Monday, December 28, 2009

They Have Names, Jose, Valerie, Roger, Jeremy

A little over a year ago I met up with a couple of rather over the edge teens that are homeschoolers that didn’t really fit in their church youth group. They had been doing a burrito ministry to the homeless for a couple of months. I asked if we could do it together and a partnership was formed where I was able to help organize and get others to help out on a monthly basis. Now looking back I am thankful to Ben and Amy for their help to flame my own passion for people that have been forgotten and marginalized by society and the church.

This Christmas Eve saw about 60 people gather with New City/Barrio Nuevo to make 200 burritos, 100 hot dogs, collect 100 blankets and enough clothes for another 100 people. I begin at my house at 6AM on Christmas Eve morning cooking a 100 hot dogs in freezing weather. (Yes the temperature gauge outside said 36.) After cooking the dogs I left to pick up my New City kids and helpers. Maria had cooked the beans and the rice the night before. (It takes a rather large quantity of beans and rice to make 200 burritos.) We had collected clothes from New City partners this last week. A large group funneled into my house and eventually there was about 40 doing burritos, hot dogs and sorting clothes. We end up at an area downtown close to around a dozen homeless shelters. Another couple of groups meets us downtown.

I got a simple divine push to bring tables to set up to make our handing out food and clothes more organized. So we set up four tables and it wasn’t too long before hundreds of people come to get their hot chocolate, burrito, blanket and clothes. My main purpose is doing this is two fold. I truly believe that God has called us to feed and clothe those who have been left behind for whatever reason. I know that I will never conquer the homeless situation in Phoenix. I also believe it is essential to teach those who live in middle-upper middle class America to see that homeless people are PEOPLE who have names and are loved by their Father in Heaven. Yes, they may be smelly, dress strangely or not have a full set of teeth. Yet, given the present economic circumstances we all could at some point end up on the street.

I always give instructions to those that help out. I don’t want this to be a burrito and Bible dump where we show up on 13th Avenue and just throw out of my truck food and the Word. I believe it is imperative that everyone takes the time to look a person in the eyes, introduce themselves, ask the person’s name and then ask about their story. I also believe it is import for us to share our stories of how God has worked in our lives to do this to share Christ’s passion. I had the privilege of talking to a couple of people, all very different. Let me share my experience with Valerie, Roger and Jeremy.

I saw this well dressed and as I talked very educated older lady standing in line. As we talked I asked her name and how she ended up in Phoenix. I come to discover that she is from Massachusetts. I share that I was actually born in Bourne, Mass. We talked a little or I should say I listened to her story and unfortunate choice to follow a former boyfriend to Phoenix. She is now stranded and attempting to get help to get a job and either settle her and get back to her home on the east coast. I gave her my card and said call me. She carefully tucked my card into her new pink blanket and I said I would pray for her.

After seeing Valerie I ended up talking to Roger a much younger African American man in his late 20’s. He didn’t appear to be upset with living on the streets. I asked to video our conversation and he agreed. He shared how he had lived here most of his life and was only recently homeless. He truly acted like he expected to be back on his feet soon. He has a lively smile so I shook his hand, gave him a card and prayed for him.

As I am watching some of my kids hang out and playing with a friend I hear a loud scream, “Dave, come and pray for this man!” I respond initially by saying Terrance you can pray can’t you? Yet, Terrance believed that I needed to be there so I moved through the line looking at clothes and met Jeremy. He was clearly intoxicated and seemed truly remorseful for his past night of drinking. I listened to him talk about his life and his regret for drinking again. He quickly recited Bible verse after Bible verse. He clearly had been around the church and knew his Bible very well. The challenge was that his drinking problem landed him on the streets without any help. He wanted us to pray for him. I could truly sense the power of God as we laid hands on him and prayed. I also gave him my card and told him to call me.

The reality, which I don’t want to accept, is that none of these people will call me or ask for help beyond the burrito, blanket and Bible they received on Christmas Eve. Does this deter me from continuing to have groups partner with us to feed and love on the downtown homeless population – NEVER. Jesus’ love for me has never been dependent upon my faithfulness otherwise I would be totally lost.

