Leatherberry Letter from Greece

I am in Athens, Greece following up with BelPres’ pastors and ministry leader partners working among Muslim refugees. Many refugees are experiencing Jesus’ love, grace, and truth through the tireless efforts of these pastors and ministry leaders.  Consequently, large, unprecedented numbers are coming to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Never before has this happened in Islam.  The task in front of us is to disciple these new believers to become conversant with the life and character of Christ.  This is a unique time that we have to respond to what God is doing in the Middle East.  Isaiah 19 looks ahead to the day when God takes charge to do a new thing in the Middle East.  Isaiah writes:  “In that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians (modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria) will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria.  The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day, Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork and Israel my inheritance.’”  This is a remarkable vision and we believe we are living in a time when God is fulfilling it.

After Athens, I begin an Extended Study Leave and will be away from the office until Dec 1. I am very grateful to our Personnel Committee who makes this possible and the Mission and Serve staff for the extra workload they carry while I am away.  During this time, I will look closely at discipleship, studying Jesus’ signature discipleship sermon (Sermon on the Mount), reading and interviewing leaders who are doing good things with discipleship.

One more update I want you to know about is our Roadmap Initiative around racial justice.  Mission and Serve was selected to receive a new pastoral resident to provide focused leadership around racial justice.  I am excited to welcome Anthony Ballard to our team!

Anthony grew up in a very diverse area of Compton, CA.  Before BelPres, Anthony’s ministry included work at the Boys and Girls Club, helping found a young adult ministry in Los Angeles and working with “Reality Check,”   http://www.realitycheckla.org.   He facilitated “Reality Check” events in churches and public schools in Los Angeles.  Anthony will be working closely with our Justice and Racial Reconciliation Team and with Pastor Harvey Drake.  You will often find him in the lobby on Sunday mornings.

 

That’s my update for now.  See you in December.

 

Grace and Peace in Jesus,

Rich

Perspective on “Perspectives”

Returning from a short-term mission trip to Rwanda in 2004, I felt a burden for the country and its people. As I prayed, I heard God speak into my heart’s ears, “You could go and live there.” When God speaks, I am utterly changed the moment I respond. By his grace, and if he was the one to send and equip me, I told God “yes.”
One of the first things I did preparing for this new adventure was to talk to Pastor Rich Leatherberry. The first thing he suggested was to take the course “Perspectives.” I knew nothing about it, and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. At age 68, I had had very little to do with “missions.” I was somewhat interested in people’s stories as they returned from various far-flung places but didn’t see what part I might have in such work until I went to Rwanda.
What I want you to know is that Perspectives will blow your ideas about “missions” out of the water. Early 2005, I took the course (offered at Belpres) for preparation to go to live in a third world country. And when I came out the other end—yes, it’s a long course (15 weeks) and a lot of reading—I was radically different. I might say: I was born again.
The thing is, I KNEW my Bible. I was and am a Bible student and teacher. The first thing that happened in the beginning weeks was God did an “unraveling” of all my notions about his plans and activities shown in the Bible. The readings and lectures took everything I knew and pulled it all apart, and – praise God – put it back together for me to see it anew. Suddenly it was apparent: From Genesis to Revelation, the scriptures show that God has a plan – a heart – and a mission to reach and to restore all the nations to a relationship with him. I had not seen this before.
Well, that hooked me. Now I wanted to learn how God has been moving over the centuries to accomplish his plan and what cultural awareness I needed to be a part of this. And finally, what strategies God has (and will show us) to use in this ongoing work to reach all nations for his glory.
This “course” is really a powerful instrument from God’s hands for all believers. It is essential for us to know how we fit into his overall plan to be a part of his mission—whether going, sending, equipping, mobilizing, or praying. Praise God for the vision Perspectives unfolds and inspires. It was an essential part of my preparation for Rwanda, and now that I’m back, I’m a strong advocate for Perspectives. I see it becoming an area-wide movement, supported and hosted by many churches in the greater Seattle area, for God’s glory.

