Bringing the Word to Union Park

First off, I wanna start off by thanking all the prayer warriors out there who have sending their prayers our way. We can feel them, and I just gotta say that y’all are rock stars!!

On our first night, we started off with amazing worship service and hilarious, yet relatable message from a pastor from Brooklyn Tabernacle. All us were falling towards the temptation of falling asleep, but he gave us encouragement to keep from standing under the pomegranate tree. To step out of the shade and into the light that God is shining on us.

Day 1 can be summed up in word… interesting.

Our cord of people went to Union Square Park to spark up Godly conversations with the folks there. It was so interesting to see the diversity in such a little park. When walking out of the subway, the idea of having to start a conversation made me BEYOND worried. Thoughts of saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to say, and having to answer any of there questions filled my mind. However, the man that I walked with prayed with me and helped put me a little more at ease. Our first two conversations went great. I was especially encourage by a man named Abdul, who told us his story of divorce, abandonment, and becoming “houseless”. We were able to pray with this broken-down man, after a 30 minute conversation of hearing Abdul’s story and introducing God’s story.

What really stood out to me was something Abdul told me. People pass by him everyday, giving him Bibles, places to shower, food to eat, etc. But not once has someone cared enough to stop and listen to him talk. And that hurt me. Living life with the world just passing by him. Not being acknowledged as a person. All these people need is love. Our job as Christ followers is to show the love that we receive from God. Sometimes this can come from subway performers singing “This Little Light Of Mine.”

Even though all our conversations didn’t go as well as our first couple did, I still praise God for the seeds we planted. And for all the people we met. I get to come back to Illinois with some crazy stories… and it´s only day one!

So to wrap it up (cause it´s getting late and I´ve got some people to minister to tomorrow) please keep praying for us, cause it´s working! Pray for divine interventions and for God to stir in the hearts of the people of New York City. So many people need Jesus here.

Oh and if anyone is at wondering about Jake and his soon to be adventure to the pool in some fashionable jorts, come back Wednesday for pics and POTENTIALLY videos!

We love y’all and can´t wait to see y’all next week!!

~Nate

 

Day One: A Roller Coaster Ride

Last night, after making it to the hotel and exploring the city a little bit, everyone here in Brooklyn with SpreadTruth met in the ballroom. We got to meet the other people we would be traveling with for the week. We sang and worshipped God, and we also had a couple speakers. Pastor Tim from the Brooklyn Tabernacle spoke to us. He has worked with this organization many times before, and he had some very wise words for all of us.

Let me just start by saying he is an extremely funny guy. I was crying I was laughing so hard. Having past experience with this trip, Pastor Tim warned us of some emotions we may feel during the week. For example, he said that we may not be able to fall asleep the first night. But, seriously, that is only the first night because it’s only been one day, but I am already exhausted. So gold star for Pastor Tim; he was spot on. Another thing he told us was that we may miraculously be feeling “not very good” in the morning. Welp. Let’s just say I woke up and thought, ‘Dang. That Pastor Tim is good.

So after overcoming my brief moment of anticipated sickness, we went to the ballroom for more worship time with all the team members. We’ll have this worship time every morning this week. I was pretty nervous to be going out into the parks talking to complete strangers. I’m just not that type of person. Today, we were at Union Park in Manhattan. Once we got to the park, we went out in pairs for safety reasons, but also so we had someone to help us out when we were evangelizing. Before lunch, I was with a girl named Rachel from Cincinnati, Ohio. Everyone in our cord (or group of people that we travel with every day) blended really well, and I can’t wait to spend this week with them! Rachel and I started out and we had some decent conversations with people. Some of them turned us down pretty quickly, but we would just move on and find someone else to talk to. We talked with about six different people, although none of them made any life-changing decisions.

We went to McDonald’s for lunch… exciting, I know. This city is the polar opposite of Lisbon. The amount of people in this city is overwhelming. And the restaurants go up and down instead of out, which is just weird. And nothing is fast except the train. Seriously, lines are like a million people long. I don’t think this city life is for me, guys.

