Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: evangelism (page 1 of 2)

I Guess It Was the Spirit

“Why did you talk to me?” Ty asked my friend Tre over text later that afternoon.

Tre answered, “We prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and that’s what happened.”

Well, Tre, that’s not exactly what it felt like.  But why wouldn’t it be true? What does my feeling have to do with the reality? Why am I praying for that (because I definitely did pray for that) if I don’t think it will happen? Why do I wonder if it did happen the way I asked for when it happened? Tre was teaching me something about life in the Spirit.

Thanks, Tre

Tre is 25 (more than 10 years younger than me) and he is my teacher. He is on staff with Intervarsity, a parachurch college ministry that wants to help evangelize campuses across the country. He was heavily influenced by Intervarsity’s work when he was a college student (not that long ago) and now he has dedicated his life to starting new chapters in our South Jersey Region. He started one at Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC). I’m helping him start one at Rowan College at Gloucester County College (RCGC) . And he has designs to start one at Camden County College in the fall. I love this guy!

He recently wrote, “A question for us to bring to the Lord is ‘Lord, what is it you want to do at RCGC? What do you want to do through us? God, give us a authoritative vision for how to mark your campus. Give us courage to act, the power to love, and unity in purpose.” That’s a good prayer! Have you ever prayed anything like that?

Our confidence does not come from our confidence. Our courage does not come from our courage. The places we inhabit are not our places. It’s all God’s.

When I walked up to Ty in the cafeteria I didn’t think about it too much. He was sitting by himself and did not have earbuds in or even a phone out. He seemed available and approachable so I gravitated toward him. We kind of freaked him out because it seemed so timely. He had been thinking (even dreaming) about his relationship with God a lot recently and he wasn’t sure what all that meant. Ty (whose name I changed for this story) didn’t really connect to the Bible Study that Tre and I  started, but his response to our invitation has me thinking about the stories I tell and the possibilities of the Spirit that I might be missing.

How The Bible Tells Me So

Here’s a favorite story about evangelism in the Bible:

Acts 8:26-38 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

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

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

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.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

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

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?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

These fantastic things get told in such a matter of fact way. There isn’t much editorializing. Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn’t say, “And Philip was freaking out” or “He wasn’t sure what to make of this strange urge to go stand by a chariot on the side of the road.” It is simply “The Spirit told.” That’s how Tre tells stories, too!

How I Tell Me So

I want to believe that Philip’s experience with the Spirit is very similar to mine. My experience is fairly ordinary — I prayed with Tre, then I walked up to the first person who seemed approachable and talked to them about this Bible study I wanted to start and we got into a pretty cool spiritual conversation that the person really needed to have. If I were in Philip’s place I might of told the story like this:

Best version of Philip yet from “AD Kingdom and Empire” #bringbackAD

Ok, so the Angel thing was undeniable. I can’t describe him to you, but he was like a man, but obviously not. When he spoke his lips didn’t move but it felt like the words spoke me. So I knew what I had to do.  I went where I was sent. (Having a sense of our sent-ness is really important, right?). When I got to the Gaza Road I had barely been walking for 20 minutes when this whole entourage of important people came rolling out of the city. I figured this is what I had been sent for so I walked beside the chariot as close as I could and when he started reading Isaiah out loud I was like, “Of course!” And then bing, bang, boom — first non-Jewish follower of Jesus. Whaaat?!

That’s how it feels for me. When two of the eight or so people who came to our Bible Study this semester decided to follow Jesus for the first time, I’m like “Whaaat?!” It shouldn’t have “worked.” It wasn’t that good. I didn’t have this dynamite sense of God’s power rushing through me the whole time. (BTW Have I ever felt that?) It doesn’t all make sense, so it must be the Spirit.

Be Sent

I got sent to RCGC. Tre really just pulled me all the way in before I could really talk myself out of it. And I’m so glad he did because I got to participate in some real Spirit stuff. RCGC is God’s. People there are looking to make a relationship with God. I don’t know what is going to happen next. This is fun! Pray for what happens there next semester.

