For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
-Romans 12:4-5

Monday, August 19, 2013

"The God of Honor" Sermon on Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8, 8/18/13

In these 2 passages that we’ve read today, Jesus is teaching on prayer.  In one, a man is appealing to his neighbor to help him out with a fairly simple need for some bread for a visitor who has arrived late at night.  In the other a woman is appealing to a judge for justice against her adversary, which is probably a little more complicated than borrowing a loaf of bread.  But in each case, whether the request is simple or complex, the person has to persist in asking.  Both of these parables have been used to teach the point that we are to pray consistently and persistently and God will hear and answer our prayers.  Jesus even states in Luke 11:9 that we are to ask, seek, knock, and there will be a response.  The verb tense that Jesus uses is one that is progressive, meaning we are to ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.  The widow in chapter 18 is certainly a picture of persistence.  This scoundrel of a judge declares that he’ll be sure to give her justice so she won’t wear him out with her constant coming to court.  The best way to get rid of her is to give her what she wants!
But we don’t persist in asking if we know there is no chance of an answer.  Last month, I took my car to my mechanic for an oil change.  He opens at 8AM so I was there at 8:30.  But the doors were locked, no one was there.  It was the day after July 4th and he had closed for the holiday weekend.  There was no sense in me staying there knocking on the door asking for an oil change, because there was no chance for an answer.  We only persist in asking if we know there is chance of getting an answer.  So inherent in Jesus’ admonition to keep on asking, seeking, knocking in prayer is the reality that an answer is possible.  The widow persisted in pestering the judge because he was the one who could and should give her justice.  The man persisted in pestering his neighbor at midnight because he knew the neighbor was there and could give him what he needed.  We are to be persistent in prayer because God is the one who can and will answer our prayers.
There is another reason to persist in prayer and that has to do with a cultural factor at work in these stories that people in Jesus’ day would have picked up on immediately, but it’s one that is not as strong in our own culture and that is the concept of honor and shame.  Middle Eastern culture is not as individualistic as our own culture.  It’s very communal.  So we have to keep in mind when we read about Jesus’ interactions and teachings, that it is always in the context of a community.  So let me ask you a question.  When you hear the story of the man going to his neighbor at midnight and waking him up, asking him to get out of bed and give him some bread for this visitor, do you sympathize more with the man who needs the bread, or with the neighbor who has to get out of bed and give this guy bread and then most likely get his kids back to sleep because the whole household has been woken up?  Because if the guy had just planned ahead for his visitor and made sure he had bread, this wouldn’t have happened.  Am I right?
Jesus’ audience would have sympathized with the guy who needed the bread, not the guy who was woken up.  Back in those days, you were honor bound to give the best hospitality to guests.  The basic need was an unbroken loaf of bread for each guest.  People ate with their hands and bread served as a utensil.  You wouldn’t give a dinner guest a fork that someone else had used that hadn’t been washed.  They wouldn’t have given someone a loaf of bread that another person had eaten from.   Also back in those days, there would have been a communal oven in the village that everyone used and so you only had certain days of the week when your family could use the oven.  So everyone knew the schedule and knew who had fresh bread in the house.  Obviously the guy with the guest didn’t have use of the oven that day or he would have made fresh bread for his guest.  But he knew his neighbor did use the oven and did have fresh bread.  Finally, when a guest came, they were the guest of the whole community, not just one individual family.  It was the responsibility of the whole village to see that they were properly cared for.  Because people placed such a high value on hospitality, everyone in the village would have done what was necessary to properly care for the guest.  It would have brought shame on the whole village if a guest was not treated well.
