Oct-18-2014

The HS Fire Bucket Challenge

fire bucket Not long ago the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept through the social media world like wildfire. People responded to the fun challenge and besides dousing themselves in ice water, gave millions of dollars to help fund research to help find a cure for ALS.

Did you know that Jesus gave an even bigger challenge 2,000 years ago that also went viral? It was the HS Fire Bucket Challenge. Sound dangerous? It’s extreme, but it won’t burn you.

Jesus’ challenge also had to do with money, and how we give it to help others. Before we look at the challenge he gave let’s look at what he said leading up to the challenge:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!…“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it….“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:22-24, 27, 29 NIV

Evidently, in Jesus’ time, people worried about money just as much as today. Keep in mind these are people who had no iPhone, cable tv or Xbox. They had to actually work for their money, not click a mouse all day. It wasn’t so easy to “just trust God” for their income. Jesus said to stop worrying, because his Dad was happy to give them his best. He said that the animal kingdom doesn’t plant or reap crops (like his listening audience), but they seem to do okay. He also pointed out that birds don’t save for tomorrow and they do just fine.

At first glance this seems to go against all of our Christian teaching regarding financial management. Don’t throw away your books from Crown Financial and Dave Ramsey, because the Bible tells us to be good money managers and plan ahead. The point is to not even let good financial stewardship consume your heart and let your bank account become your source of security or meaning.

Jesus went on to tell us that we shouldn’t get obsessed with wearing the coolest most expensive clothes or dining at the finest restaurants. In other words, he said to not make spending more money and shopping our greatest heart’s desire. He said that his Dad wants to give us true riches from his kingdom. He’s talking about the best things in life. The best things in life aren’t things, and you can’t buy them with money. What is this great Kingdom stuff he referred to? His extreme challenge points to the answer:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.                                                                          Luke 12:32-34 NIV

Jesus tells us in this verse to give our best to the least. In his economy, giving is actually it’s own reward. He doesn’t say here that if you give to the poor, then you get a new car or flatscreen tv. He said that we will get true riches. What are true riches?

The best things in life aren’t things, and you can’t buy them with money.

Jesus is describing a deep, generous life that is about loving others, not a shallow life of consuming for our own pleasure. When we give, we get God’s character. We get connected to the source of all good. We get to be a vessel that he can pour through. We get to partake in his divine nature.

humantorch

After Jesus rose from the dead, the believers gathered to pray. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and what did people do? They sold their possessions and gave the money to the poor. When a bucket of Holy Spirit fire fell on them, they couldn’t resist the urge to love others the way that God was loving them. (See illustration of Day of Pentecost at left.)

This challenge Jesus gave is not symbolic. This means that we should take something we own and sell it on Craigslist or Ebay. Then we can take the money we made and instead of buying some more stuff for ourselves, give it to the poor.

Pray right now and ask God what you should sell. Take a picture of the item and post it on Craigslist or eBay for sale. Ask God who you should give this money to. Give it the way God shows you to, in a way that gives dignity, not shame. Consider giving anonymously to keep your motives pure. (Matthew 6:1-8)

MTB front

I will risk half my anonymity, but lead by example by selling this fretless bass guitar (pictured right). You know about it, but the people receiving the finances won’t. They are a married couple who are homeless, senior citizens and disabled. Interested in a bass? Contact me at juan@newyorkcityrelief.org or check it out on Craigslist here.

Will you join me and take the Holy Spirit Fire Bucket Challenge? Let me know at juan@newyorkcityrelief.org. Flame on!

Conflict of interest disclaimer: part of my job at New York City Relief is raising funds to help the poor and homeless… and I love it.


Posted under Uncategorized
Sep-20-2014

Love Expansion, Not “Harm Reduction”

shootingheroin2

The following article was submitted in response to a guest editorial printed in the New York Daily News titled, “To save lives, let addicts inject”. My response was never printed by that paper, but it is a message that I believe must be heard in the spirit of Proverbs 31:9:

“Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Recently a guest editorial in the Daily News suggested that “supervised injection facilities” be established in New York City. These SIF’s would be for people to have places to inject heroin in an environment that is hygienic and that has staff who can respond to potential overdoses. The theory is that it would also help people not use dirty needles and “works” which spreads HIV and other diseases. The title of the piece was, “To save lives, let addicts inject.” 

