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then and now

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a pic of "Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers" by @NevineZaki

Chaos is the order of the day. The unfolding events in Egypt over the past several days are compelling. With young and old standing up to say enough to the current regime calling for the president and his cronies to go while the government supporters have a seemingly endless supply of Molotov cocktails to hurl at the revolutionaries. Lives are at risk in the here and now. Future imprisonment for crimes against the people are a tangible risk for whichever side loses this battle.

This morning as our family read part of the story in Genesis, I was reminded of Joseph’s appointment to second in command in the land of Egypt. Here was a humble leader filled with integrity and a deft administrator who led people through enormous prosperity and then hardship. Through his leadership, the people of Egypt and the surrounding area were ultimately able to survive what should have been a devastating drought.

Contrasted with the story of Joseph, a recent rise in food prices along with decades of frustration have proved sufficient for an uprising. Today, the visual image of the outcome of me-oriented leadership is visible through global media. The revolutionaries are calling for and modeling a stark contrast (see above pic).

Categories : social justice, trends
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could i survive in poverty?

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From time to time I post original writings of guests from around the world. In this post,  a lover of Jesus, poverty advocate and devoted believer in social justice for the world shares some of her experience in identifying with the impoverished in America.


How can we truly be Jesus’ hands and feet to the poor? What does it look like to truly serve the marginalized, oppressed and lost? Like many of you, I want to make a difference in this world so I went searching for a job with meaning after graduation. I enrolled in a volunteer corps program for one year where I worked at a local non-profit. In my particular program, I received a small stipend that was the equivalent to what a single person in poverty would make. This was the challenge: could I live like a person in poverty lived? Could I survive on $26.00 a day?

The answer is no. If it weren’t for my gracious parents, savings and a lot of free church meals, I wouldn’t have made it. Yet I learned an incredible amount in that year and I began to see a glimpse of what poverty truly looks like from the inside out. I didn’t just read about it, I lived it.

Part of my experience included applying for food stamps. I wanted to better understand the system and personally go through the process, not to mention I was hungry. I never imagined that it would be so difficult. It took a total of four months to receive my benefits.

My breaking point came when I visited the food stamp office for the fourth time. I asked the clerk why I had not received my EBT card in the mail and she informed me that I had been denied. At that moment, I started crying and yelled at her, “You’re telling me that even though I make less than $800 a month, I can’t get on food stamps!?”

It wasn’t my proudest moment, but it was a life changing one. I was frustrated that I would have to reapply for the second time. But even more so, I was heartbroken for my brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends who would never be able to get on food stamps even though they desperately needed them. I watched a system that was designed to help the poor, fail them.

I don’t claim to understand what it truly feels like to be in poverty nor do I claim to understand the agony of going to bed hungry, but from this experience I have come to better understand the challenges the poor face on a daily basis. More importantly, it got me thinking about how I could be an advocate on their behalf as a believer in Christ and a proponent of social justice.

Food security and hunger are growing concerns across the United States. It is no surprise that only 65% of Alabamians who are eligible for food stamps receive them according to the USDA. Additionally, food stamps only provide $3 per person per day for a family of four. That’s simply not enough.

We then must ask ourselves: What is the responsibility of the Church? What role do we have to play? It is time to rethink how we do ministry and find more effective ways to defend the weak and fatherless and uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed (Psalm 82:3.)

Categories : church, social justice
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pursuing conversion (4 of 4)

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Due to financial difficulties in the U.S. at present, many people are losing jobs, realizing reduced values in home prices, experiencing reductions in investment income and retirement savings, and seeing a rise in scenarios where banks are calling in loans as a period of extend and pretend is coming to a close. These factors combined are leading to a major rise in home foreclosures. More than 95,000 homes are reverting back to the banks through repossession in August 2010–this is the largest number of homes repossessed in one month so far. For the first time in generations, large numbers of people are losing their homes. Some of those have nowhere to go….Absolutely nowhere.

One recently homeless man, Butch, shared with me this week that he thinks “we are close to being back in the Great Depression.” He continued, “people don’t see it, but there are more [homeless] on the streets everyday.” The reason these suffering are unseen is because they are sleeping in their cars, spending the last of their savings on cheap hotels, and living in tent villages or in the woods just out of sight of others. Some have taken their lives before facing eviction or their own personal financial catastrophe.

So what might the church do? There are, I believe many ways to positively address this growing plight. A couple of unacceptable options, though, would include ignoring the problem or promising our prayers and best wishes while taking no action.

