Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Honor Your Father and Mother

“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Deut 5:16)

When we read the words of this commandment, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a Sunday School lesson you heard as a child, or perhaps something quoted to by an exasperated parent or another adult at a time when you weren’t quite being as obedient as you should.

And without question, this is an important lesson for children to learn when they’re young. As anyone who has been around toddlers can tell you, no special lessons are required to teach us how to be headstrong, demand our own way, and pitch a fit if we don’t get it. But we do have to learn to be obedient and to put others ahead of ourselves.

The Apostle Paul quotes the “Honor your parents” commandment in Ephesians 6, and points out that this is the first commandment to include a promise: that it may go well with you and you’d have a long life. If you’ve ever heard a frustrated parent say, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out!” Well… that’s not what this verse means! :) What it does mean is that this commandment is so important (and perhaps, so likely to be neglected) that God saw fit to attach a promise to it.

Honoring parents is important, and not just for children. When Jesus affirmed this commandment in Matthew 15:4, he was speaking to adults. He was talking about adults who were looking for ways to get around obeying God's commandment… and do so in a way that would make them appear more spiritual to others! Even Jesus submitted to both his earthly parents (Lk 2:51) and His heavenly Father (Mat 26:39), demonstrating with His life that this command isn’t something to be taken lightly.

And this is a tough truth to face: the command to honor is not conditional. It’s given not based on the parent's merit, but on the simple fact of their position as parent. The child is commanded to honor the parent, whether the parent is honorable or not. But it’s also important to understand that “honor” doesn’t mean unconditional obedience. As an adult child, “honor” doesn’t mean letting a parent control or manipulate you. Honor is a heart issue that is more about you than it is about the one you’re honoring. Some people have found great freedom from past hurts by forgiving a parent, even later in life, and that is a great way to obey this commandment.

The Greek word for honor means "to revere, prize, and value." We can recognize our parents’ value without necessarily agreeing with them. You can disagree with their counsel and even choose to go a different direction. But to honor them means you take their counsel into consideration, giving it weighty consideration and not dismissing it and choosing another path out of spite because you don’t want to listen to them.

To honor someone also means to consider their interests, their needs and desires. When you honor someone, you put their needs before your own. And that brings up the current, relevant issue of caring for our aging parents. This will only become a bigger issue as our entire population ages. The huge baby boomer generation is getting older and decisions will have to be made as to how to care for them.

In generations past there was no question - they lived with one of their children once they were no longer able to live independently. Nowadays there are many options, including assisted living, senior apartments, and various levels of nursing homes. Whatever choice you make, honoring your parents must be the chief motivator.

I have seen this lived out in my own family. My maternal grandmother was a fiercely independent. Even when her health deteriorated, she was determined to live in her own home, which she did up until just a few months before her death one year ago this past week at age 94. However, due to her declining health, she needed a lot of help.

Her six children were spread out in 4 states and 2 countries, and we live about 12 hours away. I can't count the number of times my mother made that long drive to western Oklahoma to spend a week or more with her, relieving the one sister that lived in the same town. Mom was constantly on the phone with her, checking in about doctors' visits, prescription updates, asking about her trips to the store, church, etc. It was as if mom erased the distance by the constant communication - and when grandma needed her, mom was there, whether she had to talk someone into going with her to share the driving duties, fly and rent a car or just drive alone.

I watched my mother live out the command to honor your parents. She modeled it every day in big and little ways, not letting distance be an excuse to not obey the command with a promise.

I also watched another dear lady honor her mother up close and personal. Several years ago when Ursula's mother was diagnosed with the cruel disease known as Alzheimer's, Ursula made the decision to care for her mother in her last days as her mother had cared for her in her first days. She took her into her home and lovingly attended to her through the slow fade from a vibrant woman to a shell of the person she used to be. And throughout the entire process, Ursula treated her mother with respect and dignity. She never complained about the extra work. And she never made excuses for her mom. She included her in daily activities until she could no longer leave the house. And then she put her own life on hold to provide daily care until her mother passed from this life into glory. Ursula's three young daughters witnessed their mother honor her mother in a way they will never forget.

These two women, my mother and Ursula, are vivid examples of what it means to honor your parents in different circumstances. And I believe God is going to honor both of them with a long and blessed life! I want to learn from their example, and model obedience to God's words for my own children the way they did for theirs.

How about you? Do you know of a story of someone honoring their father and mother in significant ways? Or even in insignificant ways? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Please share your story so that we all may learn. And celebrate obedience to God’s first command with a promise!

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!