Friday, March 30, 2007

Afire with God

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every bush afire with God
But only he who sees takes off his shoes
The rest sit around it and pick blackberries.

                 Elizabeth Barett-Browning

Don't forget tomorrow's workshop

Love Perseveres

African American men are in deep trouble. In the city of Chicago only 35% of them graduate from high school. Of the few who enter college, only 22% of them actually graduate. A recent study indicates that most of those who do graduate from college are from countries outside of the US. Among those who have dropped out of high school, in 2004, 72% were unemployed and 21% were incarcerated. By their mid-thirties six out of ten high school dropouts have a prison record. This cradle to prison to death pipeline is a disaster that must be stopped.

If my house was on fire and my grandkids were in it, I would have no fear. I would rush in and do all I could to find them and bring them to safety. Isaiah 58:7 urges us to “not to turn away from our own flesh and blood”. When we turn away from the plight of African American men, we fail to recognize them as our flesh and blood. We don’t have the love that will respond in a crisis. I Corinthians 13:7 tells us that “love perseveres”. Love perseveres through danger, through discomfort, through suffering, it overcomes our fear and calls us to action.

I think many of us want to show the love of Christ, but we just don’t know what to do. We stand by helpless while the house is on fire. What are the actions that will bring change? Is there any hope for black men in the city?

Here's what Breakthrough is doing ...
  • We are teaching young black boys to read at their grade level
  • We are building a peer network around black boys that values educational achievement
  • We are preparing young black men for college and helping them with scholarships
  • We are creating high expectations and helping black boys live those expectations
  • We are ensuring that black boys have a strong spiritual base
  • We are providing positive experiences for black boys in an atmosphere of support

How you can help...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Lost Generation of Black Boys

Phillip Jackson, Executive Director of the Black Star Project in Chicago has posted an article with more grim details about the plight of Black boys in America.
There is no longer a need for dire predictions, hand-wringing, or apprehension about losing a generation of black boys. It is too late. In education, employment, economics, incarceration, health, housing, and parenting, we have lost a generation of young black men. The question that remains is will we lose the next two or three generations, or possibly every generation of black boys hereafter to the streets, negative media, gangs, drugs, poor education, unemployment, father absence, crime, violence and death.

Most young black men in the United States don’t graduate from high school. Only 35% of black male students graduated from high school in Chicago and only 26% in New York City, according to a 2006 report by The Schott Foundation for Public Education. Only a few black boys who finish high school actually attend college, and of those few black boys who enter college, nationally, only 22% of them finish college.
He goes on to say some pretty challenging things about how society and the church is failing them and how even the African American community is neglecting them. "Worst of all is the passivity, neglect and disengagement of the black community concerning the future of our black boys. We do little while the future lives of black boys are being destroyed in record numbers."

Here are his suggestions...

Short term
  • Teach all black boys to read at grade level by the third grade and to embrace education.
  • Provide positive role models for black boys.
  • Create a stable home environment for black boys that includes contact with their fathers.
  • Ensure that black boys have a strong spiritual base.
  • Control the negative media influences on black boys.
  • Teach black boys to respect all girls and women.

Long term
  • Invest as much money in educating black boys as in locking up black men.
  • Help connect black boys to a positive vision of themselves in the future.
  • Create high expectations and help black boys live into those high expectations.
  • Build a positive peer culture for black boys.
  • Teach black boys self-discipline, culture and history.
  • Teach black boys and the communities in which they live to embrace education and life-long learning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The House

Our latest podcast, Breakthrough Stories, featured Phil Jackson from the House in Lawndale. You can click on the picture below to visit their web site.

Here's the podcast...

Monday, March 26, 2007

TIME magazine makes a case for teaching the Bible in school

The cover of TIME magazine caught my eye. Here's a link to the article. The author makes the surprising case that it should be.
"Should the Holy Book be taught in public schools? Yes. It's the bedrock of Western culture. And when taught right, it's even constitutional."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lightly Made Plans

I wrote some plans down for myself back in January, but was challenged this week through my reading of Scripture to revisit them. Here's why.

