Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Do You Roll?

"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be." –Matthew 6:19-21

Well…… sorry it has taken so long to get this blog updated. Life and ministry have been crazy since the hurricane.

About a year and half ago I had the chance to meet one of the leaders of the drug gang that controls trafficking in our target neighborhood. We meet because of an altercation that he had with his girlfriend in front of a group of volunteers. After a brief conversation, he proceeded to tell me how he rolls. How he controls the “little boys” who deal for him, how they won't do anything unless he tells them and how the police used to ask him to help.

I then responded “Well, here is how we roll” and shared our vision of how this will be a neighborhood where kids can ride their bikes. Which for us, is a creative way of saying we will be about sharing Christ and growing people in their faith. I then challenged him to make the corner we were on a safe corner. Since then they have moved not one or two but three blocks away. That is only a battle victory for they can’t be in the neighborhood.

All this to ask how do you roll? How do you live your life? In Matthew, Jesus challenges us by asking where is your heart? With what is happening we can easily get distracted from God’s call to be about the kingdom. The financial crisis can cause us to ask "what if?" and not concentrate on the Who. It is a reminder that what we have here on earth will go away and that we are called to be kingdom investors not earthly managers.

I am not discounting the pain it may be causing some of you. I understand that pain as we look to cut ministry and staff for the first time ever. However, that doesn’t allow me to not be about God’s kingdom. With the election of Obama we can lose our focus on kingdom. One benefit from being a Pastor of a multicultural church who has the privilege to travel the nation, I have a view that most don’t have. I again was reminded how we allow things to divide us by concentrating on earthly treasures and powers rather than kingdom treasures and power.

Some believers reacted with a despair and even hate (one Christian College had to send an email to all its students to squelch talk of our future President being the antichrist.) Other believers acted with joy and talk that Obama was our savior. The bottom line is that we need to be about God’s kingdom. Neither political party can or will bring about the kingdom revival that we need. As God’s people we must not ever think that any man made institution can bring about God’s kingdom. It is biblically incorrect to think that any nation is a Christian nation.

A nation can be based on Christian principals and have leaders who are Christian but that doesn’t make them a Christian nation. Too often we look to the things of this world to bring a change only God can bring. (As an aside, New Orleans was one of, if not the only, predominately African-American city that did not have a spontaneous celebration. I believe it is because of the hopelessness and despair that is the root, not just the economics of our city but more importantly the spiritual void that is so great that people have no hope.)

The church must roll for the kingdom and only the kingdom. Neither Wall Street, Main Street, Capital Hill nor the White house can bring the change we all need. Only God can and He chooses to use the church, his people. Jesus is the first and only “Bail Out Plan.”

So neighbor, how do you roll?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” I Peter 4:12-13(NIV)

Going through it. We don’t want to, we avoid it, we try to insulate and isolate ourselves from suffering. We try to protect our kids from all danger and it permeates our own lives. In western Christianity there is not a theology of suffering. TV preachers, evangelists, and many successful ministries say we shouldn’t have to suffer. It is not the “American Christian” way.

Yet Peter reminds us that we will have painful trials. We will suffer. Paul says to “count it all joy.” I must admit that I don’t like it. I don’t want it. However, it is at the core of our faith. There must be a theology of suffering. Without it I am self absorbed. I am self centered. Without it I will not ever be able to become the man that God wants me to be. Through 17 plus years of urban ministry, I have seen all the suffering that I care to see. The recent economic downturn (for people in poverty it's more than a downturn, it is more than losing money in a 401K; as it may be for you too!) has brought a level of suffering that our nation hasn’t tasted economically for many years. However, this pales to the suffering that is going on in Haiti.

At UIM we are suffering through it financially too. We know and feel the pain that many of you are going through. However, with God it is not that we identify with people but that we do as Peter encourages, “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (I Peter 4:19) Through your pain, through your suffering, what way does your mirror face? Is it turned to you, your pain, your needs and your suffering so that people will never see God through it all? Or is it turned to God in faithful commitment to our faithful Creator so that we can continue to do good? Then people will see and know that there is a God who loves and cares. Which way does your mirror face?

