Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pray to receive Christ

I was listening to the last part of Focus on the Family tonight when I heard the speaker talking about praying to ask Jesus to come into your heart. My question is, where does the Bible say that this is how you enter the kingdom of God? Why do thousands of churches across America and around the world teach people to pray the "sinner's prayer" so that they can be born again? I'm not trying to be critical of the speaker or Focus on the Family in any way. Just trying to figure out what I'm missing here.

Blessings,
Brandon

Saturday, November 8, 2008

99 names of God

In the interest of dispelling some of the gross misunderstanding of Muslims I thought I'd share this song and video about the names of God.
What are some of your thoughts when you hear and see this?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conviction or Political Tactic?

I'm somewhat disturbed by much of what I've seen and heard from Christians in recent months, weeks and days. Once again the abortion issue has been brought to the forefront of our hearts and minds. All of the awful statistics about abortion today and in years past...the endless talk about partial birth abortion and even post-birth abortion. How an entire generation of people has been wiped out by this awful procedure. And I agree, abortion is an issue that should be high on the list of priorities for all followers of Christ. Here's the problem, it's not. For most people this will fade away again until the next political season rolls around.

If the abortion issue was really a conviction for the Church then we would DO something about it. Instead, I would liken it to the way the way that many in the church view missions, it's very important, someone should go take care of this, I'll give money to it or tell someone about it, but that's where it ends. To me, that means it's more of a preference than a conviction. We'll complain, moan and cry about the travesty of abortion, yet VERY few will get off of our behinds and actually DO something to work towards ending it. This is why I almost roll my eyes when I hear Christians boo-hooing about abortion around elections. My thought is, Oh, so NOW you care?!?! And all you're going to do is vote for someone else to solve the problem? Give me a break!

At our church AWANA is very big, it's a conviction of our church to reach the next generation. It's part of our slogan, "Neighborhoods, Nations, next Generation." and we actually make it a priority. On any Wednesday night...like tonight, we'll have 1500 kids involved in AWANA. A friend of mine who loves AWANA went to volunteer to serve in AWANA a few months ago, so he shows up one Wednesday and asked where the greatest need for people was. He was shocked to hear that we actually have too many people working already but that he was welcome to come and hang out. He couldn't believe that there were so many people involved that there was really not room for any more volunteers. The reason is that we have embraced the fact that it is our responsibility to reach the next generation for the kingdom. It's a great testimony to the fact that this is very important at GRACE.

Unfortunately, if you go to almost any crisis pregnancy center there is no shortage of vacant positions and need for volunteers. Why? Because abortion is just not a priority for the Church. If it were, we would be moved to action rather than just words.

Oh, and abortion is just the topic of the day because of all the Christian rhetoric out there over the past few weeks. The same could be said about missions, hunger, poverty and a myriad of other topics that the church likes to talk about but does very little to be the solution. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be a part of the solution. I can't end abortion or take the gospel to every nation tongue and tribe, but I can do more than just talk about it. I can go...

Blessings,
Brandon

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Muhammad

A few months ago I went to Infusion (our ministry to Somalian refugees in apartments in Clarkston) with our missions pastor, Mark. When we arrived at the apartments there were about 30 kids waiting for us to show up and they were excited to see us. As we walked up, they surrounded us and walked with us to the area where we meet and play with them. One of the kids, Muhammad, made his way through the crowd and began talking to us...then, to our dismay, Muhammad began hitting Mark in the crotch. Okay, we were officially freaked out! My first thought was that someone had sexually abused him at some time because when I was 10 I would have died before doing that to a grown stranger...or anyone else for that matter! Bennet, our liaison in the apartment complex quickly explained that this was a tribal behavior and how to address it. It worked, but I was really uncomfortable with what had happened and immediately had some doubts that I was "called" to this particular people group. It's interesting how we can sometimes use the term "calling" as an out from situations that make us uncomfortable or into situations that we are comfortable with.

When I was asked to consider leading Infusion in Clarkston, my first and only reservation was Muhammad. It sounds silly now as I write that. Anyway, three weeks ago we showed up for Infusion and Muhammad was there. He was disruptive, rude, annoying and loud. He continually hit other smaller children, splashed water on our workers, he took one of our worker's glasses and threw them across the play area...it was a nightmare. As we tried to get everyone settled for some teaching time, our friend Muhammad was a constant disruption. Finally, I pulled him aside and told him that I really wanted him to be there, (lie) but that if he continued to have problems that I would have to ask him to leave. He looked me in the eye and said, "I won't leave!" so I got right in his face and firmly said, "Yeah, you WILL!"...to my amazement, he walked over and sat down and listened to the rest of our lesson...I was shocked. Right after that we served them some snacks and I called Muhammad over to help. I gave him an empty box and told him that if he could pick up all the trash I'd give him 5 bags of Cheez Its. Again, to my amazement, Muhammad did an excellent job cleaning up and he received his reward. As we packed to leave he gave me a high five and headed home.

