Believers, Get Out of Church!

It’s the Christian thing to do.

You came to church in the first place because something led you there.  You came

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because someone invited you, and your heart was gladdened by the experience so you came back. You came because life had become difficult and you knew you needed help, and you came back because you felt healing and peace there. You came because something that you can’t explain nudged you, and you stayed because you found a new kind of joy, new friends, a new way of life and you loved learning to walk deeper with Christ.

So you stayed. Now you participate in church activities, attend Bible Study, contribute regularly and help out with the children or on leadership boards. You may be in the choir

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or on the usher board or even a deacon or deaconess.  You try to get there most Sundays, and every once in a while you might even give up an “Amen!” or a “Hallelujah.” Your life has changed for the better and you’re trying to be a better person because of your church involvement. You’re trying to be a good Christian, you are a true believer, and it’s all good.

But now it’s time to get out of church.

You see, Christ didn’t nudge you into the church just so you could feel better; He needs you to be your best self so that He can use you.  Jesus didn’t heal your broken heart, cure your illness, give you that new job, bring love into your life just so you could have a better life, He did it also because He needs you to be a witness for him. Jesus didn’t intend for you to keep that new joy, that new hope, that new peace all to yourself. He didn’t call you to become a church member. Jesus called you to follow Him.  And the way to follow Jesus is to allow Him to lead you to the places he wants you to go.

Once you’ve been healed, once you’ve begun to understand, once you’ve begun to deepen your walk with Him, then it’s time to go.

Jesus sends you out from the comfort of the pews to be His presence in the world, to go to the difficult places and sit with sinners and scoffers, because that’s where God’s message of good news needs to be heard. Christ sends you away from the church to places of pain and sorrow so you can bring healing and hope. He intends for you to get out of the church and raise your prophetic voice so people in power will hear “thus says the Lord” and lead this world to become a better place for all. Christ wants you to help the world to understand that “the kingdom of God has come near” because of your presence.

It’s your time.  It’s your turn. The world is still broken. Why are you still sitting?

After you’ve gone out with nothing but your faith to lead you, telling and showing the world that the kingdom of God has come near by your healing activities, your joy, your peace,

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your love and the word of God, then you can return to church.  That’s when Jesus will meet you there, praising God with you because you’ve been able to trample on snakes and scorpions in the name of Jesus. Jesus will join in praising God with you–not just because you’ve caused Satan to fall from the sky, but because your name is written in heaven. Jesus will meet you there and celebrate with you, laughing and singing and praising because God has revealed to you what you can do in the name of Jesus!

Luke 10: 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN.  WHEN WILL YOU BEGIN TO WIELD THAT POWER? 

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Rebounding Hope

I was 17 years old.  We had just come out of gym class, and while heading for the cafeteria for lunch, I saw people crying.  In the cafeteria, many more were crying.  I had no clue what had happened because the announcement hadn’t reached the gym class. President Kennedy had been shot and killed.  I cried.

“If a free society cannot help the
 many who are poor, it cannot save
 the few who are rich.” 
John F. Kennedy inaugural address, 
January 20, 1961

My 17 year old heart felt that evil had triumphed, and that was hard to take.  We all loved the President and his beautiful family.  He had given us so much hope–I felt like he was so modern and cool and that he was really a good person and that things would get so much better for black people with him as President.  Who would do such a thing?  I don’t guess I’ll ever be convinced that such a perfect shot to a moving target from so far away was not the act of an expertly trained professional hired for political purposes, whether it was Lee Harvey Oswald or someone else.

Hope really felt dashed for me the day President Kennedy was killed.  And even more when Dr. King was killed less than 5 years later.  But one thing about hope is that something will always bring it back — and another thing is that you can find hope in lots of different places.  So I want to share with you a new hope that I’ve recently found.

City Gate is a non-profit charitable organization serving children and families in the Washington DC area. I was looking around to find out who’s working with children here, and City Gate grabbed my attention for two reasons–the broad reach of its programs and the steadfast faith of the founder and Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Lynn Bergfalk, Pastor of Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church in DC.

City Gate was formed in 2000 to extend and expand the kind of programs being run at Calvary Baptist Church, where Dr. Bergfalk was then pastor, into the larger community.  From 2003 – 2006 their central location was in the DC Baptist Convention Johenning Community Center in Southeast. When they had to move, what seemed to be a big defeat turned out to be a great blessing. City Gate found a new home in a local housing development, and through the success and the connections made there, City Gate expanded the after school programs to several housing developments and schools in Southeast and in other parts of the City and nearby Prince George’s County.  City Gate operates right where the people live, and the people have received them well.

