This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quick Snapshots

It's late, so here are a few quick snapshots from the day.

There was a long line of cars to get into affected areas this morning.

We helped send out over 30 teams today, who engaged in a variety of jobs, such as cleaning debris and looking for valuables.

Bethany's farmhouse served as a staging location for the various teams that went into the community.

Command central was a well-oiled machine.

Volunteers came from a variety of churches and locations. On the right of the frame, from left to right, are pastors Joe Bella and Jason Alligood.

And here are Ritch and Jerry. I wasn't here when the teams were being sent out, but I'm told this place was really hoping. Some 200 volunteers went out today into the community.

Teams received safety orientation before leaving.

Mike and Matt helping families clean up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Past 60 Hours

It is now Tuesday evening, a little after 11:00 PM central time. It has been about 60 hours since the tornado struck our town. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to turn on a computer and write down my thoughts. Let me share a few of them with you and  give some updates on what is happening in our church and community.

Ministry Changed and Unchanged

In one sense, this crisis has altered our ministry dramatically—perhaps for years to come. 

When the tornado hit, we had just passed out bulletins describing our ministries for the upcoming week. Today, none of those events are on the schedule. There is only one event on the calendar: helping our neighbors.

When the tornado hit, we were wondering how to build a ministry facility. Today, we're wondering how to rebuild a community. 

When the tornado hit, we were in church at Five Points. Today, we aren't sure where we will be worshiping on Sunday. We hope it is at Five Points, but we presume nothing. 

In another very real sense, this crisis has altered nothing. Our fundamental purpose as a church remains what it has been since before we even held our first worship service: The purpose of our church is to glorify God as we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and prepare His people to worship Him forever.

Our purpose is beautifully simple: proclaim and prepare. Whether we are having AWANA on a Wednesday night or helping someone find a missing necklace in the rubble that was their home, we exist to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and prepare His people to worship Him forever.

This means that we do not merely want to see people's physical lives restored (though we do!). We want those who do not yet worship God to understand the good news of Jesus Christ and place their faith in Him alone for their salvation. We want those who have trusted in Christ to continue the difficult road of discipleship even through suffering.

The Sunday before the tornado, I made this statement as we talked about suffering in the book of Judges: "Suffering is a tool a sovereign God uses to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. If you have not yet been fully conformed to His image, know that suffering in this life still awaits you."

Suffering, then, is not always a sign of God's displeasure. It is part of His loving plan to sanctify us as we trust in Him. "Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9).

Bethany Community Church and Washington Community: we are being called to be sanctified.

With this framework in mind, that our purpose is to proclaim and prepare, let me give you an update. 

The Past 60 Hours

Here's my perspective of the last 60 hours. I apologize if it's too personal or too long. Some of this I'm writing so I don't forget. 

SUNDAY: At around 10:45 AM, I made my way to the stage of the Five Points Community Center where our church meets. I waited in the wings as Mike and the worship team sang "The Gospel Was Promised." I prayed that the Lord would prepare my hear and the hearts of the church for His Word. 

But something seemed off. Looking up, I noticed that Mike and the team were still singing but I couldn't hear them. A voice came from the speakers that I thought was coming from the Five Points staff (maybe some wires got crossed) but then I realized it was Dan Ebbert directing people to exit to their left (my left or the audience left?).

We exited the auditorium and throughout Five Points our Sunday School teachers were directing the kids and adults to places of safety. I was annoyed. We're going to do all this work and then come right back in. "Just so you know, I'm not cutting anything out of my sermon," I joked to someone as we walked to safety.

Even as we waited for the all clear, I had no idea how terrible the devastation was. I didn't hear the loud "boom" others did. 

Even when we heard that the house of some of our members was destroyed and their son was missing for about an hour, I had no idea how terrible the devastation was. 

Even when Five Points was set up as an emergency temporary shelter and shocked victims began to enter the building, I had no idea how terrible the devastation was.

Supplies and people came into the community center throughout the rest of the day. People in the church stuck around and helped provide food and care for those who were hurting.

Several pastors stopped by to help care for people. My phone was constantly buzzing with offers of help. Friends from our sister churches and close pastoral friends desperately wanted to help or at least know how we were doing.

But I still didn't understand how profound the damage was. I knew people were having a hard time getting around Washington, but that was to be expected during an emergency, right?

And then I went out with Pastor Dave Jane from Connect Church to take workers some food. And we saw this:

It's hard to grasp the enormity of the scene if you don't know what this is supposed to look like. Here's a hint: there should be way more homes in that picture.

I run several times a week along Kingsbury. I like hitting this part of the route when it's windy because the homes act as a windbreaker. This is what I saw Sunday along Kingsbury hours after the tornado hit:

Even when I was on streets where the homes weren't totally damaged, I couldn't grasp where I was. Nothing looked the same.

 After returning to Five Points, we did what we could and people began to leave for more permanent shelters. Whitney and the younger kids gave someone a ride to East Peoria. At around 7:00 PM, Hannah, Austin, and I tried to get home by car and couldn't. We left the car with a friend and walked until a police car gave us a lift to an area where Whitney could pick us up.

We returned to a house without power. The milk was still cold, so we ate some cereal by candlelight. The whole family slept in our bedroom that night, encircling our beds with sleeping bags. I lost count of how many hugs and kisses were given.

MONDAY: The next day, Monday, the staff had planned to meet at the farmhouse but some weren't allowed to leave their subdivisions. A few of us made it to Crossroads Church, which is functioning as an emergency shelter. We ran into several families from church and tried to see what sort of needs we could help meet.

One of the primary problems was our inability to get into the neighborhoods. Even residents were only allowed in intermittently. The best bet seemed to be travelling by bike. So I hopped on my bike and began visiting families who had been impacted by the storm.