And pray that you might feel sent somewhere yourself. Not just to start Bible Studies or one of Circle of Hope’s Cells but to bring whatever you’ve been given to where you find yourself. It is your sense of sent-ness that I desire most. Your home with your kids all day, your lunch break at the falafel truck, your early morning weeding at the community garden Wherever you are, be sent.

How slow is too slow?

When I was in third grade my music teacher, Ms. Smedley, taught me all kinds of ridiculous songs that I for some reason remember all the words too.  One of them was this little calypso/reggae jam with two verses that had the same melody but two different rhythms that reflected their dichotomous lyrics.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry come on the run/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, no time for fun/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, here comes the sun/ When we are finished there will be time for fun.

Alright I come now, alright I come/ No need to hurry, no need to run/ It is too early where is the sun?/ I am so tired that I cannot run”

This is exactly like the one I have- they’re still selling it on amazon

She also gave me a plastic bust of Beethoven that I still have, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.  This song came to mind because I’ve been having discussions with some of my partners about evangelism and urgency.  How quickly should we move on from those who are not interested in Jesus and our church?

One of my friends was saying that there is no game but the long game with some people.  They are so burned or so antagonistic that the only way they are ever going to follow Jesus is after a long season of loving by the Christians in their lives.  There’s a hefty hunk of truth in my friend’s discernment, but I’m not ready to settle into that arrangement yet.  I’m singing the first verse of the song.  I have more urgency.

My urgency is rooted in my belief that the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night.  Jesus may come back tomorrow (and I hope he does) and I want as many people as possible to recognize and embrace Him when he does.  I have a sense of responsibility to the charge that Jesus gave us to go and make disciples of all nations, and I am acutely aware of how limited I am in time and capacity.  I want to make my efforts count.

There are hundreds of thousands of people within a couple of miles of me who know very little about who Jesus actually is.  The argument could be made that any Usonian today has heard the story of Jesus so the basic urgency we see in Acts and the rest of the New Testament is not really applicable to our situation.  Our culture is post-Christian as in “totally over Jesus”, which is quite different fro the pre-Christian culture of the 1st Century Mediterranean.

But I don’t think the facts as filtered through modernism, sarcasm and even the dead churches so many of us were exposed to as children are really the Gospel.  That story of Jesus is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is Jesus Himself and Jesus is alive in us in a way that many have not experienced before.  Taking ourselves that seriously may be the hardest step to take, but once we do our evangelism strategy is just a matter of how heavily we lean into that truth.  Peoples’ bad experiences with the Church, or even just their bad impressions of the Church can be overcome.  There is still Good News that is actually news to a lot of people.  Circle of Hope’s strategy to include folks before they make a commitment to follow Jesus allows for this news to be seen and heard.  We need to experience the power of God among us for our doubts and our wounds to be assuaged and healed.

The question “How slow is too slow?” comes down to how insistent I am in trying to include my friends in our community before they are Christians.  How many invitations is too pushy and how quickly will they write me off if I “cross the line”?  I don’t think it’s my job to worry about that.  I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be in a life giving relationship with Jesus, and God wants that too.  Protecting friends from my deepest fulfillment is crazy.  If they are offended by my joy, so be it.  Of course this attitude could quickly slip into an off-putting arrogance that is typical of many evangelists (and I am probably more prone to that than some), but I think the invitation can be made in a way that actually protects a person’s dignity, especially when they know I’m a Christian and they know it’s really important to me.  Someone may filter me out of their life because I am too “up front” about Jesus, but I prefer that to filtering Jesus out of my life–my life which is nothing more than my relationships and conversations (i.e. If I’m not bringing Jesus into my everyday conversation does He still have a place there at all?)

