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NYC Mission Trip

2 Aug

Last week about 30 teens and adults from my church went on a week-long mission trip to NYC to work with Operation Exodus Inner City, Inc.  The mission of Operation Exodus Inner City is to promote personal growth, high educational achievement, and leadership to underserved children, with an emphasis on the Latino community in Washington Heights, through quality out-of-school education, caring mentoring relationships, school placement and parent workshops, all guided by the transforming power and values of Jesus Christ.

Our week was a mix of intense emotions.  Some days we were very excited about what God was doing in and through us, and other days we just asked ourselves why we were even there.  Some of us had a more difficult week than others.  I would say that I had one of the better experiences, although there were a couple of mornings I woke up absolutely dreading the day.  There’s no doubt we were all pushed completely out of our comfort zones.  Most of us had little or no experience working with kids, and the ones who did were not used to working with kids from different cultures.  Also, most of the females on the trip did not enjoy the tiny showers we had to use, or climbing 5 flights of stairs to get to our rooms, and having to go down one flight just to use the restroom.

While we were there we did have a fair amount of time for sightseeing and just hanging out on the weekends and in the evenings, so that was really fun – getting to spend time with some incredible people in one of the most incredible cities in the world.  One night a few of us even sat down right in middle of Times Sqaure and played Catch Phrase.  (Kudos to the coolest pastor ever, Scott Stewart, for the idea). 

Although we got to do some fun things (not to say working with the kids wasn’t fun), here is how our day went 8-5:30, Monday-Friday: Leave the hostel we were staying at by 7:20 every morning, take the subway to Washington Heights (or Inwood, depending on which site you were at), walk to your site, hang out for a few minutes and pray before the kids started to arrive, play games with the kids for about 30 minutes, have a morning assembly, and then go to our classrooms for reading time.

At 10:00 we got to leave our classrooms and take a break until 11:50, when we would start lining the kids up for lunch.  We walked them to a nearby school to have lunch at 12, and when they were done we took them to the park for 2 hours.  After park time we would head back to Exodus, let the kids change their clothes if they got wet at the park, have snack time, and then head back to the classroom for creative (craft) time.  After crafts we went to praise and worship to end the day where we would sing some songs, have a drama/skit, and have a talk/Bible study.

Wednesday was a little different than the rest of the week, though.  People with grades K-3 took their students to Columbia University for the day, while grades 4-8 went to The New School and to Wall Street.  Friday, our last day working with the kids, I gave a talk to the elementary school kids about how Jesus is the true and better Joseph (our theme for the week was forgiveness, so we were studying the life of Joseph), which I really enjoyed.

My partner and I worked with the kindergarten class all week.  Before going on the trip, I was hoping to work with the middle schoolers, but knowing what I know now, I am extremely thankful for getting to work with my awesome group of kindergarteners.  Probably my least favorite thing about working with that age group though is that it is much more difficult to communicate with them on a deeper level than it is with older kids. 

During the week our pastor encouraged us to make an effort to really get to know at least one kid and to have a meaningful conversation with them about Jesus.  I don’t know how much God used me to minister to the kids in the city, but I do know how much God used the kids and the city to minister to me. 

After arriving at JFK airport on Saturday, we took a bus to the hostel we were staying at.  It was about an hour ride and I sat by myself listening to my iPod, looking out the window at the city and praying.  As I looked out down at the streets full homeless people, moms with children, and teenagers, I suddenly realized how much Jesus loved and cared about these people and about the city.  It was like I was actually seeing people the way God sees them.  This was pretty amazing to me, because I had been to NYC and seen all of these things before, but it didn’t mean anything to me then – my heart didn’t break for the people, but this time it did.

About a week before the trip I had been reading a chapter in Mark Driscoll’s book Vintage Church called “How Could the Church Help Transform the World?”  Here are a couple of paragraphs from it that I want to share:

Sadly, most Christians associate the city with vice, not virtue.  In truth, cities have long been seen as a haven for violent crime, sexual sin, and drug abuse.  But sin is often most clearly seen in the city simply because it is more concentrated in the city than in suburban and rural areas.  As a result, the correlated need for God is most clearly seen in the city.  The rawness of the city makes it exactly the kind of place that God would use to convince people of their need for him.  Furthermore, by revealing the unveiling of a city upon his return, Jesus intends for Christians to love cities in the meantime…. Plainly stated, cities are the most strategic place for Christians and the gospel.  Because government, law, education, healthcare, information, media, arts, sports, entertainment, trade, travel, population, and industry are concentrated most in a city, cities are the foundations from which culture flows.  Therefore, Christians who flee from cities only to complain about the kind of culture that is flowing into the culture from the cities are both foolish and hypocritical.  The answer is for Christians to love the city, move to the city, pray for the city, and serve the city until Jesus returns with his city, from which all culture will emanate throughout the new earth.

Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, pg. 297-299

So during this trip, there were a few main things that God showed me about himself, and about myself as well.  One thing I became more confident about was the fact that God WILL give us more than we can handle.  Despite the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” (which you will never find in the Bible, by the way) that many Christians like to throw around, I sincerely believe that God will “give you more than you can handle” so that you depend solely on him – not on yourself, or anyone or anything else.  I do realize that 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but that is a little different.  I also learned how much God really does love the city and the people in it, and I think it’s pretty sad that the majority of Christians would never want to live in a city because of its “sinfulness.”  And I learned that when you start to see people the way God sees them – not through the corrupted lens of your culture – that it will change your life.

Here are some more cool pics from the trip…


  

 

Love, Your Dad

4 Jul

My Child,

You may not know me, but I know everything about you (Psalm 139:1).  I know when you sit down and when you rise up (Psalm139:2).  I am familiar with all your ways (Psalm 139:3).  Even the very hairs on your head are numbered (Matthew 10:29-31), for you were made in my image (Genesis 1:27).  In me you live and move and have your being, for you are my offspring (Acts 17:28).  I knew you even before you were conceived (Jeremiah 1:4-5).  I chose you when I planned creation (Ephesians 1:11-12).  You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book (Psalm 139:15-16).  I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live (Acts 17:26).  You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  I knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) and brought you forth on the day you were born (Psalm 71:6). 

I have been misrepresented by those who don’t know me (John 8:41-44).  I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love (1 John 4:16) and it is my desire to lavish my love on you, simply because you are my child and I am your Father (1 John 3:1).  I offer you more than your earthly father ever could (Matthew 7:11), for I am the perfect father (Matthew 5:48).  Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand (James 1:17), for I am your provider and I meet all your needs (Matthew 6:31-33).  My plan for your future has always been filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11) because I love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore (Psalm 139:17-18) and I rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).  I will never stop doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40), for you are my treasured possession (Exodus 19:5).  I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul (Jeremiah 31:41) and I want to show you great and marvelous things (Jeremiah 33:3).  If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me (Deuteronomy 4:29).  Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), for it is I who gave you those desires (Philippians 2:13).  I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine (Ephesians 3:20), for I am your greatest encourager (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).  I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you (Psalm 34:18).  As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart (Isaiah 40:11). 

One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth (Revelation 21:3-4).  I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus (John 17:23), for in Jesus my love for you is revealed (John 17:26).  He is the exact representation of my being (Hebrews 1:3).  He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you (Romans 8:31) and to tell you that I am not counting your sins.  Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you (1 John 4:10).  I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love (Romans 8:31-32).  If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me (1 John 2:23) and nothing will ever separate you from my love again (Romans 8:38-39).  Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen (Luke 15:7).  I have always been Father, and will always be Father (Ephesians 3:14-15).  My question is… Will you be my child (John 1:12-13)?  I am waiting for you (Luke 15:11-32).

Love,
Your Dad, Almighty God

Irresistibly Beautiful

15 Jun

For some reason, I’ve been in a very contemplative mood lately.  And I think.  A lot.  About a lot of things.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the past few years.  A week or so ago I was talking to a girl on Facebook — a girl who used to be my best friend.  We were best friends our freshman and sophomore year of high school.  We were inseparable.  Always together, and ALWAYS laughing.  As we were talking about all of our old inside jokes, I realized how much I missed those days. 

But, I also began to think… I am not at all the same person I was two and a half years ago — not even close.  Something pretty drastic happened to me at some point between the middle of my junior year and the middle of my senior year… Jesus became irresistibly beautiful to me.  And that changed everything.

Up until that point, I thought I was already a Christian.  I could tell you more about Christianity and its history and different denominations and their beliefs than any other teenager I knew.  I could write essays that shocked college instructors, and handle just about any criticisms that were thrown at me.  But, there was one major problem — I did not understand (or truly believe) the gospel.

It’s odd, looking back now, since Jesus has saved me, at the person I was just two or three years ago, and then looking at who I am today.  There are very few people, maybe one or two, who really knew me back then and who really know me now, but it’s pretty shocking to them how much I have changed.  I guess you’ll have that when God sovereignly claims you as his own.  To quote John Piper, “Nothing in me contributed to the fact that Jesus became irresistibly beautiful to me.”

Familiarity Might Compel You to Reject Jesus

2 Mar

Mark Driscoll, co-founder and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, recently preached a sermon called Jesus the Prophet, on Luke 4:22-30.  In it he points out eight things that might compel you to reject Jesus.  They are: theology, control, greed, selfishness, familiarity, comfort, embarrassment, and religion.  While he made excellent points about each, the one that I liked the most had to be familiarity.  Here’s what he said:

Familiarity. They say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? He says he’s God, Lord, Savior, Christ, King, and Prophet, but we saw him grow up. We know who he is. That’s not who he is. We know who he is.”

The truth is, you can become so familiar with Jesus that you don’t even know who he is. You can grow up in church, be around Bible teaching, go to camp, go to Christian school, have Christian family, friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors. You can even go to Bible college and get some goofy, dinky Bible college professor that gives you some weird, funky new liberal insight on Jesus and all of a sudden, you feel like you got it all nailed down and covered, and you reject him and move on and get into spiritism, demonism, and false teaching. Why? Because you’re like, “I know Jesus. I know the stories. I know the doctrine. I got it all nailed down, you know. But I’ve kind of moved on to some other things as well, in addition to or in place of him. Because I know him really well.”

And the truth is, you don’t. You don’t know him at all. You’re like the people in Nazareth. They’ve become so familiar of him that they’re really not aware of his true identity as God among them. I really worry about this with the church kids. See, I’m a fired-up, full-tank-of-gas kind of guy when it comes to Jesus. And part of that is, I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about Jesus and reading the Bible. We were marginal Catholic, but I wasn’t paying any attention. And I would have said, “Oh, I know who Jesus is. Yeah, he did something with fishes and loaves and, yeah, he can water-ski without a boat and stuff. Yeah, I know a few things about him.” But I didn’t really know much about Jesus and I wasn’t that familiar with him.

When I start meeting Jesus and reading the Bible and being with God’s people, I’m fired up because it’s all pretty fresh and new to me. For those of you who are like my wife and now like my kids, and you’re going to hear the name of Jesus and you’re going to hear Bible teaching and Bible reading and be around God’s people for a long time, don’t get too familiar with Jesus. Still be amazed and shocked and continue to be astonished by this man.

To quote Matt Chandler, another awesome pastor, “[in the South] the bulk of people have some understanding of who Jesus is… the bulk of people have enough of Jesus to feel like they don’t need him, or that they understand him enough.”  I think that is a problem.

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