Care Ministry

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Embracing Storms

From sprinkles and sudden downpours to hail and hurricanes, weather is unpredictable and can change at a moment’s notice. While some storms may bring much needed rain, others can leave a path of destruction, cause collateral damage, and necessitate rebuilding. The same is true in life, and while the idea of welcoming storms may seem outlandish, according to Scripture, it is clear that storms serve a purpose.

​“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). ​​

Elephant storm

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”  ​– Unknown 

God uses storms to get our attention, refine us, and transform us. Also, it is often in the midst of life’s storms that people truly discover their need for God, draw near to him, and experience significant spiritual growth. Knowing that storms are a natural and expected part of life, instead of viewing storms as something to try and divert, evade, or rush through, imagine how things might be different if we did more to embrace storms and comfort people in the midst of life’s storms.

Why Ask Why?

I vividly remember the evening when one of my daughters told me they played the “Why?” game at CRU. Not being familiar with the game, I asked her to explain. In the Why game, once a question is asked (e.g., "How was your day?") and someone answers, the next question is automatically he next question is “Why” (e.g., “Why was your day great?"). She went on to say that to foster genuine relationships, we have to get past the veneer. It made me stop and think about how often we accept what people say at face value without ever delving deeper.

Based on the Laws of Conservation, Momentum, and Energy, certain things are predictable. As Newton’s Pendulum demonstrates, no matter how many times we pull back one steel ball and let it go, the same thing is going to happen over and over again.

Isn't it sad that our human nature is to ask the same question (e.g., "How are you?") and accept the typically response (e.g., "Fine") even though we know that most people are struggling with something?

Newton Pendulum

So, here's a question... Specific to the second part of The Great Commandment – love [care for] people, what are you doing at your church and WHY? Is caring ministry a set of programs, something that has become as “pastoral” responsibility, or are genuine caring relationships part of the DNA at your church?

What's interesting is that in business, what we do and why we do it is based on plans and processes that have been established in order to achieve the desired results. In healthcare, what we do and why we do it is based on best-practices and protocols in order to achieve desired outcomes. The point is that to “succeed,” we must first know what it is that we wish to accomplish and then determine how we are going to achieve our goal.

Whether playing the Why game or caring for people, we have to be deliberate to get past superficial conversations and contrived responses. The resources and support we provide guides church leaders through a systematic process to draw attention to key aspects of caring God’s way and to address care in a way that reflects the aspirations and unique needs of their local church. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your "Why?" and help you take caring to the next level.

Optimal Conditions for Growth

If you asked people within your congregation about the times when they experienced their most spiritual growth, what do you think they would say? Regardless of their specific situations and struggles, people regularly indicate difficult life circumstances are what sparked and ignited their faith.

A beautiful example of coming alive resulted from a storm that hit Death Valley in California. Considered by many to be the hottest and driest place in America, due to an El Niño storm in the winter of 2004/05, Death Valley received an unprecedented seven inches of rain. Then, in the spring, when flowers began appearing, it became apparent that an area which had been considered dead was only dormant.

The Word of God frequently takes root in people’s hearts and begins to blossom when there is heighten awareness of our need for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though difficult situations and struggles are seldom pleasant, they are often optimal times for discipling people and experiencing spiritual growth.

death-valley-before-copy

Death Valley before (top) and after the storm (bottom).

death-valley-after-copy

Caring for one another is vital as people facing life’s storms often feel anxious, discouraged, and depleted. While the relationship that we have with the Lord is a personal responsibility (Philippians 2:12), our circumstances and challenges are often more than we alone can handle. Without the spiritual encouragement and emotional support, many lack the response-ability to quiet their minds, pray earnestly, discern the voice of God, and experience the love and power of Jesus.

At Care Ministry, we advocate a biblically-based discipling model of care that is grounded in Scripture and advances core biblical principles. Give us a call at 513-377-7965 to learn more.

Scripture Advocates Sympathy, Not Empathy

It’s mind-boggling how Scripture addresses everything we could imagine, and then some. My most recent “Aha Moment” was when I came to appreciate why Scripture references sympathy, as opposed to the worldly approach – empathy. Though the words are considered to be synonyms, the differences are significant. Before making the distinction and mentioning implications to caring ministry, let’s look at their definitions.

SYMPATHY

  • “The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.: a sympathetic feeling” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune” (Oxford Dictionary).

EMPATHY

  • “The feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else's feelings” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (Oxford Dictionary).

A particularly noteworthy distinction is that empathy originates from the head and focuses on the problem, whereas sympathy comes from the heart and focuses on people. In the Bible, four prominent references to sympathy are in Job 2:11, 42:11, Philippians 2:1, and 1 Peter 3:8. The Hebrew word “nud” translates to console, grieve, mourn, and wander. The Greek words “oiktirmos” and “sumpathés” refer to compassion and to being mutually commiserative.

A particularly noteworthy distinction is that empathy originates from the head and focuses on the problem, whereas sympathy comes from the heart and focuses on people. In the Bible, four prominent references to sympathy are in Job 2:11, 42:11, Philippians 2:1, and 1 Peter 3:8. The Hebrew word “nud” translates to console, grieve, mourn, and wander. The Greek words “oiktirmos” and “sumpathés” refer to compassion and to being mutually commiserative.

The natural human instinct to seek understanding, give advice, and try to “fix it” is inconsistent with biblical teachings (see, for example, Proverbs 3:5, Isaiah 43:11, Luke 9:62, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, and Philippians 3:13-14, 4:7). A biblical example that demonstrates the difference between sympathy and empathy is the story of Job. When Job’s three friends learned of his plight, they came “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (v2:11). However, after a while, they shifted from expressing sympathy to empathy. At that point, we discover that the friends did more to hurt Job than to help him. Their failed attempts to understand and make it better reflected assumptions, accusations, and allegations, none of which were correct. In verse 16:2 (NIV), Job even referred to his friends as “miserable comforters!”

Recently, God graciously presented me with an experiential learning opportunity and painted a picture that made this distinction apparent. Upon arriving home from school last week, one of my daughters came to me in tears. She told me that her best friend would soon be moving to Texas. While that may seem like no big deal, this was the third time in four years that she had learned that a best friend would be moving away. She was crushed and confused. At that moment, it clear that there was nothing to understand, figure out, or fix. What she desperately needed was to be consoled and comforted. I gave her a big hug, told her how sorry I was, and we prayed.

As for the picture painted in my mind, it was that of a relief effort following a storm. I was struck by the similarities between providing relief and extending care. As I prayed and reflected, many things came to light including:

  • Those who respond are often affiliated with Christian organizations.
  • To be helpful, we first have to show up.
  • There’s no way to prepare for what we might encounter upon arrival as every situation is different.
  • It not about understanding the situation, it’s about loving the people.
  • Many people have a need to share their story, and the best thing we can do is listen.
  • People don’t expect us to fix it and we know that we can't.
  • People find great comfort in the simple things like a hug, words of encouragement, and prayer.
  • Often the greatest relief comes from satisfying people’s hunger and thirst.
  • Healing and rebuilding take time, and the process can’t be circumvented.

As the body of Christ, let's resolve to show up and be sympathetic. Also, let's make sure to offer spiritual encouragement and prayer in an effort to nourish souls, offer hope, and make a lasting difference.

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