Saturday, December 24, 2016

inspiration plus

This guy continues to inspire me more than I can imagine, and more than he'll probably ever know.  A while back I asked my friend JaNae, if she thought that the paper would print a story by Janvier about his thoughts on Christmas in the Congo, in the Refugee Camps, and his thoughts about the way we celebrate Christmas here.
The editorial board liked the idea so much that they assigned the story to JaNae, and also assigned a videographer (Matt Herp)

The result is a wonderful front page story front page story with Matt's video embedded. You can also watch the video on you tube

Sometimes stories like the ones of Janvier and so many other refugees really help me to put things in perspective.

I volunteer with another refugee family.  They were in a camp in Tanzania (Janvier was in a camp in Rwanda). Yesterday we took them presents...they were surprised. Their Christmas celebrations in Africa focused on Church and food, family and friends.

in fact one of the volunteers has been reading them a book about Santa and Jesus. The little kids got excited about Santa, but they all agreed that Santa, snowmen, reindeer, and elves don't really have anything to do with the Christmas season.

We have lots to learn from our new neighbors!

Monday, December 19, 2016

GFA DAY 37 Dayita learns to read

       What happens when you can’t read? If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you don’t know. In this country we promote literacy, there are laws requiring people to go to school, and even if you don’t enjoy curling up by the fire with a novel, one of the classics, in hand, you know how to read. You can read your bible. You know enough to fill out applications for a loan, a job, school, or financial assistance. You can read a newspaper to know what is happening in your community or in the world. You know how to open a bank account and write checks to pay your bills.

       But in many parts of the world learning to read and write is reserved for the rich. Or for men.  An estimated 250 million women in Asia are illiterate. In some cultures, the norm is that men are educated and women are not. That might work as long as the woman marries well, and her husband takes care of here, their children, and the finances. But what about someone like Dayita?

       Her husband worked as a laborer to provide for their family, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet, and so Dayita found a job sewing clothes to supplement her husband’s income. She faithfully deposited her meager wages into the joint bank account, but even with her wages to help, there was still never enough. So she worked harder, but there was still too much month left at the end of the money.  Her husband managed the finances, and so certain things had a priority when it came to being funded. Instead of feeding the family, Dayita’s man was feeding his drinking habits. 

       Finally Dayita was able to open a bank account of her own, but because she couldn’t read or write, she needed help filling out the deposit or withdrawal slips. Luckily for Dayita, there were two women in her village willing to do more than fill out the forms and show her where to make her mark.
      Two women from the local Women’s Fellowship started a literacy class. They teach two-hour sessions, using a bible based curriculum. It took two months for Dayita to learn how to deal with the bank deposit and withdrawal slips.  Now she can do that and more. She can read the names of buses and bus stations, and is learning about the love of Jesus.

       Dayita is one of the lucky ones; her husband supports her efforts to learn to read and write. He no longer has access to her money to support his drinking habit, but Dayita is still allowed to go to school. We may take it for granted, but literacy is truly a precious gift, and the Gospel for Asia ministry of literacy classes for women is truly changing lives. 

Want to help? find out how

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas Hope

What Christmas means to me

I recently saw a post on someone’s social media that said “becoming a Christian ruined Christmas for me.” My first reaction was “that’s pretty harsh”, but I get where that person was coming from. I usually start the Advent season in church by reminding people that a lot of Jewish babies were born 2000 years ago, and while it’s great to celebrate Jesus’ birth, what’s really important is what happened some 30+ years later. Lots of babies were born, lots of men were crucified, but only one was resurrected. Only one died to conquer sin and death.

So if  'ruining Christmas' for us means that all of a sudden (or even gradually) our obsession with lights and presents and parties goes away, then I am definitely there. Instead of focusing on Santa Claus and bonuses, Christians have the opportunity and obligation to focus on the true meaning of the season. And the true reason for the season lies in a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, who went on to turn the world upside down.

Yesterday I had the privilege of being present during the interview of a young man who, after spending 11 years in a refugee camp, was relocated here by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The reporter asked this 21 year old man if his faith had been tested while he was in the camp, and also how his faith had sustained him. He agreed that being in the camp was a test of faith, but how that faith is what kept him going when their limited food rations didn’t last until the end of the month. He talked about a hope of returning to his home land, a nation that his family had been forced to leave because of the terrible circumstances of a civil war. But through it all there was God. He went on to talk about how people here celebrate in so many different ways, but also how so many people leave Jesus out of the celebration.

