Learning from Philip

It is now month three (I think?) of all this quarantine business, and I have to say that it feels like it just won’t ever stop. Will life ever get back to normal? When can I go to a coffee shop again? Will my wife, in September, be able to celebrate and visit with her friends after the delivery of our son? There are many questions.

The stay-at-home order has especially impacted ministry, among other things. We just can’t meet in the large groups that we used to. We can’t even meet in home churches right now, which is so strange. If you’re like me and wanting ministry to “pick up” again soon, you might be wondering why God is allowing such a pause to take place on an important thing like His work. For me, I’ve watched the high school groups I’m part of slow down considerably. I’m sure if you’re involved in some sort of ministry things are definitely not how they used to be. What’s going on?

Well, I’m not sure I can give a complete answer to that question. However, I think it is 100% reasonable to suggest that God has something in store for this season that could blow our minds later on when we can see the big picture. For an example of this, let’s look at the story of Philip in the New Testament book of Acts.

Philip was one of the first leaders in the early church. He was actually one of the first seven deacons appointed (Acts 6:1-7), back when Paul (who was Saul then) was still persecuting the church. He was leading and evangelizing so much that he later became known as Philip the Evangelist.

In Acts 7, a co-leader of Philip’s, Stephen, was stoned to death for preaching the Word. In the beginning of Acts 8, the church was being persecuted and Saul was “going from house to house” (v. 3) and sending Christians to prison. Many of the leaders had to flee because of this and ended up in different areas. Philip ended up in Samaria. Think about how he must’ve felt! One of his close friends was dead, the church was on its heels, and now here he was in a completely different city. Sounds like an easy time to give up to me. However, he did quite the opposite. Acts 8: 4-7 says,

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

Wow! Philip boldly went out there, told people about Jesus, and received an incredible response to the gospel. Instead of being afraid, he stepped out in faith and was rewarded with a ton of fruit. End of the story, right? Nope. Just a few verses later, Philip is asked to go to another city. Acts 8: 26,

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

Okay, so let me get this straight. Philip had already been run out of one town but then faithfully recovered in a tremendous fashion. People were coming to the Lord left and right. Success! Then God says to leave? And to go- where exactly? Up some desert road? In the preceding verse, Peter and John get to go back to Jerusalem. But now Philip is stuck in some small town ministry. Here’s how Howard Hendricks puts it:

“It would be as if I were preaching in Houston with the Billy Graham team, and folks are coming to Christ and the Spirit is at work and we’re turning the city upside down with the gospel. Then one evening, the Lord says to me, “Hendricks, get on a bus, and head to West Texas. I’ll tell you when to get off.” You know, I’d sort of feel demoted. Here’s all this exciting stuff going on in the big city, and I get sent to the minors. But not Philip. He obeyed, and the Spirit brought him to an official from Ethiopia. He led the man to Christ, and the gospel spread to Africa” (Living by the Book, 166).

That’s right. Even though Philip had absolutely no idea where God was sending him or why He was sending him there, he listened. And then he ended up leading an important Ethiopian man to Christ who then took the message back to his country. The passage is wonderful and totally worth including here:

Acts 8:26-38-

 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official… This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 

Long story short, Philip ended up leading this man to Christ all because God sent him away from the busy, booming ministry in Samaria and instead up to some dirt road. As Hendricks said, it would’ve been incredibly easy for Philip to feel demoted and not really give whatever God had in mind a real shot. Instead, since he did, some truly astonishing things happened.

Similarly, the question for us becomes, “What does God have in store for us in this season?” Is it possible that He has something bigger in mind if we just open up our eyes enough to see it? Of course this would involve a willingness to get on God’s page and listen, like Philip.

I know for myself it has been easy to feel like this is an “off” time and I can kind of just pick ministry back up once this season is over. I have to wonder, though, if I do that what all I’ll miss. Philip could’ve seen his time on the old desert road as an “off time” where he was demoted to doing the mundane. He didn’t, thankfully, and hopefully we don’t either.

I prefer silence

I prefer silence
as the waves crash before me
I don’t want to be bothered
by these people, my friends, or my family

What else is there to be said?
I mean- look at the ocean…
it is far too deep, vast, and indifferent
for me to add in my little notions

But still they want me to jump in
“Join us! … the water is just fine!”
“No thank you,” I think to myself
I’m just fine here, with me, and mine

But alas, I know I must make my splash
Though I just want to keep my feet in the sand
I will splash! Yes, I may crash…
But if it is so, then crash I must!

