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[Cfamily]Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters
« Reply #120 on: April 16, 2016, 07:06:32 AM »

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Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters

After one of my recent lectures, a Christian college student approached me and asked if black people are uncomfortable with the fact that Jesus is white. I responded, “Jesus is not white. The Jesus of history likely looked more like me, a black woman, than you, a white woman.”

I wasn’t shocked by this student’s assumption that Jesus was of European descent, or the certitude with which she stated it. When I am in US Christian spaces, I encounter this assumption so often that I’ve come to believe it is the default assumption about Jesus’ appearance. Indeed, white Jesus is everywhere: a 30-foot-tall white Savior stands at the center of Biola University’s campus; white Jesus is featured on most Christmas cards; and the recent History Channel mini-series The Bible dramatically introduced a white Jesus to more than 100 million viewers. In most of the Western world, Jesus is white.

While Christ the Lord transcends skin color and racial divisions, white Jesus has real consequences. In all likelihood, if you close your eyes and picture Jesus, you’ll imagine a white man. Without conscious intention or awareness, many of us have become disciples of a white Jesus. Not only is white Jesus inaccurate, he also can inhibit our ability to honor the image of God in people who aren’t white.

Jesus of Nazareth likely had a darker complexion than we imagine, not unlike the olive skin common among Middle Easterners today. Princeton biblical scholar James Charlesworth goes so far as to say Jesus was “most likely dark brown and sun-tanned.” The earliest depictions of an adult Jesus showed him with an “Oriental cast” and a brown complexion. But by the sixth century, some Byzantine artists started picturing Jesus with white skin, a beard, and hair parted down the middle. This image became the standard.

In the colonial period, Western Europe for the most part exported its image of a white Christ worldwide, and white Jesus often shaped the way Christians understood Jesus’ ministry and mission. Some 19th-century Christians, eager to justify the cruelties of slavery, went out of their way to present Jesus as white. By negating his true identity as a dark-skinned, oppressed minority, slaveholders were better able to justify the master-slave hierarchy and forget Jesus’ ministry to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).

As a Jew, Jesus was an ethnic minority in the Roman Empire. Jews were marginalized by Romans, Greeks, and other non-Jewish groups in many imperial cities. As an infant, Jesus was a target of ruler-sanctioned infanticide, fled to Egypt as a refugee, and faced Roman tax collectors’ exploitation. Throughout his life, he knew the pain of being a member of an ethnic group whose culture, religion, and experiences were marginalized by those in power.

Since Jesus belonged to an ethnic minority, we are compelled to re-evaluate who Jesus was and with whom he identified as he fulfilled his mission. When people who were on the outskirts gathered, Jesus was among them—not only because he ministered to them but because he was one of them. As an ethnic minority, Jesus didn’t simply care about people who were victims of Rome-sanctioned violence, he was a victim of Rome-sanctioned violence. Jesus didn’t simply care about refugees, Jesus was a refugee. Jesus didn’t simply care about the poor, he was poor. To Jesus, ministry meant knowing from the inside the pain of society’s most marginalized.

Source: Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters

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[Cfamily]What an Obscure Old Testament Figure Reveals about Us Gentiles
« Reply #121 on: April 17, 2016, 07:00:51 AM »
What an Obscure Old Testament Figure Reveals about Us Gentiles

The Old Testament features stories of diverse characters whose lives represent God’s people: Rahab, the pagan prostitute who trusted the Lord and was saved. Ruth, the immigrant with no inheritance who was redeemed by a distant relative and became part of the royal family. Mephibosheth, the “dead dog” from the wrong clan, crippled in both feet, shameful, yet loved on account of someone else and invited to eat at the king’s table forever. Gomer, the serial adulteress whose husband bought her back from slavery. Joshua, the high priest whose filthy garments were replaced with fresh, clean ones.

With this list of characters, it’s no wonder we overlook Obed-Edom. His obscure name is a compound of two other names—Obed, David’s grandfather, and Edom, Esau’s nickname. No doubt, many of us would have to Google him to figure out who he was. Yet he beautifully illustrates what has happened to us—especially us Gentiles—through Jesus.

