Pursue What Makes for Peace

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This image was originally posted to Flickr by Tyler Merbler.

A week ago – during the breach of the US Capitol building – I had to tell one of my best friends that we absolutely could not have a text conversation that day about it. We tend to approach politics from different angles, and when we can talk face-to-face things are contentious but we can hammer through our differences in a bond of deep brotherly love for each other. But when we have those conversations through texting it’s pretty much guaranteed to end up in a fight. My friend and his wife moved to another state about two years ago, so our face-to-face conversations have to happen virtually (as so many do these days). We’ve talked since then – we’re still friends 🙂

Last week we also got a message from a former financial supporter disapproving of some personal choices we’ve made, and it got me thinking about you, and how diverse and different you y’all are.

Attain to the Unity

I’ve taken some time to look at all of the people who have been God’s hand of provision to us over the years. Here’s a little picture of who you are. 

Simon the Zealot
  • You are families, couples, and individuals. 
  • You are churches of over 5,000 and churches who struggle to have enough people to keep the lights on. 
  • You are in your 20s, your, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. (Hi, grandma!)
  • You are Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Brethren (at least 3 kinds), Catholics, “Merely Christians”, Pentecostals, Calvinists, Evangelicals, Open Theists, Ex-Vangelicals, doubters, and no-longer-Christians. 
  • You are Republican candidates, convicted non-voters, Democratic Socialist community organizers, progressive advocates, staunch Constitutionalists, and jaded “political agnostics.” 
  • You are committed teetotalers, professional brewers, recovering alcoholics, and bartenders.
  • You are professional tattoo artists and you scowl when you see body art. 
  • You are vegetarians and hunters.
  • You are insurance agents, teachers, counselors, nurses, programmers, designers, librarians, pastors, cashiers, architects, accountants, artists, realtors, home-makers, filmmakers, farmers, soldiers, landscapers, missionaries, professors, COOs, CEOs, screenwriters, HVAC techs, youth pastors, campaign managers, tour managers, and more. 
  • You’re in Kansas, Florida, Germany, Australia, South Dakota, Colorado, California, Mississippi, Virginia, DC, Washington, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, Alaska, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, REDACTED, and more.
  • We’ve never met you, and we’ve known you our whole lives. (Hi again, grandma!)

The Bond of Peace

Matthew
the Tax Collector

Some of your differences are significant, others are commonplace. Carrie and I fight to not hide who we are, but we’re circumspect (Eph 5:15) about how we carry ourselves. To whatever degree we are silent on the contentious topics, it’s not because we don’t have opinions. (Feel free to ask us.) Nor are we saying that everyone’s opinion or conviction is equally right or valid. We can’t possibly agree with all of you.

But, as you read the list, did you cringe or scowl at someone or something there?

I did as I wrote some. It’s sin.

Nothing in that list is allowed to be the thing of ultimate value in our lives. None of them are grounds for division among followers of Jesus. With a single possible exception, every person represented on that list is a brother or sister in Christ as far as I know. It does not mean that we need to forfeit our opinions, or that we should shut down dialogue about these things. But we are called to unity and mutual love with no exceptions given.

…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

Ephesians 4:1-6

Each of you is a part of a team, working together, praying, giving, and supporting our work to get the powerful message of the Gospel of Jesus which welcomes all who will confess and believe, regardless of their ethnic, political, or whatever baggage they bring with them. 

More importantly, each of you is part of a family, part of a body, part of The Church of the one God and Father of all. Let’s all remember that, and value that above all the lesser things that our enemy so easily uses to divide us.

Thank you for being part of our team, and part of our Family! (Even if we may have to shut down a text message conversation sometimes.)

LOTS of love,

We Have a New President

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Steve & Christy Sellers. 
Steve is Campus Crusade for Christ, International’s new president

We have a new president…

…of Campus Crusade for Christ, International.

What did you think I was talking about?

In July of 2001, as a student on a Cru Summer Project in Florida, I was offered the opportunity to visit Cru’s biennial staff conference in Colorado for a recruiting event. Needless to say, it worked! That weekend at the 50th-anniversary celebration, Cru’s visionary founders, Bill and Vonette Bright, passed the mantle of leadership to Steve and Judy Douglass in an empowering act of humility, vision, and trust. Last week Steve Douglass again passed the baton to Steve Sellers.

President and Friend

I was commissioned to Cru’s staff two years later, less than 24 hours before Bill Bright died of pulmonary fibrosis. While I’ve always held the Douglasses in high regard, attending a small church together for nearly a decade allowed us to know them up close. They’ve played with our kids, eaten dinner in our home, and blessed us with prayer and good counsel. Over that time, my respect for Steve and Judy has grown from theoretical to personal. With a style very different from the Brights, Steve’s practical “can do” optimism and Judy’s tenacious loyalty have blessed our organization, staff, and partners immensely! 

