Category Archives: Global Missions

What does it mean to “go and make disciples” in the world? How is High Point engaged in carrying out that commission?

Germany Outreach Updates

Over the next few weeks, our very own Dietrich and Sue Gruen are traveling through Germany and have the opportunity to share the gospel with Muslim refugees. Here are their updates:

Day 1, July 28: Leaving on a Jet Plane
Day 2, July 29: For Such a Time as This
Days 3-6, July 30-August 2: Three Holidays and One Horrific Testimony
Day 4, July 30: From Team Cheers to Thanksgiving
Day 5, August 1: From Christmas Morn to Afternoon Sports
Day 6, August 2: From Easter Morn to Empty Tomb

Check back here for more!

Mission of the Month: Christmas in July

By Dietrich Gruen


I get to preach on the meaning of Christmas to 25 Muslim refugees, mostly teen boys, in Germany. I never lack for words, but often speak past my word count (1500-2000) or time limit (15-20 minutes). My challenge is also speaking intermittently through a translator. Lots could be lost in translation, and I could lose my audience if I go over time. You readers of this blog (more my forte) are my practice audience; your feedback and prayers are welcome. Several High Point women have provided stuffed Christmas stockings for the 24 boys and 1 girl; for that we are so grateful. During our sports-drama-English immersion camp in Berlin, July 29-August 5, would you pray for this Word to come alive and dwell with us? Thanks.


Parallels with Islam focus on revelation. God reveals himself through various means—Creation, Scripture, the Prophets, but finally in the person of Jesus the Messiah—which is what Christmas is about.

The primary source of revelation in Islam is the Qur’an. But according to Muslims, this Word didn’t just appear all by itself, but had to come through an instrument worthy to bear a message from God.

Muhammad—an honest, devout man—was seeking God one night after a period of fasting when the angel Gabriel appeared to him with a command. Muhammad was told to “read” and/or “recite” the new information previously given “by the pen.” Whether or not to read was not an option, but a command.

Iqra is the Arabic word for “read”, which also means “recite”; hence Qur’an is the recitation or reading of revelation. The end of Ramadan, with its Festival of Breaking the Fast (aka, Eid al-Fitr), marks the birth of the Islamic faith. This happened by the revelation of the Qur’an through the person of Muhammad.

Christmas is like unto Eid al-Fitr, in that it also celebrates the coming of the Word. In this case, to the Virgin Mary. Like Muhammad, she receives a command and a big reveal. In Mary’s case, she is to conceive and bear a son called Jesus.

You may read of the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus the Messiah in the Injil. Read especially the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. You may also read of Mary in the Qur’an, especially chapter (aka Sura) 3:33-36, 19:22-33, 21:91, and 66:11-12.

That message “read” and “recited” by Muhammad was eventually received by the poor and marginalized, for whom the Revelation, the Qur’an, was good news.

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The Christmas story is contained in the first four books of the Injil—Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Those books give us four different versions of Christmas.

  • Matthew traces Jesus’ Jewish roots to Abraham, to make the point Jesus is the Messiah of and for the Jews. And the birth is attended by rich kings.
  • Whereas Luke traces Jesus’ human lineage back to Adam, to make the point Jesus is Savior of ALL. And the birth is attended by lowly shepherds.
  • In Mark’s opening chapters, he skips the birth narrative altogether and simply announces that Jesus the Messiah came to forgive people of sin.
  • Whereas for John, Christmas is NOT so much about the birth of Jesus; rather God giving birth to the world and the coming of that God into our world.

 

In John’s version of Christmas (1:1-14), we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world….14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,… full of grace and truth.

That’s why Christians light candles at Christmas, to celebrate the true Light that is Christ. The true Light, shining through God’s instrument Mary, is the Living Word. That Word was with God, that Word was God, that Word took on human form. That is, the Word of God has a name, and it’s “Jesus”!

