People

People

I was coming from a meeting in Manhattan and was scurrying to catch a  subway back to The Bronx.  I had to go down two levels to catch this particular train.  In my descent there were people in front of me, much younger than I.  They were walking four abreast, taking their sweet time and I couldn’t get around them. I was getting impatient.  I muttered under my breath (so I thought), “This city’s not fast enough for me.”  As I continued my descent, and they had turned to go in another direction, I caught out of the corner of my eye, one who had turned to look back at me.  Then it hit me. Oh no!  I have become one of those ugly New Yorkers.

Please don’t form a bad opinion about New Yorkers because of me.  On several occasions, I have had direct experience of their kindness one of which was an offer of help after having tripped and fallen on the sidewalk in midtown—again because I was in a rush.

I live at the intersection of two very busy streets in The Bronx. It is not unusual to go the store and bob (no pun intended) in and out of people.  In stark contrast, it comes home to me on those occasions of travel when I find myself in a suburban setting.  I ask, “Where are the people?”

In my neighborhood, on a given day there are over a thousand people on the street within a couple of blocks.  Among the throngs are people with an agenda, whether hawking their wares, handing out flyers, asking for money or just plain hanging out.

It’s not difficult to feel lost in this sea of humanity and I begin to wonder at times how the present reality of the kingdom of God is relevant to these bumper cars of bodies.  The temptation is to feel that life is nothing more than a random series of spontaneous collisions among humanoids doused with a generous effusion of high decibel music.

The temptation is to think that this is reality. Happily, on occasion, there are those “springs in the desert” which makes life a bit more personable.  I’ve lived here long enough to encounter people in the crowd whom I know and with whom I exchange friendly hellos. It helps to take the edge off feelings of insignificance.

This erstwhile labyrinth of muscle and blood is in fact comprised of individuals who are loathe to think of themselves as little more than a social security number.  Many of them harbor deep in their minds a belief that tomorrow is going to be better.  At least that is what the younger set believes.  For some, things do get better economically  and the dream to escape the noise and crowds of the city becomes a reality.  The result is that they end up trading the body compression of a crowded subway car for  traffic congestion on the George Washington Bridge.

For the less fortunate that remain, the clouds have begun to cover the sun.  The future is not as bright as one thought in younger years.  Therefore, one might as well hunker down and try to eek out some semblance of happiness in the here and now.  With some friends, there’s always a hookah to share, dominos to play and, of course, clubbing on Saturday night.  Sad to report that neither the commute in from the suburbs nor the huddles of humanity on the stoop, has produced the goods in terms of a deep abiding happiness that comes with a purposeful life.  Do I have a stranglehold on the obvious or what?

I cannot escape running errands on busy Fordham Road nor do I want to. Ironically, I find a certain comfort of familiarity in zigging while others in front of me are zagging or visa versa.

But the temptation is to allow my mind to drift into the lie when inadvertently connecting with my peripatetic comrades in incidental contact—“sorry!” then a smile—usually. To the contrary, what I see is not all there is.  I have to metaphorically splash water on my face and remind myself of the presence of the kingdom and that people, image bearers of God all, need Jesus.  That is not an escape.  It’s living in reality.

This is God’s world and it is the unbeliever that is trying to escape from reality.  In the words of one of the more obscure songs of Paul Simon, “I don’t know what is real, I can’t touch what I feel, and I hide behind the shield of my illusion. So I’ll continue to continue to pretend my life will never end, and flowers never bend with the rainfall.”

Since it is God’s world and the universally recognized problem of evil is all around us, we have good news to proclaim.  Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came into the world to save sinners.  We thank God for those who have been transformed by this glorious message.

There are others with whom we are engaged who hear the message but either outright stand in opposition to it (in the case of some Muslims with whom some among us are speaking) or, they seem to understand it but as the conversation deepens, the static noise of self- righteousness is interfering with the message that all are sinners and stand in need of a Savior.  Please pray for us as we continue these dialogues.  The Holy Spirit is able to make the blind to see and the deaf hear.

Among the crowds of people who line the streets of The Bronx, there are His sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd to come and follow Him.  We  continue to speak that glorious message in several venues one of which was recently to a captive audience of 40 teenagers waiting to play basketball.

