Wednesday, December 29, 2010

GUESs What?

The Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter has been pretty busy, and the winter's already started! Since Thanksgiving, we've opened up 10 nights-- that means 10 nights below freezing when the city shelters didn't open. We could really use some help-- is there anyone who would be willing to help volunteer other nights this winter? We've been using our volunteers up and it would be great if we could share the load. Lives have been saved! Help us do this more.

On to other Anawim news:

-This January East County Anawim is going to participate in Multnomah County's street count. This is the first year that the street count will actively pursue counting those in East County. If you would like to help fill out surveys in the week of January 26th, let us know!

-This year has been Anawim's best year in providing for the needs of our folks. Everyone who needed a sleeping bag, tarp, tent, gloves and socks-- their needs have been met! It's all because of churches like Mountian View, Abundant Life Church, East County Church of Christ, and many more! Thanks to everyone who gave donations this year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Six Trends in the Modern Church

The Barna Group has established six "megathemes" of the church in 2010. You can read their full article here:

Six Megathemes

I'll list out the themes and give my own commentary on them.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate
I have certainly noticed that the church at large is generally Biblically illiterate, even those who claim to be scholars are so specialized that they can't seem to remember any passage except the one they are working on. How can we even claim to be a social group when we don't know what that grouping is based on? Part of this has to do with our preachers and teachers being more interested in reflecting on the newspaper or Christianity Today rather than God's word. The Bible is used more of a jumping off point or a hammer to drive their own points in. We need to read and teach God's word holistically.

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
The examples the Barna Group give is people not inviting people to church as much or speaking to neighbors about Jesus. I think they may be mistaken about this trend. Rather, I have seen Christians using a different kind of evangelism that is more effective and less content oriented. It is to have relationships with non-Christians and have one's Christian life be a part of life, rather than an evangelistic tool to force down a non-Christian's throat. If there is a less outreach-orientation, it is simply because the old tools don't work and new ones are coming into place. In Portland, the churches have been working with the homeless more and have been doing service at public schools. This IS outreach, but outreach of a kind that shows the gospel rather than just talks about it.

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
I think this has always been evident in American Christianity. American Christians have always had the American worldview take the front seat over Jesus' principles. It has only been relatively recently that the popularity of people like Shane Claiborne has introduced a practical lifestyle of Jesus' principles. This has drawn a following, but still few follow this radical change of life.

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
This is a positive trend and the Barna Group proves that they can see a negative in every possible trend. Look, guys, this IS evangelism and outreach. This is a powerful change in the church. Perhaps the theology of this isn't as defined, but theology doesn't usually change things anyway. The only spiritual principles we need to do good is to love God and love our neighbor.

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
What Barna seems to forget is that there is a biblical tolerance which requires for us not to fight. The church has "fought" too hard in many wrong areas. The focus on creationism, the claim that homosexuality is a sin and insistence on a two-gender marriage is all fine within the church. But we MUST be tolerant of the opposite trends outside the church. We cannot impose church values on an unchurched world. Do we want to go back to the days of Sabbath laws or prohibition. Some would, but it would be in error. The church must learn to allow unbelievers to make their own mistakes in the freedom God has given them. When we don't, then we ARE judgmental and hypocritical and we are rightly condemned by the world. We are supposed to be the light of the world, not the wall which separates the world from being worldly.

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
I think that this is not necessarily a bad trend. Pastors, priests and fundamentalists all have a bad reputation in the world right now. We have made ourselves out to be hypocrites to the world and we have caused the world to reject our proud ways. It is time to be humble, to be quiet and allow our influence to be due to the good works we do and not because of the policy decisions we force, or because of the hateful speech we have carelessly used against politicians and social groups. Let us return to humility, not being silent, but allowing our loving actions to speak more than words. Only if we show the love of Christ will people believe in it again.

Let the church take time to find out who they are, what they really believe in and what is the best way to communicate that belief. We have allowed the pendents and the judgmentalists be our speakers for us. Allow the Christ-like to represent the church again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Got Christmas?

What is Christmas about?
Christmas is about tradition. The things we were raised doing, we want to keep doing. And Christmas is one of the main times of year to keep old traditions alive that have survived at least thirty years or so. What is your Christmas about? Check the items below that apply to you:

 Giving gifts
 Spending time with family
 Lying to children about Santa Claus
 Spending time under the mistletoe
 Setting up decorations
 Getting drunk
 Hopping from free meal to free meal
 Arguing with friends and family
 Catching Miracle on 34th Street for the twentieth time
 Singing a mix of old hymns and silly songs
 Avoiding family
 Eating meat and stuffing until you throw up
 Spending time in the mall with thousands of others
 Listening to Christmas music until you throw up
 Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the fiftieth time
 Receiving gifts
 Returning gifts at the mall with thousands of others

Unfortunately, none of these things get to the heart of Christmas. They are all substitutes of the real focus of the festival. Once you dispense with this list, what is left of your Christmas? Watching re-runs of the Simpsons? Being morose because your Christmas doesn’t match up to your expectations? Or just being depressed in general, for no particular reason?

Christmas seems so important, such a significant part of our year, that it must be about something important. Of course, we all know that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus. But that’s hard for us to really make practical as a holiday or feast. Or even to get our heads around. Jesus was a cool guy. And he taught some good things—most of which we can’t remember right now (too much egg nog, probably). But why is Christmas about him?

The Christmas Story
Well, part of Christmas is the Christmas story. Just in case you weren’t sure, the story isn’t A Christmas Carol. It’s about Jesus. Does Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men ring a bell? Yeah, that’s the Christmas story. Well, what is that story about, anyway? Most of us know about the “peace on earth” part. But how do we get peace on earth?

