Sermon: Strength in Weakness

Last week, I shared a sermon at Journey Church, which I titled “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

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This is a photo of me on Mt Kilimanjaro. Climbing this mountain was one of the most physically & emotionally challenging experiences I have ever gone through. Yet, I can say that the struggle made the triumph of the summit all the more rewarding. I learned so much about myself through this experience, and I feel like that is largely true of any type of hardship we go through.

A lot of people question the purpose of suffering. If God is love, and He is as good as everyone talks about, then why did _______ happen? I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that yes, God is love, but love can be painful. The purpose of suffering is not just because God wants you in pain, but because He is doing a deep work in you. A good father isn’t one that shelters his children but one that allows them to go through things that will mold and shape their character, that they might become the person that they are created to be.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This passage is really rich with biblical language – I want to encourage you to listen to my sermon to hear an explanation of the significance of these words as I exegete these verses. Keeping this in mind, the “Kelly” translation of this verse is:

You need nothing more than God’s grace, because His resurrection power is completing a process in you. Therefore, rejoice in your powerlessness, because as your weakness increases, God’s power grows and dwells within you.

CS Lewis said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The fact of the matter is, suffering is, well, painful. How do we rejoice in the midst of it?

We can rejoice in these sufferings because God is taking us through trials which humble us, taking our eyes off of ourselves and onto Jesus. We begin to understand that we can accomplish nothing without His strength. Through our weaknesses, He shines through and is glorified. Because when we become less, Christ in us becomes more.

What I want to challenge you today is – in those moments, who do you turn your eyes to? Do you grit your teeth and fight through it, or are you quick to God and admit your need for His help?

Personally, I tend to turn inward, gritting my teeth and bearing it in my own power, saying, “I can do this!” Or, sometimes I turn away from the pain, doing what I can to change the circumstances and making myself comfortable.

But in reality, the only proper response is to say, “Jesus, your grace is sufficient for me. Give me power in my weakness.”

Terry Fullam said that there is one prayer that is irresistible to God: “Whenever we ask him for the grace, the wisdom, the insight, the knowledge, the courage, the resources to accomplish what He has assigned us to do.” This prayer is irresistible to God because it’s an acknowledgement that we are nothing without Him.

So this week, in your moments of greatest weakness, I want to challenge you to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” You’re literally asking God to pour His strength through you. And He will. He delights to.

The reality is that in heaven, it won’t matter how rich you were, or how prominent you were. All that will matter is how wonderfully the strength of God poured through your weaknesses.

There’s more! To hear my entire sermon, and some stories of how God has turned my greatest weaknesses into strengths, click here: http://jcboston.org/weak-strong/

Made to Sing

Lately, as I stroll into my ministry meetings with my helmet clipped to my backpack, I get many stares.

“You…biked here? Today?” As if I just cart around my helmet for fun.

“Yep. I bike in the winter. It’s how I get around,” I respond, nonchalantly. And I usually get a blank stare, as if someone told you they had just walked to the moon.

Yesterday, I was toodling along the road on my bike here in Cambridge, heading to the Journey Church office. My head was spinning with all the things I had to do that afternoon – the people to reach out to, the all-important meetings, the emails to respond to. Somehow no matter what I do, my to-do list never seems to shrink. Today there was something that struck me though: I noticed that all the birds were singing.on’t they know that it is winter? That February in the northeast is absolutely, positively bone-chilling? I’m pretty sure it would be warmer to crawl into a grocery store freezer and stand in front of a full-blast fan than to bear the chilly gusts of the New England winter.

In fact, I bike like a madwoman not to save time but to keep my extremities from freezing and falling off. As icicles form on my nose, my feet spin in circles generating a nugget of heat inside my down jacket. My greatest fear is that my body parts will suddenly stop moving and I will keel over, frozen to my bike, crashing to the ground as a living icicle for the world to laugh at.

In that moment I was so numb I probably wouldn’t even noticed the birds, except that they were positioned strategically on a stark stick tree at a stop sign, their tiny claws clinging to the icy brown branch, singing their little hearts out.

(photo credit http://3.bp.blogspot.com/)

And in that moment I said, “God, I wish I were a bird like that, that I was just made to sing.”

And I heard Him speak to me clearly in my heart, “You are.”

And that just wrecked me.

I was made to sing. Just like the birds, I was made to sing, to dance, to run barefoot through meadows with hands outstretched and scale big trees to watch the sun’s colors fall. Yet as we grow up, life turns into a never-ending to-do list, with more responsibilities and people to attend to than time in the day. If we’re not careful, we can be consumed with doing instead of being, with completing instead of singing.

