Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taking in Albany's Winterfest with the Family

We arrived at Albany's 2nd annual Winterfest 2008 in plenty of time to grab a decent parking spot (ended up on Monroe St.) and make our way to the Palace Theater to check out the 1:00pm show featuring American Idol season 6 finalists, Blake Lewis, Chris Sligh and Brandon Rogers. We each had our favorites. Mom thought Brandon Rogers stole the show. Dan and Jake preferred the beat-boxing/rapping/electronic sounds of Blake Lewis (cool last name, BTW, but no relation that I know of). Chris Sligh was my favorite of the three, with his crisp, clear vocals and faith induced lyrics, as he sang his recent radio hit, "Empty Me," along with a few additional original songs. All three turned in incredible performances.

We then made our way to Academy Park where we partook of some free ice cream and Dan and Jake tackled the climbing wall. They each had quite a few turns and both made it to the top at least twice. We followed this up with Mr. Twisty and his little dog, Izzy, performing their kid's magic show. Coffee and cookies at Starbucks was too good to pass up (not free of course). Then it was on to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where we encountered one of Bronx Zoo's featured artists/performers, Christopher Agostino and his Transformation Face painting, as he transformed Dan and Jake's ugly mugs into works of art. The evening winded up with a reprise performance from Idol 06's Lewis, Sligh and Rogerson stage in front of Albany's city hall, and then some awesome fireworks. Upon our return home to Troy we grabbed a bite to eat at Capital Region's famous/favorite, Hot Dog Charlies. What a great time we all had!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shooting the Breeze: Are you willing to make a difference for one?

Kevin Martineau had a great post on his blog Shooting the Breeze: Are you willing to make a difference for one?

I commented on this post and thought I'd add a few thoughts of my own here. The theme of Kevin's post is to not get discouraged if we are are only reaching one or a few at a time for Christ.

My thoughts
As I commented on Kevin's blog, I sometimes get caught up with the success of certain church planters who are seeing thousands coming to their gatherings, while some (like my family and me) strive to reach a few at a time. In the nearly 3 years my family and I have been in Troy we have seen quite a number of people come and go; a few of them we have led to Christ. Our most visible fruit is in the number of neighborhood children we are reaching for His kingdom. Some once said, "you can't build a church w/kids...they don't tithe." Yet, from our perspective of planting a church in a distressed, low income, inner-city community that is 95% residential, with many single mothers and even more young children, we are ecstatic when even one of them joins our fellowship and comes to a saving knowledge of Christ through faith. As some have said, "It takes many different models/types of churches to reach different types of people." What works for Rick Warren in the sprawling California suburbs won't work for the CORE Church of Troy.

Church planting among the urban poor and marginalized (so I am learning) is one of the toughest Kindgom assignments to carry out because it takes a long committent centered on building relationships with people through hands on ministry. That means assessing the community's greatest unmet needs and then meeting those needs as God provides. In many urban/inner-city settings, the lack of basic needs amongst people who live here is a reality; food, clothing and sometimes shelter are things which many of us take for granted, yet for a large number of people living in these places it is a daily struggle. Children who live in these households are among the poorest of citizens. They can't work, unless they are teenagers. They can't vote. They really have little or no rights as citizens and through no fault of their own they are living in an environment filled with urban blight, drug dealers, street gangs, prostition, absentee/slum landlords,etc. So for us to be standing in the gap for these great kids is a no-brainer. We recently baptized two of these kids that are being discipled through the ministry of the CORE Church, which we count as victories. And the seeds we are planting now in the lives of these kids will lead to some great fruit in their lives, both now and as they grow and mature.

We are seeing new doors for effective ministry open to us because we have been faithful with a few things as God has given them to us.

Yes, I am willing to walk along the shoreline and throw a few starfish back to safety, as I am able to. Well I save them all? No! But I can do my part, as God has equipped me

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The joys of snow storms!

Driveway Fun!

Is it just me or do snowplow drivers sit, waiting, until I've just finished shoveling the end of my driveway, and then come and plow it back in?

Oh without a doubt, they sit and wait; then give it a little tilt to the right as they pass the driveway...and then a big thumbs up, as they smile and wave with that big cup of coffee in their hand. And to think our tax $$$ pay for it all...nice!

