Rejecting Poverty

From our work in the inner city areas, it has become obvious that there are no two cities alike. Cities are as unique as finger prints. Therefore there is no cookie-cutter-way to minister to the people residing in each city. But….

We have seen similarities as well. One of the most striking similarities is the poverty spirit that has attached itself to agencies, organizations and people of the inner cities. Our definition of poverty is: The state of being inferior in quality or insufficient and inadequate in amount. With this definition in mind it is easy to see that this isn’t limited to only money. This includes education, housing, roads, government, etc.

The thing that has bothered us immensely is that this same poverty spirit has affected the churches of the inner cities as well. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Those of us doing ministry in these neighborhoods very often have fallen prey to the poverty spirit affecting the entire area and we need prayer support to keep us resisting this onslaught.

What I mean is it is easy to begin to be okay with having insufficient and inadequate funding. We’re doing inner city ministry. Why should we expect to be well-funded in this area? I’ll tell you why. Our provision is the God of abundance. Often I hear leaders in these areas making decisions, not based on the direction from God, but according to what budgets can afford. I do not deny fiscal responsibility is important, but when we start making decisions based on “if we can afford it or not,” we have already been infected by the poverty spirit that rules these areas.

This is what we reject.

It isn’t easy because the spirit of poverty has ruled for so long in these regions that it has become part of every part of society. But we’ve been called to fight these kinds of giants. And not just to fight them, we’ve been called to bring victory for the glory of the Father and His Son. We have the Spirit, why are we allowing ourselves to be governed and bossed around by a far inferior spirit? Please join us in our war. The good news is…..we win 🙂

With Love

N8

a.k.a. Nate Bull

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A “Newbie” Street Minister’s Concern

As a person fairly new to street ministry, I often find myself wondering about certain issues that seem to keep coming up.   So I’d like to start a discussion about street ministry. I’m hoping that more experienced street ministers will contribute to the discussion and perhaps help me settle some of the questions I have.

What often strikes me on the street is that when we ask people how they’re doing, they frequently answer: “OK, doing fine.” Now, I know we all guard our privacy and no matter how we really feel, we are wary of letting on too much. But I can’t help wondering how they’re really doing.  Then if we probe and ask if they have any prayer requests, they often answer, “ No, I’m good. ” Or if they do have a request it will be for healing for a loved one- which of course is OK but I still keep wondering how they personally are doing.  But what really surprises me is how often people have had some connection to a church in the past but have just slipped away. Often they will even say they were once quite active in a local church and that they even memorized verses in the past or used to do daily devotions.  Some will admit that they have to get back to church but seem reluctant to commit. It’s as if they don’t really realize how dangerous this procrastination is. It’s as if they are saying God is love and they are banking on some notion of eternal security that will make up for their lack of pursuit of obedience to the commands of Christ. Now, before you wonder about my own theology, let me quickly state that I believe that God is love and he loves us and if we repent and believe and receive his Son we are saved/rescued and justified. And I believe true Christians do have eternal security/life. And, of course, church attendance/commitment is not the only mark of a Christian – there is so much more– such as the fruits of the Spirit.

But, what do we have to say to these lapsed Christians if that is indeed what they are. How can we convey to them our concern? Should we be concerned?

What do the scriptures say about this? Lately, I’ve been dwelling in Hebrews – chapters 5 and 6. The author of Hebrews does not mince words. He rebukes the lapsed Christians. He calls them babies, who are immature when they should have been growing in Christ. They’re not listening. They are not practiced in the telling of right from wrong. In chapter 6 (The Message)  the author even implies that those “who have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they’ve personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us – if then they turn their backs on it, … they have re-crucified Jesus!” They are like fields that though they have received adequate rain have not produce good fruit but rather thorns and thistles. These fields are burned, not harvested.

