God is doing a work in us and among these messy, forgotten people on the sidewalk
Now after five weeks recovering from open heart surgery* . . .
Felt better. Stronger. More able to keep a good pace at this morning’s sidewalk breakfast and church. Not as shaky as last week (my first time back at it). While I am still not lifting anything more than 8 lbs, I felt good at moving about and talking to folks. I had good energy for the church service and the preaching.
God is good.
The message, the sermon, was from Acts 15:11-19 this morning:
“But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
This is not an easy text—and how can it be relevant to those who do church on the sidewalk? In short, of course, the simple gospel of faith in Jesus is all that is needed to be saved and part of God’s family (v. 11). But there is more: It was--it is—the acceptance of others into this family of the saved that also matters. Who are . . . who can be the sons of God?
People who are different, culturally different, race different (yes, I even brought that up right here on the sidewalk)—what we add to our faith that others have to deal with so “I’d” accept then into God’s family, so they can be a part of the saved community? This is the question that is presented to us from this text on the sidewalk right here in the Hill.
I briefly explained the Jew-Gentile thing happening in the background of the text—explained how the Jewish believer had to give up circumcision as the defining marker that set the Jew apart from the Gentile; and, the Gentile also had to give up something, namely the defining mark of being a Gentile, namely an idol-worshipper (vv. 19-20). That’s the text.
I pointed out some of the modern idols we have and then explained how having such idols in our lives not only keeps us from fulling loving and serving God as we should, but also how such idols and all the habits that go with these idols keep us from loving our neighbors (our wives, family, those children, those on the other side of town, and those around us, especially those very different from “me”); and, this also keeps them from knowing all it takes to be saved is simple faith in Jesus Christ. Our idols have added to who is and who isn’t saved. Our idols tend to make us think others need to adopt a certain form or some measure of life that looks like “mine” in order to be saved and a full member of God’s family. Our idols make us add to faith so that we’d be comfortable with them and they’d be acceptable to us. We can keep people away, even causing them to stay away and not seek Jesus or even desire being a part of God’s family.
It was incredible how these good folks identified with this reading of the text—some to be sure, is how they’ve felt and have stayed away from church, away from Jesus; some even recognizing their not very accepting of those different from them. We all need to abstain from idol-worship.
After the service, I prayed with one of the street guys, whose cancer has returned. Talked to a few guys whose close friend had relapsed back into drug abuse and had stolen from them. During my sermon, when I used an example of a married couple that the man wasn’t loving his wife as he should because of an idol or idols in his life, one of the men (I could see this right in front of me) reached out and took his wife’s hand. After the service, he came up to me, shook my hand and said “thank you.”
God is, indeed doing some amazing work in the lives of these forgotten, marginalized, strange, seemingly hopeless, messy folks.
It was a good morning. And, yes, I am a bit tired. But better than last week for sure.
Getting better. Slowly my energy is coming back.
God is good!
*Five weeks ago I had open heart surgery to repair and replace a calcified aortic bicuspid value. Been recuperating and gaining my strength back.
On Saturday mornings, God shows up right here on the sidewalk in front of our Hill apartment.
Over the years of being here in the Hill, both our church and, as well, Lisa and I (especially since we moved into the Hill) have encountered the homeless population. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, every year at our Park BBQ ministry, and now, almost every Saturday at the Sidewalk Breakfast and Sidewalk Church Service.
Are the elect not also among the homeless?
Is there not an obligation to make church available, accessible, and welcoming to the homeless?
While so many things break and burden my heart in this ministry, the presence of the homeless grieves me, perplexes me, and humbles me.
Over the past four months or so, we have come to know one of the local homeless. He collects bottles (a few of us save them for him). I encouraged him to start coming to our Saturday Breakfast and, perhaps, even to stay for the sidewalk church service. So he did. And, has been. Regularly. In fact, he’d bring one or two of his homeless friends (pretty much every Saturday), encouraging them, “We’re staying for the Church Service, too.” We have had, regularly, the homeless breakdown and cry, even a few times falling to their knees with their arms stretched out. We pray for them, comfort them. They’re just so grateful for the food and broken because they know they need God desperately.
This man, the one who brings people, was missing a few Saturdays. When he showed back up, he assured me he was alright, but had been in the hospital. “Well, actually, the police brought me to the hospital,” he said. “Why did they do that?” “They arrested me for fighting, but instead of jail, they brought me to Yale—New Haven Hospital.” He was in a bad way, he explained. “But, I’m good now.” In fact, he was so proud to tell me: “Pastor, look at me. I’m clean. My teeth are brushed. My clothes are clean. I’m taking showers. I am good now.” My heart was so glad. He hasn’t stopped coming for Breakfast and participates in our Sidewalk Church Service—and has been bringing his homeless friends.
Another regular gentleman also brings friends and many times his homeless friends to the breakfast and service. This week he brought a young lady (probably in her 30s). When we served her the food, she broke down and cried—she was so grateful. Drug use had ruined her teeth. In fact, she had told us she had a lot of teeth just removed. Ashen and thin—and being subject to the nightly elements doesn’t bring rest and renewed strength. This was very evident. She just cried and cried and said thank you, thank you, thank you.
During the Church Service, she broke down, crying through most of it. Afterward, she came up to me to thank me again, still tears flowing. I told he, “We are glad you came today. Life has been pretty rough for you. Please come back. Come be a part of what God is doing here on this sidewalk. Let’s learn about Jesus. He is here for you. He will forgive you. Doesn’t mean everything will get better, but you will get better. Jesus will change you and help you, but most of all, he’ll give you a new family, this church family. This is where Jesus will give you strength, encouragement, people to cry with you—and eventually, people for you to cry with.” The thank yous kept coming. She said she plans on coming back.
Are not the elect among the homeless?
God showed up this past Saturday.
Got 6 minutes and ten seconds?
Finally . . . our 2020 CPC in The Hill Park BBQ video . . . we are so thankful for all who made this ministry possible this summer . . .
➥ CPC New Haven Life Groups
➥Our Volunteers from our Lutheran church family sisters and brothers
➥Our many supporters who gave out of their own resources to help with the costs
➥Our own CPC in The Hill church family, the Life Groups
➥Our sister church, CPC Milford
➥And . . . so many others and especially our Trowbridge Square Park friends and neighbors.
New England Urban Church Planting: Experiencing COVID-19 as a Poor Community with Chip Anderson (Podcast #4)
Early on, as we began this COVID-19 journey, I was asked to be interviewed (again) by Tim at NEU (New England Urban) Church Planting (formerly known as The Philip Center). I was grateful for the chance to share my thoughts and, of course, to talk about CPC in The Hill and our Hill community.
In this interview I also spend time talking about "Strong Ties" and "Weak Ties" and how these ties are important during non-crises times and crises times (like COVID-19)––and why it is important to have Weak Ties in place before a crisis happens upon us, especially for urban/inner-city churches and churches existing in resource-lacking communities.
This podcast interview is about 35 minutes long, but recaps well the issues facing Hill-like communities in the face of COVID-19.
The first interview can be found here >> Church Planting among the Poor and Empowering the Poor
This past Wednesday (8/14/2019), CPC in The Hill had the privilege of bringing its 7th 2019 Summer Park BBQ to the Trowbridge Square Park here in the Hill. I do a little park preaching before we eat. And, the people in the park come and listen: parents, adults, children, and even teenagers. They hear a gospel message that is relevant to who they are as residents of the Hill: Adults just hanging, dads making good by spending some time with their kids, moms trying to let their kids run off some energy, gang members, some homeless, addicts (maybe some selling, too), and too many unparented (wandering) teenagers. They all come and listen.
This, in part, was my park sermon thas evening:
This is not a verse of condemnation. Although many, of course, read or take it this way. The verse is the way home. Yet, we can’t get there by ourselves. God is the one who gets us home. This is why the Apostle Paul continues in verses 24-25:
First, we hear in Romans 3:23 that “all” have sinned. This is good news (well, sort of). Really, though, isn’t it good to know that we all, every single individual—rich or poor, suburban or urban, suburban or . . . Hill [they laugh], politician or CEO or regular people like us—each carry the label “sinner.” And, as such, each have fallen short of God’s glory. No special people. All have sinned. All fall short of God’s glory. All–everyone needs a way home. And, so, again, this verse is our way home.
How many here have had the thought that I’m not all I was created to be? [Hand up all over.] Anyone here messed up so much you believe there is no way out? It’s ruined; life is ruined; seems like there is no exit. No hope. [Hands up.] Who here has tried to fix their life and you know it’s impossible? [Many admitted to this. Hands.] Any here actually fix it? [No hands.] Well, again, this is why this seemingly rather condemning verse is good news. We know what we have fallen short of. This tells us what needs to be fixed. What needs to be restored.
We are unable to fix this (as some of you have already admitted). We are incapable of restoring ourselves. So, God must do it. God has provided a substitute for us. Jesus is God’s propitiation (yes, that’s a big word, put simply, it means Jesus is) our substitute. He took our place and paid in full our sinful debt to God. And, God wants to restore us to His glory, that is, the image he originally created us for. He has provided a way home, back to that glory.
Back to what we were created for.
It is important to know what we will be restored to. We can’t just be restored to a better version of ourselves. Heavens, no! Because, everything about us is tainted by our sinful nature–not just the mistakes we make, but the actual, very core of our being is corrupted. A better version of ourselves isn’t what we want (really, it isn’t). This isn’t what God had in mind.
Our sinful nature. This is why we fall short, for all–I say it again, for all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. This is good news to us. None of us needs to question who we are: we are all sinners. None of us need question what it is we have fallen short of: all fall short of God's glory.
This is our way home.
So, knowing what we are restored to is very important. We are to be restored to the glory that is found in Jesus Christ. He has restored what Adam broke. What our forefathers and parents keep breaking. What we keep breaking. We need Him, first, as our substitute and, then, we begin to be conformed (restored) to the image of Christ. That is what it means to be transformed from glory to glory.
But, you see, here’s our problem: Everything else about our world (all around us—the people, the systems, the government, business, advertising, the news, everything) pushes us to be conformed to this world (conformed the way they want us to be, the way it makes it all work for them, the way that keeps us all unequal) or to simply just be a better version of ourselves (that is, that version of course, that the world thinks is best) or, more likely, a better version of somebody else’s idea of glory. That is why Jesus is not only our substitute, paying for our sin, but also who we are to be like (that’s the glory we want, the glory we need restored). We are now to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
This verse is good news.
This verse is our way home.
Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill––Our Sunday Worship Service in a Time of Crisis
No American church in modern times has experienced a crisis such as COVID-19. Church services throughout our country have been and are canceling as a precaution to help alleviate the spread of this virus. Big congregations. Small congregations. All alike are canceling their weekly gatherings and Sunday services. There was almost no warning. There was certainly no training (i.e., no preparation) to move from a regular Sunday gathering to home and individual “virtual” gatherings for Sunday worship. (And, I don’t just mean how to go “virtual,” but training our people to change this habit and discipline for Sunday.) This has been a hard call, a difficult decision, for church leadership to make, including our own elders at CPC New Haven (aka 135).
So, as of this Sunday, March 22, 2020, Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill will not be holding Sunday services until the COVID-19 threat has passed.
Our church, however, isn’t closed because our church is not a location. Yes, of course, we have a special place where we gather each week on Davenport Ave. Yet, we understand church is the Christians that gather. The church, our church, CPC in The Hill, is a people. In fact, this crisis shows us how important gathering together is for us as Christians—to grow in the Lord, to build each other up, to learn from the word, to develop faithfulness for times of crisis, and, of course, to give thanks and praise to “our Father who art in heaven.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our governing officials have requested (and in some places, mandated) that the American people shut down as much as possible, at a minimum, for a two week period to prevent a spike in the spread of COVID-19, which would overwhelm our medical system. The City of New Haven has banned gatherings of 10 or more at this time; and our CPC leadership has made the decision to do just that.
This is a reasonable request. Having to worship as the scattered church rather than the gathered church for a couple of weeks, in light of these extraordinary circumstances, is not an assault on the church. And, again, this shows us why it is so important to meet together before crises arise! Now, it is an opportunity for us to show solidarity with our neighbors and exhibit concern, not only for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, but those with other medical conditions whose care would be compromised if the medical system is overwhelmed.
This is also a good time to identify with brothers and sisters in the Lord around the world, who, because of persecution, have never experienced (or rarely experience) the freedom to gather openly in large groups. This week (and perhaps for weeks to come), as we gather in our own homes, knowing that brothers and sisters around the country are doing the same, we can remember, also, those who are persecuted as though we, too, are persecuted with them. Perhaps we can get a small glimpse of their difficult experience of corporate worship—where they don’t have a five-day work week, weekends off, or the freedom to gather together at all.
Important Note: I will be posting on Facebook, emailing, texting a link or a PDF (and a word document) to our church family a one page order of service that CPC in The Hill may use for family worship at home.
Thank you all for your patience. If you need anything (we will try to help) or even for prayer, please contact me via email @ ChipCPCtheHill@gmail.com or IM me anytime.
Sincerely, in Christ,
PS Please utilize this Bulletin for family or individual worship this Sunday
Wasted Blogger, Chip M. Anderson
I am the pastor and church planter for Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill; a flawed practitioner of Wasted Evangelism. I am learning about Wasted Evangelism through my experience in The Hill and through the good people of CPC in The Hill.