Blog: February 2013

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.

 

Wednesday, February 20

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
                                                T.S. Eliot
“Behold, I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
                                        Luke 24:49 

I find myself asking, “Do I create situations that give others a sense of hope?  Do I plant seeds of hope so that people live with a sense of greater expectation, a greater sense of anticipation, a greater sense of eagerness and passion?  As a boss, do I bring hope to this workplace, so my employees wake up in the morning eager to start, because they know their work matters?  As a father, do I do things around the house that make it a place that inspires my children to dream?

One of the great themes of scripture is promise.  Throughout the Bible we see example after example of God granting promises to various people.  Noah is promised that God will never again destroy the earth.  Abraham is given the promise that his descendants will be numerous.  Moses is assured that the “promised land” will one day be claimed.  Promises are given by God as a means of providing hope.  A life rooted in hope allows God’s partners to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances. (The Promise Effect, pgs. 55, 56)

Reflect and Discuss

Think about the people in your life who need hope.  The sick, the addicted, the grieving.  Students, mothers, laborers.  What message of hope could you deliver to one of them?  And how will you deliver it?  By spoken word or written word?  With a hug, a song, or even a postcard?

Do this once, to one person, this week.  Then see if you can do it again for someone else.  Find the joy of being a “person of hope” in your world.    

Pray
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of promise—a gift that allows us to hope for a better world, a better life, and a better future.  Help us to hold onto your promises when we feel like letting go.  Grant us the courage to move forward in promise, knowing that you will fulfill the promises you have made to your people.

Tuesday, February 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Luke 4:18

I believe Christians are supposed to be “good news people”—people who create good news for those who need a little good news. We are ambassadors of hope. For a single mother trying to raise three children in the inner city, good news might mean a free summer camp for her children. Good news for a little girl in Malawi might mean one meal a day. Good news for a colleague might mean a listening ear. (The Promise Effect, p. 188)

Reflect & Discuss
How can you create “good news” for someone today? What might that look like? Take some time this week to brainstorm this. (It’s a great discussion question for family or friends.) See if you can come up with five or six specific ways to create good news for someone.  Then choose one, do it, and share your experience with us.

Pray
God of Good News, help us to be agents of good news in the world—to our friends, to our colleagues, to our neighbors.

 

Monday, February 18

“What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.” 
Emil Brunner, theologian

That has been my experience. Young people with hope do not tend to join gangs, stay in school, or make decisions that benefit their futures. Older people are no different. Gangs are probably not a temptation for an 86-year-old suburban church attendee. But hope is the ingredient that gets people out of bed, encourages them to take their medicine, and gives them the courage to make needed changes. (The Promise Effect, p. 128)

Reflect & Discuss
Who do you know who needs hope? Think it through. Struggling students? Hospital patients? Shut-ins? Single moms? In your circle of friends, relatives, co-workers, and acquaintances, who is on the edge of despair?

Now, what word of hope can you bring? 

Pray
God, I ask that I might be filled with hope. I’m not sure how it happens, but I know the difference it makes in my life and in the lives of others. May the hope in my life encourage those who have lost their own.

Friday, February 15

A local public school landed a big government grant and opened up an after-school program near UrbanPromise's program in South Camden. The school program offered computers, video games, great snacks, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Over night, our camp director Tony Vega saw his participant numbers dwindle. "We went from 55 kids to 15."

Tony was perplexed. "I didn't know what to do," he lamented. "We don't have computers, our heater is broken most the time, our tables are broken, and there are no video games. I realized we were no match."

But then a strange thing started happening: The kids started returning one by one to UrbanPromise's program.

"Why'd you come back?" Tony asked one of them. The young girl paused, smiled, and said: "They got lots of stuff, but it's not like this place--we're family, Mr. Tony."

I've learned one thing over all my years in youth work: "Bling" attracts children, but love retains them. Money, computers, video games and brand new sports equipment entertain, but they do not love. Humans love. And love is what every human being--especially a child--desires.

What is love? Love is listening, caring, and encouraging. Love is hanging out, love is protecting, love is praying. We need to love and be loved. It is when we love and receive love that we are truly transformed.

One of my favorite quotes to ponder as we close this first week of Lent is from a novel called The Forty Rules of Love: "Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we have not loved enough."

So, in the words of Jesus, love one another.

Bruce Main

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