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Cursed Out on Christmas

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.” 2 Cor. 2:14-16 (The Message)

Dearest friends and family,

The lingering of the curse is so evident on earth, even during Christmas. Amidst the joy of celebrating Immanuel, there is a fog of unbelief, a stench of God-hatred, and great inner darkness hidden behind the Christmas lights, cheerful songs and present giving. For instance, our thawing out Christmas turkey got stolen off of our back stoop Christmas day,  the recovering homeless alcoholic who frequents our house at least three times a day goes and returns to his vice just 20 minutes before Christmas dinner at our house, and then curses us all out at the dinner table; the homeless man living with us decides to go back to drugs and steals my father-in-law’s laptop in order to be able to purchase his next hit.  Yes, the fall is real, the desperate need for love, the desperate need to justify existence, doesn’t really go away, even during a holiday… That’s Newark, that’s where we are…. That’s our world, the planet that each of us live on.

I have never been cursed out for giving presents until now. It came as a shock as the women laid into me… F-word after F-word, right in front of my whole family.  Our extra double stroller was loaded down with presents and 5 of our youth stood next to us carrying more bags of presents as we prepared to go deliver the last batch of the 1400 presents Safe Haven was able to give out this Christmas to the community. The last two weeks had been a whirl-wind of giving, an amazing overflow of generosity from so many of the churches, schools and individuals in our network of support. I couldn’t believe how many kids and families got blessed this Christmas. Over 1400 presents given out!!!!   Three different christmas programs, serving hundreds of kids and adults, blessing them not only with presents but more importantly with the good news of Immanuel, of God with us….   I saw so many mothers, who weren’t going to be able to get their kids anything for Christmas, cry for joy as they received bags and bags of gifts. It was so beautiful… a little taste of the Kingdom….  a hint of hope for a hopeless community…  a song of joy in the midst of urban sorrow… JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD HAS COME…..

but not for E’s mom. E’s mom was mad because her kids were getting more presents than her. E’s mom was upset the F——-n pastor didn’t have a special gift for her with her name on it…. It broke my heart to hear her say those things, it made me angry that my kids had to hear that language, but it also opened my eyes to a reality of the human condition that so often gets forgotten in the midst of holiday hustle.  The fact that our hearts desire a present with our name on it more than we could ever know… More on this later…read on.

As most of you know, 80% of our church is kids and teens. They keep coming… keep bringing their friends….  and now seem to be bringing their parents  Ministry is exploding, God’s love net has grown bigger and more and more souls are getting caught in it. The Gospel is going forth into this community with power and is snatching these precious kids out of the fire and breaking generational curses. God is using these kids to have a high impact on their families.  A few weeks ago Nafisah, a sweet little 3rd grader who never misses anything at church and always brings her offering (she shows me each Sunday before worship), had a severe asthma attack and was in the hospital for 3 days. Her friends came to worship service telling me we needed to pray for her. We did pray for her and after service loaded up my car and went to visit her.  It was awesome… I have never seen a kid smile so big at me as I walked into her hospital room with 5 of her friends.  Her mom was amazed, and just stood there in shock as we gathered around and laid hands on her and prayed….  afterwards I had the opportunity to deeply share the Gospel with her mom and invited her to come to our church, a spiritual hospital in our community.  Another seed was planted in another parent. That seems to be the story. Mom’s and grandmas are starting to show up on Sunday morning, they are hearing the Gospel message, and it is moving them into the Kingdom as it moves us.

We are finally becoming the family community Church my grandfather envisioned when he first walked into this building 5 years ago and replanted this church.  Out of the 90 or so that came to worship last Sunday, only 8 drove here… God is working.  It is awesome to participate in what He is doing, and even though it is hard, very hard sometimes, we love it and feel privileged to be here and engage the enemy in this war. My heart continues to echo what I tell teams that come through and help serve here. “Newark does more for me than I could ever do for Newark.”

That is the point of this email, not to just give a ministry report or try and raise the funds we need to continue in 2008, but to give each person actually reading this a hint of the amazing joy and sanctifying power held out in the gospel and manifested so clearly through the Christmas story.  I have been thinking a lot about E’s mom this morning. its 4:30 am and I haven’t been able to sleep.  I keep envisioning her face filled with anger, her lips moving quicker than the curses she was saying….  “Why do you only give presents to the kids, what about me, where’s my present, why don’t you have one for me?” She has 5 kids, She’s 27, no husband, no love, all her kids are in gangs, (the oldest is 16).  Later that night (Christmas eve) as I was walking in my front door I saw her lingering on the corner. I called out to her and she ignored me, but I kept calling her name, asking her why she was so mad, telling her I wanted to talk about it.  Suddenly we were face to face again, but this time it wasn’t an angry face I saw… it was a face full of sorrow… She apologized for her hard words earlier… she explained what she was feeling, how hard her life was, how much she hated it. I explained that I would have loved to give her a present with her name on it, but that our sponsorship comes from others and the reason her son E got so many presents is because we have his name on our list that we send to people who want to sponsor our program.  I told her we wanted her to become part of our family, because in our family everyone gets presents with their name on it.  It was a great pathway into the gospel and as she cried and I shared about the greatest present of all, as I shared about Jesus, the gospel amazed me once again…

Oh how my heart is like that of E’s mom.  I want the benefits of the Father, but don’t want the Father.  I want the benefits of the cross but don’t want to surrender my life and take up my cross. I want a present with my name on it, but don’t want to surrender my name to the book of life, don’t want to give it to God.  And when I don’t get as much as others, when my life doesn’t go the way I want it to, I curse God, and so quickly turn away and forget what He has done.

Every Christmas we all curse God out in our obsession over ourselves… and this is happening not just at Christmas.  How quick our hearts are to think that God owes us, that He is our own personal lottery and that he exists for us and to satisfy our addiction to ourselves. Why do we do this?  Why do we curse the very giver of life by living so selfishly, so materialistically, so obsessed with stuff, with positions, with success, with security…..  Why are we so afraid to enlist in the family of God and walk the pathway this little baby born in a manger walked so willingly in order to save us.  Why is my heart not more moved by the Christmas story? Why do I forget what it is really about? Mornings like these I feel such conviction in my heart. Moments of ministry to people like E’s mom are actually moments when the gospel is being actualized in my heart, where it is becoming more and more a reality, a consuming love-force that drives my innermost into a state of worship and amazement, of utter astonishment at the pure grace and truth knit together in human form in the person of Jesus.  Immanuel, God with us, God with skin on, God becoming poor, God dying in our place, God sacrificing Himself so that our name might be on His list….  If that isn’t good news, a sweet aroma, a beautiful song…. then I don’t know what else is… If that can’t motivate us to love Him with our heart, soul mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, then what else can…?  What else can…?

May your heart dear friend be filled with the joy of this message as we enter into 2008. May all of our hearts drink deeply from this fountain and may we all actualize and hope all the more in the the promised blessing held out in the Gospel,  that we might be a blessing to others and a sweet aroma, rising to God, for His Glory and for the joy of the nations…

For the King and the Kingdom,

Danny and the Safe Haven Crew

Attached to this email is an end of year appeal letter to help us raise the support we need to continue this vital ministry into 2008.  Please take the time to read and pray about becoming a Safe Haven Supporter if you are not already.  Please pass this email and letter on to others, we are at a point in the ministry where our support base must grow. We need more prayer and a larger network of people committed to partnering with us and giving financially toward reaching these kids and their families

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