But, anyways, moving on! We headed back out after eating, and we also got new partners. I was with Rachel’s mom, Karen. She is one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met. She is extremely good at starting conversations with strangers. So we headed back out into the park. The first six or seven people we walked up to either weren’t interested or claimed they didn’t feel they could give adequate answers to our four worldview questions. This was really discouraging. It did make me a little upset.

After that, Karen was just saying that we should sit down and pray that God would show us who He wanted us to speak with. As she said that, she spotted a homeless man sitting by the entrance to the subway. We walked over and Karen struck up a conversation with him about his leg that was all wrapped up in gauze and medical tape. He started telling us about this big book he had. It was kind of like a National Geographic; it had lots of pictures of all these different places from around the world. He was saying how he had visited all of these places through lots of meditation. I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy. God, why this one?’ After some friendly, funny conversation we started to inch towards the reason we were in the park in the first place.

He started to realize what we were trying to say, and he got more aggressive really quickly. He was trying to tell us how there was no mathematical or scientifical proof that anything in the bible was true. He was not accepting anything we were saying. He was trying to convince us that belief in anything is foolish and pointless because the word begins with “be lie” as in all beliefs are lies. As the conversation went on, it only got worse. He accused Karen of hiding behind her sunglasses even though it was sunny and 90 degrees outside. So we started to walk away, and he kept at it, saying, “You shouldn’t be here. New York doesn’t want Christianity.”

This sent me over the edge. I started crying uncontrollably. Karen suggested we sit down and take some time to just calm down and spend some time in prayer. Pastor Rex and another guy from our cord, Will, walked by and prayed with me and Karen. I was a little too upset to go any longer this afternoon, so Karen and I ‘prayer walked’ as she called it. We just took a stroll through the park and prayed quietly for each person sitting on the benches. The fact that we were just walking around and seeing how broken this city is crushed me. It’s so unbelievable until you see it for yourself. At one point, Karen said, “There are so many hardened hearts here.” And that is so true. So many lost, confused people who either can’t or won’t admit their need for God and His mercy.

We ended the day about an hour early due to mine and Karen’s fiasco with Mr. Grumpy Pants and also because it was pretty warm outside. We got some soft serve fruit from Chloe’s before heading for the subway. SUPER good, and we need to petition to get one in Yorkville.

I went to the 9/11 Museum with some of the people from our group tonight. It was so unbelievable. There are no words to describe how powerful it is to see and learn about everything related to that day. I can’t even describe it to you how absolutely amazing it is to experience that museum and memorial.

So, yes, today was a roller coaster of emotions; discouraging, but also eye-opening. I’m asking for prayer that we would be given the strength and courage to get back out on the streets and in the parks tomorrow, even though some of us had some rough experiences today. We need prayers for the people here in NYC, that their hearts would be softened and their ears and eyes would be opened. Also, prayers for safe travels for everyone throughout the city.

I can’t wait to see how God uses me this week, and I want to thank each and every person that has been praying for me and for the West Lisbon team. We wouldn’t be here without you all (:

~Emma Nelson

Toward a Fuller Doctrine & Practice of Baptism

We’ll touch on baptism a bit in this week’s sermon text (Ephesians 4:1–6). Dr. Mike Svigel has written a four-part series on Christian baptism that I feel is some of the best writing on the topic. Here are links to each part of the series:

