Assimilation Thoughts

Last night, we discussed what it means to assimilate a person in the church.  To those who are unfamiliar with the term, it simply means to take someone from the outside and get them involved (using their gifts), within the body of Christ at a local church level.  There are, for those who are interested, many resources that convey different ideas of how to assimilate an individual into the local body.

I have a lot of reservations about the whole idea of assimilation though, as it has been presented.  Here are somethings we both had discussed last night and some personal revelations I have had regarding this whole issue.

1.  There is no “one way” to assimilate an individual into the church.  One cannot simply “date” the church and test out the waters once or twice and then get married.  It takes a relationship and time to see if the match works.  One does not meet a significant other and then get married the next day (usually).  I feel as though there are churches that believe that it is possible to get newcomers married in the church.  This can be a significant problem that leads to a local church divorce between the church and the person.  We have enough divorce in marriages (both Christian and non-Christian).  Let’s get something right for once and not rush individuals to commit to something so quick.  Let’s not press an individual to make a choice without learning more about the local body and how it functions.  This is really significant.

This is not to say that we should therefore allow the individual to sit and kick their feet up.  There is a right and wrong way to go about this process.  How should we handle this issue?  We (as the local body) should take a position that an individual has entered our “home” and therefore, we should respond with interest and curiosity.  We should be willing to befriend and get to know the individual who has come through our doors without bombarding the individual.  I look at it this way:  Treat them as though they had just entered your house and you are the host.  Be sincere and intentional.  Know their name, where they are from, and even ask what their story is (if they are open to sharing it).  The more genuine that one is to that individual, the more the person will feel as though the body of Christ is a place where they can come and feel “at home.”

2.  I am not a fan of defining assimilation as “getting plugged in.”  The problem I have with it is it seems as though the term “plugged in” infers that we are toasters or blenders.  I don’t know about you but I am not something that can be “plugged in.”  I do not have a cord coming out of my skin to be plugged into a wall.  I do not need electricity to work properly.

I am also not a puzzle piece that easily fits into the grand scheme of a 500-piece puzzle.  I believe that is where the church can help an individual (over time) fit into the church.  The Church is called to equip believers for the work of God.  When an individual comes into a church, he might not have the right shape.  His piece might be a little tight, in need of being shaved down.  That takes time.  How should the church respond to this issue then?  I believe the church should provide a safe place for a person to explore his gifts in order that he might understand how an individual can become apart of what God is doing in the context of where this individual lives.  In time, I believe an individual can find their place within the local body to serve.  It should not be assumed however that an individual would fit right away into a ministry role of the church.  Again (and it cannot be over stated), it takes time.  There is no need to rush the process of becoming a part of a family.

Maybe I am wrong in all of this.  Perhaps I am playing with semantics or something (it wouldn’t be the first).  I do believe however that we need to ask these questions.  We need to figure out if we are doing something that helps or hurts the local church.  Once again, we have enough divorce in this nation; we do not need to experience it in these regards as well.  Let’s do our best to “assimilate” an individual with a sincere heart, never rushing, always patient, and always genuine.

Playing in the Leaves

I want to go somewhere and run through the leaves that have fallen on the ground.  I want to kick them up in the air and fall into a huge pile of orange and red colored leaves.  The joy of playing in the leaves brings me back to my childhood.  Life was so much easier when I was able to jump into the leaves that have fallen from the trees in my back yard.  I could be a kid.  I didn’t have to worry about paying bills or going to work.  I never worried if I had enough money to fill my gas tank up or if I was ever going to find the girl God has for me.  I could be a kid.  The innocence of the world used to fill my spirit while I threw piles of leaves from my hand at a friend.

Now it seems as though I cannot jump in the leaves that have fallen.  I now feel as though I need to rake them up and put them into trash bags to be taken by the trash guy the next day.  Instead of playing in the leaves, I am taking away my childhood joy.  I have bills to pay and personal stresses I have placed in my life.

Am I the only one who wishes they could go back and play in the leaves?