Today, when we invite someone over we take full responsibility for caring for them.  We don’t want people to leave our home thinking we were rude or not good hosts.  This weekend my brother and his family were with us to celebrate Bethannie’s leaving for college.  So I made sure the house was cleaned, fresh sheets were put on the bed, fresh towels were put out and that we had extra food and drinks on hand.  We wanted them to be comfortable in our home.    Back in Jesus’ day, a visit like this would have been more communal.  One neighbor would have provided the sheets, another the towels, another special dishes and so forth.  The host was providing the house for the person to stay in, so he would have gone around the village and collected everything else he needed for the guest from his neighbors.  So if he knows that this person has the best tablecloth in the village and that one the best dishes, he goes and gets those because the honor of the whole village is at stake.  The village doesn’t want to be known as a poor place with bad hospitality so everyone would have brought out the best and taken care of the guest.
So when people heard the story that this man was going around asking for bread, they sympathized with him and understood that their sense of honor would have compelled them to get out of bed at midnight and get together the best loaves of bread they had and give them to the man, along with anything else he needed.  Applying this to prayer, we persist in praying because God is the one whose sense of honor will compel Him to answer our prayers.  If our sense of honor and value of hospitality compels us to provide for guests in our home in an adequate way, how much more will God provide for us, His children, when we have need?
God is the one who can and will answer our prayers.  There are many instances in the Bible where God tells His people to come to Him and ask and He will answer.  Isaiah 58:9 says “You will call and the Lord will answer.”  In Isaiah 65:24 God says “Before they call I will answer.”  In Jeremiah 33:3 He says “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you do not know.”  In Psalm 86:7 the psalmist says to God “When I am in distress I call to you because you answer me.”
 It’s a matter of honor with God that He answer when people call on Him in prayer.  The concept of honor in Jesus’ day had to do with avoiding shame.  There were strong ideas of what was honorable and what was not.  People of honor were people who followed conventions and didn’t do things to bring shame on themselves, their families or their communities.  This idea still persists in many cultures of the world including the Middle East.  One of the things you may have heard of is honor killings.  This is when a person is killed by a member of their family or social group because they have been thought to bring shame on their family or community.  Most often it is women who are killed in this way because the way they dress or act is considered shameful, or because they don’t want a prearranged marriage.  It is estimated that as many as 20,000 women a year are victims of honor killings.  This shows you how seriously honor and shame are taken in these cultures.  So in these parables that we are looking at today, we have to realize how startling it would have been to Jesus’ listeners to hear that a neighbor would refuse to give bread or a judge would have no concern for what people thought of him and his actions.  It got their attention because these things went so much against their core value of honor.
The parable Jesus tells in Luke 18 was scandalous not only because there was a judge who didn’t fear God or care about people, but also because this judge represents God!  Jesus is taking a bold risk in using a negative character to represent God and to teach by contrast that God answers prayer.  The point of the parable is that we ought to always pray and not lose heart.  Jesus begins with a description of the judge who is a man who doesn’t feel shame.  He’s an anomaly in this honor bound culture. This is one of the sharpest criticisms that could be levied against a person in Jesus’ day.  This judge does shameful things but doesn’t feel ashamed of them.  He should be a person of honor.  He’s a leader in the community and people come to him for justice.  He has a great deal of power and authority.  He should be the one who is most concerned that things are done right.  
The widow by contrast is innocent, without power, destitute, and oppressed.  She has no one to help her.  Back in Jesus’ day a woman didn’t go to court.  A man would go if a family had a legal issue because court was a very rough place. The fact that this widow is in court pleading her own case shows that she has absolutely no one to help her.  This judge should have taken care of her need first.  In the Old Testament the Lord had specified that orphans and widows were to be cared for and to be protected from oppression and violence.  The orphans and widows were to be the first ones whose cases were heard in court.  The fact that this widow had to keep coming to the judge with her plea was against Old Testament law.  Her legal rights were being violated.  But the judge is the only one who can give her justice so she keeps coming back day after day.  The judge becomes convinced that she will never give up, that she will pester and irritate him forever.  And so even though he can’t be appealed to out of a sense of duty to God or to the people, or out of sense of shame for evil, he finally grants the woman justice just so he can have some peace.
