Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Here’s a poignant poem from someone whe was forgotten by man. Can you identify with him? If so, let me know…

http://www.streetgangstyle.com/street_gangs/street-gang-articles/forgotten/

Advertisements

This is a very cool story about how one female G literally saw the light when she tried to commit suicide. It’s yet another example of how God still intervenes in the lives of people today. This young woman is now in school preparing for the rest of her life and working to help other Gs get out of the gang life and find a more meaningful life. Read it. I think you’ll be amazed! And don’t forget, God has a dream for you too! Ask Him about it.

http://www.streetgangstyle.com/street_gangs/street-gang-articles/yall-gang/

When I was a kid we learned this little poem in Sunday School that was accented by hand movements.  One’s hands would be locked together with the interlocked fingers facing the speaker and the two index fingers pushed together pointing skyward like a church steeple. The poem goes:

Here’s the church,

this is the steeple;

open the doors

and see all the people!

As we said the last verse we would fling open our hands and wiggle all the fingers, a representation of all the lively people in the church. Cute, but i’m not sure just how lively the church is these days.

I just came home from driving through the South Side of Chicago this evening.  It was only 8:30 and the streets were filled with Gs, everywhere.  A perfectly refreshing night to be out and about. The sights, however, were not so perfect. The police were rousting out a big group of Gs  (maybe Blue Fin Black Disciples, but I couldn’t be sure) gathered at the southeastern corner of Washington Park. A little further on there was a fist fight going on between two 9-10 year old kids with 30 people egging them on. There were prostitutes on one corner and guys slinging drugs on the other. Oh, and there were lots of people who appeared to have already had too much to drink. Everywhere I looked there were people who were headed into eternity without Christ. I tried to do my thing but it was so little and so weak in contrast to the forces gathering out in the streets for the summer. It all seemed a little surreal and I wasn’t quite sure why I was feeling so sad.  Then, I passed a group of guys gathered in front of a church and it struck me.  Where’s all the people, the church people, that is!!!

I started looking past the gathering crowds and what I saw astounded me. Every block had a church building or two safely ensconced on the block, but they were all closed and not a light to be seen.  How ironic, I thought, that if Christians are the light of the world and the local church is the hope of the world, that each church was dark as the night, and whatever hope the building might claim to possess on Sunday was locked away for the night, just when those in the hood needed it most. How sad it seemed that in nearly every case, there were groups of men and women gathering in front of those churches who were without Christ and without hope. I guess they knew that after the Sunday services,  the church took Monday off. maybe the rest of the week too. Sin could sit at the doorstep of the church without even being challenged.

What struck me was that Christians are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but they were nowhere to be seen. What I saw, however, were the hands and feet of another, a more sinister and demanding master who was sending his cohorts out to enlist even more people to his cause. And everywhere, he was unchallenged! How can that be with Christians inhabiting every one of those blocks. How can it be with buildings everywhere that are dedicated to taking the Gospel (i.e. Good News) to the lost? I’m not trying to be overly critical and I am speaking to myself just as much as I am to all of you, but its time to open the doors of those buildings and start a procession of people going both in and out. There should be people going in who have questions about God and problems He can solve. There should be people going out to proclaim that there is a place where Gs can go to find real life and that there is a person who can give them  a living water that will refresh them and give them hope for the future. That living water will not dry up nor will it run out. If tonight seemed like a perfectly refreshing night, think what it will be like for that G who finds God because someone brought him that living water.

Let me close by saying that the pastors of my church have begun a series of messages where the theme is to “Go Outside,” sort of like the old Nike theme, “Just Do It.” That’s what we all need to do. Go outside, each day of the week, all summer long, and address those kids sitting on your steps with love, hope, and the gospel of  Jesus Christ. What if every church in every Chicago neighborhood found a way to turn the lights of their churches on at night and have people sitting on the steps of their church with a smile, a handshake, and maybe some fresh apple pie. What if every church in every neighborhood took up the challenge to Go Outside for these kids each day of  the summer. One need not go farther than the block your church was built on. In doing that, you’ll probably cross paths with Christians on the next block doing the same thing as you are. Link arms, love each other and pray for the kids you’ve both gone outside to help. Then let the Holy Spirit do his thing and watch what God does this summer. Just “Go Outside” and watch God work. Who knows what stories that will spawned, what ministries will be born, and what lives will be changed…forever. Well, God knows, so when it happens, write to us here at Crossfire. Let us know the miracles you see so that God’s work in one neighborhood will inspire His people in another neighborhood. Just “Go outside.” God will do the rest. Then, maybe some of you will write back something like:

We opened the church.

