What Lies Beneath

Danny wrote a reflection on this mold crisis from his perspective…

what-lies-beneathI never knew it was there… for three years it silently worked its way into my body, and the body of my wife, and precious Benjamin, and his four siblings. Constant fatigue, bleeding noses, kids always coughing – and sweet little Benjamin, as soon as he started talking, began communicating how much his legs were aching all the time.

We couldn’t figure it out, and our doctors just kept pumping us with more antibiotics and telling us “this is normal for large active families…”

If I only had known that under the carpet of the place my son had been sleeping since his birth was a toxin that was invading his little body and sucking the life out of him. If only I had could have seen the invisible spores in the air my whole family was breathing… Maybe I would have done everything in my power to protect my family from this black mold from hell… this plague that has made our family homeless for the last two weeks, and forced us to have to throw out nearly everything we own and start over. If only… If only…

They call it Stachybotrys, a toxic black bold, a silent destroyer of human flourishing that had been growing in our walls, and under the carpet/tile for years, most likely even before we had moved in. Maybe it was past water damage, or just Florida Humidity – who knows how it got there, but it sat silently beneath the surface of a beautiful home and spread unchecked on the inside, invisibly toxifying our air and crippling our health.

The kind Rodriguez family, who bought the house from our land lord once we moved to Atlanta, discovered it when doing renovations – they found it everywhere. After getting it tested and finding out its toxic nature, they graciously let us know, and told us to check our things. Sure enough, nearly all our possessions had it quietly growing in obvious as well as conspicuous places… We were able to find an amazing mold specialist who came along side us to help with remediation. We didn’t like his advice – to throw all of our belongings away – but for the sake of our health and our current home, we decided to trust him.

It has been a hard month, with lots of loss, lots of tears, and lots of uncertainty about why God has allowed us to go through this trial. But as the sun breaks over the horizon and sheds light into the confusion of night, God’s sweet grace has broken into our hearts these last few weeks in a way I never could have imagined. It has shown me the power of my Father in heaven, a Father who, unlike myself, never fails to protect his children.

It has shown me how amazing it is to be his child, and how amazing a family I have been born (again) into – filled with generous people who have sacrificed time, stuff, and money to help us rebuild what has been destroyed…

It is showing me my own sin ever so clearly and how when it is not realized and dealt with, it spreads like Stachybotrys and toxifies not just my soul and body, but all those around me as well.

This sweet and painful Grace is leading my heart into new depths of repentance and renovation, cutting away the colorfully painted sheetrock of all the convincing facades I put up to hide what lies beneath – revealing what is growing at the root of my addictions and behaviors that bring death instead of life to myself and others.

The cosmic eternal good news for us all is that there’s a sin specialist who looks past the facades, under the floor boards and into the core of who we are. He calls our toxic-molding sin what it is, and tells us to throw everything away, all the moldy stuff this world holds so dear that we often cling to try to find meaning and joy. He asks us to give it all up so he can renovate us, make us new, and change the very air we breathe, the way we live… fill us with his joy.

His name is Jesus…

and to the extent we trust him and his renovating work that he accomplished through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, we begin breathing with every breath the fresh air of the Spirit…

we receive healing…

we have hope…

and our world changes.

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A Battle Lost, but the War not Over

I do not begin to know what the Lord is doing in all of this, but I do know that God never breaks His promises. We join the ranks of those who waited in expectation for the redemption God would bring about. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses..and the rest that believed in what was to come, but did not see it in the present…

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth………These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:13, 39

I long to see the streets of Newark ring forth with praises to the Creator and Savior. I long to see broken hearts restored by the One whose heart broke for the purpose of ushering in that restoration. I long to see fatherless children know the love and faithfulness of the Heavenly Father. I long to see broken, ugly, marred things be made beautiful. There are many longings lefts unfulfilled as this chapter closes, and, although it seems that this battle has been lost, the war is not over…..

Danny’s letter to supporters announcing the closing of Safe Haven, the ministry we started to reach out to children, teens, and families in the inner city of Newark, NJ

Dear Faithful Supporter,

Eleven years ago God gave me a vision for a community… a community plagued by crime, gangs, addictions, prostitution, and filled with thousands of kids being exposed to the hideousness of such evil and raised in the midst of it. My heart broke, and I saw the need for the Gospel to be proclaimed in word and deed in the lives of those precious kids and in the lives of all those living there. Out of that vision Safe Haven was birthed. I never imagined what God would do, and I am still hopeful for what He still will do as the gospel seeds which were planted in those lives begin to bear fruit.

