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As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

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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.

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