Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Flood Relief - Part 2

This past Saturday, our CARE Team took its first trip to the Baton Rouge area to help with flood cleanup.

For the 13 of us who went, it was a very powerful experience. We shared a little about it Sunday morning, but honestly, our stories and the few images we captured can’t even begin to do it justice.

Driving into the disaster zone, you begin to see small indications that something was wrong: standing water along the roads, high water/mud lines in the trees and bushes.
But when you get into the neighborhoods, it’s absolutely overwhelming. I shared a video of our drive down one of the residential streets. Furniture, flooring, toys, electronics… all destroyed by the flood water, all piled at the curb waiting to be hauled away. The piles were so high that it was difficult to see the houses behind them.

And the piles seemed to be endless.

Every turn, every street, every residence.

At first, it was shocking to see. But after a while, you start to get numb to it. Another driveway, another mountain of trash. But each pile of “trash” represented a lifetime of things worked for, memories, comforts, everything that makes a house a home.

When just one family loses everything they had in a disaster, it’s heartbreaking. We take notice. We feel for them. I can’t even count the number of times over the years that we’ve come together to help a family recover from a fire or a tree through their roof or some other unfortunate event. But when virtually everyone in an entire community loses virtually everythingit’s overwhelming. And this scene is playing out in countless communities in South Louisiana. It’s almost too much to process.

South Louisiana needs a LOT of help. More than any single church or organization could provide.

The flooding in South Louisiana is not one single disaster. More than 60,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. That’s 60,000+ disasters, because each family, each individual is dealing with their own significant and very personal losses. This past Saturday, our team had the opportunity to split up and assist 5 different families. Each of those families had stories that would break your heart.

When you look at the big picture, helping 5 families out of 60,000+ seems insignificant. But for those 5 families, our presence meant the world to them! We made a difference.

We’re going back again this Saturday, and we already have a wonderful team in place! If you’d like to join us, let me know on Facebook and I’ll share the details with you.

I realize that not everyone can make the trip. Christian Challenge would like to send a group down every week for as long as we possibly can… but there will even be some weekends where I won’t be able to go. And while it’s wonderful if you can go, there are many other ways to help. And every bit of help is valuable!

In 1 Samuel 30, David and his army were facing a crisis. He set off with 600 soldiers to rescue women and children who had been captured by the enemy. But it was a grueling mission, and 200 of the soldiers couldn’t make the whole trip. They stayed back and guarded the equipment. When David and the victorious soldiers returned, he gave instructions that everyone - even those who stayed behind - was to have a share of the reward.

I’ve already heard stories of those who volunteered to babysit (or dogsit!) so that someone else could make the trip. (If you’re a part of Christian Challenge and want to offer to be someone’s sitter so they can go, please let us know in our Facebook group!) Still others have provided supplies for us to bring to those who need them, and tools for us to use as we serve in the cleanup, and refreshments that have been shared not just with our team, but with others who are serving or dealing with the cleanup themselves. As Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12, the body of Christ is made up of many members, and functions best when each one does its part!

Here’s a list of the items that have been specifically requested for this week:

  • Cleaning products
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • Towels
  • Fans
  • First aid stuff
  • Grab & go snacks
  • *Large Industrial or Heavy Duty trash bags*

In addition, I can bring gift cards to give directly to those in need (whose needs have been verified by the churches we’re assisting). You can also donate money towards the purchase of supplies or gift cards.

If you’d like to donate something that isn’t on this list, please check with other groups who may be better equipped to receive those kinds of items at this time (see the list from last week’s blog), or hang on to it for now. As many others have been saying, everything will be needed… but not everything is needed now!

In the midst of such a tremendous natural disaster, it has truly touched me to see how so many people have been coming together to help. These last two weeks, I’ve been talking about what we as the Christian Challenge family have been doing, but I know that many other churches and businesses are also involved in flood relief projects. Let me know what you’re doing in the comments so we can encourage one another!

What we did this past week reminded me of the story, inspired by the 1969 essay by Loren Eiseley, called The Star Thrower. While walking along a beach after a storm, a man sees a boy throwing starfish back into the ocean. When asked what he’s doing, the boy responds that if the starfish aren’t returned to the ocean, they will die. The man comments that there are thousands of starfish and only one boy so how can he make a difference? The little boy picks up a starfish and says, “I can make a difference for this one.” Truly each of us by making a difference for one starfish can make a difference for our world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How Can We Help?

There are some weeks when I’m not really sure what topic I should cover in this blog. This isn’t one of them. Over the weekend, nearly unprecedented amounts of rain fell over South Louisiana, leading to what’s now being called a “1000 year” flooding event. Entire communities are under water. In Ascension Parish (in Louisiana, we call our counties parishes), nearly one-third of all homes have been flooded. Over 40,000 homes have experienced significant flooding. And there’s still more rain coming.

Of course, you might not know this if you’re watching National news channels. While the floods have been mentioned, the coverage hasn’t been proportional to the size of the disaster. It seems like mainstream media is more interested in “extreme vetting” than “extreme flooding.” And that’s sad.