It must be one of those snow plowing trade secrets; just let us taxpaying citizens know they're there for a sadistic/sarcastic kind of way. A great comeback would be to stand at the end of my freshly shoveled driveway, wait for the snow plow to come by, and hold up my hand made sign, which reads, "WOULD YOU PLEASE PLOW MY DRIVEWAY BACK IN? I NEED MORE EXCERCISE!"

Watching the Kids have fun!

My two sons were outside enjoying the nine or ten inches of freshly delivered snow. They piled up the snow, slid down our new front yard mountain on their sleds and snowboards, then dug some neat looking tunnels. I think I see the remnants of an attempted snowman out there as well. After a couple of hours of enduring the cold winter temperature and frolicking in the snow, they finally gave up and came back inside. They looked like a couple of walking, talking popsicles, as they stood in the front foyer, shedding their layers winter play wear! Now they are holding down ends the couch, watching Veggietales "The Toy that Saved Christmas."

Excuses to Veg!

Snow storms make good excuses for hanging out on the internet and engagingf in my social media/networking fetishes, like updating my blog and messing around on Twitter and Facebook...I mean, what else am I to do while couped up in the house, in the middle of a noreaster'? One facebook friend suggested taking up soltaire...with real cards. I was also thinking I could find a nice jigsaw puzzle and put it together. I use to assemble them, back in the Commodore 64/Atari days. However, my fetishes have changed with the times. I've gone high tech. I might catch some college ball a little later. But for now I'm content with excercising my virtual hobby!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What I'm thinking about duting this Christmas season

As my wife and I finish up our shopping and tend to the last minute details of our Christmas plans, I have to stop for a moment and reflect on what is most important. Last Saturday we were in the company of scores of children and their families at our first annual kids Christmas banquet. Two weeks prior to that the CORE Church baptized two young people, April and Jacob. And for the better part of this past year we and The Missing Link Street Ministry have been hosting a three day per week Feed-a-Kid ministry. My family and I are blessed to be in good health and to have opportunities to make Christ known as we serve others.

I am also thinking about a young boy named Zachary who is gravely ill and has undergone numerous surgeries and procedures, in an attempt to bring about some healing. He has another surgery scheduled in the coming new year. My wife works with this Zachary's dad at UAlbany. We have prayed for him numerous times and the kids at church thought it would be nice to make him some cards and things out of paper. My wife placed them all into an envelope and this morning we mailed them.

I'm thinking about the snow that is piling up outside my door. While I whine and complain about having to go out and shovel, there are plenty of folks (some living very nearby) who are unable to get out and do the same.

I'm thinking about the time we will spend with family enjoying the holiday season when, for some people, this is a dark and lonely season filled with pain and bad memories.

I'm thinking about my children, who will be opening presents on Christmas day when, in these trying economic times, some families will not even have food on their table.

I'm thinking about an illegitimate baby boy, born to a teenaged mother. Having nowhere to go, they found shelter in a stable. The King of kings and Lord of all, came to earth and took on flesh; to give us His hope, His peace, His joy and His love; gifts we won't find wrapped under a tree, but in the eyes of those we reach out to with the same gifts He has given to us, and in our own hearts as they become enlarged by the Spirit that dwells within us.

What are you thinking about this Christmas?

Snow storms and power outages

After a week of recovering from ice storms, which took down trees, power lines and utility poles, and knocked out our power along with 83% of my neighbors (some just got their power back on yesterday) we are now getting a fresh batch of the white stuff. Looks like someone's dream of a white Christmas is coming true this year. Don't get me wrong, I like snow and white christmases and such. It's just the whining, slothful side of me that loathes the idea of shoveling lots of snow. I've learned to look at the brighter side of it of snow storms though
  1. I'll be getting plenty of excerise without having to drive to Gold's Gym, because my wife doesn't see the sense in spending hundreds of $$$ for a snowblower
  2. my 2 sons are now old enough and big enough to grab shovels and join me (quality family time)
  3. lots of snow makes for some great sledding, snowboarding and youth group fun time after church
  4. Provides plenty of excuses for downing gobs of hot chocolate
  5. with all of the extra time off from school for the kiddies, the snow gives them something to do besides hang around inside the house all day, playing video games and watching TV

Perhaps you have your own list of perks that come with a bountiful snow fall. Add a comment and tell me what they are

Monday, December 15, 2008

Putting Christ Back in Christmas

Our First Annual Kids Christmas Banquet

The Missing Link Street Ministry and the CORE Church of Troy partnered together,once again, to bring some Christmas joy to many neighborhood children and their families.

