Blog: March 2013
"Stay in the city until you've been clothed with the power from on high..." Luke 24:49
Occasionally our lives cross paths with a truly extraordinary person. Their mere presence radiates a kind of light and aura, leaving us better and bigger people. Their words--although sometimes few--linger with us like a welcomed friend. Their actions remind us of the kind of people we long to become.
So when I heard the story of Millie Gordon on NPR tonight, I felt I was given a gift at the end of a long, hard day at work. I needed to be reminded that there are saints still at work in the world. Millie, it seems to me, is the kind of person that leaves everyone in her ake a little more like God intended each of us to be.
"You've got to treat each one like they are your grandchildren," confessed this 86 year old music teacher. "Everyone in my choir has done something bad in their life. Some have murdered, some have committed robbery, some have raped...but I treat them all like they're my grandchildren." That's what makes Millie so extraordinary.
Trained as a musician at Julliard, Millie has been teaching prisoners for the passed 30 years. "After my husband left me, I had a dream," revealed Millie in the interview. "In the dream I saw young men reaching through cell bars with their arms. When I woke up I remembered a conversation I had two years earlier.
Someone had offered me a position to teach music to prisoners. I flatly turned them down." Millie found the number, called the individual. To her surprise, the position was still available. Three decades later she's the most popular staff worker at the correctional facility.
Ironically there is only one reserved parking spot at the prison where Millie works. It's not for the warden, or the CFO. It's for Millie, the woman who spreads love, and passes out an endless supply of Butter Scotch candies to her pupils.
"I remind my pupils that they are blessed to be in prison and that God has given them a second chance. They could be dead, but God has allowed them to come to prison because God has something special for them to do with their lives." So as Millie teaches her young men another verse of "What A Friend We Have in Jesus," they receive her message of hope, purpose and new life because of the one who carries the message embodies the message.
What creates the Millie's of the world? What gives an 86 year old woman respect and authority among some of the nation's hardest criminals? What gives this woman the capacity to love difficult people year after year? What makes a frail, tiny, grandmother "indispensable" to a warden? It's got to be God. It's got to be the fact that this resurrection event is alive and still clothing people with the "....power from on high."
Dr. Bruce Main
"Are we willing to give until it hurts?" Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“It was a wonderful dedication and it was a joy for me to be there...The room bearing my name is so light and perfect. I didn’t notice the names on the door, but Don, my pastor, did, and like you—I smiled when I entered. God had me choose right when I used my 'new car' money for the room. My ’86 Caravelle is still running, but it belongs to Rev. Don now. I no longer drive but am blessed to have others drive me. God does provide. Now I feel led to donate money to furnish a classroom.” (Doris, June 6, 2006)
Reflect & Discuss
Take some time this week to think about the choices you’ve been making about your money and possessions. Talk with your spouse and perhaps the whole family about this. This is an invitation to do some fresh analysis of your priorities. What choices can you make today that will have an eternal, enduring impact? Do you trust God enough to let go of your manna and share it with others? Don’t just get “guilted” and write a check. Invest some serious thought and prayer in this, and set up some long-term patterns. How do you make your financial choices? How can you most effectively honor God with your resources?
God of abundance, God of plenty, we acknowledge that all we have comes from your hand. Nothing we own is ours. We are stewards of your goodness. (The Promise Effect, p. 175, 176, 177)
Recently I have noticed a trend in our culture. I would call it an aversion to the difficult, the strenuous, and the challenging. We prefer the easy road—the road well trodden—with lots of rest stops and Starbucks along the way. Somehow we have come to equate Christian faith with ease, abundance, and continuous pleasure. Faith certainly opens our lives to blessing, but it also calls us to confront the most difficult of human challenges. Daniel Taylor reminds us of a forgotten virtue: “Perseverance means carrying on in the face of obstacles, continuing in what one is doing despite unfavorable circumstances. The marathoner perseveres despite a protesting body, the sculptor perseveres despite the unyielding stone, the husband and wife persevere despite the strains of marriage. In the things of the spirit, perseverance means continuing in faith when the conditions for faith are unpropitious. The Bible is a very realistic book. Its writers understand human psychology and the realities of life far better than most modern practitioners of mental therapy. It is full of encouragement to take heart in the midst of struggle, and of admonitions that the long run is more important than the short.” (The Promise Effect, p. 200, 201)
Look for indviduals in your church or community who serve quietly and faithfully. Chances are they don’t want anyone making a big deal about them—but you can thank them, affirm them, and tell them you’ll pray for them (and then really do so!). That kind of support will go a long way toward bolstering their perseverance. Pray Lord, help us to notice those who serve with no spotlight, no headlines, no need for recognition. Inspire us through their lives.