How much more will a loving father grant justice to His children who cry out to Him day and night?  If we persist in prayer, we will be heard.  We aren’t appealing to a scoundrel of a judge who doesn’t care for anyone but himself.  We are appealing to the God who welcomes us to come before Him in prayer, whose character is one of mercy and justice, and who wants to answer our prayers.   In Luke 18:7-8 Jesus asks the rhetorical question “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”  It is in God’s character to answer us when we cry out to Him.
The night when I was working on this sermon our dog was sitting next to me in the chair in the living room.  Vandy had come in to work on some things there as well and he was talking to the dog.  He had gotten her a doggie biscuit earlier and he always gets a couple and teases her with them.  He’ll give her one and then hide the others somewhere.  So he had one doggie biscuit set aside but she snuck up and got it.  He was fussing at her that she took it without asking.  So I asked him why did she need to ask and he said because it was polite.  Now the doggie biscuits all belong to the dog.  They were bought for her, they are made for her and nobody else in the house is going to eat them. But she still has to ask for them.  It’s kind of the same way when we pray.  God has all that we need.  He’s Lord of our lives and He’s provided for our salvation and for every circumstance we may face in life.  He created this world with everything that we need for life.  He’s provided for the life to come.  All this is for us.  But we still have to ask.  And we have to be persistent in asking.  Because really it’s not about being polite, it’s about being in a relationship.  Vandy wants the dog to ask him for treats because he wants to relate to her.  He wants her attention and wants to interact with her.  God wants to have our attention.  He wants to communicate with us and relate to us.  He wants us to learn about Him as we relate to Him.   
Ultimately we pray because God is our Father.  When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he said we are to start with the words “Our Father”.  These are words of relationship.  The relationship we have with God is one of love and acceptance and also one of discipline and correction, all done with perfect justice and mercy.  We spend time with God so that we can become more like Christ, that we can also be people of honor. The bible tells us that we are being formed into the likeness of Christ, with ever-increasing glory that comes from the Spirit.  We pray persistently so that we can come to know the mind of Christ, to know His will for our lives, and to receive what we need from His Spirit in order to participate in His mission on earth.  God doesn’t reject the person who comes before Him in prayer.  He doesn’t kick us out of His presence or walk away from us.  He doesn’t leave us hanging, refusing to grant us what is just and right as He knows it should be.  He may tell us “no” or He may make us wait while He works to get things ready for us to receive a “yes”. But He never ignores us or actively works to harm us.  
It takes faith and persistence to keep coming to God, presenting our requests to Him, when it seems no answer is coming.  But in those times, as we continue to come to God in prayer, we get to be in His presence.  I remember Pastor Leonard’s sermon from a few weeks ago when he reflected on the story of Jesus and the disciples in the boat when the storm came up and the disciples woke Jesus up, scared they were going to be killed.  They had the answer to their prayers right there in the boat with them.  They were with Jesus.  As an outsider looking in I can say of course they were going to survive because Jesus was there.  But how many times do we get discouraged and afraid because we pray for something and don’t see the answer and we forget that Jesus is in the boat with us?  He’s promised to never leave us.  
I’ll invite the worship team to come forward now as we transition into a time of prayer.  And during this time, I want to encourage us to think about who God is.  He’s the God of hospitality who welcomes us to come into His presence and spend time with Him.  He’s our Father who loves us and has already determined to provide for us.  He’s the God of honor who keeps His word and doesn’t lie to us.  He’s the God who sees and hears us, He gets us, He knows where we are at and still welcomes us to come to Him.  One of the things that has struck me this summer as I’ve watched the response of this congregation to this series of sermons on the Scriptures of Good Report is that many of us are carrying heavy burdens and many people are coming to God in prayer for many different things.  Some of you may have gotten answers already this summer but others are still burdened and still crying out.  As we pray today, let’s pray for each other for God to give us the strength and the faith to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, knowing that we will get an answer.  