Passing the Torch 

Like the best leaders, Steve Douglass sensed the Lord calling him to end his time leading CCCI and pass the torch again. Through a fairly lengthy process, the board appointed Steve Sellers (former Executive VP and US National Director).

Carrie and I recall years ago, Steve Sellers sharing of a formative season when the Lord called him to repent of his “smugness.” Another time, Steve shared how Spirit used an immobilizing “flat on his back” injury to deliver him from frenetic activity and self-reliance. Indeed, Steve Sellers has been one of the most humble leaders I’ve ever experienced; his care for people and willingness to listen and empower others is sure to be boon to Cru and the broader church in the complicated season ahead. 

During his commissioning, he affirmed Cru’s unchanging calling, “We will continue to go with a commitment to the Great Commission being our direction, and the Great Commandment being our passion.” Pray with us for Steve and Christy as they follow the Lord in this new role.


Update: I found out after hitting “publish” on this that Judy’s book When You Love a Prodigal is currently on sale on Amazon for $1.99 this month on Kindle. She’s an incredibly gifted writer. I would 100% recommend picking it up, or her other recent book, Shaped by God-Words for Life, which is $6 in the Cru store.

What month is it?

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The experience of COVID-Pandemic life has been nothing if not disorientating. Somehow it feels like we sent out the last update just a week or two ago, but it also feels like we haven’t written in three years. (It’s been more like 3 months, sorry about that.) Despite the fact that I have been working exclusively from home and that we have nowhere else to go, it feels like we have less time in our day, not more.

Since March, we’ve participated in social-distancing versions of: a wedding, a funeral, a 9-year-old birthday party, field trips, discipling, Pinochle, Battleship, Clue, Guess Who, design meetings, Bible studies, a bachelor party, and on and on. We’ve had roof leaks, we got rabbits to raise for meat, we built a bunk bed, released 4 new updates of the Jesus Film app, trying new hobbies, and so many other totally-normal things. 

It’s all been a blur. But somehow a blur that felt like it has taken forever. And with the positive-test rate on the rise in Florida, it doesn’t look like we’re even close to finished with this weird fog-life.

A Trudge to Glory

Through all of it, my work has mostly continued on business-as-usual – just without a commute. I bounce back and forth between meetings, and heads-down times of “pixel-pushing,” user research, and exploring new possibilities in how people interact with our tools. All pursuing opportunities to update, fix, improve, and expand Jesus Film’s impact for the Gospel around the world.

I’ve spent time interacting with leaders of national movements of evangelists and disciple-makers, but sometimes I’m getting the pixel-spacing just right on an icon to communicate the difference between “download on wifi only” and “download on mobile data and wifi” even if the user isn’t able to read the labels in our app. (An important setting in places where 1 GB of mobile data might cost 15% or more of your monthly income.)

BUT! In this time of social-distancing, intense politics, and social change there have continues to be a lot of opportunities to get the Gospel in front of people that the Jesus Film Digital department and our partners have taken advantage of.

His arm is not too short to save.

One night in late May is known in one specific major religion as the “Night of Power.” It’s a night where they celebrate the supposed delivery of their scriptures from heaven to their prophet. Evangelists and missionaries in areas where this religion is prevalent find that people tend to have “visions” and dreams of Jesus leading up to that night. Many begin to seek out information about Jesus, and about the Gospel each year, and many respond to Jesus as the Lord that can give freedom, forgiveness, and power. Leading up to it this year, one of our partners – Jon Ralls of Kavanah Media – coordinated with Jesus Film’s Next Steps strategy to create a conversations using social media ad “recipes” to drive people who have had visions or dreams toward a short video from our platform, through chat-bot technology, and on to interactions with real people. 

Take a listen to his podcast episode at: kavanahmedia.com/resources/19834

Here’s one story that came out of it (I’ve edited for spelling, brevity, and privacy):

So this [Central Asian] guy moved here to [EDITED] last October, God had been working in his life for a while, he has a 20-year-old son and an ex-wife who became Christians about 4 years ago but he wasn’t having it til more recently his son really pushed him to study more of the Bible.

He went to a local church to get answers but the older priest there wasn’t very helpful for him, and then he couldn’t even do that once COVID shutdown hit.

Until 2 weeks ago, he saw our “Dreams” Facebook ad in his language and using [his own religion’s] terms for Jesus, and it caught his attention. He sent a message and actually chose “I want to study the Bible with a follower of Jesus” from our chat tree, so we connected him pretty quickly with a multiplier [from his ethnolinguistic group], ended up talking with several of our connected [people from his ethnolinguistic group], and received Christ and then got baptized Sunday in a small gathering in a backyard here. THANK YOU, TEAM! AND PRAISE GOD!

Partnering Around the World

We’ve also seen “Next Steps” campaigns being run in: Indonesia, Tunisia, India, Australia, the UK, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and around the Middle East.