Fasting: It Really is Important…

I am not a fan of fasting.  I really enjoy eating food.  I think that is my problem.  Today, I ate so much food.  I had two helpings of turkey (and fell asleep watching football), stuffing, sweet corn, and mashed potatoes with gravy, string beans and cranberry sauce.  Afterwards, we had pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top.  With a tall glass of iced milk and a cup of coffee, I knew that I had reached the pinnacle of the holiday season.

Isn’t it amazing how much we take the stuff we have in our fridges for granted?  The majority of us have so much that we allow sitting in our fridges for a long while.  I guess for me, that is another problem I have.  Maybe if I didn’t take the food I have for granted, I would learn to appreciate what I have more.

With that in mind, I have decided to fast.  I usually would not share something like this with others but I felt s though we all could use some time and fast.  After turkey day, I wouldn’t be surprised of we could use a fast.  So that is what I am going to do.  I am not doing it to impress anyone.  In fact, I am not doing this for anyone but for God.  For me, this is going to take a lot of self-control.  I do not have a lot of that.  Maybe that is another problem I have.

I have a lot of problems.  I guess I should do something about it.  So, as I have already said, I am doing to do something about it.  I am going to fast.  I will be drinking only water and “Naked” drinks (no more than 3 Naked drinks).  How long might I be doing this?  Believe it or not, I am going to attempt to fast for seven days.  That might seem like a long time (and it is) but it is something I need to do.  I need to appreciate what I have in my fridge more.  I need to not depend on always having whatever I want all the time.  I need to learn self-control more.  This is the most active and real way I know how to do it.  Please keep me in prayer as I strive to finish strong.

There are a few other things I am hoping God will answer through this time as well.  I want to understand God more in His Word.  I want to hear from God.  I want to hear God’s voice whisper.  I hope I will hear Him.  I hope I do not miss the burning bush set ablaze before me.  God help me see You.  Thanks folks.  I will let you know how things go.  God bless

Stories from the Homeless (6)

Once again we went to Philadelphia to meet with the homeless and learn something more about how blessed we are and how much we complain about things that just do not matter. I am seeing that issue pop up more and more in my life. I have been given so much. Why is it so hard to be thankful for all the things I have? Maybe, in time, I will reach that place where I am truly content in all God has given me. I can only hope for such a day.

It was a rainy and cold night. It was not the most exciting night to go out and serve the homeless. We had to go though. There are those who live out in this each night. Just because it is raining, it does not mean that they no longer remain homeless. They sleep during the rain, snow, and through the heat. Once again, I have realized that I am selfish. What else seems to be new?

I looked over in Love Park for Mont. I wasn’t sure he was going to weather out the cold night on his favorite bench or not. As I looked over, I saw a large lump covered in a wool blanket. Seeing a red coat and a golf cart-like travel cart, I realized it was he. I went over and called his name. He popped out from beneath his blanket and looked at me. His white beard was wet, and he looked tired. Still he took some time to say hi. We gave him some coffee and some chocolate chip cookies (these were his favorite). He thought about going down to the subway but figured it would be too loud there. He decided to sit on his bench and sleep. I let him go. Knowing he had his blankets, his gloves, and warm clothes to make it through the night, I gave him a hug and allowed him to resume his evening ritual.

We then went down in the subway. I had never gone down there at night before. I wasn’t sure what I would find or what situations might arise. As we went down, there was a ton of trash everywhere. The smell was rancid and people hugged the walls all around the main area that we were at. We found a corner that we could set up our food and clothes pile for the homeless. One of the homeless guys who we had come to know told us to allow the guys to come to us. Many of them were drug dealers and doers. If I tried hard enough, I could smell traces of pot. As I looked around, I found a couple that were sitting by themselves away from the drug dealers. Gabby and I went over with Gary and began to talk to them.

