Articles

  • Location and Christian Service

    Eric Russ

    I think it is safe to say that every person in our body who has moved into the community has given up a lot of worldly comforts. In fact, I am quite convinced that if it wasn't for the Holy Spirit and my wife, my secret idol would be wealth and I would be ministering to very wealthy people and showing you theologically why there is nothing wrong with that. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with ministering to wealthy people. The question we have to ask is “what does our old sinful nature gravitate toward”? For example, imagine we are in a room of fifteen Christians who are each given the opportunity to minister in either the inner city of Detroit or the plush environment of Grosse Pointe (or pick the nicest suburb around where you live). Most likely we would get an overwhelming response to serve in the suburbs. Actually, a more real picture would be one of silence because we would all want the suburbs, but it would seem un-Christian to blurt out that self preserving request. Therefore, we would probably have to cast lots with everyone in their hearts hoping to get placed in Grosse Pointe. Sadly, we don't cast lots in this area as Christians. Instead, we have built a Christian culture that doesn’t want to expose itself. Instead of being honest about our flesh, we let the subject of where you live and what you do with your money be a pardonable sin (meaning a sin the church will excuse) since we all struggle in this area. You can do what you want with your life, and how you spend your money and where you live is totally up to you. We appeal to the motto of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To ask questions in this area has become judgmental in American Christianity. There are a few scenarios that we see played out in and around the community of faith. Which one are you?


    Timeline one
    These are people who will never put themselves in harms way. American Christianity has told them it is okay to feed your sin nature while assenting to the facts that Jesus lays out in the scripture. These are the people who actually get upset that people are moving into our neighborhood. They appeal to such worldly reason like better school systems, safety, people who are similar to them, better opportunities for them and their family, etc. It seems clear that all these reasons are merely worldly attempts to preserve their lives and enjoy their desires. God is way more gracious than me, so I wouldn't be surprised if they are trusting Christ and his grace for salvation (so they might be Christians), but at best they are killing the desired biblical witness that Christ wants for the church. They are spitting in the face of important models and teachings of Christ like eternal perspective, biblical grace, unity, image bearing, selfishness, pneumatology, and missions, just to name a few.

    Timeline two
    These are people who actually admire what we are doing, but God has them in another area serving Jesus. Our body would not be doing what it does if it were not for God's people in this area. We are very thankful for people in other communities who help to mobilize us in this community for Christ. However, It gets a little hairy when Jesus begins to introduce people to destitute and needy areas, because now people have to make sure they in faith can stay where they are after seeing what they have seen and knowing what they know. Although many good people are serving faithfully where they are, many times this timeline is a convenient timeline for people never to consider why they are where they are. They just appeal to the fact that I minister where I am, and I can't help it if it is in a place with great churches, awesome malls, great family life activities, etc. They would say, “I guess I will carry the burden of ministering where I am at.” Oh how convenient! These people must examine if they are really worshipping God’s created things versus the creator.

    Timeline three
    These are people who come into our community to serve, and then, for many reasons, the emotion wears off and it becomes too hard. They start to long for a "regular" life, not one as a missionary. These people then feel pressure because they know they have committed to a community, so they start to go through a time of guilt. Because of the guilt they begin to view their friends, those who have fought with them and for them, as unsafe, so they begin to not share their hearts as much. They begin to isolate themselves and not share of themselves as much. Finally, the nail in the coffin is that they begin to find fault with the ministry or the leaders. Self sabotage is usually the last stage before exit. Very rarely do people leave without demonizing individuals or a ministry as a whole. Someone has to be the scapegoat right? Could it be that it wasn’t the church's or the leadership’s fault? Could it be that the person is actually worldly and giving in to the flesh?

    Timeline Four
    These are people who are serving in the ministry and believe they have an opportunity to expand God's kingdom somewhere else. They might be considering their home town, another country, or another area in the city. Their motivation is not to leave the hood or whatever hard area they are in, but the motivation is to take ground for Christ elsewhere. With great joy and sadness do we send these people off. Great joy because we are accomplishing part of God's mandate to subdue the earth. Sadness because we are sending away dear friends and family that we love.

    Timeline Five
    These people are similar to timeline three; the only difference is their response to the flesh. Instead of blaming others for their own convictions, they renew their minds. Many times they feel conviction because they realize that they desire their own benefit and not God's Glory first, which Phil. 2:3-4 speaks clearly against. After they realize this is conviction from the Spirit, they can begin to ask themselves hard questions and remain in an environment where people that love them and love Jesus can ask hard questions as well. 

    There are a few questions you have to ask when discussing location and Christian service. Where do you get your joy? What reward are you searching for? There are many worldly answers to these questions: comforts, healthy friends who agree with your way of life and thinking, being in a community where selfishness is a way a life, etc. After replacing lies with truth we fight to remain in a place that our flesh and old sin nature desperately is looking for a way out. That seems to be the normal ebb and flow of believers in our body, but I applaud the fight and praise God for his grace to remain a fighter for Christ our great reward.

    I am humbled by the people who fight and renew their minds for God’s glory. At the same time, I have seen many people choose to lie to themselves and leave because it is simply too hard for them. As if it is not just as hard for those who choose to stay and fight. It is surely as hard for them too. If the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and empowers people for supernatural tasks daily and made all of us who know Christ newly human again, then how is he not enough to allow us to fight until the end. I don't buy the conclusion that people just can't do it. Well, let me say that another way. I know people can't do it. But we don't rely on our own strength. We trust God to empower the weak and all praise goes to Jesus. In my opinion, do you know what has been the consistent variable in people leaving our community? They simply stop trusting Jesus.

    I only wish the Lord would give us the grace to not blame shift toward others and to not abuse grace for a relief to gratify our selfish desires. I wish people who leave would just say, “I am too wimpy to stay and I don't trust God on that level. I need to process with the Lord and his people as to why this is the case and repent and ask God to work in my heart.” Is it too much to ask of people to answer honestly about why they don’t want to fight for Christ sake or why they won’t even attempt to put themselves in harms way for the gospel? Once they admit that the main issue is that they aren’t trusting in Christ, they can begin working through that with the people of God. Seems like a long shot, huh? I am still going to pray toward that end.

  • Back After The Fast

    Eric Russ

    As you might have realized, I have been writing with less consistency for the last few weeks. I have been trying to focus more on the community in which I am serving and the fast that I have been in the midst of. Hopefully, I will have valuable entries for you once I end my fast which will be April 13th. Please keep me in prayer as the Lord reminds you. Here are some prayer requests that you can join with me in praying. 

     

    1. Pray that Jesus would break the strongholds in our community and in my life for His honor.

    2. Pray that my contentment and joy may by consistently found in Christ.

    3. Pray the Lord raises up indigenous people to be and make disciples in our community.

    4. Pray the Lord would continue to bring upwardly mobile neighbors to move into the hood for His glory.

     

    Thanks for praying for us.

    Love,

    E

  • "Will You Forgive Me?" Is Not Semantics

    Eric Russ

    I think it seems fair to say that for some reason we have taken cues from the world that authentic, unhindered community is not only unrealistic, but not that important. I have come across very Godly and mature believers that are confused on this important matter of community. We must get back to making this essential as we disciple others. Please don't fudge on this but instead teach this truth and more importantly, model this truth.  

    Remember, when Christ tells us to forgive others just as Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13, Mt. 6:14)? Let's look at how this concept supposedly plays out in our society and if it helps relationships or not. Usually, when someone sins against us, our natural reaction is to not want to be put in a place where someone else has a part to play in freeing us from that wrong doing. We'd much rather free ourselves so we say things such as "my fault", "didn't mean to do that to you", or "sorry about that".  Many times what we are really trying to say is what we've done is really a cosmic whoops versus sin to take seriously. On the other side, the person who was wronged often responds by saying "no problem", or "everyone makes mistakes", "don't worry about", or "it was nothing". Therefore the other party returns the favor by passively retracting any ownership that the wronged party might have in the process of reconciliation. 

    The more alarming part of this scenario is this interaction becomes the norm of our relationships. The result is that trust is never truly built, safety is never restored, and this is why we are able to throw things back in each other's face that we thought were dealt with. This is why bitterness creeps in, and we begin to paint a false picture of another person. This is why people are pegged as harsh and unloving when they actually call sin, sin because it is simply not the norm in our culture. Is it unloving? Or is it redemptive?

    Although we like to think that forgiveness is a one way street, being thrown out by a super gracious God with no strings attached. Actually, this is not altogether true. Although forgiveness is freely out there and God is super gracious, Christ has paved a two way street. I propose that by definition of the cross, forgiveness is always available but only instituted when the other party realizes they have wronged a holy God and ask the Holy God to take them off the hook. God forgives and we have to admit we need forgiveness. God doesn't take the "no big deal" route, nor does he let us say "oops, my fault." Why would we do different than Christ? In the same way, as we follow Jesus' model and obey his command, we must concede that there are two people in the relationship and there are two people that are needed for the relationship to be brought from brokenness to wholeness. 

    So what does it look like to practically take our cues from Jesus in the area of receiving and forgiving people? 

