It started with a piece of tape.

And then another, and another and another. And then the next roll. And the next….

A view from upstairs and you can see what it is. The chairs are all gone and the tape marks the outline of where the congregation normally sits.

Why?  Because Good Friday isn’t comfortable.

Then came the musicians.

Plugging in cords. Setting up microphones. Tuning the cello and the guitars.

Hey, you see those two over there? What are they doing? I don’t know.

They move from place to place around the room. Soon it’s obvious what they are doing.

They are praying. They are praying for the worshippers that will soon be coming in. .

Every one of them.

The pastors and musicians gather for prayer as people start wandering in. Some of the elderly sit in a row of chairs around the back. Everyone else sits on the floor.

Just enough light shows to help people pick out spots on the floor. Families sit in groups. Parents tell their little ones why it’s dark and why they are sitting on the floor.

Some are very comfortable on the floor, many are not. But more and more people are coming in.

It’s quiet, unusually quiet. Reflective, somber, anticipatory.

And more people come in. The ushers keep busy trying to find a place for them.

They succeed even as the empty spots get smaller and smaller. They ask and people gladly move closer together.

The minister spoke in the dark. Words of reverence and hope. Words of redemption. Words of awareness.

The music joined in – many of the musicians were playing from their heart and soul – and without any written music. The music wove itself throughout the room, turning people’s hearts to Jesus and to Good Friday.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that would be a present far too small.” A heartfelt admission that we are more broken than we think we are and more loved than we could ever imagine.

The seven stations of the cross – followed by a candle being extinguished. The darkness grows.

Judas betrays Jesus. The darkness grows.

Peter denies Jesus. The darkness grows.

The thief begs for salvation. The darkness grows.

Every step of the way, the darkness grows.

“Father into thy hands, I commit my spirit.

It’s late on Friday and a wise man and a believer worked with the Mary’s and get him down and buried him.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

The pastors jointly said, “May the Lord Bless you, may the Lord make his face to shine on and keep you. Go forth in the knowledge it is currently Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Sunday is coming and God is so so good.

Tom

The Scene Beneath Rarely Gets Seen

My son attends a multi cultural urban school in Grand Rapids (shameless plug – www.tphgr.org) and he sings in the Gospel Choir there. Recently, they were invited to sing at the Christmas dinner for one “section” of one of the largest retirement communities in West Michigan. Some of us parents came along as chauffeurs (sounds more important than taxi driver – doesn’t it?)

We got to sit in the back and listen to them. They did a wonderful job and these kids and their love of music and the way Mr. Nate leads them is truly amazing to hear.

But I got to see something more.

As I looked around the room, there were maybe 10 to 12 tables with maybe 10 to 12 people sitting at each one. They were obviously just finishing dinner and enjoying dessert. As The Potter’s House Gospel Choir was introduced, you could see they were looking forward to hearing the choir. Many pushed their chairs back so they could drink their coffee and see and hear the kids better.

Now I’m totally guessing, but I believe that, based on what I saw, that many of the residents expected to see and hear a traditional choir singing traditional Christmas songs.

The PH Gospel Choir is a traditional Choir.

It’s just not the same tradition that the audience was used to.

And that’s where it was really a privilege to not only hear these kids but to see the change in the reactions in the audience. It very quickly went from expecting the traditional “Caucasian” Christmas concert to a sense of curiousity.

“Who are these kids?”

To

“I think I recognize that song”

To

“Oh, I like this.”

To

“This is something special”

To

“These kids are something special.”

To

“God is up to something special at that school.”

Okay, I have to admit I wasn’t the most excited about being a chauffeur to the other side of Grand Rapids wasn’t high on my list of “things to do” on that Monday night.

But I saw a scene that rarely gets seen.

I saw 10 high school students use their God given gifts to share with another generation.

And God made a difference.

And it was good.

TV

It’s been everywhere lately…..

Twitter…..

The White House…..

The White House on Twitter…..

All news sources whether “fake” or “real”

Facebook – personal stories that would break your heart.

Facebook – personal attacks that brought friends of mine to tears.

The local coffee shop

Sexual abuse hotlines were inundated with people seeking help.

Instagram and I’m sure there were even people on SnapChat talking about it.

Oh and there were “big wigs” (supposedly important) people in various religious organizations and denominations who had to add their voice to the noise.

Who knew what? What said what? Who did What?

Who threatened what? Who had to take their family into hiding? Who had bad memories, horrible memories brought up again that they had tried to move past?