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Last week Dr. Bergfalk was gracious enough to take me and a new volunteer to visit one of the school sites and some of the after school sites. The after school activities include homework time, STEM clubs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), recreational activities and also dinner for many of the children. Most important is the attention these children receive from caring professionals who help to provide life skills, a safe haven and long-term positive and caring relationships with children who need it. A major focus of the after school programming is to improve the children’s performance in school.

This is intended to directly address the fact that if children are not reading by the 3rd grade, the “accumulated baggage of low performance,” as Dr. Bergfalk calls it, builds up from year to year, and they are likely to end up failing, and also likely to end up in the prison system. See my earlier post for a more detailed discussion about this.

And City Gate is successful. I’ll have more to say about some of their success stories next week.  While this front line work is absolutely necessary in the war against imprisoning our children, help must come from other sources as well.  Non-profits like City Gate need sure sources of funding to keep operating. Schools in impoverished neighborhoods need more funding for computers, specialists, social workers, and others to deal with the “accumulated baggage” these kids carry. We need national, state and local policies that help and support our children, rather than punishing them for what is essentially not their fault.

And that’s why we need people who really care for victims of poverty in places of leadership.  When people like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama reach the White House, hope for the poor rebounds.  And when politics and political maneuverings dash our hope, we must  be involved to keep hope alive. I still have hope that the Democrats in Congress can figure out how to provide the support that our President needs to move forward with programs that bring some sense of caring for the least in our country. And I’ll continue to urge people of faith to speak prophetically to power about caring for the poor, then to get involved and help those who are doing the caring.

Making Hope Happen

In a February post this year, Washington Post columnist Paula Dvorak wrote that there were some 600 kids living in homeless shelters in our nation’s Capitol.  The good news is that she received a plethora of responses from folks wanting to know how they could help. Here’s what she concluded in her follow up article:  “This is a complex crisis that will take a multifaceted approach to solve. It’s more than an increased budget, a cot or a single counseling program. But we can do it. We have to do it because at least 600 kids are counting on people who care. And from the response I got, there are many who do.”

She is convinced that we can do it because she was encouraged by the people’s heartfelt responses to such dreadful news.

She referred those who responded, as a place to start, to one of the many organizations that are working hard to help kids here in DC,  The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which describes itself as a “nonprofit group that provides play space, toys, books, school uniforms and unconditional support and love. It does everything from teen tutoring to baby cuddle time.”

And there are other groups of good folk who are doing good work to help the neediest kids in DC.  I found these easily just searching the web:

Stand Up for Kids-DC:  “ensures that young people in this city have the basic human rights of shelter, food, and security. Our most powerful contributions are in forming supportive relationships with homeless youth who have no place to turn, preventing vulnerable youth from entering the cycle of homelessness, and gaining the assistance of the entire community to keep our youth safe, sheltered, and supported.”

Kids Konnection-DC:  “ministers to 1,500 children a week from DC public housing meeting a variety of the children’s needs.”  One of their programs is a Sidewalk Sunday School:  “Sharing GOD and HIS LOVE – teaching a moral value system – providing role models for the boys and girls – home visitations – one on one counseling – intervention in abuse or neglect situation – substance abuse prevention – sharing life skills: etiquette, banking, filing out job applications, and community service – helping youth make a transition from school to jobs or college – changing lives…”

Located in Southeast DC at Stanton Elementary , People, Animals, Love (PAL) is “helping ensure all children begin life with a solid academic foundation and meet or exceed national No Child Left Behind standards. The after school program and summer camp are offered in partnership with DC Public Schools Out-of-School Time Office, which provides space, security, janitorial services and coordination. PAL Club runs after school during the school year and PAL Camp is held for four weeks during the summer.”

There are plenty more, great opportunities for church groups to get involved and to help these at-risk children out as mentors, tutors or in whatever capacity they might be needed.

And help is sorely needed. In a recent article posted in Democracy Now!, a for-profit prison corporation called Youth Services International, which makes money putting children in prisons, is growing exponentially, even though they have faced multiple charges of child abuse. “More than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through these facilities in the past two decades. This comes as nearly 40 percent of all detained juveniles are now committed to private facilities, and in Florida, it is 100 percent.”