We turned on the light.

We went outside 

and God lit up the night.

You’ll probably do better with the verse, so don’t hesitate to outdo me on that! In the meantime,

JUST GO OUTSIDE!

There is this kid I’ve become friends with up in Rodgers Park. His name is Nicholas. He’s 16 and already been involved in the gang life for several years. Each day he seems to be getting deeper into the street life, just a step away from real trouble. Last Saturday I went up there to find him, so I had the opportunity to drive up and down Devon Avenue several times while looking for Nick. I was struck by the multitudes of people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds and became almost  despondent thinking about all those people going into eternity without Christ. The need was so overwhelming that my paltry efforts on behalf of this single young man seemed inconsequential, bordering on absurd, when balanced against this unsaved mass of humanity. Then, in the midst of that near-depression, God spoke to me saying, “Leave them to me. I’ve put one person on your plate right now, so deal with what I’ve asked YOU to deal with. You have one task right now, Nicholas. I’ve given you responsibility for Nicholas’ life so don’t worry about what I haven’t asked you to do. Be responsible for the one  person I’ve asked you to love.”

I’ve been mulling over that conversation with the LORD all week. Then, this morning, I attended the monthly Willow Creek Prison and Incarceration Ministry meeting where the Holy Spirit affirmed the LORD’s word to me when Anne Rand read a devotional about one, one, one… by Mother Teresa. In it the words of Mother Teresa came through loud and clear:

“I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.  As Jesus said “Whatever you do for the least of my brethern, you do it to me.” So you begin…I begin. I picked up one person…The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don’t put the drops in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you. Same thing in your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin One. One. One.

At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). Hungry not only for bread but for love…naked not only for clothing but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of bricks, but homeless because of rejection.”

                                                                                                     Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Please help me to be faithful to my calling of one by praying with me for Nicholas.

Prayer: LORD, I am often overwhelmed by the needs of the world around me, by the immense size of the need. Thank you that you are responsible for the world and that I am not. Help me see the individual today – the one, the one, the one – that the words and actions that flow from my life reflect your love. In Jesus name, amen.

Fresh from the release of a new album, Lecrae sits down for a heartfelt interview. See what this well-known rap artist has to say about self, love, and God at:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/music/interviews/2011/rapperrehab-march15.html

Hi DP-

       I want to thank you for responding to the earlier posting on “Dismantling Racism.” I can understand your feelings on many levels. I have seen the harm done by gangs in Chicago and around the country. I could probably cite a dozen socio-economic reasons why gangs have grown into the current menace they have become. As a Christian, however, I want to do everything I can to undercut the reasons why these socio-economic disparities exist and to reclaim these Gs for Christ. I am all for social justice and for trying to alleviate the poverty, pain, and hopelessness that have created an environment where gangs can grow and prosper. There are, however, many programs and organizations that have attempted to do just that. Still, the gangs grow. Why is that? It’s because there is one underlying element in the human existence that breeds this sort of behavior and it’s not addressed by these programs. It’s called sin. It’s a love of self that works not only on the mob side of things, but on the civic side as well. They feed off of each other. It’s pure selfishness on both ends of the spectrum that creates the environment where gangs grow and prosper. Governing bodies for years have allowed a system of racism to exist which perpetuates stereotypes and fosters a climate that manifests itself across town in the form of greed, political corruption, and ‘gangsterism’. People in power usually think of themselves first, so what’s a kid in the hood supposed to do? They emulate what they see from the governing officials. It’s all about selfishness and self-love as opposed to what Jesus told us to do. In Philippians 2: 3-11 Paul the Apostle writes that we should:

    “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”      