What if we pursue a major conversion? If a church with property were to take some rarely used or unused property and convert it into dormitory-style living, a good number of people could have shelter and experience a daily, grace-filled blessing. Space normally reserved as educational space could be utilized with great effect in terms of size and fulfilling the objective of making disciples. Those living there and those who had previously met in those rooms would have an opportunity to experience the love of God in a whole new, profound way. Other options may include having families seek to rearrange living arrangements to free up a bedroom or living area for those that are struggling. There are a growing number of situations already in cities the hardest hit by the housing crisis where people are living in community with multiple persons or family units in a home as people seek to align their income and expenses.

Undoubtedly there are challenges to undertaking such drastic conversions dealing with logistics, how to oversee, etc. At this point, Butch’s thoughts are vital to embrace. He shares that the homeless are just seeking to maintain some of their dignity. This may be expressed in basic ways by providing some monies even if there is a chance that it may be squandered on alcohol. He suggests that this is not a time for moralizing or preaching, but showing the unconditional love of Christ.

This is the 4th in a series on ever-growing economic realities in the U.S. and some practical ways for the church to respond. In the next post and others in the future, we will continue to look at aspects of this challenge. The next post will be a guest post–Could you survive in poverty?

Categories : church, trends
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toward building programs (3 of 4)

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For regular readers of this blog, this post may initially sound a bit off-kilter for me. However, I believe it is time for churches to seriously consider the need for undertaking a new building project. Right now. No, I am not proposing the next $130 million dollar project. But I am proposing something that should be promoted and celebrated with the intensity that some would allocate to constructing a state-of-the-art worship center celebrating the majesty of God. This humble project should be fast-tracked. Regardless of a church’s financial condition, a capital campaign for this undertaking will likely be met with enthusiasm from those that are passionate about putting the words of Christ into practice. The church would do well to consider ways to put in gardens and greenhouses on church property and empty lots throughout the community.

During a time of rapid growth in unemployment, with food stamp usage nearing an all-time high, and even signs of escalating suicide rates because of financial stress, the church needs to be active in feeding the hungry. To provide ways to deal with one of the most basic needs of life for those struggling financially the church can equip and enable them to plant, cultivate, and harvest produce. In addition to providing much needed food, the process gives a sense of self-worth while providing multiple metaphors and object lessons of God making us into a new creation. Depending on geographic location, greenhouses may be beneficial to allow year-round produce to be harvested.

Called to seek the lost, the church will do well to make the garden visible to the community. It is possible that the garden and/or greenhouse function as a sign of service to the community. This sign could replace the symbol of the steeple for the church signifying that this is where a group of people that love and minister to their community for the glory of God in obedience to Him may be found worshipping and working. It may serve as a new symbol of trust, hope, and safety for the community.

To take this into the community more, creating multiple gardens throughout the community may serve as points of engagement with the lost and hurting. Use of empty lots as a way of beautifying the city while meeting needs for the surrounding neighbors through their labor and collective work will allow people to begin a process of discipleship and journeying toward Christ long before they have made Him their Lord.

It is time for the church to rethink the old food pantry and to look for creative ways to meet needs and share the love of God through being the incarnation of Christ as we live and work and relate to those that are lost. Additionally, considering other alternatives that maximize resources such as Angel Food Ministries will be a blessing to those in need.

Continuing with this series that began with stating the obvious and pursuing prioritization, the next post will address the need for pursuing mass conversion….

Categories : church, trends
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the obvious (1 of 4)

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Communicating the points of this post seem almost as foolish as to say 2 + 2 = 4. It’s true and everyone knows it. However, I feel the following needs to be shared in this community. The church needs to think on and talk about these things. For that reason, I am posting this intro post which I will then follow-up with 3 posts on action steps that may be taken. These steps will obviously not be exhaustive, but they will hopefully provide some ideas to consider. Here goes the obvious…

These are tough times for many here in the U.S. Tough in ways that we have not seen in a long, long time.

People need to work. Currently official unemployment in the U.S. is hovering around 9.5%. This means that, if your church is the average, 1 out of every 10 breadwinners in your church have lost their job. If there are 2 workers in a family, then 1 of every 5 families has or is struggling with lost income. As there is variance in the concentration of economic turmoil across the country, some cities and communities report numbers that are much higher. Unofficial estimates of under-employed, those that have given up looking for work, and those that do not qualify for benefits would come close to doubling the official number. This is staggering–especially if these numbers are the reality for a meager economic recovery that may be stagnating or changing direction. It is a reasonable inference that unemployment statistics will at best remain static and will at worst shoot much higher.

Unemployment benefits have been extended out to 99 weeks. The first wave of people losing these benefits and their stories are starting to be made public. In desperation, they are spending the last of their savings to have lodging for just a few more days. Yesterday, someone shared with me that their family is going to lose their home within the month if there is not some intervention. Though anecdotal, this conversation brings a weighty immediacy to the statistics for me.

