Please Know...

As I come to know the men and women of Kensington, specifically the homeless and addicted, their stories become increasingly sensitive and personal. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist in regard to these fine people. Names are rarely their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Making of a Prosperity Sandwich

For the next three days, I will be making a prosperity sandwich.  Sandwiches are known for the content of their innards and seldom of their outards.  I thought it would be fun to describe the ingredients of each layer of this sandwich as I go through the next three days.

Day One:  The lower slice of bread, Sunday, December 18, 2016

I have just returned from Urban Hope where I experienced their annual Youth Sunday.  While it was all wonderful, there were three ingredients in this slice of bread that you need to know about.

There was a pantamimed skit written by Kevin, a 20 year old man who shared in this mimed skit of about 5 minutes, the story of physical, spiritual and emotional abuse that he experienced at the hands and mouths of his father and classmates.  By the end of the abuse part of the skit, Kevin's white shirt was black with punch and slap marks from the youth who were involved in the skit.  Each youth had a large word on their individual white shirts that represented who they were in Kevin's life.  Among them, one wore "Dad" and demonstrated his abuse of Kevin.  Kevin's responses were so genuine.  Anyone could see that the emotions were real.  Two other youth wore the word "Bully" and did their part in being sure Kevin knew his place in their world.  One girl wore the word "sister."  At one point, in pent up rage, Kevin slapped "sister" so hard that she went almost sailing across the front of the church (in a moment of incredible acting portraying an actual event years before).

In the remorse of slapping his sister, as Kevin cowered at the foot of the cross in the front of the church, the assaults began again and were interrupted by a youth wearing "Jesus" on his shirt.  The punches and slaps continued worse than before on "Jesus" whose shirt was quickly covered in black punch marks.  "Jesus" stopped the abuses of "Father" and "Bullies." and helped Kevin to his feet.  Kevin's shirt, previously covered in the wounds of black, was as white as snow.

The second main ingredient in this lower slice of bread was the youth message presented by four youth and four college age adults.  Kevin concluded the message.  With Kevin, among others, was Shalia who spoke of coming to Urban Hope as a six year old, coming to Christ as a ten year old and then inviting her parents to attend church with her.  These four youth spoke of the pressures of being a teenager today.

To see portions of what I have just described, watch this video, produced by Matt, Urban Hope's "in house" professional videographer.  (Look carefully, you'll see me in it as well.)

To listen to the entire youth message, click here.

The third main ingredient was added to this lower slice of bread as I sat with Annie and her family at lunch.  Annie is an outgoing four year old who gives me a big hug every week and wants me to know everything she's been thinking about.  Annie's family of four has been living in one room of her uncle's house since their own house was boarded up a few weeks ago.  Annie's Mom told me today that God has been with them through this and they are pulling together the funds for a down payment on a rental home right around the corner from Urban Hope.  Annie's Mom explained further some of the many challenges they've been facing in recent months - too much and too confidential to share here.  It was after she shared with me all of the challenges they've faced that the third ingredient in this slice of bread was added....

She said "There is a pinhead sized light at the end of the tunnel and this light is a blessing from God."

"Oh how cliche can you get?" you might be saying to yourself.

That wasn't the ingredient that Annie's Mom added...  Here it is:

Annie's Mom looked at me and continued with "And it is out of that blessing that I will now be a blessing to others."

My suburban upbringing in our great Christian Faith would never allow me to be a blessing to another person if the measurable blessings to me in life were just the size of a pinhead!!!   Suburban Faith and action calls on us suburbanites to bless others out of our abundance, not out of our as-of-yet unmet need!

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

With that slice of bread in place, let us look at day two and the innards of this Prosperity Sandwich...

Day Two, Monday, December 19th, in the mass Choir at the Kimmel Center for Keith and Kristyn Getty

Keeping Your Faith in a Sound Proof Box

Having never been to the Kimmel Center before, I did not know what to expect.  Upon arrival, I saw this massive wall inside an even more massive glass roofed building.  In my spare time between the dress rehearsal and the actual event, I saw a model of the building and learned that (my paraphrase) the Kimmel Center is a giant, really gorgeous soundproof box.  In it on this particular night, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Pastor Alistair Begg, Violinist David Kim, Andrew Nemr, and many others presented the awesome message of the human birth of God to a virgin teenage girl named Mary (AKA Christmas).  Each person on stage did so according to their specific God given talent.

As I sat in the choir and looked out at the 3,000 people who purchased tickets, I wondered how many would be spiritually moved by the experience to the point of taking what they had heard inside that gorgeous soundproof box to their world beyond the walls of that gorgeous soundproof box.  After all, in their financial prosperity, many of the people paid in excess of $100.00 per ticket to be there.  Surely they would want to share this beautifully presented message of the Gospel with their friends and neighbors...  Or would they?

