Friday, May 27, 2011

Two Ceremonies

The contrast was striking.  Early last week I attended an awards ceremony at Timothy Christian Schools where step-son John is a senior. Later in the  week there was an awards ceremony at Breakthrough Urban Ministries on the west side of Chicago. Both were great experiences and life-giving but each evoked different emotions.

At Timothy Christian there was a quiet assurance that expectations had been met. Smart kids from good families got what they had worked hard for.  It was a job well done.  The ceremony was heart warming and it honored students who had studied hard and achieved much.  I experienced a deep sense of gratefulness for the school, its teachers and its commitment to its mission.

At Breakthrough students were also honored for hard work and measurable accomplishment. It was clear that quiet assurance was being built and that an environment of expectation and accomplishment wasn't yet the norm.  “Yet” is the operative word. Slowly but surely neighborhood norms are changing but the tipping point has not yet been reached. But that day will come. It must.

When I watched the young students at Breakthrough I was both thrilled for them and sobered by what I know about their statistical probability of success. Whenever I drive through the neighborhood I see what's waiting for kids if expectations and accountability are low.  It's not pretty and in all honesty it's scary.  If Breakthrough doesn’t succeed these kids are sizzled. They won't make it in life. They might not make it out of adolescence. 

If Timothy Christian fails in its mission the students at their school will still succeed. There's enough parental resolve and access to excellent resources to almost guarantee success.  That access, that resolve and those resources are in shorter supply in many city neighborhoods. Ministries, like Breakthrough, stand in the gap along with local churches, caring families, sports leagues, and dedicated teachers, battling for kids, their families and the neighborhood.  But make no mistake. There is a gap and there is a battle.

Two ceremonies.  Two life giving ministries.  I thank God for Timothy Christian Schools. Bravo. Thank God it is succeeding in the mission God has ordained for them. 

Thank God for Breakthrough.  May success become the norm for the kids and families it serves.  May resources flow to it. May the exuberant celebration of hope I witnessed the other night be parlayed into life-long habits leading to mature faith and citizenship. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brain Blurts for May

I want to get this out before the rapture on Saturday.  My first understanding was that the world would end tomorrow but now the latest from California is telling us that only the rapture will happen?  Whew. So, I’m breathing easy and starting to casually pack my bags for the next leg of the journey. By the way, what does one wear for the rapture?

Been watching the political climate change this month.  Amazing what the killing of bin Laden did for the President’s public approval ratings. That whole thing was pretty sobering. I’m glad a true villain will never kill again. I didn’t understand the ‘dancing in the streets’ that was going on.

Was disappointed that Trump decided to leave the race he never entered but that he stayed around long enough to help us find the elusive long form presidential birth certificate.  That was probably the most important issue facing us as a society.  Glad it’s resolved.  Why do I think the birthers and the end of the worlders were separated at birth?

Turned into East Garfield Park a few days ago and saw street sweepers everywhere. Litter was gone, drug dealers were off the corners.  There’s wasn’t a gang banger to be seen. The park was being mowed.  A miracle.  Nope.  Just the mayor of Chicago coming for a visit.  Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Saw da Mayor Daley that day.  I was actually moved by being in his presence. Whether you liked his tactics or motivation he was a force to be reckoned with.  He was and still is an interesting profile of leadership.

I just heard the Oprah show is going off the air. I'm kind of surprised nobody made a big deal of it. :)  

Arnold, Arnold, Arnold ....dude, what were you thinking?

I’m becoming more and more convinced that people are bored to tears with what we’re proclaiming from pulpits and airwaves. I sat and listened to some religious heavyweights this month. Good speakers all but as I scanned the audience I realized that people really weren’t paying attention. Why? They weren't hearing anything that they weren't already committed to.  Instead, they were being cajoled to just believe 'harder'. People nodded in assent but I wasn’t convinced anyone was buying it. Where is the winsome proclamation of faith these days? I tell ‘ya. We’ve got to figure it out because people have the church figured out and they ain’t buying what we’re selling.

