Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Can our Politics Get in the Way of the Gospel?

The new church plant that Lori and I are a part of here in Orlando, Lake Baldwin Church, is seeking to create what our pastor, Mike Tilley, calls a "gospel culture." This means that the gospel is not only for non-Christians, but it is also for those of us that are already believers in Christ. Once we initially place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins does not mean that we no longer need the gospel. The good news of Jesus should permeate our lives everyday. We are still sinners in need of a Savior -- just because the penalty of those sins has been forgiven does not mean we still don't need to experience the forgiveness of Christ.

Our church is currently going through Tim Keller's study on Galatians in order to help create this gospel culture (Lori is posting each week on that Sunday's lesson. Check out her most recent post here). One of the problems of the early church, which the book of Galatians so adequately addresses, was that some Jewish believers in Christ were expecting Gentiles who had come to Christ to become like them. That is, they were to become culturally Jewish. They were adding to the gospel and expecting these new Gentile converts to adhere to the Law. They were expecting them to believe and practice things that the gospel doesn't require.

Just like the early believers 2,000 years ago, we struggle with the same temptation to add to the gospel in order for people to become like us. Just a few weeks ago during some roundtable discussions after our Sunday morning service, we were having a conversation about what it is that we tend to add to the gospel in someone being a true believer in Christ. One of the gentlemen in my group, shared that he felt that if someone voted for a particular candidate (I won't mention the person here) that he would really question the sincerity of their faith. I was a bit taken aback as the facilitator of this discussion with this comment since...I had voted for the very individual that he mentioned.

Since this guy was being vulnerable with this admission, I didn't feel compelled to let him know that I had voted for the very person that he didn't like. But how do you think this made me feel? I'm leading this group and I'm sitting next to a guy that is fine with me now, but if I were to share with him my voting record, he would struggle with whether I was a Christian or not. Hearing his comment gave me an opportunity to live out this gospel culture that we emphasize -- for people to be real, to share their true feelings and not be judged for it. He shared how he really felt and I didn't need to blast him for it.

But do you ever feel the same way? Do you question someone's faith if they voted for George W. Bush? Or do you wonder about their spiritual walk if they voted for John Kerry? The funny thing is, I have a pretty diverse readership of this blog -- there are people that voted for both of these individuals and I don't question their spiritual maturity either way. Personally, I have trouble subscribing to the platform of either of the two major political parties in America because there are elements of both parties that I like and things that I don't like. You can read a previous post that I wrote on the separation of church and state here.

No matter what our political views may be, I think that it's essential that we do not add to or take away from the gospel due to our political preferences. America is very polarized right now when it comes to politics and we need to be wise about how we express our political viewpoints when around others. Because evangelical Christians are so perceived as being aligned with the right wing of the Republican party, a non-believer that is truly interested in learning more about Christ may shut off a person if their political opinions supersede their commitment to share the unadulterated gospel. Is it worth it to put that political bumper sticker on our minivan knowing that if our church parking lot is full of vehicles with the same stickers that some seekers may turn right around and never enter in?

Wes Haddaway, a pastor in Iowa, recently wrote an article addressing this all-important topic here. Why don't you take a moment to read it and I've love to hear your thoughts on it. We certainly need to be involved with the issues that are most on God's heart and do so in a way that does not hinder the spreading of His kingdom.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6)

Yes, it is true. There actually is another Rocky movie coming out. The title is simply, "Rocky Balboa." Even though Sylvester Stallone is like 87 years old, ole Rocky will be fighting for the championship once again. I absolutely love Rockys I-IV, but V was a serious drop-off. I guess the sixth installment has to be an improvement from V, but this does seem a bit ridiculous. Of course, I will have to see it! I wonder how it'll turn out?

Here's the trailer...

