Teaching through Nehemiah is affecting my prayer life. That's probably a good thing, right? Seriously, I never want to get to a stage of preaching where I'm doing "auto pilot" messages--messages I can teach without ever engaging my own heart.
In the first chapter of Nehemiah his response to the broken state of Jerusalem was to weep, pray and fast for four months. (I'm assuming this was a partial fast and not a miracle fast. The idea was that he kept fasting often throughout that time, not that he fasted constantly for 120 days.) At the end of the chapter Nehemiah's prayer is recorded in the biblical text. It starts with worship and then moves quickly into concentric circles of repentance:
Circle 3--the outer circle: "...confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you..."
Circle 2--the near circle: "...my father's house [has] sinned."
Circle 1--the small circle: "even I... have sinned."
What strikes me is not what Nehemiah prayed on day one of hearing the news about Jerusalem but what he is still praying 4 months later as he anticipates going to the king to make his bold request. Prayer sustained a deep burden in Nehemiah--a burden from God.
Nehemiah's heart became more convinced, not less convinced, of the need of repentance as time passed. (That's a lesson all by itself.) He brought the sins of the people/the city, the sins of his family and his own sins before God and grieved over them. I've begun praying consistently in that pattern in my own life.
Jesus, our city, the city of Chicago, has turned its back on you. We live our own way. We are full of theft, deception, hatred, immorality and innumerable other sins and yet we refuse to turn to You. We spend our time and our money on ourselves. We are unconcerned for the poor and broken. We have rejected you. Please, Jesus, don't reject us. Show us our sin so that we can repent as a city.
Jesus, our churches in this city have not given ourselves fully to you. We live somewhat religiously but we avoid the radical commands of your gospel. We have compartments for faith and compartments for work and family and we haven't let our love for Jesus define everything we do. We've compromised, lived similar to the world and failed to reach out to our city and show our city how to follow, obey and love Jesus.
Jesus, I have not given myself fully to you. I've often allowed ministry to be a replacement for sacrificial living. I've allowed my surroundings to define my heart rather than living solely in relationship to your holiness. Jesus, I've sought to do ministry in my own strength, with my own wisdom and have battled with a desire to simply service the church rather than serve the community in Jesus' name. I've neglected the broken in my community often under the excuse of busyness.
Jesus, please make me a part of the change in the spiritual atmosphere of the church and of my city that You desire. Show the city how to love Jesus through my life. Redirect my wrong patterns to patterns of faith, hope and love. Cause me to weep again and again over the city of Chicago.
Let me invite you again--join us in fasting from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday as we pray, repent and seek Jesus for the sake of our city.
Every now and then while tucking in the kids, I come up with a discussion question to hear my kids just share their thoughts--rarely serious, usually just fun. Tonight I gave Tyce this scenario:
Tomorrow morning when you wake up there is a plane out in the front that will take you anywhere you want in the world. You can have whatever money you need for the day and you can bring two friends. Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you bring?
Tyce thinks about it for a minute... "does it have to be a place that's real?" "Yes--real world only for this scenario." "Okay." More thought and wrestling. "Dad, this is hard--there are so many places."
"Okay, I know what I'd do. I'd go to Hawaii and go scuba diving. And I'd scuba dive for a giant clam shell and I'd take the giant clam shell and put it up on the shore. Then I'd get a coconut that was empty and put some sort of fruity drink in it and put in a straw and put a lemon on the side and I'd sit in my clam shell and drink it." Later he also mentioned that he'd float around in the hotel pool in his clam shell--of course. Where on earth did that come from? I'm pretty sure I don't know. Must be his mom's side of the family.
We got a good laugh about it and then I told Jaley while tucking her in. She just about rolled out of bed with laughter. Funny thing--what struck both Jaley and I when we heard Tyce's scenario was how detailed it was. That's him--when something is important to him, he sees the details very clearly.
So grab your giant clam shell and a coconut and toast the simple pleasures dreamed up by 8 year olds...
