Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Plea from the Refugee Highway

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings from Nairobi! We hope and pray that this finds you fine and well.

We know that recently, most of you have been hearing about the drought and famine situation in the Horn of Africa - Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Many commentators have even said that what is going on may be the worst since the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-80s. This is perhaps why Ethiopia is the best prepared of the three affected countries.

Somalis are the most hit as they are dealing with serious drought and famine in parts of Southern Somalia, not to mention the raging war that has gone on for 20 years. Sadly, the Islamic group, Al-Shabab, is making the situation worse by banning most relief agencies from operating in the areas they control. They, in particular, banned the agency that could help the most - the World Food Program.

Current estimate is that at least 1,500 Somalis are crossing the border daily into Kenya and Ethiopia. On the Kenyan side, they are going to the Dadaab Refugee Camp located at the eastern end of the country between the Kenya-Somalia border. Before the latest flow of refugees, the refugee camp was home to about 300,000 people. That number is now getting close to half a million.

While Kenya is dealing with the escalating refugee crisis, it's also struggling to take care of it's own citizens, particularly those living in North Eastern Province and parts of North Rift, among them Turkana, Pokot, and Baringo. These are areas that have hardly seen rain this year. Add to this the poor maize crop for the current season and a runaway inflation. In areas like Nairobi and Mombasa, there are items that are rationed. Even if you have the money you are only allowed to buy a maximum of 2 kgs of sugar and 2 kgs of maize flour (the most important staple in Kenyan homes). The prices of basic commodities have ballooned so much in the last two months and even fuel prices (petrol, diesel, and kerosene) have almost doubled. For a nation where more than 55% live below the poverty line, this may also result to increase in the crime rate.

Our Somali brothers and sisters whom we minister to are sad and heartbroken to see what's happening to their homeland and to their people. They are thankful to be alive and far away from the dire situation. Many would like to help, but then they themselves are mostly undocumented and jobless, should be in the camp instead of Nairobi, and are struggling to live from day to day. They all passed through the same refugee camp and so they know and understand the situation there and recognize that it's worse now considering the number of people coming in and the scarce resources. For a country that has been in war for the last two decades, the present situation is just aggravating the already desperate plight of these people.

Our response as a team has been to work alongside partners who are authorized to enter the refugee camp. Due to the issue of security and the fact that there are just too many groups trying to get in to help, the Kenyan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are restricting access to the camp. So, we are currently collecting clothes, shoes, and food supplies that we will be handing over to our partners for transportation to and distribution in the camp to those who need them. 

If you are interested in helping financially towards the famine and refugee situation here in Kenya for the locals and/or the Somalis seeking refuge, you can send your gift to our ministry account with International Teams (IT). Please designate it for the Horn of Africa Relief and IT will get the money to us, which we will be turning over to our partners on the ground.

Thank you. We appreciate all your prayers and support.

Dotun and Ami Modupe
Nairobi Refugee Team, Kenya
Horn of Africa Relief
International Teams
411 W. River Road
Elgin, IL 60123

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Faking the Anointing

J. Lee Grady

Many Christians today can’t distinguish between the sweat of the flesh and the dew of heaven.

Gideon is one of my favorite Bible characters because I relate to his struggle with inferiority. God pulled this runt of a guy out of a hole in the ground and called him to deliver Israel. Gideon’s classic “Who, me?” response reminds me of conversations I’ve had with the Lord. None of us feels qualified to do God’s work, but we know from Gideon’s example that reluctant wimps can be transformed into valiant warriors.

I’ve heard people criticize Gideon because he laid out a fleece of wool on the ground and asked the Lord—not once but twice—to confirm His promise (see Judges 6:36-40). But the Bible doesn’t say God was mad at Gideon for wanting assurance. In fact, God answered Gideon both times with moisture from heaven. The dew was a sign of God’s favor and blessing.

“I love it when the Holy Spirit does miracles. But when people fake the supernatural in order to get an audience response (or a big offering), I run for the door.”

You know how the story ends. Gideon’s impressive army of 22,000 is downsized to a ragtag band of 300, and they carry only trumpets, clay pots and torches into battle. Through their supernatural victory over Midian, God made it clear that His anointing has nothing to do with human ability.

How many of us have learned Gideon’s lesson? Do you trust the Holy Spirit to work in you, or do you lean on the flesh? Do you have the precious dew of His miraculous anointing on your life, or have you manufactured a cheap form of human moisture to do the job?

Many Christians today can’t distinguish between the sweat of the flesh and the dew of heaven, but there is a big difference. As I have prayed for more anointing in my life, I’ve realized that we often mistake fake anointing for the real thing. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The anointing isn’t in numbers. We place so much importance on church size today, yet God doesn’t seem impressed by crowds. I have nothing against megachurches as long as they preach the gospel—and many of them do a better job of it than small churches. But we’re headed for disaster if we think seating capacity alone reflects God’s approval.

The anointing isn’t in eloquence. Some people have an uncanny way with words (including non-Christian motivational speakers), but persuasive skill isn’t the same as spiritual anointing. The dew of heaven is holy. It brings conviction and repentance—not self-awareness and an ego boost. And true preaching does not exalt the preacher—it crucifies him and focuses all attention on the Son of God.

The anointing isn’t in looks. In today’s cool evangelical scene, rock star pastors are expected to be sexy, and everyone in the praise team needs trendy clothes. There’s nothing wrong with dressing to reach your audience, but I hope we don’t think the Holy Spirit is impressed with hipness. The dowdy grandmother wearing orthopedic shoes might have a word from the Lord for the congregation—but will we allow her on the stage?

The anointing isn’t in technology. I love to use digital graphics when preaching. But some of the most anointed meetings I’ve been in were in Third World countries where we didn’t even have reliable electricity, much less computers and projectors. When genuine anointing falls on a preacher, he or she can talk for two hours without having to entertain.

The anointing isn’t in emotionalism. In many churches today, lack of anointing creates a vacuum that is filled by screaming, swooning and other forms of religious theater. It doesn’t matter what is preached—it is “anointed” as long as the preacher punctuates it with enough volume and the people shout back. (One preacher I know had everyone holl\ering while she quoted lines from a BeyoncĂ© song!) Remember: Backslidden Israel shouted so loud that the earth quaked, but by the end of the day the Philistines had plundered them (see 1 Sam. 4:5-11).

The anointing isn’t in contrived manifestations. I love it when the Holy Spirit does miracles. But when people fake the supernatural in order to get an audience response (or a big offering), I run for the door. If we had the fear of God we would never pretend to have the anointing by jerking, slurring words, stretching the facts in a testimony or sprinkling glitter on ourselves.

Charles Spurgeon referred to the Holy Spirit’s anointing as “unction,” and he said of it: “Unction is a thing which you cannot manufacture, and its counterfeits are worse than worthless.” Let’s turn away from every false anointing and ask the God who answered Gideon to soak us with His heavenly power.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Compassion: The Defining Mark of a Christian

We’re a pretty tough culture. Independent. Pioneer-spirited. Entrepreneurial. Capable. Self-reliant. Even as Christians, the independent-mindedness filters into our behavior and spirit. While these qualities may have some good, they have some serious collateral. Unrestrained, these qualities undermine compassion. And compassion is important.

Jesus is compassionate.

The Bible has much to say about Jesus’ compassion:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them” (Matthew 9:36)

“When…he saw a great crowd…he had compassion on them” (Matthew 14:14)

“‘I have compassion on the crowd’” (Matthew 15:32)

Jesus was the quintessential picture of compassion. He came and he served other people (Mark 10:45). He relentlessly healed the sick, fed the hungry, helped the needy, and taught Kingdom living (Matthew 5-7). Compassion, sympathy, care and protection are part of God’s very character as a Father (Psalm 68:5-6; Psalm 103:13). His compassion knows no bounds. But to say merely that Jesus had compassion is missing a bigger point. Jesus’ compassion grew out of his infinite love (1 John 4:8). Scripture tells us that Jesus came to serve, but not just to meet the temporal needs of one group of people in Palestine 2,000 years ago, but to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Thus, the compassion of Jesus was a compassion that transcended His life of thirty-some years, and erupted in a fountain of love and forgiveness for many. Jesus compassion is a saving compassion.

Compassion is at the heart of missional living

Now, we as Christians are to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world (Matthew 28:18-20). What does this mission look like? It is a mission rooted in love, and carried out in obedience. The Bible makes extremely clear that love for God is integrally connected to obedience to God (John 14:23; 1 John 5:3). True love (1 Corinthians 13) includes love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:36-40). Carrying this love to others includes telling them of God, who is True Love. It also includes living out the practical ramifications of the gospel—meeting physical needs, caring for the defenseless, providing for the poor, and rescuing the downtrodden. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what how His compassion reached others. We have been entrusted with this message, which is both truth (proclaimed) and action (practiced) toward others.

Compassion, in all its various forms, is not just the mission of parachurch organizations or charity ministries. Those are wonderful ways to express compassion, and they deserve our support. At the same time, compassion is something that every Christian should exercise.

Compassion is the central and defining mark of a Christian

Because we are believers, we should be compassionate. Paul writes in Colossians 3:12, after discussing glorious doctrine, that we must “put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts.” This is the type of culture that exists when God’s people are living in loving relationships with one another. It looks a lot different from the egocentric independent-spirit that we sometimes slip into, even in our churches and small groups.

We can be compassionate because of the gospel

So, if compassion is so important, how do we conjure up such pathos? How is it that we can be so others-focused and giving? We can be compassionate because of the overwhelming grace of the gospel. Picture yourself as you were before Jesus saved you. You were an active sinner, a God-despiser, a sordid, mess of decrepit humanity. Yet God loved you with an overwhelming love which exploded into your life with revolutionary force. The change in your life is best described as going from death into life. But why did God do such a thing, especially since you were in a position of active defiance to Him?

Because of compassion. Because of love. Because of His amazing unmerited favor (1 John 3:1). God did not do it because of some spark of goodness He saw within you, nor because He anticipated that you would eventually do some good or become good. He chose you because He is love. That’s good news. That’s the gospel. That is the only reason that we can love and serve others in compassion (1 John 4:19).

People everywhere need compassion. There may be people in your home who need compassion. Perhaps because of self-centeredness, you have neglected to be compassionate upon your family members. There are, no doubt, people in your church who need the compassion of a listening ear, or the chance to spend a few minutes in fellowship with an understanding Christian. There are people in your community who need Christian compassion–a homeless man reeling in the addiction of alcohol, a teen girl tempted to sell her body for drug money, a single mom with no income or resources, a coworker with a secret life of sex addiction and bondage to his flesh.

People need Christ’s compassion, and Jesus has sent us as Christians into the world as His ambassadors of that love and compassion. Who can you be compassionate toward today?

Robert Schuller Ousted from Crystal Cathedral

Published July 04, 2011 |

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller has been ousted from Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the Orange County Register reports.

Schuller, 84, who began his ministry in an Orange, Calif., drive-in theater more than 50 years ago, was voted off the board of the Crystal Ministries, which has been plagued by financial problems and familial discord, according to the paper.

Schuller’s son, who was forced from the board three years ago, says his father wanted to enlarge the board, a move that did not sit well with others.

"It's a very sad day and unfortunately, I know how that feels," the younger Schuller said.

According to the paper, the church's financial travails, including a significant drop in donations and dwindling membership, culminated in its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The church still owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors, many of whom are vendors for the cathedral's "Glory of Christmas" pageant. According to a reorganization plan filed by the church last month, they have an offer from Irvine, Calif., developer, Greenlaw Partners LLC, to buy the core buildings for $46 million.

Robert H. Schuller has been at odds with his daughters over how they have chosen to run the church. The cathedral recently switched over from a traditional worship format to a Gospel-style choir -- much to the chagrin of many long-time members. Sheila Schuller Coleman also required choir members to sign a covenant acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The older Schuller publicly lashed out at the contract saying everyone is welcome in the church. Phillip Johnson, the architect who constructed the cathedral's iconic glass sanctuary, was an openly gay man.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Charity – A Foundational Judeo-Christian Value

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

President, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Last weekend we celebrated America's founding, and the precious values of democracy and individual liberty that are embodied by this great country. We did so knowing that we are blessed to live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Of course, the U.S. has its share of poverty — the Bible tells us "There will always be poor people in the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11) — but still, Americans enjoy the lion's share of the world's wealth, as well as access to education, medical care, and other essentials.

Even as we are grateful for these blessings, they also give us a sense of responsibility. Christians and Jews alike know that all good things come from God, and are graciously given to us for our wise use. Our shared Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that God works through us to bless those who are less fortunate.

While Christians have Jesus' words about caring for the poor to guide them, Jews have the mitzvah (good deed) of tzedakah, or charity. The literal translation of tzedakah is "righteousness" — this is because the Bible teaches us that we are considered righteous and holy in God's eyes when we give our time and effort to help those in need. We are guided, too, by the words of the prophet Isaiah: "If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday" (Isaiah 58:10).

In fact, charity is central to Judaism. Jews are among the most generous philanthropists not only to their own charities, but to non-sectarian causes as well, such as universities and hospitals. And even with all of her own needs, Israel, the Jewish state, has sent teams to Japan, New Orleans, Haiti, and other places around the world in the wake of devastating natural disasters. Israel is a country that cares for the needs of others.