On the Receiving End of “the Look”

By Dean Merrill

Did you grow up with a mom or a dad who, if you got out of line, could stop you in your tracks without saying a word? I certainly did. If I was doing or saying something inappropriate (especially in front of other people), a cold stare would let me know I had better cut it out right now. I’d freeze in response.

The other day I came across a moment in Luke’s gospel where Jesus employed “the look” with one of his disciples. It happened in the middle of an intense grilling by the high priest and his minions, with Jesus being bombarded by hostile questions and accusations. Meanwhile, outside at the courtyard fire, Peter was trying to dance around the suspicions of questioners. After his third denial, suddenly “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter…” (Luke 22:61).

He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. The steady gaze of the Master sent a shiver down Peter’s spine as he stumbled out into the chilly darkness, sobbing. He’d been busted.

Actually, the Lord earlier that evening had already said all he needed to—twice: “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (vss. 40, 46). Maybe Peter thought Jesus had meant something classic like the temptation to greed, or lust, or pride. Instead, the big fisherman had fallen to the temptation of disloyalty in order to stay anonymous in a dicey environment.

The complex challenges of life put all of us into moments that test our character. Will we do the right thing regardless of the consequences, or will we tap-dance around the matter? Will we rationalize, cut a corner, shade the truth? Or in different moments, will we flare out with cutting words because, after all, we have a right to speak our mind?

Ed Koch was the colorful three-term mayor of New York City throughout the 1980s. When out on the street or in a crowd shaking hands, he often didn’t give the common greeting of “Hello! How are you doing?” Instead, he’d say with a grin, “How’m I doin’? How’m I doin’?” And the blunt citizens of the Big Apple were only too willing to tell Koch exactly what they thought of his performance as mayor.

That’s a good question to ask God at the close of a day, when we slow down enough to review. How did I do today, Lord? Where you pleased with what you saw from me this day? Was anything out of line? Anything I need to correct next time around? I want you to be happy with my words, my actions, even my thoughts and motives, because your opinion of me is what I value most in life.

The apostle Paul once exhorted a group of Christians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). Whether we get Heaven’s version of a smile, or Heaven’s version of “the look,” it’s always worth making the inquiry.

Dean Merrill, long-time member of the FCA, is a former magazine editor and writer best known for his award-winning collaborations with such Christian leaders as Jim Cymbala (Brooklyn Tabernacle), Wess Stafford (Compassion International), and Gracia Burnham (Philippine missionary hostage survivor). You may find more of Dean Merrill’s writing at www.deanmerrill.com

 

 

Juneteenth

by Sam Snyder

Today is June 19th, 2020. Besides being my 16th Wedding Anniversary, it is also the 155th anniversary of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Galveston, Texas, one of the last holdouts for slavery in the USA. (It took 2½ years for the news to reach there!) June 19th came to be known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day to celebrate freedom and that “all men are created equal” and therefore should all be able to have life, liberty, and happiness.

Less than a month ago the whole world was shocked and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, not too far from where I live. That moment impacted the whole world. While reaction and counter-reaction have touched cities and churches across the country, 11 of our FCA churches are in the Twin Cities, in neighborhoods directly impacted by George’s murder and the ensuing unrest.

Ten of those churches are either multi-ethnic or non-majority cultures, including Fountain of Life, pastored by Jim Halbur, located just a few blocks from where this all took place. They have been engaged daily on a deep level, along with a number of our Minnesota and Twin Cities FCA pastors—ministering to the community, bringing peace and healing. We are all heartbroken for the family, friends, and communities impacted by this brutal act, subsequent unrest and all of the hurt that has been brought to the surface. 

Twin Cities pastors and others meet for prayer at
38th and Chicago where George Floyd was killed.

 

 

 

 

As some of you know, I spent my first 18 years growing up in Mexico, but the last 20 living in the USA. For 11 years now I’ve been pastoring a multi-ethnic church plant in the Twin Cities, while also being connected to our FCA churches and many other churches and leaders from cross-cultural backgrounds here in the Twin Cities.