Developing a Burden for People (Part 2)

My last post talked about Paul’s deep concern for his brethren of the Jewish faith who had rejected Christ. Upon further thought, though, some may be wondering what are we supposed to do with this? How in the world do I develop compassion like that? I just simply do not care as much as I should. 

Well, first of all, I’d like to say that I’m in the same boat. I wish I cared more. But I think I’ve stumbled across some helpful points that shed light on how to generate spiritual compassion. 

  1. See the reality of your own brokenness 

Chapter 6 of J. Oswald Sanders’ Enjoying Intimacy with God takes readers through Psalm 51 in order to show how intimacy with God can be restored. It starts with recognizing our own faults and need for forgiveness. Sanders goes through the Psalm, which I recommend reading in its entirety, to show how David really saw the depths of his sin and realized his need to be forgiven by God. David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (verse 3). After going through this deep anguish, however, he knew that God would indeed give him grace. He said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (verses 7, 10, 12). 

What does all this have to do with loving people? Everything, actually. Psalm 51:12-15 says,

“12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Here David is saying once he has been forgiven he will not be able to hold back from talking about how amazing God is! He will have seen the depths of God’s love because he will have just experienced it himself. He is asking God for the power to do this, of course, but you can’t help but see the connection between realizing our own brokenness and then proclaiming the healing power of God to other people. In other words, as the saying goes, we cannot give what we do not possess. 

2. Let people become “your people” 

I think there is a general resistance to saying any people are “yours” these days. Spiritually speaking, we wouldn’t want to be too “tribal,” right? Secularly speaking, that downright just doesn’t sound very inclusive. But we all have our people. Paul called the people in Romans 9 “his brethren.” The people we know, care about, and do life with are “our people.” So, if you want to develop compassion for a particular person, you have to make them into “your people.” We just don’t have the spiritual bandwidth to continually give real, life-changing compassion to people we aren’t intertwined with. I guess in other words I’m just saying let them become your friends, not a project. Bring them into your life.

3. Try to really see where people are spiritually

This one is hard. Like I said in the first post, it’s much easier to act like we can’t tell what’s really going on with other people. Why get involved? We have enough to worry about on our own. Luckily though Paul did not take that attitude. In Romans 9:4-5 he went on and on about the spiritual state of his Jewish brethren. He said, they 

“are (the) Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.” 

The rest of the chapter Paul spends talking in even more detail about their heritage and what God had done for them and offered them. In other words, Paul was really thinking about the state of his friends. He was like, “these guys are supposed to be God’s people! Do they not realize the privilege they are walking around with? Oh man… I just wish they could take that next step and see Jesus for who He really is.” 

For us, this would look like taking the time to sift through all the spiritual realities of the person we are trying to care about. What is their family history? What involvement in church have they had in the past? What are their biggest hangups? What possible pitfalls might occur specifically to them? What would it even look like for them to walk with God where they’re at right now? Such questions are weighty but worth it. When we think like this, as I’ve reluctantly seen, we start to develop the kind of compassion that Paul had. 

Compassion does not happen by accident. First of all, it takes seeing what tremendous lengths God went through in our own lives. He has forgiven us of so much, more than we often even want to think about. Second, it takes making a conscious decision to make people into “your people” like Paul did. Sure, the Jewish people were his people by birth, but Paul did the same thing on numerous other occasions with the people in the churches he helped start. For example, Paul said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” He had just met these people not so long ago, yet now he was recalling how he shared his entire life with them. He made a decision to make them into “his people.” Lastly, if we want to have life-changing compassion for people, we need to open our eyes to the spiritual world they are living in. God wants to give us comprehension that can help pierce people’s hearts and show them His love. If we allow Him to work and open our eyes to what He is already doing, we will realize He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). 

Developing a Burden for People (Part 1)

It’s hard to care. 

I don’t mean that it’s hard to care about life in general, though I’ll admit sometimes it is difficult to muster excitement about daily necessities like making lunch, paying the bills, or scrapping my car windshield. What’s really hard to care about, though, is other people. 

Let’s face it. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking of ourselves. We think of what we have to do, what we are currently doing, what we have to do tomorrow, what we wish would happen for us… you get the idea. We’re selfish. 

Some of the reasons we’re so self-focused aren’t really even that bad. We have things to get done. However, the ramifications of always living and thinking that way are devastating. 

In Romans 9, Paul talks about how much he cares for his own people. And (spoiler alert) he cares a lot

Romans 9:1-5

1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Did you catch how intensely concerned Paul is for his friends? He says he has “great sorrow and unceasing grief” in his heart for them. That’s more than just a cursory thought or prayer. He cares. He is sick to his stomach thinking about the fact that they don’t have a relationship with Christ. 

