Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 19--Eastbrook

Today was pretty sweet. Aaron apparently left for a painting job at 5:30 (ouch!), but managed to avoid waking me up. I left for Eastbrook Church at 8:30, where we pretty quickly got into tutoring. I was the designated math tutor, and spent the first hour or so working one-on-one with a woman named Alice. She liked to work quietly as I imagine I do, and I would wait for her to finish a worksheet before grading it on the spot and answering her questions. Anna and Gloria, my teammates who had also come to Eastbrook, were similarly engaged one-on-one; Gloria was tutoring a jovial older woman named Mary Ann on math across from me and Alice. It was quite chill (partially due to the miraculously cool weather today) and, I hope, beneficial for the students. I was sad to see how much these adults (often over twice my age) struggled with basic math, but I was glad to be able to help.

For background, I'm a graduate and teaching assistant in a program at the U of M that teaches accelerated math to talented young students, so I have some experience helping others understand math. But eager and bright middle schoolers are quite different than adults with little more education who haven't studied math in decades. I tried to be more encouraging than challenging; the one-on-one interection of the learning center made this easier.

In late afternoon, we all got into a small group to go through part of the American classic play A Raisin in the Sun. (Which I hadn't heard of until today) It was a pretty depressing scene in which a 50s-era African-American family is politely encouraged not to buy a house in a white neighborhood and loses the deceased grandpa's life savings. (I got to read for the racist chairman of the "Clybourne Park Improvement Association" and the bearer of the bad news) Again, I was saddened by the difficulties some of the students had with reading the play, but the de facto English teacher was very helpful, guiding them through difficult words and explaining allusions and other minutiae for the sake of enlightenment.

Most of the students went home around lunch time, but I got paired up with a younger-looking, tatooed guy named Chad. He looked like the kind of guy I wouldn't want to get too angry, but he was quite polite in learning math and I tried to respect and challenge him. Bob informed me afterward that he was very much an unchurched person, and I hope today was a positive experience for him.

Then for the rest of the afternoon I helped James work work on his math skills for getting into Milwaukee Area Technical College. The others students were mostly gone, and I pretty much got to relax between helping James on worksheets. After he left, we were done; I was amazed by how much less draining Eastbrook is than Hopewell. (Is that a good thing?) Pray that God would be glorified in all that we do at the learning center (and back at Hopewell and at the VBS the other team is running at Straightway Vineyard), and that we would rely on His strength in all that we do!

Composed ~4:00 PM, Tuesday, June 29th

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 18--Eastbrook!

The last two days have been pretty sweet. After we left off yesterday, it was time for planning meetings. The vocational ministry meeting was fairly uneventful, except for Erica joining us from workplace ministry. Also the news that our group would apparently be split between Eastbrook Church and Hopewell for Tuesday through Friday this week. I felt kind of bad for it, but I really didn't want to return to Hopewell. After this was the "weekly weekly meeting meeting", which was pretty good after the success of our first meeting. We're meeting in a nearby church from now on, which will be interesting; I can't wait to see it.

We didn't go to Eastbrook until about noon, so I had plenty of time to eat, have quiet time, listen to music, and start rendering a fractal flame. We'll be ministering this week in the church's learning center, helping adults get their GEDs and work on computer skills. The computer part and the center's focus on building math skills made me very sure that Eastbrook was the place for me, especially considering my experience as a math TA. The director of the center, Bob Brock, was a really cool guy

After learning about the center, we went out to pass out more fliers to the neighborhood, door-to-door. Luckily the weather was much cooler and breezier today, and after a bit of nervousness I got pretty good at going up to doors alone and inviting people to the center. Pretty much everyone was polite and some showed genuine interest, including a few people who said they'd come.

So, needless to say I'll be staying at Eastbrook this week. I'm excited to use the skills God has given me to help people get on their educational feet! Be praying that God will help me and the rest of the team rely on Him and bring His love to Eastbrook, Hopewell, and Straightway this week!

Composed ~4:50 PM, Monday, June 28th

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Days 15-17: Epic Weekend

Hey, I haven't posted for two days! Soon you won't hear from me at all!

This weekend has had some pretty intense highs and lows. Friday was our last day at Hopewell. It went pretty well; we discussed the Resurrection and some of the kids really seemed interested. We also got them into the reflex-based card game Egyptian Rat [Catcher/Slap/Screw/Race/Whatever], which proved to be a hit. There were very few kids in the morning, but more little ones kept trickling in and were quite a handful by the end of the day. One nine-year-old kept wanting piggyback rides, which was exhausting. My friends were pretty sad to be leaving, but I was mostly exhausted and honestly kind of relieved to be done. This was kind of troubling; I didn't think I should have been so eager to be done.

Anyway, after leaving Hopewell we had a few hours to relax before meeting up for the latest social event. I used some of this time to shave off my beard. I've had it for over half a year, since last December, but it felt kind of awkward while working with the kids, and was less than optimal in the nasty heat. (For those who didn't hear on Facebook, Milwaukee basically has two types of weather: horribly hot, humid, and cloudless days, and severe thunderstorms. A storm woke me up again last night, and hours after some daytime downpours we had more heat) Having a naked face feels pretty weird; after hte beard came off I just spent a few minutes touching my chin for the first time in months. Peoples' reactions were pretty good, but now I'm afraid I have a reputation for changing my apparance weekly, so I'm not sure how to keep that up.

We were apparently driving out to Oconomowoc (or some other incomprehensible Wisconsin place name), where a family affiliated with Cru, the Pekowskis or something, was hosting a party for us in their lakefront home. It was a pretty long drive, made longer by our taking city streets to avoid Summerfest/rush hour traffic. We got way out into the country, eventually reaching a picturesque road lined by old trees. (I wish I'd gotten a picture) The house was pretty amazing, with a great deck and a heated indoor poor (for wintertime, I guess). It was situated on a beautiful lake with a speed boat and pontoon.

After consuming some munchies, I got to go out on both boats. The pontoon ride was a wonderful cruise around "Crazy Man's Island" (Mr. Pekowski says you'd have to be crazy to live on it). We ran into the speed boat attempting to take people wakeboarding on our way. After both boats came back, I climbed onto the speed boat and we took off into open water. People then lined up to try their hands at wakeboarding. Most didn't have a chance; Jessi got going for a few seconds, but that was pretty much it. Still a fun stop-and-start time on the water. After everyone else was done, the older of the brothers who were piloting the boat got in and immediately began doing all sorts of crazy flips and tricks off the wake. It was extremely cool (and probably depressing to everyone who had tried it).

After we got back, grilled dinner was served and we pretty much hung out for the rest of the night. A fire and s'mores were made at some point. The highlight of the night were the quasi-legal fireworks, which were basically scaled-down versions of a 4th of July show. It was crazy fun. Overall, it was awesome fellowship and a great way to unwind after a stressful week. I was dead tired by the time we got back after 11:30 and pretty much went to bed immediately.

The next day we were helping with a kids' event run by City on a Hill, Super Saturday! It was basically a carnival with face painting, games, crafts, and a presentation of the gospel. Most of my work for it involved canvassing the neighboorhood handing out fliers and telling people to bring their kids. I'd had breakfast at around 8:30 under the assumption we'd get lunch during the training. Wrong! By 2:00 I was pretty dead when we finally returned to City on a Hill. As they seated the kids for the assembly (which pretty much put everything we did at Hopewell to shame), I had to slip upstairs for late lunch. After returning I hung out with the kids a bit and handed out journals (basically reflection/homework) as they left. It was hot outside and we were pretty exhausted by the time we'd finished packing everything up.

For dinner we went to Bayshore Mall again, where I knew there was a Five Guys (purveyors of the best hamburgers and fries you'll ever taste). Tim had to take his MacBook in to the Apple store to get a new battery, and there was also interest in visiting Barnes and Noble. I think I was the only one who got a book (a collection of George MacDonald quotes by C.S. Lewis). Five Guys was delicious, but surprisingly filling, to the point where I felt sick afterward.

After returning everyone downstairs decided to play "Underground Church"--basically Sardines, but with more strategy. One player had to go and hide to "plant" the church; everyone else then tried to find and "join" the church while avoiding capture by the two Roman guards. After this we converted the lounge into a movie room for Slumdog Millionaire. I declined to watch it, both because it was by this point disgustingly hot downstairs and because I was increasingly feeling a need for some reflection.