So what I want us to do as a response today is to stand up and join hands with the people sitting next to you.  This may mean you need to move around a little or reach across the aisle for someone’s hand.  And as we hold hands, let’s pray for the people on either side of us.  I’m going to ask the worship team to join hands with me up here.  We’re going to just take a few minutes and pray for each other, for the worries or burdens that the people next to us might be bearing, for the needs they might have, for God to be at work in their lives and for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done.  Let’s take a few moments and pray.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jordan Kauffman

            Jordan grew up in a Christian family, went to church regularly, and in general was a good guy. He wasn’t rebellious, never did anything crazy. He believed what his parents believed, and did what the church told him to do, for the most part. He did accept Christ when he was seven and several more times after that. That’s because Jordan liked going up for altar calls though, and it was a competition between him and his cousin to see who could get up there first – actually, Jordan admits that it was probably only a competition for him. His cousin may have had better intentions.
            Jordan’s relationship with Christ started very early, though he didn’t entirely understand the weight of that relationship and begin to have a more personal connection with Christ until right before he started high school. The summer after eighth grade, Jordan went on a middle school retreat. While he was there he had something like a vision. It was similar to something he had seen in a made-for-TV Christian movie. He was in a large crowd when everyone froze and he was the only one who could move. Jesus was on the cross, and Jordan walked up to him. They looked at each other, then Jordan turned and just walked away.
            This was an eye opener for Jordan, and marked the beginning of his personal relationship with Christ. From that point on, Jordan made greater attempts at seeking out Christ. He wasn’t always successful, and it was still hard, though. Throughout high school, Jordan tried to figure out how to separate his faith from that of his parents, how to have his own relationship with Christ that wasn’t just mimicry. Jordan also describes his relationship with Jesus in high school as being very emotionally based. The best way he knew to connect with God was through emotionally charged situations, and so he was constantly seeking these out. He judged how his relationship with God was going by how he felt, and that wasn’t always the best measure. While he was feeling good about it, that would be great, but if he felt distant from God, he didn’t have much to hold onto to tell him that wasn’t necessarily true.
            At this point, Jordan’s relationship with Christ is very different from how it was in high school. He now is much more intellectual in his approach to God than he used to be. He’s always thinking about why he believes what he believes, why he does certain things, whether or not there is value in different traditions and practices of the church. And all of that is good. Jordan is very thoughtful of how he relates to God, though he does think he’s become too analytical. He has a hard time believing the things he did in high school, but wishes sometimes that he could get caught up in an emotionally charged moment with God from time to time. He is now trying to find that balance between being both emotional and intellectual with God.
            Jordan also, like many of us, struggles with a vast amount of other things in his relationship with God. He has a hard time figuring out how he’s supposed to love a God that he can’t easily see or hear. He wonders how he is now supposed to be a man of God, since he is no longer a child. And most of all, he wonders what his role is in God’s Kingdom, and what His plan for him is.

            Jordan struggles with many things, and has gone through a lot of dramatic changes in his relationship with Christ. He has gone from misunderstanding and complacency, to emotional overdrive, to an analytical approach. He is still trying to find a balance in how he relates to God. However, despite all the changes he’s gone through, and things he still has trouble with, Jordan is still actively seeking out God. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

"Holding On or Being Held?" Sermon on Luke 12:16-34, 8/11/13

            This whole chapter in Luke deals with some important themes.  Jesus is talking about those things that are most important in life and not being concerned just for one’s physical well being.  Along with having enough food and clothing, it is also important that we be people of integrity, that what we do in the dark, we will not be ashamed of in the light.  If we say we are disciples of Jesus Christ, then we need to demonstrate that in every area of our lives.  Just as food and clothing are important, so are healthy relationships with our families and neighbors and colleagues.  Jesus warns the people listening to him to be on their guard against all kinds of greed because true life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.  To illustrate this he tells them the parable of the rich fool.
There is a rich man whose fields produce an abundance of crops and he finds he doesn’t have enough room to store all the grain.  So he takes counsel with himself.  He literally says “Self, what will I do? I don’t have any place to store my grain.  I know.  I’ll tear down the barns I have and build bigger ones and then I can say to my self, ‘Self, you have plenty of food for years to come.  Retire and enjoy the good life.’”    He’s kind of like Gollum and Smeagol talking about how to get the ring of power back.  No good can come of this.