We first come across him in 2 Samuel 6, after one of the strangest stories in the Bible. Uzzah, a Levite, has just been struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant (which was forbidden) and carrying it on a cart (also forbidden). David is terrified. Like a man who has recently discovered he has acquired nuclear waste, he decides that he cannot keep the ark around. So he leaves it in the care of Obed-Edom. It stays there for three months, during which time “the Lord blessed him and his entire household” (v. 11).

So far, the story is remarkable. Obed-Edom is a Gittite. He’s from Gath, not Israel. He’s a Philistine, belonging to the nation that has, for generations, been a thorn in the side of God’s people. Yet because Israel has played fast and loose with the ark, he—a Gentile, an enemy by nature—hosts the dwelling place of Israel’s God. He has the divine presence in his front room. His house essentially becomes a temple. And abundant blessings follow.

That, in Christ, is what happens to us. Though by nature we Gentiles are outsiders, enemies of God, we are given the overwhelming privilege of hosting Israel’s God. We have his presence in our front rooms, so to speak, and have become his temple (Eph. 2:19–22). Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is ours (Eph. 1:3–14). We are Obed-Edom.

But there is more to the story. David hears how God has blessed Obed-Edom and is provoked to retrieve the ark. God’s favor toward a Gentile prompts Israel, the rightful home of the ark, to obey. The rejoicing that ensues is extravagant—so much so that David strips down to his linen ephod while dancing. He is admonished by his wife, yet defends himself by promising to become even more undignified (2 Sam. 6:12–23).

That, in Christ, is what happens to Israel via the Gentiles. Paul puts it this way in Romans 11: Because Israel has rejected Jesus, the blessings of God have gone to the Gentiles—so that Israel, when they see how God has blessed the Gentiles, might be provoked to jealousy and thus turn to him. When the presence of God returns to God’s city, the rejoicing that ensues will make David’s ephod look tame in comparison.

The story of Obed-Edom has one final twist. Having hosted the ark, he does not wave goodbye to God’s presence and continue what he did before. Rather, Obed-Edom is brought to Jerusalem, along with the ark, to serve as a gatekeeper and to minister before the ark along with his brothers (1 Chron. 16:4–6, 37–38). In other words, he and his family are treated like Levites. They are included within Israel and are welcomed to worship God alongside Zadok the priest, Asaph the psalmist, and David himself.

Source: What an Obscure Old Testament Figure Reveals about Us Gentiles

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[Cfamily]Make Peace
« Reply #122 on: April 18, 2016, 07:00:49 AM »
Make Peace

Christians and Muslims in America have an image problem. The rest of the world sees us as intolerant, belligerent, prideful, nationalistic, and extremist. As the daughter of Christian and Muslim parents, I feel like a kid stuck in a bad marriage, trying to salvage my parent’s reputation and begging them to get along. As a child I remember feeling conflicted in a home that followed two religions and suffering shame after the 1979 hostage crisis. Today I encounter this drama played in our country.

The Fort Hood killings of 13 American service men by Major Nidal Hasan became my watershed experience. I’d lived in the Middle East and Europe and been accustomed to bombings and religious unrest, but I couldn’t fathom such horror happening in the U.S. Not in my homeland, where Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully.

Tragically, this conflict, along with 9-11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, perpetuates a climate of religious polarization. It’s launched a backlash against innocent Muslims and made Christians—in the eyes of many—look like bullies. It’s blurred the lines between many peaceful Muslims and the dangerous ideologues. Unfortunately, many otherwise caring Christians have not acknowledged the difference between them.

We can’t afford to repeat the last decade. We desperately need a new generation of American Christian and Muslim leaders, who embody our nations’ decency, to stand up and show the world that we can overcome our fury and work toward reconciliation, accountability and mutual respect.

Some 1.2 billion Muslims believe that America is at war with Islam. This climate of war emboldens radical ideologues, giving them a foothold to recruit young jihadis (some of whom are now American youth). Meanwhile, many Christians are openly apprehensive toward their American Muslim neighbors.

Christian leaders in America need remind their congregants, in a fresh and relevant way, of Jesus’ teachings to love our neighbors (even if they feel like enemies).

