Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Courage in the Everyday

 by Dina Sleiman

...Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you... ~ I Chronicles 28:20

Last week Acts 2 Church went Christmas caroling in a trailer park where we deliver food for our food ministry. This simple little excursion got me thinking about the courage needed to reach out to others in our everyday lives.

One of our caroling groups

Going door to door, knocking on a stranger's home, in a neighborhood that's a bit rough, takes some courage, especially when you have a bevy of children in tow. By the end of the Christmas cookie fellowship following the caroling, our kids were all running around in the pitch dark. We didn't know if we'd face rejection, harassment, or even drunken threats, but we went to spread Christmas joy and cheer nonetheless--to spread Christ's love. It would have been easy for someone to talk themselves out of going and facing those risks. But reaching out takes courage and inconvenience. Living life to its fullest involves taking risks.

These neighbors tagged along and joined in the fun.

And when God calls you to do something, those risks pay off! By the end of the caroling many wonderful neighbors had joined in with us to sing. We concluded the evening with a fellowship including a fire pit and Christmas cookies, and about 25 people from the neighborhood came to hang out with us :)
The Christmas cookie fellowship was a big hit.

I'm sure it would have been safer and easier for the Good Samaritan to have left the beaten man on the side of the road, but God calls us to a higher standard. Will you dare to reach out and take risks? Will you find the courage to live life to the fullest?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent - Preparing for Jesus

by Pastor Bill

2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way; 3The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'" ~ Mark 1:2-3

It’s the Christmas season. Christmas lights are on the houses. Christmas songs are on the radio. And, department stores everywhere are open Christmas hours. Christmas is a joyful time of year.  Spirits are generally high. Christmas holiday parties with Christmas treats are held in offices all over the country. But, sadly, by mid-January, it seems that Christmas is just a faded memory.

Perhaps, as Christians, we need to worry less about the “war on Christmas,” and focus more on what the entire season is all about.  And, perhaps, we need to look no further than the liturgical roots of the season and come to a deeper understanding of Advent.

We’re right in the heart of our Advent series, and right in the heart of Advent.  But, for many of us, even many believers, our knowledge of Advent is very limited. In fact, despite the fact that I grew up in liturgical churches where there was great devotion to Advent colors and the Advent wreath, I assumed it was simply a celebration of the Christmas season.  What better way to prepare for Christmas than open a little window of an Advent calendar and get a piece of chocolate for 25 straight days!
Beyond the Advent calendar, I had never given much thought to the Advent season until a few years ago. It was then that I decided to really study Advent, what it meant, and why it was an important season (assuming it was).  

To make a long story short, the word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” As Christians, we are to prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. In Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savior’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” In the season with this name, we keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come.

While certainly the birth of our Savior is worthy of celebration, much like each of our birthdays, it’s far too easy to celebrate the remembrance of our birth on one given day, and quickly move on with the busyness of life. But, this should be a season of so much more.  Advent is a season of hope, a season of preparation, a season of joy, and a season of love. It’s a season of reflection of our deep need of the Savior who came some 2,000 years ago. It’s a season of expectation that He will return again to reign forevermore. 

Oh, that we would spend more energy on anticipating the return of Christ than we do worried whether the grocery clerk wished us a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holiday!” Let’s take this season and reflect on why Christ came the first time and that moment when he returns. You see, when we focus not just on Christ’s birth, but also on his return, we don’t have to experience a post-Christmas letdown. Our excitement, our hope, and our anticipation can last, long past the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Supertones Was His Name

Written by Pastor Rob Stevenson in 2006

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." ~ 1 John 4:10

(April 12, 2006) – Supertones was his name, after a Christian band popular in the 90s.  I didn’t want this active, little Dalmatian puppy 10 years ago when he came to us, but Bev and I felt like the Lord was saying, “Take him.”  So we did.  

About a week later, he contracted parvo virus, a deadly infection that few animals recover from.  He was a deathly ill little pooch.  One night, after many days of him not eating and being extremely sluggish, I stayed up all night with him.  I cradled Supertones in my arms, and hand fed him.  To my joy, he started nibbling on some regular dog food in the wee hours of that morning ordeal.  I was thrilled!  It was the beginning of his come back.  