One of my first stops was at the Dentino house down the street. Several families had gathered together and were helping each other out. Like any good pastor, I arrived right as food was being served.

Another stop was at the Allaman's house. It's a privilege to know the Allamans and I couldn't be more complimentary of the leadership Chad and the other teachers and administrators at Central School have shown. Both he and Laura are responding to a tremendous loss with gracious and thankful hearts.

Pastor Kent was hard at work on Sally's house. I tried to help, but I put a ladder where he didn't want it and I may have unknowingly knocked over some nails while trying to "help".

I'm not sure how many other homes I visited, but everywhere I went, the community was coming together to meet needs. Because others weren't allowed in to Washington, our church had unique opportunities to help those we love.

We ended the night where I had begun my afternoon: at the Dentino's. The Pacini's picked up some sandwiches and we ate dinner together. Even though we could have scrounged around for food at our house, there was something special about being with our church family.

TUESDAY: Today is when our church really got organized. Ben, Phil, Diane, and Seth ran a command center. They put together 15-20(?) teams of 5-7 people and sent them out into the neighborhoods.

Sunrise Roofing helped us put a tarp on the Tomlinson's house.

 I saw groups from other churches helping out. Here's a group at the Learned house. Dan and Carol and their family have amazing ministers to others, exemplifying 2 Corinthians 1:4, in which Paul praises the God "who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Many of the houses we worked at weren't associated with our church. This is a house we stopped at and just asked the homeowners if we could help clear some debris for them. There were several connections they had to Bethany families.

Team 6 helped an older couple find some of their belongings in the rubble. After they finished here, they helped move some belongings out of an apartment building.

This team helped a family who have no friends or family in the area. They are from another country and were more excited than any other family I encountered today to receive help. They felt so very alone and were thankful that someone stopped to ask how they could help.

The Becks are doing well and grateful for God's protection over their family.

 As are the Smith's!

There were lots more pictures and many families and teams working I didn't get to see today. Great job everyone who participated in helping today. There's lots more to be done, not just this week but in the coming weeks, months, and years. This is a marathon and may God give us the grace to endure.

Our ministry field has changed dramatically overnight. Our purpose remains the same: proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and preparing His people to worship Him forever.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Questions for Christians Who Oppose Obamacare

Disclaimer: As always, each post represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinions of other bloggers on God Centered Christian. -DB.

I have a few questions for Evangelical Christians who are opposed to Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act.(ACA). These are questions I have posed to myself and, even if the answers aren’t immediately obvious, may help us sharpen our understanding of God’s will for us and bring unity among Christians who disagree about how we should view the role government.

On what grounds would you say that you primarily object to ACA? Do you believe it fundamentally violates Biblical principles? Or do you oppose it based upon wisdom principles? Or some combination of the two?

Since I would count myself among those who wish Obamacare would go away, I’ll take a stab at this, realizing that there may be some significant holes in my thinking.

First, I’m against the concept of ACA more for wisdom principles than for absolute Biblical principles (I think).

Here are some questions that have caused me to reach that conclusion:

Is the government assisting individuals who are impoverished with their health care costs inherently unbiblical? My conclusion is no.

Is the government providing regulation to the health care industry inherently unbiblical? My conclusion is no.

Is the government mandating that individuals have some sort of medical insurance to protect themselves, their family, and the rest of society that would bear the cost of caring for them if they became sick inherently unbiblical? My conclusion is no.

This does not mean that (1) I believe the government is wise to do these things nor that (2) these things might not become evil. Indeed, the generic, disinterested benevolence offered by the government seems to very often become both ineffective and evil (see an earlier blog post here).

As an example of this second point, consider the contrast provided between Obamacare and the funding method used by Samaritan Ministries. Those who members of Samaritan Ministries health sharing program have an incentive to keep their costs low. They are careful not to abuse the medical system and they tend to use it the way it was meant to be used. This is an example of how a morally neutral thing like healthcare can be designed to encourage immoral or unethical behavior. For an article describing these contrasting approaches, click here.

Second, I’m against some of the specific parts of ACA because I believe they do violate Biblical principles.

I believe that some parts of the ACA are morally repugnant and force believers to violate their conscience. For example, forcing employers to pay for plans that provide the so-called “morning after” pill or other abortifacients is morally wrong.

Finally, there are some things that I’m against that I’m unsure as to whether they are wisdom principles or clear Biblical principles.

For instance, there is a part of me that believes that there may be something inherently unbiblical with the subsidies that are being given to people to pay for their health care. I don’t know what the exact numbers are yet, but the numbers I’ve heard thrown around seem a little strange.

Should a family of four making around $50,000 a year really bear no responsibility for their own health care? Is that not defrauding my brother or sister who is subsidizing my care? Is it violating the “don’t work, don’t eat” injunction of Scripture?

Before we answer those questions too quickly, consider this. If you believe it is wrong for me to subsidize your health care, do you also believe it is wrong for me to subsidize you having children? In other words, if you have children, do you refuse to take a child tax refund for moral reasons? If you have a home, do you believe it is wrong for me to subsidize you and therefore do you refuse to take a tax credit for the interest you pay on your mortgage?

I’m open to being wrong in my thinking here, but at the moment you take a Social Security payment, or a mortgage deduction, or a child tax credit, you’ve acknowledged that you believe it is OK at some level for the government to take money from one citizen and give it to another who is not in dire need..

These are complicated issues and my thoughts here just reflect my convictions at this point. Thinking through them honestly may help us stay unified on clear Biblical truths. I’d be interested in your perspective, but if you leave comments on the blog or my Facebook page, let’s remember to play nice!