Monday, February 3, 2020

A Bridge to Love

Anna* led her young son toward the bridge, where she believed her final act in life would be an act of mercy. Without hope for a future for herself and her son, there seemed no choice but to end his life, and hers.
Anna's desperation was no doubt born of an overwhelming set of circumstances. In the weeks prior, she'd tried what she could to provide for herself and her son in the midwestern city where they lived. But, her resources were exhausted. Her landlord would soon turn her out. She could no longer provide a roof over her son's head, if she could not pay rent by his deadline.
Eviction! Anna felt utterly alone.
In search of someone who might help, Anna dialed the phone, even calling people she did not know, grasping at straws. One of those calls was to a local pregnancy resource center. They called her back and asked her to come in. But by then—the circumstances, the setbacks, the loneliness had taken their toll. She lost hope. Gathering her son, she made her way toward the bridge.
On a whim, instead, Anna turned toward the entrance of that pregnancy resource center.  She shared a bit of her story with them. The center's director ushered her to a quiet area where Anna viewed portions of the "Magdalena" film.
The young mother emerged a different person. Moments before, she saw no alternative but to take her own life and that of her son.  But the message of the movie gave her hope that God would carry her through, despite the circumstances.
"Magdalena: Through Her Eyes" portrays Jesus's compassion for women and historical accounts of His interactions with them. The film's companion Bible study is a key part of this pregnancy center's outreach for providing hope and help to women.  What a difference it made in Anna's life.
With the help of a partnering church, the pregnancy resource center was able to help Anna with her rent payment and she was not evicted from her apartment. The Lord directed Anna away from the bridge of despair and death toward Christ, the Bridge to the Father. Please pray for young mothers in the USA to see Jesus as their hope and salvation.
*Name changed for privacy

Friday, November 29, 2019

Is Humanitarian Aid the Gospel?


           A lot of words are thrown around these days describing various kinds of compassion, acts of mercy, justice, and peace. Our society has redefined some of these biblical terms but muddled the meaning in the process. Lumping words together or using them interchangeably can cause quite confusing definitions.


COMPASSION DEFINED
The Bible never mentions the word “humanitarian aid” but it does speak of compassion. Humanitarian work is the practice of improving human life. So, let’s use the word compassion instead, which depicts more a stance of love and care, rather than supplying the outward physical needs one may have.

Using the words found in scripture helps us avoid any confusing definitions attached to modern terms or slang. Zechariah 7:9-10 says, Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

 I believe helping others not only shines our light as Christians in a dark world, but can sometimes open doors to a gospel presentation.

Mercy ministry—much like Jesus did when showing love to the sick, weak, and oppressed—can be a powerful tool to open hearts to hear the message of Christ. I’ve seen the power of mercy ministry in:

·      feeding/clothing those in need
·      helping widows/orphans
·      freeing slaves
·      rescuing human traffic victims
·      disaster relief
·      medical care units
·      and more

A few years ago I went on a medical mission trip to provide health/dental/vision care in Cambodia. It was clear to me how meeting the physical needs of individuals more readily prepared hearts to receive the message of the cross we presented.

But we must be careful not to take James 1:27 (like some Christians do) as a verse that explains what the gospel message is. This passage says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, ….”  This verse addresses pure and undefiled practices or good works (compassion). If we keep the verse in context, it’s clear James is talking about how we should live as a believer, not how we are to share the gospel.

We deceive ourselves when we begin to apply this verse or others like it, as a formula for the Great Commission. If we dig a well in Africa, play soccer with some kids, and hug a few villagers, yet never share the actual gospel—it would be wrong to say we evangelized. That’s actually a compassion trip, and even non-Christians are nice to the weak and oppressed. These trips are wonderful acts of love Christians should participate in. But without a gospel presentation, I fear we reduce our time, money, and effort to mere secular kindness. We might feel great about ourselves; while hundreds might now have a full belly, a cleft pallet repaired or freed from a brothel, no eternal difference was made—their souls are not secured.

Compassion is merely a tool to open heart doors. I too, love a good evangelism tool. But if I rely on tools alone as the gospel, I miss the mark. A clear, simple, gospel explanation must follow our love and generosity.

THE GOOD NEWS DEFINED
The gospel or Good News is clearly summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, where Paul gives the most basic ingredients of the message—namely Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross for us, his burial, and resurrection. It’s easy. If we share our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God, there’s no limit to what he can do, with or without our good deeds.

While kindness is an effective tool, John 3:16 or Acts 10 or 13 doesn’t seem to mention anything about meeting people’s needs in order to present the Good News.

I’m concerned we’ve allowed the world to adopt and twist our terminology to water-down the definition of Christian outreach. How often have you heard secular organizations calling their medical practices in the jungle a “mission trip?”