  He hated my neighbors though.  Over time he had bitten the two kids, and jumped on and scratched the mom.  It was too much for me to handle having a dog I so enjoyed, that could act so hostile.  I had to put him down.  This was the HARDEST decision and action I have ever made.  I didn’t realize how difficult a task until after it was done, but taking him to the vet was hard enough.

I brought him into life by my hands, and I sent him to death by my hands.  I honestly could not see it any other way.  I felt as if I had to be the one, because he was my dog.  Then, afterwards, I realized each time I walked into the laundry room that I was thinking of him.  It dawned on me that I had fed him over 3,600 times in that place. I had given him water over 3,600 times each morning when I got up, walked into the kitchen, and was greeted with his expectant stare.  No wonder it was so tough. 

Then, it hit me that our Father God had sacrificed His Son so that we might live.  In addition, His Son had been totally innocent.  Even though our pets are animals, we have a capacity to love them, don’t we?  And the Father, His capacity to love us and to go through the agony of seeing His Son brutalized and killed had to be a devastating experience.  He did it for us.  Jesus did it for us.  Such love has no bounds, no limits, and no equal.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Lord for such a saving sacrifice.
-Rob Stevenson

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Enjoy a Breath of Heaven

Today we bring you a blast from the past. Acts 2 Dancers performed this lovely piece to "Breath of Heaven" back in 2010. This is in our old building and several of the dancers have moved on, but the message still stands strong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Back to Church

 by Dina Sleiman

 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. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

 National Back to Church Sunday was celebrated not long ago. What does back to church mean to you? How does it feel deep inside when you hear those words: back to church? Most of us know people who claim to love God, to even have accepted Jesus as their savior, but who want nothing to do with church. Maybe you are one of those people. Maybe the idea of church fills you with latent pain. Maybe with anxiety. Maybe you picture walking in the door and being judged. Maybe bitterness wells up inside of you as you recall all the hypocrites you've dealt with at church. Maybe you just want to lay low and avoid the drama.

 And little wonder. The church is full of wounded, messed-up people. 

People not so different from you and me.

But the church is also the expression on earth of the body of Christ. And it is through that body that we can experience the fullness of Christ. The church helps us grow in maturity, in the Word, and in relationship with God. The church gives us a place to minister and be ministered to. It joins us together with a group believers so that we can increase our impact in outreach to others. And it gives us a place where we can worship in a group and experience God in different ways than we do when we are alone.

One big happy family on our Acts 2 Mission Trip
So how do we find a good church? Not a perfect church of course, because that doesn't exist. But a relatively healthy church where we can grow and thrive. Here are my top tips.
1) Find a church that exudes love and acceptance
2) Find a church that focuses on Biblical teaching
3) Find a church with a culture that fits you

A culture? Aren't we talking about church? Didn't I already define the "culture" in the word "Biblical?" Actually, no. Not at all. Much of what legalistic churches try to promote as scriptural requirements for worship are really more about culture and personality than holiness. The truth is, healthy Bible-based churches come in all shapes and sizes.
Acts 2 Contemporary Worship Band
There are big churches, small churches, contemporary churches, traditional churches, casual churches, and fancy churches. There are simple, cozy churches and flashy, high-tech churches. There are biker churches and cowboy churches. Messianic and Mennonite churches. And don't even get me started on music. Church music comes in about every style. Chants, hymns, gospel, country, pop, and heavy-metal, just to name a few.

My guess is, if you don't like church, you just haven't met the right one.

