Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

People love adventure stories: stories of good versus evil, of heroes and villains, and of conflict and resolution. In some ways, many of us dream of having the sorts of adventures we read or hear about as children. Though each story is different, serving its own purpose, each is created by a person, one who might be recognized and long remembered for his/her accomplishment. Within each narrative, characters perform certain actions as events unfold, but the author controls the story. So what if I said we are part of a story? If you think about it, life could be considered one giant story written by God, and when the story is over, He will be remembered, glorified in fact. Keep reading, and I’ll explain what I mean.

Off the top of your head, how many authors can you name who used the landscape of adventure for their portraits and are considered by many to possess good quality or excellence in their field? Perhaps J. K. Rowling, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, or George Lucas, just to name a few. Granted, they have their critics, detractors, or people who just don’t care for their work, just as we all have in whatever we do, but no one can deny they have the ability to grip readers and pull them into a world that is imaginary but at the same time can seem very real. To the reader, this world within the story exists within its own reality, constrained by its own rules and restrictions, troubled with conflict. Characters are created with their own personalities and quirks, stories are told, evil is eventually defeated, and who is remembered for all of this? The author. To those who finish a well-told story, they are rewarded with such satisfaction of having known what happens and how it ended, but something greater happens beyond that. More than just enjoying a story being told, readers often remember who wrote the story, the author’s name becomes a part of human history, and s/he is then recognized for outstanding work. Why shouldn’t they want or accept what they earned, even if recognition might not have been the purpose in creating the stories.

It should be noted that an essence of good storytelling requires some sort of conflict that is ultimately resolved, but a good author will not interrupt a story’s flow just to accomplish this. While characters’ actions move a story along, they must behave within certain parameters or be considered “out of character,” which can ruin the story. Yet if you think more closely about the concept of a story itself, you have to ask some philosophical questions. Do authors ultimately control stories in which characters take on lives of their own? In a story of good versus evil, if clearly-defined heroes and villains are known by the readers, is the author berated for creating such characters? When there is long-lasting conflict within a story that is ultimately resolved with the death of the villain and the end of terror that plagued the other characters, is the author blamed for including or allowing evil within the story? Though negative elements are part of a story, is the author’s ability to tell a story condemned for poor quality work by including them? Or is the writer more likely to be praised for creating something compelling, designing a work of art in which readers invested a lot of time and energy following to its conclusion? While the answers may be obvious, consider that there might be something deeper.

What am I getting at with all this? The Bible, our lives, and God’s glory. From Genesis to Revelation, we read a story. A story of God’s love and faithfulness. A story of how He created a perfect world, yet evil entered the picture, ruined everything, and continues to exist for millennia, but in the end, everything will be resolved, and the Author will have recognition. Now the characters within a normal story live their lives and make their choices, for good or for bad, in order to move the story along, all completely unaware of the author’s involvement, that s/he is really the one in control of everything. The characters are unable to interact with the author; that author doesn’t even cross their minds, as any interruption by the author to the story’s continuity would lessen its quality. But we exist in a different kind of story; it’s a story in which the Author is not visibly seen, yet the characters are allowed to know of His existence and even interact with Him, often pleading for such interruptions that would make other narratives become lesser quality. Sometimes we often wonder how things in our own lives will turn out okay; we may not like that problems occur, people die, or even that suffering exists, but we are part of God’s story, and that’s a story with a different purpose.

The purpose of human history is to bring glory to God, yet with all the evil that exists, we sometimes wonder how that can be accomplished. How will the fact that evil exists in the first place ultimately glorify God? With all the bad stuff that happens to us personally, how is everything going to work out for good in the end? Even more theologically, how do we rectify God’s sovereignty with human freedom of choice, while maintaining our sanity? If God is ultimately in control, do we really make choices? If we’re able to make choices freely, is God really in control? And if He is in control and evil exists, is God responsible for evil?

If you think about God as an author, you can begin to understand a dichotomy that often puzzles many people. As an author, God is writing a story, a story in which He created characters who essentially took on lives of their own. The characters (that’s us) live our lives and make our choices, for good or for bad. In some ways, those choices advance the plot of this narrative we call “life,” but it is really God, the one who is ultimately in control of the story, who is moving everything along. We don’t know the outcome of everything, but He does. The Bible tells us how the story ends, and while we know that all evil and suffering will eventually cease to exist, what then will be the result? When all this life is said and done, God will not be condemned for all the evil that ever existed, as many are want to blame Him for; on the contrary, just as other authors are noted for their skillful writing, He will one day be praised for His excellence, His ability to tell a compelling story.