Scotty or Lauren? I'm thinking Scotty.

I want to urge you to go to your local PBS station and watch the two hour Freedom Riders show. The Freedom Riders, were young men and women (black and white) who road Greyhound and Trailways buses into the segregated south. The intent was to use this non-violent act to help break the back of separation based on color in the early 60's. Many were beaten and jailed for the cause. What bravery. How many of us would step up to challenge injustice like they did?  My hope is many of us will because the deep needs of this world aren’t going to be met by us playing on Facebook and getting fatter and sassier.  What drives you crazy when you think about it?  Could God use your discontent to be the solution to the problem?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Break My Plans

God wants us ‘all in’.  Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper says “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!”  It’s all His.

I heard an interesting story last week about a man named Nicolai, a Romanian song writer and a Christ follower who was imprisoned for some time by the corrupt regime that ruled for far too long in that eastern European nation. Every day of his life this Godly man prayed the same prayer at the start of each new day, even during his torture and imprisonment.  ‘God, break my plans.”

The singing group This Hope wrote a song about Nicolai and the chorus says:

Break my plans, shape my heart;
Take my will to where You are;
Move my mind through Your Word;
'Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

Break my plans, shape my heart …What a bold, dangerous prayer.  Break my plans, Lord, and give me yours.  Give me your plans Lord for I want your ways to be my ways, your thought my thoughts.

Whew!!! In effect he was praying.  I’ll do anything, anytime, anywhere Lord for you.  Anything, anytime, anywhere. Anyone want to pray that prayer today?

Break my retirement plans Lord. 
Move me to the inner city. 
Alter my dreams for my kids so that they align more fully with your purposes Lord. 
Adjust my income downward so I can live in greater dependence on you.  
Help me to give away more and do with less.

Break my plans Lord.  I give you permission to rock my world. Your will, not mine.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Praying like that is hard for us.  Or at least it is for me.  Cuz I like my plans. And so do you.

Last week Anita and I were on  Coronado Island in California and both thought that this would be a great place to cozy down, to live our last days.  After peaking at the real estate  listings we realized that all we’d need to live within shouting distance of the beach was a cool 3.2 million dollars.  But even before we looked we realized we were being taken in by the seductive charm of a truly lovely place.  And for us, at least, that wouldn’t be good.

Maybe it was because we had just heard the story of Nicolai  that caused us to question what was going on inside of us. Even if we had the money and inclination would living here be God’s best for us?  Would God have a purpose for us here?  What would God be calling us to?  In light of the deep needs all around us would this be the anything, anywhere, anytime kind of thing God would call us to? 

Those are hard questions especially for those of us who feel entitled to just about ‘well everything’.  For God’s ways, God’s purposes often lead us away from what we think we’re entitled to and rivet our attention on some of the deeper needs of this world, to care about the world the way God wants it cared for, to see it as He sees it.

Because of the influence of my wife and others I’ve been increasingly interested in what is happening to people around the world, especially women.  I’ve seen first hand what poverty can do.  I’ve been reminded, over and over again, of the global epidemic of sex trafficking.  I’ve learned that in some countries a man is not considered a man until he has a son and that daughters are in some ways quite disposable.

And all throughout the world, even in places down the road from us, women wake up each day hungry, fearful, and in bondage. They look at their children and can only hope for medicine and food for them.  They live in conditions that would make us weep and raise our fists to the heavens.

And they pray.  For God to intervene in what looks like a sure plan for their day.  Break these plans, they cry out to God. End our poverty.  Deliver us from evil.  Give us this day our daily bread. Rescue us from slavery. Save our children.  Break our plans for the day.  For they are truly awful plans. Bring something new and fresh and life-giving to us.

And I’m convinced that God does want to break those plans. And that he wants to use us to break them … us, men and women willing to have our own personal agendas broken, altered, and refocused. Then, to be used by God as a means to both rescue and empower those crying out to the Lord.