This passage is talking about Paul’s “kinsmen,” the Jewish people of Israel who hadn’t accepted Christ as the Savior. Added to his deep anguish is the fact that those very Jewish people were brought up in the same faith as Jesus. To them belonged the blessings of God. Jesus came to bless them in particular, as well as the rest of the world. But instead, they rejected Him. This is what makes Paul’s heartache so much. 

He then goes on to say that he wishes he himself were “accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of (his) brethren.” In other words, he is straight-up saying he would gladly give up his own salvation in order for them to know Christ themselves. All I can say is “Wow.” I can’t think of deeper concern than that. 

Another story that comes to mind when thinking of sacrifice for someone who doesn’t deserve it is the Prodigal Son. Even after the “prodigal” bad-boy son leaves his father’s house (with his early inheritance that he demanded) to party and live it up, his father still waits for him in hopeful expectation that someday his son will return. When the son finally does return after wasting all his father’s money, the father not only accepts him back but throws a huge party celebrating his return. That’s love. That’s sacrifice. 

In the Prodigal Son example, obviously, the son returns. But imagine if he never did. The father would be up waiting on the front porch, night after night, hoping for any glimpse of his lost son. That’s heartbreaking to think about, but it’s also how I think Paul felt when he was thinking about his lost brothers and sisters who had rejected Christ. He knew how much Christ had to give them, how much Jesus loved them and wanted to welcome them in, but also knew as the time went on how far they were drifting from ever coming to know Him at all. 

I don’t know about you, but that kind of heartbreak and realization does not sound fun to think through. I would much rather put up my blinders and act like I can’t tell what’s going on around me spiritually. But when we open our eyes like Paul did, we see the hurt and anguish that’s coming if people continue to reject Christ. That kind of realization should change something in us. It should make us want to show people how much we care because we know how much God cares for them even more. 

Paul had “anguish in his heart” and would have gladly traded his own salvation for the sake of his people. Can you say the same? It’s a tough question.

Joni & Friends 2019

I just got back from a mission trip to Joni & Friends Family Retreat in Shawnee, Ohio. Our team consisted of 18 people with a mix of high school students and adult leaders. Once there, we joined dozens of other volunteers to help serve people with disabilities and their families.

Trip Details

To start, I’ll just say the week was both incredibly tiring and rewarding. The two can’t be separated. I’ve been on a decent amount of mission trips now and this was probably the most physically and emotionally demanding. Yet, at the same time, I have to say it was also the most impactful. I’m really proud of our team for persevering and showing God’s love all throughout the week even though it was not easy.

The first day and a half was spent training and getting ready for the families to come. The first day, we arrived around three in the afternoon and were going nonstop until around 10 at night. Joni & Friends does a good job of getting new people ready for learning how to serve people affected by all sorts of disabilities. They take you through training stations with knowledgeable leaders who have been doing it for a long time. One of the more helpful (and eye-opening) parts of the training was during our first meal together. Everyone is paired with someone and one person in the pair is “given” a disability they have to “live with” for the duration of the meal. The other person then helped their partner get their food and eat all while trying to do the same themselves. Some examples of the disabilities were blindness, autism (high-functioning and low-functioning), cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.

Moving forward, the second morning we were given our assignments for the week. Many of us were paired with a child or adult with a disability, while others were paired with a “typical” sibling of someone with a disability. Some people had other roles as well, but everyone from our team had one of those two. Once given your assignment, the rest of the week you essentially are to stick with that person at all times. Be their friend, be their helper, be whatever they need you to be. The only exceptions were a two hour break time from 4:30-6:30. The rest of the time, meals included, you were with that person. This is designed so each person has someone who is helping them and loving them, but also so the parents can feel safe to go and relax/do activities without having to watch over their children like they have to do most of their lives.

It was beautiful to see our people (and all the others) jump at the chance to serve one individual with all they have for an entire week. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but from what I saw our team didn’t hesitate to love a stranger like Jesus loves them.

Throughout the week, the camp had many activities and things to do both for the campers and for their families. Each STM (short-term-missionary, that’s what we were called) was told to just do whatever their camper wanted- it wasn’t about us. So, some people swam for literally hours every day. Some people, like me, never swam but sat poolside or walked around most of the day. It really just depended on who your camper was, their age and personality, their disability, and what they wanted to do. It wasn’t about us.