            As we get involved with outreaches, here or overseas, let the worldwide Church be diligent not to embrace a watered-down gospel, but to communicate the true message of the cross. May we remind ourselves daily, that the Good News is the person and work of Jesus Christ—especially his virgin birth, righteous life, atoning death, and resurrection—with the promise that he will save anyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord. 

Let us continue to love sinners, using valuable tools like compassion to help the Holy Spirit prepare hearts. But may we never neglect to preach the gospel of grace to all nations, making disciples and teaching them to observe all Christ commanded.



Friday, November 15, 2019

Are Christians Offering the Wrong Support?: Labels and the Gay Christian

Recently at a conference, I met Shane*, a construction worker and single dad who loves Jesus and is deeply committed to following the Lord. But Shane struggles with feelings for other guys. His church offers a ministry to those like Shane.
Although the group offered him a tight community, he found it alienating and hard to make room for other people at church he might enjoy getting to know, like parents or those in the construction business.
“I just want to be looked at as a regular guy.” Shane said. “A Christian, without labels.”
I felt sad for Shane. There’s a lot of Christian organizations and churches reaching out and ministering to believers who experience homosexual feelings. But are Christians offering the wrong support?
Along with this comes the argument about what they like to be called. Some say they want to be identified as a person who struggles with attraction to the same gender. Others call themselves gay Christians. To determine which is the proper terminology, we must first explore both of these titles a little closer. Only then can we help guys like Shane.
THE CONFUSING LABEL
To be honest, the term gay Christian is an oxymoron to many Christians, because the word gay carries with it a stigma. Among the evangelical community, it implies a certain lifestyle that is contrary to a Christian’s life.
The title of gay might mean something different to the world at large, (or even to the celibate individual living a holy lifestyle and identifying themselves as a gay Christian). Still, to the majority of believers, “gay” assumes you have embraced the militant, activist movement that includes pride marches, rainbow flags, shaking fists, and holding signs that read “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” To a lot of Bible-believing Christ-followers, gay means you are actively involved in a sexual relationship(s) with someone of the same gender and are not attempting to pursue a holy life of abstinence. This is how most Christians interpret gay, as a verb.
With this definition in mind, we can see how the phrase gay Christian, upsets believers because it’s like saying “I’m a lying or stealing Christian” or “I’m a Christian who deliberately disobeys God.” It just doesn’t make sense to many Christians and feels downright blasphemous for someone to claim they are a follower of Christ, yet blatantly refuse to leave a lifestyle of sin. It brings reproach upon the church, themselves, and the name of Christ.
This can be an awful accusation to the innocent Christian who is refraining from this temptation but doesn’t know what else to call him or herself. While it’s not right for believers to assume the worst, it’s hard not to with a phrase that carries such a scandalous definition.
Right about now I’m sure I’ve got some people upset at me. In particular, some of my gay male friends who claim to be Christian and believe they are following God’s commands by being in a loving, exclusive relationship (or married to) one man. Hopefully, we can agree to disagree, still love one another, and remain friends without misinterpreting truth for some kind of hatred.
But that’s a whole other topic and an entirely different demographic. This blog post is referring to believers who hold to the traditional biblical standards of purity and God’s design for men and women in spite of their unnatural sexual desires.
THE ACCEPTABLE LABEL
Another phrase, same-sex attracted (SSA), seems to please Christians. It emotes empathy. Christians understand this issue and more readily embrace it because it doesn’t imply that sin is happening….it only implies a temptation. It is likened to someone categorizing themselves opposite-sex attracted or a Christian struggling with lust.
Some have said this label too, has implied evil. The phrase sprang up out of the ex-gay movement of the 90s. Behavior adjustment camps like Exodus International taught that homosexual behavior could be fixed by re-training the mind to be attracted to the opposite sex. Many young people who just couldn’t seem to be fixed were ostracized and accused of rejecting the gospel or righteousness. They left the programs confused and many left the faith, mad at God and hating the church.
Still, this is not enough reason to reject the phrase SSA when it so accurately describes someone’s issue without implying ungodly activity. There is little baggage to this phrase that implies evil intent—only a cry for help.
THE BIBLICAL LABEL
But I would plead that both labels are incorrect for these Christians trying to live holy lives free from sin. We miss the mark when we begin to bring attention or make this particular sin special. When we form customized affinity groups for those struggling with attraction toward the same gender, we place the focus (and sympathy) on the sin, making it bigger, or greater than other sins.
Rather, we should be treating it like any other sin. After all, does God categorize sins as lesser or greater? By diminishing its importance, we correctly place the focus on mortification (i.e. pursuing holiness by intentionally and strategically attempting to kill fleshly desires) rather than identification—and that’s the more biblical solution to any sin.
I do think it’s great to acknowledge that certain issues hold more difficult challenges (i.e. money mismanagement, eating disorders, alcoholism, porn addiction, homosexuality) and necessitate special support and understanding. However, when it begins to separate and elevate struggles over others, I think we fail our dear comrades like Shane.
We must re-direct these precious brothers and sisters from identifying to mortifying, then we place the emphasis on the work of Christ and his blood instead of on their sins. Born again children of God have a new identity, we are new creatures! We need not continue to call ourselves by our old labels. This only defeats and beats us down so that we can not rise above it to be what Christ has already made us—victorious over sin and death.
MY STORY
Lest you shake a finger and say, “The identity that comes with same-sex attraction runs deep in the psyche of those who own it. You can’t possibly know what it’s like! It can’t be easily thrown off or minimized.”
You’re right. Ever since I was molested as a young teen by a man in our church, I myself have struggled with attraction toward men at times. (That’s right, I just outed myself. Ha! But it’s not the first time. I’ve outed myself to several groups over the decades).
By God’s grace, he kept a very short leash on me. I never turned from him or the church. Over the decades I realized God probably was never going to remove these feelings, but he graciously continued to give me an attraction for women. I see his redemptive power in my life every day when I look at my lovely wife, four amazing children, and a thriving ministry.
His pardon overwhelms me. I’m not worthy.
I don’t mean to say I’m perfect, I haven’t learned all I should even yet. But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be (Phil 3:12 LB). I stand as a testimony of God’s grace because I know I have lots of issues. I struggle with pride, arrogance, fear of failure, anger, temptation to look at porn, to lie, to steal, to stare too long at a woman… or a man, to watch too much TV or eat too many donuts, to neglect my wife or yell at my kids, ignore the Bible, not love others like Christ…the list goes on.
But I cannot walk around writing these sins on my forehead and making sure everyone understands this is who I am. I can’t constantly identify by creating a public spotlight for each of those issues and hanging out with others of similar pigeon-holes, just because I feel they “get me” more than other Christians. I must abase my flesh and die to self. Because my propensity to sin is not who I am. I’m so much more than my battles—I’m a husband, a daddy, a missionary, an author, a hiker, a pizza-lover, and more. Primarily, I am no longer a slave to sin, but a child of God. That is my utmost identity (Romans 6:6).
LET US THROW IT OFF
Labels only reinforce the old man and make him harder to resist. How long can a person who calls himself a gay Christian continue to deny that temptation and act out on it? How long can someone say they have SSA without it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Those identifying as Christians who are gay, SSA, gender dysphoric or anything on the LGBTQ+ spectrum need loving, gentle guidance. Believers immersed and grounded in God’s word can help them live life more abundantly. Every Christ-follower (you, me, Shane…even the late Billy Graham) must learn to sever of our hearts and minds from Satan’s stamps and embrace our new identity as “cherished of God,” “highly favored,” “saint,” “lover of righteousness,” “holy one,” “child of the light.”
Ephesians 4: 22-24 reminds us, what we were taught with regard to our former way of life—to put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires and be made new in our minds. To put on the new nature that was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Only when we strip away the old man and pursue who God has called us to be, will we experience true freedom from sin.
*name changed for privacy

