REFLECTIONS ON A “DISASTROUS” CONFERENCE!

June 28-29
LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Relief Conference
St. Louis, MO

(A VERY SHORT BUT EXCELLENT CONFERENCE! I was attending as a poor fellow now appointed as the Eastern District Disaster Relief Coordinator.)

Cell Phones take over.
I don’t fly so very much, but before I left this time I wanted to be prepared to speak with my seat-mate and give a witness to Christ – if I possibly could. I brought along some small prayer cards that I have been trying to hand out and looked forward to the opportunity. But as soon as I came down the isle after boarding the plane I realized that there was very little chance that I was going to be able to share much of anything with anyone. Almost everyone was seated, plugged into and staring at their cell phones and gadgets. I sat down next to this one fellow who was trying to close a business deal on his iPhone before he had to shut it off for takeoff. In the few minutes he had it off I introduced myself and tried to make a couple comments about how I loved Apple products, etc., but the only thing he said was his name when I shared my own and extended a hand shake. Anyway, I am praying for Chad! Finally on the way back I got to sit next to an iPhone-less elderly Arab man who obviously really needed the Gospel. Unfortunately he couldn’t understand a word of English! I did get to shake his hand and help him unbuckle his seatbelt. I will pray for him as well.

The God Perspective.
It is a very amazing thing to fly and see our great country from the sky. From the Great Lake Michigan, the heights of Chicago, the snakes of freeway, the expanse and jigsaw puzzle of great fields of every kind of crop. So many gifts. So rich a land. So blessed beyond all imagination. And to think of all the people! Millions upon millions! Rich, poor, happy, sad, young, old, faithful and godless. Every one of them is known inside and out. Every hair counted. Every one loved by our Lord. Every one is forgiven in the cross of Christ. But so many have not heard! So many have rejected His free gifts. So MANY will not benefit from that cross!

Sitting down with Lee Belmas.
Not having any idea of who anyone at the conference was I walked into the room of about 50 folks and just sat down next to the first welcoming sort of fellow I could see. I shook hands and introduced myself. He gaped just slightly, and with a big smile shared that his name was Lee Belmas and that he was a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Wausau Wisconsin. My father only worked at that church from 1981-85! He remembered me when I was in High School! Not only that, a bit later I overheard his conversation with a fellow across the table as they were sharing how they had both received kidney transplants some years ago. He was such an encouragement to me as I am preparing to donate my own spare kidney!

The Learning.
The highlight of the conference was a powerful presentation by Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran Church Charities, on funding the disaster relief work of your congregation. He spoke generally around the events surrounding the feeding of the five thousand. However, he touched on a number of issues to an absolutely transfixed audience. Some of the highlights:
We profess in the creed that God “created” the world. But we need to go a bit further and affirm that God OWNS the world, the universe and EVERYTHING in it. He just didn’t create it and just let it go. He is intimately involved in EVERYTHING that is and happens.
Then why do disasters happen? We ask “God, why do you allow this all to happen?” “Why didn’t you stop it?” Actually God does stop many disasters. We just don’t know when he does because the disasters never happen and life goes on normally. But when he does allow them, he does so that the Kingdom of God might be advanced.
This being the case we must understand that in EVERY disaster there will ALWAYS be an opportunity for the church to proclaim the Gospel and advance the Kingdom of God. ALWAYS. EVERY TIME. This is the PLAN and WILL of God! This means something for the church, right? It means that we should not be surprised at disasters, but be eager to be the body of Christ and His presence in the midst of them, bringing his mercy and Gospel to all those who are discovering that they are in need.
Best quote of the conference: “Don’t wait for disasters to occur. Create them!” Of course he isn’t advocating a literal reading of this statement. But this is the lesson: take the opportunity to sharpen the caring and mercy skills of the church in every smaller “disaster” that takes place. A BIBLE TRUTH: Every one of us has been created to love and care for each other! AGAIN: We were CREATED to LOVE AND CARE for each other! It is good for us!

TEACHING ON “COME LORD JESUS”: We pray a “Lutheran” prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest” at our dinner tables. But let us stop and think about this. Is it our table? And who is the guest? Actually it is Jesus who invites us to His table! We are the guests!
But let us, for moment, go along with this prayer full of false doctrine! If Jesus IS our guest, how do we treat that guest? Do we treat our guest with an empty plate? Or do we give our guest the first and best portion of the meal? And so then the next question is: “Who are we to consider to be Jesus?” Jesus answers this question: The one who is hungry. The one who is in need. So let us not be so reticent to give those who are in need the best of what we have, even better than what we ourselves serve ourselves!

LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT: The teaching of ten percent tithing is not biblical. What is biblical is that we own nothing. God owns it all. We cannot GIVE anything back to God. God has given us what we have so that we might be good stewards and bless others. And we do this that our heavenly Father would be glorified in every way.

