Saturday, June 28, 2008

God loves the sojourner

17For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19

God loves the sojourner. God loves the immigrant. Remember that we are immigrants in this land. Our home is a far off country. A country that is inhabited by the praise of the Saints and illuminated by the Glory and Splendor of our God. And yet there are many Christians who rally and protest against the immigrants in our country. What if, as believers of this Great Lord of lords, we welcomed and found ways to help the immigrant? What if we offered guidance on how to become a citizen? What if we fought the cause of the fatherless and the widow in our own neighborhoods? What if?

I have heard several calls for mission trips to Mexico. The question I have is what are we doing about the people who are here at our back doors?

As we are about to celebrate our country's birthday let us remember the plaque on Lady Liberty;

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I want to be the kind of person that welcomes all people. Believing that I am a sojourner in a foreign land, I must see and treat others as if we are a part of that far off country. No matter how different they may seem or how similar they are. I cannot neglect hospitality where ever I find myself available to be hospitable. That means being present in my mind with those I am listening to. Loving them by simply listening. Could I do this? Is it possible to just listen?

The problem is that I am not good at this sometimes. I find myself not in the moment usually. I seem to always be thinking about the next thing. Whether it is thinking about lunch when someone is talking to me at church. Or thinking about how I can answer them when I am in a deep conversation. Then there are times that I just do not offer space. I think, I have to keep a conversation going. Like it is my obligation to keep talking. It seems silly, but I guess I am not a fan of awkward silence. I think that is because I am not always confident with myself. Pride. I need to repent of my pride.

Pride is another reason we don't welcome the foreigner into our lives, let alone our homes. The pride that feeds the fear that this person might take "our" time or "our" things. What if we viewed our things and our time as REALLY Jesus'? Then the Lord of lords could do with us whatever He liked. Then the pride burns away and gives way to humility - which draws us into the heart of God and causes us to see things and people His way. Perhaps, this is what God truly wants from us. Maybe this is living "missional". And if this is missional and biblical then we need to ask ourselves, how do we do this in our everyday ordinary lives. We have to kill the routine and come out of our caves and risk getting hurt, even killed. Let's not fear those who could take our lives. Let us fear the one who holds our souls.

Let us hope that this awesome and mighty God will stir in us a heart and a desire to be obedient and be kind to the foreigner in our midsts.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday Quotes on Thankfulness

I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.

- Matthew Henry

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jacksonville Mission Project Final Dispatch

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The past week we have had serious discussions regarding poverty, injustice, social action, racial reconciliation and God's Word. The fact of the matter is that God's Word, over 2,000 times speaks of God being concerned or wanting us to be concerned about these matters. I believe that we came to Jacksonville to serve and we learned that sometimes the best way to serve is to be present. We carried with us the expectation of Christ and we saw Jesus everywhere here.

The final day of being "on mission" was a beach.

Literally we went to the beach. Some might ask how this has been "suffering for Jesus" or doing missions. Well, we were educated this week that living missional isn't always about fixing up houses, or construction projects. We now think of how we can love people where they are and meet their needs by getting to know them and playing or just being with them. Hanging out with each other helped us discover that we are a lot alike. We all need a Saviour's grace and the Father's love. At the cross their is no Jew or Gentile, white or black, urban or suburban, rich or poor, we are all found needing the Gospel which is the power of salvation.

Our final day of decompression, Saturday, was the most difficult. Some of us were grumpy from a lack of rest, while others were just plain selfish. We all concluded that the day we spent on ourselves was the hardest day to get along and love one another. However, it was capped off by a hip-hop show from Reach Life Ministries.

The 1-1- Six clique was Gospel saturated in their flows and hooks. And it even got a few of us white folks dancing and bobbing our heads. The Gospel was presented clearly and culturally infused as they laid down Biblical truth in a culturally relevant form.

We are ready to make our journey back home, with more stories to share, hearts that are full, heads that are eager to learn more. God is sovereign and merciful and this is just the beginning. We hope that you will challenge us to not go back to sleep and we hope to challenge you to join in as we continue Jesus' mission for our lives.

Thank you for praying for us. We have many stories to share. See you soon Hope Church!

Mission Project: Jacksonville Day Four

Guest Blogger Michael Hays:

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers…Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?

-Isaiah 58:2-3, 6-7a

Today we had the opportunity to participate in that true kind of fasting—a purposeful decision to serve others with Christ's love. This morning our personal devotions centered on the essence of pure fasting. It is not merely an abstinence program coupled with prayer; it must also be accompanied by action. Reading from the 58th chapter of Isaiah revealed several things: the Israelites fasted with great sorrow and humbleness, yet God rejected their pleas because they still hung onto injustices that unfairly benefited themselves. Further verses expound of what God expects of the penitent seeker of His heart. Many speak of freeing the oppressed and assisting the poor. This proved to be an excellent source of contemplation as we engaged in the day's first tasks.

The main order of business this morning was to finish the cleanup efforts along the block, and corner of 24th and Pearl. After dividing into several work crews, our group set out to "Do Work".

Much of the remaining work was to restore the curbs to a respectable appearance, made difficult by years' worth of overhanging grass. Furthermore, sediment had accumulated along the curb and in the entrances to several driveways. A great many bags of dirt and grass were scraped and shoveled from sidewalks and the gutters. Another main work area was a nearby firehouse that 2nd Mile Ministry uses to host their youth group. A large pile of leaves had to be shoveled up and the yard needed to be cut.

This was made difficult because the lawnmower has apparently gone to the big lawn in the sky (probable cause: a mix up resulted in a gas/oil mixture being mistakenly placed in it). This, however, was not too daunting of a task for one Brian Metz, wielder of a weed whacker. Sheer manliness soon devoured the offending stalks of grass, relegating them to the ground in submission. The heat was still an issue of concern, but was combated with water and sunscreen. The fatigue that had been building over the course of the mission project was also a limiter on productivity, but, once again, the group pulled through to complete the task at hand by lunchtime. It was encouraging to see the stark improvement in the cleanliness of the neighborhood from when we first arrived. Sidewalks and yards overgrown with weeds and trash have been replaced with defined edges and trimmed grass. And far more importantly, our efforts today have hopefully opened doors for 2nd Mile to more effectively reach the residents of this neighborhood.

The completion of the cleanup project was certainly a cause for much rejoicing amongst the ranks of our team. Yet that victory's sweet taste was soon rivaled by the sweet taste of watermelon for lunch (God definitely had something going when He created watermelon). Though post-lunch drowsiness was an inescapable consequence of hard work and a good meal, we were still able participate in more passionate worship and further discussion of racial and poverty issues.

Evanda (aka Jolly) shared some of his testimony with the group, telling of his upbringing in the 'hood in New Orleans. While he underwent many struggles and temptations, he found the Lord through the ministry of Castle Rock Church. This is the same church that members of our youth group and many others partnered with in 2006 to help get the area back on its feet in the lingering aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was encouraging to hear about how the influence of his older brothers (one is now youth pastor at Castle Rock) and the church helped expose him to the changing power of Christ's forgiveness and love. He said that the original reason he got exposed to the ministry at Castle Rock is because they hosted basketball games in a court adjacent to the building. This helped put some of our previous activities on this mission project into perspective. While playing games like football and basketball, or hanging out at the pool may seem pointless or even lazy, God could very well use those opportunities to begin to draw people from this neighborhood towards Himself.

Later, in the evening, we gathered alongside the local youth group for their weekly Bible study at the fire station. We once again engaged in heated basketball games prior to the actual meeting. Brian delivered a message from the story of Jesus and the blind man, culminating in a summation of the salvation story. The time afterwards soon took a drastic turn downhill when a peripheral member of their youth group began getting too violent. Though this somewhat shocked us to have to leave so early, it ended up bringing up some pertinent issues. Brian called a meeting to debrief and discuss our ministry and its impact so far. This was a good time for people to share a bit of what God has been doing in each of our lives. A member of 2nd mile's youth group took the opportunity to pour out pent up emotions of hopelessness from the seemingly unbreakable hold that sin has over his friends and the community as a whole. The Lord gave us this opportunity to encourage our brother in the faith and hopefully spur him on towards further good works through our Savior. It was clear that he has a real heart for those without Christ, particularly one of his good friends—the one who had disrupted the bible study earlier in the evening. We were able to pray over our brother, and would like to request prayer from you for him and this community. Many strongholds exist, yet they are but smoke and dust compared to the healing power that is found in the blood of Christ. May His name continue to be proclaimed in Jacksonville, long after our time here has come to an end.

On a note that warrants much rejoicing, an eleven year old girl named Mikeasha came to the Lord today. She has many miles to travel in her faith, but she has taken that first and most vital step of trust. Praise God!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mission Project: Jacksonville Day Two

Guest Blogger: Kimberly Metz

Well, it's the end of our 2nd day here. It was an eventful day. We got up early to eat breakfast and then headed out to clean up the neighborhood. The girls and I were on garbage duty and the boys were on lawn duty. The boy's weed-whacked, mowed and cleaned up the yard(s) around the house we are staying in. They worked and sweated for hours. We (the girls) went to a park that was close by to clean up. Then we started walking down the road to pick up trash. We met a lady yesterday who told us about some trash around her house that she wanted us to pick up, so we went there. That was quite an adventure! It included used cat litter, dirty diapers, thousands of maggots, large red ants eating those maggots, spiders, roaches, and one loan cricket. Gross! But the girls were real troopers. They dug in (literally) and we got the job done. What I have seen over and over with these teenagers is that all we have to do is give them an opportunity to serve or work and they just run with it. I am so impressed with them. I can say that because it has nothing to do with me, it is who they are. We had free time tonight and the girls and I went to Wal-Mart (of course). The boys played Frisbee in the street (it's okay, they do that here) and spades. After the girls got back from Wal-Mart, we walked through the neighborhood with some of the kids we met yesterday. I thought of when we arrived on Sunday, and this place seemed so foreign and scary. Now, there are faces that are familiar, street names we recognize, and have already begun to love it! Jessie ended up getting her hair braided by one of the girls from the neighborhood, and Bekah fed ice cream to a little 2 year old boy who wouldn't say a word, but had amazing eyes and could light up the room with his smile when we tickled him. He fell asleep in Jamie's arms who didn't want him to go home. What a great day. God is at work here. How 'bout them Celtics!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mission Project: Jacksonville Day One

You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha... *thunk*

The other classic blunder is to think that writing a blog at 11 PM, after a day of hot sun and sports with the neighborhood kids is an easy task. The truth is that I fell asleep waiting for the pictures to upload on Flickr last night. So don't try to write in bed when you are tired either.

Yesterday saw the arrival of our super tall friend Zach. He finally made it to J-ville after flying from Birmingham. We were all excited to greet Zach. He only missed a small amount of our activities. Monday morning greeted us with cereal and a devotion on Ezekiel 16. The passage challenges us to truly love God and to not play the whore who gives herself, or pays men to be with her. In this passage one cannot help to be convicted about our lack of pure love toward our Saviour.

"We went to the pool and talked to kids, you know like, when they were all cool, like you know Jeremiah and then, totally we went swimming at the pool and then random kids came up and dunked us while chicken fighting with, you know like, us and then we like we walked home and after that more stuff like you know sitting around so that we had to go to like you know this huge park where we like played football and they are like really passionate about football, like you know that one guy Sammy, who you know was like you know playing tackle, hardcore but like it was really cool and they were really passing to the white kids and like stuff with the girls like playing happy hands and like dancing."

The Above paragraph was quoted verbatim by Andrew Murphy, who seems to be really, like, euphoric about his experience thus far.