Saturday, November 9, 2019

JESUS in the Jungle

Tez and some of the kids he taught.

Hosting famous celebrities like Olivia Newton-John, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and John Voight is normal for Brazilian businesswoman Gloria Reynolds. Her company (Amazon Eco Sight) offers Amazon experience tours that attract hundreds of guests.

But in 2003, the Lord directed Gloria to start a ministry to villages along the Amazon River. She called it Raio de Esperanca na Amazonia (Ray of Hope, Amazon).

The first visit was to one family who had financial needs. But the next weekend they returned to find 120 villagers looking for help and hope.


Since then, Ray of Hope (ROH) has impacted at least 950 communities by offering humanitarian aid and the JESUS film. Together, based in Manaus, Gloria and her husband Patrick lead mission trips to the jungle’s interior.

They reach approximately 60 communities and villages in the Amazon Basin annually. In 2018, ROH began using the JESUS film in multiple locations as part of its strategy. When people see the film, they ultimately decide to follow Christ.

For the past few years, Mountain Springs Church in Colorado has partnered with ROH. Last summer Pastor Chris Steenmeyer and several church members, [along with Tez] traveled to Brazil.

On a riverboat, sleeping in hammocks covered with mosquito nets, Tez and the church traveled with Patrick, Gloria, and their team to show the films JESUS, Magdalena, and The Story of Jesus for Children in Portuguese. They shared the gospel, provided medical treatment, brought clothes, and built a large community chicken coop.

"Their mission is to bring Jesus to the forgotten,” says Tez. “I love seeing how partners use our tools in creative and strategic ways—going to places we can’t.”

