Conditions Permitting

By Eric Miller

It was the week before my two-year anniversary as a minister and we were finally leaving for a much-needed vacation at the beach in Cape May, New Jersey. As my wife, Tammy, 3-year-old daughter, Emma, and I drove down the Atlantic City Expressway a road sign caught my eye. It was just your average, run-of-the-mill speed limit sign indicating the current maximum speed was 65. However, beneath that large, bold number were these words: “Conditions Permitting.”

I thought about those two words as I drove the next 30 miles. God seemed to want me to glean a message from them.

Just who decides when conditions permit you to go 65?

Would you and I, driving two separate vehicles, in the same weather, agree that conditions permitted us to go 65 mph?

More important, would traffic officers of the fine state of New Jersey (no sarcasm intended)—if they observed us going 65 on that road—agree that conditions permitted us to drive that fast?

Vacation Ended

In just 30 hours, “conditions permitting” took on new weight.

It was 6 pm the next day. After some time on the beach, at the pool, and after dinner, what will go down in the lore of the Miller household as “The Call” occurred.

My wife’s cell phone rang. It was a woman in our congregation named Michelle who often watched our house and dog when we were away. She called to inform us a band of thunderstorms stalled across Pennsylvania was currently liquifying the mountain in front of our home and relocating it in our basement. Worse yet, she was taking our dog and leaving because the local news said the authorities would be evacuating our neighborhood the next morning at 8. It appeared Fishing Creek (or, as we refer to it, the boundary line at the end of our back yard) would experience its worst flooding ever.

Our vacation was over. We hustled back to the hotel, packed our things, and were on the road at 8 pm. As I began to drive I affirmed my commitment to the principle that, short of lava flowing across the road, conditions were going to permit me to go the maximum speed allowed all of the way home.

Fortunately, there was no lava. We arrived home a little past midnight.

Members of the congregation had already emptied most of our downstairs, which was good because the water was rising much faster than anticipated. Water that was several feet from our home when we pulled in reached the back porch as we loaded the last pickup truck two hours later. Forty-five minutes after that, as I threw (literally) the last of our belongings up the steps, the water crossed the threshold of both the back and front doors.

As I waded out of the house at 3 am toward higher ground, I had no idea these conditions were about to permit me to see Bloomsburg Christian Church and the Christian church/church of Christ brotherhood at their finest in the tough days and weeks ahead.

The Right Conditions

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote the following, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24).

We live in a country where conditions permit us to do just about anything we want at any given moment, thanks to the sacrifices of many who have gone before us. It was just days before Independence Day, when we celebrate this freedom, that the devastation in Central Pennsylvania occurred. And although July 4th was observed somewhat solemnly by many in our area, it was impossible not to recognize both the independence we enjoy as a nation, and the interdependence we enjoy as churches. Our church, along with the brotherhood of Christian churches/churches of Christ, demonstrated the difference an Acts 2 community can make when used as “salt and light” by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Members of our local church family, functioning as one body made up of different parts, helped many in the community clean and gut their homes. They donated money to help those in need. They provided clothing, appliances, and other items to help people get back on their feet. They opened their homes to families—like mine—who had to temporarily leave their homes. One of our members, a trucker, even used his own tractor to move refrigerated trailers to locations where they were desperately needed.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army pulled out their disaster relief teams after a week, so our church and a local United Methodist church assumed responsibility for providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the hard-hit portion of our community. Over the next week, our members staffed the fire hall, serving approximately 1,900 meals and conducting a worship service. Our people provided compassion and comfort for those still desperately hurting. And, best of all, they discovered what it means to be the “hands” and “feet” of our Lord.

Within a day or two after the flooding, IDES (International Disaster Emergency Services) contacted me to see how they could help. Soon IDES provided $2,500 for food and $9,900 to replace ruined washers and dryers.

You don’t need to be a denomination for conditions to permit you to remember that you are brothers and sisters in Christ. The response of Mandeville (Louisiana) Christian Church demonstrated that. We had spent a week helping Mandeville with its outstanding hurricane relief work. Having heard of our plight, Joe Major, minister at Mandeville, called from the North American Christian Convention and promised their support. Several days later, a check for $5,000 arrived from Mandeville.

Conditions in America permit much. But not all of it is beneficial.

Conditions in America permit much. But not all of it is constructive.

Conditions in America always will permit the church to be “salt” and “light” and always to seek the good of others. Conditions permit us to be passionate about not only knowing what Jesus said, but also doing what he said—especially in the worst of circumstances.

This summer, Eric Miller observed his two-year anniversary in ministry. He is senior minister with Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania) Christian Church.

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