Here is an incredible email update sent to our pastoral team from Pastor Al Garcia after yesterday's grand opening at New Life Oak Forest:
Today was absolutely incredible. If you were there, you know it was a God thing. The New Life Oak Forest Grand Opening Launch was a huge blessing. We had a total of 565 in attendance. We maxed out our upper and lower level and also maxed out our tent on the lawn. There were cars lined up in both directions on 151st. Our parking lot was packed and people needed to park on the grass. The worship was spirit filled. The Gospel was preached and several people, maybe 20, on the three levels prayed a prayer for salvation.
We give all the glory to God! We bless Him and thank Him. I also want to thank all of you who have worked so hard to make this event a huge blessing for so many people who are hungry for God. We got many, many nice comments. Some of them included:
" This is the first time I have ever been in a church....I'm here because I got a flier" " I'm taking you up on your 3 week challenge, pastor" "I felt God drawing me to this place" "This is my first step away from the catholic church"
Every now and then I like to pass on articles that are insightful. Edward Simiyu, my Kenyan pastor friend, sent me a link to an article from Andrew Walls yesterday. It is a power-packed piece. Here's an appetite-whetting excerpt:
Well, this pattern does make one ask why Christianity
does not seem to maintain its hold on people the way Islam has. One
must conclude, I think, that there is a certain vulnerability, a
fragility, at the heart of Christianity. You might say that this is the
vulnerability of the cross. Perhaps the chief theological point is that
nobody owns the Christian faith. That is, there is no "Christian
civilization" or "Christian culture" in the way that there is an
"Islamic culture," which you can recognize from Pakistan to Tunisia to
Sometimes, God just lets me catch a glimpse of how He "has my back"--how He covers me when I'm forgetful or too busy and lose track of things. Today was one of those days.
I was talking with Mike, a member of our staff team, when it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't set an alarm for Stop, Drop and Pray, our noon "virtual prayer meeting". I felt a little panicky that I had missed it after challenging people to do it. Not a great leadership practice, or so I've heard. I quickly fumbled for my phone to check the time...
Woohoo! So we quickly gathered the staff and volunteers that were in the building and the 7 of us sought the Lord for about a half an hour together. It was a sweet time of prayer and a great way to begin our Friday noontime prayer in concert with the rest of the congregation.
I get excited thinking of a virtual prayer meeting like this each week. It is powerful to know that at noon today there were people from New Life Lakeview scattered all over the city who stopped their life of commerce and business and prayed. Some for a few minutes, some for a half hour, some for an hour even.
This morning our 6am prayer walk hosted by our leadership team was also a great time--its early but its blessed. We had two new faces, Charla and Jessica--welcome ladies! George and I prayed together as we walked through the neighborhood. Sometimes in the midst of prayer you just sense that God has honored that prayer time by being manifestly present. That was my sense as George and I walked and prayed this morning.
So together, we cry out to Jesus, seeking the welfare of the city. And we pray for Jesus' heart for our city--a heart that wept over Jerusalem. And so we too weep, fast and pray over the city of Chicago, believing that this city is a city that needs to love, listen to, obey and serve Jesus.
2 Sundays ago we began sharing an opportunity for our Lakeview location to give to valuable project among the Pokot people in Northern Kenya. We discovered this need firsthand when our Kenyan missions team spent time among the Pokot this summer.
Mike, Rachel, Marco, Victoria, Mena, Ken, Tony and Melissa saw for themselves the ancient, 40 year old, hand-operated water well that this large tribal group used to in order to access basic water needs. God has opened a door for us to help provide the funding for a new water well for the people. Water is basic.
Pastor Edward Simiyu and City Harvest Ministries are the ones leading the way and pioneering this project and the total funds that we've committed to provide is $11,000. Prior to last Sunday, between the trip leftover funds and giving over the two previous Sundays, we were able to wire City Harvest $5,000. Edward Simiyu and Pokot tribal members stand at the location of the new water well ready to dedicate the site before drilling. (Thanks Ben C. for taking the pic and Victoria M. for sending it to me.)
