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Archive for April 2011

Want to Hear a Great Story?

This week at Intersections we worked on the power of stories. Stories are so important in communication because everyone is drawn to a story like a moth to a flame. Here’s one of my all-time favorite stories … from my own childhood:

When I was a boy of about 10 years old I survived a horrific accident in the barn on the farm I grew up on.

For a family of six boys growing up on a farm, an indoor basketball venue was priceless. Half of our old barn was a covered concrete floor with a backboard and a hoop hanging down from the ceiling. Perfect for two on two or three on three. Perfect, except for the occasional uneven cracks in the rough concrete floor that could swipe the ball faster than the guy guarding you!

One night my older brothers had a couple of friends over for a three on three that I was too little to participate in. I got to watch from the safety of a corner near the light switch (you can guess what your little brother would like doing with that light switch during a night game). The only serious game-stopper in our venue was a square doorway located about 12 feet above the playing surface not too far from the rim. Now and then the ball would take a bounce, fly through the doorway and land in the hay loft. “Timmy – how about you run around and get that for us!”

I loved it. I would scramble over to another doorway, up a ladder and retrieve the basketball. Instead of bringing the ball down, it was a thrill to toss it back out through the square doorway (about 3 foot by 3 foot) toward the rim. You could easily bank it in or go for “nothin but net”. I shoved the ball through the opening, yelling “Here it comes” and for some reason THAT night I simultaneously tripped on a board in the hay loft and came flying out of the doorway head-first right after the basketball.

This is the part of the story NONE of my 5 brothers ever breathed a word of to my parents till I was in college.

One of my big brother’s friends – Earl Osborn by name – turned his head toward the black doorway as the basketball plunged out with me chasing it headfirst! Earl was a fantastic athlete! He turned around in time to snatch me out of mid-air stopping my fall with my head about a foot away from the rough concrete floor! He turned me right side up, sat me on my feet and said something that made all my brothers laugh really, really hard (gotta love a body builder with a colorful vocabulary). There’s a picture of salvation! A lightning fast strong-man. In just the right place. At just the right time. If I were even alive at all – my life would be radically different today if it weren’t for Earl Osborn. I get the feeling all the time that God’s done that kind of thing for me more than once and I haven’t even noticed it.

In the posts that follow, I’ll be introducing you to a number of people from the Intersections class. I’ve asked them to tell their stories of encountering God. The assignment was to keep it very short (100 words if possible). I’ll pass some of them on to you as I get them back. If you’ve got a great story, send it to me!

Double-Your-Impact update from China

I wanted to give you an update on the training program that took place in China during the week of April 4th with our Global Partners in Hope (GPiH) and Crown College partnership.

The first class went well with 50 students attending and it was taught by Crown College President Rick Mann (pictured teaching below). The students were mostly young professionals (20-30 year olds) with a mix of “seminary type” and “business type”, which is a good combination for China, since some who attend lead urban professional faith communities but are also bi-vocational. As you can see in the photo below, there was a good mixture of men and women attending. The class seem to gain “energy” near the end of the week with a full day on Saturday. The students enjoyed the class so much they have decided to continue meeting outside of class in order to dig into the material. GPiH staff members will facilitate these monthly discussions.

The report from GPiH is that they will need to make some adjustments, but overall it was a good start. Dr. Mann did a great job and they felt the delivery of the material was right on target with the first class. The students are now excited about the second class, which will be taught in June.

Pastor Tim Perry from CCC will be part of the teaching team that will lead the classes in June. They will offer both this first class but also add a new class on a different topic so they hope to have over 100 leaders between those two classes.

Ruby Bridges Extended Play

Ruby Bridges is one of the great stories of the civil rights movement. We told a small part of her story during our Easter messages yesterday. Here is the extended play version, as published in Guideposts magazine in 2000.

I was born in Mississippi in 1954, the oldest child of Abon and Lucille Bridges. That year the United States handed down its landmark decision ordering the integration of public schools. Not that I knew anything about school at the time. What I knew and loved was growing up on the farm my paternal grandparents sharecropped.

It was a very hard life, though. My parents heard there were better opportunities in the city. We moved to New Orleans, where my father found work as a service station attendant, and my mother took night jobs to help support our growing family.