I was dissatisfied with how I handled the first week of ministry; like I discussed with Dave, I had trouble really engaging with the kids and I felt drained at the end of the week, not full of the Spirit. Project has been redefining what it means to trust God and showing me what true Christian love really looks like; it's good to get a clearer picture of how I'm valled to live, but at the same time it's sobering to realize how impossible this mission is on my own. I'm also feeling increasingly convicted of my sin as sin--not just problems in my life, but a persistent attitude of apathy and rebellion against God--as Owen puts it, an aversation to Christian service because selfishness has taken the place of love for God.

Today we went to Straightway Vineyard, the ministry site for the other vocational team next week. It was apparently in a converted warehouse, with one room set up pretty nicely as a small sanctuary. Their attendance was apparently surprisingly low this week. so Here's Life was about half of the conrgegation. The worship songs were surprisingly all new to me, but unlike the last two churches there were projected lyrics so I could participate. The pastor was informal, but Biblical and very good, remeniscent of Pastor Styeve from Hope Community CHurch at the U. Plus the sermon was on one of my favorite chapters, 1 Corinthians 13, and what living a Christian life of dynamic love looks like. One quote that was encouraging for me: "When people see that God is working with broken people, it's glory to God."

After that we went back out into the 'burbs to a staffer's dad's house for lunch. Much good chicken and fellowship was had. (And delicious dessert: ice cream sandwiched between Rice Krispy bars) This weekend has been most recharging and hope-giving after the week's discouragement. Next week we're tutoring young adults at Eastbrook Church, which shouldn't be nearly as nasty or cut into my quiet time with curriculum meetings. Be praying that God would use the broken people on our team to do His kingdom work and glorify Himself in Milwaukee!

Composed ~3:00 PM, Sunday, June 27th

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 14--Getting Better

It's hard to believe I've been here two weeks--I can't decide if it feels more like two days or two months. It's been really challenging and testing pretty much every day, but at the same time everything seems to fly by.

Today was our first day of ministry with the team split in half. We stayed at Hopewell, and team two went to another place running a VBS called Straightway. Luckily some workplace ministry people who had nothing else to do for various reasons came along, so we still had nine people total. We were also there for only half the day due to coming back to help COAH with some ministry work in the afternoon.

Anyway, today was pretty good. We did the cruxifixion today for the lesson, which didn't turn out to be overly heavy and depressing but actually went quite well. With Jack gone, I led the older guys' lesson with Aaron helping. I think it went pretty well; I came up with some good discussion questions and some of the guys seemed pretty engaged and interested. (Some of the younger ones were still screwing around, which was saddening)

The one-day workplace volunteers got along very well with the kids. Aaron led his team to victory in basketball, Tim and Erica got along quite well with the younger kids, and Cheryl led one of the older girls to Christ!! Praise the Lord! I remember her asking if I had one of Campus Crusade's evangelism booklets and getting really excited.

After getting back from that and eating lunch (leftover jambalaya--mmm!), we joined the COAH staff for some evangelism with their students. At the same time as our summer-long mission, high and middle school students have been filtering in ando ut for one-week mission trips focusing on awareness of inner city life, evangelism training, and basically building their faith. We were doing some various evangelism techniques; I got to run a "prayer booth" with Emily, Daniel the COAH staffer, and Nick, one of the mission trip students.

We carried the sign and table out to an island in a big intersection near the ministry center and basically asked passersby if they wanted prayer. Some simply ignored us, but I'd say the majority were surprisingly open, asking for prayer on a variety of things. Everyone who asked for prayer was thankful for it; my favorite was a woman named Cheryl who pulled up asked for prayer on a failing kidney. A minute later, she ran up, having apparently parked on a side street, and prayed with us. It was really encouraging and good to be doing even something so simple for the city. It was also nice from an evangelism perspective to see how open peoples' hearts are, if only to prayer.

After that we came back exhausted and had delicious tacos for dinner. The second reflection night is tonight, and I feel called to work on my testimony during it. (We're all sharing them during project; I'm registered for July 14th) Pray that God would keep encouraging me and open my eyes to see His work through me instead of my own inadequate efforts. God bless!

Composed ~6:00 PM, Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 13

Today started as another seven-hour day of ministry. Cameron was intermittently better and still worrisome today; he was sometimes engaging with the other kids and having fun, and at other times closing off and not participating. Sandra (the leader of the program) told me he has ADHD, which I'm still not sure how it explains everything. But overall he seemed better today and I really hope he's getting something from the program.

Otherwise things were chaotic and stressful as usual, but improving. The program has several volunteers from the neighborhood, whom we're still figuring out how to employ. They were increasingly helpful today, with one even leading a worship song in the afternoon! We had some decent games, and as usual they heartily enjoyed basketball. Perhaps most importantly, they (the older kids) seemed pretty engaged and comprehending in the Bible lesson on jesus feeding the 5,000. I guess I can only pray that God really is getting through to them through us.

After the exhausting day was over, it was time for more discipleship with Dave! We drove out to Alterra coffee shop, where we talked over the challenges of our ministry. This week has been challenging like I've never been challenged before, which I'm glad for, but it's pretty straining for my faith to trust God in such a constant, day-to-day way. I've been having trouble really connecting with the kids and finding ways to fit in with them; at the end of the day of ministry, I ultimately have to trust God to work His will out through all our imperfections. Dave shared the story of Gideon with me; how God took the most unlikely person and led him to defeat the Midianites in the most impossible circumstances. If God used him, can't he use me and the rest of the team?

So it was a pretty reassuring discipleship. He also suggested abiding in God more closely, praying throughout the day and "thinking to God," not just myself. After we got back it was pretty much dinnertime. It was delicious spicy jambalaya, which I ate very quickly in order to get to the business of tonight: the weekly meeting! Having run media for the meetings back at Twin Cities Cru, I had volunteered to do tech for the meetings here. Even better, worship leader Jack had borrowed some equipment from UW Milwaukee, which I wanted to get there early to set up and figure out. With my roommate Aaron helping, we set up speakers, mics, a sound board, and projector.

So the meeting was a success, techwise and Godwise. The worship was really great and powerfully God-oriented; we also had two student testimonies which were pretty intense. The speaker delivered a message from a book; I didn't get the context, but the author shared the image of a black, homeless(?) man constantly visiting a crippled, racist man in a nursing home to care for him. It struck me as a shining example of working out God's love: giving so much of yourself in the worst conditions to love someone who doesn't thank your or even want any help. In reflection, God's unconditional love for us is probably pretty similar.

After putting away all the UWM equipment, we went to Leon's (custard place) to celebrate. I had a delicious root beer malt. After returning I finally got around to planning the lesson for tomorrow. We aren't too prepared, but for some reason I'm even less worried than before. Pray that God's strength would shine through our weakness and the children of the inner city would know His love!

Composed ~10:50 PM, Wednesday, June 23rd

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 12--Cameron

Another crazy day of ministering to the kids today. It was super hot, and playing outside was pretty tough. The lesson today was on John 4 (the Samaritan woman at the well), and due to a combination of its intelligibility and our increased efforts to coe up with a lesson I thought it went much better this time. We went outside for more basketball after that; I instead threw a frisbee with a guy named Chris. He seems to be much older than the other kids, so I'm not entirely sure what he's doing there, but he's very good-natured and into God.

After lunch was a combination of playing inside and outside. It was too hot to play outside much, but inside some of the girls were having a nail-painting party, which smelled pretty bad. One of the girls was trying to get my nails painted by dragging me over to it, so I spent a while running and hiding from her. I also tried to mediate a basketball game between some little kids; I need to work on the whole discipline thing and I felt pretty lost. One of our ideas was playing a Lecrae song and discussing it, as we figured the older kids would enjoy the music and get into the lyrics. Unfortunately, others thought the little kids would like it as well and brought them in; they didn't pay attention and ended up distracting everyone. We're trying that again tomorrow.