Last night, he was glued to me. I found out last week that both his mother and father physically abuse him, they yell at him rather than speaking to him and his father is very distant...when he's not hitting him. He was like a completely different kid last night. He did have some moments, but he sat right down beside me and actually listened to the lesson. As we sat there, he put both of his arms around my right arm and his head on my shoulder as he listened to the story of Joseph. Again, my comfort zone was BLOWN WIDE OPEN! In our culture, guys don't do that with men they don't really know...or with guys they DO know. (In Africa this is not unusual behavior for boys or men) But the Holy Spirit reminded me that this kid is SO hungry to get attention and that he needs to see how God loves him. So I sat there with him until we were through with the lesson. Honestly, it was amazing. This kid who was one of the main reasons I didn't want to do this is being knitted to me by God. It's very humbling because my attitude was, "I'll go, but I'm NOT going to deal with this Muhammad kid God, he's your problem to deal with!". I can see God smiling and saying, "Really?". Last night when it was time to go, I went to give him a high five and he asked for a hug. He also wanted to know when I was coming back. This is nothing less than an act of God. I'm excited about what He is doing and what He is going to do in and through us in Clarkston.

So that's the latest from Infusion, God is building relationships and connections in the least likely places. And my training in bridging the gap between Believers and Muslims has given me a new comfort level in interacting with the people of Clarkston.

Blessings,
Brandon

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Building Bridges

I signed up for a training course to learn how to reach Muslims. I really wasn't sure what to expect, I've studied apologetic and polemic arguments against Islam so I was thinking this might be a part of the strategy we would learn. What I learned required a paradigm shift in my thinking regarding who these people are and what they believe.

Instead of learning another technique to argue or convince someone into the kingdom, I learned about Muslims. How Islam became a religion, what the Qur'an says about Jesus, what the Qur'an says about the Bible, I learned about the Muslim culture and some of their mindsets that defy western reasoning. I also learned some things from the Bible that were very eye opening. What I learned about most of all was how to bridge the gap between Muslims and believers by focusing on the common ground we share in our faiths and unravelling the many false perceptions (on both sides) that keep us from sharing Jesus with them effectively.

I'm planning to use the next few posts to help me digest the volumes of information that I was exposed to this weekend.

I want to share some writings in the Qur'an that might pique some interest for you...it did for me.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgement. It is you we worship; it is You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed, those who incure no anger and who have not gone astray.

A devout Muslim will pray this 17 times per day. As believers, we know where the straight path is, and we are the blessed ones who incur no anger and have not gone astray. I'll expand on this in the next few posts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Infusion

Several months ago I sat down with Mark, the Men's Minister at our church, to chat. I shared with him about some of my church experiences and some of the things God's been teaching me over the years. During our conversation I told him about our trip to The L.A. Dream Center a few years ago and how it had impacted my thoughts of outreach and the church's role in the community. Mark's eyes lit up and he began to tell me about Infusion.

Infusion is an outreach ministry that our church has been doing for several years. On Monday nights we send out two teams that are primarily made up of high school and middle school students, we take them to two local apartment complexes. When we get to the apartments there are usually children from the complex waiting for our arrival. It's great to see them running to greet us as we pull into the parking lot.

After Mark explained what Infusion was he asked me if I'd like to go to Infusion with him the next Monday night. That next Monday we met and I rode to Clarkston with Mark. As we rode along we talked in more depth about the people that we would encounter in Clarkston. The Clarkston area has one of the largest Mosques in Atlanta and the population is predominantly Muslim. The apartment complex where we serve is predominantly made up of Somalian refugees, but the cultural mix is amazing because you'll find families from all over the world...Liberia, Bosnia, Asia, Africa, South and Central America.

A typical night for Infusion begins with playing games with the children for 45 minutes or so. Then we have a lesson time for about 15-20 minutes, we have a topic related craft that we'll do with the students for 15 minutes and then we finish up with some snacks...when I first heard about it I was somewhat interested, but it really sounded way too churchy for my taste. I liked the idea of ministering to this culturally diverse area, but the description of what we would be doing sounded alot like Sunday School on the road. The mental image of that made me want to puke!