So what kind of church is Acts 2? We're small, Bible-based, family-friendly, casual, contemporary, and spirit-filled. Our music is mostly typical contemporary with occasional hymns, oldies but goodies, folk songs, and even rock style moments mixed in. We're a close knit family who also reaches out to the world around us.
Ministering to others on our Mission Trip to West Virginia
It's simple really. We encourage and uplift each other. We support one another in this Christian walk. And when you think of it that way, "Back to Church" sounds pretty appealing. If you don't currently have a church, we invite you to visit Acts 2 Church and see if we might be a good fit for you. You won't know until you try.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Father and Son

by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

 “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” ~ James 4:8

This isn’t a blog about sports. This is a story about a father and a son. Of course, you would be right if you are expecting sports to make an appearance.  Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com wrote a really good story about the new General Manager of the Cleveland Indians and his father who works for a sports radio station in New York.  You can read the whole story here

Unsurprisingly, this father (Mark) and son (Mike) bonded for many years over their love for baseball. In particular, they spent countless hours playing catch as the son grew from just a young boy in love with baseball to a young man who found himself working for a professional baseball team. Mark and Mike have taken the tradition of “having a catch” that so many fathers and sons (or daughters) have enjoyed through the years and have taken it to the next level.

As Rosenthal’s story tells, it began innocently enough, but Mark and Mike Chernoff have had a catch together at least once in every calendar month for nearly 30 years.  As their lives have become busier, it hasn’t always been easy. They’ve gone to some extreme measures to keep their tradition alive. But, they’ve prioritized it, and remain loyal to this special time together.

So, why am I writing about it here? Seemingly, this is a nice tradition, but what does this have to do with our faith?

It’s not an accident that God, the Father, refers to us as his sons and daughters. I think he allows us to fulfill the role of parent so that we could have a small glimpse into his heart. You see, Mark and Mike Chernoff have prioritized their time together. They’ve been willing to spend thousands of dollars on airfare, rearrange schedules, and suffer through having catches in the cold, all to have that special time together.

So, here’s the question. Do you prioritize a special time with your Heavenly Father? Are you willing to go out of your way, to be inconvenienced, to give up your own comforts to spend time with Him? How much does he mean to you? How much does your time with him mean? Is it a real priority or does it happen only at your convenience?  Your Father God is always ready for a catch. Grab your glove and head to the backyard. I promise, you’ll find Him there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lessons from Potiphar's Wife

 by Bryan Stevenson

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age - Titus 2:11-1

I was in high school when I had an epiphany about the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife from Genesis 39. I even wrote a song about it. The song wasn’t any good, but I remember that Dad was predictably impressed. (He was always impressed by his kids and grand kids, and he wasn’t shy about praising them.) The story spoke to me because Potiphar’s wife represented any sin or temptation that I was struggling with, and Joseph’s response illustrated one way to deal with that temptation. He fled. That isn’t a very manly thing to do, to run away and not even face down your enemy. It seems to show weakness in the face of temptation. However, throughout my adult life I’ve applied the tactic multiple times.

Ideally, we’d all have the self control necessary to stand firm in our convictions, but sometimes avoidance is an act of self control itself. As an example, instead of buying ice cream and disciplining myself to only have small servings on rare occasions, I will not buy the ice cream in the first place. It is much easier to decide once, at the grocery store, to avoid temptation, than it is to face it down every single time I open the freezer. It turns out that science supports this technique. In fact, your willpower is finite. It depletes itself every time you use it, and needs to be rested and restored periodically.

Self control isn’t only about continually denying yourself, or continually choosing to do what is right. Self control also requires the wisdom to know how to most efficiently and effectively use it. For example, if you struggle to set aside time to exercise, schedule to work out with someone who will hold you accountable to be there. If you waste time or watch things you shouldn’t on the internet, put up internet filters to protect your home and your mind. If you abuse your credit cards, get rid of them. All of these techniques require some self control to implement, but end up helping you make the right decisions going forward. Like Joseph, you run away once, and in this way don’t drain your pool of available willpower unnecessarily.

So, I guess Joseph was onto something when he split, leaving his coat behind in the hands of the seductress. Of course, it didn’t turn out perfectly for him at first. He ended up being accused of rape and thrown in jail. However, he did successfully resist temptation. That set the stage for even greater things in his life going forward, and the same will be true for us as we exercise good judgement and self control.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Put Down the Headphones

Running and I have such an on and off relationship.  Recently I have loved it, but I fully attributed that to me finally downloading good music and buying decent headphones.  The burning in my lungs and the fatigue of my legs somehow becomes fun while listening to "Hey Jude."

