Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Today I spent some time reflecting, journaling, and praying through 2008. I have much to be thankful for, and much to give God praise for. It is humbling to see His faithfulness over the course of the year. I made note of different opportunities that He gave me in ministry, relational blessings, financial provisions, and ways in which He has stretched me and grown me.
However, at the same time I have come into the end of this year feeling tired, anxious, and struggling to trust Him in areas of uncertainty. I am thankful in some ways for this odd tension of a mindfulness of His faithfulness and power, and at the same time a wrestling in my spirit to fully trust and follow. It has put me on my knees, literally. I have not been one to pray on my knees, but have been intentional in assuming this posture lately. This has been both a blessing and a challenge (I highly recommend it, if you don't). As my good friend Aaron recently wrote (paraphrasing) as prayer becomes more habitual and more intentional, there is a "weightyness" that comes with it.
So I head into 2009 needy, needy to depend much on Him, needy to stay on my knees.
I am reading through the Cost of Discipleship right now by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. It is a great read, and a very challenging read. I also just read through the gospel of Matthew (it too is a great and challenging read). I have been reminded of Jesus' frequent invitations to "follow." You see it repeatedly in the gospels:
Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21
Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21
Luke 5:27, 9:23, 9:59, 9:61, 14:27, 18:22
John 1:43, 10:27, 12:26, 21:19, 21:22
This adds up to 21 times throughout Jesus' recorded ministry in which he invited people to "follow." I think sometimes in Evangelical, "Bible believing" churches we are guilty of reducing the gospel to "easy beliefism." It becomes all about articulating the "right stuff." So we ask people to repeat prayers or to answer "is this what you believe" questions and then declare people as saved. In the midst of all of this I think we must be careful not to miss Jesus' words of "follow me."
To follow, no doubt, requires faith. You cannot follow Christ without faith in Christ. Jesus repeatedly said, "your faith has..." However, to follow Christ is deeper and "messier" than reciting back a ten point doctrinal statement. To follow is to "put feet" to what we say we believe. Following is where our orthodoxy flows into orthopraxy. It is hard. Bonhoeffer's book (mentioned above) walks through the sermon on the mount that Jesus preached. Bonhoeffer seems to imply, "what if Jesus meant what He said to His followers?". I think the tendency is to seek to "hermeneutically soften" Jesus words using other Scriptures. I'm not sure if we can do that as we live out Luke 9:23 where Jesus said,"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." "Followship" is impossible apart from the grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
My thinking on this is in process, so I won't ramble any further. I like Shane Claiborne's thoughts from his book "The Irresistable Revolution." He shares...
"But then you start to think there must be more to Christianity, more than just laying your life and sins at the foot of the cross. I came to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and weren't giving me anything to pick up. A lot of us were hearing, "don't smoke, don't drink, don't sleep around" and naturally started asking, "Okay, well, that was pretty much my life, so what do I do now?" Where were the do's? And nobody seemed to have much to offer us. Handing out tracts at the mall just didn't seem like the fulness of Christian discipleship...I was just another believer. I believed all the right stuff - that Jesus is the Son of God, died and rose again. I had become a "believer," but I had no idea what it means to be a follower. People had taught me what Christians believe, but no one had told me how Christians live."
I want to be a follower. I need to learn from Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008
Pastor Ford then preached a message on Submitting to the Sovereign Savior out of Revelation chapter one. I hung out this morning in that same chapter during my quiet time. I was reminded of one of the amazing facets of the second coming - "Every eye will see Him,". Verse seven states, "Look He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him." That is hard to even get your mind around. As one preacher stated, "We are going to marvel at Him!"
Revelation 1:3 = Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Lately, I have felt an ever increasing burden to have "beautiful feet." I have felt a renewed sense of urgency, and have been praying that God would increase my burden for the lost. I want evangelism to become more of a lyfestyle for me, not just an event.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
First the tough part…
Early last week I began getting emails of alarm and concern from some of my neighbors about the frequent shootings (thank God no one was getting hit) that were occurring on the block that I live on. The thing that made these emails particularly unique was that these shootings were not happening at night, they were happening during the afternoon.
Then Saturday night there was a shoot-out between two rival gangs on 61st St (a few blocks west of where I live), just off the corner from where the Sunshine building sits. Two bullets went through the windows of our tech center. Seven bullets went into the metal window shades in the salon across the street. Within minutes the police arrived on the scene and a shoot-out occurred between one of the gangs and the police.
