Archive for the ‘Responsible Christianity’ Category

Here are two organizations to remember if/when you are looking for help, especially on the South Side. The first organization is called is Sunshine Gospel Ministries. Find more information at:

http://www.sunshinegospel.org/

The second is Friends for Youth. While FFY is a citywide organization, it has an outreach on the South Side at 63rd and cottage Grove. Find out more at:

http://chicagofriendsforyouth.org/Mission.html

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A Wall Around Chicago

A downtrodden city, rife with crime; citizens under duress and vulnerable to gangs of merciless criminals; no protection and victims of all sorts of vice, Chicago, Maybe, but the city I had in mind was Jerusalem around 400 B.C. Here was a town that was in ruins with few prospects for revitalization. Here was a city without hope. Yet, in the ruins of trodden-down Jerusalem we find a blueprint for a Biblical cure to the urban blight and broken-down walls of our own city. Tucked away in thes pages of scripture is an answer to Chicago’s problem with guns, drugs and gangs, the means to engage them and win.

To gain an insight into the underlying origins of this blueprint we have to look into the past and we do that by reading the historical narrative contained in book of Nehemiah. At the beginning of that manuscript Nehemiah, a Jewish cup-bearer to the great Persian king Artaxerxes, hears that Jerusalem, his ancestral city, has become a downtrodden blight on the countryside . Taking the challenge to heart, he sets about to correct that travesty. He prays and fasts for an answer. Finally, he petitions the Persian king for permission to go back to Jerusalem to repair its fallen and decrepit wall.

When Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and sees the broken down wall for himself, he is grieved, but he doesn’t fall into despair. In order to reinvigorate the city, he has to first repair the walls around the city and establish a defensive perimeter that protects the city from its enemies. He assigns rebuilding efforts along various portions of the wall to different tribes or groups of people. The work is not without problems, however, as there are those who resist Nehemiah’s efforts. The repairers of the walls are forced to work with weapons at their sides in order to repulse hostile efforts to retard the work. Some adversaries, such as Sanballat and Tobiah, were satisfied, even happy, with the broken-down character of Jerusalem because it suited their purposes of domination and control. Civic instability and religious impotence furthered their ends. Their attempts to impede or sabotage work on the walls grew out of the realization that safety and security in Jerusalem would mean an end to their domination.

In spite of the apparently desperate condition of Jerusalem, God had a plan, not to mention a greater purpose for the city. He also had his man, Nehemiah. In retrospect we see how God acted in Jerusalem through Nehemiah, and we begin to understand the grander purpose for Nehemiah’s plan. Not only did it save Jerusalem, but the outworking of his purposes in Jerusalem have come down to us to provide hope and faith that God will similarly act in Chicago (as well as other cities) to abolish the evils underlying our urban nightmare. In the Book of Habakkuk (3:1-2), the prophet asks that God show him today the same miracles he demonstrated to his people in the ancient past. We echo those words as we ask God to act supernaturally in Chicago to end the nightmare of violence and bloodshed that plague our streets. We ask to see the miracles of yesterday played out again in our own day and in our own city. The Book of Nehemiah provides us with a blueprint for ending the violence and bloodshed. Just as in Nehemiah’s day, there are those who would subvert the laws for their own ends and keep us from rebuilding the city into the bastion of health and safety it should be. That being the case, how do we address gangs, drugs, guns, bloodshed, and violence? We take responsibity under God for rebuilding our neighborhoods, just as Nehemiah did, one stone at a time; all God’s people standing arm-in-arm to rebuild the city’s spiritual walls.

The blueprint is simple. Each community rebuilding the walls that protect its own neighborhood. There are thousands of churches in Chicago, each representing a portion of Chicago that needs repair. If each church can rebuild just their section of the wall, Chicago can be rebuilt in the image that God intended for it to take. You start like Nehemiah planned, in your own neighborhood, putting one brick in place at a time, but in this case, it’s one life at a time. God has placed us where we are for a reason and that reason is to bring renewal that will glorify him. We can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the fight. As members of the heavenly city we know that if there is an enemy surge in one area, reinforcements from another area can be brought to bear on the attack. Christians make up a huge percentage of the city and must leverage those numbers in the face of drugs, violence, and gang activity. As we do that, we can rest in the assurance that God is with us and empowers our efforts. Nothing is possible without that directive and power. Still, as in the case of Nehemiah, God sent people to do the work. He didn’t create a cyclonic wind to whip up the blocks and set them in place. He used people. The same is true in Chicago. While we have God’s blessing, no his mandate, in this effort, he still calls on Chicagoans to do the work. So hit the streets armed with the weapons of faith and see God in action. People say that this is too tall a task, that it can’t be done, that there are not enough resources, etc. They said the same thing to Nehemiah and even threatened to undo his work, but in the end, and with divine guidance, he finished the project ahead of schedule. Why should the same not be true for Chicago?