 I didn't run for most of my mission team training week because most of the days were exhausting on their own.  However on Thursday my team did not have to meet until 10 A.M.  We were stoked!  My co-leader, Adam, and I decided to have an optional time of prayer at 9 for those overachievers who were looking for a challenge.  I was exhausted.  This was the break my body was looking for.  BUT this was training week which meant my spirit had a much louder voice.

 I decided to wake up early.  I put on my running shoes, grabbed my headphones, and headed towards the door.  That was when I remembered that when I finally downloaded good music it had deleted my Kari Jobe album and I was completely devoid of Christian tunes.  "It's not a big deal," I told myself.  But it was.  I was being intentional about not only avoiding social media, secular music, and anything that could be a distraction.  So I said "Hey God, I am trying to challenge myself by running, but I can't do it without headphones.  Is it cool if I listen to this music?"

He didn't tell me that it "wasn't cool" if I listened to secular music.  Instead, He asked if I would let Him be enough.  Wow.  That was the moment I had to stop making excuses.  God wanted to be my enough.  Well, I'm not a big fan of telling the creator of the universe that He isn't enough, so I put the headphones down.  Instead of jamming to "Say Something", I prayed.  I prayed for each of the members of my team.  It was hard, definitely harder than running with music, but it felt glorious at the same time.

During the 9 A.M. prayer time my team had, I took a moment to write down what God was telling me about each of my members.  Those simple sentences were later used to speak life and prophecy into the lives of my team.  Some of what was shown to me I was privileged to tell them that day, other parts were saved for commissioning night, and some were never told at all.  That's not the important part.  What was important was that I listened.

I will always remember Thursday, May 7 as the day that I listened.  I woke up.  I put down the headphones.  I wrote down what God told me.  These were all three very small steps that set up my day to be remarkable.  In these tiny steps of obedience I learned that for each step you take, the Lord takes a mile.  God is omnipotent.  He has the power to do anything, but I believe that He often waits for us to make a move.  What better way is there for us to show faith?  And love?  And then there are those times where it feels like we keep taking more and more steps and yet we see nothing.  I believe that He is still moving.  That is where true faith comes in, the kind of faith that Jesus mentioned in John 20:29.  Faith in that which you cannot see.

 I learned something else that day.  Okay, I learned a lot of lessons that day, but one that I have to tell you.  Every hour spent with God is an hour spent in victory.  To me, God is not invisible.  I see Him in His creation, in little things like sunsets and tall trees.  These wonders are reflections of their Creator.  Man, if those are just reflections, I cannot begin to imagine the mind-blowing beauty of the Lord.  Every second spent serving this indescribable God is not deserved yet freely given.  And the enemy tries to distract and persuade us away from this!  He uses excuses like being too busy or having time later on me all the time, so I bet he uses it on others too.  He really isn't that creative.  Another way that my time of victory is robbed is when my mind and heart are not fully engaged.  It's like I'm having dinner with God but texting someone else the whole time.  Sure I still eat, but the quality and purpose is completely lost.

 Compared to the insane amount of love and sacrifice the Lord pours on us, He does not ask for much.  However, what He does ask for often seems like way too much in the moment.  Or like it's not a big deal so why even bother.  I am making it a personal goal to look for the little steps I can take, the minor moments where I can say "yes" to God so that when the bigger moments come I already know how.  On Thursday, May 7, I put down my headphones.  It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dancing with Passion

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

I wear a few hats in life. In addition to being the Acts 2 Church administrative assistant, I also serve as the worship dance team leader, and outside of church life, I'm a published inspirational novelist.  I often describe my writing as “lyrical stories that dance with light.” My novels include books like, Dance of the Dandelion, Dance from Deep Within, and Love in Three-Quarter Time. Hmm. Do you see a recurring theme here? Yes, I love dance. It’s a huge part of who I am, how I live, how I write, and even how I relate to God.
I have had the honor serving as a worship dance choreographer and director for the better part of twenty-two years, and I have discovered that dance is at its core, a form of communication. It can be used in as many ways as words themselves: worship, praise, prayer, intercession, warfare, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, and yes, even fun and entertainment.