All of this is proposed in the name of “harm reduction.” The suggestion is to give people a “safe” place to take poison. The problem is that there is no safe place to take poison. The reason there are no supervised injection facilities in the United States is that it would be a gross form of enablement that would cause more harm.

Having worked for the last 12 years in a non-profit known as New York City Relief helping heroin addicts, I can tell you that most forms of so called “harm reduction” simply cause more harm. People who are addicted to heroin need a healthy relationship with someone who can help them to stop shooting up drugs, not help them shoot up more drugs. Rather than put money into places that help extend their addiction, a better use of funds would be to establish more opportunities to escape addiction.

Another form of attempted “harm reduction” is the use of methadone programs. People addicted to illegal opiates are given regular doses of methadone with the supposed goal of slowly weaning them off. These tax-funded drugs are given out free with the goal of preventing crime and the spread of disease.

most forms of so called “harm reduction” simply cause more harm.

As someone who has worked with many methadone users, I can tell you that many are never weaned off of this legal drug. Instead they are kept high and unable to work or be effective fathers or mothers to their children. When I say they are kept high I mean that they are given such large doses that they stumble around on the streets with their eyes rolling back in their heads. Many times our staff have called in an ambulance for someone who passed out and hit their head on the sidewalk. While in this state they are also vulnerable to attack and are robbed and beaten by predators looking for an easy mark. Many methadone users supplement their new habit with other drugs or sell their methadone in order to obtain other stronger drugs. I have met people who have kept on methadone for over twenty years. It is one of our society’s worst examples of systemic injustice against the poor.

sean and addict(left) Relief Bus Outreach Team Leader Sean Ballentine ministering to a friend in East Harlem, an area plagued by not just heroin addiction but by one of the largest methadone clinics in the city.

These half-measures are really doing more harm than good. If your son or daughter was hooked on heroin, you would want someone to offer them a way out such as detox or rehab, not hand them a new clean needle. Let’s stop shoving our troubled citizens in a dark corner where they won’t be a nuisance to us. Let’s treat those trapped in addiction as people, not as problems, and throw them a lifeline that doesn’t cause them to sink deeper.

Rather then deal with the symptoms of addiction using various forms of “harm reduction”, we need to treat the root causes. The key is to connect with the human heart of the person who is addicted and show them that someone cares. When they know they are valued, it is the first step to getting the help they need. Emotional, physical and spiritual care should be offered as a pathway to permanent recovery.  We are our brother’s keeper. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to serving in this labor of love.

1 Corinthians 13:3

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.


Posted under Uncategorized
Aug-22-2014

You Dirty Addict!

Addict badge2

One of the remaining social stigmas in America is addiction. We allow it and expect it of our celebrities, pop stars and even politicians, but in most normal social situations those who struggle with addiction still hide in shame. No one wants the scarlet letter “A” for addiction to mar their reputation. Even Jesus himself was accused of being an alcoholic in a character assassination attempt: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard,” Matthew 11:19

The fact is that we are all addicted. Some are addicted to the perceived “big addictions” of alcohol, drugs or sex. The more accepted addictions in America are those of work, tv, internet, Facebook, porn and my personal favorite: coffee. I call it “Christian crank”. Some of my most poignant spiritual moments and deepest spiritual epiphanies happened under the influence of hot, dark, and delicious caffeine Kool-Aid. My favorite brew is served at my second office and favorite coffee bar, Rockn’ Joe. The brew is called Sledgehammer and it is awesome. Every year more scientific studies come out with evidence that coffee is good for your heart, liver, etc, but to be honest I just don’t care. I love the flavor, the aroma and have to confess, the buzz too.

As the child of a former addict, I decided to never drink alcohol or even try a cigarette. Suffering the effects of alcoholism in my family gave me a bad taste for drinking, no pun intended. I know that drinking alcohol is not a sin, because Jesus did it and even created alcohol with his first miracle. I guess I’m a teetotaler, but I don’t like tea. My drug of choice is stronger and if brewed right, puts hair on your chest.

It has been said that drugs and alcohol are counterfeits for the Holy Spirit. Alcohol is even called “spirits”. I think that when someone uses drugs and alcohol to get drunk or high it opens a door to the influence of evil spirits. In fact many occultic or shamanistic spiritual rituals intentionally utilize drugs to open people up to these spirits. The word “pharmaceutical” comes from the word pharmakeia, which is the greek word for sorcery.