After the Foot Hood killings, I began searching for clues of a U.S. strain of extremism. Like in a marriage, I knew there are two sides to a story. So I called Mary Habek, a friend and an Islamist expert at Johns Hopkins, with my questions. She, in turn, told me to contact Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the author of My Life Inside Radical Islam. I spoke with leaders of Act for America (a watchdog group against Muslim radicalizers), and Carl Medearis, a Christian who loves Arabs and co-author of a new book, Tea with Hezbollah.

To understand the Muslim side, I began a passionate email discourse with a Muslim Student Union board member and listened to podcasts by Reem Salahi, a brilliant, female, human rights lawyer. I then got in touch with One Legacy, a new Islamic radio station, read transcripts from counter terrorism bloggers and debates that question if Islam is becoming radicalized. Even my pastor tried to satiate my appetite by offering me his book, My Friend the Fanatic, a memoir that chronicles radicalization in Indonesia.

These Christian and Muslim leaders showed great patience with me. In interview after interview, I heard the need for inter-cultural discourse, relationship building, education, and accountability. I’ve also learned how conservative Christians’ tone (perhaps because of their eschatological and Zionist leanings) has exasperated the crisis.

As I studied the rise of extremists, their world-view and their wounds, I became transformed. I fell in love with the enemy.

I respect that American Christians and Muslims have a need for separateness. I was born the daughter of an Iranian, Muslim. But my American mother baptized me Catholic. I grew up in Seattle and, after my mother’s death from cancer, Christian neighbors raised me. Today I’m an evangelical Christian and live three miles from Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Southern California. I’m a living oxymoron. I see my heritage as a call to build bridges of understanding.

I’m not saying that Christianity and Islam are the same ideologically, theologically, or politically. There are enormous differences at the core. However, as both occupy global influence in our world today, Christians and Muslims must try to know each other and know each other rightly.

Many in the West call for greater military containment, humanitarian work, and firmer borders. These, however, will not be enough. We must sow seeds of trust and confidence.

I believe the next wave of peacemaking must include the power of counter-narratives (stories that challenge people’s world-views and promote peace). I think of Iran’s Green Movement and U2’s recent Pasadena concert. My heart leapt as images of Iranians appeared on a jumbo screen and Bono shouted, “Can you hear us, Iran? This is the United States. Calling for freedom. We’re speaking to you. Can you hear us?!”

So what’s the bottom line? Even though we disagree on major issues of faith, today’s Christians and Muslims can improve our relationships with each other by harnessing the power of new media to promote peace (Twitter, blogging, YouTube, books, satellite programs, radio and films), and by working in our areas of agreement. Collectively we can capture the hearts and minds of millions and show the world how to build trust and confidence.

Together we can resist the old narrative that fuels hostility at home and aboard. Let’s put the last decade behind us and create a new identity where the sense of the faceless enemy is abolished. We should be reminded of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Source: Make Peace

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[Cfamily]Accused MK Counterfeiter Asks To Be Released to YWAM
« Reply #124 on: April 19, 2016, 07:19:56 AM »
Accused MK Counterfeiter Asks To Be Released to YWAM

A man on trial for allegedly heading a $2 million international counterfeiting ring has asked to be released into the care of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) while he awaits trial in Pennsylvania.

Ryan Gustafson, 28, faces seven counts of counterfeiting and money laundering. A “missionary kid” who married a Ugandan dictator’s granddaughter, he allegedly used child sponsorship pamphlets to smuggle fake bills into the United States.

A local YWAM leader told CT that Gustafson is sincerely trying to turn his life around, and that YWAM wants to err on the side of forgiveness.

The investigation into Gustafson was sparked the day after Christmas 2013, when a fake $100 bill was used at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Pittsburgh to buy a latte. It was the first of a score of false bills spread around the town, which soon caught the attention of the US Secret Service, according to Vice News.

Agents followed the bills through the man passing them out, Joseph Graziano, to his supplier Willy Clock in Uganda. Federal agents flew to Kampala to work with a Ugandan special investigations unit and a confidential informant who didn’t know about Clock but did identify Jack Farrel as the counterfeiter.