Thank you for praying for us to persevere in preaching the Gospel in season and out of season.

Household Words

Pictured above right is this past summer’s Vacation Bible School staff.  Not everyone was involved everyday but most were.  These are some of my very favorite people on the face of the earth. The theme this year was God is in Control.  This year’s VBS curriculum was written by our own Jordan Roberts.  It most certainly has the Gospel message but there is also a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  In this day and age with a generation increasingly removed from a Biblical knowledge of God, we feel that we need to emphasize the being and character of God in our Gospel presentation.   Though attendance was down this year for a number of reasons, it was nevertheless a good week and a well run week.

For Hope Academy, our Head of School, Naomi Woodmansee writes: “As Hope Academy begins its 4th year, we are trusting God to guide and provide for all our needs in this new school year.  God has provided our sixth staff member (BHOF member, Amanda Swift), and we are adding 10th grade this fall.  We welcomed four new scholars in need of a quality, Christ-centered education and have six on a waiting list to join the Hope Academy family. Our theme this year is John 10: 1-16. Please pray that our scholars will come to know Christ as their Good Shepherd and embrace the abundant life found only in Him.”

What Is the Gospel?

What Is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

I have heard this question scoffed at. Why, after all, do we have to waste time sitting around discussing this question? Just look at John 3:16! End of class. Let’s just get on with the task.

I agree that we can get bogged down in conference after conference with big name speakers and great music, fine tuning our understanding of the Gospel.

Would that Christians understood John 3:16 the way the Apostle John intended it to be understood inasmuch as he has some incredible things to say about Christ, the only begotten Son, the One who is the explanation of the Gospel.

I think C.S. Lewis presents a very accurate picture of Christ in the chldren’s book series, The Narnia Tales. Take, for example, Aslan, in The Silver Chair. There we learn about Jill, a little girl from our world, who accidentally stumbles into the world of Narnia and got separated from her school chum, Eustace. She is extremely thirsty and comes upon a stream. But a Lion, Aslan, is sitting by the stream. She is terrified. Aslan says to her, “’If you are thirsty, you may drink.’ She doesn’t move.

‘Are you not thirsty?’ said the Lion.

‘I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill.

‘Then drink,’ said the Lion.

‘May I, could I, would you mind going away while I do?’ said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And, as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked a whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.”

‘Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?’’ said Jill.

‘I make no promise,’’ said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

‘Do you eat girls?’’ she asked.

‘I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,’’ said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. [I love this line!]

‘I daren’t come and drink,’’ said Jill.

‘Then you will die of thirst,’’ said the Lion.

‘Oh dear!’’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’’

‘There is no other stream,’’ said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion, no one who had seen his stern face could do that,’ and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she finished. Now she realized that this would be, on the whole, the most dangerous thing of all. She got up and stood there with her lips still wet from drinking.”

This is much closer to the Christ of John 3:16 which must be understood in its wider context, to wit, the entire Gospel. There we learn about the only begotten Son who offers to quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger but, on His terms.

Sometimes we hear the rejoinder to our Gospel presentation, “I believe but not the way you do.” That is not to be taken as having a more accurately Biblical response to the Gospel than we.

Quite the contrary, it closes the discussion. In other words, that person is actually saying, I believe in me. Therefore I will pick and choose what I like from the Word of God. Sadly, we seem to encounter too many people like this.

Well then, what is the Gospel? Let me respond from a letter that I wrote to someone who posed the question to me:

“The Gospel is like a diamond. It looks a bit different in different light: indirect, artificial, cloudy, bright sun. Each venue propagates its own unique beauty but in the final analysis, it is still a diamond. The Gospel, likewise, is many faceted. At its core are three things: justification, sanctification, and glorification.

In justification, we are declared innocent of the guilt of our sin because of Christ. In sanctification we are being set free from the grip of sin because we have died with Christ. This is a process. Christ, our high priest, is interceding for us. In glorification, there is the blessed hope of one day being free from the presence of sin, when we see Christ face to face, no longer seeing through a glass darkly.