Jesus is the one who defines how we are to love him by the way we treat the homeless, the neighbor we can’t stand or the boss at work we could shoot.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A New Heart for the New Year

A New Heart for A New Year Ezek. 36:26-27

Intro: If it’s broken – fix it! I know that everyone loves Christmas time because we get to give presents and receive them. One of the most frustrating things is to get something that doesn’t fit or is broken before you actually have a chance to use it. I know this Christmas I got us a family gift of a little Starwars Flying Ship. I put new batteries in it and made sure I charged up the little Flying Ship. I was excited about this hoping we could actually play with it on Christmas Day. I was really ticked, upset, etc… because the more I tried to get it to work the more I realized it wasn’t a good choice for a family toy. It didn’t work the way it claimed it was supposed to work. The sad thing is that for most this Christmas the meaning and purpose of life truly revolves around getting the things you want in life to make you happy. The challenge is that everything but the One Great Gift will ultimately be like my Starwars Flying Ship – it’s ability to make you happy will be short lived.

#1. The problem is that we are broken but don’t realize it. The Bible clearly tells us that we are broken and need to be fixed. Jeremiah tells us that our hearts our deceitful above anything we can imagine. (Jer. 17:9) The challenge is that most really don’t accept this and believe that everyone is really good and that given time you will figure out how to make everything better. The daily newspaper or internet news says something different that man is at war with himself attempting to take with different means what others have. We don’t want to be honest but everyone believes that only a little bit more money, or more power or a newer house, car or that incredible vacation or to rule your neighborhood through gang presence will make my life just right. Proverbs tells us so clearly that there is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death. (Prov. 14:12)

#2. We need heart surgery. Our neighbor Kadjesha had heart surgery two days before Christmas. This wasn’t open-heart surgery but the kind that goes through an artery and then repairs a clogged or bad vessel. She was supposed to stay in bed for at least three days but ends up at home later the day of her surgery. Her doctors had told her that without this surgery she would have a heart attack and probably have a stroke if not die.

The prophet Ezekiel predicts the coming of Jesus Christ who will ultimately do an amazing work of transformation. You can describe it as major heart surgery. God will take what was a heart of stone and change it into a real heart. This refers to our inability to respond to God, the truth and instead live life totally on our own terms. God’s choice to send Jesus as the great redeemer means that He will take away our heart of stone, which only cares about ourselves and give us a heart of flesh that is able to care for God and one another. Ezekiel describes the miracle of the new birth by saying that God’s Spirit will come to dwell in you and then guide you how to live. Jesus describes this as being born again or from above. (John 3)

Conclusion: How are you going to start off the New Year? Do you make New Year resolutions? Isn’t it almost funny how most people go to great effort to come up with their list and then by the second week in the New Year everything is forgotten? I want to say that there is one New Year resolution that will transform your ability to do everything and that is to have a New Heart that is after God. We live during a tough time when there is a lot of hurt and jealousy because of a bad economy. There was an incident of an airman who had just returned from Iraq and had his car full of presents for his family. While going inside to get groceries someone broke into his car and stole everything. This hit the news and it wasn’t too long before someone sought to make this story have a better ending. A radio talk show host used his program to raise thousands of dollars to help out this young family. The reality is that Jesus Christ is the one who has come to make life the best. The question is whether you are honest enough to admit that you are broken and need a new heart. Most of you have met our Somali neighbor and can imagine what it would be like for her six kids if she didn’t get surgery and had a stroke and then died. Jesus has come to give you an amazing life that will make this New Year truly special. Do you have a New Heart for a New Year?

Happy New Year! Feliz Ano Nuevo!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

What's in a Name?

Christmas is About Jesus – What’s in a Name?

Matt. 1:22ff

Intro: Do names really matter? Most names today are selected not according to what they mean but either how they sound or whether they are on the top ten list. The name Jesus Christ is different than any other name. It is the name by which God has revealed His plan of salvation and the real meaning and purpose of life. Jesus Christ is the God Man who was sent from heaven to earth, who was born in a manger and lived a life that revealed ultimately that he is the Word of God become flesh. Jesus himself proclaims that he is the great eternal God when he calls himself the great I’AM. (John 8:58)

1. What does the name Jesus mean? The name Jesus was very common in the time of the early church and before. It specially referred to someone saving someone from getting hurt in battle. Now the big difference with this being the name of God’s Son is that it refers to the ultimate victory of the toughest battle – our sinful nature. The crowd that greeted Jesus as he came into Jerusalem before he was arrested and crucified screamed out – Hosanna or literally the Lord saves those in the in the middle of battle. The Old Testament equivalent of Jesus was Joshua. Remember that Joshua and Caleb were the only spies to come back with a positive report and excitement about over taking the Canaanites because the other spies viewed them as giants.

2. What does the name Immanuel mean? The prophets of old talked about a virgin being with child and the fact that his name would be Immanuel or literally God is with us. The amazing miracle of the birth of Christ is that you have the eternal, infinite God taking upon himself human flesh. John proclaims in his gospel that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we beheld his glory as from the Father. It is impossible to comprehend how the infinite God is able to take on a finite flesh and blood body but yet he does. So as John declares we have God living or dwelling in a human tent. When Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was near he was referring to his own presence. So Jesus is truly God and Man and his coming means that God is physically with us.