Throughout my writing, dance becomes a metaphor for life: for the willingness to step beyond yourself, to embrace the wonder about you, to move in harmony with the universe. Yet dance is an actual physical expression as well. As joy and celebration build within, they require an outlet. And so, our hands and feet begin to move, our bodies begin to sing and flow, releasing emotions from our hearts and culminating in dance. Even releasing the heavenlies deep within through our fingertips and toes.

Dance is a fundamental form of human expression. It can be found throughout history in nearly every culture. It can be found in the Old Testament as a form of celebration, praise, and worship. Dance is often a community expression, drawing us together in unity and love. David danced before the Lord with all his might, and God was well pleased. Even Jesus spoke of his frustration with the generation around him by saying in Matthew 11, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.” Yet how often do we stifle this wondrous outlet?

Most churches today that incorporate contemporary choruses sing songs about dance. “Dance with me, oh lover of my soul.” "Dancers who dance upon injustice.” “We will dance on the streets that are golden.” “Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace.” The list goes on and on, but do we take it seriously, or do we stand still and sing the words, hampering our bodies from becoming living, breathing expressions of praise. 

Romans 12:1 instructs, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Of course this scripture has many applications, but I prefer to take it quite literally.

I encourage you, in your church, at home, in your prayer closet, and throughout your life to offer up your bodies as living sacrifices of praise. Embrace and enjoy the wonder of dance. Take time to relate with God through this amazing form of expression. And join me as I explore the unforced rhythms of grace. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Get Off the Sidelines

by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  ~ Matthew 28:19-20

I’m a huge sports fan. I think some of the greatest life lessons are learned on the fields and courts of our society. Sport, in many ways, is a fascinating parallel to the church. On a playing field, you’ll have a few different roles.  

There are the coaches: Encouraging. Uplifting. Correcting. 
There are the players: Running. Jumping. Working. Sweating. Giving their all.
There are the referees: Keeping order. Enforcing rules.

Then, there are the fans.  They are the most interesting.  Many of them believe they have all of the answers.  If the coach would just say this or use this strategy. If the players would just work harder. If the referee would just be better at his job. Frankly, if everyone else did just what I say, this entire event would be better off.  Fans seem to have all of the answers.  They don’t necessarily want to put in the work required to secure the victory, they don’t necessarily want to be held accountable when things go awry, yet they continue to offer up “ideas” through their vocal displays of displeasure.

Sadly, I think we have too many fans in the Church. Few feel “called” to do ministry.  Fewer still feel a calling to lead others. But, many have plenty of ideas on how to “make church better.”  Many church suggestion boxes and Pastors’ inboxes are filled each week with suggestions to do a particular Bible study, a particular missions trip, or volunteer opportunities in a particular neighborhood.  Yet, far too few Christians want to be the actual players in the game.  The bible study is a good idea, if someone else leads it. The missions trip would be awesome; as long as it doesn’t conflict with my vacation. Serving that community could really be impactful, but I wanted to plant flowers and you’ve decided to paint houses.

I think many pastors simply get tired of hearing about good ideas for the church. It’s not that pastors don’t want to hear of new ideas.  Most do.  But, we need more players and fewer fans. The ideas are great, but it’s wholly unfair to expect the Pastor to implement every idea on his own. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”   New ideas are the easy part. We must, as James 1:22 tells us, become “doers of the Word.”  Scripture is full of action words. Go, do, speak, exhort, oppose. Yet, so many believers passively approach applying scripture to their lives. 

