The Top 5 Things I Learned from Rev. Mike Neal.

Back in 2005 I went on a Journey called the Justice Journey. I am not going to go into the details of the Journey here. I wrote a little about the Journey itself in the following link. However, it is safe to say that the Journey changed the lives of many of us who experienced it forever. For this post however, I would like to focus my attention on a dear friend I met on the Journey and how God used his influence to change my life. This friend’s name is Reverend Mike Neal. Mike and his beautiful family live in the Bronzeville Neighborhood of Chicago where Mike is currently pastor of the Glorious Light Church. Today happens to be Mike’s birthday. I thought that it would be very appropriate to share the top 5 things I learned from him as a token of my appreciation of him and in celebration of all the blessings he shares with so many…

Sanctioned By God

Some day I will be able to write all the details about how the “Sanctioned by God” phrase came into being. Let’s just say that as Mike and I started dreaming together about how we might be able to serve Christ in ways that would build bridges and promote a biblical mindset of Godly justice in our communities, our ideas were not always received with open arms. We decided that if an idea loves people, honors God and follows God’s word it just might be sanctioned by God and we have to follow it even if it is rejected by others. To this day, I follow a “Sanctioned by God” lifestyle.

Love and Patience of Another kind

Soon after Mike and I met, our families vacationed together. My family and I would often rent a small cottage in a quaint little neighborhood on Lake Delavan, Wisconsin. We had gone up there for years and no one ever noticed us, that is… until we brought our African American friends. I was in the lake swimming with all the kids while Mike, his bride, Dee and my bride, Dawn were up talking on some benches that overlooked the beach. At one point I looked up and I saw an older gentleman engaging in conversation with Mike and our wives. I thought that the situation looked a little strange so I went to investigate. When I joined the conversation I found that the man, who was quite inebriated, was very much taken aback by our presence there. He was surprised to see us all together. He asked us…”So what’s up with this salt and pepper thing here.” The conversation went on for some time and started to get spiritual. The guy couldn’t believe that we actually worshiped together. He was even surprised to find that we were actually all renting a cottage in the community. I could go into greater detail about the ignorance that was unveiled that day. However, I don’t want to draw anymore attention to the foolish man who crossed our path. All of this is just a back drop to the amazing character of Mike Neal. In the midst of this terrible situation, while I wrote this guy off as a drunken fool, Mike actually started to share the Gospel with him. Even as I write this post, the memory of my dear brother sharing the love of the good new of Christ to a man who was clearly racist brings tears to my eyes. Mike is truly an amazing follower of Christ.

Commitment to Calling

For this section, I have to include both Mike and his bride Dee. Ever since I met both of them in 2005 I have been inspired by the commitment they have to serve their community for Christ. Mike and Dee have a vision for their community. They long to see the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago transformed into a Christ Centered community where all socioeconomic, ethnic and generational groups are included. In 2006 they started the process of launching Glorious Light Church, a neighborhood church with a “walk to worship” vision. GLC is a strong Biblically based church that is serious about raising disciples for Christ. However, GLC also has a strong community center mission that is determined to be “Jesus with skin on” to Chicago. Mike and Dee continue to press on faithfully launching this church. Their commitment and sacrifice to their calling is inspirational to me.

Collaborative Leadership

One of the first things I noticed about Mike’s leadership style was actually articulated best by my wife Dawn. Both of us attended a Bible study that was hosted by Mike and Dee in Chicago. There had to be somewhere between twenty and thirty people who attending the study that day. Mike’s non-threatening, collaborative style of leading people through God’s word was amazing. Mike has a way of allowing others to engage and share, but he is always able to keep the study moving forward, even in a larger group. After the study, Dawn commented on how impressed she was by the way Mike led that group. Even when someone shares a thought that might not square with the Bible. I have watched Mike gently but firmly clarify and correct.

Step Out of the Boat

This last attribute that I learned from Mike probably made the greatest impact in my life over the past two and a half years. Some time over the Summer of 2008, while Mike was in the thick of launching Glorious Light Church he started teaching on Matthew 14:22-33 at one of his neighborhood Bible studies.. In this passage Peter steps out of a boat in faith and starts to walk toward Jesus. It was at that Bible study where I started wrestling with God about leaving my very comfortable ministry post at Willow Creek Community Church to follow Christ on a new adventure. One year later I submitted my resignation to the church even though I did not have a job lined up.  I thought for sure that my family and I would wind up in Chicago helping with Glorious Light. God seemed to have other plans and my family and I now live in Memphis. Even from Memphis I still have the privilege of serving the GLC vision. Where ever we live and serve, we love our new adventure and I credit Mike for our step of faith. His example of walking in faith and his fearless teaching of God’s word inspired my family and I to make bold moves for Christ.

Who would have known that in 2005, when Mike and I met as we started on a Justice Journey together God would use our relationship in such profound ways. I will be forever grateful to God for bringing this amazing person and his amazing family into my life. Happy Birthday my Friend…

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