Another missions update, this time from the Hostetters. They are our missionaries in Cameroon. Brittany is 31 weeks pregnant and has just arrived back in the states for some emergency medical care for her and baby. Please keep them in your prayers. You can read the full update on their blog here…
Category Archives: Hot Topics
Since Ryan and I are at camp this week, we are unable to update the blog as usual. We hope to pick up on Revelation next week. In the meantime, I thought I would pass along some updates from some of our missionaries that we support. Today’s update comes from Beni Leka in Athens, Greece.
Hope and pray you and yours are doing well in Jesus. As probably some of you know, we (Dino Tzanetos and I) have been involved in a weekly prison ministry here in Athens for the last 13 years. Lately one of our AIBI 2011 graduates Reginald Anokwuru was arrested by the Emigration Police here in Greece for problems with his Greek permeation. He was in the same prison where we have our prison ministry. During his staying there he started a Bible Study class in his section with a large participation. We even brought song books to prison for use during these Bible Studies. Because of these events, an idea came to my mind. I discussed with Reginald and we decided to have Correspondence AIBI courses in the Prison and Reginald would be in charge inside for the study guides, give the tests to the attenders and bring me back the tests for grading and everything else involved in teaching process. Unfortunately, he was transferred two weeks ago to another prison out of Athens. Glory be to God, another prisoner Udeh Ugwu took his place and informed me today that the group had decided to continue without the presence of Reginald and Udeh will be in charge for the teaching process.
They are bringing me next week a list with the names of the prisoners who
desire to enrol in AIBI Prison Courses and if it is God’s will we are starting Bible History (part one) two weeks from now. As I am stepping in “unknown waters” please keep this project in your
Thank you for everything you are doing in Jesus.
Dean of AIBI
I want to take an opportunity today to share a personal vision with you. I have been envisioning and praying for some time that God would use me to start a ministry or group of ministries at Northwest that would be designed to strengthen families. If you are reading this today, I would ask you to also be praying about this as well.
One of the greatest periods of enthusiasm and growth at my church, Northwest, came when we were running the Recovery Groups. We offered free classes for anybody that would help with addiction recovery, grief recovery, divorce recovery, anger management, and the search for significance. As a church we committed to opening our arms to the broken and it was a great ministry to them, but was also extremely powerful in helping to better shape us in Christ’s image. Through these ministries our congregation became not only believers in grace, but practitioners. However, as some of our volunteers and leaders for that ministry transitioned into other places or ministries, and as more churches (many with greater resources than us) began offering these same ministries, we slowly discontinued our recovery programs.
Several years ago I first heard Dr. Beth Robinson who introduced me to Family Life Education. Family Life Education (FLE) is designed to produce family learning opportunities that are preventative rather than reactive. Dr. Robinson described it this way: “Instead of having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff that tries to put people together after they fall off, FLE seeks to stand at the top of the cliff with a sign that says ‘STOP!'”
Recent research (various Barna Group studies among others) have shown that families who identify themselves as Christian, and even those who attend church, struggle with family problems at the same frequency or level as non-Christian families. Christian marriages are as likely to end in divorce as it’s non-church counterparts. Christian men are as likely to be viewing or addicted to pornography. Christian teenagers are as likely to engage in pre-marital sexual relationships as their friends who don’t attend church. This is a problem.
Stated differently, I strongly believe that Christian families should be stronger families. I believe that when parents introduce the principles of Christianity into their families they should be better parents. I believe that Christian marriages should be stronger and last longer. I believe that churches should be reinforcing their families in many ways. I believe that churches should be providing support and resources to the community so that people inside and outside of the church would look at it and say, “That is a strong family that builds strong families.”
In the end, its as simple as “By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What will this look like? Well that’s what I am hoping to figure out in the coming months. I know that I want to provide ministries that will strengthen marriages and parents especially. I hope to someday provide resources and support for adult children of aging parents, single parents raising kids, first generation Christians who want to know how to share their faith with their kids, tools for effective communication and conflict resolution and much more. I usually don’t share my ideas until they are well past the vision-casting, dreaming, brain-storming stage, but I am making an exception because I wanted to ask you to be praying about it too. And probably as a heads up. I will likely utilize some tools on the blog to help when I get to the needs-assessment phase of planning.
