thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

Change the Story – Join the Conspiracy

It’s Black Friday and in preparation for Christmas, Americans are spending by the billions today. Is it possible to change the story of consumerism? Is it possible that Christmas can still change the world?

I believe it is possible. And that’s why this year our community of faith will once again be joining with numerous other churches by participating in the Advent Conspiracy. This movement is based upon four critical turns in the Christmas story:

  • Worship Fully
  • Spend Less
  • Give More
  • Love All

During the Advent season, members of our community of faith will make over and above gifts to our Advent Conspiracy fund. Ever dollar received will be used to support three special mission initiatives:

Shepherd’s Heart Church: We will be helping our sisters and brothers serve the homeless population of Pittsburgh. Shepherd’s Heart operates a drop-in center in the mornings which offers coffee, some breakfast and a place to rest. The drop-in center needs a a space where they would store the paper products and food supplies used.  Our gifts will help to construct this space.

Gulf Coast Team: In March, 25 members of our community will travel to the Gulf Coast region to partner with Habitat for Humanity in the Bay/Waveland area of Mississippi  to continue the work of rebuilding following Hurricane Katerina. This will be our sixth visit to the region and we are committed to partnering with people on the ground to restore dignity and the quality of life for residents of the Gulf Coast region.

Hamlin College for Midwives (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia): The mission of the college is to train, equip, deploy and support highly skilled, trustworthy and accountable midwives, who are willing to serve women and families of rural Ethiopia. Pregnant women and their unborn children our at great risk and the women trained at the college will be trained to be instruments of change in Ethiopia.

Today (and every day) you can begin to change the story. Be a part of the conspiracy. And believe and act in such a way that the story of Christmas once again changes our world.

Stay connected…

Filed under: advent, global poverty, gulf coast

Worship Must Be More Than Singing…

During my message from Micah 6 this past Sunday, I addressed the connection between worship and justice. In that text, the people ask an important question, one that we would do well to ask today: “with what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?”

I discovered that the people of Judah wrestled with some of the same things we struggle with today when it comes to worship: bigger is better. Whether it is thousands of rams offered with ten thousand rivers of oil or a bigger band with a better sound system driving the worship engine – far to often we elevate our worship on externals.

“But He has shown all you people that is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Francis Chan shared the following story during his talk on courage at the David Crowder Fantastical Church Music Conference.It is a powerful reminder of why worship must be more than just singing.

In his book, When a Nation Forgets God, Erwin Lutzer shared an eyewitness account of how some church members reacted to the Nazism of their times:

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it because what could we do to stop it. A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance, and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars. Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews in route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming, and when we heard the whistle blow, we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church,we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.” And then the eyewitness shared with Pastor Lutzer, “ Although years have passed, I still hear the train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me, forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians and yet did nothing to intervene.”

How does worship drown out the cries of the needy in our world? Why is it easier to sing louder than get involved in the work of justice? What would it mean to stop singing and actually start worshiping?

Stay connected…

Filed under: global poverty, worship gatherings

10.10.10 Worship Confessional

During our worship gathering on Sunday we joined with thousands of other communities of faith around the globe  partnering with the Micah Challenge in the Lend a Hand campaign. 2010 is a year of great challenge and opportunity in the fight against global poverty. It’s ten years since the nations of the world made promises to the poor amongst us and the Lend a Hand campaign was an initiative designed to bring 100 million people together in a worldwide cry that the poor and our promises to them cannot be forgotten.

If the nations of the world did what they promised to do in 2000, half a billion people would be lifted out of poverty by 2015. With full recognition that poverty will not be solved solely by governments, I do believe that as citizens and as followers of Christ we can ask our leaders to follow-through on the commitments we made to do our part in eliminating the sin of extreme poverty. And as Christians and members of the Body of Christ we have a special calling to love and serve the poor. As Micah 6:8 reminds us: “What does the Lord require? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbling with your God.”

During our worship gathering we provided the opportunity and space for people to gather around prayer stations to “lend a hand” We invited them to promise to live justly or to advocate for the poor around the world. And we invited people to pray passionately because we can’t achieve anything as big as this without God’s help. The image in this post contains that hand-prints of many who participated in this time of prayer and commitment.

What is the connection between worship and justice? Is it right to advocate for justice in the context of a worship gathering? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Our worship set for the morning included:

  • Marvelous Light (Charlie Hall)
  • Not to Us/Here is Our King (Todd Fields version)
  • Small Rebellions (song from Jars of Clay new project, “Shelter”)
  • Follow Me (Leeland)
  • You Have Shown Us (Compassion Art Project)

You can learn what other churches experienced in worship at The Worship Community.