So what's different about Infusion? Our purpose is to love these children. There are no strings attached, we're not hitting them with a 5 step outline or asking them to make a profession of faith every week. We teach them from the Bible, but we teach them some of the same stories that they read and know from the Qur'an. But for the most part, we're there to love them, to build relationships with them and their parents.

This is not my comfort zone..although I'm coming around very quickly. My outreach experience in the past consisted of prospect cards and the F.A.I.T.H. outline or knocking on doors, visiting with someone for 3 minutes and then asking them to accept Christ. I think what I liked about that down deep inside was that it was efficient...it didn't get very messy because you never really got involved in people's lives, their hurts, their dreams, their past or their hearts.

This kind of ministry takes time, it's not about making converts, it's about building relationships and making disciples. We hope to eventually start a church in that area for all of the people we see come to faith in Christ. But it will take time. There have been MANY churches that have tried and failed to reach the people in this area. Even as recently as this summer, a local church came in to do back yard Bible studies. They were there 2 days before they got kicked out by the management for causing trouble. The problem was, they decided to come into a place they had never been before to show "these people" that the religion they had grown up with was a lie...in two days!!! It wasn't their message that was flawed, it was their strategy. A missionary in the area told this church that they needed to do what we're doing, they felt like it was too much time spent for the return they might see...I'm not kidding. So we continue to love the people in their back yard. I have mixed emotions about that. It's sad that some of these local churches won't take the time to love their community. But, if they did we might not have the privilege of getting to know these wonderful people.

Ironically, I was the interim youth pastor at one of these local churches. When we tried to start ministering to the local apartment complexes, the people in the church were okay with it...until some of the people we were ministering to actually started coming to "our" church! That was the end of that. Even when we started a church very close to this area, a few of us tried to get an apartment ministry going, but there was just no heart for it in our people. It's just interesting to me that God had to take us to a church located in the suburbs to do effective ministry in Clarkston.

Several weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in leading Infusion in Clarkston. It was one of those times that you already know the answer before the question is asked. Interestingly enough, Kenny, the guy who was heading up Infusion in Clarkston, moved to California to finish college. That's also how I became the interim youth pastor of that first church in the same area several years ago. Jonathan, the youth pastor, left to finish up seminary and I was asked to step in. So it seems that things have come full circle in these 5 years of trying to get a ministry started in Clarkston. I'm really excited about the things that God is going to do in Clarkston.

Blessings,
Brandon

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When the desire for relevance goes HORRIBLY wrong...



I'm not really sure what else to say.....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

God and Disney World

I just got back from a week long trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I must confess that I had some reservations about going. Everyone we told about the trip said, "It's gonna be hot, crowded, expensive etc, etc." While it was all of those things, what I didn't expect was that it would be a trip that would open my eyes to so many things about myself and God.

On day one I showed up with everyone in tow ready to buckle down and take one for the team. What I quickly discovered was that this trip wasn't about doing my duty as a dad or husband! It was about my kids and our family getting focused on real life again. Fortunately it only took me 15 minutes of being there to see this and the rest of the trip was incredible.

What does this have to do with God? Well it occurred to me that I've been an adult too long. Too caught up in this world and all it's hustle and glitter and useless preoccupations. I'd forgotten how to dream dreams and how to delight in life, in people, in my family and in God. Somewhere along the way I allowed the world to so consumed me that I became WAY too serious and quite frankly boring. Never having any real quality time for the kids or to hang at home because of all the crap I thought was important. But all of the crap was just that...crap!

To stop and watch my children as their eyes lit up in wonder was transforming to me...you could see their child like heart with all it's pure dreams and wonder...not hindered by the cares and worries of the world. It was both inspiring and convicting at the same time. How many times have I doused the dreams and childlike thoughts of my kids with my all important preoccupations of work or schedules or whatever....not now, no time to just be...gotta take care of this first...gosh, kids just don't understand do they? Actually they do.

Today my pastor shared a story that some of you are probably familiar with-
Joshua Bell is the best of the best violinists in the world. An experiment was done in Washington D.C. where he played in a subway station as rush hour pedestrians walked by. Did they notice this musical genius playing his 3.5 million dollar violin? Nope, too busy. But notice who DID notice something worthy of stopping to listen.
Here's a quote from the article-
"A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.

"I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He's the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.
"There was a musician," Parker says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."