Maybe you’ve never thought of it this way before. Authors create compelling stories filled with good and evil, and those authors are often remembered, maybe even revered, for doing so. They aren’t chastised for the bad that was included in the story but are recognized for the quality of their work, and although the characters still possess a freedom of sort, the author really controls the story. In much the same way, God too is an author, and He’s writing this story in which we exist and freely move. We may not understand how everything fits together, but in the end God will receive the glory. That’s what it’s all about anyway.

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The following, and final, morning (Friday) was spent getting ready to part ways from our new friends and head back to the lives we had put on hold. Before Sunday, I didn’t know any of these people existed, but throughout the week, as we ministered, traveled, and lived together, I got to know something about each of them. Not only did I learn about them, I even had opportunities to get to know better some of the people I had arrived with in New York, to see them step out into the uncomfortable and unknown. It was a true bonding experience, and it made the end of our adventure bittersweet.

Since there’s not much to write about from that final day (goodbyes, bus, plane, home), I’d thought I’d share just a few of the things I learned from or experienced during this trip.

  • While I was there, I got discouraged, and there were times I wanted to give up and just go home. People didn’t seem to care anyway, and feelings of isolation sometimes tried to creep in, but I was reminded that I wasn’t alone and I had a job to do, regardless of the outcome. Even though people I tried to share the Gospel with didn’t seem to listen, I was constantly encouraged by our overall group unity. I don’t remember much, if any, infighting that week; though we had some disagreements, I mostly remember the encouragement from each of the people who had come. In fact, I think I was more encouraged by simply getting to know the people I was with than by any other experience that week.
  • Because rejection was constant, there were two areas of Scripture I had to keep going back to throughout the week. One is Isaiah 55:11, which says that God’s word will not return to Him empty, and the other is 1 Samuel 8, in which Israel had asked for a king. What God told Samuel was the people had not rejected Samuel, but they were rejecting God. I had to keep being reminded that these people who didn’t want to listen to what I had to say weren’t doing it to me personally. I was just God’s messenger.
  • Speaking of being a messenger, I’m terrible at evangelism, even though Jeff kept reassuring me I was doing well and being faithful to my calling. I flubbed words, felt unprepared, talked in circles, and many times couldn’t get to the point.  Admittedly, I think I wanted so badly to see somebody come to Christ during at least one of my conversations, but if someone had, would I have become prideful in the conversion? I don’t really know, but it’s possible. In some of those circular conversations, I was so determined to point to the truth (maybe to prove I was right) that I might not have given up had I not been prevented from going further.
  • In some way it’s a good thing I’m not so great at it, because in the end it’s not about me anyway. I might not have been a great communicator and or had any direct converts, but it was important to keep going.  Even Paul wasn’t necessarily always a great speaker (1 Corinthians 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:10) and didn’t see everyone he witnessed to accept Christ. At one point toward the end of the week, someone had mentioned Noah as the greatest human evangelist; he was a man who was faithful to his calling for many years, but he had no conversions (Genesis 6). Not one person I talked to came to Christ as a direct result of my words. Maybe I planted or watered (1 Corinthians 3:6), but if any good results from what I said or did, it’s God who has to cause it to happen.
  • I mentioned before how I noticed people are too busy for God. As I’ve continued to ponder this thought, it’s occurred to me that of course people who don’t know God don’t have time for Him, but what of those of us who do know him personally? It’s a convicting thing to realize how often God is not my focus because I’m too distracted with lesser things.

New York City is probably a one-of-a-kind place. I best describe it as a giant version of downtown Dallas because of all the buildings, but it’s also an entirely different world from anywhere else I’ve ever been. Because of such cultural diversity, it has the feel of some European country, maybe more than one rolled together. It has a mixture of hustle and bustle with a side of silent reflection.

This was the first time I’ve done this sort of thing and also my first visit to New York, but I don’t want what I did to stop in that one week or in that one place. On the contrary, I want it to have been just the beginning. It’s always been so easy to go on a trip, do what I came to do, and then return to whatever life I temporarily put aside, but now I can say I’ve been to New York, and it was worth going. I had some good and bad experiences while I was in NYC, but I am glad that this type of trip was the first one I made there, and maybe some day I’ll go back to do it again. While I may not be good at evangelism, this is too important and one of the primary objectives of the church as a whole. (Why have we made it so difficult?) I also hope to continue doing in other places what I did there, and I feel somewhat more confident to do just that.