3. What does the name Christ mean? The word Christ literally means anointed one referring to the practice of anointing either a king or priest who would be set aside for office. Jesus is the anointed one who is set aside to be the Son of God, Messiah, the Christ and Immanuel. This name refers to Jesus’ office or position of being a king set aside to rule over God’s people. Jesus is the special one chosen to be the redeemer of God’s family. Only Christ has the ability to forgive sin, transform a life and then restore a family together.

Conclusion – The Name of Jesus is above all names! Yes, Jesus is name that turns heads and causes trouble. The full name or title Jesus the Christ truly refers to the God – Man who experienced life on earth and came to live in such a way that his life transforms you and me. So there is power in this name, because it is the only name under heaven and earth through which anyone can know God and be saved. So what’s the big deal about God naming his son Jesus or Immanuel? He is the only one that is capable of redeeming us or laying down his perfect life so our sinful life can be forgiven and transformed. Otherwise Christmas isn’t about a manger, shepherds, angels or redemption but about who has the largest gift under the tree.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ouch - Dave's a Jr. Higher at Heart

I do have a difficult time admitting that I am getting older and that doing crazy activities is always a risk. Last year this time I had surgery to remove some skin cancer on my leg. This required me to be in a cast and crutches for a week. I will always remember making burritos on Christmas Eve as I hobbled along. This Christmas I am blessed with a bruised ‘bottom’. It is truly my own fault. We had an amazing Christmas Party for our tutoring kids and families. We had a great turn out between our tutors, special friends with gifts and the larger community. I rented a couple of the jumpers for the kids to enjoy. We did something different and got one of the more teen – adult jumpers, the gladiator. I had fun watching and decide to take one whoever was the champion of the morning. Matthew was left standing undefeated. So I not knowing if I could whip him jump up on the platform and end up easily taking him down not once but three times.

My joy of victory was short lived as the following week we go skating with the kids. We had a large group of over 40 and go to our now favorite place, Skateland in Mesa. I am a good skating and only have to watch out either for little kids that fall in front of you or someone crazy like Darious who speeds by you and accidentally trips you. Matt and I got into a little with the different sessions and he comes back for retaliation. This time he pushes me when I am really flying and end up having to slide out of the way to miss a little munchkin and collide with the hard wooden floor – ouch. I knew the second I connected with the floor that I would be in agony. I slowly remove myself from the floor and do a sportsman like shake it off routine. Little did I know how hard I had hit and how black and blue my tucsh would be.

After taking all of the kids home I end up on the couch in dire pain. I ask my Anne for the heating pad and wait patiently for the pain to subside. It didn’t and I was hurting most of the night. As I reveal to my Anne the extent of my injury she is shocked and does a laugh and oooh type of thing.

Is there some deep spiritual lesson in all of this? Maybe – act like an adult and you won’t get hurt? Maybe if you are going to play with the kids and act like the kids don’t be surprised when one of them gets even. I know that my physical body is fallen, falling apart and truly my responsibility to be wise in how I choose to use it or might I say abuse it. I think the better lesson which sounds more Christmas like is that just as Jesus came to earth from heaven and took upon himself flesh and blood and earthly life that I at times love to be like the people/kids God has brought my way. So I am being incarninational when I play with my New City kids or hang out with my grandmas and enjoy a donut.

I know that bumps and bruises are part of life and that without ever taking any risk nothing will happen. I know the typical phrase – nothing ventured nothing gained.

Ouch - Dave

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jesus Brings Hope to the Hopeless

Christmas is About Jesus – Jesus Brings Hope to the Hopeless Micah 5:2

Intro: Little things matter! I know at times it might feel as if no cares about you or your circumstances. It is easy at times to really believe that no body ever notices you. I can remember in High School being at a point in my life where everything came to a screeching halt. I was dumped by my girlfriend, my rock band died and even though I had the coolest sport car I wanted friends who liked me for who I was not what I owned. I believe that one of the main reasons why God had Jesus be born in an insignificant place, Bethlehem, was to help us see that He truly cares for the little people that are usually forgotten.

#1. What is hope? Why do we need hope?

It isn’t easy to define hope because in one sense it is something that is always looking towards the future. The dictionary would say that hope is a desire for something with the expectation of it happening. One might say that hope is what gives you the ability to keep going even in the face of rough circumstances. The challenge is what is the basis of the hope that you hold towards the future. If you aren’t a Christ follower than your hope is based upon your own accomplishments, skills and means. It ultimately means that your hope is based totally on yourself and your belief that you can do it. The problem with this is at times I fail or quit because I don’t have the ability to keep going.