Officers searched Farrel’s home, turning up Ugandan shillings, Indian rupees, Congo francs, Ghana cedis, Euros, and more than $180,000 in US dollars. The agents also found printers, ink cartridges, glue, fake rubber gloves meant to conceal fingerprints, and “Give a Child Hope Today” pamphlets with fake money glued between the pages.

They discovered two state IDs and a copy of a passport for Gustafson, an American who had been brought to Uganda when he was three years old by his YWAM missionary parents. He later married the granddaughter of Idi Amin, a military dictator who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and is accused of torturing and killing up to 500,000 people.

And he was also Willy Clock and Jack Farrel.

Gustafson was charged in both countries with counterfeiting and laundering money. Uganda added a charge of unlawful possession of ammunition.

Though his trial began in Kampala, Gustafson was extradited in December 2015 to the United States.

“I would rather remain in Luzira [the Kampala prison] than deporting me. Those people will kill me,” he told his judge in Uganda. If convicted in the United States, he could face up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Despite his objection, Gustafson was moved to Pennsylvania, where he promptly pleaded not guilty and asked to be released into the care of YWAM. At a nearby YWAM training facility, Gustafson would have to abide by a 10:00 p.m. curfew, refrain from using drugs or alcohol, complete assigned duties, and attend church, his attorney Stephen Misko argued in a court brief.

Gustafson isn’t violent and his passport has been revoked so he can’t flee the country, Misko wrote. He would wear a GPS bracelet to track his movement.

But the government argued that Gustafson, who has lived most of his life in Africa and whose wife and daughter are still there, is a flight risk. His father-in-law is a high-ranking military official in Uganda.

Gustafson did all he could do prevent his extradition, they said. While still in Uganda, Gustafson told officials he and his wife would kill themselves if he were sent to the United States, feigned tuberculosis to obtain a medical release, and offered prison officials 50 million shillings (about US $15,000) to let him go, assistant US attorney Shardul Desai wrote in a court document. Gustafson hid his identity behind two aliases, still has not turned over his passport, and has made “numerous statements” that he desires to remain in Uganda, according to Desai.

“These statements show that the defendant has no interest in returning to the United States and that he will do everything in his power to return to his wife and daughter in Uganda/Rwanda,” Desai wrote.

Mike Bordon, who heads the local YWAM branch, told the judge that though YWAM staff cannot guarantee that Gustafson won’t flee or kill himself, they can keep an eye on him.

“If there are signs that things aren’t going well, we’ll know that right away,” Bordon told CT.

Gustafson’s parents visited the Lebanon facility for a week last summer, and asked that they consider hosting Gustafson should he be released on bail. “They feel they’ve seen a big change in Ryan,” Bordon said.

After speaking with Gustafson in jail, Bordon said he felt Gustafson was sincere in his desire to repent and reform.

“He talked about how he’s really been reading his Bible a lot,” Bordon said. “He talked about how he was really trying to make a change in his life.”

“I realize this is serious with Ryan being a potential fugitive. I know it’s serious. It’s not a game,” said Bordon. “If we’re going to err, we want to err on the side of giving people a chance.”

Source: Accused MK Counterfeiter Asks To Be Released to YWAM

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[Cfamily]How a Texas Church Drove Out the Predatory Loan Industry
« Reply #125 on: April 20, 2016, 07:04:14 AM »
How a Texas Church Drove Out the Predatory Loan Industry

Payday lenders have been having a tough time in Garland, Texas.

Their storefronts have closed, their gaudy signs spray-painted over in black. In recent months, about a third have left the city of 230,000, situated 18 miles northeast of Dallas.

Nobody could be more delighted at their demise than Keith Stewart, senior pastor of Springcreek, Garland’s largest church. Springcreek will not tolerate what Stewart calls the “predatory loan business.” Stewart estimates something like a third of his congregation of 1,700 have been put through the wringer after they (or their family members) secured loans with interest rates easily within the range of 200 to 500 percent.

