ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Two years ago Katrina and Rita blew through our state. When you drive through the most severely impacted areas, you can still see vestiges of destruction on the streets of our Gulf Coast cities. You can see the pain of the 2005 hurricane season etched in the faces of people victimized by the wind, broken levees and floods.
When I ask our Gulf region pastors, “How’s it going?” too often their words communicate a journey of personal loss and emotional fatigue. But their responses are invariably punctuated by expressions of hope. They see the hand of God moving. In the midst of the broken homes, broken finances and broken people, they see the touch of God.
Our God is working through volunteers who give of themselves and their resources to help us with the process of rebuilding homes and places for Baptists to worship. More importantly, the volunteers are helping restore hope.
Every time I am in the Gulf area, I hear church leaders express their appreciation for the assistance they have received from Louisiana Southern Baptists and our network of cooperating churches and ministries. Every state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention has had at least one team come and help. Many state conventions and countless churches have sent multiple teams. Some have adopted certain areas and not only sent construction/clean-up teams but are also staffing strategic evangelism initiatives. The SBC North American Mission Board continues Operation NOAH as the primary organization for coordinating, housing and feeding more than 15,700 volunteers.
One of the powerful things Louisiana Baptists learned first hand through the storms of 2005 is that God is greater than temporal things. Sadly, for many people it takes some kind of life trauma to help them understand that the Kingdom of God does not revolve around “self” or “stuff.” People become confused by the self-indulgent messages of our culture. Sometimes the church adds to the confusion by suggesting that the goals of the Kingdom of God are the same as the world’s goals. The goals of the kingdoms of this world center on prosperity, power and prestige. By contrast, the Kingdom of God centers on peace, purpose and permanence. It is important to understand the difference.
When Christians begin to confuse the two and suggest that the Kingdom of God is about personal power, prestige and prosperity, there is cause for great concern. There are popular Christian teachers today who assert that when you come to the Kingdom of God, you can expect to be on top and not on bottom, to be the head and not the tail. They teach that you receive a birthright which allows you to marshal the resources of God so that circumstances will turn to favor you. According to such heretical teachers you never have to live “in lack.”
There is nothing particularly sinister about prosperity and comfort, or in being an assertive person in charge of your world, or having influence with your network of relationships. It is just not what Jesus promises His subjects. Jesus told those contemplating joining His Kingdom that the Son of Man, unlike the foxes and birds, has nowhere to lay His head, that the world hates Him and will hate them, and that He came not to be served but to serve others.
Our God understands clearly the temporal needs of his people. Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31-32).
He values our work and wants us to be industrious, acquisitive and successful. “Make your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
However, temporal goals are secondary rather than primary. Prosperity, power and prestige are useful only as long as they serve true Kingdom goals. The Kingdom of God has greater aims. Jesus promises His subjects peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. He gives purpose to our existence as it is incorporated into the design of God for the ages. He secures our eternal abode in the glorious mansions of heaven. These are the things He most cares about.
That’s why when you find Him; you are ready to sell everything in order to have Him. That’s why God’s people can lose everything this world calls precious and faithfully believe that God can transform loss into something much more valuable. That’s why God’s people can work and live among the storm debris and continue to point people to the hope that is theirs through faith in Christ Jesus.
David E. Hankins is the executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.