This project began as a vision, back in October, to help neighborhood children and families during the Christmas season, and more importantly, to demonstrate to them the true meaning of Christmas, which is to celebrate the coming of Christ. We were already hosting a three day per week feeding ministry at the CORE Church, along with Rev. Willie Bacote and his Missing Link Street Ministry team. We registered children for gifts from late October, through the month of November. By the beginning of December we saw a larger response from the community than our church building could comfortably accomodate. Rev. Bacote contacted the Troy Boys and Girls Club to inquire about using their facilities for this event and they cleared their schedule to make room for us. The dilemma of transporting children and their parents (many of whom are without personal transportation) was solved through the use of several local church vehicles.

Thank you to local Christian band 4ever1 for giving of their time and musical talents as they played a wonderful array of Christmas and praise songs, which aided our theme of putting "Christ"back in Christmas.

Thank you also to Old Daley Inn Catering and Jimmy's Pizzeria for providing hot, nutritious food for more than 115 children and parents. Also to Toys for Tots for providing gifts for parents to take home for their kids.

There are many people who gave of their time and talents to help make this event a success, to whom we say a big THANK YOU. However, we must give all praise, honor, glory and thanks to the One we came together to celebrate; our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On a day when most of Troy and the Capital Region were without electricity, due to snow and ice storms, we were still able to offer this time of celebration to our community.
If you would like to see local news coverage of this event click here

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Annual Troy Children's Christmas Banquet

This coming Saturday, December 13th, The CORE Church of Troy will partner with The Missing Link Street Ministry, Troy Boys & Girls Club and 4ever1 Music Ministries for the first annual Troy Children's Christmas Banquet

*Please join us in this wonderful celebration as we share with our children that the love of Christ is greater than any gift that comes from under a tree.*
When: Sunday, December 14th
Time: 2 pm – 5 pm
Where: Troy Boys & Girls Club
1700 7th Ave
Troy ,New York 12180
Music provided by 4EVER1
*Everyone is invited to join our banquet and time of gift-giving.*
As a Toys for Tots distribution agency, we will be giving out toys to those that signed up with Pastor Willie Bacote.
Questions: Call Willie 518-421-5222
Or ~ email -

We're seeing some of the statistics

Hungry Children in the U.S.
A recent report released by the U.S. Agricultural Department stated that close to one in eight Americans struggled to feed themselves adequately even before this year's sharp economic downturn. The department's annual report on food security showed that during 2007, the number of children who suffered a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat was more than 50% above the 430,000 in 2006 and the largest figure since 716,000 in 1998.

Overall, the 36.2 million adults and children who struggled with hunger during the year was up slightly from 35.5 million in 2006. That was 12.2% of Americans who didn't have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives.

The article cited above appeared in Leadership Journal's weekly e-publication. This article was drawn from a recent study released by US Dept. of Agriculture. There are plenty more similar studies that have been released in recent years, but all one really needs to do to see for themselves is spend time in an inner-city community where the statistics take on names and faces.

One would think that in a nation as prosperous as ours, that such statistics would be non-existent, or at best minimal. However, some experts say current statitistics are grossly underestimated because many families, for various reasons, avoid reporting their lack of food or resources to obtain food. The unfortunate victims of poverty and hunger are children.

Rev. Willie Bacote and I have seen these statistics first hand, as the number of children and adults attending our three day a week Feed-a-Kid community meal has continually increased. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we experience a full house at the CORE Church, as we and The Missing Link Street Ministry have partnered together to providing hot, nutritious meals for neighborhood children and their families. Despite the cold, winter temperatures outside, many families are still braving the weather and traveling (mostly by foot) several blocks to the CORE Church to paerake of these meals. Winter has not officially begun. The colder it gets outside, the more it will cost families and senior citizens to heat their homes, leaving less money to put food on the table. No doubt we will see the need for Feed-a-Kid increase.