    As we recapitulate what was modeled to us theologically from Christ, when we wrong someone we do the following:

    1. We don't make excuses or justification

    2. We clearly admit the sin and name the sin

    3. We ask for the other person to forgive us (modeling that they are an important part of the reconciliation process)

    4. The person who has been wronged now has the opportunity to do two things. 

          1. Take the person off the hook by extending forgiveness (Mt. 6:14)

          2. Encourage the person being forgiven that their wrong doing will not be connected to them during the rest of the relationship (1Cor. 13:5)

    I must warn you, people will like to hear this theologically but when you hold them accountable they might not be so appreciative at first. You must build conviction from the teaching and redemptive model of Christ and let the Holy Spirit strengthen you to put in the time to teach a principle that has great gospel centrality; no wonder Satan is working hard for it to become a lost component in our relationships.

    Thanks for making discipleship an issue!

  • What's Your Goal?

    Eric Russ

    Have you lost sight behind why you don't sin? Are you teaching others unintentionally the wrong motivation behind holiness?

    We can often think to ourselves, "will I ever stop being tempted sexually?"  "Will I ever stop acting out of anger?" " Will I ever stop lying, will I ever stop being passive?" The answer to our questions like these will reveal if we are learning and training others to live motivated by grace or motivated by our will. I talk to guys all the time and have been guilty of thinking, " When I finally conquer this sin then I can…."  We can also find ourselves thinking that when we do sin all we have done is for nothing and we have to start from scratch. 

    This thinking implies that the goal of the Christian life is to stop sinning. This thinking implies that a successful Christian life is to conquer sin. Obviously, Christ tells us to be holy for he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are to surely pursue holiness as we image God and enjoy him. However, notice that the goals in the paragraph above had no mention of Jesus. That is the tragedy. Quickly in the Christian life our daily task can be to get through the day not committing any of our addictive sins. And if we are really good, we actually try to take on the task to conquer even our desires that are unholy.

    This can easily be our thinking if we are not intentionally challenged to remember the evidence of grace in our life. Remember to train your disciple's that the goal, the treasure, the focus, is always Christ and what he has done, not what we do after. Here are a few tips to make sure we are thinking rightly about our goal as Christians and the place of sin in our life.

    1. Make sure you explain the difference between having a desire versus gratifying a desire. Many times people think having and gratifying a sinful desire are synonymous but that is untrue. The scriptures do not teach that you will never be tempted by sin or "have a sinful desire." Rather the Bible teaches (Galatians 5:16) that we do not have to nor is it God's will to gratify those desires. This is important because many of us cave in thinking we are already in sin because our old sin nature rises up and tries to lie to us, telling us that it is alive and well. However, I must say again, to have a sinful desire and yet not act on it is victory as we fight sin and trust Jesus to live out of our new nature. 

    2. Make sure you explain and live, and explain and live, and explain and live the doctrine of grace. (Please see document 'Doctrine of Grace' on our Resource page)

    3. Make sure you spend a lot of time and prayer on the subject matter of our position in Christ versus our condition in life (Please see document 'Position and Condition' on our Resource page)

    We must teach our men and women to hate sin.  But instead of focusing on sin, our main gaze must always be Jesus.

  • Fasting With Your Disciples

    Eric Russ

    I am on the 7th day of a forty day fast and it has been very rich spiritually. I wanted to give you a heads up that teaching the spiritual discipline of fasting with you disciples is an absolute must as you mature them in Christ. It is great for their growth in Christ. In addition, the Lord uses fasting with disciples to build a close bond with them.

    Hopefully, these are some helpful tips to consider when you cast vision to fast with your disciple:

    Make sure you explain the theological rationale behind a Christian fast.
    -The goal of fasting is to intentionally move toward God. However, not in the sense that we don't have Christ but in the sense that we have Christ and want him all the more.
    -Matthew 9:14-17

    Help them understand the heart and attitude that should accompany a fast.
    -Matthew 6:16-18

    Coach them that the hunger pains are meant for prayer not ESPN.
    -Try to Limit entertainment i.e. TV. Don't replace the hunger with another form of comfort but seek the Lord.  

    Coach them on what are the different fasts.
    -Juice Fast
    -Partial Fast
    -Material Fast
    -Daniel Fast (Dan 1 and 10)

    Particularly, with a 40 day fast it is important to teach your disciple the diet that should accompany this type of fast for safety reasons. 

    For example, during my forty day fast my diet is:
    1 Cup of Fruit Juice
    1 Cup of Broth
    1 Cup of Fruit Juice
    1 Cup of Maple Syrup and Lemon Juice

    Be clear about side effects.
    -You may experience moderate to severe headaches for the first day or so as your body rids itself of caffeine, salt, sugar, and various impurities.

    Make sure you leave freedom and discernment for people who might not be able to fast.

    Cautions
    -Anyone with a medical condition related to eating or under the treatment of a physician must consult their doctor before fasting. Children, especially small children, will have special needs that must be considered. Under these conditions, find some sacrifice in the area of food that can be made without endangering your health.

    I pray you have a great time with Christ.