Seriously, folks, Monday was acclimation day as we kept our schedule full of "fun" things that introduced us to some of the neighborhood kids. The purpose of this of course was for us to begin the implementation of the intentional relationship building that is integral to our ministry here on 24th street. We are living in a house that is viewed almost like a community house, in that the youth in the community come and visit at their leisure. The boundaries, which all of the community youth seem to not only know, but respect and follow willingly, are knocking and asking for permission to use or do things in the house. This provides our hosts opportunities to share Christ in community and to be a safe place on the block. In the early afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet our neighbors in the friendly confines of the public swimming pool. We proved to be great "tall" bases for young kids to chicken fight in the water. Needless to say some of us left the pool a bit on the water logged side. So after swimming for only forty-five minutes we headed back to the house. The walk is a mere few blocks and with all of us sticking together we look rather out of place. A large group of white kids in the middle of the 'hood certainly raises the attention of people (more on that later).

Miss Ruth, our leader here in Jacksonville, has been leading us in thought provoking discussion on race, poverty, and justice. Our first discussion dealt with understanding how what we value (relationships, things, etc.) is a good indicator of our social class. We generally exhibited the desires of middle class society (no surprise). However, Kimberly and I, tested positive for poverty instincts (youth pastors usually do). Intrinsically what we value, how we spend or use our money, how we view education, and even how we project our future plans is ripe with our social class. Our environment plays a key role in our perceived attitude toward a host of social responses. Things we take for granted in our social demographic, often are unthinkable of in poverty level demographics. Not to mention the racial divide that perpetuates differentiated social strata. More on that later.

After lunch we walked a few more blocks to a playground/park that is adjacent to the NFL youth center. It's the brightest building in the neighborhood, functioning as a Boys and Girls Club. We showed up at the playground's basketball court with a bag of various sports balls. Some of us took to the basketball court, while others started a game of kickball in the adjacent yard. Some of our guys started up a game of football that was quickly joined by some of the most passionate athletes that would have put the Clardy's heart for Alabama football to the test. The basketball court became like a honey comb of excitement as guys came out of nowhere to put their pride on the line in an extremely intense competition of epic proportions. We learned very quickly that even some lanky white guys can hold their own against some of the best ballers any of us had ever witnessed (or at least the best talkers). They became more inviting as we gained their respect by hustling and playing with fervor. After several full court games we all were ready to head back to the house to take showers and have some dinner. We were joined by several of the neighborhood youth, who enjoyed our conversation and the lasagna (mostly the lasagna).

As bed time approached it was met with great anticipation and silent rejoicing as we all soon fell fast asleep.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mission Dispatch: Travel Day

They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums... drums in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out... they are coming.

Actually, we are all smiles and laughter as travel day went splendidly. We are bananas for each other as there was a plethora of games, conversation and naps along the way. Oddly enough the young men were the first to ask for a bathroom break as Andrew Murphy requested the first stoppage in travel. This of course offered us the serendipitous opportunity for our first kidnapped Martin Luther photo op.

There would be many more bathroom breaks, many more. We stopped in the sprawling berg of Albany, GA for some hot Firehouse Subs (R) and yet another hostage photo op courtesy of Jasmine.

A few more "potty" breaks later and we were in Florida cozying up to "Big AL" and waiting in line for cheap gas that we did not receive because they were running out. This of course was at the same exit as $3 books! Which we all had to peruse. There were 40 billion of the same book for 99 cents (I exaggerate about the number because we all know the largest book store is in Dale Anton's third favorite state Wisconsin). Many books were to be had as well as another "potty" break however some of us found the book store more rewarding than others.

We are finally at the house in Jacksonville, where our hosts have been affectionate and hospitable. We met Ruth, Evander and Sammy (who is pulling for the Lakers in tonights Finals), and had a meal with them (*singing: Sloppy Joes, Slop-Slop-Sloppy Joes!). We hope to meet more people in the community in next few days. Ruth went over the rules and gave us the skinny on all of the things that are happening here in the neighborhood. All of us are extremely excited about the adventure that awaits us. But now it is time for everyone to lay their heads down for sleepy time. Good Night and Go Celtics!