Meadow near Tiraspol, Moldova

Life as a bird seems so much simpler. You just wake up each day, eat a bit of whatever food you find, then perch somewhere and sing to the world. In fact, the birds were one of Jesus’ greatest teachers. In Matthew 6:26, he tells his disciples, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Now hear me out. I’m not saying we have to neglect our daily responsibilities, or pretend that the realities of life don’t exist. I’m just saying that in the midst of life, we must make time to sing.

What do you do that makes your heart sing?

Sermon: Laying it Down

Our church is in the middle of a 21-day fast, and I’ve felt led to participate in a Daniel Fast, where I am eating solely fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (no meats, sweets, or dairy). There’s something about fasting that has a way of uncovering the things going on in your heart that doesn’t happen otherwise. And while this hasn’t been the most extreme fast that I’ve done, I sense that God has been doing something indescribable but significant in me these past few weeks.

Paul wrote: “I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Questions have been going through my mind: Why did Jesus have to die on the cross, and what does it mean that we are crucified with Christ? Is Jesus really worth abandoning everything for? What in my life is hindering me from being fully surrendered to God?

Last Sunday, I shared about this and more in my sermon “Laying it Down” at Journey Church. You can listen to it on the link below:

http://jcboston.org/laying/

Have a great day!

Introducing… the 2014 UniteBoston Reps!

Today, we’re excited to announce the 2014 UniteBoston Reps – Coming to a neighborhood near you!

 How has God been working in UniteBoston?

Great question! Watch this PrayTV Interview with Kelly Steinhaus, UniteBoston Team Leader to learn more.

What are UniteBoston Reps?

UniteBoston Reps facilitate connection between church and community. Through interviews and church visits, UniteBoston reps establish a presence in the community, conveying the attitude that “we care about what God is doing in your midst and are here to serve you.” UniteBoston Reps are also intentional about researching history and demographics to form a comprehensive understanding of the community. By becoming a learner of neighborhoods, UniteBoston reps find out where God is working and how churches/ministries can collaborate together to further that work.

What do UniteBoston Reps do?

Each month has a particular focus around studying the community, such as observation, research, or interviews. UB Reps meet together monthly to share celebrations and challenges of what they see happening in their communities, as well as get trained for the following month. The UB Reps are a tight-knit community of people who prayerfully seek God’s work in Boston together and how churches are a part of the fabric of the city at large.

Why is this initiative important?

While the UniteBoston newsletter and website are helping to spread awareness of what God is doing throughout the city, we realized that it lacked one key component: relationships. Relationships are the heart of unity. Only relationships can instill understanding and help to remove barriers between churches of diverse cultures, denominations, ages and socioeconomic status. UniteBoston Reps devote their time and energy to building relational connections within one specific neighborhood, which makes uniting the city of Boston more manageable.

What are you hoping to accomplish with UB Reps?

Success as a UniteBoston Rep is to connect two independent churches or individuals for a larger purpose. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece only makes sense when it is in relationship with the other pieces. A greater sense of awareness will draw on the collective wisdom of the entire body of Christ. This will also improve each church’s aim to make strategic investments with ministry resources, so we fight the right battles and reduce duplication of efforts.

As relationships and trust are fostered, UniteBoston Reps will help to guide the missional activities of the Church within a specific community. This information will be made public to better aid in our efforts to pray for Boston and strategically mobilize the Christian community to meet the needs of the city.

Who are the 2014 UB Reps?

UB Rep: Coolidge Corner – Lex Carroll

UB Rep: UMass Boston – Amanda Green

UB Rep: Jamaica Plain – Bond Hsu

UB Rep: South End – Ralph Kee

UB Rep: Mattapan – Deneen Levy

UB Rep: Fenway – Betsy Slate

UB Rep: Harvard Square – Kelly Steinhaus

UB Rep: Back Bay – Andrew Walker

UniteBoston Reps Informational meeting, January 2014

UniteBoston Reps Informational meeting, January 2014

The current communities that are covered by the 2014 UB Reps - Could your neighborhood be next?

The current communities that are covered by the 2014 UB Reps – Could your neighborhood be next?

How can I get involved?

Email Kelly Steinhaus, UniteBoston Team Leader at kelly@uniteboston.com to learn more!

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16)

If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together – African Proverb

Transforming Boston, One Child At A Time

Ruth Wong

Something extraordinary is happening in the Boston area: churches are partnering with schools. Ruth Wong, director of the Boston Education Collaborative at Emmanuel Gospel Center partners with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise,  to help create these partnerships. Currently, 19 schools in the Circle of Promise have faith-based partners, and 24 more are looking for partners – could your church be next?

Rather than coming in with an agenda, churches simply come to schools asking, “What are your needs? How can we help you achieve your goals?” By going to serve, rather than to preach, people are beginning to see that the church is relevant and engaged in the community. In the words of former BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson, this is significant because “churches bring hope and schools need hope.”