I was born February 15, 1984…just a few hours shy of being a Valentine baby. I’ve never made a big deal out of my Birthday. I have some friends that celebrate their Birthday week or even celebrate the entire month. There isn’t anything wrong with any of that…I just don’t typically think about it. The main thing I do around my Birthday is to take time to reflect on the last year of my life and how things have changed and then try and project an image of who I want to be in the next year. You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about my Birthday weeks after it happened…I was baptized on March 8, 1994. I’m 19 today!
In more recent years I have begun using this time as a time of reflection on my baptism and what took place there. I’m not sure at what point in the last 19 years I started taking this seriously but when I went into the water I died there. I ceased to exist as Ryan. My wants and my desires were crucified there. I rose out of the water with the resurrection of Christ. Risen to new life. Risen as a perfect new creation. I’ve spent the last 19 years trying to live up to the reality in which I am.
I don’t do this perfectly all the time…or anywhere close to ever. I do my best to live as Christ would have me to live not so that I can go to heaven, but because heaven has been realized in me and I want to live up to that reality. Peter reminded us this week that God calls us to “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). We are called to live up to the image of Christ because it has been placed on us. This is really hard to do because he’s…well, he’s Jesus. Then we hear Paul say, “Join others in following my example…” (Phil 3:17) and we see him set the example that to bring others into the image of Christ you must walk alongside them and show them what the walk looks like. Along the way I have had incredible people show me what it looks like to live like Christ. I want to take a moment to acknowledge some of these people…and this list is far from exhaustive:
Dad – In a lot of ways he taught me how to think through issues. He showed me the example that I need to always go back to Scripture to make sure I understand things correctly and not just take someone else’s word for it.
Mom – When I think of Jesus being a servant I think of my mother. She has dedicated her life to making the world better for others. She has taken care of everyone who has come into her life and has deep compassion for those hurting around her even when her hurts are bigger than theirs.
Alvin and Susan Willson – They were a constant source of love in my life from the day of my birth. They and their family have demonstrated to me what the Family of God looks like in how they have brought us in as if we were their own.
Steve and Amy Martin – Steve’s example as a minister is why I chose a life of ministry. He displayed the love of Christ for those who are marginalized by society and when others would shut them out he would love them deeply. Amy is my model for what a Christian wife looks like. She radiates the Light and you cannot talk to her without feeling loved deeply and sincerely.
Kent Brown – Kent has kept me grounded in my academics to make sure what I study still benefits the church. He has not been afraid to hold me accountable to what I did in my baptism and challenge me where I need to be challenged. He’s a loving husband and a caring father.
Curt Niccum – Curt has an amazing ability to attract to himself people who can sometimes be the hardest to love. When others push them away, Curt takes them in and helps them find direction. Curt is a continual source of encouragement and helps me process and navigate the trails of life in a way that he reflects the cross into those situations to transform me.
Dudley Chancey – Dudley is an example of someone who takes Spiritual Discipline seriously. Walking with Dudley over the years has challenged me to become more sacrificial and to see people around me the way that God does. He is one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.
Chris Comfort – Chris taught me what it means to give back to God. He showed me that everything is a gift from God and should be used for his glory. His job is a gift from God and so he gave his entire first paycheck to the church as a way to give his first fruits to God and be reminded that God will always provide.
Gerald Boan – After spending every Friday morning having breakfast with Gerald for three years I learned what it means to love the church as Christ loves the church. He demonstrated to me what it looks like to take the call of leadership in the church seriously as a call from God. I grew incredibly through his sharing life with me through those years.
Jim Smith – Jim was a continual example of a humble leader who continually strived to grow in his walk with God. He is a man of prayer and study. Even at the end of his life he is still serving the church in every way he can. He is a pillar in my life and a continual reminder of who I want to be when I’m in my 80s.
Bill Day – Bill is a continual reminder of meeting people where they are and bringing them to where Christ wants them to be. He’s gone where a most ministers are unwilling to go and has shown me how to love the people that you often saw Jesus loving in the Gospels. He has great zeal for God’s word and growing in knowledge.