As I got a bit older, my job was to keep an eye on my younger brothers and sister, which wasn’t too difficult. Except for church and the long walk to the all-black school where I went to kindergarten, our world didn’t extend beyond our block. But that was all about to change.

Under federal court order, New Orleans public schools were finally forced to desegregate. In the spring of 1960 I took a test, along with other black kindergarteners in the city, to see who would go to an integrated school come September. That summer my parents learned I’d passed the test and had been selected to start first grade at William Frantz Public School.

My mother was all for it. My father wasn’t. “We’re just asking for trouble,” he said. He thought things weren’t going to change, and blacks and whites would never be treated as equals. Mama thought I would have an opportunity to get a better education if I went to the new school – and a chance for a good job later in life. My parents argued about it and prayed about it. Eventually my mother convinced my father that despite the risks, they had to take this step forward, not just for their own children, but for all black children.

A federal judge decreed that Monday, November 14, 1960 would be the day black children in New Orleans would go to school with white children. There were six of us chosen to integrate the city’s public school system. Two decided to stay in their old schools. The other three were assigned to McDonough. I would be going to William Frantz alone.

The morning of November 14 federal marshals drove my mother and me the five blocks to William Frantz. In the car one of the men explained that when we arrived at the school two marshals would walk in front of us an two behind, so we’d be protected on both sides.

That reminded me of what Mama had taught us about God, that he is always there to protect us. “Ruby Nell,” she said as we pulled up to my new school, “don’t be afraid. There might be some people upset outside, but I’ll be with you.”

Sure enough, people shouted and shook their fist when we got out of the car, but to me it wasn’t any noisier than Mardi Gras, I held my mother’s hand and followed the marshals through the crowd, up the steps into the school.

We spent that whole day sitting in the principal’s office. Through the window, I saw white parents pointing at us and yelling, then rushing their children out of the school. In the uproar I never got to my classroom.

The marshals drove my mother and me to school again the next day. I tried not to pay attention to the mob. Someone had a black doll in a coffin, and that scared me more than the nasty things people screamed at us.

A young white woman met us inside the building. She smiled at me. “Good morning, Ruby Nell,” she said, just like Mama except with what I later learned was a Boston accent. “Welcome, I’m your new teacher, Mrs. Henry.” She seemed nice, but I wasn’t sure how to feel about her. I’d never been taught by a white teacher before.

Mrs. Henry took my mother and me to her second-floor classroom. All the desk were empty and she asked me to choose a seat. I picked one up front, and Mrs. Henry started teaching me the letters of the alphabet.

The next morning my mother told me she couldn’t go to school with me. She had to work and look after my brothers and sister. “The marshals will take good car of you, Ruby Nell,” Mama assured me. “Remember, if you get afraid, say your prayers. You can pray to God anytime, anywhere. He will always hear you.”

That was how I started praying on the way to school. The things people yelled at me didn’t seem to touch me. Prayer was my protection. After walking up the steps past the angry crowd, though, I was glad to see Mrs. Henry. She gave me a hug, and she sat right by my side instead of at the big teacher’s desk in the front of the room. Day after day, it was just Mrs. Henry and me, working on my lessons.

Militant segregationists, as the news called them, took to the streets in protest, and riots erupted all over the city. My parents shielded me as best they could, but I knew problems had come to our family because I was going to the white school. My father was fired from his job. The white owners of a grocery store told us not to shop there anymore. Even my grandparents in Mississippi suffered. The owner of the land they’d sharecropped for 25 years said everyone knew it was their granddaughter causing trouble in New Orleans, and asked them to move.

At the same time, there were a few white families who braved the protests and kept their children in school. But they weren’t in my class, so I didn’t see them. People from around the country who’d heard about me on the news sent letters and donations. A neighbor gave my dad a job painting houses. Other folks baby-sat for us, watched our house to keep away troublemakers, even walked behind the marshal’s car on my way to school. My family couldn’t have made it without our friends’ and neighbors’ help.

And me, I couldn’t have gotten through that year without Mrs. Henry. Sitting next to her in our classroom, just the two of us, I was able to forget the world outside. She made school fun. We did everything together. I couldn’t go out in the schoolyard for recess, so right in that room we played games and for exercise we did jumping jacks to music.

