Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt. 6: What is the Isaiah 61 Initiative?

We've spent the last few weeks discussing Isaiah 61, the scripture that inspired the Isaiah 61 Initiative. So what is the Isaiah 61 Initiative anyway? It's sort of a big picture thing, so we'll start with the vision.

To declare God’s Glory through the spiritual renewal and physical restoration of the people and the land of America starting in the most desperate areas of our major cities.

To call for and facilitate a major missionary movement back to the devastated areas of our inner cities to establish homes and businesses, restore the land, and serve the people living there with the love of Jesus Christ.

The Isaiah 61 Initiative
Sun Ministries launched this nationwide effort to rebuild America's most devastated inner cities in 2009, starting in north St. Louis, Missouri. This aggressive initiative utilizes three main components (Leadership Center, Opportunity Center, Narrow Gate), along with some creative community engagement and use of resources, to solve problems that have plagued these areas for generations. By training and relocating young missionaries to live and work in these areas we will rebuild the decaying structures, minister to the neediest residents and make a generational impact.

So how do we actually do that? How does it work?

We will break down the three components in future blogs, but let's cover some big picture purposes here:

The Leadership Center
The Leadership Center trains and equips people for this work – primarily missionaries. The important aspect of this is that missionaries live and work in the neighborhoods where they minister. They are personally invested because it is their neighborhood, too. They walk the same streets, breathe the same air, hear the same gunshots, etc. They interact with other institutions as members of the community instead of as temporary outsiders. Furthermore, they do all of this without pay. Missionaries have basic needs met, and live meager lifestyles. This does two things. It puts the maximum amount of our resources towards our mission. It also prevents us from being motivated by money.

The Opportunity Center
This is essentially the business/employment aspect of the ministry. The businesses provide for the ministry, so that we can achieve financial sustainability. We work with our hands and lead a quiet life, gaining skills we can teach to others, and providing employment environments for people needing to turn their lives around.

The Narrow Gate
This is our approach to life change. It addresses major obstacles, with the goal being a transformed person. We lead people to the opportunities for owning a vehicle and a home. We provide housing as available and as needed. This is also the aspect that provides housing for missionaries. Our missionaries continue to move out into the community in their own homes.

Those three components work in concert to not only address an individual's problems, but the obstacles that weigh down an entire community. We call this approach, “Pastoring the Community.”

Pastoring the Community
What does it take to pastor a community? It takes faith, hard work, commitment, self-sacrifice, and more. It takes people willing to serve others. We pray, serve, assist, support, and give. We use what God has given us physically, spiritually, and materially and dedicate it to serving others. We preserve what is decaying. We inspire what has been discouraged. We challenge what has been unmotivated. We provide where we are able. We empower what has been hindered. We rebuild what has been broken down. We revive those that have become faint at heart. We restore the Spirit of God to mankind through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because the issues facing communities are complex and longstanding, we have to get outside the box in every area. We have to be humble, flexible, and patient. Poverty is not simply a lack of money. Racism is not simply judgmental people. Violence is not solved by arrests. We interact with people and institutions in nearly every social realm: politicians, educators, police, churches, non-profits, residents, etc.

Pastoring the Community requires us to stand against evil. We are agents of reconciliation sent to serve and defend the defenseless. We build up the defenseless. We equip people to stand alone but teach them to always stand together. Pastoring the Community requires us to give up our rights to and ownership of the resources God provides for us. We Pastor the Community best when we stand as good stewards of that which we can never take with us.

The Isaiah 61 Initiative is the real life expression of what it means to Pastor the Community. It is the answer to the call that is essentially God's pattern for life. God demonstrates, teaches, and commands sacrificial love to restore the broken. No issue will be solved simply, so He has led us into a diverse and challenging approach to live, minister, and engage serious problems.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What is Tuesdays With Terry?

This previous Tuesday, we starting hosting teaching sessions at Sun Cafe, where Dr. Terry Goodwin, the founder and executive director of Sun Ministries, will be sharing some of the philosophy and principles of how we minister.

We are convinced that God has called us here, into this work, and that He has been building it faithfully. He has challenged us, broken us, healed us, enlightened us, and opened our eyes to things we never would have thought were real. The problems that He is addressing through our work are physical and spiritual, secular and religious, societal, cultural, relational, etc. While we know we don't have all the answers, we realize that there are some unique things going on here.