At New York City Relief we see the graphic results of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Heroin, crack and liquor have ravaged people’s lives, leaving them as hollow shells. Much of our work involves helping men and women to get into detoxification units to cleanse their system of chemical addiction, then connecting them to a rehabilitation program where they can learn to live without the chains of these life-controlling substances. Counseling is given to deal with the root causes of the pain that drives addiction and Biblical ministry is given to lead people into God’s spiritual and emotional healing.

New York City Relief Director of Follow Up Care and Social Worker, Teresa Gowan with Samantha who she sent to detox to be free from heroin.

New York City Relief Director of Follow Up Care and Social Worker, Teresa Gowan with Samantha who she sent to detox to be free from heroin.

It’s easy to judge such people for their self-destructive lifestyles, however, not one of those people set out to become a drunk or a junkie. Most addictions start out as “social drinking” or “recreational use”. What is at first a fun diversion becomes an all consuming storm that sweeps away their hopes, dreams and future. Addiction also brings a crushing shame that tempts the addict to drink or drug more to escape the emotional pain that tortures them. There are many Christians who love Jesus and also battle addiction, knowing that these two things are antithetical. This is happening both on the streets and in the pews.

We can judge addicts for their poor choices and irresponsible behavior, but what do we use to cope with the stresses and challenges of life?

We can judge addicts for their poor choices and irresponsible behavior, but what do we use to cope with the stresses and challenges of life? How do we numb our pain? When life is challenging at home, do we pour ourselves into work where we feel more confident and affirmed? Workaholism destroys many marriages and families, even and especially workaholism associated with ministry. When stressed out by work, do we escape into endless hours of tv, movies and internet? How many people (even Christians!) are “shopaholics”, numbing their pain by buying more and more things they don’t need while maxing out credit cards and drowning in debt?

The more legalistic and judgmental we become, the more we hide our addiction that we deem “not as bad” as other people’s problems. Our false “holiness” becomes a wall we build to separate us from those “sinners”. Our self-righteousness can then separate us from God causing us to actually be rejected by God. Jesus makes this clear in the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

                                                                                                            Luke 18:9-14

What is your addiction? What is the thing you try to use to fill the hole inside your soul? What counterfeit element do you turn to for peace and joy? Mostly, we are addicted to ourselves. The truth is we are all in “recovery”. We are recovering from the fall of man and our own personal flaws and failures. Rather than despising addicts, we should see that we are both the same. Without Jesus setting us free and breaking the yoke of bondage, we are all doomed. No one has enough will power, personal responsibility and good sense to avoid the entanglements of sin. We are completely dependent on a savior to rescue us from the things that we are addicted to. Our flesh craves temporary relief of all kinds and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we overcome.

People in recovery talk about how much “clean time” they have, meaning how long they have been able to consistently stay sober. How much “clean time” do we have from our more acceptable addictions that take the place of God in our lives? We are all dirty and only the blood of Jesus can make us clean, whether we are hooked on pills or video games.

Here is a good question: Are there any positive forms of addiction?

In 1 Corinthians 16:15,16 Paul affirms how certain Christian leaders “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” (KJV)

The work of ministry is the lifestyle of actively caring for those around us. We can addict ourselves to the lifestyle of love and helping others to be freed from their sin, their addictions and the shame that goes with them. Embrace the addicts around you. Don’t run from them, run to them. Give people in recovery the same mercy, support and friendship that you want as you work on your own recovery. There is no us and them. We are them and they are us. Together let’s embrace freedom and wholeness, throwing ourselves on God’s generous mercy. Addicts unite!


Posted under Articles
May-30-2014

Who Needs The Poor?

Question: “Do we NEED the poor?” The question almost sounds offensive. Many might say the poor need us, but that we have no real need for them. Let’s think about that…

How many people count on you each day? Family, friends, boss, coworkers, clients, customers? How many people need you? How much does that inform or define your identity? If I’m honest, I’d have to say it defines a lot of my identity.

In our world, the more people that need you, the more important you are. To be needed is to be valued. The band Cheap Trick said it well, “I need you to need me.”

Recently a scuffle broke out between a few men at The Relief Bus who are homeless. One of our friends on the streets who comes regularly and who we know by name, stepped in. He said, “Stop fighting! If you do this, these people can’t keep coming here and then where will we be?” The man knew how much he and many others desperately needed us to be there every week.