This is a natural disaster of historic proportions. Several members of our church have relatives who have been impacted by the flooding. And even though we only received a fraction of the rainfall that our neighbors to the south experienced, the rain totals from this storm alone exceed our normal average precipitation for the entire month of August! As a result, we’ve had some weather related issues of our own - mostly minor flooding and sewer backups - but nothing like what’s going on just to our south.

In the midst of this tragedy, there are also stories of neighbors helping neighbors, private citizens - who have dubbed themselves the Cajun Navy - have rescuing others from flooded out areas with own boats and high-water vehicles. There are stories of people who were displaced and went to a Walmart to buy necessities… and the person in line behind them paid for it. Sayes Office Supplies has already sent one truck full of donations to help those who have been flooded out of their homes. I’m grateful for every story of compassion and generosity - those stories warm the heart and keep hope alive.

I know that the situation in South Louisiana weighs very heavily on our hearts and minds. Many of us here in Central Louisiana have friends and relatives further south who have literally lost everything. The one question I’m getting over and over is, “How can we help?”

So what can we do?

  1. Pray. Pray for those who have been affected. Pray for first responders who are involved in rescue operations. (We have many first responders from our community currently assisting agencies in the flooded areas.)
  2. Reach out. If you live here in Cenla and you don’t personally know someone who has been directly affected by the flooding, you certainly know someone whose family has been impacted. There are thousands of displaced individuals who have made their way to central and northern Louisiana to stay with extended family. Be a support to those who are hosting flood victims.
  3. Listen. Listen to what organizations and families on the front lines are saying that they need. We all want to get involved, do something, send something… but different forms of assistance will be needed at different times. Be a helpful helper! :) (If an organization is asking for underwear and socks, don’t bring them a couch!)
  4. Prepare/Share. Set aside some money if you’re interested in sending financial or other forms of material support. Gift cards (for large retailers like Walmart or generic Credit Card gift cards) can help families get exactly what they need when they need it. (If you bring them to the church, we will make sure these go directly to families we have a connection to that have been affected.) You may also want to talk to your employer about the possibility of taking time off to serve in the cleanup efforts.
  5. Join. Be a part of what other organizations and businesses are doing to provide relief to flood victims. It will take the combined efforts of many, many groups to help the affected areas of South Louisiana get back on their feet.
  6. Give grace. Those who have lost everything have a difficult road ahead of them. They’ll be hurting and frustrated. They’ll be navigating a labyrinth of insurance and government paperwork and red tape. Unfortunately, they might even find themselves the targets of scammers. So be gracious, especially when folks are flustered and upset. Avoid throwing around Christianese platitudes. That doesn’t help anyone.
  7. Remember. Don’t let your compassion be short-lived. This is a disaster on a nearly unprecedented scale, and the recovery will take many months, not weeks. When disaster strikes, we want to do something immediate. That desire to respond is a good thing. But there are difficult months ahead. There are holidays ahead. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good.” (Gal 6:9a, NLT)

Here’s what we at Christian Challenge will be doing as a church:

I’ve asked our members to let me know about relatives who have flood-related needs. After the water recedes and these families are better able to assess their needs, we’d like to organize some CARE Team trips to assist them with cleanup.

There’s an inner-city church in Baton Rouge that CCI supports as part of its regular missions giving. We’ve reached out to them to see how the church itself or its members have been impacted, and/or how they might be reaching out to their community. This could provide another avenue for us to plug in and provide relief.

At this time, please DO NOT bring large items that you wish to donate to the church. We’re simply not set up to handle it, and in reality, the victims aren’t set up to receive it yet. As the cleanup begins and we identify specific needs, we’ll get the word out make arrangements to meet those needs. We’ll also continue to post when we hear of other opportunities to serve or send donations down with other groups or businesses. Here are few reputable organizations that you can connect with right now:

We’re going to keep you posted on our ongoing efforts via my Facebook page, the Weekend Update, and our church bulletin. I’m grateful that Christian Challenge is a church that loves God and loves others, and is willing to do things in a tangible way. I love serving Jesus with you!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Walking (Together) by the Spirit

The last two Sunday mornings in July, I shared a two-part message on Walking by the Spirit (Part 1 and Part 2). Our primary scripture was Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” I shared that the Greek word for “walk” in that passage is in the present imperative form. It literally means “keep on walking.” It’s a continuous ongoing action, and it’s also a command!

This means that there is no point at which we can say, “OK, I’ve gone far enough.” We will never “arrive” and be done with it. There will always be another step that we have yet to take.

But there’s another aspect to Walking by the Spirit that I only had a chance to touch on briefly during the last message, and that’s the idea that we cannot truly walk by the Spirit in isolation.

In a culture that emphasizes individuality and self-sufficiency, that can be a little difficult to swallow. It is true that many aspects of our relationship with God are (and should be) very personal. Truly we ought to be making time every day for one-on-one prayer and Bible reading. But that was never supposed to be the finish line - that’s only the starting point!