I remember her explaining integration to me and why some people were against it. “It’s not easy for people to change once they have gotten used to living a certain way,” Mrs. Henry said. “Some of them don’t know any better and they’re afraid. But not everyone is like that.”

Even though I was only six, I knew what she meant. The people I passed every morning as I walked up the schools steps were full of hate. They were white, but so was my teacher, who couldn’t have been more different from them. She was one of the most loving people I had ever known. The greatest lesson I learned that year in Mrs. Henry’s class was the lesson Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tried to teach us all. Never judge people by the color of their skin. God makes each of us unique in ways that go much deeper. From her window, Mrs. Henry always watched me walk into school. One morning when I got to our classroom, she said she’d been surprised to see me talk to the mob. “I saw your lips moving,” she said, “but I couldn’t make out what you were saying to those people.”

I wasn’t talking to them,” I told her. “I was praying for them.” Usually I prayed in the car on the way to school, but that day I’d forgotten until I was in the crowd. Please be with me, I’d asked God, and be with those people too. Forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.

“Ruby Nell, you are truly someone special,” Mrs. Henry whispered, giving me an even bigger hug than usual. She had this look on her face like my mother would get when I’d done something to make her proud.

Another person who helped me was Dr. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist who happened to see me being escorted through the crowd outside my school. Dr. Coles volunteered to work with me through this ordeal. Soon he was coming to our house every week to talk with me about how I was doing in school.

Really, I was doing fine. I was always with people who wanted the best for me: my family, friends, and in school, my teacher. The more time I spent with Mrs. Henry, the more I grew to love her. I wanted to be like her. Soon, without realizing it, I had picked up her Boston accent.

Neither of us missed a single day of school that year. The crowd outside dwindled to just a few protestors, and before I knew it, it was June. For me, first grade ended much more quietly than it began. I said good-bye to Mrs. Henry, fully expecting her to be my teacher again in the fall.

But when I went back to school in September, everything was different. There were no marshals, no protestors. There were other kids – even some other black students – in my second-grade class. And Mrs. Henry was gone. I was devastated. Years later I found out she hadn’t been invited to return to William Frantz, and she and her husband had moved back to Boston. It was almost as if that first year of school integration had never happened. No one talked about it. Everyone seemed to have put that difficult time behind them.

After a while, I did the same. I finished grade school at William Frantz and graduated from an integrated high school, went to business school and studied travel and tourism. For 15 years I worked as a travel agent. Eventually I married and threw myself into raising four sons in the city I grew up in.

I didn’t give much thought to the events of my childhood until my youngest brother died in 1993. For a time, I looked after his daughters. They happened to be students at William Frantz, and when I took them there every morning, I was literally walking into my past, into the same school that I’d help integrate years earlier.

I began volunteering three days a week at William Frantz, working as a liaison between parents and the school. Still, I had the feeling God had brought me back in touch with my past for something beyond that. I struggled with it for a while. Finally I got on my knees and prayed, Lord, whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, you’ll have to show me.

Not long after that, a reporter called the school. The psychiatrist Robert Coles had written a children’s book, The Story of Ruby Bridges; now everyone wanted to know what had happened to the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting (See Picture Gallery) that had appeared in Look magazine. No one expected to find me back at William Frantz. Dr. Coles had often written about me, but this was the first book intended for children. To me it was God’s way of keeping my story alive until I was able to tell it myself.

One of the best parts of the story is that I was finally reunited with my favorite teacher, Barbara Henry. She reached me through the publisher of Dr. Coles’s book, and in 1995 we saw each other in person for the first time in more than three decades. The second she laid eyes on me, she cried, “Ruby Nell!” No one had called me that since I was a little girl. Then we were hugging each other, just like we used to every morning in first grade.

I didn’t realize how much I had picked up from Mrs. Henry (I still have a hard time calling her anything else) – not only her Boston accent, but her mannerism too, such as how she tilts her head and gestures her hands when she talks. She showed me a tiny, dog-eared photo of me with my front teeth missing that she’d kept all these years. “I used to look at that picture and wonder how you were,” she said. “I told my kids about you so often you were like part of my family.”

