3.27.2020

Praying for the Lou on 3.14


March 14, or 3.14, is known by many as Pi Day. In St. Louis, it's also affectionately referred to as #314Day, naturally because of our 314 area code.

But in 2020, conveniently on a Saturday, this date also got a brand new official designation as "Pray for the Lou" day, a God-given vision to simultaneously fill the streets of St. Louis in every one of its 79 neighborhoods with Christians united in prayer for our city. It was incredible to watch the Lord work to make this happen over the past few months, and to be a small part of the fantastic fulfillment of this amazing event, despite some seriously mounting odds.

It seems incredible now that this event took place not quite 2 weeks ago, and just as COVID-19 was knocking on STL's door. Given all that's transpired since (which also lent to a greater delay in posting than I'd hoped), it feels far longer. But the pandemic became yet one more reason to pray for this place we love.

Our own church experience had some unique qualities worth sharing. Chatham Bible Church, now located in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Missouri, has its roots in the city of Wellston, right on the City/County divide. So we chose early on to pick an area right alongside Wellston and pray there.

We were graciously hosted by the New City Fellowship West End Restore St. Louis offices, just south of Hamilton Heights, the neighborhood we designated to pray in and for. After a time of group prayer at New City, and guided by executive director Andrew Stern, we took the bus north to prayer walk in some specific spots.

New City Fellowship Offices in the West End neighborhood
Scripture and prayer before the walk
Our first stop was the former Hempstead School. Now a burnt out shell of a once beautiful building, the campus sits littered and desolate as the structure slowly falls apart, a stark reminder here of what once was and what now is. Andrew requested we break up in groups and circle the school three times to pray. Some of those prayers focused on education and educators, on children in the neighborhood, on area tutoring programs, on safety for these kids, on restoration that only Jesus can bring.




The littered alleyway at the back of the building


Knowledge is Power


Our next stop was at a community garden directly across the street from the home of a just turned 90-year-old woman who is a great witness in her ministry to her neighborhood. We prayed for a neighborhood resident, then circled the block in groups to pray for this woman's ministry, for the community gardens that can be places of gathering and hope, for jobs and wealth to return to a place that clearly once had more robust industry, for leaders and authorities to work together to help the neighborhood, for churches and ministries to be able to serve this area well, and for much more the Lord might do here. We then ended our time here in song back at that community garden.

At the community garden

Praying for a neighbor



As it happens, Hamilton Heights is one of three city areas designated for the new St. Louis Cure Violence program, which is scheduled to start soon if everything can stay on track. It's also no accident that Cure Violence treats violence like a disease—an epidemic—going into neighborhoods with the idea of cutting it off at the source often using individuals with gang-related backgrounds to actively interrupt conflicts before they start or escalate. It seemed a given to pray with this parallel in mind in Hamilton Heights, as we ask the Lord to stop both the far too familiar threat of local violence and the unsettling new threat of a global disease.

After our time in Hamilton Heights, we made a special stop back in Wellston—right on Chatham Avenue and at the very building our church formerly occupied.


The building our church once occupied. I'd only seen it in photos before.
There is no pride in admitting that we are aware that the church body ultimately decided to move out of this area in the 60s due in part to racist motivation, which is clearly documented in old church records. And while none of us was around for those events, we took this opportunity to repent here, to ask forgiveness for the sin of abandonment some of us have felt strongly over the years as this reality came to our attention. We were reminded of our forgiveness in Christ by our gracious guide who joined us for this side excursion. We prayed that the Lord would make Himself known in this place by the church body that now occupies that building and through other believers here. We asked His guidance to know if we should serve in or around this area in the future, not as some attempt to make up for the past, which we certainly cannot do, but to bring glory to God and share His gospel. And we prayed for the Lord's blessing in and hope for this place.