You are receiving his letter because you have been a part of that vision, part of the transformation that God did in thousands of lives through the work of Safe Haven and Trinity Reformed Church. Somehow and in some way, God has included you in his restoration project in Newark, and I am so thankful that we had the privilege to labor together to bring God glory and see our own lives, as well as the lives others, changed. Some of you came and served here, selflessly pouring yourselves into the lives of others, and in turn receiving more from the relationships you developed in that community than you ever imagined. You met Jesus here in a special way and will never forget the things He taught you, the way He comforted you, and the way He used you. Some of you chose to give, and you abundantly and selflessly shared your resources with the poor and marginalized here. As God’s love flowed through your generous hearts, you felt His presence and you rejoiced all the more in the great gifts He has given you and your ability to share with others. You were blessed as you gave. Some of you faithfully prayed, committing this ministry to the Lord and trusting Him to accomplish His good work as His gospel went forth with power and love. You wept for this city with us, and you rejoiced as God answered your prayers and did mighty things to display His power and bring people to Himself. It has been an adventure and I am so thankful for what God has accomplished, and thankful for each of you and your part in this story.

Sadly, it seems that Safe Haven’s small chapter in God’s larger redemption story is coming to an end. The Reformed Church of America, under which Safe Haven operates, has rightly determined it is time for us to close down this ministry. It has been really hard to write this letter, because it is hard to watch an organization into which I poured my life have to close its doors to the community. My heart grieved as I watched from a distance as Safe Haven’s leadership and vision fell apart this last year. I have felt powerless, called away to seminary on a new mission from God, to study and grow and prepare for church planting in the future. There was nothing I could do but pray for God’s will to be done in Newark according to His plan and not mine. “Why God?” is all that comes to my mind as I observed the struggle and witnessed the ministry I love fall apart. I don’t know why He would allow this to happen when there is still such need in that community. I haven’t received an answer yet and am not sure if I will.

Yet in the midst of the sorrow, there is hope… Not a hope in humanity, and our ability or capacity to build organizations and change or fix the broken things in our lives or in our cities, but in God, and in His ability to redeem and make things right according to His plan. He was in Newark before I was. He had His eyes on those kids before I did, and His heart breaks for that community more than mine ever will. Unlike the projects, programs, organizations or institutions we might begin, maintain and grow (and watch die), His Kingdom will have no end and the gates of hell will not prevail over Christ’s work and the invisible pure Church which our Savior leads. Yes, the things we begin do seem to break apart, usually because of our sin, our human pride and our own insecurities, but despite that, God’s redemption plan moves forward, and He accomplishes His will. What might have been intended for evil, He somehow turns around for good, and if there is anything to learn from redemptive history it is just that.

I am not about to point fingers at anyone for Safe Haven’s demise, and I encourage you not to either. I know my own failures as a leader must have played a part on the organizational level, and for that I am sad, but through that I hope to grow, and I hope to see God use me once again for His glory and Kingdom and for the healing of others. This has been a good chance for me to hitch in all the more to the promises of God and find my righteousness and significance in what Christ has done for me instead of what I may or may not do for Him. I pray that for you as well, dear partners in this ministry. Rejoice in what God has done, rejoice in Jesus and His Lordship, rejoice in His faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness, and respond to that as you live your life according to His Word. Continue to faithfully go, give and pray for ministries of mercy and justice, and do not lose heart in the battle for our inner cities, for the poor and marginalized of society, for the least of these who are often overlooked and underserved by the Church. Maybe God is clearing Safe Haven out of the way for something even more amazing to happen in that community? I don’t know – but I do know that our God is good, and that He is in control. I do know that He has commanded us to serve and love each other, to be faithful in showing up and leaving the results to Him. I do know that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He is close and present with us as we step out in faith and obey His Word by the power of His Spirit which He has given to us. That’s where I am finding strength as I grieve and walk through this valley of confusion; as I pray for that community and those precious people made in God’s image and in need of His grace and truth, and as I dream and hope in what God might do in the future.

I encourage you dear friends, to continue in faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to “spend yourselves” on behalf of the hungry and watch God bless you as you bless others. May the joy and grace of our Savior, who spent Himself for us, continually supply you with all strength, wisdom and power as you live for Him and for others.