Friday, September 12, 2008

September 12, 2008

Thanks again to all who supported us through out the Hurricane Gustav. The weekend found us weary from the evacuation and then watching Hurricane Ike. The house behind ours collapsed during Gustav. We are experiencing strong windows and rain today. Many schools are closed. We are very thankful that Ike went west, yet we are praying for and are concerned for folks in Texas.

One of the things that Gustav brought to the surface was that many people still are dealing with Katrina. The wounds from that catastrophe are still healing. Please be in prayer. Just a reminder, on my block alone there are still 6 homes (two torn down) that are not inhabited. The house behind ours collapsed. We live in a city that is not back and won’t be back for years.

That is why we feel so blessed to have a ministry that is growing and bringing about change. Our school began its second year, our youth ministry is growing, we have more staff from the neighborhood than anytime in our history, and the church continues to grow. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for your support.

Friday, September 5, 2008

September 5, 2008

“I am going home, I’ve done my time and I got to know what is and isn’t mine” –Tony Orlando

We are so excited to be returning home today. I couldn’t resist showing off a little of my 70’s song knowledge. When you live in a small town in Wisconsin, all you have to do is drive around in your Gremlin and listen to AM pop radio. However, the line from the song does a good job explaining the emotion and thoughts of people

We are extremely grateful for all your prayers, support and encouragement.

A huge shout out to the churches and ministries that went above and beyond the call of duty in hosting and caring for us. They are:
· Mountain Brook Community Church
· Shades Valley Community Church
· Cross Bridge Church
· Double Oak Community Church
· Coventry Community Church
· MedMission
· Mission Birmingham
· Birmingham Baptist Association

We are anticipating a our worship time together Sunday as we begin to bring our entire Castle Rock body together. Our eyes are still on our calling to create “A Neighborhood Where Kids Can Ride Their Bikes” We are still totally committed to sharing God’s Love and Salvation with our city. Our resolve is strong. We will be strong and courageous… “for the Lord your God will be with you [us] wherever we go!”

Prayer Requests:
Praise God:
· For all he has done for us.
· For all the churches and ministries in Birmingham and across the nation who have prayed for and helped us.
· That we are going home!

Pray for:
· A safe return home
· Open stores and gas stations
· The energy and perservence for the next few weeks of getting our homes, families and the ministry back to “normal”
· All the work need to get the UILA (school) up and running
· The adjustment of children as they go back to their schools.
· For God’s provision in paying for the evacuation
· For God’s provision for families who have lost wages during the evacuation

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September 4, 2008

Sorry it has taken so long to get posted. We have been busy preparing for returning to New Orleans. A few folks had to head home today because of jobs. All of us will be leaving tomorrow after breakfast.

Evacuation News
· We continue to thank God for His great provision. To think that of the 6 churches we only knew one last Friday, we thank God for how well we have been treated.
· Many of the people who evacuated with the government are struggling getting home. This is a concern for future evacuations.
· All of our properties are in great shape and all have electricity.

Now What
· Castle Rock Community Church will meet Sunday. We anticipate a day full of praise to God with many folks returning.
· The CRCC/UIM office will be closed on Monday so staff can get their homes and lives back together. Wendy and I will have to totally restock our refrigerator and freezer.
· We are looking forward to having to having ground breaking sometime this fall.
· Urban Impact Leadership Academy will open next week
· We are still in need of teams, especially next year with the new building. Please check our website for information.

Prayer Requests:
Praise God:
· For the great attitude and cooperation of all who evacuated
· For God’s provision
· For our properties protection and for the homes of people
Prayer for:
· The safe return of evacuees
· Stores and gas stations to open up
· Energy to put our homes and the ministry buildings back together

Thanks again for your prayers and concerns.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September 3, 2008

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47

This has been one of those times when we have experienced the Acts 2 church in a real way. Our worship and prayer time last night was an amazing time of thanksgiving, praise and adoration. What a joy it was as a pastor to see people of all ages, of different race and socio-economic background praising God with all they had. I have sung “Lord You're Good” hundreds of times but last night was more meaningful than all those times combined. What a privilege it has been to watch God bring us together, to watch God raise up leaders, to watch people begin to be healed and watch God build his body. What a privilege it has been to serve God by shepherding his people.

