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Archive for the month “September, 2014”

Dead Kittens And the Gospel (by Rob Tevis)

The below was written by a fellow church-planter in our denomination. //

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God has called my family to plant a church in Fox Chase, a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia.Since we’re in the incubation stage of this plant, we are spending months discovering the felt needs of people in the area, recruiting and training a team, and looking for practical ways to love people.  We want them to know Jesus, so we try to care in creative ways.

One day, only weeks after we moved in, I found myself holding a dead kitten wrapped in red cloth and tied with a pink ribbon while standing over a four foot hole dug by my neighbor with a post hole digger. In one hand: this kitten bundle, and in the other the Bible.  My family of six had enthusiastically volunteimages (1)ered to bottle feed abandoned kittens found by Animal Control.  Our duty was to help these one to three week old creatures make it past bottle feeding and eventually find a permanent home.  Some kittens don’t make it.

That is why I was there that day. One of the kittens had died the night before and my four kids demanded a kitten funeral.  Little did I know, however, that my kids would also be following the words found in Ephesians 5:16 (NLT): Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. They made the most of this sad situation by inviting all of their new friends. They ran up and down the block and invited six other families to join us.  The funny thing is, it wasn’t just the kids of these families who showed up.  Adults came to check out the kitten funeral!

In a very real way this was Fox Chase Church’s first worship service.  No song was sung.  We didn’t take communion, and we didn’t take up an offering.  Eight adults with about twelve kids stood around that hole and had a good old fashion back yard Bible kitten funeral!  I opened my Bible to Romans 8 and shared verses 22-25.  The point: Jesus saves; and He will even redeem all of creation.  Death is the result of sin, but Christ brings resurrection life!  There was no altar call, but our family was able to plant seeds that day. As we placed the kitten in that hole, threw in some flowers, and covered him with dirt, I prayed for my neighbors.  I hope that I will be able to see the seeds planted during that funeral grow into a vibrant church that stands on the resurrection promises of Jesus.  God is good!

– Rob Tevis, Fox Chase, PA

Hating Evil (John Hansen)

Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 97:10 NIV

 

There are plenty of evil things in this world to hate.  So many things that leave us feeling disturbed and disgusted and angry.

 

It’s easy to feel hatred for evil that is in the world and then naturally the people who perpetrate those evils…  “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is what we’ve been told over the years, right?  It’s an attempt to address how quick we are to feel anger and hatred toward the people who do evil.

 

But how often to do we read this verse and allow it to turn our hate for evil inwards.  With all the atrocities that exist in the world today, it’s easy for us to lose sight of the one particular set of evils that we have the most power to address and conquer—and that’s the evil that WE carry out.

 

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil (IN THEIR OWN LIVES)”.

 

If we really let this sink in and become a sort of anthem, how much more open and receptive would we be to the Holy Spirit as we join him on a mission to identify and address any evil actions, behaviors or attitudes that we carry around every day.

 

“…for he guards the lives of his FAITHFUL ones…”

 

Maybe our faithfulness is more profoundly measured by how committed we are to hate the evil in our own lives.  Are we supposed to hate the external evil that we observe in the world?  Of course.  And we should do whatever is in our power to address that as well and be a part of bringing change and justice.  But if we are doing all that and failing to place more emphasis on the evil in our own life—even if it does seem insignificant and justified to us—aren’t we just hypocrites?

 

Think about it.  The most horrific evils we’ve learned about in history and today find it’s origin in the form of things like pride, jealousy, greed, lust.  These are internal things that we all deal with.  Things that remain internal and seemingly innocent until they graduate into an external action that causes observable suffering in others.

 

It seems a strong argument to say that most of the world’s evil that we so easily hate could have been prevented if the perpetrators had simply committed themselves to hate the evil in their own hearts enough to let God deal with it.  Maybe the scripture is trying to tell us that only THEN is when God,

 

“…delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”

 

From their own hand perhaps.

Food for thought.

Empty Pocket, Full Attention (by Brady Goodwin)

I sometimes leave the house without my phone—on purpose. (Gasp!)

Despite the annoyance of anyone who may try to reach me, for an hour or two each day, I willfully decide to do without the ability of immediate communication or information from the outside world. This means no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, no Google, no texts and no push notifications alerting me of the latest breaking news or the game’s score update. The only knowledge accessible to me is the knowledge I already possess.

For many, the thought of a technology-free excursion only brings terror. What if something important happens? What if someone needs something from me? What if I don’t know the exact temperature outside or the Yelp rating for this Thai restaurant? The anxiety can be overwhelming, but I press on into the unknown.

Yet surprisingly, like a cool breeze in August, my forays into a more ancient age (circa 1998) do not end in disaster. In fact, there’s something liberating about being unfettered from the chains made of data plans and touch screens. The trees have more color and the streets more life. There’s a spring in my step as I reach into my pocket, only to remember that there’s nothing there. There’s a comfort knowing that the only conversations I will have in this moment are with the people sitting across from me, not with the newest email in my inbox or the mentions in response to my latest clever tweet (as if). There’s a humility that flows when I realize whatever newsworthy events are happening will not come to my attention unless they happen to me. Otherwise, I can read about them later.