The classic slow cooker

Patterns of relating around things other than Jesus are quickly established because Jesus is a taboo subject.  It’s hard to break out of those patterns once they are established because the build up to the “reveal” of Jesus brings with it more anxiety.  The more we allow Jesus to remain in the margins of our relationships and the conversations within them the harder it will be to get Him into the center of someone’s life.  All this being said, I have had several long term relationships that have eventually resulted in a person becoming a Christian.  I’m not writing anyone off, I’m just being ready for them to write me off.  I kept Jesus at the center of our relationship (and it wasn’t that hard).  I regularly invited them to Circle of Hope events.  I told them about my relationship with God.  I shared with them the work I was doing.

So I err on the side of “hurry, hurry, hurry” instead of “alright I come” because 1) Jesus is coming back tomorrow, 2) The effect of marginalizing Jesus in my everyday conversation, marginalizes Him in my heart, and 3) It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to be a Christian and doesn’t want to relate to me because I am.

P.S. Bringing it all together – Radiolab did a story on how Beethoven may have wanted his music played much faster than we ever heard it http://www.radiolab.org/story/269783-speedy-beet/

I won at Quizzo and you can too

The whole "Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016" Team (*name subject to change- every time)

The whole “Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016” Team (*name subject to change- every time)

Last night after literally months of toil, my Quizzo team won a $50 bar tab at New Deck Tavern for our first place finish.  We were very excited.  We were VERY EXCITED.  I was also excited because everyone on the team was a stranger to me a few months ago.  Making friends is hard and it’s at the core of Circle of Hope‘s strategy for making disciples so it’s worth thinking about for a couple of minutes.  We think that Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- as in through our relationships- human to human- flesh to flesh- carne to carne.  But when was the last time you made a new friend?

Some of you will say, “yesterday and last week and this morning.”  Others will say 5 years ago or college or “I don’t really have that many friends.”  I looked at my life about 6 months ago and realized I might have made acquaintances at the “yesterday and last week and this morning” rate but I wasn’t really making very many new actual friends at all.  Whatever the reason for our relative isolations (and they are as numerous as we are), we need to get with Jesus in order to overcome our hang ups to meet the next person and expose them to what God is doing in our life together.  If you can first get over the hang ups you may have about being intentional to share Christ in your relationships then you might want to get down to business and figure out how to make some new friends.

What I’m thinking we have to do is very practical so I made a list (they happen to alliterate so I’m obliged to title them Practical P’s):

1) Prioritize

If you do not make time for new people and new environments you will stay in your rut.  We are creatures of habit, and though many of our habits are very good, we will have to not do some things in order to the other things we have prioritized.  Figuring out how to make time for some new people takes dedication, deal making with family members, and follow through.  Make a plan and do the plan.  Whatever will be what it was before forever.

2) Pray

Making friends is good for anyone regardless of the reasons.  I’m making friends because I want to give people a chance to meet a Christian like me.  I also have a desire to be known and to share who I am with people and for them to share that with me.  We’re wired for it (me especially).  So our prayers are for the fulfillment of our desires as human beings and the fulfillment of our mission as Christians.  It’s neat how there’s no need for compartmentalization.  We pray because we know that we are only scattering seeds, God makes faith grow.  We pray for those who might receive us and we pray that we will have the courage to risk being received and also rejected.

3) Pay attention

Listen to others, see what they are interested in, see where they are hurting and needy.  Bless them with your presence.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can perceive what many who are consumed in themselves cannot.  I was surprised and subsequently honored by the opportunities I had to listen to my new friends just by making myself available.  I’m convinced that we are all much more isolated than we appear from the outside.  If we listen and look closely, we will find those who are ready.

4) Pursue

It seems we are trained to bounce off of each other.  Hanging out at a bar could easily be ephemeral- a fleeting moment of connection.  But you can look someone up on facebook, or ask them for their number or email.  The tricky part for that for me is that it seems that doing that implicitly expresses a sexual desire in most societal circumstances.  Yeah, it’s just weird- we’re weird and we’ll have to get over it and do the weird thing.  I think that most people feel locked out in that way though.  The opportunities for intimacy are relegated to sexual encounters- and what paltry opportunities most of the time!  It’s hard for a lot of people to connect.  So blurt it out- the worst thing that happens is that you never see them again, and that was going to happen anyway.