       In other words, Jesus asks us to become servants. If we all put others ahead of ourselves, like Paul asks, the nastiness of the hoods would cease to exist. If we were students of servanthood instead of students of selfishness, we would be able walk through our neighborhoods in peace and security. If we had each other’s backs instead of trying to stab each other in the back, endless possibilities for mutual reconciliation and community building would exist. Instead, we put our own wants, needs, and desire first. This goes not only for gangbangers but for those of us outside of the “ghetto.” People tend to be selfish instead of selfless. We follow the example of another instead of the example of Jesus. Because of that, we pay a heavy price. We think of our own needs before we think of those around us. The inequalities that motivate the gang lifestyle are rooted in the selfishness of those who created a political system that dehumanizes those who are different; it sucks the hope right out of their souls.

       Now, don’t get me wrong. Gangbangers make decisions too, and they need to be held accountable for their decisions. They are where they are at because they (not their fathers) chose to do the things that gangbangers do. When things get too hot for them, some of them do take advantage of organizations that try to help, like the church. They are selfish and in need of change, just like you and me, and that is what I am aiming for in this ministry, total transformation. That’s also why Jesus came. He came for the sick and not the healthy. He came for me and he came for the gangbanger wanting to change but not knowing how. He came to transform us. When we become transformed into servants as Jesus taught us, there would be more hope, trust, and possibility in this world.   

       There are many reasons why gangbangers decide to “drop their flag.” One of them is when they see that what they’re doing doesn’t work. Remember that they did not create this system. They are only the latest installment of a system that has failed them on a personal, familial, and communal level. These guys are smart, however, and they can come to the realization that what they have been espousing is just plain bad. The problem is that by the time that they recognize this, they have long rap sheets and couldn’t by a job if it was for sale. This drives even the most well-intentioned G back to the streets with jarring consistency. Gangbangers make bad decision, decisions that are contrary to God’s will and local laws. These decisions harm their communities. Admittedly, they are not commonly served by the socio-political community that they call home, they often lack the familial infrastructure that teaches them how to live, and yes, they suffer because they make their own selfish decision too. Choices are made and those choices are most commonly based on sin, giving in their own wants and desires with little or no regard to the community they live in.      

       Other reasons why a gangbanger may want to chance is out of fear of retribution from another gang, fear for his family, a fear of going back to jail, a desire to rid themselves of the drug and alcohol abuse that commonly accompanies gang life, the fear of injury and death, and, finally, pure exhaustion from that lifestyle. While some Gs may have the best intentions, one must understand that the gang lifestyle is addictive and no matter how good the intentions of the gangbanger are, they often relapse into the gang lifestyle because of the addiction. That’s why mentors who see these guys as creations of God and who are willing to serve them are so vitally important to changing the gang culture.      

       We sometimes think that a bad ending to a gang lifestyle is inevitable because we see it so often. Change is possible, however, both on an individual level, as well as on a communal level. It doesn’t happen often because we tend to look at gangbangers as neighborhood sludge, but when we understand that these are men and women that Christ loved and when we look them in the eye and understand that he loved them so much that he died for them, it changes everything. You realize that change is possible because that’s God’s business. He changes lives, or better yet, he transforms lives. When one gangbanger’s life changes, that change impacts the lives of everyone around him. The life of Nicky Cruz (as portrayed in the Cross and the Switchblade and Run, Baby, Run) is just one example. The problem is that, because there are not enough men going into the streets to reach them, there are not enough of those changed lives to point to as examples and, in the end, Satan turns out more Gs than we can reach out to. We need more servants willing to walk across the street and show a Gs what the love of Christ is all about. That’s how neighborhoods change, one life at a time.

       Change comes, contrary to political opinions, not from some powerful individual such as Barack Obama, but from God. We must understand that the gang problem is a spiritual battle and has to be fought on the spiritual battlefield. That’s the only way to change the “ghetto.” There are plenty of battlefields scattered across the world that were once desolate places of death and destruction, but have now returned to nature and are beautiful places to behold. That’s the way the “ghetto” will be. It’s a battlefield full of death and destruction, but some day, the Humboldt Parks of the world will be reclaimed and once again become beautiful sights to behold. That will only happen, however, when we fight the battle on the enemy’s territory and free the world from the sin of selfishness that rests at the center of all racism, hatred, pain, and gang activity. Keep in mind, gangs don’t run the city. Satan does. The Bible calls him “the Prince of this world” (see earlier post called “Asking the Wrong Question”). Gangs, however, represent just one face of Satan in a world gone wrong.    

