Archive for March, 2011

I was talking with a G over coffee and he surprised me by saying that he had gone to church for a while.  When I asked him why he stopped going, he said “It was boring.” I was taken aback by that statement, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I find Christianity to be extremely exciting, but that’s probably because I try to stay out in the action and when I do that, I see God at work all the time.  In fact, there have been those periods of time when I woke up every morning wondering what God was going to do next. The anticipation was palpable. When I told him that, he was intrigued, but also perplexed. That wasn’t his experience at all. As we talked, it became clear that his mother had experienced a meeting with God and that the G had just been along for the ride, at his mom’s urging. His experience with Christianity had been sitting isolated in a church building and watching other people express their faith in ways he could not understand. Sitting there became boring, and ultimately it became a chore, so he left. What might have been more exciting would have been if he was out on the streets talking to people in need and seeing God respond to his prayers for those people. There is certainly a place for believers coming together and encouraging each other, but the real excitement in Christianity comes from going out and challenging the world to try Jesus. It comes from seeing human need and watching God answer your prayers for those in need. It comes from witnessing a person you might least expect, to come to Christ and have his or her life changed for eternity. Real excitement is being with jesus and going wherever he takes you. I can never tell where that will be, but the one thing I can say is that it will NOT be boring!

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A G asked me the other day about evil. If God is so good, why does he allow evil in this world, and especially in my hood?  Why all the killing and pain? Why do people go hungry and starve? Why do people die in natural disasters? Why does it seem so hopeless that I hide behind closed doors to shut out the evil and groan in despair when I hear of another killing or catastrophic event. My response is simple: You’re asking the wrong question. The proper question is, “Why does God even think about allowing good in such an evil world?”

Understand, my friend, that we live in a fallen world destroyed by sin. We live in a world we have all helped to create through our own propensity to rebel aghainst God.  Evil and pain are the norm in a world controlled by powers and principalities of evil (Ephesians 6). The apostle John, in fact,  characterizes Satan as the “prince of this world.”  So, let’s think about this for a moment. If Satan is the “Prince” of this world, what kind of world do you expect to see? Certainly not one of beauty and goodness.  What results would you expect to see in a principality run by this kind of chief? I’ll tell you, its a world full of pain and suffering that groans for relief. It’s for that reason that Paul also says that the whole earth groans as it waits for salvation to appear (Romans 8:22). That’s Paul’s way of letting us know that creation has been overtaken by evil and agonizes in pain as it waits for God’s final redemption. You hear that groaning in your hood, in my hood, and throughout this city.

Understanding that we live in a world marred by human rebellion and shattered by purposeful sin helps us to understand the overabundance of evil that has appeared in this world. That’s why we have murder, rape, and the horrors of warfare all around us. When we consider a world that’s run by a “prince” who is the embodiment of pride, greed, arrogance, perversion, and hatred, we don’t have to look much further to understand the evil in our world and that should prompt us to ask a very  different question. I would suggest that we ask ourselves this, “If the world is so evil and if it’s ruled by evil powers, and settled by sinful rebellious men, why in all creation would God even consider giving us the slightest respite from the evil we have created through our own missteps? Why would he ever think of giving us a moment of peace?  Why would he ever consider allowing us to experience even the slightest hint of heaven’s beauty? Why would he ever allow us to experience even the slightest amount of good?

That’ question is what underlies all Christian faith and is what provides us with the source of true meaning.  The answer, simply put, is that God has a love for his creation that goes beyond anything that we can begin to understand or imagine. As John wrote many centuries ago:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes on him, will not perish, but have eternal life.”

 Because of that love, God  brought all the beauty and splendor of heaven into this world as a preview of things to come. All that beauty and splendor came in the person of Gsus, his son and the second person in the trinity. Gsus, who was the creator of all things that exist and who embodies all the wonder and beauty of creation came to be violated on the cross to give you an alternative to the pain and suffering of this world. Because Gsus conquered death, God can still bring moments of  forgiveness, peace, harmony, joy, meaning, beauty, and love into a world filled with pride, selfishness, anger, lust and hatred . That’s a gift we don’t deserve. That’s a love we can’t underastand. Unfortunately, in our twisted wisdom, we confuse ourselves by thinking that those moments of goodness are the norm in this life, but they are NOT.  This is a broken world because we all embrace sin and that love of sin leads to further suffering and pain. Its a fact of life, we are hurting people and history tells us that hurting people hurt other people.  All you have to do is look around and the toll of sin becomes all too apparent. Those moments of goodness and beauty we long for are the exceptions to the rule, the moments when God sees fit to infuse glimpses of beauty and goodness into our present world of pain and falleness. He does this so that we may catch a glimpse of what he intended us to enjoy for all eternity, to understand and embrace the hope that was manifested in the person of Gsus. That picture of heaven,  presented through the life, death, and ressurection of Gsus, was given so that we might see what God has in store for those who can look past the evil of this world and are able to grasp the beauty of a life with God that is offered through the undeserved love of God or what we call GRACE.

