Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is Individualism the answer?

It is normal for our society- but does that make it right?

How does the way I live look anything like the passage in Acts 2?

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I have wondered what that scenerio would look like in an American 21 century context? Is it fine if I justify my lifestyle? Can I live in my 3 bedroom house, 2 cars, 4 tvs, and a lawn mower and not share any of it? Almost every other American Christian I know lives the same way, but does this make it right or what should be the norm?

I walked into a house last week. there were 10 or more people under the age of 25 in the house. The house was sparce, there were about 5 kids under the age of 4 running around. The heat if on was turned way down. The living conditions were not great at all. As I talked with them and thought about their lives over the last week, I thought how can I encourage and help them to do better? How do I help them get jobs and escape this poverish way of living?

At least one of the young people in the above house had served time in jail. As I pondered last week about this, is it realistic or even plausable for all the people in this house to get jobs? One of the young ladies had 3 children and she was barely out of her teenage years.

As I realized that most of my advice and thoughts were on the individuals. If we can help one person in that family to escape the situation then maybe we have been successful.

But what if we begin to look at a situation like this not from a white american lense but from a Acts 2 lense.

Lets think creatively for a moment- what if the solution for this family and others is not to have them all go get jobs put children in day care and make as much money as possible but rather teach them how to be the Acts 2 church within their family unit. This family has 13 kids under the age of 25 and then they have 7-10 kids.

How do we help them be community (amoung their family) supportive, nurturing, up holding the teachings of scripture, and a beacon of light in their greater community?

As I thought through those things, I realized my life is not an example of anything sustainable. How can 13 people without much income eventually each buy a house for themselves and have two cars and live like the average Christian?

The way I live is not a great model for others trying to follow Jesus. My family unit lives independently from others, and even smaller I live independetly from them. 4 tvs? Why because I have a right to watch tv when I want and what I want. The debate in Christiandom about what to watch and not watch-is that even the right discussion? The question Jill and I have had recently is why do we watch tv at all? How does this bring our family closer together and to God? It doesn't if we are honest but it is going to so hard to quit it.

Two cars? Why because I have so much to do that is important? To some degree yes, but I don't drive it that much that it couldn't be shared by others. As I filled my tank last night for $3.24 a gallon the thought of sharing became more realistic. A 3 bedroom house? Of course we need our space.

Last week a group of us were talking about this and the conversation moved into how much room do we need just for our stuff? How many rooms aren't being used to house people but rather all the things that bring us happiness and pleasure? These concepts aren't too much fun to think about, because I am pretty content living my own life and don't want to complicate it with adding other people.

Oh yea lawn mower? I use it possibly once a week- why in the world do we all need one?

As I thought through this a mode began to emerge rather than using individualism as a goal why not not sharing as the end, I thought maybe there is hope for this family. If all of them can't get jobs why can't we help them plant a garden? Why can't we get them a lawn mower to share with their neighbors? Why can't we figure out creative ways of sharing resources?

These concepts of Acts 2 don't cross my mind too often because they are irrelevant to our culture. But does that make me right? I don't think so.

A group of people in northwest Indiana want to do this intentionally and live together. I was told a story about one of the couples, they have some pretty big debt due to college loans. They didn't want to burden the rest of the group with this debt. The rest of the group is thinking about it but it seems that they are going to be a part of this community now.

This is not the American way,this is not normal to pick up someone else's debt and take it as your own. But I am beginning to think this is what the community in Acts was all about. Until I understand this I am going to have a hard time giving others advice.

Sometimes I don't really want to think about what it means to be the church and live like Jesus, because it doesn't look a whole lot like the life I think I enjoy.


Monday, December 27, 2010

An example Kenny Lane

As I heard of Kenny's passing last night. I couldn't help but smile- not because of the grief and pain his family will go through, not because of the loss that will be felt by those he cared for. The smile was for Kenny choosing to follow God, and why in the world did God use him so greatly?