       Truth be told, there are different forms of ghettos in Chicago. We most easily talk about the ones portrayed in pictures as deteriorating, dilapidated, and dirty blocks of crumbling apartments, but there are other ghettos that we don’t often think about, places where men and women are bound by greed, sex, and self, places where their souls are dirty and deteriorating. Sounds familiar right, but you would never recognize these places as “ghettos.” One definition is that a “ghetto” is an:

Environment of isolation: an environment where a group of people live or work in isolation, whether by choice or circumstance.”

       I know it’s stretching the definition a lot, but bear with me. These “ghettos” present an “environment of isolation” and are located in places with big fancy houses, like Barrington, and in beautiful apartments along Michigan Avenue, places where people are bound and isolated by their pride and inflated perceptions of self-worth. There are also university “ghettos” where men and women wear their accomplishments as commendations on their own self-worth. Yeah, these are ghettos too. They’re just prettier ghettos. Fancier, more respectable “ghettos.” They’re just places where people are bound to a lifestyle borne out of pride and sin where they think too highly of themselves and not nearly enough about God. So, when you talk about gangs, keep in mind that they are just one manifestation of a larger issue. Gangs are part of a spiritual battle going on for the hearts and minds of men’s souls all across this city, in Humboldt Park, at the University of Chicago, along the “Magic Mile”, and in affluent suburbs such as Kenilworth. The suburban “ghetto” may seem cleaner, more affluent, and more respectable, but they can be just as deadly to a man’s soul as any south side or west side “ghetto” you can describe. Sin is sin, no matter where it occurs. Souls are being lost in all of these places. Satan’s modus operandi is different from place to place, but just as deadly. In one he tricks people into thinking they have no hope because they are living in what seems to be perpetual poverty. In another he tricks them into a false sense of security based on the lie of accumulated wealth. In a third, he gets people to trust in their own intellect for knowledge about the universe and their own “salvation”. In each of them, however, people act out of pride, greed and selfishness. And don’t think there’s no connection. If you read your history books, you’ll find that the Black ghettos or Puerto Rican ghettos are just as much a product of selfishness in city hall and white America as it is of the gangbangers who can’t find jobs and tear apart their neighborhoods with violence. Truth be told!

       In the end, I know that this may not be the answer you wanted to hear from me, and the reality of the situation is that the answer is a lot more complex than I alluded to in this response. The truth I wanted to get across in all this is that life is all about spiritual battles, whether we talk about gangs or businessmen, scholars or truck-drivers. So if you think you haven’t had a fair chance, you have to ask yourself, “How am I faring in this spiritual battle? How close is my walk with God?” The Bible says that “If God is for us, who can stand against us” and “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” Never forget, God IS in control of this broken world, not only in the larger world picture, but also in your life, if you will allow him to be. That’s something that the gangbangers may not want to admit but which each of them will one day have to confess before Christ himself. The same truth, of course applies not just to gangbangers, but to you and me, and everyone who has ever lived. And eventually, we will hear God pose the question, “How have you used your talents to further my Kingdom here on earth?” May we be able to say, along with Jesus, that we used those talent so that “your kingdom will come, so that your will may be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

A Gangster’s Prayer (adapted from Gangstyle)

If you have come to the point where you want to make a change in your life you may feel it’s time say the prayer below. Having said this prayer you are committing yourself to change and to live a life in line with the Bible.

Three things you must do to become a Christian and inherit eternal life.

1. You must recognize that you have sinned and ask God to forgive you. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

2. You must repent of your sin. To repent means to turn away, to change your direction. The Bible tells us, “Repent and be converted that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

3. You must believe in and receive Jesus Christ into you heart. The Bible promises, “For as many as received Him, He gave the power to become son of God.” Even as you read this Jesus is standing at the door of your life and asking you to let Him in. Jesus said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door I will come in.”

