Monday, September 22, 2008

Seeds planted in unreached Shamokin tribe

I visited our local skate park in Shamokin alone last night with 7 Bibles in hand to give away. Last week a group of 17 of us cleaned up their park again and served BBQed burgers and dogs, but I think we overwhelmed them and felt we invaded their turf. The Lord showed me last week what I needed to do to plant some seed. Going alone was the right thing last night.
As I got out of my car I approached a group of about 8 youth in the parking lot and asked if they wanted free Bibles. They were suspicious and unreceptive and said they did not need a Bible. I was glad there was another group over by the skate ramps or this trip would have been a bust in 30 seconds flat!
As I approached the group by the ramps I was glad I had called for prayer support from my wife Faith. I could feel the Lord's hand on me. Cold call evangelism is not my style, so I was glad when some of the kids recognized me from our previous clean up trips.
I asked them if they would like a free Bible and they all said "sure". I then asked if I could read a chapter to them and they said "no problem", and started asking me questions about heaven before I even got started. I was concerned that one wise guy would dominate and distract the group with silly questions, but his questions turned out to be sincere. He even told me that he gets afraid sometimes that heaven is real and he won't be there.
There were 7 kids at first, all boys, but then a few others came over to see what was up. We talked for 40 minutes and I got to look into their eyes and see a lot of pain and hunger. I told them that connecting with God was the most important thing, we talked about repentance and drugs and demons and miracles. Some of them knew quite a bit about the Bible, and you could tell which ones knew right from wrong. The focus was on Jesus and what He came to do on this earth. I left when it got dark and told them I would be back soon. I need more Bibles...
This was one of the most exhilirating times of evangelism I have ever had. I think it was because of the uncertainty. I like security and usually try to make any ministry opportunities a "sure thing" with no room for error. I don't think Jesus operated that way. He was on the edge all the time. It did not make Him nervous, but it gave the disciples fits!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Lure of the Automat

The Horn and Hardart Automat Restaurant in NY City, circa 1960's

My dad was a child of the depression and spent his early years in Brooklyn before my grandfather moved the family out to what was then "the country", but is now just another congested NY City suburb, the Village of Valley Stream. My dad maintained a fascination for the city, linked with a healthy fear that he passed on to his five children.
One thing that had special lure for him was the famous Horn and Hardart Automat in Manhattan (the first one was actually in Philadelphia). I remember him taking us there when we were small. There was an amazing array of freshly prepared foods behind crystal clear glass doors that were available "automatically" when you dropped your nickels in the slot. This was real Americana and the height of consumerism.

In Organic Church author Neil Cole describes the "all by itself" principle of church growth/discipleship that Jesus spoke of in Mark 4:26-29.
"...The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

That was the lure of the automat. It seemed as though the food just presented itself without any human involvement at all. That had great appeal in an era when we had yet to really see the dark side of science and technology. (Remember the Jetsons cooking food in those magic machines)

But the fact was that "automats weren’t truly automatic. They were heavily staffed. As a customer removed a compartment’s contents, a behind-the-machine human quickly slipped another sandwich, salad, piece of pie or coffee cake into the vacated chamber." (Wikipeda reference)

Christian Schwarz (Natural Church Development) also speaks of this same principle which says that if the circumstances and environment (church health) are right then church growth and discipleship will begin to happen all by themselves. This runs counter to our strategic style of planting churches which emphasize demographics, facilities, flow charts and powerful launches.
The thing we must wrestle with is what Jesus says. He is the one, in parabolic form, who says that the kingdom grows "all by itself". Our role, according to the parable is to scatter seed in order to grow the kingdom. This task of sowing is emphasized in the Parable of the Soils and the Parable of the Mustard Seed as well.

Sometimes I think we try to reap a harvest when there has been little in the way of real sowing of seed. We spend an enormous amount of resources on impersonal advertising, growing programs, events and churches, but what would qualify as "sowing the seed" of the Gospel gets neglected.

This is meant as a word of encouragement. I have always taken more responsibility for the growth of my church than I think the Lord would ask of me. Perhaps we should spend more time removing stones, turning over ground, keeping our furrows straight, placing seeds in the ground, and keeping them watered. After all, the growth is up to the Lord Himself!

1 Corinthians 3:6-7
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters,
but God who gives the increase.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Me and Steve

This article was written for a National amateur wrestling publication and will appear sometime this winter.

