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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Harvest is Plentiful; Workers Are Few

Growing up in church and now being a pastor in a church for over 10 years I have heard, memorized, study and preached many verses of the bible. One verse has been sticking out to me a lot more recently, however:

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

These words of Jesus I have known my entire life. I have seen the verse used for mission trips, for projects, to get volunteers to sign up for church events,etc. I have always known it to be true and have always used it to motivate myself & followers of Jesus to be about the work of the Kingdom.

However, I have never "felt" it to be more true than I have since moving to Chicago. God has brought me to the fields and has shown me the harvest. He has given me more homosexual friends than ever before. He has given me more friends who do not even have Jesus on their radar than ever before. He has given me a new city that needs people to engage it with God's love. He has given us favor with our local school. He has given us favor with some of our community development groups. He has given us favor with the local park district. Yes, I see the harvest. I see it everyday. When you are in the bubble of American Christianity, where all we do is surround ourselves with other Christians, christian schools, christian music and shop only at "Christian" stores, we began to lose sight of the harvest. We began to think the world really is ok & become numb to the hurt around us. We become oblivious to the injustices taking place. We become disinterested in the lost and just think, "if we can only get them to church." That way, they can hear a message from a Pastor, hear songs, and I really don't have to do anything but invite them and I've done my part. This gets us off the hook from investing in people's lives, loving people, and actually rolling up our sleeves and working the fields.

BUT when you let that bubble burst and your eyes are opened to a whole new world, you realize that there is a harvest and that the workers really are few.

What would it look like if churches began releasing their people into the harvest? What would it look like if instead of churches spending 90% of their energy getting people to come to church, they spent 100% of their energy sending people into the harvest? What if instead of 20% of church members being actually active in the ministry of the church, 100% of the body was active? What would our churches look like? What would our cities look like as we released a movement of Christ's love in the city?

This begs the question: what role are our churches really playing in the cities we live in? What if, instead of the church seeing the city as a resource, the city viewed the church as a resource? How cool would that be that as churches we were having such an impact on our city that they were coming to us to help rebuild, develop, and make the city better. AND doing it all in the name & love of Jesus. Wow, I get excited just thinking about all we could do as churches!

This is the vision of our church. I have experienced the harvest too much now to turn my back on it. Some of the harvest is ripe, and some of it still needs to seeded, and some of it still needs to be watered. But WE NEED workers. Ashley & I are about as stretched as we can be and be productive in the fields. We have set up a framework with DNA & a vision to be about the ministry of reconciliation in the city of Chicago, but we need workers to come and join in what God is doing here. To put it frankly: we need workers. I pray for God to give us co-laborers every day. To bring us people from Texas that feel called, or people from the Chi-town area, or people from Africa (or wherever He brings) that would be willing to sacrifice the comfort of the American Christian bubble and be about the harvest in Chicago.

BUT more importantly, I pray that Christians would sacrifice the comfort of the American Christian bubble for the harvest wherever God has called them. Whether that be in dallas, nyc, la, chicago, shanghai, bethlehem, or bronte (tx)!

Don't get me wrong I would love for people to come and join us and I'm continuing to pray for that because we need it, but God's ministry of reconciliation is bigger than what we are doing. For my eyes have seen the harvest, and unfortunately, my eyes don't see many workers. Will you open your eyes, sacrifice, & work?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Proud of My Wife...

I know Ashley is going to be embarrassed by this but I wanted to take the time to let people know this: I am really proud of my wife. In honor of her starting school tonight, I wanted people to know how she continues to amaze me.

Ashley is an amazing woman of God who loves Jesus more than me and challenges me to be better. I could not have asked for more of a blessing from God than the opportunity to journey with Ashley by my side through this life.

She's amazed me with her trust to pick up and move with me to Chicago, not only leaving our families behind but our comfort too. Not many women would do this and for her too, not only shows her commitment to Christ, but to me as well.

She's amazed me with her strength to spend many nights here in the big city of Chicago by herself (as I have had to travel) without getting scared, not missing a beat, and not losing sight of our vision and continuing the work of why we're here.

She's amazed me with her endurance to "plant" a church with me and be very active in partnering with me to see this thing through.

She's amazed me with her ambition to get her Master's in ESL (starting classes tonight).

She's amazed me with her sacrifice to go to school, work a full-time job (not just for money but to reach her co-workers), and put up with me. Lord knows that is not very easy at all and is a full-time job as well. I know I am not easy to live with sometimes, as even Selah (our dog) gets tired of me.

I am amazed at her compassion for people, children, and her passion and desire to see people come to a loving relationship with Jesus.

Ashley, I am thankful for you and your desire to see God's kingdom advanced, first in our family, and also to the world.

I. love. you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Social Gospel or Gospel Evangelism? Is there a difference?

I often get asked by many who hear how we're starting our church with engaging our city & world by serving and volunteering if I, therefore, believe in a "social gospel." Now, usually when I get asked that, what that really implies is "where's the evangelism?" If we are volunteering at our local school, helping our community host events, help clean up the park, partner with members of other faiths for the good of the city, then that must mean I do not believe in "evangelism" and only in helping fix society's problems.

I often seen this phrase posted or have heard it many times: "Evangelism is not a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, it's a beggar taking another back to the place where he can eat Daily Bread." Proponents of this phrase say that a person's greatest need is to be saved and rescued from their sins so therefore the only thing the church should be concerned about is their salvation.

However I ask, will a beggar believe there is actually "daily bread" if he knows no existence of tangible bread? Will a world believe in an unconditional, everlasting love if they've never been shown it by the people who claim to have it (the church)?

This is why I do not think you can separate Gospel into "evangelism" & "social" because they are one and the same a part of a whole process: Gospel. Therefore, I holistically believe in the Gospel. The full, encompassing Gospel that Christ wants to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1). That means that He wants the whole person, the whole city, & the whole world reconciled into His name and we are to be "minister's of reconciliation." What better way to show my neighborhood the love of Christ in that I love them by serving them? Isn't this the example of Christ? He came not to be served but to serve. He healed the sick, spoke up for the poor & oppressed. Told us to take care of the widows & orphans & He fed the hungry. BUT that's not all He did. He casted out demons, preached HIS news to the people, forgave sins and died for us that we might have life. He did both because the Gospel is both. When we focus on one & neglect the other we are missing part of the Gospel and missing on part of the ministry of reconciliation.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I wanted to give you an excerpt of what he said in a "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to white pastors who were criticizing him. Not only are his words about the church and gospel powerful, but also prophetic. He makes no distinction between "social problems" & "gospel":

"In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

What if the church stood beside Dr. King and showed the love of Christ to all people instead of saying, "Well social issues have no real concern of the gospel." Would the struggle have ended sooner? You notice it even made Dr. King ask who was worshipping in those churches and what God they believed in? Why? Because He saw no action to the love they were preaching and the"gospel" they believed in.

Look at that last prophetic phrase. Has it come true in America? Are we irrelevant to our world & society because they see no love & service from the Church? I am afraid we are, but the whole, real Gospel can change that. That's why we serve not to convert, but because we are converted. Go and preach the Gospel and let's change our world, as we serve, tell others about His love and Christ saves and reconciles.