I am indebted to these people and so many more who have taken me under their wing and showed me what it looks like to be Christ in this world. I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who have helped me in this walk. It is a good Birthday and I’m blessed to have all of you in my life.
One of the ladies at Northwest, Betty Massie, is getting ready to go on a mission trip to India. I would encourage you to be praying for her during her three week trip. William, her contact in India has provided her with some pictures of their congregation and orphanage and I put them in a slideshow to share with you. I already know that praying for her is going to be a challenge for me. Growing up, I prayed every single night for Neil and Betty Massie in Australia (where they were missionaries at that time). I already know that every night for the next month I am going to catch myself saying, “God, please be with Betty Massie in Austra….ah….India.” Anyhow, excited for March for Missions at church today. Be praying for Betty and all of our missionaries.
Click on the link below to check out the Prezi for Betty’s trip:
I recently came across a series of videos on Youtube called “Search Stories.” They are short videos that tell all kinds of stories about how people have used Google Search to make a difference. Sometimes the change is in their life and sometimes they are changing the world. They show how small our world has become and how much access anybody and everybody has to and endless amount of information. I wanted to share them with you as an encouragement and a challenge to evaluate how you are changing yourself or changing the world around you (and they are just awesome). If there was a Biblical principle involved, perhaps its that it has never been easier to be salt and light to the world and yet so often we take these opportunities for granted. Anyhow…watch the videos… (I posted 6 of these, there are 28 in all. Search for “search stories” on Youtube to see more)
Watch this video from CNN.
Back in 2004, I spent the summer working with a church and living in Dundee, Scotland. My three months there did more for me than I ever realized at the time. Growing up in the Bible belt I grew up with the assumption that everyone was a Christian in some way or another. My time in Scotland gave me a glimpse of what it is like to live in a culture where Christianity and God are not the assumption. The reality we live in today is that Christianity is not at the center point of our culture and society like it used to be. We have to ask ourselves a few questions: Why has this happened? Should we be ok with it? How do we respond?
I have a number of friends who are atheist or agnostic and I try to take time to listen to their stories as to why they do not believe in God or why they are frustrated about Christianity. In these situations I find myself sitting and listening mostly and sadly agreeing with a lot of their criticisms. The “Why’s” come down to Christians not being very Christ-like, Christians being judgmental, closed minded, angry, don’t care about the poor, hateful, etc. For a more exhaustive list of how Christians are viewed check out the book “UnChristian.” We talk a lot about the moral decline of our society and that it is because people aren’t going to church anymore. We have to ask why they have quit going. In short, people have lost interest in God because He doesn’t seem to matter to those who profess to follow Him. We would disagree but frankly they don’t see that He really matters in our lives.
Christianity is being moved to the margins of our society. Should we be ok with it? The answer is both yes and no. We shouldn’t be ok with it but not for the reasons you are probably thinking. We should have the overwhelming desire to live out the Great Commission and transform the world into the Kingdom of God but we need to rethink what that looks like. I don’t want to spend too much time on that right now but there is a lot of research about what evangelism looks like in a “post-Christian” society and what we are doing or have done just isn’t working (There’s a book about this as well if you’re interested). I’m sure Kent or I will have a post about this later but for now I’ll just use it for this point and will come back to it here in a min.
As Christianity has moved more and more from the center to the margins of our society we have responded fairly poorly on the whole. Three bad responses: Retreat – Some Christians have hid from society all together walling themselves in to where they can really have little to no influence on the world around them. Assimilate – As Christians have become the butt of more and more jokes the temptation for some is to become like the surrounding culture so that they won’t stick out too bad. Some churches have so starved themselves of Christ that they have become anemic in their presence to those around them. Retaliate – The reaction of Christianity overall has been to fight back. When the culture has yelled at us we have yelled back louder. There’s a lot more to be said here but that isn’t the point of this post.