Faith and hope are related to one another. My faith isn’t in myself but in God and my hope is that He is faithful to his promises and will always be there to help me as I face life circumstances. Today most people place their faith or trust in their careers, education, possession or network of friends and not God. We live in a society where often a faith in God or hope in God’s faithfulness is scorned. So how do find hope in the face of a gloomy economy or a family tragedy?

#2. Jesus brings hope because he is the eternal ruler.

It again is amazing that God would send Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to have Jesus who by name is the one who will save his people from their sins. The word Bethlehem meant house of hope or place of hope. I believe that God wanted to show both the Jews and those outside the Jewish Family that His love and our redemption isn’t based upon our accomplishments but upon the work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the eternal God, creator and ruler who has always existed he becomes the true basis for any hope in life.

If Jesus were truly born of royalty he would have been born in a place like Jerusalem which was the religious center of the world. God wanted to show that his heart has and will always be for the poor both physically and spiritually. He is opposed to the proud and arrogant, who think they are capable of living life apart from Him. Mary and Joseph were literal no-bodies that become the parents of the God-Man and savior. He is not only born in a manger but grows up among the poor in Nazareth as the carpenter’s son.

#3. How do you get hope in a hopeless situation?

It shouldn’t be any surprise that God sends his angels to proclaim the coming of Jesus not to the Palace or Temple of rulers but to lowly shepherds out in the field. They come to proclaim that God has brought the hope of the ages to Bethlehem in a stable. The shepherds and wise men search for the baby Jesus understanding the implications of what might happen if Jesus truly is God’s Son, the Savior of mankind and the Messiah.

I will be the first to admit that I can act as if I am strong and have the ability to do and face anything in life. The reality is that this would be a total lie. If I place my faith and hope for the future solely in myself I am totally lost and will lead others down the path of self –sufficiency. Today’s world totally promotes the image that honesty and dependency on others is a sign of weakness. The coming of the Christ Child to Bethlehem gives us a hope that God’s love is truly not based upon where you live, what you own or who you know. So the only way to have hope in any situation is to trust Christ with your total life. As we confess our sin, rebellion against God and our need to be redeemed we have a hope that can face anything in life, even tragedy and our own death.

Conclusion: Live like you have Hope!

When you face tough circumstances what do you do? Often we allow the fear of the unknown to paralyze us. John tells us that perfect love or hope casts out all fear. When we have placed our lives in God’s hands He will give us His peace and the ability to trust him both with the outcome of our circumstances and not to worry or fear about tomorrow. Remember Jesus said seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will fall into place.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frustration Shouldn't Stop You

I am learning that one of the by products of working with many different people is varying levels of commitment, expectation and the end result. My life is centered around nurturing relationships that are Christ driven to see people serve others unselfishly. It is easy to say this but another thing to pull it off and not step back at times and either think that I am so cool to get 300 people to paint 10 houses or the reverse, boy did I blow it by not being more organized at smaller event or why is it the case only 2 people showed up to help with my own neighborhood work project last week?

I have always struggled with people that look at life from a negative perspective. All it takes is one sour apple to spoil the whole bunch. I am learning that being a positive factor in anything in life will transform any situation. I know that especially around Christmas time people are more open to talk about the difference having hope in life can make. What is the one thing that is going to help you keep going and not stop or quit in your present situation? It doesn’t matter what the circumstances we all come to the end or our rope at times.

You add what I have been talking about to doing work in a cross-cultural setting where you have many different ways of doing something and you have the ingredients for friction and frustration. It is like learning to speak another language and sometimes the more you try to do it right you mess up more. It is so easy to impose my personal values or ways of doing things and miss out on allowing God to work through the chaos of life that I miss out on many blessings. I know that having done both construction work and church work most of my life that there is always someone who knows what they think is the right way to do something. If you suggest or do something different you receive a lot of flack or threats, i.e. I’ll quit or we never did it this way or this is doomed to fail.

I love how the apostle Paul reflects on his life journey, which was at times a mess with the following thought from 2 Cor. 4: 7:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed; always caring in the body of the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

The simple fact is that most of Paul’s heart ache in life was from his past life as a Jewish leader and also from his new role as the missionary to the non-Jewish world. Paul was a mover and shaker in his day and wasn’t afraid to stir the pot or step out and do something totally different so that more people could both hear and see the gospel.

