God’s People Bring the Leaves of Healing to Detroit

Last month I reflected on the incredible needs and opportunities in our cities here in the US. We focused a lot on how God is intentionally bringing the nations to our doorstep, and we heard Ray Bakke’s challenge for God’s people to respond accordingly. This post will highlight some significant efforts by a growing number of people in Detroit to do just that.

Now those who know me fairly well are aware that I’ve joyfully abandoned my dispensationalist upbringing, a futurist eschatology which featured [1] an escapist mentality (i.e. “we’re going to be raptured out of here at any moment”) and [2] the idea that the crumbling of the world around us is a good and/or necessary thing because it means Jesus is about to return.

I now believe that we live in the everlasting new covenant age and that God’s kingdom was fully established in the first century. As “the light of the world” and “a city built on a hill” (Matthew 5:15-16), and as a people who have been camped at Mount Zion/God’s city/the heavenly Jerusalem for centuries (Hebrews 12:22), I am convinced that we possess the leaves of the tree of life that are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2). It’s our mandate and our calling to seek healing for all nations, including our own. (Yes, I do believe that warped eschatology is one key factor that has too often kept the church from living out this calling.) This calling is not at all divorced from our calling to proclaim the message of the cross and the gospel.

That’s why I’m thrilled to learn about what is happening in the city of Detroit, Michigan. In 2010 it was ranked the 18th most populous city in the US, with over 700,000 people. About 82% of the city’s population is African-American, and thousands of Iraqi and Hmong refugees have also made their home there. Less than 10 miles away is another key city, Dearborn, with a population of about 100,000 that is 33% Arab. The greater metro area including and surrounding Detroit features about 5.2 million people.

As reported by the Northville Patch (Northville is located about 28 miles northwest of downtown Detroit), a community-impacting initiative that began in the spring of 2011 now includes representatives from more than 560 different churches and para-church organizations, and it’s bringing new life to a crippled city:

For the second year, Southeast Michigan residents are coming together from hundreds of churches and organizations to share their faith and offer free medical and dental services, food, housing construction and renovations to tens of thousands of residents in need. It’s a continuation of the EACH (Everyone a Chance to Hear) movement that launched last spring.

EACH is guided by a steering committee with church leaders from both city and suburbs. The EACH effort started in 2011 and focused on a 40-day period starting Easter Sunday, but the hope that the impact and continued effort to help the community would continue into the future came to fruition. Most of the local church-based projects and actions will be determined by individual congregations and Christian organizations.

Thousands of individuals from approximately 560 churches and para-church organizations from all over the city of Detroit and suburbs have become active members of EACH in the last year. The movement kicked off again on Easter Sunday.

“EACH was designed to be a one-year initiative, but something special happened,” said Pastor Bob Shirock, senior pastor of Oak Pointe Church in Novi. “We went from being a group of individual churches to really being one church with one purpose…to share and show the love of Jesus to our communities through prayer, Good News and good deeds. We decided to keep doing it, while finding more ways to share and show Christ’s love to people in our communities.”

The Detroit Prayer Walk, which last year attracted about 25,000 followers of Jesus to downtown Detroit, will be the first event where all churches will gather together. This year it will be on Saturday, April 28 at Comerica Park. New for this year, the walk will also include no-cost community medical assistance at a neighboring church. The Detroit Prayer Walk will feature the theme, “1 Church Coming Together for One Purpose.”

Since April 2011, the EACH movement has provided thousands of free meals and 3,500 hours of medical and dental service and repaired or refurbished more than 100 houses in the Detroit area.

The EACH movement will significantly increase community assistance in 2012 through expanded deployment of mobile medical and dental trailers that provide no cost services to uninsured or underinsured people. They will also be expanding the housing construction and renovation effort and creating a community resource event called Lovin’ The D on Saturday, May 19 in midtown Detroit on the Wayne State University campus.

“The impact that we have had on this region as believers of Jesus has been incredible when you look at all the people in need we have helped,” said Pastor Christopher Brooks of Evangel Ministries in Detroit. “We’re talking about thousands of people in need who have been helped by their neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. It’s a very powerful message.”