How do I escape the stereotype?

I got stuck on the trolley for about 45 minutes last week. I also got stuck being a Christian.

Where much of my conversation occurred- 40th and Woodland

The trolleys were broken down in the tunnel and we were beyond the diversion point. We just had to wait it out.  Instead of being consumed by my fantasy novel I struck up a conversation with the man who sat down next to me. It started with our common inconvenience- a trolley in front of us was broken down in the tunnel and we were stuck behind it and very late for work (we weren’t stressed about it because it was the day after the big snow and we were already heroes for showing up at all). It went deeper when I simply asked him “what are you reading?”

I might have been leery to ask this man this question- he seemed a bit eccentric and I could tell by the titles I spied on his photocopied reading material that his interests were a bit weird too. He was excited to tell me that every clergy person was a charlatan and religion was just a power grab.

I listened and agreed with some of his points- scientists could now describe the forces at work which caused the sun to rise or the moon to be eclipsed which made ancient stories about gods and their daily celestial responsibilities seem false. Religious people had leveraged their spiritual power throughout history to control unlettered people groups.

My new friend considered himself very lettered and he was sure that if we all just thought about things for ourselves logically we would reach the same conclusions that he had reached. I held my tongue as he insulted all religious people but eventually got a turn to speak. I contended that his evaluation of logic as the utmost criteria for reality was not unassailable- how do you logically describe love? I rejected his overly individualistic approach to truth and pointed out that it was just as much an inheritance of the western philosophical domination system as all the other homogenizing force he decried. And I told him that I trusted my own experience of God and appreciated how the stories that had been passed down to me resonated in my heart and with my desire.

stereotypes

As soon as I expressed my faith I was lumped into a category. I was foolish and beguiled.  I was a bleating sheep.  We danced around our points for a while but I don’t think I swayed him. He did concede to me that I wasn’t stupid, just that I had made a choice based on criteria which he had chosen as less important than his own criteria. We parted ways with a smile and a handshake which I consider a victory. At the very least he met a nice articulate Christian who took him seriously.

But afterward I was discouraged.  Maybe I should have just read my fantasy novel.  I didn’t like being lumped.  At one point I said, “Listen, you don’t know me, you can’t put that on me.”  He was putting all the deceit and power of Christian history on my shoulders, but more so he was insisting that my faith was blind.  The moment I have faith I am deceived.  I don’t think there is a way to win that argument.  If I had the opportunity I would just have to prove to him that I wasn’t what he thought I was.   Arguments won’t win the day- only time, relationship and love.  That’s why Circle of Hope organized ourselves into cell groups- so we could create spaces for someone like him to have that opportunity.  God will have to work with this guy a bit more before he’s ready to get into a cell but if he did, it would be great fun!  Let’s pray for those we know like him and pray for more opportunities to make a way for people to get in or at the very least to have the conversation.

Going it together

I went to King of Prussia for lunch today.  My friend Phil works in a business park.  I had never been to a business park before.  It was very interesting.  It got me thinking about how incredibly astute we need to be at our isolation to remain separated they way we are.

Glaxosmithkline was across the street (it’s a bit shinier)

Out of the manicured wilderness spring dozens of big 1970s buildings.  Brick and bulbous yet nondescript on the outside, the inside of Phil’s office was bright with color and full to the gills with people.  I broke onto the cubicle floor with little resistance in search of a bathroom as I waited for Phil.  Cubicles are half walls now, so you could see everybody on the floor.  The bathroom was bustling with people amicably talking about sports and other acceptable topics of conversation.

When I got back to the reception area I sat across from the sandwich lady.  I noted the lack of eatery options in this sprawling facility.  “So do you take the food around to the people in your cart?” I asked her.  I had seen stuff like this on TV!

“No, Diane, the receptionist, sends an email, but there’s no Diane, so there’s no email.”  She answered.

