Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I'm sitting beside the Sea of Gallilee

Today we drove along the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, to Tiberias on the Sea of Gallilee. I took advantage of the opportunity to take a camel ride on the way.

We met all together in a theater at Bet She'an where the bodies of Saul and his sons were hung by the Philistines. There are extensive archeological digs there spanning many centuries.

We climbed to the top of a cliff that gave us a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee and then drove to our hotel, right at the edge of the sea.

It is awesome to see the places mentioned in Scripture. I think this trip will forever influence my reading of Scripture because I will be able to imagine the actual geographical scenes. It is amazing how close everything is. At it's widest point Israel is just 85 miles wide. It is similar in size to the state of New Jersey. Most of the events of the life of Jesus took place within just a few miles of where I am right now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Dead Sea Scroll Caves at Qumran

Muslim Beduin shepherds found remnants of scrolls of the Bible which had been written more than 2000 years ago in clay pots in this cave in August of 1952.

The tour of 600 people are divided into the twelve tribes of Israel. Each tribe travels together in a tour bus with several Moody staff and teachers and a local tour guide. Anita Lustria, who hosts the radio show Mid-day Connection and her husband Mike Murphy who is on staff at Christs’ Church of OakBrook are in my tribe.

This is me with some leaders from Moody who are on the trip. Mark Elfstrand, from the WMBI morning show, Dr. Winfred Neely, President Michael Easley, and Executive Vice President and COO, Ed Cannon.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Going to Masada today

I'm at the Dead Sea tonight

Clouds over the Mediterranean Sea

It's been a long day. I slept about an hour on the plane and then we put in a full day.

Here is my friend Christine at Joppa, the port Jonah left when he tried to sail for Tarshish instead of Ninevah, and where Peter saw the vision of the sheets and was visited by Cornelius on the roof of Simon the Tanner's home. The home was right in the vicinity of this little old village.

The most moving thing for me today was to visit the Judean wilderness where Jesus went after his baptism, where he fasted for forty days and was tempted by Satan. It was sooooo hot. I can't imagine fasting for that long in such a barren wilderness. Jesus was not playing! This is Bryan and Denise McNeil at the wilderness site. Bryan teaches philosophy at Moody.

I swam in the hotel pool that is filled with water from the Dead Sea. It’s amazing, like lying on a floater without the floater, or on a sea of nearly congealed jello.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Off to the Holy Lands

I'm going to the Holy Lands tomorrow with the tour group (600 people!) from Moody. If I can get internet access I hope to blog with pictures and a travelogue. If not, I will not be able to post until June 8th. I haven't been to the Middle East so I am very excited. I'm viewing it as a pilgrimage. Imagine... Jesus' feet actually touched the earth there! WOW!!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Should a ministry be run like a business?

I just ordered Jim Collins' new , book Good to Great and the Social Sectors. I like the title of his first chapter, "Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer".
We must reject the idea -- well-intentioned, but dead wrong -- that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become more like a business.

In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Irving’s Ice cream

Irving was on a mission. His mind was disabled with mental illness, but he was convinced if he lived frugally and saved nearly all of his disability checks he could amass enough wealth to eradicate the national debt when he died. So he bought government bonds every month, used recycled paper towels and ate at our homeless center every day.

I invited Irving and another of Breakthrough’s homeless service center guests to my house for Thanksgiving dinner a number of years ago. I prepared a wonderful feast with all of the holiday delights. Irving was a diabetic so I knew he wouldn’t be enjoying pie and ice cream with the rest of us. I found a package of six sugar-free ice cream sandwiches for him. At the end of the meal his eyes lit up as he savored what for him was a rare treat. As he left I gave him the other ice cream sandwiches to take home and he gratefully accepted.

The next day Irving was at my door. He handed over the ice cream. “Here, take these,” he growled, “they make me want to have them all the time.”

As I reflect on Irving’s ice cream I am inspired by his willingness to sacrifice his pleasures for his cause. However misguided he was in his mission, he was committed to it and willing to give up momentary pleasures to reach his goal. When he died in 2000 he left Breakthrough $500,000, convinced that the way to eradicate the national debt is to provide employment opportunities for the unemployed.

Irving’s ice cream has become a symbol for me. What am I willing to sacrifice to advance the kingdom of Christ? What’s your mission? Is ice cream getting in the way?
You can read Irving's story and see his picture at this link

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gently corrected

I told my lamb story (see my 4/21 post) to the staff yesterday and was told how condescending that story would be to our guests, that I am somehow a rescuer and that our homeless guests would follow me around like a lost little lamb who has found his mother. Yuk! That's not what I meant, but I can sure see how it would come across like that. I have so much to learn and feel like such an insensitive schmuck sometimes!

