Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Tough Week/God At Work

It has been a tough week in the neighborhood! God has been at work this week in the neighborhood! These statements may seem like they contradict each other, but let me explain. In order for you to understand how these statements fit together I have to tell you “the whole story.”

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.

Things are tough right now, BUT God is at work! I am concerned for the kids and their families. I am concerned for my elderly neighbors. I am especially concerned for the teenage young men that I work with. In the midst of these challenging days, it is evident that God is on the move.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Turning Point

Over the last few days, I have been reflecting and thinking on when God got a hold of my life - aka my "turning point" as J'Son refers to this on his song entitled "Turning Point." This morning as I listened to that song and thought about when God made the move on me and how much He has transformed my life I began to "well up." (I need to do this more.) In the song, J'Son tells his story - which is very different than mine (in terms of the details) - but with the result being the same, a transformed (and still being transformed) life for Christ. In the fall of 1996 I headed to Albion College. I had aspirations to play two sports, talk to girls, and "experience" college life. None of that happened. God had other plans for me. I'm reminded that God is always the initiator - He makes the move on us. Gideon in the OT and Paul in the NT are two of my favorite examples of God as the initiator. Athletics had become an idol in my life. I was overly self-conscious and self-focused. Where I found my identity was out of whack. I was committed to please people, but not focused on pleasing Christ. Then through a series of events as J'Son says, I "found that the King was better." God humbled me, got my attention, reminded me of the Gospel that I had heard about in church growing up, and radically altered my life focus, purpose, and pursuits. As Shane Claiborne says, when I encountered Christ, "He messed my life up" and I am still "recovering" from my conversion experience.

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!

I am humbled this morning. I am messed up. And I am grateful.

When was your turning point? How did God make the move on you?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Challenge & Significance of Education - Part 2: What Are We Gonna Do About It?

(If you have not read Part 1, please read it first. Scroll down.)
We, the Church, must step up! This has to matter to us. One Teach For America graduate puts it this way, “We’ve all heard a lot of sermons preached about our God, who is a God of justice. “The Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed (Psalm 103:6).” If we want to know and serve God, we must be willing to act on His desire and mandate for justice. Education is key to justice for many children in low income communities; it’s key to restoring peace and ending discrimination…it is key to helping all children have the change to live free and productive lives (Pearl Esau -Los Angeles, Teach For America)."

A Harvard professor offers this challenge...

“How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of
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

So how can the Church get involved. In New York City, local pastors have started a movement called Vision 20/20 ( that connects local churches with local schools. Today there was a meeting in Chicago to discuss the possibility of starting this here. Consider this...

-There are roughly 700 public schools in Chicago
-There are roughly 7,000 churches in Chicago
-That is 1 school to every 10 churches

So imagine if...

-10 churches would partner with their local school and assist the present administration to create the best environment possible for the students.
-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.

This is an incredible opportunity for us to be "salt & light" - Matthew 5:13-16. We have got to work on developing more of a "life on life lifestyle" in which the ministry involvement described above is just something we do. If I could quote Pastor Vincent from an earlier post, "This is what the Church does. This is what we do as Christians."


The Challenge & Significance of Education - Part 1: The Challenge

Today I taught a session for our volunteer training entitled The Challenge & Significance of Education. During the session I highlighted some inequalities and challenges in the area of education in lower resourced urban (& rural) areas. I emphasized before I started that this is not an urban problem, or a rural problem. It is not a black problem or a latino problem or a white problem. It is not a Chicago problem. This is a challenge to the Church. This is our issue as followers of Christ. We need to take these statistics personally. They should make us uncomfortable, they should convict us, and they should make us angry. They should push us to our knees and then push us to action ("praying with our feet" as Sho Baraka says). This entry will be in 2 parts.

The Challenge (in this nation)
-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.

The Challenge (in Chicago)
-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.

Think about this…
-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 read cannot conduct Bible studies or complete job applications!
-Kids who cannot do math cannot balance a checkbook or budget a household!

Teach For America ( has a statement that fuels their mission. It states, "Educational inequity is our nation’s greatest injustice." So what are we gonna do about it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Life Be Like Ooh Ahh

The Christian hip hop group Grits used to have a song with a chorus that said, "My life be like, ooh ahh, life be like ooh, ahh, 00hhhh. Times like these that make me say, Lord if you hear me please come my way." It spoke to the ups and downs of the Christian walk and of life and of our ever-present need of the Lord. I have felt very needy (of the Lord) since returning from South Africa. I have felt overwhelmed. I have felt as if my "to-do" list is never-ending. Don't get me wrong, I came back feeling encouraged, and inspired, and renewed from my experiences in South Africa - and in the midst of those emotions and feelings - overwhelmed (My life be like...). I am working on a couple of new programs/outreaches this fall and still have my hand in the other youth outreach elements. And one thing I continue to realize is that I put too much (unrealistic) pressure on myself to "do well." I struggle with perfectionist tendencies - and I realize it. In some ways it's a strength in that it keeps me driven, but at the same time it can be a weakness and drain me emotionally. I have also felt, in recent days (and before), completely inadequate in my ministry role. I told a co-worker today, "I really don't know what I'm doing." Any other ministry people feel me on this one? (I know this can happen in other areas/roles - husband, father, vocation, etc.). I have also felt a renewed sense of the significance/urgency to the work to which the Lord has called me (and for this I am grateful).

I have had brothers come to me before and shared transparently about feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and inadequate. Mainly, I have listened. Sometimes I have shared that "it is a good place to be" because it means that we have to lean fully on God - His strength, His grace, His wisdom, etc. Sometimes it's hard to internalize how I would counsel someone else. Sometimes it's hard to internalize what I know to be true in God's Word.

I read James 1 this morning, and it reminded me of an old song by the Winans called "Count It All Joy." It went something like this..."Count it all joy, even when it seems to hard to. Know, He'll never give you more than you can handle." I was reminded today to "abide in Christ" - John 15. I prayed Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth."

This afternoon and evening I taught two orientation sessions with Moody Bible students who will be volunteering with us, I assisted with a parents orientation for parents of the students in our tutoring program, I walked home and had an encouraging conversation with a neighbor I hadn't met before - and I loved all of the above. As I sit here after a day FULL of activity, I am grateful for what God is doing in my life. I continue to learn the lesson of what it means to "press into" Him.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Lion & The Lamb

During my time in South Africa we visited a "Lion Park" and Krueger National Park. We were fortunate to see lions at both places. Allan encouraged us after the lion park to think about and discuss ways in which lions are mentioned in Scripture.

I did a little searching and one of the most powerful images of lions in Scripture is where Christ is referred to as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" in Revelation 5:5 (this makes me think of Aslan from Narnia). I looked deeper into this passage in a study Bible, and was really blessed by what I found...

"God's purposes of redemption and rule can be accomplished only through One who is uniquely worthy: Jesus Christ. He is simultaneously the fierce Lion of the tribe of Judah, warring against God's enemies (Revelation 19:11-21; 17:14), and the gentle Lamb that has been slain, purchasing His people with the blood of His atoning sacrifice (Revelation 5:9-10)."

It reminds me of the lyrics in Chris Tomlin's song...

The Lion and the Lamb, The Lion and the Lamb....How Great Is Our God!