 

Matthew’s version of Christmas is more traditional yet uniquely true witness:
a heavenly star points to Jesus, and adoring kings bring presents. The star-topped Christmas tree, and the gifts we put under that tree—both carry on this witness of Christ today. In Matthew 1:18-25, we read:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [Isaiah]: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

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Those who witnessed the first Christmas may not have fully appreciated what they were seeing. But through angels, dreams and prophecy, they came to understand Jesus was King of the Jews, the promised Messiah and sovereign Lord of all. The kings and shepherds worshipped the Christ Child. In Matthew 2:1-2, we read:

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

That first Christmas involves rejection, even death all around the baby Jesus. So not all is “joy & peace”; rather many were mourning. In John 1:10-11, we read:

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

 

Not only did they not receive him as their king, but some wanted to kill him. King Herod, for one. In what has been called the “Slaughter of Innocents,” we see a gutsy, disturbing Christmas story of evil run amok. But evil does not prevail. God brings good out of this tragedy. More specifically, God brings Jesus out of Israel, escaping into Egypt as a refugee. Then directs Jesus and his family back to home country to complete his mission on earth. That first Christmas involves a great persecution, a murderous purge, and a great escape. In Matthew 2:13-21, we read:

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 

Jesus, mother Mary, and stepfather Joseph were refugees on the run! Why? Because King Herod issues a fatwa. Fearful and jealous of any and all rivals to his throne, Herod ordered the slaughter of all little boys born at that time:

14 So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod…. 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….”[b]

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

But God is great—a protector and provider for refugees on the run. Many of you know of God’s protection along the Refugee Highway. You have escaped the Syrian genocide, the war zones in Afghanistan or Iraq, other waves of persecution in the Middle East. Jesus, too, got to live to see another day. In his case, 33 years, to fulfill his life purpose.

 

People are receiving and believing the Word here in Germany.  Those who do so become children of God and form a house-church of Muslim-background believers. A true Muslim reveres Jesus: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  If received among us and believed by us, that Living Word will conceive new life and shed incredible light. Especially in the the dark and deadly times you have been through to get here.  So let me assure you of this truth and hope: God is still active as the creative Word and life-giving Light in the world. 

This work does not end with the act of causing moon & stars, sun & earth, plants & animals, people born free—or getting you safely to Germany.  True, all such things come from the Word, but creation and refuge is not the end game.  God did not set this earth into motion only to walk away and admire his handiwork from afar.

Rather, “the Word that was in the beginning of creation humbly became one of us and moved into our neighborhood.”  Because Jesus is among us,… and accepts us just as we are.  But he loves us too much to leave us just the way he found us.

 

This Jesus changes our past, our present, and our future.

  • We need not live in fear, as in the past. For “the perfect love of God casts out all fear” and “works all things together for good for those who love him.”
  • By receiving and believing Jesus now, we can live into a very present hope.
  • Because of Jesus, our futures, near and long-term, can be recreated now. Through the gift of Christmas we are born again, given a second chance at life, and are the given the right to become the true children of God.

 

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2017 Dominican Republic Team Updates

We have a team in the Dominican Republic this year building bathrooms, constructing water filtration towers, cultivating vertical vegetable gardens, teaching Vacation Bible School, and leading students in small group ministries. They do all this while, most importantly, sharing the Good News of the gospel of Jesus. Pray for them, and check below throughout their trip for updates as the team invests in the Dominican Republic!

Day 1, June 10 : Arrival
Day 2, June 11 : Church and Community Welcome
Day 3, June 12 : Home Visits, Construction, and Gardening
Day 4, June 13 : Prayer Walk, VBS, and Teen Bible Study
Day 5, June 14 : Construction, Prayer Walks, and Movie Night
Day 6, June 15 : Feet Washing, Softball, Farewell
Day 7, June 16 : Free Day

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Mission of the Month: Yes to Mission

By Dietrich Gruen

This blog post is based on the annual ministry report written by Lee Wanak, the leader of the Global Missions Team, with the goal to link you to specific missions activities and outcomes. It’s exciting to see God’s providence as we both look back and ahead to how he is using High Point Church to reach the world with the gospel.

Continue reading Mission of the Month: Yes to Mission

Mission of the Month: Spring into Action

By Dietrich Gruen

In glad response to God’s grace and the opportunities set before us, continue to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13 NIV). With hearts and minds transformed by the power of the gospel, let us seize opportunities to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You may be looking for ways and places close at hand to express you deep gladness in meeting the needs of others. As theologian Frederick Buechner puts it: “Your vocation [the place God calls you] is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” In the run up to Easter, April in Madison holds a plethora of such mission opportunity. With God-given passion and purpose, let’s find our place and be creative in the stewardship of the time, resources and relationships that God has given us.

Art and Entertainment

Movies: The Shack, Facing Darkness and The Case for Christ

The movie adaption of the surprise runaway 2007 best-seller The Shack, by first-time novelist Paul Young, has been playing in theaters all March, so perhaps you have seen it already. If not, go and bring someone questioning God’s goodness in the face of suffering and judgment, tragedy and evil. The movie will raise honest questions such as, “Where was God when…?” and “What kind of God allows…?”). Then, go to the Bible for God’s honest truth in response to the questions that arise. Bring your friends, questions and Kleenex, and have an honest-to-God dialogue after seeing this provocative, tear-jerker of a movie.