But the highlight of the day was a kid we met named Cameron. He was initially sullen, not really following along in the big meeting and going around with his arms folded. He was pretty quiet during the Bible lesson, but asked some interesting questions about the new Earth, which I'm not sure where they came from. He didn't participate too much during the way, and in the afternoon Jack and I saw him writing some pretty scary depressing stuff ("I hate myself", etc.). We tried to talk to him about it, but he wouldn't talk, only nod/shake his head and write. I was praying that God would open up his heart and love on him through me. I got a definite sense that I should stay with Cameron.

I stayed with him as the others played a game and went back up to the sanctuary. He started making something out of markers, yarn, and tape; initially I thought it was a swing of some kind, but it turned out to be a slingshot. Yarn wasn't really stretchy enough for a slingshot, so after I got him an apple he started requesting painting supplies. I helped him out however I could, and he ended up painting a slingshot and a cannon of some kind. Kind of violent things to paint, but he was definitely talking openly during the process. I tried to turn the slingshot into a story of David and Goliath, which he seemed kind of interested in. And he finally smiled when everyone was complementing him on his art and hanging it in the main hallway.

Afterward we went back and actually managed to plan out tomorrow's meeting in one session! It's exhausting, but after today I'm simultanously excited and scared for what tomorrow will bring; I have no idea what it will be like, but I'll have to trust God. Is this what giving our troubles and worries to God is like?

Composed ~5:00 PM, Tuesday, June 22

Monday, June 21, 2010

Days 10-11: Into the Fire

There is a tornado warning for Milwaukee as I write this, apparently. I didn't see outside much, but there was some pretty intense lightning and I heard sirens. Luckily, I was extremely pressed for time today and rushed to get my computer for blogging (among other things) before I knew, so it will be safe regardless. I'm much more nervous about getting all my responsibilities done in the limited time I have.

The last two days have been pretty crazy. Most of what was my free time has been dominated by more meetings to figure out what we'll be doing for the VBS we're running at Hopewell Missionary Baptist this week, which we started today. We're learning a lot about presenting the gospel to kids of all ages, but it's been incredibly hard and they keep us almost too busy to work on it. We have to come up with skits, crafts, songs, and games for the kids, all centered around age-appropriate teaching. The first day was the beginning of John, which isn't the easiest passage for the young.

Yesterday we went to church at Hopewell. Like Berean, it was a predominately African American church. It was a bit harder to figure out than Berean; the worship again didn't have printed lyrics, and the large sanctuary created lots of echoes and made it hard to understand what people were singing. I still tried to follow along as best as I could, but it was hard to get over the unfamiliarity of it all. It was nice how they honored their guests and still tried to make us feel welcome.

After that we had a few precious free hours, which were followed by meetings, meetings, and more meetings with dinner in there somewhere. The full-time ministry people met to work on the curriculum, then the weekly meeting team convened (I lok forward to lending my media expertise from Twin Cities cru to summer project) and then more VBS meeting. We worked on this until everyone was dead tired and pretty much went straight to bed, trusting God for the rest.

We left for Hopewell the next morning by 8:45, arriving while kids were playing outside or eating breakfast. We got some time to set up for the large-group meeting in the sanctuary. Around 10, we gathered all the kids up and led them to the sanctuary to begin.

From there things were pretty crazy. The VBS curriculum we were using was mainly for up to 5th grade, but we had kids all the way up to advanced high school age, which led to awkwardness at times. We hadn't gotten enough time to prepare the lesson for the older kids (whom I worked with), and I think they were pretty confused. The craft we had (making handy nametags) was useful for names, but kind of boring for them.

Still, the first day was pretty essential for giving us an idea of what to do and how to proceed, and I think many kids really learned more about Jesus was a result of today. Despite the difficulties we were still able to connect with the kids despite the cultural differences; I made a few friends while playing on the church's Wii and cards. Scorekeeping for their almost-daily basketball games was also fun.

But ultimately, today was a pretty sobering look at the challenges that lie ahead for us. We had another meeting to address problems and changes immediately after getting back; we again didn't have enough time before evening events to finish everything. I was saddened to be distracted by the men's Bible study by all the stuff that still had to be done. Immediately after we finished up I bolted upstairs to get my laptop and start working, only to learn that we had to go to a basement room for safety. As I felt kind of frustrated with God for seemingly not letting me carry out my responsibilities to Him, I was reminded that it's not what we can do for God that's important, but what God does for us. As a techie I place a high value in getting things done right, but when I've done all I can, I can only trust in God to work in mysterious ways to complete His will.

So, pray that God would give us reassurance in that and peace/relief from the high stress levels of figuring this all out. Also for whatever damage the tornado does.

Composed ~9:40 PM, Monday, June 21st

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Days 8-9: Precious Rest

Hopefully it didn't alarm anyone that I didn't post anything yesterday. No, I didn't die; the last two days have been ab it more businesslike and less jaw-droppingly inspirational, though this might just be contrast after reading through Romans. Nevertheless, some fun staff happened that I should probably write about.

Yesterday morning was more training, but this ended by 1 in the afternoon or so. From there, the full-time ministry team of ten visited our first ministry site, Hopewell Missionary Baptist church, where we would be running a VBS (vacation Bible school) for the kids. We knew virtually nothing about what we'd be doing, just general tips from training the past few days. After meeting with the leaders at the church to get a general idea of what they expected, we proceeded to sit down in the sanctuary lobby for three hours and plan, plan, plan. We managed to hammer out some rules and a basic schedule that we could hopefully adapt and reuse for later weeks and ministry sites.

After everyone was pretty much mentally drained, we returned to City on a Hill. After a bit of downtime, during which I separated out the worship songs from past Cru meetings for use here, we returned to Bay Shore Mall for a "fun" event planned by Dave. It was supposed to be a surprise, but Bethany had already given it away the night before; we would be trying to hunt down and find all the staff around the mall. After arriving we split into teams of four and started searching.

As we'd guessed they would, the staff made it harder for us by disguising themselves. It was pretty fun to see someone and wonder, "Could that be such and such...?" and then have your suspicions confirmed. Among the more entertaining costumes: Jeff put on a hat and wig and pretended to be a TruGreen employee taking soil samples, Theresa was an elderly lady in a wheelchair having a friend from church push her around, Bethany and Kara were goths, and Dave got a pretty drastic haircut and acted extremely creepy. (He looks bizarrely like Dwight from The Office now, even after de-creepifying)

In total, we managed to find eight staffers. We all gathered in the food court, where we got to see everyone's costumes, and then ate dinner. After some Applebee's boneless wings I returned to COAH for game time! This actually turned out to be singing worship songs along with Jack and his guitar, but I eventually got roped into narrating some games of Mafia, which was fun. (I prefer narrating to playing, as I'm not political enough and I get to think of crazy ways for people to die)

This morning was discipleship time with Dave, which was great for recapping and remembering some of the more important things God has taught and shown me thus far. If I had to sum up what project has been teaching me thus far, it would be something like: the size of your problems or challenges is unimportant; what's important is fixing your gaze on God and His sovereignty.

After we got back it was time for another meeting with the ministry team. We went over more specifics, like games to play, crafts to do, songs to sing, and the skits that were to accompany each lesson. (I think we have some great actors for them) We got lots done until we ran out of steam and the meeting turned into practicing fun Bible songs. I'm a bit nervous for ministry since we have no experience yet, but it's looking like it will be tons of fun.

In the afternoon nearly everyone went to the beach. In the time they were there, I had a good amount of time listening to music (a first since arriving on project) as well as find Bible verses for the rest of the worship songs I collected and cut my hair. This last task involved lots of time in the bathroom with my electric razor, but apparently it turned out pretty well judging by peoples' reactions. I'll stick with barbers when I'm back home, but this should do for now. People are still returning from the beach, but hopefully tonight will be fun and relaxing before church and more meetings tomorrow.

One month until my birthday!

Composed ~6:30 PM, Saturday, June 19th

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 7

God rested on the seventh day--today was an amazing combination of rest, learning, and progress with God. We spent a while in the meeting room doing more training--today had a focus on working with children, including quite a bit of child psychology that was pretty interesting. I love working with kids, but now I kind of worry I've been doing it wrong or something. But, it got me more excited for our ministry in the coming weeks!

