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Love and Power in Pittsburgh

Love and Power in Pittsburgh

Mike Rhoades | Jun 23, 2015

I’m sitting at a Duncan Donuts coffee shop several blocks from the church where two of our mission teams are staying for the week. It’s my first experience on a PPM trip in Pittsburgh, but a homecoming of sorts for my wife and I. We are back in a region we pastored for nearly four years. We saw first hand the social and economic pressure cooker that makes Pittsburgh a unique place to do ministry. Pittsburgh is a tough town, filled with Italians, Polish, Burundis, and dozens of other ethnicities all instantly friendly, but viciously proud. Pittsburgh is a place you rarely have to guess what someone is thinking. Most of the time, they’ll tell you without even asking. It’s an old city that has boomed, busted, and boomed again. Their sports teams represent a hard working, hard partying, vibrant community where loyalty runs thick as blood. I love this place, there is a grit about it that is hard to explain. People here have been let down and left out by the church, the city, the country and yet they push through. Just this morning I talked with a girl whose story almost brought me to tears. Just weeks before she attended her dad’s funeral, a dad she barely new and just recently reunited with. She lives basically alone as she bounces between members of her family. Yet, she was standing in the church sanctuary grinning from ear to ear telling me about her huge dreams. How could she stay so positive? Where did this hope come from? The answer is simple, I think. Standing next to her was a jovial lady in her late forties affectionately called “the Rev.” She reminded me of Whoppi Goldberg in Sister Act, minus the habit. This incredible lady and her commitment to love on young people, gave this girl a future. She had taken tragedy and turned it into motivation. In the Bible, James writes:
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” — James 1:2-4 (MSG)
This morning I’m reminded of what made me fall in love with Pittsburgh. It's a city brimming with resilience. When the chips are down, they find a way to keep moving forward. I’m a little afraid though, many of us give up too quickly. I wonder if our relative lack of conflict and struggle has left us with very little spiritual strength. Ultra-Marathon runners will run 50 and even 100 miles at a time during which they push through starvation (yep, they literally deplete their body of every nutrient simulating severe starvation), sleep deprivation, and fatigue. Our bodies, our minds, and especially our faith are capable of so much more than we realize. Can the church and it's people really know their limits without pain? If we let it, pain grows us, refines us, and even motivates us. Pain brings clarity to what is truly important which leads to a unique kind of confidence. Its a confidence in knowing there is no quitting, no backing down. Life presents a challenge and it matters little what others think, because we have no choice, we either figure it out or become a victim. This young girl intrinsically new she was more than a victim, she was an overcomer. So here’s a challenge for us this week, learn from those who suffer. Pay attention to who they are. We may find some are truly broken, to them we are light in their darkness. Others, the irrepressible ones, will blow our minds. Their faith will be vibrant, their resilience will be unflappable, and their joy will shine brilliantly in-spite of the circumstances. Most people don’t really know their limits. Most churches don't really know what impact they are capable of. We are capable of deep, mature faith. Faith that brings hope, grace, and peace to a world searching. I pray we push, we strain, and we rise above so we may see all God has put inside us. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT) [subscribe2]

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