Monday, February 28, 2011
Catholic Christians in Libya are vowing to stay and continue their ministry. The above image is of St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Tripoli, Libya. Christians are less than 2 percent of the population, so there is always risk of the majority turning against them.
Read more about Christians in Libya.
Friday, February 25, 2011
A strategy for ministering to people on the Internet that really works.
What is Real?
I own telescopes and I like to post on an Astronomy Forum on the Internet. It is a place where amateur astronomers talk about stuff in the sky. I write something, I post it, someone else comments. Helder, an astronomy friend who also posts on the site started to have a conversation with Trish who lives not too far away. He invited her to one of our outdoor observation sessions and the three of us are now good friends. It seems to me that this is the way the Internet is supposed to work; real people connecting in real ways. And yet, stories like this are rare, because the Internet is not quite like real life. Many people hide their identities, or make up new ones. Many people drop their normal inhibitions and pour out their secrets or their anger to strangers. Many people see the Internet as a toy, a temporary distraction from the stress of the real world. As a result most Internet relationships are extremely tenuous. I would go so far as to say, they are not real. This makes attempts to do Christian ministry online difficult. I know, because I have been pursuing Christian Internet ministry for years.
Numbers Rule, the Rest of Us Drool
Another problem I have encountered is the fact that cyberspace is distorted by an emphasis upon numbers. Porn and gambling have enormous numbers of visitors, and rake in huge profits, but the overall percentages of people around the world who engage in these activities are small. A blogger who logs in a million hits a day is considered an Internet star, yet, the many TV talk shows easily dwarf those numbers. And of course, there are the many fly by night stars that come and go quickly. I remember a kid who dressed up as spider man, danced and sang terribly and made my kids laugh so hard they could hardly breathe. After 100,000 hits on his YouTube site, he was forgotten as quickly as he showed up. However, I bet you he is very proud of those 100,000 hits. And yet, unless a person or business is able to translate the hits into dollars, what do the numbers mean? All I can see is a temporary inflated ego, which doesn’t amount to much.
Jesus didn’t appear to pay any attention to the numbers of people that were around him. After the miracle of the loaves and fish, he walks away from the 5,000 enthusiastic followers. Jesus focused his ministry on individuals, because everyone he met was important and unique in God’s eyes. If we are seeking to do ministry by creating and developing real relationships with real people, then we need to avoid the pursuit of numbers and look for ways to reach people one at a time.
I have hiked many miles in the woods and I can tell you one thing for sure. People do stupid stuff when no one is looking. I have seen signs shot to pieces, garbage dumped in the middle of nowhere and mountain top shelters used as party shacks. I’m sure a large number of people view the Internet in the same way. No one is looking over our shoulders, so let ‘er rip. We prowl around sites we would never want our families to know about. We say things in the comment section on news sites we would never say to our friends. I have seen horrible things posted on Christian Forums, which considering Jesus’ message, makes absolutely no sense. This is why I stick to the Astronomy forum. It turns out, Astronomers are calmer than Christians. It appears to me that many people feel that there are no limitations to their conduct on the Internet.
All of these problems caused me to conclude that real ministry is not possible on the Internet. It turns out, that I was wrong.
Real Ministry to Real people
This statement; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” is one of the greatest passages found in the scriptures. In the Gospel of Luke it is followed by the Good Samaritan story. In that story the people who are criticized by Jesus are the ones who do nothing. They don’t help and they don’t hinder the hurt man. They just avoid him at all costs. The man who is righteous is the one who did something to help. When putting these two passages together we get a definition of ministry in our world; loving people means doing something good for the person God has placed in our path. Ministry is not passive and ministry is not distant. Ministry is personal and active. A person who is in need comes into contact with us, God calls us to act. And that is why it is so difficult to pull off on the web. The web favors impersonal and anonymous communication and rewards numbers over persons. However, the creation and popularity of Facebook has changed this equation and opened up a new way of pursuing ministry that is personal and effective.
