Valentine’s Day

JESUS is my…

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD

THAT HE GAVE

HIS ONLY

BEGOTTEN

SON

THAT WHOSOEVER

BELIEVES IN HIM

SHALL NOT PERISH

BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. (John 3:16

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Stories from the Homeless (13)

The night air was thin.  It was cold.  As we walked into the subway, I could once again feel my fingers that covered with gloves.  As I looked around, there were several people sitting in the corners of the subway entrance, trying their best to stay warm despite seeing their breath in the night air.  Tonight is another “code blue” night.  Churches in the city would be opening their doors tonight to allow the homeless to sleep on the floors.  Many would find a dumpster tonight in hopes that the trash would keep them warm for the night.

The Subway was well lit.  There were many people who were already there, trying to keep warm.  The smell in the air was horrendous.  I cannot even describe the amount of different horrid smells filled the area in which we were setting up.  There was at least three times where I thought I would throw up.  “At least it wasn’t hot,” I thought to myself.  The conditions for which we were serving the poor were less than adequate but we always seem to make due.

As we opened up for business, people came from all corners of the subway.  The smell intensified as people who had not showered for several weeks made their way to receive coffee and a bag lunch.  For a moment, I had to back up and take a moment to gather myself.  After a moment, I saw my friend, Larry.  Larry was wearing an army camouflage winter coat and a pair of skintight sweat pants.  His skin was ashy due to the night air but he had a smile on his face, which made me feel like crap because I complain way too much.  He told me that he was getting ready to move to New York and live with his family there.  There would also be a job for him that would help him get back on his feet.  I could tell that the night air had an effect on Larry.  His eyes looked dry yet tears formed and dropped down his face.  As he prepared to leave, he gave me a hug.

When I turned around, I found a source of smell that was beyond what I had experienced.  As I looked for the root cause of this smell, I saw “gut-man” with his large, black, athletic bag, filled with a lot of stuff and apparently was very heavy for him to carry.  As I walked nearer to him, I realized that he was the source of a smell I cannot even come close to describing.  I prayed that God would help me get beyond the smell and talk to him for a little.

He was wearing a sweatshirt that smelled of alcohol and mold.  He was unshaven and looked tired.  I later figured out that he was both drunk and high, having smoked several joints and drinking more alcohol than remembered drinking.  He could never look me in the eyes, which bothered me because I like to have eye contact with people.  As we talked, he told me that a truck while delivering phone books to different places around the city hit him.  He was in the hospital for a long period of time, healing and receiving a much-needed assistance.  It was only recently “gut-man” got out and was walking.  He limped around as he met up with people and drank away his pain.  That is, after all why “gut-man” drank.  He drank and smokes joints so that he could forget the loss of his family and relationship with a girl he loved.

After talking to him for a little, we found out that there was a group of people from some group called “Food not Bombs” around the corner that was giving out free vegetarian food to those who might be interested in receiving some free food.  I went over with my buddy, Otto and received some free cabbage soup.  It was spicy and good.  They seemed like a cool group of people.  I hope I get to see them again sometime in the near future.

We finally gathered once again and prayed. Several homeless friends joined us as we prayed for them.  We prayed that they would be able to remain warm in the cold weather and that God would keep them.  We gathered our stuff and left.  It is hard to go to the Subway and serve the homeless.  I find it harder than going to Love Park because it is harder for the smell to dissipate.  Despite my own agendas, I will continue to go and be challenged.  If the only thing I need to get over is the smell of someone who has not had the opportunity to shower, then that would be the least of my problems I face.  I am learning how to deal with it, one new smell at a tim

A Homosexual Gene: Our Response

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The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) states, “Many laymen now believe that homosexuality is part of who a person really is from the moment of conception.” The article continues asserting, “There is no evidence that shows that homosexuality is simply “genetic.” And none of the research claims there is. Only the press and certain researchers do, when speaking in sound bites to the public” (emphasis theirs).

I agree with NARTH in that the research done on behavioral genetics has never concluded the possibility of a homosexual gene. In today’s circles of conversation, the subject matter of a homosexual gene might not be the topic of conversation around the dinner table or even religious tables for that matter. I want to ask the question though that perhaps we have overlooked regarding the “homosexual gene” I will call “x.” What if there was a gene that we could undeniably identify as the “homosexual gene x?” What If the tests were conclusive and the subjects were not tampered with in any way? What would a Christian’s response to these new findings be it they were at all possible?