The coalition will continue to use the 2WordStory social media and personal testimony campaign that was launched as part of the movement in 2011 to show examples of changed lives.

“There is Good News all around us – here in the Detroit area because people have experienced the life changing love of Jesus and have made this a great place to live and work,” said Pastor Doug Schmidt, senior pastor for Woodside Bible Church. “As a community we are listening to Jesus’ words and sharing His message with those around us. And there is no better way to share such a message of love than living it out.”

Other programs that started from the EACH movement in the past year include Handyman Ministries, a faith-based non-profit community revitalization organization dedicated to helping low-income individuals and families by providing free maintenance and repair services, energy audits and other upgrades; and Life Remodeled, a non-profit organization that builds houses and provides other resources to transform lives in troubled communities.

A 2009 CNN Money article shows that some Detroit-area churches were already at that time “taking a hands-on approach to saving their neighborhoods, plowing millions into buying and redeveloping local housing and businesses.” The author noted that Detroit was known for “its ever-increasing pockets of barren land and abandoned housing,” and that it “may be the most financially devastated city in the country.” To read more of this article, see here.

In the midst of such ruin, it’s exciting and encouraging to see God’s people rise up with the power of God’s kingdom that is in our midst and within us (Luke 17:20-21), and work together to see large-scale transformation take place throughout a city, and in many hearts and lives. Pastor Bob Shirock, the founder of the EACH initiative, says “he got the idea to mobilize churches after traveling overseas and witnessing Christians uniting to serve the disadvantaged. Shirock yearned to replicate the outreach coalition in Detroit.” May it be that God’s people living in other cities soon have even greater stories to tell.

You are the light of the world. 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 5:14-15).

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).

The Implications of Luke 21:8

Some of Jesus’ disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” 

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.

Luke 21:5-8

In six previous posts (hereherehere, here, here, and herewe examined the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus elsewhere warned His disciples that false prophets would claim to be Him (e.g. Matthew 24:5, 23, 26; Mark 13:6, 21; Luke 17:22-23). It’s only in Luke 21:8, though, that Jesus warns His followers not to pay attention to those who would proclaim that “the time is near” (or “at hand” in some translations). In fact, they were to regard such a proclamation as a characteristic of false prophets…at least for a while. We should give this some extra thought.

If we look ahead to Luke 21:28, we see that Jesus later says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus thus gives permission at that point for His people to realize the very thing that earlier they were not to believe, that is, that the time was near. First they had to see “these things begin to take place,” and then they could know and proclaim that the end was near. The expression “these things” refers to what Jesus describes in verses 9-27 (see Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of our series for an explanation on how all these things were indeed fulfilled in Jesus’ own generation).

Did any of the writers of the New Testament proclaim that the time was near? Consider these statements:

“…For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand…” (Romans 13:11-12).

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).

Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37).

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8).

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (I Peter 4:7).

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).

From these statements we see that Paul, James, Peter, and John all proclaimed that the time was near. They stated that “the day” was at hand, “the Lord” was at hand, “the coming of the Lord” was at hand, “the end of all things” was at hand, and that it was “the last hour.”

Did they become the very false prophets Jesus had warned about in Luke 21:8, since they uttered the very statement that Jesus warned His followers not to believe? If the signs of the Olivet Discourse are still future and unfulfilled, as futurists insist, then they certainly did become those false prophets.

We know, however, that this is not the case. This is actually one more indication that the events predicted by Jesus came to pass within His own generation. The apostles witnessed the predicted signs coming to pass, and on this authority they announced that the end was near. Notice how closely the language they used mirrors what Jesus said, as recorded by Mark: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:29-30).

Soon after Paul, James, Peter, and John made these declarations, that end did come, i.e. the end of the Old Covenant world and age. The apostles were not false prophets. Jesus also did not lie to, or tease, His disciples. Nor did He speak in terms, or with time markers, that they couldn’t understand. Nor did He ascend to His Father, only to find out that His overall rejection by the Jewish people would set in motion an unforeseen 2000 year postponement of His promises. Instead He kept His word, and fulfilled all that He said He would do within the time frame that He boldly market out. (He said these things would happen before the downfall of the temple, and before His own generation passed away). We can trust that everything else He said outside of the area of eschatology is also true.