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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Choosing To Be or Not To Be Living as Children of Light

Each time I read a section of the Bible, I see it through different eyes – and I’m not talking about my occasionally changing glasses prescription…  Life experiences lead me to see things differently now than in earlier times of my life.  Today’s lesson is a good example of this.  I’ve read Ephesians[A] many times but not really noticed what I’m about to share until recent life experiences pointed this out to me more clearly. 

The following Bible reading is copied from Arterburn, Stephen; Stoop, David (2012-12-14). The Life Recovery Bible NLT (LRB: Full Size) (Kindle Locations 68515-68538). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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Living as Children of Light

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. 20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God— truly righteous and holy. 25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”* Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil. 28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. 30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,* guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
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The Bible, often referred to as “Scripture,” is filled with the idea of choosing this or that.  Today’s reading is a great example.  I’m going to go through this verse by verse and show you what I mean.  If you’re not sure what I mean by “verse,” this is what I’m talking about: A verse in the Bible starts at a number and ends just before the next number.  Every verse in the Bible acts as a street address and makes it possible to find a specific sentence in the Bible.  Our reading starts with Ephesians 4:17.  You would say this “Ephesians chapter 4 verse 17.”
                               
Ephesians 4:17 - 32

Living as Children of Light

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles[B] do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

For clarity in understanding the intent of this verse, add this in verse 17:  Choose to live no longer as the Gentiles do… 

Now read starting to the right of the comma in verse 17:

…for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

This is the result of not choosing to follow Jesus.  This is a somewhat passive decision.  The more direct decision is to deliberately choose not to follow Jesus.  The passive decision may be out of not knowing that there is an option to choose to follow Jesus.  The more direct decision is when you know there is an option and deliberately choose not to follow Jesus.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,

Verses 20 and 21 make it clear that in this Scripture reading, we do know that there is a deliberate decision to be made.  I will or I will not follow Jesus.

22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.

Again, add ‘choose to” to this and read it as:

Choose to throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 

By now, you probably understand where I’m going with this so I’ll shorten my commentary.

23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.

Instead, choose to let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.

24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God— truly righteous[C] and holy[D].
                                                              
                Choose to put on your new nature, created to be like God— truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body[E].

So choose to stop telling lies. Let us choose to tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.

26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”* Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

And “choose not to sin by letting anger control you.”* Choose not to let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.

If you are a thief, choose to quit stealing. Instead, choose to use your hands for good hard work, and then choose to give generously to others in need.

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Choose not to use foul or abusive language. Choose to let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit[F] by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,* guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption[G][H][I].

And choose not to bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Choose to remember, he has identified you as his own,* guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.
                                                          
Choose to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Instead, choose to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has chosen to forgive you.
Closing Thoughts:

The Book of Ephesians is a great book to study.  It’s six “chapters” long and eight pages total!  It helps us understand the benefits and blessings[J] of choosing to follow Jesus.  It also helps us understand the results of choosing not to follow Jesus.  Some people reading this might be saying, “I believe this story about Jesus.  I don’t understand much of it but I do believe what I’ve heard.”  That’s great!  Jesus accepts you wherever you are in your understanding and invites you to follow Him.  Understanding will come with time.  Choose to follow Jesus today!




[A] a book of the Bible, originally a letter to the church in Ephesus and traditionally attributed to St. Paul.
[B] somebody who is not Jewish
[C] always behaving according to a religious or moral code
[D] devoted to the service of God
[E] an organized group of people
[F] in Christianity, the third person of the Trinity, understood as the spiritual force of God
[G] deliverance from the sins of humanity by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross
[H] the act of saving something or somebody from a declined, dilapidated, or corrupted state and restoring it, him, or her to a better condition
[I] the improved state of somebody or something saved from apparently irreversible decline
[J] help believed to come from God

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Red Crayon and a Flat Rat



This past Sunday, in week number four of my experience with Kingdom Kids, a ministry of Urban Hope, I had an experience that has not left my thinking since it happened.  The ministry itself is fantastically run by Amber, Matt, a "Mad Scientist" and his as-of-yet unnamed assistant who do "sciencey things" to exemplify Faith in Christ, and a whole host of other people who I'm thrilled to minister with and consider as friends.

This short story does not take place in the program itself.  Part of Kingdom Kids involves going door to door to gather the children of the neighborhood and bring them by foot, van or bus back to the church.  At the moment of this story, our street team of volunteers had four children with us.  I was holding the hand of a five year old boy who was holding with his other hand the hand of his six year old sister.  Excessive cuteness abounded as we walked down the street.  We had to step into the street to walk around a car that was parked on the sidewalk - not at all an unusual sight in this neighborhood.  As I stepped onto the street, the little boy whose hand I was holding, pulled on my arm and said. "Mr. Chris...  Don't step on the flat rat."  I looked down and sure enough, my shoe almost landed on one very flat rat - not particularly messy - just flat.  