This past Sunday, the church gave $5,630.45!!! Wow! We're only a few hundred dollars from our total goal for phase 1 of this project after only 3 Sundays. Phase 1--Providing Water for Life.
Phase 2 is coming soon... Providing the Water of Life via an audio bible project! Total price tag? Approximately $30,000. Due date? Spring of 2008.
Wow. After several months of hard work, prayer, recruiting, tears, meetings, planning, late nights, opposition, evangelism, visitation and wrestling, the Mont Clare launch team saw God move powerfully through the Grand Opening celebration! The building seats a little over 200 "uncomfortably". On Grand Opening Sunday, there were 410 people celebrating and worshiping Jesus!
They were in the welcome center, the basement video overflow, the stairwell and even outside on the lawn with speakers piping the service outdoors. The children's ministry had to turn people away because they were over capacity. The team is already contemplating the possibility of needing to add a second service.
Pastor John shared some powerful stories of people connections from those who visited Sunday. One extended family who lived in the neighborhood their entire life experienced New Life Mont Clare as their first Christian church experience and they're coming back next week and bringing relatives.
A couple families from our Lakeview location invited friends/family from the Mont Clare neighborhood and then attended the Grand Opening with them to help them make a connection.
Saturday, the team went door to door in the community saying "hello" and letting people know about the grand opening. They received several inquiries from neighbors who've never attended the church about the possibility of a Spanish language service.
Incredible! I feel a real sense of excitement over the moving of God's Spirit in the opening of this new location. I'm not directly responsible for the work, but I feel a real sense of connection and ownership over what God is doing there. It is also deepening a sense of expectation in my heart about what Jesus wants to do all over Chicagoland--especially on the North Side--through life-giving churches who believe God and take risks to reach their communities.
The Jesus Movement is alive and well in Chicago. Pray for life-giving churches across this city who are taking bold steps right now to reach their community.
That's right--we are counting down the days to two new New Life locations launches within the next 10 days!
First up is a grand opening at New Life Mont Clare on the Western edge of the city. Pastor John and Pastor Josh and their team have been working hard to prepare for this new location and I am excited and expectant as they begin ministry in a community nearby New Life Melrose Park.
Then on the 28th of October our New Life South location will be relaunching in their first ever permanent home in Oak Forest! New Life Oak Forest--thank you Jesus!
What happens when worship space is torn down and broken? How does a wayward heart get restored to a place of vibrant spiritual living? Ezra is all about reclaiming the call to worship Jesus in the middle of the messy, broken circumstances of life. This week's message forms the backdrop for an extended study through the book of Nehemiah that begins next week. Rebuild. Worship.
Lena's 1st grade class is studying the history of Native Americans. Since she is our third child to be a part of Mrs. Larios' 1st grade class, we've been down this road before. It brought back memories of making a wigwam with Jaley out of a cut up car chamois & sticks and making a poster about weapons & implements of destruction with Tyce the following year.
Somehow as we talked around the dinner table, it sparked the idea to figure out Native American names for every member of the family--a name that would be descriptive and nature based. Here are 5 of our 6 names (we're still working on a name for one family member.)
Speaks with a Song
Runs Through the Trees
Can you connect the person with the name? Bonus point if you can come up with a good name for the unnamed family member.
Last night we had a "Step Up" meeting with our core ministry team at NL Lakeview. We invited everyone leading/hosting small group, our worship team, all children's ministry workers and all welcome ministry team members to gather. What a great time of worship, of celebrating, of planning and of looking forward with faith.
These gatherings are infrequent but important. The major influence on what makes New Life a life-giving community emanates from this core group of 100+ people. This team sets the tone and environment because they are out their making it happen through connecting people, evangelism, care, prayer, love, forgiveness, grace-dispensing, help, leadership, encouragement, serving and a host of other unseen acts.
It was a real privilege for our leadership team to publicly recognize and pray over some new ministry leaders: Tony, Jonna and Jes. I also had the privilege of publicly praising our awesome staff team: Maria, Stacey, EJ, Nate and Mike who are the "make it happen" people serving our volunteer ministers.