Voke Story

In our last update we talked about Voke, the other app that is produced out of Jesus Film’s Digital Solutions Team. I wanted to share one quick story from Desmond in Australia about how Voke is being used by Youth Group leaders there.

 

COVID-19, Social Distancing Ministry, and God speaking out of the whirlwind…

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In the past two weeks, the people that I share my office space with have gotten MUCH cuter.

Lockdown

I was supposed to be landing in Chiang Mai, Thailand right about now. Carrie’s parents were supposed to be arriving at our house tomorrow, visiting and helping keep our household sane. This coming Monday, Fia was going to miss dance class for about the first time because Cai was supposed to have his first Blue and Gold Dinner for Cub Scouts. 

Yet, here we are, on at least day 14 of the kids not leaving the house. I haven’t gone anywhere since a quick grocery run six days ago, Carrie hasn’t gone anywhere except for her dawn walk around our very-quiet neighborhood. Our small group has met on Google Hangouts twice now. Our new church has “met” two times now on Facebook Live Video. My workday happens from our guest bedroom; one video call after another, filled in with chats through a coworking app called Slack. And my team’s pace has only picked up with the whole world of missions moving almost exclusively to virtual ministry during these crazy times.

It’s a good thing we don’t have to be socially-distant from each other here at home. Family reading time tends toward a group activity.

Oh, and it’s rip-roaring allergy season in Orlando, with all of the trees trying to make fruit again this year. There’s pine and avocado pollen dusted all over our yard… and apparently way up in my sinuses.

Social Distancing Opportunities

One of the things that the Jesus Film Digital Department (my team along with Marketing, and Film Production) is working on putting together a Digital Ministry Resource Kit to provide some ideas of how to make use of this weird time where we’re all so separated, but so many of us have more availability to have intentional conversations over the phone, or email, or Facebook messenger, etc. 

One of the apps that comes out of my team’s work is called Voke. It empowers people to “grow together one-on-one, or with a group, even when you’re apart, by watching a selection of gospel-based video series — all in one place.” It’s a perfect tool for youth groups who can’t meet together, or for families who want to be intentional about making use of this time. It’s set up to be a tool that facilitates group journeys thorough various series of shared content.

Voke is available in the Google Play Store, and Apple’s App Store.

By the end of next week, the kit should be available on JesusFilm.org. Go there and search “Digital Ministry Resource Kit” to get it! (A little birdie told me that it would probably end up at jesusfilm.org/digitalministrykit.)

Out of the whirlwind…

Like most other places at this point, we’re under a shelter-in-place order in Florida, which are usually hurricane-related around here. But the existential and spiritual questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic feel far more like Job’s questions of the Lord leading up to chapter 38. Why is this happening? What did we do to deserve this?

God has purposes for this whole thing. Maybe some if it is the chastisement of His church for some reason, by preventing us from gathering (Malachai 1:10). Maybe part of it is that He’s judging the modern world for arrogance in thinking we control our fortune and destinies. Perhaps it’s both of those things, or neither. There will be be faithful, fruitful believers who die of this virus. There will be people who sin with abandon who are cured (or don’t get it at all). 

I’ve seen enough of Facebook to know that so many people have some explanation or idea about why God is judging whom. Instead, I find myself sitting like Job after God’s thundering response of out of the storm — essentially — “Who do you think you are? I have my purposes, and I am in control of it. Trust that.” And Job’s response, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (42:2-3)

People are losing jobs. The air is clearer. People are dying alone. The stock market is crazy. Households are forced to be together. Trips are canceled. People are scared. Faithful churches are empty. Day and night still come (Job 38:12). The foundations of the earth are still solid (v4). Snow and hail fall from their storehouses (v22). Thunderstorms still follow their paths (v25). The dew and frost still form in the mornings (vv28-29). Orion, the Pleiades, the Bear and her cubs, and the rest of the stars still twinkle overhead (vv31-32). Gravity is still pulling things together; light still shines (v33). Lions still hunt; ravens still pick (vv40-41).

We are resting in this: God is not capricious, and He is in complete control over all of this, over the path of the virus and the responses of our leaders. Not only does He control all of these things, but He has a plan — no, probably lots of plans for how He will use all of this for His own glory, and “for good” for His Church. Even if we don’t see it now. Even if we don’t understand it later.

Even if things get far worse, God is sovereign over it. He’s still good, He knows the end from the beginning, and He will accomplish His purposes.

Pray For

  • Everyone who is suffering from the effects of COVID-19, their families, and their communities.
  • Protection for medical professionals (like Carrie’s sister) who are working on the front lines of this crisis.
  • Ease from anxiety for everyone. And, that we would see what it is that the Lord is doing with this!
  • Opportunities for all of us to serve our neighbors, and to minister in word and deed to those around us who need it.