Christianity is moving to the margins of society and we need to quit fighting it. When Christianity is at the margins of society it thrives there. Finding ourselves in the margins we need to find ourselves being faithful no matter what. Before Constantine institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th Century it took great courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took great courage to be a pagan. Pagans joined Christianity because it was a good political move, good for business, good for social status, etc. After Constantine, the church became anemic in its lack of Christ. Let’s be ok with being moved to the margins and allow Christ to take the center point of our churches and our lives and have power again.
So, how do we respond? Follow Christ faithfully. If that sounds like too simple of a response, we need to rethink what following Christ looks like. We need to reexamine what it looks like to “take up our cross and follow Christ.” We need to reexamine what our lives look like when we look down from the cross at every situation. How do our marriages look when we’re on the cross in them? How do we conduct ourselves in business from the cross? Our driving? Our schools? How do we respond, from the cross, to a world that hates us?
Peter reminds us that we are to live as foreigners here (1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-12). Our citizenship is not American but Christian and we are not to confuse the two. When we say that Jesus is Lord we are claiming that America is not. How do we respond to being moved to the margins and the persecution/accusations we receive? “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
In the first few centuries when Christians were being persecuted, they willingly went to their deaths (the death of a martyr) willingly because they knew that this life meant nothing and death had been conquered for them. Rome killed Christians in horrible ways in order to keep others from becoming Christians. The opposite was the outcome. People looked at the peace that Christians had as they went to their deaths and wanted whatever it was that they had. When the plagues came through and Rome abandoned the sick, the Christians went in and took care of them even though many of them died doing so. When the surrounding culture asked why they did what they did, the response was always the same. Christ came to serve and we’re here to be Christ. When the world cursed God, the response was love. When the world slaps the church in the face, the response is love. Like Christ standing before his accusers he willingly goes to the cross. This is the example we have been given and the example we should live out. As Christianity moves to the margins it becomes more and more important for us to embody Christ in this world, not just as “good moral people” but also as people who are willing to hold “the least of these” up above ourselves. We need to show the world that Christ’s death and resurrection matters for life and how we live.
A few weeks ago I came across an op ed article by Shane Bauer in Mother Jones. You can read the article here. You might remember that Shane was one of three Americans held prisoner by Iran for over two years prior to his release in early 2012. Last month he wrote this article for Mother Jones about his visit to Pelican Bay State Prison in California. He writes of the thousands (11,000 in California and over 80,000 nationwide) who are kept in isolation, away from any other human. They sit alone in small cells without contact with other inmates or the outside world. Journalists are not allowed to contact them. Many of their cells do not have proper facilities. Shane describes how the conditions these Americans live in while imprisoned in American prisons is worse than what he experienced in Iran.
I don’t necessarily intend for this to be a political piece. I am sure that there are violent and dangerous criminals who are best kept away from other people for reasons of safety, security, and crowd management. What struck me as I read this though was how this group of criminals have no voice. And I don’t mean they have nobody to talk with. I mean they can’t speak for themselves, have little or no advocates, and cannot appeal for justice. It’s a dangerous thing when any, even the dangerous in society, have no voice, and no few number of the writings of the Old Testament Prophets would agree with the need for God’s people to stand up with the broken, give voice to the voiceless, and to seek justice for all.
I do hope that you will take a few moments to do what Christians are instructed to do in Hebrews 13:3 and “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering.”
Please take some time to pray for all of those in prison. I would ask you to remember two friends of mine, Daniel and Kris (Kris is Ryan’s brother) who are currently incarcerated, and also that you would pray for all of those who suffer in isolation throughout our country. Even if just for a day, that our voices could be lifted up on their behalf.
There was an op ed written several weeks ago by Susan Jacoby in the New York Times about how Christianity does not have the only message of comfort for those going through tough times. In other words, “There are atheists in foxholes.” Read it here.
The argument put forth here is that atheists don’t lack a comforting view of what happens after death. They can proclaim that death is the perfect sleep, free from all suffering. The article even goes so far as to recommend that atheists need community leaders that function as clergy and can even conduct funerals and other memorial services. Often Christians ask, “I don’t know how people can get through something like this without faith.” This article seeks to answer that question.