As the saying goes, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.

For our last day of ministry (Thursday), we found a place where people eat lunch outdoors. I’m not sure of the location, but it was near a Macy’s and might’ve been Herald Square (if my Google search was accurate). It was an interesting place, because there are so few chairs in relation to people, and these chairs get moved around a lot, in order to accommodate people’s needs. I had sat down to talk with a guy, and by the time I had finished talking with him, all the chairs that had been around where we had been sitting were no longer there.

This first guy I chatted with believed God was a point of light, and we had to empty ourselves of sin in order to approach Him. During our conversation, he even used the metaphor of a cell phone needing recharging to explain our connection to God, little realizing that a cell phone cannot recharge itself, but it needs someone outside itself to be recharged. He was a nice man, but our conversation went in circles before he had to get back to work.

I remember a couple of other conversations. One guy was already a Christian, and even though I can’t remember what all we had talked about, it was a refreshing time just the same. The last guy I talked to spent a few minutes telling me why he didn’t want to talk about what he didn’t want to talk about, and I was reminded of a similar experience Sam had told us about earlier in the week. Our conversation was cut short, as I had to leave.

Even though the rest of our time that day was spent touring NYC, I still felt the need to hand out tracts as we went along. I had them with me, so why not. Besides, we’re never truly off the clock, right? By this point I was more accustomed to people accepting or rejecting them, so it wasn’t as big a deal, though it was still a bit of rejection.

For our tour, we saw part of Fifth Avenue, walked around a bit of Central Park, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and eventually made our way to Times Square. Fifth Avenue is not very interesting to me; it’s a long row of businesses, and I think we spent what little time we had there walking to nowhere specific, waiting for people to figure out where they wanted to go. Central Park is this huge break from the city, but it still maintains elements of city life. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is this massive church building with some artistic design and impressive architecture (located across the street is a statue of Atlas, the guy from Greek mythology who’s often depicted with the world on his shoulders). Times Square is a place that once the sun sets, everything lights up, and the party begins. It is an over-saturated, overwhelming visual stimulation. When we went inside a particular restaurant to eat, the sun was still out, but by the time we had finished, the night should’ve been a lot darker than it was. One place I had hoped to check out during my visit to Times Square was Toys ‘R Us (I hear there’s a Ferris wheel); I worked at one and almost had a chance to visit this specific location years ago, but it was not to be then either. ‘Twas the second time in my life I missed the opportunity (this time I was just across the street diagonally from it). I had also hoped to visit the LEGO Store (because LEGO). But I digress. It was an overall enjoyable experience, and my favorite part was just spending time with some pretty cool people.

As we were making our way back to the church one final time, we had an opportunity to engage with a few people on one of the subway cars. One of the guys we (mostly one of the interns) spoke with seemed genuinely interested, but he didn’t make a decision. I don’t know what happened to him after talking with him, but at the time it was one final encouragement before our time was up.

My team AKA some of the coolest people I got to know

That Wednesday we spent part of the day ministering to children by doing a Gospel presentation for them at a small park in Washington Heights. It included the sketch/paint board, singing, games, and a rope trick that shows people how we all need a Savior, regardless of how good or bad we think we are. I think there’s a certain giftedness in being able to communicate with children and keep their attention; you have to really get down on their level of understanding and interest without talking down to them or over their heads. That’s not always easy, but those who had the floor (or pavement, in this case) seemed to do well.

We stuck around the park for a little while after the presentation and then went on to another business area to talk to people along some sidewalks. Part of the time was spent distributing tracts with information for a church we had partnered with that day. How many of those ended up in the trash we don’t know, even though we did end up finding some there or on the ground. This place had a bit slower pace than the business area we had been on Monday, but it was still somewhat busy, and people were just as apt at not talking when approached. It was a bit discouraging. At one point, I did start to feel overheated; overheating and discouragement don’t go well together.

Then it was soon time for dinner and heading back to our temporary home; being Wednesday evening, it meant church services were happening by the time we returned. And that was the last full day of open air evangelism in New York City. One more full day in the Big Apple, part of it spent touring, and the week would be all but over.

We did have one incident that day. An older lady who was with us, Mary is her name, had a bit of a fall in one of the crosswalks. She even fell again while trying to get up. I really have to hand to her though. Most of the people who were in our overall group were young adults, but Mary managed to keep up with everyone else rather well the whole week. Not only that, but not once do I remember her complaining, even after falling. Despite the age difference, she has become one of us.