Evacuation News:
· We are evaluating when we will return. We believe we will be home this weekend and plan on having church on Sunday. We are waiting for news on electricity and availability of gas and food before we take people home.
· We are entering the bridge phase where people are getting tired and anxious to return. The adrenaline of the evacuation is gone, exhausting is kicking in and concern about all that has to been done upon return is a hard place to be. This is the day when we will be looking to help people through all that.
· Today’s field trip is to the mall to give people a chance to get out and away from each other.
· We have heard from a few of our people who have evacuated elsewhere. There has been some concern voiced about conditions in shelters but they are safe.
· Reports from NOPD Officer Michael Franklin are that electricity is back at Castle Rock, the office, yellow house, the quad and our house.

Now What, Upon return we will:
1. Get our homes back together
2. Get everyone together for rockin’ church service this Sunday
3. Get the ministry facilities back together
4. Start addressing the needs of people.

Prayer Requests
Praise God:
For the great worship time last night
· For the continued great attitude and camradoree
· Reports from New Orleans on everyone’s property

Pray for:
Wisdom, discernment and timing for our return
· Our people as they enter into the bridge phase (see evacuation news)
· For wisdom on how to minister to people upon return
· For UILA as to when it should start back and all the things that need to be done to make it happen
· For energy to get our homes and the ministry back together.
· For one family who had their home broken into

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then, it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Psalm 126:1-3

Praise be to God! As we watched the Gustav slam in to LA, we all prayed for the best and prepared for the worst. Out of God’s infinite mercy and compassion we were spared the brunt of the story and we pray for those west of New Orleans who were hit so hard.

Evacuation News: Things continue to go very smoothly.

  • God has given us great leadership from the church. Unlike Katrina, the church has been able to take the lead in most areas. I praise God for how He has raised up leadership, especially men, over the last 3 years
  • There are 6 churches and organizations that have played a role in hosting and caring for us.
  • Our initial report is that there was minimal damage to our facilities and homes. We are cautiously optimistic but know that until we return we will not have the full picture. It seems as if even our house either didn’t get any or had very little water. Which is a miracle in itself!
  • We have heard from Michael Franklin, the NO Police Officer from our congregation. He is fine and has been able to drive by many of our properties.

Now What?
Our calling and mission has not changed, we are returning and continuing.
Return – As of right now we have no idea when we will return. Mayor Nagin has said it will be in days. We await the all clear
After getting our homes (refrigerators –ohhh that smell, furniture et al) back in place we will then get our ministry properties ready and go back at what God has called us to do, to share the gospel with the Central City.

What Can You Do?

  • Continue to pray (see request below)
  • As we get information, we will determine if and when teams will be needed.
  • Prayerfully consider a donation to help offset the costs of evacuating. We praise God for his provision through the churches and ministries here in Birmingham who have taken great care of us, but we do have expenses beyond our stay here that are straining our budget.
  • Stay tuned to get updates.

Prayer Requests:

Praise God for:
o weakening of Gustav and the protection of the city.
o the initial good reports on our facilities and homes.
o his protection of Officer Michael Franklin and Fireman Denard Lewis (son of an evacuee)

Pray for:
o A speedy and safe return
o The emotional and spiritual well being of our people
o People who suffered in the storm

Thanks again for your prayers, encouragement and support. Feel free to drop a comment or words of encouragement in the comment link.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday September 1- 7:30 AM

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

As I sit with a few folks watching Gustav make landfall. I must admit that it is a surreal moment. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain the range of emotions we are going through, as you watch the city that you love get hammered by wind and rain. Some of our folks who live on the west bank are very concerned about their homes as this area is in danger from the storm surge. That was not the case with Katrina.