We ended two hours early at 3:00. I was initially in a daze of confusion, wondering what to do with this unexpected free time, but soon everyone decided to walk to a nearby park. (And study Colossians, which our Bible studies are going through, but I missed that and did not bring my Bible) It was a fun walk through the neighborhood; I find it kind of hard to believe that I've only known everyone for a week, considering how close we're becoming! Once we got there, almost everyone split up and got into Colossians. Not having my Bible, I read and wrote in my journal, then just wandered around the park and did stuff. I climbed a tree, wrote my initials in cement (something I think part of me has always wanted to do), and picked up some trash. It was a great break from the strenuousness of all the teaching.

We came back for 5:00 dinner, which had been generously donated by a friend of Here's Life. After that we had another free hour, which I used to teach some friends the card game Wizard (Google it). It's one of the games I'm hoping to get people into with our meager free time at project.

After this was two hours scheduled for us to have extended time alone with God. I hadn't been looking forward to it as much as I should have since I'd been spending an hour-plus every morning and evening for this purpose, so I decided to do something special. As I was praying beforehand, I suddenly felt led to read through the book of Romans. I had two hours; why not?

So I put on my quiet time playlist (I was in my room) and got into it. It was amazing how as I read the same words as before, everything seemed so much more significant and so many things jumped out at me. I felt like the whole gospel was coming together in my mind; God was definitely bringing the scriptures to life. I underlined what felt like half the book and took about four pages of notes, as well as a summary of God's saving work in us at the end that I'll have to refine later. It was possibly the most God-saturated two hours of my life and I can't wait for next Thursday!

Following this I went back downstairs and introduced people to telephone pictionary! Some took a bit to get the hang of it, but it was an impressively hilarious and random game. As I say, it's the game everyone wins. Anyway, today was amazing; keep praying for our team; that God would help workplace ministry people find jobs and be lights for Him there, and that He would equip the full-time ministry people with all His fullness to be His hands and feet in Milwaukee.

Composed ~9:30, Thursday, June 17th

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 6--God's Response to the Poor

After feeling almost despair for the plight of the poor yesterday, today was amazing and reassuring. We did a training session on Exodus, specifically God calling Moses with the burning bush. We focused on Moses' objections and excuses, and God's responses. I really identified with Moses; he felt inadequate to the task of freeing the Israelites, not well-spoken, nervous... God's response wasn't so much to answer Moses' questions as to emphasize His own sufficiency and sovereignty: "I AM THAT I AM." As I read in The Knowledge of the Holy this morning, God is self-existent, self-sufficient, and self-defined, above description by created words.

What I got from this is that like Moses, in our ministry we need to focus on God's stremgth, not our weakness. It doesn't matter how I was made, or what I'm bad at; God has prepared good works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10) and He is powerful enough to use imperfect people for His perfect plan. It was tremendously reassuring.

That afternoon, we went on a tour of some of the ministry sites we were going to work at. The first was a kids' program in the basement of the church we'll be visiting next Sunday. We'll be serving meals to neighborhood kids and teaching them the gospel in groups. It reminded me of a preschool my home church runs that I volunteered at over winter break, and I'm really excited to work with the kids!

The next place was a day center called New Beginnings are Possible, where we will be running a vacation Bible school and generally working with kids who may have nowhere else to go. Again, it looked like it would be a lot of fun and a real blessing to the kids.

The last (and everyone's favorite) ministry was called God's Kids in the Hood. It consisted of an older couple running a long-term shelter for youth out of both halves of a duplex house. There were 20(!) people living in the house besides the couple, including some really young kids and some who had been there for over ten years. Sleeping and living conditions were cramped, but everyone had their own space, and the "parents" encouraged playing outside as much as possible. Perhaps more amazingly, everything in the house is donated: a big dining table and benches, tons and tons of clothes, bikes, a fancy washing machine, a big-screen TV... The woman we met emphasized that the whole purpose of the house was to teach these kids the gospel; giving them a loving home seemed to come along with that.

God's influence in all of these ministries, especially God's kids, was absolutely amazing. Yesterday I asked God, "How can Your light reach these people in the darkness?" Today felt like His answer, "Here's how." I positively cannot wait to volunteer at these places and be God's light and love to so many people! Pray that God would keep our excitement to serve up even in tough circumstances and use us to bless people!

Composed ~9:15 PM, Wednesday, June 16th

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 5--From the Food Court to the Soup Kitchen

Today was a pretty hard day. We started with more training, mostly discussing relating to the poor more, as well as going over ideas for having spiritual conversations, which should be very helpful. This lasted the whole morning; then we set out for a "scavenger hunt" around Milwaukee.

The scavenger hunt had us driving around the city, stopping at various destinations and gathering facts about them. First we went to the south side, a predominantly hispanic neighborhood. Our first destination was a hispanic grocery store, which was really amazing. It was colorful and packed with fascinating foods and welcoming people. They didn't speak much English, but they really made us feel welcome despite how much we stuck out. We got a churro (bread dipped in cinnamon sugar and filled with deliciousness), learned how to wire money to another country, and discovered fascinating dishes like octopus, chicken claws, and pig's ears. At my recommendation, we got bottles of Mexican Coke for cheap (made with cane sugar!). It was delightful! We also stopped at a discount goods store, which had an extremely random assortment of stuff, and a small but nice restaurant with suffering-Jesus decorations.

After this we went 6 miles on I-43 to Whitefish Bay, an upscale suburb of Milwaukee where we visited the Bay View mall. We visited the fancy grocery store Trader Joe's, a fancy restaurant that gave us a menu (about to be replaced), and an extremely expensive women's clothing store. (Bryan and I refused to enter, but apparently they were selling $128 skirts) We ate giant pretzels for lunch at a food court, along with our Mexican Coke.

We were supposed to visit Midtown (the area around the ministry center), but due to ridiculous amounts of road construction we got very lost. I thought contruction was bad in the Twin Cities, but it was much worse here: in some neighborhoods, it seemed like almost every single block was under construction. Then on the way back it started POURING. the weather had been fairly dreary ever since the first day, but this was by far the most rain we'd had. This led to heavy traffic on the freeway and due to time we had to skip Midtown altogether. We had some great spiritual conversation in the car on the way back and just in general; it was amazing fellowship.

We had a bit of free time afterward, before being briefed on dinner. We were going to eat at St. Ben's, a local church that served daily meals to anyone who came in. This was to help us better empathize with the poor, a common theme of our training, and to have conversations with them. A rather forceful guy was keeping order in the dining hall and seated me and my "buddy"--Aaron the staffer--at the end of one of the tables. We met with a guy named Duran (half of Duran Duran) who was pretty nice and talkative, but he was apparently only there to scoop all his hamburger soup into a container and leave, ignoring the rest of his food. The only other guy who was seated near us was Jeff, a machine worker who had been laid off about a month ago and was looking for work. Aaron and I (mostly Aaron) tried to converse with him, but he was really quiet; I got the feeling he was really unhappy to have to be there.

So not much came of that. it was pretty discouraging, but I think God was just saying "not now" to us. Upstairs in the Catholic sanctuary we held hands in a circle and prayed a "good things" prayer where we each thanked God for one good thing that happened that day. That prayer was pretty life-changing, but not because of that. My faith has become quite strong, but ultimately I haven't been happy with how self-focused it tends to be--praying that God would fill me with love to Him, draw me to him--good prayers, but my heart should be for others as well! So I'd been praying that God would break my heart over my disobedience and the plight of the poor and lost. As we were praying, He did so--but combined with my seeming inability to help them or share the gospel on my own, it was pretty depressing.

But I know that all things are possible through God, even if it's hard to truly believe. I ask for prayer that God would keep this burden for the poor and lost on me and the rest of the team, but also that He would give us faith in His power to mend broken lives and love people in life-changing ways through us. Going from eating lunch in a food court to dinner in a soup kitchen was pretty jarring, and I hope that experience stays with me the whole summer. (But not in a depressing way)

Composed ~9:15 PM, Tuesday, June 15th

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 4--Poverty and Firebreathing

Today was an interesting day, even though we didn't get out of the ministry center for a while. We got up extra early for a "poverty simulation", which Dave has warned us of the night before. We entered the cafeteria, where the tables had been pushed aside and had various stations set up on them. The simulation had us roleplaying a working poor family trying to make it through a month of living paycheck-to-paycheck. On a monthly budget of $2,300, we had to obtain housing, food, healthcare, childcare, and more for a family of five. We drew cards at the stations as well as "situation cards" in the center to simulate various good and bad (mostly bad) things that could happen to us.

