There was a sea-wall there in Galveston

To keep those waters down,

But the high tide from the ocean, Lord,

Brought water into that town.

Wasn’t it a mighty time? A mighty time?

A mighty time in the land that evenin’

when the storm winds took that town.

It will be 105 years ago this Thursday that 140 mph winds whipped into the thriving seaport of Galveston, Texas, and killed 6,000 to 10,000 people.

We don’t learn very fast.

The old song above has been haunting me this week. I had to swallow hard as I watched the man trying not to cry in front of the TV camera as he recounted holding onto his wife desperately, only to see her torn away from his grasp by the raging waters. As I recall, her last cry was, “I love you. Take care of the kids.” Dear God! Have we no more sense than to keep repeating our tragedies, building cities in flood plains?

I am not calling for more top-down control. We already have too much of that spilling out of Washington. Bureaucrats are already talking about where they will build the new New Orleans. I’m calling for a great expansion of grass-roots wisdom and responsibility on the part of local entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens.

During World War II, you couldn’t get through a week without hearing somebody notice some slight waste of a rationed item and call out the standard rebuke, “Hey mister! Don’t you know there’s a war going on?” Everybody felt responsible.

Cut to the Mardi Gras city. It’s 60 years later, and the traditional order for times of disaster, “Looters will be shot on sight,” has been shelved and forgotten. Armed looters roam the streets in gangs, brazenly hauling off valuables and shooting at rescue helicopters. We’ve always had a few looters, especially of food, but something has been lost: common responsibility.

Yes, our hearts are warmed at the reports of valiant souls risking life and limb to rescue and care for the stranded. Surely the best of the human spirit was on display in these fearful days. We can all be proud.

But until the 1960s, there was a common restraint and decency that pervaded even the lowest strata of society. At that point, after Kennedy’s death and the resultant collapse of hope, cynicism crept in, the Catholic and Protestant film review boards closed up shop, and family normalcy was trashed by association with Ozzie and Harriet. Now, here we are, doing the unthinkable: shutting down a major city.

Premier pollster George Barna recently announced that only 4 percent of Americans have a basic Christian worldview (as defined by a simple set of eight truths that in times past almost any decent chap would have assented to). Among Protestants, it’s 7 percent. Even among senior pastors, it’s only 51 percent!

Those numbers are too tiny to maintain the Christian flavor of our culture. The hierarchical U.S. church has stagnated and is shrinking in influence and numbers. That’s why God is now rebooting the church. Within 10 to 20 years, institutional churchianity will shrink, relatively, to 30 percent of the whole U.S. church. The other 70 percent – likely including you – will be a swirling blend of house churches plus other activities: Internet networks, music festival fellowships, and parachurch ministries establishing their own non-traditional churches with non-professional leadership by gifted, servant-hearted types. You won’t be able to recognize the scene, but you’ll love it.

There are already several thousand house churches in America. Just maybe, the next explosion of their growth will be in the New Orleans area, which has lost 340 church buildings. I feel it would be unconscionable to ask devastated, newly-impoverished residents to cough up the money to replace all those structures. So we in the house-church movement are now mobilizing to reach out to New Orleans and help them create thousands of grass-roots, interactive churches meeting in homes and raising up a new breed of responsible Christians who can lay the spiritual foundation of a whole new type of city, a “shining city on a hill” … or at least above sea level.

Hey, mister: If you’re willing to go to Louisiana and support yourself while building up a network of simple, relational churches, write me. There’s a war going on: good vs. evil. And as Victor Laszlo said to Rick Blaine at the airport in “Casablanca,” “Welcome back to the fight. This time, I know our side will win.”

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