In 25 years no staff or volunteer with New York City Relief has ever been assaulted in dealing with one of the most volatile people groups in our country. The homeless are very protective of us. I have to tell you that is a very special feeling, that they would risk themselves to protect us. To be honest, it feels good to be needed, appreciated and protected.

People count on The Relief Bus, not the bus but the people on the bus- staff and volunteers. It’s hard to grasp but New York City Relief serves over 400,000 servings of food each year. That’s a lot of people who would be hungry without our help. Last year staff and volunteers prayed 20,000 prayers on the streets. That’s a lot of people who wouldn’t have had prayer, if we weren’t there for them. Of course the biggest need is love and a friend who cares.

Outreach Team Leader Johanna Soukka is one of the people helping to meet that need of love and friendship on the streets with The Relief Bus. Here she is pictured with Albert, a homeless man who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, has been shunned by his family, and has lost almost everything. One thing he hasn’t lost is his faith. When she and a volunteer talked to him, he was quoting the Bible extensively and holding onto those scriptures with all of his might.

It feels good to be needed by the poor and that need even creates a job for me, a reason to get up early and work hard all day. How pointless would my day feel if I didn’t have a job?

What if your boss told you that he no longer needed you? That would be a blow, but one that you could recover from by getting another job and finding a boss who does need you. But what if your spouse or children told you that they didn’t need you? That would be a tough blow to recover from.

Many of our homeless friends on the streets feel unneeded by society, and maybe bosses, friends and even family have told them that they don’t need or want them anymore. There may be good reason for the rejection they experience due to choices they have made. What identity do they have left after that? How do you recover from that blow? How pointless does their life feel?

When Jesus spoke to the poor, the unemployed, the handicapped, He felt their pain. Jesus had times when he himself was hungry but had no food. He slept outdoors. The local religious establishment didn’t think they needed him.

Do we need the poor? Does the church think that they have value? Are we pursuing them because they are just too important to be left as outsiders?

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:21-27 (NIV)

So let me get this straight. According to the Bible, the poor are indispensable, worthy of honor and special treatment. If they suffer, we suffer. If they win, we win. By the way, if you don’t think that some of the body of Christ is homeless and living out on the streets, think again:

I read an article by a man named Chris Arnade who is a former prominent Wall Street trader, currently is an Atheist, and now a photographer who daily documents the poorest of the poor in the South Bronx. His photographs are stunning. Here he documents how strong the faith is of his friends who are drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless. His article articulates how he used to proudly deride the faith of Christians, but now he sees how vital it is to those living on the edge of disaster. He was deeply moved by how much their love for God kept them going through the worst of circumstances. Chris needed his friends to show him what faith is all about.

You see, we have many brothers and sisters on the streets who trust God everyday just to survive. They cry out to Jesus from the traps of poverty and addiction. They hold on one more day because they believe that as bad as they are, Jesus still loves them- not because of their accomplishments, but because of grace.

We have so much to learn from the poor.  We truly need them.


Posted under Uncategorized
May-16-2014

Stretch Out

I have written many songs and one of my favorites is called Stretch Out.

This song is based on the story of Jesus healing a man with a crippled hand in Mark 3 and the beatitudes in Matthew 5. I am sharing a video of the song with lyrics and photos of our work on the street with The Relief Bus.

Below that is a version of the beatitudes from a paraphrase of the book of Matthew that I wrote called The Street Bible. I hope you enjoy it!

Matthew 5:1-10 (The Street Bible)

LONG COOL SPEECH

Jesus saw the huge turnout and decided to get a spot where everyone could see him. He sat down on the side of a mountain and his boys got the front row seats. He shared a great message:

God is taking care of people that are bankrupt in spirit by giving them the kingdom of Heaven.

God is taking care of those who are grieving by putting his loving arms around them and holding them.

God is taking care of those who are gentle and kind by giving them the earth itself.

God is taking care of people who crave and desire God’s ways more than anything else by filling them with his presence.

God is taking care of those who cut people some slack by cutting them some slack as well.

God is taking care of those with a heart of gold by letting them see him face to face.

God is taking care of people who help others settle their disagreements and keep them from tearing each other to pieces by adopting them as his own children.

God is taking care of people who are getting put down, mocked or even beat up for their Godly lifestyle by giving them the kingdom of Heaven


Posted under Uncategorized
Apr-11-2014

Spontaneous Combustion

It’s often said that where there is smoke, there is fire. When we see people acting in odd and extreme extravagance towards others, curiosity compels us to see what is behind this bizarre behavior.