For me, I was paired with a twenty year old who has autism and is nonverbal. Since he is what they call a “runner,” I was one of four people with him and we took shifts running (really, speed-walking) around the lodge throughout the week. He had his routes he would do over and over while he made pit stops at places like the stairs, the elevator, a couch in the dining room so he could watch the kitchen staff work, and his favorite- sitting by the pool. Apparently in other years he swam a lot himself, but this year he never wanted to get in. So, we watched people swim. A lot. To be honest, it was hard figuring out how to love and communicate with a person who can’t speak back. I don’t think I was great at it, but I kept trying and developed so much compassion for this individual. Just by being with him for a week and doing what he likes to do, I learned how he communicates (little noises, hitting your hand away, “laughing,” head movements, etc) and what he likes (lots and lots of bacon, sausage is okay, french fries, fruit snacks). There were times where he didn’t like anything for a meal so he literally just didn’t eat. That was hard on his mom and us STM’s with him.

We got to know his mom a lot, too. I won’t share a lot of that, but a big part of the trip is forming relationships with both the people with disabilities and their families. It’s hard to fathom the difficulties they face on a daily basis but it was beautiful to see the courage, vulnerability, and faith they expressed.

One example of an awesome event during the week was the talent show. People signed up throughout the week, and once the event hit it was an instant success. I think the coolest part of it was how transparent and excited the campers were about getting to participate. So often we (or me, at least) put up walls and fronts and can’t let our guards down. These guys and girls did not have that problem, and were just willing to simply enjoy life in the moment. I seriously learned so much from them. Many tears were shed that night.

I think the hardest part of the trip was leaving. Many of the campers had a really difficult time getting in the car because they felt so loved the whole week. Personally, I felt the same way. Even though it was a tiring week, it was seriously sad saying goodbye. As cliche as it sounds, the place was a taste of heaven.

What I learned

I’m not sure enough time has passed to fully comprehend what God was showing me this week. However, below are some things I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to forget them.

God’s love at its core is expressed through people. Sounds simple, sure. But I believe the reason Joni & Friends is so effective at showing God’s love is because each camper is given an STM for the whole week. It is daunting to look out at the whole world and figure out how we can make a difference at all. Shoot, it was even hard just seeing all the families arrive and thinking “how can we possibly love all these people?” BUT, it was not so incomprehensible to imagine loving one person- your one person. Many of us had a hard time doing so, especially with the campers who couldn’t give much back. Yet still, God’s love was shown and it was shown through His people. The body of Christ’s element was huge, too- and that cannot be discounted. But I saw the brunt force of God’s love being poured out through the individual, close relationships we formed.

You don’t have to know everything. I didn’t know much about my camper’s disability. Sure, I learned some beforehand and picked up things along the way, but I definitely didn’t know even a fraction of the things I could have. But I could still love him by being present and willing to be there with him no matter what that looked like.

Decide ahead of time. I think one of the reasons everyone was so willing and able to love their individual camper was because that was the reason we were there. We decided we wanted to be there ahead of time and therefore were willing to do whatever was needed to “be there” for our person. A big part of being effective in loving others is deciding we are going to be present, willing, and engaged ahead of time. God’s love is active, not passive. It is intentional, not just “go with the flow.”

God’s love is shown through families. A huge portion of the STM’s at the camp were families. Some of these servants had been coming to the same camp, year after year, for over 20 years. I was lucky enough to be paired with a man in his 50’s who had been there almost ten times, and the relationships he had formed there blew me away. He knew these people and cared about them. Not only that, but his wife and two kids were there as well. His dad was there, who he helped lead to Christ. His mom, who passed away this past year, also used to come and was beloved by so many. This got me excited about the potential of Elli and I becoming a family who decides ahead of time that we want our family to be about loving others. That one family impacted so many, and there were countless others who did the same.

There is much else I would like to say, but overall God’s love for people is breathtaking. Having the chance to play a role in that is better than anything else in this world.

Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

A Brief Guide to “Evidence Unseen”

Many of us by now have heard of James Rochford’s website “Evidence Unseen.” If you’re like me, you’ve used the Columbus Xenos Elder’s website (or book) in the past for articles/sections like apologetics, comparing world religions, the Case for Christianity, or Theology questions. These are all great resources that I highly recommend.

However, the point of me writing this short guide is due to a different area of the website. I was stumbling along his website recently and found an entire section I had never seen before. So, let’s get to it. First, click on the tab Bible Difficulties. The home page of this section itself explains in detail 10 principles of Hermeneutics, or how to study and interpret the Bible.