In the Bible, we read of many times when Jesus withdrew and spent time by Himself in prayer (Matt 4:1-2, Luke 6:12-13, Luke 5:16, Matt 26:36), but that was always part of His preparation to minister to others. Jesus sought out solitude - not isolation. And there is a difference! At a recent Wednesday morning ministers’ meeting, one of the pastors shared this quote from Robert Morris: “Solitude and Isolation are not the same. Solitude is when you get alone with God. Isolation is when you get alone with yourself. And you're not that great to get along with.” :)

We should have times of solitude with God in our lives - but we shouldn’t be isolated from other believers. We need each other!

Here are a few of the dangers we face when we live isolated:

1 - WE WON’T HAVE HELP WHEN WE NEED IT. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecc 4 9-10 NASB)

If we’re walking together with others, if/when one of us gets into a bind we won’t have to look far for help. It’s already there. In fact, walking together can keep us from falling into traps. Back in June, I wrote about how internet scammers prey on those who are isolated. We can avoid a lot of hurt in our lives - online and in real life - by staying connected to others.

Walking together also means being available to help others. There has to be a balance. If you’re always the one asking for help but never there when others need you, you’re going to drive others away. Are you blaming God, or others, when you find yourself alone in a difficult place… when it was really your choice to remain isolated?

2 - WE CAN BECOME SELF-CENTERED … AND NOT EVEN REALIZE IT. An isolated life is a selfish life. The Bible talks about our relationship and responsibility to “one another” over 100 times in the New Testament alone. It’s difficult to fulfill those “one another” verses by ourselves! This isn’t an extrovert vs introvert thing. You don’t have to be the “life of the party” to have meaningful relationships with other believers. And it is possible to be extremely outgoing, surrounded by people, and still be isolated.

Self-centeredness in an adult isn’t necessarily going to look like it does in a toddler. Sure, plenty of adults get pouty and upset when they don’t get their way. But most of us dress it up a little better than that! Our self-centeredness might manifest as a belief that others are always talking about us and thinking badly about us. But the truth is, people aren’t thinking about us as much as we think they’re thinking about us! (Hat tip to my mom for inspiring that!) And to be honest, obsessing over someone else’s opinion of you is a symptom of self-centeredness and insecurity. (Trust me, I understand this - and battle it. Which is why I’m reading books like “When Pleasing You is Killing Me” and “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” - both highly recommended!)

Bitterness is another indicator of self-centeredness. It’s natural for us to feel a sting when we’re wronged by someone else. There are times when we’re going to angry. It isn’t pleasant, but stuff happens in all of our lives. The question is, can we let it go… or do we insist on isolating ourselves, holding on to our offenses and keeping a mental scorecard? When something wonderful happens for someone else, do we resent it because we wished it would happen for us? Or can we genuinely rejoice with them? Great self-examination questions.

3 - WE CAN START MAKING GOD INTO OUR IMAGE. Isolation can lead us to the point where we can’t imagine God ever disagreeing with us because we are our only feedback. We can even convince ourselves that a bad decision is God’s will. When we’re isolated, it’s easy to cherry pick and take verses out of context. (Rom 8:28 / Jer 29:11) Those verses are promises that God will be on our side when we’re in line with His will -- not promises that He will take our side in a conflict when we’re in the wrong.

We need people in our lives who will tell us when we’re wrong, and we need the humility and openness to hear what they’re saying instead of dismissing what we don’t want to hear. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Prov 27:6 NASB). We can often be our own worst enemy - not because we’re out to get ourselves, but because we’re so bent on defending ourselves that we miss out on the positive lessons we were supposed to learn from our negative experiences.

God made all of us in His image. When we isolate, we have a dangerously narrow view of God.

So how do we turn things around?
We need to start by being honest with ourselves. Then we need to find other people, friends who will be honest with us… and be willing to receive their feedback.

This isn’t about church attendance. I do believe that it is important for us to gather together as the Body of Christ on a regular basis (Heb 10:25), but church attendance doesn’t guarantee relationships. That’s going to take some work! And that’s where I want to challenge you this week.

Maybe you’re already in some healthy relationships with other believers you can count on - and who know they can count on you. That’s wonderful! But I would challenge you to expand your circle of friends. Make an effort to include someone new. Reach out to them as a peer, not a project, and know that it’s OK if it doesn’t turn into a “best friends” relationship. Maybe you’re the gifted extrovert who will “accidentally” help others who aren’t as outgoing to connect with each other. Or maybe you’re the thoughtful introvert who will help others think more deeply about matters they would have otherwise brushed over. We need each other!

If you’re lonely and longing for healthy relationships, ask yourself what you want that person to be for you. If you’re looking for a savior… you’re not going to find that in another human being. Only Jesus can meet that need. But on a very practical level, what do you think a friend should be? Once you’ve answered that, look for opportunities to BE that person to someone else. That will be a great invitation to others to walk together with you by the Spirit! And when you walk by the Spirit, you’ll never walk alone. :)