Archive for March, 2012

Do you know where the sin is in Miami?

Do you know where the sin is located? I was recently shown a prayer map for our city, Miami.  It seems that ten or fifteen years ago, some praying women got together and decided they needed to better visualize the needs of our city. What if they could target the really serious sins in the city so that they could better pray?  Sounds like a great idea, right?  The result was a map of our city pinpointing the locations of specific organizations and people with the most significant sins.  What categories of sins/needs were chosen, you may ask?  Abortion clinics, cult and occult establishments, places where prostitutes see their Johns or Janes, places where pornography can be bought or viewed, establishments where Freemasons meet, and places where homosexuals live.

Okay.  I have to be honest here.  I had a visceral response to this map.  I imagine the praying women meant well.  I believe their motives were good. Don’t get me wrong.  I would love to see every abortion clinic in the city closed, the end to victimization that comes with prostitution and occult practices.  I want to see the healing of brokenness in our city in all its forms.  I pray for the day when true shalom will be found in every community and corner of our city.

Here is how I felt.  First, I wondered why these sins were chosen.  Why not pride (which I am told is the worst sin of all because it gives birth to all others)?  Why not lovelessness?  Why not unforgiveness?  Why not legalism?  You see, I remember the Pharisees chose a few Technicolor sins and put their emphasis there.  As a result they vilified people who sinned in these ways.  And as a result of that, these people, the “sinners,” felt that God could not be interested in them because they were, well, just too sinful for his love and forgiveness.

This led to the second feeling I had.  I should be on the map. I think I know my sin, but God often shows me that I see only the tip of the iceberg.  I allow deep anger to flourish in me.  I harbor grudges.  I struggle with sinful pride. I find it hard to love. I withhold myself from situations where I might allow myself to be known.  (I hope the praying-ladies are praying for me!) What I mean is this: Something in me likes this prayer map. If I can pray from a map that focuses on the sins of everyone out there, maybe I can forget about how sinful and broken I am.  (By the way, this is one reason I love to pray for other people’s sin. I can feel a little better about myself.)  Then, before I know it, I see people who need to be saved, but not me. I’m a pretty good person.  And just maybe, I can choose a place to live with other pretty good people like me. (See those places on the map without tabs? Don’t you want to live there?!)

Okay, I felt these things and also some things I would rather not say at this point.  So what can I do with the map?  Is it of no help at all? I asked what Jesus would do with the map. Two things quickly came to mind.  First, I think Jesus would want to hang out in these places.  These might be the places we want to avoid, but Jesus would seek out people where the map is marked.  The legend on his map would say: “Friends.”  He would spend his time there, and love people in the process.  He would give them hope that they are not God-forgotten, or God-forsaken.  He would tell them that nothing in their life is so big or dark or broken that God can’t and won’t redeem it.  He’d prove all of this by dying for them, and showing his power to give them life by rising from the dead.

Second, then I think Jesus would do something unexpected with the map.  He would pray for the people who use it for prayer, the praying-ladies, and people like me.  He would love them and pray for them.  He would surprise them with such a love and welcome that they might be able to get honest about their brokenness and emptiness. And maybe, just maybe, they/I might be able to grasp “how high and wide and long and deep is the love of Christ” that surpasses all knowledge.  And maybe then, they might be filled with all its fullness to the glory of God.

So, yes, pray for your city.  Love the people of the city.  Pray that God teaches you every day how much you need grace. If you don’t see this, you’re not likely to really love other people as Jesus does and extend grace to them.  Think about it.

It’s me.  It’s me.  It’s me, O Lord.  Standing in the need of prayer.


It’s confession time.  At Granada we’ve taken pride for years in the number of missionaries we support.  Our missionaries are devoted women and men serving in places as far flung as southeast Asia, Latin America, and also right here in Miami.  Some serve at the risk of their lives planting churches, translating scripture into new languages, or providing desperately needed medical care. We also send teams from our church to serve short-term in places like Cuba, Peru, the Bahamas, and Haiti.

Now these are wonderful things to do, but if this is what we think of when we think of missions, we’ve missed the point.  Missions is not something a few people do for Jesus out there; it is something every Christian is called to be part of wherever they are.  The problem is that we can feel pretty good about the money we give and the trips we take but miss the calling that Jesus has given his followers.

Lesslie Newbigin

Lesslie Newbigin discovered this truth a few decades ago.  Before WWII, a British congregation sent him as a missionary to India. This was the way his church did missions—sending people to share the gospel somewhere else.  When he arrived in India, he was astounded by the needs of his new community.  People were living in need and had not heard the gospel.  He realized that the church in India didn’t do missions.  It was a mission.