Technorati Tags:

Changing a Culture

A year ago I attended a seminar that Dr. Henry Cloud was giving on parenting. Dr. Cloud has been tremendously influential in our ministry in helping our staff and students to understand how people grow in grace and truth over time and in areas like boundaries, adulthood, and in bonding with one another. During the question & answer time of the seminar, one of those in attendance (this was at a Campus Crusade staff conference) expressed frustration with some of the peer pressure she feels in raising her kids. As missionaries, there are certain expectations that are put upon us (either explicitly or implicitly) by churches, supporters and even other missionaries in how we choose to raise our children.

Within Campus Crusade I've seen this take place in areas like which schooling option we choose for our kids, what food we eat, how we dress, who we vote for and where we go to church. The particular pressure that this parent felt was for her children to also join the staff of Campus Crusade when they became adults. She felt like parents whose children also joined CCC staff were more favorably looked upon than those whose kids didn't. The vibe she was feeling was that you had done a good job raising your kids if they went into vocational ministry and that you were somehow a poor parent if they selected a "secular" profession.

Dr. Cloud's answer was quite intriguing. He essentially said that if that is in fact true as part of Crusade culture (and he wasn't certain that it was), then it was each of our responsibility to change our culture. As someone that is very familiar with our ministry, he admitted that although there are many positive values in "Crusade culture", there are some attitudes that he sees as potentially unhealthy. So if there is something that is a part of our culture that is not healthy, we need to confront it when it arises. If enough people address these issues as they arise and intentionally address them before they become part of the culture, then you will, in effect, change the culture.

I encountered one of these situations the other day when I felt impressed by God to help in changing our culture. For over 40 years, the Campus Ministry in the U.S. had operated under a single paradigm in regard to staff placement -- having a full staff team on a single campus. In the early nineties, this led us to have around 180-200 ministries throughout the country with about 9,000 students involved. In 1992, we made a major shift in our thinking and introduced the concept of catalytic ministry -- that is, instead of staff just being focused on a single campus, they could take on a scope of a whole city, state or states. By continuing to have our staffed campus strategy in place and adding to it a catalytic philosophy (as well as ethnic student and worldwide partnerships emphasized), we now are on approximately 1,300 campuses with over 55,000 students involved. To God be the glory!

With that all being said, even though we have changed our paradigm in how our staff work, there still exists a certain bias with our ministry. That bias is that staffed campus ministry is really the superior strategy and all others are a little bit less than ideal or, at worst, "not effective." One indicator of this bias is the terminology that some of our staff use when a staffed campus location transitions to a catalytic location -- that is, that there will no longer be a full-time staff team on that campus, but it will be student and volunteer led with full-time staff coaching and resourcing those leaders. When this shift happens, I have oftentimes heard it being referred to as "shutting down the campus" or "closing down the ministry."

Do you see the bias contained in that choice of wording?! It is assumed that this ministry is now somehow "less than" or even being shut down because students are now leading it instead of professional missionaries. Nothing could be further from the truth! Anyway, I was sitting in on a lecture this week when a national director within CCC used that phrase -- "they shut the ministry down" -- when describing a campus that was transitioning to a catalytic location. After letting his choice of wording sink in, I was reminded of Dr. Cloud's challenge to "change the culture." But different thoughts went through my head -- Was I being too sensitive? He didn't really mean anything by it, did He? Who am I to confront him?

Though a bit nervous about this, I felt I needed to bring it to this individual's attention. After his lecture was over, I approached him and introduced myself. I then proceeded to explain to him how his use of that phrase might be received negatively by some of our staff and what that terminology implies. I sought to be gracious with him and to his credit, he received my rebuke very humbly and graciously. He admitted that that probably isn't the best choice of words and that he would consider that in the future.

I could have very easily let this go, but when people continue to say or do things that offend others and nobody has the guts to bring this to their attention, then it will only result in frustration and discord. So often as Christians, instead of going to a person that does something that bothers us, we just talk about it to our friends. The problem doesn't get resolved, the person continues to commit this error over and over again and we sit back and watch it happen. I love the quote from Gandhi that addresses this, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." In order to change our culture, we need to stand up and change it. Not in a demanding, rude or arrogant way, but in graciousness we need to confront the injustice around us.

