Many have come to know Jesus through Wayne's life and through his death on this earth. His wife is a leader in our women’s ministry and teaches a lady’s Bible study each week! Amazing testimony. How could she do this?

How do we have hope in the midst of the hard things in life?

When I’m training chaplains, I tell them: who you are as a chaplain must flow out of your personal walk with God. If it's not real in your daily life, then it's not something you can just turn on or off when you put on the chaplain's cape. If you don't know, the word chaplain originates with the Medieval Latin cappella, meaning cape, and refers to the cape of St. Marin of Tours.

"The well known St. Martin was said to have shared his cape with a beggar one cold and wet night." So being a chaplain is more about being willing to take the cape off and be real with a person who is hurting and in need, rather than trying to be some kind of super hero with all the answers. Many times I don’t have answers to the question why, and I tell people God’s not mad at them for asking!

I love them and serve them in small ways and many times will tell them, “I too have many questions, but the one thing I don’t have to question is God’s love for me because, He settled that question on an old rugged cross many years ago when He sent His One and Only Son Jesus, to die for us so that we could have hope not matter what this old world throws at us!

So is there any hope after a storm? Glad you asked! Northshore church was the church with out a building, but because we continued to be the church God gave us a building. He gave us half of a 6 million dollar building for around a million and a quarter. 44,000 square feet, one block off the interstate!

Just a year ago we built out 10,000 square feet of that for our children’s ministry center which now runs around two hundred children each Sunday. We now average around 700 on Sundays in our two services.
Our community is back stronger than ever and growing! It’s truly a God thing! There is life after a hurricane!

Phil 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

let’s pray!