Which Language Do You Speak Most?

For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

Matthew 12;34b (NASB)

Our choice of words makes a difference. Sure, we use words to influence others, but I’m more interested at the moment in what our words reveal about us and how we may be influenced by our own words. Consider these three phrases:

I want to… This is the language of self-centeredness. It’s all about me. My desires may be good, or they may be bad. It doesn’t matter, they’re mine. And I intend to satisfy them.

I need to… This is the language of obligation. Again, the source of that obligation may be good or it may be bad. It could be rooted in a healthy sense of responsibility, or in fear, or in selfish ambition, or in legalism.

I choose to… This is the language of love…or not.  Love, at it’s core, is an act of the will – a continuous set of decisions we make.  If God had not given us a free will, it would be impossible for us to love. When our choices are motivated by the best interest of others, we demonstrate love. When motivated by our self-interest, it’s selfishness. God equipped us to choose.

I can choose to do what I want to do, and if I have been transformed to desire the things that please God, fulfilling my desires is a good thing.

I can choose to do what I need to do, and if my needs are aligned with loving God and loving others, with faith that He will take care of me (Matthew 6), then meeting my obligations is a good thing.

Perhaps saying “I choose” more than “I want” or “I need” would make me more aware of the motivation behind my choices. The synergy between heart and mouth might be a powerful tool in the transformation from selfishness to love.

I don’t want to, but I choose to.  I don’t need to, but I choose to.  I choose acts of love, acts of worship.

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The Promises of God We Don’t Want

We love to claim God’s promises in scripture — at least some of them. Some we prefer not to think about.

Some promises — we might call them “consequences” — are promises that come as the result of our bad choices.

This topic comes to mind because of Friday’s Executive Order by the President stopping the refugee program for 120 days and severely crippling it thereafter.

Never mind that America is built on immigration; or that most economists say immigration is good for our economy; or that refugees have hadfence-978138_1280 little to do with domestic terrorism. It’s true that three Americans have been killed by refugee terrorists — they were from Cuba back in the 1970s, before the Refugee Act of 1980 created systematic entry procedures. Targeting refugees, which the State Department already describes as the “most highly scrutinized” and “most vigorously vetted” path to entering the US, is like fixing a dripping faucet while a broken pipe pours gallons of water into your kitchen.

But let’s assume everything in that last paragraph is wrong. If Christians are going to claim the Bible as the ultimate authority on how we are to live our lives, none of that is as important as the teachings of scripture.

What does the Bible teach about immigration and refugees in particular? A 2015 Lifeway Research survey determined that only 12% of Evangelical Christians consider scripture to be the primary influence on their view of immigration.

I can make a Biblical case for protecting our country and our families. But that isn’t a strong theme in scripture. It’s a stronger theme that God will defend those who are committed to His purposes. One of the strongest of those purposes is care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, homeless, and foreigners) and especially those who are victims of injustice — e.g. refugees.

In case this isn’t clear, refugees are those who have left their home country because of “a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” You’re not a refugee because you want to find a better place to make a living, or because there was an earthquake in your home country. You are a refugee because of a credible fear of injustice.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses that apply to refugees:

Deut 10:19 Love them
Deut 14:28-29 Use tithes to bless them
Deut 31:11-12 Assemble with them to listen to God’s Word
Deut 16:11 Celebrate God’s blessings with them
Deut 24:19-20 Take care of their physical needs
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due them
Eze 22:29-31 God’s wrath on those who wrong them
Zech 7:10-13 God won’t listen to those who oppress them
Mal 3:5 God’s swift judgment against those who turn them aside
Isa 58 promises God’s blessing when we stop seeking our own pleasure to bring them into our own homes and care for them.

So we get to choose — individually and as a nation — which promises of God we want to experience.

God is faithful to deliver on His promises.  Like it or not.

Hurricane Matthew Relief Trip Report

Our team of six Hope Force International (HFI) staff and reservists formed the initial response team to Hurricane Matthew. We met in Nashville and drove our equipment to Fayetteville, NC. The original plan was to head to Florida, but as Hurricane Matthew made its trip up the coast, it became apparent that we could do the most good in North Carolina. Additional reservists and volunteers joined us in the following days.
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Through a string of relationships (which is how most things get done!), we connected with city officials in Lumberton, NC. They were thrilled to have us involved, but we had to wait for the water to recede before we could get into the area to begin work. So we setup our initial base of operations in an empty house near Fayetteville (it was up for sale, owned by a friend of a friend…). 14670860_1187053201340489_7850694225780063080_nWe worked on eight homes in the Fayetteville area while waiting five days for the water level to go down in Lumberton.