One way to open the door is a simple prayer like this:

“Jesus, come into my heart. I know that I am a sinner, but I thank you for dying on the cross for my sin. I ask you to forgive me and cleanse my sin. Be my personal Lord and Savior. Help me now, from this day forward, to follow you.”

If you prayed that prayer sincerely, Jesus Christ will come into your life and begin to change you from the inside out.

Take a moment to let us know of your decision so we can encourage others. We’re also willing to talk with every one of you that has decided to follow Jesus, as well any of those of you who have questions or need to talk. Would you like someone from our team to contact you?

Here are a couple of useful web sites to help you in your walk:

If you do not have a bible you can go to www.crosswalk.com and access their bible study program. Chap D recommends getting started by reading the book of John and also reading from the book of proverbs. You can also go to the top of this page and look under “Studies”  for  the One 2 Won Crosstraining Studies put online by Men at the Cross. These are basic studies about what it means to follow Jesus.

To find a church near you www.american-churches.com they carry a directory of churches nationwide. Choose carefully, find a Bible believing church that you feel comfortable with and preaches the Word.

A message from a pastor who cares:

Dear friend: Please know that there is a God in heaven that loves you and is offering you a better way. He alone has the power to take the anger away from you. Jesus Christ is the person who came from heaven to make all the wrongs right in this world. It will not happen over night, it will take life times and more. But, Jesus Christ will come through for people like you and me. We may be in different places in life, but Jesus is the one that is able to make the difference and He is with you now. Invite Him into your life and He will come in. Go to a pastor near your home and ask one how you can live, don’t be afraid, He will tell you how to connect up with God and show you that He will protect you. I want you to know that only God can tell the future, no man has the power to do that. Listen my new friend, if you believe that Jesus died on a cross for you and rose up from the dead and you want to follow Him the Bible says that you will be saved.

Life is hard and we go through many things that we don’t understand. Begin to trust Jesus Christ to help you and He will. He is in the business of changing futures.
Pastor Marc P.

Gangster Quotes’

“If I could take it all back, I would. I would have died a hundred times over to let my brothers and sisters live… but i cant. All I can do now is promote an anti-gang message…drop your flag. Start your life over… it’s neva too late.'”

blue

This is a brief talk by Nicky Cruz who was the leader of the infamous Puerto Rican Mau Mau street gang in New York City. Nicky’s story is portrayed in books such as The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and in his own book, Run, Baby Run.  It was through reading those two books that my own life changed and because of what happened to Nicky, I went to Chicago to work for Teen Challenge. That’s when I got involved with the Latin kings and all the other sets I got to know at that time. I even had Nicky come to Chicago back in the early 70s where he had an open meeting for north side street gangs in Humboldt Park. Nicky is just one of many examples of how Christ CAN change a life, even in the worst of circumstances.  jesus can do the same thing for you that he did for Nicky. Think about it. See what Nicky has to say about his life in the Mau Mau street gang and what happened to him when he met Jesus.

http://www.streetgangstyle.com/street_gangs/video/gangs-god-nicky-cruz-testimony/

For more on Nicky Cruz Outreach, go to:

http://nickycruz.org/

Tedashii at Blacktown 2008:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F34oEiUsrog&feature=related

Lecrae at Blacktown 2008:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y7IKrkQSyA&feature=related

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.

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

 

Playing the Trump Card 

Ever play any card games, something like Spades, Hearts, or Euchre? If you have, you know that many card games that have what are called “trump” cards. A trump card is a card from a particular suit that when played, “trumps” or overpowers any other card from the non-trump suits. Generally, one has to follow suit, but if you don’t have a card of the suit being played, you can throw a trump card and that trump card will win the hand.  In other words, if you are playing a card game and hearts is designated as “trump,” a 2 of hearts trumps or overpowers and captures an ace or any face card from a non-trump suit.

I ask this because we’re all in the game, whether we like it or not. It’s called the game of life. As you have realized by now, there are a lot of power cards in this game and you usually don’t control them.  This is particularly true if you’re a gangbanger. There are the aces, and kings, and queens of life, and they somehow seem to control everything. People like supervisors, bankers, politicians, policemen, and teachers all seem to have the power cards.  You sit at the table hoping that fate deals you a fair hand, but what you don’t know is that you sit at a table where the cards are rigged. Everyone else holds the power cards. It’s not clear how they got them or what they had to do to get them, but they have them, and they use them. Others in the game may not want to admit it, but the game is stacked against you and they know it.