We are at ground-zero of where God is uncovering injustice, inequity, and iniquity, and I believe God is doing a new thing through what has transpired in the last few weeks. George’s death was not an isolated incident but part of a long history of systemic racism and injustice (meaning there are still systems or structures in place that impact opportunities for people based on race or class). Prevailing societal biases are being exposed that go beyond the problems with law enforcement. Institutional roadblocks and attitudinal hindrances greatly impact our lives in this country.

Six years ago I wrote about the sin of racism and “otherism” and how we could move forward after Mike Brown’s murder and the protests in Ferguson…yet here we are again. Have we moved forward? I recognize that a large portion of our Fellowship is white majority culture, so I know some of this may feel far-removed from your daily experience, but I ask you to read on because our Fellowship and our churches are not only made up of white people but also of people of color, and this is very significant to their lives and experiences. As such, it must be significant for each of our lives and the life of the church as a whole. These are my friends, brothers, and sisters (and yours too). This is the future of the church in this country. As a father of three bi-racial children, this is also the future of my children in this country and within the Fellowship (and yours too). This impacts us all.

"You can protest by marching and you can
protest by serving," I told my kids.

 

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail to his white brothers and sisters in the faith saying: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

At times like these, we need to speak out against injustice and stand for what’s right because EVERY black life matters! This is not to say that you associate with any political movement or plan. Rather, it is to declare and demonstrate that each person is made in the image of God and dearly loved by God. Right now our black brothers and sisters need to know that we see them, hear them, and love them. Our ethic in doing so is not rooted in politics or popularity but in Theology: the Imago Dei that God made all of humanity in his image (Genesis 1:27). So, when we speak of equal justice for our brothers and sisters of color it comes from a scriptural conviction that we are ALL made in the image of God and therefore have innate value to God and to each other.

Please hear what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that we should align ourselves with a political party or movement to the left or to the right. In fact, as followers of Jesus we belong to a Kingdom that is “not of this world”!

Therefore, we are called to speak the truth to powers when those powers act unjustly (on either side), to teach that this world is not our home to believers who are living for this world, to show that this earthly citizenship is secondary to our primary citizenship, and to submit our political divisions and cultural distinctives to our primary identity as sons and daughters of the King whose Kingdom is not of this world. That means that we MUST disagree with the world around us, living radical lives that don’t conform to the left-right narrative but instead stand for the justice, joy, peace, and power of the kingdom of God. There are definitely forces at work trying to conform us to the left or to the right…but we are called to be transformed and to think differently than the world around us. To acknowledge that problems need to be fixed or that conditions need to be improved is not to assume we will all agree on how! In fact, the pressure to conform and agree to one particular solution will keep us from growing and improving. Why? Because people instinctively entrench against solutions they oppose rather than work together in a spirit of compromise for greater justice and equality.

So what’s next? How should we respond? I think it’s easy to look to others to do something or say something to bring about change, but Jesus taught us that the Great Command was for each of us to love our neighbor “as we love ourselves.” He went on to define “neighbor” as people whom the world would expect us to hate. So that really raises the bar of personal responsibility to love God and love others:

It starts with me. It is so easy to avoid, disengage, or even blame another, but God calls us to each “consider the plank in our eye first.” It starts with each of us reflecting, repenting, and reorienting to the things of God. I like the way that the Group Civil Righteousness puts it: “While ‘Rights’ deals with our externals, ‘Righteousness’ deals with our internals. We believe that Jesus’ justice begins there. Internal transformation leads to external reformation and produces eternal satisfaction.”

Serving food at "ground zero" with Fountain of Life Church.
The George Floyd mural is in the background.

