My friends Kara and Ryan, who founded and run Imana Kids, posted a photo to the Imana Instagram account with the text of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
This verse imprinted on me in a most unique way when I was a teenager. Anyone who knows me knows I was a metalhead in my teen years (and I still am). After I discovered Stryper, and the realm of Christian metal, I came across a Christian rock band called Ruscha. The band was founded by brothers Nikolai and Peter Pankratz, who escaped Communist Russia in the 1970s. They started the band in the 1980s as an outlet for their love of music, and as a vehicle for giving witness to what it was like to be a Christian in Soviet Russia. Andy Denton, whose vocal range is highlighted on the song “Come Home”, was the group’s frontman.
There was a church in one of the Baton Rouge suburbs, Baker or Zachary maybe, I don’t recall which, that hosted the band. (It was the same church I also saw Wayne Watson perform at.) My dad went with me to the event, part concert, part testimony. I’d gotten their album “Come Alive” at a local Christian book store, and loved some of the songs. I can still see in my mind’s eye Andy, Nikolai, and Peter on stage in that church.
There are two things from that album and concert that have stuck with me to this day:
The memories I just shared, stirred up by the Imana Kids post, sent me on an Internet hunt, and the Internet delivered. There’s a Wikipedia entry for the band, linked to earlier in this post. Which led me to wonder if any of their music was available online; the copy of “Come Alive” I have is on cassette, and most likely buried in a shoebox in a closet. We have an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, and lo and behold! The Pankratzes released a remastered version in 2012, and I’m listening to it as I type this post, with a smile on my face as I sing along to “The grass withers, the flowers fade, Heaven and Earth will pass away, the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever.”
In April 2016, I will be heading back to Rwanda to assist in caring for some kids at an orphanage in Kigali, the nation’s capital. My team members and I will be working with kids who have experienced trauma or who come from a difficult background. We will be focused on providing activities and experiences that teach forgiveness and lead to redemption and healing. Dr. Karyn Purvis, renowned child development psychologist, is fond of saying “Children were harmed in relationship, and the only way they can be healed is through relationship.” That is what this trip is about, to help these kids begin healing by engaging them. They need to know there are people who care about them.
You can assist me with this trip in two ways: one, by praying for me, my team, and the kids we are going to help; and two, by donating to my trip account with Visiting Orphans through purchases in their online store. Yes, you can shop, and help me go to Rwanda!
You can find shirts, hoodies, handmade necklaces and leather cuffs, bracelets, bands, and other charms. You can visit the store at this link: Visitng Orphans Store
Shop to your heart’s content, and when you are ready to check out, follow these instructions so a percentage of the sales can be donated to my trip:
That’s it! These are some unique items you cannot find anywhere else, and they make awesome gifts!
Each year our church sponsors a mission trip for the high schoolers. It's an opportunity for them to experience, if only for a week, some of the missional lifestyle: living in a foreign land, serving others, giving up many of the comforts of home. It exposes them to the real world beyond high school football games, drama classes, part-time jobs in retail, and life in the suburbs in general.
I've gone as an adult leader for two of the past three years. (Last year was a no-go because we had a still fairly new little one in the house.) We've been working with Amor Ministries to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, but the violence there the past couple of years, and notably the perception of said violence, has led us to explore other avenues.
Last year the group went to serve those on the Mississippi Gulf Coast still recovering from Katrina.
This year, June 19-26, we'll be going to Arizona, to the reservation of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Amor has partnered with Arizona Reservation Ministries, where the need for standard housing is great.
Thirty-nine percent of the tribal families live in substandard housing, and of those that live in standard houses, 40% are in overcrowded conditions. Some of the homes have 1,300 square feet of living space, and have 20 people living in them. Three bedroom homes with four families living therein.
There is a need for 2,400 homes. ARM has committed to building 1,600, and they are currently well short of their goal.
The cost of the trip is $650 per person. We generally ask the students to provide around half, and this year they're expected to provide $300 through fundraising. This is used to pay for the transportation, meals, and lodging while on the road. (It's a long drive from the Flowerplex to the reservation in Arizona.) The church, through its mission program, provides the rest, which pays for building supplies, any camp fees, etc.
So using that as a baseline, I'm looking to raise $300 from folks who believe this to be a worthy endeavor, likely providing the rest myself. Obviously, anything over $300 is greatly appreciated, but that's the goal to reach.
So how can you donate?
Unfortunately, there's not an easy, online way to donate (that wouldn't eat into your donation; pesky credit card processing fees), so let's go the snail mail route.
Please make your check out to "Crossroads Bible Church" and mail it to me at:
1079 W Round Grove Rd
Lewisville, TX 75067 Full disclosure: that's a UPS Store box I've had for...gosh, a decade now. It was originally used as a business address, and we've kept it as kind of an insurance policy for most of our shipping needs. Keeps expensive stuff from sitting on our front porch or things like checks from nice people from sitting in our mail box. Funds are to be turned in to the church by June 13. So that's it. I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Leave them in the comments below, or feel free to contact me privately at "retrophisch AT retrophisch DOT COM". Thanks! UPDATE, 9 May 2010: I decided to pull the trigger on using PayPal to acquire donations, even if they take a cut for processing and profit. I figure something is better than nothing, and if having this makes it easier for folks to donate, so be it. Any amount is greatly appreciated!
