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

 

 

Transformed to Reconciliation

By Pastor Jim Olson

Editor’s note: FCA pastor Jim Olson writes for participants and supporters of the reconciliation ministry he leads. His unique perspective on race relations and the journey many of us are on, especially at this critical time in our nation’s history, is a story that needs to be heard.

Today I want to share with you the Story of Transformation which led me, a young white boy from segregated south Chicagoland on a journey towards becoming an ambassador of racial reconciliation here in St. Paul and in the world (My Story). I also want to share with you my personal and pastoral response to the cry for racial justice in our country (My Response).

My Story

I’m going to start at the very beginning of my journey because the work of reconciliation has to start at the beginning. So my story begins over 60 years ago when I was born during Thanksgiving week, 1959, in Harvey Illinois, between Chicago and Gary, Indiana. I grew up in Homewood, Illinois, a block off of 183rd Street, in other words 183 blocks from the center of Chicago, in the south suburbs. It was a blue-collar suburb, lots of folks worked in the steel industry, my father was a die sinker and my mom was a nurse. It wasn’t until my late elementary years, and into my Junior High and Senior High years from 1968 into the 70’s that I began to realize just how segregated the environment I grew up in was, actually more than segregated, it was racist.

White flight from South Chicago in the 60s created strong white enclaves in the south suburbs that both resisted and resented any possible encroachment from Black citizens. I clearly remember lines of demarcation that you did not cross, lines that were enforced both implicitly and explicitly. Though I was too young and unformed to fully articulate my experience, nevertheless I was aware that a vast gulf existed between my experience and the experience of “those” people, people I did not know, nor did I understand.

After graduating from Homewood-Flossmoor High School in 1977, a school that had 4,000 students of which perhaps a handful were people of color, I went off to attend Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, the far western suburbs of Chicago. Wheaton too was an almost exclusively white suburb, and the college too was predominantly white. It was there that I had my first significant interactions with people from different backgrounds and cultures than my own. It was also there that this conservative baptist boy was first introduced to the charismatic movement as well as other broader expressions of the Christian faith.

After college, I returned home briefly to Homewood, began dating my wife Annette whom I had known since I was 5 years old, having grown up in the same church, and in 1983 got married to her in the church we were attending at that time, Homewood Full Gospel Church. It was there in that church that I was first immersed in a truly multiracial congregation, a forerunner church, a large and growing church that was about 50% White, 40% African-American, and 10% from other backgrounds. There I saw a picture of Kingdom reality that I had not seen before and that was tremendously attractive to me.

After our wedding and honeymoon my wife and I moved here to the Twin Cities in July of 1983. We came so that I could pursue my Masters of Divinity at Bethel Seminary and Annette went off to work at 3M as a Systems Analyst. We got involved at a local church here in St. Paul, Bethel Temple (now Bethel Christian Fellowship) where I did a ministry internship for a year before moving up to Central Minnesota to pastor Westside Church in Kettle River, 5 miles outside of a town of 174 people.There I discovered that I had a great deal to learn from people that were quite different from me. It was a lovely time, graced by the favor of the Lord. Both the church and we grew tremendously, and after five and a half years we moved back to Saint Paul when I became the senior pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in 1990.

In 1994 God spoke very clearly to us from Isaiah 56 and Isaiah 35 that we were called to “Radiate Life and Joy as a House of Prayer for All Nations.” At the time, there were only a small handful of people of color in the church. We weren’t sure just what to do next so we prayed more and began to prepare ourselves to receive whomever God might bring us. Soon he brought us our first refugee family, a family from Haiti. Then another family from Haiti joined us, then others from various places and backgrounds began to come, and over the next 15 years our church family grew to embrace folks from over 25 different nations and members from multiple American cultures. Then starting in 2010 we began to welcome whole people groups and our All Nations Family of Churches was established, now encompassing eight congregations with services in 7 different languages. Over those years my constant prayer was, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Along the way, I went back to get my Doctorate of Ministry in Global and Contextual Leadership from Bethel University from 2006 – 2010. Through my lived experience and that season of study, over and over again I was confronted with my privilege and myopic perspective. I clearly remember one day when I was speaking to the Lord about my gratitude that He had brought all “these foreigners” into our congregation (Isaiah 56) who had enriched our life together so much. And then I heard His gentle but clear rebuke, “Jim, don’t you know that you are a foreigner too?” That day marked a major step on my journey of transformation.

In 2016, I accepted the invitation of the Spirit (through the voice of Molly Rouner) to lead the Pilgrim Center. This beautiful work has only served to bring me to a deeper place of humility and dependence on the Lord. Like the Apostle Peter in Acts 10 – 11, I have been on a journey all these years, first becoming aware of my cultural biases and prejudices, then beginning a learning process about other cultures and the necessity for me to adapt my perspectives to come into alignment with His. Along the way, God began to reveal the specific actions that I needed to take to begin to build bridges and walk in the way of reconciliation. And now I find myself leaning into the work of becoming an advocate for those whose voices need to be heard, whose stories need to be told, who’s lives need to be valued. All preparation for becoming an “ambassador of reconciliation.”