Paul asks two penetrating question in 2 Corinthians 1:15. He says, "Did I plan lightly? Did I plan in a worldly manner?"

A quick study of the word "lightly" looks like it is the only place it is used in the New Testament and means, "quickly, lightly, with fickleness of mind". And in a "worldly manner" would mean "of physical origin, without divine influence".

He goes on to make it clear that when our plans are of divine origin, God "guarantees what is to come". (v21)God is faithful and makes us stand firm, anoints us, owns us, and puts the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

I want to know that my plans are inspired by God and that there is no fickleness in my resolve to work toward their fulfillment. I want that seal, that guarantee of the Spirit. I think I may be planning too lightly and in a worldly manner.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Daniel Hill's message on Faithonomics

This is a great message from Daniel Hill of the River City Community Church about the shalom that God wants to bring to our world through us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who Jesus Chose

If you haven't read the comments to the post below, make sure you do. They are very interesting. The acknowledgement that we cannot spend equal time with everyone is a good one. Jesus chose to pour himself into a few. But the notion that some people are eights and nines and more worthy of our time than the twos or threes is, as the commenter says, "Hogwash". It brought to mind this letter that leadership consultants would probably have sent to Jesus if they had been asked for advice.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.


Jordan Management Consultants

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Did Jesus have favorites?

Check out this interview with Andy Stanley and John Maxwell on Catalyst TV and tell me what you think. (You can right click on this link and "Save Target As" to download the video file.)

The Fire and Music of Scripture

"By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet."

                               Thomas Merton

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fundraising Ethical Dilemmas

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to operate Breakthrough. We have an operating budget of two and a half million each year. Since most of our revenue comes from individuals, we usually don't know for sure what our income will be. We try to get multi-year commitments, but we are dependant on people who believe in our mission and feel moved to give. We are daily counting on the Lord to provide what we need. So far we have never missed a payroll even though we have had to make difficult decisions to cut back on expenses several times. I feel the weight of the nearly fifty staff who depend on Breakthrough to pay their mortgages and rents and put food on their tables, not to mention the $15,000 a month it takes just to provide for their health insurance.

So here's the dilemma. People give for emotional reasons, so we are constantly looking for that emotional hook that will move people to unleash their donations. Many of us care deeply about social justice issues and recognize that there are overarching systemic and institutional forces that are locking our homeless guests in poverty. But talking about those issues is not going to generate the same response that we will get from talking about the transformed lives our our guests and participants. The stories that will get the greatest response in terms of donations are those where we can point to dramatic life change that happens as the result of our work. Of course, for most of our participants, the changes are quite gradual and often take years and involve numerous setbacks that would not "sell well" to donors.

So there is temptation, temptation to say what we know people want to hear for the sake of funding the ministry, temptation to tell the stories with a bit of exageration, temptation to portray our community as desperate for outside help, temptation to settle for emotional appeals rather than to do the hard work of bringing people along on the justice journey.

Anyone else feel this angst? Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nickelback: If Everyone Cared

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

Friday, March 16, 2007

Timothy Keller: Our New Global Culture

Here's a link to an interesting article by Timothy Keller entitled, Our New Global Culture: Ministry in Major City Centers. He says ministries in city centers will be effective if they:
  • Hold the historic Christian gospel—orthodox and
    Biblical in doctrine and practice, but are neither
    legalistic nor liberal, neither doctrinalist nor
    pietist, neither individualistic nor collectivistic.

  • Have a positive regard for the city; recognize that it
    is the most strategic possible place for ministry.

  • Neither over or under adapt to the culture of those
    in their surrounding neighborhood and culture.

  • Are intensely, creatively evangelistic and effective
    in reaching not just people who are already
    traditional or conservative but who are very

  • Relentlessly emphasize and seek to build strong,
    “thick” counter-cultural Christian community in
    cities, especially through cell groups.