Coat Drive at Russell School

These partnerships have taken many forms. Faith communities have provided schools with people resources, like mentors and one-on-one tutors. They have also supported families with material items, such as City Mission Society coordinating the donation of 500 coats to Russell School families. The Trotter School first invited Global Ministries Christian Church and Grace Chapel to simply clean the building. They also hosted teacher/staff appreciation dinners. But as trust has been built with the school, the two churches are seen as partners and are invited to celebrate together with the school for significant school events. Although school staff can be hesitant at first, gradually more and more are seeing the value of faith communities supporting the multifaceted underworkings of a school. 

Some of these partnerships have transformed specific students academically, but it doesn’t end there. Ruth said, “When I hear about how a student or family is going through the struggles of life and a church is able to come alongside them, that’s what gets me excited and inspired.”

Mentor Match Day at the Timilty with parents, mentors & mentees

Mentor Match Day at the Timilty with parents, mentors & mentees

What would Ruth like to tell the Christian community in Boston? “As churches, we tend to create opportunities and programs to invite our neighbors to attend, but this is an opportunity to go and be invited into a school community to serve and love others in their space, to care for people who may never walk into the church doors on their own.”

Her dream is that each school in Boston would have at least one church partner. “There is an open door right now to partner with schools,” Ruth emphasizes. “This opportunity may come and go at any time, so in some ways, if churches would seize the moment and explore it, you never know what God could do.”

Many Christians speak about seeing their city transformed with the love of Christ. As you can see, church/school partnerships are an opportunity to make that dream become tangible.

Pastor Tom Griffith of River of Life Church asks, “What could be of greater value than to impact students? If you want to see change in Boston, this is the place to go.”

Next Steps to learn more about faith-based school partnerships:

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Boston’s Christian Community Comes Together to Commemorate Christian Martyrs

Last Saturday, more than 500 people of various cultures and denominations gathered to remember and honor those who have gone before us and died for their faith in Jesus Christ. 

Dr. Vito Nicastro, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs noted that it was the largest gathering of its kind in his 23 years with the office.

It was incredible to see how this event brought together the body of Christ in the city. I identify with what the Coptic Orthodox priests wrote, that “It is the blood of the martyrs that we honor; because of their blood shed, we glorify God. It is because of their blood that was shed, that we gather together in prayer. It is because of their blood that was shed, that we are able to build relationships between the different churches. It is because of their blood shed, that Christians are encouraged and strengthened in their faith.”

Learn more
Read the article published in the Boston Pilot here:http://thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=16917

Watch the video interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DrS8aC_U1k

Watch the prayer-length of the service here:
http://www.catholictv.com/shows/americas-catholic-television-network/ecumenical-prayer-all-christian-martyrs

The Hug Experiment

New England is known for a few key things:

  • The Red Sox.
  • Clam Chowder.
  • And people who tend to be, well, stand-offish and aloof.

I am home-grown from the West Coast, where it’s common, even expected, to speak with strangers in the grocery store, or to engage in friendly banter in the coffee shop. But here, people tend to look at you like you have spinach growing out of your ears if you happen to strike up a conversation. It takes time, lots of time, to really get to know someone at heart-level, which is painstakingly aggravating for my not-so-patient disposition. Don’t get me wrong here – I love Boston – but sometimes I’m frustrated by the general detachment that seems to exist between people.

Last Sunday, my friend Sung Yun and I didn’t go on a quest to change any of these things, nor did it even cross our minds until after the fact. Rather, she just showed up to our Sunday afternoon outreach with an extra sign bearing the good news of “Free Hugs.” I instantly became her partner-in-crime for this spontaneous social experiment.

We set up camp beside the subway entrance. As we clutched our signs, for a few moments no one even acknowledged us, defaulting to the typical New England tactic of ignorance. I shouted, “FREE HUGS!” and in that moment a woman entered the scene, saying, “I love hugs!” and enveloping me in a giant bear hug. People around her smiled. One man, uninterested a moment ago, took a detour to join us in our love parade in the corner. I was sold.

Click here to watch the video: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=998538548863&l=998012886798046199

There’s something about hugging that puts a smile on your face. I think it’s because as much as we try to hide it, all of us are longing for physical affection, for someone to enter our “bubble.” In fact, hugs are scientifically proven to boost happiness levels by getting oxytocin (the “love drug”) flowing through your body, which can lower the risk of heart disease, combat stress, and boost the immune system.

So that’s why a sign with “FREE HUGS” is a remarkable tool. It’s not forcing anything on anyone; rather it simply conveys, “Here we are! The invitation is open. Come on over.” I said a silent prayer for each person that I hugged and left them with the blessing of “Have a great day.” How many other things in life are quick, simple, and totally free, yet can transform someone’s countenance so deeply?

I’m now convinced that we can change the world, one hug at a time. So this afternoon, why don’t you grab a friend and some markers, and boldly proclaim to the world the opportunity for an embrace?