It was difficult to understand them. They were from the Ukraine and had traveled to the US. It took me about 25 minutes to understand how they had gotten here and why they had come. Their English was so broken, I had to come down to their level and quietly listen to each word. His name was Vistali and his wife was Galena. They were most likely in their late 50’s to early 60’s. Having each other as a “mattress” and a cardboard box as they cushion, they sat and talked to us. They were in fact Christians from the Ukraine. They had come to the US because they believed God had told them to come and “walk like Jesus.” As Galena was talking, she reached into her purse and pulled out several bulletins from different churches from around the US. There were bulletins from Chicago, Atlantic City, and Massachusetts. I had finally come to find out that they had been walking around the United States for the past seven months and two weeks living among the poor. They had sold everything they had in the Ukraine because they believe God told them that they were called to bless the poor. So, they were obedient and did what the Lord had told them to do. Tonight they found refuge in a subway in Philadelphia.

As I continued to listen, I began to wonder if I would be willing to sell everything that I have (which isn’t that much), and go to a country that God had showed me in a dream or something and live among the poor. I am not sure I could do it. I hope I would though for the sake of the Gospel. My admiration for this couple had grown more and more as I continued to talk with them. Vistali opened his Bible (covered in a plastic bag so it would remain nice), and showed me a verse in the Psalms that said, “He that blesses the poor will remain in good health.” He then said, “You understand?” I did.

After some time, we left the Subway and went home for the night. I do not think I will ever forget that night. It was something that has convicted me. I hope it has blessed you. God bless

Doing Church: The Golden Calf

Today’s service was very good.  Gary taught.  I find it very interesting how the styles between Gary and Todd are so different yet they compliment one another quite well as a team.  I guess God brings different people together to work together in some amazing ways.

We went through another chapter of Exodus.  The chapter where Moses goes up the mountain of the Lord and the people sit back with Aaron and wait for Moses to return.  It is a good story if you have not read it in a while.  Basically the people get worried that Moses died or something and ask Aaron to make them a god so that they can have something to look at.  Aaron asked for them to take off all the gold they had.  They did.  He then threw it in the fire and “out popped a golden calf” – so Aaron says later.  The people are happy they have a god to look at so they start dancing.

Meanwhile, Moses is up with God.  God let’s Moses in on what’s going on down at the camp.  Moses goes down, gets mad and smashes the tablets God had just written.  Moses deals with his brother, tells the people to divide and all the sudden about 3,000 people are dead.

Perhaps that is a crass way to explain the Scriptures.  I don’t know for sure.  But nonetheless, that is basically what happens.  Here are some thoughts about it after I have read it again.

1.  When we become impatient, we look for something to meet our needs.   We never enjoy sitting and waiting on God.  If we could figure out how to make something work in our own way, we feel we are better off for it.  What a shame.  It happens more often than we would like to admit though doesn’t it?

2.  The gods we create for ourselves are ridiculously dumb.  Here is a calf (which by the way was an animal sacrificed by pagan gods).  This café probably was not very big.  It was probably ugly and misshaped in some degree.  Still, it was worth worshipping and dancing around.

3.  This dancing deal was not just dancing like we dance at the clubs.  This kind of dancing, it is told to us through other scholars, was more of an orgy practice.  They most likely did more than “bump and grind.”  It was an all out sex dance.  And we know it was something that was detestable because it makes God and Moses really ticked off.

4.  Finally, it is interesting that about 3,000 people died that day.  In Acts, after Peter gave his speech concerning the Holy Spirit, about 3,000 people were saved and baptized.  The law brought death, and the Spirit brought life.  I think Paul writes something about that in Galatians doesn’t he?

I am not sure what kind of “golden calves” we create in our mind, our hearts, and with our hands.  What I do know is that God detests such things.  Maybe we would do well to smash them while we have the opportunity to do so.  Those are my few thoughts anyway.  God bless

Am I a Slave to the World or the Word of God?

Things have to change.  I have to make some significant changes in my life.  I cannot continue to live the way I am living.  If I do not make some serious changes in my life, I will most likely suffocate.  I am talking about how much I am a slave to the world and not to the Word of God or worship.  This post is about making some changes in my life and some reasons to why I need to make them.  I hope it might convey a passion to evaluate the things of this world we have become a slave to and a yearning to do something about it.  I am fed up with myself.  I cannot take it anymore.