My friend Jack played the father Ted, Teresa (staffer) was the mother Alice, and I was apparently all three of their kids. We started off by looking for food, which went pretty well; we saved $30 by eating lots of ramen. (Which the kids were totally fine with) Then we looked for housing. We found a place to rent that looked pretty nice, but the eldest daughter Valerie (who had previously been accepted to a prestigious private school) got us evicted for stealing. Back to the housing market!

The next time, we got a deal: by having Alice quit her part-time job and run a daycare, we got free rent and half off childcare. We accordingly rented the most expensive place and moved on, satisfied. We got healthcare, opting to insure only the kids, which paid off when we had no health problems that month. Other complications arose, like having to get a car due to a bus strike, and getting shuttled between social services and the bank trying to collect Ted's raise and inheritance from his dead uncle. One of the staffers was going around offering us vaguely shady loans, which we discovered were 0% interest for 90 days before shooting up to 24% (apparently based on a real loan). we ultimately had to take his offer to make it to the end of the month, scraping by but leaving our future in doubt.

The simulation was a pretty powerful look at the grim situation people in "generational poverty" face. We were constantly worrying what would happen next and if we would have enough money; there was a feeling of dread, at least for me, and helplessness with our fate determined by the situation cards we drew. Presumably real peoples' lives wouldn't be quite as capriciously random, but it was still an eye-opener.

After this we had training sessions on spiritual life and the culture of generational poverty as contrasted with the middle class. One of the things that stood out to me was how the poor are focused more on the here and now as opposed to middle-class values of planning for the future. After the poverty simulation, I could understand why they would hold this view. On the other hand, we learned that in general, they tended to be motivated by survival, relationships, and entertainment, which almost seemed more substantial than the middle-class values of money, success, and appearances. (We also compared the values of the wealthy, which was pretty ridiculous) I'm praying God would give me a heart for the poor and help me to bridge cultural barriers in serving them.

This training went all the way from 10:30 or so until 5, broken up only by lunch. After this we were introduced to the concept of "action groups", basically Bible studies for the summer. The women were broken up into two actions groups since there were more of them, but the men (including male staff) stuck together. At my suggestion, to my delight, we were eating together at Buffalo wild Wings! Unlike in the Twin Cities, there was apparently one right in the city here, 10 minutes' drive away. We got there and ordered quite an assortment of wings; it was the two California guys' first time there. I got my usual honey BBQ wings (delicious) and tried some caribbean jerk sauce as well (not quite so good). My mouth was kind of burning by the end of that, and I was pretty full.

But it was not nearly over. Dave had gotten us 8 blazin' wings, and the good-natured server gave us one more for free so we could each eat one. For those uninitiated with BWW's spectrum of sauces, they start from mild and easy like sweet barbecue all the way up to blisteringly hot sauces. Blazin' was the hottest sauce they offered. My dad routinely orders them when we eat there, but none of us were quite as tough and one wing proved to be quite enough.

After I finished eating, we all counted down and ate the wings together. I tried to swallow mine as quickly as possible to minimize the burning, and at first we thought it wasn't so bad. Turns out the spiciness of blazin' wings takes 15 or so seconds to hit you; pretty soon we were all moaning in pain, drinking tons of water, and stuffing napkins in our mouths. It was extremely intense, almost unbearable for more than a few seconds if you weren't drinking water. I was hit the hardest, since on top of the burning all the wings and fluids were not fitting in my tiny stomach. I basically had to hold perfectly still waiting for the burning and queasiness to subside, speaking...very slowly...and...carefully...for a while after. But we did it. As I pointed out, we were all men now.

After this we returned to the ministry center, grabbed our Bibles, and did our action group in the student lounge. We shared faith stories, which were very powerful to hear back-to-back, and then read through Colossians together, as we would be studying it. I'm looking forward to some seriously solid times with these men of God!

As of press time, Aaron the staffer has gotten out Settlers of Wisconsin, a variant of Settlers of Catan he he apparently made himself. It has tundra instead of desert, marsh instead of ocean, farms instead of cities, and the Whisky Barrel of Death instead of the thief. Quite impressive and entertaining indeed.

Composed ~9:30 Pm, Monday, June 14th, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 3--Praise the God of This City!

Today was quite amazing indeed. I got up before my roommate's alarm (I forgot my cell phone charger, so I can't leave my phone on overnight until it gets mailed) again went through my usual morning routine. I don't know if I mentioned the internet situation here, but apparently we get access to the shortest-range wireless network I've ever seen; we have to crowd in the hallway right outside the office with our laptops to use it, and we're discouraged from using it for over half an hour a day. So I've been composing posts offline before heading to the "internet hallway" and posting them--hence the time stamps on the bottom to indicate when I actually wrote things.

Anyway, with no internet on my floor, there aren't many distractions from enjoying time wirh God and awesome fellowship with my floormates. I had quite a bit of quiet time, reading some John Owen, continuing my trek through the Bible (on Psalms now) and reading the book of Colossians in preparation for studying it. Today was church day, and the men had decided to get dressed up; my new friend Tim provided us with ties, and we were looking pretty snappy when we went downstairs to the chapel to wait to go to church.

The drive to church was fairly uneventful, save for us turning into oncoming traffic and almost getting into a crash while following another car. We were still in the midst of the deleriously happy adrenaline rush of almost dying when we got to the church, praising God for still being alive. It was good to get back to basics.

We were attending the Berean Family Worship Center, a predominantly African-American church in a somewhat nicer area of Milwaukee. We'd been briefed on the church and told that it was a friendly, energetic church, which definitely turned out to be the case. I got a hug and several kind greetings just entering the sanctuary. The worship was incredible; everyone was so clearly on fire for God, and their passion was contagious. I didn't know all the words to all the songs (they weren't projected and there were no hymnals), but even when I wasn't singing it was hard not to be focused on praising God in words and prayer.

Then for the offering instead of passing a collection plate they had everyone walk up to the front past the plates and back to their seats, even if they weren't giving anything. Like our project leaders said, they got pretty excited for giving; apparently the church has been debt-free for a while. I had the verse "God loves a cheerful giver" running through my mind the whole itme.

The pastor was also a really good speaker, very God-saturated and Bible-focused. Apparently he'd trained himself to say something like "Praise God" instead of "um" and "uh", which was pretty cool. His sermon was on the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of God, and the progression between the three. We start by learning the basics facts about God, then His Spirit leads us to understanding and ultimately wisdom in how to apply the knowledge to every part of our lives. He was constantly citing diverse parts of scripture; I wouldn't have been able to keep up if I hadn't had Bible tabs. Overall it was a really powerful, beneficial sermon; I even got a CD of it for later. (It was extremely impressive how fast they got those CDs out)

After this we returned to the ministry center for lunch, and after another briefing by staffer Jeff and his heart for the city of Milwaukee (or "Muhwahkee", as he constantly pronounced it), we went on probably the most fun I've had on project yet: a tour of the city. We got directions with tour narrations for someone to read as we drove through the whole city. Starting from the more run-down parts of the neighborhood, we went into the downtown area (or at least among lots of large buildings; I'm not sure where downtown Milwaukee is) and then to some nicer, wealthier neighborhoods. The shift from starting in the dangerous neighborhood of the ministry center to mansions with immaculate lawns was pretty jarring.

For dinner, we stopped at a burger and frozen custard place called Kopp's. I was expecting more of a sit-down restaurant, but it was more of an assembly line, with us standing in lien to place our order and then waiting for our number to be called. It was REALLY busy and the wait was pretty similar to that of a sit-down place. After dinner we returned for another meeting on building policies (fun!) and then had the night to ourselves. Dave soon warned us that the surprise we were waking up at 8:30 for was apparently a "poverty simulation" which comes in a box. I'll see how that goes. Today was pretty epic and I can't wait to see what God does with tomorrow!

Composed ~8:30 PM, Sunday, June 13th

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 2--Sharing Faith!

I got up around 6:45 today to give myself plenty of time to shower, eat, and have plenty of quiet time. There is some common food for the summer students, and with so much time I had a very chill, relaxing morning. After this we returned to the meeting room, where we received a crash course on the power of the Holy Spirit (old, but crucial) and using the KGP (Knowing God Personally) evangelism tools. I was kind of troubled during this part; using the booklets seems kind of preachy and impersonal to me, like you're just running through a checklist of things to say. I was unsure about this and pretty nervous in general; I've never been good at sharing my faith partly due to lack of experience.