I thanked my little walker and pondered the casual nature of his comment.  Where have I heard that casual tone prior to this day?  And then I remembered a day years earlier when I had been working with other young children around a table as we were doing crafts.  A little boy there said "Mr Chris...  please pass me a red crayon."  

What's the difference between these two boys?  Here it is...  The crayon seeking little boy was in the Philadelphia suburbs with all of its financial and self proclaimed high society privilege.  The little boy reminding me (Not really warning me) to not step on the flat rat lives in what the suburban boy's parents would refer to as the bad lands (Kensington's nickname), the ghetto, the place where no self respecting white person should dare go.  

As one example among many: After six months or so of attending church at Urban Hope, I've looked into the five year old eyes of pure joy and in so doing, I have looked into the earthbound face of God in a way that simply DOES NOT happen in the suburbs.  

With that as my reward, you can keep your crayon.  I'll take my chance with the flat rat.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Outrageously Cute Giggles Are All The Same Throughout the ABCs...

Urban Hope is a church and training center in the heart of Kensington, a section of Philadelphia nicknamed the "Badlands."  For those people who live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the word “Kensington” is almost an obscene word – right up there with, well, never mind.

In the past six months or so that I have been attending Urban Hope, I’ve had so many of my suburban myths about the area utterly destroyed. 

There is much that I would like to share with you but allow me to start with what I have realized from a little girl I’ll name “Dee.”  Dee is five years old and she has the same smile and outrageously cute giggle as the five year old girl in Aston, Bryn Mawr, Concordville, Devon, Essington, Frazer, Glen Mills, Haverford, Intercourse, Jim Thorpe, Kennett Square, Lansdale, Marcus Hook, New Hope, Oxford, Paoli, Quarryville, Ridley, Shippensburg, Thornton, Unionville, Valley Forge, Wallingford, York and Zieglerville, PA.

The difference between Dee and the little girls (and boys) in these 25 alphabetically listed towns and cities in Pennsylvania is that she stands a much higher chance of never really understanding the alphabet and growing up and into any one of many different unhealthy lifestyles – if she survives at all that is…

Dee is fortunate, however, to live in the influence of the eXtraordinary.  Kingdom Kids is one of the primary programs of Urban Hope.  For the past 20 years or so (two weeks for me), people from Urban Hope have been going door to door to gather the children of the community and bring them to the church for a dynamic experience that introduces them to the message of Christ. 

As part of the “Grace Brethren” denomination of churches, Urban Hope is probably not part of your denomination (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, etc…).  If the members of your denomination include human beings with two eyes, a nose, mouth, chin and on occasion an outrageously cute giggle, then your denomination’s membership is no different than that of Urban Hope.  I invite you to bring representatives of your church to Urban Hope sometime soon for the day, weekend or week to experience the eXtraordinary blessings found only in the Badlands.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Green Hood

For the next 11 weeks, I will be volunteering with the Kingdom Kids program at Urban Hope Church. This is a high-energy and highly focused Ministry to young children in the Kensington Philadelphia area. Tonight's story does not have so much to do with the excellent program itself as it does with an amazing moment that occurred while we were picking up the children to bring them to the program. 

Volunteers and staff spend about one hour before and one hour after the program going door to door to find children to bring to the program and then dropping them off afterwards. Today was a particularly cold day and at one point I put the green hood of my Urban Hope sweatshirt up over my head. That simple movement was observed almost 2 blocks away by a little girl of about 5 years of age. She called to her mother and said "They're here! They're here! I want to go to Kingdom Kids! 

In the meantime we were starting to walk in the opposite direction of this child. After several minutes we turn back to head toward our van and this mother and child were sitting on a wall waiting for us. This little girl had never been to Kingdom Kids before but was aware of the green shirts that go around the neighborhood every Sunday when Kingdom Kids is in session to pick up children and take them to something that has become recognized has a really exciting and worthwhile Ministry experience.

This little girl was excited to go but very shy as well. Within a very short time however her great big smile was back and she was having a wonderful time and has promised to come back each and every week.

My mind could not help but consider the possibilities. Statistics are extremely high for this young child to grow up to become any number of not so pleasant roles in her life.  She could be a teen mother, a drug addict, a prostitute, and anything else. While we will never know for sure, it is an interesting thing to think that this one visit to a Christian Ministry in her neighborhood may put her on a track which will introduce her to our Living Christ and keep her away from all those alternative paths.