Some of the homes in Fayetteville were owned by widows that we connected with through local churches. Fort Bragg is near Fayetteville, so we also had the privilege of helping the families of some military men stationed there.
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Lumberton is a city of about 21,000 people. It is an economically challenged area, and has been recognized as the “most dangerous city in NC”, “4th most dangerous city in the US”, home of the “worst NC drivers” (fatalities/capita), and the “6th worst place in NC to get a job”. Nevertheless, the city officials we engaged with were impressive, dedicated, hard working, caring people. They were excited to have HFI engaged as much for the emotional & spiritual care we brought as for the physical labor we provided. During the time I was there, HFI brought in three chaplains in response to the city’s requests for help.

Everyone we met in Lumberton defied the city’s negative reputation.

Woody’s a good example. When the levee was breached and water flooded into his neighborhood, sandWoody spent the night making trips into his neighborhood in a boat rescuing those who couldn’t get out. His own home was badly damaged and will require a lot of work to repair. Decades of remodels left multiple layers of drywall and paneling, and layers of flooring upon flooring – and the flood waters settled between each of those layers. It all needed to be removed so his home could dry out properly.

The hardest part of disaster relief deployments is having to leave knowing there’s still so much work to be done. It will be months or even years before some of these people recover from the physical and emotional trauma. It is our “terrible privilege” to be able to engage with a few and do what we wish we could do for all. But our belief and prayer is that some of those we meet will find the source of peace and joy in Christ that far surpasses the losses they’ve experienced.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support that made this effort possible. You can continue to support Hope Force International at http://www.hopeforce.org.

Responding to Hurricane Matthew

If this seems like déjà vu, it was only seven weeks ago that I posted something similar as I prepared to leave for Louisiana.  It seems that disasters don’t submit themselves to our scheduling preferences…

matthew_mapHope Force International has asked me to join their initial assessment team in preparation for sending response teams to the East Coast.  Our initial connection is with a partner near Orlando, but we may move up the coast from there depending on the need and connections.  As of this writing, the deadly storm is just moving away from Florida as it moves up the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas.  So it’s still too soon to know where the worst damage will be and how bad it is. But this storm has left hundreds dead in Haiti and other Caribbean islands and has killed at least four in Florida so far.  About one million Floridians are without power.

Tomorrow morning I’ll fly to Nashville where I’ll join Hope Force staff to haul our tool trailer to Florida. I’ll be on the ground there, doing whatever needs done until I fly home on October 20.

I welcome your partnership in this ministry.  Here are a few things you can be praying for:

  • That beyond the physical repairs, we would be effective at bringing the message of hope, encouragement, and love to the survivors of this devastation.  Our work is more about people than it is about property.
  • Hope Force will keep their response effort going as long as three things are true: 1) the need continues; 2) funding is available; and 3) manpower is available.  The increased rate of disasters has drained the availability of Hope Force’s reservists in recent months.
  • Wisdom and safety for all involved.

I was incredibly blessed by the outpouring of support for my Louisiana trip.  Not everyone can be boots on the ground, but those of us who can couldn’t do it without the support of others who have the heart to pray and give towards this effort. The excess funds beyond my personal expenses go to Hope Force to help with the relief efforts.  You can provide financial support for me and the relief work by check or online through my church at https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/donations. Select “3100 Hope Force Int’l Disaster Response – AW” in the “To” box.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  Please make your check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for HFI Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

Thank you for enabling me to represent you to those in need!

 

Kingdom Building – Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

It was arguably the worst house we’d been in all week – not that it lacked for competition! Over two weeks since the floodwaters had risen several feet up the walls in this home, closet floors were still stacked full of soggy clothing. Pots of grease and cooked food stood in pots on the stove. Piles of personal belongings awaited triage in several rooms.

We were getting used to the rats nests behind the drywall in these houses, but the ammonia smell (not from cleaning products) Rat debriswas overwhelming as we tore up the kitchen floor.

God knew what we needed to get us through that day…

Our devotional that morning centered on building God’s Kingdom. A kingdom is a territory under control of a king. God, for the purpose of providing a greater way to reveal His glory, has temporarily relinquished control of some “territory” to the enemy. That provides us with the opportunity to reclaim some of that territory for the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:21 tells us that, “the kingdom of God is within you.” The territory we’re reclaiming is in our hearts – the hearts of those we serve, those we serve with, and our own.