There is also a section in the “Bible Difficulties” tab for both Old Testament and New Testament difficulties. These sections are full of numerous, specific common questions we may ask when reading through God’s Word. Not only that, but each question is a link you can click and find a succinct, Biblical answer to said question! For example, in the NT Difficulties section, under “Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians,” scroll down to Romans 5:12, 14. If you click that link, you will find a detailed answer to the question: “How can God judge all men for Adam’s sin, when it wasn’t their fault?” This is just one of many, but I wanted to highlight how specific the website gets and how useful it can be for all the questions we or others may have.

Moving on, if you go back to the top of the website and hover over the “Bible Difficulties” tab again (top right) you will see two sections titled “Old Testament Survey” and “New Testament Survey.” This is the section that got me really excited. Rochford wrote a guide for using these sections: 

“Before studying each book, read these short articles that give an introduction and background. In each article, the reader will find information regarding authorship, historical background, theological themes, and a teaching rotation. Additionally, the reader will find a series of discovery questions that are helpful for teaching and leading discussion.”

In other words, these sections are essentially free and fairly exhaustive commentaries on every single book of the Bible. At the top of each book’s page, for example, Acts, there is a detailed explanation of the book itself (covering authorship, date, historical background, theological themes, emphases, etc). Then, if you scroll down (get used to scrolling on his website- each page is long), you will find a verse-by-verse commentary for the book. Not only that, but at the end of most chapter’s commentary he either has a section on Application or Discussion Questions. These sections are awesome for just thinking through a passage in depth or for preparing to teach.

There is probably a lot more to Evidence Unseen’s website than I have detailed here, but it would take days upon days to read through just the Old Testament and New Testament Survey sections alone. This website could be so useful for getting into the Word, answering questions, and helping other people do the same. After buying many costly commentaries myself, I am amazed that this resource is so exhaustive, relevant, detailed, and best of all- FREE! Use it!

*Also, feel free to comment on here if you have found other helpful resources on Rochford’s website or elsewhere!

South Dakota: Pt. 3

The last two days have been awesome and overwhelming.

Yesterday we started all of the manual labor that we’re here to help with. Well, before that Tyler (the youth pastor here and the one who has been guiding us the whole time) led a morning devotional, which was cool. Then, he explained all of the projects that need done this week and we split into teams. It’s really cool getting to help with all of it because it’s obvious they need it. We literally work all day… there’s a lot to be done here. Some of the jobs are painting and mudding, putting in a wood (ish) floor, making the youth room more presentable, and putting insulation in upstairs. Oh yeah, Corey is also doing some sort of metal work to help stabilize the building. Max, Sarah L., Shayne, and myself have been on insulation (and none of us have ever done it before, ha). So, my group started by cutting a hole in the ceiling to get up there. Then, we broke into twos- one pair feeding the machine and another up in the attic spreading it out. Yesterday it was so hot in there that my feet were all wrinkly from all the sweat. I know, gross. But the awesome part about it was getting to talk with each other while doing the work. Sarah and I talked about some sweet things probably more than we have ever in the past, and I also got to hear Shayne’s testimony (he’s from the Columbus group) and that was awesome. So many of these Columbus people are amazing servants (and incredibly fun).

Then, we had “Teen Night.” Tyler took a few of our people with him on their big school bus to pick up the kids. I’ll touch on that later, because I got to ride with him today. But, then Max and Corey taught on 1 John and did really well. They did this tag-team approach and really complimented one another well. Then, the rest of the night we hung out with the teenagers and one another. The unity within our group is already out of this world, which is wild because a lot of us didn’t know everyone before coming. God is so cool like that.

Today we did the same morning and daytime routine. We all got a lot more accomplished than yesterday because we knew more what we were doing. My crew actually finished the whole insulation job (2,000 square feet!) by 5pm. I wish I had some pictures of how messy everyone was.

After that, it was time for Oyate Concern’s main church meeting. For that, the adults and teenagers go into one area for church and the younger kids go into another room for a teaching for them. Some of the girls from Columbus led that. Bryan and I had the opportunity to teach their church, which was so fun and hard. Leading up to it we decided to change up our approach and outline just a few hours before. It was nerve-wracking because we don’t have the best understanding of the people here, especially when compared to teaching people back home who we know and see every week. It really led us to have to just trust God with it and pray something sticks. We taught on Ephesians 5, which in short says to not do things like sleep around and get drunk but instead be filled by the spirit. It was intimidating because there is a huge problem with alcohol on the reservation. Bryan mainly taught on the negative effects of such things and shared his testimony and I taught on the awesome things God wants to show us/do through us if we actively live in the spirit. God doesn’t want to stop our fun or something, he’s actually trying to show us a better way that is, well, better.