            In Middle Eastern culture, family, friends, community are all very important.  When someone has an important decision to make, they consult with others.  They don’t do this on their own.  They have long discussions with family and friends who can help them think it through from various angles and then they make their decision.  It’s important to have people in our lives who can give us good advice and who will truly look after our best interests.  It’s important who we talk to, who we listen to, and who has influence in our lives.  But this rich fool didn’t consult with anyone but himself.  He seems not to have anyone close to him
            Jesus’ audience would have picked this up right away when he was telling this parable and would have wondered what was wrong with this rich man that he didn’t talk with others before making a decision about what to do with his crop.  This man lives isolated from his fellow human beings and so the only person who’s interests he takes into account are his own.  Now this guy is already rich even before he has this bumper crop.  It wouldn’t hurt him to sell the whole crop rather than store it.  It wouldn’t hurt him to give the crop away.  He would still be rich.  But in taking counsel with himself, he decides to tear down the barns he has and build bigger ones to store all of his crops and then he’ll retire.  We don’t know how old he is.  He could be still pretty young and have several good years of farming ahead of him.  But in taking counsel with himself, he decides to store this crop and retire and live off it for the rest of his life.
 I’m not a farmer but I’m pretty sure that’s not really a good idea.  Where is he going to store things between the time he tears down the old barns and builds the new ones?  And why would he want to store it all anyway?  What if rats get into it or it gets moldy or rots?  And what about his land?  Is he just going to let it sit fallow for the rest of his life?  What about all the people who could benefit from the food he grows?  How is it going to affect his community if he no longer is hiring people to work his land and selling his crops to others?
But the rich fool doesn’t seem to take any of this into consideration.  He is only focusing on himself.  Just like in Lord of the Rings when Gollum held onto the ring of power, this rich fool is holding on to his crops.  But with Gollum we know that, not only was he holding onto the ring, but the ring was also holding on to him.  The more he tried to possess the ring, the more he was possessed by it until he was destroyed by it.  That’s what happens with the rich fool.  God steps in and says to him “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 
This is getting to the crux of Jesus’ point.  Life is something that is given by God.  The Greek word for “life” that is used is “psyche” which means the animating force of life.  It is the thing that leaves the body at death.  It is something we cannot create, but rather is bestowed on us by God.  And life is not something we can hold on to indefinitely.  We can’t stop it from leaving the body at the time of death. 
The Hebrew word that refers to this life force is nephesh and the nephesh is the thing that hungers and thirsts after God.  It is the part of us that is able to relate most directly to God.  And the nephesh is that thing that realizes it must remain connected to God if it is to be healthy and strong.  This nephesh, this life force is what is being demanded of the man.  The language God uses is that of repayment of debt.  In other words God is foreclosing on the rich man’s soul.  He’s taking back what he had loaned to this man because the man has failed to make proper payment on the loan.  Jesus says in verse 21 “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich, (not abundantly generous) toward God.” 
Our very life force is on loan to us by God.  And he can demand it back at any time.  There is a generosity towards God that is expected of anyone who has been given life.  But we won’t express this generosity if we are being held down by the things of this life.  The rich fool could only think of what he needed to have a good physical life.  With his bumper crop he had hit the lottery and was planning to retire.  He wasn’t planning on doing anything to help out his community.  In fact his actions were probably going to result in harm to his community.
Jesus warns us not to fall into the trap of worrying so much about the things of this life, being held down by the things of this life,  and he mentions specifically food and clothing.  Food and clothing are necessities of life.  They represent basic needs we have for nourishment and protection.  Yet Jesus points out that God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers and they don’t grow crops or make cloth or do any worrying or planning for their basic needs.  Yet God provides beautifully and abundantly for them.  And how much more valuable are we than birds?  How much more important to God are we than flowers?  Our worrying doesn’t gain us anything so why do we do it?