The interesting thing is that the Christmas story doesn’t give us a strictly religious answer, like what we’d expect from the Bible. Instead, it gives us a political answer. That’s right, the Christmas story is about politics. It is propaganda about the kind of political system it thinks would be best. (Propaganda isn’t always bad, you know—it depends on whether it’s true and beneficial to everyone or not.) And the politics the Christmas story is recommending is to have the right ruler, the right government, and then you can have peace. That’s really not that different from an election year, really.

So what kind of ruler can give us peace? According to the Christmas story, it’s got to be somebody who knows what it’s like to be poor. At the same time, it’s got to be somebody who has authority. It’s got to be somebody who cares about the needs of the poor. But it’s still somebody who could capture the interest of the wise and wealthy. But most of all, it’s somebody who really upsets the status quo politics that makes everyone’s lives miserable. That’s why Jesus is uniquely qualified to be ruler of the world.

Jesus was born in poverty, and lived among people who had next to nothing. He drew to himself shepherds, who were rejected by “proper” society. Jesus’ mother sang a song about unimportant people ruling over everyone else. Yet Jesus drew magi more than a thousand miles—walking—to himself with rich gifts. At the same time, he had the current rival king so upset at him, that the king killed a village of babies and toddlers to get rid of him. At the same time, Jesus grew to establish laws that would benefit everyone that lived within his kingdom.

On top of all this, he received authority. He had the right to be in charge. God told everyone that Jesus was the one in charge, and that they needed to listen to him. Most people didn’t listen to God, but what else is new? Jesus still had the right to rule.

Choose Jesus as King of the World!
So why didn’t Jesus rule? Why isn’t he in charge of the world right now? Because he wants to give everyone a chance to choose him, first. (What other dictator would do that?) You see Christmas isn’t so much a holiday or gift-giving opportunity as an election. Jesus is presenting himself as a candidate for office. He want you to elect him. His platform is peace on earth and benefits for everyone who chooses him. What kind of benefits? Forgiveness of sins. The possibility of both receiving and giving love. Being content with your circumstances. Having your needs met. A life without suffering. Some pretty unbelievable campaign promises—but Jesus has a track record. Thousands, even millions of people have experienced Jesus’ kind of living. And it works, it really can give one peace.

Get Christmas
So have you really got Christmas? It’s simple—is Jesus your king, your Lord? If you live having Jesus as your ruler, then you can experience what Christmas is really about. So how do we do that?

Read the gospels to find out what Jesus is really like. (You can start with any of them—Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Just skip the lists of names in Matthew or Luke). If the reading is too tough, then you can ask a pastor what it means to have Jesus as king (That’s what a pastor does, you know—he reads the Bible to explain it to those of us who can’t make heads or tails of it. If you don’t know a pastor you can call the phone number below.). Look at what Jesus is promising if he does rule. Look at what Jesus is demanding to see if you really want him to rule.

If you are ready, then accept Jesus as your Lord. You can pray to him, “Jesus I choose you as my King and Lord.” Or you can go to a church to get baptized (that’s the initiation ritual). Then you’ll really have Christmas. And a whole lot more.

Get Peace.
Get Jesus.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Debt Kills

Poor countries throughout the world are encouraged to go into debt to the World Bank so that they will be forever servants of the Western banks.

Kids who look to a future of service of the needy must look forward to paying off their educational debts. They must serve the status quo before they serve the poor, and if they have time and wisdom and energy to escape the maze of increasing debt, then with whatever they have left they can serve the needy.

It is a basic requirement of our society to get into debt to banks if they are to buy a house, a car or to take care of a financial emergency, such as getting very sick.

The New Testament has two things to say:
If you loan, don't expect to be repaid. Jesus says in Luke 6, alongside other commands we ignore, that if we loan out money, we are not to expect to be repaid at all, let alone expect interest. This means to me that if any follower of Jesus is employed by a bank, they should get out ASAP, for they are fundamentally an anti-Jesus institution. We shouldn't expect interest, and if we loan out, we shouldn't punish people by taking away their livlihood if they don't pay back. Jesus' command: if you loan money, it's really a gift.

Also, if you seek to be in economic debt for your desires, don't. Paul says, "Owe no one anything, except the debt of love." We aren't to seek debt. This doesn't mean that we can't borrow something and pay it back next month. But we are not to be in permanent debt, it is not to be a lifestyle. And the reason for this is clear-- if we are in financial debt, then it is difficult to pay the love we owe to everyone in need.

What can we do?

Get rid of our credit cards
Pay off whatever debts we have
Christian educators should not put students into debt-- an alternative system for making a fair educational system must be made.
Small, no interest loans must be available for those who are in need.
Debt should be eradicated from godly society

And all believers should encourage the banks to forgive the debt of poor countries.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Crisis of Justice in Pakistan

From Crosswalk's Religion News Summary:

High Court Says Pakistan Cannot Pardon Christian Woman

Despite previous reports, Pakistan's government has yet to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Moreover, Christian Today reports that the country's high court barred any such pardon while the case is pending in the courts. "Since the matter is in the high court, the government cannot now make any move to pardon Bibi," lawyer Allah Bakhsh Leghari told Agence France-Presse. Asia Bibi (also called Asia Noreen) is the first woman to receive the death sentence after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam's prophet Mohammed. Conservative Muslims have threatened anarchy if President Asif Ali Zadari pardons the woman. Human rights group Christian Freedom International warns that Bibi's case could set a precedent. "If Asia is put to death, it could mean a rise in prosecutions of Christians - not just in Pakistan, but also in other nations where Islamic law is enforced," the group warned.

The president already attempted to pardon Asia, and this is the result.

Please pray for Pakistan and for this Christian woman. This will probably lead to a crisis either way.