I started writing a book a couple of years ago inspired by the Freedom Riders and how many of them tried to live out their Christian faith in a way that brought freedom to others. John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Freedom Rides said, "Faith in God was at the heart of all I did." Many of the Freedom Riders were divinity students. They came to Montgomery, the city I live and pastor in, and were beaten and viciously attacked. Montgomery is a city full of churches. Why wasn't Christianity strong enough to stop this violence? Why wasn't it strong enough to lead a people to repentance? How can we recover Biblical faith in the midst of a lot of bad history and continuing division that has affected our whole nation and damaged our witness?
Below is an excerpt from my book that tells the story of the Freedom Riders. Part two will come tomorrow. We honor them and pray prayers of reconciliation Friday night at 5:30 at First Baptist Church on Ripley St. Our prayers will become a part of the story. At least they will become a part of my story and how the Freedom Riders have shaped me.
In retrospect, it becomes hard for us to imagine the opposition of educated, supposedly civilized people to something as simple and innocent as having people of different races ride busses together. But, bus rides were important symbols of the segregated South. So were lunch counters, the voting booth, water fountains, department stores, public schools, and churches. Basically, every place in the South where whites and blacks could potentially come together had to be regulated and division had to be enforced. These symbols had to be protected because if segregation failed at even one point socially, it could potentially fail at every point, radically changing life in the South. The segregated South was a culture built on lies – lies about what life was all about, lies about what God expected of His people, and lies about how people different from one another were to be treated. Identity was based on outward expressions like the color of one’s skin, instead of matters of the heart and the content of a man’s character. When lies become accepted in society and even institutionalized in the Church, it is very difficult for people to see the truth. It often takes a traumatic event to wake people up to the falsehoods that they have believed and built their lives upon. One such event was about to take place.
I've been thinking about death lately. Morbid, I know. But, after being up in the tornado/disaster zone earlier this week, it has been on my mind. I was actually kind of numb when I was up there. I was going through the motions and was trying to accomplish the task before me. But, by Tuesday night, I was exhausted, angry, and feeling pretty overwhelmed. I was talking with my friend Jason on the phone, and we were sharing Katrina stories. He worked for months in New Orleans helping with the rebuilding. I am from there and went down there a lot to help out my family and others and absorbed a lot of the suffering. We were talking about how these things get to you and about how our capacity to handle this well is not as great as we would like it to be. We either avoid dealing with loss on this kind of scale, we harden our hearts, or it really tears us up. I've felt all of those emotions this week, especially after I got back. Too many memories, too much loss.
Death is coming for all of us. It is the one unavoidable thing in the human experience. We are all going to experience loss of loved ones and our own life. Whether we die suddenly in an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or war, or whether we die slowly from cancer or old age, we are all going to experience the finality of death. The fear of death affects everything we do and it manifests itself in how much we fear loss, alienation, and rejection of any kind. We get defensive. We try to protect ourselves. We fear that we will lose things - stuff, health, vitality, relationships, money, love. This fear drives us to try and control our lives and to hold onto all that we can. But, all of this grasping is just a product of the Fall. We feel out of control so we try and regain our footing somehow. But, control is just an illusion. One day, death is coming for us and we know it and no matter what we do, we can't keep it from us or from the ones we love.
Of course, the immediate answer is yes. But, I am asking the same question I asked about a year and a half ago in this post: http://www.downshoredrift.com/downshoredrift/2009/07/can-the-christian-church-help-montgomery-alabama.html.
Not much has changed in Montgomery in a year and a half except that more people have moved to bedroom communities and more Christians have congregated in megachurches. It will be interesting to see what the new census numbers reveal about regional migration. White flight and middle class flight continue to take hold in Montgomery and Christians continue to run away to nice, safe, secure environments. I really wonder about this. Jesus didn't run away to environs that were safe for Him. He ran straight into a deadly situation out of love for us. Yet, we continue to run away from problems in our community and make decisions based on "what's best for us and our family." Is that a Christian response to the problems in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our community? If there is crime in a neighborhood, where is the church? Can't we run in and address it? If there is family breakdown, fatherlessness, and hopelessness, shouldn't the church be there?
Anyway, read the post above, if you like. It was written last year, but is still pertinent for today. I think that the days are urgent and we have a generation that will be lost if we don't engage them with the gospel. If the church does have a future, it will be a future of missional engagement instead of entrenchment for our own safety and security.
