Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ezra's Arrival

Just after midnight I was finally retiring for the evening when I noticed that Deanne was awake. I asked if she was going into labor yet. “I think my water just broke,” she replied. I started to smile. After she toyed with the thought of getting a good night’s rest before a trip to the hospital she eventually agreed with me that she should call the hospital and ask for their advice. We’re both glad she dialed them up. We arrived at the hospital around 1:15 and had time to smoothly transition to the delivery room unlike the last round with Eden when she was in the worst stages of contractions in the car and feeling every bump as we sped to the hospital.

Fast forward through two hours of waiting for things to start really moving when all of the sudden the intensity goes from a four on a scale of 10 to the top in seconds. We yelled for the nurse, the staff rushed in and in no time we were holding Ezra Lukas in our arms amazed at his glorious entry.

Since then he still has a habit of going zero to sixty though most of the time he is relaxed. When he’s hungry or ready to sleep you’ll know it. Such wonderful little cuddler. 

Love this guy!


Ally Across the Alley

After church on Sabbath I was taking my time getting home. For once I wasn’t in a hurry. After pulling into my spot in the alley behind our house I unloaded my guitar and headed for the trunk. On my way a neighbor lady greeted me from her tiny, two person sized, second story deck 20 yards away. I asked how she was doing which can a powerful question when take the time to listen. I had no idea how much time the answer would take. 

She started to open her heart about her painful struggle with losing three family members within a short time. As we were having this sensitive conversation long distance her neighbor’s dog on the adjacent deck was barking away and interfering with our communication. This turned into a blessing. She invited me to meet her in the front of her house to continue the conversation. I put my guitar back in the cab, went around the corner and stepped onto her porch where she invited me to take a seat.

She handed me a funeral bulletin and pointed to a for sale sign in her front lawn telling me she’d had enough and was moving to Harrisburg after living in the home for fifty-some years. Her whole life. She shared the sad events weighing on her heart but would also intersperse praise to God frequently for how He showed up in it all. In February her big brother, the family leader, collapsed dead in the snow between his house and his ride on the way to a check up after a recent fall. On the day of his funeral, while the procession was lining up in front of her house, her son’s grandpa died. A couple days after her brother’s service a cousin or uncle had a stroke and died. She tried to hold back the tears but the two month old would was still fresh to her heart.

Though she kept praising God for His goodness, she says she’s ready to go. I can understand wanting a new start after so much pain in one place. But she didn’t just leave it there. She let me know how grateful she was for our group living in the community because for years she had felt she was praying for the neighborhood alone. She said we are pillars in the community and that as she goes she’s passing the baton to us. We can continue to the race.

We exchanged names and numbers and prayed and I invited her to come to a home Bible study/evangelistic series we’re holding in May. She lit up and said she would bring her grand kids and attend with them. She invited me in to give me some popsicles for my daughter and introduce me to her boyfriend before I headed home.

What stuck out to me the most from the encounter was that people are watching us. She had seen us caroling and praying with neighbors and it made a difference for her. She felt she had an ally across the ally even though we didn’t know each other personally. 

Pray for your neighbors, smile at everyone, and when you get the opportunity, ask how they’re doing. Who knows what opportunities it will open up.

While your at it, please say a prayer for Karen and my neighborhood.



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Friday, February 14, 2014

They'll Know We Are Christians By Our _______

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - Jesus

Yesterday I was spending some time in my neighborhood trying to connect with a couple of people who have expressed interest in Bible studies. I thought this was a brilliant plan because by Philly standards it has been a very tough winter and we had just been dumped on the night before. Thus, I knew people would be home. And they were! But neither of them were available because they were “in bed,” at 3:30 in the afternoon! 

I’m so glad I went out though because I met Neil along the way. Neil was taking a moment on his stoop after work to watch the happenings of the neighborhood. I got his attention and we had a little conversation. He asked if I lived in the neighborhood and I told him I was right around the corner where my home is marked with a sign reading, “Ministry House.” He said, “Oh, you’ve got the garden in your yard.” He knew us by our garden. Interesting.

People know us by what we do. Sure having a vegetable garden in the front of a row house is unique, but it helps me realize that everyone is “known” for something. Probably the most unique and striking thing about them. It may not be the true you they see but people will “know” you by what they see. And when you are hoping to minister to anyone that matters. 