ROH’s volunteers include medical professionals, social workers, psychologists and lay ministers. Together they assist remote indigenous communities needing care.

Gloria explains, “We offer prayer, Bibles, discipling, medicine, food, school supplies, and more. We even have a project for special-needs kids.”

During the trip, ROH celebrated 16 years of ministry. To celebrate, Mountain Springs Church presented them with solar-powered film equipment so they can continue sharing JESUS everywhere. To learn more about partnering with ROH, go to https://rayofhopeamazon.org/.

*Name changed

PRAYER POINT: Pray for the people of Brazil and for Ray of Hope as they partner with us to reach the Amazon.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Casting the Nets Widely

In Luke’s fifth chapter, Simon Peter was skeptical when Jesus told him to cast his nets into the sea, but God delivered an awe-inspiring miracle.

Similarly, understanding the potential for radio and television strategies can be challenging, but God is moving in awe-inspiring ways. Broadcast is a reach strategy—like casting nets. And like Peter, Jesus Film Project® has been casting the nets wide.

One partner that makes this possible is Trans World Radio (TWR). “Even with a program broadcast every day, it takes time to engage an audience to the point that they will interact with you,” TWR representative, Brandon Neal shared. “However, with the JESUS film audio drama, we found that a one-time broadcast engaged thousands around the world.”

One person said, “I’m a blind person. Your programs are irreplaceable to me. The audio JESUS is the most precious gift.” Another said, “I listened to the broadcast with my relatives and it gave me the opportunity to share [my faith]. Thank you.”

The significant reach doesn’t stop at radio. As of November 2019, over 70,116,000 people watched the JESUS film on television in 47 countries.

Jesus Film Project’s staff Tom Terry said, “Many people groups in risky areas need to hear the gospel multiple times before making a decision to follow Christ. It entails great risk to their family, livelihood, or life. Without broadcast, we’d see fewer people come to Christ.”

PRAYER POINT: Ask the Lord for more open doors to broadcast JESUS in other countries so all can hear the gospel.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Meeting JESUS in a Spanish Hostel

Tez shares the gospel with a hiker.

One of the pilgrims who stayed the night.
The pungent odor of cow manure fills the air as travelers walk the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) toward a hostel named La Fuente del Peregrino. The name means The Pilgrim’s Fountain. It’s just one of many lodges for pilgrims hiking the 500-mile journey to Santiago de Compostela.

Many pilgrims have hiked for days before arriving at La Fuente del Peregrino—a 400-year-old building offering fresh coffee, clean bathrooms, and an overnight stay. Those who lodge get two hot meals, great hospitality, and a chance to watch the JESUS film.

The house is run by Natan, a staff member of Agape Spain, the name for Campus Crusade for Christ® in this country. He recruits volunteers from around the world. They rotate in for a week, maintaining the hostel and sharing Christ to the 400-800 pilgrims who pass each day.

Travelers on this pilgrimage often find themselves unexpectedly open to God conversations. “We use those moments as an open door for the gospel.” Natan says.

In the afternoon, an optional reflection time is offered to those staying overnight, followed by a showing of JESUS. For the pilgrims, a movie with popcorn is a welcome treat!

Natan explains to the guests, “Unlike most lodging that only provides for your physical needs, we focus also on heavenly needs—helping you take the next step in your spiritual journey.”

Filipe* is a guest this night. Filipe is a guru of Eastern mysticism and almost derails the discussion with his talk of chakra energy and an alien abduction that gave him power to heal.

The Jesus Film Mission Trip® volunteers pray as they communicate truth to Filipe. He is unreceptive. They don’t filter who stays at the hostel, trusting God to bring the right pilgrims who need to hear about Christ.

Some receive it, some reject it, but all are sent on their way contemplating Jesus and the extraordinary love poured out by the staff.

The next morning, one of the guests receives a copy of the film, “The Story of Jesus for Children.”

She responds, “You’ve blessed me. There’s something peaceful about this place—about you.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary since La Fuente del Peregrino opened its doors. Almost 19,000 pilgrims have found rest, shelter and the love of Christ. There’s no doubt God has placed this hostel in a strategic location. The Pilgrim’s Fountain continues to be a beacon of hope in a lost and broken world. To learn more, go to lafuentedelperegrino.com.

*Name changed for privacy

STATS FOR THIS TRIP:


  • 4 Film Festivals at the Fuente with 17 people engaging with the short films.
  • 4 Training's with 84 locals attending
  • Roughly 130 initiated conversations (90 spiritual conversations and 24 gospel presentations)
  • 2 indicated a decision to follow Christ.
  • The most used short film was "Delight." 


PRAYER POINT: Ask God to use the JESUS film to reach pilgrims hiking El Camino.