Has God Lost His Power?

Has God Lost His Power?

I remember the feelings of pride and confidence I felt as a child when I heard Bible stories that told of God’s triumphant powers reigning supreme over all the other gods and rulers and kings. Even though I did not consider myself as a “Child of Israel,” I did connect with “God’s chosen people” and felt that I had access to this same power. I felt that with God on my side I would overcome any obstacle and triumph in any situation. I felt invincible. I felt unstoppable. But this wasn’t just youthful arrogance. I had biblical support.

Moses’ fight with Pharaoh’s magicians was not a fight between slaves and tyrant, it was a fight between gods. Who would win? The Living God or the dead god? When Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den, it was not a fight between man and animal, it was a fight between gods. Who would win? The Living God or the dead god? When the three Hebrew boys were thrown in the fiery furnace, it was not a fight against man and fire, it was a fight against gods. Who would win? The Living God or the dead god? When David fought Goliath, it was not a fight between men, it was a fight between gods. Who would win? The Living God or the dead god? Each time, as we know, the Living God prevailed and the consistent winningness of God increased the reputation of the Living God (of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Each day, we all fight similar battles with our own fiery furnaces and personal giants — against political edicts and social and cultural pressures that conflict with our understandings and convictions. But the results of these battles are different from the results during the biblical era.

Too many Christians today carry their Bibles to church and profess their faith in the power of Jesus, but then go back to decrepit communities and overcrowded houses, where they are suffocating in bills, poor health, and an overall dissatisfaction with their lives. Inwardly they struggle with having a better life on earth and being a poor person who suffers long because they are Christians. Any suggestion of one’s life being a physical manifestation of the quality of one’s faith is immediately dismissed as “prosperity gospel” and even anti-Christian. Their (misguided) logic goes like this: heaven is their reward; and though evil appears to be winning today, in the very end good will make a comeback.

As honorable and sincere as this may sound, what would have happened if David had that mentality when he fought Goliath? What if Moses thought like that when he was freeing the Children of Israel out of bondage? Not only would there be no Christianity today, there wouldn’t even be Judaism! And because we have chosen this as our stance today, we are in danger of being the reason why the Christian faith has lost its strength and relevance for the contemporary world.

As a rule, people do not gravitate toward that which appears not to work. And this, I believe, is how the younger generations of Christians interpret Christianity today: anemic, irrelevant, powerless.

Is this a surprise? Either the Living God is losing His power, or Christians are doing something wrong.  I say Christians are doing something wrong. Our faith must be more than hope in eternal life with God. It must be a bulletin board for all to see consistency in our lives to show the power that God holds for helping us live holy, purposeful, and relevant lives TODAY.

Young people are not interested in being a part of something that is not working. Young people are uninterested in carrying on traditions for tradition’s sake. We want evidence. We don’t want to be defeated. We want power. We want to feel excited about God and God’s people again.

Let’s have a conversation. Do you think God is losing His power in today’s church? What can we do to make our faith more real to the younger generation?

Parables for the NBA Lockout

Parables for the NBA Lockout

Fans of the wacky musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords recognize one of their signature hits, a song called “Business Time.” 

Despite being very silly, “Business Time” is not for kids.

It’s about an amorous husband trying to get his wife in the mood. The song (and accompanying video) is funny because of the contrast between the sensuous musical subject matter and the decidedly unsexy, ordinary domestic activities surrounding it. Doing the laundry, separating the recycling … these are not activities normally depicted as foreplay in our modern culture.

Yet, many married women attest to the fact that with the right attitude, many of these can, in fact, set the mood quite nicely.

Which is another example of how many times the truth can be counter-intuitive. 

But if you learn from it and take advantage, you can reap dividends.

How the sausage is made

In the same way, I’m hoping that there are young NBA fans who have been paying close attention to the league during this latest work stoppage.

See, some people think the lockout is a time for basketball fans to tune out and enjoy something else. And I’m sure a lot of us (myself included) could definitely stand to do less watching of physical activity, and more doing of it.

But for young ballplayers who aspire to greatness in the NBA or elsewhere, now is the best time to pay attention to the NBA. If I were 16 and could shoot from distance, I would be digging into as much coverage of the lockout as I could.