In a follow up post on White Flight/Middle Class Flight, I said this: "we should not just cede other people to the enemy without collective engagement." It is hard to take the gospel to people who are set against it. It requires sacrifice - maybe even our lives. But, isn't that what we're called to? Where does the church call for that? Scripture does - but, do we?
Alan Hirsch has a great message on the need for the church to be a community of missional engagement with the powers of darkness. I posted it on Facebook the other day. Check it out:
I live in Montgomery, Alabama. I have lived and ministered here for almost 10 years. This past week, a horrible division occurred on Montgomery's school board along racial lines. Today, an article comes out confirming what everyone knows: White flight has completely taken hold in Montgomery County. In just 8 years, whites have gone from 50% of the population of the county to 45% and the number is declining fast. What will it be in 10 more years? Blacks have gone from 49% to 54% approximately. Of course, whether the city is primarily white or black does not really matter - it is the stigma that is attached to racial differences here that is so devastating. Racial division increases here as whites move to northern
About 9 months ago, we had a big breakthrough in our church when we began to reach teenagers in our community for the first time. Our youth group went on a mission trip to Houston and came back wanting to reach out to their neighbors. We started a Kid's Club on Sunday afternoons thinking that we would begin to minister to little kids, but instead, teenagers showed up. Hordes of teenage boys. They wanted to hang out and they wanted to play basketball. Previously, we had put up a couple of basketball goals in our church parking lot. The interesting thing is, in the whole eastern half of Montgomery, there are no public courts to play basketball. So, kids started showing up from all over the city. They started coming every day. On an average night, we'd have 40-50 guys hanging out and playing basketball. We had guys coming to church and several got saved. Their lives began to turn around as they encountered the love of Christ and a body of believers who loved them and accepted them. It has been amazing to watch.
A few weeks ago, a LIFE Group in our church had the idea of scheduling a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to give the guys something to do and to develop a platform to minister to them. It was a huge success. We had around 40 people participate and several responded positively to the gospel being presented. A bunch of people from the church volunteered to put the event together and we plan to do it again in the future. Actually, we are starting a summer basketball league on Monday nights in the church parking lot from all of this. The cool thing is that we are building relationships with these guys and they are becoming our family. God is working. (pic taken by my friend, Chris McCorkle)
Our local newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser wrote an article about the event that appeared in the paper today. A short video is included. It was very positive and really showed the heart of our church in reaching out to our community. Something amazing is happening at our church where we are reaching a tipping point. No longer are we trying to cast a vision for reaching out and loving others outside of our church family. It is just happening. God is moving in our hearts and it leading us to open our arms to all that we come in contact with. This basketball tournament was a great example of how a simple thing like a few basketball goals can change a church and a neighborhood.
We finished up the tournament today. I am really excited about what God is doing and can't wait to see what He has in store for us for the future!
Joe Thorn got me thinking about loving my own city. I am not originally from Montgomery. I was born in New Orleans, LA and grew up in South Mississippi. I went to college at Mississippi State University and seminary at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Marin County of the San Francisco Bay Area. I have traveled all over the United States and all over the world. But, I live in Montgomery, Alabama and have done so for almost ten years. Let me tell you what I love about this place:
There are other things, I know, but I will stop there. While there are challenges, there are also many opportunities for God to prove Himself strong and to right some generational wrongs.
What do you love about your city?
Torrential downpour in Montgomery today brought 7-8 inches of rain and massive flooding all over the city. It never floods in Montgomery, but there was just too much rain and it backed up in certain places. There were vehicle accidents all over the city, one lady died, and flash flooding occurred in many places. The pictures are from about 3-4 blocks from my house at the front of my neighborhood. I have been all over the city today and I just saw these pics on the local news web site and called Erika to see if she was okay. She said that she was fine and didn't know anything about the flooding. She's been home all day. Weird.
I've been all over the city today and have seen flooding, cars stranded, wrecks, and police and ambulances. A daughter of a church member was in an accident today and was rushed to the emergency room. I met them there. She is going to be okay, but has a broken leg. What was weird about all of this was that it kind of came out of nowhere as everyone was just going about their business. People were stranded all over as spot flooding occurred in strange places. You could be driving for a mile or so in heavy rain, but there was no flooding. All of a sudden, you'd hit a spot where cars were underwater and a river was flowing across the road. It was pretty crazy.
The weather this Spring has been really bad, with lots of bad storms, tornados, and even hail yesterday. We've had more rain than we need and the ground is saturated. Strange days. I wonder if everyone in my neighborhood is okay? I'll try and take a walk when I get home and see what is going on. Maybe we can help in some way.
