Blog: 2013

Wednesday, March 6

“Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Mark 8:17

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” Mark 8:25

See someone you might normally overlook—someone who rides the bus, a store clerk, a neighbor, a kid rolling by on a skateboard, a senior citizen out for a stroll. Really see this person and think about how God sees them. Then do what God tells you—pray, say hi, introduce yourself, help out, whatever God leads you to do. (The Promise Effect, p. 17)

Reflect

Do your eyes allow you to see beyond the immediate, the physical, and the stereotype? Do you look at another and recognize the face of Jesus? These questions can be difficult to read, and even harder to put into practice. But in the name of Jesus, we need to strive each day to remember we are all children of God. Share with us one way that you will open your heart today to another.

Pray
er
Lord, give me fullness of vision. Let me see people the way you see them: beautifully created in your image, flawed and hurting, needing your love. Open my eyes and my heart.

Tuesday, March 5

“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barely loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’” - John 6:5-8

John is the only Gospel writer to mention this boy. Odd when you think about it. All four Gospels include this story, numbering the crowd at 5,000, but that only counts the men—since women and children were viewed as property of men. It is rather radical for John to lift up the boy as the unlikely hero.



Commentators take different angles on this story. In the more classical interpretation, Jesus takes the bread and fish and the food miraculously multiplies. Jesus does not create something from nothing; he uses real stuff. This is a pattern for Jesus’ miracles. There is usually some kind of human participation in the event. And because of that, the boy’s contribution is extremely important. In a way, Jesus needed his help to make this miracle.



There is a second interpretation that is just as compelling: Some scholars argue that these 5,000 people were accustomed to traveling long distances on foot, and it would be unlikely for them not to bring some food along. Perhaps as the disciples were going through the crowd, the people were covering up their goodies. After all, they needed to look after their families. Most of us can identify with this response. We do it all the time, protecting our resources for our closest kin. But when the boy generously volunteered his food, Jesus affirmed this act. At this, everybody pulled out their food and began to share. The boy’s act of generosity inspired the others to do the same.



Whichever angle you choose, there is a consistent denominator.  At the center of this miracle is an unlikely hero who was willing to act counter-intuitively by giving all he had. How the miracle happens is not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that someone was willing to give—and this “insignificant” gift, basically a bag lunch, sparked a miracle that still inspires us today. (The Promise Effect, p. 13)

Reflect

What insignificant gift are you holding that might make a difference for others? Reflect, pray, and act on it! Do your little bit and watch it inspire others.

Read about one of our StreetLeaders, Dominique, and how he shares his gifts with the Camden community. Then, go to our blog to share how you have made a difference in someone’s life.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be like the young boy and give more of myself to others. Lead me as I work to become less self-centered and more "other-centered."

Monday, March 4

“You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”  Luke 6:36

Jesus holds up a new vision of God—God as the compassionate one who suffers with humanity. This understanding of God unleashes a second reality: People who follow Jesus are those who develop the capacity to “feel and suffer” with other human beings. As Christ-followers, we are called to enter into the pain and suffering of others. We listen and connect to the stories of other people. We try to walk in the shoes of our brothers and sisters. We seek to understand them from the inside out.

Reflect

If compassion—suffering with someone else—is so important, that brings us a whole new perspective on our own pain. Pain prepares us to show compassion to others—and that suggests a challenge for this week:

First, think about the pains of your life: physical pain, emotional pain, relational pain, etc. It won’t be pleasant to relive those moments, but that’s just our starting point.



Second, ask yourself, “How has this suffering prepared me to be compassionate to others?” Do you understand, sympathize with, or connect with certain people better because of what you have been through?



Third, think about people in your world who are suffering similar pains right now. What could you do to show compassion to them? Note that you don’t need to fix their problems or provide them with answers; those efforts usually backfire anyway.  Showing compassion is simply a matter of sharing yourself—your wounded, broken self—with someone who needs a friend. (The Promise Effect, p. 204)

Throughout this week, look for the moments when you show compassion. These moments will come at unexpected times. Take note and share them with us so that others may be inspired.

Prayer

God of redemption, teach us to transform our pain into compassion.

Friday, March 1

Choose Gratitude: 1 Letter and 5 Dollars

A few months ago I visited a college on a recruiting trip. I stayed overnight in the home of a faculty member. One night he and I struck up a delightful conversation about life and families. "You know," he said, "my mother-in-law is incredibly self-absorbed. Everything is about her. My wife is so drained by her presence. No interest in the grandchildren. No real interest in the family. It's odd and tragic."

This was not a son-in-law simply complaining about the "in-laws"; this was a story about a woman who had never developed the capacity to look beyond herself. "My mother is completely different," he added. "Everything is about others."


"What makes her different?" I inquired, curious about the contrast between these two aging women.
       