Anyway, it was hard knowing what impact it had. There were also a lot of crying babies during my part, but I think it went alright. I counted 33 people (not including ours) who were there. On top of that, there were probably 50 young kids in the other room. Afterward, we all hung out, talked, played basketball, and other things with everyone. Then, Bryan and I went with some others and rode the bus to take the kids home. It was seriously crazy. Kids were running around, fighting, yelling, but also obviously wanting the attention of the adults. I have no idea how Tyler does it, but he does it well (he drives the bus, too). Seeing all of the poverty as we drove through the area was really sad. Probably the coolest part was talking with one of the girls who sat next to me (about ten different kids filtered in and out), Chloe. She’s 8. A lot of the trip she was really silly, pulling my hair and stuff and fighting with other kids. But, at the end, I felt I had to say something about Jesus since I’d probably never see her again. So, I told her that Jesus loves her. She said, “what?” so I got closer and told her. The first thing she said is that my breath smells, which was kind of funny and probably true. But, then she straight up asked me who Jesus is. I was kind of blown away because I’ve never been asked that, I don’t think. I said, “You’ve never heard of him” and she said she has. I was confused and prodded, and she said she has heard of him but doesn’t know who he is. So, I told her all about him and how he died and rose for her because he loves her. I have no idea what got through, but I hope something did. I don’t even know if she was messing with me or not, but it really didn’t seem like it. It was the most serious she was the whole half hour ride. Sorry to go on and on about her, but it was really cool and sad and eye-opening.

Since then, we’ve been hanging out more with the people and each other. Collin and I are upstairs right now talking as I’m writing this, actually. It has been so cool to see him have fun this week and work hard with a great attitude. He’s also really good with kids, though he thinks the opposite. It’s kinda crazy all the change God has done in his life. Thankful to get to witness that, too.

Tomorrow is somehow already our last full day on the reservation. We’re going to finish up our work and do another Blow Out (kids night).

Here’s a picture of the area where we’re staying and working. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some overall convictions and burdens next time. Thanks for all the support/prayers.

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South Dakota Pt. 2

Read these two blogs to get an update on what happened today. A lot of our people all decided to write about our trip as well and I seriously think that’s awesome. I feel like they did really well so I don’t want to just repeat. Here are Sarah’s and Corey’s:

There are a few things I’d like to add, though.

  • Corey and Sarah already addressed the immense poverty and barriers the people here face. Seriously, check out what they said about it. It’s heart-wrenching in the worst way. But, this made me think about life back home. Someone in our car said something like, “how can that company have a fancy, graphic-infused sign when there is such poverty all around?” and then it got me thinking- how can we ourselves live like we do when people are in such conditions? The distance doesn’t change anything. Similar feelings to when I was India surfaced, really. I don’t know what to do about any of it, but I’d like to have a conviction that lasts and leads to a change to live more in reality with what’s going on (however far) around me.
  • We’ve only been here less than a day, but some scripture is already sounding different to me. An example (one of my favorite that I’m going to use in my teaching), Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
    • This passage usally convicts me, but driving through the reservation made it all seem so much more urgent. There is just no reason to waver in whatver silliness that usually weights us down when there is a chance to help spread the only love that leads to real change. I’m not trying to stand on some high horse or something, because I’m no saint in such things, but the idea has a hold on me right now.
  • Doubts are easy right now. Well, actually, after hanging out with a bunch of the dudes on the reservation tonight (playing basketball) and meeting a few of the workers at Oyate Concern it did give me a lot more hope. But the drive leading to here when we were reading the stats about the reservation and praying for the people just made me question a lot. How can this be okay? 80% unemployment and skyrocketing suicide rates? I know God cares so much about these people, but it’s hard to see in a messed up world sometimes. Praying together helped a lot. Hopefully we don’t get caught up in the vast amount of problems around us and instead see the need and let God use us to be one of the people to fight against it.
  • Contrast. This part reminded me of India the most. Abandoned houses. Houses that look abandoned but aren’t. Then, right beyond said houses, BEAUTIFUL hills and clouds and landscape like I’ve never seen. It reminds me of the contrast between God’s love and overall goodness and what we as people have done with it because of the underlying lack of concern we have toward one another.

I hope that’s not too depressing, but that’s what’s going on right now. Again, once we got to Oyate Concern the whole tone in my mind and of the people in my car changed. You can tell God is really working through the people here and I’m excited to finally start helping out tomorrow.

Lastly, pray for Max and Corey teaching the Teen Night tomorrow night. B and I are teaching the adult group next day.