Brothers and sisters, the time of simply spectating is over.  It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Thoughts on Meditation

 by Bryan Stevenson

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. ~ Psalm 104:34
I’m not writing about anything new. It’s not even new to me. One of my pastors, Marty Angell, gave a message about meditation many years ago. He explained how Christians would often question meditation because of its ties with Eastern religions, but instead we should embrace it as a vital part of a Biblical life. That stuck with me. I’ve had the head knowledge, and I’ve intermittently put it into practice over the years. However, our recent trip with The Center for Short Term Missions, and Jaron’s trip with Global Expeditions, have made the concept more real to me than ever before.

One of the benefits of leaving your home town for a missions trip is that it forcibly pushes you away from your daily routine. It encourages introspection and spirituality, both things that are lacking in a typical American week. So, while in West Virginia we woke up, had breakfast, and then spent an hour or so reading through a study, reading the Bible, and having “quiet time.” (I think the term “quiet time” was invented by American Christians as a substitute for the more uncomfortable feeling word, “meditation.”) Jaron also spent time each morning journaling and reading Scripture. We don’t do this in our daily lives. Personally, I pray every day, typically while walking into my office, or as I fall asleep at night. I’m obviously not very focused, nor am I giving my best.

My Indian co-workers tell me about the rigors of Hindu meditation. Those practitioners take it seriously. They will often set up a shrine in their house, sometimes in a separate room. The sole purpose of that room is for meditation and prayer. There is something to this idea of setting aside a time and a place in our lives for the spiritual. There was a small prayer room at the Baptist church I attended in high school. I always felt a sense of the sacred when I went into that room. The atmosphere set the stage for an encounter with the Divine. I’ve had similar experiences in nature, out on a small boat in the Atlantic, standing in an icy stream just after dawn, watching the waves crash to shore with the sun setting behind my back, or sitting on a patio in the mountains drinking a cup of coffee with Dad. Those times of quiet reflection will lead to personal growth if we allow them to take hold.

The missions trip gave us two things that helped focus our meditation. The first was purpose. The second was location. Now that I’m back home I recognize that I need to set up those same two ingredients. The purposeful setting aside of a time and a place to meditate on the Lord, Scripture, the world, and my place in it.

I’ve thrown the idea up against the wall … now let’s see if I can make it stick.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unforgettable Individuals

  by Christi Sleiman

 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
 ~ I Corinthians 4:8-10

I'm an extrovert, so having a conversation is like breathing to me.  Yes, they are necessary to life for me, but not something that I really think about.  More of a natural thing.  I had countless conversations on my mission trip to Israel and Palestine, but like most breaths, almost all of them will be forgotten.   However, two people I spoke to left such an impression on my heart that forgetting them is impossible.
One woman I spoke to translated for a youth service we did in Bethlehem.  She was upbeat and positive, but upon truly getting to know her it was apparent that her life is full of pain.  She is a member of what we call the persecuted church.  She doesn't fit in with the Muslims for obvious reasons but also cannot get along with traditional Christians.  Her kids get in verbal fights at their catholic school until they finally silence themselves about their faith.  She can't let her kids play at the park because the other kids won't accept them.  Her kids aren't allowed to run two minutes away to the store for candy because the streets aren't safe for them.  I cannot imagine trying to explain to my children why they cannot live like the others around them.  She lives in fear of Isis mere hours and checkpoints away.  I had the honor of praying for her that day, and I continue to keep her and the rest of her church family in my thoughts and prayers.
At a block party hosted by a church, I sat down to have what turned into the most insightful conversation of my life with a 90-year-old man.  He was charming and had kind eyes and became like a father to me.  What I thought would be five minutes of chatting turned into two hours of learning about his past joys and pains.  He was originally from Jerusalem but was made into a refugee and relocated to Bethlehem after Israel was reestablished as a nation.  He went by Abu Jonny because his oldest son's name was Jonny.  My dad's name in that regard is Abu Jonny too, so we connected on that fact.  His son Jonny passed away, which he told me while holding back tears.  He has lost so much, yet his love of life and love for God shine through it all.  He taught me the value of family.  Yes, he told me about his past job as a judge and bus driver instructor, but the only thing that really mattered to him was his loved ones.  It reminded me that when everything is said and done, family will be all that is left.
I'm sorry that I could only scratch the surface on what these two showed me.  I can't fit into one blog post what was said and how it changed me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reasons for Reaching Out