It might not be as fun or interesting as the game itself. But there’s the game … and then, there’s the game behind the game.

See, there’s a reason why when LeBron James was discussing his free agent plans in 2010, he kept referring to his team, and he wasn’t talking about his NBA coworkers in Cleveland. He was talking about his management team. He was talking about the team that helps him take care of his business. He was talking about business time … those things that happen behind the scenes that allow him to be the basketball-playing global icon he aspires to be.

And that’s one thing that LeBron deserves credit for. Whereas a lot of young ballers focus only on their game and pay accountants and managers to handle the rest, LeBron has been very hands-on regarding his image and his business matters. He understands that he’s not just managing a basketball career but a business career. And unlike a quick first step, business acumen can last well into one’s later years.

Professional basketball has always been a business, and it’s a testament to the power of flashy marketing that fans aren’t aware of this truth more often. But in a work stoppage, the business of the game is on center stage.

But now Labor Day, an oft-quoted negotiating deadline, has come and gone, the NBA preseason has been effectively canceled, and the traditional start of the regular season is fast approaching. Both the labor and ownership representatives must feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done in order to save the season. In the same way, young aspiring business professionals should also have a sense of urgency in understanding how this particular sausage gets made, before it gets swept back under the rug of marketing hype that will accompany the NBA’s inevitable return.

(Did I just sweep the sausage under the rug? Pardon my mixed metaphor.)

Central to the negotiations are questions about revenue sharing, player contracts, salary caps, age restrictions, and many other related issues. Getting a handle on these things can sharpen a young person’s business acumen.

And this kind of sharpening is crucial, because a good business sense is an essential for overall success in any field. Whether it’s basketball or basket-weaving, in order to be the best you have to learn not only the craft itself, but the way to turn that craft into a solid business. Many of the most successful figures are not necessarily the most talented, but the hardest working in their field

Taking our talents beyond South Beach

Good business sense is essential in the kingdom of God, according to many of Jesus’ parables regarding the managing of money.

One of the more commonly preached is often referred to as the parable of the talents, which helps us to understand that the word “talent” was not always a reference to skill or aptitude, but actually meant a sum of money to be invested. Most NBA-caliber players intuitively understand that their talents, invested properly, can yield a great harvest over time. And many Christians today understand the principle that being faithful with a little can translate to being entrusted later with much.

But Jesus’ parable is not just about maximizing return, but also about taking to heart the urgency required in honoring the master. You also see this in the parable of the unjust steward, which is quite the head-scratcher compared to the other one. But in both cases, one of the resounding themes is the urgency with which the stewards act in response to the oversight of the master. Even though the unjust steward was shady in the way he brokered his freedom, his master was so impressed with the ingenuity that arose from his desperation.

What can we learn from these parables?

That the God of the Bible is both infinitely just and inexplicably merciful. And that for everyone, NBA players and middle managers alike, living in a reconciled manner with Him is not only the key to salvation and a life full of shalom, but if that weren’t enough … it also makes good business sense.

So when (or if) the NBA returns to arenas and TV sets across the nation, let’s rejoice. But while it’s still in lockout mode, let’s get our notebooks out.

Because, y’know, business time doesn’t last forever.

The Lessons of Derrion Albert’s Death

The Lessons of Derrion Albert’s Death

Demanding More from Ourselves for urban faith

TOO YOUNG: On Sept. 24, 2009, Derrion Albert became the innocent victim of mob violence as he walked home from school.

Two years ago, on Sept. 24, 2009, a mob of teenagers attacked and killed a young man outside a Christian community center on the south side of Chicago.

Derrion Albert, 16, had been an honors student at Fenger High School before his death. He died outside the Agape Community Center in Roseland, seemingly caught in the middle of a gang fight that had nothing to do with him.

Two years after Derrion Albert’s death, the youth violence epidemic continues in many inner cities. On Monday, Sept. 12, a family friend of Derrion Albert was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago. Alexander McDonald, 23, was the father of 2-year-old Jaylen. He was shot in the head on his way back from a funeral, cutting short his plans to graduate from college and marry his fiancée, according to ABC News.

