Ryan Phipps

The Importance Of Hell

HELL

As people of faith, we are, in every moment (both public and private) acting according to one of two motivators.

Those two motivators are “love” and “fear.”

The Apostle John said it this way,

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.”

- 1 John 4:17-19

In the hierarchy of misused scriptures in the world, scriptures about Hell seem to be very hard to resist as a people who are, to a large degree filled with many fears.

 

IMPERMANENCE

Everything that life offers us we somehow sense to be temporary. All things change. They corrode. They rust. They age. They wear out and then they go away.

Siddartha Guatama, whose spiritual practice evolved into what we call “Buddhism” today called this “The Law Of Impermanence.”

We see this law at work in nature and in our everyday experiences. We know that someday, we too will wear out and fade away.

Many Christians are taught things about Heaven and Hell with the very best of intentions by their teachers, but when hearing them, never question them or investigate them for themselves.

The Reformer, Jonathan Edwards wrote a famous sermon titled “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” that he preached to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts in the mid 1700’s.

It combined vivid images of Hell with observations of the world, pairing those images and observations with scripture.

More than just about any other work, this text has had a lasting impact on evangelicalism in the United States.

Its premise is clear. Show people the eternal horrors of a place of punishment called “Hell” and they will change the way that they are living their lives in the present.

I’ve read Edwards’ famous sermon more times than I can count. It is one of the most moving pieces of “Great-Awakening-Era” literature that has ever been written.

However, it moves me for all the wrong reasons.

It makes me think of God as nothing more than an angry kid with an ant farm- a vindictive, tormenting tyrant- an abusive Father who is always trying to hit me unless Jesus (my elder brother) steps in and takes the punches for me.

Though I’ve read most of Edwards’ works and find a lot of inspiration in them, I’ve never agreed with him on this topic.

 

THE WORDS OF JESUS

Strangely enough Jesus said something that, at face value makes me feel very much the same as it does when I read Edwards’ famous sermon.

It’s found in the Gospel Of Matthew and it says this.

“And He will say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’”

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

- Matthew 25:40-46

Well what the hell does that mean? (pun intended)

It seems to be saying that if I don’t welcome every stranger into my home, if I don’t feed every hungry person, if I don’t clothe every person who needs clothing, if I don’t visit sick people and people in prison then I am going to be punished for eternity.

Is that true? Is that the lesson Jesus is giving?


FLOSSING

In his book “The RealAge Makeover” Dr. Michael Roizen claims that flossing can add 6.4 years to a person’s life.

Sounds crazy, right?

The general thinking behind this idea is that a person’s lifestyle choices added up over time can cause them to live longer.

In other words, if a person makes flossing a habit, that good habit will “spill over” into other areas of their life, too. Taking the time to floss will result in a person’s choice to also engage in other healthy habits, increasing their lifespan.

And this way of thinking is what I believe Jesus is getting at here.

He’s not saying, “Do this or else.” He’s talking about trajectory. He’s talking about lifestyle.

It’s interesting that this is precisely what Jesus chooses to place emphasis on in the passage.

This is not a passage about there hereafter. It is a passage about the “here.”

We are (unfortunately) programmed, largely due to the forebears of our “American Gospel” to place an emphasis on all the wrong parts of this passage and many others like it.

What Jesus is trying to say, is that in every moment we should be striving to be kind, giving, loving people to those in need around us.

Why? Because like flossing, it sets our lives on a trajectory, shaping us into our very best selves.

You can spend your life fearing eternity, or you can spend it loving the people right in front of you, but you can’t do both.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t focus on Hell. Focus on people. Don’t be enslaved by the eternal. Be present with those in need who are right in front of you.” 

If we can learn to do that (and believe that) then this thing called “Hell” is put in its proper place in our belief system.

 

LOVE

Is Heaven a real place?

Is Hell a real place?

We have no scientific data (absolutely none) that can answer those questions.

We have religious writings.

We have subjective accounts from people who claim to have been to both of these places having returned.

We have the words of Jesus, yes.

But in the end, the only thing we have to observe as “fact” is the here and now of our own lives.

And this is what John is also trying to get us to see when he says,

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.”

- 1 John 4:17-19

Are you like Jesus in the world?

Do you live your life crippled by fear or motivated by love?

The way of fear causes a person to always look inward at themselves.

“I’m afraid I won’t have X.”

“I’m afraid I won’t experience Y.”

“I’m afraid of eternity!” so my faith is all about the afterlife.

Thinking like this places a life on an awful trajectory, breeding self-centeredness and paranoia. It threatens people instead of welcoming them.

Show me a person who only cares about what they can get out of this life for themselves and you can bet that is a person whose sole (and soul) motive is fear.

The way of love, however, causes a person to look outward at others.

Living a life of love for others places it on a beautiful trajectory. It breeds hope and peace. It welcomes people instead of threatening them to buy into something.

 

THE FEAR OF DEATH

A man came by to visit me in the office this week. He wanted to sit and talk with me because he had been thinking about death a lot.

His birthday was right around the corner. He was getting ready to turn the very same age that every man in his family had never lived to see- not a single one.

I asked him, “What worries you about death? Are you worried about what comes after? Where you will go? Where you will spend eternity?”

“No, not all.” he said. “I’m worried because I won’t be able to be here for those that I love. They need me in their lives, and I won’t be here for them.”

Bingo! He hit the nail on the head. This is the lesson that Jesus is trying to get across to us in this passage, and this man understood it.

When we spend our time looking outward at others, Hell becomes... well... just not that important.

 

WHEREVER YOU ARE

Wherever you are in your life today- if you are crippled by fear, if your life is all about you, if you are building a kingdom here on the Earth that meets your every need and your every want- you’re missing the point of spirituality.

The point faith is loving others.

The aim of faith is empathy.

The prize of faith is people- knowing people, loving people, and being there for people. This is what’s it’s all about, not the getting of things- even if those things are “spiritual.”

How might that inform the choices in our lives?

How might that arrest us in the moment at work, at play, or in our spiritual practice(s)?

You can live your life fearing or you can live your life loving.

It’s entirely up to you.

Selah.


RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM IN ANY FORM


New York & Brussels

The city in which I live, work, and where my kids play is once again under a terror alert. New Yorkers are being encouraged to avoid subway "hubs" and to be watchful of their surroundings. There is a marked increase in police presence today throughout the city.

This is in reaction to the explosions in Brussels this morning. The Times reports,

Two explosions, at least one caused by a suicide attack, in the departure hall at Brussels Airport killed at least 14 people just before 8 a.m. local time, or 3 a.m. Eastern time. About an hour later, an explosion at the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, not far from the European Union’s core institutions, killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 106.
— The New York Times

New York is, after all a global city with many heads of state, business, and culture living their lives here. It is also the location of one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the history of the world.

I've lived here for six years, and after awhile you just get a kind of "ache" in your gut each time you see terrorism anywhere in the world. You ache for the people that are just like you and me, leaving their homes to go to work just like every other day only to be met with terror, tragedy, injury, and even death. 

You watch the news, then you look over at your spouse playing with your kids and think, "I live three blocks from Grand Central Terminal and four avenues from the United Nations Building. Are we safe today? Will we all make it home tonight?"

Days like today feel dark. 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus said the following words which (I think) speak to how many of us may be feeling.

On the earth, people will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
— Jesus

"People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world." Yep. That's exactly how all of this feels. 


WAKING UP

One thing we are waking up to as society is that religious extremism in any form (yes, even Christian) only breeds terror and death. 

One of my favorite pieces of writing by Aaron Sorkin is housed in an episode of his hit show, The West Wing, titled "Isaac and Ishmael."

Religious extremism in any form only breeds terror and death.

 

In the episode the White House goes on lockdown because of a terrorist threat. When the lockdown occurs, a group of students happen to be in the White House for a tour and they are required to stay inside until the threat is dissolved. 

The senior staff wait with them in the mess hall, and the students begin asking them about terrorism.

Watch the clip, below. 

At the very end of the episode, Josh Lyman (the man speaking in the clip you just watched) says something profound, which I think is something we all need to be reminded of. 

He tells the students who are paralyzed with fear exactly how to combat religious extremism in whatever form it chooses to manifest itself. He says,

You want to get these people? I mean, you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Then keep accepting more than one idea. It makes them absolutely crazy.

STAND UP

I think that this statement from Lyman (or rather, Sorkin) is a prophetic word for our time, especially on days like today. These words point us to the plan of starvation for the terror in our world.

What are we to do when terror strikes? 

Will we sit down, be silent, hide and feed the fear exactly what it wants? Or will we heed the words of Jesus;

Stand up and look up.

 

When we sit down and look earthward, we feed fear. We breed terror. All we see is tragedy. All we feel is despair. We see the immediate and not the possible. We see ourselves and not others. We act out of self preservation instead of selfless compassion. 

But when we stand up and look up, we breed courage. We see wide open skies wherein we can dream, hope, and strategize how to repair what is broken. We gain empathy for all of those who have been affected by tragedy in our world. 

In doing this, then and only then will we starve the "barking dogs" of the world. Bullies travel in herds, but I believe that those who seek peace travel in much larger herds. We who seek peace are not alone. We are many, but we must make ourselves known to each other so that we can stand together in unity. 


SOME PRACTICAL STEPS

Ask someone how they're feeling about all that has befallen our world today. Listen. Really listen to them. Try to feel what they are feeling. Letting them share openly will validate them and give them hope. It may also create an ally in the bringing of peace in our world through unity. 

Pray for the people of Belgium and other areas of the world that have been terrorized by religious extremism.

And above all, keep accepting more than one idea. Seek out the commonalities that you share with others instead of highlighting all the differences. Before doctrines and traditions, we are firstly human. And in this, we have much more in common than we may realize. 

Selah. 


GOD IS NOT YOUR FATHER


The Lord does not see as people see. People look at the outer appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
— 1 Samuel 16:7

PASSING THE BUCK

Many long years ago I was a young minister, cutting my teeth on pastoral issues for the very first time. I was as green as they come, like a kid carrying around a copy of Proust who can't even read yet. 

At the time, there was a man in my church who was gay. He was ethical, moral, heck, I'll even use the word, "holy," ...but he was gay. I'd preached a sermon on how so many matters of theology are grey and that we must follow our conscience as we seek to discern truth. He loved the sermon- so much, in fact that he shared it with a bunch of his gay friends and they, too started coming to the church. 

One of my superiors noticed this influx of "the gays" and insisted that I sit down with this man and tell him the church's stance on same sex relationships or I would be fired. The stance that the church held publicly was not my stance privately, but to be honest, I was so new in ministry that I really didn't have a stance yet. I just knew that God loved people.

So I scheduled the meeting, cringed, passed the buck, and spoke the party lines. There was hurt. There were tears. There was fear. The meeting ended feeling cold and calloused. My superior thanked me for doing as I was told, and I kept my job. Afterwards, he said to me, "When you have children you'll be much less 'grey' on things in your life. Kids will teach you that there is such a thing as right and wrong."

Now at 39 years of age, with 20 years in full time ministry under my belt with two children of my own, I am still waiting on that statement to be true, but I've never witnessed it. 

 

TRANSFERENCE

There's a behavior in psychoanalytic treatment called, "transference," where we take something we've experienced in a prior relationship and "transfer" it onto a present relationship. This is common practice for many of us. We do it without even knowing it, myself included. 

I was walking my 3 year old daughter back from the store last weekend, dreading that moment in the afternoon where she refuses to take a nap and throws a fit, so I resorted to bribery. 

"Elise," I said, "If you promise me that you'll take a nap, I'll buy you a milkshake."

Her eyes lit up and she shouted, "Yay!"

"That's not good enough," I said. "Let me hear you promise."

"I promise!" she said.

"Promise what?" I dug further. 

"I promise to take a nap if you buy me a milkshake!" she responded.

My bribe was accepted. The terms of the deal were clear, and later that day she obliged, napping for two glorious hours.

 

IS GOD YOUR FATHER?

Why do we do things like this with our kids? 

I'll tell you exactly why- because we're human! We have limited amounts of emotional stamina. We get tired. We get angry. We lose our patience. We get what we want from others by incentivizing things.

"Do X for me and then I'll do Y for you."

We do this with our friends, our kids, our jobs- whatever, whoever - you name it. 

While my daughter was enjoying her milkshake, I was just sitting there watching her, enjoying her enjoying the milkshake. I started thinking back over that experience those many years ago, where I passed the buck to my gay friend. Strangely enough, that felt a lot like the "milkshake bribe" I had just exchanged with my daughter. "Do it, or you're in trouble." 

Growing up, I was always taught that God was my Father- that he loved me and would do anything for me. 

Then, I had kids and realized that I had no idea what that really meant. 

We people of faith (especially those of us who are clergy) are guilty of theological transference and it damages people. It damages them so deeply that some of them are light years away from ever being able to envision God as a perfect Father.

Why? Because we take things like milkshake bribes and how we are told to raise our children and we transfer that onto the Fatherhood of God. 

This is poison. This is poor reasoning and downright deplorable exegesis.

In other words, when I experience something with my kids, and it takes a "Do this, or else!" to get what I want, it is misguided and incorrect to follow it by thinking to myself, "I'm a Father and God's a Father, so he must be like that, too."

In moments like these I am searing into my belief system that God is a Father with mere human levels of patience, empathy, care, and understanding for his kids. He's no different than us.

I transfer my image onto God instead of God's image onto me. I cheapen the Divine, Loving Presence by thinking that it is no more loving and patient than I have the capacity to be.  

God is not your Father. 

Let me say that again.

God is not your Father.