Dr. Mike Svigel on Water Baptism Part 1

Dr. Mike Svigel on Water Baptism Part 2

Dr. Mike Svigel on Water Baptism Part 3

Dr. Mike Svigel on Water Baptism Part 4

Discover God Anew As the One Who Satisfies

Bob Dylan in his famous song “The Times They Are A Changin” warns all—the young and the old, the prophet, writers, and the critics, the fathers and the mothers, and all people—that change is coming, and it is coming fast. Ready or not. He gives the impression in the song that if you’re not ready for change and the way it turns everything upside down, the times will pass you by. Consider these lyrics from the song:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
There is a need to sharpen one’s spiritual life in order to get ready for the challenges ahead. Accompanying any season of change are many voices competing for one’s allegiance and offering influence. It is essential that we seek to experience God in the midst of change and transition. Specifically, it is important to remember that God alone satisfies the yearnings of the heart. This doesn’t mean we can’t embrace change, adventure, risk; however, it does call us to consider what treasure is there that we may seek that we do not already possess in God? Therefore, discovering anew in the midst of change that God is the one who satisfies keeps us anchored and equips us to transition well.
Tim Keller in his book Prayer (which I highly recommend to all of you) calls Psalm 63 a prayer of adoring communion toward God. It is a prayer centered on communion with God as opposed to say a prayer of duty or desperate petition crying out for God to act. Psalm 63:1–11 comes to us from a challenging season in the life of King David. He is in the wilderness of Judah, on the run from the fierce opposition of his own son, Absalom. You can read about this in 2 Samuel 16–17. I imagine that the writing of this Psalm in David’s personal prayer journal took place before the resolution of the situation. Regardless of what would happen (and we know what happened), David would face a new normal. His family and kingdom would never be the same after this. So, what does one do in such times of transition? Sometimes transition comes to us unexpectedly; other times, we know change is coming and can’t claim ignorance. Unexpected or expected, how can we be sure to persevere through change for God’s glory and to our benefit?
Discover God anew as the one who satisfies. Psalm 63 will show us that even in the midst of great change that (1) God Alone Satisfies the Neediest Desire of the Soul (Psalm 63:1–3); (2) God Alone Satisfies the Highest Devotion of the Lips (Psalm 63:4–6); and (3) God Alone Satisfies with the Strongest Deliverance (Psalm 63:7–11).
First, we want to believe that God alone satisfies the neediest desire of the soul (Psalm 63:1–3). In verse 1, the idea is that David longs for God; he is on the lookout for God; he is searching for a clearly defined object, namely his God. He is searching with his whole being—“soul” and “flesh.” The parallelism here repeats the same longing in different ways. The illustration here is so real to us. Imagine being in a desert with no water. Imagine your thirst; imagine how frantic your search. You need water to live! In the same way, seek to drink of God. You know where and how to find water. I also bet you know where and how to find God—don’t delay in taking a drink. David then remembers his past experiences with God in verse 2. He had “seen” and “witnessed” God, specifically his attributes of power and glory. It’s these experiences that once quenched his thirst for the divine for which he now longs, but he is in the present thirsty. We learn about the place of the past in the spiritual life here. When remembering encounters with God in the past, they should always stir our hearts toward a fresh experience of the same in the present. Imagine if we thought that we could be satisfied by one drink of water that we had two years ago! Surely we would die! A drink of God that took place a decade ago should stir us in the present to want to encounter God afresh. Beware of the nostalgia that cripples the experience of God in the present. In verse 3 now, the past experience and the present thirst meet as they should—the basis of wanting again to encounter God is made clear—experiencing God’s loyal love is better than life.
From here, we move from God as the one who satisfies my neediest desire to God as the one who satisfied the highest devotion of the lips (63:4–6). Here, the psalmist David reasons that worship is the appropriate next step of his desire. He commits to praise and prayer (“lifting up my hands”) “while he lives.” That is, he is not delaying or postponing his creaturely duty to worship God. Notice the emphasis placed on the lips or the mouth in verse 5. The lips of the psalmist David not only praise God, but they praise him with joy. As if the praise of the Lord were to the lips as the very best meat, so will David’s lips praise the Lord from the utmost satisfaction. Think of the best meal you’ve ever had. Recall how satisfying the flavor of the food was to your mouth; recall how it just completely met the desires of your hunger and the desire you had for something delicious. So are the praises of the Lord to our lips, especially when our lips render him praise in the midst of trial, transition, and trouble. The worship that began in verse 4 with the commitment to praise God during the earthly life now is made even more specific with a commitment to worship the Lord each night. The idea here is that the writer David remembers the Lord, meditating (i.e., talks to himself) about the Lord at night in bed. Tim Keller, again, in his book Prayer encourages us in this endeavor of nightly prayer as a couple. Keller writes that he and his wife Kathy had not missed a single night in prayer together for twelve years. Twelve years. Wow, may God grant us such a spirit of prayer.
Lastly, God alone satisfies with the strongest deliverance (63:7–11). God is my desire; God is my devotion; God is my deliverer. Beautiful—all penned during days of uncertainty and family turmoil. “For” or “Because” in verse 7 explains that God alone is the place of help and refuge. He is our safety. The common poetic image of “the shadow of your wings” is employed here. It is also used in Psalm 91, which some have referred to as the soldier’s prayer, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler” (Ps. 91:1–4). Capture the image loved ones—whatever you are facing, know that you stand in the shadow of God. What does this mean? For there to be a shadow, he must be near. For there to be a shadow that covers you, he must be big. Further, when we return to Psalm 63:7, we read that his wings that cover us are creating the shadow. His “wings” envelope us and cover us. What protection! David states in verse 8 that under the help and refuge of the Lord he clings to the Lord. The word for clings is the same word used to describe the bond of marriage in Genesis 2:24, and the Lord returns the embrace with his strongest hand—his right hand. Therefore, even though his enemies sought to destroy and ruin David’s life—they will experience a terrifying catastrophe because the Lord is David’s deliverer: (1) they will descend into the depths; (2) they will be delivered over to the sword; (3) they will be devoured by the basest of human scavengers, bringing them to a most dishonorable end. The king and those who find their satisfaction in God will use their mouths to rejoice and live to make new commitments to the Lord. In verse 11, the praises and oaths of the righteous will be vindicated, but the mouths of liars will be shut up and stopped.
God, my desire; God, my devotion; God, my deliverer. I can’t help but look at King David and then turn my thoughts to the Lord Jesus. Did he not desire fellowship with his Father above all else? Did he not grant the Father the highest devotion of his lips? Did he not trust his Father as his deliverer, even in the face of death? All of this he did at the moment in history when everything changed and transitioned. When facing change, may we follow in his steps. Consider these words from the hymn entitled “Satisfied,”
All my life I had a longing
For a drink from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.
Refrain: Hallelujah! I have found him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through his blood I now am saved.
Feeding on the husks around me,
Till my strength was almost gone,
Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.
Poor I was, and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me
Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.
Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of Life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.