We ate a tasty Chinese lunch and had another session on sharing our faith. This was very relevant because we were going to do just that on the Lake Michigan beach that afternoon, followed by a barbecue. We loaded stuff up and drove through the city to the beach. On the way I was struck by how the quality/rundown-ness of the neighborhoods changed, and by how many high-rise buildings there were; in Minneapolis they were mostly concentrated downtown, but here they were everywhere.

We parked near a park by the beach, and after setting some stuff up for the picnic we paired up and went out to the beach. I got paired with Dave the staffer, which was reassuring; I told him about my problems with evangelism and we figured that we could try to complement each other nicely. The beach was packed due to the promise of a Blue Angels show, and there was no shortage of people ot talk to.

The first ones we talked to were a father and son hoping to see the show. Immediately something really cool happened; they noticed my shirt from my job as a math TA, which features a Sierpinski triangle on it. Apparently both of them were fairly mathy, which gave us an instant point on which to connect and talk. Dave did most of the talking in itially, with me adding thoughts in whenever I could. He didn't proceed robotically through the KGP like I'd feared; he initially just started a fairly conversation; my shirt made it easy. We tried to be upfront and introduced ourself as partners with Campus Crusade. We asked them if they wanted to so a quick survey about spiritual views, which was much more open-ended and discussion-based, which I enjoyed. Then we got into other questions and asked if we could go through the KGP.

The father-son duo was from a Lutheran background, and were pretty open to what we had to say. Some tragedy came when the Blue Angels were cancelled due to excessive cloud cover; they had traveled for an hour and waited for five hours all for nothing. We tried to sympathize as best we could. After this conversation ended fairly well, we had much less of a choice of people as everyone was leaving. We headed over to the actual beach, where we met a guy with a dog tied to his bike. We had a pretty long conversation with him, often getting into the issue of sin and how it affects urban blight and the inner city. Dave, with a history of inner-city service, did most of the talking this time. This guy was from a Catholic background and was again pretty open to what we had to say, though we weren't sure how much he was living out his faith.

Then came my turn to start the conversation. I went up to two guys a few years younger than me, which helped us connect pretty well. Going through the survey it became clear that they had some very interesting things on their minds, and I ended up listening to one of them most of the time. They expressed disinterest in being "preached to" and were kind of nervous that we would whip out some hidden agenda, so we were afraid to give them the KGP until the very end as a take-home. Still, it was a fascinating, fairly meandering conversatio that had to be cut short due to returning for debriefing and dinner. Before I couldn't wait for sharing time to be over; now I wished we could prolong it to continue such an excellent, deep conversation!

On the way back I told Dave a quote he enjoyed quite a bit: that my view of evangelism had gone from "terrifying" to "intimidating". We'll apparently be doing this almost weekly, and I'm not nearly as nervous for next time. Still, we didn't have any dramatic on-the-spot conversions, emphasizing how we need to trust God to do the real work of drawing people to Him when we've done all we can.

After returning to the park we talked about our experiences, which was pretty cool (I shared the story of my shirt starting a conversation), and then dug into dinner. Afterwards we hung out, got to know each other better, played games, and helped pack the picnic up. My techie experience came in slightly handy packing up the canopy we'd put up, and I discovered another summer projector had done set work; we swapped theater stories as techies do. After that we drove back to the ministry center and settled in for the night; nights here are fairly quiet with no central place to hang out and an 11:00 PM curfew. Today was a great day of seeing God break down the barriers to sharing faith that I had, and it's only the second day of project! Stay tuned for more awesome.

Composed ~8:30 PM, Saturday, June 12th

Hello from Milwaukee!

I've made it to a summer mission in Milwaukee! It's been a pretty long day and I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed by all the stuff introduced to us today; it's really forcing me to trust in God to sustain and satisfy me, which is great!

After saying goodbye to my house and finishing packing this morning, I drove to south Minneapolis, from which I carpooled to Milwaukee with another summer projcector. Highlights of this included the GPS system we used to navigate, which spoke with a British accent and freaked out whenever we pulled off I-94 to get food or gas. It would say "Recalculating..." in its robotic British tones whenever we deviated from its dictated course. The car's air conditioning didn't work so well, which was fine in the morning when it was cloudy and wet, but got pretty nasty later.

In any event, we made it to Milwaukee around 2:30 PM. Traffic was surprisingly good, until we were nearly there in Milwaukees inner city area. We found the correct entrance of the building--a huge ministry center complex that I still couldn't begin to navigate--and were greeted by the friendly staff and students, as well as the staffers' kids, who were playing on a Wii set up in the chapel. It was very inviting, and having the kids around is delightful!

After checking in and getting unloaded, I was led up to my room, a pretty standard dorm room with one major exception--no ethernet jack. There were some in the floor lounge, but I was told they were nonfunctional. Horror of horrors--no internet!

Without much to do in my room after unpacking, I went back downstairs and hung out with the staff, kids, and new arrivals. My attempts to try Wii canoeing were derailed by a scratched disc. I quickly got to know my roommate, Aaron, and two of my other floormates Jacob and Jack. We were all from different states and different backgrounds, but the passion for God that had brought us to Milwaukee was pretty solid common ground, and I look forward to getting to know these brothers in Christ better! I'm also connected with one of the staff, who besides this shares with me a first name and a generally nerdy disposition, which is exciting.

At 5:15, we headed through the labyrinthine passageways of the ministry center to the cafeteria, where after waiting for all the kids to be seated and fed we got an excellent barbecue dinner from a local restaurant. Then followed some "get to know you" time and games.

Then we went througn more hallways to what was apparently a Christian boy scout meeting room for our first meeting. We had plenty of worship, singing from printed lyrics accompanied by one of the interns on guitar. Afterwards came a talk on the theme of the project--"No greater love", as in John 15:13, and some ground rules.

But I was distressed by how distracted I was during worship by worries and selfish objections--will I be able to get online to connect with friends and family, will my living conditions work out, and simple unrest with the worship style--it was less "exciting" and more repetitive than I'm used to at Hope. Hope (not the church) came when I viewed these as problems to lay before God, my own inability to be fully satisfied in Him. Is constant internet access really necessary for me to serve God wholeheartedly? Similarly, if I cease to enjoy worship because of the style, what does this say about my motivation for worshipping, which should be finding joy in glorifying God?

So, today I learned again that God really needs to be all I need; I shouldn't need anything else to serve and enjoy Him wholeheartedly. Obviously the internet situation worked out somewhat if you're reading this, but pray that God would teach this lesson to my soul, as well as that we would all love the Milwaukee inner city with the same love that led Jesus to die for us.

If you want to send me mail, my address for summer project is:

David Pitchford
2224 W. Kilbourn Ave.
Milwaukee, WI, 53233

Composed ~9 PM, Friday, June 11th

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 4

Time for my last post on John Owen's treatise on killing sin. I leave for Milwaukee bright and early tomorrow morning--it's hard to believe! I'm excited to do something with my summer, particularly glorify God by serving the needy, and nervous at the same time--this is going to be on intense mission trip. But God had brought me this far, and if He helped Paul become the greatest missionary ever He can certainly help me for eight weeks. Anyway, continuing with particular directions on mortifying sin:

