The following served as the preamble to Pastor Jon Shisko’s radio interview of OPC Disaster Response Coordinator David Nakhla on September 4, 2017.
Showing Christ’s Love in Relief Work
by Jonathan Shishko, Pastor, Reformation OPC, Queens, NY
“Helpless – unable to help oneself. Unable to care for yourself or protect yourself. Weak. Deprived of strength or power. Powerless, especially against danger. As in ‘a helpless infant.’ Helpless. Helpless is the word that comes to mind as we consider today’s topic of disasters – commonly called ‘natural disasters.’ Tsunamis. Volcanic eruptions. Earthquakes. And particularly relevant in the New York area throughout each fall…hurricanes. Disasters reduce us to feelings of helplessness. No matter how grown up we may be, our strength is like that of an infant when compared to the mighty forces of a hurricane, or of an earthquake.
“And, in our day and age, these feelings of helplessness are radically compounded by the relentless onslaught of breaking news. We don’t just hear of earthquakes and hurricanes in our area. With the progress of globalization and the digital revolution has come a world-wide mingling of people and their cares and concerns. With a global economy comes a global interest in the people of the globe. Tsunamis in Japan, earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in New York, New Orleans, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico affect us all – compounding our feelings of helplessness.
“Though we don’t like to admit this, we’re relieved when the stories of disaster slip from the front pages of our news sources. It’s too much to have on our minds when there’s so little we can do. Helplessness is as unpleasant a reality as it is a feeling. To sidestep despair, we mark us and ours ‘safe’ on Facebook, we go on with our lives, eager to ignore disasters in other areas of the world – though we know about them, though we’re sad for them, though we wish we could help – how can we? What can we do? Aren’t we helpless?
“In the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, the word ‘helpless’ is only used one time in the New Testament. Matthew 9:36 says that when Jesus saw the crowds He had compassion for them because they were ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Sheep without a shepherd are helpless. But, sheep with a shepherd – sheep with the great shepherd, sheep under the shepherding of King Jesus – are not helpless. Simply put, Christians are never called to resign to helplessness. In Jesus we’re not helpless. Part of the beauty of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that through the church, what would otherwise be impossible becomes possible. ‘With God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26 ESV).
“As Christians, we must refuse to resign to feelings of helplessness and must instead stand in the great promises and instructions of our great shepherd, King Jesus – who has not left us helpless. While we cannot always understand how all things are working together, we nonetheless ‘know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28 ESV). In this same chapter of Scripture, the Apostle Paul mentions disaster when he asks, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?’ He concludes, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:35, 37 ESV).
“As Christians, we stand in these promises. Before, during, and after disasters, we have the comfort of knowing that our Great Shepherd, King Jesus, is with us always, is at hand, is ruling and reigning from the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Therefore, before, during, and after hurricanes and earthquakes, we have every reason to give ourselves to prayer and fasting, praying on behalf of our brothers and sisters across the entire world. And we ought never to pray as a last resort – but always as the first response, knowing a direct line of communication with God is more powerful than anything else.
“But, as Christians, there’s more. We are not called to faith and prayer only. We are called to action. We are called to be first responders in prayer, support, and service. We are called to ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22 ESV). The Bible asks, ‘If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’ (James 2:14-17 ESV). A living faith is a faith at work. Real faith is faith at work. Faith in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, boldly declares, in Jesus and through His church – I am not helpless. Where would you have me go, O Lord? How can I help, dear God? I am praying for them – but I’m also praying that you use me – my treasure, my talents, my time. Here I am, Lord, send me! Use me and your church to help those in Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, New York, Texas, Florida, New Orleans. Make us a church that does ‘good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith’ (Galatians 6:10 ESV).”