Here are a few more pictures of the deluge:
Last night, I couldn't get to sleep. My mind was racing. Finally, I drifted off, but not before I ran through a dozen different subjects. I've been told by friends that I have adult ADD. Maybe so. It would explain a lot. Normally, I write essays for this blog because it is really rewarding for me to lock in on one topic and explore it and I use it as a teaching platform for my church. Today, I'll take you on a random tour of what I'm thinking about in classic, stream-of-consciousness form. Each of these thoughts could be a blogpost all their own and they have been building up in my head. So, I think I'll clean out my brain a little so that I can think more clearly and start over.
I'm going back to India at the end of next month. Around midnight last night, I called Thom Wolf in India and talked with him for awhile. It was almost noon there. He was my professor and intellectual mentor in school back when I lived in San Francisco and he lives in New Delhi. We will go north to the Himalayas and do our normal thing with the ministries there, and then possibly travel with him for a couple of days to the south of India to meet some people doing very interesting things.
I am working through Paul's letter to the Philippians right now in my Bible study and my preaching. I am also writing essays to go along with each topic. Philippians is a great letter to address the "God as a means to an end" syndrome that plagues contemporary Christianity. I am thinking of releasing the essays after I am through with this. It has been really interesting. Today, I am working on one called "Chains" about how Paul volunteered to put himself in less than ideal situations so that the gospel would be spread to others through his life and suffering. Check out Philippians 1:7-14. Am I willing to do the same?
"According to some estimates, Christians in developed Western countries now represent only 37 percent of believers worldwide. As I travel and also read chruch history, I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God 'moving' geographically from place to place: from the Middle East to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where He's wanted." ~ Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places.
I ran across a fascinating article today on urban development in post-Katrina New Orleans on Newgeography.com by Andres Duany. Duany, of Cuban descent, says that "New Orleans is not among the most haphazard, poorest or misgoverned American cities, but rather the most organized, wealthiest, cleanest, and competently governed of the Caribbean cities." He says that New Orleans is not really an American city at all. Rather, it is a Caribbean city. Jimmy Buffett, after Katrina hit, said that the northern Gulf of Mexico is actually the northern part of the Caribbean, not the Southern part of the U.S. I agree. Being from there, it is different that the rest of the country, and I love it. Totally different way of thinking, worldview, and lifestyle. Maybe this is why Baptists have had so much trouble reaching the Gulf Coast? Hmmm.
My two favorite songs on my ipod right now are "Rocket Man" by Angie Aparo and "A Change is Gonna Come" by Ben Sollee. They are both cover songs, but the music and vocals are really intriguing. If you haven't heard either of these guys, check them out. Here's a live version of "Rocket Man." I think about this when I am travelling too much.
And, Ben Sollee on the cello. Yes, the cello. This is amazing.
This week marks the 3 year anniversary of us finding a lump on Caelan's chest that was a cancerous tumor. It has been a hard three years, but I praise God everyday for His faithfulness. Last night, Erika told me that the little 3 year old girl that my family has been praying for since we saw her at Caelan's last scans died last week. Her name was Cassie. My heart was broken over that. Maybe that is why I keep singing "A Change is Gonna Come." Ben Sollee, covering Sam Cooke, says he doesn't know what's beyond the sky. I do, and more and more each day I pray that God's Kingdom come.
"As heretical as it sounds today, it is probably worth telling Americans that you don't need Jesus to have better families, finances, health, or even morality. Coming to the cross means repentance - not adding Jesus as a supporting character for an otherwise decent script but throwing away the script in order to be written into God's drama. It is death and resurrection, not coaching and makovers." Michael Horton, Christless Christianity.
Baseball season is about to start. I really don't like baseball. Too slow for my taste. During the dead of summer, it is almost like there are no sports going on. I'm just waiting for football. Although, our church has formed THREE softball teams with about 50 players and they'll be playing mostly on Monday nights, so I am glad for the fact that a lot of people from our church will be hanging out together and building relationships. Being blind in my right eye caused me to never play baseball because I have no depth perception, so maybe that is why I don't like it. I do plan to play summer league basketball, though.
The groundbreaking for our church's new building is April 5, right before we have a huge neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. We've been reaching a lot of teenagers in our community lately, and God really moved in their lives at a youth retreat that we had this past weekend. Several came to Christ and many more opened their hearts to Jesus. We have also started tutoring, GED classes, and are helping with job placement. God is doing some amazing things. The building is just a tool to help us with this, and it should be finished by October. I'll be very happy.