Also great to be able to personally say "thank you" to all who serve and especially to some people who had stepped up big time over the last few months in a key area of ministry need.
As a pastor I know a secret about the church--the real heroes and environment-creators of every church are these core servants who do countless unseen acts in Jesus name that please the heart of God and bless people. I am so grateful to lead and serve in a community where so many give so much for the sake of the Kingdom.
I wanted to share an encouraging note we received a few weeks ago from a visitor at New Life:
Hello. My name is ____. I just received a semi-post card in the mail from the newlife community church. I attended two Sunday's ago and was so moved, to the point that I had to clutch my friend while my eyes filled with tears. Seeing so many people so passionate about what they believe in, was just so... intense. I'm a nineteen year old female, covered in tattoo's and piercings with crazy hair. When I walked into your church, I had never felt so comfortable in a religious environment. Everyone always doubts the fact that I'm a christian, based on how I look, but when I walked into YOUR church, I didn't get the unsettling stares I would normally get at any other church. Well, back to the point of this e-mail. When I visited newlife, I was staying the night at a friends house in Chicago. I live in a suburb called Joliet... I was wondering if you guys could help me find a church around my location that I could feel equally comfortable at. It would mean SO much to me if you guys could help me out.
Let me be frank--we don't always get it right. That's why it is encouraging to hear from someone when we do get it right. At its root, I believe this is the reputation we should have as a church when anyone visits, no matter their background, lifestyle, history or persona. Man looks on the outward appearance, God, often expressed through His people, looks at the heart and loves extravagantly.
Despite out best intentions and effort, we just couldn't make the Ramadan event at the Muslim Community Center happen tonight either. Bummed, but feeling like we did what we could so I'm just chalking it off to a God "no". We'll see for next year.
We'll be starting in Ezra this Sunday and then going through the book of Nehemiah looking at what it means to be a force for good in the city as followers of Jesus. Really excited to embark on this series. I'm praying for new movement into our city to come from within as a result of this season.
Short summary: we got bumped from attending the Ramadan breaking of fast at the Muslim Community Center last night. We were on our way over and I called my contact. It quickly became clear that I had misunderstood the time we were supposed to be there so he asked that we not come and wait till tonight. We'll give it another shot tonight.
Still had a good "pregame" meeting with the family, though, to explain what we were going to and to get them a little better prepared. Praying for God appointments on tonights outing.
So its been a few weeks since I mentioned I'd be trying Facebook out as a church connection tool. Progress report? I think this is a great tool and could revolutionize the entire electronic communication environment. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see that Facebook or a similar app makes email all but obsolete in the next 2-3 years. The thing is, its a truly viral tool--it grows seemingly of its own accord--and it has so much more of a personal touch in the mode of communication because it includes pictures, public message boards, personal tastes and interests, locality, etc.
Some of you reading this are skeptical and that's okay. So is my wife;-). But I'll say this--Facebook is not Myspace. It doesn't expose you to porn or predators. You allow into your network only the people that you know and desire to connect with. And they only find you if they already have some form of connection with you--most notably by having you in their email address book or by having attended school with them.
I created a New Life group a few weeks back and it quickly grew to almost 60 people. Considering that probably less than 5% of the entire church uses Facebook, that is a high number.
He's an interesting observation on the generational differences in the adopting of this software technology. My high school graduating class (1991) had a grand total of 5 people on Facebook last time I checked. I graduated with about 290 people. Compare that to my high school's most recent graduating class, 2007--255 Facebook members! In other words, practically the entire graduating class (just clarifying that for those of you who went to public school.)
That tells me that if you expect to stay relevant in your communication with the emerging generation, you better learn how they communicate and join them.
Today wrapped up our four week early a.m. small group called Just Walk Across the Room. Our group has really been challenged and equipped by the study. Today one of the key concepts was living with a Grander Vision--the Grander Vision of life that says that people matter more than anything and our lives need to be leveraged to allow people to be first.
After the group David and I were chatting just inside the doors to the church building. While we spoke, an orange-vested man walked up needing building access to read the water meter. He was cold and so he was grateful to be inside for a few minutes. After recording the reading he asked if I'd help him gain access to the parsonage next door since he needed to read that meter too. I made a phone call and told him, "give her 5 minutes to get ready."
"Okay. I'll stay here while I wait--too cold outside."
Dave used that opportunity to strike up a simple conversation--he took interest in the man. By that simple act he opened the door to this man's story. A few brief minutes of conversation revealed that this man had lived in the U.S. for over 20 years, that he has worked for the water department for 19 years, that he is Pakistani by birth, that he deals with prejudice ("people think I am a terrorist") and that he is a devout Muslim. Being a big fan of Pakistani food, I also asked for a good recommendation. Turned out the place he suggested was a place I'd eaten at before.
Next I took a risk and asked if he was a devout or casual Muslim. "I am devout--I am fasting," for Ramadan. Then he added, "you know, Christians often come and break fast with us. You should come." When he shared that a light bulb went off in my head. Mike, our newest staff team member, had just broken Ramadan fast at a Mosque a few weeks ago. Turns out it was this man's mosque! Can you say, Divine Appointment?
He invited me to bring my entire family to the mosque tonight to break fast with him and his fellow members. Wow. And all this happened because Dave valued this man's story enough to begin drawing it out of him. Instead of overlooking the man as "just the man who reads the meter," Dave saw value in him and opened the door to a Divine Appointment.
So it sounds like tonight we'll be eating dinner at the mosque and praying for God's hand upon us as we experience someone else's world. Here's to Grander Vision living.
Tyce and I went camping with a few other men from the church and their sons yesterday. The boys all had Monday off from school so we decided to take a quick trip north and get out in the woods.
Sunday night was so clear and the temps mild--is this really October?! We laid out in an open field in a wagon wheel and prayed through the alphabet, praising God. A lot of fun to include the boys in a fun prayer format under an incredible display of God's glory. Saw several shooting stars and a couple "satellites" (I think that was a plane, bro.)
We cooked up a mean mess of dogs and brats and had a great campfire. Boys and fire (with a little supervision) is always a hit. After putting the boys in their tents, Jim, Jose, Leo and I stretched out by the fire and... listened to the Bears/Packers game. Ahh the beauty of the woods!
Then from midnight till 2:30am, us 4 "grown men" engaged in several pitched battles of...
Pass the Pigs! Let's just say this was fertile ground for a number of inside jokes that won't be forgotten quickly.
The return trip included a stop at Culvers--are there better burgers in the Midwest--and a lot of ugly afternoon traffic. Altogether worth it though, to get boys and dads out in a quiet place, to spend time together and to build memories.
To quote little Jose (Chullo) from Sunday before anything even happened--"this is the best day of my whole life!"
We're in the middle of a 6 hour simulcast training for marriage mentoring done by Les and Leslie Parrot. The material is great and I love the live format of a simulcast. 14 couples from New Life Lakeview and Little Village have come together to receive today's training.
I believe that this one of the most powerful tools the church has for making a difference in marriages--in preparation for marriage, in repairing broken marriages, and in maximizing good marriages to a great level.
Hoping to do this training again on a broader scale across all our locations.
One more thing... the Parrot's have a great website that has video answers to common marriage questions in number of different categories. Go to www.realrelationships.com to get some valuable answers. Really great stuff in a FREE video format.
We had a planning meeting this morning for our second annual Ignite Ministry and Leadership Summit. This year our hope is to gather 800-1000 New Lifers who minister across Chicagoland for a day of inspiration, equipping and connection. Normally, event planning is not my favorite thing. But with this event's importance I am motivated through the more unpleasant parts. And more importantly, the team that puts this together is very diversely talented and has a high capacity so the work seems light as we work together.
We're hoping to take this next summit to the next level. Should be a lot of fun!