We have stayed a part of each other’s lives ever since. It turns out that because of what I went through on the front lines of the battle for school integration, people recognize my name and are eager to hear what I have to say about racism and education today. I speak to groups around the country, and when I visit schools, Mrs. Henry often comes with me. We tell kids our story and talk about the lessons of the past and how we can still learn from them today – especially that every child is a unique human being fashioned by God.

I tell them that another important thing I learned in first grade is that schools can be a place to bring people together – kids of all races and backgrounds. That’s the work I focus on now, connecting our children through their schools. It’s my way of continuing what God set in motion 40 years ago when he led me up the steps of William Frantz Public School and into a new world with my teacher, Mrs. Henry – a world that under his protection has reached for beyond just the two of us in that classroom.

~ Ruby Bridges

As published in Guideposts

March 2000

So How do we Reach Muslims?

Last Tuesday night at Intersections this question came up. Here are a couple of thoughts that I shared with the class as well as a few other resources you might find helpful.

  1. Probably the most important thing given our climate of religious pluralism is for Christians to maintain an absolutely rock-solid commitment to the uniqueness and sufficiency of Jesus. While it may not be the first thing we SAY to our Muslim friends, we can’t fudge on Jesus being God’s son, Jesus being the only way to God, nor Yahweh’s identity (Yahweh is NOT Allah). We don’t start here in our conversations, but if Christians aren’t committed to these essentials internally, our external, verbal witness will eventually cave in. We’ll have nothing unique to offer a committed Muslim!
  2. As suggested in class hospitality and love are also absolutely essential. Much more than with most middle-upper class majority culture Americans, Muslims, especially those of Arabic cultural background, SHOWING the love of Jesus with our life, our words, our kindness, our listening ear, our sacrificial acts of love will speak louder than our apologetics.
  3. We must show people Jesus. In class I suggested that Mark’s gospel would be a good place to start as compared to John. John’s Gospel is so up-front about Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Mark’s Gospel builds that case differently and more gradually. Read Mark first with a Muslim friend.
  4. I wish I would have mentioned these resources in class. You can pick them up at a bookstore or order them online:

The Costly Call by Emir Fethi Caner – a terrific little book describing the stories of 20 different Muslims who converted to Christianity. Read it looking for as many common denominators as you can in their experiences. It is such an inspiring read! It will recalibrate every expectation you’ve ever had of sharing your faith with a Muslim.

Another brief but power-packed book here that I’d recommend you getting a hold of:

Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammed? by Timothy George – The best, briefest little book I’ve seen that truthfully compares Islam to Christianity. I gave this book to a friend who was in a pretty deep relationship with a Muslim man. It convinced her that NO Islam and Christianity are NOT headed in the same direction. It helped her keep her relationship with a possible Muslim boyfriend from getting more and more serious while ignoring the differences between the two faiths. I highly, highly recommend it! It’s a great answer to the challenge of religious pluralism seduction in the realm of Christianity and Islam.

Another place to touch base on the Islam issue is on our media page. These two messages from the worship center as well as Gathering would be very insightful! Check them out if you’ve got a minute!

Christianity versus Islam (video)

Follow-up Interview at Gathering (audio)

Thanks to all 208 of you who are now in Intersections with me and Mark Ashton. We are having a blast! If you’re curious about Intersections check out some previous posts here on the Spiritual Discovery Blog.

Bridge Review

I hope that you enjoyed learning to share the Bridge Diagram this week as we wrapped up our “Word on the Street” series on Sunday! It is a great tool that can help you explain the main message of the Christian faith.

One of the amazing guys in our church is Paul Schlieker. He has designed a website that helps people to study the Bible, prepare Bible Study lessons and to share their faith. He has used ‘the bridge’ for many years and has a page that encapsulates the illustration very well. If you’d like a review… or if you just missed this Sunday, check out the link below. It will help you to understand and explain the Christian message.

http://www.bible-study-lesson-plans.com/missing-inside.html

Celebration Week!