The professor smiled. "She had eleven grandchildren," he began. "All eleven went to college. Do you know that every week she sent a letter and $5 to each of her grandchildren during their university years?"
      


I found this idea rather remarkable. Just do the math. That's a lot of letters and a lot of $5 bills. More striking, though, was her thoughtfulness and gratitude for each of her grandchildren.

Two women. Two very different ways of living.
       


The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr makes an interesting reflection on the life of Job. Rohr writes: "When Job's life is going to be taken from him at the age of 50, he has one of two choices. He can say to God, 'Why not 51?' or 'Thanks for 50!'" It's a fundamental choice. And the way we answer that question makes all the difference in the world. Our answer impacts our attitude, our worldview, our mood, our spirit, and the way we respond to others.

If we are truly grateful for what we have been given, we are liberated and free to look beyond our own needs and our own desires. If our choice is truly "Thanks for 50!" we now view everything as a gift of grace. And when we view our lives as gifts of grace, we are free to give more of ourselves to others--and maybe $5 a week and a letter of encouragement.



Bruce Main

President & Founder, UrbanPromise

 

Thursday, February 28

 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
     Hebrews 13:2

We shouldn’t just express hospitality in order to meet an angel—although it is an intriguing possibility and one that piques my curiosity. Our motivation should come from a deeper place in the heart—a heart that has decided to welcome, embrace, and entertain strangers. Without a doubt, the teachings of Jesus make it clear that the biblical call of hospitality must transcend our friends, our social network, and those who can repay our generosity. Jesus continuously offered kindness to outsiders. Remember that Samaritans, lepers, Roman centurions, prostitutes, bleeding women, and children were not part of the country club circle of Jesus’ day. They lived on the fringes. They weren’t the ones invited to the fundraising dinners. To associate with such people was a great risk to Jesus’ reputation, and yet he did. Often. (The Promise Effect, p. 192)

Reflect & Discuss

Is the act of being hospitable easy for you? Is it difficult? Reflect on why this is. Take some time with God and think through: (a) people who you regularly show kindness or hospitality to; or (b) people you think you should show kindness or hospitality to. In the latter case, God may bring you specific ideas about how to do this.



Prayer

Lord, teach me what it means to extend hospitality to all people without a sense of duty and drudgery.

 

Wednesday, February 27

 

“Be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.”
     Luke 6:36

In Leviticus 19:2, the command is to “Be holy, as God is holy.” Jesus, who was steeped in the teachings of the Old Testament, uses this same language, yet puts a new spin on the character of God and the notion of what it means to follow God. God is not just holy. God is compassionate. We get the word compassion from two Latin words: “feel” (passion) and “with” (com). 

Compassion basically means to “feel with,” “suffer with,” or “identify with” another human being. So the command is now to “feel with” other people because God “feels with” other people. When human beings “feel with” other humans, it is hard to dismiss them. Elie Weisel, a Jewish holocaust survivor, points out that without compassion our neighbor “is of no consequence.” When our neighbor doesn’t matter, it’s hard to really live out Jesus’ mandate to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (The Promise Effect, p. 160)



Reflect & Discuss

Walk in the shoes of another person for a day, or even a few hours. This might take some creativity.

First, select a person that you want to “"feel with.”" Pray, and when God brings someone to mind, think about what this person's life is like.

Then consider what adjustments you might make during your “simulation” to feel the things that this person feels. Are there physical limitations you could approximate? Are there problems with sight or hearing? Or is the limitation economic? Could you live on a meager budget for a day —or a week? Can you grab others to play-act a situation from this person’'s work or family?

Try to understand experientially what that person’'s life is like— and that will open up all sorts of compassion in you--guaranteed. Share with us your new understanding of that person; tell us what new compassion has been unleashed!

Prayer

Lord, my personal tendency is to look out for myself, to focus on my own pain, to see the world through my perspective. Move me to a bigger place—a place with a bigger heart, a bigger vision of the world, a deeper sense of empathy and understanding.

 

Monday, February 25

From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over."
Matthew 26:16

“[Peter] swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’”    
Matthew 26:74

Peter and Judas have always intrigued me because of the way they each dealt with their betrayal of Jesus. Judas takes his life, while Peter becomes “the rock” on which the church is built. Both men have acted in treasonous ways. Both betrayals are heinous. Both these men have failed morally. Yet one life allows failure to release its destructive toxins, while the other life allows failure to be transformed into something beautiful. One life allows the past to rule him; the other is able to release the past and move forward. One is able to embrace grace and forgiveness and the other allows shame to rule and control.