CONFESSION: Although I attempt to practice a true and honest stewardship of all that the Lord allows me to manage, I confess that I have been very reticent to preach the full force of this teaching. It is really much easier to tell people to just give to God a percentage and then you can spend all the rest just the way you want! I realize that I need change this and be honest with you, my congregation.
There is not a money problem in the church and in the world. There is only a faith problem.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall.
Walking into my room at the very beautiful Crown Plaza Hotel (where our conference was) I glanced around the bathroom. There was, of course, the very large mirror that spanned the entire width of the wall above the sink. But on the wall to the left of the sink was another, smaller, rounded mirror that could be maneuvered away from the wall into any position you needed. But as I glanced over it I noticed that the image that it returned to me was not at all what I had ever seen before! What I saw instead of my full face was huge nose hair and the magnified stubble of my beard! It was quite the sight to see close up all my imperfections -which I have never before even bothered to look at (being the “man” that I am!) Wow! So THAT is who I really am! It is kind of like that with my spiritual life too. If I don’t look into that mirror called the scripture, it is easy to ignore my fallen and rebellious heart. But if we take the time and ask God for the courage, He will not only show us our sins, but magnify our beautiful Savior Jesus Christ – and through faith in His grace, bring us to heaven. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? Jesus – indeed! Not me! Praise be to God.

A happy (______ ________) family.
Monday evening during the dinner break I went for a walk instead of eating. There was quite a nice park nearby the hotel with a walking trail through some woods. It was an absolutely stunning evening and as I began my walk I was confronted with an astonishing sight: A young man and woman (presumably married), pushing a carriage stroller with a baby. And along side them was a most cheerful little girl holding a leash to a small little dog. They were walking together as a family in a beautifully kept park. And they were so obviously happy. And? So? So what was so astonishing? This family was African American! Now as you were reading along in that description of the family, let’s be honest, you were envisioning this family as being the perfect white suburban family. Here in Scranton we just do NOT see this scene. And, although I am conflicted about the value of that stereotype and it’s assumed bliss, it was still wonderful to see!

News from Haiti: “Building Homes and Hope in Haiti”.
Those who attended the convention were able to see the powerful impact that the mercy ministry in Haiti has had on the staff of the LCMS World Relief and Human Care. There is news on what the LCMS is going to be doing over the next three years in ministering to the needs of this devastated country. I truly hope that we can contribute here at Peace Lutheran and our area congregations together to the healing and rebuilding of Haiti. The LCMS has purchased three larger tracts of land in Haiti. The plan is to construct basically three whole “villages”. Haitians in need of a home fill out an application and those who are deemed most qualified are given a temporary housing unit and begin living on a tract of land. Then congregations raise the money and hopefully actually come to Haiti to build a permanent home for each family. Also in each of these “villages” a health clinic, school, orphanage, chapel, and business office are also built in order to serve the population. A congregation (or group of them) can choose to build a $4000 two room house with no plumbing, a $6000 one bedroom house, or a $8000 two bedroom house (each with kitchen, bathroom, and plumbing.) Let’s start planning NOW! You can see more at www.lcms.org/bhhh.

The Story behind the Story.
The theme of the conference was “The Story Behind the Story”, and the executive director of LCMS Disaster Relief Rev. Merrit spoke at length about the many stories behind the stories in Haiti after the earthquake January 12. Behind every person’s desperate need in the midst of disaster was a story of their lives and what brought them to this point. These stories bring value to whatever mercy we might be able to bring them through the church. It is in knowing the stories that we can experience the blessing of sharing love and compassion. And, most importantly, it is also beautiful to know that behind every story there is THE “story” of Jesus Christ and His love.

Reflections by Mellissa.
After dinner Monday evening an emergency nurse from Minnesota shared her week long (9 day?) mercy mission that took place a week after the earthquake in Haiti. It was absolutely amazing and thrilling and touching to hear of her privileged service at that time of need.
+ Called and left at a moment’s notice having never served in any kind of medical mission like it.
+ Working 12-14 hour shifts (after sleeping on 1.5 inch foam padding on concrete) with a team of doctors and nurses tending to the wounds of hundreds of Haitians being helicoptered and trucked in.
+ Smoke rising from a nearby ditch signified the burning of body parts that had been amputated.
+ Makeshift trailers served as a hospice unit and morgue. Her triage ward was the chapel of this retreat center turned emergency hospital.
+ There was much joy and laughter even in the midst of such terrible sickness and tragedy. All through these times, the witness of the Gospel was prominent and the miracles of Jesus were many! Mercy overcomes!

Taste of Heaven.
On the way back to Scranton I was getting a bit hungry exiting out of the first plane at Chicago. How fortuitous it was then that some overly full first class passenger had left a bag of “Selects Premium Snack Mix” on their seat! I snatched it up in a jiffy as I went by. “Honey Sesame Sticks, Corn Chips with Flax Seeds, Cheese Corn Sticks, Almonds” Yum, yum! I was saved from having to spend anything more on eats! God is GOOD!

MISCELANEOUS:
I like flying though puffy clouds. They are like cotton candy. So beautiful. Thank you God for clouds!
I like to come home to my beautiful family. Thank you God for family.
A king sized hotel bed is pretty lonely without a spouse to share it with!
Check out a ministry of Comfort Dogs at www.LutheranChurchCharities.org

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2 thoughts on “REFLECTIONS ON A “DISASTROUS” CONFERENCE!

  1. kris, i was truely taken aback about the black american family comment …re would not see it in scranton ,,,,did i take this the wrong way..i would not have thought about the “color” of this family one way or another… and “see”exactly what in scraton???

  2. More or less, I am pointing out my own sorry prejudices concerning the African American family walking in the park. Why WAS I taken so aback? On the one hand it IS fact that the traditional, middle class, American black family is rather rare. But it does exist! I just don’t have that “image” in my head and it seemed so “out of place” to actually SEE it.

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