The next evening (Sunday), a 25 year old young man was shot and killed on 62nd and Vernon. His name was Rodney. Please pray for the family that has been affected by this tragic death (and others that occurred around the city during the past weekend). These young men were somebody's sons, brothers, uncles, grandsons, friends, possibly fathers, etc.
God at work…
Monday morning we gathered as a staff to discuss the events of the previous week and weekend. Our discussion led us into a time of prayer. Our time of prayer led us into a “what are we gonna do about it?” - brainstorming session. We prayerfully and thoughtfully came up with the following action points:
1. Host a community leader meeting (which includes block club leaders, teachers, alderman, local beat police, and pastors)
2. Upped physical presence in the community by our staff - walking around, talking to people
3. Request prayer support from friends, family, & supporters
4. Contact well-known role models who may be willing to come speak with young men in the community.
5. Address the physical safety of the youth in our programs which means building a wood barrier in the classroom of our Community Technology Center, providing snacks so that students won't trek to the store during class breaks, and providing rides home in the evening.
On Monday evening 10-12 neighborhood residents (representing 5 different blocks and block clubs) along with three of us Sunshine staff gathered to share concerns and to come up with collective solutions. Joel (our executive director) wrote the following summary of our time together…
“We came up with an overall strategy to respond to what his happening in our neighborhood and I learned a lot like the importance of getting people to leave their front porch lights on, make sure their garage has the house number on it, and make lots of phone calls for every incident to the police. So when the city orders its resources to react, they don’t just look at actual incidents but they look at PHONE CALLS." (Drug deals, buildings broken into, domestic violence, and even shootings are currently getting far too few phone calls made to report them.) "So we discussed how part of our overall process has to create an atmosphere in which (a) lots of people make phone calls (think prayer chain on the phone to 911!!) and (b) they make calls about EVERYTHING and (C ) they they know what to say when they call. We also ended up talking about all the vacant buildings (like 10 on just one block!) that have been foreclosed on. They are routinely broken into and vandalized and used as dumps for garbage (attracting rats) and drug dealers and users. One elderly neighbor described waking up every night multiple times in fear that the drug users in the abandoned building physically attached to hers might burn down the entire block while doing drugs. Another spoke about having at least 3 kids shot and killed right in front of her house over the years. Yet you couldn't miss the resolve, the strength, the faith in the room. After dealing with this sort of thing for 20 years or more they were willing to believe again and try again! Wow!!! I was also really encouraged by the presence of several young professionals — one of whom described hitting the dirt in front of his condo when bullets fly. . . But undeterred to invest in the community. There was also a very real spiritual openness if not outright presence. I suggested we open in prayer to which everyone immediately said “YESS!!” and proceeded to hold hands in a circle. We also closed in prayer. . . . They were sure to ask that we do!" We all agreed that this "block club collaborative" would not be just a one time meeting. We will continue to meet together, pray together, work together, and reach out to one another as neighbors. Everyone agreed that we need to meet again soon.
This evening we had a community block club meeting on the 6100 block of Rhodes (1 block from Sunshine). We met together outside on the street. Local police came to show support. Young and old from the neighborhood gathered on the street together. We ate hot dogs and nachos together. We got to know one another better. Then Mrs. Clark, the block club president and long term neighborhood resident, gathered everyone into a circle. Everyone held a lit candle. She thanked everyone for coming, and encouraged everyone by saying, “things are rough right now, but they are going to get better.” Then she asked Joel to pray. In prayer Joel reminded us that God cares about each and everyone of us. God is concerned about what is going on in the neighborhood. He prayed for peace. He prayed for safety. He prayed for the young men that are acting out of desperation. He prayed that we would work well together and help meet each other’s needs as neighbors.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Yesterday, I was reading through 1 Peter and a Scripture leaped off the page at me. 1 Peter 2:9 states, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." I am His now. He drafted me. As the Ambassador once preached, we were "unlikely choices, unmerited choices, undeserving choices," - but God in His grace and mercy made the move on us, redeemed us, "called us out of darkness into His marvelous light." I love the response in this verse - "that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who...." We get to proclaim the excellencies of Him!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
poor children?...We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose shooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”
-Ronald Edmonds, Harvard University
-There are roughly 7,000 churches in Chicago
-That is 1 school to every 10 churches
-Believers would volunteer a couple of hours a week to read to a kid, coach a basketball team, paint walls, assist in ACT prep, etc.
-The Church would have the impact on the world that God intends.
-Only 1 in 10 students from low-income communities will graduate from college.
