May the worst of times bring out our best

by Dietrich Gruen

Bridges out, roads blocked, businesses closed, basements flooded. One death.  Many water rescues by boat, helicopter, and human chains.  Untold storage items, basement appliances and family treasures soaked and lost.  Lakeside decks and docks float away.  Lakes appearing suddenly where there were none the day before.  Hundreds of flooded cars ditched in either underground parking or clogging above-ground streets.

You get the picture.  And I hope you get going and give help, as able and as need be.

No need to travel as far as New Orleans, as I and 15 “Disaster Response Teams” (DiRT) once did over 15 months in 2006-07.  To engage in flood recovery efforts today, look no further than Madison’s far west side where I live.  Also needing flood relief are Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth, and Mazomanie—towns just west of us.  Now the low-lying Isthmus.  Next week, the neighborhoods bordering the Baraboo and other rivers and drainage systems of south-central Wisconsin.

As your Housing Advocate and Benevolent Fund Coordinator the last five years, we are meeting the current flood-related needs.  Our DiRT Coordinator, Bill Taylor, is a modern-day Paul Revere sounding the alarm and rounding up troops of well-armed volunteers.  Volunteers show up armed with strong backs, wheelbarrows, pick-up trucks, squeegees, bags and buckets.

Survivor stories and heroic clean-up efforts multiply.  Good news travels fast. Good deeds beget more good needs. Families who “lost everything” are grateful for the collaborative efforts of church volunteers, the National Guard and civic-minded citizens to muck out, to save what’s left, or to sandbag ahead of the next rising tide.  On 24 hours’ notice, 14 people strong from the David/Rhonda Thompson small group muck out a grateful Harald Myers’ home, soon after eight feet of standing water recedes.

Annette Konicek and her husband battle water for 11+ hours unassisted; surrounded by water, they look to God to make it through; their faith grows as waters recede.  She reflects on her flood story: “I find throughout my life that the attitude you deal with things is so much more important than the actual things you go through!  Everyone goes through difficult things. If you can find a good attitude, the journey is so much easier.”

With ear to the ground and fingers online, and an office open on Mondays at High Point, I hear many such woeful tales of loss but am encouraged by just as stories of help and hope.  “It’s just stuff,” they say.  I listen and pray, as I help them with funds to recover.

The worst of times brings out the best in people.  Ancient Israel’s King David affirms as much: “God sits enthroned over the flood.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses people with peace” (Psalm 29:10).

Good news of help and hope is spreading among clients served through HPC—also online groups and through Barbara McKinney and Paul Skidmore, two Madison alderpersons I am networking with. Hence, a rising tide and run on the “Benevolence Bank” of those in a position to help.  For now, HPC has enough funds in our bank, under budget for the year, saving up a “rainy day” fund as it were, for such a time as this.

It’s not just about benevolent funds or bucket brigades.  Some policies and hearts may have to change, as well, in response to the flood of 2018.  Let us consider how to become better at crisis-funding, as well as long-term mentoring of people caught up in one crisis du jour after another.  When people come to church to learn a different, more excellent way forward out of their miry pit, will we steward our resources for them?  We will continue to round up helpers and stir up hope?

May this worst of floods bring out our best, now and always.

Our Changing Church

Every church is changing. Even though the gospel is unchanging, every church is an expression of the gospel through their language, culture and time. But as the culture, language and time outside of the church continues to change, and each church’s cultural expression will fall behind if it does not change. No church that prevails in this culture can measure itself by other normal, or even “successful,” churches. Even growing churches tend to grow because they are “better” when compared with other churches, which means that often these churches grow because people transfer from other churches. There is some growth by conversion, but very little even in most growing churches. Continue reading Our Changing Church

2018 Dominican Republic Team Updates

We have a team in the Dominican Republic this year painting buildings, praying for families, teaching Vacation Bible School, and leading students in small group ministries. They do all this while, most importantly, sharing the Good News of the gospel of Jesus. Pray for them, and check below throughout their trip for updates as the team invests in the Dominican Republic! Continue reading 2018 Dominican Republic Team Updates

Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

For 2000 years Christians have believed in the authority of the Bible as an inspired document. Christians have believed that God’s inspiration of the Scriptures has left us with a written word that is both infallible and inerrant. That is, that the original manuscripts of the original authors are inspired by God while simultaneously being the product of the intellect and personality of the human biblical author. This means that the Scripture is both the product of the writing of men and the inspiration of God. Yet, because Scriptures are inspired by God, they are fully trustworthy and without error in the original manuscripts.

To confirm or deny this belief, we can look and see if there is anything in Scripture that can be proven false or that is self-contradictory. Because of this, those who have resisted believing in the authority of the Bible have often pointed out passages that they believe are in contradiction to each other—what we might call “apparent contradictions.”

I have been considering dozens of these apparent contradictions for more than 20 years. In general, I find that they are very easily resolved and are not contradictions at all. However, the solutions to some are easier than others. The most difficult I have ever come across is the apparent contradiction of Mark 6:8 compared to Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10.

Mark 6:8-9 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.

Matthew 10:10 Take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Luke 9:3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.

The apparent contradiction is that in Mark the disciples are instructed to take a staff, and in Matthew and Luke they are instructed not to take a staff. This appears to be as obvious and direct a contradiction as could be possible. Perhaps the best analysis of solutions to this problem is still the article “Staff or No Staff?” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly by Barnabas Ahern from July 1943. Continue reading Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

Fighting for Joy through Devotional Time

Isaiah 55:1-3a
“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.”

This year as a church, we’ve been focusing on joy. So I am a little embarrassed to admit that also this year, I’ve struggled to feel joyful. Instead, the circumstances in my life in the last few months have brought out more shame, insecurity, and sin that needs to be weeded out. And anxiety and depression feel like deep waters always on the brink of bursting through a weary, old dam. Continue reading Fighting for Joy through Devotional Time