I am not even going to mention names, because while the issue is about a Supreme Court Judicial Nominee and his accuser, the issue is much bigger than that…..
• The issue is about our society’s treatment of women.
• The issue is about the church’s failure to stand up for the rights of the abused, no matter what color, what gender, what age they are.
• The issue is about why “adult” (and I use that term loosely) white men seem to think they can get away with anything – and why they have for so many years.
• I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point……

“….If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.”
John 15:18-19 MSG
http://bible.com/97/jhn.15.18-19.msg

How many of the people who currently run the United States government claim to be “Christian?”

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who spoke up this past week trying to either minimize, downplay or explain what might or might not have happened, how many of them claim to be Christians?

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who currently run Christian organizations honestly believe that the people in the current administration run their personal lives and their actions in the government according to God’s terms?

If the leaders of churches, the people that every week we turn to for leadership and direction and encouragement, if they are openly supporting someone who doesn’t support life on God’s terms, what sort of message does that say about the church?

And we wonder why people are leaving the church?

Really?

Do we really wonder why people are leaving the church?

Or are we just afraid to face the answer to that question?

People are leaving the church because the church is leaving God.

Let me repeat that.

People are leaving the church

Because

The church is leaving God.

The church is spending more time focusing on being popular and being liked and being welcoming and being this and that and less time focusing on what Jesus said it needs to be about:

The first and great commandment is this – Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and strength.

And a second commandment is like it – Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

Now I think we should all go figure out what that means for our own people and our own world and make this coming week a better week.

TJV

God and Siri

Can Siri help your prayer life?

Huh?  You’re probably thinking, Tom, those teenagers in your house have gotten to you or you’ve lost your marbles.   Well, both of those could be true but they have nothing to do with whether Siri (or Google or Cortana or any of the voice apps out there) can help your prayer life.   I give credit for this idea to Pastor Darrell he shared this in an Elder’s meeting this week.

How often have you had it where you’ve been talking to someone and they said, “you know, next _________ my ________ is having _________ removed and we’re pretty ________ about it.   We’d love it if you could keep that in your prayers.”   Happens a lot – at least a good amount on Sundays at church it does.   And what happens?

We get home, we get busy with our own daily life and that day comes and goes and we totally forget to stop on that day and say, “Hey God, my friend ________ is nervous because her ___________ is having _______________ removed.   Can you give them an extra measure of peace today and can you make sure that all goes well?   I know they’d really appreciate it and I would too.   Thanks God.”

You missed the opportunity.

So, instead, try something else.   While you are still talking to the person, whip out your smart phone and say something like this,  “Hey Siri, remind me something, “   Set it for the lady with the British accent, “What would you like to get reminded about, “Remind me next ________ …….” and tell it all to Siri.   Siri will them remember it and at the right time on the right day, Siri will remind you.

And then the person that needs prayer knows that you will be reminded that they need prayer on that day and that will encourage them.   Oh and there’s this whole thing about the power of prayer.

Try it.   Get Siri involved to improve your prayer life.   I’m going to try it.

TJV

Looking at Old and Seeing New

Met a long time friend for coffee this afternoon.

Talked about kids, church, college, gap years, social media, health, her new job.

We talked about her new job – “It’s great! I get to do what I love 6 days a week!” (Did I mention she was my kids youth director prior to this?)

“Hey have you got a few minutes – you should come see our building?” It was a short drive.

As I pulled in the driveway, and throughout the tour, I thought, “You might have saw an old church building, I see new opportunities.”

You might see a building that is not in very good condition, I see a place that can be a solid foundation for kids with a less than solid foundation in their lives.

You might see the worn carpet and the creaky doors as a sign of struggle, I see it as God using His people to meet these kids where they are at.

You might see an old tired building that’s “past it’s prime” and not really good for much. I see a building that is full of stories.

Stories of good.

Stories of sadness.

Stories of life.

Stories of God.

Stories of God at work.

Stories of God’s people pushing back the darkness.

And many stories to come.

It’s called New City Kids and starting next Monday, they will kick off their 2018-2019 season of making a difference in the lives of inner city kids in Grand Rapids. Kids who need someone to care about them. Kids who need to hear about the love of Jesus.

Throughout the coming year, there will be a lot of kids showing up a New City Kids. There will be a lot of stories coming out of and through that old building.

Some of them will be happy.

Some of them will be sad.

Some of them will be easy.

Some will give you hope.

Some will make you hurt for the next generation.

I hope to be able be in a position to share the stories with you as time moves on.

I hope you’ll join with us and help influence these kids.

Stay tuned.

Tom