Sunday, September 30, 2012

Becoming Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine In God's Service

Photo Credit: spiritedbebop
From Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest:
"We take our own spiritual consecration and try to make it into a call of God, but when we get right with Him He brushes all this aside. Then He gives us a tremendous, riveting pain to fasten our attention on something that we never even dreamed could be His call for us. And for one radiant, flashing moment we see His purpose, and we say, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). 
This call has nothing to do with personal sanctification, but with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us. We say, “If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way, then I wouldn't object!” But when He uses someone we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, to crush us, then we object. Yet we must never try to choose the place of our own martyrdom. If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed. 
I wonder what finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you? Have you been as hard as a marble and escaped? If you are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you anyway, the wine produced would have been remarkably bitter. To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service. We have to be placed into God and brought into agreement with Him before we can be broken bread in His hands. Stay right with God and let Him do as He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Three Churches That Demonstrate Ways To Do Mercy Ministry

Photo Credit: Paul Hedges
Lifeway Research recently completed its study of the largest and fastest growing churches in America for 2012. Lifeway president Ed Stetzer shares some of these findings in a recent post and highlights three churches that seek to serve the marginalized of society.

Stetzer says this:
"The past several years have seen a needed return to biblical compassion and action to help those affected by injustice. Organizations that fight sex trafficking and human trafficking and promote adoption and mercy ministries dot the church landscape. Many of the churches on this year's list are excelling in this area and raising the standard for all churches. 
Vineyard Community Church of Cincinnati is heavily involved in mercy ministry. Although that particular label has never been used, Kande Wilson, senior director of Outward Focused Ministries, says: "Helping the poor is part of the DNA of the church. It has been a part of who we are for 27 years." 
In a myriad of ways, Vineyard brings the Gospel to the poor, homeless and others combating life's struggles. In the tougher areas of the city, the church distributes food, clothes, hygiene items and more. 
"There are lots of groups that serve food," Wilson says. "If anyone wants food, they can get it. We have a group that is committed to helping people who have made the decision to get out of transiency. There are people from our church who have been deeply involved in the lives of the poor and homeless for 14 years. They are downtown every week-- rain or shine, holidays, snow, whatever. They do ministry on Christmas. This longevity is a key factor to gaining trust. Our members view these hurting people as their own congregation." 
For many years, Vineyard Community Church had an on-campus ministry that was "a food pantry on steroids," Wilson recalls. "In 2007, we did the Luke 4 Challenge, focusing our capital campaign on our city, our future and our world." As a result, the church expanded its ministries to provide help for the whole person. "This meant bringing divorce care, lost job ministry, homeless ministry, and others similar to these under one roof," Wilson says. "This was our outreach to the city."
Glen Berteau, senior pastor of Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto, Calif., cites not only specific biblical texts like the Great Commission and Ezekiel 16:14, but a biblical template as well: the Old Testament city of Nineveh. "Our social justice ministry is called Nineveh Outreach because Nineveh was the only biblical city that completely came to the Lord," Berteau says. "We want to see our city saved. I believe if that can happen then, it can happen here and now. 
"Nineveh Outreach provides food and clothes for our volunteers to distribute when they visit more than 30 parks every week. For Modesto Park alone, we distributed $5.5 million dollars in food last year. We also send out a nonprofit mobile medical and dental truck to help kids. We received a letter from the local police department telling us the crime rate in our area declined as a result of our ministries. 
"We also run Without Permission, a ministry that stands against human trafficking, which is a big problem in our area. Calvary Temple paid the fee to procure our local police department a state grant. Now they are able to send patrols specifically to safeguard against human trafficking." Berteau sees beauty as the core of outreach: "Our world is attracted by beauty. If the church would become beautiful, the world would be attracted to it. Beauty means reaching out to people as they are--seeing each of them as one of God's masterpieces."
Street GRACE, which 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., helped start, is the only organization dedicated to eradicating commercial sexual exploitation of children "that leads people on a comprehensive path to leave a social injustice," says Executive Director Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson. 
DeLuca-Johnson explains: "Our comprehensive path includes awareness, education, engagement and social change. Currently Street GRACE has 80 partner churches in Georgia. We are now moving into Tennessee and Alabama. We are blessed to have 1,950 volunteers at some level in Georgia alone. Recently, the Department of Education contracted with us to present information to all the teachers and school staff in Georgia. This training includes not only how to help children, but also how to stop the demand. We include legislative efforts to get laws changed. For example, through the year 2000, the law in Georgia for sexual exploitation of a minor was a misdemeanor with a $50 fine. As a result of our efforts, the penalty is now a $100,000 fine and up to life in prison."
To read the rest of his post please click here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembering Rich Mullins 15 Years After His Homegoing

My wife, Lori, and Rich Mullins in 1993
I’ve appreciated the art of countless musicians over the course of my life. But few have actually changed my life. Rich Mullins was one of those artists whose craft resonated deep within my soul and impacted the way I view God, myself and the world.