And then I started thinking about how often I take my Christian experience outside of my own private world - my personal equivalent of that gorgeous soundproof box.

Earlier in the day, over lunch, Keith explained to us that his mission is to bring back - on modern terms - the depth of Christian message in hymns that we see only in hymns of old.  That's his way of taking the Christian message outside of the soundproof box.  For me, it's not as glamourous.  I love to listen to people's hearts as they share their story and in some way, bring them closer to God.

The prosperity, (the nutrition - it's protiens, vitamins and minerals)  to be found in this prosperity sandwich is relevant to the outside world only if it is shared with the people around us.  To do so, we must be willing to take what we have heard beyond the walls of our personal soundproof box.

On Day Three, Tuesday, December 20th,  The top slice of bread -

In the news, I hear with disturbing regularity about people in Philadelphia being unintentionally shot in their own home through a window.  Stray bullets end up where even the bad guy doesn't intend and someone gets hurt or killed.  Now, hold that thought for a moment...

I had also been taught that the most dangerous part of Philadelphia is that part that has as most of it's cross streets a lettered name.  East of Front Street you start seeing original street names like A, B, C and so on.  It's the eastbound equivalent of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd street, etc heading west.

Put these two points together and you come up with this lesson: Don't hang out in front of a window on any street that has a letter named street in it's nearest intersection!

Tuesday morning I was back at Urban Hope, painting a wall that was hiding a large window at the corner of East Tioga and A Street!!!  Having not been shot nor even hearing a single gun shot by the end of my project, that old lesson was quickly deteriorating.

After completing the painting project, Ed Lewis, CE National's CEO for whom I was doing the painting, took me on a tour of Kensington.  Among other highlights of the tour, he pointed out how to identify the likely drug dealers.  I couldn't help but feel some disdain for them knowing that their equivalent sold drugs to young people I know who died shortly thereafter: my neighbor Justin, my favorite WAWA cashier, Jenna, and others.

After the dinner portion of Urban Hope's Family night that night, the men gathered in Ed's apartment (with no hint in the air that I'd been painting).  One man (I'll call him Cleveland.) shared with us that to this day, he goes to the bars and the street corners where he worked as a drug dealer and shares his new life in Christ with the current dealers!  He always goes with a Christian friend to remain accountable in a theoretically tempting situation and with a timer set on his watch so as not to stay to long.  He shares his Faith in terms these dealers understand and to the degree they understand it.

Just as 3,000 people heard the Christian message in that gorgeous soundproof box known as Kimmel Center, Cleveland heard the Christian message within the walls of Urban Hope Church.  Cleveland has taken what he heard, transformed his life and taken that message beyond the walls of Urban Hope to his pre-Christ counterparts (the theoretical killers of my neighbor Justin and my favorite WAWA cashier Jenna), to share with them what he knows about our LORD.

That concludes the building of our Prosperity Sandwich...


In the lower slice of bread,
  • Kevin shared his pain and how Christ brought healing to his soul.  
  • Four teens and four college age adults shared their testimony of various aspects of the same.
  • Annie's Mom gave witness on how to be a blessing before her needs have been met.
In the Innards of the Prosperity Sandwich,
  • We heard glorious music and sang fantastic hymns.
  • We heard the story of God entering our human world through human birth by a teenage girl.
  • We heard this in a gorgeous soundproof room that requires us to take the message beyond it's walls.
In the upper slice of bread,
  • We discovered that believed fears are seldom accurate: FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real
  • We were introduced to a man who heard the message within the walls of a church and choose to take that message to the exact area of his pre-Christ Days to proclaim it.
So What's  So What
  • In both slices of bread, people were giving witness to their Faith.
  • In that gorgeous soundproof room of the Kimmel Center, we can only hope that participants will do the same.
  • Maybe we need to consider the bread to be just as, if not more important, than what's in the middle.  Afterall:
From John 6 in the NIV, the Bible says:

Jesus the Bread of Life

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.[c]
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, 
“I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, 
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.36 

But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Maybe it's time that we considered the outards of the sandwich to be more important than the innards of it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I did something I should not have done...

I did something tonight that I should not have done.

It all started at about 5:00pm (That's after dark around here.).  I hopped in my car and drove during rush hour up I-95 to Kensington over a bridge that you see in the first few seconds of this video.  I got out of my car (after dark remember) and sat down next to a man who, until a few years ago, was a drug supplier's supplier in this part of Philadelphia known to some as "the badlands."  And that's when my really stupid action happened....

Are you ready?

OK...  Here's what I did....

The host of the evening offered to me and I accepted...

