Advent: Love

This is the final piece in a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. See prior posts on Hope, Peace, and Joy. 

 

Of the countless Café conversations I have had at The Front Porch, there are a few that remain clear in my memory. One conversation that I often recall was with my father.  We sat in the back of the corner of The Front Porch and I shared about my work and ministry.  

In my sharing, I made some generic critique about the church not being active enough in service and the impact that ministry has had on developing my own faith. My father was quick to remind me that our salvation was faith-based, not work-based.

I recall laughing at this moment.  Not in disagreement, but in an experienced knowing.

At South Street, I know that my (our) work will never suffice.  There is simply not enough grace within me to forgive the 3rd or 4th relapse of a friend struggling in recovery.  Within my own self, I cannot produce sufficient patience to long-suffer another semester of disrespectful and chaotic After School youth.  And it seems almost daily, that my love is insufficient.

Just yesterday, a homeless friend visited the Café after being released from prison. He went from table to table looking to find some kind and unknowing patron to buy him food.  We know this man well — this is his hustle.

I treated him to some coffee and we talked briefly, and I found myself to be impatient and apathetic.  At South Street, I never worry about a works-based salvation. My works and my brotherly love consistently fall short.

But thanks be to God for the Advent of Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the reality of love made flesh some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.  This child, born of a promise, would grow to eventually claim that apart from Him, we could do nothing.

The love of God sustains us as we minister.  I know this to be true. Apart from God, my love, caring, and output simply falls short.  But in Christ, a deep love is made manifest.  Jesus delivers this message in the Garden of Gethsemane, the last command of his ministry, ‘Love each other.’

To know Jesus, is to know love.  The fourth Sunday of Advent calls us to the Love of God in Christ. To remain in His love, abide in it, and minister from God’s abundant love. As we take a deep breath at South Street at the end of the year, we pause and remember what it is to abide in Christ’s love.  

I will leave you with Jesus’ words found in John 15: 5-17.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Joe Tucker

A native of Akron, Joe Tucker grew up in Firestone Park and is a 2003 graduate of Garfield High School. After High School, he went on to receive his Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Akron in 2008.  Joe spent one year in Philadelphia, PA working with Mission Year.  In 2009, he returned to Akron and began with South Street Ministries as a volunteer with the youth programs.  Joe currently serves as Executive Director of South Street Ministries, and he, his wife, and two sons live in South Akron.  Joe is an avid X-men fan, Akron enthusiast, and committed Christ-follower. This blog is the last in the 20/20 Come and See series. 

 

I am never bored at South Street Ministries.  2017 has elicited a wide range of emotions from loss, betrayal, and uncertainty, to joy, hope, and love — but never boredom.  One of the reasons that I am never bored is that I have a front row seat into God’s transformational work in the lives of so many women and men that come through the ministry — from college interns learning about poverty, to 5th graders stepping into 6th grade, to the life-long drunk celebrating 9 months sober.

I want to tell one such front row seat story about seeing God’s transformational work through the building of The Front Porch. 

The renovation of The Front Porch has been a seven year project. We started and stopped a few times over as we had the funds/capacity to see the space transformed. Now The Front Porch has a fully-functional kitchen, a suite of second floor offices, and a multi-purpose health room that hosts Faithful Servants Urgent Care Center twice a week.

But that has not always been the case.

I always love when those who had seen the building in its old state tour through once again. They cite their memories of debris and deconstruction then marvel at what has been done, what God has done through God’s people. One such group of people was a CLC (Christian Leadership Concepts) group from Hudson, who first came to The Front Porch in 2012. 

This group was completing their 2-year curriculum for the CLC and was challenged from that study to find a local place to serve. Not knowing where to start, they asked Christ Community Chapel leadership and were soon connected to Duane Crabbs.  Duane was invited to their group to share, and he did, telling stories of bars and bikers, drug-dealers and discipleship, and his own testimony and trials.

He didn’t give them a clear service project, but challenged this group to visit The Front Porch and get involved. So the group came to visit. Eric Harmon and I met with them to tell them about the scope of work that still remained to be done in the building, and they committed to walking with us through it.