Many years later when he returned home to Britain, Newbigin realized that the community where his home church was had changed.  There were few Christians and the needs were overwhelming.  It felt much like the neighborhood when he first arrived in India. But to his surprise, he found that his church was doing missions the way they always had—as something done out there.  It was then Newbigin realized that every church had to become a mission, to be missional, as he explained it.

Over the years while Granada has supported missionaries “out there,” Miami has become one of the most significant and exciting mission fields in the world.  Of course, this calls for a radical change in our thinking.  What God has been showing us is that we are not to be a church that does missions, but we are called to be a mission.

The implications of seeing this are extensive. First, it means that you are a missionary.  Jesus gave this role to everyone who follows him, not just a few who go “out there” to serve.  Second, it means the mission field is right here, where you live and work and go to school.  We are surrounded by a vast sea of needs and broken people hungry for grace and in need of the love of Jesus.  Third, it means that whatever we do here at Granada and also in our individual lives is meant by Jesus to be part of his mission to bring grace to the world.

Okay.  That’s academic; I promised confession.  Here’s the confession.  I think I like the missions-as-something-we-do-out-there concept because it gets me off the hook.  Somebody else does that, not me.  Here’s where Jesus challenges me.  When I come to him, I find that he goes deeper.  He wants me to belong to him, for my life to be his.  So missions isn’t something others do.  It’s not even something I do.  It is about who I am.  I am his.  This is why all followers of Jesus become disciples and why all disciples share the mission.

Living Out of Your Future

I rarely if ever preach an eschatological sermon (about the end times or last things). I’m a presbyterian, and maybe that has something to do with it. Calvin failed to write a commentary on the book of Revelation. I’m told he believed the book was canonical, but perhaps, he didn’t quite know what to do with it.  Through the years, I’ve felt the same way.  Sure, I believe Jesus is coming back as he left.  But, I am reluctant to say I have his itinerary.  This seems all well and good.  Here’s the problem with eschatology avoidance:  We are sustained by hope.  Hope gives us a reason for living and we need that, especially today.

Yes, John wrote down what he saw and heard at a time when the church needed hope.  Domitian, Roman emperor at the time, was a conservative who believed that to protect Rome, he needed to guard the empire from the intrusion of non-native faiths.  He didn’t see the place for Christians in Roman society, I am told.  This put their lives in danger.  What did God give his people during this time of persecution?  He gave them a picture of their future, the book of Revelation.  The survival strategy was to think on your ultimate destination.  The message was: the way you live today will be determined what what you think is coming in your tomorrow.  If we think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, why bother doing anything here to make a difference.  On the other hand, if God has planned to redeem the world, then what we do here takes on a new significance.

Sandy, my wife, and I talked about this this week.  She confessed that she doesn’t think about our future hope. (Don’t you love it when I reveal other people’s confessions!)  I don’t preach eschatologically because I don’t live with the end in mind.  The point is: I should.  The New Testament is filled with references to the resurrection of Jesus as our hope.  We are also challenged to invest and serve here in the earthly city looking forward to the full redemption of creation by God.  We trust that the investments we make in God’s kingdom will be part of God’s newly redeemed world.  It is this world that is our home now, and God promises it will be in the future.  What we do here matters.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58

I like the way N.T. Wright says it:

Domitian - Roman Emperor

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, or to renew any part of the creation; every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will make in that day.

Covered in Paint

If I’m going to get covered with paint, I’d like a nice azul or perhaps dark olive green.  Last Saturday was project day for many of our Granada community groups.  Our goal for community groups is the development of community with Jesus in the midst.  This happens each week as we meet in homes, share meals together, study the word, and also as we serve together.  Each community group cycle typically has a project or service day planned when the groups can get out into the city.  The goal is to bond as a community group by serving our city in practical ways.  Projects may include cleaning up an area park, visiting residents at Miami Rescue Mission or serving meals at a soup kitchen.

My community group participated in the community paint and beautification day in Brownsville, a section of Liberty City in Miami. The event was organized by Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida.  One of their goals is to protect home values in depressed neighborhoods.  They do this by assisting homeowners in keeping their properties looking beautiful by providing painting and landscaping.  This project has now been held yearly for eight years.

Here’s how it came down.  About three hundred people descended on Brownsville in time for an early breakfast at 7:30am.  By 8:15am the people had been divided into teams and had spread out to 14 different homes to paint and landscape.  Each site was provided with all the gear they would need, painting supplies and also plants and mulch. Food was also delivered to each site; both snacks and lunch were provided as well. The organization did a wonderful job coordinating all the people and the sites!