Matthew Paul Turner: Today, America's Jesus is more of a brand name than anything else, a money-making commodity that churches and large "non-profits" manage using basic business-type practices like strategy development, viral marketing, and publicity and public relations.
In the book, one of the chapter titles was called "JESUS is a Registered Trademark." In that chapter, I discussed the differences between the JESUS™ people have created and the Jesus we read about in the gospels. JESUS™ can be manipulated or branded into almost anything we want him to be, from a wealth-and-prosperity-providing genie to a hateful Messiah who will one day return with an eternal axe to grind. It's difficult to do that with the Jesus of the four gospels.
The best inoculation, I think, to a wrong perception that Christianity is equivalent to conservatism is the mercy work of many good churches. For every politico a non-Christian sees claiming the Christian label, we want him to see a hundred Christians in his community, quietly, humbly doing the work of our Father. The more we can accomplish that, the harder it will be for people to identify Christianity with whatever happens to be popular among politicians who claim to act on Christ’s behalf. "You will know them," Christ said of the good and the bad, "by their fruits." My prayer, in the current political season and the decades to follow, is that more non-Christians will come to know us in that way, by lifechanging encounters with loving Christians.
So my question to you is, are you a slave to a jury of your peers? Do you always have to explain why you are right? How much do you care what religious people think of you? When somebody else is wrong, do you jump in quickly to tell them so, making yourself feel righteous? My answer to these questions is yes, I do. Doesn’t that stink?
I think we would be a bit more emotionally stable to understand self-righteousness gets us nowhere, and the jury of our peers is neither an accurate or authoritative judge. It really is a waste of your time to defend yourself to anybody but God Himself. And it’s even more of a waste of time to claim any defense other than Christ crucified. Really good read. [Wave of the phin to Brent for the link.]
...so let's all celebrate by: + jamming out to Social Distortion, Pennywise, Son Volt, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana + having a good laugh while watching stupid-funny movies + diving into a good book + passionately teach a group of high schoolers how much God loves them, and how they can love Him + show off our family through Proud Dad & Uncle Alerts + fill up a journal with our innermost thoughts and secrets, even if we never share them with anyone else + do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God Happy birthday, bro. Love ya.
I remind him to watch the cars, to look the drivers in the eye and make sure they see him. His brothers and I sit in the minivan while he goes to the curb and waits for a chance to walk out to the girl. Finally a car stops to let him pass. The girl’s face is turned down; she sees nothing but the ground. I watch my son’s narrow shoulders as he crosses the drive, and I am praying that no harm will come to him, not now or ever, that someone who is this loving will be spared the pain of the world, which is when I remember that it is Christmas, the time when we celebrate precisely the opposite, the coming of pure love to suffer for all we who sit with faces turned down, not even knowing what to ask for, knowing only in our crusted-over hearts that anything will help.
Those other issues certainly affect a country's safety, prosperity, and greatness. But I've come to believe that a nation that tolerates destruction of innocents deserves neither safety nor prosperity nor greatness. We've descended into barbarism, and it poisons how we treat the elderly, the incapacitated, even ourselves. We shouldn't be surprised, having made life a utilitarian calculation, that more and more humans become inconvenient.
It's certainly true that there are other issues that ought to concern Christians, like the sanctity of marriage, and how we treat the mentally ill, the elderly, and children who have been born. But abortion is, in my view, the touchstone. Get this one wrong and your moral compass can guide you in nothing else.
Tony Woodlief, with words I need to take heed of:
Cast aside what you think you know is right, the church marquee urges, and consider the God-breathed Word. Give yourself over to it and these seemingly large things--tax rates, economic growth, wars, and rumors of wars--will diminish. Meanwhile, those seemingly small things--the anger in our hearts when we, say, confront someone whose ideology we dislike or the fact that we find it so much easier to spend time with those we like rather than those who need us--will become grievous to our spirits.
This is the Word that cuts through every heart, through the very heart of darkness, illuminating the world as it is and will be. Beside it every politician ever born is remarkably inconsequential. Our business on Election Day is brief, and regardless of who wins our work remains the same--seeking and serving the lost, losing our own lives in the doing, and clinging to the Cross that shatters nations, tribes, and creeds.
"The cure to cancer might be in the slums of Kenya or Indonesia." In other words, you don't know what the children of today are capable of tomorrow, how God may use someone like me, someone like you, now to change the lives of scores, hundreds, thousands, possibly millions, years from now, just because we help change the life of one child today. Please consider sponsoring a child.
In preparation for the mission trip I'm going on next week to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, I picked up a Panama Jack cowboy hat at Wal-Mart earlier this evening for a mere ten dollars.