People need to eat. While official reports on the Consumer Price Index indicate that inflation is not an issue, the reality is that some food costs will inevitably rise. With drought in so many parts of the world, grain prices have been shooting upward over the past several weeks. This will impact next years’s food pricing with anything that depends on wheat in its life cycle including bread, milk, beef, corn, etc. These natural inflationary pressures may be fueled by monetary policy and other issues I will not delineate here. Challenges are not isolated to next year’s prices, though. The number of people on food stamps has been increasing for more than a year now. Currently the number stands at 40,000,000 people receiving food stamps (approximately a $150 per month benefit).

People need a place to live. With the economic difficulties, many people now face a reality that the remaining debt in their mortgage is greater than the value of their home. Reports show that 1 out of 5 homes in the U.S. are in this underwater situation. Many cannot afford to make the payments because of lost jobs. Still others have chosen to stop making payments as the idea of building equity has been lost with the drop in housing prices. There are efforts now to stabilize house prices, but there is no guarantee that these efforts will work. It is possible that homes could drop further in value. A large majority of metro areas have seen increasing rates of foreclosure so far this year. It appears this trend will carry on for some time.

The church has a call, yet she is facing significant challenges. Churches across the country are experiencing decreases in giving. Whether traditional or a more contemporary expression of the church, the challenges listed above are impacting her. A growing number are struggling to make budget. Many cuts are being made.

In the next post, I will address the need for prioritization….

Categories : church, trends
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Signs. Signs. Everywhere signs.
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind.
Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?
– Tesla

Recently I was in a small town  where the signage on the elementary school and that on the church were identical except for one word. The difference, I believe, in the one word was more than the demarcation of an area in which an activity is forbidden. The difference was much, much greater.

For one location, a provider of education for the community, liability is a great concern for the community. Understandably.

For the other, liability may have eclipsed thought of anything else. Perhaps having skateboarders around was an inconvenience. Possibly it didn’t reflect well in the community for that group of people to be hanging around the property.

I would offer that solutions to the liability and the inconvenience could have been found. If a body of believers is about His mission–to seek and to save that which was lost–then this serves as an opportunity.

One sign hangs on a building in which every native of the community will have spent thousands of hours. The other hangs on a building that may have been visited a few times by individuals wearing a scratchy, starchy shirt for a wedding, a funeral, or some seemingly interminable lecture.

According to the two signs the prohibition is the same. The messages, however, could not be more different to the community.

Categories : trends
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Sex Trafficking & Organized Crime

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Sex trafficking globally generates $58,000,000,000. That is 58 BILLION dollars. This is some 6 times more money than the entire U.S. movie industry’s annual ticket sales. The sex slave trade produces a staggering  and escalating amount of revenue with trafficking being the fastest growing industry in the criminal world. With that, the number of lives being stolen silently is a staggering 2,500,000 victims. That is more people in slavery in 2010 than the populations of Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming combined.

Currently, Anne Jackson, author and blogger, is working with a group to raise awareness on the sex trafficking plight of so many. She is traveling in Eastern Europe finding and telling the stories from the area where two-thirds of the 2.5 million victims are snatched. Please check out her stories and links as she shines the light on this dark reality. Also, for more information on the facts, go here. (Thanks to Justin Long for the link.)

While this topic is not the normal fare on my blog, it fits rather well, I believe, with what Michael Frost shares about the purpose of the church in the latest video I posted. As the church declares the reign of God by showing kindness and helping to restore shattered lives, it begins to look very much like Christ. Feel free to leave your thoughts on how this plight and the church should or does intersect.

Finally, I am including a video that journalist Misha Glenny delivered at the  TED conference this past year. Though a bit lengthy, it gives a broad overview of today’s organized crime world and the challenges facing the world today. It helps give understanding on how sex trafficking and other crimes on such a global scale is possible.

Categories : church, trends
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Hello World

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Even with minimal observation, the reality is clear. The world is coming to your door. In fact, they are already here.

  • According to a 2007 edition of the New York Times, “Nonwhites now make up a majority in almost one-third of the most populous counties in the country and in nearly one in 10 of all 3,100 countries” (Another Man’s Sombrero).
  • DHS estimates that the illegal immigrant population grew by 27% between 2000 and 2009 (HS: Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population: January 2009).
  • Estimates of permanent expatriates residing in the U.S. legally allow for half of those to have achieved their legal status since 2000 (HS: Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2008).

While a significant percentage of the foreign residents are from Mexico, the reality is that the spectrum of nations are here. Personally, I see them in all my travels in various cities and states. They are patrons at Starbucks coffee and Cici’s pizza.

The significant growth of foreign residents in the U.S. are one significant reason that the U.S. church must begin to “think and act like a missionary.” The implications are mutliple. One major issue the church must address is the issue of how will we choose to pursue or avoid relationship with select ethnic groups that have not assimilated into a more homogenous U.S. culture.