I actually have thought of myself more like the lamb in the story. I know how much I have needed the kindness and support of others and that is why I relate to the urgency of expressing Christ's compassion toward people who have been marginalized. But I recognize how important it is to communicate the recipriocity of our relationships. I have always received more than I have given from the people who come to Breakthrough. So many of our staff and participants have challenged my faith, corrected me and helped me to grow. When I have lead devotions at our homeless centers I am blown away by the deep faith most of them have. They have cried out to God for help and God has met them.

We are all in need of a breakthrough, especially me. I am so glad to have people around me who set me straight.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mothers Day Angst

I delivered the message at Catching Life Christian Church today. As I prepared I was very aware of the fact that many, if not most, in the congregation would be experiencing some pain this day, pain over the loss of their mothers through death or distance, pain over disappointing relationships with their mothers, pain over strained relationships with children, fractured families, and so on.

I told them about the book I read to my girls when they were little by P. D. Eastman, entitled, Are You My Mother? Just before the little bird cracks out of his shell, his mother leaves in search of food. Not knowing who his mother is, the bird begins to search for her. He comes upon a kitten, a hen, a dog and a cow and asks each of them, “Are you my mother?” He even thinks a huge excavator is his mother, runs excitedly up to it and shouts, “Here I am mother” only to be disappointed again. Finally he finds his real mother, tells her all about his adventures and declares, “You are a bird. You are my mother”.

This mother search is a familiar one for many of us, and especially for those whose families have been broken or marred by abuse and neglect. Many go through life in search of arms that will hold, comfort and nurture. Adults who have not “found their mothers” can get into troubled relationships while trying to extract love from excavators that leave them cold and uncared for.

The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well had been in a series of damaging relationships. She finally gave up on marriage all together and lived with a man. Certainly filled with shame and disappointment, she came to draw water in the middle of the day to avoid the village gossipers. There she met Jesus. He spoke to her of living water that would spring up inside her innermost being and give her the joy and fulfillment she was searching for.

Psalms 68:8 tells us that God sets the lonely in families.

In Psalm 27:10, David declares, “When my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up”. The phrase, “take me up” means “to receive, to gather, to be brought into association with others”.

Jesus is the one who meets our deepest longings, but he does so by bringing us into association with others, the church, Christ's body.

The image of Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 comes to mind. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

A similar image is found in the first eleven verses of Psalm 91. It speaks of finding protection, safety, shelter and rest in the shelter of the Most High. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." In that place we are protected from the terror of night, the pestilence that stalks in the darkness and the plague that destroys at midday.

Who is under those wings? Anyone who wants to be, the willing. Jesus sadly longs for those who are not willing to be gathered in.

I ended with the story of the statue that stood outside a church in England that was destroyed during World War II. When they tried to reassemble the statue after the war they were able to piece everything together except for the arms. Rather than creating new arms for the Jesus statue, they placed a sign under it that read, "Jesus has no arms but ours".

And so the church is Christ's arms today, welcoming in the bruised and broken, the forsaken and the lonely, drawing us all closer to the heart of Christ where we find our mother.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Eugene Peterson on Spiritual Formation

I just listened to a great message by Eugene Peterson entitled, "Why Spiritual Formation Is Not An Option".
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life". The Jesus way, wedded to the Jesus truth produces the Jesus life. We can't proclaim the Jesus truth and do it in any old way we like. Jesus as the way may be the most frequently evaded metaphor in the Christian life. Jesus as the truth gets far more attention in our circles of teaching and worship. A major concern... involves attentivenesss and guidance into the Jesus way. The Jesus way is always and everywhere incarnational, which in plain language means local and ordinary, place and time. Everything we say and do as Christians takes place in the neighborhood and with personal relationships, work place, familiy. It is not enough to speak the truth of Jesus or motivate people to do Jesus things. We have to both speak the truth and motivate the actions in the Jesus way, the way Jesus did it, the way Jesus said it... Is the Christian life LIVED?

People are fed up with leaders and friends who talk learnedly and officially about God, but show little evidence of being interested in God. And people are fed up with leaders and friends who are full of advice and instruction, telling us how we should behave, but show little evidence of being interested in us. Their ideas about the truth of God don't seem to be connected to any relationship with God. Their ideas about how we should behave don't seem to have much to do with any concern about us.
Lord, help me to live the Jesus way, locally and ordinarily to the glory of God.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Seeing social action as worship - Isaiah 58

Since I have been in ministry with homeless people through Breakthrough I have been drawn again and again to Isaiah 58, especially verses 6-12...
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

8 "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
There is so much packed in those verses, such as, putting faith into action, not pointing fingers, stopping oppressive practices and, of course, offering food and shelter.