Please continue to pray for Feed-a-Kid and the efforts of Missing Link Street Ministry and the CORE Church of Troy to reach out and serve the "least of these" who live in the inner-city of Troy, NY.

Please pray also about how you might help us help our neighbors with your best financial gift.

Feel free to contact Pastor Willie Bacote or Pastor Dave Lewis anytime!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanks for the smile!

A brief testimony of the value of a smile and a few kind words.

As I was walking back to Penn Station Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that a part of the rythm that flows amongst the crowds of pedestrians is an occasional brushing up against or bumping into one another. I noticed this happening frequently, and that people just keep on walking, without stopping or even looking up. I was bumped into a few times myself (I was both the bumper and bumpee at various intervals) as I made my way along the noon hour foot traffic. I brushed up against one young lady who had passed by me, going in the opposite direction, and apologized immediately afterward. She then slowed down her pace as bit, turned her head and smiled back at me, all the while continuing to walk.

I got to thinking afterward. How often does anyone stop and excuse themselves after literally coming face to face with a fellow pedestrian? How often do I take for granted the value of those two words, "excuse me" and a smile? How seldom do others hear it; especially amongst a sea of faces and strutting pedestrians, all with a destination? Maybe that's why she turned and smiled, as brief as it was.

Missions Door Conference review

I arrived at our annual conference early, even after walking 59 blocks from Penn Station to Central Baptist Church. It was good to see my friends Mark Marchak (our fearless leader) Rob Sundholm (pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Brooklyn) and Marvin Robinson from Rochester and the rest of my Missions Door family once again; to get better acquainted with some of them, and to meet a few new faces.

The theme of this year's conference was, "Collaboration," which was broken down into seven sub-categories or facets of collaborating for effective church planting in urban settings.

It was a blessing to hear how God is moving in NYC, Northern NJ, Boston, Providence, Montreal, etc. and to share my own stories of church planting in NY's capital region. I met Torli, a refugee from Liberia, now living in the Boston area, who has an incredible testimony and ministry there. We also heard from Dominic Jacob, a church planter/missionary, reaching out to muslims in Queens, NY (considered to be the most ethnically diverse city in the US). Hearing their stories of hardship and persecution, along with our conference session speakers, was a tremendous blessing indeed.

I left this city conference armed with the reassurance that the CORE Church of Troy is moving in the right direction. We have been doing a little bit of collaborating ourselves. It is imperative for the overall success of an inner-city church plant to collaborate with other local churches, social service agencies, schools, colleges and campus ministries, local businesses and community leaders, for the purpose of having a wider impact, as they strive to make Christ known in the heart of the city.

My Urban Retreat


The words, "retreat" and "Manhattan" are not usually found in the same sentence. Most of us, when thinking of getting away for a retreat, imagine a lakeside campground in the mountains, with cabins, camp fires and hiking trails. However, my retreat this year was spent in New York City. Monday, December 1st, I took an early morning train from Renssalaer/Albany to Manattan's Penn Station. I went there to attend Missions Door's annual Urban Church Planter's conference and reunion, which was hosted by Central Baptist Church, located at W.92 and Amsterdam Ave. I arrived at Penn Station four hours prior to the start of the conference. As I was weighing my options as to mode of transportation from W.33 to W.92 (59 blocks) I decided on the pedestrian view/shoe leather express tour of Manhattan (that's right, I walked the entire 59 blocks). I had not walked through Manhattan since 1982, and I wanted to see some of the changes I had heard so much about. besides, I had four hours to get to the conference. Indeed a a lot had changed, but the feeling I get whenever I visit the Big Apple was there once again.
There's something about NYC that humbles me, while filling me with a sense of peace.
In the city that never sleeps? With the hustling, bustling crowds of pedestrians, loud construction noises, traffic jams, etc.? Yes, walking the streets of Manhattan at 8:00 in the morning, taking in the view of Times Square, the Empire State building, the many, many skyscrapers, etc, along with the blend of NYC aromas from bakeries, coffee chops, sidewalk vending carts, cigars, corner flower shops, etc., leaves me with a peaceful, easy feeling. I'm a city boy through and through. What can I say? I like the idea of being around a sea of nameless faces; one pedestrian amongst a crowd of unknown proportions. There's a rythm that flows, as people walk the streets of Manhattan. I found that rythm, once again, as I exited Penn Station, and strolled leisurely along 8th Street, to Broadway, then to Amsterdam Ave, until I arrived at W. 92nd St. I made a few stops along the way as all of my senses were engaged.