A second Christian movie is coming out April 7, also based on a true story—this one of a journalist who makes The Case for Christ. Based on the bestseller by Christian apologist Lee Strobel, this movie feels like a legal thriller as the lead character tries to prove the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, with life-altering results. As with The Shack, this movie is most profitable if accompanied with a group discussion, even a Bible study, to compare answers. To help you in this regard, check out outreach.com for products and church campaign kits to use with each movie.

A third film this Easter season, released just in time for viewing with your friends and family, is Facing Darkness. An encore presentation is showing on one night only, Monday April 10. Get more information and find showings near you here. This movie represents the true story of how God saved the lives of Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol from the deadly Ebola virus. At the end of the film, Franklin Graham shares the gospel.

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TV series: Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery

This CNN special investigative report first aired last year, and the series is back on the air now. Archeologists investigate several artifacts crucial to, and scholars debate the claims supportive of, Jesus’ death and resurrection. This opportunity to explore faith may be more for your roommates or family who would rather not come to church, but would watch an interesting academic take on faith with you.

Faith and Culture

Home court advantage: Holy Week services at High Point Church

With the timing of Good Friday on April 14, Easter Sunday on April 16, and an earlier spring break (meaning most people are back in town), you have time and opportunity—now—to invite any new friends and neighbors to High Point Church. Remember your commitment to pray for two people in your life who need Jesus, but most importantly, that God is the one who changes hearts, transforms lives, and brings people to repentance and salvation. Good Friday service at High Point Church begins at 1pm and Easter Sunday services begin at 9am and 10:45am. Find more details on services and activities for kids at highpointchurch.org/Easter.

Away game: Lamb roast on April 8

You may have heard through the HPC Global Missions Team of a special event involving roasted lamb on April 8. Roasting a lamb is culturally common to Muslim-majority and other countries. This particular lamb roast is called Eid al-Easter, where they celebrate Abraham’s faith for being willing to sacrifice his son, while others get to state the case for Easter and Jesus as the Lamb of God. We cannot give you details in this public blog, but feel free to contact Dean at waldenmaier@gmail.com for more details and to volunteer. Dean is an elder at High Point Church who works with Bridges International, a branch of Cru.

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Financial Resources

The Benevolence Fund

The Benevolence Fund exists first to benefit High Point Church members and attenders in the family of faith, but also serve the city. As it turns out, 95% of the recipients of the Benevolence Fund are from outside our church. Another purpose of this fund is to connect with people of different social, economic, faith or racial groups. We help people residing on the west side who need short-term financial aid to bridge a gap created by an unexpected event; for example, the loss of employment, illness, injury or accident. Also, with the winter moratorium on utility cut-offs lifting on April 15, this means some neighbors will face imminent cut-off of heat and light unless they get help with their MGE or Alliant Energy bill. “Like a good neighbor…” our Benevolent Fund program is there, with your support, to help. To give to the benevolence fund, use the yellow Benevolence envelope during the offering on a Sunday morning, or designate your giving online at highpointchurch.org/give.

As we spring into action to live out our faith this month, I hope to see you in church, at the movies, or at the park. Carpé Diem! That is, “seize the day,” for in God’s providence, he has set “a certain day called Today” (Hebrews 3:7, 13, 15; 4:7).

Mission of the Month: Refugee Resettlement

By Dietrich Gruen

Many of the recent election and subsequent executive orders have stirred up significant fear among our fellow citizens. Fear, anger, hate and resentment manifest in social media, street protests, and in not-so-civil family talk. Otherness can stir within us unwelcome feelings that conflict with our Christian values. We struggle enough with people who have a different skin color, political views or religious persuasion. Those things are magnified when someone also hails from a different country and speaks a foreign language.

Refugees On Pause 

Our Census Bureau reports that 40+ million foreign-born residents live in the U.S. That number includes naturalized citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), workers and international students with temporary visas, and immigrants without legal status.  Also, a limited number of refugees arrive each year—about 85,000. That totals about 3 million who have been granted refuge from documented religious, political or racial persecution since 1980. This year allowed for 110,000. President Trump cut that to 50,000, banning all asylum-seekers for four months on January 27 before a judge suspended the ban.