How do we show our commitment to this dramatic struggle? While we are committed in our hearts, is there a more visible way of demonstrating that commitment? Let me suggest that we pray for a special site, a place where God has us build an altar of remembrance to this effort. Perhaps the alter of remembrance should take the form of a wall. In Biblical times the men of God set up memorials to remind and instruct those who came later about what God did at the place where the momorial was set up. Again, I ask, why not in Chicago? C ould not Chicago churches join in this effort to rebuild our neighborhoods and commemorate it by joining with every other church in Chicago in laying a brick in a symbolic wall built on the spot God provides, a wall of protection and remembrance. We can build our own memorial wall for those who were victims of the violence, as well as those who stand up to rebuild in spite of naysayers and threats. We can build our Jerusalem wall as a tribute to the peace that is inherent in the name of Jerusalem, the “city of peace.”

I’d like to invite all those who would be part of this effort to join me in prayer and fasting for a place to build such a memorial, and in the meantime, to let those on this website know that you are committed to making this happen, committed to rebuilding the portion of Chicago that God has placed under your supervision. You are where you are because God placed you and your church there. May each of us begin to rebuild along the section of wall in front of us. So, whether your section of the wall is great or small, may God help you to be responsible for completing that portion of the wall, one brick at a time, one life at a time, one soul at a time, but knowing your efforts are part of the larger effort of building a spiritual wall in Chicago for all eternity.

As I come near the end of this blog entry, let me suggest that we go back and read the third chapter of Nehemiah. Think of the city as Chicago instead of Jerusalem. Place the name of your church or congregation in the space occupied by a group that rebuilt Jerusalem. By way of illustration let me place a few churches I am familiar in some of those slots. Willow Creek Chicago, for instance, would be one group rebuilding the wall of faith along the lakefront. Moody Church is an example of a group rebuilding on the near north side. New Life Covenant Church and Lawndale Community church can be seen rebuilding walls on the west side while Bryn Mawr Community Church and Salem Baptist church would be notable builders on the South Side. Go ahead, insert the name of your church in one of those spaces. There are hundreds of churches in Chicago and we must leverage those numbers to rebuild the spiritual wall around this city. Again, God didn’t send a mighty wind to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he used his own people to do that. Similarly, I believe he wants to use his people in Chicago to rebuild this spiritual wall as a testament to the power of the gospel for transforming even the most difficult of urban centers. Can we stand together in this? Will your congregation be one of the groups rebuilding Chicago? Will you lay a brick representing your church in our own Jerusalem wall memorial? Let me know.

In closing let me share the following thought which captures the essence of our challenge:

“Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do. I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment I sense God is giving me is something that I know I can handle, than it probably is NOT from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because he wants to demonstrate his nature, his strength, his provision, and his kindness to his people and to a watching world. This is the only way the world will come to know him.”

I would suggest to you that this is one of those “God-sized” projects. Are you on board?

Ron

i know that many of you who read this blog are Gs who are also believers in God and the LORD Jesus Christ. As believers, jesus gave us a commission to go as far as the ends of the world to take the Gospel (Good News) of salvation to every living soul. The fact is, however, that there are many people all around you who don’t know the power of salvation in Jesus Christ. God has given you and me the knowledge of salvation, the gift of his grace, and a vision of his love for us in the person of Jesus Christ. We don’t deserve it, its unmerited love, a love poured out on the cross, but imparted to us through the resurrection of Jesus and the empowerment of the spirit. Yet, in spite of the magnitude of this gift, many of us hold that love inside where it withers and dies. We need to understand that, if we are believers, that love was meant to be shared, that it should show through us and be the determining factor in how we live our lives. If we are not experiencing and sharing that love we may want to re-examine our lives.

I heard a message recently that talked about the love of God that was based on I Corinthians 13: 1-3, which states:

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.

In this message Pastor Colin Smith looked at the importance of love and showed from verse 1 that no matter what we think we possess spiritually, that without love we have nothing. In verse two we see that no matter what spiritual gifts we possess and no matter what are supposed spiritual standing may be,, if we do not have love, we are nothing,. Finally, in verse 3 we see that even if we give everything we have and offer the greatest sacrifices possible, even the death of our own bodies, that if we don’t have love, we will gain noting. The signficance of this is that we will one day stand before God ro answer for our livelove was not the central focus and motivator of our lives, we will 1) have nothing, 2) be nothing, and 3) gain nothing, It’s a very sobering thought.

As you read this, I hope you will pray for God to fill you again with his love and that it will overflow out of your life in a way that will touch the lives of those around you. If that happens, you will understand that the way to stop the violence in Chicago is with the love God wants to pour out and disperse across this city through you and other Gs throughout Chicago. I write this because I know God has been speaking to many of you about this very thing. My challenge to you is to listen to that whisper God has put in your ear and trust him enough to take his love and his message of salvation to every corner of Chicago. God has great plans for each of you and wants to use the Gs in Chicago to change the world for the better. It won’t be easy but God wants to use you in all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to make a difference. That’s what so many of you tell me you want to do, help your people and help your communities. Here’s your chance: drop the gun and pick up the Gospel. There’s only one way the world will change and that’s if YOU change it. Let the love of God take you to another G in need. That’s how the Gsus Nation grows, one G at a time. Make a difference where you are at by sharing the Gospel G to G.