Stay connected…

Filed under: global poverty, hope, worship gatherings

Warrior Princess: Fighting for Life with Courage and Hope

Imagine losing your mother, father, sister, brother and husband to a deadly disease. Then imagine carrying the killer HIV virus in your own body as well. To be honest, that scenario is beyond my capacity to imagine – and yet it is the reality Princess Zulu of Zambia lives with each and every day.  And yet, in her book “Warrior Princess: Fighting for Life with Courage and Hope,” Princess Zulu tells a compelling and inspiring story that will not only capture your heart, but  hopefully will move you into action as well.

On January 2, 1998 Princess discovered that she was HIV positive. However, she refused to be defeated by that diagnosis, but instead committed herself to doing everything humanly possible to educate, inform and to fight for life. Her own nation of Zambia and the entire sub-Saharan region of Africa has been devastated by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Consider some of the most recent statistics:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV worldwide, accounting for over two thirds (67%) of all people living with HIV and for nearly three quarters (72%) of AIDS-related deaths in 2008.
  • An estimated 1.9 million [1.6 million–2.2 million] people were newly infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, bringing to 22.4 million [20.8 million–24.1 million] the number of people living with HIV.
  • In 2008, more than 14 million children in sub-Saharan Africa had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
  • The nine countries in southern Africa continue to bear a disproportionate share of the global AIDS burden—each of them has an adult HIV prevalence greater than 10%.

Early in Princess Zulu’s spiritual journey she received a series of prophetic words and Scriptures that would guide and empower her life and mission. She tells the story of a word she received in 1996 from the Prophet Zimba who shared a vision of Princess “standing at an airport carrying suitcases. There were flights going in different directions, all around the world. The flags of many nations were waving about, but some were standing out stronger than others: the flags of Canada, Australia and America. And the American flag had come to a standstill” (pages 78-79).  Little did Princess know that God would one day carry this simple Zambian woman to the places of power in her own nation and around the globe to speak as a advocate for those suffering from the impact of  HIV and AIDS – especially women and vulnerable children.

Princess is one gutsy woman. One of the techniques she used to raise awareness about HIV was to pose as a commercial sex worker and “work” the truckers who would travel through her region. When they would solicit her for sex, she would make them aware of her HIV status and then educate them about the dangers of their own behavior and how they were contributing to the spread of the virus. While at times controversial, Princess would not let the conventional wisdom set the pace for the education of Africans regarding this deadly disease.

Princess is a wonderful storyteller and one of my favorite stories in the book recalls the famous “President Bush Kiss.”  Princess was invited to the White House to speak the President around the occasion of his PEPFAR initiative. The picture I included in this blogpost is worth one thousand words, but I encourage you to pick up the book to read the story behind the kiss.

From the White House to the gym at Eisenhower School. In 2008 our community of faith was fortunate to have Princess Zulu with us for a worship gathering. She shared a powerful message of compassion and hope and I encourage you to listen to it.

Please read Princess Zulu’s story. You will be inspired and I pray you will be moved into action. If you would like to learn more about the work of World Vision and our partnership in Guraghe, Ethiopia, please leave a comment and I would be pleased to connect you to this important work.

Stay connected…

Filed under: global poverty, hope, Uncategorized, world AIDS day

Hope for Haiti Now

On Friday evening artists and celebrities around the globe collaborated on a very special music event entitled Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief. The event was designed to raise both awareness about the crisis in Haiti and funds to provide real help and hope to the people of that devastated land.

While I only had the opportunity to watch the last 30 minutes of the event live on Friday evening, when the audio and video of the event became available on Saturday I quickly downloaded it via iTunes. This morning on my walk I listened to all twenty of the performances (it was a long walk) and while there were a few performances that musically didn’t quite make it for me, here is my bottom line: the Hope for Haiti Now project found artists doing what artists do best  – inspiring people. Inspiring people to live more deeply into the story and to find their part in being part of the solution.

And so I ask you: what’s your part in the solution to the crisis in Haiti? How can you be an answer to the prayers of the Haitian people for real help and hope in their time of real need?

Today I had my first cup of coffee in eight days. During that time I was drinking only water and pooling the money I saved on coffee and diet cokes (and milk and juice…). Tomorrow I will be making a gift to Deep Springs International, an organization with a vision of making clean water available to the people of Haiti through a novel approach to fighting poverty that integrates sustainable solutions to the problems of lack of safe water, lack of job-relevant education, spiritual poverty, and unemployment. I am learning more about this organization and the work they are doing in Haiti day by day and I would encourage you to check them out as well.

As well, in the days ahead our community of faith will be prayerfully asking God what our part might be in the longer term solution to the rebuilding of Haiti.