Chris Kirkham of The Huffington Post also reported on this, citing some of the abuses found in the Florida youth prisons:  “One guard had fractured an inmate’s elbow after the boy refused instructions to throw away a cup, according to incident reports. Another guard had slammed a boy’s head into the floor after an argument. The prison was infested with ants and cockroaches, toilets were frequently clogged and children reported finding bugs in their meager portions of food.” Why does such a company keep getting government contracts?  Here’s how: “Slattery [the owner], his wife, Diane, and other executives have been prodigious political rainmakers in Florida, donating more than $400,000 to state candidates and committees over the last 15 years, according to HuffPost’s review. The recipient of the largest share of those dollars was the Florida Republican Party, which took in more than $276,000 in that time.”

You remember the scandal in Pennsylvania where a judge was found guilty of accepting bribes to send kids to detention for minimal offenses? These for-profit prisons are hungry for our children, and they are being well-fed. Homeless children are most at-risk of becoming fodder for them.  One ray of hope for us locally is that it doesn’t appear that the District of Columbia sends children to any of these privately-run facilities, although there are some in Maryland. If anyone knows more about this, please let us know.

While we have opportunities to help the children avoid juvenile detention by reaching out to them individually, the problem of saving our youth is more complex than any number of service organizations can solve without additional support from elected officials. It is a complex problem.  But, as Paula Dvorak surmised, we can do it.  The hope lies in people who really do care.  They will find ways to volunteer, to challenge our churches to volunteer, to challenge local leaders to provide necessary funding for children’s programs, to demand that low-cost housing become a priority in the City’s future plans, etc, etc.  All of the above are ways to put faith in action.  And that is what creates hope.

Do you know what hope looks like?  I’m sure it must look like a smile and sparkle in the eye of a homeless child who has just felt love from the personal involvement of someone who really does care.  And hope must look like that same smile and sparkle in the eye of that child’s parent who has found an affordable home because they live in a city that really does care.

We are the nation’s Capitol.  We ought to provide a stellar example  of what hope looks like for the rest of this wonderful country.

How Faith Speaks to Power

On Monday, I received an email invite from an organization that I follow online, Faithful America, that asked us to join Sister Simone Campbell who was going up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to talk to and pray with members of Congress in support of ending the government shutdown.  The event was organized by an interfaith action group, Faith in Public Life.  Sister Simone Campbell is Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby. She lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice. During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including LCWR, to sign on. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act.

How could I resist such an invitation?  I couldn’t, and neither could my husband Bill. We weren’t the only ones who could not resist attending. The gathering of about about 150 people included religious leaders from different faiths, people of faith and people who were suffering because of shutdown.  The group was impressive.

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We met Jewish priests, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, representatives from the Salvation Army and United Methodists and others.  And there was at least one Baptist, that is one American Baptist, and that would be me.

We held hands as people of faith, sang a Jewish song “Of Love and Justice I will Sing” and then Sister Simone prayed for our country.  As we walked down the hall of the our nation’s capitol congressional office building singing “Amazing Grace,” my eyes welled…inspired by being among this wonderfully diverse group of religious leaders gathered with common purpose in God’s name. This is really faith in action. Here is a link to an article in the Nation ezine that has a video of us moving out to visit the Congresspersons.

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We stood in the hallways singing quietly while Sister Simone met with various members of Congress.  She was to meet with some who supported sending forward a clean continuing resolution (which would stop the shutdown) as well as with some members who opposed it (the ones keeping the government in shutdown mode).  Some of them were friendly enough, like Representative Frank Wolf  (northern Virginia), who came out to greet the religious leaders….he supports ending the shutdown.  Others met with her.  Still others, like Eric Cantor (also of Virginia) weren’t available.

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My favorite moment was when the Jewish Priests, who spent time talking to Eric Cantor’s receptionist, ended the discussion by blowing a Shofar, a traditional Jewish horn like the one that Joshua used in the battle of Jericho. That’s what I call making some noise! Another favorite moment was a conversation I had with one of the security guards, who had a time trying to get the group to keep a path down the hallway and not sing too loud.  He was walking beside me when he said he loved to sing in his church choir.  I told him he could sing along with us–he said he shouldn’t because his voice was so loud that they always put him in the back of the choir. Then, as we headed down the stairs, he broke out singing with us–and yes, he has a nice voice.

I applaud Faithful America and its low-profile Executive Director, Michael Sherrard (here is the only information about him that I could find online), Sister Campbell, and Faith in Public Life, because they are truly in the business of putting their faith into action…and that’s the kind of mustard seed faith that can move mountains. Matthew 17: 20-21.

