Category Archives: Christianity

Not what I had planned

Photo by Elvis Santana

“Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht” (Man plans, God laughs) — Yiddish proverb

When we moved near University of the Pacific in the fall of 2007, I had intended to start a small group study at my home for college students. I had envisioned heady theological discussions over coffee. I don’t know exactly what I had in mind, but it was something akin to Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or C.S. Lewis and his faculty cronies at Oxford.

After gentle prodding from God and his earthly representatives, my wife and I agreed to host a small group Bible study in our home on Thursday evenings. After nearly six months now, I can say with confidence that it’s not what I had planned. How doth God humor me? Let me count the ways:

  • None of our members have a car. We picke up most of our group and bring them to our house. During these months, we have endured two flat tires — same car, same day! — and a dead transmission. But we endure. And endure. And endure.
  • None of our members have a home environment that allows them to host, or they simply haven’t arrived at the point in their journey where they are comfortable hosting our little dysfunctional band of brothers. So, instead of a house-to-house ministry, we’re a stationary group, in which my wife and I play the role of permanent hosts. We also teach the group in tandem, since our group hasn’t evolved to the point where they are asking questions (that pertain to the lesson; of the irrelevant sort, they know no bounds).
  • Three of our regular members have been county mental health patients. Two have been incarcerated. Two have had their children taken from them. Most of them come from gangs, with the accompanying body art. At least three of them are recovering drug addicts. And this is just the stuff I know.

And yet, amid all the chaos and level of need for which I feel woefully unprepared to meet, the miraculous occurs on a regular basis:

  • One of our members prays for a job. She gets a job for a national retailer that allows her to work weekdays, which allows her to spend time with her children, continue to attend our group and make it to church Sundays.
  • Another member asked that we pray for a place to live, since the home she was renting with her daughter had gone into foreclosure. She didn’t find a place; the new owner of the home she was renting decided to let her and her family stay.
  • This same member asked for prayer about a tumor the doctors had found in one of her kidneys. Sometime before the biopsy, the doctors learned it was a deformity of her urinary tract.

Perhaps the most miraculous goings-on involve the change in attitude among our members. One member who is going through some extreme hardship regularly expresses frustration bordering on exasperation with her children. On a whim, I asked the group if they had any advice.

“I’d read Psalm 61,” chimed in our group mother. “It helped me out a lot.”

Stunned, I reached for my Bible and looked for the advised psalm. I don’t remember the last time I heard Psalm 61 read or taught, much less recommended. But there it was, in all its appropriate wisdom:

1Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

2From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

3 For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

4 I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

5For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

6Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations.

7He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.

8So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.

This same person correctly identified Manasseh and Ephraim as Joseph’s children at the beginning of a lesson. It’s all I can do to avoid falling out of my chair on some Thursday evenings.

Our latest endeavor involves memorizing scripture. We’re starting off with Psalm 1, a grounding passage dealing with the blessings that come from following God, and the danger in seeking ungodly counsel.

I can hardly wait for my next plan to unravel.

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Filed under Christianity, church, discipleship, small group

From the Pew Forum: Hispanic Churches Add English Services

Editor’s note: the link for the full story is no longer active. Newsvine has the article, which you may access here.

This little gem arrived Aug. 28 from my Pew Forum feed. It deals with a lot of topics found in my congregation. As we grow and take on more English-speaking members, we are learning how to communicate to a broader audience.

Our congregation is roughly 55 years old and started an English-language service four (?) years ago. It’s going well enough but the attendance is still far below the 12 p.m. Spanish-language service. There are many in our church who are perfectly fluent in English but who prefer the Spanish service for its “fervency.” The songs have more of a salsa beat, there’s a bigger crowd and the people seem to get into it more than at the 9:30 a.m. English service.

By comparison, the English service music is more staid, with choruses that repeat a lot — although this is changing. We seem to be singing older songs; by older, I mean gospel music of the 1970s. A lot of Andrae Crouch and others of his type.

I’m not sure how we crack the code on worship during the English service. It seems like the pastor has to prime the pump quite a bit more during the English service. What does one do? I’m committed to making the English service not only work but grow by leaps and bounds. We seem to have hit a temporary plateau. Any growth minded people have any ideas on how to work past this without sacrificing the spiritual health of those already in fellowship?

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Filed under Christianity, Hispanics, Latinos, Pentecostalism

Random Monday thoughts

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The Missus packs away the Biblical commentary collection while looking resplendent in contrasting colors of the season. Yowza!
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Five boxes: a good start, only a start.

  • The packing is going so-so. After an initial rush, we’ve slowed to a crawl. I should be worried, but why start so early when I can worry the night before the move? Continue reading

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Filed under Christianity, home life

Read this: Hemant Mehta’s “I Sold My Soul on eBay”

I’m almost finished reading Hemant Mehta’s book I Sold My Soul on eBay, which details his experiences as an atheist visiting Christian churches of varying sizes and traditions after putting himself — and his soul — on the eBay auction block.

The winning bidder, evangelist Jim Henderson, “paid for his time” by sending him to more than a dozen churches in. A self-described “friendly atheist,” his friendlyathiest.com web site keeps abreast of atheists in the news — something that is rarely done in our culture. Sadly, and this is a point he mentions in his book, atheists only make the news when there is a court case or a moral issue being debated.

Hemant’s perspective is that Christians don’t really know atheists, and I would have to agree. He argues that most Christians view atheists as immoral, corrupt and evil and that isn’t the case. He argues that he believes in morality, although as an atheist he believes the origin of his morality is not from God, but from himself, or more precisely, learned behavior. Continue reading

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Filed under atheism, Christianity