Our Granada community groups had house #5, the home of Paulette, a retired teacher.  Somehow this group of about 20 weekend warriors managed to get more paint on the house than each other! The house had been prepped in advance with new facia and also primed.  We had three crew chiefs to show us the ropes and encourage us to keep hydrated.  Our team  managed to almost completely paint and trim the house by lunchtime. At lunch we shared sandwiches and also ate poundcake baked by Paulette for us.  By the time we finished up, heads and hands were paint-speckled.  Before we left, Paulette shared her story with us and thanked us.

Christian love has been a powerful force for good in the world since Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to follow his example.  Our goal is to show the love of Jesus in practical ways. We are called to serve as Jesus has served us.  On May 5th, we have planned a service day for the entire church.  In a few weeks, you will find a list of the specific opportunities to serve at Granada’s website:

And by the way, the color of the paint I got covered with was peach and trim was cream!

A Friend Never Dies

This was posted by Victor Labrada about Josh Bien-Aime, my friend.   I thank God for Josh. Five years is a long time. I miss my friend.

Victor’s post:

It’s been five years since Josh left. I was telling someone today (someone who never had the pleasure of meeting Josh) that if you ever become friends with anyone who knew Josh, you get a bit of Josh. Whether they know it or not, they are beaming Josh. I am the product of every man I’ve ever met. None of those men more formative to my growth than Josh Bien-Aime. If you’ve ever liked anything about me, thank Josh.

What follows is the story of our friendship, a story I told at his funeral, March 17th, 2007:

I can’t remember exactly at which point it was that Josh completely changed my life. It may have been in a well-planned Sunday school lesson. But it was probably in some meandering four-hour conversation on his back porch.

Josh completely changed the way I viewed life, Christianity, relationships. Until I met him, Grace was just another cute name for a daughter. From Josh, I learned that life is not about achieving, or ‘getting to the next level.’ Life is about asking the right questions. It shouldn’t be reduced to making money and buying stuff to make us happy.

Every metaphor I have ever used for Grace or gospel or to understand my relationship with God, with people. With all of you. Every metaphor, every idea, I learned from Josh.

If you ever had the opportunity to be in one of his classes, you probably heard it. Life is not a formula. God is not a formula. There are no steps. There is only the gospel.  And no matter how bad you think you are, you are actually much worse. And God still loves you. So stop trying to make up rules just so you can follow them. Start loving, start asking the right questions.

I always left Sunday school wishing that more people had heard the message. But I learned it didn’t matter who showed up, because I had heard the message and now I could take it elsewhere.

Josh’s biggest testimony to me was his complete gratitude towards God. He had kidney failure when he was 23. Instead of turning away from God, he thanked God for giving him the opportunity to live with a transplant. He lived life as if it was a gift from God. Because it was and it is.

When Josh’s body ultimately rejected the transplant in the winter of 2003, he kept his same goofy grin. His dialysis, which was a four-hour session three times a week, seemed like a minor inconvenience to him.

He soon moved into the missionary apartments across the street from here. I spent most of my fifth year of college, there. Talking and watching TV late into the night. Tivo-ed episodes of The Saint, Desperate Housewives, professional wrestling, bad kung-fu movies. That’s probably why I took five years to graduate. He would usually be up for going to Starbucks any time and killing a few hours when he should have probably been home resting. We confided in each other and communicated on any level. We revisited the same jokes all the time and they were always funny.

That time, when it was just me, Josh and a conversation. Those were the richest moments of my life.

And when Josh’s health began to deteriorate even more, he kept that same resilient smile. I was never scared of losing Josh, because he was never scared. And I knew how much pain he was actually in. The pain he would not tell most people about.

These past three months, from when Josh first checked into the hospital, I visited him often and I always brought expectations of a quick recovery. Josh had always made it through before. I had expectations of inviting Josh over to my new place, watching some kung-fu and talking about… anything. I had expectations.

Josh never expected to get rich. He always joked about marrying a rich woman or becoming good friends with Shaquille O’Neal.

Josh never expected to grow old yet he lived at the relaxed pace of eternity.

Josh never expected to do many things that you and I expect to do.

But he did expect to change lives. He did expect for us to know what Grace means and what living in the gospel means. He did expect to finish his work.

Well, he did change lives. And I hope we all know what Grace and Gospel mean. And for those who don’t know, for those who never had the blessing of knowing Josh, it is up to you and me, to carry out the work. His words are among us, in bodies able to spread them. Josh can rest now. He is at peace without pain.

Yea, when this heart and flesh shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease

I shall possess within the veil

A life of Joy and Peace.

We love you, Josh.