Here’s a picture of the Badlands from this afternoon.

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An Introduction to South Dakota

Today we are leaving for our mission trip to South Dakota. I figured I’d write this short post so people know what’s going on, who is going, and what to pray for.

What’s Going On

Columbus Xenos is putting on this trip, but they are letting some of us from NeoXenos join. This happened because my best friend from high school (since 4th grade, actually) (also the guy who brought me around & helped lead me to Christ), Max, invited me half-jokingly months back and now here we are. Him and another Columbus guy, Ryan, have planned the whole trip. We’ll be gone for about a week.

We’re going to be helping out at the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. The group we’re going to help is called Oyate Concern. There are about 40,000 Lakota Sioux living there. It’s also in one of the poorest counties in the United States, Shannon County.

We’ll be helping paint a youth area as well as doing some trimming and some other manual labor to help make their location more inviting. We’ll also be helping teaching three meetings- two youth and one adult. Max and Corey are doing the high school teaching. Bryan and I are doing the adult one. (Some girls who I have yet to meet are teaching the other youth meeting). I also hear the kids there love basketball, so we can’t wait for that. To be honest, I don’t know everything else that will happen and how we’ll help. We’re trying to go in with a willing attitude to help however we can.

Who is Going

Northeast Ohio Xenos-

Bryan, Collin, Tommy, Corey, Sarah F., Sarah L., and myself.

All of us are in High Life homechurch, except for Corey. He’s in the homechurch that somehow still goes by the name “HAM” (sorry, still bitter).

Columbus Xenos-

Max and 12 other people from Columbus (I would list them all but I don’t know most of them. I can’t wait to change that, though).

What to Pray for

  • Energy… the work days are going to be long, from what I hear
  • Unity, especially since we have people from not just two cities/ministries but also people from numerous, different homechurches within those cities
  • Understanding, since we are going to a completely different people group that a lot of us don’t know too much about. Also pray for sensitivity and compassion toward these people
  • For the gospel to both get out and get out clearly, since there will probably be a lot of barriers
  • The teachings
  • A burden, both when we are there and for when we come back

 

Can’t wait.

Philly Trip: Part 3

Here we are on the last night of our Philly trip. It’s getting pretty late and we’re all getting ready for bed since we have to be out of here early tomorrow. I wanted to make sure to write this now while it’s all so fresh, though.

I just want to start and simply say that the last two days have been awesome. Probably the best we’ve had.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we did the normal morning routine (Henry and Trey led the guys’ morning devotional, Jeri and Georgia led the group teaching), then we went back out to Express Church. This time around there were no tornado scares or rainstorms, so we got a full day’s work in. We were a little bit dispersed this time since we had a few different things going on. Most of the people kept working on the skate park, but two teams went out and passed out flyers for our “block party” and a few of us spent a good portion of the day filling in gravel roads in the camp portion of the Y. I did that with two of the pastor’s sons and Shawn and Theo. It was a lot of work but it was really fun relating with his sons (Stephen and Josiah). One thing our whole group has been praying for continuously is that we could encourage those two, since they don’t have many other people their age following the Lord around them (and we are a big group of just that). We really hope that maybe they could get a group going in their school someday. Oh yeah, just as an aside, those two are seriously some of the hardest working high schoolers I’ve been around (and so much fun, too). Another cool part of the day was getting to talk with Justin some. I asked him what his views on the importance of seminary and he said he thinks it’s an awesome thing but not necessary to be a solid worker. He’s over halfway done with his M.Div but said he probably won’t finish unless it’s holding him back in ministry. I like that attitude. He also got his four year degree in something related to the Bible after he was in the Navy.

Anyway, after that we went to the park for the block party. Laura, Jess and some of the girls went and picked up a bunch of pretzels (they’re famous around here) to give out at the party and ended up having a sweet talk with the cashier. You’ll have to ask them more, but he straight up asked them why they were here and also how someone gets to heaven. Crazy. At the party, we had probably ten to fifteen people show up throughout. Most lived in the neighborhood, but one family came from seeing the flyer hanging up at the Y which is pretty cool. It was awesome seeing a lot of our people being so willing to initiate with random people there and show them love. Two people (that I know of) from the party ended up saying they are going to check out Express Church, which is awesome. We obviously wished we’d been able to be a bridge for more people but it was still so sweet having a fun time with Justin’s family and all the people that stopped by. He told us all a bunch of stories and encouragement, too. He even said that our group has been the most mature/helpful he’s had, which honestly surprised me. But, in the same breath, our people really have been so serving.