It would tell us that the sin-nature of humanity has reached even to the genetic code of man. We who believe that there was a literal Adam and Eve also believe that there was also a literal sin act that occurred, resulting in humanity and the universe being cursed. If such a gene like a homosexual gene was ever found, it would only deepen our understanding of how sin can affect the human body.

Romans 1 tells us: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged truth about God for a lie and worshiped and serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passion. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:22-27).

Could it be that the results of sin reach much deeper than just what we see on the surface? Let there be no mistaking – I do not believe in any case, homosexuality has been proven to be a genetic result. To say so means that it would be impossible for an individual to make a conscience decision to be heterosexual or homosexual, thus allowing the sin of an individual to be justified by a human condition. What I am saying is that if there ever was an individual who was able to provide an undisputable argument from science that there is, without a doubt a homosexual gene, we should not be surprised by its findings. As Christians, our first response in any case is to love one another. Each person is made in the image of God and therefore deserves such love.

My final thoughts rest on a saying in which I was taught at a young age: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Is this even biblically correct? I would submit that God even hates the sinner but loves the person. We have been given a great gift in Jesus so that we can identify ourselves not as sinners but as a people redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. No matter what area of sin an individual lives in, Jesus is able to come and provide a way out. We rarely speak of this way but know in our hearts that God finds us in the gutters of life and brings us out into the light. This is an aspect of the good news the Gospel brings to all people who believe in Jesus and desire to align their ways with His. We must never forget the power of sin and the hold that it has on individuals. However, we must also never forget that there is a greater power by which we can be saved – the name of Jesus Christ. He has the ability to transform a sinner into a person redeemed. Praise God

Doing Church: God’s Power

Today, Gary taught on Acts 4.  The main thesis was, “Humanity’s understanding of power is no where close to the power of God.”  It was with this power; Peter spoke to the people and to the leaders of the Jews.  I would write some more about this subject or the service but I feel that perhaps that is more than enough for us to understand.  We struggle with that issue as it is.  Maybe we could take a cue from God on this issue.  His power is amazing.

Super Bowl Clothes: Two Sets?

 

This past Sunday, I watched the super bowl at a friend’s house. When the game was over, each player of the New York Giants had a super bowl shirt and a super bowl hat. How on earth did they know the Giants would win the super bowl? I figured there had to be two sets of clothes, one set for one team and one for the other. It just made simple sense that is how they were able to give the winning team a shirt and a hat. After I came to this conclusion, my next question is: What happens to the other set of clothes? What happens to the hats and the shirts made with the Patriots logo on it?  Something must happen to the cloths – right?

I have done some research regarding this question. I have found the answer. The other set of championship gear – 288 T-shirts and caps made for the team that did not win – will be hidden behind a locked door at the Stadium.  By order of the National Football League, the losing team’s shirts and hats are never to appear on television or on eBay.  In fact, they are never even supposed to be seen in North America – ever. On Monday, these items will find themselves being shipped to Uganda and will be given out to people who are in need of cloths.

World vision takes possession of these cloths and will make sure they reach the proper destination. Along with these shirts and hats, medical supplies will also be given. Since these people lack electricity, television, and a radio, they would never know who won or did not win the super bowl in 2008. Most probably do not even know what a football is in the first place.

So when you watch TV, and you see those commercials that reach out to orphans, look to see the shirts the children are wearing. You might be surprised to see the losing team’s shirts on the children who are playing in a slum in Ethiopia.

The distribution of the caps and shirts is made into a science. By the fourth quarter, several employees from Reebok will sit and wait until the end of the game.  They will wait to see who wins the game and then rush the field in order to give out the winning team shirts and hats for them to wear. The reason – if they are able to get the shirts and hats on the players as soon as possible, they will be seen wearing the hats and shirts – thus providing free advertisement.  Each employee receives a player to find and give a shirt and hat.  Family members and close friends will also receive a hat and a shirt to wear proudly.  Their thought is, “If I can get the quarterback to wear our hat and shirt on Sunday, they will be bought by adoring fans on Monday or Tuesday – free advertising.

What about the other sports teams? Apparently, the NBA sends the runner-up to an overseas mission organization, The MLB destroys the loser’s clothes, and the NFL sends the opponent’s clothes far, far away.

So now you can look like a smarty when someone asks, “Where does the other team’s clothes go?” Now you know.  Share it with your friends and update them to

Posted in Sports. 4 Comments »

Missional Church: Book Review

For the past seven years, I have been challenged in my understanding of how we are to interact with the Church both locally and universally. My journey to find the answers to some of my most challenging questions were both formed and shaped while I was an undergraduate student at Lancaster Bible College. Something within me thought there really had to be more to the body of Christ than what I was reading and learning. Reading several books by some well-known authors prompted my thought process and has significantly, through the leading of God’s spirit, to Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA. As I look back over these past seven years, I can honestly say that each answer I have received has brought about newer and deeper questions that I now wrestle with and am challenged with, even at this very moment. If there was one book I wish I would have had while going through some of these questions, Missional Church by Darrell Gruder would have been such a book I would have wanted on my shelf. This post wrestles with Guder’s understanding of what it means to be a “missional church” within a culture that is very new and is continually being shaped by a very different a shift both nation and church wide we have not seen in the United States within the past two-hundred years.

As I looked through Table of Contents, I noticed a theme had emerged. The term missional simply means that they body of Christ has been given a responsibility to be “missionaries” in the context of where they work and live. We have all been given this challenged and responsibility as believers and followers of Jesus Christ (John 20:21). This calling – to be Jesus-ish – is valuable to the work of God within our own culture. So it is, within the Table of Contents, the term missional begins every new chapter. All the other words used after missional are familiar words we have used within the church, indicating that perhaps we, as the body of Christ, are in need of seeing these terms through the lenses of being a missional people. This is the premise I had while I read. One of the other things I had noticed before reading the book was the authorship of not just one person but of several people who had contributed their thoughts to this project. Receiving several people’s perspectives on this issue of being missional is valuable as well. It indicated to me that no one person was able to fully answer this subject but each relied on one another to fill in the gaps. My final pre-reading thoughts stem from the authors who contributed to this writing project. As I read through the names of those who wrote the articles printed in this book, I noticed an amazing diversity of people from different denominational backgrounds and areas of study. Some are pastors and others are teachers, receiving their degrees from different seminaries and fields of study. It is problem something that is most overlooked but I read and appreciated reading.

“On the one hand, the churches of North American have been dislocated from their prior social role of chaplain to the culture and social and have lost their once privileged positions of influence” (78). George Hunsburger continues asserting, “At the same time, the churches have become so accommodated to the American way of life that they are now domesticated, and it is no longer obvious what justifies their existence as particular communities” (78). The question then presupposes itself to be, “How do we deal with these issues within the context of the Church and the reign of Christ? The answer seems almost redundant to the title – be missional. The Missio Dei of God has been given to us, as God’s people in order to be about God’s business. We have been invited to join God’s mission. Our involvement happens through tangible means of our witness, our ability to cultivate meaningful relationships in the context of our communities, taking part in leadership roles, rethinking the way in which we do church in a postmodern context, and connecting with those within our cultural context. Each one of these points has been given a particular significance within the chapters of this book through its contributing authors.

Our example of being a witness comes from the Apostles, literally a calling to “go out and be” rather than calling people to enter our churches to “come and see.” We must imitate the leading of the Apostles and be “in the world and not of it.” The author of this chapter writes, “The missional church differs from the world because it looks for its cues from the One who has sent it out, rather than from the powers that appear to run the world” (110). The church therefore, must be an Alternative Culture that lives and breathes differently from the rest of the world’s ideologies of living and breathing. This is not only subject to the goings on of the church but within the individual lives of those who make up the body of Christ in their respected communities. The way in which one spends money, treats the poor, participates in politics, cares about socio-economic issues, and stands up for issues of justice must also follow this alternative cultural way of life. Though we are different in how we live, we must not separate our witness from the world. We must continually be a people who represent the salt and light of God. We must offer ourselves as a city on a hill for those who are in need of refuge and aide from the world’s greatest downfalls and disappointments. Our witness must remain strong and tangible while the work of Christ continues “behind the scenes,” intangible to the naked eye through His Spirit.