The truth is that many of you are gambling your lives away by just being in the game. It’s true for me as much as it is for you. It’s even truer, and more serious, in the spiritual realm where many of us are gambling with our eternal destinies, throwing our souls into the pot and hoping to score big in this game of life. In all truth, when you gamble like that, you are in a bad position from the start because Satan holds most of the cards in this earthly gambit. He’s sitting at the head of the table with all the chips in front of him and a smile across his face. He’s smiling because, if you could look over his shoulder, he’d be sitting there with a full house of three aces and two kings.

Before we continue describing the progress of this spiritual card game we’ve gotten ourselves into, let’s evaluate our position. Our lives are all far from perfect. In many of our lives the imperfections are even glaring. They stand out for everyone to see. We’ve killed someone, gotten caught with another person’s spouse, stolen money from our employers, and cheated in innumerable ways, all glaring defects in our character. This may be especially true for a gangbanger, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are any better. Our thoughts and sins may not have lit up the public media like those of a gangbanger who is on trial for murder, but they are just as damning. Our own sins may come to light some day in this world, but maybe they won’t.  If not, they will be revealed in eternity in which case, we will still need the same help as the person with the glaring media-hyped sins. Sin is sin and needs a remedy.

The Bible is very clear on sin. It points out sin and describes it on varying levels of intensity. Not that this is all that necessary because all of us know deep down what is right and what is wrong, what is good, and what is sin. We possess an innate sense that tells us when we are doing something in opposition to God’s desire for our lives. Still we choose to do it. This is sin. The Bible makes it clear that sin, no matter how small or how big, separates us from God and that a remedy for that separation is needed in order to restore that relationship. Sin can come in the form of inappropriate relationships, bad or evil deeds, dark thoughts, and just plain selfish desires. Sin is not only something bad that we have done, but as Paul taught in Romans (7:7-13), and in agreement with what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:21-22 and 5:27-28), sin can be as small as a wayward thought.  Gangbanger, if you ever hated an opposition member, even if you’ve never touched him, you’ve earned yourself a trip to hell. If you ever looked at a girl (or guy) with sexual desire, you’ve established your eternal abode in hell. Sin starts in the mind. It starts small. It’s a thought, an image, a desire. In the end, it’s death.

I suppose that our primary context for knowing about sin comes from the 10 commandments found in the Book of Exodus (20: 1-18). These are the “thou shalt nots” that function as the core of the law and at the center of the “rules” that people often get so bent out of shape about. These are the commandments that were expanded in the books of Moses and throughout the books of the prophets into the rules and laws of the Bible that people do not like. Well, we may not like them and may not obey them, but they are there for a reason. Those rules are not there to save us because we could never keep all of them. Paul admits as much in Romans. No, those rules are there to act as a mirror so that when we look into that reflection and see all of our imperfections, we will brought to the point where we want to do something about it.

Our response to the reflection we see in the mirror may vary. Some people will not like what they see and simply get rid of the mirror which, of course, does not change the reality of the imperfections it exposes. Those imperfections are still there for all to see. Others, however, use the mirror as a tool to try and deal with the imperfections, constantly looking into it and using it as a guide to spiritual health and well-being. The user must remember, however, that the mirror itself cannot clear up the imperfections illuminated in the mirror. It simply provides a reflection of a reality that can’t be seen with eyes that are merely looking forward. That reflection can, however, point out the obvious flaws and indicate to the viewer that he/she may want to consider the need for a doctor. That’s what the Old Testament laws do. They point out the need for a spiritual doctor that we might not know without reflecting on those laws. Then, in the New Testament, we find that Jesus is the only person capable of providing a remedy for the infection of sin. That’s where Love comes in.