A total of 70 of us have evacuated to Birmingham. We left in 5 waves with the first leaving at 6:30 AM and the last leaving at 11 AM. Before I left in the last wave, I took a drive around the neighborhood with our shuttle bus to see if anyone needed a ride to the city assisted evacuation pick up points. We helped two men. One needed a ride to a friends to ride out the storm. I encouraged him to leave town. Another, named Jerome, stopped by the church and got a bible. He is a mentally disabled man that has been around the church various times. I took him to the evacuation point and asked another gentleman to help him get on the bus. As we drove away, he left. I stopped the bus and asked where he was going. He mumbled something about his mother and walked away. It was clear that he didn’t understand what was going on and that there was no way to persuade him to get out of town. My heart sunk as I watched him walk away.

After parking the bus and praying with the six of us left, I walked through the church one last time and wondered what we would come back to. Emotion welled up as I cried in the kitchen. At times it is hard to contemplate going through all this once again.

The evacuation went fairly smooth. By going in waves we were able to advise the next waves of alternate routes. The advance team ended up getting overtaken by wave A even though they left 3 hours earlier. But their sacrifice was a great gain for the rest of us. The last wave left at 11 AM and got to Birmingham at 10 PM (a normal 6 hour trip)

We are being hosted by Shades Valley Church (EFCA) and Mountain Brook Community Church, the church we are staying at. They have over 100 volunteers, 70 beds for us. God is amazing. He has taken great care of us once again.

We will evaluate the damage over the next few days and make a plan for our reentry. We are also in the process of evaluating each family’s needs so that we can best care for them.

Prayer Requests:

  • Thanks to God for his provision and protect as we evacuated.
  • The city and its protection. Especially for people who stayed behind like Jerome.
  • For our folks as they deal with all the emotion.
  • For wisdom and discernment as we minister to one another and make our plans for re-entry.
  • For policeman Michael Franklin from our church (see yesterday’s blog)

    Sunday August 31 – 6:30 AM
    The Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are saved” Once again we are on the evacuation trail. Our advance team just left for Birmingham, AL where we are being cared for by Shades Valley EFC and Mountain Brook Church. We have a total of 73 signed up right now. At a Prayer and Protein Party (we all brought the meat from our freezer so that it wouldn’t wreck our freezers… ohhhh that smell) we gathered to encourage one another and to pray for our city, family and friends. We had the privilege of praying for Michael Franklin, a young man I coached when he was 16, who today joins the New Orleans Police Department (baptism of fire) and for his wife and 2 children.

    Please pray for us. For safety in travel, for wisdom and discernment as I lead people, for sparing of our city, for people to leave and for God to be glorified. You can follow things on my blog at My goal is to update it tonight upon getting settled in.

    Wendy and the kids are doing ok. It is hard to do this a again 3 years later but God is faithful and has already shown Himself worthy of our confidence. - (100 beds are already waiting for us in a church we didn’t know existed before Friday)

    I sign off with this encouragement from God’s word that saw us through Katrina and the rebuilding.

    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday August 29th, 4 PM CST

Dear Friends:
What was to be a day of great celebration has become a day of watching, waiting and wondering. On the third anniversary of Katrina, the day we were to break ground on our new community center, we are preparing once again to evacuate New Orleans for the 3rd time since 2004. Through it all we continue to depend on and praise our Lord for He will see us through. At our staff meeting today I took a brief look at Psalm 27. I have found verse 5 to be especially comforting:

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”
That verse best describes our mindset as we move forward.

Speaking of moving forward, below are our first steps in response to Gustav’s possible landfall:

Our evacuation plan has already been put into action:
o People are being called to see if they need help in evacuating.
o Those that need our help will be evacuated on Sunday after our service if the city declares an evacuation.
o For those not evacuating with us, we have as many destinations and contact numbers as possible so that we can minister to them if needed.
o All of our office and ministry needs (computers, files, check books etc…) have been packed up and are ready to be loaded.
o All of our facilities have been prepared for the potential storm.
· Our tentative plans are to go to either Jackson, MS or Birmingham, AL depending on the storm track and resources available at each site.
· Village Bible Church has agreed to help us once again as our secondary site as needed.
· If the event is a catastrophic event, we will be helping people for 2 weeks to put into place their personal evacuation plan. We will not be setting up community as we did with Katrina.