So, when you see a hood filled with evil that manifests itself in the form of a new killing or rampant drug addicition, don’t wonder why God allowed that to happen, remember that its the norm for a fallen and broken world that we created. Instead of being shocked, be thankful that in the midst of such despair, God has seen fit to perforate this darkness in the hood with patches of good. Cherish those glimpses of goodness, the promise of things to come, the opportunity to see what is real.  Pray as Gsus taught his disciples to pray: “may your  kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven“.  Pray for more of his goodness to appear in the midst of  this present evil, and pray that you might be the conduit into your hood through which that goodness flows. See where YOU can make a difference. Turn around and be the hands and feet of Gsus in the hood, be that moment of brightness and good for another person as you let Gsus work through you.  That’s how you can make a difference that will last for eternity, one person at a time. Finally, pray that Gsus will return soon and that  God’s kingdom and all its goodness will then manifest itself on earth.

I was at a wedding this past Saturday. The ceremony was held at the Chicago Cultural Center. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the building is the unbelievably beautiful mosaics that have been created all over the building. As I was marvelling at the beauty of those pieces of art, it came to me that each mosaic is made up of hundreds of little broken pieces of stone. In itself, each little piece of stone appears to have little significance and usually has little to distinguish itself from all of the other little pieces of stone. However, when those little pieces are put together by an artist who sees all the shades and textures, who understands all the subtleties of each piece,  he begins to create a pattern simply by moving each broken stone individually into its own special place. By juxtaposing each color and every subtle shade against one another, he produces a patchwork of stones that, on completion, explodes in extraordinary glory. That’s when his artistry takes on meaning and clarity. That’s when simple stonework becomes  a masterpiece.

It’s the same with the gang world. Gangbangers everywhere, each one a broken piece of stone tossed aside in scrap heaps scattered throughout the hood. There is little to distinguish one Gs from any of the other Gs around him. There is little hope for the future and even less hope of creating a positive legacy. But that’s when Gsus, the master artisan, takes over and starts moving through the hood. He scours the scrap heaps and salvages Gs from everywhere. As he does so, he starts moving the Gs around, placing Gangsters next to Stones, Kings next to Disciples, Satan Disciples next to Ambrose, and Vice Lords next to Spanish Lords. In and of themselves, there is little in he way of beauty in those individual pieces of broken humanity, but when Gsus takes over and starts moving his Gs around, he creates a pattern of color and beauty, expertly fitting each piece into place, juxtaposing darker shades against the light, and gently polishing his Gs to give the finished product a luster that could never have been imagined when he started walking through the Hood. Gsus enters into the world of gang life and repositions the broken pieces. The result is to infuse the power of beauty into the despair of tragedy and to bring  joy, hope, meaning, and beauty into world of gang violence. The result is a masterpiece of eternal proportions.

So that’s my speech. Now its your call. If you’re a gangbanger and want to know what’s beautiful; if you want to know the meaning of life; if you want to have significance and fit in; if you want to know the source of true power; and if you want to understand what real love is all about; then turn to Gsus. Gsus is the key, the master of creation. By ourselves, we remain dirty pieces of broken stone without shine or luster. Each of us remains a single isolated piece of meaningless stone without place and lacking purpose; and without purpose we are in danger of ending up as one of the unusable and unworkable pieces that are disposed of in the trash (i.e. hell) or cast along the gravel road to be trodden under the feet of every passing generation. In the hands of the great artist, however, in the hands of the Gsus, we all take on true significance as we are set in the right place, next to the right people, and provided with a purpose. In the hands of Gsus we become a masterpiece, a veritable Gangster Mosaic. That’s what the Church in the Hood is, a mosaic where every gangster who comes to Christ becomes part of the larger creation of God, the Gsus Nation. It’s a place where each G, no matter his or her set, ethnicity, or rank,  has value and significance in God’s larger overall plan, where God’s grace and love give every individual a purpose, a distinct meaning, and creates a work of beauty that people everywhere will marvel at, a place where each G willcome become a legacy to the world. That’s called grace, when God picks up a G from that heap of broken stones and gives him a purposeful place in the eternal picture he is creating. So, look closely. Is that you in the middle of the Gangster Mosaic? If not, call us or a local pastor and ask how to be included in the Gangster Mosaic. Find out how you can become part of the Gsus Nation. You can begin by saying this simple prayer:



God-

I been in the hood ma whole life and done lots of things I wish i hadn’t had to do. Sometimes I see dem in ma dreams and just want them to go away. Even if I don’t see them, I know what I did and it makes me sick. I want to make it right, but I know I can’t make it right myself. I’ve tried and nuthin works. This guys sez, yu’ll forgive me of all that bad stuff – slingin, bangin, and even killin. I believe that Gsus came to earth from heaven and died to pay for my sins. I believe that he rose from the dead and that he has forgiven my sins as no one else can do. I need that forgiveness bad and I ask that all my sins be forgiven. I want to  kno that yur real and willing to help me make a new start. I got baggage so it won’t be easy but I believ that if you will help me, it will happen, just like he sez. So right now, I’m askin yu to come into my heart, and transform my life. Forgive me of evryythin bad i done. I kno i need you, without doubt, but its hard to walk away, so even if I play the G for a little while, guide my steps and watch over me. teach me your ways and open my eyes, help me to grow and walk away from this life, no matta wat. Give me and my family a new start. Reveal yourself to me just like dis guy sez yu will. Make me willing to turn away from this life and serve yu, no matta wat. Thanks God!

In the book of John (1:46), Nathanael, the soon-to-be disciple, is told by Phillip to come and meet Gsus of Nazareth, who he says is the saviour who Moses and the prophets talked about. Nathanael astonishingly asks the question, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  This was a rather sarcastic response from someone who apparently had many doubts about Gsus, just because of the place he came from.

In order to understand Nathanael’s statement, you have to know a little about Nazareth. While we fondly think of Nazareth now as the place where Gsus grew up, we have to understand that Nazareth was really a pit, a rather nasty suburb of Jerusalem, the capital. It was the Humboldt Park of Jerusalem, a place with little respect and a place that everyone avoided. To put it another way, back in the day, Nazareth was considered to be the hood. That’s why Nathanael asked in true astonishment, “Can any thing good come from there?” In essence, he was saying, “What good can come from the hood?” Yo, dog, have you ever heard that same sentiment expressed about your hood??

If you look around, there are lots of Nazareths in the Chicago area. These are places most people try to avoid at all costs. You know the places, the ones with gangs, high crime rates, no housing, and bad services!  They’re the places where people don’t prosper and just try to survive. Sometimes people do things they shouldn’t,  just to make ends meet. Maybe you’ve heard someone ask, “Can anything good come from Humboldt Park?”, or “Can anything good come from Austin?”, or “Can anything good come from Woodlawn?”,  or “Can anything good come from Lawndale?”  Well, I’m going to say this right now and up front: if you hear that about your hood, or if you already believe that song and dance, it’s a lie. Never forget, Gsus came from the Nazareth hood and that’s as good as it gets! Jesus changed his hood and, in fact, he changed the world.

So what about Gsus? He had it all going for him, right? Not exactly! Keep in mind that Gsus didn’t come from a palace or a luxury penthouse. Not even a nice neighborhood. If you remember your Christmas story, Gsus was born in a cattle trough with animals in a barn. This was a less than auspicious beginning for the saviour of the world. How about you? If you were born in jail, maybe in the back seat of a car or the back room of a house, or if you were born in some other less than respectable way, maybe without a dad or born to a mom that couldn’t wait to get rid of you, here’s the good news, Gsus brings hope to the hood and he brings beauty to all the dark and lonely places of our lives. In his own words, Gsus said that he didn’t come to save the healthy (well-off and arrogant), but the sick (downtrodden and hopeless). He didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners (Matthew 9:12). And in case you forgot, Gsus didn’t just come a deliver his message to the hood and split. He stayed and took the great violation when he died for the hood with all its sin and tragedy.

So, what’s all this matter to you? Let’s face it, stuff happens in the hood.  Got any bodies?  Got any thefts?  Got any robberies?  felonies? How long is your rap sheet?  A history of slinging drugs?  Are you dirty? Been heavy into ganbanging?  Well, you’re the type of person that Gsus came for! So, whatever hood you come from, remember that Gsus came for you; he came for the G. He came, no questions asked. He’s not asking why you shot that dude. He’s not asking where that drug money went. He’s not asking who all you banged. He’s not asking if you’re going to church or even if you’re a Christian.  He’s walking right down Division street looking for you, right down Austin Avenue calling out for you; right down 67th Street holding out his arms to take you back. All he’s asking is whether you want something better than what you have, something that will give you life and hope, something that you can proudly pass on to your kids. If so, he’s ready to give it up to you with no strings attached.  All you have to do is open the door to your heart and let him in. Remember this, the problem is not whether you live in the hood. The problem is whether the hood lives in you! Gsus is the one that can take the hood out of you, so while you may physically be in the hood (and that includes jail and incarceration), you can get the hood out of you be letting Gsus take its place. He’ll remove the hood from your heart and replace it with the peace of God that goes way beyond anything you can hope, dream, or imagine. That’s a pretty darn good trade. Then, the next time someone asks, “What good can come from da hood,” you can say, “Hey bro, I came from da hood. Me and Gsus together, that’s about as good as it gets!”

If you want to know more, see a local pastor or get in touch with us at Crossfire. In the meantime, you can begin by saying this prayer:

God-

I been in the hood ma whole life and done lots of things I wish i hadn’t had to do. Sometimes I see dem in ma dreams and just want them to go away. Even if I don’t see them, I know what I did and it makes me sick. I want to make it right, but I know I can’t make it right myself. I’ve tried and nuthin works. This guys sez, yu’ll forgive me of all that bad stuff – slingin, bangin, and even killin. I believe that Gsus came to earth from heaven and died to pay for my sins sins. I believe that he rose from the dead and that he has forgiven my sins as no one else can do. I need that forgiveness bad and I ask that all my sins be forgiven. I want to  kno that yur real and willing to help me make a new start. I got baggage so it won’t be easy but I believ that if you will help me, it will happen, just like he sez. So right now, I’m askin yu to come into my heart, and transform my life. Forgive me of evryythin bad i done. I kno i need you, without doubt, but its hard to walk away, so even if I play the G for a little while, guide my steps and watch over me. teach me your ways and open my eyes, help me to grow and walk away from this life, no matta wat. Give me and my family a new start. Reveal yourself to me just like dis guy sez yu will. Make me willing to turn away from this life and serve yu, no matta what. Thanks God!

If you sincerely said that prayer, God has heard and has forgiven you of all your sins. You are starting on a new journey that leads away from sin and takes you closer to God. I’m not sure where that journey will lead you, but this much I’ll guarantee you, it will be an amazing journey. Find a good Bible believing local church (ask us for suggestions if you don’t know of any). Start reading your Bible by reading the book of John. Start praying and make a practice of talking to God everyday. And let me know if I can help.

Ron

ps. Here’s a couple of raps for you to consider:  

Gangstaz Pain by Preachas in the hood: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9hm84LZkts

Take me as I am by Lecrae:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHlxQnr9Y0g

There’s an old gang slogan that says, “blood in, blood out.” It simply means that when you get into a gang, there is a price to pay, and that’s usually by bloodletting, commonly a beating or a so-called violation, sometimes by killing. You get out the same way (or worse). Blood is an important symbol to those involved in the gang lifestyle but, believe it or not, blood is also important to the Christian world view. God understood that the G, once involved in the gang (blood in) would need a way out of his predicament. He understood “blood out” from the beginning of time and provided the G with a final one-time “blood out” violation, and by that I mean the spilled blood of Jesus Christ. The final blood.  It is only by the blood of Jesus, the blood shed on the cross, that we are removed from the curse of our “blood in” deeds.  By His blood we are provided with the opportunity to move beyond the blood of the hood to experience the sort of life that Gs can only dream of.  By our nature and our inclination to sin we have doomed ourselves to an eternal life without God,  but by His blood we are cleansed and made whole. By his blood we are removed from the house of death (hell) and brought to the house of life (heaven). Each of us paved our way into hell through a life of violence and sin –  blood in, but now we are removed from the  penalty of that violence and sin – blood out. The only difference is that it’s not your “blood out”!  That was Jesus doing the “blood out” thing on the cross. He took our “blood out” violation upon himself so that we would be able to accept God’s invitation to join him in heaven. You may have joined the gang by blood, and you may have gotten in the gang by blood, but there is a way out. The one and only way to real freedom is through the shedding of Christ’s blood for you. Blood in, Blood out. Believe it.  Accept it.  Live it.