Today (Thursday), we decided to skip the morning portion of the P2 schedule so we could get to Express Church as early as possible and get the work done we needed to. So, we left after breakfast and the morning devotional (Mat and Nate did ours- it was nice because they shared, we prayed, then we wrote down convictions from the week) and got to Phoenixville between 9 and 10. We went right back at the skatepark again as well as finished up some gravel work. It was pretty amazing because by noon or so we were all done (except for putting all the wood in dumpsters, since we didn’t have a new one yet). So, we were able to go swimming and then had some pizza for lunch. It was really nice of Justin and them because they straight up bought it for us. It was also cool because a lot of our people donated some to give back, too. Anyway, after that we went on down to the bleachers and did our last “group devotional” aka teaching/discussion. Laura seriously did an awesome job with that and it was sweet having Justin and his family (as well as another lady in the church) sit in with us and share as well. Our people shared and participated well as always, too. Then, as Laura was still wrapping up her teaching, a big truck came and replaced the full dumpster with a new, empty one. It was pretty funny with her and everyone who was sharing having to essentially yell to be heard over the noise. It all worked out, though, and then we went back to work and finished the job. That probably took us a little over an hour (you should’ve seen our dumpster work, by the way… it was like a Tetris player’s dream). I was so happy it came in time so we didn’t have to leave them with any extra work to do. Afterward, since Justin was already telling some stories (he likes to talk/encourage/share- which I love), we asked if we could interview him on camera so our people back home can get an idea of what his vision and church is like as well as so we can pray for him. He was down and it was sweet hearing what he had to share. Then, he reached into his pocket and gave all of us a piece of a chain in order to symbolize how we all are a link for people to Christ. The way he shared about that left us all inspired, seriously.

Lastly, we went and had communion in the park before we had to say our goodbyes. I felt it was a fitting end since our group overall as well as with Express Church has become so unified in thsi trip- and that’s all because of Jesus. I did a mini-teaching before we did it as well as explained the purpose and reason for doing communion. It was so sweet hearing everyone’s prayers of thanks but maybe even sweeter afterward. It felt like some sort of family reunion hanging out with them and saying bye. None of us wanted to leave but are excited to pray for these guys as we head out.

Tonight has also been fun since then, with everyone from the different churches staying at the school hanging out and fellowshipping. I keep hearing most of our people saying how they don’t want to leave but at the same time can’t wait to see everyone back home. I feel that. This trip has been a blast but I hope we can all take some real convictions back from it and move forward with them back in our day to day lives. We had a lot of scary and hard times here, but the hardest may be reflecting what He has shown us back home. It’s awesome thinking of what the ripple effects could be if each of us end up doing so, though.

So, some final thoughts:

  • Pray for workers for Express Church. We asked Justin a million times what to pray for and that was his number one answer every time. Oh yeah, I also loved how we said he’s not a church planter but a disciple maker. Very cool.
  • Some of the convictions I have so far
    • The crazy amount of life-changing ability one small conversation can have
    • God is really big, Satan is active- stay alert
    • You can’t plan everything. Sometimes tornado warnings happen and you can either stress or roll with it
    • Jesus really does unify people… we have felt literally at home being with Express Church (as well as being in a different city but at home because we all are together), and that’s all because of Him
      • How sad it is that so many people out in the world don’t have that. See, our group here is awesome and beautiful and all of that, but most people are “without hope in the world.” That’s what convicted me during communion. I went over Acts 2 and how close-knit in love the early church was during it, which I see in both our and their groups. But, at the same time, most people are so far from that and hardly getting by. We have the ability to present them with such a “living hope”
    • The importance of prayer. We have prayed a LOT on this trip, which I’m sure led to some of the sweet things that happened. I don’t do that enough back home
    • This may be the biggest one… how the number one thing God is looking for is availability. Express Church is happening because a few people were willing to go all out for it. These high schoolers who did so much good did so because they love Him and presented themselves as available. A guy like Nick, who has only been a believer for half a year, helped us lead this group and did an amazing job. It really isn’t about head-knowledge, it’s about if you want to trust Him to use you or not.
    • Going out of your comfort zone for God is worth it every time (and a complete joy). I don’t regret talking to that one lady at all. I do regret not talking to this group of teenagers who were kind of trying to talk to Shawn and I at Mcdonald’s. You get the idea).

Well, I think that’s all I have. I’m so glad I got to be a part of this trip and can’t wait to see what’ll happen because of it.

I’ll have to leave you with probably the most foundational verse of the week:

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and even o the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Here’s us in front of our kill (what used to be a skate park).

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