Acts 4:31-34
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.

The power of God working through community destroys poverty completely. God’s grace transforms the givers and the receivers all at once.

This level of generosity seems almost excessive, but it is exactly what Jesus had already talked about (even commanded):

Luke 12:33,34
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus said to give to the poor, but the fire didn’t catch until the Holy Spirit was fully released on the day of Pentecost. The action had to come from the inner transformation within the hearts of those now filled to overflowing. The church was freed by the Holy Spirit to come fully alive.

In Acts chapter 4, there was no political rally, no new policy reform, no speeches to inspire a new movement. There was no new book written (or blog article) that was the catalyst to a trend of community action. Social justice was a direct outcome of the move of the Spirit of God. They didn’t even call what they were doing Social Justice. It was just called LOVING GOD. Those who had been forgiven much were now empowered to give much, not out of intellectual understanding from a teaching or an attempt to become more righteous or holy. It was simply an organic response erupting out of those finding themselves suddenly in the very palm of God. In this epicenter of love, power and grace, the ways of the kingdom start pouring out of them. It was spontaneous combustion.

It was spontaneous combustion.

Suddenly these new believers found themselves consumed by the fire of God. The side effect was that poverty was obliterated. The driving force was the move of the Holy Spirit. Generosity was just sparks getting thrown off from the inferno of the Holy Spirit. The world would never be the same. The church is birthed on earth out of this explosion. The fallout is a widespread. Jesus the light now sent the Holy Spirit so the light could be in us. Darkness didn’t have a chance.

One example of this Holy Spirit fueled generosity that I see on our urban missionary team at New York City Relief is in Outreach Team Leader, Paul Ballesteros (pictured at left). If Paul sees someone on the streets with no shoes who has the same general boat-sized feet, he will give his shoes away. This is in the middle of a four-hour outreach with The Relief Bus in which he is constantly walking around on the concrete sidewalk. In a New York City winter, that sidewalk is as cold as ice. Paul just can’t stand to see someone live barefoot on that ice-cold sidewalk. Another Outreach Team Leader, Jeff Cook can’t seem to hold onto a pair of gloves. Every time he saw someone without gloves during this past brutal winter, he was compelled to give them away. Giving wasn’t so much a sacrifice for these guys as it was a joy.

People ask me how our team at New York City Relief keeps going in our mission to bring life transformation to the homeless. How do we not burn out? Don’t we get overwhelmed by the incredible need? How do we deal with over 60,000 homeless people in New York City, rampant addiction, dire poverty, and the despair of those who struggle literally for daily survival?

The answer for our team of urban missionaries is the same as the answer for the early church. We are in desperate pursuit of Jesus and a move of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Even when weary, we press forward relentlessly into the heart of God. Pulling each other up in community, iron sharpens iron. Spurring each other on, we love God by loving and serving each other. We fail as much as we succeed at this, but we are intentionally running after a goal. We stumble often, but keep getting up, dusting ourselves off and running some more. We don’t bathe ourselves in diatribes and dogma, we open ourselves up more and more to the ridiculous foolishness of a life relinquished to God. Motivated by our love for God, we fight for each other’s hearts:

Hebrews 10:23-25
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The King James version of verse 24 says: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” We keep dragging our compatriots back into the fire of God. There is nothing else.

This isn’t so much a life of sacrifice and self-discipline as a life that is relinquished to Jesus. We serve the broken because we love Him. Of course this only happens because He loved us first. His love is the fire that drives the engines of our hearts. I don’t know how to explain it except…spontaneous combustion.


Posted under Uncategorized
Apr-6-2014

Hoka Hey

Several years ago I wrote a song called Hoka Hey. I would like to share this song with you and the context from which I wrote it. What does Hoka Hey mean?

Native American warriors would shout ‘Hoka Hey!’ to one another as they charged into battle. In the context of battle hoka hey meant, ‘it is a good day to die.’ The origin of the phrase. literally translates as ‘hold fast. There is more!’”

A speech by Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh

“It is a good time to die.” The ancient battle chant is shouted in defiance by a spirit warrior, rising to inspire his people. A true warrior is one who fights to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Heading into danger, he goes having made peace with his family and his fellows, and with his Creator. Confident in the justice of his mission, he goes without fear, to do what must be done. For if he should not return from this day’s battles, he will be able to face the Creator with an open heart, and enter the next life without shame or regret.