One of the reasons I liked riding the Staten Island Ferry is that I was forced to slow down. I tend to be constantly in motion, either mentally or physically, and don’t usually like to slow down, so in a way NYC would seem to be the perfect city for me, but the movement in that city is even too much for me. However, there are times when I’m forced to slow down, such as on an airplane or boat, places I have no control of vehicular movement and can kind of relax. If I weren’t forced to slow down by circumstances, I would probably just keep moving and not even think about it. It might seem a bit contradictory, but although I hate to slow down, I sometimes appreciate being forced to slow down. So the ferry ride was enjoyable, as I could actually sit and talk to other people who couldn’t rush elsewhere either.

On the ferry, I met a guy who had served in war and was too jaded by what he had witnessed and didn’t want to talk very long. I also met a guy with broken English, so I really don’t know if we understood each other very much, but I got wrapped up in conversation with him. Before I knew it, the ride was over, and our group then went back around in order to ride the ferry the other way. For those who don’t know, pretty much what the ferry does is carry passengers back and forth across water between Manhattan and Staten Island, and as they travel, they are able to see the Statue of Liberty from afar. On our first trip across, I had not even seen the Statue of Liberty, so on the way back, I made sure to sit in the outer area of the deck I was on, just so I would have an opportunity to see her. During our return trip, I met one of the firefighters who had helped with cleaning up Ground Zero. He believes there’s got to be someone out there, but he wasn’t open to hearing what I had to say.

I thought she'd be a lot taller.

I thought she’d be a lot taller.

Although I might not have had anyone hear me out, the slow pace of the ferry was a contrast to the hustle and bustle that NYC is known for. Because of the slowness and calmness of the travel it allowed for opportunity to talk with people one-on-one, even if for a short time. There was no rushing by any of the travelers to get to the next destination; it was an atmosphere much like the park from that previous Sunday.

After we had regrouped and left the ferry, we were soon led to the site now known as Ground Zero, a reminder of a life and country that were much different almost fifteen years ago. Before we got to our destination, Sam told us how he had been impacted by that tragic day and its aftermath, having been doing what he does for years in NYC before all events of that day had transpired. He had lost people himself, but through this tragedy, he had gained a new perspective on what he does. Then it was time to go there and see firsthand how things currently look.

Statue near Ground Zero

Ground Zero has a paid museum, as well as a couple reflecting pool, which are free to visitors outside; at least, I think they’re reflecting pools. (They look like fountains with water constantly flowing down to I don’t know where). Engraved into the barrier along the perimeter of the fountains are names of people lost that day. The World Trade Center, once a center of business and commerce, has become a memorial ground for lives cut short. It goes to show that in the end, it’s still people who matter more than things. I can’t really describe how I felt being in that location, as I wasn’t directly affected by that day, but I have since come to know people who were.

After spending some time at Ground Zero, we eventually went to dinner in Chinatown (or Little Italy for others). In some ways it’s not much different from other places, since it has some of the same businesses, but it also has its own Chinese culture. We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring it, so I don’t know what all is there, but that’s New York: little time, lots to see and do.

It was a somewhat long day, and tomorrow would be our last full day of work, and who knew what that day would bring.

Chinatown

The first day was hard to talk to people because I was new to the area, and the second because people in New York City don’t seem to stop moving. Tuesday started out with even more difficulty. I should mention that I have a somewhat heightened sense of hearing, and we spent part of the morning talking to people beneath an overhead subway terminal. If you’ve ever tried talking to people above the noise of trains passing overhead, you would understand my experience. That is, if they’ll even pay attention to you. But that was just the morning.

The forecast for Tuesday called for rain all day, so the plan was to stick with the subways and later ride the Staten Island Ferry. As if talking with subways running overhead wasn’t difficult enough, trying to talk while they were constantly coming and going around me was nearly impossible. Each day seemed to add a new layer of noise as a barrier I could not overcome; I felt so useless trying to talk with anyone when I couldn’t even hear myself, plus the fact that trains arrived so often, which quickly cut off most encounters. I think I had one good conversation going before the guy I was talking with had to go.