For the King and the Kingdom,

Danny Iverson

Founder

Back to work in the Hood

As I walked through the low-income housing complex around the corner and down the street from our Church I couldn’t help but think about how much it reminded me of Newark.  Despite the hot muggy Florida air, many residents sat on their front porch, usually in groups, talking laughing, enjoying each others’ company and whatever they were smoking. Kids played and laughed as they ran freely about, being kids and looking for anything fun to do to keep them occupied during the long hot summer of no school. It looked just like the projects we lived next to in Newark, old brick buildings on their last leg, some boarded up and abandoned, other units in full operation offering affordable housing to the less fortunate of the community.  Litter covered the ground, and very little green (for Florida) was growing anywhere… a little brick city in Orlando. I felt at home.
After recruiting a group of kids to hand out fliers for our summer camp, I walked up to a group of young men with some pretty cool dreads chilling by the play ground in the center of the complex where dozens of kids played. I immediately recognized some familiar tattoos and other gang signs, and knew I had found some of the community leaders.  They stared at me as I got closer, probably wondering what this white boy was all about, probably questioning whether I was a cop or a customer… no smiles, just blank stares… We started talking, and after a few jokes and questions they loosened up a bit and I told them I was the new pastor at the small church down the street and was just trying to get to know the people in the community and invite kids to our summer camp. The nearest young man who had just lit up a joint cursed under his breathe as he put it out, while his buddies laughed at the irony that in his zeal to hide his weed from “the pastor” he was all “cursing and stuff.” The very awkwardness of the moment turned into the icebreaker I needed as I laughed too and told him I was cool with him smoking around me since I was used to it.  The young man put it away none the less, but started smiling… Everyone laughed some more. I told them how I had come from Newark to Orlando to study and was now pastoring a small multi-cultural church that wanted to get involved in helping the community in any way it could. I could tell they seemed skeptical of “the church”, and I really couldn’t blame them. Right across the street loomed the 200 plus acre gated campus of Faith World Church, Benny Hinn’s original ministry since 1983, before he moved to California (to focus more on his TV show) and sold it to Rev. Clint Brown. The church has its own security gate at the entrance to the lush campus and “worship center” for the 6,000 plus congregation that worships behind its walls. No doubt my new friends weren’t allowed in, not sure if they really even wanted to go in… I know I didn’t.
I am challenged in my thinking and faith as I wrestle with the fact that such a massive and extravagant church exists right across the street from some of the worse poverty and living conditions I have seen since I have lived in Orlando. Not to mention the blatant and unmasked rebellion and immorality against the Creator and the desperate need for redemption and salvation that is so apparent. There is a ripe harvest of souls in need of Jesus right across the street where 6,000 people who claim to follow and worship Jesus gather each week to sing, dance and talk about the King of heaven who came to our hood to rescue us and invite us into His Kingdom.  I know I am not supposed to judge other people, and other churches for that matter, but I can’t shake the question that always drove and shaped the ministry in Newark and is beginning to take shape in our ministry at Open Kingdom. “Would they weep?”  If the Church, the people of God, disappeared from the community, would the people of the community be sad? Would they care? Did the church have such an impact on people’s lives that it would be missed if it disappeared or moved to a new location? I am challenged as I think of the small little flock of 40 or so people I have the opportunity to shepherd and lead toward Jesus and into the mission our Savior has called us to. Can we make a difference in our community? If a church of 6,000 members whose pastor has his own jet couldn’t seem to make a tangible impact here, how could Open Kingdom? Should we even try? How can we not?
As I handed out fliers and spoke with parents about our summer camp many kids got excited. One little 9 year old girl named Ruthie started translating in Spanish for a lady with two kids who was interested. Many other kids were running around passing out fliers to others, spreading the excitement of the possibility of something that looked fun to do. I had bought a few boxes of popsicles and soon a crowd of kids surrounded me as a few of the moms passed them out. I asked everyone to gather around and said a prayer for the community and encouraged them to come to our summer camp, though inwardly doubtful any of them could afford it. I am not taking any classes this summer so Kimberly and I decided to spearhead the yearly camp our church puts on.  We are doing Tommy’s Time Machine, a fun curriculum we developed and used for our ministry in Newark where we build a Time Machine and take kids back in time to the various stories of the Bible. Open Kingdom does a two week 9am-3pm day-camp every year, but it is usually only Korean kids from the church who come. It costs $190 per kid, which goes to cover the food, supplies, day-trips and all the other expenses involved. I am praying that God will provide at least $1000 so I can scholarship as many of these kids as possible from our community to come to our camp and hear about Jesus.  I know it is a small start, and our Church can’t do much, but we have to start somewhere and this is where I am choosing to start.   Even if we can only add 5-10 kids from the community it is 5-10 more than we had yesterday.  Every person matters, and I am believing God is going to do big things in this community for His Glory through our little Church and the community ministry beginning to be developed here.