I leave my phone at home because I need to be reminded that I don’t know everything, nor can I. It’s more important for me to know that where I am is where I am, and not somewhere else. I need to see that I am fundamentally limited and that my incessant desire for knowledge says far more about my heart than the supposed dangers of technology. I need the awareness that believing otherwise actually prevents me from loving and knowing others as I should. It perpetuates the lie that I am self-sufficient, rather than a mutually dependent creature utterly reliant upon the grace of God in the knowledge of Jesus.

I’m not saying we should throw all our technology away (I’m writing this on a tablet). There are many benefits that come from living in the information age. But ask yourself: What are the implications if, in our lives as Christians, we are forced to unplug in order to invest in others? Are we so concerned with what we may miss that we miss what’s right before us? Even if it’s only for an evening, there is value in embracing our limitations so that we might minister the presence of Jesus to others.

I’m happy to talk more about this, but I may need to call you back.

Our Children, Our Neighbors (by Jen Wilkin)

If you asked me the single most important insight that has shaped my parenting, it would be this: Children are people.

It seems self-evident. Clearly, they have arms, legs, ears, noses and mouths—enough to qualify. But the idea of their personhood goes far beyond possessing a human body. It goes to the core of their being and speaks to their worth. Children bear the image of God, just like adults. Well, not justlike adults. It is true that they are developing physically, emotionally and spiritually at a different rate than adults, but children’s intrinsic worth and dignity does not increase or decrease depending on the rate or extent of their development. As Dr. Seuss has famously noted, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

If you asked me the single most misleading statement I have heard with regard to parenting, it would be this: The Bible is relatively silent on the topic of parenting.

On the surface, this statement appears to be true. When we think of “parenting passages,” we typically think of those that explicitly mention parents, children, authority and instruction: Deuteronomy 6, the fifth command in Exodus 20, spare the rod and spoil the child, train up a child in the way he should go, children obey your parents in the Lord and a smattering of other verses. We may throw in the example of the Prodigal Son or the parenting woes of the patriarchs for good measure. But other than these, few passages mention the parent-child relationship specifically, leading many to conclude that, for the most part, the Bible must leave us to figure out this parenting thing on our own—an understandable conclusion.

That is, until we remember that children are people.

Because if children are people, then they are also our neighbors. This means that every scriptural imperative that speaks to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves suddenly comes to bear on how we parent. Every command to love preferentially at great cost, with great effort and with godly wisdom becomes more than just a command to love the people in my workplace, my church, my hair salon or the local homeless shelter. It becomes a command to love the people under my own roof, no matter how small. If children are people, then our own children are our very closest neighbors. No other neighbor lives closer or needs our self-sacrificing love more.

Suddenly, a great deal of the Bible is not silent at all on the topic of parenting.

Recognizing my children as my neighbors has impacted the way I discipline them, the way I speak to them and the way I speak about them to others. It has required me to acknowledge how quick I am to treat those closest to me in ways I would never treat a friend or a co-worker. It has helped make my children objects of my compassion instead of my contempt. I am better able to celebrate their successes without taking credit for them and to grieve their failures without seeing them as glaring evidence that I’m a terrible parent. Recognizing my children as my neighbors has freed me to enjoy them as people rather than to resent them as laundry-generating, food-ingesting, mess-making, fit-throwing, financial obligations.

Except for the days that it hasn’t. And on those days, I must be reminded again what Scripture teaches about loving my neighbor, confess that I haven’t loved my child that way and begin again. And Scripture provides ample help. Here are just a few “unlikely” parenting verses that point me back to neighborliness on the days that don’t go as they should:

When I want to correct my kids with harshness:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

When I want to lecture them:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

When I want to make them make me look awesome:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

When I find meeting their needs to be an imposition:

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

When I want credit for how hard I’m working as the mom:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

When I don’t want to extend forgiveness for their offenses:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

When I’ve completely lost sight of the forest for the trees:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.2 Timothy 2:24-26

That last one is on a note card on my fridge.

It is true that our children are God-given responsibilities whom we are to steward. But we will only steward them as we should by remembering that, first and foremost, our children are people we are to treasure. When we treasure our children as our neighbors, we remove from our discipline any hint of condemnation, shame or contempt. We alter our language to communicate love and value, even when we must speak words of correction. And we replace our prayers of “please fix my frustrating child” with prayers of “please help me to love the little neighbor You have placed in my home, even as You have loved me.”

Fred (“Mister”) Rogers understood well the value and dignity of children. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he spent his life preaching the beauty of neighborliness on public television to small people: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…Won’t you be my neighbor?” His message is a good one for parents, as well. Children are people. Our own children are our closest and dearest neighbors. Mom and Dad, use each “beautiful day in the neighborhood” to show preferential love to the neighbors who share your roof. And be encouraged: The Bible overflows with help for you.

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