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Showing items filed under “June 2012”

When I Was Homeless, You Gave Me a Home

When I Was Homeless, You Gave Me a Home


Matthew 25 doesn’t actually say, “When I was homeless, you gave me a home.”  But it does say that strangers, aliens, visitors, who have no where to go, are welcomed.  Maybe we could paraphrase Jesus by saying, “When I had nowhere to go, you gave a place to lay my head.”  There just isn’t any debate among the followers of Jesus that finding shelter for those without shelter is a Jesus honoring task and falls under ministering to “the very least of these.”  


Two weeks ago we got to see God really move in providing for his people.  


At the beginning of the week we were notified about the plight of a young woman with two small children in a dangerous living situation that had nowhere to stay after June 30.  So we prayed and asked God to help and then broadcast her need to the congregation and the world on e-mail and Facebook.  Within hours we’d heard back from two families, one from Zion and one from Hope, who were interested in helping.  We set up a meeting and now, we’re pleased to announce that the young family has free housing for at least the next six months between the two families.  This should allow for ample time for her to get back on her feet and find a suitable long term solution.  And of course, we’ll be there to help.  Someone is even interested in hiring her full time.  


Then, at the end of the week, God provided a break through in another situation.  A man we’ve been helping by providing transitional housing just got a letter from Des Moines Municipal Housing offering him a place.  We immediately went down and saw the nice apartment and secured his future home.  One of the best things about his new arrangement is that there is a social worker on site who will help him get connected to more of the benefits he might qualify to receive.  We’re so glad that Municipal Housing found a place.  We’re so honored to have helped keep him find a place in the meantime  for the year it took for an apartment to become available.  


For over five months we’ve been working as a church with a young addict.  It’s been a beautiful thing to watch her emerge as a sober, happy person.  She has struggled valiantly through prayer and a stubborn desire to be free of her past and addiction.  Every day is a struggle.  We are so grateful to God for bringing her into our lives.  She needed a church to walk with her.  She needed multiple families and people to help her through these times by giving time, rides, sometimes money, and most of all, love.  I’m so thankful to Pastor Tina and her husband Mark, who stood up for this lovely woman in court and volunteered to open their house to her.  It was an amazing act of bravery and courageousness.  Sometimes to serve the least of these like you’d serve Jesus you have to throw open your house and offer everything you have.  


I’m thinking about Christian life as  stewardship of what we’ve been given.  Nowhere does Jesus say we’re to pay our 10% and be done with it.  Instead, Jesus frequently tells us that if we are truly to follow him, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross.  In other words, he wants it all.  But why shouldn’t he?  We often tell people that all they have is a gift from God.  Sometimes, He might want to use it to help others.  Sometimes He might want it all back.  But if  it was his in the first place, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?


Sadly, we too often get caught up trying to set limits on God.  It’s his church, we say, but we resist with all our might “giving it away.”  It’s all his money, but we too often find excuses for not letting him use it.  It’s all his time, but we have so many pre-prepared lectures on healthy boundaries and needing time for ourselves or time for our families.  I’m sure all of these have a grain of truth in them.  But when the Master calls, the servants respond.  We are the servants.  He is the Master.  We live to serve him whenever and wherever he calls us, and with whatever he’s given us to 


These are really wonderful stories with happy endings.  I’m reminded how God is always faithful.  Sometimes you have to hang on for a long time, but He has a plan and He never stops providing.  As a church we’ve decided to keep doing what we felt God was calling us to do:  to be the arms and hands and legs of Jesus and help people in need.  He has always been faithful and we can testify to the miraculous things He’s done in our midst.  Trusting God with the little you have tends to grow your faith, and I think exercises like these grow the faith of the entire congregation.  We’ve learned to trust God to provide together and I think that’s grown us in unity and faith.  At the end of the day, there is no denying the relationship between a vibrant, growing faith and obedience.  If you want your faith to be alive and grow, you have to do what God says.  You have to care for the least of these.  And that means you have to step out in faith and take risks.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ 

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Vacation Bible School Reflections 2012

Vacation Bible School Reflections 2012


It was like a preview of heaven.  There were all ages, all races, all abilities, all classes, and all educational levels worshipping God in spirit and truth.  It was an amazing experience and one that I think will change our church forever.   Years from now, I think we’ll look back and consider that Bible School 2012 was one of those significant events that defined who we are as a church and how we do ministry.  


What made it so amazing, even miraculous?  Well, the kids, of course.  We had a lot of guests and that was great.  We had a lot of kids whose parents regularly attend our church.  We also had a lot of kids whose parents may not attend our church but the kids come on either Sundays or Wednesday nights and it was amazing to see them all together.  It seemed like nearly every day the number of kids grew as they went out and invited their friends.   I think it was the biggest Bible School we’ve ever had: 120 or more kids.  The best thing for me was getting to see the kids interact with each other.  Here they all are and they are the future of the church, especially this church.  These are the future worshipers of God Most High and it was great to see them showing us what that worship will look like.  


The volunteers were amazing as well.  I’m so grateful to the many, many volunteers.  We had perhaps the best response to any VBS we’ve ever done.  This year we even had extra hands and it made everyone’s job so much easier.  Thank you for serving, from the bottom of my heart.  It was wonderful to watch the volunteers bond with the kids.  Some of the volunteers had never experienced that kind of joint worship which we do on Wednesday nights with the “church” kids and the “neighborhood” kids.  I think it really helped a lot of people to see where we’re headed as a church.  It was a beautiful sight to see the volunteers interacting so well with all the kids.  I think it helped us as a church create more relationships between adults and kids.  Maybe in the fall, when the vans pull up and a swarm of neighborhood kids stream out, we’ll know each other better and see the individuals instead of the groups. 


The leaders did a fantastic job.  I’m so grateful to so many.  Did you know that this year the team wrote their own curriculum?  And it was among the best I’ve ever experienced.  Thank you to the writers, the set designers, the graphic designers and the worship leaders.  And the worship was amazing.  This year we were treated to have an amazing team led by one of our amazing pastors, some amazing singers, and one of our returning college students and two of his friends from Nashville.  Thank you.  And the food!  Wow.  Thanks to the amazing kitchen crew who pulled off wonderful food and quickly.  Thanks to the amazing skit actors who helped bring the Word of God alive.  


I was also impressed to see so many junior and senior high school students helping.  Thank you.  You did a fantastic job with the kids.  Thanks for doing a beautiful thing for Jesus.  


I’m also extremely grateful to the Zion families that drove out to pick up kids they’ve “adopted” and that have moved out of the neighborhood and are living downtown at Oakridge.  Thank you for sticking with these kids.  Thank you for bringing them to VBS and to Wednesday nights.  Thank you for being a stable and safe part of their lives.  


I guess my overall sense about this year’s VBS is that love, peace, joy, patience, self control, faithfulness, kindness,  broke out and were on full display for everyone to see.  We showed the world what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us, and what it means to be One in Him. He was truly exalted.  I love what I saw and I look forward to seeing even more of it as we continue on this journey together into God’s future. 


Don’t forget our next opportunity to have fun together:  Art Camp:  July 16-20.  Details on the website.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ

Why the Lead Pastor Is Not at the 10:30 Service for Much of the Summer

Wednesday nights during the school year, we have a joyous time offering Jesus and English language tutoring to a bunch of refugee kids and other kids who were born here.  Some of our most challenging kids are from the Karenni people group.  There are a bunch of them.  They are overwhelmingly boys, through and through.  They like to be up front during the worship time.  They jump up and down to the music and then summersault off the stage.  They like to climb the walls behind the stage.  They frequently drive the volunteers and other dinner guests we might have at church to distraction.  Which isn’t surprising.  Most of them have no contact with our society outside of school and Wednesday night church.  


But they have come so far.  The teachers at the local elementary tell me that many of them have started to pray before they eat their lunch.  And, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, the Almighty has laid these kids on my heart.  They need Jesus.  They need discipline.  They need someone to care about them.


Wednesday nights are over for the summer.  So is Sunday School.  The Wednesday and Sunday volunteers have done an amazing job soldiering on with ever increasing numbers of kids.  I am very, very grateful.  But what will happen to these Karenni kids over the summer.  Sure we have a few outreaches.  Sure we have Bible School and Art Camp.  But I can’t help feeling we’ll lose some of the amazing growth we’ve seen if we don’t keep at it. 


A few weeks ago at church I shared my concerns with a dear lady.  She told me that God undoubtedly wanted us to continue.  But how?, I asked.  After all, our volunteers have done a heroic job and need a rest and frankly, we can’t field a relief team right now.  There just aren’t enough of us.  She was quite sure we had to keep at it.  


Keep in mind, please, that the Karenni kids are more than likely to be recipients of our Back Pack Buddies program where we supply food for the weekend to kids identified by the school as being in need over the weekend.   They need food, too.  


So three weekends ago, a solution presented itself.   We were having a joint worship service at the 10:30 service with Pastor Gakunzi’s church and a big lunch afterwards.  Why not invite the Karenni kids?  No one I talked to about this really thought they’d show up.  But they did.  About 10 boys.  I put them in the front row at the 10:30 service.  They joined the kids on the stage for worship in English and when the Swahili songs started they still danced.  Then the preaching started and my wife, seated at the other end of the row, turned deathly pale.  She knew what could happen next.  Kids swinging from the chandeliers.  Kids summersaulting off the stage.  Kids climbing over the back of the pews.  Yet more people getting fed up with ill behaved kids.  I found one other person willing to help.   The preaching was in Swahili and translated.  We all thought I’d have to take the kids out.  But I didn’t.  God showed up.  (In church, imagine that!).  The kids watched the preacher.  After a while they started to imitate (but not in a mean way) his hand gestures.  It was as if they’d never realized that the hands could be used in talking.  The little boy next to me picked up my hands and started to form them in similar gestures to Pastor Gakunzi’s.  It worked.  We all made it to lunch and everyone ate as much as they could and ran off to play on the playground.  God is good.  All the time.  


So the next week we invited them back.  There was a guest preacher from South Sudan.  He didn’t mind if I missed the 10:30 service so I could talk about Jesus with a bunch of kids.  After all, his job is planting new churches.  Miraculously, previously that week, during a board meeting, I discovered seven minute Bible studies online in the Kayah language.  We sent the van.  It came back with five kids and five adults for Sunday School.  We stayed with the big group until the offering and then left when the Arabic Alpha folks leave for their Arabic teaching.  We went to the cafeteria and watched a Bible Study in the Kayah Li language on the big screen.  Then we talked about it.  The adults asked for ESL classes.  The kids heard about Adam and Eve and sin.  One young boy, Tawh Rey, said, “Pastor John, Everything was good.  Adam and Eve ate the apple and everything changed.  It became bad.  Can it ever be good again?”  Oh.  Let me tell you the Gospel.  Thank you, Jesus.  And they listened.  


Last week they came back.  Ten kids and 3 adults and one helper from the 1:00 Mizo service.  Pastor Tina is preaching for the next three weeks so I’m free at 10:30.  Let me tell you about that helper, Zuali, a young lady in High School, and my helper in this Sunday School venture.  She is so good with the kids.  


I am so pleased to tell you that we have ESL classes for the adults.  The teacher would even like to go every day with the adults during the summer.  The ten kids watched another lesson and then we did the salvation message with them.  I know that later this summer there will be some baptisms.  I’m so pleased, so amazed, so thankful.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Zuali.  Thank you, Zion.  Thank you, for your patience.  Thank you for letting your pastor do missionary work over the summer.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ  


For more about the Karenni people, please see:  http://www.karennirefugees.com/



P.S.  Would you like to help?  I’m taking volunteers!  

A Big Gift

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This week Zion received a major gift of $10,300 from a local philanthropic group called 100+ Men on a Mission.  


100+ Men on a Mission, as it’s name implies, is a group of 100+ men in our community who meet quarterly.  Each man pledges $100 each quarter to a charity that the majority of men vote to support.   The names of three charities are drawn from a hat at each meeting.  Those three charities are permitted to make their case.  Then the men vote.  The winner receives $100 from each man.  It’s a great concept and you can read more about it on their website:  www.100menonamission.com


Matt Lenaghan, one of the guys in our church, spoke eloquently on our behalf at the 100+ meeting.  We’re thankful to 100+ Men, to Matt, and to God for his provision in this unique way.


Zion received the funds this week during an ice cream social at Douglas Terrace Apartments.  Douglas Terrace was a good location for the event because that’s where Zion’s latest outreach efforts to our community started two years ago this month.  It was a moving experience to be with the kids we met back in those early days and with the new kids who have moved in recently.  We took the opportunity to register kids for Bible School and Art Camp this summer.

 You can see the flier we prepared for this event here.

So how will the money be used?  It is our intention to use part of the gift as a challenge grant for another van.  We intend to challenge the congregation this summer to raise $5,000 which will all be used to purchase a badly needed second van.  The response to our outreach efforts continues to be amazing.  But we need more transportation capacity to get people to Zion.  This spring we started renting a second van and it’s expensive.  Even with two vans it takes 2 hours to get everyone to church on Wednesday nights.  Sunday mornings we’re running our van twice, having a second van will certainly make things easier.  


Some of the money will be used to purchase some supplies and furniture that are needed for our Wednesday night tutoring program.  


Some of the money will be used to purchase some beds for needy people in our community.  It seems that not a day goes by without at least one request from Zion for a bed.  Hopefully we can meet our current need for beds (about 12) and have a few extra for the coming months.  We’ve been so blessed to receive so many gently used beds from people.  Right now, the demand is far exceeding our supply so it will be a wonderful gift to be able to get caught up.  


Some of the money will be used to prepare for fall when we resume Wednesday night community meals and the Back Pack Buddies program that supplies kids identified by the local school with meals on the weekends.  


We are very thankful and very blessed.  One of the best blessings is the joy that comes when someone from the outside sees what you’re doing as important; important enough to give $10,000 toward.  That’s been a big boost at the end of the school year to us and motivates us to prepare with diligence for the fall.


And our outreaches continue this summer.  Remember the almost weekly activities for kids as well as Bible School and Art Camp and our two scheduled outreaches to Douglas Terrace on July 1 and August 26.  


Please keep Zion in your prayers.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ

And Now For Some Good News...

And Now For Some Good News...


This past Thursday afternoon I was privileged to be invited to come to the United Way offices in Des Moines for an extraordinary meeting.  Pastor Al Perez and a group working with former Des Moines mayor Tom Urban assembled a group of pastors, ministry leaders and representatives of various community non-profits to talk about the challenges facing our city as we seek to minister to those who live in our city’s urban core.  The urban core, our city’s inner core, is really a crossroads where you can literally meet people from every tongue, tribe and nation.  


Tom Urban shared about how that core is composed of the following demographics:


25%  Hispanic

25% African American

x% African  (No one is really sure yet what the percentage of those coming directly from Africa will be but all agree they are a different demographic from African Americans).  

11% Asian

30 % Anglo 


Mr. Urban continued his presentation by saying that because of years of study and research, we already know how to do everything that needs to be done, and, that there are no more new problems in the urban core.  They’ve all been identified.  We’ve studied them, analyzed them, even come up with solutions for most of them.  


So why do we still see people in such dramatic need in the urban core of our city?  Why haven’t the solutions been put into place to solve all the problems we’ve identified over the last four decades? 


His honor concludes that the problems haven’t yet been solved because of limited funds.  There just isn’t enough money in the world to solve all the issues that need to be solved.  He believes that we must achieve both scalability and persistency in our efforts.  I’m not sure what scalability and persistency are but I believe him.  New efforts to solve problems are launched but only have funding for a few years.  Then they fold and we’re back to square one.  


I’ll stop here and interject my own comments.  Mr. Urban has devoted much of his life to solving problems in the city of Des Moines.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude because of those of us who approach these issues today stand on his, and others, shoulders.   He comes from a solid Quaker upbringing and loves people very, very much.  But I think our problem is bigger than money.  I think every pastor at the meeting would say that ultimately the urban core is dysfunctional because of human sin and the very real fact that we live in a fallen creation.  In that way, the problem is bigger than the urban core itself.  It extends to the suburbs and even to the countryside.  It’s everywhere. 


I’m sure it’s a controversial opinion to hold, but I’d say that the failure of non-profit groups like the United Way is that they simply can’t call the problem what it is:  sin.  But we’re preachers, calling out sin is our stock and trade.  Now I completely understand why they can’t call sin, sin.  It’s for purposes of funding and to a create a broader unity in finding solutions.  They believe they must embrace a more secular approach in which Jesus is seen as someone who divides instead of unites.  The irony is that if the problem is sin, Jesus is the only solution.  He’s the only one who takes away the sin of the world.  He’s the only one who can make all things new.  


During our meeting there was a real demonstration of this which proves my point entirely.  Tom Urban shared with us that if a third grade student can’t read at grade level, there is an extremely high probability that they will go to prison.  In fact, the State of Texas plans it’s future prison cell needs based upon third grade reading statistics.  I guess they plan on building a future cell for every kid who can’t read.  One pastor was sharing how he and his church were working to address this problem with a new curriculum to teach students to read at grade level.  Another pastor got up and said, basically, “You forgot one thing - God.”  And then that pastor went on to share how he and his family have taken in 19 young men who were bound (according to the statistics) to prison and how these young men are on target to graduate from either high school or college.   This pastor reminded all of us that God is the one who transforms the sinner to a saint, through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And that Jesus still changes the lives of even hardened criminals and young people on the wrong track.  Even atheists come to know Jesus and are changed.  


So, I guess you could say that the result of the meeting will be an attempt by a whole bunch of pastors and churches and ministries to work together with more secular non-profits in order to teach kids to read, meet the needs of our community, and by so doing, show our city Jesus so that he might transform all of us.   


Pastor Perez says we’ll have some more meetings shortly in smaller groups so we can identify what needs to be done in our area and figure out how to do it.  And, for the more cynical among my readers:  don’t worry.  There isn’t any money in this.  


I have to tell you that I’m really, really excited about this.  One of the things we’ve been dreaming about at Zion is how people could come together from every center of influence in our community and work together to solve our city’s problems.  Here it comes.  Watch out, Devil, here we come.  We’re coming together across racial lines, denominational lines, cultural lines, and we’ve even got those who aren’t supposed to say the name of Jesus on board.  We are united.  We have a common goal.  This is what Paul talked about in Ephesians.  This is uniting all things in Christ to put all things under his feet.  


Here are a few random observations from the two hour meeting:

  • I was overjoyed to see so many of my friends were also invited to be there.  These are amazing men and women of God who have such a fire in the belly to make disciples and bring about the redemption of the world through the work of Christ.  It’s always amazing to me who God brings into my life and the significant role they play not only in developing me and my faith, but the faith of others as well.  
  • One of the things that was universally recognized by the group of at least 75 was that in the past there has been such a veil of darkness over our city.  I was amazed to hear even more stories about how Des Moines has been known as “The Pastor’s Graveyard.”  People come here with great passion for the kingdom and for some reason, most seem to fail.  There has been such a spirit of divisiveness in our city, a spirit of competition and territorialism between churches and groups and even within churches.  (I follow Paul, I follow Apollos...).  
  • I was so blessed to hear from so many wonderful ministries in our city truly doing the Lord’s work with very few resources:  Asian Open Bible Church, Trinity/Las Americas (where Zion serves supper 3 times a year); the ministry of Pastor Andre Brooks, just to name a few.  
  • Tom Urban urged us to overcome our biases in order that we might work together.  Amen.  For the greater glory of God and for the redemption of all things.  


One of the reasons I was asked to be there was because of the work Zion Church is already doing.  With several other ministries, I was asked to share the story of what God is doing in us and through us in Lower Beaver.  Al Perez held up Zion as an example for others.  He introduced me by saying that when you walk into our lobby, the first thing you see is mattresses and furniture, ready for giving away to those in need. He said that’s one way you know that Zion is really serious about serving people.  As pastor, I’m really, really honored that our ministry together might be seen as being where it needs to be: on the front lines of what God is doing in our city.  To God be all the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ  

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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