I also want to say that I put tremendous value on our staffed campus ministries. Many, many people have come to Christ over the years through this strategy and many people have been discipled and equipped for ministry as a result. Even as our ministry continues to grow and expand and focus on getting to those students and campuses that we've traditionally neglected, I hope that our staffed campuses continue to thrive and do what they do best -- winning, building and sending for God's glory. But we need to value everyone's contribution to the Great Commission and not look down upon those that have a different calling or place in the ministry. We are all part of the same family, yet we have different roles. Let's never forget that.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, July 14, 2006

Update on the Epic Project

I just received the following e-mail from Grace Yao & Adam Go, the directors of the Epic summer project in Hawaii. In case you are not aware, Epic is our ministry for Asian American college students. It seems that God is doing some great things in the hearts of students on the project this summer. Read on...

"The word ohana in Hawaiian means family in an extended sense. It emphasizes that family and friends are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another. This past Sunday during our project “ohana” time, we experienced a true ohana when God show up and took the relationships on our project to a deeper level.

It began when we were asked to sit down in a large circle and share an emotion that we had been feeling during the week. Words such as lonely, isolated, homesick, awed & challenged were uttered from students’ mouths. Then one of the youngest female students on the project got up to share but began nervously laughing, giggling, curling up in the chair behind her, hiding her face in her hands. She was encouraged to speak, but it took what seemed like the longest time for her to express that what she had been feeling was inadequacy. Swallowed up by her emotions, she began to cry and other students came around her giving her hugs
and tissues.

This opened things up so that one of the next girls who shared, mentioned that she was hurt because she had gotten wind of other project students gossiping about her. She said she viewed us as an “ohana”, but yet she felt betrayed and backstabbed. What happened next was not only powerful but also truly beautiful. Time was opened up for anyone to share if they had a part in this, so one male student confessed that though he may not have deliberately taken part of the gossiping, he knew it was going on and hadn’t come to the girl’s defense. He asked for forgiveness for not protecting her as a brother and also not edifying her with his words.

Another student asked for forgiveness of this girl and another guy for talking about the both of them behind their backs and being part of this offense. We bowed our heads to pray and the male student who was offended got up and walked across the room to other student and gave him a huge hug that may have lasted 5 minutes straight. They both wept and something in the air broke. Students and staff were so moved that after we prayed everyone was hugging, crying, and putting their arms around one another for a long time. As one student commented later that night, God did something to open things up in the ohana and softened our hardened hearts. Coming from Asian families where many don’t experience environments of open communication and affirmation, we praise God for leading in His spirit to show us what true forgiveness and grace looks like in a community of believers!

As we step into the week where students are taking over staff roles, Adam and I are confident that when staff leave next Tuesday, these students will really take what we’ve started here to the next level. We had a huge celebration on Monday as we praised God for all that He’s been doing here through the project and then simulated a basketball lineup with music pumping and announced leadership roles for every student as they ran through the tunnel of people who were hi-fivin’ and cheering them on! The room was totally electric!

Our student Project Directors team consists of two guys (Sam Park from UC Davis and Jacob Kim from George Mason) and one girl (Amanda Sham from Penn State). It is especially exciting to see two Asian American guys lead as passivity amongst AA men has been so much a hindrance in times past. Please pray for this triad as they begin to move into leading this project. They are nervous and anxious but also challenged and excited for what is to come. Pray that they may be unified in one spirit and in one mind and heart. Please also pray that the transition of leadership roles for our 26 students will go smoothly.

In addition to the “student takeover” (as we’re calling it), students are launching local movements on campuses this week and continuing to lead people to Christ...daily. Epic students are bold, faithful, and connecting with many Hawaiian locals as they launch movements across the island. Thank you friends, for your support and encouragement as the sleeping giant continues to awaken!"

Press on in prayers,
Grace Yao & Adam Go

What is happening on the Epic project demonstrates what it can look like when Christian students walk in humility, live in community and trust God to reach others through them. It's so exciting to think of how God can use young people when they simply trust Him and walk by faith! Campus Crusade has students all over the world right now on summer projects just like the one in Hawaii. Please take a moment to pray for these students right now that God would produce personal growth in them and fruitfulness in their ministries.