Terry helped develop a plan for moving forward. Jim and Rick advocated for further support from their home church of Christ Community Chapel. The group brought in other talented individuals to see The Front Porch project through. Doug helped with web-design, and George committed to serve as the General Contractor for the project! This group of Hudson church-goers and South Street staff met monthly to pray and push things forward. In time we received the needed support to renovate the Café, provide a new roof for the clinic space, and eventually complete the second floor!

This is the story about a group of church-goers from Hudson looking to apply some meat to the bones of their faith. And in the service they provided, they impacted the trajectory of The Front Porch project and God’s Kingdom work here!

I share this story to highlight how partnerships work. Oftentimes the needs at South Street aren’t addressed by one-time service. It takes commitment and presence to see transformation take place. It also takes sacrifice and support.

When I consider and pray over the many men and women who support South Street Ministries, I call that group the ‘unlikely partners.’ It is the many moving pieces and people who come together to make a ministry possible.  As 2017 closes, I invite you to join that unlikely partnership.

Serve with After School or Open Gym.  Support financially.  Pray regularly. Like the small group that helped with The Front Porch, find some facet of South Street to plug into where you can see God’s Kingdom advance through God’s people!

As we reflect on 20 years of presence and ministry in Summit Lake, we honor Duane and Lisa and their family. We also recognize the hundreds of others that make South Street Ministries what it is today.  In whatever way you support, thank you for being our partner. Thank you for risking with us to see a community renewed for the sake of Christ.

 

To make an end-of-year donation towards the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Advent: Joy

This is the third of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. See prior posts on Hope, and Peace. 

 

One of the more unique challenges of my day is the honest answer to the simple question, “How are things going at South Street?”  As a Director, I wear many hats and oversee over a dozen programs, persons, and projects. Any one of those things could be in crisis-mode, a funding hardship (or blessing!), or simply be running well, while being continually exposed to some of the brokenness and toxicity of the world around us.

For example, this Saturday we hosted our Fourth annual Christmas store! It was a Joy! Dozens of After School youth came through to shop for gifts for their families. Studio teenagers helped and participated. And many kind volunteers wrapped, iced cookies, and cleaned up. Yet the event ended with a staff member and I waiting for the Akron Police Department to pick up some drug paraphernalia that a volunteer had found outside.

Ministry life has its ups and downs. So does everyday life.

I left the Christmas Store to return home to have a challenging, yet needed talk with some extended family. It was uncomfortable and emotionally wearing. I then proceeded to take my eldest son (2 and a half) Christmas shopping for his little brother. It was an endearing time for me.

Everyday life has its ups and downs.

This Sunday, the third candle of Advent represents Joy. I’ve had a hard time drafting a South Street blog around joy.  Joy seems to be elusive, especially in 2017. I’d rather scroll through Facebook and allow my blood to boil through various posts and comments. I’d prefer to entertain myself through the latest Netflix release than engage in anything of real depth. It takes self-and-spirit work and intention to step towards joy.  In fact, many times this year I have responded that we are choosing joy at South Street, we are fighting for it.

My Christmas Store Saturday ends in front of a screen. Both boys in bed while my wife and I catch up on the work of the week (charting for her and a hard blog-deadline for me). It’s tempting even now to disengage. To opt out of the fight for joy and settle into apathy via Netflix.

This is why I value the practice of Advent, the discipline of it. Lighting a candle, reading the Scriptures, and speaking ‘joy’ are in some respects acts of resistance.  We embolden our spirits in the fight for joy by remembering God’s promises, God’s good, and God’s glory.

I will leave you with the same strengthening Scriptures I will recite this third week of Advent. Read them aloud and join the Advent fight for joy.

 

ISAIAH 35:10

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

ISAIAH 49:13

Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

LUKE 1:8-11

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

 

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Advent: Peace

This is the second of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. 

 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

I’ll confess something — I’m a sucker for the Holiday. If Christ was taken out of Christmas, I would still Fa-La-La over for the trees, movies, merriment, jingles, sleighbells, and presents. The festivities of the Holiday in many ways have eclipsed the traditions of advent. It’s easier for me to grab a peppermint mocha in a red cup, then take time to crack open the books of Luke or Matthew (or Isaiah for that matter) for an Advent devotional.

