Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

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Perspectives: Understanding God’s Heart for the World

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”
John Piper

Several years ago I had the privilege of taking a class at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. This class excited me personally, and I signed up with the hopes of gaining insight on engaging internationals right here in Pittsburgh. Missions is a great passion of mine, having received a Masters in Arts in Religion with a focus on missions at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. My passion has led me to build relationships with my neighbors with Muslim backgrounds, work with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) in Australia, engage with Pittsburgh Regional International Student Ministry (PRISM), and purposefully reach out to internationals in my neighborhood. I knew this class would only further ignite my heart for missions. I was right.

I was blown away by the class. We studied God’s heart for the unreached, the biblical call to reach the nations, the history of missions, missional approaches throughout the centuries, and we ultimately gained a deeper understanding of God.

The accessibility of the class was incredibly encouraging. The material was applicable to anyone who stepped through the door-whether a person had previous involvement in missions, worked at a church, was a lay leader in the church, or was a Christian simply wanting to learn more. I was very impacted by the class.  The content was straightforward, deeply biblical, and helped us move toward God’s heart for the world and Himself.

To my surprise several of the lessons were taught by mission-minded pastors and leaders that I had already rubbed shoulders with in the city.  I made new connections with people doing ministry in the city and learned practical next steps for engaging more intentionally with my Muslim friends in the city. It was also incredibly encouraging to see a fellow church staff member in attendance receive the nudge from the Lord to begin a prayer group for the church. They have been meeting for over a year now and have spread over to an additional church campus.

I was encouraged to hear that “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” would be represented at the Imagine Conference this year. I want to strongly encourage anyone looking to know more about God’s heart for the world to consider participating. Do not let anything stop you from pursuing God’s call for you in this area. As I think of a Christian’s call to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), I am also reminded of the promise made in Romans 8:31-39: nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). As we serve God and our hearts align more closely with His, may we be reminded of the hope and security we have in Him.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Register for the Imagine Conference to discover more of God’s heart for the world and where you fit in.


Pat Michael, North Way Oakland Outreach Director (In Partnership with Didasko Ministries)
patm@northway.org

 

For more information on a Perspectives Class near you, click here.

Next year’s Persepectives course: January 22-May 7th 2018

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A Walk Through Systemic Racism

Walking along North Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Central North Side and Mexican War Streets neighborhoods, I am surrounded by humanity. The beauty of God’s handiwork passes me on the left and the right on the wide sidewalk. Skin of every shade meets my eyes as a half dozen languages are picked up by my ears. The playground is filled with dozens of children from every background and socioeconomic group running around and giggling. Kids in boutique dresses play next to those in worn hand-me-downs while parents sit on the sidelines. Some are black, some are white. Some wear hijab, some wear yarmulkes. Some push expensive strollers. One has a shopping cart with all of their worldly belongings in it.

At first glance this scene encompasses everything about humanity Jesus calls us to hold dear. It sounds like the description of heaven.

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

Yet, Jesus also calls us to sometimes look beyond the surface and dig deeper. He calls us to challenge our thinking and break free of our safety zones.

Further observation of this neighborhood reveals that not everything is as it seems at first glance. The line for dinner outside of the Light of Life Rescue Mission is made up nearly entirely of black men. Just a few short blocks away, in sight of the line of homeless black men, is another place to eat a warm dinner. The patio of diners at Casellula, a fantastic- but pricey- new restaurant is nearly entirely a white crowd. This is not intentional on the part of either establishment. Both organizations are wonderful additions to this neighborhood. Light of Life is open to those of all races and backgrounds who are homeless and seeking a meal. Casellula is partnered with City of Asylum bookstore, which strives to elevate the voices of refugees, asylum seekers, and marginalized voices around the world. Segregation, especially in Pittsburgh, is rarely intentional. Yet it is ever present.

If we begin to reflect on this dinner scene, one looming question emerges that followers of Jesus must wrestle with. If these establishments are not actively segregating themselves, then what causes this visual divide?

Why are so many white adults able to afford dinner at Casellula, and so many black adults need to eat dinner at the rescue mission for free? We must ask ourselves a fundamental question as we analyze this evening meal. Do we believe that people of color do not work as hard, are not as smart, and are not as able to earn a living than their white brothers and sisters? Knowing that God created all of us in His image, we must reject this idea as false. Coded messages in society, in politics, and in this very neighborhood lead many to draw that conclusion. Those messages lead us to draw the conclusion that there must be something fundamentally “wrong” with the actions or inherent qualities of the individuals waiting for dinner at the mission that prevents them from being seated at the Casellula table.

Through reflection, then, we realize that if it is not an inherent character trait that makes one group less able to thrive, then it must be a systemic or societal reason. Once we conclude there is a societal injustice at play, we are called as followers of Jesus to stand against that. We are called to be on the side of justice, and of truth.

Pittsburgh has a long history with racial inequality, one that is often hidden and brushed aside. We did not have the public vestiges of Jim Crow nailed up around our city, but we had de facto segregation and inequality just the same. Even today, Black citizens of Pittsburgh who work for the city earn eighty-three cents on the dollar for every white employee, and this trend spills out into nearly every field in the region. So, even if the men outside of Light of Life work through the program with their mentors at Light of Life, they will be making less than their white counterparts.

Then we can examine the housing market in our city. Pittsburgh has a long history of discriminatory lending from days past, and the present. Today’s low income neighborhoods align nearly perfectly with the “redlining” map two generations ago. Those in a red neighborhood could not get a mortgage, and thus those communities remained largely renters and subsidized housing. Owning homes builds familial wealth. The people eating at Casellula- their parents probably owned their homes. The people eating at Light of Life- their parents likely did not own a home. Only four generations removed from slavery, black families have much less inherited wealth and stability than white families. The wealth of a child’s family is the single most accurate predictor of a child’s success in life (Dalton Conley, Princeton University sociologist). By the time these diners were a year old, one could likely predict what table they would be eating dinner at tonight.

So, as believers called to wade into the messy waters of racial reconciliation, what do we do? The first step is naming injustice when we see it. We don’t make excuses or shame the person in poverty with our idea of what they “should” do to overcome their circumstances.

We sit down and share a table with them. Maybe we ask them to join us at Casellula. Maybe we join them at Light of Life, or maybe we meet somewhere in the figurative middle. God calls us as believers to function on a potluck mentality, more than a soup kitchen line. He is most honored when his children sit down as brothers and sisters and break bread together across the societal lines imposed on them.

The next thing we do is lay our guilt and defenses down. God has freed us from the sin of guilt. He has set us free. Feeling guilty for the path our life has taken does nothing for reconciliation. Feeling defensive about our successes also hinders conversation. We must pray for open transparency as we hear the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ in their pain.

And lastly, we speak up and work for change in whatever arena we are in. Banking, human resources, church leadership. Real estate agents, teachers, stay-at-home moms planning playdates. Decades, and generations of silence has led to this disparity in our society. We educate ourselves so that we can work for God’s justice in all areas of our life.

Some resources:

Waking up White by Debbie Irving

Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew I. G. Hart

Register for the Imagine Conference


Meg McKivigan, M. Ed., Freelance Writer

www.megstesprit.com

Twitter: @megstesprit

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