As a church, Acts 2 has been stepping up this year in the area of outreach. In addition to our mission trip this summer, we are also planning more outreaches to the community than we have in the past. But why reach out? Some might suggest that evangelism is not about social programs, and there is some truth in that. Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the good news to all men. But going into the community and blessing people is a primary way we can build bridges and create space for sharing the good news of Jesus in a receptive environment. Beyond that, reaching out to the poor and hurting fulfills a different but equally important instruction that Jesus gave us. Here are four very important goals for reaching out to our communities and beyond.

1. Good Impressions. Sadly, many people in our contemporary culture have a very bad impression of Christians and the church. Christians are often viewed as close-minded, hypocritical, judgmental, and downright mean people. Perhaps that's because those sort of misguided "Christians" tend to be the most vocal about their faith. But the quiet majority of goodhearted, true Christians need to rise up and change those impressions. We need to be loving, giving, accessible people of integrity who can be trusted. We need to exude God's peace and joy. We need to be reaching out to the world both through intentional outreach programs and also through our daily living. That combined with an occasional mention that we are indeed followers of Christ and that we do attend a wonderful church will begin to change those bad impressions to good impression, and open people to the good news of Jesus and to the church.

Acts 2 members reaching out through service
2. Have Conversations. Outreach opens opportunities to get to know people. Not preach at them, but to ask them questions about themselves. To open a give and take of information that will show that you care about them as individuals. These conversations make a space for the Holy Spirit to move. If the conversation is going well, you might even bring up an issue related to faith. For example, "Do you attend a church?" or "What is your background with religion?" Maybe you're afraid that those sorts of questions might bring out anger in that person, but if they do, you will learn something very important about where the person is and how you can pray for them. You might even have an opportunity to apologize on behalf of Christians and share what true Christianity is all about. Or perhaps you're concerned that the conversation could bring up questions that you're not prepared to answer. That's a okay. Just say something like, "That's a good question. Let me think about that and we'll talk some more later." You can always take those questions to your church leaders and get their input. And guess what? You'll have a chance for another conversation.

3. Prayer Invitation. If a conversation goes well, you will also have an opportunity to ask someone to pray. Before you say good-bye, ask them if you can pray for them about anything. About half of the time, people will say yes. But don't be shy; take it a step further. If their answer is something friendly along the lines of, "Oh no. I'm fine. Thanks," ask if you can pray for them anyway. At that point the vast majority will answer yes. Prayer is another way we can show our love and concern in a tangible manner. More importantly, it opens a very immediate and powerful channel for the Holy Spirit to minister to their spirits. Because in the end, it's God's job to move in people's hearts and change them. We are merely the messengers.

Acts 2 kids having fun and reaching out
4. Jesus's Instruction. But perhaps the most vital reason to reach out to the needy and hurting is because Jesus tells us to. By reaching out to other people, we bless the God who created them in His image and loves them. We also change our own hearts, both through humbly serving, and also through getting a better perspective on our own lives. So even if we never change another person, never get anyone to accept Christ, never add one member to our church, through reaching out and blessing others, we have pleased God and fulfilled His instruction. I will leave you with this powerful message from Jesus in Matthew 25.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The 12th Man

by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

It’s football season.  And in every stadium around the country, the teams are putting 11 men on the field in a physical game of combat.  But, the home team always has an advantage.  They always have “The Twelfth Man.” Every fan believes that even if they never touch the field, they are the difference maker.

Does anybody remember how many disciples Jesus chose? Twelve. This is not a coincidence, okay? It's not an accident. No other rabbi had 12 disciples. All other rabbis had disciples. No other rabbi we know of had 12 disciples. Nobody would have. It was too presumptuous. When Jesus chose 12 disciples, he was making a claim. It was a really clear claim, and it was a very dangerous claim. It was part of what got him killed.