  • Once you have a "clear and abiding sense" of the guilt, danger, and evil of sin, load your conscience with it. "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:23-24) The purpose of the law isn't for us to obey it and earn our salvation; if it were, we could be justified by the law, as Paul says in verse 21. Instead its purpose is to show us how sinful we are, how short we fall of God's standards, to lead us to justifying faith in Christ. Accordingly, Owen recommends using the law to load your conscience with the guilt and conviction of sin.
  • "Constantly long and breathe after deliverance from the power of sin"--if you did the last two steps right, this one should be easy! Basically we need to pray that God would change our hearts from longing for satisfaction in sin to longing for satisfaction in freedom from sin and knowing Him.
  • Know your innate weaknesses to sin. Obviously not everyone is equally susceptible to every sin; your background, personality, experiences, and nature can predispose you to committing certain sins and make you less likely to be tempted by others. Know yourself!
  • Know when and where you are vulnerable to certain sins. For example, my willpower tends to decline late at night as my brain gets tired, so I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour and have a time of prayer before I do so. Know your enemy!
  • Fight your sin with the Spirit! Don't let it gain an inch of ground in your heart; the instant it begins to rise up, fight it! This means never compromising with sin, letting it have part of your heart. At the risk of running afoul of Godwin's Law, this is comparable to Chamberlain's strategy of appeasement in 1938. It's doomed to failure.
  • Don't try to appeal to your own righteousness or "goodness" as an excuse for sin. Instead, Owen says to "use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness". Ouch! The examples he gives are considering how great God is and how far your sin separates you from Him, and how awesome and great God is, greater than any human. It may not be fun to think about yourself as a bug compared to the majesty of God, but it's important to get perspective on how serious our sin is and how much greater He is.
  • "Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but harken to what God says to your soul". If God is trying to convict you of a sin by stirring up your soul and conscience, don't be complacent and try to preserve your peaceful, sinful life--listen to Him! If the sin He's convicting you of is one that destroys your peace of mind, don't let regaining that peace be your number one reason for killing it--God is the "God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3) and will give peace to His children as He wills. Trying to "speaks peace" to ourselves when God is trying to stir us up against some sin is like Jonah sleeping on a sinking ship in the middle of a storm; it won't help. The analogy my pastor used to sum up this point, and indeed to sum up the whole sermon series, was the Whack-a-Mole! game. Don't get complacent; every time sin pops up, whack it!
In the final chapter, Owen gets to the good stuff: the actual means of mortification. There is no magic trick for making sin disappear; the actual process of mortification shouldn't be too surprising. Owen says to "set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin." What does this look like? He gives several examples:
  • Fill your soul with faith in God's provision to sustain you through temptation and mortify your sin. When Paul is struggling with what I take to be a temptation of some kind, God tells him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has promised that if we trust and obey Him, He is able and willing to destroy our sin.
  • Then, by faith come to expect relief from Christ. It's by this faith that He heals us, and is encourages us to, as Owen puts it, "attend diligently to all the ways and means whereby Christ is wont [likely] to communicate Himself to the soul, and so takes in the real assistance of all graces and ordinances whatsoever." Be diligent and abide in Christ through prayer and the Bible to keep open the channels by which He can work in you. Owen has the example of a beggar: "The beggar that expects an alms lies at his door or in his way from whom he does expect it."
  • The death and resurrection of Christ are key. The reason Christ came was to "destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8) and "purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to to what is good." (Titus 2:14) Central in our faith should be the significance of the cross. When we accept Christ and identify with His death, we die to sin (Romans 6:2); it may still have some sway over us, but the cross destroyed its power and authority over our souls.
Owen's last point is that the whole work of mortification is "effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit." The Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin (John 16:8), gives us strength to "stand firm in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:21), baptizes us into the body of Christ and brings the cross to bear against sin (1 Corinthians 12:13), and produces the good fruit of faith that are fatal to sin (Galatians 5:22-25). In all the stages of mortification, being filled with the Spirit is the key to it all.

I hope this extremely brief summary of John Owen captures at least some of his faith and wisdom. I felt like a theologian writing this--only most theologians don't just paraphrase other theologians, I suppose. Once again, I can't recommend reading the book and/or listening to my church's sermons on it to get the whole story. Stay tuned for updates from Milwaukee!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 3

Another day (I'll be in Milwaukee in 48 hours!), another post on John Owen. This week I'll summarize his writings on some general and specific directions for the mortification of sin; basically things to keep in mind to prepare yourself for the great work itself. Owen offers two general directions for the mortification of sin:

  • One must be a believer to mortify any sin. This one is pretty easy; as Romans 8:13 says, it's "by the Spirit" that we mortify sin. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to believers (Acts 1:8), and it can be concluded from the contrapositive of Romans 8:9 that whoever has accepted Christ has the Spirit. So only a believer who has accepted Christ, and therefore has the Spirit in them, can go about the Spirit-enabled work of mortification. If someone hasn't accepted Christ, it's foolish, legalistic, and ultimately futile to try to get them to mortify sin.
  • The other general direction for mortification is "sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience". Basically it means that if a believer is disobeying or ignoring God in some glaring way, he or she probably won't have much success at mortifying sin. Owen specifically targets those who (as I, and likely many others, have) set out to mortify a sin simply because it distresses them or disturbs their peace of mind, while ignoring other, less perplexing sins and essentials in one's relationship with God like prayer. If preserving our own peace of mind is our reason for mortifying sin, if we only come to God because we need help dealing with this one thing, what will become of our relationship with Him if that sin were mortified? As Owen puts it, "God says, 'Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.'" This idea that God might leave us to struggle with sins to keep us coming to Him floored me when I first heard it. God is glorified even through our struggles and temptations when we trust in Him to deliver us through them (1 Corinthians 10:13). If our sufferings bring us closer to God, then let us rejoice in our sufferings!
Owen then gives nine more specific directions to mortification of sin, the first two of which I'll go through tonight.
  • Know the symptoms of serious sin that requires extra prayer and mortification. These are inveterateness (basically the sin being entrenched in your heart and behavior without fear of mortification, so that you're used to it); attempts to justify the sin or look over it and convince yourself that you're still "mostly" a good person; simply dismissing the sin as forgiven by Jesus without attempting to stop; frequently giving in to the sin or temptation; opposing the sin only because of punishment or negative repercussions of it; and the ineffectuality of God's convicting it in you. What these look like is that intellectually, you might know that some particular sin is wrong, but you just don't care, or convince yourself that everything is OK and Jesus forgave it all while continuing to do it even if God convicts you about it. When I listened through my church's sermon on this point for the third time, I reliazed that my tendency to blow off time with God in favor of cheap distractions (computer, music, games, etc.) fit most of these symptoms--a sobering realization indeed. If a sin you struggle with fits any of them, it's time to buy John Owen's book--I mean get serious with mortifying that sin. Which may or may not involve buying the book.
  • But wait, it gets more convicting: "get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin". One symptom of dangerous sin, as already stated, is the tendency to see it as "not a big deal" or "not a serious problem". Before mortification can begin, it's important to get rid of that misconception. God doesn't see your sin as no big deal--it breaks His heart! For a look at what it looks like when we realize just how bad our sin really is, see Psalms 38 and 51. Owen also points out possible dangers of continuing in sin: it might harden your heart and make you resistant to God; punishment or physical repercussions and the poss of one's peace (as I stated above, these shouldn't be the only reasons for mortifying sin, but they are still reasons); and the danger of not being saved. Calvinists and Arminians disagree over whether salvation can actually be lost, but they agree that  a believer who turns away from God and sins freely until death is not saved; either he lost his salvation, or he never was saved. Scary! Finally, as to the evils of sin, Owen mentions that sin "grieves the Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30) and decreases a believer's usefulness in kingdom work in the  here and now.
Well, that was quite a bit of typing. Again, I encourage you to listen to Hope Community Church's sermons on the book and/or read it, online or from a store. (Note: I had trouble finding it in physical stores and ordered my copy from Northwestern Bookstore) Feel free to comment with thoughts or questions. Pray for the Spirit today and God will fill you as He promised! (Ephesians 5:18)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 2

And now there are only three days left until I leave for Milwaukee. Time to continue writing on John Owen; hopefully I'll finish before I set out. Tonight, what mortification of sin is (and is not).

