Monday, February 23, 2009

The Impact Of A Humble Servant

During my time at the Moody Graduate School I learned about a minister of the gospel who has profoundly impacted my life and philosophy of ministry. His name is John Perkins. We read two of his books in my urban ministry classes at Moody. We also took trips to the CCDA conference each year (Pasadena 2002, New Orleans 2003, Atlanta 2004). John Perkins is known as the father or founder of the Christian Community Development Association. He has founded and served at ministries in under-resourced communities in Mendenhall MS, Pasadena CA, and Jackson MS. He is now in his late 70s and is based in Jackson MS. He still travels and speaks and teaches and trains and loves on people. He is still passionate about the gospel, passionate about God's heart for the poor, and passionate for racial reconciliation. He exudes the love of Christ in a grandfatherly way.

He grew up in Mississippi during the era of sharecropping. His older brother was killed by a racist sheriff. During the civil rights years he was nearly beaten to death in a jail cell for his participation in the movement. However, the power of the gospel transformed his bitterness into love and forgiveness. He has faithfully lived out the gospel in under-resourced communities for the last 4-5 decades. He has passionately pursued reconciliation in racialized contexts. He has prophetically challenged the Church to move into places where most people try to move out of. He has challenged people with what it means to truly love your neighbor.

I have never met John Perkins personally. However, I have read his books, I have heard him speak, and I have observed his interactions with others. He is one of my heroes of the faith. In the book of Acts, it says that when the people saw Peter and John (who were ordinary, uneducated men) - it was evident that they had been with Jesus. John Perkins is one of those people who after hearing him or observing him, it is evident that he has been with Jesus.

I would encourage you to read one of his books...
Let Justice Roll Down (his biography)
Beyond Charity
A Quiet Revolution
With Justice For All
Restoring At Risk Communities (the CCDA handbook)

A Bridge Builder Experience

In the spring of 2001 I went on a two week trip to Memphis, TN with one of my closest friends Ben. His boss at the time had connected us with a pastor in Memphis who was planting a church in some housing projects called the Lemar Terrace housing projects. His boss had also put us up in a hotel not too far from where we would be serving. The pastor who we served with, Lemar Walker, was our host for those two weeks. Going into the trip, neither of us (Ben and I) really knew what to expect, but I would say that we definitely had expectations of the trip. Personally, I thought that we would be working with kids those two weeks - maybe doing some VBS type stuff, maybe some sidewalk evangelism. I also pictured us doing some work projects: cleaning up trash, painting buildings, doing rehab, etc. I expected to bless the "poor and needy" and to really impact the lives of others in a short period of time. Pastor Lemar had a different set of expectations for the trip. He had grown up in Memphis. He had experienced poverty. He had felt the racial polarization. He had seen black and white churches attempt to work together (some successfully and some not so successfully). He had experienced urban/suburban partnerships and church/parachurch collaborations. When we arrived that spring, he was planting a church in an economically and racially isolated community with a core group made up of kids (primarily), single moms, and a few single men. He was also taking classes at a local Christian college, and busy with family duties - with a wife and 2 young daughters.

For those 2 weeks he was our teacher and we were his students. He drove us around the city, introduced us to people, took us to local restaurants, and gave us a Memphis history lesson. We visited church and parachurch ministries, community organizations, and one wealthy suburban church. We spent a day at the Civil Rights museum at the old Lorraine Motel. It seemed as if each time we arrived at a destination, he would turn off the car, but we wouldn't get out of the car. When he turned off that key, school was in session. He spoke to us about race and how it has impacted life and ministry in Memphis historically and presently. He shared insight about urban/suburban church partnerships. He emphasized the importance of indigenous leadership development. At the time, I didn't fully appreciate what was happening. However, as I look back on that experience I am so grateful for it.

We did work with the kids, but only on two of the evenings. He taught us that the kids in those projects had seen plenty of people come and go. He did allow us to do some physical labor, but only because we insisted. What happened on that trip was unexpected. I had anticipated impacting the lives of others and blessing others. Pastor Lemar impacted my life. The city of Memphis opened my eyes. The families of the Lemar Terrace housing projects blessed me. It was a complete paradigm shift for me, and God used it mightily in my life. It was a Kingdom experience.

During the month of March we will be hosting approximately 150 college students at Sunshine. We are praying that a similar paradigm shift will happen in the lives of these college students. I have seen it happen. I have seen college students well up with tears after an experience amongst the homeless, after an immersion night outreach in the homosexual community, and after being impressed by the faith of a 9 year old. Scriptures rarely taught on in most evangelical pulpits come alive during the Bible study times. We are praying that these students will return to their cities and campuses with a renewed sense of compassion, viewing people through Kingdom lenses.

God is good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Baby Got Book

This really resonates with me...

Celebrating Black History

At church this Sunday our bulletins had a picture and short bio of George Washington Carver on it. All this month, the bulletins are going to feature biographies of various Christian African Americans as a way to celebrate their lives, and to celebrate what Christ did in and through their lives. So often as I continue to learn about African American history, I think to myself, "why haven't I heard of him/her?" Although I have heard of George Washington Carver, I only had a surface knowledge of who he was. I am highlighting him tomorrow to the 2nd through 5th graders in our tutoring program, at our World Changers Station. Here is some of what I have gleaned about his life...