Now what Jesus means by worrying is the state of being tossed around mentally, going back and forth, unable to come to any state of peace or resolution about things because we feel like a rat in a maze with no way out.  We get frantic in our minds over things that we have no control over and can’t do anything about.  When we get in this state we are being held down by anxiety and worry.  We have no peace.  There’s only fear, confusion, panic.  And when we are in this state, we can’t be generous towards God or anyone else.  When we get like this our relationships are going to suffer.  We’re going to be jealous or resentful of people who aren’t suffering.  We’re going to feel sorry for ourselves.  We may isolate ourselves.  We complain and argue and drive people away.  We don’t pray and may begin to blame God for what’s going on in our lives.  We hold on tighter to what we have, worried that it won’t be enough.  We aren’t trusting God anymore.  This isn’t the way to live and it certainly isn’t the abundant life that Jesus died for us to have.
Jesus offers us comfort in these verses when he says that we are not to be anxious and agitated even about the basic necessities of life because our Father knows we need these things.  Our Father is the one who is our creator, our preserver, our guardian and our protector.  Inherent in this word “father” is the meaning of one who knows us, loves us, and wants to take care of us.  He has our best interests at heart.  He takes pleasure in us.   He knows what we need.  He is aware of what is going on and He has already determined to provide what we need.  In fact, even more than supplying the basic needs of this life, our Father takes pleasure in giving us His Kingdom.  He has already decided to give us His kingdom as a gift.  It doesn’t cost us anything.  If He’s already decided to do this, how much easier is it for him to give us the basic necessities of life?  And if that is such a small thing for him to do, why do we worry and get in such an agitated state about it?  This is Jesus’ question, not mine.  I tend to worry. 
For me, I have to remind myself very often that I am of more value to God than the birds and the flowers are, and that it pleases Him to give me the kingdom in addition to all the necessities of life.  For me, the hard part is trusting Him when I feel that I have a necessary need and I don’t see how He’s going to provide for that.  But sometimes what He considers necessary and what I consider necessary are 2 different things.  One of the verses we’ve been memorizing this summer is Isaiah 43:1-2 where God says “Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not sweep you away.”  I don’t see the necessity of passing through water and fire.  I figure if there’s water there, I need a bridge or a boat and God says, no you need to jump in and pass through that water.  And I say, I can’t swim and He says, well I can, so jump in.  Our perception of what we need is often different than what God knows we need.  If we hold on to our own perception of what we need, we fall into worry and panic and so forth and we fail to live in generosity towards God and others, experiencing the Kingdom of God among us.
I read a story once about a woman named Granny Brand who was a missionary in India for many years.  After she was widowed, she continued to live in India and serve.  When she turned 70 years old, her missions board told her they would no longer continue to support her.  She needed to retire and return home.  She refused.  She used what resources she had and built a little shack to live in, got a horse, and continued to travel around on horseback, ministering in various villages.  She fell off the horse once and broke her hip.  Her son who was a doctor told her she needed to go home but she refused.  Finally when she was 93, she couldn’t ride the horse anymore so the men in the villages she ministered in built her a stretcher and continued carrying her around from village to village so she could continue to minister to people.  She finally died at age 95. 
Granny Brand had God’s perspective on what she needed.  She wasn’t listening to what the people around her told her she needed.  She understood her place in the Kingdom of God and that place was to minister to people in India.  She did exactly what Jesus describes in verses 33 and 34 in pretty much liquidating all her resources, living very simply, and being rich towards God and others.  Her heart, the center of her spiritual life, was firmly in the kingdom of God, not in the possessions of this world.  She had purpose and meaning in her life.  She had people who helped her and provided for her.  She was living in right relationships with the people God had called her to be with.  She wasn’t holding on to the things of this life like the rich food did, and she wasn’t being held captive by worries and doubts. 