Mullins, a self-described “ragamuffin” who did not exactly fit the mold of his peers within the Contemporary Christian Music industry of the 80’s and 90’s, left this earth and entered into his eternal resting place fifteen years ago today. While on his way to a benefit concert in Kansas, the driver of the Jeep Rich was riding in lost control. Mullins was thrown from his vehicle and was hit by oncoming traffic. He was 41 years old.

I was first exposed to the music of Rich Mullins shortly after I entered into a new relationship with Christ as a college student. Upon listening to much of his music and learning more of his story, there was something about his lyrics and -- to a greater extent, his life – that compelled me to learn more about the man behind the music.

Rich somehow seemed to be okay living with the tension of worshipping a God that is almighty, yet also difficult to understand. The same man who wrote the well-known Christian praise chorus (“Our God is an awesome God/He reigns from heaven above…”) also wrote the following lyrics, “So hold me Jesus/’Cause I’m shakin’ like a leaf/You have been king of my glory/Won’t you be my prince of peace.”

Although he was a well-known musical artist in Christian circles for a good portion of his adult life, Rich did not live the life of a rock star. He intentionally lived on a limited income (taking only what the median income was for the average American) and gave the rest of his earnings to charity. Heavily influenced by his Quaker roots, Rich was particularly committed to issues of peace, social justice and caring for the marginalized of society. His final years saw him taking a break from the Christian music industry as he moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to teach children about music…and about Jesus.

After becoming introduced to the writings of Brennan Manning, I began to listen more intently to the music of Rich Mullins. Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” had a profound influence upon me. Rich and his Ragamuffin Band did the same. While dealing with some particularly ugly sin in my life, I realized that I was somehow under the impression that God was nothing more than a distant, angry judge waiting for me to mess up. But Rich help me to understand that it was okay to be imperfect. God still loved me and my imperfections only demonstrated my need for a Savior.

Rich aided me in seeing that during his time on earth, Jesus tended to identify with the broken and forgotten people of his day. Just before his death, Rich was working on a new album which eventually became known as “The Jesus Record.” Containing ten songs about Jesus, Rich demonstrates remarkable vulnerability in describing a Savior that identifies with mankind, while also exhibiting a love that can only come from the one true God. "A Man of No Reputation", one of the songs on the album sung by a member of Rich's band, does not include Rich's vocals because Mullins himself could not sing of his great Savior as described in this song without breaking down in tears. I hope to experience the person of Jesus the way Rich Mullins did.

I’m thankful for the life and music of Rich Mullins. Through Rich, God changed me. He helped me to view God differently and forever affected how I interact with my fellow man. Fifteen years after his death, Rich continues to have an influence on others because he invested his life in that which matters for eternity. I hope the same can be said of my life once I'm gone.

To learn more about the life of Rich Mullins, you can check out James Bryan Smith’s Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven.

Or you can check out this video, Homeless Man, which tells the story of Rich Mullins.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Demographics For U.S. College Students

Photo Credit: CollegeDegrees360

The nation's college students are growing in number and our campuses continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac and the Open Doors Report, the following statistics from the 2010-2011 school year contain some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:
*There are now over 21 million college students in the U.S. 
* Of those 21 million students, nearly 4 out of 10 are American ethnic minorities and international students studying in the U.S. 
* Within the state of California alone, there are over 2.7 million students. This is an amazing 13% of the country's total! Of these students, over 1.7 million are American ethnic minorities or international students. 
* Texas has over 1.5 million students in the state, including nearly half a million Hispanic students. 
* Primarily due to the presence of New York City, over 1.3 million students attend college in the state of New York. Nearly 600,000 of them are American ethnic minorities and international students. 
* The number of Native American students across the country is close to 200,000. 
* Asian Americans now number nearly 1.3 million students. 
* There are more than 3 million African Americans on our campuses, more than 14% of all students. 
* Hispanics and Latinos are rapidly growing in number and influence and now comprise nearly 13% of all students, totaling over 2.7 million students. 
* There are well over 800,000 international students currently studying in the U.S., many of whom will return to their country of origin a different person than when they came here. 
*In demonstration of the country's increasing cultural diversity, over 300,000 of America's college students define themselves as being multi-ethnic. 
* Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 12.7 million. If current trends hold true, however, there will be no ethnic majority by the time we reach 2020.
What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches that will effectively reach: 1) students of color; 2) those that speak a primary language other than English; and 3) those in our major cities. The world is here. How will we respond?