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Matthew 14:27
A mentor of mine used to pray, “Lord, help me to take the way of the cross in all that I do today.” It’s an interesting line, one I’ve never forgotten. My friend was trying to say that he wanted God’s help to subvert his own ego needs, responding to difficult relational situations with humility and forgoing the need to win, gloat, or belittle another human being. Jesus reminds his followers that they must “carry the cross” to truly follow him. I don’t believe Jesus was talking about a physical cross. It was certainly an instrument of physical death, but I think he was talking about something beyond that, something far deeper. “
Carrying the cross” is an invitation to live differently. It’s a willingness to submit one’s whole self to a new lifestyle. It means allowing ourselves to voluntarily suffer, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, forgive, and surrender our need to get the last lick in an argument. It is a radical challenge Jesus issues. How hard it is to voluntarily appear weaker, submissive, and non-combative! But there is freedom in this lifestyle. “Dying daily” brings life. Instead of getting swept into whirlpools of tit-for-tat violence, cesspools of bitterness, and quagmires of grudges, reach out for the life that is truly life. Let go of your compulsion to get even, and find your new identity in the way of Christ.
Lord, relationships are complex. Life is messy. We all need your help to “take the way of the cross” in all we do. Give us the insight to discover what this means and the courage to do it. (The Promise Effect p. 184, 185)
“A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” Mark 12:42-44
Take a day of your life to see your world through Jesus’ eyes. Don’t just look for needs, but also for the examples of love and generosity around you. You might want to take notes as you go through the day, and you might need occasional reminders, in case you slip back into your normal way of seeing. It might help to gather some other people that night or the next day, just to review your “sightings.”
Thank you for people who live your Gospel. Open my eyes so my life can be enriched and challenged by their witness. (The Promise Effect, p. 40, 41)
Today's youth are often characterized as selfish, or the "me" generation. Read about some amazing students who sacrifice their time and money to sponsor the tuition of Noah, a kindergartner at our CamdenForward School. http://urbanpromiseusa.org/haddonfield-teens-sponsor-school-tuition-camdenforward-school-student
When Michael Lovaglio, UrbanPromise Academy English teacher, passed along Carlos Garcia's personal statement, he described the essay as "spectacular." We couldn't agree more. The following are the two opening paragraphs from the UrbanPromise Academy senior's essay:
I love to train. When I am working the heavy bag it is not just my body sweating out physical toxins, but my mind too is sweating – shedding – out all of my daily stresses. Stress over how to provide for my family. Stress over whether or not to finally accept the dealer’s offer to begin to sell on my block. Stress over the murder of loved ones, and fear over who could be lost next. All of this weighs on me throughout the day, the choices, the anxiety. It is when I get to the gym, wrap my hands, put on the gloves, and begin to hit the bag that the added weight begins to trickle down. Though I am leaning into the bag with every hit, I feel taller than before I walked through the gym doors.
According to Mohammad Ali, one of the brightest and bravest American fighters both in and out of the ring, “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them – a desire, a dream, a vision.” I love this quote because anyone can work out in the gym, but to be a champion takes leadership and hard, dripping, work. Champions feel the passion of our craft. What first started out as a seemingly implausible idea, maybe only a feeling, soon developed into a vision. My vision of being a champion has saved me, helping to shape me into a better, stronger, more reliable person – the person I am today.
"I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things." Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I used a sewing machine once in my life--with disastrous results! I was in a home economics class in junior high school. I'm sure I was there because I thought it would be an easy "A." But putting that nearly invisible thread through the even tinier eye of the needle took more patience than what was required of Job. And keeping my fingers from getting stuck took a level of dexterity that I quickly--and painfully--discovered I did not possess.
I've since repressed that memory. I hadn't thought about a sewing machine--or trying to sew my own clothes--until a few months ago. I received a letter from a friend, Helen Reichert, who had heard about the orphanage and school UrbanPromise sponsors in Malawi, Southeast Africa. Helen had an idea--one a little outside the box. "What if the girls in the orphanage could learn to sew, make clothes for themselves, and maybe even sell them to earn a little money?" she asked in her letter. "What do you think?"
To be honest, I didn’t know what to think (mostly because of my traumatic sewing experience in junior high). But I forwarded Ms. Reichert's letter to Gibozi, the director of the girls' orphanage. A week later I received his response: "I love the idea. Could your Ms. Helen raise some money so we could buy sewing machines for the girls?" That was all Helen needed to hear. She went into high gear and, within just a few weeks, she and her friends raised $2,600. That money helped purchase Singer sewing machines, bolts of brightly colored material, and, of course, a bunch of those dreaded needles. The wonderful result of Helen's innocent letter of inquiry? Ten orphaned girls have learned to make clothing! They've gained a lifelong skill and are now looking toward a brighter future.