Dr. George Washington Carver was the first African American student accepted at Iowa State University. He was a man of deep faith who believed God had given him abilities - not for himself, not to become rich and famous - but to help people. He developed more than 300 uses for peanuts, over 100 uses for sweet potatoes and taught southern farmers the benefits of crop rotation, composing, fertilization and pest control.

He was born in January about 1864 on the Moses Carver farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri. When he was still just a baby, Confederate slave raiders came and kidnapped him, his brother, and his mother. After the Civil War, his former master was able to ransom him back, but his mother could not be found. Mr. Carver raised George and his brother as part of his own family. As he grew up on the farm, George learned to love plants and nature and earned the nickname "The Plant Doctor."

When George was 12 years old, he was ready to start his formal education, but there were no schools for black children where he lived. He left home and found a town in southern Missouri where there was a school for black children. He went to school and worked as a farm hand to earn his keep. After graduating, he became the first African American student to attend Simpson College in Iowa. He then transferred to Iowa Agricultural College and worked as the school janitor to help pay for classes.

He received his degree in 1894 and two years later received his master's degree. He was the first African American to serve on that school's faculty. It was not long before his fame spread,and Booker T. Washington offered him a teaching job at the Tuskegee Institute. At Tuskegee Carver developed his crop rotation method, which revolutionized southern agriculture. He educated the farmers to alternate the soil-depleting cotton crops with soil-enriching crops such as: peanuts, soybeans, peas, sweet potatoes, and pecans. America's economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture during this era making Carver's achievements very significant.

George Washington Carver was about 79 when he died on January 5, 1943. On his tombstone are these words: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."

I continue to enjoy my ongoing study of African American history. Some books that I have greatly enjoyed reading are...
Before The Mayflower by Lerone Bennett
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley
Malcolm & Martin & America by James Cone
Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr by Clayborne Carson

What are books that you have read and enjoyed? Biographies?

Monday, February 16, 2009

James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking on Jesus...

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at my parent's church, and my home church - the Lawton Evangelical Mennonite Church - The church has begun the new year going through a series on the unity of the Scriptures, looking at "God's passionate pursuit of a prodigal people" throughout the Bible. They had just completed their journey through the OT, so my assignment was to speak on the life and ministry of Jesus. I was really challenged as I thought of all of the "material" I could choose from to preach just one message. I had ended 2008 and begun 2009 reading through the gospels. I had also been reading through "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and "The Jesus I Never Knew" by Philip Yancey. The one thing that I have been struck with afresh is the paradox of the King of kings and Lord of lords coming down to us, living among us, and loving people who His society deemed as "unlovable." On Sunday,I took a look at His Majesty, His Humility, & His Saving Work.

When looking at the humility of His incarnation, consider the facts that when Jesus came to earth, He...
-was born in a manger – Luke 2:6-7
-was a refugee in Africa – Matthew 2:13-14
-grew up in a poor family – Luke 2:22
-grew up in Nazareth – John 1:46 = Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?
-was not a home owner – Matthew 8:20 = Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

You see the heart of our Savior, when you consider...

(1) His Credentials
When John the Baptist was in prison (Luke 7), he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, "Are you the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus lays it out to them, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor."
-Luke 4:16-19; Luke 7:20-21; Isaiah 61:1-2

(2) His Company
Jesus ate, spent time with, and even invited a "tax collector" to be one of his disciples. Tax collectors were bitterly hated by their own countrymen and regarded as little more than traitors. In the eyes of the Jewish community, their disgrace extended even to their families.
-Matthew 9:9-12; Luke 19

Jesus ate with, spent time with, and even touched lepers. Lepers were classified as "undesirable." They were unclean, cast aside, looked down upon, pitied.
-Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Mark 14:3-9

Jesus had an intentional conversation with a Samaritan woman - during which he offered her forgiveness and eternal life. Jews would not even travel through Samaria. They despised Samaritans. Samaritan women were deemed unclean from birth. The prejudices of the day prohibited conversations between men and women and Jews and Samaritans.
-John 4:4-26

Jesus chose twelve perfectly ordinary men to be His disciples. They were Galileans. Galileans were deemed low-class, rural, uneducated people. They were fishermen, tax collectors, and one political extremist. These are the men He chose to "be with Him" that He might send them out to spread the gospel and establish His church.
-Mark 3:13-14

Philip Yancey has a powerful quote in his book "The Jesus I Never Knew." He states, "Normally in this world we look up to the rich, the beautiful, the successful. Grace, however introduces a new world of logic. Because God loves the poor, the suffering, the persecuted, so should we. Because God sees no undesirables, neither should we. By His own example, Jesus challenged us to look at the world through what Irenaeus would call "grace-healed eyes."

(3) His CallThroughout the gospels you see two simple words repeated by Jesus as an invitation to others, "follow me." Follow me in a lifestyle of repentance and faith. Follow me in a lifestyle of humility and compassion. Follow me amongst the lost and the least of these.
-Matthew 4:18-20

I concluded the message thinking on how God, assumed a different identity to identify with hurt and sick people, and gave His life so that we might truly live. I am challenged by Jesus - challenged by His words, challenged by His life, challenged by His act of love...