Facebook Comes a Knocking
When I first looked at Facebook I thought it was stupid. I don’t care what people had for breakfast, and I hated the posts that seemed like I was cutting in on the middle of a conversation. However, it has grown on me in proportion to the ministry opportunities it has given to me. First is the fact that people use their real names, whereas other public Internet sites encourage use of nicknames. Real names open the opportunity to connect with people we already know, as well as getting to know people we have met for the first time. I don’t think it is possible to develop a strong relationship with someone who is holding back basic information like their name. Second, people place a lot of information about themselves on the site. I converse with fellow astronomers because of our shared hobby. This allows Internet ministers to look for ways we can start a conversation through common interests. Third, Facebook seems to encourage regular communications. People post a lot, which gives us more opportunities to find ways to open a dialogue. Finally, Facebook has a Group function that allows groups to form and create a larger social dynamic. I have a pretty successful Bible Study happening right now on a Facebook Group page. Most of the people who follow the group I met for the first time on Facebook. Not too shabby for a guy who thought the whole concept was stupid.
If you think about what I have just described, it sounds a lot like a church. We meet people in church and we get to know them. We share our likes and dislikes. We find ways to connect with each other. And we form a group dynamic that is centered on our love for God. This is exactly what Facebook ministry looks like.
Facebook is really very simple. Place information about yourself, as little or as much as you wish. Then you sign up some friends and you’re off. The term ‘friends’ could mean almost anyone. People you know or people your friends know or someone you just sign up and call a friend. The good news is that you get to decide who becomes a part of your Friends world. You can always de-friend someone after you get to know them and find out that he/she is a real jerk. If someone wants to be-friend you, you can look at their profile. And there is an email feature so you can send someone a note, if you are still not sure of that individual. This system opens up good possibilities for reaching out to people in a personal way.
The easiest way to reach out to someone on your friends list is to comment on something they posted. A supportive or funny comment is a good way of breaking the ice. However, the email feature on Facebook is the real jewel in the crown. I try to find ways of connecting with folks I don’t know. If I see an interesting post, I send a private message commenting on it. The person can either ignore me, in which case I won’t bother that person again, or say hello to me. In some cases this starts a good correspondence that leads me to introduce the person to my ministry website and/or the Bible Survey Group. This is how I have been able to build a small audience. Over time, who knows, it may grow into a large audience.
I Blog, You Blog
Blogging is now the best way to communicate who you are and/or what your ministry is. A traditional Website is static. We post to it as we have need to, which is not very often. As a result, visitors come once and usually don’t return. On the other hand, a Blog is dynamic. A Blog should have frequent postings. As a result, visitors who become interested in the site’s message come every day to see what is new. The trick is to come up with daily content. It’s easier than it sounds. On my church Blog I post a variety of material some of which I produce, most of which I find on the Internet. On Monday’s I post a blurb from a Mission I find somewhere around the world. I feel that I should be promoting mission and so I put in a paragraph, a photo and a link to their website in the hope that my audience might become interested in supporting that mission. On Tuesday’s I look for a video or a written testimony from a person who has something wonderful to say about their faith in Jesus Christ. On Wednesday’s I find something to pray for. Sometimes it is something in the news, sometimes it is a specific illness, and sometimes it is a prayer for our church ministries. Thursday is reserved for my essays on life, the universe and Jesus. Friday is music day. I find Christian musicians on the web and post their videos. I particularly like music from other parts of the world. I also post announcements and pictures from our ministries at First Baptist. Saturday’s and Sunday’s I usually take off. I have been able to fill up the Blog with new material for a year now. And my audience is stable, so I must be doing something right. You can fill a Blog with material you produce, or material you find on the Web. If you’re like me and you produce limited material, there is always something to be found on the Web that is related to your vision.
Speaking about the audience, Facebook comes to the rescue once again. Every time I post something on my website, I post a link to it and a brief message describing it on Facebook. This has almost single handedly boosted my traffic and built my audience. I am not pushy, but I am persistent. Everything I place on the Blog is promoted on Facebook. Over time I hope to grow my friends list and out of that find more of an audience for my Blog. My friends, when it comes to ministry opportunities, Facebook is the gift that keeps on giving.
There is a lot of opportunity on the Internet for ministers. There is also a lot of frustration and fruitless effort waiting for us as well. The Internet opens a door for us to reach out to a large percentage of the world’s population. At the same time, it exposes us to rejection on a scale we have never imagined. I believe that there is great opportunity to find people we can minister to, for those of us who bravely step through the door. I believe that the Internet tools I have been working with are a part of a new way to do ministry. And, I believe that the more ministers engage in Internet ministry, the more we will find ways of being successful at it. But only God knows what lies in our future. So my friends, I hope you will jump into the virtual world, and find a way to minister to the real one.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Pray for the grieving families of Jean and Scott Adams, Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle. They were Christians traveling the world and distributing Bibles. Somali pirates kidnapped them and killed them this week.