I accepted a cup of coffee.  Yup...  I DID!  I admit it...  I accepted and consumed a cup of coffee at night!!!  What was I thinking as I sat there in Kensington after dark in an apartment at East Tioga and A Street sitting with a major (former) drug supplier drinking a cup of REAL coffee AT NIGHT!

How stupid!!  I've put my whole night of sleep at risk!!!  Now that I'm home after walking alone from that apartment in Kensington at night one block to my regular parking place, what am I going to do until dawn when my body will finally decide it's time to sleep?!??!?!?

I think I'll sit back, watch the following videos highlighted in blue and celebrate God's deliverance of Rocky from his former life as drug supplier to his life of true Man of God.  While I'm at it, I'll equally celebrate Rick and David and Omar and Katina.

I won't ask you to put your sleep at risk with a cup of coffee in Kensington at night as you sit next to a former drug supplier's supplier in a Bible study but I do take this opportunity to invite you to join me next Sunday for a cup of coffee in the morning at Urban Hope, a ministry that sees over a thousand children come through its doors in a year and is changing the lives of men, women and children and drug users, dealers, and suppliers and suburbanites like me.

Humbly Confessed by,
Chris Battin

I hereby promise not to drink coffee again at night when I go to Kensington after dark next Tuesday night and sit next to Rocky, my redeemed and delivered brother in Christ.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Man John, His Son James and a Soccer Ball

As I type this, there is a man named John who is sitting in jail cell.  He loves his young son named James who misses his Dad.  How do I know this?

Through my involvement with Urban Hope, I chose an angel from the "Angel Tree" that is set up in the church.  Angel Tree provides presents for children who have a parent incarcerated for an offense that is inconsequential to their child nor to me.  I chose that Angel Tree tag and asked what James might like.  "He's really into soccer." I was told.

Not being a sports guy, I wasn't sure where to start.  Heck, I recognise a basketball two out of three times.  That's my sports knowledge.  Anyway, I'm digressing....

James is about 10 years old and that's a tender age not to have Dad around.  I found a soccer ball on Amazon, bought it, wrapped it, put it's Angel Tree tag on it and put it in my car for delivery to Urban Hope tomorrow.

It's amazing to think that one soccer ball that I found on sale for about $10.00 will represent a child's father's love for his son and the eternal love of God.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Annie's Dream, The Gospel of John and Coming Into The Light

Each day that I go to Urban Hope, I ask God to show me a theme for the day.  Without fail, I come home with a series of events that tie themselves together into a neat and vivid lesson.  Today's message was "Come out of the darkness and enter the light."

The first portion of the lesson was brought to me by Annie (not her real name).  As you may remember, she's a four year old girl who I met when I went to Urban Hope's Block Party.  She's a hugger and she ran across the fellowship hall this morning to give me my almost weekly hug.  She smiled brightly and yet, without warning, her chin started quivering and she looked at me with tearing eyes that beamed their life into my soul as she explained that she'd had a dream just last night that she was in a dark room and a man with a knife was behind her about to kill her.  I assured her as best as I could that she was safe and that dreams can be scary.  She gave me another hug and ran off to chase her sister and some other little girl who was having issues with her socks.

The fact that a little girl is having such a dream should not go unnoticed but that's not the point of this short message.  I'll deal with that later.

The sermon today, among other verses included the first 11 verses of the Gospel of John:

From the New International Version:

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Darkness - It's a scary place for a little girl who shouldn't have dreams such as did Annie and it's a scary place for any adult who should recognize the obvious signs that God is trying to get your attention and bring you into the Light.
Take a moment now to consider how God may be trying to get you to step into the Light.

Here's a link to the entire message from Urban Hope.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Communion, Foot Washing and Bullet Holes in Kensington

Yesterday (November 29th), I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit, and only a bit, and drove to Kensington AFTER DARK to attend a weekly gathering of families at Urban Hope.

HA... Let's back up and explore that last sentence.  It was only a bit out of my comfort zone to drive to Kensington AFTER DARK.  After a life time of being told that no white person ever goes to Kensington, I've grown totally comfortable with being there in the daylight so being there after dark and parking in my customary parking lot a block away was the next natural step.

OK, back to the main point of this blog....

These 35 pizzas were used to represent the Last Supper and the remembrance of the first "communion."  

Urban Hope includes foot washing as part of their semi-annual communion service and here's where my understanding of deliverance from what was to what can be in Christ was further developed.  You see, in my small group of men, there were 13 people - an odd number.  I wound up in a group of three men.  

When it was my turn to have my feet washed, the white man who has been the director of Urban Hope for 20 years washed one foot while Annie's  (not her real name) father, a bold and outgoing black man whose "pre-Christ" story includes nine pullet holes in his body in one shootout washed the other foot.  How could anyone look down toward your own feet at two such diverse men - now brothers in Christ - and not be spiritually shaken by the experience?

To be continued...