The room full of hungry people did not know her bean salads had arrived because Diane wasn’t there to send an email to announce the bean salad’s presence.  It was interesting how together everyone was, and how very not.  An outpost of teeming humanity in the once teaming with game no-longer-woods outside of Philadelphia held together by email alone despite the borderline absurdity of this concentration of bodies in this should-be-secluded locale.

Phil and I crossed the parking lot to eat at a cafe in another building.  We were meeting up to talk about including people in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  Of course, Phil had a regular lunch crew that he had to let know he wouldn’t be there.  My observations about these people’s separation are mostly artificial, but the setting was too fascinating not to report and to correlative to our conversation.

Let’s not be this (I don’t think we are)

In thinking about the people that Phil knows and reflecting on our own experience as Christians, we lamented the isolation of faith into our very private lives.  Thoughts about the meaning of life are hard.  Thoughts about death and the afterlife cause a lot of anxiety.  Thoughts about confronting our limitations are painful.  If we are to follow some of the prevailing wisdom of our age, we should figure these things out by ourselves.  Regardless of what conclusions we are leaning toward, that’s hard!  But for many reasons it is in fashion to come up with everything out of our own head for it to be valid.  Why do we have to go it alone?

Phil and I were figuring out how to help our friends “go it together”–with us.  We wanted to be with them in their struggle and be sensitive to the pain they’ve experienced, but without cutting the part of us off that gives us meaning.  We don’t want to convince them that their isolation is wrong.  We want to convince them that we love them. Sometimes it seems like we have to censor our hope in Jesus to do that, and maybe we do at first, but sometimes our hesitation to be ourselves in Christ is more about how similar our pain is to those who have,  facing similar circumstances, decided to abandon the faith, nominal or otherwise, of their family of origin than it is about protecting those we are trying to love.  We need to revisit that pain with God and be healed.

All the commands that Jesus gave us are impossible to achieve without Him.  The Holy Spirit enables us to do what we are called to do by healing our past wounds, giving us courage, and even the words to say in those perceived as delicate moments of conversation.  It’s all about trust.  Our faith stays so small if we give it zero exercise.  Relying on God is really hard to do just in our heads.  We need to risk something to be saved again.  We need to die to something to experience the power of the resurrection now.  We need to “be with” as God is “with us.”  We need to “go it together” with those who are following Jesus and with those who are not.

 

Invitation

 In Circle of Hope we say our vision for fulfilling our mission is this:

“We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Responding in love to our thirsty region and fractured society, we are birthing a new generation of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit”

Here's a PM a while back

Here’s a PM a while back

We are the environment.

We are temples of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6).  We designed our Public Meetings to be an expression of the gospel by the community that embodies it.  We are inviting people into a relationship with God expressed among us.  We want to respond to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The people we know may notice our good behavior, but our morality little distinguishes us from a secular humanist, a muslim, a sikh, or a jew.  But really, I don’t think they are paying that much attention to you to even notice that you’re good.  If we want to make disciples we are going to need to do more than just be ourselves among them.  We need to create opportunities for those around us to see our faith embodied.  One of the best ways to communicate our faith to them is to invite them into a cell or a PM.  You may have experience with coercive street preachers, or over-zealous youth group leaders in your past but the overwhelming majority of people do not.  Being invited to a meeting is not as weird as you think, and if you can’t be convinced that it isn’t weird, it’s time for some exposure therapy.  The best way to get over your aversion to inviting people to your cell or our public meeting is to invite them to your cell or our public meeting.