But Stewart says the interest rates are only part of the problem. Loan origination fees and penalty fees for non-payment are among the crippling burdens imposed on borrowers. And if a poor unfortunate really can’t repay, lenders are more than happy to offer new loans with a raft of new fees, forcing clients further and further into a debt trap that quickly proves impossible to escape. As Stewart put it: “They take a desperate person and make them destitute.”

The Infinitely Expensive Tuba

The case of Springcreek church member Gordon Martinez is fairly typical. The former high school teacher is educated and articulate, but even he was bamboozled by a loan industry that is eager to stress how quickly they can give cash, but slow to explain the dire consequences downstream.

The descent into debt hell started when Martinez, an accomplished musician, pawned his $8,000 tuba at a Cash America store to secure a $500 loan to help him pay rent. The father of three had abandoned teaching to take up a new position in sales. He was still establishing himself, and inevitably, money was tight. Martinez anticipated he’d need the $500 to cover him for just a few months. He was badly mistaken.

After a few fairly typical but financially sapping life events took their toll on his family, a friend told Martinez about Cash Store, located just up the road from the kids’ school. He took out another loan. Then he took out more, with other lenders to cover the original loans. They were not spectacular sums—typically $200 to $300—but nevertheless, ever-escalating repayments were being drained directly from his bank account.

He found himself forced to choose between feeding his children or closing his bank account and defaulting. He chose the latter.

The pain did not end. Now Martinez was obliged to go to yet other payday lenders to cash his checks—naturally, for a fee. The stress prompted the collapse of his marriage. His wife and children moved to another state.

Even though he was doing better in his sales job, it made no difference. He was destitute. “It got to the point where I had all my worldly possessions in two plastic tubs, and I responded to a Craigslist ad to live on a couch in a one-room studio apartment,” he said.

And the tuba? Altogether, Martinez paid $3,700 to repay the $500 loan and try to recover his beloved tuba. He never succeeded.

“50 People from Springcreek Walk In”

Sometime around when things were at their bleakest, Martinez had the good fortune to end up at Springcreek, washed-up and broke. Fortunately, the church has a big heart for those in Martinez’s position. Help, both spiritual and material, flowed generously.

Martinez especially remembers a church-organized “garage sale” event where church members were invited to bring along what they did not need. But no money changed hands; instead, those who were struggling could take what they wanted. Martinez picked up much-needed clothes, shoes, and kitchen utensils. The church also became Martinez’s spiritual home. He was baptized by the associate pastor in 2013.

All the same, in Stewart’s eyes, the church showing compassion and offering spiritual nurturing was not enough. There also had to be justice.

It rankled Stewart to find the church bailing somebody out to repay and enrich lenders, whose only contribution to the problem was to make things considerably worse. And it was not just distaste for the practices of the lending industry that drove him: as he saw it, it was a direct affront to the Word of God.

“In Scripture, there are many legitimate ways to make money, but the illegitimate way is to make money by impoverishing others, and this is exactly what the predatory loan industry does,” he said.

For a biblical example, take Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees for “devour[ing] widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). The Pharisees used somebody else’s dire circumstances—the loss of the primary breadwinner—as an opportunity to enrich themselves.

To Stewart, modern-day lenders are little different. “It’s wrong to see another’s desperation as the chance to put them into an agreement that will all but guarantee that what little they have left will soon be yours,” he said. “Just read Isaiah 58 or the Book of James, chapter five.”

Of course, expressing indignation about an iniquitous practice is one thing; being able to do anything about it is quite another. Fortunately, in recent years, municipalities in Texas have become heartily sick of the predatory loan industry.

It’s not hard to see why. A 2013 study conducted by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development showed payday lending drained more than $95 million from the Texas economy and led to a net loss of more than 1,300 jobs. In 2014, Texas auto-title loans, where car titles are used as collateral, contributed to more than 44,000 cars being repossessed—leaving many of their former owners unable to get to work.

Ann Baddour, director of the Fair Financial Services Project at Texas Appleseed—a non-profit that uses volunteer lawyers to promote social justice in Texas—says payday and auto- title operations are effectively subsidized by tax dollars and charitable contributions. She says that very often, when families hit a crisis, the assistance they receive from state agencies and churches goes to servicing loans rather than paying essentials like rent. She cites a survey released in 2011, which showed that 76 percent of Catholic charities’ clients who were in trouble with payday or auto-title loans also received a public benefit.