A significant moment for our church
Several of us then headed to Cardinal Ritter College Prep's football field for a prayer rally with anyone who had prayer walked in any of the 79 neighborhoods. Again by no accident, and after months of the organizers trying to work out where this rally would be held, we ended up directly on the infamous Delmar Divide, well known for its overt split of wealth to the south and poverty to the north. The Lord put us in exactly the right position to pray for unity in our city. "What is divided will be united" was one distinct rallying cry.

Delmar runs right up to this field as seen in the background
As the temperature dropped, we had the opportunity to pray in this place together, to worship our Lord united in song and praise, to hear from pastors representing many different City and County churches, and to hear from the leadership of this event, including Kurt Wilson, to whom this vision was initially given, and Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, who also led the summer Fragrance Ferguson prayer event I previously covered.

Pastors gather before the rally
Kurt and J.T. lead in prayer






An enthusiastic crowd in the cold
Each pastor prayed over STL,
as seen led by Pastor Sergei Marchenko in the clip below.
The echoing cry, "For St. Louis' sake we will not keep silent."




Again, it was amazing to be a part of all this, and emotional to see it ultimately come together, especially given our connection to and involvement with those planning. From some small, early prayer gatherings to the closing "against-the-odds" worship rally, the Lord was clearly working.
  • This was a tremendous undertaking in itself, and it was incredible to watch the movement swell. Post last year's 10 Days of Prayer in STL we continue to see churches come together in our region. We saw many new area churches jumping on board, unexpected promotion, and hundreds of Christians who truly cared not only to share about this with others, but to come out on a dreary day when any of us might have otherwise stayed home, and for good reason...
  • The forecast called for a 100% chance of rain, and it was cold and pouring when we left our homes that morning. But we noted on the church bus that by the time we got out to prayer walk, we were experiencing mist at best. During the rally, the Lord kept the rain away until the very end.
  • It's now clear that just a few days later this entire event would have been both prohibited and dangerous. At this stage, all St. Patrick's Day weekend events had cancelled as increased cautions were just beginning. On March 16 gatherings were limited to 50 or fewer. By March 20 meeting sizes were limited to 10 or fewer, and the stay at home order came just 9 days after 3.14. God's perfect timing.
A sincere thanks to Kurt Wilson for being obedient to the Lord in this calling and for pursuing a vision which I know was often surprising even to him all along the way. This was a great blessing to this city and a significant bond to believers and churches at this remarkably crucial time—just before we would be effectively separated. Of course the Lord knew, and He will never cease to amaze us as we trust Him.

Now we wait again to see how our God responds to our cries as we enter a whole new and unexpected crisis through which He is already at work.

And once again I remind you to keep on praying, St. Louis. Keep up with Pray for the Lou and other ongoing area moves of prayer, many of which are now continuing online. Christian, keep praying wherever you are. In an unprecedented time, pray now like never before. Even socially distanced, we remain united in Christ. As He reminds us all of our ultimate need for Him, let's continue to ask and see what our Lord will do.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:4-7

3.09.2020

The Pursuit of God to Bring Us Into the Family of God


About a year ago I helped lead worship for a conference with a “one another" theme which joined predominately black and predominantly white churches together, at which I shared the following. Looking at my calendar, at some point I realized the date of this conference, which met not a mile from where I grew up, was on or near the anniversary of the day in 1997 when my life was about to take a dramatic turn, as there in my bedroom the Lord distinctly commanded me to stop the sin I was committing. I’ve shared before how I stubbornly tried to fight Him, but He persisted until I finally accepted the love of God in Jesus.

Ironically, on Easter last year in that very same house, I was informed by my mom, who was adopted as a baby, that she had just discovered some family members, blood related siblings we never knew about before. This is still a lot to process, and plenty more has been discovered since then. But I continue to find all of this coming together to reflect the picture of God’s pursuit of His people in many ways.

It does at times distress me to recall how I initially rejected the Lord’s love as I did, but I realize the story of God as Pursuer is true for everyone who comes to believe in Jesus. Perhaps (and hopefully) you aren’t as stubborn as me, but if you know Him this is your story too. He pursued each of us to His own shame and death, taking our sins on the cross with a love that will not let us go. (Romans 8:38-39)

At the same time, when He calls us into the Kingdom He also calls us into a broad and vast family, much like we saw at that conference and others like it. (1 Peter 2:9-10) We suddenly realize we have brothers and sisters, mom and dads, grandparents and cousins we never knew we had, and from more and varied backgrounds then we can possibly fathom.

