Joplin Relief Trip: Where is God, and where are you?

Most people will look at the devastation in Joplin, MO and ask, “God where are you?” Some will ask, ” If God were real or loving how could He just let such tragedy happen?” The question I had to ask after a few days in Joplin was “where is God?” I don’t question His existence since Scripture tells us right away in Genesis 1:1 that He exists…“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I don’t question His goodness or how did this natural disaster happen? To answer that we have to go back…to the beginning.

The Fall

Genesis tells us that God created all things, the earth, the universe, and man to live in perfect relationship with Him, and each other. Man sinned, and the sin marred everything good that God created including the earth. Romans 8: 19-21 tells us. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” That creation like a woman in labor long for the day salvation of man is complete. Our world in is sinful state, and the natural disasters we see are a constant reminder the Fall.

God is Present

I have no doubt that God was present while the EF-5 tornado wreaked havoc and destruction through Joplin. He was with the woman fearing for her life, He was with the father that tried to protect his family, He was with those that took there last breath during and after the storm. He never intended for the “very good” world He created to suffer as much as it has. He never intended for humanity to live in sinfulness, pain, and frustration. He gave man everything that we could ever want or need, and we turned away from Him. No matter the natural storms in this world or the spiritual storms that rage in our lives, God has never left, has never stopped chasing, and never stopped loving us. Jesus warned us. “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” God did not abandon us, but chooses to be present, to have relationship with us.

God is in Control

During my time in Joplin I couldn’t help but think about Job a little bit. The book of Job 1:1-3 tells us “and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants ; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.”  Job you could say had it all, including a God’s favor. Satan believed that Job only feared the Lord because God had protected, blessed, and increased Job’s provision. Satan was sure that if Job were to lose these things that Job would surely curse God. We learn that Satan is allowed to test Job, and in Job 1:13-19 we read how graphically, tragically and quickly Job loses everything, and all his family. Then we see Job’s reaction in verses 20-22,

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, ” Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

Job eventually loses his health, and wrestles with everything with no help from his friends Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. But ultimately, God demonstrates that He is sovereign , Creator, and in control. We see Job’s attitude in 42:1-6

“Then Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge ?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things  too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak ; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear ; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.”

In the end “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold.”

If there was any doubt before this trip whether who is in control in our life, most of us realized this. That Almighty God, the Creator of the universe is sovereign and in control. That He allows tragic circumstances and events to unfold, but we can take heart in His promises for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”  and that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We also learn that we should not cling to the possessions in our life but cling to the Jesus and the Cross.

Where are you?

I ask this for 2 reasons. One reason is that maybe you are more on the side of doubt. Maybe, you are questioning God’s love, goodness or even existence? Scripture teaches us that God is knowable, and that we can have peace and assurance. That is were the Gospel comes in. We learn in Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That God sees our need, and He shows the ultimate act of love by sending His son Jesus to earth. Jesus, a sinless man,  comes  to take our wrath, and He pays the penalty for our sin to that our broken relationship with God the Father can be restored. Scripture teaches us that when we place our faith & trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross we are saved by grace. We now have access to a relationship with God the Father, and an eternal home in Heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;” Jesus wants our hearts, and through the power of the Holy Spirit transforms us to love others, and grow in holiness.

The Body

We came together from 2 different churches in Austin, TX to work with a host church in Joplin, MO. Almost immediately, I began to see the answer to my question, “Where is God?” 1 Corinthians 12 says “For the body is not one member, but many.”But now there are many members, but one body… And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it;” Most of all, God was present through the Body of Christ that was leaving Austin, and going to a small town in Missouri that had suffered a great tragedy, and was in need. It wasn’t enough to talk about it, but as it says in 1 John 3:18 tells us “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”  He was present in our vans, in our conversations, our rooms, and our teams relationships. Most importantly, it just wasn’t people from North Village & Soma Austin, but it was the churches from all over the United States that came and continue to respond. Including, A Church called Mystery that was planted there without know how key they would be the relief of the community. Ultimately, God saw a need that needed to be met, and used His people to help meet it.

What now?