The next day, 14-year-old Brian DeLeon was brutally beaten into a coma in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. His horrified girlfriend Dayana Vazquez found him bleeding on the sidewalk. She told the Chicago Tribune, “He didn’t talk to gangbangers. All he did was play soccer. He wanted to be a professional soccer player.”

And yet these stories are only recent examples of the daily gang violence in America’s inner cities, with traumatic repercussions for urban youth.

Ministering amidst gang violence

The Agape Community Center, part of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, has been serving the Roseland community for more than 30 years. Their staff came to Albert’s aid after the beating.

Milton Massie, director of Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, declined an interview, explaining that his staff wanted to put the tragedy behind them and move forward.

Massie wrote in an e-mail:

We have sought and have experienced some level of healing. The last two years have been very difficult and painful as you might imagine. I am not really interested in talking more about this tragic and sadly “normal” state of violence in our community.

We still believe God and HIS Gospel is THE ANSWER. We must remain faithful, prayerful, and willing to endure the “hardships” that come with ministry in the “urban context”. His message is not ineffective. We as many in ministry in the U.S. (urban, rural, and suburban) are dealing with the “waxing cold” of “mankind’s heart.”

It is our responsibility to “keep our face to the plow.” His message of love and discipleship found in the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission” (Matthew 22:38-40; 28:18-20) [is] still vital, powerful, relevant, and effective (Romans 1:16)! That is how we address plight of our neighborhood and those are my comments.

UrbanFaith has added links to biblical references.

In an interview with UrbanFaith editor Edward Gilbreath in 2009, Milton Massie said youth in the neighborhood were angry and afraid — angry because parents weren’t taking responsibility for their kids, and afraid that they could be the next victims caught in gang crossfire while going to and from school.

“That’s a lot to ask from a child whose primary focus should be just trying to learn, and enjoying being a kid,” Massie said.

Turning to Scripture

Faced with the youth violence epidemic, UrbanFaith turns to the Book of Isaiah for glimpses of peace and redemption during turmoil.

Isaiah 1:15-17: “Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.”

Isaiah 2:4: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Isaiah 58:9-10: “‘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.”

Here’s Life Inner City Chicago has prayer requests on their website.

How can urban ministries combat gang violence and help youth living in unsafe neighborhoods? What Scripture do you turn to for hope and strength?

What Fueled the London Riots?

What Fueled the London Riots?

STREETS OF FIRE: Young people wearing hoods and masks have vandalized, looted, and burned communities throughout the UK. But what are they protesting?

With the view of a glamarous royal wedding quickly receding in the rear view mirror, London and other British cities erupted in violence this week after a 29-year-old black man was shot by police in a north London neighborhood Saturday night and peaceful protests were allegedly ignored. This has led to the natural assumption that the chaos happening in the United Kingdom is the direct result of racial unrest. But is that a safe assumption? 

Did racial tensions fuel the riots?

It’s impossible to tell, said Kurt Volker, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations, in an interview with Mother Jones. “In addition to youth unemployment, I’d also have to point to a general sense of unease,” said Volker. “With austerity cuts, controlling the debt, watching what’s happening in the Euro zone. It’s just gotta be very unsettling for people. You take this element of great uncertainty, and it has somehow turned into this.”

Yes, said Lola Adesioye at The Grio. “This has been a long time coming,” said Adesioye. “This violence is as a result of, among other things, unexamined racial issues, a crumbling sense of community among black people with no real leadership, unresolved class issues, social exclusion coupled with a lack of opportunities, a deep recession in addition to an extremely high cost of living, a new government who has been cutting back on services for youth, disenfranchised young people, and a dependency culture all rolled into one.”

Not so fast, said The GuardianData journalist Matt Stiles created a map correlating the riots with poverty, but another article dismissed the notion that any one racial group dominated the violence. “As multi-ethnic areas from London to Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bristol burned, a myth was being dispelled: that so-called ‘black youths’ are largely behind such violence,” the article said. “In Tottenham on Saturday many of those who gathered at the police station to protest against the shooting of Mark Duggan were, like him, black. But others were Asian and white. By the following day, as the looting spread to other north London suburbs, there appeared to have been a slight shift in the demographic, which started to look younger. In Enfield most of those who gathered in the town centre were white. The youngest looked about 10-years-old.”