With little help from the state legislature, cities waking up to the harm being done to their communities began imposing tough new ordinances of their own, trying to curb the more egregious lending practices.

Stewart got tipped off that Garland was about to consider a toothless alternative proposed by the lending industry, and he knew it was time to act. When Garland’s city council came to debate the issue, dozens of Springcreek church members crowded into the chamber to make their views known.

Stewart chuckles at the recollection: “There were nine items on the agenda that evening. There were about two or three people to speak on every agenda item, and we had 50 people from Springcreek walk in. So all of a sudden the city council takes notice.”

When it came time to discuss the lending issue, Springcreek members—one after another—stood up to relate their bruising experiences at the hands of lenders. By the time it came to the vote, the industry-sponsored legislation didn’t stand a chance. Councilors unanimously voted for the much tougher ordinance, known as the Texas Municipal League Model Payday Ordinance.

A few weeks after the council meeting, Stewart bumped into Garland’s mayor at a local café. The mayor admitted Springcreek’s presence had stiffened his resolve on the whole question, and he vowed to lobby harder to get similar legislation passed at state level.

State-wide legislation would certainly help. When regulations tighten in one city, predatory lenders simply shut up shop and move to the next. Many swooped into Garland when a tough ordinance was passed in Dallas. Now that Garland has its own ordinance, lenders have simply moved again to other nearby cities.

But it’s an uphill struggle to get the state to act. According to Texans for Public Justice—an Austin-based political watchdog—state politicians are pocketing millions of dollars in predatory-lender contributions. According to their “Lobby Watch” report, the 2014 election cycle saw predatory lenders spend almost $2.5 million in contributions, with the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general among those who benefited.

But while things may be stuck at state level, Springcreek is not standing still. Stewart is talking to other pastors in nearby cities, helping them be an effective voice for the same changes that have been seen in Garland. He also has presented testimony to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on the theology of debt. The CFPB is currently drafting new rules that would end payday debt traps by requiring lenders to take similar measures to the Texas Municipal League Ordinance. The draft rules are expected to be released in April 2016, followed by public hearings.

Stewart says there are encouraging signs the new rules will have real teeth, but warns they are likely to be bitterly contested by the lending industry.

Fighting for Transformation

It might seem odd that a pastor in the conservative South, which might tend to resent any kind of government regulation, should be such a fierce advocate for it. Stewart says he’s been able to forestall any possible backlash from his congregation by forcefully making the point that God’s Word underscores what an evil predatory lending is.

“If they don’t see that the Bible would say this kind of practice is evil,” he said, “then I’m not going to get them to rally, because the honest truth is Fox News could potentially speak into their life more than I do.

“The gospel is bigger than personal salvation,” he adds. “God wants transformation of all systems and structures affected by sin.”

In testimony to the CFPB, Stewart illustrated his point by highlighting the children of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. From Mt. Sinai onward, God begins to lay down in law what would characterize this new nation. Foundational to this new covenant was the demand that they would never do to others what was done to them. God’s laws made abundant protections for borrowers, especially when people were vulnerable. There are extensive regulations regarding interest, collateral, fairness, forgiveness of debt, and return of essential assets. To protect the people, God codified all of this into law.

Joining Stewart in testifying before the CFPB was Gordon Martinez. These days, he is a financial coach for Springcreek, helping people avoid the mistakes he made, and he is part of Springcreek’s justice team, urging councils in other cities to pass ordinances like Garland’s. He is also the secretary for Faith in Texas, a multiracial faith movement for social justice. Less than a year ago, he says, he would have felt too ashamed to talk about his experiences.

“Satan was telling me, ‘You’re a bad person for having gone down this path: you need to suffer for it,’” he said.

Today, however, he—and Springcreek—are fighting it.