We can also love because He first loved and pursued us. (1 John 4:7-21) We can be imagers of God in our pursuit of others to call them into that same Kingdom and family.

I don’t know what your experience of pursuit is, but I find it can often lend to rejection. It’s hard. And it makes me even more grateful for the Lord’s persistence in my own stubbornness even to this day.

But I’ve also had the honor and privilege to pursue others who did allow me to pursue them, and to witness miracles, including marriages unmistakably restored by the Lord. The same week of that conference I held a baby who serves as a continual reminder of such a miracle for which I cannot stop thanking Him.

As I shared at that conference, the Lord will pursue His people through His people to bring them into His Kingdom family. Anyone He wants to save and any situation He wants to restore will, indeed, be saved and restored.

Thank you, Lord, for your relentless love and persistence in bringing us home.

3.02.2020

"Upon a Life" a Hymn



"Upon a Life I have not lived,
Upon a Death I did not die,
Another’s Life; Another’s Death,
I stake my whole eternity."


I had the privilege to lead worship this weekend, and because we were focused on the belt of truth as discussed in Ephesians 6, took the opportunity to introduce to the church a song we'd not sung together before. Our whole set was focused on singing back many truths of our faith ("O Church Arise," "The Church's One Foundation," "This I Believe [The Creed]"), and especially singing of and to Jesus ("In Christ Alone," "Cornerstone"), who is Himself our ultimate Truth. The rich lyrics of this updated hymn seemed to fit well.

For those curious, this song was originally written by Horatius Bonar as part of a longer Communion hymn. You can download music and read additional commentary from the Indelible Grace artists who updated this tune on their Hymnbook page. Their work on this song, as so many, is much appreciated. Please enjoy a listen.

3.01.2020

...Eternal Stuff Really Does Matter - A Response to a Local Tragedy


In the wake of another local shooting in the last week—an event I missed in person solely by God's grace—I recently shared the following on social media. This was another clear reminder to me that the Lord has kept me here to keep telling you about who He is. And as we get ready for Pray for the Lou in the City of St. Louis on 3.14, it's yet another reminder of how desperately our entire region needs Jesus.

So, somewhat off the cuff, this is what I wrote...

Regarding the Community Center shooting: We just joined there for 1 month (winter swims!) and have a few days left. Both considered going last night, really should have, but didn’t tell each other until after the news hit. Now realizing we’ve encountered one or both of the individuals involved. One now injured. One dead.

Folks, alongside my general silliness, I talk about Jesus and prayer and such on here more than a little. Lots of reasons for that, but one is eternal stuff matters. What happens both today and after we die is a big deal. We find events like this shocking, especially when they feel “close to home,” and we absolutely should. But maybe we’re not shocked enough to really respond. The every day truth is we literally do not know what the next moment will bring.

So while disaster fatigue and fleeting comforts try to lull us to sleep, I’m praying for an awakening. I pray it for our region. I pray it for you.

Instead of letting this or the next disaster dull us, I pray they sharpen the eternal significance of every moment. I pray we begin to hear God’s voice over all others. That we can taste and see the Lord really is good in spite of the world’s mess. That we can see Jesus, who already faced down and defeated death. That every sense is affected by the truth of who Jesus is so we can love God and each other right and well.

"Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." -Ephesians 5:14

More than anything else, I want this for you.

Don’t sleep through all this. I’m thankful I’m still here to tell you eternal stuff really does matter.

Art: Pixabay

12.21.2019

Christmas Makes Prayer Possible

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” -1 John 5:13-15

It’s not uncommon in our culture to hear words like “thoughts and prayers.” Related sentiments are often expressed with the best intentions and genuine care, especially following personal crisis or major catastrophe. But at times a sense of helplessness and hopelessness may lead to frustration with such words. When desires are not soon fulfilled the question may arise: What good does prayer really do?