“So live your life so the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their views, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a stranger if in a lonely place. SHOW RESPECT TO ALL PEOPLE, BUT GROVEL TO NONE. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs them of their visions. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home. It is indeed, a good day to die.-TECUMSEH-

Interesting speech that echoes some key elements from scripture:

1 Corinthians 15:50-58
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Romans 14:8
If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.


Posted under Uncategorized
Mar-5-2014

The Currency of Heaven

“Life every man holds dear; but the dear man holds honor far more precious dear than life.”- William Shakespeare

Our American culture has made an art form out of tearing people down. It’s the basis for many reality shows and celebrity media outlets. Dishonor is entertainment. Even in the church, it has been said that the Christian army is the only one known for shooting it’s wounded.

Paradoxically, there are a lot of fake honors out there. For the right price, you can appear in Who’s Who. If your donation is large enough, an organization will name you “Man (or woman) Of The Year.” I have personally been given an official government award for my service in a New Jersey county in which I don’t actually do anything for their residents. I think they found me online.

Recently our staff at New York City Relief watched a great documentary film called Compelled By Love. It’s the story of Heidi and Roland Baker and their work amongst the poorest of the poor in Mozambique, Africa with Iris Global. One of the most powerful statements Heidi Baker makes in the film is, “Honor is the currency of Heaven.”

“Honor is the currency of Heaven.”

Honor is defined as a verb this way: regard with great respect.

Heidi Baker described how they used to do outreach in Mozambique by rolling into a village with a sound system and a screen with which they would start showing the Jesus movie. Now instead, when they arrive they gather the chiefs and elders of the tribe. One by one, the outreach team members lower themselves before each seated leader to meet them face-to-face to honor them publicly before the village. These volunteers kneeling in the dirt are many times professional doctors, lawyers and business people in the US. Now the outreach teams are welcomed back for more future outreaches to these villages. The investment of honor pays off in long-term favor and relationship.

Josiah Haken (above right), Director of Outreach at New York City Relief, sets a high standard for how we serve soup to the homeless. He teaches volunteers that we should do a better job at presenting food and beverages than a barista at Starbucks. If soup spills down the side of the cup while ladling it out, that cup should be wiped clean. Believe me, that is a large percentage of our cups. Would you hand the President of the United States a sloppy cup of soup? Everyone should get the presidential treatment. That’s how honor works.

What does God say about honoring people?

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. -Romans 12:10 ESV

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. -1 Samuel 2:8 NIV

Sometimes the church can be a little inbred. We get homogenized by relegating ourselves to people groups made up of people just like us. Our racial, spiritual, economic cliques trap us in a bubble of groupthink. This naturally leads us to a place where we can’t relate to people outside our bubble, because we don’t know them. It can also lead to judging and stereotyping.

A good friend and board member of New York City Relief named Bob Goodwin (left, on right) is a marketing executive in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rather than eating lunch at his desk, as often as he can, he walks outside to find a homeless person to have lunch with. This is his way of escaping the corporate, white-collar world to experience what others outside are going through. It’s the way he befriends Jesus through the poor.

At The Relief Bus outreach, we are going for the same thing: communing. We aspire to not just feed the homeless, but eat with them, talk with them and do life with them. Our goal is to enter a journey with the poor where we aren’t seen as above them, but alongside them. As we befriend those who may be very different than us, we are showing them honor.

This currency of honor is so valuable that almost all who receive it are significantly impacted. Giving honor in everyday life is becoming a lost practice in our society. Because of this scarcity, it is even more valuable and for those who are usually dishonored, it is priceless.

This currency will cost us time, comfort and overcoming our own biases. The payoff is that we become enriched. When we do Jesus stuff, we become more of the person we always wanted to be.

The currency of honor is something we all have pocketfuls of. Opportunities to spend it are everywhere. Rather than spending it in the regular places, take a look around to see who is literally starving for someone to regard them with great respect. Then watch Heaven come to earth.


Posted under Uncategorized
Feb-12-2014

Back From The Philippines

















Recently I went with a team on a mission trip to the Philippines. We played music, shared testimonies and preached the good news of the gospel. Whatever opportunity came, we took it and tried to represent Jesus the best we could. It was a humbling and life changing experience. We met so many wonderful people who marked our lives.