What prevents us from invitation and why we need to stop being prevented

We have acquiesced to the cultural rules about politeness and religion.  We believe that people think Christians are pushy and we shouldn’t be like that.  We believe that religion is a private matter that every one discovers on their own, in their own personal way so we should not impose our process onto someone else’s.  We don’t always have a sense of ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth that Jesus told us we are.  We are not always convinced that everyone needs Jesus or that we are probably the best chance they will get to meet Him.  Finding the words, the story, the way to shine your light, Christ’s light, is the point of Circle of Hope’s existence.  Some of those words are “Will you come with me?”

mouth

Personal invitations work best

Charles Arn, a church growth researcher, asked more than 50,000 people why they came to church, and between 75 and 90 percent of respondents say, “I began attending because someone invited me.”  I have spent some of my time as Development Pastor getting the word out in other ways- internet, stickers, posters, flyers.  Maybe I have prepared the way for some, maybe I have wasted a lot of time.  Either way, I am ready to see how many people I can get to come to our Public Meetings in 2014.

I want to create some excitement around our Public Meetings because I think they are really great.  A lot of us put a lot of work into them and I am often very aware of God’s presence among us.  Everyone I know who has become a Christian in Circle of Hope has come around us and been among us for a while before they made an explicit decision to follow Jesus.  I want to invite more people into that process.  Some of us are thick into this struggle and this is not a new challenge.  Others of us could benefit from a reboot or a group of people who are dedicated to this task together.  I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group to pay attention to the PMs.  Are you one of them?  Are you one who wants to join me in the invitation? Call me.  Or are you one who wants to receive this blog post as your invitation?  See you at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington, 1125 S. Broad Street on Sunday at 7pm!

Dear Philly University Students : an open letter (it’s about Jesus, ok?)

Dear students,

Welcome to Philadelphia!

I want to be your friend.  What is your name?  Will you escape your own personal zone long enough to connect with me?  Most of you won’t, but that’s okay because I’m pretty sure some of you will.  But really, those people who are ready to connect are the anomalies so don’t feel weird if you think I’m weird.  I am weird.  So I’ll just go for it…

Don’t you think that Circle of Hope is a perfect place to dedicate your energy and creativity to Jesus?  Ok, you’re not that religious or you’re not that religion’s religious, but you do have energy and creativity and you’re looking for a way to use it aren’t you?  Why not Jesus?

  • It’s a real shame that the Church has been co-opted by the institutional passion-sappers of our society.  I don’t blame you for being suspicious, especially if you have a bad experience with the church or some pseudo experience with a pseudo church person (like on TV).
  • It’s a real shame that our prophetic voice has been silenced by things like student loans, international threats and fears of international threats (and threats of fear of international threats).  That which cows us under the pressure just to make it is that which we need to make our lives about unmaking.
  • It’s a real shame too that we’ve made it rude to talk about Jesus anywhere but in a Church’s building.  My private faith is meaningless.  When we trapped it in our heads we cut our own capacity to transform the world right out from under ourselves.

eastern fair

But Jesus is saving me from shame, so I’ve been working on having real experiences, unmaking ungodly powers, and being so rude as to talk about Jesus in public. I went to a bunch of student activities fairs on your campuses this week (Philadelphia University, uArts, Penn and Eastern).  Here’s a picture of me and Jonny at one today.  I was struck at how many of you (students) were interested in Jesus’ mission in the world.  Some asked me what we do in Circle of Hope and I said we resist and restore.  We say “Jesus is living the greatest mutiny ever – we should not waste our rebellion on each other.”  Too many of you have seen us wasting our rebellion on each other.  Let’s turn our focus on those forces which are hellbent on dominating us.  We have a common cause.  I’m offering you a common community and a common hope. 

Someone told me yesterday that they were excited about the revolution I hoped for but that it was a shame that it had to be about Jesus too.  I told him that I couldn’t do it without Jesus.  I’ve learned too much about what humanity is capable of.  I’ve failed to stop wars with the best of them.  My hope in humanity gets dashed even within my own life.  People betray me and lie to me.  I let myself and others down too.  I can’t be as ambitious as I need to be if I don’t have some sure hope–something, or better yet someone, bigger than myself.  “I’m doing this with Jesus,” I told him.  “Because I can’t do it without him.  If you try, you’ll come up against your own limitations too.”

