Friday, January 21, 2011

Sin Costs More Than Parking

I was dropping Titus and Joe off at preschool this morning and I started talking with my friend Jon. We were talking about snow blowers, 4 wheel drives and eventually the high cost of parking at Cornell. Like us, most people don’t invest in parking permits because they cost around $800! Talking about the exorbitant price of parking on campus triggered a thought in my little man Josiah’s brain and he looked at me and said:

“Dad. Remember that kid who paid for his own sin?”

I said, “Yes Joe, I do remember him. And we are praying for him that he would love Jesus and accept his payment for our sin.”

Recently we’ve been praying for a guy I met in Boston a couple of weeks ago. He was raised a Jainist, and with solid conceptions of personal responsibility and Karma factoring into his worldview he can not believe that Jesus would take the punishment that we deserve. In his religion, every person gets exactly what they deserve, and there is no such thing as amazing grace. When you sin, you suffer your own consequences, and to be “liberated” you would need to live a perfect life in order to earn your own way to heaven –which he would call simply ‘enlightenment’. You are your own savior.

My boys and I were praying for him, because we don’t want him to pay for his own sin! That is an option…. And in fact it is the option that we all deserve! Paul says very clearly in his letter to the Romans that we have all sinned and that “the wages of sin is death. That had already been made clear in the Old Testament starting in the beginning of Genesis. The price that must be paid for sin, the wage for sin is death. If you sin, you deserve to be paid with death. Because God is Holy, our sin earns one thing; separation from him for eternity. And it is more than just our physical death, it is spiritual death. It is Spiritual exile, spiritual annihilation that goes on forever in Hell. If you want to pay for your own sin, you can. But the price is very high and very painful. Jesus knows exactly how high, because he paid the price, becoming sin and dying on the cross. He paid that death penalty, and when we put our faith in him, his payment is credited to us. He died the death we deserved.

This was the stumbling block for our friend in Boston. And so, presently, he is rejecting Christ as savior, and choosing to try and save himself. To him, it makes more sense to pay for his own sin. It’s a terrible option, and so we pray that The Holy Spirit will open his eyes to glory of the Gospel. We pray that what he presently finds disturbing about God’s grace would turn to amazement and gratitude. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to pay our own way.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Boston Day of Outreach

Two days ahead of time, I intentionally asked for a specific outreach assignment so that our group would have an experience that was well organized and hopefully unambiguous. During the Boston Winter Conference we spend one afternoon spreading out around the city partnering with local churches and ministries with one very simple goal: bless the city with the love of Christ. There is no bad assignment, but the reality is, some churches are more prepared and organized than others. Depending which neighborhood you end up in and which ministry or community organization you end up volunteering with the time can feel very productive or extremely haphazard and random. (God uses both of course!)
I was hoping to be able to hang out in the low income housing projects distributing commodities. I've done that before in Boston and even when you aren't handing out the boxes of food, it's a great place to hang out and meet people and talk about Jesus. We were given the green light, but at some point the deck was re-shuffled and Cornell was placed in another group. We were supposed to meet up with a local pastor, but something came up and at the last minute he informed us that he wouldn't be able to connect with us after all. So, essentially we had no assignment. Complete ambiguity; exactly what I had tried to avoid!
They told us to simply take some spiritual interest surveys down to a subway station sort of near the church and hang out and try to engage people in gospel conversations. We didn't feel like that was the best idea -mostly because people don't usually hang out too long in subway stations. They pass thru and they don't have much time to talk. Plus, it's usually cold there, people are standing around so there are many factors that inhibit too much serious impromptu dialog. We took some time to pray together before we headed out. I think we were all kind of bummed, but we decided to trust God and go for it. We had no idea what to expect, but we were just going to step out together in faith. Plain and simple. We told our group to keep their eyes open. If the Lord opened any doors or presented any opportunities for us before the we got to that T-station we didn't want to miss them.

Walking down the road a ways, we came upon Northeastern University. That was awesome! School wasn't in session but when we walked inside one of the admin buildings it was clear there were students on campus -mostly international students. Rather than head on to some random t-stop, most of us decided to take this as an answer to prayer and find the student union building and meet some people and talk about God. The union had a Taco Bell, but unfortunately it wasn't open. Can't have it all i guess, but the Wendy's was open and people were hanging out.

Our afternoon there was great! We initiated conversations using a couple of creative spiritual engagement tools. Soularium is a stack of postcard sized images of all kinds of different stuff. You lay out all the pictures and then ask people to pick different images in response to certain questions. For example, you would direct people to "choose 3 images that represent your life right now." They pick three images, and you can do it too. Then you talk about why you chose those pics and what's going on in your life right now. You continue to questions like "Which image would you choose to illustrate your spiritual journey." It can be pretty cool in the right place. Another tool is called Perspectives. It's a deck of cards and it functions in a similar way, but things are a little more concrete. I like the perspective cards because they really foster discussion.
Everyone got to have some great conversations with people and we all felt very encouraged!
Our friend and fellow staff member Oscar Avolos met some guys from another country and actually invited them to the conference! They came out the next night to hear an awesome message by Bret Ogburn. Bret is our friend, he was our campus director when we were in college, and he is responsible in many ways for our being up here in the northeast.

Our day of outreach was certainly redeemed and the Lord had lead us into a great situation. His plans are always good!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's with the sweaters?

Last week we were in Boston for our annual Boston Winter Conference. The highlights included spending time with some of our students, messages by Bret Ogburn and the day of outreach. I don’t have too many pictures of the week yet because Edgar took most of them, and he is currently in Haiti right now.

Edgar and Nic are serving in Haiti with a team that left directly from the Boston winter conference. They are serving alongside the Campus Crusade ministry there just like our students who went this past summer. Please pray for them as they serve the people of Haiti!

One picture I do have is this one of Steph and I in our “ugly sweaters.” It seems over the past year ‘Ugly Sweater Parties’ have become popular, but unfortunately, at our New Years Eve party ugly sweaters were very unpopular! Stephanie and I were the only ones sporting these tacky things –we ended up flying totally solo! It was New Years eve, and we were getting together with a number of staff the night before the conference, and Stephanie had sent out an email a couple weeks before to encourage everybody to wear a cheesy sweater. But most people either didn’t get the message, ignored it or failed to be inspired enough to take a trip to the Salvation Army and pick out something terrible! Thanks for nothing my fellow staff friends J

Here’s the worst part about being in that situation. Since no one else is wearing ugly sweaters and since some people didn’t get the email –there are people who look at you think that you are wearing a hideous sweater simply because you lack fashion sense or a functional mirror! And if it’s people who don’t know you at all –who really cares! But it’s the people who should know you better who do a double take, and for at least a few seconds, ponder whether or not you are really that much of a sad sap who would wear an ultra feminine knit jobber (in my case) or a truly pathetic Panda Print sweater vest (in Steph’s case!) You can see the uneasy confusion on their face and then later, when they realize it was all a joke they say things like “Yeah, I didn’t really take you for a vest person….” Hurting!