 

It really starts with LOVE in and through each of us. MLK also said that, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Here are some suggestions I think might help us move forward for God’s purposes together:

1. Listen.

We have dear sisters and brothers—people of color in our very own church families, pastors in the FCA, pastors in our cities. Seek them out, hear their stories, pray with them, commit to standing with them. Don’t deny or dismiss their stories by trying to consider other options on why a situation may have happened. Don’t try to defend your perspective or yourself from discomfort. Take a walk in their shoes. Seeing and hearing another person is one of the greatest kindnesses we can show another human being and is a powerful way for us to grow and increase our understanding.

But more than that, as members of God’s family we are brothers and sisters!Pastor Lidovick Pierre who leads Hatian Christian Fellowship in St. Paul said, “We don’t need allies, we need brothers and sisters.” Pastor Justin Byakweli who leads International Christian Fellowship in St. Paul shared, “I take the killing of George Floyd personally…because his death offends the fundamental principles of justice, every notion of dignity and the idea that through those threads, all of our lives are connected.”

These are only two interactions I have had. I could share tons of conversations, prayer times, and messages that have been taking place where people of color have been pouring out their hearts longing for justice and peace in a variety of different contexts. This should start in the church in the “bond of brotherhood.”

2. Lament Injustice and Sin.

We are called to weep with those who weep during this time. But godly sorrow leads to repentance, so we must look at our lives and our country for sins, both of commission and omission. We should each repent on behalf of the racism that has taken place in this nation (the systems and structures which perpetuate the subjugation of one group of people to the benefit of another that has been going on since the foundation). We are thankful that this is not pre-civil war era and that we have progressed beyond some of the pre-civil rights era sins, but we are not done yet. Lamenting that things are not as they should be in society; beginning with the sin of racism and greed and extending to other ways that our society has turned away from the knowledge of God (Romans 1).

You may not feel directly connected to sins of the past because you did not cause it and did not contribute to it. But you have benefited from those sinful social structures of the past beginning with the treatment of the native american peoples through slavery and segregation and down to the remnants that impact our brothers and sisters to this day. (If you don’t agree, I invite you to see the first point under #3 below.) But regardless of our feelings, we can see in the Prophets the need for repenting of the sins of the ancestors and the significance of lamentation and repentance in bringing righteousness to a land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). Lamentation must be followed by repentance in prayer and in action.

3. Learn more about our present and our past.

Here are a few things to check out:

4. Lead towards Justice and Peace.

With COVID and recent unrest, I have heard in conversations many people longing to get back to “normal.” We as Christians have never been called to live a normal life, but rather to live a life that is being transformed daily by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus. It is also worth noting that returning back to the “way things were” before the murder of George Floyd would mean that we invalidate the unjust and inexcusable experiences so long endured by the beloved people of color in our church families and communities.

So we don’t want “normal.” We are called to reformation and rebuilding. We want God to rebuild our cities, and we want to allow him to rebuild the broken places and bring his completeness. I believe there are places that need to be Reformed in the church and in the systems of this nation. We want God to make us all whole through redemption, reconciliation and restoration. That will lead us to biblical justice and biblical peace. This will impact wherever you live, so I encourage you to be involved in local and state-wide initiatives that bring about reformation when unjust laws or systems are brought to your attention. Be involved in teaching and preaching a biblical ethic that confronts injustice, inequity, and iniquity on both sides of the political aisle.

We often define peace as the absence of chaos or conflict and we try to achieve it by denying or dismissing situations that make us uncomfortable. True peace is about harmony and wholeness, and it was accomplished through the death of Jesus in our place as he confronted the principalities and powers who had been working (and still are) to keep humanity under their power and control. We are called to be peaceMAKERS, not peaceKEEPERS, or even peaceFAKERS. HERE is a message I shared with our church over a year ago on being a peaceMAKER from Ephesians 4:1-6.

I want to encourage you to Love our neighbors, brothers, and sisters of color by Lamenting, Listening, Learning, and Leading towards the new thing God is doing! I have been praying for Repentance, Reformation, and Revival in this nation—and, as it usually goes with those things, it starts with the church…and that starts with each one of us saying “it starts with me.”