It’s cool that we are known by our garden, I hope it will make people want to get to know us more. Ultimately I want everyone within five blocks of us to know us as the people who love their neighbors well. They might not say that outright, but that’s what I hope they will think. I hope they will see Jesus with new eyes as they are reintroduced to Him through His real, tangible love in us. What is the most noticeable characteristic of your life?


Here's a picture of two of my loves! Happy Valentine's day ;)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Break Yourself!

In Jesus Calling Sarah Young writes as if Jesus Himself was speaking, “Do not wear yourself out with analyzing and planning. Instead, let thankfulness and trust be your guides through this day; they will keep you close to Me.”

I often feel very needy. It’s interesting because God provides for my every need. I don’t lack a thing in Christ. What I need the most in my life is an attitude of praise. It will keep me close to my Savior.

After the reading the devotional I went to the Bible to pick up where I left off in my devotional routine only to find a passage that gave possibly the greatest example ever of the grateful response I want to give God for all He’s done.

Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. Mark 14:3

The commentary in my Andrews University Study Bible says the bottle was worth a years wages. Many believe Mary Magdalene (the woman above) was a prostitute. I’m not sure there’s evidence from scripture but I do know that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). When I look at passages and think logically about what a possessed person could do, I think prostitution or other evil ways of making money could be part of the deal.

I don’t know how she got all that money, but it made me think of a video from that I’ve watched repeatedly about Annie Lobert who became a prostitute to gain money and power. Check it out:

“Break yourself!,” or die. Those were the options the pimp gave her. I found the contrast between Jesus and the pimp startling. The pimp demands obedience with threats while the Savior simply sets us free with no strings attached. And if we go back to the pimp (satan), Jesus would deliver us again and again and again if we survive all that.

The pimp takes everything, Jesus gives everything, even His very life. Annie Lobert left the pimp almost dead. Jesus delivered her and she gave Him her life. Now she travels about sharing the love of her Savior. Mary Magdalene broke herself, broke the bottle of earnings from her past life in a beautiful act of gratitude to the one who set her free and gave her everything. Jesus was touched by her love and He is touched by the willing sacrifices we make for Him as we show that NOTHING compares to our worship of Him.

There will be quite “logical” thoughts playing in our heads and coming from the minds of acquaintances scolding us for our extravagance. Don’t answer the pimps calls. He wants to lure you back in and use you again. I pray that we will receive sacrificial and selfless love of Jesus and that we will gladly break ourselves for Him regardless of the cost. He is everything we need and want. Praise Him!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cast Your Net on the Right Side

Recently I was in So. Cal. for session two of the Adventist Community Services Non-profit Leadership Certificate Program that focused on community development. I found my tribe there: teachers who have personal stories of churches connecting meaningfully with their community to the clear glory of God and attendees with dreams and experiences in the same vein.

This is why I came to work with REACH Philadelphia. Deanne and I were so inspired by the vision here that we turned down a more comfortable position out west with confidence God was leading. But after two years in this ministry house in the midst of the community we hope to reach with Christ’s love, things have not turned out as I expected. Why are there only a handful of locals attending sporadically? What have I been doing with the precious time I have here? I found myself reticent to share with the other tribe members what I’m doing because I’m disappointed by the lack of progress I see. We discuss and work and assess but are we getting anywhere?

Today I praise God for His Word that is living and speaks into our lives. In John 21:1-14 NKJV I read about Jesus’s third appearance to his disciples after a fish-less night of fishing on the sea of Tiberias. He called out from shore, ““Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.”

In the Desire of Ages, it says these disciples were hoping to catch fish to provide food and clothing they needed. Jesus asked if they had any food and they couldn’t claim one measly flounder. He told them (against their common sense and current motivation) to cast on the right side of the boat and they netted more than they could haul in. One moment they had none, the next counted 153 flopping future fillets.

I’m sure these pros could have taught effective fishing seminars and boasted some amazing practices, but after a sacrificed night of sleep for empty work I’m sure morale was low. I’d go so far as to say that God kept them from catching fish so that He could show them something more effective, just as God is calling me (a trained fisher of men) deeper still.