If you would like to help go here

“From Father to Son,” Zao Malachi – Explaining the meaning of your name

Danny wrote a special letter to our new son… It explains the meaning of his name and reminds us of the glorious life we have in Christ!

Dear son,
I write this to you with great joy in my heart at your birth on 4/12/12. You have come into a fallen world as a covenant child of the most high God, brought to us by God’s grace, a gift for this world and our family.  Words can’t describe the way I feel right now as your father…  So proud, so amazed at you and you haven’t even done anything but breathe, cry and sleep (and pee on your mother).  As I sit here in the quietness of the room as your beautiful and courageous momma slumbers across from me I reflect on the meaning of your name we have given you: Zao Malachi Iverson.

Zao (“z-ay-oh” as we are pronouncing it) is greek.  It means “I live.”  This past weekend we celebrated Easter and rejoiced in the life Christ has given us (and you) through his resurrection. As you come into a cruel and sinful world, where death still stings, you have a deep hope, my son, in the promises the resurrection brings.  That those who are in union with Christ live! Not just now, but forever, in eternity.  Let me explain… This body encasing your soul is not your final form, and I hate to tell you this but the parasite of your parents’ sin is attached to you at your conception, and no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to get rid of it… I could’t either, can’t and won’t.  I ache as I write this, knowing the reality of sin and the pain it causes… the way it  has infected me your father, the way it affects your mother… Your earthly parents love you, but we too find within ourselves the struggle every human faces against the enemy within, the sinful nature that you too have inherited… I wish I could tell you as you lie there, so cute and pink, so fresh with innocence, that you will not have to face the reality of the sinful nature all humans born into this world bear within them… but you will. You must realize the reality of it in yourself, that as long as you live in this body the parasite of sin will be there, demanding to be fed by its host, demanding that you indulge its desires… You will see it immediately in your siblings as you meet them. They are a wonderful bunch, fun, full of joy, anointed with the Spirit… but they too have that parasite, so don’t be too surprised when your big brother Benjamin jealously hurts you because you are getting mommy’s attention instead of him.  Don’t be surprised when Katy-Grace does’t share with you, or Trinity makes fun of you, or DJ steals your food… Don’t be surprised when your parents fail you… when we lose our tempers, or fail to love you the way you need us to. So that is the bad news my son-the reality of this world under the curse of sin… But your name, my son, doesn’t moan of death and sorrow, but sings of life and hope. It sings of resurrection, for that is what our loving God has promised for his covenant people and sings over us through his precious Son Jesus who came to bear the curse of death, wrath and sorrow for us and put death to death forever on the cross. You see, he didn’t and doesn’t have the parasite of sin, since he is the Holy One, the Word made flesh, “God with skin on” as your great grandfather Bill says… He is the second and better Adam who didn’t fail and give into temptation like we do… He was tempted just like you will be, but the parasite couldn’t attach to him,  and he never sinned. But the news gets better son, Jesus lived the life we could never live and showed us what it means to be truly human, to love and be in communion with our Creator with everything we are and love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. He showed us that great love by going to the cross and becoming the curse that our sin deserves, taking the justice that should have been placed on us, “becoming our sin” as the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Next week I get to preach on Isaiah 53 that tells us that the punishment that brought us life was placed on him… That by his wounds we are healed. That means we are free, no longer under condemnation for our failures, or guilty before our Creator, no longer under the eternal death sentence, no longer in slavery to evil… but free… to live. When Jesus died, all those united to him and belonging to him died too. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is the verse that inspired your name… That you would live the life you have been given by faith in Jesus who loves you and gave himself for you.  That  you would know that through Christ who loves you, the parasite of sin dies forever when this temporary body formed in your mother’s womb becomes old and stops working. In Christ, death loses its sting, and there is no fear but joy. Pure joy  as you travel from the womb of this fallen world and are born again into the world to come, the Kingdom of God.  In Christ we are promised resurrection life in a perfect new body without sin, purified for eternity by your pure Savior Jesus and His Spirit who fills His people… This is the hope your first name sings, the hope of resurrection life and the hope of a new world… a place where you will never have to cry again the way you are crying now… This is the name I give you, my son.