As examples in my life go, Kenny wouldn't have seemed a likely candidate. As I remember him from my childhood I remember him looking menacing, tall, thin, and not exactly flowing with warmth. That was before I got to know him. I remember the time when he took his family and moved to Long Island to go to Bible School. Being in about sixth grade I thought it was a little strange for "older people" give up their lives to go to school. I remained close friends with their daughter (who was a day older than I) through their time at Christ for the Nations.

As I entered high school the Lane family came back to Brattleboro. My appreciation for Kenny bloomed from there.

Kenny invited me to go to New York City with New York City relief for a weekend when I was about 16. Never having experienced any multi cultured experience I was excited and scared to go with them. But then I thought if Kenny (who always seemed frail to me) can do it why can't I.

It was through going to Brooklyn and Bushwick park twice during my high school years and seeing the efffects of drugs, prostitution that greatly effected my views on life and God's love for humanity.

Even more than my experiences in New York, I saw Kenny doing something that was outside his comfort zone. He didn't look anything like the people we were serving. Yet I saw Kenny and Juanita hugging and befriending people that were nothing like them.

As I describe and think about the church I grew up in as a kid- I use the word serving (and now the buzzword missional) and immediately Kenny and Juanita come to mind as the examples I saw. Whether it was serving food in the church, delivering bread, helping people out with various other physical needs Kenny and Juanita were in the middle of that.

Kenny wasn't the stereotypical role model or example but seeing someone that gave up a normal life to follow God always amazes me and Kenny was one of the first people I ever saw do this.

Thank you Kenny for being an example of service and obedience.


At arms length

Delivering turkeys, doing worship services in jail, and giving away coats are all great ministry opportunities. It is helpful to those we are serving, and giving to. In many ways this makes us feel good also because we can see smiles, and appreciation on the faces of those we are serving.

After we do these type of ministry activities we leave and go back to our normal lives. If we were to ever run into any of the people we have met we would be cordial at best. But most of this type of ministry is at arms length.

I don’t want to use guilt, Bible verses, or manipulation to say that doing just these type of things are bad or not helpful. It is extremely helpful, and there may be a word or a smile that may greatly impact a persons life.

But what happens when we extend our arms to others? Not out of guilt or obligation but out of love and mercy.

This is when life gets messy, crazy, out of control, and unbelievable.

I want to tell the story of 4 families that I and many others had the opportunity to befriend this week.

James and Ashley, Brian, Herb, and Thomas-

On Friday we delivered coats and we ran into an old friend James- James we had met last year and was quite the character. He is fluent in four forms of martial arts, a little bit of hot head, and about 22 years old. James has a girlfriend named Ashley- when they came up to get coats, I noticed Ashley was pregnant. She is due in the middle of January. They live with a couple of other people, and I am unsure what the living situation is but there is a mixture of hopelessness and excitement as they prepare for this new child. When asked if there was anyone taking care of them? Ashley’s response was “ no I don’t see my family too much anymore. “ She said in a sad yet realistic voice that they weren’t going to be throwing her a baby shower. She is on wick and has had others give her items like a crib.

We spent quite a bit of time talking to her and getting their info. Without over stepping our bounds, we are going to try and throw her a baby shower. They are open to a relationship with God. But they need to be taught and discipled.

Saturday we met a young twenty something named Brian. Brian was visiting his aunt in a neighborhood we were delivering coats in. Within the first five minutes of the conversation Brian shared how his mom had died of cancer a few years before and his younger brother had died in August after health problems. It was just him and his dad left. His dad had found a girlfriend and was spending a lot of time with her. Brian was lonely and didn’t have too many friends. Brian spent the rest of the afternoon with us. I sensed that this didn’t happen to often in Brian’s life- talking, joking, and being in community.

Herb is currently in jail. Last night in a worship service- he came up to me with tears in his eyes. This 25 year old has been in and out of jail for the past 10 years and is addicted to heroin. He told me had it, this was it. He had been clean for 23 days the longest since he was much younger. He had another 30 days and then he was so scared to get out. His wife was also getting clean. Herb was so honest and straight forward. He doesn’t know if he will make it or not. He knows he needs God’s help and he is willing to do whatever but he is also realistic in knowing he could fail.

