Neighborhood Observations and a Theology of Neighborhoods

At the beginning of the week, I committed to walking our neighborhood every day-focusing on the poorer parts.  I usually took at least 1 kid or husband and 1 dog (our smaller one because she’s cute and less intimidating than our bigger one).  Some observations:

  • I live in a racially diverse neighborhood- White, Latino and African-American
  • People work on their cars in their yard/driveway.  I don’t work on my car-I’m certain I would kill it if I did but if I didn’t have the money to get it fixed-I suppose I’d have no choice.  My neighbors likely don’t have a choice.
  • People grill in their front yard-not their back yard.  (Have we always grilled in the backyard?)  We grill in the front now.
  • People spend time outside-whether it’s hot or not.
  • Clotheslines.  I’ve observed many clotheslines in our neighborhood.  They aren’t just for decoration.  They get used and seemingly used often.  Thinking that through….it means they are used because of lack of funds, space, availability of a clothes dryer.  Something I never even think twice about having and using.
  • Kids (and some adults) like our dog and she likes them.  Having the dog with us creates opportunities to meet people.  Example:  my husband and I were walking through the parking lot of the neighborhood laundromat.  There was a Latino family inside.  Their 3 kids saw our dog and started pointing and getting excited.  We came toward the door and indicated that we’d be happy to let them meet Ginger.  The family came out and we had a 10ish minute conversation with them-turns out they immigrated from Honduras.
  • Trash cans are left in the front yard.  In my old neighborhood, we received nasty letters if a trash can was left out.  I’ve heard my old neighborhood referred to as Disneyland.  The place where everything is perfectly manicured and landscaped.  We definitely don’t live in Disneyland any more.

Yes, my neighborhood has a laundromat and many more check cashing, pawn shops and title loan places.  It’s very different from where we used to live and I’m thankful.  I guess you’d say my ‘theology of neighborhoods’ has changed.  I don’t think of ‘bad neighborhoods’ the way I used to–as places to avoid at all costs.  I think of them as places where the brokenness of sin is on display to the outside world–as opposed to hidden away behind manicured landscaping and closed, attached garages.  I think of them as places to shine the light of Gospel truth rather than places to be written off as Godless and hopeless.

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When Helping Hurts- Chapter 1

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When Helping Hurts- Notable Quotes: Chapter 1 by Steve Corbett/Brian Fikkert

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4: 18-19

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”  Isaiah 58: 9-10

Why was Israel sent into captivity?  Many of us have a picture in our minds of the Israelites getting out of bed every morning and running off to the nearest shrine to worship idols.  Indeed, numerous passages in the Old Testament indicate that idolatry was a problem in Israel.  But these passages give a broader picture.  Here [Isaiah 58:1-3, 5-10] Israel appears to be characterized by personal piety and the outward expressions of formal religion:  worshiping, offering sacrifices, celebrating religious holidays, fasting, and praying.  Translate this into the modern era, and we might say these folks were faithfully going to church each Sunday, attending midweek prayer meeting, going on the annual church retreat, and singing contemporary praise music.  But God was disgusted with them, going so far as to call them ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’!

Personal piety and formal worship are essential to the Christian life, but they must lead to lives that ‘act justly and love mercy’ (Mic. 6:8)

Referring to Acts 4:34 “there were no needy persons among them”:

Luke is indicating [in Acts 4] that while Israel had failed to care for the poor and was sent into captivity, God’s people have been restored and are now embodying King Jesus and His kingdom, a kingdom in which there is no poverty  (Rev. 21:1-4).  Indeed, throughout the New Testament, care of the poor is a vital concern of the church (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 6:1-7; Gal. 2:1-10; 6:10; James 1:27).  Perhaps no passage states it more succinctly than 1 John 3:16-18:  ‘This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’

What is the task of the church?  We are to embody Jesus Christ by doing what He did and what He continues to do through us:  declare–using both words and deeds–that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who is bringing in a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.  And the church needs to do this where Jesus did it, among the blind, the lame, the sick and outcast, and the poor.

God has sovereignly chosen to work in the world beginning with the weak who are on the ‘outside’, not the powerful who are on the ‘inside.’

…the early church’s engagement with suffering people was crucial to its explosive growth.

I’m Working on Myself Right Now

“I can’t do what you’re doing.  I’m just working on myself right now.”  I commend my friend’s humility in admitting she has some areas in her life that she needs to work on.  Not everyone is humble enough to say that.

She was responding to the change she’s seen in our family’s life and lifestyle these last several months.  Moving to a lower income neighborhood, reducing our living space by half, leaving our long time church home, living like a missionary even though we don’t live in a foreign country.  Did she come to the conclusion that I have less ‘issues’ that need worked on based on our current ministry?  I beg to differ!  I have a lot of sin issues that I am still battling.