My Response

And what does that mean right now, in this pivotal moment? What is God requiring of me, of you, of the Pilgrim Center? There are three words that I have been hearing Him speak to my soul:

On June 3, 2020, Jim and his wife, Annette, took part in a silent march in St. Paul, led by the Twin Cities Black Clergy, bearing witness to the unjust death of George Floyd. They walked together with the police chief, mayor, other clergy, and people of all backgrounds.

Lament: Psalm 10

It was five years ago this week, June 17th, 2015, that another horrible tragedy took place in our country, the shooting of 9 African-American parishioners at Emanuel AMEChurch in Charleston South Carolina at the hands of a young white man who had joined them in Bible study before taking out a gun and opening fire. As a pastor, as a human, my heart was shredded open when I heard the news. As I went to the Lord to seek wisdom, understanding, and a way to respond He brought me to Psalm 10, a Psalm of lament. Please click and read it now and listen carefully to what the psalmist says.

The first invitation from the Spirit is to respond to the injustice and the resulting brokenness that we see all around us with lament. Lament is a very common biblical posture. It is when we, as God’s people, unflinchingly face the reality of the way things are broken, divided, and not working. We bring our own, as well as others grief, suffering, and pain to the Lord, focusing not only on” the issues,” but placing those issues before the Lord and asking Him to help us repair where things have been broken, reconcile where things have been divided, and restore where things are not working. Everywhere God has brought us in our Pilgrim Center work there have been rivers of tears, sometimes with words, more often with just groans. God stores up those liquid prayers and pours them back in healing and hope.

Repent: Nehemiah 1:5-11; Daniel 9:4-19

The next step that comes out of our lament, is to repent. As we face the injustice and brokenness we see around us, the Spirit invites us to take responsibility for our part in how things are as opposed to how they ought to be. Not only our sins of commission but also our sins of omission. Not only our personal sin, but, as Nehemiah and Daniel did, we identify with the sins of our people. Not only the sins of the present, but also the sins of the past. Please click and read the Nehemiah and Daniel passages.

In the Pilgrim Center, we have an amazing example of the prophetic power of this type of repentance. When our founders Dr. Arthur and Molly Rouner first went to Rwanda immediately following the genocide there, Molly asked the Lord why it was that He had brought her there. His answer was profound, “I have brought you here to go to your knees before them, to ask the forgiveness of these people for what your own people of the West did, to divide them from each other.” Everywhere she went, Molly got down on her knees, and the door for reconciliation was opened.

In the Pilgrim Center we still enter this holy work on our knees, both literally and figuratively. Many times, in many places, I have followed Mama Molly’s example and gone to my knees in repentance, asking for forgiveness. We have an opportunity to come in that same posture now, repenting and seeking forgiveness, for ourselves, for our people, for the past, and for the present. All so that we might begin to write a new story for the future, a story of repair, of restoration, of reconciliation, of shalom.

Foment: Isaiah 42:1-4

After we have done the deep work of lamenting and repenting, I hear the Spirit’s invitation to foment. But what does that mean? I searched for an answer to a concept I do not fully understand.

I started in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary where I found the definition of foment means to apply warm lotions in order to ease pain. So, I discovered, our first responsibility in fomenting is to come alongside to comfort and care for those who have been afflicted. Our Pilgrim Center work has always been a work of comfort and healing, bringing a balm to those who have been deeply wounded and traumatized. Starting in Rwanda, with leaders whose lives, families, and communities had been shattered by genocide, the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation has come alongside all these years to encourage the “bruised reed” and empower the “smoldering wick.” Read Isaiah 42:1-4.

Another meaning of fomenting is to rouse, to instigate, to catalyze for change. I have lived here in the US my whole life and have also traveled to many parts of the world, and I have found that every culture and system has both beauty and brokenness in various ways. I have also discovered that there is a Kingdom culture that transcends and transforms all these earthly cultures and systems.The Pilgrim Center is called to follow the King, serving as Ambassadors of Reconciliation to catalyze Kingdom transformation in lives, relationships, and communities, until we see His justice established on the earth.

I am committed to continuing to walk together with you on this journey of becoming Ambassadors of Reconciliation. My confident hope and prayer is that together as Ambassadors we might see God’s shalom here in our world. Maranantha, even so come, Lord!

Pastor Jim Olson has served FCA churches for years. In 2016, Bethel Christian Fellowship (St. Paul), where he served as pastor for 26 years, sent Jim to be President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation. In that role Jim ministers Christ’s grace and healing in reconciling individuals and groups of people in both the U.S. and internationally.

NOTE: As a next step, you can join Jim via Facebook Live for a “Living Reconciliation Evening”: Engaging the Powers: A Principled Approach on Thursday, July 30. Please click HERE to find out more information or visit our website www.pilgrimcenter.org for ongoing updates and additional opportunities.

