It all started….

(This was originally written for the “Reaching Out” newsletter at my church, Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI.)

It all started with a bulletin announcement…..
Soul Food Sunday will be held on July 29…….. It sounded like a good thing – some good food, a chance to talk to friends, a little bit of worship, a little bit of wisdom from Pastor Darrell. Yeah, I think I might like this……
We came early. You see, my teenagers are interns at church this summer and they had jobs to do. So, we had plenty of time. I think we showed up 45 minutes early – and for Madison, that’s early!
As I walked in the back door, something strange happened. There were people sitting down at the tables already! They were waiting patiently and were talking to each other and greeting others and all seemed very friendly and happy to be there. Comfortable, yeah, that’s the word – they seemed comfortable. I didn’t recognize any of them.
As it got closer and closer to 5:30, more and more people showed up. The noise level grew but there was something really cool about the noise – it was all upbeat, all positive, all happy to be there. As you looked around, you couldn’t tell who knew each other for a long time and who just met. Who have been members of Madison for years and who was living at Mel Trotter? They all just blended together.
And the people kept coming. And coming. You remember the story in the Bible about the king who threw a party and many of his “friends” were too busy to come? And so he sent his servants out into the “highways and the by-ways” urging anyone and everyone to come. Remember that story? Well, it turns out that Madison Church’s efforts on Wednesday nights brought them in.
And the people kept coming. And coming. And the tables were all filled – no problem, we’ll get more tables out. And those tables were filled – and there was no more room on the floor – no problem – we’ll put tables up on the stage.   
And the people kept coming. “I hope we don’t run out of food,” said one. “I hope we don’t run out of plates,” said another. And we didn’t. And many many people enjoyed good old fashioned soul food – ribs, cornbread, greens, you name it, it was good!
But that was only the beginning. The Gospel choir led us in songs that are still resonating through my subconscious. And then God opened the doors and handed Mrs. Kia (Pastor Darrell’s wife) the microphone. Was it an amazing story? (If I were reading this to you, I’d be asking for “Amens!”). Yes, it was. But it wasn’t amazing because Mrs. Kia is amazing. It was amazing because God is amazing and God uses broken people and tough situations for His purpose. God spoke through His servant and I know that many lives were touched. Many people who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting came, enjoyed the food but also were touched by God’s hand through it all.
Soul Food Sunday – way more than just a church dinner. It was a coming together of people – the neighbors, the church members, the forgotten ones in the shelters – they were not forgotten. Everyone’s story mattered but none of the stories mattered. We were all there because God loves us – imperfect, screwed up, messed up people that we are.  
And that’s what I had for dinner Sunday night. 

Soul Food.

Tom

My Dad was a Wise Guy

Many of you know my dad.  Some of you don’t.

He passed away on March 23 of this year after a 15 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Ironically, it was side effects of the treatments that brought him to glory, not the cancer itself. The fact that he had cancer 4 times was a lot of chemo and radiation……

My dad was a Christian Reformed minister. But he was also a teacher, counselor, friend, author, mentor and many other things. He was a wise man.

Okay, and sometimes he was a wise guy too. He had a sense of mischief and a sense of humor that kept all of us on our toes. I could tell you stories for a long time, but that’s not for now – maybe later.

You know how every child goes through the stages of thinking about their parents? First, their father knows everything. Then as they get to be teenagers, they think that their Dad knows nothing. Finally, when they grow up, they realize that yeah, guess what, Dad was pretty smart?

There’s another stage beyond that. Not everyone has a good enough relationship with their dad to get to this stage. It’s the stage when, you’re an adult, and as you are discussing things, often deep things, tough things, important things, your dad admits something to you. “I don’t know.”

Yep, my Dad didn’t know everything. He knew a lot. He made a lot of people’s lives a lot better. I love him dearly, I miss him dearly and I’m grateful for the role he has played in my life and the lives of my family members. I’m also grateful that he was free to admit he didn’t know everything. Why?

When you admit you don’t know everything and encourage discussions with others, you are all better off. You might learn from him or from her.

When you admit you don’t know everything you are providing others with the opportunity to share their opinions. That shows them respect and value and we need more of that in the world.

When you admit you don’t know everything, the person you are talking with is encouraged to discuss and search for truth while feeling important. There is so little of that trust and respect these days.

Admit you don’t know everything. Not only everything about EVERYTHING, but also admit that you probably aren’t the one who knows the most about the subject you’re talking about.

Admit it but keep talking.

And listening.

Really listening. Listening to learn.

You might be surprised what will happen.

Tom

Getting Smart

In the previous post, we talked about how it is important to push back against confusion and misunderstanding. We talked about how it’s important to push back against those because if we can clear up confusion and misunderstanding, it’s easier to push back against evil.