That's what I love about the body of Christ. Each of us has unique interests and skills, different passions and personalities. We just need to see them as gifts to be offered back to God on behalf of others. Many of us underestimate the importance and potential of our talents. We dismiss them as insignificant, commonplace, and unworthy. But without accountants, boat-builders, tutors, readers, artists, engineers, students, nurses, dancers, singers, and good listeners, UrbanPromise--and the greater world--would not be a dynamic representation of Christ’s body.
Mother Teresa explained it much more eloquently: "I can do things you cannot do, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things."
I can't--and don't like to--sew. So what? I don't need to. Because there are several girls in Malawi who rejoice at the prospect of sewing. And it all happened because of a woman named Helen--a woman who likes to sew, had an idea, and acted on it. I'm sure you'd agree that's a great thing!
Dr. Bruce Main
President & Founder, UrbanPromise
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1
When we offer the wholeness of our being to God, two important things happen: We experience a deep sense of fulfillment, and we enrich the lives of others. (The Promise Effect, p.153)
Take a piece of paper and pen. Write this heading at the top: "Stuff I Know How to Do." Then write numbers 1 to 20 down the side. In a moment you’re going to fill in this list. You might start with your job, or a favorite hobby. Are there details of those subjects that you are especially an “expert” in? But don’t forget family stuff and things you’ve learned from personal experience.
Now take a look at the clock and note the time. See how long it takes you to fill in the twenty spaces. Ready...go! Afterward, relax. Breathe. Take another look and see if there’s anything obvious you missed. (Now you may add #21 or #22.) Over the next week, keep this list around, handy, within your field of vision. For each item you’ve listed, ask this question: How can I use this knowledge to help someone else? Can you teach somebody, provide important assistance, or pool your knowledge with that of others? Think creatively about this. Talk with others. And see where the Lord leads.
Lord, I’m not sure what I have to offer, but it’s yours. Use my resources—whatever they are—to help the people you love.
I come from
By Dominique Payne, UrbanPromise Alumni
I come from parents who come from islands where the water is as clear as glass and the breeze is as
cool as a summer day.
I come from a place with a bad reputation, where some people would fire a gun and not worry if
the person they hit could possibly be the one to cure cancer, or create world peace. The
person they hit could be a single mother who is struggling to take care of five kids, an
older sister who is a role model to her younger sister who wishes to be just like her when
she grows up, or an older brother who is working and doing something on the side just to
get what he needs.
I come from a family who barely listens and if they do it’s only to hear what they want to hear
and not what you really said.
I come from a family that has poor sight, where four eyes are common than two but even with
four they still can’t see that I am not as happy as my smile appears, my
smile that could shine as bright as the sun, and holds a story that many would want to hear but only one
can tell. My smile that once held nothing but happiness but is now dimmed by the
problems that come in life.
I come from stubborn siblings who believe there is more than one right way to doing things and
if they can’t get their point across nothing will go your way.
I believe all the stories of me never crying when I was little, but instead laughing at nothing and
always carrying a smile as if it was a valuable jewel that was one of a kind and everyone
wanted to have it.
I will not let someone determine my future and tell me where I can and cannot go. My future will
be for me and will be a result of all the choices I made because no one judged me or told
me I couldn’t be who I am.
I wake up sometimes feeling like I’ve slept for days and my body is weak from the abuse of
time. Abuse of trying too hard and caring too much.
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:41
My priest friend, Father Michael Doyle, once said, “The greatest compliment Jesus ever gave a human being was to love their enemies.” Why? “Because Jesus believed that human beings were capable of doing something completely counter-intuitive, something so extraordinary that it contradicts their animal instincts.”
Jesus believed that human beings were capable of behaving in remarkable ways. Jesus makes this same kind of appeal in the above verse. The custom in Jesus’ day was for Roman soldiers—part of that imperial system that was deeply resented by the Jewish people—to ask civilians to carry their heavy bags. Civilians were required, by law, to do this for one mile. You can only imagine the animus this practice created in the hearts of the occupied people. At any time and in any place, a soldier could humiliate you by making this request. Rather than resenting the request and receiving the humiliation, Jesus turns the whole process on its head. “Go with them for two miles!”
Can you imagine the Roman soldiers when their subjects did not drop their bags after the first mile? Perplexity? Confusion? Maybe even anger—after all, the dynamics of power have now shifted. Jesus calls you and me toward a “second mile” lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that joyfully and willingly demonstrates love by choosing to do what we are not required to do. (The Promise Effect, p.137)
If someone asks you a favor, or if there’s some regular chore you resent doing, find a way to do more, or to do it better than required. You don’t need to say it’s a “second mile” thing; just do it as a gift of God’s love.
Going the second mile, Lord, is a challenge—especially if my heart is supposed to be in the right place. Thank you for believing that I can get to this place. Thank you for believing that I can become more than I can imagine.