If I were to guess how long I spend wasting time on the Internet, I would probably say in a given day, it would be close to four hours.  I never realized how much time I have wasted reading people’s posts and watching YouTube videos.  There is nothing inherently wrong with reading blogs or watching a good YouTube video or reading someone’s blog.  When we consume our lives with a pseudo world that only exists over the Internet, we become disengaged from the world around us.  We seek our self-esteem from all the people who send us emails or how many people read my blog rather than our neighbors and our communities who are hurting.  When we take the time to close our computers down and actively do something else, we become more apart of our community.  We can become social to our families, and the world around us.

Therefore, I have decided as of tonight, outside of meaningful uses of Internet activity (homework and the use of study tools), I will spend no more than 90 minutes a day surfing the Internet.  To me, there is a lot of trash on the Internet anyway.  None of it is aiding in my personal growth in the Lord.  It is just stupid entertainment that consumes time in which I can spend with others or in the Word of God.  I believe this is probably one of the most counter cultural decisions I can make for myself.  I know I will be blessed with the free time.  If I cannot find what I am looking for in 90 minutes, I am sure I do not need it.  Seriously though, it is time to pull the plug on the computer and allow it to sleep.  I am sure I am not the only one.

I will also designate one day where I will not respond or even open my computer each week.  I will ultimately take a Sabbath from my Internet usage and spend that time in prayer, reading the Word, or with my family. I am going to choose Friday as my Sabbath day.  The significance of that day being that it follows the OT command of the Sabbath and I work most every Saturday from 10 AM – 11PM.  It will be one full 24-hour period of rest from the wide world web.  It will be like a mini vacation from the virtual arena.

Another area I am changing is my money spending.  When I look at how much I have bought over this past month, and how much money I have wasted, I have come to realize that I am fitting more and more into the materialistic mindset.  It is a simple mindset most of us fall into but would never admit to unless we were confronted with it.  We buy things because we like things.  When we are tired of the things we have, we put them on a shelf never to use or need the thing we had bought and we search for a new thing in order to consume.  It continues until we have so much crap, we feel claustrophobic by the stuff we “just had to have.”  We become stressed and pull our hair out.

Therefore, I have decided that I will not just spend money without considering a few questions:  Do I really need this thing that I am looking at to buy?  Will this thing ultimately bring me closer in my relationship to God and be beneficial for me?  Will life go on without it if I do not buy it?  Do I already have something like it?  Am I just consuming stuff to clog up my life or is it something I really could use?

There are a lot of questions we should ask ourselves before we run up to the register with our credit cards in hand.  Sometimes we are so quick to “put it on our tab,” we end up with something we neither need or actually wanted.  This can include the amount of clothes we have, the amount of CD’s we buy, and the amount of DVD’s we own.  We seriously have more crap than we know what to do with.  Maybe we can simplify our lives if we gave away half of what we have.  Less clutter means less stress, which means better sleep, and less worries.  Not a bad idea eh?

Money spending for me also includes how much I dine out and how much I buy snacks.  I love coffee.  I also love Planet Smoothie.  The only problem is that I seem to find places like that way too often.  I end up paying a ton of money on that stuff throughout the week.  Therefore, I have decided that I will go out to eat only once a week (if that) and only treat myself to snacks that are both healthy and more affordable.  I do not need the largest cup from the local store.  I do not need 3 hamburgers from Wendy’s.  That is gluttony and I do not need it.  I need more of the Word of God in my life.  I need to learn the discipline of fasting more so that I can learn self-control.  I need to drink more water than soda and I need to eat more fruit than constantly consuming the junk food I normally consume throughout the week.  I need to treat my body with a little more respect so that I will be healthier and more active in my life.

Thirdly, I will take one month every six months and not spend any clothes, accessories, books, CDs or other things I normally would buy.  This will be a fast from spending money.  I will also take 7 days and fast from food all together.  I believe if I can make it through a 7 day fast, I can show myself and God I am able to have self-control in my life.  It is so important to me that I make these changes in my life.  I know that I will be blessed in doing these things.

Finally, we have to replace all of this time and effort with something else.   I have a few selections and ideas I have been given by others that I hope to adopt in my personal life.