 

PERSPECTIVES course is coming to BelPres on Thursday nights, August 30 – December 13!

For more information or to register, go to:  belpres.org/events/perspectives/

Becoming Multi-Ethnic

I grew up in a sleepy suburban town, nestled along the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California.  The city of Arcadia began as a community of chicken ranches and fruit orchards.  But as Los Angeles grew, people began moving away from the urban center to places like Arcadia.  Increased property values incentivized local ranchers and farmers to sell to housing developers.  Arcadia transformed into a city of small shops and suburban neighborhoods.   Socio-economically and ethnically monogamous, the schools I attended, city leadership, police force and business sectors all served a largely middle class, religious and 95% white population.  My family fit that demographic.  We were “Creasters” -Christmas and Easter churchgoers.  The church we attended was similar to the way BelPres is now; multiple staff, multiple programs, 2,500+ member church.

That was the Arcadia I grew up in.  But by my Senior Year in High School, my city began to transform again.   Families, who had the financial means to do so, were buying homes, tearing them down and building larger, 6000 square foot homes.  These families fit the financial profile of the average Arcadian but were ethnically different.  The new Arcadians spoke a different language, raised their children differently, and were not interested in giving up their culture or ethnic heritage in order to become like the majority demographic who already lived there.   Businesses, restaurants, financial institutions and schools adapted and made changes in order to serve the new non-white demographic.  But my Creaster church didn’t.  It remained focused on the 95%.  That was 40 years ago.

Today, Arcadia is a different city than the one I grew up in.  It is bigger, multi-ethnic, and vibrant.  The church of my childhood is different too; down to 200 members and a few staff.  The church never figured out how to engage its community and be a church for all people, all nations, all ethnic groups.

We, at BelPres, are partnering with Jesus to revive the Eastside and beyond.  We believe that revival will look like lots of things; i.e. not old-time tent meetings and altar calls, but healed relationships, breaking down the forces which create and sustain poverty, schools thriving, people experiencing Jesus love and making decisions to love Him back, etc.  We all have a part in that wherever we live, work, learn and play.  But our context is changing.  The number of languages spoken on the Eastside is approaching 100!

There are lots of reasons why we want to become a multi-ethnic church; 3 reasons specifically.  First, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, all people, all ethnic groups; (Matthew 28:18-21, Mark 15:15-16; Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).    Second, the first church at Antioch was multi-ethnic and reflected the fact that God’s Kingdom is multi-ethnic too.  Third, our worship and the quality of our life together is fuller, richer, better as a multi-ethnic community than it is when we are not.  It is just more fun, more meaningful, more vibrant and life-giving.  We don’t know what we are missing until we are with people who are ethnically different than us.  We need them.  We can’t experience the fullness of community and worship without them.

So what can you do?  If you heard the sermon by Sergio Chavez earlier this year, you can PUFYTB- Put your feet under the table.   Share a meal.  Invite someone to coffee, or lunch or to your home who is ethnically different than you.  Pray for them.  Begin reading about or learning about the culture of one of the 100 language groups on the Eastside.  What can they teach you?  Do you have other ideas or a story to tell?  Share it.

 

If you have a story you would like to share with us, please email it to missionstories@belpres.org

 

A Greater Purpose

I was recently listening to a class on the Internet when the speaker told us he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He had felt a sudden pain in his side, went to the doctor, underwent a battery of tests and discovered he had an incurable form of cancer.  So, he is undergoing a series of treatments to slow cancer’s growth.  But before any of us could respond, he directed us to Psalm 139 verses 13 through 15 where we read together: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Then he repeated the last phrase: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

“Cancer,” he said, “is not going to shorten my life.  It’s not going to steal one extra day of my life away from me because God has already determined the number of days I will live before I get to go and see Jesus. So I am not afraid of cancer. In fact, my wife and I are kind of odd ducks because we are the only ones in this special cancer unit who are not afraid of it. We feel really blessed. This hospital is close by and it’s the only one in the country that specializes in researching and treating this form of cancer. Everyone has to fly here for treatment while we just drive, then go home and sleep in our own bed. God has sent us there because I don’t think any of the doctors have ever met a Christian. And now I get to show them the love and peace Jesus has given me. This is the mission God has given us right now.”