Why? Because evil likes to create confusion.

Evil likes to use misunderstanding to hide from the light of day.

Now I want to make it more personal. I don’t want to talk about government policies that are confusing. I don’t want to talk about how the motives behind what so and so does are being misunderstood.

I want to talk about you. I want to talk about me.

I can’t speak for you, maybe you do. I don’t.

Don’t what? I don’t know everything.

Not even close. Actually, so far from close that it’s funny to even think about.

But I know that if I get smarter, I can make more of a difference. If I ask questions, I can learn more. If I read about things, I can learn what is going on.

Most people are more afraid of what they don’t know about than what they do. If they don’t understand what is happening or why, that can create fear. It can create contempt.

I don’t understand your music – so it must be bad music.

I don’t understand your language – so you must be talking nasty about something or someone.

I don’t understand your religion so I don’t like you.

I don’t…….

The list can go on and on and on.

But if I do understand, then I can see you for you, not for what I didn’t understand.

If I do understand, then I can see the reason behind behaviors and not be afraid of the behaviors as evil or hostile.

If I understand your history, then I can appreciate your cultural festivals and respect them and you better.

If I understand the reason behind events in history, then I can see them for the impact they have on you and on me.

Most people are afraid of things that they don’t understand.

Many people will, when they understand things or people or traditions or habits or whatever, respond in a way that furthers communication and relationships.

And that makes the world a better place.

Tom

Tom

When…..

When I’m an adult…..

When my kids are out of school…..

When we get the house paid off……

When I get my college degree…….

When……

When…….

Guess what – God doesn’t work that way.

God doesn’t say, “When you’re an adult, I want you to……”

“When your medical problems are gone, I want you to…..”

“When you graduate, then can you……?”

“When your kids are out of school, then……..”

“When your kids go back to school, then…….”

God says, “I am God, your God. I love you more than you deserve or can even understand. You don’t have to do anything to “earn” my love, it is given freely.”

But God also says that when we are helping the poor or the sick or the needy or those in jail, we are doing that to him and for him. So, we can help the needy and show, through our actions, how grateful we are to God for his love. Or we can ignore those in need or worse yet, support programs and policies that harm those in need and we are in direct conflict with God’s designed purpose.

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:37-40 MSG
http://bible.com/97/mat.25.37-40.msg

There’s an author by the name of John Pavolvitz who makes me think. He writes a lot about the current happenings in the world and one of the reasons he makes me think is because I don’t always agree with what he says, but he is very persuasive. He’s a hard writer to just “brush off.”

He wrote a piece on Tuesday, you can read the whole piece at https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/07/03/pick-a-hill-worth-dying-on-america/
But let me read you one paragraph…..

“So instead of lamenting how horrible it all is, accept the invitation to make it less horrible.
Instead of looking to the sky and wondering why no one is doing anything, you do something.
Step out of the cloistered place of your private despair, and into a jacked-up world that you can alter by showing up.
Use your gifts and your influence and your breath and your hands—and fix something that is badly broken before it breaks beyond repair.”

Don’t just stand there and complain about how bad things are, pick something that’s important to you and get busy trying to be the change.

Be the change for kids in foster care.
Be the change for immigrant families on the border with Mexico.
Be the change for your church.
Be the change to combat racism in your community.
Be the change to elect truly competent and wise people to run our government – at all levels.
Be the change for the kids who attend schools that are underfunded and overcrowded.
Be the change for……..

Don’t just stand there and talk about how awful things are. Don’t just stand there and say, “there’s so much that is wrong in this world, how would I even make a difference?” God doesn’t want us all to do everything.

God wants each of us to do something.

What’s your something?

Tom

Christian Reformed Church Statement on Forced Separation Policy

“We call on the U.S. administration to immediately end these unjust practices, and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the values of family unity, humane treatment, and refuge for persons being persecuted. We also call on Congress to immediately act to reform our immigration system so that there are more, not fewer, opportunities for legal status and permanent protection for vulnerable immigrants. Finally, we encourage members of the CRCNA in the U.S. to keep this situation in their prayers, to educate themselves about issues facing immigrants, and to urge their lawmakers to enact laws that honor the blessings that immigrants bring to our country.

Speak up for families at the border today.

In Christ,

Steven Timmermans, Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Colin P. Watson, Director of Ministries and Administration, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Carol Bremer-Bennett, Director, World Renew – United States, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Reginald Smith, Offices of Race Relations and Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Kurt Selles, Director, Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Zachary King, Director, Resonate Global Mission, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Jul Medenblik, President, Calvin Theological Seminary, Christian Reformed Church in North America

Source: CRCNA Statement on Forced Separation Policy | Article | Christian Reformed Church