It sure made me think, and the reporter and I talked a little later about how we whine and complain over some pretty inconsequential things compared to what people in the refugee camps have to endure.

So Christmas for me has to include hope. Hope that Jesus will return soon, because with that second coming, will be the restoration of creation. A hope that I can keep strong in my faith in the face of the trials that each of us faces on a daily basis, and a hope that instead of just putting in time until I finally ‘escape’ this place, that I can ‘live well’: caring for others, and caring for creation.

Hope is such an important part of what Christmas is all about. For liturgical churches, and even some families, who celebrate the Advent Season with the traditional wreath, we even light a candle that represents and signifies ‘Hope’.  I want to include a couple of links in this post: links to trailers of movies that released earlier this year, movies that include the theme of hope, and both of which will be available on DVD next week (Dec 20, 2016).

The first is “Greater”, the story of Brandon Burlsworth a young man who hoped against hope to get a spot on the football team. He finally made it, but it wasn’t easy, and along the way he relied on his faith to maintain his hope, his dream.  It’s a pretty incredible story, and even if you’re not a fan of college football, this faith elements of Brandon’s story make this a must see film. His hopes were realized, not because someone gave him a handout, but because after someone gave him a chance, he did whatever he needed to do to get to the next level.  Watch the trailer for GREATER

And the next is the story of Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, the movie.  If you’ve been to church a few times there’s a good chance that you’ve heard or sung a worship song by this group. Hillsong started small, but has grown and the current estimate is that on any given Sunday, 50 million people in churches around the world are singing their songs. Their hope has always been to engage people in worship in such a way that it brings them closer to God. One person actually says that the songs they write are meant to be sung, not just listened too.  Worship is a verb, an action verb, and the hope of Hillsong is that people will participate in music. This is a humble group whose hope is to serve God. One member points out that they don’t do what they do to get rich, they do it to serve. Watch the trailer for HILLSONG LET HOPE RISE

It’s easy to get distracted and drawn from one’s faith, especially this time of year when there are so many things clamoring for our attention, so many people full of good ideas for fun times (ideas and times that often involve poor choices if we choose to pursue them). My hope is that, in the midst of the fun times of the season, that Jesus will continue to be the center of the celebration.
There’s also a part of the suggestions for this post that is difficult for me. Bloggers are asked, “Was there something you were able to do for someone this Christmas season?”  Short answer Yes. But it was done because of what Jesus did for me, not so that you would know about it.

Suffice to say that I root for the underdog. And that means seeing people, even the most unsavory types, as being children of God, created in His image. Brandon Burlsworth certainly wasn’t an unsavory type, but he sure was an underdog when it came to getting a spot on the team. The homeless in our cities are our neighbors and are worthy of love, dignity, and respect. Immigrants and Refugees are not coming to our country because their lives were so simple, fulfilling and financially beneficial at home. People released from prison have paid their debt to society, they deserve a second chance. People don’t go to 12 step meetings because their lives are perfect. Churches are full of sinners, people who make bad choices, but Jesus died for them, just as he died for me.

My hope for all this Christmas season is that in the midst of whatever trials you might be experiencing that you would still find time to celebrate Jesus. Worship Him, and point other people to Him…He died for them, just as he died for you. 

And in the spirit of Christmas, I Hope to have some 'swag' to give away early next week, compliments of Grace Hill Media.  Like the post for a chance to win.

Friday, December 16, 2016

GFA Challenge Day 36 Bridge of Hope

There’s a lot more to sharing the Love of Jesus than handing someone a bible and encouraging them to have a nice day. It goes even further than sharing the gospel story, leading someone in the sinner’s prayer, and then allowing them to go forth and sin happily ever after.  Sending a check can be a good thing, but people want, and need, to see the love of Jesus demonstrated. And on a regular basis that is happening at Bridge of Hope, a children’s ministry of Gospel for Asia. And amid beautiful scenery well fed, healthy children can experience hope and joy.

Yes they get a bible, yes they hear the gospel, yes there is someone to lead them in a prayer; and all of those things are definitely important, but there is so much more that the Bridge of Hope children need. And it’s provided at the GFA sponsored schools.

They hear about Jesus, but also get healthy meals. They learn the stories of the Bible and they also get much needed medical care.  In areas of the world where poverty is the norm, children are being offered the opportunity to escape that trap, they can break the cycle of inter-generational poverty. They learn about—and learn to have—hope. And the hope they find is a hope that they can share with their entire family.  

                In a perfect world there would be no need for Bridge of Hope Ministries, but perfect is a long ways off, and so we are grateful for this arm of Gospel for Asia and their efforts in this area. Bridge of Hope allows you to partner financially, to sponsor a child, to help break the cycle. Children learn self-esteem, they learn their part in caring for God's creation, and they learn to be productive citizens. When you sponsor a child, your donations go directly to Bridge of Hope programs, you can correspond with your child, and know that your prayers are making a difference.
Read more about this program and the children it supports HERE

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"GREATER"= the story of Brandon Burlsworth releases on DVD Dec 20


The Inspiring True Story of College Football Player Brandon Burlsworth
Starring Chris Severio & Neal McDonough
Debuts on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital December 20

Bonus Materials Include Bloopers, Deleted Scenes & Commentary

First off, let me be clear that I'm not a football fan, I don't follow high school, college or pro football, so several months ago I almost said 'no' when the kind folks at Grace Hill Media offered me the opportunity to watch the movie "Greater"  ahead of its release. But in that invitation there was also enough of a hint that this was more than football involved in this movie. And that element of faith was what drew me in. This is not just a movie about football, there are valuable life and faith lessons to be learned by following Brandon's example.

This film was released earlier this year, and now the DVD of Greater will be released on Dec 20th, one week from today. This would make a great Christmas gift for the college football fan in your life.  Greater is the story of Brandon Burlsworth, who wanted, from a very  early age, to be an Arkansas Razorback.  Of course there was no way this was going to happen, based on his football skills and lack of abilities, but someone saw something in this young man who refused to take 'no' for an answer, and went on to become, according to a press release,  'the greatest walk-on in the history of college football". 
"PLANO, TEXAS. (December 6, 2016) – Brandon Burlsworth, possibly the greatest walk-on in the history of college football, is profiled in the inspiring sports biopic GREATER, debuting on 
Blu-ray, DVD and digital December 20 from Well Go USA Entertainment. Told he wasn't good enough to play Division I football, Burlsworth (played by Chris Severio) took a risk and walked on in 1994, becoming the most respected player in the history of the program. GREATER also stars Neal McDonough (“Arrow”), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy franchise), Michael Parks (Kill Bill, Django Unchained) and Nick Searcy (“Justified”).  Bonus materials include bloopers, deleted scenes and writer & director commentary.

Throughout the film one can't help but be impressed with Burlsworth's dedication. Even when suggestions on how he might improve are made with a hint of sarcasm, he takes them at face value and when he achieves the goal, heads back with that bubbling spirit, that says "OK, I did that, what's next?" Athletic success doesn't come easy for everyone;, but Burlsworth's hard work certainly paid off for him. Hard work just might be the answer when it seems like everything is going against you. Sometimes when you want to quit, that just means you need to ask what needs to be done, and then do that and more. 

His dad is pretty much out of the picture,  lots of brief appearances followed by broken promises, but he has the unwavering support of his mother, and the sometimes reluctant support  of a much older brother.  And a constant faith in God which gets him through heartbreak after heartbreak.  We have a generation of 'fatherless children' growing up, that's not God's plan, but sometimes that obstacle can be overcome. God, our heavenly Father doesn't disappoint like earthly fathers sometimes (often?) do. 

There are many scenes of Brandon on the practice field earlier than any of his team mates, and staying later, but each day starts with him reading the Bible, and every weekend sees him making the drive home from college to accompany his mother to church.  

What makes Brandon's faith stand out is not how he tried to prove that he had it, but the simple fact of how he lived it. As time went on the team members who made fun of him for his glasses, his faith, his weight,  or any other reason, saw how he responded and started following his example.  They started going with him to Bible studies, and their lives changed as a result  of his unwavering faith.

The press release (remember I don't follow football in any form) states:  "Eleven days after being drafted into the NFL and before he was able to sign the contract that would have changed the financial status of his family forever, Brandon died in a car accident on his way home. His death stunned the state: He did everything right, and yet he was snatched away before he and his family could enjoy the fruits of his labor."

But the legacy lives on through the charitable foundations founded in his name. Scholarships are given,  and  walk-ons are much more likely to play ball.

Bring the Kleenex!

By the way, this is a giveaway blog. I'll have some GREATER 'swag', compliments of GraceHill Media. Comment here or on the Face Book to be entered into a random drawing. (please, you need to be in my local area, so I can deliver or you can pick up)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Hillsong – Let Hope Rise releases on DVD and Blu-ray in time for the holidays on December 20 and on Digital HD on December 6.   And I have a copy of the DVD for someone (locally) who is willing to post a link to my post on their FB or other social media site.
.You've heard their songs, and have probably sung them, and now this fall they released a movie about how a group singing in a small church is now an international sensation.

Here’s the Current Press Release:

Acclaimed Worship Film Arrives In Time For Christmas

Available on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on December 20 and Digital HD on December 6

 “A slick, stirring concert film that details the sound and mission of the most impactful group in evangelicalism.”
Joe Coscarelli, New York Times

“It does something Hollywood doesn’t do too often — tugging deeper than heartstrings, appealing to your soul.”  
Caleb Parke, Fox News

“I’ve Never Had An Experience With God In The Movie Theater.  This Movie Changed That.”
Matthew Bell, Daystar

Scottsdale, AZ, November 29, 2016 – This Christmas season, Hillsong – Let Hope Rise, the movie that chronicles the spectacular and miraculous rise to prominence of the Australia-based worship band, Hillsong UNITED, and features powerful performances of their most iconic and beloved hit songs such as, “Oceans”  “Mighty To Save” and “Hosanna”, will be available on Digital HD, On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray™ combo pack.

The film, which opened in theaters across the country this past summer, received positive reviews and feedback from audiences including a high “A” grade from Cinemascore.  It also scored high among Christian film critics and received endorsements from leaders such as Bishop T.D. Jakes (The Potter’s House), Pastor Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church), Rev. Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership), and Pastor Ken Foreman (Cathedral Of Faith).

Hillsong – Let Hope Rise  explores Hillsong’s journey from a tiny church in the Sydney suburbs to an influential international ministry whose songs are sung every Sunday by more than 50 million people across the globe. Their songs have been translated into 90 languages and the band has sold more than 20 million albums. 

From a single church in suburban Sydney, Hillsong Church now extends to cities on five continents (including London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix in the US) with more than 100,000 weekly attendees.  In addition to its local church initiatives, Hillsong partners with international organizations committed to ministry; examples include feeding and educating children in the slums of India, building housing for those living with AIDS in Africa and rescuing victims of human trafficking around the globe.

Recently, Hillsong Church partnered with global faith-and-family broadcast leader Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) to launch Hillsong Channel, a ground-breaking 24-hour television network.  Hillsong Channel is now available in over 77 million U.S. households and features renowned pastors, Christian leaders, and energetic, cutting-edge worship from award-winning singers, songwriters, and musicians.  

“It’s our hope that by sharing an up-close and unvarnished look inside our music and lives, we can shatter pre-conceived notions of what it means to follow Jesus in today’s modern world,” said Brian Houston, founding pastor of Hillsong Church.

Hillsong – Let Hope Rise  is rated PG (for thematic elements) and directed by Michael John Warren (Jay Z’s Fade To Black).  The film is produced by Jonathan Bock, Matt Weaver, Ben Field, and David Higby. 

DVD and Blu-ray™ bonus materials include additional Hillsong favorites filmed live in concert like, “The Stand” and “Wake.”  For additional information here's a link

Friday, December 2, 2016

American First Freedom Where it began and where it will end

            We hear a lot recently about Christians in America being persecuted. But most of that is an exaggeration. A coffee company which has never claimed to be based on and operated by Christian principles not having Christian symbols on its cups at Christmas time is hardly persecution. We also hear a lot about separation of church and state, or that in this age of political correctness and tolerance, that Christianity is the only religion which is not being tolerated. The First Amendment gets talked about a lot. Anyone can express their thoughts about Christianity and it's freedom of speech, but when a Christian dares express Christian belief or worldview, it seems to get labeled as a hate crime.  All in all there is a lot of confusion about what the founding fathers had in mind; and we don't have a time machine, so we can't go back and ask them to explain themselves.  Is this a "Christian nation"? Did they intend freedom of religion, or freedom from it? How involved should the Christina Church or any other religion be involved in setting policy at the state or federal level. How involved should government be in religious affairs. Can or should religious organizations be exempted from certain laws or rules, based on religious beliefs and practices?  And those are just a few of the questions that everyday Americans, on both sides of the issues, are dealing with on a regular basis.
            Are there answers that will satisfy everybody? Absolutely not. But scholars try to clarify the issues. They look at where the freedoms started and where we are now. And they look ahead to what the future holds. The second edition of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty ( Jason G. Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III, B&H Academic, 2016) is a collection of essays by noted voices in the field, addressing the religious First Freedom, where it started, where it is, and where it's heading.

            Duesing's essay on the beginning of religious liberty opens the book, and he opens his writing by addressing Thomas Jefferson's phrase "a wall of separation between church and state." Duesing writes, "And if Jefferson did not have a full grasp of his intended meaning, the subsequent generations have labored to supply it for him--but without unanimity."  And we continue to see that lack of unanimity even, and especially today.
            The book is divided into 3 parts, starting with a historical overview of American politics and religion. Next is "Religious Doctrine 101, covering Christian doctrine of  Religious liberty, religious liberty and the gospel, and religious liberty in the Public Square. The final section addresses contemporary challenges to Religious Liberty.
            Although Parts I and II give a lot of information, for the most part it's historical, and provides some of the necessary background for the challenges discussed in Part III. Challenges including the Sexual Revolution, Christian Universities, and international law, and what is happening in Majority-Muslim countries and how that might affect us here.
            So is the End of Religious Freedom near? Is it already here? The book ends with an answer to that too. The end of Religious Freedom was foretold a couple of thousand years ago. Read the book of Revelation. Read Jesus' promises in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. For the Christian there is hope. But beyond that there is the knowledge that one day religious liberty, religious freedom, freedom of religion and freedom from religion as we know them will all end. Scripture  tells us that one day every knee will bow, and every  tongue confess Jesus as Lord. For some of us that will be a happy, joyous day, for others, it will be the beginning of a new religious regime. Everyone will acknowledge the true religion, the One True God, and His rule will be supreme in the new creation, the New Jerusalem.
            This is a book written by scholars and theologians--noted voices in their field. It is written for what I perceive to be a limited audience. That audience being Theologians, scholars, and a probably highly underrepresented population: Christian leaders. With the laity questioning what is happening to their church and their religion, with a generation of people growing up without church, light on religion, but heavy on opinions fueled by misinformation, leaders need this book.
            My desire is that this information could be presented in a way that would make sense to the members of American congregations, those people who are questioning, but don't have the background or the patience to read scholarly works.

            I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Time To Break Some Rules

        Leonard Sweet is a prolific writer, not one that I always agree with, but he always makes me think. Having said that, in his new book The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World gone Wrong (Tyndale, 2016) I find very little to disagree with. And much to think about.

         Jesus and 'bad'  are not words that generally go together in a Christian conversation. From a 21st century Christian perspective, Jesus is good. One hundred percent good, until we look at the pre-resurrection Jesus in the context of the society in which He lived. Then we notice a disconnect.
      And it's a good thing that as Christ followers we notice that disconnect. Jesus did not come to maintain the status quo. He came to turn the world upside down. He is the Messiah that came to judge, and to lift people out of oppression, and as he broke many of the cultural and societal rules of His day, we see that he was pointing to the time when the Kingdom of God would truly be established, and the perfection of creation would be restored.

                The 15 chapters of this easy to read book are stand alone, but also part of a cohesive whole.  Each chapter recounts some of the events found in scripture, and the rule that Jesus broke in that case. BUT it goes beyond breaking rules. Each rule that Jesus broke was a rule made by man, that kept people from their intended life as a child of God. As Jesus broke the rules, he showed his followers how to live in such a way that their actions would be God-honoring, instead of self-serving.

                All of us probably need to look at some of the rules that we're following, and try to understand how by breaking them we could help make the world a better place. More like God intended it to be.

                I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for posting a review.