Someone once said, “A saint is not perfect. A saint is someone who is quick to receive forgiveness.” The story of Peter and Judas reminds me that the spiritual journey is not about attaining perfection. It’s not about getting all A’s on our spiritual report card. The spiritual journey is about receiving God’s grace so we can build on shortcomings and failures. (The Promise Effect, p. 160)

Reflect & Discuss
We are imperfect people who are grateful for the grace of God. Join in our blog discussion on grace. As you reflect on your story of receiving grace and/or giving grace, share with us how this has made you feel. Allow your story to be a testimony of God’s love for you.

View Bruce telling the Gaining Grace story. »

Pray
Gracious God, help us to receive grace. Even when we cannot forgive ourselves, help us remember that you release our failures and shortcomings to the wind.

 

Monday, February 25

 

All the nations surrounded me,
   but in the name of the LORD I cut them down. . .
They swarmed around me like bees,
   but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
. . . I was pushed back and about to fall,
   but the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and my defense
   He has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory
   resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” . . .
The LORD has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.
    Psalms 118:10-15, 24

Einstein once said that there are only two ways to live one’'s life: One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle. That’'s sort of where this Psalm begins.   The Psalmist believes life is a gift. In Psalm 118 we meet someone who has all but signed his death warrant. Then . . . deliverance . . . the Psalmist is spared because of God’'s grace and intervention. So from the depths of His soul the Psalmist cries with a sense of existential wonder, “"This is the day that the Lord has made.”"

The day has been “made” by God. Reformed theologian John Calvin believed that God was so intimately involved in our lives that nothing was left to chance. Calvin believed that every breath was given by God, every heartbeat prompted by God, and every rotation of the earth encouraged by God. Considering God'’s intimate involvement, Calvin concurred that our only response can be gratitude. Therefore, the Psalmist is accurate to reply, “"I will be glad and rejoice in it.”"

Reflect & Discuss
"This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made." Can you hear the song? Do you wake each day with gratitude? Do you utter thanks or complaints? Reflect on ways to be more grateful. Share with us 5 things you are grateful for today. 

Pray
Lord help me to be more grateful and to show my gratitude each day.

 

Friday, February 22

“Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but with respect and gentleness.”  1st Peter 3:15

I’m watching two Ugandan college graduates, wearing blue jeans and sneakers, move fluidly between tin shacks and dirt paths.   The poverty is staggering—no running water.  Open fires for cooking.  Single mothers trying to raise a handful of children on a few pennies a day.  Kids not in school—it’s not a hopeful situation.  But when Matsiko and Sara stop to talk, stop to hug, stop to invite children to their afterschool programs, I see eyes light up.  I see smiles. I feel possibility.  Even in blue jeans and sneakers, these two young leaders embody something…I think its hope.   

So how do people “get hope?”  Where does it come from?  How do I find it?  Can I manufacture it?  Pray for it? Catch it?  Learn it?  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how this whole hope thing works.  Some of my friends might say, “Just invite Jesus into your heart.  That’s where your hope comes from.”  And that’s true on one level.   But I think hope is more than just making a statement with words.  Here’s what I have observed with children.  When kids lose hope their world-view begins to shift from one of promise and potential, to one of despair and even destruction.  Hopeful kids don’t join gangs.  Hopeful kids don’t sell drugs.  Hopeful kids respect their bodies.  Hopeful kids don’t drop out of school.  Hope, it seems to me, is the deal breaker between a life of productivity and meaning and a life that dies on the vine, never blossoming to bear the fruit it was intended to bear. 

Matsiko and Sara have not had easy lives.  Parents died at early ages, food was scarce, school fees always a struggle, but they kept going.  I believe they embody what the writer of Roman’s talks of when he claims, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope….”  Hope forged on the anvil of suffering allows our leaders to look at the children and the circumstances in which they live and say, “With God we can paint a new picture of your destiny.  With God you can live a fruitful life of purpose.  I know because I have made the journey.”  

So I watch our young, relevant, hip, faith-filled, forward- looking leaders dodge mud puddles and garbage piles so they can brag to parents about the academic progress of their children. I watch them “ready to give a reason for the hope” that is in them.  I realize that hope is a mystery and something deeply unique to the human condition.  Although a mystery, I do know one thing for certain—hope is passed from person to person…..even if you’re wearing blue jeans and sneakers.

Bruce Main
Founder & President, UrbanPromise

Thursday, February 21

“God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy, because whatever else it means to say that God created us in his image, I think it means that even when we cannot believe him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us. We have God’s joy in our blood.” Frederick Buechner

Joyful and purposed people are those who discover, own, and act upon their unique gifts. And there is one thing true about a joyful life—it infects the world with the aroma of promise. (The Promise Effect, p. 72)

Reflect & Discuss
Go into the world joyful! Have you discovered your unique gift? Are you using it to bring the joy of Christ to others? Let us know what you think in the comments below.  

Pray
Thank you for the way I have been uniquely made. Help me let go of the compulsion to compare myself to others. Help me to embrace my unique gifts, my unique history, and my unique calling in the world.

 

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