This was my message from September 18, 2016 at Church at The Depot. If you love Huntington, and you’re stuck in your walk with God, you might enjoy watching it. A lot of people have 🙂 — Please continue to pray that our role in the transformation of Huntington will become clearer in the coming days!
Funny how God’s providence works sometimes – even in small things. This morning I was in downtown and while I was out on the sidewalk, out of nowhere comes the Marshall marching band’s drum line and hundreds of freshman marching behind them! The roads had been cleared, there was a police escort, and the drum line was killin’ it! Their sound was bouncing off the high buildings and the entire 4th Avenue was totally rockin! This was super cool for me – I was in marching band in high school and always LOVED hearing the drum cadences. This was the first time I’ve heard a drum line in maybe 15 years – so while it may not seem like a big deal – it was definitely a treat for me 🙂
Huntington gets cooler every week 🙂
If you live in Huntington, you already know about this. You also know that this kind of thing has been an issue for some time. There are many good people in our city who have been working on combating this problem, but as with most societal ills, results don’t always come as fast as we’d like. That said, I’m encouraging all of us to pray for the shalom of Huntington – and that includes praying down the principalities and powers that enable such horrific incidents like we’ve seen in these overdoses.
God’s plan for Huntington, WV is one of peace and prosperity. He’s already made the way for it to happen – but it’s our job to walk it out, proclaim it and live it. He’s called us to pray for those affected. He’s even called us to pray for and love those who perpetrate this kind of nonsense.
At the end of the day, for situations like these to be resolved, we need God’s power. He uses many good people (teachers, law enforcement, church folks, non-church folks, etc.) to bring about shalom, but at the end of the day, Jesus is the answer to all of this. When people realize not only that God exists, but that He willfully subjected Himself, in Jesus, to some of the worst pain and death the world had to offer – all in order that we could enjoy His peace and prosperity – that’s when things being to change. Pray for God to move in practical ways in our city. Pray that all those who are subjected to the bonds of addiction, prostitution, hopelessness, etc. will have an experience with God that will change them. And pray for us as we continue to seek God concerning what our role will be in all this.
During the last few days, I’ve been on Marshall’s campus. This is “move in” week on and I can’t help but be excited for all the kids, especially the freshmen, who are beginning their college experience. I remember years ago when I started college and how excited I was. I also remember what it’s like to be given more freedom than I’d ever known – and that where my prayer request comes from today.
I know many of these Marshall students. Some are graduates of the school where I serve as President, others are from the church I pastor, but others I’ve met just by hanging out in Huntington. During the next few days and weeks – yes, that fast – these guys and gals will make choices that will affect the rest of their lives. Some – especially the sheltered Christian ones – will finally taste a freedom from mom and dad they’ve never experienced. Some will handle this freedom responsibly and will continue on the road to becoming mature adults. Others won’t. They’ll experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex; they’ll lay out of church and stop reading their Bibles; they’ll compromise their character and integrity in order to fit in with and have friends.
It’s not an easy road – and seldom will a student go “all in” one way or the other. Most will make some good choices and some bad ones. I believe our job is to pray for them, love them, support them, and be patient with them during this time.
College is a time to better yourself, but it’s also time to find yourself. And what’s most important for these students is that they cultivate an understanding of the God who walks before them and with them as they navigate these choices. During the wise decisions and even the poor ones, He’s there. In the confusion and in the uncertainty, His Spirit is always available to bring comfort and direction. And when mistakes are made, Jesus is always there – no matter what the offense – to forgive and get them back on track.
Please pray for our students as they begin this year. College doesn’t have to be the drunken, weed-laced orgy it’s sometimes represented to be in popular culture. It certainly wasn’t for me. College was where I learned to follow Christ. I made the best friends I’ve ever had – and we prayed together, studied Scripture together, and served our community together. We weren’t angels by any means – and we still aren’t – but there’s one thing we had that was absolutely undeniable, and that’s the manifest presence of God. He made all the difference for us – and He still does.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world – and I’m praying that as many students in our city as possible will see God use this season of their lives to make Himself known to them.
The knowledge found in college is an undeniable good. But the knowledge of God is an incommensurable good. May these students gain such knowledge during their college years – and may they use it to make their lives, and our city, filled with His peace and prosperity.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of attending a local festival called “Rails and Ales” at Riverfront Park in Downtown Huntington. It was super encouraging for us because the festival was jam-packed and really demonstrated that there’s a lot of life in our city. We also enjoyed it because it was a chance for many local small businesses to showcase their products – everything from craft beer to clothing, jewelry, baked goods and even full meals. One of our stated missions is to “seek the peace and prosperity” of Huntington, so being able to support local businesses from our city and around the state of WV was awesome!
After leaving the festival, we decided to drive through some of the at-risk neighborhoods in Huntington – the neighborhoods where we hope to one day see God do amazing things. We’ve been praying for these kinds of areas and driving/walking through them for a few months now. As we drove through, we passed two guys who were clearly gang members. They were in a dispute with some other guys in a vehicle. The situation was escalating quickly and obviously about to turn violent – at 3pm on a Saturday.
Anyway, we obviously went the other way so as to avoid any possible crossfire (one of my team members got caught in some crossfire at the ministry I started in South Central L.A. years ago – so I get a little paranoid). Afterward we headed down to visit the local monastery for a bit to visit with one of the monks I’m friends with, and ever since I haven’t been able to get my mind off the guys we saw in Huntington. I don’t know them, don’t know their name, their story, etc., but I know that God does. And even though they may be dangerous and undesirable to many “decent church folks” (whatever that means), I can’t help but think that God has His eye on them. Watching them. Loving them. Calling them. Wanting better for them even than they want for themselves.
Ever since we passed them, all I’ve been wanting to do is go back down there and talk with them. Hang out a bit and hear their stories. But as anyone who has worked in inner-city ministry before knows, you don’t just “do” that. You can’t start there. You have to know someone an “in” so to speak. You have to have a relationship and people have to know they can trust you – at least a little bit. So that said, here’s where our prayer request comes in.
For a long time, Christian missionaries have understood the importance of a “person of peace” – a “cultural translator” if you will. The term comes from Luke 10 when Jesus sends His disciples into the city. He tells them that, before they start their ministry, they are to find a “person of peace.” In reading this passage of Scripture, missionaries have speculated that the “person of peace” was someone who assisted Jesus’ disciples in getting acquainted with the people where they would eventually bring the good news of Jesus. Having someone who acted as a “bridge” between the disciples and the city’s residents was an essential part of early Christian missiology. What’s interesting is this – that strategy is still in use today – and that’s exactly what we need at this point.
We are praying for a “person of peace” in Huntington. This would be a person who has relationships and a measure of respect in the at-risk neighborhoods we want to reach – most likely a person who lives there – whether it’s a gang member or a grandmother makes no difference. As much as I’d like to just show and start serving and sharing (and who knows – I may just end up break down and start doing it anyway – ha ha), it would be more effective to have someone to “introduce” me to the people in these areas.
So there you go. That’s my prayer request – sorry if it was a little long! Please pray for a person of peace who will trust us and get us “into” these neighborhoods. We have an awesome God, an awesome church, and an awesome message – we just need the bridge – and we’re confident God will provide it…