Chris G, Mike H and I had a great meeting this afternoon with Sergei Marchenko, the new pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church up the street from us.
Sergei is from Ukraine but he and his wife spent time in Chicago for about 4-5 years. They have 3 girls and they recently returned to Chicago and are working to restart Community Free. It was great to hear his heart for God and for the community. And since his environment is similar to a church plant, he gets my huge respect--church planting is one of the toughest callings you can take on.
Sergei is also a fellow reader of Forgotten Ways so that was a cool connection. At the end of our time together in the outdoor seating area of Roscoe Village Starbucks we prayed together. And we agreed to join together for our Friday morning prayer walks.
I believe it gladdens the heart of Jesus when pastors and spiritual leaders in a given area band together to pray over their community.
Finished Forgotten Ways in-flight yesterday. I reaffirm what I said earlier--this is an important book with some especially standout chapters that I believe take on concepts and practices the church in the West must get a grip on.
One standout chapter: Communitas not Community. In this chapter, Hirsch presents a compelling vision of the kind of community the book of Acts pictures by changing the word from community to communitas and then recoloring it away from its pedestrian, maintenance-minded, “happy place” mentality of the settler church to a picture of shared struggle, risk, and dynamic life together for something bigger in the mentality of church on a mission (missional). [Alright--that sentence was totally out of control. More than likely, you fell asleep halfway through it.]
Followers of Jesus need to be:
...inspired to overcome their instincts to “huddle and cuddle” and to instead form themselves around a common mission that calls them into a dangerous journey to unknown places—a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action, where its members will experience disorientation and marginalization but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way. (p. 221)
I certainly don't have all the answers on this concept but I'm really seeking for tangible expressions of communitas-inducement to happen within our location of New Life here on the north side of Chicago. I think experiences like our recent Church on the Street with baptisms and all, is the kind of experience that moves the church toward this zone of Communitas. As a leader, I'm praying for more ideas in this direction to rise out of our staff, leaders and small group leaders.
Jesus, push us toward environments that make us uncomfortable together. Relieve us of our "comfort addiction" and push us toward the kind of shared engagement that binds our hearts together around Your mission and Your Presence.
At breakfast this morning I was doing some spiritual training with my kids. I've been memorizing 2 Peter 1:5-8 so I began quoting it in order to teach them.
"For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue..." I paused here realizing that my 9, 8, 6 and 4 year olds were not going to know what supplement meant. "Guys, what does "supplement" mean?" Blank stares.
"Okay, supplement is like what you do to your cereal in the morning." They continued munching. "When you take sugar and sprinkle it on to your cereal, you supplement your cereal. Got it?"
I then went on to explain faith for a few minutes and then, feeling like we'd covered enough territory for the morning, I circled back to quote the verse for them again. I wanted to sort of tie it all together and make sure they were understanding things:
"For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with..." I paused. Wanted to see who remembered what we're called to supplement our faith with...
Olivia chimed in with confident enthusiasm: "Sugar!"
Had to smile I as I entered Terminal 1at O’Hare this morning through the underground CTA tunnel. It was 6:30am and a genuine rock relic with long hair and a power-chord generating guitar with amp was getting ready to shred it for the business travelers filing past. He startled to play with the strings and I could tell I was missing out on some good stuff.
But it really struck me funny—how totally out of place? This guy was straight out of GnR or White Lion or Twisted Sister and here he was punching the clock at 6:30am to play for “the Man”. According to Dewey, Jack Black’s character in School of Rock, rock music is all about sticking to the Man. Not today.
I chuckled out loud with a shake of my head, “early morning rock star…” The business traveler walking just ahead of me turned and responded, “he’s really good. Most of the guys that play stink but this guy is really good.”
So there you have it. A little creative marketing and a willingness to color outside the lines and just about anyone can find a niche to exploit for some gain. I suppose if he’d been playing at a club the night before and was going from the gig to the airport to finish out his day then you could qualify this airport jam session as “moonlighting”. Priceless.