I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of his lecture because I was so deeply impacted by his testimony. Was he saying that God caused his cancer? No. But he was saying God had given him a mission purpose even in something like a cancer diagnosis.  The patients and medical staff in the cancer wing are his mission field and his purpose is to reflect the Jesus he would spend eternity with.

Jesus said (John 20:21), “As the Father has sent me; I am sending you.” This is such a significant statement.  Jesus is saying the mission God had given Him is now the very mission He is giving to us. Jesus’ mission was more than dying for sins.  Jesus started a movement called the “Kingdom of God.” It looks like heaven on earth. Healing, miracles, forgiveness, sharing the Good News about God, caring for the poor and oppressed, are all previews of what that Kingdom will finally and fully look like. His death and resurrection secured its eventual coming.  Then, before His ascension, He entrusted His mission to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  That’s you and me. Even life’s big surprises, like a cancer diagnosis, have a greater purpose. We get to bring heaven on earth with the remainder of the days ordained for us. We change the atmosphere around us by reflecting the hope, love, and peace of Jesus who lives in us. So what greater purpose can you find in the situation you are in right now? Who is Jesus sending you to for a time such as this?

Rethinking Change

What brings change?  How do we become different people?  Some say it’s the people we care about and the challenges we face that change us. I think that’s part of it.  As followers of Jesus, we are also shaped by the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Some of our most life-changing moments happen when there is a confluence of these elements. Influential people, wisdom from past experiences and our faith guide us through personal challenges and we emerge transformed.

I experienced deep change when I was a pastor in my previous church.  After eight years as Associate Pastor, the Human Resources Committee suggested I take a three-month Sabbatical.  I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that.  On the one hand, it could’ve been a good thing and they may have wanted to invest in me – “Pastor, please go and be refreshed.”  On the other hand, it could’ve been a bad thing; they may have wanted to send a different message – “Pastor, please just go away.” I chose to believe the former.

I had three young kids at the time. Going away and leaving my wife alone for several months didn’t seem like a very good idea. My wife agreed.  So I broke the Sabbatical up into several shorter segments throughout the year. During that time, one of the best things I did was to take a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.”  Most of my friends warned me that it would wreck my life; meaning I would never be the same. They were right.  “Perspectives” opened my eyes and heart to the radical idea God is moving in the ordinary and the miraculous to reclaim, heal and restore every nation, tribe and tongue that was lost when sin wrecked our world.  The course showed this to be the central theme of Scripture; a narrative thread of human history and hidden truth embedded within every culture.  God has come to rescue all of us and His name is Jesus!

In the end, the course lived up to its reputation. I was deeply changed.  I finished with the deep conviction God was calling me to mobilize people to be part of this great global revival project. And to make sure I was paying attention, God gave me a sign I couldn’t miss.  Having taken the class in Pasadena, CA, I returned to my Washington home and sat down at my desk to read my mail.  There, on the top of the pile, was a letter from the Pastor Search Committee chair at BelPres.  The committee wanted me to apply for their Mission Pastor position. That was seventeen years ago.

What has brought change in your life?  What can you do to bring change now?  How can you know and connect with God’s call for your life?  “Perspectives” has been one of those transformational experiences for me. For that reason, I recommend it to those seeking change.  It is a big time commitment (15 weeks) and there is a lot to read.  It’s a challenge and challenge is nothing more than a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to be made different.

 

Perspectives is coming to BelPres September 5- December 19 .   