Maybe you need to meet Jesus for the 1st time or maybe you need to be “the hands and feet.” Either way, I would ask you to respond to the Gospel and or to the mission. There is much still to be done in Joplin, and already there is talk about a return trip. I would challenge you to pray and ask God if you are to respond to this need. What might He have you do? Pray, give, or maybe even go to Joplin? Take moment to look and the following website, and see how you may be able to support this mission, Mission Joplin site. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

To God be the glory!

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Joplin Relief Trip: Completing our projects

It’s Saturday morning, and we are about to begin our second and final day of work in Joplin. The roofing team has left at 6:00 am to beat the heat, and we leave about an hour later to finish debris removal. Everyone is noticeably tired from the 1st day’s work, but we are in good spirits. With coffee, and a cup of oatmeal down we head back to the debris removal site.

It’s slightly cooler with a little bit of cloud cover, and a small breeze. I feel the need to begin with prayer so we make sure to do so before beginning work. Today we take on pile # 2, which appears to contain larger items than the first pile so we are hoping this will go faster. It does. We continue to sort through 2×4’s, drywall, roofing, and of course personal items. As we continue our work another church from St. Louis, Mo continues their work across the street. We learn they have been to Joplin prior for recovery efforts. Both groups have learned that not having heavy equipment make a huge difference.  We are quickly coming to a finish on the debris removal. A welcome sign since even in the early morning, the heat is on. I see someone from the crew across the street hanging an American flag as they are wrapping up. It’s encouraging. Just then Rodney from Mystery Church comes riding up. As we all rest, he tells us about the day the tornado hit. He was at the church with others doing a study at the time the tornado hit in the evening. It was not until it had passed that they new the extent of the storm. The was almost no warning, and within about 6 minutes the EF5 tornado devastates the south part of town. They begin to check homes and apartments for people, and the task is difficult. Streets are impassible, gas lines are on fire, power lines are down. Luckily, most of the people in the effected area make it alive. We seem glued to his words as he tells his story.

It’s is a wrap at the site, and we make our way back to the original house we worked on. On the way Jacob, the pastor for Soma Church, talks about how natural disasters like tornadoes are a result of the curse on the earth at the Fall. I think about how its helpful to remember this when people question the goodness of God and natural disasters in our world. Jacob is a good pastor, and leader. He has taken good care of us on this trip, and it shows he has a heart for people. As with a good teacher, he goes to Scripture as the authority. It’s been good to meet him, and learn more about his ministry.

We arrive back at the house to see that Bernie & the roofing crew has made awesome progress on finishing the roof. We will have lunch and then help clean up the mess. As we sit and eat lunch we can’t help once again to notice the swimming pool in next door. We all joke about jumping in the cool water. We finish lunch, and then work on cleaning the place. Within a couple of hours the roof is finished, and the work at this project is done. Tired, and hot everyone is relieved, but I feel we have a sense of gratitude. We all worked very hard these past 2 days, and I know we made difference. We head back to the church in time shower at the Joplin Y before they close for the day.

We have a few hours before dinner so a few us decide to take a drive out to completely survey the damaged area.  As we drive further it seems never ending. The devastation is enormous, and block after block the scene is the same. It will take time for recovery. It will take resources, people, and prayer. I believe this town will rebuild, and that it will recover in time. The signs of hope are there, and it looks very promising.

We head out for dinner, and end up at hot dog and burger joint called Instant Karma. Interestingly enough, the place has a noticeable Austin feel to it from the menu to the decor, and the music playing overhead. We relax, we enjoy the really good food, we laugh, and we learn more about each other. We finish up our meal, and head back to church. Eventually the group heads over to a bar across from the church for some cards, and a few beers. Everyone is winding down, and enjoying our time together. One thing is weird, unlike Austin smoking is allowed in the bar. It’s an odd experience that makes me grateful for our local smoking ban. At 10:00 pm, and we head back to the church before the cover charge at the bar. We sit and listen as Jacob talks about the Acts 29 church planting organization, it’s history, and his pastoral history. It’s good conversation, but sadly I am feeling the day, and it’s time for bed. We have to wake up early to get cleared out for church services in the morning. Tomorrow we will worship with Mystery Church, and the begin the 9 hour drive back to Austin. It has been a good day!