So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan's and Bell's, cutting off her son's line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look. When Parker is told what she walked out on, she laughs.
"Evan is very smart!"

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too."

Maybe it's true with the kingdom of God too. All around us are blessings and opportunities, poetry and music and the workings of God's kingdom. I don't want to miss it for the junk in life. I also don't want to be the one to kill my children's ability to see beauty. How many times have I had one of them by the hand and they want to stop to see something only to pull them away because the movie is going to start...God forbid we miss the previews!!! Or what if we don't get a good seat?!?! After all, when you've seen one flower you've seen them all!

This week I hope I learned something that will stay with me forever. Slow down and take in life rather than running through it. I'm sure I've missed so many things that God had for me because I'm so preoccupied...

Blessings,
Brandon

Monday, June 9, 2008

communion

I've been thinking about communion and what Paul has to say about it in 1Corinthians 11:27-34. I've always been taught, and believed, that people were not to take communion if they were not Christians. This has been of particular concern to me where children are involved. I'm not sure what a child thinks when their parent forbids them to participate in communion for fear of the instructions Paul gave to the church in Corinth. But, like many doctrines I've been taught and just accepted as fact because of who was teaching me, the text from 1Corinthians11 seems to indicate that this is more about an attitude rather than being a believer or not.


27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment.

Isn't communion to be a time of reflection on what Christ has done through the sacrifice of the body and the blood? I don't see how a child, who may not fully understand sin, cannot still reflect on Christ's love for them and partake in communion. Here's another thought. Not sure about other denominations but the Baptists believe in the "age of accountability"...still searching the scriptures for where that comes from and I'm sure that's another thread...But, IF a child is unsaved without an understanding of sin are they not considered innocent if they have yet to reach this "age of accountability"? Then my question would again be, why not let them participate?

I really didn't mean to get caught up in the issue of children being allowed to participate in communion. I mainly was thinking about when any lost person shows up where communion is being given and they are told they should not participate in communion because of what !Cor11 says. Is the instruction from Paul more about our attitude toward Christ's sacrifice and an honest evaluation of ourselves? Could our presumption that we are worthy of partaking in communion because of a profession of faith in 1999 be an example of partaking in an unworthy manner?

My goal in this discussion is to dispel legalism and traditions of man to figure out what God says about this.

Blessings,
Brandon

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking about discipleship

When I first began my walk with Christ I was fortunate to have a man offer to disciple me. I admired Ken for many reasons at the time (and more today) and he has been there for the major milestones in my walk with God. I can still pick up the phone any day or time and he's there. But there has been some distance (geographical) in the past several years and that has taken a toll on our ability to interact as frequently as I would like.

I was talking to our highschool student pastor (Brian) the other day about discipling and being discipled. Over the past several weeks or even months I've really been desiring for God to build another mentor relationship in my life. There have been several times lately that I'll meet with someone older (both in the faith and in years) for fellowship...I think part of me hoped that each of these "meetings" might be the beginning of a new opportunity to receive some good discipling. But to my surprise, it's been me challenging them.

Now I don't say that to build up my (or anyone else's) image of me. I say that to voice the frustration that I'm feeling. I know, I know...it's a blessing to be able to challenge someone else and see them start to ask questions and dig for themselves. And I'm not trying to discount the value and blessing in that. As I write these thoughts out I wonder if I'm just being selfish. Anyway, during my visit with Brian I got the number for a man named Mark at our church who helps in connecting mentor/mentee relationships. Here's the funny thing. I honestly expected to contact Mark, give him my name and vitals and have him introduce me to someone that I would click with...like he's running some kinda' spiritual EHarmony ministry or something.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) Mark said what I knew to be true from trying to coordinate this in our last church. You simply cannot manufacture true, Spirit ordained mentor relationships. Anticlimactic huh? But he's right and I new that before I ever spoke to him. I'm not really sure what's next. I know all the standard answers, pray, fast, go to church functions and build relationships...I wasn't looking for my friendship with Ken when it began, God just did it.

So I'm not really sure there's a point to this post, other than the fact that I've been thinking about discipleship.

Blessings,
Brandon

So it's not a new direction

I was just re-reading my posts and got to the first one about a new direction...now I'm not sure why I deleted the old blog. I still have many of the same questions and issues to think and write through. My faith is the core of who I am and this is just one part of the process of growing and maturing. I suppose this is a disclaimer of sorts. Not that I plan on becoming overly harsh or slanderous...I just plan to be very candid about who I am and where I am in my walk with The Lord and His call on my life to serve Him. Whatever that means.