1.    I have bought Phyllis Tickle’s book, “Divine Hours.”  In the morning and evening, I want to invest in going through the Divine hours.  I want to build my waking up and my going to bed around the Word of God and contemplation.  I no longer want to wake up because I have to go to work or because I have a class.  I want my purpose for waking and for resting to be the Word of God.  I want everything else around it to fit into that equation.  I know it will be a challenge for me to maintain my journey in it, but I will nonetheless strive to make it effective and valuable.  During the mid-day hours (for me that is usually after 5:00 during the week and sometime between 1:30-4:00 on Saturday and Sunday, either read a Psalm, a chapter in the Bible (through the whole book), or spend that time in prayer.  For me, Saturday will be the hardest day to make that work out.  We do not have “breaks” like normal places of employment.  There are times throughout the day though that I can sneak away from the busyness of the restaurant and find a quiet place to pray for 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there.  I will attempt to spend 15 minutes in prayer throughout my mid-day and read a chapter from the Word from a pocket Bible I can keep in my pocket.  If it means I have to make an excuse to use the rest room, I will do so.  The Word of God is far more important than anything else – at least it is supposed to be.

2.    I will also keep to the very best of my ability all the things I have laid out in the above paragraphs.  It will not be easy to make these changes but, as I said, I need to make them.  It is that serious.

Why is it so serious?  Romans 12: 1-2 say, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Another translation puts it this way: So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

So, that ultimately is the reason why I need to make these changes.  I cannot allow the patterns or rhythms of this world to dictate who I am in Christ. This verse calls you and I to live a counter cultural lifestyle we oftentimes run away from.  It seems too hard or too difficult to walk.  The journey seems so boring and dull.  It isn’t though.  Our journey can begin with Christ as our purpose for waking up and our reason for resting.  You and I have to make a choice in what we will be enslaved to.  It will either be Christ or it will be the World.  There are no other options.  I am choosing option A.  I want to know the will of God for my life.  I want to know what his good, pleasing and perfect will is for me.  I want to know what He is doing in the context of where I live and within my life.  I want to know how I can be apart of what God is doing there.  And I want there to be no hindrances from my end to serve God effectively.  It is worth it.  Please keep me in prayer because I know I will need it.  I am sure Satan is not happy about these changes.  I hope I have excited or planted a seed of passion in someone else through reading this.  Thanks Todd for asking hard questions and making me think.  As I wrote on Todd’s site, “I am an unfinished painting to be completed by the Master Artist.  I hope one day to be put on display for all to see.”  That is my prayer and I hope it is yours.  And, with that, I will say good night.  God bless.  See you Saturday

White Christmas in November?

So I was walking in K-mart the other day around nine o’clock. As I entered through the doors, I saw the left over Halloween costumes on the racks and a ton of candy sitting in boxes to the left. As I continued through the store, I was brought to a stop. Believe it or not, “White Christmas” was playing over the speakers. I don’t know about you but I have some thoughts about this.

Number 1: What the hell? We aren’t even in December yet. It seems as though when Halloween ends, Christmas begins. What on earth ever happened to Thanksgiving? Is it just I or did we forget? I know that Christmas is the biggest commercialized holiday in America but come on people. Do we really need to be hearing “White Christmas” right now? Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is a great holiday. For me, it is more about giving than receiving but nonetheless; it is the only day I am guaranteed not to work at the restaurant I work at. Seriously though. Can we shut off the music till at least December? It is the least we could do.

Number 2: Can we take the time to consider the importance of Thanksgiving? I mean, seriously. Thanksgiving is an important day. I consider Thanksgiving as the “anti-complaining” holiday. We really have a lot to be thankful for in this world. We live in a free country where, if I want to say “merry Christmas” I can say it without worrying what people should think. I have great health, a great family, and more blessings from God I can even count. So it is that Thanksgiving is a day that we stop and remember just how blessed we really are in this great nation.

I am not saying I have all the answers; Lord knows I don’t. All I am saying is: We need to not forget the importance of Thanksgiving. It is a day on our calendar for a reason. Go to your local store and ask them to turn off “White Christmas” till December. Let’s take some time to remember just how amazingly blessed we really are. Thanks