When the rain falls, the church rises. And on Sunday, August 27, 2017, it began to fall.
Hurricane Harvey began as a tropical wave in the Caribbean and grew into a tropical storm. By August 24, my birthday, it had become a hurricane. Not the gift I was looking for. On August 27 and 28, the city of Houston, where I live and pastor, received record rainfall of almost fifty inches!1 Entire counties in Texas were evacuated, airports were shut down for days, more than a hundred lives were lost, thousands upon thousands of homes, churches, offices, and schools were damaged, and some were completely destroyed. In our church alone there were more than seven hundred members and twenty-three staff members with homes flooded.
After we cancelled church on Sunday, I knew this one was going to be different. I got a late-night text message—church members from our Sienna campus were being evacuated from their neighborhood and needed a place to stay. I said, “If you can make it to my house, come on.” In the wee hours of the morn they pulled in with their three kids, asleep in car seats, and all the stuff they could fit into their car.
Since our house was full, I arranged for our friends to stay with neighbors and church members on our street and around the corner. With tears in my eyes, standing in the driveway watching my neighbors retreat to their safe, dry homes with new guests they’d never met before, I knew something was different. But I could see the seeds of the church in action. This was going to be a big one. I knew I was going to have to do something. I knew our church was going to have to do something. And I began asking, “Lord, what’s going to happen? What do we need to do?”
Can We Make a Difference?
It didn’t take long to realize the city and surrounding towns were devastated. Thankfully, all of our church’s campuses were dry and intact. Many of our members—myself included—were in homes largely unaffected by the storms. A great blessing, but clearly, it was a massive responsibility. I knew we had to do something, but the question was: What can we do? And even more so, in the face of seemingly incalculable damage and suffering, we were left asking: Can we really make a difference?
I’ve never seen anything quite like the weeks and months that followed. By the following Sunday, more than seventy-two thousand people had been rescued in Houston. Other churches who were unable to get into their buildings were worshiping with us, as we opened our doors to our neighbors. My sermon for the day was from two short verses:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor. 1:3–4)
Here’s what I wanted our church to understand: we are blessed to be a blessing. We are comforted to be a comfort. In the good news of Jesus Christ, we had received the greatest comfort of all—the hope of salvation and the promise of eternal life with God. We knew that, through Christ, our sins had been forgiven. We knew that God had accepted us in Christ. In the midst of a world full of affliction, this is the greatest comfort, and by God’s grace, we could take great joy in this comfort.
But we’re not to be cul-de-sacs of God’s comfort; we’re to be conduits. The comfort of the gospel was never meant to get stuck in the church—it’s meant to go to the church and then to the world through the church. Comforted to be a comfort. Blessed to be a blessing.
When I considered these verses penned by the apostle Paul, I knew the answer to my question: Yes, we can make a difference. And by God’s grace, that’s exactly what we did.
Gregg Matte, Difference Makers: How to Live a Life of Impact and Purpose (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2019).
Want to fill your church with Difference Makers? It will take more than reading one article. I’d recommend you have every group in your church study this excellent book.
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