If it’s not racial, then what’s driving it?

It’s part of a worldwide response to economic unrest, CNBC reported, but “politicians from both the right and the left, the police and most residents of the areas hit by violence nearly unanimously describe the most recent riots as criminal and anarchic, lacking even a hint of the antigovernment, anti-austerity message that has driven many of the violent protests in other European countries,” countered The New York Times, noting nonetheless that one million British young people between ages 16 and 24 are officially unemployed.

What’s Next?

The prime minister promised a show of force. “Britain will not allow a culture of fear to take over the streets, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Wednesday, saying police have drawn up contingency plans to use water cannons if necessary,” NPR reported this morning. “We will do whatever is necessary to restore law and order onto our streets,” Cameron was quoted as saying in a televised statement. “Nothing is off the table.”

On the Bright Side …

Not everyone was freaking out. “Hundreds of people gathered in Twitter-organized crews to sweep up broken glass, clean vandalized buildings and show the world — and themselves — that their city is about more than mindless destruction,”  The Associated Press reported. “By the time the volunteers gathered in Camden, most of the shattered glass had been swept up, the damaged windows patched. A group headed by subway for the worse-hit Clapham area across town. If violence strikes again, they said, they would do it again on Wednesday.”

Less Ball, More Education

Less Ball, More Education

Growing up in Atlanta the emphasis in my home and church community, outside of a relationship with the God, was education. In fact, since slavery the black community has valued education as the means of economic empowerment and political liberation. Education is so powerful that slaves were forbidden to learn how to read and write for hundreds of years in this country. Many of us had parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles drill these words into our heads: “get an education.” Sadly, many black communities have been sabotaged with the deception of short-term gratification so that the empowerment brought through education is no longer valued. In the place of education has emerged an emphasis on entertainment and sports as the primary means of upward social mobility that many find troubling. In particular, an overemphasis on sports has dire consequences for black males.

In 2010, Dr. Krystal Beamon, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote a fascinating article explaining the phenomena of black males being herded into sports. In “Are Sports Overemphasized in the Socialization Process of African American Males?,” Dr. Beamon explains that there has been elevated levels of sports socialization in the family, neighborhood, and media in the black community creating an overrepresentation of black males in certain sports. One of the results of this overemphasis, according to Beamon, is that black males may face consequences that are distinctly different from those who are not socialized as intensively toward athletics, such as lower levels of academic achievement, higher expectations for professional sports careers as a means to upward mobility, and lower levels of career maturity. In other words, the sports emphasis is putting black males at a disadvantage later on in the marketplace.

Much research has demonstrated that, compared to their white counterparts, black males are socialized by family and community members deliberately into sports, limiting their exposure to other hobbies, like reading, and to non-sports related role models early in life. In some families, for example, parents are more interested in basketball practice than homework completion or good grades. The overemphasis also continues to feed stereotypes about black men as athletes, and these stereotypes are exacerbated as the mass media limits projections of black males as working in professional, non-athletic, or non-entertainment vocations.

A recent NCAA study reports that high school athletes have a 0.03 percent chance of playing in the NBA and a 0.08 percent change of playing in the NFL. With these odds, many black males are being inadvertently sabotaged if their families and communities socialize them into sports as a way to become successful and escape poverty in the absence of forming them morally and educationally.

What is needed are new role models and peers that reinforce the virtues that form and shape character and equip young men to be successful in the marketplace, whether they play sports or not. If black males are to be protected from the sabotage of hopelessness, the pursuit of accelerated upward mobility, materialism, and so on, individual Christians have to get more involved in the lives of black youth to nurture a broader imagination for the purpose of one’s life beyond being famous, making money, and achieving physical prowess.

If education is not emphasized as the means of success, if learning is not celebrated, if the exploration of multiple hobbies and opportunities are not encouraged, we may be inadvertently setting a trap for self-destruction, because the consequences of not being prepared to participate in the global marketplace are serious.

Photo illustration by Mike O’Dowd.