Why? That’s the question I’ve received on several occasions when I told people I was working with guys and gals in the Chicago street gangs. Why would I want to do that? The implication is that there are better things I could do with my time than work with a group that most people only want to ignore and stay away from. The underlying premise of that question is that these people are not worth it. Well, I believe they ARE worth it. To my way of thinking, however, it seems only logical to offer myself as a means of reaching out to a group that matters greatly to God. These are guys and gals that are smart and have a set of gifts that God has given them. The gifts may not yet have been used for what God purposed them, but the gifts are there and God wants them put to a better more worthy use. These young men and women are important to God, so they are important to me. They are so important, in fact, that God has asked me to go to them with the message of his love and forgiveness. So, I go out of my own love for these people, but out of a love that is really born in the heard of God. It’s a love he’s given me to share with them. So, knowing what God has done for me, how can I refuse to do what he’s asked me to do. If I don’t do it, he’ll find someone else to do it, but I want to be part of what he’s asked me to do. It’s there that I will find real peace, and its there that a lot of Gs will find what they are really looking for. Here’s a song that talks about this:

I Refuse by Josh Wilson: – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B1Lv8k5pEc

This is a shout out to the Orchestra Albany. I’ve been up in your hood a few times in the past weeks. Would like to meet up sometime. God has you on his mind. You can e-mail me at rlg2@uchicago or call at 773.294.8849.

When you meet Jesus it changes your destination.

That changes the way you think about life.

That changes how you perceive other people.

That changes the way you act and behave.

That changes the way people view you.

That changes the way others perceive Christ.

That changes their willingness to address Christ.

That changes their destination.

rlg

Urban Ministries is the largest independent, African American-owned and operated Christian media company. They publish Christian resources, including Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curricula, books, movies, and websites designed for African American churches and others seeking a diverse, Christ-centered perspective on faith and life issues.

http://www.urbanministries.com/

Dismanling Racism by Joseph Barndt, Author.  Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books, 1991.Here is a book about racism in America, written “for white people and about white people . . . by a white person.”Joseph Barndt, defining racism as “prejudice plus power,” asserts that efforts against racism have often been incorrectly focused on minority populations rather than the majority. “The cause of racism is in the white society. The effects are felt in the communities of color,” he writes. Rather than attempting to soften the effects, we need to attack the cause.

The book examines individual, institutional, and cultural racism, and includes a section on racism and the church—with particular attention to the European American traditions inherited by white congregations, which Barndt refers to provocatively as a contemporary “circumcision crowd.” The author asks congregations to incorporate multicultural aspects in its worship before the congregation becomes multicultural and to work to achieve a pluralistic, not racist, witness to the world.

and consider that…

 “At the center of the Christian faith is the reminder that the time is
always right to do the right thing,” Turner said. “The church can and must
provide moral leadership that helps move the world’s nations into people of
transformation. The church has the capacity to transform itself to be an
agent of change, but this only happens when the church is engaged in the
struggle for justice.”

                                                                                                            -Rev. Otis Turner, 1996

 

Here is a wonderful program in Hoffman Estates that serves homeless and at-risk moms and their.  These are moms in need of need of housing, support, serving, and most importantly, hope. Its a very worthwhile program in need of both moral and financial support. You can find further information at the following website.

http://www.fhcmoms.org/

Arloa Sutter is the Founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries. Breakthrough restores broken networks by providing neighborhood-based holistic services to individuals and families in Chicago’s East Garfield Park community. For more information on Arloa Sutter and Breakthrough Urban Ministries please go to:

http://www.breakthrough.org/

and

http://arloasutter.com/

Breaking Ground is a faith community characterized by grace and truth that seeks and develops those who desire to become instruments of lasting change in their community.

Vision
Breaking Ground is a mission-driven not for profit organization building strong inner city communities through self-sustaining entrepreneurial programs and services.  We are a comprehensive community development corporation focused on transforming low income individuals and their communities by offering integrated real estate development, homeownership assistance, job training, and direct employment, along with client-centered services.

Find information about this transformative ministry at:

www.breakingground.net

A story about getting a second chance in the Chicago area. We believe in fresh coffee and fresh starts. We roast our Specialty Grade coffee fresh daily in small batches so you can enjoy the natural flavor and aroma of each bean. And we help ex-offenders get a fresh start by providing gainful employment, job training and a nurturing community of acceptance. Passion + purpose. It’s a beautiful thing.

See their website at:

http://www.ihaveabean.com/

See the Tribune story at:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-second-chance-coffee-w-zone-oct14,0,6010009.story

This is an interesting model for working with incarcerated youths. See their website at:

http://www.storycatcherstheatre.org/