Questions We’ve Mastered Instead of Mastered In the Questions

If we’re honest, we all have questions that we’d like to ask God. Mark 12 is such a scene. Jesus is asked many questions by a variety of groups. The chapter starts off with a daunting parable from the Lord—warning all about their present posture toward the “beloved son of the vineyard owner” (Mark 12:1–9). It is a terrifying thing that those in charge of “building” the religious life of the temple in Jerusalem seemed to have rejected the “cornerstone” whom God has sent (12:10–11).

The parable is followed by three groups from among the religious elite—first the Pharisees and Herodians, then the Sadducees, and finally the scribes—who attempt to challenge the teaching authority of Jesus (12:13–17, 18–27, and 28–34). In response to their questions, Jesus emphasizes the ownership of God over all things—ownership over the image of God (i.e., human beings), which is bigger than taxes; ownership over the eternal experience of humans, which is bigger than the earthly institution of marriage; and finally God’s ownership over the law, which belongs to him and reveals him. Next, Jesus takes up the role of examiner in verses 35–37—asking a question that silences his opponents and makes the crowd glad. At the close of the chapter, he warns hearers and readers about the honor-hungry scribes, and he happily witnesses the action of a poor widow woman.

In verses 13–34, it seems to me that these groups approach Jesus with their “best shots” at causing him to stumble in his responses. They bring to him the questions for which they have mastered the answers, or so they thought. They think that they are ready for him; to trap him. Of course, the narrative reveals that Jesus is able to hold his own with authority, as has been the case throughout Mark’s Gospel. Once he’s exhausted their efforts, he delivers a question, which they had yet to master and to which they have no answer to offer because to answer verses 35–37 would be to submit to Jesus’ authority. It would mean to be mastered in the questions, which they were not willing to do.