I keep watching Jon & Kate plus Eight. I don't know why. Erika keeps asking why I stop there when we are watching TV and I have the remote and I told her that I really can't believe how mean Kate is to Jon and I can't fathom how they manage eight kids like that. Wow. It's like a car wreck. I have four kids of my own. Do I really need to watch someone else's stress? Strangely, I'm drawn to it. That, and Clean House, which is about people who live in an unfathomable mess. I guess that it is cathartic to see other people's stress and mess instead of my own. Normally, these shows come on right after we put the kids to bed. Hmmm.
I turned in my taxes yesterday and I'm trying to get some insurance stuff taken care of. It's a pain and seems to be taking forever. Car tags have to be paid on Monday and I'm doing a TV interview tomorrow for a local religious broadcasting station about our work in India. I lump all of that together because it all feels about the same to me - stuff I have to do that I don't like doing. I'm not just trying to be humble about the TV thing either. I HATE stuff like that. Communication should be two-way and interactive with feedback, not captured on a television for people to pick over and misinterpret as they wish. Maybe I'm just insecure.
Books I'm reading right now (they happen to all be "Christian" books, which is not good - I need to vary things up a bit and learn from some other disciplines):
My church is always heavy on my mind and my heart. I graduated from seminary over 9 years ago. I've been the lead pastor of our church for 3 1/2 years. I'm realizing more and more each day that I am not smart enough, talented enough, entertaining enough, or gifted enough to do what needs to be done, no matter how many books I read. God has to work through me. I need Him. I carry the weight of people's struggles pretty intensely. I greatly desire for people to walk with the Lord and to glorify Him and I want our church to hunger after Christ with their whole lives and to reach people who do not know Jesus. But, I am really having to pray about this and release it to the Lord. I can't make anyone do anything. I am completely powerless to make anything happen. God has to do it. I have always known that intellectually. I am learning that emotionally and spiritually and it isn't easy, believe it or not.
Ashtyn has started soccer.
I have great kids and an amazing wife who listens to me go on and on about everything that I am thinking about. She is really patient and she always gives me great feedback. I do not deserve her, and I'm not just saying that because it is what I am expected to say. She's really something. She texted me two days ago and said that we should go on the mission trip with the youth group this summer. I told her that I agreed. Not many mother's of four kids would do that.
My city, Montgomery, just elected a new mayor in a special election a couple of weeks ago. In his election night interview, he said that he hoped that he would "rule" well. Rule #1 in American politics: Never tell the people that you plan to "rule" them. It doesn't sit well in a democracy. Then, he said that he was pushing the inauguration back a week because he was taking his family to the beach. Rule #2: When we are in a severe recession, don't tell the people that just elected you that you would begin to rule, er, serve them, but first, you have to go to the beach. Go to the beach in a few months AFTER you have worked for them for a little while. Wow.
Look, a BUTTERFLY!!!! Sorry, had to get that out. Does anyone ever feel that way? Random as can be.
I've lost 10 pounds in the past two weeks and I don't know how. I guess that I haven't been eating as much. Duh. Stress? Busyness? I don't know, but I'll take it. I could stand to lose a lot more.
Well, that's about it. Not really, but I figure that no one is still reading at this point, so I might as well stop. Believe it or not, engaging in an exercise in complete randomness actually made me feel better. So, I leave you with a picture of my kids that I really love.
God is good, by the way. And, He's always working in every thing. Big, little, important, mundane. God is always at work.
March 26, 2009 in Books, CDI-India, Central Alabama News, Cultural Mandate, Current Affairs, Family, Film, Food and Drink, Gulf Coast Missions, Message Notes, Ministry, Missional Living, Missions, Music, Photography, Prophetic vs. Political, Quotes, Random Thinking, Spiritual News, Television, Thoughts . . ., Travel | Permalink | Comments (5)
On Saturday, November 17, the Convoy of Hope rolled into town. This is a ministry that provides food, health care, social services, love, and fun to the needy in communities all across America and the world. It came to our city 5 years ago, and the return was a greater success than anyone anticipated. You can read the newspaper article HERE. Altogether, we had over 9,400 guests visit the event to receive physical as well as spiritual ministry. We had almost 1,300 volunteers from 124 churches and 24 different denominations in our city! It is truly unbelievable what can happen when God's people work together instead of against one another. On this day, there were no Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Pentecostals. Instead, it was just the Church of Montgomery working together as the hands and feet of Jesus. It was an amazing event that richly blessed our city. There was a great deal of spiritual ministry that took place as well as almost 500 people made professions of faith. I worked in the prayer/counseling area and it was amazing to encounter so many deep needs in the lives of the people of our community. We had over 30 from our church volunteer, so this morning, many of them shared in the service about how God used them and ministered to them through the lives of others. What an incredible blessing it was! If this ministry ever comes to your city, I highly encourage you to particpate! A few pics:
By heritage, birth, and address, I am a Southerner. I have only lived 3 years of my life outside of the South. I went to college at an SEC school (Miss. St., but am a huge LSU fan) and totally get college football. I love Southern cooking, Southern history, and fell in love with a Southern girl. All of my children have Southern accents. I am a distant relative of Robert E. Lee (but, aren't all Southerners?) and a direct descendent of 5 brothers who rode with the 17th Mississippi Calvary in the Civil War. I get misty eyed when I hear "Dixie," still emotionally regret that we couldn't get the job done at Gettysburg, and think that Sherman was quite the jerk for burning up the South on his march to the Atlantic. I am a Republican and am quite conservative politically. I love Elvis, blues, and pork bbq. I am a Southern Baptist and have been raised on white-hot, revivalist religion my whole life and I love the way that there is a major focus on children and family in the South.
I'm saying all of this to say that I get the Southern thing. I get the culture, the people, the values, and the expectations. I understand that we have this inferiority complex because we are the only Americans to have ever been defeated in war and occupied and we still can't get over it. The whole Civil War thing is transferred to discussions about whether SEC football is better than Big Ten football and we all cheer when Alabama beats Notre Dame or Florida beats Ohio St or we happen to attract a foreign auto plant. We always seem to have something to prove to ourselves and everyone else and it comes out through bragging about our accomplishments and an "everyone's out to get us" and, "they just don't understand" attitude.
I also get that we have lots of problems. We have a pretty miserable track record on the race issue, and it seems to be something that we just want to put behind us instead of dealing with it in constructive ways. After the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's - 1970's, an uneasy truce has been brokered and everyone just wants to move on. But, are we making progress? Sometimes yes, other times, absolutely not. We also lead the nation in divorce, alcoholism, crime, incarceration per capita, and many other negative social indicators. On most national lists regarding education, income, healthcare, state government, etc., the bottom of the rankings are predictably filled by Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. A few years ago, there was a tax initiative in Alabama that was voted down. The purpose was to relieve the tax burden off the poor and bring more equity to the system, since there is little property or state income tax. The surplus was to go to state infrastructure and to education, both of which are woefully underfunded. The slogan of the opposition was "We're Taxed Enough!" Alabama is 50th in taxes paid by citizens in the U.S. Oh, and the opposition was led by the state's Christian Coalition on a "family values" platform.
Which leads me to my question: How is religion, particularly the Baptist faith, bringing change to the South? How is the South becoming more God fearing and righteous because of our presence? How are we making a difference? Have we become so enculturated that we are no longer able to bring change? It seems to me, from my experience here, that we are eaten up with materialism and a "live for the present" mentality. We have bought into the Suburban American Dream and we are lapping it up as quickly as possible. When I talk with most people about Jesus, they already claim to know Him or have prayed a prayer and are saved. But, their lives are no different and they don't see any need to connect with a church. Sunday's are spent at the lake with family. As long as people are "good" or "moral" we seem to have no problem with them, and we save our ire for liberals or Hollywood. I live in a state where 77% agreed with Roy Moore over the Ten Commandments, but only around 30% go to church. Why the disconnect?
I wonder if we have presented a gospel that is so based on personal experience and decision that we have led people away from a TRUE relationship with Jesus and into real danger? Have we inoculated people against the gospel by presenting them a "gospel" that so reinforces our culture that people see no real difference in us? And, I am not talking about the "sinful" Hollywood culture. I am just talking about the world system that we live in here in the South (make money, be happy, live a good life, have fun, protect yourself from "those kinds of people," be upwardly mobile, be independent, live for yourself, etc.). Are we capable of bringing about change in people's lives, in our communities, and in our region? What would revival really look like? What would happen if there was true racial reconciliation? What would happen if people who claimed to know God, but never gathered with His people, changed? What would happen if our churches started treating the epidemic of divorce in our communities as a real problem, instead of just glazing over it? What would happen if, instead of propping up much of Southern genteel society and culture, we actually began to confront some of our hypocrisies and inconsistencies?