In closing, I return to the commentary on I Corinthians 13 above and tell you that if you allow the love of God to fulfill its purpose in your heart and life, when you stand before God, you will 1) have everything, 2) be someone, and 3) gain everything. And when you look around to see all the other Gs that are there in the presence of God with you, there will be a grand exchange of smiles from G to G.

I’m ready to help,

Ron

ps. If you want to listen to Colin Smith’s entire message you can hear it by going to this link and clicking on on the Listen button:

http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/unlocking-the-bible-this-week/listen/why-does-love-matter-9925.html

This is a great blog (and it might even look a little familiar!).  Find it at:

http://iwasinprison.com/

You hear the daily stores about youth and gang-related shootings in Chicago and your mind begins to dull. You watch the rising death count and  you lose hope. You experience frustration and a sense that there is nothing you can do to make a difference in a world such as this. Yet, there IS something that YOU can do. I recently attended a meeting at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Young men up to 16 come through the doors of the Detention Center every day, some arriving and many departing. For those that are leaving incarceration, there is a harsh world awaiting them. Most will return to the Detention Center at east once, and most will graduate on the Cook County Jail in only a very short period of time. They swiftly move from petty infractions to major crimes that land them in jail with hardened criminals. In this way the ranks of the gangs and criminal elements are reinforced by a system overwhelmed with the mandate to teach and mentor these young men, but underwhelmed by volunteers and teachers. The Juvenile Detention Center is meant to be not so much a place of punishment as it is a place of restoration and second chances. At this point in time, these young people still have a chance to turn their lives around, to make something of themselves. Once they leave and graduate to Cook County Jail, however, that chance is usually lost forever. That’s why this is such an important time, and that’s where YOU come in. The Good News Prison and Jail Ministry that oversees ministry to these kids is in dire need of people who can serve as mentors and work to bring after-Care to the young men released from the juvenile Center. You could be one of those people, a mentor who helps the releasee to center his focus and work through the difficulties that face every young person, but which impacts those who have been detained even more. YOU can help mentor a young person and provide them with hope that they can make it, they can overcome the odds, and they can make a difference themselves. If you would be interested in finding out more about Good News Prison and Jail Ministry, go to their website at:

http://www.goodnewsjail.org/

The ministry to youths in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center is directed by Arthur Killingsworth. His e-mail address is:

arthur.killingsworth@goodnewsjail.org

His Office Telephone Number is:  (312) 433-7124

Also feel free to contact this website for more information

Ron

Cities of Lonesome Fear: God Among the Gangs

Cry of the Streets 

A Willow Creek Jail and Prison Ministry:

                                     Hebrews 13:3

“Don’t forget about those in prison. Suffer with them as though you were there yourself. Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain in your own bodies.”

http://prisonandjailministryconnection.blogspot.com/.v

Here are three sites that deal with exoneration of wrongfully convicted individuals.

The Innocence Project: http://www.innocenceproject.org/

The Exoneration project: http://theexonerationproject.org/

Center for Wrongful Conviction of Youths: http://cwcy.org/

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!

A new movie is coming out in the near future about the intertwined lives of Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson. The movie is called Thousand Pieces and is based on the book  Run, Baby, Run, the official biography of Nicky Cruz.  Information on the movie can be found at the following two websites:

http://www.runbabyrunmovie.com/main.php

http://thousandpiecesmovie.com/

There is an earlier “sanitized” film called The Cross and the Switchblade based on the book of the same name by David Wilkerson. The film is actually inspiring and worth a screening.  It’s a 70’s film that stars Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz , so it’s more on the “cute” side and not as” gritty” or realistic as a current movie on the same topic might be. Nonetheless, the film is worth watching to get a visual presentation of the story. See it at:

http://www.ovguide.com/movies_tv/the_cross_and_the_switchblade.htm

David Wilkerson impacted the life of Nicky Cruz and the gangs of New York, but he did much more, all because he was obedient to God’s whisper. If you want to change the world for the better, you might want to read this story about David Wilkerson’s journey of faith:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/aprilweb-only/rememberingdavidwilkerson.html

David Wilkerson, the man who impacted the life of Nicky Cruz so heavily, was killed yesterday in a car crash in Texas. The story of David and Nicky is told in both the Cross and the Switchblade and Run, Baby, Run. Lest you think that Nicky Cruz was the only person helped by this man of God, open the following link and read about what many many gang members, addicts, and average everyday people have to say about how God changed their lives through this man. These short tributes are proof that God is still in the business of changing lives, so if you’ve been looking for proof of that fact, just start reading! Dave Wilkerson has always been one of my heroes and now he’s with the LORD. We remain, however, and are asked to carry on the work he started at Teen Challenge. Read more at this site:

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2011/04/david_wilkerson.html

Here’s an interesting article on the relocation of gang members by churches. Something to think about. What do you think?

http://www.streetgangstyle.com/street_gangs/editorials/im-church-relocation-gang-members/

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!

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