Sam Snyder is pastor of Cross Culture Community Church in Minneapolis. He currently serves as president of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies U.S. National Board.

Church on the Front Lines

Helping people in need is a passion for Greg McMullen and The Well Church, which he pastors in Lake Stevens, Washington. When he and his wife, Amy, began their ministry, they put a blessing box in front of their house. Each day they would put over $200 worth of canned food in it, as well as food donations from others.

McMullen and his church began to provide food three times a week for any who came. They also made 200 to 300 sandwiches to distribute to the area’s homeless. They ran into a few logistical and bureaucratic snags, however.

“We had a bumpy start,” says McMullen, referring to some early opposition that sidelined a few of their efforts. They were even questioned about delivering groceries to the elderly and others in need.

Then, over a year ago, the blessing box was destroyed when it was hit by a car. McMullen felt that they should wait for the right time to rebuild it.

He could not then have imagined what would happen, because all of that was before COVID-19 came along. A few weeks ago an area gleaning (or benevolence) ministry asked for some assistance, and the McMullens started bringing in food to help during the quarantine.

Food ministry to many in and around Lake Stevens, Washington, who have lost their income during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Some friends of ours heard about our earlier problems,” says McMullen. They informed a large food bank, which responded by dropping off two big truck loads providing food for more than 1,000.

A number of people lobbied for the food ministry of The Well Church—including the county representative, himself a former pastor, mayors from two neighboring cities, and the county Sheriff’s department.

Recently a mother came to get food for her family, asking how much she could take. “Take what you need,” McMullen told her. She fell on her knees, crying and thanking God.

“The Lord broke my heart with his mercy,” says McMullen.  The family with four children had been eating only what the school gave for the kids’ lunches. “I began to weep as I felt the Father’s heart for his people,” he says.

Now the county helps with traffic, staging vehicles for parking, a critical issue for a small church with limited space. “Now we see people coming from 30 or 40 miles to fill up two shopping carts of food,” says McMullen. “It is truly amazing to see.”

Over 2,500 people have been coming to the church each week for food. McMullen drives a rental truck 120 miles round trip, aiming for three trips each day they distribute food. Over 350,000 pounds of food were delivered last week.

Why rent a truck at nearly $1,000 a week? “Unfortunately,” McMullen explains, “I destroyed the engine in my pick-up in the process of pulling a trailer with food.” Although a local dealer provided them with an excellent deal on a new pick-up, they are trusting God for a larger box truck to haul the amount of food needed for the ministry.

Officials estimate 18 months are needed for area families to recovery from quarantine restrictions, so McMullen has made a two-year commitment to bring food, which is shared with two other churches and three gleaning ministries.

“Many people have come to Christ,” says McMullen about the spiritual impact of their work. “We have been baptizing people during this time.” It’s typical to see them praying for people in the parking lots. They have given away over 1,000 Gideon Bibles—their entire inventory.

McMullen says, “It is almost like the book of Acts. God has really moved here.”

He still thinks of the desperate mother, thanking God for his blessings. “I have not been able to stop crying,” he says. “All I think about is how we can bring more food in to help the people.”

Amy and Greg McMullen.

As their ministry has grown and McMullen’s “tent-making” role as a contractor has been put on the back burner, he is praying for financial partners to help purchase a used box truck for $34,000 or to provide ministry support for the next 18 months.

More information about the ministry can be found at the church’s website, Facebook page, or their GoFundMe page.

Hope Until the End of the Age

by Thomas Yerman

Hope seems to be in short supply these days. Media reports are often bleak and pessimistic, despite occasional attempts to end with a “feel good” story.

This year’s lead up to Easter has been unlike any in recent memory. But what an opportunity for us to offer the world some life-giving hope!