I'm posting this today because I've come to the realization that I still have issues. If you know me this is no big surprise! I can hear my sis-in-law laughing out, "No kidding!?".

So I guess this is sort of a do over on the idea of a new direction. I'll finish the old direction and then move on from there. Hopefully!

Blessings,
Brandon

Friday, May 23, 2008

Truth in relationship

Alan over at Assembling of the Church posted an excellent article entitled, Running from God.

I didn't grow up in church, but several years in ministry have taught me many of the same lessons about church that the young man in Alan's blog learned.

I particularly identify with this thought-"He was taught that questioning his leaders was the same as questioning God, and disagreeing with his leaders was the same as rebelling against God."

On Wednesday I spoke to a lady from the church we (Heather and I) helped start a few years ago. She was sharing with me about some struggles she's been having in her personal life and her relationship with a family member. During the course of our conversation, she said that she would never question God regarding her life circumstances. Yet, she was okay with telling me how she really felt. As we talked I began to see that for her, to ask God "why" would be unthinkable, as if questioning Him would invoke His wrath against her.

Where does this concept come from? To some degree I believe the church is to blame. During my time in this particular church I had many people come to me asking tough questions about leadership and the direction of the church. But none of these folks ever approached the pastor. I thought that was silly...until I started asking him questions. I wasn't badgering him, just asking the same basic questions the people had been asking me because I really didn't have any good explanations for their concerns. Apparently I was rather naive in my willingness to ask the questions because that's when the honeymoon ended.

I'm not looking to go into every aspect of that though. My point is this. If the leadership of your church isn't open to being questioned or simply asked why we do X,Y or Z. My question is, why?

Blessings,
Brandon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sacrifice for what's real

Matthew 11:2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?"

I remember when I first sensed a call to ministry. One of the first times I prayed about it I remember distinctly telling God that IF He was calling me to ministry, I wanted it to be radical ministry…the last thing the world needs is “just another church”. I’m pretty sure I had no idea what I was asking for. But I think my desire was to be a part of something real, something honest, something true to God’s word, and something that is life changing…a place where real live testimonies of God’s grace and miraculous power worship Him in Spirit and in truth. A church that would be a lighthouse to the community in which God placed it…not because of the steeple, the marquee out front, the facility or the programs, but because the lives of people in that community were impacted and changed by God through His Church.

I would sacrifice much for a church like that. I think John is saying the same thing…”Hey, I’m about to lay it all out here…You are the real One right?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 6 "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

It’s interesting that Jesus answers with scripture but He also tells the disciples to tell John what they themselves have seen and heard. I want to be a part of a church that is firmly grounded in the word of God with a knowledge of the scriptures and discipleship at its core. But that alone is not adequate. I’m not interested in a simply cognitive faith, and that alone will not sell to the next generation or radically change lives either. While it’s vital that we be grounded by the word of God, we must live out His word experientially day by day. Otherwise the bible is just a history book of what God did...not what He does. I would sacrifice much for a church like that, but I’m not interested in just another church…been there, done that.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The price of following God

Ever been in a situation where you know what God has told you to do...or not to do, but in the eyes of your Christian friends or leaders in your church, it was all wrong for you? Today I was reminded of a situation in the past where I was asked to perform a certain "service" in a church. I knew I wasn't supposed to do what was being asked of me, not that anything was wrong with the task itself, I just had more on my plate than I needed and one more thing was just one thing too many. I still prayed about it and really felt that God was leading me to decline the "invitation". There would be no small cost to following God's lead.

Today I was listening to a song called "Signature of Divine (Yahweh)" by the group Needtobreath. There's a line in the song that says, "Take me, and pull me through. Cause I can't move without You. I won't leave you alone, You say. You will be okay..." I was reminded that as long as I seek to follow God's lead and direction in my life He will go before me in all things. And I will be okay.

My declining that "invitation to serve" ultimately ended up with us having to leave that church. It really seemed senseless to me. Until now. Had I simply done what I knew would make a few people happy I probably would not be where I am today...And we are SO blessed by the church that God has led us too. I'm learning so much about God's grace. And I know that God does indeed cause ALL things to work together for good to those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose.

Blessings-
Brandon

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New blog-

I'm starting a new blog...same name but all new in direction and purpose. I just wanted a fresh start on the blogging world and had too much content on the old Eleutheros blog to go through deleting it all. So, here goes a new start.