The celebration of the birth of Jesus can also bring the birth of hope for such a question. The entire trajectory of this tiny baby’s life, ultimately leading to His death and astounding resurrection, was to show us who God is and make it possible to know Him very personally. That knowing includes being able to talk with Him anytime, expressing both fears and joys, needs and thanks.

In Jesus we see God act on our behalf, proving we can trust Him to act for us today. While we should take action when possible—either for ourselves or in the lives of others as God may even use us to respond to a request—prayer now becomes an extraordinary act in itself. This is communication with our very real God who has actually lived among us, experienced pain like us and can affect all the things we cannot. While the Lord makes very clear that His ways are not our ways, and He may not respond precisely when and how we expect, He does hear those who believe in Him and we can trust Him in any circumstance.

This year I’ve had the privilege to participate in some big prayer events in and around St. Louis, and I’ve clearly seen God respond to the prayers of His people in amazing ways. But we can also see this in simple, everyday communication as we trust the Lord and watch for His responses. We can begin to see He truly is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

While I am glad to pray for you anytime, my prayer for you this season is that you do trust in the name of Jesus, the Son of God who makes prayer possible, and experience the true comfort and joy of knowing and speaking with Him each day.

Art: unsplash.com

10.14.2019

10 Days of Prayer in St. Louis


I just spent 10 extraordinary days praying all across the St. Louis region, from South City to North City to far West County, and all points between. This was an unusual opportunity, and an incredible experience to share.

I was privileged earlier this year to join the organizers of 10 Days of Prayer St. Louis in prayer and planning for many months leading up to these 10 days in October. 10 Days is a movement that's been adopted and adapted in several cities, but this was the first time any such effort had taken place in St. Louis. Lead organizers here decided rather than creating special meetings for a 10 day period, why not find out who's already praying in our city and join them? And so we did. I was personally able to attend 15 individual events, and am beyond thankful for all I experienced in this time.

St. Louis, as you may know, is having a mix of good and bad happening in our city. We're making national headlines for our Stanley Cup winning Blues and having our Cardinals playing ball in October again (and in our sports enthusiasm we are remarkably united), while simultaneously gaining infamy for the horrific fact that several young children became shooting victims in our city this year. Beyond crime stats, we who live here are also well aware of the ways our city is divided—along ethnic, economical and even ecclesial lines, among many others. We desperately need these things to change.

So for these 10 Days we did war in prayer alongside many others who've been fighting the same battle for years. And for all our differences, I heard so many similar threads that weren't just sparked by a unified theme or prayer guide, but the fact that we love our city, and we want to see our city know and love Jesus, the only one who can ultimately make those changes we seek.

We worshiped. We repented. We walked and we wept. We prayed over places where strongholds still exist and saw powerful examples of the walls of division coming down. And every place we went, we saw the Lord at work in power through His people. We saw real desire for change, true hope for change, actual change in progress, and every bit of that rooted in Jesus Christ, our King. Because of Him, we do not lose heart.

Here are just a few moments captured from the events I was able to attend.

Day 1 meeting in a thrift shop ministry at Grand and Chippewa.
Here county residents prayed over city residents.

Day 2 Speak to the City event for the first time in the county at the far west edge.
Praying for our entire region.

Day 2 afternoon prayer outside Crave Coffeehouse after the rain.


On my drive here, I was reminded that we were not far from where a tornado hit in the 1800s, utterly destroying many areas of the town. And yet, the city had to come together to rebuild from that event. Lord, unite us to build this place back up, especially those areas that are currently laid so low. As you were laid low on the cross for our sin and returned to life, we want to see the new life you give infused into our city. Raise this place up in your power, Lord.

Day 3 prayer at the temporary home of Refuge and Restoration,
which plans to create a center in Dellwood.

Day 4 prayer walk in Bevo, praying especially for our Bosnian neighbors.