He was saying to all of Israel (he was saying to Rome, for that matter) that what God began so long ago with the 12 sons of Jacob, with the 12 tribes that have been lost, that have been broken, that everybody aches to see restored, God is now beginning again, redeeming, recreating through Jesus. This is one of the most audacious acts of Jesus' whole ministry. It's the number 12. He chooses 12 disciples. He says, "Take a look at these 12 guys. These are the 12 tribes. This is the whole people of God, God's redeemed community on earth. God's dream is beginning again with me and these 12 guys."

The disciples loved being the Twelve. It was like, "We're it!" Individually, they didn't look like much. There was Peter the denier, Judas the betrayer, Thomas the doubter. Individually, they looked a lot more like Snow White and the seven dwarfs, but together, they were the Twelve. They loved being the Twelve. That's why they argued about who was the greatest. "We're the Twelve. It's all starting again in us!" Now at the end of the gospel, there's the crucifixion, the resurrection. Jesus is going to send them out, but Matthew says there are only 11. In other words, they're not whole anymore. They're not perfect anymore. This is a wrong number. There are not enough. They are not ready.

Dale Bruner, who is a great New Testament scholar, writes this: "The number 'eleven' limps; it is not perfect like twelve. […] The church that Jesus sends into the world is 'elevenish,' imperfect, fallible." Inadequate. Jesus did not say, "First let's get enough numbers." He doesn't say, "First let's get enough faith." He says, "You go. We'll work on the numbers thing, and we'll work on the faith thing while you're doing the obedience thing. You will learn as you go, but I'm going to send you out ready or not. I'm going to send you out ready or not!"

The truth is this is not just true of the disciples. This is the theme throughout the Bible. In the Bible when God calls somebody to do something, as far as I know, nobody ever responds by saying, "I'm ready! Good timing! You came to me at just the right moment when my tank is all filled up, and I'm adequately prepared." Over and over again, God says to Moses, "I want you to go to Pharaoh and say, 'Let my people go.'" Moses says, "Really? Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."

God comes to Gideon and says, "I want you to liberate my people." Gideon says, "But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." God comes to Abraham. "I want to begin a new community in you." Abraham says, "Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? There's like no pharmaceutical help involved here at all? I don't think so." God comes to Jeremiah. Jeremiah says, "Ah, sovereign Lord, I'm only a child. I don't think so."

Have you ever gone skydiving? Or maybe bungee jumping? I haven't had the chance to do either, but I really want to do so. But, one thing I know, when I'm 10-15,000 feet in the air, and the door to the plane opens, and they ask me, "Are you ready?" there is zero chance I'm going to be "ready" to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and hope a giant tablecloth is going to prevent me from face-planting at 100 mph. Or, when bungee jumping, there is zero chance that I'll be "ready" to jump from a bridge or any other tall contraption and hope this giant rubber band doesn't snap. But, I'll jump. I'm a thrill seeker. I'll jump.

Jesus takes his friends up a mountain one time, and they're staring off a cliff. There are not enough of them. The ones who are there don't have enough faith. It doesn't matter. The reason is not that they're ready; the reason is Jesus is ready. Because when you go…you have to go even though you don't feel ready. You have to risk. You have to try. You have to share. You have to give. You have to connect. You have to trust.

The reason you do it is not that you feel ready. It's because you won't be alone. See, we're "elevenish." We always are. I was thinking about this. Do some of you remember who won the Super Bowl in 2014? The Seattle Seahawks. They won the Super Bowl, and they had a secret weapon. They say they have the loudest fans in the NFL. Nobody wants to go to Seattle to play. They actually set a Guinness World Record of 136.7 decibels in their stadium.

One hundred decibels of sound will create hearing loss. One hundred and thirty decibels is like being within a football field of a jet takeoff. They cranked up to 136.7 decibels. They called their fans the "twelfth man." They actually put a flag up in their stadium to the twelfth man. They say, "We never would have won without the twelfth man." Jesus says, "Don't worry about only 11. You're forgetting the twelfth man: me. I'll be with you."