To read more in The New York Times.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As a battle-weary Royal Air Force navigator flying over the Middle East during World War II, young Graham looked down and asked God to show him where he might serve in peace after the war.
God answered that prayer. Graham went on to serve nearly four decades in the region. He became Southern Baptists' first missionary to Lebanon, a gifted Arabic scholar and founder of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut -- now a center for training leaders from throughout the Arab world.
Read the rest of this article here; http://www.crosswalk.com/1136122/
Monday, February 21, 2011
Today is President’s Day and so it is time to place the spotlight on President Jimmy Carter’s mission, The Carter Center.
The Carter Center, in partnership with Emory University, is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering; it seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.
While the program agenda may change, The Carter Center is guided by five principles:
1. The Center emphasizes action and results. Based on careful research and analysis, it is prepared to take timely action on important and pressing issues.
2. The Center does not duplicate the effective efforts of others.
3. The Center addresses difficult problems and recognizes the possibility of failure as an acceptable risk.
4. The Center is nonpartisan and acts as a neutral in dispute resolution activities.
5. The Center believes that people can improve their lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.
The Carter Center collaborates with other organizations, public or private, in carrying out its mission.
To learn more; http://www.cartercenter.org/index.html
Friday, February 18, 2011
Alobo Naga and The Band are from Nagaland, India. This song is about the Book of Revelation and the End of the World. They sing it in English with modern instruments.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I was fumbling around the Internet the other day trying to find a good picture of Jupiter for the wallpaper background of my computer. It was hard to find one that looked good on my screen. As I was looking I couldn’t help but realize how beautiful the universe is. How perfect the planets are as they move in their endless cycles through space. I can’t help but feel that there must be reason behind the universe. That in the endless movement of the stars and planets, in the perfection of motion, there is purpose. And that leads me to believe that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.
I am fascinated by the concept of immortality. It amazes me how many different ways that people try to be immortal. Most people feel they live on through their children. Many cultures consider the family line continuing through male children. Many people, who can’t have children, work very hard at trying to have children of their own in part to continue their family. I read recently concerning a person who wanted to be cloned. For one, he couldn’t have children, and for another, he wanted to continue to exist through the creation of a copy. The concept is a little too freaky for me, but who knows; the man may get his wish someday.
As far as we know today, the universe is going to continue indefinitely. Now I am not a scientist and I do not understand the principles behind the predictions of the universe expanding forever or suddenly contracting thus ending everything we know. From where I stand, the universe has been around a long time and will be around for a long time to come. The planets will continue to rotate around the sun indefinitely and our little solar system will fly through space for an indefinite amount of time.
When faced with a cosmos in which time continues on indefinitely I find it hard to imagine that there are people who do not believe in an infinite mind. Faced with the sheer size and magnitude of the universe, its seeming infinite proportions, and indefinite time line, it’s hard to believe that it could be the result of chance or mathematics. It’s hard to believe that there isn’t something or someone behind the creation that started it all.
And so I am convinced that God exists and is causing the infinite progression of the cosmos. I also believe that God is not a distant creator who made everything and then stepped back to watch it all play out. I believe that God is involved with the creation and its ultimate destiny. And because of this, I believe that there is purpose and direction to the universe. I believe that things are moving in a direction for a reason. I believe that the creation is ultimately lawful and good, and that things will work for the best in the grand scheme of things. And that goes for my life as well. If the universe is infinite and continues indefinitely, then why should the same not be so for me? If the cosmos is lawful and good, then why shouldn’t my life be as well?
Peace, Pastor Bill
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Friends, please say a prayer today for First Baptist Church of Rahway.
Pray that God will bless our church family and the people in the neighborhood.
Pray for our Youth Worship Service, and ask for its continual success.
Pray for our Telugu Service and all of the people who come and praise God in the Telugu language.
Pray for our church finances, which are a little shaky this year.
Pray for Pastor Bill and all of our church leadership team.
Thank you for all of your prayers.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Tsutserov first learned about Christianity because of his once-suspicious nature: His daughter, Julia, had befriended an American girl whose father was a missionary in Moscow, and his wife, Natasha, had begun tutoring the family in the Russian language. Tsutserov, still a KGB agent at the time, recalls that he wanted to investigate the foreigners who had made such an impact on his family.
