January 2009


The events of the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama have filled me with so many thoughts and emotions that they’ve frankly been hard for me to describe.  As an immigrant myself with an African father (who sadly didn’t live to see this), Obama’s heritage and his close blood ties to the continent (despite the fact that he scarcely knew his Kenyan father) has made the events of  this week particularly moving for me. 

I’m fortunate to be serving on the Board of African Services Committee (ASC), a social service agency based in Harlem that serves the largest number of African immigrants in New York City.  ASC  is that home away from home which provides  a wide range of services including:  free HIV and STD testing, AIDS advocacy, English as a second language classes, legal assistance, housing, case management, budgeting classes, a food pantry, and used clothing.  Each day an African meal is cooked and shared together in their kitchen.  How wonderful, to daily have a taste of home!   

Here’s a link to a NY1 news story that covered the reactions of some of their staff in response to this historic day:  http://www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?ArID=92556 .

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This past weekend I was invited to join the Gotham Fellows retreat as a small group facilitator. The Gotham Fellows are a group of 23 20- & 30- somethings who are involved in a year-long fellowship with Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work. They are dynamic, smart, funny, and leaders in their fields. They include dancers, actors, entrepreneurs, teachers, administrators, business managers, lawyers and other professionals. In other words, they collectively have the potential to radically transform the fields God has called them to serve in.   It was a lot of fun to hang out with such a gifted and talented group of young people.  But what was really convicting about this weekend was the teaching we received from old friends and colleagues of mine from World Harvest. They taught a 3 session abbreviated version of their sonship discipleship program, focusing on Gal 5: 6.

Talk A was on “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value”.

Talk B focused on”The only thing that counts is faith”, faith in the power and good news of of the cross which Jesus went to on our behalf.

Talk 3 provided the huge take-home point: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  Wow!

In other words, it doesn’t matter how I live my life, how much I may excel in my job or chosen career, how gifted I might think I am, if I am not motivated to live my life out of a heart of love, whatever I do, however I am living counts for a big fat zero. Naught, nothing, nada. It’s all worthless.

That means not just in the macro – in the big life-changing decisions – but more importantly, it means  in the micro – in the every day nitty gritty interactions – as well: the person at work who grates on you because they never seem to listen to you or show any interest in who you are, the sibling who shares a totally different world view from you and therefore manages to push buttons you didn’t even know you had, the next door neighbor in your apartment building who only speaks to you or seeks you out when they want something from you.

Unless we are motivated by love  from the depths of our hearts, then our lives are a waste.

Sounds great, but just how do we live lives that are authentically loving?  Well, we can’t do it simply by wishing it or somehow by trying harder to love people. (That would the ‘circumcision’ part that the verse talked about earlier.) And it doesn’t come about by just not caring and living as we please. (That would be the ‘uncircumcision’ way of life. ) It can only come about by the power of the Holy Spirit who helps us over and over again to receive by faith the love and delight that God has for us, in an on-going way, which was demonstrated on the cross.  And then out of the outflow of our knowledge of how loved we are, are we then freed to live out of this freedom by loving others.

Pretty radical stuff, isn’t it?

Since it’s the start of a New Year, I have been finding myself convicted and needing to re-commit to being faithful in prayer.  I especially want to be faithful in praying specifically and consistently for each of the more than 50 group leaders and co-leaders who lead the 40 groups that I am caring for.

Besides being a key reminder that God is the one ultimately caring for each of these precious souls, I have been given the privilege in this season of my life to walk side by side them, and prayer serves to remind me of both of these things.  I have found that as I pray for each leader and co-leader, when I try to pray specifically, if I don’t know my leaders very well, it’s hard to be specific in my petitions.  So prayer is also a barometer for me of how well or how deeply I know a particular individual and the specific issues they are facing at any particular time.  The same is true of their group. If  I find I am praying generically for their group, while that is still worthwhile, it also means I’m not really in touch with the specific needs that are manifesting themselves in that particular group.  And it means I need to re-connect with that particular group or leader and check in with them.

Prayer also helps me to develop a love for people. It’s hard to pray for folks we don’t like or care much for and when I am struggling to pray for someone, it often refflects a lack of forgiveness or an unwillingness to move toward that person.

Finally prayer keeps me tuned more closely to God.  In addition to praying for my groups on the days that they meet, when God brings a particular leader or situation to mind, instead of fretting over it or becoming anxious, I try to turn it into a prayer and lay it at the feet of Jesus.

As the well-known hymn reminds us:  ‘What a privilege it is to carry – every thing to God in prayer.’