Truth and love are the weapons we use in this battle. 1 Peter 1:22 tells us, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

There’s an old story about a man walking down the sidewalk in a big city. He saw a construction project across the street. As he watched the work, his curiosity grew about what they were building. So he walked across the street to where a man with a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other was working. “What are you doing?” the man asked. Without looking up, the worker grumbled back, “I’m laying brick, what does it look like?” This was an accurate answer, but not what the man was looking for.

So he walked down the street until he found another bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The worker glanced up and answered, “I’m just earning a paycheck.” Another accurate, but not particularly useful answer.

He approached a third bricklayer and again asked, “What are you doing?” This worker looked the man in the eye and with great pride replied, “I’m building a cathedral!”

The point is that our perspective matters. Yes, it’s true that we’re tearing out drywall and wet insulation, pulling nails, hauling out debris, and other laborious tasks. We’re also listening to, encouraging, and helping people. And there’s a sense that we get a “paycheck” — the reward of feeling good about being a blessing to these flood survivors.

But the endurance to make it through a job like this one required us to draw strength from a higher motivation:  We’re using the truth and love of Jesus Christ to win back “territory” from the enemy for the Kingdom of God. That passion overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles!

Report From the Field: Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

I haven’t had the time — or more accurately, I haven’t had the energy — to post anything since coming to Louisiana. Full days of hot, sweaty, smelly, sometimes emotional, hard labor doesn’t leave much to run on by the end of the day. But you can get a sense of what my days have been like by checking out the Hope Force International Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HopeForce.  There are at least 15 pictures of me, plus links to a couple of video clips that I make cameo appearances in.

Removing wet fiberglass from under a floor
Removing wet fiberglass from under a floor

Every one of the 16 homes I’ve worked in during the past 11 days has at least one heart-wrenching story, ranging from great faith to great despair.

The injection of hope that comes from getting a major boost in the cleanup effort from a team of volunteers for a day or two can be transformational. I’m surprised by the number of people trying to do this huge job on their own or with little help.  And there’s a race against the clock: Before long the mold in many homes will get bad enough to require hazmat suits to complete the cleanup effort.  And for many people, it will be months or even a year or two before they can move back home.

Imagine not only losing your home, but also your cars, place of business, and even your church to floodwater contamination.  That’s not an unusual story. And if you wonder why most people don’t have flood insurance, it’s because they’re not in a flood plain — this hasn’t happened here before.

Working on people’s homes opens the door for our physical workers and our trained chaplains to spend time with the homeowners, helping them process through their circumstances. Love in action is a powerful source of healing, joy, hope, and even peace in the midst of life’s toughest challenges. And this kind of action requires love that comes from a source outside ourselves:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:16-18

 

Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

Tomorrow morning (8/20) I head to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Hope Force International has asked me to deploy to help with flood relief work. So far, about 40,000 houses have been damaged and 86,000 people have applied for federal disaster aid.  Floodwaters are still rising in some areas. Damage is considered comparable to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Each symbol represents a property in the Baton Rouge area seeking assistance. Source: crisiscleanup.org
Each symbol represents a property in the Baton Rouge area seeking assistance. Source: crisiscleanup.org

As is typical in these situations, exactly what I’ll be doing depends on what needs done while I’m there. Last year in South Carolina, that included handling the team’s administrative work, talking to homeowners to assess whether or not we could help them, tearing out wet drywall and insulation, and managing a warehouse for a day.  Some of you may recall the story of the young man who came to faith in Christ as a result of the several days we spent working on his mother’s house. He couldn’t understand why we would do this when there was nothing in it for us. Just one example of the love of Christ opening the door to the truth of Christ.

I welcome your partnership in this ministry.  Please be praying for me, the Hope Force staff and volunteers, and especially the people we engage with.

There are two ways you can participate financially. You can help cover my costs, like airfare and two weeks’ car rental (about $1600 total because of the last minute booking and scarcity of flights and cars in the area). You can do this by check or online through my church at https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/donations. Select “3100 Missions – Flood Relief AW” in the “To” box.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  Please make your check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Missions-Flood Relief. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

You can also support Hope Force International’s efforts directly.  See Hope Force’s website at http://hopeforce.org.

I plan to return home on September 4.  Thank you for doing your part to help those in need!