Hope means to expect—even anticipate—certain things to happen. Hope helps us avoid worry or, at the least, manage it. Without hope, worry can distort the way we see things, the way we feel. Worry can rule over us, dictating what we do. Worry can manipulate our feelings, feeding fear and even despair.

Worry strangles the strength of hope. Seven hundred years ago, the Old English word, wyrgan, which evolved to become our word, “worry,” literally meant “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat”—as in an antiquated phrase about a dog “worrying” an old shoe.
That’s what worry does to hope!

Spring and nature remind us that hope can be a common experience, essential to life. This “common hope,” however, is more of a wishful expectation that something you want will come. There are benefits in having that kind of hope, but there are no guarantees. In fact, common hope could set you up for disappointment when your expectations fail to materialize.
Essential hope” on the other hand, is quite different from common hope. Essential hope is, well, absolutely essential to life.

Where do we find that essential hope? How can we offer essential hope to the world? That kind of hope is based on God’s presence and promise, found specifically in Jesus Christ and salvation that comes through him. That’s why I like to define HOPE as: Heavenly Optimism Promoting Eternal-life.

Essential hope is an expression of a confident expectation we find in a three-way relationship between the Creator, his Creation (us), and his Word. Connect these three properly, and our feelings and desires will align with God’s. It’s a hope that points to our future life in eternity: “…we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…” (Rom. 8:23-24)

In this season especially we remember the source of our hope. Through Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter celebrations, believers are revived in the hope God has given through the resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

If we are truly building our lives on the redemptive work of Christ, we should all be optimists, filled with hope. We know whatever happens to us here on earth is temporary. Jesus promised us that after life with all its hardships has ended, we will be in a place where pain, suffering, and death are no more. Jesus came to earth to take our sufferings upon himself so we could one day be free from every form of suffering forever.

The reality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his promises throw open the gates of heaven that give us the optimism we need for promoting eternal life in and through our lives today.

When we stray from living out our redemption as God intended, we can lose our hope. When people feel no hope, they begin to fear. According to Cliff Wilt, FEAR is “Forgetting Everything About Redemption.

Hope is dependent upon our redemption—having our sins forgiven. Because without redemption a person has good reason to fear.

So hold on to your faith and your hope in Christ! It gives us the strength to make earthly suffering bearable. It gives us the confidence to trust in God’s sovereign plan, looking forward to the day of Christ’s return when our bodies will be resurrected and all creation will be redeemed.

It’s good to cut pollution and clean up our planet, but it’s even better to remove sin and redeem our lives. Jesus has the authority and power to restore all things, perfectly. Both “a new heaven and a new earth” will come in God’s timing.

In the end of the age, the earth will be a place where God makes his dwelling among his people as he originally intended in the garden of Eden. Everything happening between now and then is moving us toward that glorious time.

God is fulfilling his sovereign plan! We trust in him as we anticipate heaven and Christ’s bodily return. Hope might not remove today’s suffering, but it can help us put pain in perspective. The time is coming when we will participate in the glory of Christ, but for now we are being prepared for eternal life. We have a purpose to accomplish while we are here and a hope to sustain us until we get there.

Our hope enables us to rejoice and celebrate even in the midst of suffering.

Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”
(Col. 3:1-2).

Jesus gives us the hope we need so we know something good is going to happen.

Let Heavens Optimism Promote Eternal-life in and through you today! God is building his Church, and he still has his arms wrapped around the world. Believers in Christ have an essential hope and calling. Jesus promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age when the permanent will overtake the temporary. Heaven is coming, can you feel it?

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with the seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)


Thomas Yerman is an FCA pastor ministering at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village.

One Nation Under God

by Thomas Yerman

Our Declaration of Independence for the United States along with our Pledge of Allegiance certainly make the case that this nation was and is influenced by Christianity. Our history and documents provide strong evidence that testifies to our being a nation that holds to the truth of worshiping God, the Creator—in whose image people are made, by whose authority we have a system of government, and under whose power we live.

