Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Matthew: More Horror In Haiti

The storm itself is long gone and was one for the record books. And according to CoreLogic, a research and consulting firm, the cost of the storm economically will come in at about $6 billion for insured losses for both residential and commercial properties. Then there are uninsured damages to consider as well. And that does not even count losses related to additional continued flooding and business interruptions. So the total economic damage at this point is still undetermined as the cleanup continues.
But what has been shockingly absent in the discussion of this monster storm is what happened before Hurricane Matthew reached the U.S. Without question the destruction, especially in the Carolinas, was significant.  And that could have been far worse had the storm gone farther inland and not slowed from its previous Category 4 strength. That was anything but the case when Mathew tore through Haiti first – the poorest nation in the entire hemisphere. The damage there was simply staggering. Satellite photos were reminiscent of Katrina or even some shots of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped there in World War II. A huge number of the structures in this struggling country are literal shacks and the kind of fragile buildings that would be hard to even find in America.

Just a few years back, an earthquake struck the country causing unfathomable damage and loss of life. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake and death toll estimates ranged from 100,000 to 160,000 or more! An estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. And I heard on the news that, as Matthew approached, that some 40,000 were still living in tents from the killer quake. That is simply hard to wrap your mind around when living in a place like America.

But now this battered nation is again in even more trouble than it already was. This new devastation has been called "apocalyptic" by some. And it was what would be expected with a storm like this in a place like that. The death toll is well over 1,000 and climbing. At least 1.4 million people need serious and live-saving assistance at this time. Some towns and villages have been wiped off the map. Crops and food reserves have been destroyed. Some 300 schools have been damaged, and the fears of a deadly cholera outbreak, similar to what occurred after the 2010 earthquake, are growing.

But what compounds an already tragic situation is what occurred as that the storm stuck full force in an area known as the "bread basket" of Haiti. Now keep that in perspective when considering that Haiti is one of the poorest nations on the planet, and then factor in that some are projecting that 80-90% of the crops in this critical region were damaged or totally wiped out. It is simply hard to fathom this happening to a people who struggled to put food on their tables even before the storm. But what can we do about the carnage and suffering right now?

Perhaps the first answer to that question is simply care – really care (Romans 12:15). That may take some effort since we live where we do and have all that we have. Secondly, we should at least pray. Pray for the people so badly brutalized yet again. Pray for those who are Christians there that they can share their faith with those who have no hope even while they themselves face an indescribable crisis. And lastly, pray. Pray that the world steps up to the plate and gives of their excess to help fund relief organizations like Samaritans Purse to meet both material and spiritual needs in the ravaged nation in the name of Christ. (Galatians 6:10)

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'” (Matt.  25:37-40)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New York City’s Oldest Church

Manhattan's oldest church is getting ready to celebrate its 250-year history, which includes worshippers ranging from George Washington to those who searched for victims following the attacks back on 9/11.
Today, St. Paul's Chapel in Lower Manhattan is best known today as the "Little Church that Stood". This title arose after the structure survived unscathed as the World Trade Center towers crumbled across the street back on 9/11. The church was built in 1766 and has been recently renovated. The unveiling will come on its anniversary date, which falls on October 30th. The Chapel is Manhattan's last remaining colonial structure and also houses the oldest monument in New York – one dedicated to American revolutionary war hero, Gen. Richard Montgomery.

When I saw this story, and the age of this historic structure, my interest was immediately piqued for many reasons. First of all, I recall standing in front of this church exactly one year after 9/11 and participating in a special ministry outreach there. Our team literally stood on street corners offering to pray with anyone who was willing and especially with those still struggling with the events that had occurred there one year prior.

But my interest was also because of something occurring very recently. My present church just began holding services in a brand new location, but this is happening in a very old placevery old indeed. The original congregation began way back in 1720. That means that there are just a few years shy of being in existence for 300 years!  I did say old, did I not? The current building, located just a half a mile away form the original, was erected in 1804. It is always intriguing to walk into a sanctuary of that vintage and ponder how many lives have been impacted for Christ in a place that has been in existence since before the nation was even officially born.

But there are scores of beautiful and historic churches located across the country. When driving most anywhere, steeples can be seen rising into the sky from small quiet country communities to busy large cities everywhere. They serve as a reminder of America’s great spiritual foundation and the faith that has been such a deep part of her inner fiber.

And yet, despite what most people think of when they hear the word "church", the Bible primarily refers to something other than these familiar physical structures. Scripture speaks to the church in two primary ways. First it speaks to the universal church in passages like Ephesians 1:22-23. Paul writes, "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." This aspect of the church refers to all who are in the family of God through personal faith in Christ regardless of where they reside.

Then there are the local churches referred to throughout the New Testament. Some of these have epistles named after them. These were literal local congregations who met together at specific places and times when the New Testament was being penned. An example would be seen in 1 Corinthians 1:2. "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus." Again, these were group of true believers who gathered together to worship, fellowship and serve their Lord and Savior.

So the term "church" is used commonly in three distinct ways. There are the physical buildings, such as the historic ones just referred to. There are the local congregations comprised of individual believers who meet at a specific place, even if they have no formal structure at their disposal. And then there is the universal church made up of all true born-again Christians everywhere on earth. So which of the these matters most?

The bottom line is that physical church buildings come and go. How many from the 1700s still exist today like the ones we spoke of at the outset? Local congregations also do not last forever despite how vibrant, valuable and effective they may have been. Most all of the local church bodies addressed in the New Testament no longer exist today.

What matters first and foremost is not what building we meet in and whether it is historic or brand spanking new. The reason that is true is because we may be an active part of a local congregation, meeting in a wonderful structure, and yet have that be fully meaningless in the final analysis. All that really matters is that we have, at some point, trusted Christ as our own Savior. He is the head of the universal churchthe one made up of all who are spiritually born into His family through faith alone. And being a "church member" in this realm is what justifies the lost sinner and opens the door to heaven at life’s end.

Beautiful church buildings, old and new, are indeed a blessing. And belonging to a Bible-believing congregation is a great privilege and responsibility. But if you have never joined the church that is Christ’s universal body, you need to do that now! Simply trust in His ability to forgive sin and accept you into His eternal family. Do just as did the thief that died beside the Lord on the cross. In the very moment this lost soul recognized Christ as deity and trusted Him for salvation, he was granted forgiveness and his place in heaven forever. (Luke 23:43-44) That alone is what it is all about and alone brings the kind of blessing and church membership that lasts for all eternity!

"And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." (Col 1:18)

Bill Breckenridge