Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Running the Race

Around ten years ago I was going through a difficult stretch in my life, and I asked God for clarity with discerning a calling in my life. "I'll go anywhere and do anything" I remember saying confidently to God. I don't think I knew at the time what I was really praying for. At the time God was taking me through a season where I would learn to depend on Him because I would need to constantly turn to the profound love of Jesus Christ over these past ten years.

God has provided plenty of opportunities to go into some complex situations in order to participate in His redemptive mission. I've had the opportunity to minister to hundreds of high risk youth in Homewood. I've had the great privilege of leading entire families to Christ, and I've endured the heart break of violence in the streets impacting people close to me. I've been able to teach and train leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. God opened the door to plant a multi-ethnic urban church with many passionate followers of Jesus Christ. Yet, there have been many challenges in serving as a pastor that I did not anticipate. It's a good calling, but it's a difficult calling sometimes. I've grown weary at times over the years.

Just this past week, a young man that I've been mentoring for years was shot and I walked with him through a traumatic event in his life. A close friend is fighting cancer, and it's been a challenge to go through all of the ups and downs with him as he digs deep to find the strength to engage in the battle each day. There have been many leadership responsibilities. Marriage and parenting are both adventures with great days and challenging days. I've grown weary at times.

It's okay to grow weary. This life is not meant to be lived comfortably. It comes with tremendous moments of joy, and it also comes with suffering. I am thankful for the challenging calling that God has given me, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by the calling. When I'm feeling weary and overwhelmed, it becomes increasingly important for me to orient myself in God's Story. I can persevere because I'll never have it as bad as Jesus had it. Jesus overcame death on a cross and He serves as the vine which provides all of the strength that I need to endure in this life.

I love Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Hebrews 12:1-3 in The Message: Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running - and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Yes, the journey is difficult. I can endure, though, and even thrive, because I am following in Jesus' footsteps. This concept brings me to my knees. I am compelled to worship God in the midst of all of the highs and lows in life. And, one day, I am praying that I will stand before the Lord and receive the crown of life that comes from enduring and running the race well. In the mean time, I could use a shot of God's adrenaline to my soul! How about you? Keep running the race! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Micah Global Consultation in Peru

The 6th Triennial Mical Global Consultation in Peru has been an incredible experience! I arrived in Lima, Peru last Monday morning, September 14th. I wanted to give updates along the way all week because there was so much going on, but so many people attended the consultation that we flooded the wifi system where we were staying and I wasn't able to ge online. I'm staying near the airport tonight since I fly out early in the morning tomorrow, so I finally have wifi and I can give an update.

This journey has been quite an adventure. Lima is a huge city with 10 million residents and growing. As an urban missiologist, I love to explore new cities. The residents of Peru were amazing, and it's a beautiful city. There are some signs of need as there are in many world class cities, but there are also many signs of hope. I toured one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America. The artwork was absolutely incredible. The people demonstrated wonderful hospitality. The food was definitely different, but it was very good. Lots of potatoes. I guess there are hundreds of different kinds of potatoes in Peru. We also ate lots of rice, chicken, beef, and vegetables. As far as I know I did not eat any guinea pigs even though it is a local delicacy. My daughters have owned guinea pigs as pets and I don't think they would have ever forgive me if I had eaten one.

The consultation itself was fascinating. I'm sure I'll be integrating what I learned in future sermons and writings. I was inspired! C. Rene Padilla is a theologian who is one of my heores. I had the chance to meet him and talk to him, and he gave a great presentation. His daughter, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, gave one of the most profound presentations on integral mission that I have ever heard. I learned a lot from her. All week I also heard from many other theologians and leaders from over 60 different countries. CB Samuel from India gave a powerful presentation on incorporating family in mission. This is an issue that is close to my heart as Julie, Kyra, and Sierra are deeply impacted by our family's ministry in Homewood and the East End of Pittsburgh. I met Ash Barker from the International Society of Urban Mission. He's a great guy with a huge heart for cities and incarnational leadership, so it was inspiring to hear his talks and interact with him a bit. I also really appreciated Johannes Reimer's talks, as well as Joseph Nyamutera and Zac Niringiye from Africa. There were many challenging thoughts and prophetic messages presented over the course of the week.

I presented a story to the Micah Conference on my work with the Learning and Mentoring Partnership in Pittsburgh. I shared about my journey through LAMP, presence in Homewood, and pastoring North Way East End. It was a fun opportunity and hopefully I contributed to the global conversation in some small way. I'm excited about what God is doing in Pittsburgh, and I will continue to share the Good News with a wide variety of audiences down the road. God was very good to me this week. I also had the opportunity to colloborate with with academics from around the world as we prepared a course on integral mission that could be taught through higher education partnerships globally. It was another amazing opportunity! I met many incredible people from organizations around the world. God's Spirit is moving globally and I am definitely excited to be a part of God's global holistic mission. This week really confirmed my calling to go anywhere at anytime for the sake of God's mission. I'm sure there will be a lot of fruit from this visit to Peru.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Charleston

I'm just returning from a week of vacation with my family so this is the first opportunity I've had to share my thoughts on the shooting deaths of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. My heart broke for what happened, and, as with most people in our country, I am grieving. I am grieving the lives that were lost. I am grieving for the sheer evil that exists in our world. I cannot fathom the depths of evil that would cause someone to go into a church and kill people who welcomed him in to study the Bible with them.