These were all random people- people that I can choose never to think about again. I can pray and hope others will come into their lives and have community and disciple them.

Then there is Thomas. (this is Phil’s story but I am stealing it). Thomas became a follower of Jesus while in jail. Thomas is one of 12 or so children. A group of us had the privilege of delivering a turkey dinner to their family right before Thanksgiving. The family was thankful and we prayed with them. The day after we had delivered the Thanksgiving meal, Phil was able to bring Thomas home. Thomas was released from jail and spent Thanksgiving with his family. The story could be over here but Phil invited Thomas to a group that meets on Wednesdays. It is a quasi house church/small group/missional community. It contains people from various backgrounds and settings.

Thomas was with us for the first time on Wednesday and after sharing, prayer, and singing Phil disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a small bowl and a towel. I had no idea what to expect and then Phil said “Thomas you didn’t have a chance to be baptized in jail, so can we baptize you now in the middle of my living room? Thomas said yes definitively. Phil proceeded to lay the towel on the floor and a group of us surrounded Thomas and dumped water over his head as he knelt down.

After baptizing him, we prayed over him and the culture he is going back into. Tears rolled down many faces as we experienced this together.

We (especially Phil) could have kept Thomas at arms length he could have just “ministered” to him in jail. But because he didn’t the rest of us had the privilege and opportunity to be part of Thomas baptism and his life.

Please don’t keep people at arms length. It will be hard, it will be messy, it will take sacrifice, but seeing God at work in peoples lives is worth it.


It felt like a scene from Matlock. With beautiful candor and compossed passion the lawyer started his summation to the judge. "It just doesn't feel right, from the pit of my stomach this man should not spend any more time in prison." The lawyer went on for about 20 minutes portraying the injustice beng doled out to this man.

This man that functions at a 5-6 grade learning level, a man convicted of a sexual offense against a child many years before. He was sitting there shackeled in an orange jump suit listening intentally as the judge was about to deliver the verdict on the probation violations. He was 2 months away from successfully completing probation, but two minor infractions is what stood between him and 6 years of prison time.

As the moment stood still for a second while the judge pondered what to do, the other prisoners looked on in distain. Previously they had not known what this man had done, now that they knew he was a child molester the anger burned in their eyes. Later on they would threaten and tell him what was going to happen if he stayed in general prison population.

The verdict came- due to his missing a polygraph test, and going to a car wash he was going to have a 2 year sentence. Within the laws of Indiana he will be required to spend one year in prison with good behaivor. Since he had already served three months in the county jail he will be required to serve 9 months more.

As I questioned and wrestled through my thoughts yesterday- many different angles of this story played in my mind.

Half way through the lawyers summation he motioned to a few of us sitting in the court room. These people are this man's support system. "Ben Polhemus a pastor is willing to vouch for him."

In those brief seconds in the court room, I am being associated by name with a child molester. Here in front of people I was being identified as someone who is willing to stand up for him.

Is this how Peter felt when he was accused of knowing and following Jesus? For a brief second I wanted to leave the courtroom and say no I am a respectable person don't associate me with this man.

I have no idea who I am suppose to advocate for, or stand in the gap for on a regular basis but I do know I was to be there yesterday sitting in the courtroom for a man, most in society like the those other prisoners look on in distain.

I am not advocating what he did in his past.

As I was thinking about this yesterday the passage in Hebrews came to mind of Jesus sitting in God's presence advocating on our behalf. Even though He knows our hearts, our actions, and our motives he is advocating for us.

How easy it is for me to only want to advocate for those I know are going to be perfect in the future. How I am not willing to take the risk and want the sure thing. At the end of the day I want to be standing with the winners and not the losers.

It is hard to be like Jesus- when he was being accused of being friends of sinners. Could we be accused of that? Not a person that engages in that type of behaivor but rather someone that is with them.

I have been asked multiple times over the last month the same basic question- "hey you know poor people, is there anyone you know that I can help?

I take that as some sort of compliment, but it is a little frustrating, because we can all know people that are hurting and are poor in all different ways.

The question is who are we going to be accused of knowing?