My life at present is working with many kids from the inner city and a lot of Grandmas from my neighborhood. We have been doing mercy church for over the last year plus. At times I do consider whether the amount of time, funds raised and the results are truly worth it. This comes out of my educated and white culture that says everything has to be a certain way for it to be considered a worthy endeavor. The other side of my life, which is Jesus talking to me, says that He came specifically to love the least, the last and the lost. I love the Master Card commercial that says ultimately that certain things in life are priceless. This is my life at present as I could tell stories each day of being with different people and seeing first hand results of living out the gospel in both word and deed. So what is my point in writing this blog but to encourage myself to not quit and for others to see the heart of God for the poor, broken and lost around them? It is way too easy to become insulated from the real world around you and live in a Christian ghetto or vacuum.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have all of the answers for relating back to some who question the type of work I am pursuing. All I can say is that God has given me a passion and a call to love on the South Phoenix neighborhoods. Yes I would love to have a time table for a lot of things that I do but I am beginning to see that what matters is God’s time table over all not mine. Yeah I do care about being organized and seeing God bless. I guess Paul’s two cents was that his life was always facing different messes and the adventure is in watching God work through those circumstances for his glory to show forth his grace and mercy.

Who is Jesus?

Christmas is About Jesus – Who is Jesus? John 1:1-3

Intro: The Mystery of God. Anne and I were able to attend the performance of Handel’s Messiah last night at the Community College. It is a truly incredible musical work that unfolds the story of Christmas that shows the amazing love of God. How is it possible that the Holy Creator God who made the universe would come as a baby in the manger that lays down his life that we could be forgiven and have a new relationship with God? This is a mystery that goes beyond our ability to understand and comprehend.

Yesterday I painted some of the walls in my community. We did this last month and with the help of about 15 volunteers it went really well. Lupe, Sammy and Matt actually were the paint sprayer experts. I guess this time because it was cold no on showed up at all – at least except for my personal helpers, Chalino and Matt. After about 15 minutes of working 2 guys show up and we work for about 2.5 hours and accomplish almost as much as the month before. I asked my guys what they learned from this and they said that being a servant is the only way to go. It doesn’t matter whether you have 300 volunteers like for our painting blitz or just a handful like yesterday. Jesus is the example of how the God of this universe who created everything chooses to become a servant leader to show us the way to heaven, which is through Him.

#1. Jesus is before the beginning.

Over the next month we are going to talk about the real meaning and purpose of Christmas. We will look at the who of Jesus Christ today. As we sing Lord I lift your name on high we sing the chorus that Jesus came from heaven to earth to show us the way. John the old apostle saw the big picture about Jesus Christ. He was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was at the cross and he out lived all of the other disciples.

John tells us that before the beginning of anything that Jesus has always existed. Jesus declares to the Jews that before Abraham came into existence that he is the I AM. (John 8:58) Jesus is referring back to the name that God tells Moses to call him that he is the eternally existent God who always is, has been and will be. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus claims to be God who has always existed.

#2. Jesus is the Word.

The apostle John tells us that Jesus is the Word. As you read Genesis 1 and the description of how God created the universe and all of life it says that God said let there be and it came into being. The spoken Word of God is what brings something out of nothing. The Word in this context is actually a person Jesus Christ. John chose a word, logos, to depict Jesus as the eternal mind or mouthpiece through which everything comes into being. It referred back to the Greeks and their notion of an eternal mind. What John is saying is that Jesus is the eternal Word of God that spoke things into existence.

#3. Jesus is the creator and author of life.

I know that deep down inside all of us at times wonder about where did we really come from or why am I here? As we consider the incredible statement that Jesus Christ is the means through which God created and brought life into existence it will help us eventually understand that we were made with a purpose. We didn’t come from a cosmic accident but through the design of a God who is holy, merciful and loving. It is impossible for mankind to fathom how one is able to make something out of nothing. Science attempts to say it can imitate the creation of life in a laboratory but it isn’t possible.

Conclusion: Make your Christmas about real life.

I was talking to someone during our painting of my community walls who was saying that Amazon orders were up almost 60% from last year’s Christmas and that Best Buy was up 30% from last year. It would still seem that Christmas is not about Jesus but about getting bigger and better presents. Don’t get me wrong giving in itself is an amazing quality for someone to pursue but I am afraid that most of us are still into being takers. So the simple challenge is to ask the question as to whether or not my actions at Christmas are about the One who came to give us real life or whether we still believe that life is wrapped up in presents under a tree with sparkling lights?

Jesus is the One who has existed before anything else; He is the Word of God who created all things including you! Let us worship Him as the God who became Man as John declares in his Gospel, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14