However, when he returned home with a smile on his face after a church retreat that he had attended in secret in the early 1990s, his wife was struck with curiosity.
"Since I had never smiled before, it gave me away," Tsutserov said. "I didn't know any better than to tell my wife (that) I became a Christian.
To read more of this article click here.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Safe, affordable housing is beyond the reach of many families in St. Louis without some help. Cornerstone provides help: low-rent apartments.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Now for people who think I am crazy because the world appears extremely messed up I say that positive change only happens over time. And much time still has to pass before it becomes obvious that the world has changed for the better. The hope we have for cures to all of our illnesses will probably not happen in our lifetimes. My hope is that my children will have better health than me. Also the continued growth in individual freedoms worldwide will happen eventually, but not quick enough for the millions of people that currently live under tyranny. And I hope that more and more people will search their hearts for spiritual truth, and by doing so will change the world for the better. However, I will be dead and buried long before any extraordinary improvement will be seen. So for the time being, we have to wait. And the waiting will continue into future generations. And so patience is demanded of us. And there ain’t a whole lot of that to go around.
People compress time into understandable periods. We can understand a lifetime and the smaller units that comprise it. We can understand days and weeks and months and years. But can anyone really understand a millennium? Can anyone really grasp the ages upon ages that have come before and are yet to be? We can understand the numbers, but can we relate them to ourselves? If God were to speak to me tomorrow and tell me that 10,000 years from now the earth and everyone on it will be wonderful. Can I really connect with this vision, when my tomorrow will be the same as today? This is why I think people have trouble with visualizing the future. We relate to what’s happening now - not what is going to happen after we are gone. God has a much different spin on time. We just need a little faith that He will work it all out.
I remember a quote from an obscure book that can be found in the Apocrypha of a Protestant Bible. It is called 2 Esdras and it is not considered a part of the canon. The prophet was asking God why bad things happen to good people. And when is God going to do something about this. The reply he gets is short and simple. We are in a hurry for ourselves, but the Most High is in a hurry for many. In other words we are concerned with ourselves and our immediate circle of friends and relatives. But the creator is concerned with a universe full of creatures. We lack a proper understanding of the big picture. Only through the passage of time will we be able to obtain a more complete understanding.
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Lot’s of people are worried about and praying for Christians in Egypt. Algeria appears to be starting a slow process of persecuting Christians in their country. Please pray for these innocent people who are caught up in the world’s troubles.
Four Christians were given suspended prison sentences recently for opening a place of worship without a license in the eastern region of Kabylia, Algeria, according to Asia News.
The Christians, a Protestant clergyman and three of his parishioners, were convicted under a controversial 2006 law. The law requires that anyone who wants to set up a place of worship, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, must obtain a permit indicating the name of the place of worship and the name of the pastor. Some believe this law violates Algeria’s constitution, and this is the first time the law has been enforced. Three of the men, Abdenour Raid, Nacer Mokrani and Idir Haoudj, received two-month prison sentences. The fourth, Pastor Mahmoud Yahou, was sentenced to three months in jail and fined almost $3,600 (U.S.) for illegally sheltering a foreigner.
Pray that God will encourage these believers, that the ministry of churches in Algeria will flourish and that the gospel will be preached throughout the nation.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
The actress, who ruled the roost in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films from 1993 to 1997, revealed about the transformation in her life while speaking at a prayer meeting for film artistes organised in Chennai by Jesus Redeems ministries founder Bro. Mohan C Lazarus. At the meeting, she is said to have told the gathering that she is ready to preach the Gospel in every city and town that the Lord takes her to. According to reports, the actress shared her testimony and wowed the audience with her knowledge of the Bible at the meeting. Nagma told the gathering that Jesus Christ was the only super star in her life. Earlier, she made a reference to her acting career where she had paired as the leading lady with several actors in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Bhojpuri films.
The actress, who dabbled in politics briefly, said a copy of the Bible that she got when she was depressed and contemplating suicide saved her from killing herself. All her problems, she said, started fading away one by one after she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal saviour.
On 28th of June she attended the Thirappin Vasal Jebam conducted by Bro.Mohan C. Lazarus in Nalumavadi, a small village in Tamilnadu. Thousands of people gathered in that meeting to listen to the word of God. She led the people in worship and delivered the word of God with authority sharing her personal experience with God. People were blessed with her ministry there and testified.