We live in a nation and world that is constantly changing. And because we believers are those who truly trust in God, and therefore his Word, whenever these changes come to challenge our lives and ministries, we take a stand in faith. Our faith is not merely an intellectual belief but a down-to-the-core heart belief that is acted upon no matter what changes might come. Faith changes lives. Our faith not only impacts our lives, but the lives of those around us.

I understand that it is only human to be anxious about what might lie ahead, particularly in uncertain times. Growing anxious is a human trait—what I call our “default mode.” It’s been around for a long time. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, while being held as a prisoner “in chains,” gave the people of Philippi a message they needed to hear in their sufferings. They lived in an age of frequent disease, war, and famine—times that caused their future to look questionable and uncertain.

Paul wanted them to take their eyes off their troubles, which were like an immovable mountain, and look instead to the One who could move it. They were more focused on their troubles than on their God who could help them. He wanted them to know that their lives were in the hands of a loving God who would give them peace. He didn’t tell them that all the bad stuff would go away, but instead gave them direction with a promise:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul promised believers in Jesus Christ that God would calm their fear and comfort their spirits. He encouraged them to put their worries in the hands of Someone bigger than themselves and more powerful than the troubles they were facing. It was a reminder to trust God.

We are also living in a challenging time, one that is calling believers to trust in God and shine in an hour of darkness and doubt.

We are being moved out of our comfort zone, called to put our faith over fear—in a God we can trust: The God who is the Everlasting-God, the Great-God, the Living-God, the Merciful-God, the Faithful-God, and the Mighty-God. The God who loves you! Our Refuge, Fortress, and Shield. He renews the strength of those who trust in him. So in anxious times, we should be able to display such a peace that those around us will bathe in the overflow. Faith not only changes a life; it changes the way a person looks at life.

Holding to the right perspective equips us with the divine power that will enable us to persevere the storm or “war” (as the battle with COVID-19 is being called). The Body of Christ must have no doubt that God is in control and that he cares and comforts those whose hearts are open to receive him. Only then will we be able to effectively reach out to the world. This is a time for the Church to be seen at its best. There is power in the name of Jesus!

“For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Our attitude must be one of acting wisely and responsibly in what we do and in confidence leave the rest with God.

As individuals, now is the time to live out our faith and find out what we are made of. Our U.S. currency states, “In God We Trust.”  Now is the time to show that we actually do. As a nation, this is a time providing an opportunity to turn back to God and be united. We give our pledge as “One Nation Under God.” Are we?

Now is the time to show that trust even as we advance this “unity under God”! We are equipped to see this world (beyond what we perceive with our physical eyes and senses) through the Holy Spirit and knowledge of God’s Word. We can see into a “spiritual realm.”  Because we know God is in control of all creation and active in this world, we must also be aware that God is saying something in what he is allowing to impact our nation and the world by this coronavirus pandemic.

I believe God is allowing things to be shaken up to get the attention of the world—including his Church. In the distress of the day God is calling all of us back to himself. He is calling us to look to him with submitted hearts that will restore a relationship with him, the way he wants it.

It starts with his Church and particularly from the pulpit. As God’s spokesman and Priests of God to the people, we must speak and teach God’s Word plainly and clearly. We should hold back from saying what we think or what feels good to the people. It’s time to avoid the popular, not wanting to offend people. We should not fear or mistake people being offended by God’s Word with the Holy Spirit bringing conviction. It’s what should and must happen.

As we are learning to see things as God sees them, we must also speak things in line with what God feels—on every topic. Everything that God says is right and good.

Yes, there is a battle going on, and it’s spiritual. As a nation, we’ve strayed too far from God. People need to be led back to where they belong, where God wants them. We have what it takes. Now is the time for individuals and a nation to put its faith over its fear. And it starts with us.

Thomas Yerman is an FCA pastor ministering at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village.