The prophets and the apostles all talk about sin a lot, so we sometimes think that their message is primarily about the things you can’t do because they are outside of God’s plan for us. Paul often writes, for instance, in all-encompassing categories of activities that are contrary to God’s original plan (such as in I Cor. 6:9). These are categories of behavior drawn from the Old Testament laws that include all of us. Because we are sensitive to our own rebellion and failings, we may fail to recognize what Paul is really saying. Because we don’t like one categorization of sin that may apply to us, we toss out the whole passage and ignore the underlying thrust of what the passage was intended reveal. The funny thing is that, if we are honest, we would have to admit that if we were to exclude that one part of the passage we don’t like, we would STILL be covered and accused by other parts of the passage! In a simpler passage to the Romans Paul says it more clearly when he write that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  It’s as simple as that. All the prophets and all the apostles do the same when they speak of sin. Their words are meant to be a mirror that reflects who we are and what we’ve done, to show us that we are in need of something more than our own efforts to gain salvation. That’s where Jesus comes in. That’s where love comes in and takes hold of us. Jesus came as the fullness of love and died on the cross for our sins because of that love. Paul tells us that those who accept that sacrifice become “new creations “in Christ (II Cor. 5:17), and above all, that means we become creatures where the love of Christ is abundantly reproduced for others to see. That love, in turn, becomes the greatest testament or proof of our relationship with God. That’s what characterizes our lives and guides our activity. Let me share with you what Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This chapter of scripture is the truth that lies at the core of Paul’s entire theology and emerges from Jesus’ own teaching where he said (Matt 22:37) that the greatest commandment was to

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 It’s the same truth that other prophets and apostles also saw (Deut 6:5). There are certainly other theological issues we can speak about within the microcosm of Paul’s teachings, but this particular truth reveals what he understood to be the macrocosm out of which God’s plan and purpose originated. This was a plan and a purpose that is played out in Jesus’ substitutionary and atoning death on the cross. Without that love being displayed in Jesus, we are lost, and just as truly, if that love is not being displayed in our lives, we are just as lost. Why, because when a person becomes an authentic Christian, the love of Jesus is reproduced in his/her life. If it’s not there, it’s a good bet Jesus is not there. It’s a truth that the Bible makes clear, and a truth that is available to all who ask, to the gangbanger as much as to the athlete, the lawyer, or the doctor.

After thinking about all this, I believe that people misunderstand the purpose of the law and the commandments of God. We have all heard people say that God hates this and God hates that. In all honesty, I’m convinced that God does not like, appreciate, or condone certain behaviors. The word “hate” has been used to describe God’s lack of appreciation for behaviors that he is not pleased with. Those include anger, pride, selfishness, lying, theft, and a whole host of other activities that he has not sanctioned. All of us are more than covered by that list alone, to which many more “thou shalt nots” could be added. The point is, however, that God is larger than his lack of appreciation for what we have done wrong. In the end, God provided a force that outweighs hate and that force is love. That is why Paul can write in Romans 13:8-10:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

In the end, these lists and descriptions of sin, these rules and commandments, are not meant so much to harangue and castigate us about sin, but to reveal to us our true nature and to make us aware that our nature has led us far beyond the bounds of God’s intentions for our lives. Although the lists of commandments can seem stunningly harsh, I am convinced that the list of commandments and expectations found in the Bible are not intended to show that God hates us because it’s clear throughout the Bible that he loves us. That’s clear in both the Old and New Testaments. If there is anything that he hates it is the separation that sin brings to the relationship between him and us, and the Bible is all about restoring that relationship. That’s why 2 Peter 3:9 states that:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The commandments of God are not meant to be so much a promulgation of hatred and punishment as it is an explanation of the rift between us, more of an invitation to safety and deliverance.  They are meant to serve more as an explanation of why the sacrificial death of Jesus was necessary. They are meant to show us just how short we fall in terms of meeting God’s demands on our lives, and are intended to lead us to the knowledge that it is humanly impossible to achieve the perfection needed to share in God’s abode. That list of commandments is meant to lead us to the answer and not to keep us from the answer.