Additionally, there are other aspects to the Gospel: redemption, the buying back through the payment of a price. There is adoption which gives us the right to call God, our Father, making us joint heirs with Christ. There is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. These are some but not all of what comprises the richness of the Gospel.

Simeon, as he held the baby Jesus in his arms at the presentation in the Temple, declared, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation . . .’ So, what is the Gospel? In a word—Christ!”

Household Words
Longtime BHOF member and Head of School of Hope Academy, Naomi Woodmansee, recently received her PhD from Columbia International University.  We honored her with a reception after the worship service and were delighted to address her as Dr. Woodmansee.  She wore her academic hood as she shared of learning to trust and persevere, but as she conveyed her thanks to us, she took it off and said, “I’m still Naomi.” Indeed she is!

Hope Academy just had its 4th annual fund raising banquet.  The featured speaker was Dr. Bruce Lockerbie, a veteran Christian educator and Chairman of Paideia Inc., an education consulting organization.  He spoke on the core values of Christian education and will be returning in June to meet with those directly involved with Hope Academy’s leadership.

There has already been a most generous response to our request for camp scholarships. Thank you. Please join us in helping inner city kids go to a Christian camp, which seems to get more expensive every year.

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle . . . (II Sam11:1). It is spring and we have our own battle. It’s a spiritual battle. New York City Christian Athletic League (NYCCAL), an affiliated ministry, has just begun its spring outdoor basketball program in a nearby park. Our own Edwin Santiago is the founder and director. This year over 100 teenage boys are involved. They will hear the Gospel each week for the next seven weeks. Please join us in the spiritual battle for the souls of these young men. Jack and I are among the speakers who have presented the Gospel to them.

A newer ministry of BHOF is Hope Again under the leadership of Sarah Henry.  This is a counseling/ healing ministry to women who have had abortions. This Bible study offers help with issues such as relief, denial, anger, forgiveness, depression, grief, and guilt.  Sarah and Pat Roberts are already meeting with women who have had abortions.  It is a private and protected environment where women can express their feelings and find help through the healing balm of the Gospel.

There are lots of needs; the fields are truly white unto harvest. We feel like we’re spread pretty thin. Thank you for continuing to pray for us.
Bob Hall

Love

Love

Ah yes, love!  It’s almost spring which turns a young man’s fancy . . ., so I am told.  Valentine’s Day is long past.  You remember.  That’s when love is expressed in big teddy bears and heart shaped helium balloons—genuine expressions of love don’t you know.

In my recreational reading over the last couple of years, I’ve managed to read some (not all) novels that are heavy on the romantic side.  Though the prose was strong on pumping up the emotional side of things, I found this genre of literature to be rather flat and, quite frankly, rather disappointing after finishing the final chapter.  It just isn’t like that in the real world.

Do I have a stranglehold on the obvious to inform you that love is the holy grail of human experience? Everyone is desperate for someone to love and to be loved.  Yet, how sad it is for those who think they have found their one true love to be awakened to another reality of human experience—sin.  Sin and its consort, self-centeredness, is ingrained in all of us and it lurks in the shadows behind the activity of the brain that is often mistaken for love.  Exploiting the weakness of humanly generated love, better known as attraction, it emerges to demolish those dreams and fantasies about the nature and accessibility of true love.

How many couples have come together and have bound themselves to each other on that gossamer foundation that is human love.  Yessir! They’re going to beat the odds of failed relationships because theirs is like nobody else’s.  You see they have such wonderful communication; they can talk together for hours!  So they know how to head off their problems at the pass and solve them before they get out of hand.

Why is it that these same people who were once madly in love forever are now sometime later bitter enemies fighting it out in the divorce courts?

Despite the risks and vulnerability involved, love remains humanity’s highest quest. Why?

Most certainly it is not that we have evolved into a sophisticated array of synapses in the brain; neither is there some DNA molecule that can be identified as love.  Ironically after the development of the brain scanning device known as the PET scanner and the decade of the brain in the 1990’s, we know more about the brain than ever before but are no closer to understanding those things which make us human. I’m referring to that which is the context of the experience of love: self-consciousness, consciousness of the world around us, and the ability to make choices between moral options.  We’re no closer to understanding these things than we were before.1.