  • Are holistic, ministering in both word and deed to
    their community and the poor in extremely creative
    and generous ways.

  • Have a bias toward being multi-ethnic—seek to be
    at least as multi-ethnic as their neighborhood.

  • Are arts and culture-friendly; both supportive of
    Christian witness in “secular work” and willing to
    train people for cultural leadership, not just church

  • See church planting as a ministry as natural and
    important as discipleship, music, education, and
    pastoral care.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Triumph of Mercy

“Mercy triumphs over judgment” James 2:13
A participant in one of our BUILD groups has moved into the neighborhood near our East Garfield Park campus. He was reflecting on a significant change in attitude he experienced after getting to know the struggles of his neighbors. A fourteen-year-old girl in the community told him she was pregnant and was considering having an abortion. While he is solidly anti-abortion, her situation caused him to have an internal struggle.

“It’s easier to be judgmental,” he said, “because then you can just walk away. My wife and I had to think long and hard before we could say to her that if she would have the baby we would be there to help her to raise it. We knew that would mean a significant long term sacrifice from us. She has had the baby and we are helping her. It’s costing us.”

The word for judgment means “a separating, sundering, separation”. Mercy means “kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them”. It is easier to separate ourselves from others, isn’t it, to dismiss them as lazy, or unworthy sinners, undeserving of our help? Then we can walk away in our self-righteousness and not be bothered by the messiness of broken lives.

God calls us to be merciful, to walk alongside those in trouble so that they can experience God’s mercy in the same way we have. That may cost us something.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An act of love inspires more

Keri Wyatt Kent wrote an article about the guy who came to Breakthrough who needed a coat. We didn't have a coat for him, but at that moment, someone walked in with a big beautiful down coat and said, "This morning while I was praying God led be to bring this to Breakthrough. Can you use it?"

Keri decided collecting coats was something she could do to help Breakthrough minister to people during these cold winter months. Two weeks ago she started a coat drive at her tennis club and through sending emails to her friends. Today she brought nearly 100 coats to our Breakthrough Joshua Center. That's putting faith into action! Thanks Keri!

"My people owned people"

Here's a link to Mark Brown's column in yesterday's Chicago Sun Times. He writes about his disturbing discovery that his ancestors owned slaves and that as he grows older he realizes how recent that ugly chapter of history really is, that we are only two lifetimes removed from slavery. Robert Wiley, our Men's Services Director gave me the article today. He said he appreciated Brown's desire to take greater responsibility to become more sensitive about racial issues. "We don't want white guilt," he said, "just more sensitivity and opportunity."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Turnaround at Dodge School

The Sun Times ran an article yesterday about the wonderful progress being made at Dodge Renaissance School in East Garfield Park.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Wheaton College Student Goes Homeless for Spring Break

Some choose to go to South Beach over spring break. Kym Cramer, one of my students during the fall semester of Wheaton in Chicago, spent her spring break sloshing around the streets of Chicago and living in shelters. Here's a link to the article she wrote about her experience.

Article on the CT site

Keri Wyatt Kent wrote a nice article about me and Breakthrough for Today's Christian Woman magazine that has recently been included in the Christianity Today web site. Believe me, I'm no hero, just an unworthy servant doing my duty!

Just unworthy servants

"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Luke 17:10

Monday, March 05, 2007

More insights on Shechem

My retreat speaking went very well. It was a great gift from God. The women were very warm and responsive and I had a great time.

On my drive up to Lake Geneva I was reflecting on the fact that Shechem, where Jacob's well is located, was also the spot where God established the covenant with Abram in Genesis 12. "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing... and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

When Abram asked God how he could know that this blessing would happen in chapter 15, God tells him to get a heifer and split it in two. Jeremiah 34:18-19 explains the symbolism. Basically, if you break this covenant, this is what will happen to you, you will be torn in half like this heifer. God walked between the two halves of the heifer as a blazing torch symbolizing his commitment to the covenant.