What about funding and paying the bills!

funding/paying the bills? All I can say is that we have not lacked for one thing in three years we've been here. We're not swimming in a pool of finances and resources, but we have what we need, when we need it. Like most people, I'd like to have a cash surplus to draw from and an unlimited supply of resources at my disposal. However, when I let go of my own understanding, and truly trust Him, I begin to see things through the eyes of Him who sent me, and I realize that all of God's resources are available to me, and His supply is inexhaustible.

Why I am a church planter

A Facebook friend sent me a message today wanting to know about the risks of church planting; funding, resourcing, who will get behind the vision, etc.

I sent back my response and thought it would maka a good blog post. To any of my church planting brethren who are questioning God and struggling, I hope this helps!

When I shared the vision God had given me for planting an inner-city church among the poor and marginalized with the senior pastor of the church my wife and I had been members of, he basically told me I was nuts (not in those exact words but the sentiment was there) and refused to get behind us, beyond praying for us that is. he said my vision was "too big and too ambitious" and would take funding and resourcing beyond what he was able to justify.He basically felt I'd be better off staying with them and discovering my SHAPE for ministry.

I went home that day, numb and dejected, and prayed all night. I could not sleep. Then something got into me (some people call it Holy Spirit unction) as I wrote a four paged letter to that pastor, telling him why I had to pursue the vision God has given me. Why? because ultimately it will come down to me being faithful and obedient to God, who had entrusted me with this vision...not that senior pastor, but me!

So, by faith, I obeyed and went to the place God had shown me...and I haven't looked back.

Brother church planter, if God has given you vision, then you must go! regardless of who agrees with you or gets behind you. It will be hard work. There will be sacrifices. You will even feel like giving up (many times). But when you know that God has given you a burden and vision, then also know that He will follow your faithful obedience with His provision. Watch and see the things God will do; things that will go way beyond anything you could ask for or imagine (Eph. 3:20). That's a verse for guys with "big, ambitious dreams."

At least once a week I get frustrated and want to give up, but I know, at the core of my being, that God has spoken to me...and that this is one hill I will die on!

What keeps it real for me, brother church planter, is the fact that the vision and mission belong to God, not me. He is merely entrusting me with it. What will I do with it? Will I invest it and gain interest, or bury it in the sand until He returns. What separates church planters from senior pastors,aside from the calling and gifting of God that is? They are willing to take huge risks for Jesus and His mission, even at the expense of being laughed at and called a fool by those whom he thought would receive the vision and rejoice with him.

At the end of this earthly existence I long to hear my Father say, "well done, good and faithful servant..."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

sounding off on "being missional."

I read Dan Kimball's critique of certain facets within the current "missional movement," which got me to thinking about being missional

I think way too many churches try too hard to "be missional." They fail to realize that being missional is not a program or something to try out. It is simply about living as missionaries, as sent people; living in the community as the salt and light Jesus calls us to be. Some folks think being missional merely means getting out and serving the poor and homeless. While that is a part of it, it is not the only quality of being missional. My understanding of missional is living in the community, being an active member of the community, developingreal friendships with unchurched people who live in the community. Jesus said we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Living in the world as ambassadors of Christ implies that we are a sent people with mission and a message!

I think, also, too many church planters (myself included) spend way too much time focusing on what others are saying and doing, instead of spending time on their knees, in the word, and out in the community God has sent them too, and letting Him shape His church according to the context and needs of that community. Currently I'm going ga-ga over Shane Clairborne's ideas on building a "community of hospitality and peacemaking." (from the intro to Claireborne's newest book, "Becoming the Answer To Our Prayers.")

There's much to be gleaned from the great missonal thinkers and leaders of our day, but Jesus (in my opinion) is not looking for or impressed with cookie cutter churches. I can't do what Dan Kimball or Shane Clairborne or Rick Warren have been called to do. I can only do what Jesus has specifically called me to do in the community He has sent me to. We all have a common calling in the great commission, but every community is different, and every person is unique. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here, perhaps I'm simply reminding myself of what my calling, vision and mission are.