The end of the year, in this case, 2015, is always time for reflection. As I grow older, I discover that I reflect on the past a lot more than when I was young. When I do reflect, I find there are reasons for my actions and thoughts as I walk the corridors of my memory. Certainly my past has influenced my present. Psychologists would call that “antecedent causal circumstances.” Without chasing that thought too far I must say I agree with the idea, but not that it is the sole cause of my present condition and actions. Our past’s do influence our condition and behavior. I happen to believe I have the will to choose how my past affects me.
Laying that thought aside, I find that some of the reasons for my actions are good, anchored in principles gained from experience. Some are not so good, usually when I am reacting to bad experiences. That is an item that needs to be wrestled with and overcome. We can do that because of the cross.
This year I seemed to put a sense of value on friendship. I have several friends that I believe have contributed something positive to my life. That’s a good thing, and I’d like to think many make a positive impact on my life. However, three men who came to mind as I reflected. Without attempting to embarrass anyone, nor hurt someone’s feelings for not making the list, the three friends I want to mention here are Shawn Hyland, Simon Brace, and Pastor Vinny Manzo. You may know all three or perhaps none of the three.
Shawn is the founder and director of Move the Earth, a ministry devoted to helping churches stand together “undivided.” He has organized monthly pastors prayer meetings in Ocean and Monmouth Counties in Central New Jersey. It is a growing prayer movement that this area sorely needs.
Simon along with his wife, Nel are campus chapter directors for Ratio Christi at Potchefstroom Campus of Northwest University in South Africa. Simon was the driving force behind establishing Ratio Christi as a campus ministry in the USA and now around the world. He was also the Director of Outreach for Southern Evangelical Seminary and founder of TEAM, the outreach ministry of the seminary.
Pastor Vinny Manzo’s church, “City of Hope International”, is a light to the community in Kearny, New Jersey. Vinny has been pastoring in the area for over forty years establishing communities of worship and praise. His ministry extends to “regions beyond” as they have planted and supported churches in South Africa and the Philippines. Vinny is also part of the ministry of Reconciliation which seeks to build bridges between racial divides.
Shawn is my newest friend among these three. I know Shawn a little less than a year. However, we became fast friends as we shared our hearts for ministry and how to help the church. We both recognize the condition of the church and what must take place to bring the church to become the cultural influence it is meant to be.
Shawn has demonstrated a sense of urgency that we must have as Christians. His ministry has begun to shape other ministry’s perspective because of his bold stance on taking back the culture. By taking the culture back, he does not mean “taking over” the culture. I believe he means having a place of significant influence in the culture. Shawn’s influence has helped many pastors unite in prayer and stand undivided.
Here are my thoughts about this. At one time the Christian church would have been recognized as the “conscience of American culture.” However, because of differences, in-fighting, fallen ministries, and wrongly seeing the purpose of influence, the church has been sidelined. Weakened because of these issues the Christian church has also become prey to attacks, mainly from the new atheists and their banter of what I would consider tired arguments. However, to the unsuspecting, uninitiated, and untrained, these arguments weaken the believer’s faith further. It is time to equip the church to stand against these attacks and strengthen the weaknesses that plague us. As a result, we can have a voice into the culture as well have a powerful witness.
This idea brings me to my second friend, Simon. I have spent a lot of quality time with Simon both in the US and abroad. Simon’s energy is infectious; his vision for the church is inspiring and convicting. Like Shawn, Simon motivates and mobilizes people. His ability to mobilize people is a gift to those people who stand idle on the sidelines. Or, as in some cases Simon also can place people in the right positions encouraging them to “do their thing.” I’ve had the privilege to minister with Simon on three continents. It has always been productive and enjoyable.
This past year, Simon asked me to fill in for someone at a conference in Pennsylvania. During one session Simon spoke at he used an illustration that has stuck with me. At times, the thought has dominated my thinking as I like to think in these military terms. Simon mentioned that most Christian churches are filled with “militia.” You know, the volunteer types that show up when there is a crucial need when there is some crisis. When the need is met or disappears, so does the militia as it returns to “ordinary” life. Simon stated that this was a wrong perspective for ministry. The church is not a militia but an army of regulars, those people who have signed up for whatever is necessary.
My take on this is, “Amen! So be it.” I signed up over forty years ago before I was called into ministry before I knew what life would be like as a Christian. I decided to follow Jesus in whatever course he took, in whatever path he walked. I believed that since he bought my life with his blood, I belonged to him. This choice was a conscious choice of devotion and commitment. I could not understand (and still don’t) Christians who are part-timers, walking with Jesus when it is convenient and comfortable. These are those who withhold their resources for that which they deem fit. These are people who never do anything extravagant for God with other priorities that captivated their lives.
My friend, Pastor Vinny Manzo and I have been friends for the longest time, almost all 45 years I’ve been a Christian. There are too many things to write about, either what Vinny has said or the life he has demonstrated as a man in ministry. I esteem his friendship with the highest value. We have walked through some tough times and emerged with a stronger friendship, a deeper love for each other, and greater respect for how we conduct our ministries. Our friendship was born when we both were young pastors searching for the way forward. We met Tuesday afternoon’s with a couple of other pastors for several years. At first, it was three or four of us who discussed our sermon topics, how to train leaders, lead worship and encourage fellowship in the church. We were often surprised when our sermon topics were the same. We even preached from the same verses! Lots of memories to explore here.
If I could boil all those years into something I continually find strength and courage in it is my friend’s emphasis on the presence of God - don’t forget God is with us. Vinny continually emphasizes the supernatural, something many apologists do not embrace. Vin’s emphasis on God’s presence in our lives and worship is crucial to keep our faith focused on a person, Jesus Christ, and not methods or other distractions.
My take on this is that we sometimes, many times, forget to recognize that God is not passive; he is involved in our lives. Sometimes when I hear people talk about conversations they are having or inquiring how to speak to someone, it is without consideration that God is part of the process. We must remember it is God who convicts and convinces. Sometimes we forget that when a child walks out on a conversation away from parents, he or she has not walked away from the Holy Spirit. God goes with them. We also forget to acknowledge God has more invested in the lives of our loved ones than we have.
It seems too easy to forget that God is involved in our lives and the lives of everyone around us. Sometimes it seems the church believes God is passive and needs us to awaken him. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is God who is acting, and we must discover what he is doing and act with him.
The final thought to think about is, who has influenced your life? What have they given to you, or better, how have they affected your life? I find that I have let the sense of urgency rising and fall in my life as I have gone through high and low times. At times, I have discarded the feeling that we live in times that demand an urgent response. I also find that I too am subject to allowing the church to be a militia, instead of an army. I am grateful when someone “shows up” and fills a present need. In a sense, it is settling for something less than what God expects. Finally, I find it is far too easy to forget God’s love for people, his actions behind our backs as well as that which he performs in front of our faces. We forget Emmanuel, God with us.
My time reflecting has been a useful time giving me much for which to be thankful. As I reflect further on these men and their contribution I will develop these three thoughts into themes for my next three blogs as they relate to helping the church defend its faith by giving it strong, sound, reasonable answers that will strengthen its faith and witness.
Photo credit: "Reflection In Chevrolet Tyre" by MrT HK, licensed under CC BY 2.0