Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Moroccan Adventures

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."
Phillipians 2:5-11

I just returned from a missions trip to Morocco with the Navigators at NYU and this passage so deeply explains the hearts of those I worked alongside at the Village of Hope, a childrens home in rural Morocco. The home is not an orphanage but a place where moms who can't take care of their babies (it is nearly impossible for a single mom there) can drop them off. Instead of being crammed into dorms and waiting for someone to come along and adopt them, the children are placed in a family with loving parents and other children. These parents are people from all over, Morocco, Great Britain, The Netherlands and the States who have given up their lives to parent these children. It is a lifelong commitment they make to the Village and their families and they do the work of God with such humility and bold joy that it is impossible to not see Him moving in this place.

The land was incredible, I think its safe to say it was the most beautiful and majestic place I've ever been. I couldn't help but be reminded that the Kingdom of God was reigning there. God created that land before he even created us, before Christianity or Islam were, God was and one day every tongue will declare His glory because of the work these servants are doing there.

The Muslim world is deeply in need of Jesus and to see them bring His love in an unassuming and culturally relevant way was just beautiful. Please pray for them at the Village of Hope (http://www.voh-ainleuh.org/) that people would see Jesus in their work, that more Moroccans would follow him and that God would raise up more workers to dedicate their lives to serving families there. Also pray for me that I would not forget the examples of true servants I saw there and that we would find the simple and overwhelming Joy of the Lord provided for us here in the Bronx too!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Love to Live

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly ; do this, and you will live."

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." -Luke 10:25-37

A few days ago I came home to find a memorial set up by one of our neighborhoods’ local cliques. (Yes, CLIQUE…I detest the loaded alternative.) It upset me a little, and I wondered when the man who was to be remembered had taken his last breath. How did he die? Was it a recent event? Was it a result of a violent crime or was it an accident of some sort? Was justice administered if anyone was to blame? All these and other things rushed through my mind as I quickly scanned the block before retreating through my double-locked door.

I was about to head out for the evening when two of my neighbors came over. Jillian, Sara, and Meredith had all just left for Spring Break, and I would be alone for the next couple of days. When I opened the door, I was embraced by Wifey & Nyah. (Nicknames.) I had not substantially seen either of them in a while, but almost immediately my fears were assuaged. I’m usually very comfortable in solitude, but at that very moment I felt great comfort in their company. It gave me an immediate reminder of how we need each other. At least for me, it’s never necessarily been in tangible or physical ways, but through spiritual, emotional, and experiential means.

Wifey, Nyah, and I reconvened a few times over the last week along with the remainder of what has become our common crew. One of those days was quite a marathon: After a small snack time we went to the park to play, climb rocks, talk about crushes, met new friends, and generally enjoyed the beautiful day God blessed us with. That particular day I was having a tough time, and once again the gift of their company reminded me what it means to love and therefore what it means to live.

When I first moved in, I was so intimidated with the prospect of being so available. I would hear children ringing the door bell and I’d have to take a deep breath before I opened it. I praise God that through the work and fellowship we are constructing here, that he is building the gifts of the love of Christ in me. I think of how even when He would go off to be alone, Christ was always available to the people who called His name. I think of how He has always made Himself available to me, and Heaven forbid I deny anyone an ounce of that kind of love. More importantly, I’ve discovered that I had it completely wrong! To love, as Christ loves us, is to live the most abundant life possible. I thought Christ-like love was entirely martyr-based. But I testify today that I have never felt so great a level of satisfaction as to make my heart burst through my rib cage.

In this house, on this small block in the South Bronx, there is so much love. We are conditioned to believe that happiness comes from what we receive, but I challenge you today that it comes from what we give, and God’s greatest command is to give the gift of love. God wills that we experience life in great abundance, and I suspect that when the lawyer in Luke asked about eternal life, Jesus replied not only in reference to an abundant life after this one, but one in our very own Earthly lifetime.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eat Pray Love (...not the book, what we do)

Tonight the four of us got together for a house meeting, after numerous failed attempts in the weeks past. After going over some of the logistics of who cleans what when, we settled into the juicy stuff. Mainly, we renewed our vision and commitment to our household and neighborhood. We want to be more than just people who live together, and decided to re-commit to fostering our love and relationship for and with each other, by intentionally carving out time to spend together in fellowship. Specifically, praying and studying the Word after making dinner together once a week. Then we spent a very long time praying together about our neighbors & neighborhood, our friends, each other, and praising God for the wonderful ways he has provided for our community. We called down the kingdom to reign on Beekman Ave.

Lately God has been teaching me about the power of prayer. Crazy as it sounds, PEOPLE-- broken, fallible, messed up people-- are the instruments he chose for doing his work on earth. He actually makes our prayers influence history, influence his decisions. There are so many times when God was pissed off at the Israelites and wanted to give up on them, but Moses prayed for mercy and forgiveness, and God lead them through the desert. He "stood in the gap" for Israel.

I didn't actually know what that phrase meant until this weekend when I went to a workshop on intercessory prayer through Trinity Grace Church. It's from Ezekiel 20:33

30 "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD."

Freaky, right? When God sees evil, his divine justice demands judgment. But we, through our prayers, can call upon his divine love and grace. It matters when we pray. When we pray we break bondage and free the Holy Spirit to come in and take over. We allow God to implement his will. There are so many things he wants to give us, tell us, show us! If only we should ask.

Another cool text, James 5:13-20:

13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
17Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

I especially like verse 16. Our prayers are powerful and effective, for we have all been made righteous by Jesus' blood. And so, I invite you to pray with us on the following things:

PRAISE! for lots of stuff, they shouldn't be hard to think of.
That each of us--me, Dewanda, Sara, and Jillian--would grow in deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
That we could begin to dream creatively for ways to bless those around us with God's love through the resources we have been given
For the security guards on our street
For the children of our neighborhood, that God would take away their boredom and apathy and give them dreams to dream, that they would graduate high school and go even farther, and above all that they would meet the Lord and be transformed by him
For the gang members in our neighborhood, the Bloods, that they would be able to find love and acceptance in the arms of the Father and turn away from the myth of redemptive violence
That God would provide employment for many, especially ex-cons who have recently been released from jail, and either see no other life than the one they had before, or have hopes for change but are faced with so many difficulties along the way
For families, that God would teach the men how to be fathers and the women how to be mothers, that children would begin to be trained up in righteousness from birth
For churches and organizations already here, pursuing God's vision for the South Bronx
That God would provide people with new eyes and new hope, to see beyond the death and decay all around to the new world that God is bringing about even as we speak
To break bonds of spiritual oppression and generational sin