30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World

Several months ago, an arsonist set fire to the Bellevue Islamic Center.  In response, several churches, agencies, and leaders in Bellevue reached out to express their sympathy and offered help.  BelPres and our leadership were among those.  Since then, a few pastors and a similar number of Eastside Muslim leaders have been meeting regularly for religious conversation and relationship building.    Recently, a fellow pastor asked our Muslim friends about the notion of forgiveness in Islam.  Do Muslims believe God forgives?  How does one know that they are forgiven enough to receive eternal life? And must a Muslim forgive someone who sins against them?  Stereotypical pastor conversation, right?

In Islam, God is transcendent, meaning that God is free to do as God wills and is not bound in any way by physical laws like time and space.  Christians believe the same thing.  So God can be Creator without being created, and God can continually work in and outside of specific situations and events to accomplish God’s ultimate purposes.

For a Muslim, transcendence also means God is free to forgive whatever and whenever God wants.  A Muslim must be sincerely sorry for their sin. When they express their sincere remorse, then God forgives. Muslims must also practice good deeds during their lifetime, which are saved up in a sort of bank account of good deeds.  Good deeds are deposited, and bad deeds result in withdrawals.  For a Muslim to receive Eternal Life, their good deeds must outnumber their bad deeds.  When a Muslim sins against another Muslim, not only should that person ask for forgiveness, but the one who was sinned against gets to take some of that person’s good deeds and deposit them in their own bank account.  It is like a money transfer, transferring good deeds from one bank account to another.  So a Muslim hopes they have done enough good deeds to receive Eternal Life.  But they can never be certain.  Ultimately, God is transcendent and can choose to forgive or not to forgive.  “In Sha Allah,” if God wills.

This is very different than what the Bible tells us as Christians.  The Bible shows us that God is rich in mercy (Psalm 51:1-2; Micah 7:18.)  God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 86:15, Psalm 145:8).    But God is also just (Isaiah 61:8, Psalm 9:7-8).  God holds us all accountable for the way we live our lives.  Justice, the idea that people should not get away with the bad things they do, comes from God.

Justice and mercy appear to put God in conflict with God’s self.  God is just and holds us accountable for the things we do to one another but God is also merciful and desires to treat us better than we deserve.  God’s answer to the apparent dilemma is grace.   Grace means God can be both just and merciful at the same time.  The most powerful demonstration of God’s grace is what Jesus did for us on the cross.  There, Jesus met the full requirements of justice and mercy.  By dying for us, Jesus served the sentence justice requires.  By stepping in our place, Jesus unleashes God’s rich mercy on each of us.  We didn’t earn it.  We didn’t deserve it.  But God did it anyway.  That’s grace.  Grace means, we get what we do not deserve.  We get forgiveness, freedom, new life now, and new life forever.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:23-24. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:4-5.

May 27th to June 25th marks the 30 days of Ramadan.  For a Muslim, Ramadan is a time for getting closer to God.  Muslims will pray daily for God to reveal Himself to them and they will do things like fast from sunrise to sunset and give financially to the poor as spiritual practices to help them get closer to God.  I encourage you to join Christians all across the world in praying for Muslims during Ramadan.  Pray that the transcendent God will become close, personal, and intimate for Muslims.  Pray they will discover Jesus, the one who ensures our forgiveness and secures our salvation.  God is doing amazing things throughout the Middle East and Europe among Muslims, and they are discovering the love and hope found in Jesus.  It is a unique time in history.  You can become part of it through prayer.

Pick up a copy of “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” at BelPres located at the info-walls in sanctuary lobby, walkway, and upper campus lobby.  Or go online to 30daysprayer.com to participate. 

Called to Suffer

It was nearly a year ago when I traveled to the Holy Land for the first time along with several other area pastors. Ever since Jesus called me to church ministry, I have wanted to visit the places where He walked, taught, healed people, was crucified, and rose again. I was tired of looking at pictures and hearing second hand accounts; I wanted to see it for myself. (more…)