Monday, September 17, 2012

How The Love Of Jesus Trumps The Politics of Polarization

Photo Credit: aftab.
Taken from Philip Yancey's, The Jesus I Never Knew:
"People who looked to Jesus as their political savior were constantly befuddled by his choice of companions. He became known as a friend of tax collectors, a group clearly identified with the foreign exploiters, not the exploited. Though he denounced the religious system of his day, he treated a leader like Nicodemus with respect, and though he spoke against the dangers of money and of violence, he showed love and compassion toward a rich young ruler and a Roman centurion. 
In short, Jesus honored the dignity of people, whether he agreed with them or not. He would not found his kingdom on the basis of race or class or other such divisions. Anyone, even a half-breed with five husbands; or a thief dying on a cross, was welcome to join his kingdom. The person was more important than any category or label.
I feel convicted by this quality of Jesus every time I get involved in a cause I strongly believe in. How easy it is to join the politics of polarization, to find myself shouting across the picket lines at the "enemy" on the other side. How hard it is to remember that the kingdom of God calls me to love the woman who has just emerged from the abortion clinic (and, yes, even her doctor), the promiscuous person who is dying of AIDS, the wealthy landowner who is exploiting God's creation. If I cannot show love to such people, than I must question whether I have truly understood Jesus' gospel.
A political movement by nature draws lines, makes distinctions, pronounces judgment; in contrast, Jesus' love cuts across lines, transcends distinctions, and dispenses grace. Regardless of the merits of a given issue -- whether a pro-life lobby out of the Right or a peace-and-justice lobby out of the Left -- political movements risk pulling onto themselves the mantle of power that smothers love. From Jesus I learn that, whatever activism I get involved in, it must not drive out love and humility, or otherwise I betray the kingdom of heaven."

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Reminder For Christians This Election Season

Photo Credit: theocean
We are in the midst of another presidential campaign season and with election day now less than two months away, the intensity of the discussions and arguments about the candidates and issues seem to rise with each passing day.

As an evangelical Christian and a citizen of the United States, I often need to be reminded that my primary allegiance rests with God and His kingdom and not the country in which I live. While it's important for Christians to be actively involved in the political process, we must also remember that our Christian faith, and not our political affiliations, should inform how we engage with others about our politics.

The manner in which we interact with others about our political convictions says a lot about whether we are "safe" people when it comes to the more important matters of faith and eternity. When we confuse our politics with our faith, we can unintentionally add on conditions to Christian discipleship that were never intended and unintentionally push those away that might be otherwise open to the gospel.

Pastor Dave Bruskas offers an insightful perspective on the effect that a Christian's expressed political opinions can have on other people. He says this:
"My last two pastorates have been in very progressive communities. For eight years, I served as a church planter in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the last two years, I have served in Seattle. For those who aren’t familiar with New Mexico, it is in the continental United States, and it shows up on a map once every four years on the late news during the first Tuesday of November as a blue state island surrounded by a sea of red states. And Nob Hill in Albuquerque is bluer than the blue New Mexico sky on a crisp, clear November day. 
The importance of my political party affiliation came into play when I was sharing the gospel with a young woman in Nob Hill. She told me she was intrigued by Jesus but there was one thing keeping her from becoming a Christian. I asked for her reason, expecting her to cite her boyfriend’s objection because she had already informed him of the change it would bring to their relationship. But she shocked me when she said, “I don’t think I’m ready to become a Christian because I know I’m not ready to become a Republican.” Imagine how relieved we both were when I explained the second category isn’t a mandatory next step from the first! She placed her faith in Jesus. 
It was from that conversation that I began to realize how political partisanship, particularly in those who lead and speak on behalf of the church, could become a stumbling block for those being drawn by Jesus into relationship with him. As an evangelical pastor, my intent goal is that the only stumbling block to a person meeting Jesus is the offense of his substitutionary death for sinners."
Perhaps we would all do well to consider if the approach we take in sharing our political persuasions with others is more motivated by a commitment to a political party... or a commitment to the King of Kings.

To read the rest of Pastor Bruska's post please click here.