Day 4 night of worship and teaching at Memorial Pres. near Wash U.

Day 5 worship with staff at New City Fellowship offices.
This was followed by a prayer walk in the surrounding neighborhood.

Our prayer walk took us to areas with both dilapidated and restored homes,
areas of prostitution and a community garden planted by immigrants.
Hurt and hope all around this area.

Day 5 prayer with a small and quiet gathering near Brentwood...

...and a large and loud gathering in West County.
Many styles of worship expressed to our One Great God.

Day 6 in North City, with many on their knees in the pews.

Gathering in a circle for prayer to close the night...

...hand in hand before the Throne.

Day 7 in Maryland Heights.
We prayed for many of the estimated 4,000 congregations in our region by name.

Day 7 eve, on our knees in Creve Coeur.

As we prayed on day 6 for "our daily bread," the Lord brought to mind that we live in a city where many are starving. Some physically, yes, but many more mentally, emotionally and spiritually. God, let us in the Church not also inadvertently starve ourselves by ignoring you, because all this begins in the house of the Lord. We are to be the houses helping to feed our city, and, Jesus, you are the true and better Bread. You are the Bread of Life. Feed us with the Bread of your Word. Fill us with the Bread of your Presence, with your Spirit guiding us in ways we can serve our neighbors. Give this city manna that it's never seen before, Lord. Let this city taste and see you.

Day 8 with One City/Won City for prayer and worship
at the Holiday Inn downtown.

Day 9 with Pastoral Fellowship of St. Louis for a conference on Arsenal,
including some great stories of racial unity in Christ.

Day 10 with North County pastors praying over their people
at their fourth annual Unity Sunday service,
uniting several predominantly black and predominantly white congregations.
These photos and descriptions are mere glimpses into all that went on during these 10 Days, and they can't begin to express all the Lord is doing in me through this time. Just being in His presence with His people is always amazing, but I've also learned so much more of different traditions, different styles of prayer and worship. I got to meet many people who love Jesus and St. Louis as much as I do. We don't all look and act and pray the same way, but we ultimately want the same thing—to see God bring His glory and healing to our city.

Now that 10 Days of Prayer STL is behind us, we'll talk through what the Lord did here. More importantly, we'll look forward to what He has to come as we see Him answer our prayers. Now that many of our prayer movements know about one another, we hope this will continue to improve unity among the churches of our region. And we know there are new ideas in development, such as Pray for the Lou Day next year on 3/14 (that being in reference to our "314" area code).

Whether you're a resident of the St. Louis region or any other city, always be on the lookout for the things the Lord is doing where you live. And never ever stop lifting your city up to Him in prayer. By His cross, Jesus is making all things new, even now.

10.01.2019

not scary: halloween & the Gospel

Alright, Christian, once again, we have an incredible opportunity and time to plan for it. So here's my ever refining Franken-article to help get you motivated. Read on...
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“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
-Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)


Once a year we have the world coming right to our own doorsteps begging for treats. So we encourage Christians to do something incredibly easy—on Halloween night, turn your porch light on and share the love of Jesus along with your treats. In other words, be present with people.

Remember, this is as simple or complex as you want it to be. (We tend to go a bit on the complex side, but here's some inspiration if you like: All Hallow's Garage)

Need more ideas? Have a few:
• Dress up your goodies. Buy plastic bags, plain or decorated. Add a small toy or something fun. Give the best treats on the block.

• Provide hot chocolate for your guests. Kids and adults love this. It can lead to time spent together and potential for deeper discussion.

• Set up a fire pit and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Same effect as above.

• Do something big at your house to draw attention. Set up spotlights, games, fun scenes, whatever. People tend to remember these houses, and what you gave them.

• Use your skills, or those of a friend, and do magic tricks, balloon animals, music or something else fun and entertaining.

• Invite the neighbors to your house for a “getting to know you” party early in the evening or a day or two in advance. Pass out invites that week to let them know.