It’s easier to celebrate winter-time merriment than practice the waiting of Advent. I think of all my favorite Christmas-movies (Home Alone, A Christmas Story, Elf, and even Die Hard) all ending with families reunited singing or embracing each other.  I know for many families we ‘fake-it-until-we-make-it’ through the season to maintain that it is the most wonderful time of the year.

When it generally isn’t.

For many individuals (perhaps the majority of people?), the Holidays recollect pain, loss, and brokenness.  Holiday sentiment doesn’t begin to answer the inner-pain of a miscarriage, infidelity, addiction, abuse, or separation.  But does Advent? Does God?

One of the founding values of South Street is authenticity. We try to keep it real. This includes our theology — what we believe about God has to match reality. If Jesus is he Prince of Peace, then there should be some reality of peace in my life, if I consider myself his follower. That’s what the angels in Luke 2 proclaim, “peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When I ask the youth of After School what peace is to them the talk about a serene beach or a quiet meadow — images from commercials and movies. The real notion of peace seems distant in a small house crowded with 2 and a half families yet still struggling to make ends meet.  Moreover, the real notion of peace seems distant to me in a spacious house with a nuclear family in 2017!

What peace? Where is this real notion of peace to be found?  The practice of Advent slows us to find it … in a barn, with bleating animals and visitors from third-shift shepherds.  The angels proclaim peace, because it is not presently apparent.  It is the fool who claims peace, when there is none.  It is the faithful, the favored, who name peace by claiming it through Christ.

Let’s not pretend that all is well, from deep systemic issues and historic wrongs, to our own individual hurts. But peace is real. If we believe in virgin births, guiding stars, and angelic visitors, we can believe and act in real peace — peace that transcends understanding.

As enjoyable as Die Hard is to watch, a peppermint mocha is to taste, or Winter-Wonderland is to sing, there is a much deeper reality found in the Advent of Christ. This second week of Advent we lean deeper into the reality of peace.  

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Ruth Webb

Ruth Webb is a resident of the Summit Lake community. She first got connected to South Street Ministries through Girls on the Run when the group came to Front Porch Fellowship after their 5k. A year after, she joined Girls Studio during the program’s collaboration with Gum-Dip Theatre. Ruth is currently in the 9th grade, and is passionate about friends, family, food, and helping others. After she graduates, she plans to pursue a career in nursing. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series. 

I got connected to Girls Studio by a close friend in my community. Girls Studio grabbed my attention because when I first walked into a session, everyone looked like they were having so much fun. They were doing crafts, laughing, playing music, etc. I really wanted to join, so the next year, I was a part of it. The last few terms in Girls Studio, we learned about theater and how to be a good performer on stage. I’ve been a part of Girls Studio for about two years now. Girls Studio has impacted me in many ways. Being in Girls Studio has made me feel like I belong. The people there also make me feel comfortable because we are all open with each other.

Girls Studio has made me feel like I can be myself because the people there are easy to be comfortable around and never judge people for who they are. One time we did an exercise similar to Simon Says and we were acting like ourselves (crazy) and we felt comfortable around each other. We aren’t afraid to show our true colors and be ourselves. It has also made it easier for me to talk to other people.

 Girls Studio has built my confidence because whenever I’m nervous, someone is always there to tell me that it’s okay, whether it’s an adult or peer. One day we had to go on stage and speak. I really didn’t want to, but my peers encouraged me to. After a couple of tries, I conquered it. We have also done some confidence building activities. One of them involved giving each other compliments. That activity helped me along with my peers.

Being in Girls Studio has helped me get over stage fright because when we are getting ready for performances, the girls there are always super encouraging, and we make each other feel like there is nothing to be afraid of. I remember standing on stage about to perform. I had been screaming all day because of my Cedar Point trip from earlier. Of course, I had lost my voice from that. Right after I got back, the performance was about to start and I was freaking out. Before I went on stage, I heard my peers cheering me on and helping me warm up. I messed up a little, but I had confidence and didn’t worry too much about it. At the end, I got so much applause.

Those were some of my experiences of Girls Studio. It has really impacted my life. Without Girls Studio, I probably wouldn’t be as confident as I am today. It is a tremendous program, and I have no words to explain the love I have for the people there.

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here.