One of the most significant statements made in the chapter that focuses on a missional community states, “A missional people walking in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and sowing the Spirit manifests the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifests the fruit of the Spirit” (147). It is the fruit of the Spirit that provides us with a model of how we are able to live with one another in a missional community. Once again, this is a tangible aspect of being missional. The Gospels write about several instances in which, Jesus and the disciples are sitting around the table, eating. The most significant meal in which Jesus and the disciples shared was what we call, “The Last Supper.” The Church can imitate communal living though community dinners, breaking bread with one another, through community prayer, and the sacrament of baptism. Community takes work and effort in order to cultivate it effectively. This is no different than attempting to grow a plant from a seed. Though much of the work seems to happen below the surface, the work of cultivation must continue throughout the whole process of the plant’s life. In many respects, this is the job of the church as it seeks to cultivate a community in the church that is visible to the world.

In order to do this effectively, we must rethink our leadership and ministry models. Those who are well educated do not primarily build leadership in a missional Church. Those who are deeply concerned with the Missio Dei and the proclamation of God’s Word, who have received forgiveness and restoration, should also be considered as prime candidates for church leadership. It is not enough that a person has several degrees on their walls. They must be willing to engage with what God is doing within the context of the community in which the person lives. They must possess a passion to see the will of God made manifest and come full circle. The writer of this chapter states, “For such communities to emerge, leaders will need to become like novices, learning to recover practices that have become alien to current church experience. Becoming a novice is a difficult transition. It requires waiting and listening to the Spirit’s directions, listening to the Lord’s song in a strange land” (199). This will look different to each community, as the context of their community is significantly different. The main concern though must be to rise up leaders who are not just well educated but have zeal to see God’s mission fulfilled on the earth.

If we look a missional church to build effective leaders in this fashion, there will need to be a rethinking of how we structure our churches in order that these missional leaders can function and lead effectively. The author of this chapter writes, “A missional ecclesiology for North America will address the situations of already existing congregations prophetically and critically. It will lead Christian communities to ask: What is our particular expression of the mission to be Christ’s witnesses” (241)? The author continues stating, “This missional ecclesiology will significantly shape the leadership of the missional pastor, whose identity we may best describe as missionary to the congregation, so that the particular community maybe become a mission community” (241). The goal of building a missional church must not be forgotten. It is to build a connected community between the body of Christ and the world. It is to this end that we must instinctively work to build this kind of church. This is where the book itself ends and the challenge to model this kind of church is left up to us.

After reading Missional Church, I found myself challenged to take from what I have learned and apply it to the church I currently attend. I have also gleaned several principles I will be able to use in future ministry roles God opens. We should always be willing to be challenged by new ways of doing things (as long as the function of the church does not change, the form can, and in most cases, probably should). As we enter into a postmodern way of doing church and living as a people set apart for the work of God, it is imperative to continually ask the questions that drive us to a greater and deeper knowledge of Jesus. This is not an option for a serious follower of Jesus.

One of the more challenging chapters for that I read was the chapter that dealt specifically with the missional community. The reason it was a chapter I had to work through the most is because, in many respects, I have never seen this type of community lived out. I have never seen a community where people view the body of Christ like a family. When I read this chapter, I was also working through the book of Acts and came across Acts 2:42-47. I saw a community of people who had everything in common and helped to meets the needs of others because they were a family. I had never seen that before. They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. These three things helped shape a community in which the world saw and respected with awe and wonder. For me, I thought something like this, as tangible as it should be, would certainly be impossible. When I finished this book however, I slowly began to realize the potential of building a missional community. I began to believe that perhaps there was hope for this missional mystery of community I have desired for so long. For now, I am personally in prayer about how to bring this ideal concept of missional community into existence where God has placed me for this season of my life. I am talking to my pastors and searching the Scriptures to find principles and examples that we are able to build from in order to make a missional community possible for not just us as a local body of believers but for others as well.

There was a term used in the last chapter of this book that I had not heard before. The term is “Catholicity.” It apparently comes from two great words kata holon, which means, “appropriate to the whole, or appropriate to the whole” (257). When we say the Apostle’s Creed (if we say it), one of the statements of faith is, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church and the communion of the saints.” I have to admit that until I had read this chapter, I had absolutely no idea what the “holy Catholic Church” referred to. Anytime we would say this prayer in church, I would not speak these words because I thought perhaps, for some unknown reason to me, the church I used to attend, though Protestant, had some “Catholic beliefs” I didn’t know about. When I would look around the room, everyone looked like zombies while they recited this prayer. I thought perhaps they were disillusioned by the words on the screen. I had no idea what to think of these words and how they should significantly affect the church I attended and the body of Christ as a whole. Though this might seem like a small issue, it has helped me in my ability to worship God fuller, especially when we recite The Apostle’s Creed.