After being in NYC for about a day or so, what I felt in the subway terminal at one point is probably best described as discouragement or defeat. If I must be honest, there were times during the trip I felt a bit disconnected from everyone else with me, and it was those times I felt the most vulnerable. Besides heightened hearing, another thing about me is that I spend a lot of time being introspective, and it sometimes creates a sense of isolation, no matter how many other people are around me. I’ve really only become social within the past six years or so, but whenever I am not actively talking with anyone else, finding a conversation to join, or noticing the noise level, I tend to become introspective. This trip was no different; if I wasn’t talking to a stranger or someone I was traveling with, I sometimes became very introspective.

I felt so discouraged because I saw many people rushing around, few having time to stop and talk or even willing to accept a tract as they passed by. People are so rushed in this city that never stops moving, and they don’t seem to have time for God. Not only do people not have time for God, but as I also noticed on subways and other areas, people put on headphones or bury themselves in reading material or some electronic device, so they don’t necessarily have to acknowledge others around them between where they were and where they’re going. Since I’ve seen this back home and other places outside New York as well, it occurred to me that New York City is just a small version of the country as a whole; we have such an individualistic culture and individualized distractions that it’s easy to tune out whatever we want. We’re too busy for God and too self-absorbed for other people. I can’t say I don’t do this myself. I currently live by myself, so I know what it’s like to feel isolated or lonely, and not always by choice, but sometimes I think we bring those feelings on ourselves by our actions or inactions.

While the subway and its busyness felt discouraging, the Staten Island Ferry we would be on later that afternoon was one of the times I enjoyed during the whole week.

Times Square

The following day (Monday), we went to a different area of the city; whereas previously we had gone to a park in which people were mostly sitting around and relaxing, that second day was a hustle-and-bustle kind of day along the sidewalks elsewhere. People were constantly moving, so I felt even less able to engage anyone in conversation, but I did finally manage to talk to a few people that day. Sadly, not all of the conversations went well; in fact, one of them was a bit intense.

This particular conversation I had was with a guy whom I simply thought might have overheard what members of my team had been talking about with someone else. Unfortunately, after talking with him shortly, I found his view on the Bible so distorted and awkward that I didn’t know what to make of what he was saying; he knew certain verses but somehow was way off their context or even what they said directly. I wouldn’t say he was crazy, but he was severely misguided in his interpretation and somewhat abrasive in his speech; in fact, I afterwards found out he belonged to a cult I’d never heard of before. Jeff was able to get me out of the conversation, and we walked a little bit down the street, but then this guy walked up and started to talking to me again, until Sam engaged him in conversation, and we were able to move on. I think I was still reeling from that experience for a while; it kind of stuck with me throughout the week. In hindsight, some of what he had said was a bit laughable (not necessarily in a good way though) because of how he used the verses compared with the correct interpretation. But I digress; however, I became a little more cautious about approaching people on the street after that experience.

Another conversation I had that day just kind of went in circles, with the guy I talked to saying he had moved beyond the Bible and saw all religions as having pieces of truth. The conversation might not have gone anywhere, but at least he was a nice person to talk to.

As we were nearing the end of our time in the area, as I was waiting with one of my teammates, a lady walked over to us and asked for prayer for a specific issue. I had noticed her previously during our time there, but she had been working at one of the stores, so I never approached her. She wasn’t a believer, but it was still encouraging that she had come over and asked for prayer. Since she was still supposed to be working, I had a brief time to talk but was able to share the Gospel with her and pray for her request.

We headed to dinner that evening around Union Square, but before we arrived there, we had gone to the underground part that shows names of those lost on September 11, 2001. I can’t say what I ate tasted great (I think I’ll avoid goat cheese), but I did get to have a brief religious discussion with the guy I bought my dinner from. He was friendly, but he disagreed with some of what I had to share.

Names of people lost on 9-11

Names of people lost on 9-11

After dinner, it was back to work; this time we got to see the paint presentation and tried talking to people that way. The paint presentation is a way that someone explains the Gospel while painting what s/he is talking about; it’s very interesting to watch someone drawing a picture while sharing a message. We then try to engage with whomever may have been listening/watching this, or conversely, try to talk with those who are walking by/away midway through the presentation.

Later on, it was time to head back to the church, and that’s when we got lost in New York City (we did have a guy named Kevin with us). Let me just explain what Sam had told us from the get-go; if he wasn’t with us, we were lost, because he knew the city. Whether we were on the subway train and he wasn’t or vice versa, we were lost. Not all of us made it to the train we were supposed to get on, but those of us who did were “lost.” Those few minutes without Sam were pretty exciting and somewhat hilarious. Not every day would be this eventful or chaotic, but some things did just seem to get more difficult with each day that passed.

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