Project Back to School

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Did you know that children in the foster system form an at-risk people group without in our own communities?

In almost every case, the reason these children end up in foster care is because of an unsuitable home environment, which may involve violence, neglect, drugs, crime, etc. These environments not only result in trauma many times, but they also tend to result in or be associated with poverty. Many foster care situations are kinship care, which means the child is cared for by a relative, which can create a financial burden.

Poverty has a profound impact on a child’s mental and physical well-being. Children living in poverty have higher rates of absenteeism from school. Students who come from low income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school.  Adults without a high school diploma are 4 times more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, which means raising their children in poverty, perpetuating a cycle of poverty which may persist for generations: poverty affects education which affects poverty. (source 1, source 2)

One of the ways that we can help kids break out of this cycle of poverty is by encouraging them to stay in school – and one of the ways we can do that is by helping them have the things they need to be confident and excited about going to school, so they can succeed!

Our church, White Fields Community Church, has a history of ministering to children in the foster system, and two years ago we began a new ministry: Project Back to School.

We are working with Weld County Department of Human Services, and this year they have identified 135 at-risk kids who need help with school supplies, clothes and shoes.

This is the most we’ve ever taken on. The first year we did 50, last year we did 100 – and this year we’ve accepted their request to provide for 135 kids! It’s a big step of faith, but we are trusting that God will raise up people to bless these families in the name of Jesus. It’s a way for us to love not only in words and in speech, but in action as well (1 John 3:18).

If you would like to be involved, visit us on a Sunday morning this July, leave a comment below, or contact the church here.

Here’s a Facebook live video I posted yesterday about Project Back to School:

Does Easter Come From Ishtar?

We all know that the best place to get information on history is from Facebook memes, right?

One popular meme which I saw floating around this year as we approached Easter was this one, which claims that Easter comes from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and that the practices of Easter are all pagan in origin.

ishtar

There is so much about this that is blatantly incorrect. Let’s break it down:

Is Ishtar pronounced Easter?

Nope. Ishtar is pronounced… (wait for it)… ISH-TAR. Just like it’s spelled. This claim is… (wait for it)… dumb.

Was Ishtar the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex?

Yes. Kind of. Ishtar was an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was part of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution.

Were Ishtar’s symbols the egg and the bunny?

No. Her symbols were the lion and the eight-pointed star. This one’s a blatant lie.

Was Easter originally a pagan holiday which was changed after Constantine to represent Jesus?

No. The date of Jesus’ death and resurrection are clearly recorded in the gospels. Christians have known and celebrated Jesus’ resurrection since the earliest days. We are told in the New Testament that Christians immediately after Jesus’ ascension began gathering weekly on Sunday to remember and celebrate the resurrection, and we know from ancient Christian documents dating to the early 2nd Century (200 years before Constantine) that Christians celebrated what we call “Easter”, i.e. Jesus’ resurrection annually on the anniversary of the event.

For more on the date of Jesus’ death and resurrection, read: Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How it Adds Up.

Where does the word Easter come from?

The word Easter does not come from Ishtar. There are two main theories about where the word comes from.

Theory #1: Eostre

Some say it comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre. However, there are major problems with this theory, since there is no real evidence that anyone ever worshiped a goddess named Eostre— no shrines dedicated to Eostre, no altars of hers, and no ancient documents mentioning her.

Theory #2: Eostarum

More likely is that the word Easter derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak”). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English.

Other languages don’t use the word “Easter” at all

Most European languages use a form of the Latin and Greek word Pascha, which means “Passover.” French: Pâcques. Italian: Pasqua. Russian: Пасха.

Where do Easter eggs and the Easter bunny come from?

During Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter), Christians in the Middle Ages abstained from eating eggs. Eastern Christians (Orthodox and Coptic) still abstain to this day from eating eggs during lent. The tradition of hard-boiling eggs and painting them a few days before Easter developed as a result of people looking forward to the end of the fast from eggs. They would prepare them a few days before Easter and then consume them on Easter Day when they ended the Lenten fast. At some point people made a game out of hiding these colored eggs and sending their children to search for them.

As for the Easter bunny, we know that it is a tradition which the German immigrants to the United States brought with them in the 1700’s. They called it Osterhase, and it was said to “lay” the Easter eggs. It’s origin is not believed to be pagan, but rather… (wait for it)… “fun” (whatever that is!).

 

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Don’t fall for it.

Jesus is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Kay Warren on Mourning the Loss of Her Son

Nearly one year ago Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew committed suicide after struggling with mental health issues for years. No matter what your opinion of their ministry or books, they are parents who lost their son and have had to go through the process of loss and grieving in the public eye.

