eNewsletter Feature Story – Week of June 27 – July 3, 2021

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Jim Teague,
First Pres director of communications.

Rev. Michael Allen

Guest Preacher Michael N. Allen

Pastor Michael Allen, co-founder and chief strategic officer of Together Chicago, will be our guest preacher this Sunday, June 27, at our 10 am outdoor/online worship service.

Pastor Allen was born in Kingston Jamaica, and immigrated to USA (Ft. Lauderdale) with his family in 1977, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1986. His wife Marilza and he have four children: Rachel, 24, who is married to Darric Obinger; Daniel, 22; Philip, 19; and Abigail, 16. In 1987, he earned and Associate’s Degree in Applied Computer Electronics. In 1994 Pastor Allen earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Trinity International University, and a Master’s of Divinity in Urban Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1997. He served as assistant pastor at The Moody Church in Chicago from 1997 to 2002 before becoming senior pastor at Uptown Baptist Church from 2005 to 2020. Pastor Michael is vice chairman of the board of Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago since 1998, and the co-founder and chief strategic officer of Together Chicago, whose mission is to renew Chicago, through partnerships with churches, businesses, community leaders and government officials to inspire hope within the communities they serve.

Dear Friends,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (NRSV)

I recently came across a social media post from an old high school friend of mine. This friend, David, had built an exceptionally extravagant and well-conceived raised-bed planter where his wife could grow all varieties of fruits and vegetables to her heart’s content without having to sit or kneel and work on the ground.

As I looked at the photos he had posted, I was reminded that David was probably the very first person who had ever taken the time to sit with me one-on-one, open a Bible, and tell me about who Jesus was and is (God in the flesh) and how he loved me and died for me (because I am a sinner) so that I could have eternal life (and be with Him).

My response at the time was less than enthusiastic.

I had been raised in a “Christmas and Easter” church family, where we honored the Bible two times a year, but left it on the shelf the other 363 days. All I had known up until that point was that Jesus had been born from a virgin in a stable, fled with his family from Herod, died on a cross many years later, and then had risen from the dead. The rest of the Bible was a complete mystery to me, and, frankly, held little interest.

That was until David and I had our one-on-one meeting. David continued to be a good friend (though I seem to recall kind of keeping him at arm’s length) and brought me to church once. It wasn’t too long before I became known as the guy who carried a Bible around in high school. Notice I didn’t say I was known for living by what it taught or going to church or anything remotely resembling the life of a Christian. I was extremely Bible-curious, without having been changed much by what it said.

Fast-forward five years later, and I was down on my knees alone in my dorm room at college telling God he could have my life (I think I may have thrown in a few conditions of my own, but no longer remember what they might have been).

In between my time with David and that night in the dorm, I rubbed up against other believers who also took the risk and gave their time to — gently but consistently — remind me that a relationship with Jesus requires a public, life-long commitment, and that all of history points toward him being God and being worthy of such complete surrender.

As I thought about David and the risk he took (as a high school student, no less) to share with me the truth as he understood it, I began to think of some of the people who played a part in my coming to faith:

      • Margaret, a (very cute) member of the high school choir who told me about her youth group and got me thinking that maybe people who loved Jesus weren’t complete nerds after all.
      • Pete, the college admissions counselor who served as the chaplain for our soccer team and staff contact for our fraternity, and who lived out his faith in the midst of intense pressure to just be cool.
      • Stephen, The Anglican assistant pastor who led a small group Bible study among campus students and refused to spread the lie Jesus was a myth whose story was meant to serve as an example for us to live “good, moral” lives.
      • Ken, my fraternity “big brother,” who was always an encouragement when times got tough, and who kept asking me if I wanted to go to church with him each week (I never did).
      • Lew, Eric and Frank, believing friends from college who invited me into their circle without demanding that I change, convert or commit to anything more than chipping in for the pizza occasionally.
      • And, finally, Larry, who came to my dorm one Friday night in the Fall of my sophomore year after hearing me talk about the Bible from a place of ignorance and pride without knowing the author of the story in any personal sense. He opened the Scriptures and patiently and lovingly showed me how Jesus made it clear he is God and how the entirety of Scripture backs up his claims.

When I think of each of these people (and so, so many more) who have played their part in shaping my faith, I picture a seed, sown and watered, growing into a bush or tree (maybe a mustard bush?). It is tended and pruned, watered regularly, fed through good soil, and, in turn, casts off leaves, twigs, pollen, and fruit, feeding the other plants in the field or orchard around it.

All of my friends (those listed above, so many of you at First Pres, as well as others unremembered here) have played a part in my spiritual growth, and each has their own network of sowers, waterers, pruners, fertilizers, and such.

I have never had the pleasure of leading someone to faith in Jesus on my own. I’ve had a few times when I was part of a group that was there when it happened, and I would love to experience that! But when I think of the way God has gardened my heart and the hearts of those who came before me, I am excited to think of what stories we will tell in Heaven as we marvel at the way he has cultivated his kingdom!

This Sunday, we will meet in the First Pres Parking Lot and have the pleasure of hearing from guest preacher Rev. Michael Allen as he teaches from Luke 13:1-5 and John 9:1-12.

Join us in person or online Sunday at 10 a.m. as we get fed, watered, and possibly even a little bit pruned — all together!

In His peace,

Jim Teague
FPCE Director of Communications

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