Today, the Woodbury Community Church School of Discipleship began our fall term. I love this school! 18 students gathered at 5:30 in the morning to discuss Richard Stearns’ fantastic book, The Hole in Our Gospel.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, Stearns makes the case that the good news of Jesus Christ was meant to change the world. He writes, “The whole gospel is a vision for ushering God’s kingdom – now, not in some future time, and here, on earth, not in some distant heaven. What if two billion people (the number of those around the world who profess faith in Christ) embraced this vision of God transforming our world – through them? Imagine it. Indeed, what if even two thousand people took their faith to the next level – what might God do? Two thousand years ago, the world was changed forever by just twelve.
It can happen again.” (pg. 5)
Do you believe that?
One of the joys of my life is watching the people of God become passionate about the things of God. I love when I see people whose hearts break for the things that break the heart of God. At Woodbury Community Church, we’re seeking to be a people who care deeply about the people and the things that God cares so deeply about. All throughout the Bible we read about God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, the refugee and the city.
In 2012 a vision team from our church began to seek God’s direction for the next chapter of Woodbury Community Church. It became clear that one of the initiatives that God wanted us to pursue was caring for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, and the refugee like never before. I am blown away at what God has done since!
In the past few months the Lord has worked through the people of WCC in a variety of ways.
There is Sara and her team of volunteers whose hearts are broken for the children of Haiti. Sara is a teacher by trade who became involved in an organization called Kozefò that is making a difference in education in Haiti. When it became apparent that Kozefò might have to shut down, Sara and some friends, by faith stepped up to save the school.
Here is the revised mission statement of Kozefò:
Kozefò is a mergence of two Kreyòl words: Koze and Fò, meaning, to speak in a loud voice. Kozefò, as an organization, believes education is the key to developing thinking, creative individuals. As Christians, we are called to care and to speak loud against the injustices in the world. This is the true meaning of Kozefò, people together, hand in hand, speaking in a loud voice to bring about positive change in education, one school at a time. Kozefò is committed to supporting the primary school at A New Arrival Center in the Pernier community of Port au Prince.
Then there is Tammie. Tammie caught a vision for the “orphan” in our own backyard. Struck by a need to come alongside of families in times of crisis, to help single moms who had no familial support system, and to just be there for children who have no one else, Tammie got involved in the tremendous work that Safe Families for Children is doing in our area. When she found out that there is a tremendous need for host families in the Washington County area, Tammie decided to get involved in recruiting other families to help. There are already several families from WCC that have signed on to be host families.
Here is how the Safe Families website describes their work:
When crisis strikes, many of us rely on relatives and our church family for support. But for some parents, there isn’t a safety net. Often problems such as drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness can be debilitating, making it impossible for parents to care for their children. With the changing economy many more families are experiencing financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. During such crisis, children are especially at-risk for neglect or abuse as their parents struggle to cope with crushing circumstances and emotions.
State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help?
Overburdened by need and restrained by resources, law and policy most state welfare agencies are allowed to rescue only children who have suffered blatant abuse or neglect. Overwhelmed and underfunded, the state is ill-equipped to deal with a problem of this magnitude.
Without assistance, many of these families will find the issues in their homes escalating to episodes of abuse and/or neglect with long lasting consequences for not only the child, but also for our communities as well.
Since 2005, Safe Families for Children has offered sanctuary to thousands of children, minimizing the risk for abuse or neglect and giving parents the time and tools they need to help their families thrive. The ultimate goal is to strengthen and support parents so they can become Safe Families for their own children.
Safe Families for Children strives to meet three objectives:
- Child Welfare Deflection: Safe Families provides a safe alternative to child welfare custody, thus significantly reducing the number of children entering the child welfare system.
- Child Abuse Prevention: Providing an overwhelmed and resource limited parent with a safe, temporary place for their child without threat of losing custody. By offering support, the goal is to avert potential abuse/neglect episodes.
- Family Support and Stabilization: Many parents struggle because of limited social support and unavailable extended family. Many Safe Families Volunteers become the extended family that a parent never had.