The "then" part of the "if-then" clauses is not so much that others are blessed, but that our lives are changed when we care for the hungry, the naked, and those in need of shelter. Our light shines forth, God guides and strengthens us, satisfies our needs, we are like a well-watered garden, etc. Cool stuff!

But the chapter is not about social action. If you read the verses that proceed it, it is really about worship, seeking God, knowing God's ways, wanting God to come near. Ah-hah... social action as worship! We care for the practical physical needs of oppressed people out of our love and worship of God and wanting to be near God! WOW! It's as much an act of worship as the courses we sing on Sundays!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Breakthrough's kids reading scores are rising

When we started tracking the reading scores of the kids in Breakthrough's Nettie Bailey Student Achievement after school program two years ago, only 26% of them were reading at or above their grade level. The scores have now risen to 57%. Educational excellence will open many doors for their future. We really can make a difference. We are looking for more caring tutors.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The increasing need for services for homeless men

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun Times reported today that the New Ritz Hotel at 1007 S. State will be closing soon, displacing the 110 men who have been paying $15/night or $210/month to live there. These men will not have many options for housing. The city is in the process of reducing the number of emergency shelter beds, opting to focus on developing permanent affordable housing instead. My concern is that the shelters and flop houses are closing before there are enough affordable units to take their place and that there are not enough supportive service dollars being allocated to ensure the ongoing success of the formerly homeless residents who are housed.

This makes our work at Breakthrough with men especially important right now. We are rehabbing a facility which will provide interim housing for thirty men while they are getting the counseling and employment training they need to get back on their feet.

We can sit and howl at the darkness or we can get up and do something about it. We still need to raise a million dollars for the building. It's an opportunity to step up to the challenge.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More on money and Chicago schools

The Chicago Reporter has a couple of great articles about the difficulties Chicago schools face. The cover story article compares Lincoln Park High School which has 10 science labs with Farragut which has one.

The schools in communities where residents are poor have to spend so much on things like tutoring and remedial programs, as well as preschool, special education, transportation and free lunch, that they have little left for much else. The article compares these schools to schools in Western Springs and Northbrook where there is money to spend on well-educated teachers, access to technology and programming in the fine arts, sports and extracurricular activities.

The second article tells the story of Mary McLeod Bethune elementary school at 3030 W. Arthington in East Garfield Park, my neighborhood, where the unemployment rate is 23% and the median household income is $24,216.
Principal Charlotte Stoxstell said she is stuck trying to choose between spending time and money on children’s emotional needs and pouring her energy and resources into academics. Those conflicting spending demands were apparent on Feb. 14, 2006, when Stoxstell discovered a fifth-grader who was not wearing the school uniform. The girl’s mother failed to get the uniform ready because an uncle was killed the night before in the alley behind her house.

The principal spent much of the rest of the day with the girl, a sister and her brother, making sure they had some time to talk with the school’s social worker. “It is not the first time this has happened,” Stoxstell said. “One mother told me she sent her kids to school so she would have time to make funeral arrangements. But how is a child supposed to learn after something so traumatic happens?”

Then, at the end of the day, a teacher mentioned to Stoxstell that the girl’s cousins---the children of the man killed---were also Bethune students and also were at school that day.

On the next day, Stoxstell focused on making sure that the murdered man’s children met with a social worker. Only this took some extra calling around because it wasn’t the day Bethune’s social worker was scheduled to be there. The social worker is assigned to three schools and spends two days a week at Bethune.

Bethune is one of the worst performing schools in the system with just 19 percent of the students performing at or above grade level in reading, math and science on state standardized tests.

It hurts to be excluded

In April a T4G "Together for the Gospel" conference was held in Louisville. 2000 Christian leaders attended who have a legitimate heart to see the gospel of Jesus Christ spread throughout the world. But the question is, what kind of gospel? Women were excluded. Sixty of them happened to register before the exclusion of women was pronounced and they were asked to give up their registrations so men could take their places. The message... women are excluded from carrying the gospel. This is not the true gospel. Check out Psalms 68:11 in the New American Standard Version, "The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Disadvantaged kids get sick more often

So says a new study highlighted in the Chicago Trib this morning.
Children having three main social disadvantages--poverty, low parental education and single-parent household--were four times more likely than children with none of these risk factors to be in poor, fair or good health, as opposed to very good or excellent health.