The safest thing to do is to keep your head down and fit into the tiny space the economy has carved out for you.  Life with Jesus is not necessarily safe, but it is worth your life’s devotion– all your energy and creativity.  Circle of Hope is looking for you as a partner.  We will be safe for you to explore while you’re figuring it all out.  But if you get next to Jesus, you can expect an adventure at the least, a life worth living that is a threat to all that oppresses at the most.  Call me back.  I’m on your phone I’m at your door.  Find me, I’m looking for you.

Peace,

Benjamin White
[email protected]
267-825-5348
circleofhope.net
 

Seizing Opportunities for Joy Sharing

BohnanzaSmash Up and Pig Pen.  Those are the three card games I played on Saturday night at Circle of Hope’s Monthly “2nd Saturday Game Night Extravaganza!!!!”   I won in Bohnanza growing rows of beans-green beans were my cash crop.  I won in Smash Up too with a group of Zombies and Pirates.  I lost in pig pen despite having two buckets of super feed- but 2 out of three ain’t bad.

I only played 3 games because I was more interested in helping people connect and meeting new friends (my favorite thing to do).  I was amazed at the diversity of people who were there.  I was surprised that so many were there at all!  Apparently there aren’t a lot of opportunities in the Philly area to play games, especially weird bean farming games like Bohnanza and unpublished indie games like Pig Pen.  It was fun to make a space for community to be cultivated.

By the time I finished Bohnanza there were about 50 people there.  There weren’t enough tables!  I had to take the opportunity to tell them who we were.  I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say when I called for everyone’s attention but this is essentially what came out.  “Hey everybody I just want to welcome you, my name is Ben White, I’m one of the pastors here at Circle of Broad and Washington, the church that meets here in this space.  We’re glad you’re here because we like to have fun.  We want to share our joy and yeah, that’s it.  Thanks for coming.”

I probably could have thought of something better but I had this sense of urgency that the opportunity needed to be taken.  I wanted us to be known.  I wanted our new friends to know that we liked board games and we liked them.  I had to seize the opportunity to do that.  Being a Jesus follower is kind of like these card games I was playing in that it’s often a lot about opportunity.  The old adage, “You got to play the cards your dealt,” proves true in these newer card games, and in sharing the truth about Jesus.  Having an elaborate long term strategy is a good way to lose, especially if you pass up present opportunities for a better one that only might come.  If you’re with 50 people in a Circle of Hope space, it doesn’t matter that much what you say you got to make yourself known and share your joy.

So I’ll take another opportunity here on this blog:  Jesus brings me great joy.  He gives me a purpose that is hard enough to dedicate my life to it, but easy enough in the end to not be afraid to fail.  He forgives me and provides me with a reason and a way to forgive others which clears the way for unhesitating connection and real community.  He loves me enough down deep to help me be vulnerable in sharing my joy at all.  I get excited about that and I want others to take the opportunity He is and receive all these things and more.

Grace says they don’t want to talk to you

A three year old is holding his mother’s hand in one hand and a much too real looking toy handgun in the other.  A well dressed dad and ballet dancer daughter emerge from the subway.  He drops her off at the dance school and returns toward the subway.  A tiny girl, hair dangling what seems like hundreds of white beads, races up the steps alone.  Moments later her probable grandpop follows, almost dies when she’s not there, then sighs in relief, hand on his chest, when she shouts boo from her hiding place.  They hold hands as they cross the street.  A group of six women walk north in a sort of flock headed toward work.  What brought them together, I don’t know, but they’re together every morning.

A few mornings a week I stand in front of the building where Circle of Hope Broad and Washington meets and I say “good morning” to everyone who walks by.  After a few weeks of this discipline I’m noticing the regulars, I’m noticing these scenes of connection, and I’m noticing some stuff in me.

It’s interesting how people respond to me.  A few expect me to say hello at this point and preempt me.  A man today responded to my “Good Morning, Sir” with an aggressive “What do you want?”   I smiled and said, “Just saying hi.”  Then he said “Nobody just says hi.  you want something.” and he walked away. He was right; I did want something–connection.  He scared me a little bit though and I wasn’t sure I wanted to connect with him.  God forgive me, maybe.