A couple weeks ago we held a breakfast for people to hear how they could get involved and over 50 people showed up representing seven different churches and a number of social service organizations. God is at work!
Then there is Grant. Grant is a detective with the City of Minneapolis police department leading their efforts to fight against juvenile sex trafficking. Here is a video of Grant speaking about the subject on Minnesota Public Television.
It’s amazing how after praying about impacting the oppressed in our culture that the Lord brought Grant to WCC. Earlier this week Grant and I filmed a video about how the church can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery. The problem is immense, but it’s not too big for God to solve as His people get involved. Grant, Cory (another member of WCC) and I are a part of a human trafficking task force that is meeting monthly in the Twin Cities with the purpose of eradicating this insidious problem.
Then there is Scott and Bob. For the past four years Scott and Bob have led the Refugee Life Ministry team at Woodbury Community Church. We’ve partnered with World Relief Minnesota and a couple dozen other churches to welcome the stranger with the love of Jesus here in the Twin Cities. Over the past fast four years the Lord has allowed us to welcome three families from Myanmar to the Twin Cities. We’ll be bringing our fourth family in later this year. I can’t wait!
Those involved in Refugee Life Ministry are seeing their eyes opened to a global issue in a local way. The relationships between WCC families and their new friends from Myanmar is a beautiful thing to watch. What started out as supplying furniture and household goods to a refugee family quickly became tutoring, game nights, a trip to the zoo or for ice cream. Many of the families that we work with have waited almost 20 years to get out of the refugee camp and begin a new life in America. It is a beautiful thing to see God work through.
I could go on and on . . .
There is Pam who has a passion for coming alongside of widows and widowers who are residents living in government subsidized housing in Hastings. She is working to provide them with basic household essentials that they don’t have the funds to purchase. Pam has already organized a couple of donation drives that have resulted in practical blessings to the residents.
There is Sue, who on her own serves the elderly by helping them run errands, befriending them and being a listening ear.
There is Alisa who is serving as a liaison between Woodbury Community Church and the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. She is encouraging our congregation to engage in generous giving to help this organization that serves as many as 100 households each week. Each one of these households receives four or more grocery bags of food depending upon the size of the family. The food shelf also provides over 300 households with traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and 650 children with Christmas gifts.
I know that I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg.
So, my challenge to you today is to get involved in something.
Over the next four weeks, our church will be going through a series entitled, Justice. We’ll hear about God’s love for the city, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor, the oppressed, and the prisoner. I’d love to have you join us. We meet at 9:00 and 10:30 each Sunday. It all starts this week with a Minnesota guy who moved his family to one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago to be part of transforming his community through the Gospel. His name is Joel Hamernick and he serves as the Executive Director of Sunshine Gospel Ministries in Chicago. You won’t want to miss his message as he talks about God’s heart for the city.
On September 15, I’ll be talking about God’s heart for widows and orphans. After the service we’ll be taking an all-church field trip to the Midtown Global Market, Karmel Square and Mercado Central in the Midtown Section of Minneapolis. This little corner of the cities is like taking a trip to a different world. We are encouraging all families and individuals to plan on taking this field trip, which will include lunch at the Global Market . Here, you will be exposed to a number of different ethnic groups and see just how great our opportunity is. We’ll also hear about the real life stories of human trafficking that happen in this part of the cities every week.
Randy Mortensen of World Wide Village will be speaking on Sunday, September 22. He will be talking about human trafficking and how the church can respond to modern day slavery.
Then I’ll conclude the series with a message on how the church should respond to prisoners.
September 8: God’s Heart for the City
September 15: God’s Heart for the Widow and Orphan
September 22: Unacceptable – Modern Day Slavery
September 29: Loving Society’s Throwaways
In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment. He said:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
I want to be among those whose heart beats for that which Jesus heart beats for. I hope you do too!
I want to leave you with a video from this year Q Conference. In it, Richard Stearns presents how the church could help solve the issues of clean water, starvation, education and a host of other issues in our generation. I encourage all of you to take the time to watch this. It is a life-changing and paradigm shifting video.