In fact, Jacoby even believes that times of great trials and struggle are more problematic for people of faith. They must attempt to answer how things like that can happen if there is an all powerful God who is good. The two atheists mentioned in the article (Jacoby and a college student) both began moving towards atheism when dealing with that exact problem in their own lives. However, not believing in God does not remove those questions from crisis. If you believe humanity is the highest form in the universe then you find yourself asking, “How can people do things like this to each other and what does that mean about us?” Even if you’re worldview is rooted in science you must deal with questions of ethics, psychology, and philosophy.
What concerns me the most about this article is Jacoby’s assertion that since Christians are so tied up thinking about the afterlife and the world to come that they have nothing to offer those living in this world. This is a frightening claim, especially when it’s true. In Jesus’ prayer he begins by asking that “God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Any focus and hope Christians direct towards the afterlife should have direct and significant implications on how they live in this life and treat people around them today.
Certainly there is much more than can be said about atheism and Christianity today, especially regarding Jacoby’s assertion that atheism is more than a negation of other beliefs, but I won’t make much attempt towards that today other than to share a personal observation that Jacoby and many other atheists can trace their faith origins in a falling away from God and not a movement towards something greater. Personally, a prefer a faith I can run towards than one where I am running away. As to her questions of theodicy, a good God in a bad world, they are valid questions that faithful and doubt-filled people must continue pursuing together.
So I am borrowing Leah’s computer to do my blogging today. Not because there is anything wrong with my computer other than being twenty feet from where I happened to be sitting. So normally on “Hot Topic Fridays” I try to go through a bunch of my bookmarked news websites and see if there is anything really eye-catching to address. But since I am on Leah’s computer, I followed her bookmark to Pinterest. If you aren’t familiar with Pinterest, it is a predominantly female endeavor to make online bulletin boards of things you like on the internet.
So, I decided to tell you my “Pinterest Wall” of things from the Bible or my own personal spiritual journey. Since I am not actually on Pinterest and am a guy, this will of course come in the form of a bullet list of things Scriptural and things Spiritual that I love.
(If you are too old for Pinterest and are just lost as to what I am talking about, then you just need to imagine Julie Andrews/Maria singing “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…” and picture me singing it with these things.)
- Psalms. A college class on Psalms (taught by Dr. Glenn Pemberton) opened my eyes to the power of honest and open prayers to God.
- Genesis. Over the next couple of weeks many of you will be around your families and won’t be able to believe how messed up they are. Read Genesis. Your family is normal in comparison. And if God can use them….
- Construction type projects. In ministry, if something is going well you keep doing it. The only way you are ever done with something is when it fails. As a minister, that means I need to be able to have projects that I can successfully complete and be proud of. For me, a home improvement project has a spiritual element. I also think a God who creates puts in us a desire to create.
- Friends. Right now I have some of the best friends of my life. They are a blessing and anchor for me in more ways than they (and often I) even know.
- Luke-Acts. When I read the Gospels, I relate the most to Luke.
- Counseling. I love helping people. Sometimes ministry can feel administrative and stuff. Counseling is real and it’s with people. It’s good for me (and hopefully others too).
- Guyana. I fell in love with the Guyanese people and telling people Jesus’ story while I was a teenager in Guyana.
- Joseph. A few months ago Ryan and I preached on the roller coaster life of Joseph. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell and I really enjoyed getting to imaginatively explore and retell his story with Ryan.
- Favorite songs: Thomas’ Song, In Christ Alone, There’s a Stirring, How Deep the Father’s Love
- Praying with my elders. I will never forget the times I have seen that group of men get down on their knees (literally) and cry out to God. I have learned so much from those men.
- Romans. I have always felt a strong connection with Paul. I feel like he wants to rely on his own rationality, intelligence and ability to communicate but realizes that he is incapable of anything without God. Or maybe I just feel that way myself and place those feelings on Paul so I can better relate to him?
- My wife and kids. They teach me about love, forgiveness, patience, love, compassion, joy, happiness, love, sacrifice and God ever day. They are my greatest blessing.
There. If you liked this post, please pin it. Hopefully that is the closest I will ever get to actually using Pinterest. Maybe share some of your favorite scriptural or spiritual things….