As for what can you do:
o Pray, pray, pray and pray
o Gustav would dissipate and not be a threat to anyone.
o For the emotional spiritual well being of the people of New Orleans. This is a very dramatic event in light of Katrina and how many have not dealt with the effects from that
o For wisdom and discernment for the staff as we minister to people
o For strength and endurance.
o For city, state and federal government that they would respond in a proper and timely manner
o For God’s peace for those of us dealing with all of this

Consider a gift to help us in the evacuating of people. Please use our on line giving link on the website.

Our method of communication will be my blog site. This is where to keep informed.

Once again, thank you for your concern and prayers. God is the “high rock” that we will run to and depend on.

In HIS Grip,
Pastor John

Thursday, June 26, 2008

“There was a time when the church was very powerful– in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . . But the judgment of God is upon the church [today] as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.”
Martin Luther King Jr. - Letters From A Birmingham Jail (page 17)

Is the church a termometer or a thermostat? Has the church become an irrelevant social club? Relevant questions not only for the 1960sbut for 2008. A battle of decision rages in America today. It is not centered around Obama or McCain. Nor is it centered on Iraq or sub-prime mortgages or gas prices.

The battle is found in hearts and minds of each individual person. A battle for each persons very soul. The church must not look or truth found in consensus. The church must not sell it's soul for the sake of buildings, budgets and buns (people in the seats). The church must be a community of believers that is not holding it's finger in the air to find out which way popular opinion blows but is setting the pace and setting the example when it comes to courageously living out the truth of God.

Jesus didn't die for us to be comfortable. Church isn't about comfort. It is about God's truth. It is about God's mandate to love him with all we got and to love people until we drop.
Local, state and federal government has failed us in New Orleans. The murder rate is climbing and has our city as the murder capital of the nation two years running. However, God has not failed us. He is here working 24/7. God has shown himself once again to be the rock, our ever present help in the time of trouble.

How has God shown this? Through His church. Folks from Nebraska, Maine, Wisconsin and those right here from Central City. Living courageous lives sharing themselves with people. Without the church, New Orleans would be in even more dire straights. It has been the church that has and continues to respond.

Thanks to all who have come. Thanks to those who will come. It is through your sacrifice, your generosity that we have been able to see a change in our neighborhood.

Monday, April 7, 2008

This week we remember the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. His legacy, among other things, is such that we talk of race relations in terms of Post and Pre- Civil Rights. Many blogs and articles this week have asked the question about Rev. King’s dream. Have we reached it, have we deferred it, have we gone backwards? This blog will not attempt to answer that question. (sorry) However, for those of us involved in multi-racial ministry it this week should remind us that we have made a few steps but have many to go.

Chapter 2:11-22 of Ephesians calls us to be in one in Christ. It is not by accident that this passage is preceded by the Paul’s eloquent reminder that we are only saved by grace not by works and that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(2:10) The good works are followed by Paul’s plea for us to be one in Christ. Thus, being one in Christ, is one of the “good works” that God desires.

Christ destroyed the barrier between Greek and Jew. A bigger obstacle to oneness than we have today because it was a barrier that kept one group of people “without hope and without God in the world.” Christ did this so that He would create one new man and one body (the church). God’s call is for us to be one together. No matter the race, no matter the culture, no matter the economic class, God’s call is for us to be one and only the blood of Christ can make that happen (see Revelation 5:9)

The church must be the leader in bringing people together. The church must be the one place where no matter our background, race or class that we are one in Christ because he is the one who destroyed the barrier.

Here at Castle Rock, we are a new church since Hurricane Katrina. Just a small, quick snapshot shows that we have 20 somethings (mostly white middle class) who have moved to New Orleans to make a difference. We have a retired Baptist preacher from a traditional African-American Church Culture and few others from that cultural setting. We have people with PhD’s and folks working on their GEDs. People from all ends of the continuum of life. Black and white, haves and have not’s together striving to be one with each other because we are one in Christ. Yes we have our differences, yes those difference cause conflicts at times but we are all on a journey to the foot of the Cross because it is only there that we can be one. The further we are from the foot of the Cross the further our division will be. Only the cross of Christ can make us one. That is where we need to be. Then the local church body will be a reflection of the racial and social economic make up of it’s community. That is where the dream can come true.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

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