Monday, February 7, 2011
A prominent ministry to the disabled community has distributed 65,000 wheelchairs to people who cannot afford one.
Joni and Friends International Disability Center, founded by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, seeks to provide not only the gift of mobility but also spiritual support to affected families. Its program, Joni and Friends Wheels for the World, helps communities around the world understand God’s heart for people with disabilities while providing physical relief through the wheelchair.
“In the developing world, a disability is often a death sentence,” said Tada in a statement. “At the least, if someone can’t walk, they are confined at home, can’t go to school and can’t work. A wheelchair costs more than a year’s wages, so the disabled person and his or her family have no hope for a better life.”
In some communities, disabled infants and children are abandoned or even killed because of the financial drain on the family or because of the cultural belief that a disability is a curse.
To address the problem, Joni and Friends volunteers counsel families that receive a wheelchair with the word of God. They also educate the family on care and maintenance of the wheelchair, instruct them in making future adjustments on the chair as necessary, and advise them on preventive medicine.
Wheelchairs provided to those in need are usually ones that are outgrown, or have missing or broken parts and are discarded by American families. Inmates in several prisons are trained to refurbish the wheelchair and help the disabled.
“While those who are incarcerated are glad to have a way that they can make amends for their misdeeds by helping others, more than that, it is an education for them about the worth of their soul and the lives of others, as many of the inmates’ lives are also transformed as much as the eventual wheelchair recipient’s,” Tada remarked.
The ministry is also working to train church members to coordinate wheelchair deliveries.
“That’s a key priority for us here at Joni and Friends – equipping the Church to minister to those affected by disability – and it is exciting to see that happening through our Wheels for the World program,” said Daniel Markham, managing director of Joni and Friends Field Ministries, which oversees the Wheels for the World program.
The Wheels for the World program began in 1994 with only a few hundred wheelchairs delivered over the course of a handful of trips. Today, the program has grown to deliver tens of thousands of wheelchairs. For 2011, the ministry is planning to for 25 trips to help the disabled.
I saw Joni speak at a Billy Graham Crusade in 1992. She is amazing. To learn more about Joni and Friends; International Disability Center click here;
Saturday, February 5, 2011
A recent article in the New York Times cites medical research into the benefits of persistent meditation. People who spent 30 minutes a day meditating for eight weeks showed improvement in stress reduction. Read the article here;
Thursday, February 3, 2011
I believe the world is getting better. And I’m pretty sure that I am alone in this belief. What can I say? I am either naive or a visionary. I have a lot of hope for the future, despite the continued problems we see on the news every night. Call me what you will but in the face of continuing suffering throughout the world I think things are getting better.
I have come up with this crazy opinion of the future because of my interpretation of the past. Warfare and depredation is nothing new for the world. Many of my friends point to fighting in Palestine as proof of the end drawing near. But no place inhabited by humans has been free of violence, ever. Fighting in the Holy Land is as old as the rocks. But I have seen a trend in the world that I do consider something new. Large groups of people banding together to help strangers.
Individual acts of kindness have, I suspect, been common since people have existed. But large groups organized into charities as seen in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are a recent happening on the historical timeline. The last hundred and fifty years have seen people reaching out to complete strangers in unprecedented numbers. The Red Cross is just one example of many organizations that have been created in recent years. Coming out of the 1864 Geneva Conference, the movement has spread to 137 countries in the 1980’s and had a membership of 250 million people. Each country has its own society which gives people the opportunity to help out within their own borders. If you have an expanded world view you can support the International Red Cross. They are the ones who help people in crisis around the world. At no other time in history can I find organizations that give a common person the opportunity to help a complete stranger located halfway around the world. And every year more organizations similar to this one are created. How can anyone not feel good about this development? This is truly a step in the right direction.
War is standard operating procedure for humans; world-wide philanthropy is not. And so I have seen this increasing desire on the part of many people as a sign that humanity is growing ethically and morally. I look at the world and I see things getting better. As I said earlier, not many people will agree with me, but I don’t care. The way I see things, the future of our world is brightening.
God Bless You,
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
With political unrest in Egypt comes more danger for Egyptian Christians. This video is the aftermath of an attack on a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt. Pray for the mourners, protesters and their families.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
An Egyptian Coptic Priest shares his faith in Jesus with Muslims through satellite TV and the Internet. Hounded by persicution his whole life, he continues to reach out even while in hiding.