This is the week that changed the world. Jesus came into his final moments not on a big White Horse in a parade –as he deserved – but on the back of a donkey, just as the prophets said. He was confronted, forced to go through a mockery of a trial, critiqued, found innocent, but sentenced anyway. After the beatings, they crucified him, just as the prophets said.

While hanging on the cross, he cried out “It is finished!” and breathed his last. What was finished? His mission, his sacrifice, his journey to planet earth, his humanity… it was finished in that moment. By Jesus suffering, he identified with us in our pain – just as the prophets said. By Jesus death, our load of moral garbage was paid for. No longer would we have to carry guilt or offer sacrifices. We could be free once and for all – just like the prophets said.

All of world history came to a semi-climax in this moment. The climax of pardon and freedom and eternal joy came to humanity. The justice and mercy of God met in a single moment at the cross – just as the prophets said.

But it was only the semi-climax because there was the sadness of a dead messiah mixed in with the payment for our sins. Is this really how it ends? Does death beat Jesus? No way!

The ultimate climax came on Sunday morning when the women, then the disciples found an empty tomb with a hollowed out burial cloth. Jesus had risen! He had risen indeed! Now we are free from sin AND death! Jesus made a way to be reconciled to God and made good on his promises of eternal life – just as the prophets said. It starts now, and we celebrate it with all we have!

We will see you this week to celebrate his death and resurrection. Good Friday services will be an artistic and musical montage that helps us remember the greatest sacrifice in history on our behalf. Friday at 7pm in the Old Mill Worship center.

We will have nine Easter services this year! Our seven normal services will take place. 9am and 10:45 at our Sarpy campus, Access and the Worship Center. Our Douglas County Jail location will have their very first CCC Easter service. In addition, we will have a 6pm service Saturday night in Access, identical to the Sunday services. Sunday morning at 7am, there will be a ‘sunrise’ service in the worship center.

We expect thousands of visitors and guests this weekend. If you are a CCC regular, would you consider coming to the Saturday evening or sunrise services in order to make room for our visitors to get a great experience being exposed to the power of the resurrection?

I pray that this week you are able to focus on the power of Jesus and all he has accomplished to carry his revolutionary kingdom to our lives!

Alyssa's Poem

Sunday morning, Alyssa Hicke, age 13, gave me this poem. She told me that she trusted Christ with her heart and her future about 3-4 weeks ago and wrote this poem as she thought about all Jesus did for her. I thought you might like it.

On the peak of Calvary hill, You shall wait you shall be still

Still to wonder, still to find, to find the one who lived and died

He lived and died to give us hope, He’d watched us wander, watched us cope

Greater find and tragic loss, we just couldn’t pay the cost

The cost was that of the divine, we the branches, he the vine

Us humans here, we’re not too smart, He wanted us to see his heart

One in mind, pure like a dove, The Father want to share his love

Jerusalem, at Zion’s mount, He’ll stand there, but not without

Those of us close by his side, We who knew why he had died.

He was there upon the cross, He gave the gift, paid for the loss

He waited for the Father’s sign, Though tortured body, he never whined

Until he said that it is done, Our souls were saved, teh fight was won

The price of sin, the debe was paid, When Jesus in the tomb was laid

Our God’s own son, he died for us, While we stood there, consumed by lust

We were there that fateful night, Treason at its highest height

Shouted to Pilate, kill him now, Let murderers go with joyous sound

Cut dogwood tree, made crown of thorns, Heaven’s gate closed with sound of horns

Pilate knew the truth and told the lie, Our blood-soaked hearts were satisfied

Iron nails and spear thrust through, Despite our thoughts we weren’t true

We didn’t care, it was our sin, That held him there, just like the wind

I know now, and you should too, Jesus and God alone are true.

Way to go Alyssa! You are the dream come true!

Intersections

Intersections is underway! 187 strong! A veritable Gospel army in the making – I’m absolutely thrilled that so many people would want to invest time and effort into sharing the good news. This group of 187 people have a total of 935 Five by Five friends! Nearly a thousand people have been prayed for this week. What do you think the chances are of some significant conversation happening in that tangle of spiritual passion?

Last Tuesday we looked at two very simple ideas – one of which is represented in the chart above. Intersections. It’s all about intersecting relationships, not so much about sales techniques. God is already deep in the business of loving people and reaching them with his reconciling grace. We merely JOIN GOD in what he’s doing. Sharing our faith is simple – stay connected in our relationship with God, make ourselves available to be moved by God and watch for ways to join what he’s already doing in others.

Second thing we talked about was Questions. Jesus used questions to move conversations to spiritually significant encounters with people. We can do the same. Tuesday night we’ll see how many people have been using the power of asking questions in reaching out to people. If you hang out in the Gospels you’ll learn from the master himself why Jesus used questions.

Jesus used questions to:

  1. Keep the CONVERSATION going further
  2. Make a point without being JUDGMENTAL
  3. Give others the opportunity to DISCOVER the truth for themselves
  4. NAVIGATE conflict and misunderstanding.
  5. Cause others to THINK about what they really believe.

Keep checking in with the blog here to keep up with what God is doing. We’ll try to get some stories out to you about what people are learning.

So How Do you Decide Legend from History?

New Testament Scholars talk about Criteria of Authenticity when they evaluate documents from antiquity. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary identifies the following four criteria:

  • Multiple Attestation – information gleaned from more than one source is more highly plausible than information from just one unknown source. With the New Testament documents once can easily identify at least four sources – a source Mark used in writing his material referred to as Q, material unique to Luke’s gospel (L), material unique to Matthew’s gospel (M) and John.
  • Criterion of Cultural /Linguistic influences. If the New Testament for example gives us an account that reflects not only credible Greek language use, but the kind of style that would indicate the original sources being Semetic in origin. In other words the New Testament was originally written in Greek, but all of the oral tradition and eye-witness testimonies would have been from those speaking Hebrew and Aramaic. This would leave some linguistic fingerprints that could help confirm or deny authenticity.
  • Criterion of Dissimilarity or Criterion of Embarrassment. When something in an account is counter intuitive it tends to lend credibility to the text. Peter’s blunders in denying Christ appearing in Mark’s gospel account (based largely on Peter’s eye-witness testimony) is a fine example. Why would anyone wishing to invent legend go out of their way to make up embarrassing material.
  • Criterion of Coherence. Are the details as they are given us consistent with the essential claims of the texts themselves. Do the details of how Jesus was arrested, tried and executed make sense given the identity claims Jesus was making?

Last week we scoured Luke’s ending – chapters 22-24. Sometime give the whole section a read if you can.

Based on the details of the account in light of the above criteria of authenticity, here are 7 conclusions we arrived at during our study last week in Gathering:

1. The passion narrative of Jesus is more focused on his PURPOSE for dying than legendary aspects of creating a religious following.

2. The presence of divine power in the events that take place in no way serves the interests of human POLITICS and JUSTICE.

3. There are no human actors in the events of Luke 22-24 who fully understand the REASONS for the death of Jesus: –Pilate –Religious rulers / teachers of the law –Peter/disciples

4. Jesus’ post-resurrection concerns are not focused on RETRIBUTION for the injustices of his death.

5. Jesus uses the AUTHORITY of SCRIPTURE to speak to the confusion and fears of the disciples.

6. The MIRACULOUS POWER of the resurrection itself would be lost on the disciples if they couldn’t understand the reasons for Jesus’ death.

7. No GUARANTEES are obvious everywhere in the story:

–Predictions didn’t automatically lead to UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE

–Eye witness didn’t automatically lead to BELIEF

–Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of his TRAINING of the disciples (Acts 1:3).

God loves Africa

If you read my blog you know that a huge sea container sent from CCC full of medical equipment, medical supplies, and other stuff arrived at the hospital in Mali a couple weeks ago.

Today I just received this encouraging email from the hospital’s Medical Director and primary physician, Dr. Dan Nesselroade.

I just had one of those surreal, God loves Africa moments today. Having just realized that we were flat out of fetal monitor paper in labor and delivery, Ed calls me and asks if I can come over and look at a box of stuff that came on the CCC container. Inside was about a year’s worth of fetal monitoring paper that corresponds to the machines we are using (which in itself is no small miracle). God is a genius. Thanks for all you are doing to push us forward. Please carry my thankful heart to anyone who will listen.

We just do what we can, but God does the real work!