-4th graders growing up in low-income communities are already three grade levels behind their high-income peers
-About 50% of students from low-income communities won’t graduate from high-school by the time they are 18 years old.
-The 50% who do graduate will perform on average at an 8th grade level.
-For 13 million children growing up in poverty today, disparities in educational outcomes severely limit opportunities in life.
-Only 6 of 100 African American and Latino high school freshman males will graduate from a 4-year college (Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 31, 2007)
-Only 9% of African American 4th graders ranked proficient or above in reading, ranking Illinois 38 out of 41 states (Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 2nd 2006)
-Nearly half of Chicago public school 9th graders who started high school in the last seven years have dropped out without earning a high school diploma. (Chicago Tribune, February 2008, Education Study done by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.)
-During the 2006-2007 school year the drop-out rate was nearly 44%
-Illinois ranks 49 out of 50 states when it comes to funding education from state funds.
-The education funding gap between the wealthiest district and poorest district is the largest in the nation.
-Between 1985 and 2000 Illinois increased general fund spending on higher education by 30%, but corrections spending grew by 110% (JPI Report).
-Illinois spends 2.8 times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.
-The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the average annual income for individuals without a high school diploma or GED is $18,734.
-High-school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than graduates to be incarcerated.
-In 2001, 55 percent of young adult dropouts were employed, compared to 74 percent of high-school graduates and 87 percent of college graduates.
-Kids who cannot do math cannot balance a checkbook or budget a household!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Friday, September 05, 2008
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
When the praises goes up, His glory comes down
I can’t even really describe the exuberant sound nor the emotion and passion with which people worship here. It was a huge blessing to be a part of. At times I would sing and then at times I would just listen to their singing with my hands raised. I even got pulled into the dancing, and I think I held my own:) Worshiping with my brothers and sisters here is something that I will always treasure. It is a reminder of how BIG the God we serve is. He is the God of All Nations.
After the time of worship, they recognized the first time visitors. They invited my dad and I to the front of the church to introduce ourselves and to share a little about where we were from. Pastor Vincent encouraged me to tell the church about what I do at Sunshine so I was able to share a little bit. One thing that struck me that morning, (that I shared with the congregation) is that in the past few weeks I have worshiped at Christ Bible Church in Chicago, Lawton Evangelical Mennonite Church in Lawton, Springhill Presbyterian Church in Bozeman, Montana and now Powerhouse Church in Mamelodi. Four very different places, four very different cultures, four very different worship services and styles of worship, But ONE LORD who unites us all and who we all worship. My dad shared how welcome and at home he felt at the church and in Mamelodi, and how blessed he was by the worship. After we shared, the church extended their hands toward us and prayed a blessing over us. I felt so welcome, and as my dad shared “so at home.”
Pastor Vincent preached out of Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep. He emphasized in many different ways with various illustrations that the sheep that was lost was VERY VALUABLE to the shepherd. He added that not only was the lost sheep valuable, but each sheep is created for a purpose. He reminded us that we are all valuable to God. He created us and we are of great value to Him. And for those of us who are saved or found, we were saved for a purpose. Our lives should then reflect the mission for which God saved us.
Pastor Vincent then got very practical. He stated that there are many children living near the church who are not going to school because they cannot afford the uniform. He added that some of them once they have purchased the uniform have no way to clean the uniform or iron the uniform, and thus don’t go to school. He further explained that the church needs to start a laundry and ironing business so that families can come to the church to wash and iron their clothes, so that their kids can then go to school. He then took it a step further! He said that they needed wash machines, irons, detergent, and peoples time to make this work. He asked who was willing to donate either machines/materials or their time. It was amazing. Hands started going up all over the sanctuary as people called out what they were willing to donate. There was no hesitation. Pastor Vincent then shared that recently he had visited an elderly woman’s home who lived with a crippled relative of hers. The two of them lived there alone. He stated that the house was very dirty and that they often went long periods without food. As a church they are going to visit the woman’s home, clean it, and take them food. He made it clear that after they had shown them the love of Christ, they would tell them the message of Christ. He exclaimed that “this is what the Church does, this is what we are to do as Christians.” I have never witnessed such a powerful message followed by such practical/sacrificial obedience. It was a clear reminder that we must “be the church” in our communities and neighborhoods.
I am convinced more than ever that the church in the States and the church in Africa needs each other. We need to collaborate with one another, learn from one another, celebrate our cultural distinctness and unity in Christ together. However, I am also convinced that the church in Africa can teach us much about what it means to “be the church.” I pray that we (the US church) would be teachable.
Revelation 5:9 = And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…”