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.
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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: