Pastor Vedral’s Blog
I recently returned from a trip to South Africa where I witnessed pure, unadulterated worship. I have experienced outstanding worship in many of our American churches but this was over the top, with an electrifying joy that released everyone in the one room church from inhibition, depression, discouragement and apathy. I am usually reserved in worship, but even I could not resist the joy of the Lord that came in response to the worship.
There were no musical instruments to accompany the singers who sang acappella, yet with incredibly perfect harmony. They didn’t sing songs from memorized lyrics but sang to the Lord from their hearts expressing their gratitude for His intervention and blessing in their everyday affairs. Others sang to the Lord expressing their suffering and hope of His favor coming down from heaven to assist them in bearing their burdens and the injustice that comes with life.
First it was the young people spontaneously expressing their childlike hope that in the Father’s heart there was a place of blessing for them. Then the women stepped up to express their gratitude for His assistance and provision. Then the men came forward expressing their love for the God of love by creating a dance that made me think that was how David danced before the Lord. Finally we all began to sing “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” in a world where darkness more often than not hovers over the villages, towns, and cities we inhabit.
Although I have worked among the poor on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for 50 years, I came away from that South African township humbled by the incredibly powerful faith of a people that were able through their simple faith in Jesus Christ’s resurrection power to overcome the most oppressive circumstances I have ever seen in person.
On the last day of ministry to children in kindergarten through 7th grade at Hope School, as we were getting into the van to return to the church I realized that Pastor Jackie wasn’t with us. She had gone into the very small kitchen to say goodbye to the kitchen staff. I was very anxious to greet them as well since Pastor Jackie had spoken so highly of them after last year’s trip.
Three sweet ladies began to sing “brighten the corner where you are” and then it became a sweet fragrant worship that drew us all into the presence of the Lord in a way that made me feel like I was in heaven listening to angels sing. One by one the other team members squeezed into the tiny kitchen and then the staff of the school, some out in the corridor singing and worshipping the Father in spirit and truth which I’m sure blessed the Lord!
Jesus said in John 4:24 that God the Father seeks worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth–not as a performance or duty but as a loving devotion. I urge each one of us to offer up to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our savior sweet genuine worship borne out of our love and gratitude for His loving kindness and unfailing love. Whether you express your worship and devotion through sacred music, contemporary music, acappella or by serving Him and your brothers and sisters let it come from the heart.
Fresh Bread from Heaven
May 20, 2016
This morning when I woke up and had my usual conversation with the Lord, I found myself asking Him “what’s on your agenda for me for today, Lord?” While I was meditating on who God is, the phrase “Taste and see that the Lord is good” resounded within my spirit. I knew it was from the scriptures and found it in Psalm 34:8. For context I read the entire Psalm and as I read verse 18 (“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”) the Holy Spirit whispered “that’s what is on God’s agenda for you today.”
I was so excited that the Lord was sharing with me what was on His heart that I continued to search the scriptures to hear more. I came upon Isaiah 57:15 and the words and concepts of this verse began to amplify themselves within me:
For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
God, through the Holy Spirit and His word, was sharing with me and I believe all who are hungry, to taste and see or experience the Lord’s goodness. How precious He is to let us see that not only is he holy and fills the universe, but that at the same time he lives among the lowly in spirit and those who are contrite in their hearts. This revelation so thrilled my heart that I wanted to go out immediately to tell everyone I could that the majestic God of all the universe who is worshipped by all the angels in heaven day and night cared so much about us His creation that simultaneously he is touched by our sufferings and struggles even though he occupies the heavens! While he seems so far away to us he is at the same time keenly aware of the circumstances that each of us is going through and is quick to intervene on our behalf.
I understood that not all of us are aware of this precious jewel of knowledge that he had hidden in his word, but wanted us to see it, absorb it and be nurtured by it. It was feeding my soul like bread from heaven. My whole being wanted to shout it out to anyone who would listen. What magnificent grace he had bestowed upon us to know that while he is our Creator he is also our Redeemer and wants to be a part of our everyday lives. He is always watching over us, desiring to become an intimate part of our lives, always looking to bring new life to the lowly in spirit and those contrite in their hearts.
If this fresh bread from heaven resonates within your heart, I invite you to “taste and see that the Lord is good” today. If it feeds your soul, share it with someone else that is hungry for fresh bread or in need of nurturing. It may start by giving them something practical like food to eat, something to wear, address an injustice they experienced, or some other need that may have, but it will also open the door and begin the process of them becoming the person they were created to be.
April 21, 2016
My wife and I, along with several other pastors started The Father’s Heart Ministries nearly 20 years ago. Our experiences as pastors for over 30 years at the time, had taught us that one of the greatest factors that aggravated poverty and injustice was loss of original family whether by death, divorce, or dysfunction. Living without the unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, and commitment that a family environment provides totally undermines our self-esteem, dignity and sense of self-worth. This loss often causes us to look for love and acceptance in all the wrong places further deteriorating our sense of wellbeing and increasing our feelings of shame. For many, this pattern leaves them battling depression on a daily basis.
We realized, after ministering to hundreds of people caught in the web of poverty, injustice, drug abuse and disease, that we were experiencing Psalm 68:5-6 which tells us that God is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows. He sets the lonely in families and leads forth the prisoners with singing. Through sharing the good news that “Daddy is not angry, you can come home,” and providing practical expressions of love, compassion, and mercy we had inadvertently created a family context for those who had lost their family of origin.
Out of this life-changing experience we began to reach out to those without family in other contexts as foster parents and then adoptive parents. Those ministering alongside of us did the same and as a community of believers we thought the next logical step would be to start an adoption agency. While this seemed the right thing to do, God began impressing upon us to take the message to the streets. As we did that, we discovered that there were many in our community that felt disenfranchised and marginalized and were looking for someone to love them unconditionally. We intentionally committed to not using them in any way shape or form but to love them, have compassion and mercy upon them, and to give them freely whatever we had freely received ourselves.
Before long, so many people began seeking us out for more unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, and commitment. We followed the scriptural example of the Lord Jesus by giving food to those who were hungry, providing literacy to those who were illiterate, free legal representation, and medical and dental screenings. In addition, we offered prayer to as many guests as requested it, particularly to those who came to us having already decided to give up. As the years passed by, it became abundantly clear that God was using us as a way to put the lonely into a very large family known as the Father’s Heart Ministries. Through the many other organizations, churches, ministries, and thousands of volunteers who work with us, our guests not only have a family but experience finding justice in place of injustice, their oppression being lifted, and begin to sing the new, refreshing song of those who have been set free and are blessed!
Now after almost 20 years of declaring and demonstrating that “Daddy’s not angry,” His adopted children are coming home to live productive lives in a family context. We have seen so many people find their dignity restored and the cycle of poverty broken in their lives.
I believe God wants to use as many of us as are willing to see this word from Psalm 68:5-6 become more than words on a page. We have already experienced this word coming alive and producing life in those who hear it and begin to live it out, day by day, week by week, month by month. Let’s all take a moment to offer ourselves up to the Father to be His vehicle to put the lonely in families and see the oppressed go free as they sing a new song of joy and thanksgiving!
An Unceasing Prayer
March 26, 2016
“Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands” is a prayer I find myself praying continuously throughout the week, particularly as I travel through the diverse neighborhoods of New York City. It’s easy to contract tunnel vision or develop blinders and become immune to injustice, oppression, and the suffering that is happening before our very eyes. At the same time the tyranny of the urgent causes our hearts to become insensitive to the suffering of others and rob us of many opportunities to impact our neighbors with the love and grace we ourselves have received.
I want to have eyes that can see others from their perspective and not just from mine. Not only do I want to see them in the here-and-now but also where they’re coming from and possibly where they’re going, to alert them if they are heading towards danger or to point out opportunities to receive or be a blessing.
I long for ears to hear the silent cry of those who have given up because the circumstances of life have overwhelmed them and caused them to stop moving forward. I need to have ears to hear the boisterous, angry frustration of the disenfranchised that have no one to advocate on their behalf. I also want to have ears that hear the timid, faint cry of those fearful and afraid that if they speak up what little they have will be taken from them.
Above all I want to have a heart that understands the heartbeat of a loving caring Father who has been misrepresented as an angry God, out of touch with His children and wants to punish them for falling short of His requirements. I want to understand the longing of His heart to be reunited with His children, communicated so well in Matthew 9:36. Here, Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Speaking on behalf of God his Father, he said (paraphrased) the number of those who were ready to come home to the Father were like a multitude, but those who are able to help them find their way home were few.
Do you want to have eyes to see the multitude in need, ears to hear their cry for help, and a heart that understands that Jesus came to lay down his very life for us? God’s love enables us to have the love, compassion and mercy of God their Father that He always intended for us to have. Then join with me in breathing this prayer constantly until you too understand that God our Father is looking for those of us who want to have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand that He is not angry and whosoever wants to can come home to Him!
The Church of the Refugees-March 4, 2016
By the early 1990’s the 11th Street Church had become a wonderfully sweet community of believers under the guidance of Pastors Perry and Marian Hutchins and a lay leadership of fully trained parishioners. They led the congregation in neighborhood outreach and spiritual and practical ministry in the midst of a rapidly changing community.
Thanks to Mayor Ed Koch, Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, a beefed up Ninth Precinct, and community cooperation, the pervasive drug culture and urban blight was yielding to the promise of urban renewal. Alphabet City was becoming the East Village. Burned out abandoned buildings were being reclaimed by developers and renovated into lovely apartment buildings and co-ops.Young professionals began to move into the newly renovated buildings. Entrepreneurs started to open restaurants and other business establishments. The streets were becoming safe again. Peace and prosperity were finally coming to the Lower East Side.
However, as the new residents moved in, the cost of housing rapidly began to increase.Those who had endured the long fight to get their community back were being left out of this new, thriving community by the unintended consequences of gentrification. Once again it was the church building on 11th street that became the catalyst to address the unintended consequences. The 11th Street block association held their weekly meetings in the church building, inviting the whole community to address the new issues of gentrification and how to deal with those coming from outside the neighborhood to the bars and restaurants that were saturating the East Village. Even Community Board 3 was holding meetings in the church building to discuss how they could help.
It was in August of 1997 that the 11th Street Church and the Father’s Heart Ministries began partnering by going into the streets of the neighborhood to reach out to those affected by the rapidly changing community. The 11th Street church was using the building to distribute bags of groceries to those most affected by the transition. While the residents most in need lined up to receive a pantry bag we offered them coffee, doughnuts and prayer. So began the Saturday Morning Feeding Ministry.At the beginning we distributed groceries to over 300 individuals, and offered coffee and prayer to a small group of 30 or so in the chapel.Using the church building to distribute food qualified us to become a certified Food Pantry by the city.
Not long after we began serving coffee and doughnuts we realized that our guests needed more nutritious food, so we began to serve bagels as well.Then we started serving cereal,muffins, and coffee while our numbers increased to 50 individuals at a time, which became standing room only. The groceries for the food pantry were stored in what is now the kitchen, but soon we needed more space for the increased food storage. So we moved the food pantry upstairs to another part of the building and the emerging soup kitchen was moved downstairs to what had been our children’s ministry space. All of our meeting spaces were becoming multi-purpose rooms, except for the main sanctuary.
The soup kitchen continued to grow numerically as well as nutritiously. The number of guests had grown to 165 and now we were serving scrambled eggs, sausage, bread, coffee, and juice. Soon we became a certified soup kitchen with New York City. However, it was more and more of a logistical challenge to get all of our guests in and out safely within an hour and a half. We decided to try to serve our guests in the main sanctuary. That turned into a real logistical nightmare! Whenever a person stood up to leave the pew they would have to try to squeeze by all the people who had food on their laps without spilling anything, but of course that didn’t go well.
As we contemplated what to do, it seemed as though the Lord whispered in our ear that feeding and caring for needy people was a higher priority than having pews to sit on. Within a very short time we found a church that needed pews, so we donated the pews, piano, and organ. That enabled us to turn the space into a multi-purpose room. We then purchased tables and folding chairs to properly seat our guests on Saturday, and then used the folding chairs for Sunday Service. Immediately the number of guests grew to 250. Once again it was the 11th Street Church building that adapted itself to serve an ever changing community.
When the Soup Kitchen became fully operational in 1999 we had five Chinese ladies on our line who spoke almost no English, and a great many Spanish-speaking and Polish-speaking guests as well as a volunteer force of 40 volunteers. Today we serve between 700-800 guests with more than 50% speaking only Chinese. We have a weekly volunteer force of 155 volunteers from churches, schools, colleges, alumni associations, civic groups, corporations, banks, and various other institutions as well as individuals. Those volunteers serve serve an all-you-can-eat breakfast and distribute between 700-800 pantry bags. We now have a waiting list of two-to-four months to volunteer with 6,500 volunteers serving annually. Of the 6,500 volunteers 70% of them are new each week.
Thanks to our wonderful volunteers, over the last 19 years we have been able to add Adult Education to the Saturday Feeding Ministry. We offer literacy classes, preparation for the high school equivalency diploma, English as a Second Language, computer training, financial planning, job training and resume preparation. In addition, we partner with Open Hands Legal Services who provide free legal advice once a month, and with New York University medical interns who offer eye exams, dental, and physical screenings. The 11th Street Church building also facilitates KidZone which is a soup kitchen and an open recreational program for children and youth up to 19 years of age. It is an all-you-can-eat dinner for children and parents who accompany them from 6-7pm every Tuesday evening. After eating they can get homework help or go to the nutrition table to taste and learn to prepare nutritious food. Board games, guitar lessons, arts and crafts, as well as video games are provided to build self-esteem and healthy relationships. While children and youth are occupied downstairs parents are able to attend literacy and other classes upstairs.
From the youth who attend KidZone we have started Alphabet Scoop which is an Ice Cream Store/Job Training Program for youth 16 years and older located in the building with a separate access to the street. Teenagers learn to make homemade ice cream from scratch on the premises, retail sales, wholesale and marketing. While they are learning the practical skills necessary for the workplace they have a one-on-one mentor helping them to develop the character and relationship skills required to be successful in the increasingly competitive workplace.
There is one final program that the building on 11th Street supports. That is a Transitional Program for homeless men or men living in shelters to come off the streets or out of the cold. These men help bring in the many pallets of food, bag up the groceries, and learn to work with others on small projects around the church. This loving, structured process restores hope and encourages them to develop a plan or strategy to obtain employment, housing and if possible reconciliation with their family.
The Church Building on 11th Street has served as an outpost for those considered undesirable, unlovable or unredeemable by others for almost 150 years. The building has been a haven for the weary to be nurtured back to health and a place of training for those who have a passion to help others find healing, redemption, and full restoration.
I have shared with you from my own first hand personal experience the vital part the building has played in this wonderful process over the many decades of its existence. If you would like to be a part of this rich history I invite you volunteer at the Father’s Heart or make a financial contribution to see the building restored to continue its mission of unconditional love into the future.
The Church of the Refugees — Part 2
Friday-February 19, 2016
Let me share with you once again from my personal experience how “the 11th Street Church” building played an essential role in the restoration of many lives. During the 1970s and 80s our church became a place where a great number were set free from addiction. Many of these brothers and sisters were illiterate lacking life skills or vocational training and suffered greatly from the loss of their original family in one form or another. Like many of the immigrants who came before them, they came to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs, living in abandoned buildings as squatters suffering from effects of urban poverty.
In the early 1970s those who could escape the ghetto had already left, leaving the community to drug dealers, drug users, the homeless, the hard-core unemployed and working poor. With the exodus of children and youth from our community both Saturday and Sunday schools had to close. We began inviting those living in the abandoned buildings and drug addicts hanging out to have “breakfast with the pastor” every Sunday morning at “the 11th Street Church” building. At first there was only a handful people, but before long the group grew to 50. They came to the building to have breakfast, but would leave as soon as I announced we were going to the chapel to have a service. After six months of this routine, a squatter announced one Sunday “I want to go inside to see what you people do in there!”
He had an incredible life-changing experience. He received Christ as his Lord and Savior and was set free from decades of alcoholism. From that Sunday on, through his testimony of transformation, dozens of his fellow squatters came to the building. And then came the drug addicts, the dealers, and finally the working poor. Before we knew it, we were serving over a hundred men, women, youth and children “breakfast with the pastor.” A church of almost 200 members rose out of the ruins of Alphabet City. What a wonderful expression of redemption of those who were left behind and forgotten.
It was during this time period that the 11th Street Church earned the nickname “The Church of the Refugees.” Because of the way they dressed and the manner in which they conducted themselves, our people gave the impression that they were refugees who, like the immigrants who came before them, didn’t know how to fit in. We had no dress code, didn’t speak in religious terms ,and had a very personal and informal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Outwardly we appeared to be irreverent not very religious, but inwardly we became men and women of great faith.
While this beautiful expression of God’s love through the church and the building that hosted every effort put forth to redeem and restore the poor was truly miraculous, there was much work to be done to see them become productive participants in our community. With no financial resources to speak of, the task of providing housing, education, and employment seemed impossible. Often those who had been set free from substance abuse and other life controlling issues would say “now what do I do?”
We told them to get a job and start supporting themselves and their family. When that didn’t happen I challenged them to give us the reason why they weren’t getting employment and moving on in their lives. After much cajoling, they revealed that they did not know how to read or fill out an employment application. Immediately we looked for a program that would address their need. Fortunately we found a program of retired military officers who were available to tutor our people. An Air Force Colonel volunteered to tutor twice a week at the building. So began the ministry of empowerment and equipping.
Not long after this program began, the Colonel came in with a picture of a little boy sitting on the steps of the 11th Street Church smiling from ear to ear. He said, “This is me sitting on the steps of the People’s Home Church after a tutoring class.” With tears in his eyes he said “thank you for letting me give back to this church that enabled me to find my place in life.” This small first step opened the door to a larger effort that morphed into two job training programs.
The mayor at the time, Ed Koch, sponsored a citywide meeting with the clergy and all of his commissioners. In particular the Commissioner of Economic Development was there, giving advice and answering questions. During the lunch break, as providence would have it, I stood in back of her on the line to get food. We struck up a conversation and I related to her our struggle to find employment for our people who were trying so desperately to get out of poverty. She asked what kind of facility we had and I described the building to her. Before we finished lunch, she suggested we use the Church Building to house a program to teach former addicts vocational skills to be employed in the trades. This became the New Life General Contracting Corporation that trained and employed former drug addicts. In addition, we started the Christian Gallery (a retail bookstore) to train and employ former drug addicts in retail sales and marketing. Once again it was “the 11th Street Church building” that facilitated the redemption, restoration and empowering of a people of faith who would have otherwise been lost.
In the late 1980s, these same transformed individuals became the core group along with the pastors that initiated the Open Door outreach which became a Friday night ministry to the community. The Open Door served those from the community who came for coffee, cake and conversation. While they were there (in what is now the Food Pantry) we distributed clothing, offered prayer, signed them up for literacy classes and job training. Before long we were partnering with several other churches that helped us to provide literacy classes for beginners, intermediate readers and classes to get their High School Diplomas at the11th Street Church building. Out of the first class of 40 students, 10 received their High School Diplomas. Once again every part of the building was being used, this time as classrooms and job training as well as spiritual enrichment.
Next week I will share with you how the 11th Street Church building is still serving the community that is now referred to as the East Village.
If you would like to help support our emergency renovations, check out our crowdrise link to support the Father’s Heart on 11th Street– https://www.crowdrise.com/restoringthefuture1
The Church of the Refugees
Thursday-February 11, 2016
One-hundred and forty-nine years ago the church on East 11th street was built as the Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Chapel. So began the loving, compassionate response of God through His church. In 1901 it became the People’s Home church and Settlement and then what is called today: The Father’s Heart Church.
Over a century ago the church’s expression of mercy and justice had a powerful impact on the influx of immigrants coming from both Western and Eastern Europe and the issues of poverty that ensued. Addressing the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution and urban life on the poor always carried a higher priority than the needs of the building. Repairs and maintenance were addressed only after the needs of hungry and oppressed were met first. Now in order for The Father’s Heart Church to continue this historic mission and ministry to the community, the time has come to restore and strengthen the building. Without the safe sanctuary of the building, the ongoing practical and spiritual ministry to the poor becomes ineffective. From my own personal experience I want to share with you how this building played such a vital part in redemption, restoration and subsequent service in my own life
In the summer of 1962 I walked by the church on East 11th Street and out of the open windows of this building came what sounded like a choir of angels singing heavenly songs. It so captivated me that I stood under the windows listening for some time. After experiencing this for several weeks I mustered the courage to go inside. That morning I had an epiphany and turned my life over the Lord Jesus. Two months later I was a part of the Saturday School that offered single mothers two hours to shop, clean or have personal time while we sang songs, taught Bible stories and did arts and crafts with their children. Every part of the building was occupied with children and youth learning practical and spiritual lessons that changed the course of their lives.
The church helped me find a job, taught me how to save money to pay for my schooling and show me how to dress for success. I was so grateful for what the church did for me that I returned after graduating to become the pastor in 1967. By then the Lower East Side was becoming a ghetto for the poor and disenfranchised and the drug trade flourished. Soon businesses were closing, buildings were being abandoned, and public services dwindled until the only inhabitants were those trapped by poverty or drug dealers and addicts. By the middle of the 1970s, what once was a thriving neighborhood became a wasteland of burned out abandoned buildings occupied by squatters, known as Alphabet City.
However, in the midst of this urban decay and human suffering one building (the “11th street church”) stood like a lighthouse offering hope to all who passed by with the neon cross that simply read, “Jesus Saves.” This shining light in the darkness could be seen for two blocks in either direction on 11th street. It has become such a symbol in the community that our neighbors refer to it as the “Jesus Saves Church” and the patrons of Alphabet Scoop (our job training program ice cream store) refer to it as the “Jesus Saves ice cream store.” The cross radiating light 24/7 has inspired countless individuals to turn towards the light and let God lift them out of the ashes of life to become light to those around them.
On New Year’s Eve of 1977 one woman came into the church building weeping and unable to communicate what was happening in her life to cause such sorrow. We prayed and shared with her the unconditional love of God until she left still weeping. That Sunday she came into the building totally transformed beaming with love, joy and excitement. She was now able to speak and tell us the circumstances of that night. In a state of complete depression she was contemplating suicide. She ran out into the streets not knowing what would come next but she prayed and asked God for a sign that He heard her and cared about her. When she turned the corner of 11th street and Avenue B she saw the neon sign shining in the night calling her to come to Jesus because the Father heard her prayer. That night she turned her life over to the Lord. and through her hundreds of drug addicts came to the church building finding freedom from decades of drug addiction.
During this dark period of time drug dealers were competing with each other and would set fire to the buildings on either side of the church. Often, as we came to serve, we would find firemen fighting the fires in the buildings adjacent to us from both sides of our roof. The building east of us was totally destroyed and has been rebuilt. The building west of us was gutted and had to be completely renovated. Thanks to God’s grace and the skill of the FDNY’s bravest the church building has remained, one of the institutions that weathered decades of urban decay to become part of the future of what is now known as the East Village.
Next week I will continue to share with you from my personal experience how “the 11th Street Church” building played a predominate role in the restoration of those who came to be free from addiction, but who were illiterate lacking life skills or vocational training. Like many of the immigrants who came to the church on 11th Street, they came like refugees without anything but the clothes on their backs, living in abandoned buildings as squatters. But they left as new creations–the old things had passed away and all things had become new.
If you would like to help support our emergency renovations, check out our crowdrise link to support the Father’s Heart on 11th Street– https://www.crowdrise.com/restoringthefuture1
God’s Reality Check
Tuesday- February 2, 2016
Sometime ago as I read Deuteronomy Chapter 15:1-11, I realized that God was revealing a sweet tidbit about who He is. In the space of a seven short verses He went from being an idealist to being a realist to being a pragmatist. I have also seen life from these three perspectives, although I didn’t experience them as smoothly or quickly as these verses state them.
In verse 4 God declares through Moses that “there should be no poor because I will bless you in the land you are coming into.” This is God’s ideal of what He envisions for us as a community– what we should strive for and believe to be possible because God desired it conceived of it and spoke it. This is the ideal!
However, a few verses later God says “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns … do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Now God is being a realist–recognizing that even though He would prefer that there be no poverty, there might be poverty in our community. Therefore He admonishes us to be open-handed and freely lend whatever they need. Jesus modified this admonishment by saying “freely give what you have freely received.” This is our moral responsibility because God calls us to do the right thing. This is the reality we encounter as we interact with each other in our community.
In verse 11 God takes us a step further. In saying in His foreknowledge that “there will always be poor people …” Therefore He commands us to be open-handed toward our brothers and toward the poor and needy in our community. Now He is being pragmatic. Although He would prefer that there be no poor and He admonishes us to be generous in caring for those we encounter that are in need, He requires that we be as open-hearted as He is to address the needs of the poor in our community.
It’s important to see that God went out of His way to show us how we too can be idealistic, realistic and pragmatic as needed. I want to challenge you to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to have a reality check of your own so you too can find practical applications of your faith. You can also volunteer at the Father’s Heart and join us in pursuing pragmatic solutions to poverty and dependence on the pilgrimage to God’s ideal that “there should be no poor among you!”
Walking The Talk
Friday- January 22, 2016
I wanted to write about walking the talk because it was one of my first tweets and it prompted one person to tweet back that they liked it. I don’t know if it is because I just started tweeting or whether they were interested in this provocative challenge. After all it is easier to talk the talk than to walk it particularly in an environment where we are all talking on several social media devices throughout the day and sometimes night.
Walking the talk is an expression that is often used by motivational speakers to challenge others to come out of mediocrity into exceptionalism. Others use this saying to encourage people to complete their assigned tasks and achieve their goal. I think the essence of this phrase is to remind us to be genuine expressing who we are with tangible actions that echo and reverberate, validating our words. There’s a quote that’s been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that reads, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
After being in ministry for over 30 years I found myself speaking to fellow pastors challenging them to incorporate the principles that I’ve learned during my years of pastoring in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Very often they would affectionately say while me on the back, “these principles sound good but we don’t see how they can be implemented realistically.” I sensed a challenge from the Lord resounding in my spirit, “I want you to demonstrate that these principles work by doing them.”
Nineteen years ago the Father’s Heart Ministries and the Father’s Heart Church joined together to implement the principles that God challenged us with, to “walk the talk” on the streets of Alphabet City. We freely gave what we were freely given, we didn’t put anyone we ministered to on a mailing list, or make them members of the church, or harass them with phone calls or emails. We couldn’t–because we didn’t ask for nor write down their addresses, phone numbers or email addresses! We simply did what we said we would do:love them by giving to them without anything in return because God so loved that He gave (John 3:16). God, in Christ, literally walked the talk–he was the Word. How could we do anything else?
The Gift of Life A New Life
Friday- January 13th, 2016
Seven years ago I was not feeling well.
Uncharacteristically I said to my wife while at the Ministry Center “I’m not feeling so good I think I have the flu so I’m going to rest on the small couch in the reception area.” We went home early but the symptoms persisted. At 3am I told my wife that the symptoms are getting worse and that I thought we should go to the ER.
When we arrived and went to triage my life as I knew it suddenly ended. A new chapter filled with God’s gracious interventions began rather quickly and dramatically with the nurse in triage shouting “this man is having a heart attack get him to the OR.” They wheeled me into surgery as my wife and my daughter Samantha began to intercede for me.
The attack on my heart was so extensive that after seven hours of open heart surgery the doctors concluded that repairing the damage was about all they could reasonably do. However, part of the heart tissue had died and they had to create a smaller heart and now the mitral valve wouldn’t close properly. They were hoping that the repairs would last a year and then they would replace the mitral valve. For the next 18 days my life would be in God’s hands as to whether I lived or died.
However thanks to my daughter Jackie e-mailing everyone who knew me or inquired of my situation, hundreds of fellow Christians began to pray for me. She kept them apprised of each physical attack and gave them opportunity to battle on my behalf. They in turn reached out to other prayer networks that they knew to intercede for my life. I believe it was the fervent prayers of the righteous that availed much with God during those hours, days and weeks.
Before the week was over I went into code blue twice because my heart stopped beating. And twice they were able to bring me back. Then I contracted C. Diff. which is an infection of the intestines due to taking too many antibiotics and I ran a high fever. My kidneys stopped functioning and I was struggling to breathe and fighting paranoia. In the midst of all this drama, a resident came to the room and shouted from the doorway “you will live and not die because God has something for you to do!”
Although I was in and out of consciousness while my body was fighting to survive, I was experiencing an incredible reassuring peace and joy. I had an acute awareness that the Lord was sitting next to me holding my hand assuring me that He would not leave me and everything was going to be ok. My spirit was in His hands while my body was being healed. Eighteen days after open heart surgery I was heading home mending better than the doctors thought was possible.
Within three months my heart began to fail again because the mitral valve wasn’t closing properly. The surgeon’s opinion was that an open heart surgery so soon after the first, would kill me, but the cardiologist felt that if they didn’t operate now I would die for sure.
It took another 18-day stay at the hospital to perform the second open heart surgery, which was successful but resulted in kidney failure again, water filling one of my lungs, and the insertion of a pacemaker/defibrillator.
Finally in June of 2009 I began the wonderful journey to healing and wholeness. At last came the day to start the rehabilitation and restoration of my body and little did I know, my life as well.
Before the heart attack I was a strong and confident leader, fully involved with every aspect of the Ministry Center. I helped everyone who needed help and carried my own responsibilities as well. You could count on me. Now I had to depend on others for the simplest task like picking something up I had dropped or going up or down the stairs. I wasn’t able to lift my arms high enough to wash or comb my hair. I couldn‘t get in or out of the shower on my own. I was unable to dress myself or tie my shoelaces without assistance. I was learning to depend on others and to receive from the Lord’s hand through their love, devotion, and compassion. This was a new role for me and it gave me a new appreciation of the importance of relationships and how to nurture them.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time it was happening but God was preparing me for a new ministry that was in His heart for me. I had always desired to mentor young men and women who wanted to respond to the call of God on their lives, but I was busy leading them rather than preparing or nurturing them.
Unable to do or be the person I was before the heart attack, the Holy Spirit has created a new heart, a new spirit and a new life in me. While I am still on the journey of healing and becoming whole physically, the Lord is restoring my youth while opening new opportunities to inspire, nurture and empower others to be all He wants them to be.
No one who meets me now would ever guess that I had suffered such severe heart damage nor experienced such severe side effects. They only see what the Lord has done, healing all my wounds and restoring my health, Jeremiah 30:17. God has made me forget my suffering and has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering, Genesis 41:51-52.
DADDY’S NOT ANGRY
Friday- January 8th, 2016
People often ask me to describe the Father’s Heart and our mission. In all the years we’ve been doing this, I always think back to my childhood when my brothers and I would come home late knowing we would be in trouble with our father. We would send one of us ahead to check and see if it was safe to return to our apartment in Alphabet City. At the words, “Daddy’s not angry, you can come home,” we’d head home, contrite but safe in the knowledge that our father loved us.
Similarly, the mission of the Father’s Heart is to provide ways for our guests to know that God is not angry with them. Our goal is to create opportunities for people to encounter God through our practical demonstrations of love, compassion and kindness. We believe that experiencing God this way will remove their shame and restore their dignity. The Father’s Heart Ministries is committed to blessing our guests by freely giving them what we have freely received. We always strive to demonstrate that we have no other agenda. We are not going to put them on a mailing list, call them at home, build the membership of our church or use them in any way. Our hope is that as our guests have a new renewed sense of their worth and value that they will share it with someone else who will be touched miraculously as well.
Equally, our mission is also to provide opportunities for individual, corporate, civic and church volunteers to demonstrate that “Daddy’s not angry you can come home,” with acts of love, compassion and kindness. Because God loves you, we love you. It often takes a while to prove ourselves and demonstrate our integrity, but when we are consistent and faithful, the Father comes on the scene and guests are transformed. With classes twice a year as constant reminders we keep the big picture before us: The Father’s Heart is the message of the Father, and the ministry of the Father through the Holy Spirit’s transforming power.
While this mission is the specific assignment of the Father’s Heart Ministries I believe it would be very pleasing to God that whoever wants may accept the call to demonstrate that “Daddy’s not angry, you can come home.” Acts of love, compassion and kindness can be demonstrated in our daily lives at home, work or the marketplace. We should also expect the Father to show up in all these opportunities with His miraculous, enabling love and power. In 2 Peter 3:9 Peter (KJV) states that “…God is not willing that any should perish…” and in 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul states that “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV)”