I fear that we have lost our prophetic voice in our own land and it happened a long time ago. With a church on every corner, what would have happened if Southern Baptists had been convicted by Scripture and the Holy Spirit and had led the way on the race issue, instead of coming behind, kicking and screaming? Would the social rebellion of the 1960's have happened? Would we have lost our voice and had to have aligned ourselves with a political party to be listened to? Would be be trying to "take back America," or would we have ever lost it? There is a price to pay for being on the wrong side of history, especially on moral issues, and we are paying it now. Maybe the problem isn't with the news media, Hollywood, Gays, Democrats, or the Big Ten. Maybe the problem is with us. Maybe we have become so comfortable in our Southern, religious cocoon with our mega churches, conferences, Lifeway's, and Christian radio, that we have failed to realize that our influence for Christ has shrunk to negligible levels. Everyone thinks that they know Jesus, and when they look at us, they don't see a huge difference. So, why should they change? Why repent? We don't have a compelling answer, except that our theology is right and they had better believe it, or else. It seems that the early church had a bit more going for them than that.
Maybe these are just some ramblings on a Friday afternoon. Admittedly, this is not a very well thought through essay, but more of a stream of consciousness type thing. But, as I continue to try to be a Christian and lead a church in the Deep South, I find that our cultural accomodation really hampers us from being the prophetic witness that God has called us to be. What will it take for revival to come? We desperately need it. Maybe we need to look at the cultural and spiritual rot in our own region before we wage Culture Wars against others.
What do you think? More later . . .
Taharka Robinson of Brooklyn started a march from Montgomery to Selma today to help bring awareness of lost values among young black people in America as they are "falling prey to a culture of violence and obscenity." He says, "We as a black community are making ourselves look like fools," and, "Enough is enough. It's time we worked as a community to clean up the radio, the music and our neighborhoods of a popular culture that disrespects women and morality and glorifies drugs and physical violence."
When asked why he was marching from Montgomery to Selma, he said, "I chose to start this march in Montgomery because this is where the light of freedom was lit for all blacks by the stand Rosa Parks, Rev. King, E.D. Nixon and others made from here. What better place to begin an effort to end a culture of disrespect and violence and help give our young people their souls back?"
This is a very positive step, in my opinion. It is great to see African American leaders speaking to their own young people about the destruction that they are bringing upon themselves. I also find it interesting that Montgomery-Selma is still seen as a place to begin movements to help liberate black people from the chains that bind them. May more movements start here that truly help set people free from social, economic, and most prominently spiritual bondage. May God use us to see it come to pass.
(Bad Cell Phone Picture) Yesterday, I went to the Fourth Annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in our city, Montgomery, AL. It was a really special time of prayer for our city, worship, and praise to God for His blessings. It was started by Mayor Bobby Bright with the intention of bringing civic and religious leaders together in one place to seek God's blessing upon our city and guidance for the future. He is a Godly man who wants to see Montgomery reflect the character of Christ. I give Him major credit for that. Throughout the meeting, there were many references to Jesus being Lord over our city and remarks on how we should all be following Him. I agreed completely. There are over 300 individual churches in our city of 200,000 and many, many Christians, yet many in the Church of Montgomery is really trying to come together as one body. We have dozens of churches and ministries coming together to form a 24-7 House of Prayer and we are doing a Convoy of Hope in November with well over a hundred churches participating. If we all prayed and acted out our faith, Montgomery could be a shining light in our nation. Many Christians are praying for just that and awesome things are happening in our city.
However, we still have lots of problems. We still have a lot of undercover racism from both blacks and whites. A better word to describe it is division and mistrust that often plays out moreso culturally than through anything official. Churches are leading the way in bringing about healing, however, and for that I praise God. There is still much work to be done, but we are beginning to see real movement. Our public school system is a mess, but groups like Partners in Education are working hard to build community involvement and address real issues. The major problems in our city have to do with cultures of crime, ignorance, carnality, and dependency. There can be real selfishness among people with means as well as without. The Church here is strong enough to make a major difference, but it is also fairly captive to the culture and is often not salt and light. It either goes along with the problems or retreats into isolation to live the "good life."
I am excited about what I see God doing, however. Things seem to be changing in this city that is so known for division (We are both the birthplace of the Confederacy and the Civil Rights movement). That division has continued until today, but intentional unity through the leadership of pastors like Jay Wolf of First Baptist and Kyle Searcy of Fresh Anointing International Church has broken down lots of barriers (See Baptist Press article on the work of these two pastors and churches in the One Montgomery movement). While a prayer breakfast hardly solves all the problems, it is a good step in getting people together for the right reasons. What are some positive things going on in your cities?