Then along comes this woman. A poor woman. She has nothing, nothing but two lepta, which totaled approximately 1/64 of a day’s wage for a laborer. This woman lives a life of questions. She gives all she has, Jesus says.  Where will she get more money? How will she get food? Who will take care of her? What if . . . ? So many questions. You see, the religious elite came to Jesus with all the questions that they had mastered. This woman came to God with many questions, but willing to be mastered by him in the midst of her questions. She came not to receive honor, for her offering was hardly measurable; she came not to demonstrate her wisdom and knowledge, for she had run out of those, which is exhibited by her lowly estate. No rather, she came to meet with God and to be mastered by God. This is why she gives, and this is why Jesus speaks so highly of the lowly widow.

Seeing the Ugly Within

I am convinced that the Gospel of Mark teaches disciples to first see the ugly within before they fix their gaze on Jesus. John the Baptist didn’t come to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:1–8) by causing great geographical shifts — demolition of mountain regions or the filling up of the nearby valleys with earth — no rather, he came to begin a different kind of demolition. His preaching and his baptism sought to demolish the ugly within a person, so that their hearts may see the beloved Son, with whom the Father is pleased (Mark 1:11; 9:7).

Mark employs the majority of Jesus’ Galilee ministry (chapters 1-7) to demonstrate to the reader who is inside and near to Jesus and who is outside and far from Jesus. There are many surprises along the way—like the religious leaders and Jesus’ own family are outside (3:20–35), but the tax collector (2:13–17), the recovering demon-possesed man (5:1–20), and the medically-desperate, unclean woman (5:25–34) are inside.

Chapter seven adds one more surprising round of exclusion and inclusion, just before Jesus takes some intensive time to investigate, instruct, and illuminate the faith of his twelve disciples (chapters 8-9). Controversy once again arises in chapter seven over Jesus’ authority, particularly his authority to establish religious practice and perspective regarding internal, moral cleanliness. In Mark, it is always one’s response to Jesus’ authority that demonstrates whether one is in or out. Here, his authoritative words on what makes a person clean or unclean causes further scandal for the religious leaders (7:1–13). Although the original goal of the traditions of the elders were to prevent law-breaking and therefore the holiness of God’s people, these traditions eventually became a law of their own, at times (like in Jesus’ example) causing the people to actually break God’s law.

Jesus proceeds to speak authoritatively about the origin of uncleanness and evil. We do well to listen carefully. In essence, Jesus instructs that the things outside of us do not make us unclean. Dirty hands do not make me unclean. If I may go further with this, TV doesn’t make me unclean, other men or women do not make me unclean, alcohol doesn’t make me unclean, computers and the existence of filth on the internet doesn’t make me unclean. No. Jesus nails us here. It is what is already in us that makes us unclean. The “want-to” of evil is already within, planted deep within. As he says, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). It’s sin within; it’s the ugly within that we must first see before on the Savior we fix our gaze. James speaks of this,

But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:14–15 NET).

There is a mess in each of us that we must see; and we must be honest about what is there. We must see and confess the ugly within.

Now, verses 24–30 make me smile. Immediately after this confrontation, Mark tells us of a woman who sought Jesus out. I suggest to you that this woman is on the inside. She is on the inside because she sees the ugly within, and reaches for the only cure for it—grace from God. When she asks Jesus to expel a demon from her daughter, Jesus responds in a way that demonstrates his focus on a ministry to Israelites and calls attention to the woman’s uncleanness as a Gentile. And what does she do? She receives the Lord’s verdict about her uncleanness and the aim of his ministry, and then in humility asks for grace,

Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28 ESV).

She is an insider because she agrees with Jesus (“Yes, Lord”) about her uncleanness. She doesn’t resist him or fight him. She knows the ugly within. After agreeing with him, she persists in her quest to experience God’s grace and mercy, and she receives it. Oh, she receives it!lightstock_66461_small_rex_howe

Oh that we would see ourselves as dogs. Just dirty dogs. Yes, Lord; we are dog’s, but give us the crumbs of your grace. Do not pass us by Lord. Thank you for the crumbs.

But wait. Did she just receive the crumbs? Verses 29–30 say,

Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone (Mark 7:29–30 NET).

 

She sought crumbs, but she received so much more. She received the power of God and the defeat of evil in her home that day. She and her household experienced a major deliverance by the grace of God. But don’t forget that her experience started with seeing the ugly within.