As we transition into a time of prayer, the question to ask ourselves is what are we holding on to and what is holding on to us?  Are we holding on to worries about what we don’t have or ambitions to have more?  Are we holding on to those things that separate us from other people?  Are we being held down by fears or feelings of inadequacy?  What is holding us back from being generous towards God and others?  As the worship team comes up and leads us in our closing song, let’s take these things to God.  Our Father loves us.  We are valuable to Him and it gives Him pleasure to give us the kingdom.  But we have to let go of what we think that needs to look like and embrace God’s vision for our lives.  Maybe it’s time to jump into the fire or the water and find out what it’s like to have God with us in those places.  Maybe we’re already in those places and we need to open our eyes to see God with us and let go of the worry and fear and take hold of Him.  We don’t have to continue to be afraid.  Our Father takes pleasure in giving us His Kingdom.
-Pastor Lynn Parks

Tim Leaman

           Tim Leaman was born June 8, 1972 at Northeastern Hospital, which is actually about ten blocks from where he currently works at Esperanza Health Center. This is the story of Tim’s journey to get back to the place he started, the place he was born, and how God worked to give him the experiences and skills he needed to bring healing to his home. Literally healing, since Tim is a doctor.
            Tim was born in Philadelphia, and at the time his father was the pastor at Norris Square Mennonite Church in Kensington, a church community which is no longer there, but replaced by a Spanish-speaking congregation, Arca de Salvacion – the home congregation of Carlos Carmona. Tim spent his toddler years in Kensington, but when he was about pre-school age, his family moved to Virginia.
            It was at that time that Tim first accepted Christ into his life. He was four years old, and remembers praying about it with his mom in the house they were living in at the time. It was a big commitment, but it was by no means the end of Tim’s story. At four, Tim was making a huge decision, but he didn’t necessarily understand all the nuances of what that decision meant. However, he had allowed Christ to enter his life, and so Christ would continue to lead Tim closer to Him in the coming years.
            Tim’s family moved back to Philadelphia when he was five. They moved into the Oxford Circle neighborhood, because Tim’s father was asked to pastor at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church. It was also at that time that Tim started kindergarten at a Christian school called Cedar Grove. It was a K-12 school, so Tim was there until he went to college. He received good spiritual support from his school and church throughout his childhood and adolescence, but school was still a difficult place for him – especially high school.
            Cedar Grove had an independent learning track that Tim went through from fourth to seventh grade, so by the time he would’ve started eighth grade, he’d finished all of the work on his own. So, his parents and teachers decided to let him skip eighth grade, so that he wouldn’t be repeating the same work in a traditional classroom setting. The decision made sense academically, but it made high school more difficult for Tim socially. Cedar Grove was a relatively small school, so everyone in the school knew what was happening. Tim was also leaving behind the friends and peers he’d had since kindergarten, and would have to build friendships in a group that had been together since kindergarten as well, and knew that he was younger than all of them. Because of these social hardships, Tim struggled with a lot of insecurity during his high school years.
            However, even in high school, Tim felt a call to ministry, and by his senior year he saw himself becoming a medical missionary, like one of his uncles. After high school, Tim went to Eastern Mennonite University. College was one of the first times that Tim had close friendships among his peers. In high school, his significant relationships tended to be with teachers and mentors, but in college he finally met people his own age that he connected with deeply.
            Though, college was not an entirely easy time for Tim either. During his second semester of his junior year, Tim had a complicated break up, and his closest friend was unavailable for support because he was spending the year studying in South Africa. Some of Tim’s insecurities resurfaced, and he slid into an emotional and spiritual valley because of this.
            After all of this, during the summer before his senior year, and the fall of his senior year, Tim went on a mission with the YES Program (Youth Evangelism Service,) through Eastern Mennonite Missions. He spent the summer in Philadelphia, training for the program, and then in the fall went to Honduras.
            That summer, Tim says, was the most important, formative time in his relationship with Christ. At that time, Tim was broken in a lot of ways, in relationships and within himself, and he was uncertain about whether or not medicine was what he should pursue. But through prayer, journaling, and times of worship, God moved closer to Tim, giving him security and healing in his brokenness. It was the first time that Tim really felt that he was building a relationship with Christ. And God became his source of identity. Tim didn’t need to feel like his worth was in relationships, or academic achievement, or what people thought of him – he was a child of God, and that was the most important thing. God loved him, and that became a personal reality for Tim that summer.