Malachi is Hebrew. It is the name given to the prophet of God, the one who announces His Word. It means “my messenger” or “God’s messenger” in the context of the Bible. That is our prayer for your life my son. That you will announce the great hope of resurrection found in Jesus…. That as you live, and struggle in this world like your parents and grandparents before you, you will believe, hold fast, and proclaim the promises of your Savior God to this dying world in desperate need of good news.  We pray that the words of your mouth would sing life to others…. that the work of your hands would sow love and peace amidst this world that is harvesting war and hate.  We pray that His message will be in you and your life well-lived will be His message, the good message that God saves sinners  and recreates the old and broken into something new and beautiful. Your mother and I pray that everything you are would resound with the love of Jesus and that you would boldly proclaim the new creation promised in Him. Your Savior saves for a purpose son, that His people might live for something so much greater than themselves and the selfish temporary things of this world. In union with Him you become empowered with His Spirit to live out the righteousness given to you in Christ by an obedient and holy life that brings Glory to your Father in heaven and joy to all peoples… We pray that you will believe this message and live this message…

You are an Iverson my son, descended from the vikings of Norway. Viking runs in your blood as it did in your forefathers. Many of them pillaged and conquered for evil kings of old, but somewhere in our ancestry a new King came to rule our clan, the King of the universe named Jesus. Now we fight for him, not with battle axes dripping the blood of our enemies but with courageous words of truth for all peoples. Now we voyage around the world for our King, not to oppress foreign lands with cruel hate and war, but as courageous and peaceful messengers of hope that long to set all nations free with the love of Christ that we bear within us.

May you bear these names well my son. We love you and consider it a joy to call you our child.

22 Bullets Later…

This is a post from my husband Danny’s blog reflecting on Daniel’s murder. Right to the heart as usual…

Danny and Daniel back in 2003

I buried Daniel last Friday… He was 19 years old.  It’s been two weeks since he was murdered and I was hoping all the emotions would have faded by now but they haven’t.  My wife Kimberly has wept every day as she thinks about him; it’s still hard to believe he is gone.  He was one of the first kids I met in Newark when I moved there in 2003 to help my grandfather re-plant an inner-city church in a needy neighborhood in Newark NJ.  He was 11 when I met him. I’ll never forget the day. This wide-eyed little African American boy with a basketball in his hands walked by me as I was sitting on the porch. I asked him if he liked basketball and he simply said: “I can beat you.” So I challenged him and made the stakes quite high. If he beat me I would give him 5 bucks, but if he lost to the white boy (me), he would have to come to church with me that Sunday.  I beat him real good… so good in fact that he started coming to the church every day and brought all his friends.  He always wanted to be around me.  When Kimberly and I were falling in love and she started coming up to Newark to see me, we would pretty much just hang out with Daniel and “The Brick City Kids” the whole time.  After dinner time we would try to send the kids home so we could have some time together or go out on a date, and Daniel would always pout, never understanding why he couldn’t go with us… He was like a son to me and I had become the father figure he longed for. Great memories… I can honestly say that Daniel was really the start of Safe Haven Urban Redemption (The non-profit organization we founded) and a big reason why God led us to Newark.

Daniel flashing his smile

One of the hardest things was watching the circumstances in Daniel’s life unfold and watching the choices that he made in response to his circumstances lead to the inevitable consequences. When he was 15, his mom lost their apartment where the whole family (and lots of relatives) were living (about 8 of them in a small two bedroom) and moved into a different housing project with her boyfriend and the recent father of her newest baby. Daniel ended up having to move in with his uncle in a housing project with serious gang issues. As a 13-year-old, he had believed in Jesus as his Savior and joined the church (without his family), but this move pulled him away from his community and began impacting him in a terrible way.  Slowly we watched him fall into the traps of gang life and saw the consequences. I remember visiting him in jail when he was 16 and helping him get out and into a program.  He started coming to the church again and I saw hints of the faith he had so honestly confessed… It was still there, like a struggling flower trying to stay alive in the midst of a blizzard.  I remember driving home with him from a youth retreat we went on in Virginia and hearing him talk about how Jesus was the only thing that got him through each day of his hard life.  Multiple times he confessed that he wished things could go back to the way it used to be, to the good old days before I had kids and a family and a ministry to run-when we could just hang out all the time… My heart broke for him then as it does now… More