At first glance thin-framed film actor Steve Buscemi might seem like an unlikely wrestler but his connection to the sport is actually quite strong. Buscemi spent six successful years on the mat for legendary Long Island wrestling coach and mentor Harold Earl of Valley Stream Central, a suburb just outside of New York City. He remains grateful for the life lessons he learned, and for the wonderful relationships built that continue to this day.
Steve Buscemi is an accomplished actor having appeared in over 115 films. He is also a gifted writer and has directed 4 films, including “Trees Lounge” which he also wrote. (“Trees Lounge” takes place in Valley Stream, NY and if you look carefully you can see him perform a pretty good “duck under”) He is married to choreographer, artist, filmmaker and photographer Jo Andres and lives in Brooklyn. They have one son, Lucian.
Buscemi has achieved status as a cult type figure because of his remarkable talent and preference for independent film. He is best known for his work in Fargo, Con Air, Armageddon, Big Fish, Spy Kids, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Sopranos (he directed some episodes), most of the Adam Sandler films, and numerous voice roles in animated features like Monsters Inc, Charlotte’s Web and Igor. He has received numerous awards, and recently started his own production company with actor Stanley Tucci.
Steve and I met in seventh grade in 1969 when we both joined the soccer team at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School. We became fast friends. When winter came I invited Steve to join the wrestling team and we became partners. “I recall how honored I felt that Mr. Earl considered me good enough to practice with Rich who was already an accomplished wrestler,” Buscemi says.
Steve spent a lot of time at our house. One Christmas we both asked our parents for unicycles, and we rode them to school together. It was quite a sight to see two skinny kids riding unicycles down the streets of Valley Stream in the middle of winter.
Steve was on the small side and so did not begin his high school career until 10th grade when he was second string behind me at 98 pounds. I finished that year second in the Nassau County tournament. As a junior Steve wrestled first string at 105 lbs. and had a good year on a very competitive team.
As a senior Steve came into his own. He had pretty well perfected his trademark reverse cradle. His secret was in his long arms, which enabled him to lock his hands and finish this difficult move. That year he finished fourth in the league tournament, and fell just shy of making it into the county tournament. Highlights of his senior season included pinning the eventual county champion with a reverse cradle and he used a simple half-nelson to pin a county place winner in a dual meet that same year. That win gave Valley Stream Central the edge and they won that crucial dual meet.
Buscemi was a three sport man. He played soccer, wrestled and ran track. “I really miss that whole time,” he said when we spoke recently. “I wish I could go back there again.” Buscemi recalls being especially energized when his performance made a difference for the team. That kind of selflessness has made him a respected actor and film director. He appreciates the team dynamic.
Referring to the nervous energy felt just before a match Steve says, “I feel the same nervousness when I am in a performance, but once I get out there, it goes away.” Coach Earl was known as a technician and placed strong emphasis on drilling moves. Steve remembers having “too much fun” as my partner in my dad’s grueling practice room. “Those practices were brutal and goofing around made it all bearable,” he said. I have to agree, and there were times when we were laughing so hard we got in trouble.
“It was a privilege to wrestle for Harold Earl in his prime. I took it for granted at the time, but it was really very special,” Buscemi says. Steve especially looked forward to the “matside chats” my dad would give after practice. He would comment on politics (he remembers the old coach sharing his disappointment with Spiro Agnew and then Richard Nixon during the turbulent Watergate years), and the unique dangers that girls, smoking, and cars posed to wrestlers. All of Earl’s wrestlers remember those talks with fondness.
After graduation Steve remembers running into Coach Earl in Valley Stream one day in 1977 as he had just begun taking acting classes in New York City. “I was embarrassed to tell him what I was up to, because I was not sure how he would respond” he says. “ I told him I was pursuing acting and he got a big smile on his face and was so positive about what I was doing. He seemed genuinely happy for me. And that proved to be a great inspiration.”
Steve and I still talk and get together from time to time. I am a pastor now and Steve showed up for service one Palm Sunday with his son Lucian as they were on their way to Pittsburgh. Our church folks did not recognize him at first, but after service he was found out, and graciously greeted some fans.

Rich Earl is the son of legendary coach Harold Earl of Valley Stream Central on Long Island in NY state. Harold Earl is a Lifetime Service recipient in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and coached at Valley Stream Central from 1951 to 1981.
Rich Earl was a New York State Champion in 1974 at 112 lbs. His brother Jim won that same title in 1973. Rich wrestled for Lehigh and Jim wrestled for Penn State in the late 1970’s. Rich has been pastor of Mountainside Assembly of God Church in Coal Township, Pa. since 1998.