Mortification is NOT:

  • The utter destruction of and freedom from sin. Even Paul, one of the most saintly and influential Christians ever, claimed not to have been "made perfect" yet in Philippians 3:12. Contrary to what some heretical sects have claimed, no one except Jesus can be completely free of sin. No amount of mortification can get rid of it altogether; that's reserved for when we see God face to face.
  • The dissimulation of sin. This is another one of Owen's archaic words; basically it means covering up sin by acting righteous. Owen points out that someone who simply stops practicing a sin without being changed on the inside has added hypocrisy to his sins, and "is now on a safer path to hell than he was before." Ouch!
  • The "improvement of a quiet and sedate nature"; trying to avoid sin by changing one's disposition to a quiet and sedate one to avoid "sinful passions" and the like. If it were, I'd be in good shape indeed!
  • The diversion of a sin from one action to another. As Owen puts it "a man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way". If you focus on stopping one specific sinful behavior without looking to the inner cause, the sin will likely just start expressing itself in a different way. I made this mistake while trying to fight sin the wrong way and can attest to the fact that sin is smarter than we are! Don't think you can kill it with discipline and behavior modification; at best, you'll only be trading one sin for another.
  • Occasional conquests over sin. For example, only fighting a sin because and when it causes you discomfort or distress, and then once it's temporarily settled down returning to a state of complacency and thinking everything is A-OK.
So these are how not to try and fight sin. If you've been making any of these mistakes, read on! Owen describes the mortification of sin positively as three things:
  • The habitual weakening of sin; reducing its ability to tempt us, draw us aside, and disrupt our spiritual life.
  • Constant fighting and contending against sin. Just just when it's at its worst; constant. Basically mortification is a war against sin that we fight for as long as we're on the earth; there are no truces and we should make a habit of learning the tactics and strategies of the enemy and doing as much damage to it as we can.
  • Frequent success. If we're doing mortification right, it really works!
Again, I recommend listening to my church's free online sermons (in my previous post) and/or reading the book. I forgot to mention that the book is available for free online. It's not the same as reading it on paper, but it's free!

Monday, June 7, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 1

Well, I guess I promised some posts on what I've been studying in the weeks leading up to my summer mission project in Milwaukee. Considering I leave in four days, I should probably get on that.

One of the main things I've been doing in the way of Christian study is going through a sermon series my college church did two years ago. They have all their sermons from the last four or so years online here. This series was on a classic work by the Puritan theologian John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers. If you're looking to deepen your relationship with God by getting rid of the crap that sin puts in the way, I highly recommend getting this book and/or listening through my church's solid sermon series on it (almost halfway down the page). if you don't have the time/money, I'm going to write about it here.

The whole book is based on Romans 8:13: "But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." The first chapter is devoted to unpacking this verse in all its detail: the conditionality of the statement ('If'), the persons given this duty ('You'/believers), the means by which it is carried out ('by the Spirit'), the duty itself ('put to death the misdeeds of the body'), and the promise ('you shall live'). What a promise indeed! Tell me more!

This "putting to death the misdeeds of the body" is the aforementioned mortification of sin. More on defining it later. In the next three chapters Owen goes into three reasons for mortifying sin: as my church puts it, you must, you can, and you get to! Chapter two goes over Biblical commands for mortification (Colossians 3:5) on top of the connection with mortifying sin and living. (Pretty important to do) Additionally, he argues, Christians need to mortify their sin or it will multiply in them and drag them down and away from their relationship with God. The sermon series it titled after a line in the book, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you".

Luckily, since we must kill sin, we've been given power over it by the Holy Spirit, which weakens sin and produces goodness in us to counteract it. This is what makes mortification of sin possible; Owen describes other, futile means people to try use against sin like empty religion and rituals; outward actions that try to change out inner nature, as opposed to the Spirit changing us from the inside out. This is a crucial distinction that many get wrong then and now. (I get the feeling that Owen dislikes Catholics, as he uses their practices from that day as examples of how not to kill sin)

Then in chapter four, he offers the converse to chapter two: just as not mortifying sin results in spiritual death, mortifying sin indirectly results in "the life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life". He makes clear that without mortification of sin, we won't find any of there things, but it's not the only condition to having them; it's an "only if" relation. But that shouldn't discourage us from fighting sin, which ruins one's spiritual life by "weakening and darkening" the soul in its ability to live for God.

This is all good stuff, but it gets better. Next time: what mortification actually is! (And is not)

Friday, June 4, 2010

I'm On A Boat!

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to work on theater in just about the coolest location imaginable: on a boat! The U of MN runs a showboat docked at Harriet Island in St. Paul that is gearing up for a run of shows this summer. I cannot stress enough that it's a THEATER ON A BOAT.
Okay, it's more of a barge than a boat. Apparently the old showboat would actually cruise up and down the river during shows, but it burned down in a welding accident in 2000, and the new one is permanently docked. Inside is an impressive, if slightly small, theater by any standards,
(Note: it was many times messier and filled with tech junk when I was working on it) Luckily, all the lights had already been hung (they use the biggest ladder I've ever seen, named Big Bertha, to hang the lights visible in the picture) last week, so my work consisted largely of connecting everything. Despite five enormous cables running from the dock to the ship, there weren't nearly enough dimmers, and there was much electrical work to be done twofering (or three-fering) lights into circuits so everything could have power. I also ran smaller DMX signal cable to carry instructions to intelligent instruments.

Plugging stuff in sounds easy enough, and normally it would be, but apparently the fly system of the showboat isn't as sophisticated as the one in Rarig (theater building), so the bars everything hung on couldn't be lowered. Meaning I got to access everything in one of these.
The Genie aerial work platform is basically a portable elevator that lets you reach heights of up to 14 meters (which is terrifying). Luckily in the small showboat theater I only had to go up 4 or so meters, which isn't too bad. For stability, the Genie has four outriggers for stability. Every time I wanted to go up, I had to tighten all the outriggers to the ground, then climb into the basket to ascend. To move the Genie, all four outriggers had to be loosened so it could roll around. Multiply this by having to make dozens of ascents to work on various points on a bar and it can take all morning.

When I was up in the air, I would be plugging in lights and running the cables along the bar to where they were supposed to go. For the first semester of my techiehood, I learned to keep cables from sagging by coiling them around the bar. Just when this habit was ingrained, we got a new tech director who, like all the other ones I've had since, advocated tying the cables to bars. Switching over has been hard, especially since tying makes adding or removing individual cables much more time-consuming. Even worse is the unspeakable horror of trying to plug something in, only to need just a few more inches of cable. If the theater would get one-foot, or even six-inch extension cables, I would use them all.

Just when I thought I was done, the power splitter that was supposed to be powering a dimmer box and the strobe cannon (which is even more awesome than it sounds) was revealed to be nonoperational. After taking the whole thing apart, I concluded it needed a new plug, which would have to be brought from Rarig center.

But first, it was lunchtime. We piled into one of the lighting interns' amazing puke-green van and headed into downtown St. Paul, where after giving an impromptu tour of the city he brought us to a an amazing hot dog place. I was the only one not to have a dog of some kind. After lunch, we returned to the boat, while the lighting director went to Rarig to get more stuff. Meanwhile, we went to the booth to patch in the lights we'd connected. Up there, I discovered the showboat had an old friend of mine: the timeless Colortran Innovator, bane of MA techies everywhere.
Being highly experienced with the board, I offered to work on it, but instead read off light assignments as the intern on the board explained in detail why the numbering system the designer used was ridiculous. The channel numbers she'd assigned lights to were ridiculously spread out--the numbers for maybe 50 or so lights went up to the mid 300s, and the old board almost didn't have enough channels to accommodate everything.

After this, we had nothing else to do until the lighting director returned with more stuff, so of course we began playing Text Twist on his computer. Word games have never appealed to me much, so I explored the boat. The front entry area was quite nice, with high ceilings, elegant furnishings, and a grand staircase to the second level, which had a dining area and two(!?) bars.

Eventually the lighting director returned and told us to take a break after we'd been wasting time for at least half an hour. That got laughs out of all of us. After carrying some stuff in, I got to work replacing the plug. This went fairly smoothly; the old one was already not the original, having been installed only for a bad connection to melt and fuse the whole thing into a mess. I had to cut the whole thing off, strip the wires, and install the new, nicer plug farther upcord. After installing the whole thing, with a total of eight screws, I discovered I'd left part of the old plug on the cord. My first instinct, of course, was to break it off by smashing it with a wrench.

Unfortunately, I was later told that it was made of impact-proof plastic (a fast to which I can attest), so I just left it on as a special feature and put the splitter back onto the bar. After that we kind of ran out of work and all I remember of the rest of the day is stumping my fellow techies at 20 questions (with 'time') and being presented with some paperwork for getting paid for the day, which I'm still wondering if I did correctly. Like every day of tech, it was an adventure, and I'm sad that I'll be in Milwaukee for the debut. But it apparently has a ridiculously long run, from June 18th to August 28th, which should be time enough for anyone to see it. Get on the boat!