Technorati Tags:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thoughts from John Piper

My assignment for this summer is to take four different seminary classes here in Orlando. Though the work is hard and the days are long, I am really enjoying my classes. I am just wrapping up my Hermeneutics (Biblical Interpretation) and Old Testament Survey classes and will begin Homiletics (Biblical Communication) and Systematic Theology next week. For my Biblical Interpretation class, we have been reading John Piper's book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, as a sort of devotional text each day.

My class meets in a large lecture hall and listens to a 45-50 minute lecture on that day's topic and then we break up into smaller workshop groups where we seek to immediately put into practice the skills we've just learned. It is in this smaller setting that we are covering Piper's book. As important as it is to have proper theology and doctrine and understanding of the Bible, it is most important that we love Jesus deeply. This small book helps us to get our hearts right each morning.

There are a number of Piper's thoughts that have especially struck me, so I've decided to list them here. This is just a selection of some great quotes from the book:
  • "When we see with our spiritual eyes, we see the truth and beauty and value of Jesus Christ for what they really are. Thus a blind person today may see Christ more clearly than many who have eyes."

  • "The deepest longing of the human heart is to know and enjoy the glory of God. We were made for this."

  • "Christ does not exist in order to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making more of him."

  • "Jesus himself - and all that God is for us in him - is our great reward, nothing less. Salvation is not mainly the forgiveness of sins, but mainly the fellowship of Jesus. Forgiveness gets everything out of the way so this can happen."

  • "Even if we are impressed with the scholarship of man and the achievements of scientific knowledge, let us not play the fool by trumpeting the wonder of these tiny chirps while ignoring the thunderclap of Christ's omniscience."

  • "Life is too short, too precious, too painful to waste on worldly bubbles that burst. Heaven is too great, hell is too horrible, eternity is too long that we should putter around on the porch of eternity."

  • "If Christ obliterated all devils and demons now (which he could do), his sheer power would be seen as glorious, but his superior beauty and worth would not shine as brightly as when humans renounce the promises of Satan and take pleasure in the greater glory of Christ."

  • "Satan is a defeated foe. He is disarmed. Christ has triumphed over him, not by putting him out of existence, but by letting him live and watch millions of saints find forgiveness for their sins and turn their back on Satan because of the greater glory of the grace of Christ."

  • "The glory of Jesus Christ is that he is always out of synch with the world and therefore always relevant for the world. If he fit nicely, he would be of little use. The effort to remake the Jesus of the Bible so that he fits the spirit of one generation makes him feeble in another. Better to let him be what he is, because it is often the offensive side of Jesus that we need most."

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Black Men Quietly Combat Stereotypes

African Americans, particularly black men, continue to face stereotypes of all kinds. These stereotypes passed down in a race conscious society can make it difficult for African Americans to always get a fair shake when it comes to educational opportunities, job prospects, and overall acceptance in mainstream society.

Here's a great article by Erin Texeira, of The Associated Press, on how black men continue to fight against these misconceptions:
"Keith Borders tries hard not to scare people. He's 6-foot-7, a garrulous lawyer who talks with his hands. And he's black. Many people find him threatening. He works hard to prove otherwise. "I have a very keen sense of my size and how I communicate," says Borders of Mason, Ohio. "I end up putting my hands in my pockets or behind me. I stand with my feet closer together. With my feet spread out, it looks like I'm taking a stance. And I use a softer voice."

Every day, African-American men consciously work to offset stereotypes about them - that they are dangerous, aggressive, angry. Some smile a lot, dress conservatively and speak with deference: "Yes, sir," or "No, ma'am." They are mindful of their bodies, careful not to dart into closing elevators or stand too close in grocery stores.

It's all about surviving, and trying to thrive, in a nation where biased views of black men stubbornly hang on decades after segregation and where statistics show a yawning gap between the lives of white men and black men. Black men's median wages are barely three-fourths those of whites; nearly 1 in 3 black men will spend time behind bars during his life; and, on average, black men die six years earlier than whites.