The temptation is to treat this as one isolated incident by a mentally unstable person. However, this incident is indicative of the deep racial tension in our country. The tension is not just in South Carolina or the South in general. The racial divides run deep in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. There are deep racial and socioeconomic divisions in the city where I live, Pittsburgh. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I understand that our world faces an enemy that seeks to kill and destroy through the evil of divisiveness.

So, what can we do about this? Yes, it is important to pray. Every church in America should grieve and pray during worship services this weekend. Beyond this weekend, though, followers of Jesus Christ must commit to being transformational change agents in our spheres of influence through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. God's redemptive mission is all about reconciling relationships. When we become reconciled to God, we also become reconciled to the people that we interact with. In other words, Christians should be leading the way in our culture when it comes to racial reconciliation. Unfortunately, we are often the ones dragging our collective feet in our society.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to heal and transcend wounds of division that are hundreds and even thousands of years old. As a white pastor in an urban environment with many different ethnic groups and classes of people, I am committed to living a lifestyle of reconciliation. I am committed to leading our church toward reconciliation. We will not just be praying about it this weekend during one worship service. We will continue to do the hard work of racial reconciliation on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis as the Holy Spirit leads us. I feel that this is a lifelong calling that God has given me, and I am praying that God will continue to reconcile people together in our cities, states, and in our country in general. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Getting Away to the Big City

I'm enjoying a couple days in Brooklyn, NY. When I get away, I like to get away to explore other cities. It just so happens that my little sister, Cameron, lives in Brooklyn so I have the opportunity to utilize her apartment as a base for exploring the city. I love the feel of cities, and I love to experience new things. I'm also using this time away to connect with God and to discern what God has in store for me and my family. I've been praying, reading, writing, and talking with different people. It's been so much fun so far. I'm loving New York! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Assets in Pittsburgh

Over the past couple of weeks I've had the opportunity share with several different people about the many assets that are in East Liberty, Homewood, and other parts of the East End of the city of Pittsburgh. These assets include signs of hope in both people and places throughout my local urban environment.

I've shared about these assets with graduate students from different parts of the globe through the courses that I'm teaching at Bakke Graduate University. I've taken local leaders on walks through my neighborhood to see the assets first hand. I've shared positive stories of the process of urban transformation on social media. I've talked about all of the signs of spiritual transformation that I've been experiencing as a pastor in church staff meetings. Basically, whenever I get a chance I love to serve as an advocate for asset-based community development in the part of the city where God has called me to serve as a leader.

The Holy Spirit was at work in my city long before I arrived on the scene, and God's redemptive mission will carry on long after I am gone. I am simply participating in the good work that is going on in this particular place at this particular time. The kingdom of God is advancing in the East End of Pittsburgh in many creative ways. The city is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. The city has many assets. I am excited about what God is going to do next. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reflecting on a Busy Couple of Weeks

I just wrapped up a busy couple of weeks of ministry. I had the opportunity to lead, preach, teach, build relationships with many different types of people, and to engage with some of the most challenging issues in my city. It was a tough stretch, but it was also a good stretch. Life is presenting many challenges, but God is teaching me that I must increasingly depend on him for strength as I give myself away to others in participating in God's redemptive mission.

I'm really enjoying teaching masters and doctoral students at Bakke Graduate University. Students from all over the world are increasing their capacity by studying about relief, development, and advocacy in complex urban and global contexts. I am learning so much from the leaders who are taking the course. It's been a challenge, but it's so worth it to see the difference that is made in a relatively short span of nine weeks.

As an urban pastor I've encountered the pain of violence in my neighborhood, and I've been able to challenge our faith community to passionately impact the world through healthy work. These recent weeks have been filled with counseling appointments, staff meetings, partnership collaborations, worship services, and discipleship time. There are many ups and downs in the journey, but God is faithful through it all. Urban ministry is not for the faint of heart, but God is equipping me daily for the challenges. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Three Year Anniversary

Three years ago I set out on the amazing adventure of launching a new church in the East End of the city of Pittsburgh. There have been so many ups and downs over the past three years. Many people who were with me from the beginning are still standing with me, shoulder to shoulder, as we seek to participate in God's redemptive mission in our little part of the city of Pittsburgh. Others who were with me in the beginning have moved on for various reasons, but I'm still thankful to those individuals who helped get our church off the ground. God has brought many new people to North Way East End over the years. I'm just as excited today to be a part of the transformational work of the Holy Spirit as I was three years ago. I have to admit, I've learned many lessons along the way and I've made some mistakes. There have been times when I've done some things well. The church isn't about me, though, The church is about God. We seek to make much of Jesus every week at North Way East End through worship, teaching, community, and outreach. As we celebrate what God has done in three years of ministry, we also recognize that we can do nothing apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We're expecting big things from God in 2015. Happy three year anniversary North Way East End!