Categories : missiology, trends
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Rethinking Discipleship

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What resonates? Algebra lessons or Bunsen burners? Learning new vocabulary words or field trips? A history lesson or playing kickball in physical education? Achievement tests or recess?

Going out on a limb, I am going to assume that the latter of each comparison above is usually more appealing. While you may have had a wonderful teacher in some of these topics such as algebra or history, people generally respond better to participatory learning than a passive model. Movement is more desirable for a young person than being stationary.


Neo-scholasticism in action

Neo-scholasticism – Learning facts through the steady hand of a mental disciplinarian, the student will be able to share data and regurgitate large amounts of information. While it had its day as the prevalent philosophy of education, today neo-scholasticism—heavily influenced by Aristotle and Aquinas—lacks strong support in western education circles. But wait just a minute…it’s not out of favor in all realms of western life.

The chosen philosophy of education for adults in many churches is neo-scholastic in content and delivery. The students sit in some formation while the one with superior knowledge stands or sits in a prominent position. Going through a pre-determined curriculum or some systematic plan conceived months or more ago, the teacher trains the intellect of the pupils. During this scholastic exercise, listening is good, though taking notes is better. To maximize the learning experience study notes, books, and CDs can be available for further review at home or in some quiet place. At times the teacher may ask students to raise their hands to foster learning participation. Questions, often rhetorical in nature, may be interspersed to further stimulate thinking, ensure consciousness, or as a segue to the teacher’s next point.

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism – Educators today use a more pragmatic philosophy of education where the students and teacher are both seen as fellow travelers, though one has more experience in many areas (though probably not all—consider gaming, foreign languages, unique field of interest, etc.). The curriculum is relevant to the needs of the student at the current time. As a result, desire for learning increases. Learning is a hands-on experience. Today, educators employ a couple of popular methodologies–understanding by design and differentiated instruction. Both of these fit soundly in the pragmatic camp as commitments to doing whatever it takes to help each and every student learn the content. Some hallmarks of these methodologies include a high level of commitment to utilizing hands-on, interactive education and modifying the classroom experience for each child to facilitate learning through their preferred learning style. As a result, classroom environments are being set up with different stations and areas for learning through creative means, field trips are being planned as part of the learning process, etc.

Though much of the western church has kicked the flannel board aside, there is still a high level of commitment to hands-on learning for children. For adults, however, teaching is as neo-scholastic as ever. Attempts to increase interaction today consist of use of a Power Point display, video, or notes to be passed out. This is the methodology and these are the tools the church is using to “make disciples.” I contend that we must do better in the disciple-making process. Much, much better.

I will be posting several entries following up on this in the weeks and months to come. Along with missio dei and mission, this will be a major theme for discussion—though in fact these topics are practically impossible to extricate from one another. This post is intended to lay out a framework for beginning the discussion. In conclusion, it is important to note that learners remember only 10% of what they read and only 20% of what they hear. But if a learner says and does something himself, then the retention goes up to 90%. This leads me to believe that a re-think is in order if we are going to make disciples that obey.

Categories : church, discipleship
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Lessons from Communist Countries

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Chinese FistAglow from time spent recently in Cuba, a dear friend shared with me about some of the exciting things continuing to happen there in the midst of hunger, oppression, and persecution. Having just returned from his latest trip to the island, he shared about the abandon with which the believers are living their lives for the glory of the Most High. He had just concluded teaching a series of theological training modules in a Cuban city. He shared that 75 pastors and lay leaders from this city completed the extended course. These 75 pastors and lay leaders completed the theological training to continue providing leadership and to continue fulfilling their responsibilities. The work that had already begun in and through each one was to carry on to final completion some day in the future. My friend contrasted this with the completion of his theological training in the U.S. some years prior, where a large percentage of the graduates were hoping to find a place to serve, a position from which to lead. These were works that were to be started on some day in the future to then begin working toward a day of completion. I think there are lessons to be had here, but I am going to leave this fruit hanging on the tree for the reader to pick and sort.

Years ago I read a book that I referred to as the 29th chapter of Acts–that was before I was aware of the Acts 29 network. A friend of mine reviewed The Heavenly Man recently. I gladly recommend the review and heartily recommend the book. So much in the book is unbelievable that I have asked some that I know who have lived and are networked in China about the book’s veracity. I have been told that not only is the book credible, but it is only a partial story of the innumerable things that God has done and is doing there today. There are so many things to learn here. One thing that I am reminded of connected with the theological education aspect (as referenced above) is a distinct curriculum. Mornings were spent memorizing the book of Matthew. The afternoons were spent learning how to escape including jumping out of 2 and 3-story windows.

Food for thought….

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