• Invite Christian friends to help out, especially if they have fewer children in their neighborhood. That way, you can double your efforts.

• Alternately, if you don’t have many children in your neighborhood, actively find someone who does and work with them. Or maybe go to a party. Be where people are.
• Consider having some Bibles available to give away as appropriate in case the opportunity arises.
• Pray, both before and after the evening, for the people you will meet and for a true love for your neighbors.
Whatever you do, don’t hide behind closed doors. The world is coming to us. Let’s give them something “sweeter than honey.” (Psalm 119:103)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of
power and of love and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

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Sharing the Gospel on Halloween (or any time) 

The Gospel is all about what Jesus has done, is doing and will do. Throughout Scripture we see reminders of the Gospel given to believers, or those who claim to be (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5). So don’t forget, the Gospel is for everyone all the time, Christian or non, not just a one-time event in which we hope someone responds and we move on. This is what our salvation is based on, and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that every day.

As a summary, we might say:
• God is perfect, and He says we have to be perfect too. Unfortunately none of us are perfect. We think and say and do things God says not to, or ignore things He says to do, all the time. For that, God says we can’t be with Him.
• Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, took on punishment by dying for imperfect people like us, and came to life again, proving He’s God. Only He could repair our relationship with Him.
• God calls us to stop focusing on ourselves and what we want, and to focus on Him, trusting Jesus as Lord and God, the One who does everything we can’t.
• Through faith in Jesus alone we can have eternal life with Him in a renewed Heavens and Earth forever.
(This example limits religious language and jargon. Always explain words such as “sin” or “repent.”) 

If you choose to include printed handouts with your treats it’s important they include the basic truths stated above. Don’t go for handouts designed to draw attention without sharing the true Gospel, never give out tracts instead of treats, and don't use paper in place of relationships when you have a chance to engage people in person.

While summaries such as this can be useful, especially for review, they by no means express all the depth and richness that is the Gospel of Jesus seen through all of Scripture. There is a lot of theology behind the statements above that disciples need to have explained. There are also many ways to draw people more personally into the wonder of Christ and His beauty. Consider creation. Listen for ways the individual might see the Lord’s work or provision in life. Ask how they are doing and how you can pray for them. The possibilities are as endless and amazing as Jesus Himself.

When speaking to someone, we need to remember we aren’t doing the saving work, nor is the person saving himself with a response. God is Savior, and He knows who He has enabled to respond and when they will. Ask questions to understand where the person is spiritually. Don’t do all the talking, and certainly don’t aggressively attempt to force someone to “seal the deal” with an on-the-spot prayer. This creates confusion and could end in false assurance, especially if you can’t or don’t follow up. We are to make disciples by sharing who Jesus is and what He’s done, encouraging others to trust and believe Him, and to further encourage love of and joy in Christ for those responsive to Him.

Never forget the importance of listening and relating. If someone feels they can trust you, they will often tell you a lot about their life. This can help you discern where they are spiritually and how ready they are to hear more. Rather than approaching with a formulaic method, listen for concerns and needs, and consider how Christ meets that need. (Example: They’ve been unemployed for months. Jesus is Provider of both physical and spiritual needs. How have they seen Him provide?) Be ready to pray with them while present. Many people are touched by this act alone. Pray the Lord gives you a heart of compassion for anyone you meet.

If someone claims to be a believer but you feel unsure, you might ask them to explain the Gospel to you. Then you can commend or gently correct as necessary.

Should a person truly be ready to receive Christ as Lord and feel compelled to pray in repentance to Him, let them pick the words and see how He leads. Ask for their information as they are comfortable so they can be discipled. 

Even simple discussions with neighbors just letting them know you are a believer could easily lead to deeper relationships born on Halloween night. Be ready to follow up with your neighbors in any way necessary to show them the love of Christ throughout the whole year.

More treats for you:
>> Check out some additional related articles by Verge Network.

>> Also, an excellent 3 minute video by Jeff Vanderstelt, who encourages us to "Open the Door to Halloween" in order to engage our neighbors.