What organizations and ministries are you partnering with? I would love to learn more about how God is inspiring you and moving you to action. Together we can bring real help and hope to Haiti now!

Stay connected…

Filed under: global poverty, hope

A Troubling Week


This has been a deeply troubling week for me. Our nation is reeling economically and the anxiety level is palpable. The non-stop coverage by the media on this issue seems only to fuel the fear and tension. And with 40 some days to the election, the skeptic within me questions how politicized every solution offered actually is (and I write this at 9:25 AM, just minutes before President Bush is slated to make another statement on the bailout plan).

I am not an economist; my understanding of the issues on Wall Street from both a macro and micro level is incredibly limited. I have been accused by some to be both politically and economically naive. That may be true. But I do know that I am deeply troubled this week.$700 billion is a whole lot of money; more money that I can wrap my brain around. And I don’t know what would happen (and or will) if the bailout plan isn’t resolved quickly.

This recent statement from Bono only adds fuel to the stirring in my soul. He said, “it’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.”

Every Friday I join with people from around the globe and pray the Micah Challenge. “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). The Micah Challenge is committed to praying for and working toward a 50% reduction in global poverty by 2015.

Recently, a group of evangelical leaders from the Church in the Global South issued a pastoral letter to the Church in the United States. The letter highlights the great good that the United States has done in the developing world. Millions of lives have been saved through relief and development efforts undertaken by both the US government and through the generosity of both private citizens and the community of faith. This week, as I have been thinking about some of the heroes in our community of faith, I have a great sense of pride and joy in the individuals, families, and groups who are bringing real help and hope to the children of Guraghe, Ethiopia. Through our partnership with World Vision, the root causes of poverty, disease, and death are not only being confronted but being defeated as new life and hope is springing forth.

And yet, despite a commitment we made as a nation to join with other G8 nations to the goal spending 0.7 percent of their GNP on global aid, the United States, is at the bottom of the list of what the G8 nations have contributed toward the reduction of poverty, disease, and death, spending just 0.16 percent of its income on development assistance and poverty reduction.

And so, in the midst of a deeply troubling week, I invite you to prayerfully read this pastoral letter to the Church in the United States. Let us have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

TO THE CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES

As the Church of the Lord in what is known as the “Southern” part of the world, moved by the Holy Spirit to fight for the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers, we address our Christian family in the United States, a Church of the same covenant, faith and love. Grace and Peace to all of our brothers and sisters.

We know your works of love; these works have allowed millions of human beings for many generations in our countries in the South to receive the gospel, the Grace of Jesus Christ and the power of His Salvation. The U.S. church’s untiring missionary effort planted in our lands Hope in Him who came to reconcile EVERYTHING.

Nevertheless, the political, social and economic situation in the places where this hope has been announced is increasingly distressing. Millions of people in the global South are dying of hunger, violence and injustice. These situations of poverty and pain are not simply the product of the internal functions of our countries; rather they are the results of the international policies of the governments that wield global power.

Therefore, we have this against you, brothers and sisters, that along with this powerful announcing of the Gospel, the Church from the United States has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South – injustices that afflict the lives and ecosystems of millions of people who, centuries after the proclamation of the Gospel, still have not seen the sweat of their brow turned into bread.

The worsening inequality and poverty in the South is alarming. Seven years since the United States and 191 other nations publicly promised to cut extreme global poverty in half by the year 2015 through the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), your country has made only a little progress towards fulfilling its commitments. The MDGs should stir us to action because they echo the calls of the biblical prophets for justice and equity. Further, they are achievable and measurable markers on the roadmap to end extreme global poverty.

And so we ask you as sisters and brothers, citizens of the wealthiest most powerful nation on earth, to publicly challenge your candidates and political leaders – now and after the elections are over – to lead the world in the struggle to cut global poverty in half by 2015. If you who know the Truth will not speak for us who will?

The Church in the United States has the opportunity today to be faithful to the Hope that it preaches. We urge you to remember that the Hope to which you were called as a messenger demands that you seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s justice.

Out of love for us, the global Church, in holiness, use your citizenship responsibly for the benefit of the entire world; it is for this very reason that the Lord poured out His life on the Cross.

All who have ears, let them hear what the Lord says to His Church.

Filed under: global poverty

about me

my name is terry and i've been married to a great woman, patty for 29 years and we have four children, (ranging from 17-25) and an awesome grandson. i serve as lead pastor of christ community church of the south hills in pittsburgh, pa (lets go pens!). i am currently working on a book on worship with a working title of "a movable feast: a liturgy for our everyday, ordinary lives."

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