We just got back from nearly a week in the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania. We were only a few hours from New York City, but it seemed that we were in another world. The purpose of our time away was to have a spiritual retreat in which we could read, pray, journal and reconnect to each other.
On the way out we stopped at a Christian bookstore, a novelty in our reality. I found two books (among the discounts) that caught my eye and became the focus of my reading while away.
The first book is “7 Saving Graces: Living Above the Deadly Sins” by Steve DeNeff. I tweeted that this was the best book I have read in 2011. The book is profound and simple at the same time. The author examines the seven deadly sins and points out that it isn’t a matter of practicing the opposing virtue, but through the power of the Spirit being transformed by the corresponding saving grace.
The second book is “Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ” by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. I was convicted by how often I focus on the peripheral issues and forget that Jesus is our life and chief occupation.
The authors write: “The reality is that Christ trumps everything. All Scripture testifies of Him. The Father exalts Him. The Spirit magnifies Him. The angels worship Him. The early church knew Him as her passion, her message, and the unction of her life. Christ was her specialty. He was her Bridegroom and head. She specialized in nothing else. All told, there’s nothing worth pursuing outside of Christ.”
May Jesus be exalted in our midst as we live and move and have our being in Him!
First, it’s Tuesday not Monday, but yesterday was the Fourth and we all were enjoying some aspect of a beautiful summer day. Second, today is July 5 and this day holds special significance for Charlotte and me. Nine years ago today we moved to New York City and settled into the Heights.
In my journal of March 31, 2002, a little over three months before we arrived in New York City, I wrote: “Last night before we fell asleep, I told Charlotte that instead of saying that God is leading us to plant a multi-ethnic church in Manhattan, I would like to say that God is leading us to plant a church that reflects the face of Manhattan. The mystery of the church is that it is inclusive, not exclusive. In Christ we are heirs together (with Israel), members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I can in my heart of hearts, or in my spirit, see people from every nation, tribe, people and language coming together in Manhattan to praise and glorify the Lamb—the risen Lord Jesus Christ!”
It’s strange how I forget those words that the Spirit puts in my heart, but then as I go back I discover that the Spirit doesn’t forget. Over the past several months the Spirit has been showing that our church in the Heights will look like the Heights. The glory of our God will be reflected in the face of each one of us.
Our brother Jose leaves today for Los Angeles on his way to the Dominican Republic. What a privilege it was for us to pray over him and commission him Wednesday evening! Let’s continue to lift him in prayer.
To the glory of God!
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 NIV)
We began exploring the “one another” passages this past Wednesday evening. Christ is the head of the body, His church. We are members of His body, called to live by His Spirit and to partner with Him in carrying each other’s burdens. It was encouraging to share together what this looks like and how we are seeing it in action in our community. Pardon the pun, but the ice cream sundaes were the cherry on top.
The final event of the evening was a visit to Word Up Community Bookshop at 4157 Broadway @ 176 Street. There is still time to visit as it will be open through July 14.
As we prepare to come together this week, read and reflect on this “one another” passage:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16 NIV)
Thankful to be in community with you!
“In my experience, and in my observation over the last thirty years of following the Lord, I’ve discovered that as a general rule a revelation of Jesus Christ will eventually lead to a revelation of His church as well as a revelation of God’s grand mission (or Eternal Purpose). By that I mean, knowing the Lord will necessarily lead to hungering for, desiring, and seeing the reality of His Body in practice as well as the Divine purpose for which the Body exists. The reason? Christ and the church are inseparably united. And experiencing the Head will naturally give one a spiritual instinct for the experience of the Body and the mission that God has given it.” (Frank Viola from his blog Beyond Evangelical)
As I read these words this morning I continue to be impacted by the importance of knowing Christ, of seeking Him and recognizing His supremacy in the church, His headship in His Body.
My prayer is that every time we come together as His Body He is the one who is leading us and working out His purpose through the Holy Spirit and the gifts He has given us. As I get glimpses of this happening, such as in our time together this past Wednesday evening, I long for more, as I’m sure you do too.
As we experience the Head we will have a spiritual instinct for the experience of the Body and the mission that God has given us. As we prepare to come together tonight for prayer let’s seek the direction and leading of our Head, Jesus Christ.
Your brother in Christ,
Morning has passed, but I still want to get some thoughts out to you. This morning I sat down with some of the TGC pastors to have a conversation with Andrew Marin from Chicago. Andrew and his wife have lived for the past 10 years in Boystown, a predominantly GLBT neighborhood in Chicago. Andrew and his organization, The Marin Foundation, have sought to build a bridge between Christians and the GLBT community - a bridge that leads straight to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Andrew stressed how important it is to minister as Jesus did, not expecting people to come to us, but to go THEIR - to “their” place. That is the reality of incarnational ministry, an aspect of following Christ that often overlooked. Jesus left the temple or the synagogue - where the rabbi would usually frequent, and he found himself by Jacob’s well, in Peter’s house, at Matthew’s party, always in the company of sinners and tax-collectors.
I couldn’t but help but ask myself what that looks like for us in the Heights: to go THEIR…
Even as we are lamenting and perplexing over the possibility of public schools being potentially closed to the church and our church in particular, I am reminded that the Holy Spirit is constantly calling the church out to go THEIR. In Acts 8, after the martyrdom of Stephen “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” What happened is that the message of Jesus moved out just as Jesus had instructed his followers before Pentecost.
Back to the Heights… God seems to be calling us and TGC at large to a season of rest before we get involved in the next big thrust. This is a time for us to abide in Christ, to seek God’s face, to spend time encouraging each other, and to ask God what he has in store for us.
Thursday evening I was privileged to join Jose and his Destino brothers for a meal at Jose’s apartment. These young men look up to Jose and are seeking to follow after Jesus. As I sat there I began to imagine what it would look like to build into their lives and help them to follow Jesus. I want to focus some time in prayer and fasting to ask the Holy Spirit to lead me into the next season of ministry in the Heights. I invite you to do the same.
Let us allow the Spirit to prepare us for his call to go THEIR.
Because of Jesus,
Good morning! I was so encouraged by Jon’s message yesterday, especially his “underwhelming” description of what would make a church spectacular:
-A long term shared vision for the future
-Radical commitment to one another
This came out of the parable of the mustard seed in Luke 13:18-19, “Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in it’s branches.’”
What is the kingdom of God in Washington Heights like? As I reflect back over the last week I see it in the shared memories of Memorial Day from good food to ninjas and laughter and good conversation. I see it in a group of women who came together Wednesday evening to stand with a sister as she took the big step of leaving secure employment into the future that God and her dreams are calling her to. I see it in the way that the community continues to pray and believe for health and the safe delivery of a baby. I see it in a dozen or so of our community who stepped out of their “comfort zone” to attend the Uptown Arts Stroll kickoff at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (yes, once I learned it I like to say it!).
I’ve been asked a lot recently what a church in Washington Heights will look like. My answer is simply, “It will look like Washington Heights.” It will look like us, and our neighbors, as the mustard seed of the kingdom that has been planted continues to send down roots and sprouts and grows and the birds are able to rest in its branches.
Allow me to share one story that illustrates the kingdom potential in this “understated” way. Through the English conversation classes we were able to meet a couple. Their story briefly…immigrants without status, two small children, one back in their homeland with an aged relative, trying to get status so they can reunite the family. Now to the point…
Thursday evening Joy ran into the man on the train and in the course of conversation he shared some of the tension going on in the family and that tension is putting up a wall between him and his wife. This now is not just another story of immigrant angst - it’s our story. We are agents of this kingdom and we can pray and through the Spirit impact the lives of this family, our neighbors. Many other stories are being written. These are important stories to share. The kingdom is among us!
Happy Memorial Day! It’s great to have a day off and an extra blessing to be able to come together as a community today around noon! It was a year ago today that Mike hosted the Heights and Mid-Heights group and something special happened and today we have opportunity to celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do.
Charlotte and I are pretty much settled in. We look forward to having you over soon. We are thankful for open doors to meet neighbors - even through locking ourselves out of the apartment when we were doing laundry.
You are all so amazing! It’s an honor to live life with you and to together join God for the Heights.
We’re still here! Saturday, May 21 at 6:00 p.m. has come and gone and we are still here and can continue to be about our Father’s business. Followers of Jesus have always been at their best when they have heeded Jesus’ words in Acts 1:7-8 - “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Saturday morning in my devotional time I read the words of Jesus a few verses earlier in the same chapter: “You are witnesses to this. And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.” We know from the Acts account that the followers of Jesus did stay in the city and they spent that time in earnest and concentrated prayer. Ten days later the Holy Spirit came in power.
This morning I was reading in Colossians (4:2-6) - “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer.” I want to give more than lip service to prayer; I want to devote myself to prayer. That is the model that Jesus gives us from his own life and ministry.
One of the highlights of Charlotte and my week was signing the lease for our new apartment. Since then we have been busy packing and preparing to move.
Another highlight was sharing a meal with Matt and Laurie at Tonalli yesterday. How encouraging to hear their story of how God specifically called them back to New York City. The first time they visited our community was the worship and prayer night last month. That night confirmed in their hearts that they wanted to part of what God is doing in the Heights.
We had a significant worship and prayer night Wednesday. As 36 of us, including seven children crowded into one apartment, two things became clear: the need to begin researching a place where we can meet as the community grows and the need to provide ministry and care for our children. Let’s make this a focus of our prayers.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14, NIV)
Happy Mother’s Day! We are so thankful for our mothers who gave us life and raised us, and especially for the mothers of our community who are loving and guiding our children in the way of the Lord. We offer prayer for each one and surround them with our support.
Last evening Charlotte and I watched the 1995 movie “Losing Isaiah” with Halle Berry and Jessica Lange that reminded us of some of the tragic scenarios still being lived out in family situations in our city. Let us pray that God’s kingdom would come to Washington Heights as it is in heaven.
A 24-year-old father of a two-year-old daughter, became the latest casualty in the underlying violence in our community. On Monday evening three young men shot him and stole his iPhone on 177th Street between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue. Let’s continue to pray for the peace of our neighborhood.
This week Charlotte and I look forward to signing the lease on our new apartment. We are very thankful for God’s leading. We will be moving to 615 W. 172 Street between Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue. We can’t wait to be there!
This evening at 7:00 the men will meet once again at the 181 Overlook. I’m excited to hear that the women are planning on a prayer time as well.
As I think of each of you I join the Apostle Paul in saying, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NIV)