Sure, everyone has ways of coping with other people's perceptions: Who acts the same at work as they do with their kids, or their high school friends? But for black men, there's more at stake. If they don't carefully calculate how to handle everyday situations - in ways that usually go unnoticed - they can end up out of a job, in jail or dead. "It's a stressful process," Borders says.

Melissa Harris Lacewell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, says learning to adapt is at the heart of being an American black male. "Black mothers and fathers socialize their sons to not make waves, to not come up against the authorities, to speak even more politely not only when there are whites present but particularly if there are whites who have power," she said. "Most black men are able to shift from a sort of relaxed, authentically black pose into a respectable black man pose. Either they develop the dexterity to move back and forth or ultimately they flounder."

It's a lot like a game of chess, says 43-year-old Chester Williams, who owns Chester Electric in New Orleans. He has taught his three sons, ages 16, 14 and 11, to play. "The rules of the game are universal: White moves first, then black moves," he said. "Black has to respond to the moves that the whites make. You take the advantage when it's available." Twenty-year-old Chauncy Medder of Brooklyn says his baggy jeans and oversized T-shirts make him seem like "another one of those thuggish black kids." He offsets that with "Southern charm" he learned attending high school in Virginia - "a lot of 'Yes, ma'ams,' and as little slang as possible. When I speak to them (whites), they're like, 'Hey, you're different.'"

Such skillful little changes in style aren't talked about much, especially not outside of black households - there's no reason to tip your hand. As Walter White, a black sales executive from Cincinnati, puts it: "Not talking is a way to get what you want." He recalled that, "as a child, we all sat down with my mother and father and watched the movie 'Roots,'" the groundbreaking 1970s television miniseries tracing a black family from Africa through slavery and into modern times.

The slaves were quietly obedient around whites. "But as soon as the master was gone," he said, "they did what they really wanted to do. That's what we were taught." Historians agree that black stereotypes and coping strategies are rooted in America's history of slavery and segregation. Jay Carrington Chunn's mother taught him "how to read 'Whites Only' and 'Negro Only' before she taught me anything else," said the 63-year-old, who grew up in Atlanta. "Black parents taught you how to react when police stopped you, how to respond to certain problems, how to act in school to get the best grade."

School is still a challenge, even from an early age. Last year, Yale University research on public school pre-kindergarten programs in 40 states found that blacks were expelled twice as often as whites - and nine out of 10 blacks expelled were boys. The report did not analyze the patterns, but some trace it to negative views about black boys. Black male children are often "labeled in public schools as being out of control," said Lacewell, who studies black political culture and wrote "Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought."

"If you're a black boy who is smart and energetic and always has the answer and throws his hand up in the air," she said, "you might as a parent say, 'Even if you know the answer you might not want to make a spectacle of yourself. You don't want to call attention to yourself.'" Bill Fletcher still has nightmares about his third-grade teacher, a white woman who "treated me and other black students as if we were idiots," he said. "She destroyed my confidence."

But his parents were strong advocates, and taught him to cope by having little contact with teachers who didn't take an interest in him, said Fletcher, former president of TransAfrica Forum, a group that builds ties between African-Americans and Africa. As black boys become adolescents, the dangers escalate. Like most teenagers, they battle raging hormones and identity crises. Many rebel, trying to fit in by mimicking - and sometimes becoming - criminals.

"They are basically seen as public menaces," Lacewell said. Rasheed Smith, 22, a soft-spoken, aspiring hip-hop lyricist from the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, recently tapped his long fingers, morosely counting his friends killed in neighborhood violence in the last five years - 11 in all. Few spent much time beyond their blocks, let alone their neighborhood. Some sold drugs or got in other trouble and had near-constant contact with police. Smith has survived by staying close to his family. He advised: "With police, you talk to them the way they talk to you. You get treated how you act."