God is your heavenly Father.

Meaning that his patience, love, and kindness are so far above and beyond our earthly love that it is utterly destructive to think that his ways of "raising us" are even, in the least bit similar to those moments where our earthly patience runs out and we resort to bribes, or say, "Do this or else!" or, "Pass the buck or you're fired!"

This is not the way of Heaven. This not the way of the Kingdom, and if you claim to embody all the attributes of the Kingdom, perhaps you're just like a kid carrying around a copy of Proust, even though you can't read yet. 

Heavenly Father, trumps earthly Father every single time, and if, when you think of God, you feel things like fear, hurt, coldness, and callousness, that is your very own heart trying to get your attention, shouting at you, "Don't go there! It's not like that! You're swallowing poison! Stop the transference!"

Selah. 


TOOLS


GOOD AND EVIL

This is my final blog post of 2015. I wanted to use it to share some things I've been thinking about regarding good and evil, and how we apply those terms to so many things. 

I guess I'll just start with a list.

Knives: We use them every day in the kitchen. We cut- we chop- and every now and then we use them to replace the screwdriver we're unable to find. However, a knife can also be used to harm someone if used in anger. 

Fire: We use fire to warm us and to cook things with. Fire can also ignite a house or building if used carelessly. 

Drinking: Doctors of every stripe all agree that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is actually good for one's health. But not used in moderation, drinking can destroy the liver, stomach, and kidneys.  

Money: Money can be used to pay our bills and to care for those around us that are in need. Money can also be hoarded at the expense of the greater good. 

I could go on and on listing more things, but this is a blog entry, not a novel. My point is this: all of these things listed above can be labelled as "good" or "evil" depending on how they are used and for what purpose.


MONEY

You have probably heard it said many times, whether in the media, in a conversation, or (God help us) from the pulpit at church:

"Money is the root of all evil."

But did you know that this is not in the bible anywhere? It is a complete rewriting of scripture. It is a distortion of what the word of God really says. 

This misquoted passage from the Apostle Paul, writing to a young pastor named Timothy says this:


For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
— 1 Timothy 6:10

Two very important words are included here which do not appear in the popular mis-quotation of the passage. Those words are, "love" and "a."

LOVING money is a root of all kinds of evil.

So firstly, money is not the root of all evil.

Second, loving money is just A root, not THE root. 

Meaning, the love of money does cause some of the evil in our world, but not all of the evil in our world. 


TOOLS

So back to my list at the beginning. What makes something good or evil? The answer is simple. We must ask the question, "For what purpose are we using the thing?"

Money is just a tool. Your motive behind wanting money and what you do with your money determines whether or not the outcome it produces is good or evil.

It's why Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, 


“I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners.”
— Ecclesiastes 5:13

As each year draws to a close, we are always presented with more than a few opportunities to give to a charity, an institution, a campaign, or a cause of some kind. And this is where we feel that "pinch," that "ache," that "Oh, but I could just hold onto this for myself" in our hearts. 

We see the needs, and then we see our wants, and that is when the conflict begins raging inside of us. 

I would like to encourage you to remember that you do not belong to your money. It belongs to you. You are not your money's tool. Money is your tool.

How will you employ this tool as 2015 draws to a close? 


YEAR END GIVING

If you're reading this, and you call Forefront Church your "place," I'd like you to ponder what you've just read, and search your heart for what God might be leading you to give to our year-end-offering

Your gift insures that we end 2015 in fiscal health and sets us up for another year of loving our city in new and surprising ways. 

The opportunity to give to this special offering expires tonight at midnight

Thanks for taking the time to read this. See you in the new year!



5 THINGS I LEARNED BEING WITHOUT A PHONE FOR 120 HOURS


I will not be mastered by anything.
— 1 Corinthians 6:12

THE LOSS

On Saturday, December 19, I was running late for a wedding rehearsal. I rushed out of my building and hailed a cab. Whilst in transit, I set my phone on the seat next to me and started going through my notes for the ceremony.

As fate would have it, I arrived early. (Every now and then, NYC traffic cooperates).

I exited the cab and walked inside the church. Unsure of where the rehearsal was being held, I reached inside my sport coat's left-inside-pocket to fetch my phone to call the bride and groom. 

My phone wasn't there.

I checked all my other pockets. I checked the stoop outside. Rushing back out onto the street, I looked in both directions. 

A wave of panic washed over me.

I had left my phone in that cab and it was long gone.

Shoulders slumped, I went back inside the church. Sitting down in the entryway, I opened my laptop. Thanks to the genius of the "find my iPhone" feature on all my devices, I began tracking the phone in real-time. I used the "lock" feature and displayed a message on the home screen of the phone.

"Hi. That's my phone you're holding. I left it in a cab. Please call Andrea at (•••) ••• - •••• if you have it. Thanks."

I kept tracking the phone. 34th Street. 42nd Street. 59th Street. 63rd Street. 84th street. 

An hour passed.

Another hour passed.

No one called. 

I finally gave up, erased the phone remotely, and filed a claim with 311, hoping it would show up at one of the police precincts in the vicinity where I left it. 

A day passed. 

Another day passed. 

Another day passed.

Behold, my beloved 5S was no more.  


5 THINGS

As it is for many of us, my phone is like an extension of my body. I am never without it. ABC news reports that people unlock their phones 110-150 times a day on average.

That’s 9 times an hour. 

I am definitely one of those people.

Here are 5 things I learned while enduring 120 hours sans a significant part of my "anatomy."

 

1. Walks were more meaningful. 

I noticed more around me when I was walking. Sounds, smells, trees, architecture. I realized how little I ever "looked up" in my life since I was usually staring at my phone wherever I was going.

 

2. I missed some meaningful connections with people.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that phones are evil. In fact, I missed some immediate connections with people. I connected with them eventually, it just took longer. Technology, when used as it should be, actually has the ability to connect us more quickly in meaningful ways.

 

3. I read more on one topic. 

When I had my phone, most of my reading, unless confined to a "study environment" was a frenzied jump from one topic to another. Short snippets of information-  a blog entry- a news article- a topic I could begin consuming, then quickly discard within seconds if it didn't hold my interest. During the 5 days I didn't have my phone, I was reminded how good a book about one topic can be when carried around throughout the day and read a chapter at a time.

 

4. I paid more attention to my kids

I noticed that my daughter and son were more interested in spending time with me than I thought they were. Had this always been the case? Shamefully, yes. I experienced a bit of regret when I realized that they were probably trying to get my attention all the time, but I had my head buried in my phone. 

 

5. The world still turned. 

My new phone arrives in the mail today, and you know what? The world is still spinning. Everything is okay. My life didn't collapse without having my phone for the last 120 hours.

I guess I'm not as important as I thought I was, and that is a very good thing. 


IN CLOSING

Like all "tools" in our lives, they have the potential to master us or we can master them. If there was one thing I learned through this experience, it was that my phone had just a touch more control over me than I did over it.

I thought I was going to be informationally stranded for those 120 long hours, but I wasn't. I just had to be more intentional with my time, not having "the world in my pocket." 

I actually learned some valuable lessons about my life and saw some things about myself that I didn't see before.

In that respect, I suppose the past 5 days were a gift.

Selah. 


THE GIFT OF DEPRESSION


For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— The Apostle Paul, Second Letter To Corinth

ME TOO

I am a people watcher.

This morning, I was early for a meeting, so I stood at the foot of the Flatiron building just watching people on their commute. You learn a lot when you stop and take time to watch people. 

Some of them seem to be engaged in a race or competition to get across the intersection first. They bump into people like a spaceship trying to rush through an asteroid field. 

Others are different. They move in a more deliberate, fluid pattern, seeming to cruise through the crowds like a glider being gently guided by the wind. 

I watch people because I see myself in them. It gives me a shared identity. Those, "me too, moments" we all experience from time to time.

Sometimes it's funny, like when I see the guy who runs right into someone, face-first because he's so lost in his phone. I chuckle to myself, "Me too."

Other times, it's developmental, showing me the person I want to be more like. I see someone bound up out of the subway stairs, stop, turn around, go back down the stairs, and come back up again helping a mother with her stroller. "Me too." I think to myself. 

We see things in people that help us learn and grow.

 

DEPRESSION

It's been reported that one in ten people in the United States struggle with depression. 

I have close friends and a few relatives who struggle with depression. It's likely that you know someone in your life who struggles with depression.  Maybe you struggle with it yourself. 

I've observed something about those close to me who struggle with depression that I rarely see in my friends who don't. 

While my friends who struggle with depression often seem to go through life tortured by all that is "dark" in the world, they also seem to possess a keen ability to recognize others who are also going through their own seasons of darkness. 

My friends who do not struggle with depression usually never notice these people. It's not that they aren't compassionate or don't care for people who are hurting. They do many kind things for many people, but this particular "gift" just isn't in their wheelhouse.

Charles Spurgeon, the British Theologian and Reformer often spoke of being touched by seasons of "melancholy." When they arrived, he found that relief only came by helping someone else who was going through the very same.

I think for many with depression, they also experience a, "me too" when they see others hurting and it causes them to stop, engage, and reach out to help.

 

A GIFT

If you are reading this and you know someone who struggles with depression, I would like to challenge you to look at them differently. Could it be that they are uniquely wired to sense human suffering on a level that you are unable to? They may be the "lens" that you are missing to see the fuller spectrum of humanity. 

If you are reading this and you struggle with depression, by all means, seek clinical help. Do all that you can by way of therapy and if need be, medicine. 

But if I might also challenge you to do one more thing? Remember that what you may think of as a handicap is also a gift. When you know what it's like to be at the bottom, you possess things on deeper levels that so many others can't (and don't) - things like empathy, shared identity, and understanding.

After all, when you've been to the bottom, you can show others the way back to the top. 

Selah.

ON BEING THANKFUL


Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
— William Arthur Ward

I struggle with thankfulness.

If you asked me whether a glass was half full or half empty, I'd answer by saying, "I don't like the glass that the water's in, so what difference does it make?"

I'm fully convinced that were Jesus to appear to me, I'd probably critique his choice of sandals and how he trims (or doesn't trim) his beard. 

Whenever I eat at a new restaurant, I always check the bathrooms first. If the bathrooms are dirty, than, in my opinion, so is the kitchen, and I won't ever eat there again. 

For some reason, both my nature and nurture have reared me to see the details. I can walk into a room and instantly point out everything that is broken, out of place, dirty, or in need of maintenance. 

This is a gift. 

This is also a curse. 

My great "self-work" in life is to use this "curse" to notice the good in the world, even though I am wired to see the bad. 

The other day, an MTA worker helped me carry my kids in their stroller up the stairs. I thanked him, then the next day sent a note to his supervisor letting him know how much I appreciated the help and that he should promote the guy. 

I saw an elderly man get hit by a bike across the street a few weeks ago, and a whole herd of people tackled the biker who was trying to ride away. At the same time, a whole other herd of people stopped traffic and lifted the elderly man to his feet helping him to the curb. 

Whenever I see policemen in my neighborhood coffeeshop, I make an effort to thank them for their service to our city, because I know that they are the constant recipients of criticism.

When I participate in "active thankfulness," it brightens the world that I often see as "dark." It also spawns incentive to express my thankfulness more often in the future. 

Whatever you are facing this Thanksgiving Holiday...

...the loss of a job

...the loss of a loved one

...an empty checking account

...feelings of loneliness or anxiety

...by all means, acknowledge reality! Of course those thing are devastating! But also take some time look at your life and find something (or someone) to be thankful for.

Maybe it's saying thanks to someone in your life for just being "in your life." They are only a phone call, a card, or text away.

Maybe it's thanking God for what you do have, instead of being upset about all that you don't have yet. 


If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.
— Meister Eckhart

Maybe this is how we "rewire" ourselves (if you're wired like I am). For every bad, there is something good. There are plenty of things in the world that are terrible. But there's good there, too. Sometimes we just have to dig a little deeper to find it. 

After all, digging through dirt is how every treasure is found.

Happy Thanksgiving.  

 

 

FAITHEISM

Lock: “G _ _ _ _ _ _ it, Morpheus! Not everyone believes what you believe!”

Morpheus: “My beliefs do not require them to.”
— The Matrix

 

SEASONS

I've gone through two seasons in my life where I was on the verge of giving up my faith altogether. Nothing tragic had occurred. I didn't get sick. I hadn't lost anyone I loved. I wasn't disappointed about anything in my life. I had just come to the conclusion that my faith was of very little use to me any longer. 

As I observed the world and all that went on in it, I saw that those without faith and those with faith both suffered and succeeded in equal measures. 

A few of my closest friends identify as agnostic or atheist. They are some of the kindest, moral, ethical, and charitable people that I know. 

My larger circle of friends identify as people of faith. They are also some of the kindest, moral, ethical, and charitable people that I know. 

My non-believing friends attribute their admirable behavior to the innate goodness of humans. 

My believing friends attribute theirs to a God at work in them. 

 

FAITH IN AMERICA

We believing Americans are plagued with a strange vice. For many, God is a kind of being or presence that we pray to and do things for in hopes of receiving something good in return. 

For instance; one may want a change of career, a mate, a child, maybe even a bigger apartment (me!) and so we pray to God for these things.

We also pray for emotional things; perhaps a better mood, the courage to be more kind or to have a greater surplus of patience. 

Still, other times we pray for those we love that are suffering, or even those that we don't know who have been touched by tragedy.

But how many times have you asked God for something and never received it?

If I had to count, it would outnumber all the grains of sand in the seas. 

 

THEN WHAT IS THE POINT?

I was counseling someone in my office the other day and he said, "Jesus said that if I ask I will receive. Why am I never receiving what I ask for, even when what I am asking for is not rooted in anything selfish?"

I responded, "What if prayer is more about what it does to you than what you receive from it?" 

"What do you mean?" he said. 

I responded, "What if prayer is about the shaping of the heart and not about the getting of things?"

He threw his hands in the air, raised his voice and shouted, "Then what's the point of believing in God at all, then?"

And therein lies the capitalist, American gospel.

Many of us believe that faith, prayer, good behavior, charity, whatever, are all a means of getting the things that we want from God- a tether of sorts that transports goods and services from the divine realm into our lives of "spiritual" materialism. 

We incentivize faith. Many of our prayers are nothing more than transactions- a cost of doing business with God.

 

FAITHEISM

Like the gentleman in my office, I too have gone through the same frustrations many times over in my life.

What I have learned over the years is that my faith, my prayers, and my doing of good is not something required of me to "purchase" the things that I need (and want) from God.

The point of my faith is that it deepens my human experience. By drawing closer to God I find myself drawn closer to others, wanting to see a world that is ever on a brighter trajectory.

And you may rebut, "But isn't that what skeptics want, too?" 

Yep. It is. And that gives us a kinship that is deeper than debates, doctrines, and dogma. It makes us partners in the making of a better world. Gandhi once said that, "God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist."

God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Whether spiritual or skeptical, this is what the vast God of the cosmos is trying to draw humanity toward- conscience

What of all that I believe then? Jesus. Prayer. The doctrines I do hold to? 

I would posit that these are not devices that I use to get what I want from God, nor strategies for convincing the unconvinced to believe what I believe. They are bits of grace, ever shaping me into a person of greater conscience. 

Conscience is the prize. It is the point. It is the key.

Selah. 

 

THE LIFE OF PIE

Each time you sit down to pray, there’ll be a reason not to. Do it anyway.

TIME

I am ever tormented by time. 

For those of you sci-fi buffs out there, you may have an intimate understanding of the jealously that I feel for creatures who lack the need for sleep - i.e. Vampires, Terminators, and other A.I. Machines. 

I'd even be willing to clone myself and download my consciousness into another body altogether if it meant I could free up more time in my life for the things that I want to accomplish. 

Perhaps I should look into purchasing a robot? Who knows? Every day of my life is filled with too many tasks and too little time. 

My life is like a pie that's sliced up every morning and eaten throughout the day. By the end of the day, nothing is left but the crumbs. 

I'd love to have more than crumbs left over at the end of the day.

 

THE SLICE THAT I TRADE

There is one slice that I forget to eat sometimes. Or rather, I label it as something else and eat it anyway, distorting it's intended purpose in my "life of pie."

That is the slice that is dedicated to God and God alone. My time with God is the first slice I am always tempted to re-label and trade for something else.

This is a strange paradox I struggle with being a Christian. I know that God is the very source of my breath, my life, and my wellbeing, yet I trade him so easily. 

One thing I am learning about prayer and meditation, a slice of the pie, is that there's always a reason not to do it due to the pressures of time. What's even more daunting is that I, a being bound by time, am spending some of that time trying to connect with a being that isn't bound by time at all. 

O' the confinement of matter. But it is my lot, nonetheless. I am human. 

What I can say, is that when I keep this slice as a regular part of my day, all the other slices of the pie seem to have more substance to them. They are less rushed. They are less reactive. There's a steadiness, a calmness underneath them that they lack when I trade my "God-slice" for something else.

The truth about my prayer life is that each time I sit down to pray, there's always a reason not to. But I do it anyway, because it adds depth to the rest of my life, and at the end of my day, strangely enough, there is more left than just the crumbs. 

Selah. 

COLLIDERS & CATHEDRALS

(This post, inspired by Veronica Barnes).

 

PARTICLE FEVER

A few of us were at the Forefront office the other night watching the independent film, "Particle Fever."

Particle Fever is a 2013 documentary film tracking the first round of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider nearGeneva, Switzerland. The film follows the experimental physicists at CERN who run the experiments, as well as the theoretical physicists who attempt to provide a conceptual framework for the LHC's results. The film begins in 2008 with the first firing of the LHC and concludes in 2012 with the successful identification of the Higgs Boson particle.

Whether you're interested in the world of particle physics or not, the film has a lot to say about life - our search for why we "are" and how we got here.

In one scene they show a picture of one of the colliders' four modules where the particle collisions take place and collect data. Veronica saw it and blurted out, "That looks a lot like a cathedral!" 

Watch the video below that illustrates this. 

"That looks a lot like a cathedral!" 

This thought stuck with me all evening. I woke up the next morning with it still on my mind.

 

SHARED QUESTIONS

For centuries, mankind has stared up at the ceilings of cathedrals during mass, looking for answers to the very same questions those staring at the collider at CERN are trying to answer.

-Why are we here?

-Where did we come from?

-What should we do?

-Where are we going?

-What is the meaning of all of this?

 

MY EXPERIENCE

Many would say that the searches of science and faith are opposed to each other. 

As a guy who has more than a few friends in the scientific community, I've always experienced the opposite in my conversations with them. I find that we are always talking about this search that we both share- how I am searching as a person of faith and how they are searching as a person of science.  

The scientific-search, at face value seems to be more material and intellectual, while the faith-search seems to be more immaterial and (if you will) "spiritual" - yet we are asking the same root-questions.

We are each staring at different "structures" that evoke the same questions. 

I find myself eager to understand the perspective of my scientific friends, while my scientific friends seem eager to understand my perspective as a person of faith. The conversation is always stimulating to us both, and we walk away feeling (strangely enough) more complete and close. 

 

THE POINT

Maybe that is the point of all this. Perhaps science and faith are bedfellows. If the religious community and the scientific community can learn to see each other as complementary groups, perhaps there is some sort of overlap in the middle where the thing that people of faith call "God" and the thing that people of science call "The Field" are actually guiding us toward the same destination.

Selah. 


A BIG P.S.!!!!!

Forefront is preparing a series of events that we're calling "Faith, Culture, and Questions" (FCQ). We recognize that there are questions about faith that go way beyond our heads. That's why we're excited to introduce the first speaker in our Faith, Culture, and Questions Series, "Science" Mike McHargue who will be addressing the topics of Sex, Violence, and Drugs through the lenses of science and faith. 

Check out the Science Mike Podcast and make sure to buy tickets to our first FCQ event. I can promise you that it will be worth attending. 


THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND

WASHINGTON D.C.

I am currently writing this post late in the evening while the rest of my family is asleep. We are in Washington, D.C. getting some much needed vacation before wedding season goes into full swing for me as a clergyman. (Pray for me. Lol!)

When I'm not wearing sunglasses, I like to perch them on top of my head. I don't know why I do this, but I always have. Putting them in my pockets, sooner or later always ends up in crushed sunglasses, and I've learned that this is the easiest way to avoid that over the years.

I discovered something today while walking in the hallway to the elevator on the floor that we are staying on in the hotel. Each time I passed under one of the hallway lights hanging from the ceiling, my sunglasses would bump into them. I'm not a very tall bloke, but I'm not short either. I measure in at an even 5 feet, 11 inches.

When my glasses kept hitting the lights (which were not hung more than 3 or 4 inches from the ceiling) I realized that the hallway I was in was lower than the average ceiling in most hallways that I find myself in. 

Then it dawned on me... you're in D.C. Ryan, you dummy! 

 

HUMAN HEIGHT OVER TIME

This city is old. It began to "boom" in the late 1800's and many new structures were built to house the city's residents and visitors.

Once I reached the lobby, I went to the front desk and asked the hotel manager if the building that we were staying in was the original structure or if it was built on on older "shell." He laughed and said, "This place has been here a very long time, we just modernized it to keep up with the times."

People during the mid 1800's wouldn't be hitting their heads off of the ceiling lamps like I was. You know why? They were much shorter then. The graph below, (which only goes back to 1900) shows the trajectory of human height in the United States over the years. 

According to the chart, I am slightly above average height were you to build the graph out to 2015 on the same trajectory. This makes sense. Americans live longer now. We eat better food now (if we choose to). We have access to better things that cause our bodies grow taller than our forebears- better medicine, vitamins, cleaner air and water. 

And this is why my sunglasses were hitting the ceiling lamps. I was walking in a hallway that was built for someone who was of average height in the late 1800's.

 

PEOPLE GROW

One thing is clear about humans. We are in a steady state of change. It's gradual. It is slow. We may not see it in one, or even two lifetimes, but change does happen, even if we are oblivious to it. This happens with social things, emotional things, scientific things, biological things, governmental things, spiritual things, and just about any other "things" that are. 

Some changes are deliberate. Others just happen by the random collision (and friction) of different forces at work in the construct of the world.  

When we happen to be alive at the specific time where a spot on the chart (whatever that chart is measuring) changes, it can be alarming when we witness it. After all, we are in the very midst of a newness that has never before existed in history.

Some of us resist the newness as a kind of cursed aberration, the destruction of what we have grown comfortable with and used to. 

Others observe it, wide-eyed from afar, hopeful, but a little hesitant to embrace it right away.

Still others see it as a long awaited friend that has finally arrived. The change has come, and it is to be celebrated and embraced as the new "norm" for human beings. 

Which of these are you when change comes? The resistor? The hesitant? The embracer? 

I'd love to hear what you think in the comment fields below.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts. 

GOODBYE FOR NOW, KERNCAKES

About 4 years ago, I met a skinny, hipster-ish, college kid who would visit our church from time to time. His reputation preceded him. People kept telling me, "That's Matthew Kern. You need to get him involved creatively. He's got skills!"

So while Matthew was finishing up his degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, I started corresponding with him via email. I pitched a project to him to see if he'd work on it. 

He said, "yes."

The project came back and I couldn't believe my eyes.

They were right.  

He had mad skillz. (Yes, the "z" is intentional). 

When he moved to New York, I stole him from The Broadway production, "Spiderman" (where he had just gotten a job).

Take that, Marvel. I won. 

For the past few years, all of the good graphics, video, and print jobs you have seen at Forefront have come out of Matthew's brain. He has also overseen our Guilds and built them into a creative force to be reckoned with in New York City. 

Not only is Matthew a great designer and videographer, but he is also a great friend with whom I've shared a thousand conversations and belly-laughs. 

On June 1st, Matthew will be leaving our staff to start his own business doing freelance design and video production called, "Kernvision." We are thrilled for him in his new venture, but we will miss him dearly. 

We are overjoyed to have had Matthew on our team. He has helped us "step up" our creative game in a way that would have been impossible without his influence.  

Though New York (and Forefront) will still be his home, he'll now be spending a lot of time on the road producing amazing things for his new clients.

We love you and wish you well, Matthew. You've done an amazing job here and you will be greatly missed.

-Ryan

 

P.S. - If you're reading this and you lead a church or an organization needing branding, video, or web design, check out Matthew's portfolio on his website at kernvision.com.

DOGS ON THE ROAD

A true friend freely advises, justly assists, readily adventures, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.
— William Penn

There's a memory from my childhood that I will never be able to get out of my mind.

One day, outside of Flint, Michigan, my Mom and I were stuck in terrible traffic. The traffic was backed up it seems, for miles. As we eek'd our way down the highway, we could see what was causing the traffic jam up ahead. There had been some kind of accident.

As we neared the accident, there was only one car at the scene and it looked, for the most part free of damage. There in front of the car on the ground was a giant pool of blood and (forgive me for the visual) guts strewn across the highway. 

The trail of blood and gore led to the body of an animal- a beautiful black doberman pinscher that had been hit by the car. I saw a rescue worker standing over the dog, trying to get it up onto a blanket, but each time the worker would reach for the dog, the dog would snap, and growl, and gnash its teeth.

The dog was so traumatized from the impact that it didn't know the difference between an enemy and a friend.

 

I think about this experience every time that I go through pain. 

 

When we are hurting, we lose all perspective. Someone or some-thing has wounded us. We are damaged- and there's a trail of blood to prove it. 

We are loved by many, and when they try to help we just can't see it. We have no reason to be suspicious of them. They are like angels trying to lift us to safety, but our response is often to snap, and growl, and treat them as the enemy. 

Once we are on the other side of the trauma and we start to heal, we see that these "angels" are not our enemies. They kept reaching in to help, even after we snapped at them, and gnashed at them, and rejected their attempts to help us. 

This is animal.

This is also human. 

I would imagine we've all experienced this more than a few times. If you've healed, or are still in the process of healing, look around you.

Who keeps calling?

Who keeps texting?

Who keeps stopping by to check in on how you are doing?

These are the people who care more about you than they do being the recipient of a bruised ego, a snide remark, or an array of defiant phrases. 

These are true friends.  

Selah. 

PRAYER TRANSACTIONS

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Matthew 21:13

 

WHY DO WE PRAY?

Why does it matter? Does it matter at all, or is it just something that we do because it's always been done?

What's a good metaphor for prayer?

- Is it like exercise?

- Is it like presenting a case before a judge in a court of law?

- A business transaction, perhaps? 

Though these metaphors may all make sense at some level, they don't get very close to what prayer really is. Prayer is simply what it is. Prayer is talking to God

In the passage above, from the book of Matthew, Jesus has just entered the temple where he becomes outraged when he finds that "God's house" had turned into a marketplace- a place of exchange- a place of commerce- a place of business- a place of bargaining. 

You may know the story. He begins flipping over the booths of the vendors and then he utters these, words- "My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'" 

If we'll slow down and think about what is really going on here, we see very plainly what God thinks about prayer. 

This "house of God" that was supposed to be a place where people would go to talk to God had become a place of transactions. It had become a place where, as one would approach, they would start thinking things like

- What will I get today?

- Will I have enough?

- How can I get more?

- Who can I deal with to get what I want for a better price?

And this is what angers Jesus. Instead of people coming to God's house to pray, they begin to think of "transaction" as a proper metaphor for prayer. 

 

MY OWN PRAYER LIFE

The greatest temptation in my own prayer life is to do the very same. As I approach that quiet place of prayer, my mind is often occupied with things like,

- What will I get today?

- Do I have enough spiritual stamina and eloquence to get what I want from God?

- What do I need to barter with God about so that he will give me what I want?

And without even realizing it, I find myself there before God, performing transactions. Sure, they are spiritual, but they are incorrect. I am praying, but praying for all the wrong reasons. 

The truth is, when we go before God, he already knows where we are and what we are. He sees us like no one else in our life does. He knows our fears, our hangups, and our handicaps. What God is wanting more than anything is for us to just talk to him. He wants us to simply open our mouths and say whatever it is that is on our minds. 

- Sometimes this looks like asking him for something.

- Other times it is to voice our frustration about something.

- Other times it is to thank him for what he has done.

But these are not meant to be transactions. Transactions are a wrong practice, for they betray our true motives.

Transaction-prayer sounds a lot like,

- "God, I'll do X for you, if you'll do Y for me." or,

- "God I promise to be more _______ if you will give me _______."

And these are the very things that frustrate Jesus. Why? Because that isn't how this is supposed to work. 

 

PRAY FREELY

The next time you sit down to pray, I'd like to encourage you to do an internal inventory of why you are praying. Examine your motives about your prayer life. 

Are you praying to get something, or are you praying because prayer is... well... just "prayer?"

Do your prayers sound like bargaining, or do they sound like you're just talking with a friend, sharing about all that is going on in your life?

My hope is that we would learn to simplify our aims, and reform our motives concerning prayer, for we follow a Jesus who, above all things just wants to hear us talk to him about where we are.

Selah. 

 

 

WHEN THE HEAVENS ARE BRONZE

The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze.

Deuteronomy 28:3

I try my very best to spend some time in prayer when I get to the Forefront Office in the morning. It's nothing lengthy or spectacular. I read some. I pray some. I spend some time in silence. I journal. I'd say, on average, all of this lasts about 30 minutes.

My one bedroom, one bath, 800 square foot apartment can get particularly crazy in the mornings with two children waking up and two parents getting ready for work. I am also not my best self when I wake from sleep. I am often moody. I just want time alone. I often enter my prayer times at the office feeling selfish, guilty, and knowing that I could have been a better human that morning, but failed. 

There's a 14th century text called, "The Cloud of Unknowing." The author is unknown. In the book he writes about a "dark cloud" that is ever between himself and God when he tries to pray. The main theme of the book is that the practitioner of prayer is to pierce this "Cloud of Unknowing" by understanding that he is loved by God without conditions.

Do you ever feel that way when you try to pray? I sure do. 

Whether you are a novice in the world of prayer, or an expert practitioner, we all go to pray at times and feel a wall, a barrier, or a cloud between us and God. The heavens may seem an unyielding sheet of bronze above us.

This is normal. After all, we are human. We get lost in thoughts, ambitions, and desires- many of them contrary to what we know God wants from us. 

What I am learning is exactly what we read in "The Cloud," that the barrier is a natural bi-product of a life of distractions. But it is not a penalty, it is a gentle teacher. It is there to remind us that what we bring to God is only our naked selves. God invites each of us to commune with him by grace. We do not pray to earn something. We pray to understand that we are loved.

We do not pray to earn something.
We pray to understand that we are loved.

 This is the only way that we will ever "reach" God in times of prayer. It's about remembering that whatever we've done, no matter how moody and self-centered we are, that we must  leave those things at the gateway of prayer and enter, knowing that we are loved without conditions.

Knowing this is the seed of all good faith and spirituality. 

If you struggle with prayer, I'd like to challenge you embrace that struggle. Just do it anyway. God is inescapable. Our guilt, our shame, our moods, and all that we loathe about ourselves just might be something we are so keenly aware of in the presence of God because that is the point - to understand that we are infinitely loved as we "are." Nothing more. Nothing less.

Selah

TO THOSE WHO WORK WITH OUR FAMILIES

Every week at Forefront Manhattan, beneath the bustling hive of the auditorium there is another environment that is brimming with even more excitement than the worship upstairs.

Sure, the excitement is a bit different. There's laughter, there's singing, there's a lesson that is taught, and an occasional diaper change (Okay. Maybe not that different except for that last item).

This all happens in the incredible atmosphere that gets created each week by our fabulous Family Ministry Volunteers.


Marlee Waters

and her team work tirelessly (often the first to arrive and the last to leave) converting a pre and post concert lounge into a space that is fun and engaging for children. The kids learn about God in a way that is understandable to them, as their parents get the chance to learn about God upstairs. 

Click here to download a card about Kidstuf.


raups.jpg

Jordan & Jenna Raup 

along with their team, convert the Gramercy Green Room into a den for students that meet during our late service. Little do the students know that the night before, the room is occupied by rock stars from all over the world, striking it big in New York City.

Click here to download a card about Student Impact.


Here's what's interesting, though. You've probably never even seen any of these amazing people. They do it all, week in, week out, invisibly, caring for the future generations of New Yorkers who will one day be running the world.

I'm writing this today, to acknowledge this wonderful team, and to say a HUGE "thanks" for all you do for our families. I don't know what our church would do without you. 

We love you, Family Ministry Team.

Thanks for being team "awesome."

 

Ryan Phipps

Lead Pastor, Forefront Manhattan

 

"MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCES" (LETTER TO A YOUNG MINISTER)

I find this hard to believe each time it happens, but from time to time I get calls from younger guys in ministry asking me for guidance and advice. This is always odd for me as I am only 38 years old and feel like such a "noob" at this myself. But I suppose I have something to say, as I have been in this line of work for awhile now. 

My, how time flies.

Below is a letter I wrote to a young man in ministry who reached out to me for advice about some uncertainty he has begun to feel about his calling. 

I am posting it here in case it is of use (or help) to anyone who may be feeling as he also is.

Enjoy.  


Hey man -

Just wanted to follow up about our call last night and reassure you that you aren't crazy, nor are you thinking thoughts that any of us in ministry-work don't think from time to time. 

We get into this game because of "mountaintop experiences." We sense a deep responsibility for people and a love for them we can't quite put into words. It is wonderfully overwhelming. 

The longer we are in this line of work, though we see that we are half-hearted creatures. We are walking contradictions. We get tired. We lose hope. We see the inner politics of religion and many within it who have chosen to spend their time and energy making this all about something that it really isn't at all.

Ministers from every generation in every part of the world have struggled with this since, well… forever.

Not a single Epistle in the New Testament is void of squabbles over theology, philosophy about ministry, or infighting in the church. These things are there in scripture to show us that even those closest to Jesus had the same struggles.

Our job is to keep pointing people back to the source- and to see the bigger picture.   

Know that it is the initial "mountaintop experience" that gets us in the door, but we ultimately only stay "in the door" of ministry because we realize there's just nothing else we are to do. We were born for this.

Of course there are the paradoxes of the long days, the strain that showing love to our church family puts on our own family, and the fact that we are learning, growing beings-  just as those we lead are also growing and learning. 

This is all grace.

Perhaps ministry isn't about us having a solidified, repeatable formula with which we save the world. Maybe our true calling is to be humble people who are learning alongside those that we teach.

We have so much to learn from each other, and none of us have the full picture or the finished product. We need each other. We also need each other's struggles. 

When Sundays are terrible or our stats are not what we want them to be, remember that these things are carrots on sticks. The best stats in the world will never be enough. We will always want more. What we are in control of, and what our goal should be, is to work as diligently as we are able with humility and love. If we do this, may the stats be what they are.

Know God. Get to know him more every day, even when he seems to be silenced by your approaches. Sometimes this is exactly what we need from God. It keeps us humble.

Never let your work stifle your prayer and meditation times. Put them first, above all else. 

When the inner politics of ministry seem to hijack your schedule for weeks at a time, make sure that you are caring for the people in your community who haven't been pulled into all of that. People who are new in the faith will refresh your spirit and remind you why what you are doing matters.

A man named Richard Alpert once said, 

"I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people… To me, that’s what the emerging game is all about."

I find this to be more true each year, even after doing this for seventeen years.

We need the people that we minister to as much as they need us. This is about a human family wherein we see God at work through all of us. 

Whether you believe it or not, you are in a very good place. You are being detoxed of the idea that ministry is about fame and superstars, book deals, and recording contracts, and money, and feelings of pride about how wonderful you are (or can become).

None of us are wonderful. We are just people trying to get through life. This is where God lives- in the everyday. 

You are realizing that the only thing that will ever keep you going is your love for people, and this is the true "mountaintop experience." All others are just smokescreens.

If our calling is about anything other than that, we will drop out eventually.

Love always believes, always hopes, always perseveres. It has never failed. Nor will it ever. 

My prayer for you (and I will pray this for you often) is from Ephesians 3:14-19

"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."

Love you, man. 

Be strong and of good courage. 

Call me anytime.

-Ryan

DRIVES FOR GOOD THINGS

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

- Matthew 22:36-40

We believe that the greatest way to love God is by loving people. In that same spirit, Forefront Manhattan is participating in two "drives" over the next few weeks for our friends at Restore NYC, and The Kenmore.

We are collecting single-ride metrocards for the ladies at Restore, to assist them in their commutes in the city. You can donate the cards at church on Sunday at the Connection Point, or bring them by the office during the week.

We are also collecting men's clothing for our friends at the Kenmore. You can drop off your clothing donations at church on Sunday at the Connection Point, or bring them by the office during the week.

Thank you for participating in these drives, assisting us in fulfilling God's greatest commands. 

INSPIRED BY RUTH

INSPIRED BY RUTH

The following is a poem that Jonathan Jordan wrote, inspired by Part 2 of our Lenten series, "The Story of Ruth." If you've been unable to join us for all of the weeks, follow along with us at forefrontnyc.com/ruth.

Thanks for sharing your gift with us, Jonathan. 

 

 

 

NOTICING YOU/ME

by Jonathan Jordan

 

Ruth and Boaz

Out in the fields Ruth was toiling

The hot sun had her skin boiling 

In widow's obscurity, suffering calamity

But when hope was low, Boaz came

Interrupted his flow, called Ruth by name 

Claimed responsibility for restoring her dignity 

 

All of this reminds us that 

God is saying

I'm always noticing you

Though at times you may not think that it's true

You're always in my point of view

I'm always noticing you 

You're always noticing me

Never synonymous with insignificancy 

Whether in a field, a crowd or sycamore tree

You're always noticing me

 

Jesus and woman with issue of blood

All of the crowds were clamoring

To touch, to feel, the soon coming King

Her social invisibility, wondering 'Will he see me?'

The woman's hope was low, but Jesus came

Interrupted her blood flow, covered her shame

Used his deity to cure her infirmity 

 

All of this reminds us that 

God is saying

I'm always noticing you

Though at times you may not think that it's true

You're always in my point of view

I'm always noticing you 

You're always noticing me

Never synonymous with insignificancy 

Whether in a field, a crowd or sycamore tree

You're always noticing me

 

Jesus and Zacchaeus

Jesus was teaching and walking

Zacchaeus, the tax man, was stalking

Height inferiority, wondering "Will he see me?"

Zacchaeus' hope was low, but Jesus came

Interrupted his flow, called Zaccaeus by name

Said, "salvation has come to thee", come down from that tree!" 

 

All of this reminds us that 

God is saying

I'm always noticing you

Though at times you may not think that it's true

You're always in my point of view

I'm always noticing you 

You're always noticing me

Never synonymous with insignificancy 

Whether in a field, a crowd or sycamore tree

You're always noticing me

HENRY YTTERBERG

***UPDATE: Henry Ytterberg has been found by the police and safely returned to his family. Thank you for your assistance in helping bring this family back together.


Below is a copy of an email that we sent out this morning to the Forefront staff, Leadership Team, and our Ministry Partners. 

Would you join us in helping this dear family?

Thank you.

-Ryan


Dear Staff, Leadership Team, and Friends -

 

Steve Snider (from Forefront's Manhattan location) reached out to me last night. He has some close friends outside of NY whose son ran away on on Thursday and headed into the city.

The article and story they ran on the news is here:  http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S3708058.shtml

A missing person's report was filed, but the police have not found him yet. He was last seen at a shelter on the Upper East Side, but was not permitted to stay because he didn't meet their criteria. 

Since we have relationships with a number of homeless people and shelters in the city, Steve was reaching out to ask for our help. 

 

I am asking for your help with the following things:

1) I will post something on social media this morning. Would you mind retweeting it on Twitter and sharing it on Facebook?

2) As you are riding the trains today and this evening, please keep a lookout for him, and if you see him call the police immediately using the attached NCMEC#? (12441)

3) If you are near Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal, would you please take a few extra minutes to walk around there and look for him? Many of the homeless people in our community go back and forth between these two locations during the winter when it is cold, and he may have done the same. 

4) If you have any connection with any shelters in Manhattan, would you please email your contacts there the attachment and ask them to call the police if they see him?

 

The attachment has his picture, all of his info, and NCMEC#.

This dear family is devastated, and this is how we can help them in their time of need. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please let me know if you have any questions.

 

Ryan Phipps

Lead Pastor, Forefront Church, Manhattan