The Juarez trip can be tough on gear (the boots I wore last year won't be making a return trip), but I figure for ten bucks, I won't worry if the hat doesn't go another year. (And yes, a backup hat will be packed, just in case.)
Moments like this are reminders for me that the songs and trappings of Christian culture are not the hope of the world--Jesus is! We need to make him known. We need to love and seek to serve the world around us through prayer, through faithful evangelism, and through Christ-like service of those in need. Our goal is not building a more air-tight evangelical bubble. Neither should our goal be hoping that our subculture will burst out into the broader culture to great acclaim.
Instead, our goal should be to proclaim Christ and him crucified to the people we go to the school with, work with, and live next door to. Our goal should be to preach the gospel and live lives worthy of that gospel. Our goal should be to use our gifts in every sector of society so that God is glorified.
The following landed in ye olde e-mail inbox earlier today, penned by talk radio host Laura Ingraham: Megan pulled a three-ring binder out of her bag and showed me a photograph of herself and her husband. Young--they're both 21--with big smiles on their faces and obviously wildly in love. "That's what he looked like," she said with a somber face, "He was such a cutie-pie, always buying me little stuffed animals and writing the most thoughtful notes the entire time he was in Iraq." Then she showed me the photo of her husband receiving the Purple Heart on Wednesday from President Bush at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. As President Bush pinned the medal on Mike, he lay unconscious in the ICU, having suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by a piece of shrapnel that pierced his temple. "This is my Mike now," she said, rubbing her eyes. He is completely blind and to alleviate a terrible cranial pressure build-up, doctors had to remove the front of his skull. Since being wounded several months ago, Mike has never regained consciousness and suffers from terrible seizures. "That's my guy," she repeated, before she went on to tell me about how they met and fell in love. For whatever reason, I kept thinking about the fact that some person somewhere carefully assembled the IED that would eventually maim Mike and many others. They are often packed with nails, hunks of lead and screws to cause maxim human suffering. When they explode, the contents rip through flesh and bones, shattering countless dreams in the process. How to comprehend this level of evil and the physical and emotional agony it causes? This young woman and her husband should be out buying their first Christmas tree together, going to parties, raising a glass to their future. When I asked what she was doing for the holiday she said, "I'll be here with Mike. I would never want him to be alone on Christmas." They had been married for about three months when Mike was wounded. In these days before Christmas, Megan and other military wives and moms gave me a precious gift. They reminded me that true love requires sacrifice--sometimes seemingly unbearable, heart-wrenching sacrifice. They are living out their love in big and small ways. Many have moved thousands of miles to relocate to the hospitals where their husbands, wives, sons, and daughters are being treated. This takes an enormous emotional and financial toll, yet they do it for love. When they are not at the hospital bedsides of their wounded warriors, they sit for hours a day in waiting rooms across the United States, hoping for good news--or at least no more bad news. They pray with each other, cry with each other, and yes, even manage to laugh with each other as they hope for a day when they can return to "normal life." Yet for the families of our most seriously injured troops, they know they will have to get used to a "new normal," much different from the life they knew before. As we are about to celebrate Christmas spending time with our families and friends, let us all do our best to live up to the true spirit of this season--and make it a time filled with love, faith, gratitude, hope, charity, and, yes, let's try for some peace on earth. Let us remember the military families and our wounded heroes who will spend this Christmas at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center and other medical facilities across the nation. As we rush around stressed out because we "haven't found the perfect gift" for so-and-so, these families hope and pray for gifts that cannot be wrapped up: a hand that squeezes back, a smile, the first step on a new prosthesis, or a positive medical report. They need our prayers and support at Christmas and every day. Please give what you can to any of the wonderful organizations that support our bravest and their families. Merry Christmas.
Non-believers should feel more loved by the church than by any institution in the world. Boy, but do I blow this one on a consistent basis...
Well, dear readers, after being gone for a week on a family vacation, I'm now leaving in the wee morning hours--in six hours, to be precise--on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. It's an annual thing our church does, and this year I decided to go as one of the adult volunteers. It's really a mission trip for the youth of the church, with something around a 65-35 breakdown of youth to adults. Normally the trip is to build simple homes for the poor of the area, but this year we've been asked by the mission sponsor, Amor Ministries, to build some duplex housing for attendees of the local Bible college. So you won't be seeing any updates from the phisch bowl for a bit, as we will have little power available, little running water (which we don't drink any way, we bring our own drinking water), and absolutely no Internet access of any kind. Mobile phone coverage is even spotty, and insanely expensive. It's going to be a blast. See you next week.
Compassion now has a store where you can purchase Compassion-branded merchandise, as well as music and books from artists who support Compassion. This is a great way for those who may not be able to support a child on a monthly basis to make a contribution to Compassion's ongoing ministries. My personal favorites are the "Changing the World" t-shirt, the "The opposite of poverty" t-shirt (the front reads "The opposite of poverty is not wealth" and the back reads "The opposite of poverty is enough"), the Men's Dill Polo, and the Vintage Cap, which is apparently so popular, it's already on backorder. Now they just need to add a wishlist feature to the Compassion Store, and I'll be set!