Most importantly, all the work and activity of Sun Ministries started in a spiritual place, and was borne out of a relationship with a real living God. The way we live our faith has become bigger and more real since the start of our work.

We know that not everyone is called to the same work. But we are convinced that what God has taught us here can be reproduced in other communities, so we want to share them with you. These are biblical principles that have come to life as we've walked them out in ministry and community. Here is the schedule for the remaining sessions:

Tuesdays at Sun Cafe, 6-8PM

February 9 – The Basics of Making Disciples

February 16 – Spiritual Disciplines

February 23 – Pastoring the Community

March 1 – Planting Faith Communities in a Post-Modern World

Please email terry@sunministries.org to register.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt. 5: Rebuild

Ruined cities. We see them every day. On our drives to work. On the news. In political debates, infographics, and non-profit agendas. “Urban missions” is a growing trend, and has become a focus of study at many Christian colleges. It's obvious there is a problem, and that the problem is very old.

The Isaiah 61 Initiative was born several years ago at a disciple-making training. During a break, God started revealing different scriptures to people. When they reconvened, they shared what God had laid on their hearts, and it all pointed to Isaiah 61, to the ruined cities. This is why we know we are called to the inner cities of America.

Of course, we know that this is not merely a physical call. Yes, there are physical ruins that need rebuilt, and we are doing that by rehabbing and utilizing commercial and residential spaces. But what about the spiritual desolations of many generations? It is no secret that in America today there are deep wounds left by generations of abuse, neglect, prejudice, apathy, racism, and a multitude of other forms of division. The church has found itself on both sides of these divisions, being the pioneers into dark places, as well as those ridiculing or ignoring cries for help.

The problem with ancient ruins is that they are ancient. They didn't develop overnight, and they won't be alleviated that way. Many of the buildings are crumbling after decades of neglect. Windows are broken. Roofs are failing. Mortar is worn away from the joints between bricks. And this goes on for block after block, mile after mile of many inner-cities in America. It's been this way, to some degree, since the late 50's, as white-flight and the shift in domestic industry forever changed the “urban core”.

And yet this is just the physical side of the devastation. People, too, have been worn away over the decades. They have inherited heavy burdens of pain and distrust. They have been wounded. Not only that, but the Gospel itself has been twisted in the modern landscape. The focus has shifted to saying a prayer and getting into heaven, or simply attaining abundant physical blessings in this world. It has been intellectualized, marketed, programmed, diffused, and contextualized into every new popular movie franchise. Church buildings lay in ruins right next to boarded up two-family flats. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and sent to proclaim good news to the poor for so much more than that, and so were you. There is a power in the Gospel, in the Spirit of the Living God, to enter into these ruins and begin the hard work of rebuilding. But it is a power that must be taken up, much like a cross, and carried. The mission of Isaiah 61 must be done, walked out. This requires you to lay down your own life and be willing to come alongside other people

The most amazing thing about this verse, however, is who is doing the rebuilding. Let's review the passage, starting at the beginning:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. [Isa 61:1-4 NASB]”

It is, in fact, those who have been transformed who will be doing the rebuilding. They have received the good news; they have been healed, set free, and comforted; they have exchanged their despair for rejoicing; and they are now a mighty oak, glorifying God. And now that they have been “rebuilt”, they will go and repair the ruined cities. This is glorious. This is redemption. This is what Jesus came for. It is the end result of the good news He brings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt. 4: Oaks of Righteousness

Why do you minister?

Are you involved in ministry? What does it look like? What were your motivations? What are your goals?

These are important questions for anyone feeling called to help others, in any capacity. These questions are directed at the core of our ego, our expectations, our desires, and our sense of worth.

This is a touchy subject because as humans, we all have emotional needs. These were created by God, and in His Kingdom, they should be perfectly met. However, we live in the world, where people sin and fail, and we all are subject to the thorns that have filled the land. Recovering from those wounds takes intentionality and time, and ultimately, surrender to God.

Isaiah 61 is a promise of healing and transformation, which is why we stressed that this work must start in ourselves before we could ever hope to walk it out into the hurting world. And as we, and those to whom we minister, receive this healing, we become something glorious. Oaks of righteousness. To our modern ears, this sounds silly. We're well-behaved trees? What does this even mean? There is a theme of trees in prophetic imagery throughout the Bible, but to simplify things, step outside and observe an oak. They are tall, strong, and rise above their surroundings. They produce an abundance of fruit (in the form of acorns) and house all sorts of animals. They beautify the landscape and fortify the ground. All in all, they are good and wonderful things.

But we're not talking about trees; we're talking about people. And in the end, we're not talking about people, we're talking about God. “...that He may be glorified.” God anoints a servant with His spirit, sends the servant to proclaim good news and grant blessings, so that the recipients may be transformed into oaks of righteousness. However, they are a “planting of the LORD.” He is the one planting and growing the trees, and He is the one who receives the glory. There are alternate readings of this verse, however the bottom line remains: God grows and God receives the glory.

And this is why we started with the question, “why do you minister?” Isaiah 61 is a work of God, and not a work of man's strength. And the end result is transformation of others and the glorification of God. You should not seek to minister for the purposes of status, personal fulfillment, experience, meaning, or any other goal that points towards you. This is very much work, and will not produce much fruit. God works, and calls us to take part in it. We should hunger for the things God is doing, and like the worker in Proverbs, it will be for our good: “A worker's appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on [Proverbs 16:26 NASB].” If our hunger is for our own fulfillment, it will urge us on towards endless striving.

It is so much better to desire God, and hunger to be where He is, to do the work He is doing, and to embrace the privilege of getting to wonder at the glorious oaks growing up around you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Fitting Encounter

     January 18th. Martin Luther King Jr. day. A day when the people of this nation remember the great struggles that have taken place on the battle front of racism. Many have lost their lives on that front and still do to this day. St. Louis stands as notably one of the most divided cities in the country, and as of late has been a hot bed for racial tension and violence.
     Where is this tension coming from? How did St. Louis, as well as many other major cities, end up in the condition it is currently in? What are the spiritual roots and impacts of the racism and oppression in these areas?
     These were the topics of discussion when we were visited by a group from Richmond, Virginia this week from the local YWAM chapter there. They set out on a trip across country with the goal of understanding, exploring and waging spiritual warfare against this longstanding racism that runs deep in our nation. They paid a visit to some of the key landmarks having to do with division and reconciliation in this area and we were able to share with them some of our experiences and struggles with overcoming the barriers of racism in our own ministry. We invited the group to watch the film "The Pruitt Igoe Myth" and open their eyes to some of the foundations of this generations old feud. I'm glad we were able to share this time with them and I hope that God continues to bless their search for reconciliation.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt 3: Instead of Ashes


This is a common topic when discussing the Gospel or ministry. But it is not the byproduct of activity, service trips, bible study, or institutions. It doesn't “just happen”.

This verse of Isaiah 61 shows purpose and direction. Why did God give His Spirit? Why is He bringing favor and vengeance? The servant is being sent with a purpose. These are essentially the marching orders of the one who is accepting the mission of Isaiah 61.

Remember that these were the words Jesus quoted at the start of His ministry, and declared they were being fulfilled. This was His mission. And because it was His mission, it should be ours, for we are His disciples, and we should be like Him and walk the way He did.

However, has this happened to you? Have you received a garland instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of fainting? Have you been transformed from a state of hopelessness to one of healing? If not, do not despair. This doesn't mean you are bad person, or unloved by God, or worthless. It simply means you need to pursue Jesus and ask for healing, ask to receive His Spirit. Like we mentioned before, the work of Isaiah 61 starts with ourselves first, so that we can be healed and transformed, and then empowered to go and repeat the works of ministry we've received.

But the bigger picture is that this is what God is doing. That He sent His Son to do it. And that His Son has a Body – the Church. As the Body of Christ, we should be doing the work of Christ. His hands should be working, His feet moving, His heart beating, His ears listening, His eyes seeking, and His mouth proclaiming. For some strange reason, God has decided to do so many things THROUGH His people, the Body of His Son. So the next time you ask Jesus to do something, remember that you might be the part of His Body that He tells to do it.

This theme of transformation is recurrent in scripture. You could phrase it as “from fasting to feasting”. Despair to rejoicing. Brokenness to healing. Desolation to habitation. Drought and famine to flowing streams and abundance. Transformation is what God does.

We are convinced this is the thing God is doing today. He is sending His Spirit on His servants, the different parts of the Body of Christ, to free captives and grant to them transformation, through these blessings: celebration, gladness, praise. They are proclaiming freedom and pointing people to what is beyond their misery and despair. Again, this is not a byproduct. It is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit, through work, through selfless and costly acts of love. Through this the Body really comes alive, as all the members get filled with blood, the joints begin to move and pull on each other, the muscles are worked and stretched, the heart and lungs grow stronger, and the feet become swifter. This Body becomes a real living organism, and accomplishes real ministry, which is the goal of Isaiah 61.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt 2: Vengeance

Few people like to talk about vengeance. As good Christians, we are to forgive, and let God repay. We would rather speak of justice. However, so many people's idea of justice is self-centered. Justice for whom, from whom, upon whom? Is justice having things fair for yourself? Is justice receiving the punishment for your sins? Is justice grace? Is your idea of justice the same as God's?

We are continuing our discussion of Isaiah chapter 61, which has inspired the Isaiah 61 Initiative, the name we've given to the work God has led us to in America's inner cities. Let's look now at verse two:

“[He has sent me] to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God.”

So even though we might not like the word vengeance, here God is anointing people to go proclaim it. Jesus stops short of this line when He quotes the verse in Luke chapter 4. Is Jesus shying away from vengeance? A quick reading of His teachings would say no, He doesn't. So why stop? Maybe it wasn't time then. His work was the favorable year, the culmination of the ages when the Holy Spirit was returning to man, and anointing and empowering them to go and do the works of ministry found here in Isaiah 61. The NLT translation gives a little clarity:

“He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD's favor has come, and with it, the day of God's anger against their enemies.”

So this isn't just blanket vengeance, it is upon the enemies of the mourners. This is a part of Isaiah 61 that we didn't understand until recently. God's heart is continuously for the afflicted, poor, brokenhearted, aliens, neglected. The Law of the Old Testament had numerous instruction for how to care for these people. In the New Testament, there is ample exhortation concerning loving our neighbors and enemies. This hasn't changed. The whole point of Isaiah 61, and therefore Jesus' mission (since He quoted it, saying, “today this scripture has been fulfilled), is to bring good news to the afflicted, to heal them, and set them free.

This continues to this very day. God is looking to the oppressed and marginalized, sending His Spirit upon people to go and care for them, and bringing vengeance upon their enemies.

Let's back up. The year of favor is easier to take in and discuss. All the good works of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, this new life, forgiveness of sins, the Kingdom here, now, in our midst. And a way for all the people of the earth to come and know God. However, further than that, it is this mission that Isaiah 61 is presenting. “Fear not, afflicted, poor, and imprisoned. I am sending My Spirit to you, through my servants, to heal and set free.” These are all good and commendable things.  We like them.

So how does a minister of the mission of Isaiah 61 proclaim the day of vengeance of our God?

This is where things get uncomfortable.

Race. Class. Xenophobia. Pride. Comfort. Division. Standard of living. Escapism. Neglect. Insulation. Apathy. Corruption. Abuse of power. Faith without works.

God is shining light on dark, neglected and abused places. In doing so, He is tearing open long-hidden wounds and revealing secret sins. He is calling His people to live by the customs of the Kingdom, not the ways of the world. And one does this by laying down one's life, denying one's rights, and ridding oneself of expectations. And then going to the afflicted and serving. This is exactly what Jesus did. It is what He calls us to do. It is the mission of Isaiah 61.

Do not be mistaken. This is not a trendy call to social justice. Remember, your definition of justice may not be God's, and may have more in common with the world's definition. In being separate from the world, we have to realign our values with God's. Also, notice to whom the servant should be proclaiming: to those who mourn. “Take heart! God's favor is coming! And He is bringing vengeance upon your enemies!” And yet this isn't a vague, empty promise. As priests, we should be testifying to the works of God, and teaching people the difference between the holy and the profane. As we are serving and ministering, and watching God working, we should be communicating this to people, so they will know who God is and what He is like.

Have you witnessed this work of God in your own life? Have you witnessed it in the world around you?

Isaiah 61 is about good news and good works. Proclaim.