One of the rather ironic things about ministry is this:  as we pour out ourselves for others-we often benefit as much or even more than the person we are ministering to. I’ve seen it over and over again in Biblical counseling situations and in our first months of church planting.  As I am bringing Scripture and Biblical help to others; I am reminded of those same truths and, with the Spirit’s help, applying these things to my own life as well.  As we serve others, God works on our own hearts.

My friend believes she has things she needs to work on.  I get it.  I have them too.  My question is-are you sure the best way to work on them is to withdraw yourself from ministry?  Maybe your growth in sanctification has slowed because of your withdrawal?  Perhaps pouring yourself into service to another would propel you through the slump?  A chance to see and be encouraged by our faithful God’s work in another person and in yourself may not be the only piece in the puzzle but it could be an overlooked piece.

It’s Gonna Feel Like You’re Settling

No Ladies Bible Study.  No Youth Group.  No Sunday School.  Maybe even no nursery?  You may have just set foot inside a brand new church plant.

If you’ve been used to a larger church with all of the typical American church programs, you will probably feel like you are settling.  It might not feel like a ‘real’ church.  You might feel disturbingly ‘un-busy’ when you’re not at the church building 3-4 times a week.

I’m here to say that it’s ok.  I’ve been there and felt those things.  I’ve had to fight those feelings and I continue to fight them on occasion.  I’m here to tell you that you don’t need those programs to grow as a Christian.  Can God use them?  Yes.  But do you NEED them?  No.

I’m not anti-program.  I’ve participated in many and benefitted from them to varying degrees.  It’s just that I’ve found that I don’t need them like I thought I did and my kids don’t either.  At first, I thought I was harming my children by being part of a church that did not have a youth group or age appropriate Sunday school classes.  We’d had those things for 10 years and they were built into my psyche as a brand new Christian teenager way back when.  Then, as we spent time at a relatively new church plant with very few programs, I heard things from my kids.  Things like “Mom, I realized that I was really more excited to go to church to see my friends in Youth Group than to worship God.”  I saw adults praying with my children–purposely seeking them out to do so and befriending them.  My kids and I saw that programs can be really nice–but not having them is ok too-actually even better than ok.  When people show sacrificial love and kindness without a program to prompt them, even to a person they don’t share a natural affinity with–the Gospel is put on display in a big way.  People notice.  Jesus notices.  The Gospel is made attractive.  It’s completely different from the world.  The world loves to be around people just like them–have you ever noticed that?  The church should be different than the world.  It should be the one place on earth where we love to hang out with people that aren’t like us-just because we have Jesus in common.

So, most days, I don’t feel like I’m settling anymore.  There are still some nagging doubts that Satan jabs me with here and there but I’m pretty much over it.  I’m over believing that I NEED to have church programs that match mine and my families affinities.  I believe I’m the better for it.  Jesus is more than enough.  He doesn’t need programs to accomplish His work.

Begin to Begin

“Lord help me to begin to begin.”  George Whitfield

I read this quote today in JI Packer’s now classic book, “Knowing God”.  I did a little research on the internet in order to get some context on the quote.  The only tidbit of information that I found is that Whitefield said this after preaching the Gospel for 30 years (source).  I wonder if he prayed this prayer every day for 30 years?

It’s been just over a month since we moved into our mission field in Carrollton.  God has answered prayers and opened doors.  Just about every morning I wake up prayerful and hopeful that God will bless our work and ministry.  On those confident days, I’d like to be praying Whitefield’s prayer “Lord help me to begin to begin”.

I’m not naive enough to think that days of discouragement aren’t coming.  I know they are likely just around the corner.  Indeed, discouraging times have already sprung up here and there but thankfully have lasted hours rather than days.  In the midst of disappointment, I hope I can be found praying Whitefield’s prayer “Lord help me to begin to begin”.

Every day a new day.  Keep pressing on.  No matter the seeming successes, no matter the seeming failures.  “Lord help me to begin to begin.”

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

 

Affluence and Ministry Success?

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“We often see successful ministry as ministry among the affluent and successful.  The models we admire are suburban models, and events are designed for university students, professionals, and white collar families.  The ministers of affluent, suburban churches dominate our conference platforms, and their patterns of church life are presented as the norm.  There is little biblical reflection on poverty, because such churches are not working among the poor.  Under-resourced churches struggling in marginalized areas are undervalued and their work among the poor viewed with suspicion.”

Tim Chester “Good News to the Poor”