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.

I Thought It’d Be Persecution!

By John Sprecher (March 23, 2020)

Who could have imagined as we entered a new decade that by March nearly every church in America and in many parts of the world would be forced to close, left to try to figure out a way to function without having normal public meetings? 

During the past six weeks I have been privileged to preach in Liberia and three U.S. states, never imagining that when I returned home I wouldn’t be able to attend my home church. Instead I’m on a “shelter-in-place” order.

When I was in Bible School some 50 years ago during the turbulent days of Vietnam protests, the Jesus People Movement, and the Charismatic Renewal, I had a sense that the church needed to be prepared for a day when public meetings would not be allowed. I anticipated something like the underground church in China and other places that were (and are) facing persecution, forced to meet in secret. 

While the current pandemic has not been specifically aimed at the church, the effect has been a forced shift in how we do ministry. So we’ve had to adapt in whatever way we can, and most have been using the Internet. 

Technology is the good — and the bad news — of the day. We can LiveStream, hold virtual meetings, connect on Social Media or by other electronic means. In the short term, this is a wonderful blessing for these times. The challenge is that everything being transmitted is recorded on some digital file somewhere, and, as we have seen in many countries, the connections we enjoy can be removed quickly should someone in power decree it to be done.

I really liked what Pastor Danny Dodge from Solutions Church wrote in his announcement to his congregation:

“Notice that we didn’t say we are ‘canceling church’ or ‘canceling services.’ That may seem subtle, but we believe this is very important. The only way to ‘cancel’ the church would be for us all to renounce Christ and stop following Him, because the church is not a place or a service. The church is people who believe in Jesus and live and love like He does. And right now, our world needs what Jesus brings more than ever.

So let’s all gather online this weekend for services — we’ll see you there!”

So what are we to do? First and foremost, as pastors we need to help our congregants be “Jesus dependent” and not “crowd dependent.” Our churches, in reality, are only as strong as the individuals in it and are not dependent on the size of the crowd. 

David, in the Old Testament, learned there were times when every support system could fail and all that was left was his ability “to encourage himself in the Lord’’ (1 Samuel 30:6). Let’s help our people learn to stand strong like David, Daniel, and so many others. We can continue to cherish the God-enabled synergy developed when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus and are strengthened by the fellowship that results. And when circumstances prevent us from being together physically, we can always count on God being with us.

There are other things we can do, as well. At the very least, we can use these strange times and uncertain days to ensure that our communications systems are in place. We need in place a way to assure the physical and spiritual health and safety of everyone who is part of our flock. These may be challenging times, but challenging times have always led to seasons of growth and creativity for those who, having learned new dependence and wisdom from the Lord, embrace  the future with hope and confidence.

 John D. Sprecher is Lead Elder for the U.S. FCA and has previously pastor churches for 45 years, most of them at Rock Church in Rockford, Illinois.

Convention Planners Make Tough Decision

Nothing quite like this has been seen before — at least not in recent memory.

Wars and plagues have throughout history altered the lives of whole populations. But when public health officials asked the country to join together and take practical steps in slowing the spread of COVID-19, churches, schools, businesses, and others had to change their plans — as did the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.

Pastor Dave Carlson, convention host and planning committee chair, was obviously disappointed when it became apparent that this year’s convention slated for late April in San Diego, California, would have to be rescheduled.

“We had high expectations and tremendous early response from ministers, both from the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “We told the hotel there would be at least 420 nights reserved, but we had almost reached 1,000 when we had to cancel.”

The enthusiastic response was just one factor that made the decision so difficult. It was also hard to imagine losing the chance to hear the dynamic speakers or miss the opportunities for mingling and connecting. There were also activities for kids and youth that had to be set aside. “We had around 85 children already signed up for their own events,” said Carlson.

So this year will go down in the history of the FCA as the year the convention was cancelled. Planners are working with the US national board to determine how best to reschedule the California event. When new information becomes available, notice will be distributed to the membership.

Meanwhile, those who have already registered for the convention will want to check out these further details:

  • Your personal hotel reservation at the Bahia Resort Hotel has already been cancelled. There is no need for you to call the hotel.
  • You may, however, reinstate your hotel reservation at the convention rate for personal travel if you wish by calling Bahia Resort Hotel (858-488-0551). Remind them that you were previously reserved to attend the FCA convention so you can receive the convention rate.
  • Meanwhile, your FULL convention registration cost will be refunded automatically. Funds will be credited (within four weeks) to the account you used to charge the costs.
  • You should, however, remember to cancel your own airline reservations. Airlines have taken a tremendous hit during this recession (as have many businesses), but they are working as best they can to accommodate their passengers.

One thing God’s people are certain of is that there is no problem or disappointment that can defeat God’s purposes. They know that the Lord will see them through any crisis.

Just as he’s done for his people through wars, disease, and pestilence all through the ages.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday
.
—Psalm 91:4-6