However, the majority of people don’t respond to me at all.  So many passersby are completely plugged in and I’m unable to even get their attention.  The other day I had made a friend while she waited for our landlords to open their check cashing place.  Her name was Grace.  She was either a little bit crazy or too old to care about decorum.  She witnessed me saying hello to several people who did not respond to me at all, either because they couldn’t hear me or didn’t want to be bothered.  Each time Grace guffawed.  She thought it was ridiculous that people wouldn’t even acknowledge me.  She said, “They don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m glad Grace is there with me to back me up because this is a really good illustration of what we are up against as a church.  We’re trying to make a connection with people who, intentionally or not, live in isolation, even walking down a busy street.  But I am encouraged by these scenes of human connection that I see.  People are not completely isolated.  Many do find their allies, many do touch, and I am hopeful that many still want to connect with Jesus through us.

My morning discipline on Broad Street is a nice prayer exercise for impatient, action-oriented me.  I have to spend an hour waiting, watching and praying.  I say hello and try to be in a way that is open to the next person.  People look at me then they look at our sign–I think they are noticing us more than they may have before.  I am making friends.  I have met a dozen or so people who actually stopped to talk to me.  And some good stuff is happening for me too.

  1. I have a discipline- which gets me to work on time (I am largely self-supervised)
  2. It grounds me in the Holy Spirit- the hour is very passive- it’s an exercise in waiting for God to drop someone into my lap.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit I am lost.  I need to start my days in recognition of that.
  3. It opens my eyes to the beautiful, lovable people of our neighborhood.  As I watch them and pray for them I learn to love them.

God, please bless Broad Street and her people.  May Circle of Hope be a place for them to connect.

Wiffle Ball, Rainbows, Promise

circleofhopemc

Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent
(In South Jersey)

I went over to Pennsauken last night to be with Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent.  I was sharing with them some of my experience in finding freedom in being limited.  They’re working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians which is all about freedom.  I brought up these verses from Galatians 6.

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”  The insight I had was that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to the image we have of ourselves–which is sort of a composite of comparisons of others (which are odious).  The American definition of freedom is to have our desires unhindered by any impediment.  Sprint is spending millions to convince us that we ought to be unlimited.

I admit, I can be seduced by being unlimited, but then my church planting mission depends on my being supremely capable and so charismatic as to win everyone I meet over to Christ by sheer force of personality.  This isn’t reality and the desire for it to be true actually makes me more limited than I really am.  If I cling to this image of myself, I deceive myself and my experience has been that that deception saps my energy in a cycle of disappointment.  

I’m choosing to receive the freedom that Christ gives me to be my self as I really am–limited me.  This Lent, Circle of Hope’s daily prayer blog was instructing us to  pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to get to the heart of who we really are in Christ.  Following the lead of a 4th Century Monk named Evagrius we were rediscovering “an important secret to help us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We can only grow to our fullness in Christ if we do the spiritual work of examining our thoughts so that we can know that our thoughts, feelings, and even our behaviors are not the sum of us; they are not our essence.”  I thought this sounded a lot like the testing that Paul is exhorting us too in Galatians 6:4.  

rainbowwiffleballI have been encouraged through this practice to offer myself as I am to the mission, today.  No need to wait until I’ve got it “figured out” or I’ve achieved some semblance of the self I think I ought to be.  I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and what effect my efforts have is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s action.  I am not responsible for how other’s respond to me and my message.  I am responsible as one of Christ’s witnesses to be an opportunity for someone to respond to God in a new way.

The congregation at Marlton and Crescent is trying a new thing that is akin with this sort of freedom.  They’re throwing a party at the 7 pm in hope’s of meeting some new friends.  Last night was wiffle ball and the Sand Lot.  As if to make the blessing explicit, there was a full rainbow for the first pitch.  Here’s a picture of God’s symbol of promise as it faded and the game got going.  Let’s keep leaning into that promise.

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