Ephesians 6:12-13 NKJV says, “...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God...” It’s not as easy as it looks because it isn’t only about what we can see. This is why I must learn to follow the wisdom that doesn’t come naturally to me from the God who knows and loves all and wants me to be successful and full of stories to tell in this work.

Ellen White says, “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me."”

“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”

I could restate what the paragraphs above say and hammer every point but I encourage you to simply read them again and see where you see your life intersect with the counsel. Does it? How much? God is calling me to stop doing it my way and to build trusting relationships covered in prayer and love, to humble myself and walk His way. I need to spend less time in the office and more time hanging out outside of my comfort zone. How about you?

Since my family has been here in Philadelphia we have witnessed God working amazing miracles and He has taught us so much. We’ve never been part of a church with such a high average of first generation SDA’s. Never been part of a church that has a tutoring center or throws block parties, hires interns to lead out in health or urban agriculture ministries. It’s an amazing place. But I believe we’ve just seen the beginning of what God wants to do just as the disciples, after 3.5 years with Jesus, had only seen the beginning of His miracles.

Jesus wants us to be bursting with excitement over what He’s doing in and through us but we have to follow His simple, unconventional directions/methods that cut across our natural knowledge that CANNOT BE WITHOUT FRUIT, or fish or souls. May we the fishers of men listen to His perfectly wise words.


Monday, November 4, 2013

There's a time to...

Ecclesiastes 3 is a famous passage that basically says there's a time for everything. In my REACH Philadelphia intern's meeting today we were encouraged to make up our own on the fly. I didn't think these through in great depth and they aren't as deep as Solomon's words but here's what I jotted down in the moment.

There's a time to work and a time to rest.
There's a time to speak and a time to listen.
There's a time to correct and a time to soothe.
There's a time to remember and a time to forget.
There's a time to plan and a time to flow.
There's a time to walk and a time to run.
There's a time to be busy and a time to be still.
There's a time to feast and a time to fast.
There's a time to learn and a time to apply.
There's a time to smile and a time to frown.
There's a time to dream and a time to get real.
There's a time to compare and a time to be content.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to make your own list.

Finally, I pray that God will give you the wisdom to know what time it is and for you to allow God space in your life to be present with you in the moment.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Encouraged at El Rey

A few nights ago Deanne and I went to El Rey in center city Philly with our dear amigos the Shaws. It was the first time we hung out as just the couples and we laughed a little after my prayer over the food and for God to be with our kids. Not something I’ve prayed in that same sense a whole lot since they’re usually safely nearby us parents. We both own camera monitors that actually allow us to watch them while they sleep from our iPhones. Handy huh?

The most memorable parts of the dinner were the amazing food, the story of how Tyson and Esther became the Shaws (you should totally ask them about the exotic origins of their love in Spain that could really be made into a romantic comedy), and how being a part of REACH Philadelphia has impacted them.

They are about to move to D.C. and at one point started sharing about how they will miss the church community we have. I know it hasn’t been convenient to meet with us because of having a young daughter, and living 30-40 minutes away. but it was very encouraging to here what they went on to declare.  

They don’t view belonging to a church the same way anymore because of their time here. Looking forward they don’t want to join a church that is well smooth, comfortable and established, they want to be part of another church plant. They want to dive into another growing community focused on the basics of christian faith and discovering how to live all out for God together.

Those were thrilling words for this young pastor. Before I was home for 60 seconds I was already telling Pastor Tiffany (our babysitter for the evening) about it. As a church of mostly young transient members, we must bring in new members frequently to at least stay the same size. This has often reminded me that we must get roots in our community if REACH is to continue to exist. But that conversation showed me that this place really is a training ground for all who experience it before launching into the world as agents of change, building healthy communities wherever they go. 

As Jeremiah 29:11 says, God is always working in more ways than we could ever plan. He has good plans for us,  to prosper and not harm us, for hope and a future. Let’s trust Him and follow where He leads and leave what it looks like up to Him.

In closing, here’s a little paragraph from Ellen White to consider. “Many families, who, for the purpose of educating their children, move to places where our large schools are established, would do better service for the Master by remaining where they are... It would be vastly better for their children, for themselves, and for the cause of God, if they would remain in the smaller churches, where their help is needed, instead of going to the larger churches, where, because they are not needed, there is a constant temptation to fall into spiritual inactivity.”