God-lovers and Jesus-lovers. People-lovers and dog-lovers. Cat-lovers and basketball lovers. Football lovers and baseball lovers. Music lovers and art lovers. Old lovers and young lovers. Freedom lovers and Family lovers. Country-lovers and City-lovers.
If you’re born and raised here, there’s a lot you could love about Cleveland. Except for road construction. We all HATE road construction.
You either hate Cleveland and want to get away from it as fast as you can OR you have an undeniable loyalty to the 2-1-6 district.
I have been both.
I was just out of high school and ready to work for my pastoral credentials and get the heck out of Ohio. That’s what I wanted to do. I looked into Colorado, I looked into doing YWAM in England, but everything always seemed to fall through for me. This is my story.
I was just passing through. I knew. I would finish my internship, get tons of experience and then … go somewhere far, far away.
And experience I got! As a youth administrator and then as an intern, I had quite a hand in many things including big-event planning and really, it was one of my favorite parts of being on staff. We got to plan the youth retreats.
(Seriously, my favorite times of the year.)
On one such retreat, our guest speaker was challenging our 150+ group of teens and I was standing in the back to make sure kids were paying attention.
But then something he said caught my attention and stopped me in my tracks.
I’ll never forget it.
He asked, “What is your Nineveh?”
Being as ornery and self-willed as I was, I muttered without hesitation, “Here!”
And the moment it left my mouth, the realization of what I said slammed my heart.
The story of Jonah and the big fish – do you know it?
Jonah was a prophet who had a lot going for him. Everyone liked him and he spoke what God told him to. I’m sure he scored a lot of free home-cooked meals.
But then God told him to go to Nineveh (denoted by Veggie Tales as the place where people are mean, don’t do dishes and slap each other with big smelly fishes... which of course isn’t necessarily true.)
And Jonah didn’t want to go.
He wanted to go anywhere else BUT Nineveh.
So he tried. And God wouldn’t let him. In fact, God sent a storm while he was on a boat going in the opposite direction and the men on that boat figured out it was Jonah who was causing the storm – and threw him over-board. This of course, is where a huge fish comes and eats him… giving him three days to finally give in and agree to obey the Lord. So, the fish vomited Jonah up onto the shores of… hey guess what? Nineveh.
So just to be clear… when someone asks you what your Nineveh is, you get this:
Nineveh - a place we’re called to, but we don’t want to go.
Or stay, in my instance.
And that was it.
I ate my words.
I was willing to go to Colorado Springs, CO. I was willing to go to a York, England.
I was willing to go anywhere. But was I willing to stay put?
The question presented itself in the same moment I answered the challenge from a man whose name I don’t even remember. God was positioning my heart for the next step.
And I knew it.
And you know what He said to me next?
Not kidding, that spring God directed me to change churches and picked me up like a Wii person and dropped me into a new community of people who – guess what - loved Cleveland. A LOT. Four years later and they haven’t changed. WE haven’t changed.
I was hurting then. And they were loving. And as time went on, I realized my story was like the city’s I would come to love too.
Cleveland. It was once a great city – very industrious and booming with opportunity.
But something changed. A spirit of hopelessness has fallen on the city like a mantle. Its streets are dying and people are running after anything they can hope in– and King Solomon was right.
Lack of hope and vision does that to a people. Surely it does that to a city.
I was dying spiritually and emotionally inside when I entered the doors of my current church for the first time.
I’d been in the ministry for over 2 years at that point, full time. I was worn out and angry. I had no friends, and everything I dreamed of was gone.
But I was loved.
And love does something to a person.
Fighting for life DOES something to a person.
Surely it can do something for a city.
And that’s what happened folks.
I was loved with the Love of Christ. There were no strings attached, no exceptions, no expectations - Just love and a safe place to heal.
Cleveland has known a lot of disappointment and loss of hope over the years.
So have I.
Cleveland may be a lost cause according to some.
The same is true for me.
But I have the idea.
If something is true for an individual, it can be true for a community… and it can even be true for a city – of individuals.
Where we are weak, there is much more room for Christ to be strong.
Paul shared a similar thought.
“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)
So if we – as a city – as the Church OF this city – humble ourselves together, admit our weakness and our need for Him to move, He WILL come through and be strong in those places. And that which tripped us up before – will never trip us up again.
Be it disunity between the churches, be it lack of zeal for the Gospel of good news, be it loss of hope for the movement of the Spirit, or be it a lack of vision for the city. It’s time for a change – and the young people here feel it. We’re praying for it. We’re hungry for it. We long – deeply long for it.
“And He began to teach them. He said:Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:2-16(NIV)
This scripture is for the Church. I believe it’s the heart of God for the city of Cleveland.
The land where I cleave.
I’m praying for a wake-up call to the churches in Cleveland.
I have a deep desire to see restoration and a love so distinct between its churches that the only way to understand it is that this city is full of God-lovers and Jesus lovers. People lovers and Vision seers. Dreamers and Intercessors. Preachers and Teachers. Pastors and Leaders. Writers and singers.
People who edify each other by prayers and singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs – bearing one anothers' burdens, crying with those who cry, laughing with those who laugh and longing with those who long. People who love justice, have compassion for everyone they encounter and walk humbly with one another and with God.
That’s the vision.
Where do you live?
What’s your vision?
Do you need to catch it?