 So, what has the mirror of God’s word showed you of sin in your life? Have all the things you’ve done wrong vexed you? Have your murders haunted you? Has your adultery gnawed at your conscience? Have your sexual relationships led to an unfulfilling lifestyle? Have you harbored malicious thoughts that, while never carried out, have influenced other behaviors? Have your thefts burdened you with guilt? Has your anger and hatred hindered your ability to form productive relationships? Have your misconceptions left you farther from God instead of nearer? Does life seem hopeless with everyone else holding the power cards? If so, I want you to recall that there was a thief on the cross next to Jesus when he died. He was hopeless, dying indignantly, reviled, penniless, and mocked. In a last act of desperation, the thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his Kingdom.  Jesus replied back saying, “I tell you now, that this very day you will be with me in paradise.” With those words, Jesus trumped all the bad things that the thief had ever done to other people, as well as all the bad things others had ever done to him. At the last minute, Jesus used his own passion to trump the expected outcome of the thief’s crucifixion and death. Instead of hopelessness and pain, we see in that moment the promise of hope and joy that only Jesus can bring. Love trumps all. And it’s the same for you.

When Jesus took our sin upon himself and died on the cross, he cornered the market on trump cards so that he could make a trump card available to you, and to me. His life and death, and his resurrection, showed just how willing he is to play the trump card on our behalf. This is a card each of us can call on. And even if we are in the deepest pit of hopelessness, like the thief on the cross, we can call for Jesus to play that trump card at any time. Satan thought that he had defeated Jesus by nailing him to the Cross, but all he did with that action was to assure us of the ability to play the trump card and win, even when we’re holding absolutely no chips.

So, the next time you go to- to-toe with Satan in the game of life, remember the trump card and who holds it. You don’t hold it in your hand, but you have access to the one who does. Remember that in this game Jesus ‘death changed the rules and introduced a new element to the game, the substitutionary player. Even when don’t possess the card yourself, you can call on Jesus. He’s your lifeline and when he takes your place in the game, he WILL play the trump card. Inexplicably and undeservedly, you win. Of course, while you’re playing your hand, Satan will try to overwhelm you with all his bluster and try to get you to throw it all in. He’ll try to get you to forget about who it is that holds the trump card. He seems to have a strong case.  At first, he’ll throw down the Ace of Spades and say, “You murdered someone, maybe more than one.” Then, he’ll throw down the Ace of Diamonds and say you’re an adulterer, you had sex with so many partners you could never clean yourself up.” Then he’ll throw down the Ace of Clubs and say, “You’ve led so many people astray that God could not possibly want to have a relationship with you. And for good measure, if you’re not feeling bad enough already, he’ll throw down the King of Spades and the King of Diamonds and say, “ You’re a drug dealer and got no education, man, you’re a loser, you got nothin’.” He’ll try to close the conversation with something like, “God hates you so just give up and throw it all in!” You sit back and think. In essence Satan is right. You’ve got very little and you deserve to have even the very little you possess to be taken away from you. You deserve to lose it all. But that’s when you remember that Jesus is standing there right behind you with that trump card. That’s when you can smile and let Jesus stand in for you. It’s when you, like the thief on the cross, let Jesus trump everything bad you’ve ever done, and then let him trumps everything bad others have done to you! So next time you pull out the scorecard and see all the demerits; when you start to think about how unsalvageable and irretrievable you are, that’s when you call on Jesus and ask him to get in the game for you. James says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). In terms of what we’re talking about here, play that trump card and see Satan’s smirk turn to fear. Jesus will always play the trump card on your behalf, if you ask, and when he does, it’s game over. Love trumps all. You win. That’s when you get up and walk away from the table for good. That’s when you repent of all your “gambling” ways and allow Christ to call your game . From that point on, it doesn’t matter who has the chips, doesn’t matter who runs the game at the table, doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. No more stacked games. Love trumps all, but only if you let it. The alternative is to give over control of your destiny to the one collects souls in this heavily rigged game of life. There’s hell to pay for betting on the wrong horse. My bets are on Jesus and the redemptive process where Love trumps all, so long as you play the trump card.

Two songs that speak to this issue:

What Love Really Means – J. J. Heller – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgGUKWiw7Wk

Testify to Love – Avalon – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRqo3xwgRnk

Ever wonder if God could really accept you? Ever think your sins are too bad to forgive? Ever wonder if there’s really a place in Heaven for a G?  If so, here’s a rap for you…

Take me as I am – Lecrae

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po3k6sPHeX0&feature=related