Twenty years ago, Carol Taylor's teenage son - now a lawyer - was mugged twice near their Brooklyn home, but police officers "treated him like he had done the mugging," she said. She wrote and self-published "The Little Black Book: Survival Commandments for Black Men" filled with tips on how to deal with police: keep your hands visible, carry a camera, don't say much but be polite. "Don't take this as a time to prove your manhood," wrote Taylor, a retired nurse and community activist who said she's sold thousands of the pocket-sized, $2 books. And more general advice: "Learn to read, write and type, and to speak English correctly. This is survival, not wishful thinking. If you are going to survive in America, go to college!"

One selective business program at historically black Hampton University in Virginia directs black men to wear dark, conservative suits to class. Earrings and dreadlocked hairstyles are forbidden. Their appearance is "communicating a signal that says you can go into more places," said business school dean Sid Credle. "There's more universal acceptance if you're conservative in your image and dress style." One graphic artist says he wears a suit when traveling, "even if it's on a weekend. I think it helps. It requests respect."

But in the corporate world, clothing can only help so much, said Janet B. Reid of Global Lead Management Consulting, who advises companies on managing ethnic diversity. Black men, especially those who look physically imposing, often have a tough time. "Someone who is tall and muscular will learn to come into a meeting and sit down quickly," she said. "They're trying to lower the big barrier of resistance, one that's fear-based and born of stereotypes."

Having darker brown skin can erect another barrier. Mark Ferguson has worked on Wall Street for 20 years. He has an easy smile and firm, confident handshake. "I think I clean up pretty well - I dress well, I speak well - but all that goes out the window when I show up at a meeting full of white men," says Ferguson of New Jersey, who is 6-foot-4 and dark-skinned. "It's because they're afraid of me."

"Race always matters," said Ferguson, whose Day in the Life Foundation connects minority teenagers with professionals. "It's always in play." Fletcher knows his light brown skin gives him an advantage - except that he's "unsmiling." "If you're a black man who doesn't smile a lot, they (whites) get really nervous," he said. "There are black people I run across all the time and they're always smiling particularly when they're around white people. A lot of white people find that very comforting."

All this takes a toll. Many black men say the daily maneuvering leaves them enraged and exhausted. For decades, they continuously self-analyze and shift, subtly dampening their personalities. In the end, even the best strategies don't always work. "I've seen it play out many times" in corporations, said Reid of Global Lead. "They go from depression to corporate suicide. Marital problems can come up. He loses all self confidence and the ability to feel manly and in control of his own fate."

Sherman James, a social psychologist at Duke University, studies how the stress of coping for black men can damage the circulatory system and lead to chronic poor health. Black men are 20 percent more likely to die of heart disease than whites, and they have the highest rates of hypertension in the world, according to the National Medical Association.

The flip side, black men say, is that many learn to be resilient. Ferguson recalls when a new Wall Street colleague, minutes after meeting him and hearing he grew up in a housing project in Newark, N.J., asked if he had been involved in "any illicit activities" there. He shrugged it off. Over the years, as he has earned promotions and built client relationships over the phone, he has learned to steel himself for face-to-face meetings - for clients' raised eyebrows and stuttered greetings when they see he is black.

"It just rolls off our backs - we grin and bear it. You can't quit," he said, sighing heavily. He vents his frustrations to mentors and relaxes with his wife and young children. "Then you go back," he said, "and fight the good fight."

I'd like to encourage your comments on this article, especially if you're a black male. Have you felt like the victim of stereotypes in an educational or job setting? What kind of stereotypes do think still persist about young African American men that are unfair and unwarranted?

Technorati Tags:

Schoolhouse Rock

If you're a Gen-Xer like I am and you grew up in the seventies and early eighties watching Saturday morning cartoons like The Superfriends, Bugs Bunny and The Smurfs, then you certainly remember "Schoolhouse Rock" -- the little segments in between the shows that taught us educational lessons without us even realizing it. Here's one of the ones that seems to be most popular among those of us that grew up with these as part of our childhood.

Now sing along with me: "Conjunction junction, what's your function..." Hope this brings a smile to your face.

Technorati Tags: