Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

The following article is shared by our dear friend, Shane Claiborne. Shane is an author and activist with Red Letter Christians. We are encouraged by his words and pray that you will be, too. Let us accept the invitation to honestly follow Jesus and allow Him to radically use us for His Kingdom.

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.
Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.
The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.
Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.
The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.
At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.
Now for the good news.
I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)
The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven… but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for] the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.
One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.
It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.
After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” And we wonder what got him killed?
I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)
In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.
It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.
In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.
Your brother,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Junior Higher Reflects on Detroit Mission Trip

My week in Detroit didn't just change my perspective on the city, but on everywhere I have gone since then. What impacted me the most wasn't surprisingly the actual work itself, but the time in between - the prayer tour and walk, the morning "devotion", the debriefing, and talking with one of the staff of the CDC fishery and gardens, Anthony. Overall I learned to see things in a different way - for example, division in neighborhoods (how the newcomers pushed people who had lived there for years out of the way before even taking time to know their name). And how things can be changed in simple ways - a soccer program that tells impoverished youth about Christ, a couple moving in and redoing houses in a rundown neighborhood, artists coming together to make something abandoned beautiful again, people bringing the community together, CDC's gardens that provide produce, and a man who moved back to his old violent stricken neighborhood and started putting junk sculptures together and changing the feel and culture of an entire community. 

I, myself, took from the experience that I don't have to solve world hunger to represent and show the world God, but if I could show kindness and be different and make people wonder "what is it about her" then I will have had a great impact on those I come in contact with. Going on this trip was an amazing, eye-opening experience, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for Gina and our CSM host, Maggie, and everyone on this trip, because this experience would never have been the same without them. I learned many life lessons this week and have made many memories I won't ever forget and I can confidently say if I wasn't going to graduate out of our youth group this year I would be the first one to turn in my application next year. I hope that all grades coming through this youth group get the chance to have this experience because I don't think anyone who went on the trip came out the same.

- 8th grade CSM trip participant

Had an awesome experience serving with CSM? Tell us about it!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Interrupted: Brad Edwards

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry".  If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to alumni@csm.org!

There is a season and a time for everything under the sun. This is a fundamental, beautiful, simple, and humbling truth that believers respond to in obedience. God’s timing is perfect for when He chooses to interrupt our plans. Brad Edwards experienced this at a very young age, during a season of his life in which most people have a swirling fury of voices telling them whom to be, the loudest of which is often their own, and the softest of which is sometimes God’s. After God grabbed Brad’s attention in the right season, his whole life trajectory was altered. This is the story of Brad Edwards’ life interrupted.

Growing up in rural Colorado, Brad had little exposure to the unique issues faced by urban communities. He would periodically take trips to Denver, but that was about it. His first experience with CSM came in 1995 during the summer before his sophomore year of high school. High school is a time during which many search with hysterical energy for identity and grapple until they find sure footing in the rocky ascent toward becoming. It should come as no surprise, then,  that during that summer Brad was thinking a lot about his future. It was with this mindset that he entered a trip to CSM Los Angeles with his high school youth group. This was Brad’s first real exposure to urban ministry, and he was struck with the level of discipleship that was catalyzed by this experience. He saw that exposing the youth group to this new culture, which was far out of their comfort zone, and making them process and come to terms with all the things they were experiencing was a huge source of discipleship and spiritual growth for both him and his companions. He was encouraged by what God was already doing through the various ministries that were planted in Los Angeles and that his group simply was blessed to be able to join with for a week. He was also struck with what God could do in the world even through youth. He began to consider entering vocational ministry. As he served the following summer in Mexico, he felt a palpable call from God to vocational ministry.

All of this led Brad to attain a degree in Youth Ministry from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. In 2000, during the summer after his sophomore year, he took a job as a City Host for CSM in Houston. The method and philosophy of ministry God was carrying out through CSM had resonated with Brad, influencing his own philosophy of ministry. When Brad graduated college, he took a job at a church plant called Emmaus Road Community Church in Laramie, Wyoming, where he essentially built the youth ministry up from the ground. By the summer of 2004, he had built up a core group of youth, and he was faithful to what the Lord had taught him through going on a CSM trip and serving as a city host; he brought them on a trip to CSM Chicago, and it was a wonderful growing experience. He had seen through personal experience that missions trips provide a unique opportunity for spiritual growth, for discipleship, and for growth as a youth group community. CSM trips, which carried a unique focus on allowing youth to see and step into the ways God was already moving in the city, and which had so profoundly impacted Brad’s personal philosophy of ministry in the past, became an important part of the discipleship program he implemented as a youth pastor. God had truly used CSM to greatly change Brad’s heart for ministry, and Brad was responding faithfully by giving his youth the same experience in order to change hearts.

From 2005 to 2008, Brad attended Denver Seminary, during which time he had stints serving at both a suburban church plant and a mega church. In both contexts, he served in young adult ministry, and even here he applied CSM’s focus on providing growth opportunities by immersing people in cultures and contexts different from their own and allowing them to see how God was moving just as strongly in those contexts. He would lead the young adults in service opportunities that, similarly to CSM, focused on urban immersion, and, ever constant, God used these experiences to bring about growth and heart change.
After graduating from Denver Seminary, God brought Brad and his wife full circle back to Siloam Springs to minister in the very place he had been taught how to do so. Brad became a youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church, where he still works today. Brad was again tasked by God with building the youth at First Presbyterian Church into a much more established group. Once he reached that point with his students, he again began implementing CSM as a part of the discipleship program, taking his students on a trip to CSM Houston in the summer of 2011 and then on a trip to CSM Chicago this past summer of 2015, again seeing tremendous growth as a fruit.

CSM was a foundational part of God’s efforts to interrupt Brad’s heart for ministry, and now, some 20 years later, he is providing that same experience to students who are the same confused, identity-seeking age that Brad was when he was so powerfully spoken to by God. One has to wonder how many other teenager’s lives are being rocked in much the same way as Brad’s by his faithfully passing down what God passed down to Him. It is beautiful to see how Brad has come full circle to spread what God taught him as a teenager to countless other teenagers and young adults, building leaders and disciples in the process. Powerful, contagious Holy Spirit movements happen when we humbly and simply surrender in obedience to the easy yolk of God. Brad’s life is a testament to this. This story is one of many stories of humble servanthood and its beautiful returns. Allow God to interrupt you in season, and sow seeds of obedience to His faithful, interrupting voice. The harvest will be the most beautiful thing you could ever imagine, and, in fact, probably more beautiful than you could imagine.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Lessons From Outside the Box

Words to wrap around the end of a summer are always hard to come by. The simplest summary is shown numerically - 672 students & leaders from 15 states serving at 29 ministry sites, along with 8 hosts, to make up 119 days of service (so far!) at CSM Philadelphia in 2015 so far.  
Yet, the depth of that goes beyond the simple statistics.

Our team of hosts for the summer
The numbers discount the fact that the Lord taught us a lot about boxes this year.
Boxes are a
familiar thing in our world - moving boxes, cereal boxes, boxes to be packed with canned goods, boxes of cleaning supplies... Yet, the Lord was quick to remind us through this season that the world He created often doesn't fit neatly into straight lines and organized, black and white fixes. A box is man-made invention; nature prefers the crooked and the intertwined and the messy and the beauty of the in-between.
While there were countless stories of boxes being torn up, a new vision of the homeless population was a common conversation amongst groups, especially after serving with Hands of Hope. Here is a segment of an interview our apprentice Scott conducted with Hands of Hope's founder:

"While the issue of homelessness has not gone unnoticed, the treatment of it has simply been erratic. A homeless man named Lucio, 68, has been homeless in Philadelphia for the past three years. 

'We don’t really need the food all the time. The most difficult is to find a place that’ll really give you help and hear you out,' he says, 'It don’t do me any good at all if they isn’t gonna listen.' 

Such is the mission of Joetta Kieffer, the founder and heart behind Hands of Hope, a homeless outreach ministry in Philadelphia. The basis of her ministry rests in the idea that a connection and conversation is more helpful than a pamphlet.

She believes that everyone is deserving of an open ear to hear their voice. She becomes passionately indignant when the notion of inequality comes up in regards to the homeless population in Philadelphia. 

'They are no different than anyone else. Their circumstances are just different than where I’m at. That does not demote them as human beings,” she says, “we are created equal.'

The greatest issue, perhaps, is not necessarily that things are not being done, but that people are not willing to understand the issue on a holistic level. People are people, regardless of their circumstance, and deserve to be treated as such. The homeless of Philadelphia are passed by more than 2,000 people each day. The intention behind Hands of Hope is to send people out with the only goal of not being the 2,001stperson to walk by. 

'God loves them and does not see them any different, so why should we,' Kieffer says, 'We’re all the same when it comes down to it.'"

May we all continue to grow together in a commitment to not see things in boxes.
- Brittany Nyce, CSM Philadephia City Director