Source: How a Texas Church Drove Out the Predatory Loan Industry

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[Cfamily]Weekend Edition—April 15, 2016
« Reply #126 on: April 21, 2016, 07:11:28 AM »
Weekend Edition—April 15, 2016

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[Cfamily]Individual Mission
« Reply #127 on: April 22, 2016, 07:31:03 AM »
Individual Mission

In the West, churches that take biblical authority seriously are entering a new season. The transition of nominals to nones will, in the long term, cause the biblically faithful to be marginalized from society.

With that being the case, I think ultimately we are going to have to teach people to live as exiles. I believe the exile will be more of a motif people use to describe the church in its current situation here in the West.

Look at how we have progressed to this current state. A hundred years ago, the church was the chaplain to the culture. It functioned as the moral guardian. However, that role eventually waned. The church became viewed as the disapproving parent of the culture. Eventually, nobody cared any more if the church approved or disapproved. Now, the church is left standing as an exile within the culture.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life reported in 2011 that 66 percent of evangelical Protestant leaders who live in the Global North (primarily Western countries such as the U.S.) say their influence in culture is waning. In the U.S., Protestant leaders are especially pessimistic. Eighty-two percent say that their influence in their communities is declining.

In his book The Church in Exile: Living in Hope after Christendom, Lee Beach gives this example:

Even in the United States, where Christian faith continues to play a more prominent role in national affairs, one can easily find anecdotal evidence of how Christianity is slowly moving from the center of culture to a more peripheral role in many parts of national life. An example of this is in the US’s own 9/11 memorials. Three days after the horrible events of September 11, 2001, a memorial service held in Washington offered a distinctly Christian perspective, including Rev. Billy Graham as guest preacher. However, another memorial service was held shortly thereafter at Yankee Stadium in New York City, and this service was hosted by Oprah Winfrey and included a variety of religious traditions. This was a signal of the shifting religious landscape of America, telling those present and those watching around the country that Christianity, while still a part of American life, no longer held the exclusive place that it once did in times when the nation came together and looked to religion for answers.

We have to learn how to relate to our culture as an exiled church full of pilgrims. The problem is that a significant number of churches have either forgotten or ignored the mission of God, or the missio Dei.

As I wrote in The Mission of God: Essays and Letters, missio Dei describes the nature of the God we encounter in the Scriptures. God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory. The Church, therefore, properly encourages all believers to live out their primary calling as Christ’s ambassadors to those who do not know Jesus.

The ministry of reconciliation is applicable to both its native culture and in cross-cultural ministry throughout the world. In this sense, every believer is a missionary sent by the Spirit into a non-Christian culture activating the whole of his or her life in seeking to participate more fully in God’s mission.

As the people of a missionary God, we are entrusted to participate in the world the same way He does—by committing to be His ambassadors. Missional is the perspective to see people as God does and to engage in the activity of reaching them. The church on mission is the church as God intended.

The problem is that a significant number of churches have either forgotten or ignored the mission of God.

Instead, churches have become little more than suppliers of religious goods and services. They are more concerned with crafting a good service (music, preaching, ambience, etc) to keep their clients happy. And as a result, we have a disengaged and an uninvolved church.

One issue closely connected to this idea is the reality of an individual mission. While one of the greatest temptations in western society is hyper-individualism, there is a personal aspect to mission that must be addressed. We’re going to have to learn to live as exiles and ambassadors in our cultural context. The question we have to ask ourselves is: What is the individual’s role in the mission of God? How do I live as an everyday missionary?

Spurgeon said every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter. I think he was technically wrong, but he still makes the point. I wouldn’t use the term “missionary” the same way he would. I think missionary is a different kind of term and a different kind of designation. I would say every Christian is on mission or an imposter.

While we must focus on the corporate church joining on mission, we must also give attention to the individualistic mandate. A simple example is my wife who lives on mission in a variety of ways. One way is tutoring children of undocumented immigrants. She loves kids and recognizes the vulnerable position they are in. It’s not a ministry of our church or a church function. It is an example of an individual follower of Christ living on mission in the context she finds herself. We join in with the missio Dei on both a corporate level and an individual.

The mission of the church and people on mission are not mutually exclusive; they are complimentary. When all members are on mission as individuals, the church will be more effective in fulfilling the mission God has for it.

Source: Individual Mission

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