Love most certainly has much to do with being image bearers of God.   The latter is something more profound than we often take the time to consider.  We would do well to contemplate it, however, because it is the divinely hardwired capacity to know and love God and to love one another.

We demand, in this day and age, that our worship songs, hymns and sermons be overstuffed with the love of God.  What this new music lacks in content is made up for in high energy electric guitars, keyboards and drum sets.

Don’t misunderstand.  It’s important to me to sing about and contemplate the love of God.  It’s just that I prefer, “I hear the words of love; I gaze upon the blood; I see the mighty sacrifice and I have peace with God;” to “Oh how he loves you and me.”  Sometimes old is better than new.

Indeed, we ought to be singing about the love of God and we ought to be hearing about it in the pulpit but we ought to get beyond the word itself. There are many aspects to that love including, dare I say it, even God’s justice.  He is not indifferent to evil.  Sad to report, most of the rhetoric about God’s love is rather thin when it comes to the specifics as to how that love is expressed.

By the way, have you noticed in the Christian/atheist debates, how the arguments from the atheist side are rarely about some irrefutable scientific data, but rather the problem of evil? It’s amazing how the opposition is so quick to leave their home country of materialism and enter the non-material world of metaphysics.  The unbeliever is truly an image bearer of God and his concern about evil betrays that fact.

Okay, we’re talking about love and not the problem of evil per se but let us see God’s love in the Cross wherein God is not indifferent to evil inasmuch as divine justice has been satisfied so that reconciliation and a new creation in Christ can be offered to the world.

It would not be so bad, this overwhelming emphasis on love in our worship and preaching, if people who are so willing to passionately absorb this touchy-feely rhetoric would find themselves ever more loving.

Why is it that those who love to sing about God’s love, demand sermons on it, end up being some of the most unloving people around?  It’s one thing to sing and talk about God’s love, it’s quite another to receive it.  Am I overstating the case to assert that if we were able to absorb and subsequently transmit one tenth the number of times the love of God is mentioned, that there would be a veritable revival?

Please forgive me if I appear to be sitting high on a perch judging others while rendering myself impervious to the problem.  I include myself in this word-vs-reality deficit.  I am in desperate need of the authentic experience of, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

We would do well to ponder the genuineness of our own experience and expressions of love the next time we sing or hear about how much God loves us.


  1. James LaFanu, Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, pp. 11-21

Household Words

I had an interesting experience riding the subway recently.  I was with my son Nathan and family. On the train we were talking about spiritual things.  A man standing next to us was wincing and intermittently taking deep breaths.  I thought it was a matter of his not having a seat inasmuch as he was somewhat wide of girth.  Finally he got a seat next to me and all of a sudden, he proceeded to tear into me with a broadside of insults (unrepeatable) and a barrage of questions, like “What kind of a Christian are you?  Are you one of those Evangelicals?”  He was not crazy but he had been drinking and sometimes the drink can diminish one’s inhibitions.  In his case he made it known to everyone around how much he hates Christians.  I suspect many others do also.  No matter.  It’s part of the territory of being a follower of Christ and a sober reminder as to how we are to be circumspect in living our lives before a watching world.

Though summer is a few months away, we do want to mention again the need for camp scholarships. Camping is becoming increasingly expensive and it would be sad to see some of our more disadvantaged youth priced out of the experience.  Thank you, in advance, for your generosity.

Whenever I’m in our building, I try to remember to thank God for His amazing and miraculous provision.  The

Lord had provided our homes over the years out of which we were able to carry out our ministries.  We can do so much more having our own facility.  When one acquires a building, even a new one such as we have, it has to be maintained—hellooo!  Periodically, maintenance and repair issues have arisen some of which seem insurmountable.  I stand amazed that God has brought the right person and the right time to handle these problems.  He was with us in the wilderness; He continues to be with us in the promised land.

We’re busy.   A lot of ministries, mostly to youth, directly or indirectly connected to BHOF are happening.  But what we long to see is a response from those that are hearing the Gospel.  We can get decisions but there needs to be a demonstrable, life transforming, spiritual awakening especially in the younger generation.  Only the Lord can make that happen.  Thank you for praying with us to that end.

Apostasy

Apostasy

Apostasy is a term that  has dropped out of usage for most Evangelicals.  After all, “once saved always saved,” would make apostasy virtually impossible.  Yet there are others who also live under the Evangelical umbrella who believe that a person, once truly saved, can nevertheless lose one’s salvation.

Is it possible for someone to lose their salvation?  John 15 is one portion of Scripture that is frequently cited to support this idea, particularly verses 5-6,

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

To teach eternal security, so the argument goes, is to encourage slovenliness in the Christian life.  Once someone has accepted Christ as Savior, that person, because they cannot lose their salvation, can now live the way they want to live—once saved always saved.  On the face of it, this is a compelling argument against eternal security.

The conclusion is not warranted however, least of all by this passage.  Those who argue that one can lose his or her salvation, do so on the assumption that one becomes a believer in Christ by an act of free will.  (By free will we mean an autonomous and neutral force within our inner being that is free to choose or not choose God.)   Even though the Holy Spirit may exert pressure on the person to believe, so the argument goes, God waits for that person to say yes.  In the final analysis, it is up to the individual to accept the gift of salvation that is offered to all.

This emphasis on free will is  invoked to vitiate the once-saved-always-saved position.  The doctrine of eternal security is then made to look ridiculous:  You prayed the sinner’s prayer and God is now stuck to you like fly paper and no matter what you do later in life, you’re still saved.  This is wrong.  There is another point of view.

First, we must jettison the phrases, “eternal security” and “once saved always saved.”  Technically, they are correct but only partially so.  They do not convey all that the Bible says on this subject.   Partial truths can lead to distortions of the truth.   Moreover, they present a truncated view of what is more accurately referred to as the “perseverance of the saints.”  A true Christian is one who perseveres to the end and we persevere by grace (Phil. 2:12-13).

Second, we do not choose God; He chooses us (John 15:16).  This changes everything and the objections above fall to the ground. When God sets out to do something, He does it and He does not make a mistake, nor does He change His mind (Romans 11:29).

The argument turns on the effects of the sin inherited from Adam on our inner being which includes the will.   The effects of the fall are such that we are born with a disposition that, left to ourselves, we would never choose God (Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:18; 8:7).  Left to ourselves, we would do what Adam and Eve did after they had sinned and they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day—hide.   We were born with a disposition that naturally hides from God, sometimes in church.   We cannot choose God because it is contrary to our nature, inherited from Adam, to do so.  We cannot choose God because we don’t want to.

You didn’t choose God; He chose you.  True, in an act of the will (yes, we have a will), you heard the offer of the Gospel and you responded.  But in reality, the Spirit of God had been at work in your heart as the Word of God was being proclaimed.   He changed your heart to enable you to respond to His call.  In the final analysis, God chooses us, not we Him (John 1:12-13; 6:44; 10:26-27).

Third, and most important, this eliminates our tendency to presume on God.  If we are one of His chosen, then we cannot live the way we want to live.  If we are content to live an ungodly life then it is quite likely that we are not one of His chosen.

Ironically, if we are the ones that choose God, quite the reverse is true.  Despite God’s prodding, in the final analysis, we call the shots. We can live the way we want to even if there is the possibility of losing one’s salvation.  After all, nobody’s perfect and so one has to be really bad to lose one’s salvation and we’re not that bad, or, we will just be careful to stay away from the precipice.  This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “extending grace to ourselves.”

Where is that line that one could cross to lose one’s salvation?  Who knows?  Those who hold that view unwittingly think they know.   What happens when the emphasis is on the freedom of the will is that we are placing ourselves in control, dictating if, when, and under what circumstances we are saved and continue to be saved.

Consider the effects of God’s choosing, “. . . children born not of human decision, nor of a husband’s will but of God” (John 1:13).  He changes these hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, by the Holy Spirit writing God’s law on our hearts: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26); “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

Since salvation is all of God’s grace, we look to Him for assurance of salvation.  It begins by repentance and faith and it proceeds by repentance and faith.  To condone sin or otherwise excuse it, is out of character for the elect of God.  He does the choosing not we.  The effect of His choosing is a holy life, “I will be their God and they will be my people.”

But, comes the rejoinder, what about those passages that speak about falling away including this one in John 15:6, are they mere hypotheticals?  Let it be stated here that we take apostasy seriously. One can appear to be a Christian and the ethical teachings of the Gospel can have, outwardly at least, a positive effect on a person.  A dead branch on a grape vine can look alive and can even draw life from the vine.  That is why it is cut away.  It is dead.  It doesn’t bear fruit.

In other words, it is possible to come under the influence of the Gospel such that one manages to outwardly conform, as long as he finds it beneficial, to its ethical standards and otherwise derive blessings and benefits from it and yet not be saved.  (See Romans 2:28-3:2)

There can be a falling away for those whose lives were influenced by the Gospel but never really transformed by it.  Ironically, free will promotes presumption; election undermines it.  “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things [Christian virtues], you will never fall” (II Peter 1:10).  It removes presumption while providing assurance, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).

I’ve written this rather lengthy article (for this publication) because of my own disquiet over the moral decline in the church in general and no ministry or church is exempt including BHOF.

BHOF_smallHousehold Words

This segment is dedicated to Hope Academy, our school now  in its third year.  We present to you a partial wish list for equipment and supplies and we thank you in advance for your generous support:

  • Set of prepared microscope slides for high school Biology (1)
  • iPad Pro (2)
  • Graphing calculators (2)
  • Chess sets (4)
  • Finances for field trips

For a more complete wish list and ordering details, go to the following Amazon link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/38074E9SB32WW/ref=cm_wl_huc_view

As always we are so grateful to the Lord for your love and support.

Bob Hall for Naomi Woodmansee, Head of School

If you would like to receive this letter and other communication from Bronx Household of Faith electronically, please send an email to moc.l1506443241iamg@15064432411pjst1506443241reboR1506443241with the subject line “City Lights by email”. Please indicate in the message if you would like to stop receiving the hard copy.

City Lights is a publication of The Bronx Household of  Faith, an urban church committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the streets of New York.

         Co-pastors: Bob Hall, Jack Roberts,
         Phone: (718) 220-3652,
         Email: gro.f1506443241ohb@f1506443241ohb1506443241; Web: www.bhof.org

This Is My Father’s World

This Is My Father’s World

This is my father’s world
and to my listening ears 
all nature sings, and round me
 rings, 
the music of the spheres

Somehow, riding the subway at 6:00 in the morning in mid-winter darkness, a couple of days a week (to do lap swimming), doesn’t lend itself to hearing the music of the spheres

I look at the other people on the train.  Those who are not sleeping are on their cell phones, either reading their messages or heads are bobbing up and down with the music that, presumably, is very far from the rustling grass where I hear him pass

God is very distant from our general culture.  What is worse are the many attempts to remove all traces of Him together with the self-destructive, futile attempts to remake our world into something other than what God has made it to be.

I have often said that I don’t need the classical arguments for God’s existence.  Just look at the choices people make in this world and observe the outcome of those choices.  People try to make their own way, disregarding God’s way as something outmoded and not in keeping with the twenty-first century as if modernity represents the best in human history.  Someone once said to me with a straight face, “Standards are different today.”  This is a secular article of faith that is uncritically assumed and one that needs to be challenged. 

This is God’s world.  It’s His design and whenever we try to say that it is something other than what God says it is, we’re in for trouble.

Nowhere is that more evident in God’s design for marriage and the family.  Dr. David Ayers, Dean of Arts and Letters at Grove City College, a sociologist and who also happens to be former member of our church, put it most profoundly.  “We’ve separated things that were always supposed to be united.  We’ve separated sex, marriage and children.”  As a result, pre-marital sex is okay and so is gay marriage.  Biblically speaking sex, marriage and children are conjoined.  That is God’s design and whenever we try to alter God’s design or try to circumvent it, we create serious problems. 

I’ve said this before in a previous article.  In one of our outreach ministries where we had about 30 to 40 children from the neighborhood, most of whom I did not know, I got to the point where I could observe the group and fairly accurately guess who is being raised by their biological father and mother.  Granted you can give me a zillion exceptions but generally speaking I noticed a calmer spirit and a more self-assured demeanor in those who were raised by their biological father and mother.

The effect of sidestepping God’s order involves more than just the individual.  I don’t need to invoke chapter and verse to prove that society in general is affected by an individual’s wrong life-altering choices.  We all pay for the shop lifter as the merchant’s loss is added to the cost of doing business.  Think of the many people who are directly affected by one person’s life-controlling problem: wives, children, siblings, neighbors, employers, creditors.  It is common knowledge that out of wedlock births means poverty in that child’s future.

Much of our ministry is remedial.  We would like it to be more preventive. We thank God for the transformed lives of those who have been saved out of the darkness of gross sin.  We have also seen the tears over what could have been, had they come to Christ earlier in life. 

I was chatting with one man who had recently come to Christ.  He told me of a lengthy phone conversation he just had with a childhood friend who was a believer.  He related to me how, as children, he and his friends used to make fun of him for his faith in Christ.  That child is now a grown man and still faithfully following our Lord being blessed with his own business.  He quoted his friend to me, “You could be where I am today had you started following the Lord back then.”   My new brother in Christ readily agreed. 

Choices produce consequences because it’s God’s world.  Part of the evangelistic task is to get people on the road to thinking God’s thoughts after Him, as He has revealed Himself through His Word.  It’s called repentance.   There can be no genuine faith without it.  When we engage people with the Gospel, we endeavor to help them make the connections between their choices and their consequences.  It takes a firm but gentle hand along with a heavy dose of humility and most of all, the work of the Holy Spirit, to touch that point of rebellion in a person’s life.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God but how can one exercise true saving faith without answering what the Word says about our inbred desire for autonomy which must be repented of?    Anyone can pray the “sinner’s prayer” or the equivalent thereof but faith and repentance must go together. 

Without the exercise of both, we sadly watch people walk away from the Gospel as they choose to act as if they can create their own reality and choreograph their own happiness only to discover later that they have fallen into a pit they have unwittingly dug for themselves.

I don’t need the cosmological and teleological proofs for God’s existence.  The ungodly choices that people make, together with the consequences thereafter, convinces me more than ever that this is my Father’s world.  There is no other way, no other answer to the fallen human condition.

Thank you for your part in enabling us to remain here to point people to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Household Words

It’s not even spring yet but it’s time to talk about summer camp scholarships.  Our choices of camp venues are more than in years past.  The main ones continue to be Northern Frontier for boys and Camp Cedarbrook for girls, also Worldview Academy for our older high school and post high school young people.  Thank you for considering this opportunity by praying about it.

Years ago in my home church in Minneapolis a married woman who, with her husband, missionaries to Africa, preached the message at the evening service.  This was before the days of the women’s movement.  Her title: “Where are the men?”  She was lamenting the fact of the shortage of men so badly needed in their field of ministry. 

I ask the same question today.  One of the greatest needs in urban ministry is male role models and mentors.  We feel this keenly in our associate ministry New York City Christian Athletic League, our Battalion ministry to teenage boys and most of all, our school, Hope Academy. 

We have the men now and we are grateful for them.  They know the urban environment. They’ve grown up here.  They understand the kids with whom they work.  They have a heart for the youth of this city.  But how long can we keep them in their current position?  I’m thinking particularly of Hope Academy teachers.  They are about to be married or they have young families that they need to support.  Housing is becoming increasingly expensive in this neighborhood which, I can personally attest, was once much more financially accessible than it is today. 

Hope Academy is half way through its second year and it’s been a wonderful year.  It’s our opportunity to work with kids on a daily basis who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the educational system.  Our head of school Naomi is the anchor of HA but how I long to see her and the teachers, especially the male teachers receive a living wage so that they can do what they’ve already been doing very effectively. 

You have been very generous with your support and for that we give thanks to God.  We are asking you to help us find new people who would be interested in partnering with a ministry such as this, or, perhaps, as some have done in the past, direct us to foundations which would be a potential source of funding.

As always, our confidence continues to be in the faithfulness of our precious Lord.