Wow, this is serious. How do we convey this message? My approach would be to certainly affirm that God loves them. In fact we should be able to make a very strong case that it’s this very strong love of God for us that motivates this very strong warning. We, for our own sakes and for the sakes of the people we are trying to reach, must not down-play or lessen the consequences which Hebrews lays out. We have to do this lovingly and with much patience, but we have to do it.

John Piper, in a series of sermons on Hebrews 5 and 6 uses the illustration of a gymnast and her coach. The gymnast is quite accomplished but has been sloughing off lately. As she is in the middle of a difficult double reverse flip she panics because of lack of practice. She’s about to land on her head and possibly break her neck. What does a good coach do? The immediate task is to help her land safely. He yells out for her to find the floor – a reference point to allow her to determine where she is in the flip. Once she is safe, he reminds her to practice diligently – no sloughing off! Then he looks her straight in the eye and warns her that if she doesn’t do this she will sustain serious injury. Likewise, the author of Hebrews “yells out” elsewhere in the book for the lapsed Christian to look to Jesus the author and finisher of their faith. And then he urges the Christian to practice with diligence -find space for God – get with the program. And then the warning to all of us – -to do what Jesus commands lest we become a field that is only good for growing thorns and thistles and to be burned.

I believe there is a lesson here for us as individual Christians as we pursue a more perfect obedience.  And I believe that this lesson helps us to be more faithful to fellow Christians as we encourage and love one another – even when it sometimes requires warnings and rebuke.  And I believe we can convey this warning to those we minister to on the streets and in seeker Bible studies.  The complete message consists of conveying God’s love and mercy, God’s promises of Himself and other gifts, and His loving warnings. May God help us to do this effectively.

And one more thing: We have to do this humbly, keeping in mind that in our pursuit of a more perfect obedience, that we never can do it perfectly, and that we never will reach perfection this side of heaven. Therefore, daily confession is something we all must engage in. And in the end all of us have to rely on God helping us.

In Christ,

Peter Dieleman

Member, Vanguard North

From a Shepherd’s Heart

I was out in the neighborhood early this week when I encountered three young men that I had been ministering to on many different occasions. On this particular day I felt I needed to begin with the question, “What is stopping you from following after Jesus Christ?” This was a peculiar question to them and they began to express how they felt they already knew Jesus. So I began to ask further questions about what was going on in their lives. All three were living with women whom they were not married to. All three were satisfied with living this way with no promise of marriage. One young man even said he thought of the woman he was living with as his wife already, but had never gone to get a marriage license.

I gently challenged them to examine how they were living.

I opened the bible app on my phone to Ephesians 5: 1-6 and read it to them. I explained to them that, according to this scripture, if they really were trying to follow and live for Christ it means there should be no sexual immorality in their lives. I said not to be deceived and that the Ephesians passage said there should be no hint of darkness in our lives as followers of Jesus. Lives full of sin have no place now that we have taken Jesus up on all He has promised for all who follow after Him. After this they began to ask questions like, “How can I live like what you say?” and “Is it about my works, then, to live like this?” I then began to teach them that we are saved by grace through faith and that no work on our part can ever help us receive the promise that Jesus has already given us according to Ephesians 2:8. But we must now walk in this new way of life. In order to live in the way of Christ you need to get around other men who can teach you what that means. So out of this meeting I invited them into our men study group on Wednesdays. Each gave an excuse of why their schedules probably would interfere with this group. But I was not deterred. It’s my shepherd’s heart. Jesus was also about shepherding unbelievers 🙂

I believe that the Father’s heart is to pursue after men like these. I believe that is why I have been sent to the North side Kalamazoo neighborhood. This men’s group is just the beginning to capture each one of them for Christ. I believe in the ministry of reconciliation for each person I will encounter. I believe this is about calling Christ’s Church to pursue after the lost. I am reminded of Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus has given us authority to make disciples of all nations. We must teach them to do the will of the Father which is to live our lives according to the truth found in the scriptures and in really knowing Christ Jesus.

Love and Peace,

Pastor Michael Stewart

Vanguard North Church