Of course, like any mission trip it opened my eyes to the many things I take for granted in the United States, but it also revealed the coldness and isolation we sometimes experience in our culture. The people of the Philippines were so gracious and hospitable to us and I experienced God’s love through many of them.

One of the best parts of the trip was getting to share the experience with my 16-year-old daughter Hailey. Below you will find the newsletter report that she wrote. Here are some of my highlights from the trip:

















We sang the lyrics of one of my songs, “Blessed are you who are poor, yours is the kingdom of God” in the slums of Arellano and it seemed prophetic, for as the adults and children sang the joy of God seemed to fill the air. I was so touched to hear people sing along to the songs I had written from my heart, but never knew I would sing in this country. It was as if the songs were written just for them.



















After we ministered and sang in a jail, one of the prisoners who gave his life to Christ asked for the music and lyrics to a song I wrote called Least Last Lost. The chorus goes, “You love the least, You love the last, You love the lost, You love me.”

The hard work of the missionaries at the Dagupan YWAM base was awe inspiring. Weekly they go into the slums to minister where the local churches are afraid to go. Of course this inspired me concerning the work we do with New York City Relief. To see their faithfulness, hard work and commitment to the poor encouraged me to keep moving forward in our mission to the poor in New York City and New Jersey. I will forever be grateful to those of you who partnered with us to go on this trip and to the people there who welcomed us into their hearts.

I would recommend to anyone who wants to go on a mission trip to consider the Dagupan YWAM Mission Base. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/ywamdagupan

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Posted under Uncategorized
Dec-18-2013

The Offensive God


Offend: to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done

Jesus Christ was not the sweet Sunday school teacher we would have rather him to have been. His messages were just as often offensive to listeners as they were comforting. We tend to gravitate towards the words of grace that our souls long for, and well we should because without grace we are doomed. We shouldn’t be shocked by his offensive words though, because Peter describes Jesus as, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

Jesus was clear in so many verses that we need to “put up or shut up.” These words sting because they convict us and make us aware of how far we fall short. Jesus used strong words often, both with the crowds and his own disciples. Sometimes, he was even angry. Even when ticked off, Jesus acted solely out of love. He fulfilled and lived Hebrew 12:6, “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” Rather than correcting people to lord his power over them, Jesus’ rebukes or commands always had purpose to benefit his followers.

Jesus refused to compromise his message and mission. His cousin John was the same way and was relentless in challenging society. He had to express the truth of the Kingdom of God regardless of the consequences. Of course he offended to the point of losing his own life. Kind of like Jesus did. Both of them had a mission worth dying for and the blood of their martyrdom serves as the foundation of our faith.

Let me give you a specific example of one potentially offensive verse that we need to think about:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

…The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:7-11 NIV)

If John was a pastor and that was a Sunday morning message, he might have been voted out and fired by the elders after service. He threatened the crowd to start acting like God the father or they were going to burn. His words were prickly, barbed and blunt. No softness, no consolation and no coddling. Rather than getting offended this time, the crowd responded with a plea for direction. “How do we embrace Heaven and escape Hell?”

John could have said anything, but he pointed them towards the poor. Basically he told them that if they wanted to act like God, they should give clothing and food to the needy. He could have pointed them to more worship, tithing, Bible study or spiritual disciplines, but he challenged them to embrace the poor and by doing so they would be embracing God.

This isn’t a nice little Bible story. John says that unless you and I have good fruit, the ax is coming. What is good fruit? Not attending more church services, avoiding profanity, longer morning devotionals or more anointed prayers. Nice things and good things, but John says that isn’t it.

Good fruit is washing the feet of the weak, generously giving to the hurting, being a brother to the stranger. Good fruit is putting clothes on someone’s back and food in their belly. The good news is that if this fruit isn’t a part of our lives, we can repent and let God change us to make us truly fruitful. Yes, Christians still need to repent. At least I do -over and over.

At New York City Relief, we exist to give people a place to bear this kind of fruit. The Relief Bus outreach is a great way to lavish God’s best on those who have the least. The homeless are so touched that volunteers would come bearing gifts of new socks and fresh soup.

Let’s cultivate a lifestyle of growing delicious spiritual fruit that allows others to taste God’s goodness in us. Here is the benefit on our end: REFRESHING

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” Acts 3:19


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