When we returned home, I learned that just about the time we were there was when Congress again failed to reach an agreement, giving the responsibility of working out a plan back to the Senate.  And as you all know by now, the Senate completed the job, those causing the scandalous shutdown and possible default were defeated, and late last evening our President signed the bill into action. God works in wondrous ways.

Yet, it is not a time for celebration. According to Elizabeth Warren this outrageous act of a few bullies in Congress has cost the American people approximately $24 billion.  I really believe these bullies are not thinking of what’s best for America and that they must have a secret agenda.  Am I the only one who thinks they’re really foreign undercover operatives whose goal is to bring down this country?  I guess I’ve watched too many 007 movies.

I just hope and pray that God gives ‘ears to hear’ to these people who are hellbent on hurting America and who claim they are doing it because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, which, contrary to what they repeatedly say, has been amply approved by the American people.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top and you’ll see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

The God of Hope

I woke up yesterday convinced that I should write about what some call the racial divide in our country.  I see it as more than a divide–more of a racial cleansing.  I was going to write about the confluence of the War on Drugs, which is sending so many of our black children to prison, the growing privatized prison industry gaining profit from from keeping more inmates than any other civilized country in this world, and using the inmates as slave labor to make even more profit.  I was going to write about  states reducing funding for public school systems, the “stand your ground laws” that allow someone to stalk and kill a black person and be deemed innocent upon claiming to be afraid, states stripping the right to vote from those who have prison records, states stripping away voting rights of people of color– and the Supreme Court clearing the way for that to happen.  I was going to talk about the effort of many states to purge themselves of Hispanic immigrants, the constant efforts to water down Affirmative Action, and how a majority in the House of Representatives want to do nothing more than to defeat any proposal from our first African American President, with the support of their constituents to do that.

These things, along with the Washington Post’s survey showing a deep racial, ideological and religious divide over the result of Trayvon Martin’s killer’s trial, all lead me to believe that there is a mindset held by a large percentage of the population in this country that must be similar to the mindset in Germany when the Nazis demonized and justified killing millions of Jewish people–and the German Christian church mostly going along with that. I believe that many of those who claim to be conservative will also claim to not be racists, but yet they support all those things that are killing off our people, which, to their way of thinking, is not their fault, but ours.  Is it a conscious and concerted effort led by some of the power brokers, like the Koch brothers, who put so much of their billions into defeating Obamacare,  pretty much anyone who’s running for office who is not a conservative, and anything that is designed to help the poor and raise the middle class? Probably so.

But I decided today that I’d rather write about the God of hope. The biblical record lets us know that when it seems like all is lost, that’s when the God of hope steps in:  Joseph redeeming his family after the brothers thought they had killed him; little David defeating the giant Goliath; Queen Esther  (of the “if I perish, I perish” fame) saving her people from slaughter,  and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to name a few examples in the Old Testament. Plus of course, Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of being crucified, dead and buried before he arose and was exalted by God, and who now sits on the Throne, with all power given to him.

This God of Hope still exists, as evidenced through history in the American Revolution, the defeat of slavery through the American Civil War, the defeat of segregation through the Civil Rights effort and the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, to name a few.  These examples tell us that larger, more powerful foes can be defeated and overcome by those who seem weaker and more vulnerable–those who, by the state of their being weak, know that they must not rely on their own power and strength, but on God.  As I heard Jacqueline Thompson, one of my favorite young female preachers say, “One plus God is enough!”

The thing is that the God of hope doesn’t work alone.  Our God works through people who are committed to do God’s will– those who are willing to tackle giants who want to slaughter their people, those who are willing to go before the kings, even though they know they may perish, those who are willing to stand up for righteousness and justice in the face of powerful foes, and those who are willing to die to save others.

God needs people like that.  God needs more people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who did not back down from challenging the Nazi regime.  He died an honorable death, the death of a person who really knows how to be a friend, according to Jesus:  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)  Jesus is that kind of friend.  Jesus wants us to be friends like that for each other.

I trust in this God, therefore I have hope. I have hope in God and hope in so many wonderful people I know who are willing to stand up for what is right.  Just writing this brings back my joy that even this mean, crazy and mixed-up world can’t completely take away, and my peace, that this world just doesn’t get.

Next week, I plan to share information on some ways we can become involved.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and therefore be filled with peace, joy, and hope.