So I was driving and thinking about the significance of the covenant especially in light of the fact that the woman at the well had experienced five broken marital covenants and must have been experiencing incredible pain. So much so that she had given up on covenants and had decided to live with a guy without marriage. She must have come to the well at noon to avoid having to see anyone because of her shame. There she meets Jesus who loves her enough to go out of his way to be there for her.

Just then Iona came on my car CD player with the song "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" by Isaac Watts.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Suddenly in my mind popped the words of Jesus at the last supper when he took the bread, broke it in half, and said, "Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you."

Wow! Out of love, Jesus was broken in half like the heifer to free us from the brokenness of our severed covenants!
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

River City Podcast

Heres the link to get to the new podcast for the River City Community Church through iTunes. I highly recommend that you download Daniel's five part series on prayer from January 7th through February 4th. It was some of the most refreshing and practical thoughts I have heard on prayer in a very long time. It made me want to pray!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Isaiah 58: Knowing God

Click below to listen to my message at the River City Community Church in Chicago on February 11, 2007.

Please pray for me!

I am speaking at a women's retreat for the Village Church of Barrington and really need you to pray for me! I have asked you all to pray for me before and I really can tell the difference when there is an army of prayer support around me. I am speaking about "Encounters With Jesus".

The first one Saturday night will be about the woman at the well. I will talk about the relationships forged at wells, Abraham's servant meeting Rebekah, Jacob showing off to Rachel by rolling the stone from the well, Moses drawing water and impressing Zipporah, etc.

This well, Jacob's well, is also where Dinah was violated by Shechem and her brothers had all the men of Shechem circumcized and killed. The well is also in the area where Joseph went to look for his brothers and was thrown into an empty cistern. I will talk about relationships gone bad, the rejection, emptiness, and barrenness this woman must have felt at losing love five times until she finally gave up on commitment and just lived with a guy. Empty cisterns vs. wells of living water. What brings living water into our lives? How do we keep our relationships fresh. We have the awesome opportunity to sit with Jesus at the well and experience the living water that flows out of our innermost being and displaces the guilt and shame of our brokenness.

Then on Sunday morning I will talk about the resurrection of Lazarus. How Mary and Martha didn't understand what Jesus was doing when he waited to come until Lazarus died, but that Jesus waited purposefully so that God would be glorified. Sometimes it seems like God doesn't show up when we call and we have to go through the valley of loss. We get to the end of our hope. The situations in our lives are beyond hope, they are dead, stinking dead. Yet Jesus would come and ask if we still believe, do we believe that God can resurrect any dead thing in our lives? How do we respond to the call of Jesus to "rise up"? What are the cycles of death that we are caught in and what would those situations look like if Jesus raised us to life? Do we really believe?

I am always a bit overwhelmed at the responsibility of speaking and having something meaningful to say to a group of people, but the preparation time is always a time when I learn so much. I am the one who benefits most. This morning God gave me Hebrews 13:15, "Through Jesus therefore, let us continually offer to Gad a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name." The "fruit of lips" seems to imply that the words are the outward evidence of inner growth. My speaking must come from deep within, not just flowery words. And it all comes "through Jesus".

OK, back to my study. Please help me by praying for my focus and clarity and that God would give me the skill to be able to craft a structure that harnesses the thoughts and that God would be glorified through me.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Link Day Reflections

I went to Dominick's in Lawndale this evening and was surprised to find the store unusally busy. Then I remembered. It's the first of the month, the day the Link cards get replenished for the month. Link cards are used like debit cards and have replaced food stamps in Illinois. I know people wait anxiously for the beginning of the month, sometimes using the food to pay off debts or win favors with friends, or to sell for cash so they can buy things like toilet paper and diapers, but mostly to replenish barren cupboards and fill hungry children.

Link is an interesting name for the card. It is othen the lack of links, the experience of isolation that keeps people in poverty. I wish they could experience a different kind of link, links to opportunities, links to support networks, links to employment, links to education. Then we could cut up the cards and celebrate the end of poverty with a Link Day holiday.