Many America-bound refugees settle in large sanctuary cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. More than 100 asylum seekers were set to come to Madison this year. High Point Church was set to resettle the next family off the plane in February, which was then delayed until June; now, we don’t know when this will happen. This family’s arrival date is a moving target, so watch for continued news updates—for example, a second Executive Order from the President, banning most refugee entry for 4 months, is expected to roll out this week.

High Point Church’s twelve-person resettlement committee is not political or financial; their role is to find housing, as well as provide cultural mentors, drivers, donated furniture and household supplies, friendship and prayer. As our guests are on hold for the moment, so is our work.

Here’s a look at some of the experiences refugees face when resettling in a new country—so that we can grow in our understanding of what real people are going through and know how to come alongside them as they resettle.

The Refugee’s Experience: Screening

For the current vetting already taking place in the refugee screening process, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website. Defenders of the refugee resettlement program note that, out of the 3 million refugees granted entry since 1980, not one has been involved in a terrorist attack on US soil. The established decades-long policy already requires biometric and biographical data, multiple interviews of all family members (in different pairings at different intervals over 18-24 months) by several agencies such as the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Defense Department, the State Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All stories presented must sync, or the door is closed.  Syrians also go through the Syria Enhanced Review, conducted by analysts knowledgeable about the networks of armed groups in the civil war.

Finally, when this long row has been hoed, the State Department matches refugees with one of nine nonprofit groups—including Lutheran Social Services, the primary refugee resettlement agency for Madison—and gives the groups $1,125 per refugee.  Their goal is to place families in an apartment, help them find jobs within 90 days, and become self-sufficient within six months.  This is a daunting challenge under any circumstances. Our current situation adds considerable challenges.

The Refugee’s Experience: Finding Work

Even though refugees are willing to do most kinds of work, finding a job that allows for self-sufficiency is still very difficult. Even for those with extensive experience, finding new work is formidable.  Many refugees need help writing résumés, learning how to use email, and networking. While they may have been middle managers, skilled technicians or medical professionals licensed back home in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, their licensing is often invalid here, leaving only unskilled labor open to them until they’re able to go through the US certification process. Whether or not they have the certifications and experience in hand, language is a serious hurdle for most. As one refugee said, “My English isn’t so good, so I’ll do any job.”  Hence, for example, they will take minimum wage factory work. Then, after returning home from a long shift of menial work, they tackle the harder task of learning English. It takes great diligence and dedication to do this.

Refugees must adjust to the manners and customs we take for granted. This is why cultural guides are so critical. They can offer all kinds of assistance—everything from learning the bus system, to navigating our healthcare system, to obtaining local identification, to reading letters from landlords, to trusting the local police.

Refugees and the Church

Cultural differences make it difficult to adjust. Going to an English-speaking church helps; so does English-language classes for moms of school-age kids.  But I contend that help goes both ways.

Just as Naomi (an Israelite) and Ruth (a Moabite) bonded for mutual support and brought out the best in each other (Ruth 1:16-17), so also we need refugees as much as they need us, if we are to be the church God intended. In the New Testament, it was a Samaritan—someone not of God’s chosen people, not of the same faith or race or state, but a stranger in their midst—who shows us what it means to truly love God and one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). In welcoming strangers, we may be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2), or even Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-40). In Christ, we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

The Christian Response

Our current crisis is an occasion for us to examine our hearts afresh. Are we harboring fears or resentments that are flying free, untethered by the gospel? In what ways do our hearts, minds and eyes need to be reformed by our knowledge of God’s will and character, his promises, our relation to him, and the role to which he has called us?

Refugee policy will change with elections and a judge’s ruling, but not the calling of the elect: as moral citizens, we duly honor civil authorities who work for the common good, and we always stand compassionately with true refugees.

Regardless of our political convictions or fears, let us be sure to intercede in personal, corporate, and God-sized prayers for refugees, for those serving and loving them, and for the public servants making critical decisions about these concerns. Pray about national policy regarding refugees that is being made as we speak. Pray for the refugees in limbo and their immediate spiritual and human needs. Pray that the Lord would redeem their tragedies by leading them to Him.

And let us form our hearts around the sure promise that the fate of people and nations doesn’t rise or fall based on our efforts. As the apostle Paul reminds us: “God has determined the times set for all nations [ethnos, or ethnic groups] and the exact places where they should live. God did this so men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26b-27). Amen.

When the refugee family assigned to HPC finally gets here, how might you welcome them?  For links to helpful resources on the refugee crisis and various Christian responses, visit the We Welcome Refugees website.