Kay Warren wrote the following recently, and I think it is worth reading by those of us who want to love others through times of grief and mourning.

It’s not always easy to know what to say or how to treat people who are grieving, but Kay’s words give insight into the thoughts and feelings of someone in that situation, which can help us empathize and know how to love people well in these times.

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.
Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children. 
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”
None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.”

Please Turn With Me in Your Phones… – Smart Phones and Tablets in Church

One of the first changes we made to the bulletins at White Fields when we redesigned them last year, was to get rid of a chunk of text which said: “Please turn off cell phones and pagers during service”.  First of all: pagers are only found in museums, so I don’t think we’ll have a big problem with those being on in service, and second: I don’t want people to turn off their phones in church. That’s right – you read that correctly. I don’t want them answering phone calls or sending texts – but I’d say that our technology culture has developed enough of an etiquette by now, that that goes without saying for most people.

Christianity Today published an article last week about a Barna poll which had shown how millennials use technology in their faith life. The title of the article was: “Watch Out, Pastors: Millennials are Fact-Checking Your Sermons”. First, let me say, that I think we make too much of a big deal over the term “Millennial” – to the point that we seem like we are studying a wild animal rather than dealing with individuals. The reality is, that it isn’t only young people who are connected; nowadays, everyone is connected. Some of the most tech-savvy people I know are in their 60’s. This week SNL’s Weekend Update reported on how Facebook’s stock share prices dropped because of a report that less and less teenagers are using the site. ‘”Really? I think Facebook is great” said moms.’ That’s right – moms are all over Facebook, and every other kind of social media. Because being connected to the internet is the new way to be human. And this isn’t just the case in the United States – reports show that the most connected countries in the world are outside of the United States – places like the Philippines. My experiences is that Hungarians are way more connected to Facebook than Americans. The internet, in many ways, serves as a great equalizer.

Being connected to the internet is the new way to be human.

And that brings us back to the point of the internet and church. The article I mentioned above warned pastors against fibbing, because some of the young people in their congregations might be on their phones fact-checking you as you speak. Here’s what I think: If you are fibbing or exaggerating, then you deserve to be found out! How dare anyone stand up and speak in God’s name and use half-truths and lies or non-credible information to bolster a point they are trying to make? That is an utter lack of respect for God and for the people you minister to. If you are going to teach something, then it better be true!

Pastors: If you are fibbing or exaggerating in your sermons, you deserve to be found out!

For example: earlier today, my cousin, who recently declared himself an outspoken atheist, jumped into a conversation I was having about something my son said about Jesus’ crucifixion, to ask if there are any non-Christian credible sources from antiquity that spoke of Jesus as a historical figure and a man who performed miracles. I was able to immediately send him an article which contained a collection of those writings, which he obviously assumed did not exist. Here’s the point: I am not afraid of the truth – because if what I believe is not true, then I don’t want to believe it!  And if what I believe is true, then I don’t need to be afraid of people investigating its veracity.

So here’s what I say: I WANT you to use your phone during my sermon! Don’t be texting people, don’t be surfing the web – be engaging and connecting with what we’re studying.  I WANT you to be posting to Facebook during my sermons; I WANT you to be tweeting – as long as you are posting and tweeting as a form of engagement. I love it when I come home from church on a Sunday afternoon, and I see that members of our church were tweeting out or Facebooking quotes from my sermon during the message!  That means that the words of my sermon will have a greater reach than they would have otherwise, because they get sent out to hundreds of thousands of people on those social networks.

For over two years now, I have preached from a tablet rather than printed out notes. At White Fields I don’t have a pulpit – I have a mic stand with an iKlip on it. On my iPad I have about 10 versions of the Bible available at my fingertips, and I read from them as I teach. For this reason, for quite a while, I didn’t bring a Bible with me up to the “pulpit” – since I would read the scriptures off of my iPad. Recently though, I did take an old-school paper Bible up with me and read from it, and I got comments right away about how people were happy to see that. So, ever since, I’ve started doing that again. I’ve also started carrying a paper Bible with me to counseling and discipleship meetings, whereas I previously only took my iPad and read scriptures from it. The reason I’ve made this change is because I realize the incredible symbolic value of the Bible as a book. Everyone carries an iPad or a smart phone, but not everyone carries a Bible. When I read my Bible in a coffee shop, people know what I’m reading – whereas they don’t when I read from an iPad.

What about you?  Do you read the Bible on your phone or tablet at church? Do you engage with the sermon while it’s being preached?

The danger of it of course is that if someone lacks self-control, they could easily be distracted from the sermon rather than engage with it on their device.

What do you think? How do we leverage getting greater engagement via smart phones and tablets without people getting distracted  by them? Is it possible?  Leave me a comment below about your experience.