In closing, I am not so sure I would have wanted this book as a tool of reference in my early stages of questioning my church and my faith. Wrestling with the Scriptures with other people and with God has shaped me into the type of person who desires to go deeper than the surface when it comes to a personal knowledge of Jesus, His Word, or the Christian faith as a whole. For those who have struggled for a time with the Word of God, I would submit this book as a valuable resource to read and inspire one to press forward in doing the work of the Gospel in the local Church and within the context of one’s personal community. Each chapter is filled with ideas that are valuable and noteworthy to consider. Each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the missional church but is ultimately tied together by the bonds of the Church respectively. The authors of this book have challenged me and I know they will challenge any reader who is willing to wrestle with a new way of thinking about how we live and breathe as the Church. Therefore, I would recommend this book to those who have spent some time working through the questions they have come across themselves and have sought God in His Word of authentic answers that will spur on a mindset of a missional church.

Goodbye, My Friend

One of the most unique things about life is meeting people on your journey. There are some friends who you meet that become acquaintances. Other people become friends that you see every once in a while but are not acquaintances because you know more about them than just their face. There are those still who become great friends. These are the people you spend time with on a regular basis and have great things in common with one another. These are your buddies and your pals. Finally, there are those who take an even greater step of friendship and become a “best friend.” A best friend is someone who knows you from the inside out. They know your strengths as well as your faults. They are ones who lift you up in prayer and are willing to spend quality time with you. These are unique people in your life and should never be taken for granted. I am lucky to have four “best friends” and one of them is leaving to live in Wisconsin. This post is for him.

I don’t think Jathan knows how much of a “best friend” he has been to me over the past couple of years I have known him. I think, at times, Jathan feels like the guy from “Mr. Holland’s Opus” where Mr. Holland sits and ponders what kind of impact he has left on his peers. It is near the end of the movie where he enters the auditorium and sees hundreds of kids, staff, and friends from the community there, clapping and cheering him on. All that has transpired takes him back. To me, and I know to others, Jathan is leaving behind a model of friendship, ministry, faith, and humility that many will attempt to achieve. That is something that he will never receive a trophy for.

Jathan has always been someone who is willing to give his time to you if you ask for it. On many occasions, Jathan and I (along with several other people) would hang out to read the Word of God, play a game (board games or PS2), or talk about life. To me, the most valuable conversations were our talks about life. These talks included our weaknesses/struggles, our strengths/ministry goals, girls, ministry, and our family. He was always ready to listen and always brought the focus back to Jesus and His goodness.

Jathan leaves today to drive a two-day journey to live in Wisconsin. There are a lot of reasons I believe he is going – all of them are valid reasons. The first and foremost reason he is going is because God has opened the door for him to go. God has given him a peace about this life-change and is being obedient to God’s calling. Second, God has opened up some doors to serve in the community where he will be living. There is a church that he will be serving at as an assistant youth pastor and a ministry to American Indians he will be serving. The one is a paid position, the other isn’t. He will be framing houses with his brother-in-law, which will be neat, I am sure. Third has just been stated – he will be staying with his sister and brother-in-law, who he hardly gets to see in general. I think it will be good for Jathan to move out and live with his sister for a period of time. He can’t live at home forever and needs to step out in faith and be a radical Christian. He is pretty good at that. Finally, there is a girl out in Wisconsin that he met and has gotten to know over the phone. She seems like a nice girl who is passionate about the Lord. Though I have never met her, I believe God has brought them to this point for a reason. I am sure, in time, if it is God’s will, I will have to fly out there to be apart of his wedding. Since, within the past two months they have talked well over 70 hours on the phone, I do not think I am presupposing anything that has not entered the minds of either Jathan or this girl. Time will tell though and God will lead. It just ends up working out better when that happens.

So, in closing, I send my blessing with Jathan to go make disciples of Jesus Christ in Wisconsin, to be a friend of the oppressed and the lonely, and proclaim the Word of God to others who need to hear it. I will be keeping up with Jathan’s website and facebook page. He promised he would update regularly, which is good. So, I guess the only thing I can say is, “Goodbye, my friend. Go with God and know that we love you.”