            Tim also went through a period of questioning his motives for wanting to become a medical missionary. Was he doing it just because it was a “good” thing to do? Because people would look at him and see what he was doing, and think it was great? Because it seemed important and even heroic? Tim felt that he had genuinely been called to medicine during his senior year in high school, but he wondered if he was now being led into it by his pride, rather than by God.
            He also wondered about the practicality of doing medicine overseas. He didn’t know if it made sense to build over $100,000 of debt and then work in an impoverished setting. How could he pay back his loans? And while working in Honduras, Tim realized that the skills he would learn in an American medical school wouldn’t really transfer over to third world settings. The jobs of medical professionals in the kinds of places where he wanted to work were more to train local health workers than to provide Western medicine. As Tim pointed out to me, you can’t order an MRI in a country that doesn’t have MRI machines.
            Tim began to wonder if God was really calling him to work internationally or instead to work in a North American urban setting. During the summers of his sophomore and junior years of college, Tim had worked in New York City with the Young People’s Christian Association. It was then that Tim began to understand his own appreciation of urban settings. He loved the diversity, mix of cultures, different experiences, and perspectives. Those were things he missed, going to school in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And when realizing he may not be called to work in an international setting after all, he thought that God may be leading him to an urban one.
            After Tim graduated with his Bachelor’s, he was invited to lead a YES team to Mexico. He hadn’t applied to any medical schools at that point, because he was so unsure about what he should do. However, during the time he spent training to lead the team, Tim applied to a few schools. Now, it’s recommended that students apply to between fifteen and twenty medical schools. Tim only applied to three: two within Philadelphia, and one outside. After all, Tim didn’t know if he even wanted to go to medical school, and while training for the YES team to head to Mexico, he didn’t have much time for applications and interviews. But, he applied anyway to those three, and asked the Lord to get him into one if that was the Lord’s will.
            Before his interview for Temple, Tim was nervous because he didn’t know how he was going to advocate for himself when he wasn’t sure that he actually wanted to go into medicine. However, the interview was during a week that the leaders for the YES program were spending time fasting and praying. Through that, Tim felt God calling him back to medicine, letting him know that it was what he needed to do. So, when Tim went into the interview for Temple, he was able to do so with confidence.
            Incidentally, on his return from Mexico, Tim was accepted into Temple’s med school, and decided to study there.  Also, by that time, Tim felt a pretty strong call from the Lord to work in Philadelphia. He still was uncertain, however, about how the financial part of medical school would work out. In his last year of med school, though, Tim received a $40,000 scholarship, which removed over a third of his medical school debt. This was a big confirmation for Tim that God would provide for him to practice medicine in an underserved community.
            Also during his last year in medical school, Tim found out about Esperanza Health Center. He met with some of the doctors there, and learned more about their ministry to provide medical care to the Latino community in North Philadelphia, and to other underserved communities in their area. Tim got an opportunity to do a rotation at Esperanza during his residency training at Jefferson, and took it. Tim saw that Esperanza was already doing what he’d felt the Lord calling him to during his whole journey through medical school. At Esperanza, he could work in an urban context, providing healthcare to people who need it most, and incorporating spiritual care with health care.
            However, Time thought that he wouldn’t have an opportunity to work there, because at the time he did his rotation at Esperanza, they were having financial difficulties and were not in a position to hire. But during the half year that Tim was finishing up his medical training, a position at Esperanza opened up. It seemed that that was where God was leading him.
            And if that wasn’t providential enough, Tim was able to get the rest of his loans from medical school paid off through a program called Project MedSend, because of his work with Esperanza.

            Through his life, Tim got to see God take him through insecurity, confusion, and doubt, to greater clarity of his role in God’s kingdom, only ten blocks away from where he was born.