November 2012

 
     
 

Righteous or Obnoxious?
By John Ashmen
           

The midday sun was intense and the midtown sidewalks were crowded. Smartly dressed office workers wove their way through the onslaught of oncoming humanity in search of a quick sandwich and a brief respite from daily duties. If both could be found in air-conditioned confines, all the better.

Atop a milk crate near a crosswalk, head and shoulders above all the passersby, stood a wild-haired man in a dark wool blazer, dress shirt, and clashing tie. Sweat poured down his face as he waved a closed Bible, loudly predicting impending calamity for all who would not consider his end-times message from God.

Rolled eyes, headshakes, snickers, and pithy quips were the only responses he garnered. With huffs and scows, more than a few pedestrians had to dodge his flailing Holy Writ.

Seemingly close to a heatstroke, he stepped down for a few minutes to get a drink of water from a Nalgene bottle under the crate. That’s when my friend, who had been observing from the shade of a nearby deli awning, approached him with a question: “Can I ask what you are doing?”

“I’m preaching the Word of God,” was the dogmatic reply.

The two looked at each other with the same measure of curiosity.

“How many people do you think are listening?” inquired my friend.

“Doesn’t matter,” came the retort. “God called me to preach and I’m being faithful to that call.”

“But these people are taking offense to what you are doing,” my friend pointed out. “You’re blocking their way on a busy corner, yelling at them. I think everybody out here probably resents you.”

“Doesn’t matter,” was the repeated response. “Matthew 5:10 says, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”

My friends looked deeply into the man’s eyes and slowly formed these words: “Do you think you’re being righteous…or just obnoxious?”

As a kid, growing up in church, I remember people behind the pulpit sanctioning the odd actions of some in the congregation by claiming that Christians should be “peculiar people.” The phrase comes from 1 Peter 2:9 in the King James translation: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

But language changes over time. In Latin, the word peculium means “private property.” The word pecus means “flock.” It seems pretty clear that Peter was originally trying to communicate that Christians are a set-apart group of people who are together in the fold of Christ.

That may come as a disappointment to some who count on the “peculiar provision” to excuse their bizarre behavior. But being laughed at for doing something stupid or in poor taste is not being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
 
The fact is, too many Christians are weird in areas where they should be normal and normal in areas where they should be weird. Consider those who plaster their rear window and bumper with an array of stickers that defy logic and style (along with one that invites people to their church). Yet in a crowded restaurant, they shrink from bowing their heads to say a modest prayer of thanks because they don’t want to make a scene.

One of the areas of appalling behavior that causes me to cringe is electronic “street preaching”—sweeping comments of condemnation in the name of Christ posted to Twitter and Facebook. The recent election brought out the worst of the weirdness. The past weeks have been full of it. I read several tweets and posts that actually stunned me: Did you really say that?!  

Let me bring this a bit closer to home: Many of the people who find Jesus at a rescue mission are fired up with passion and want to proclaim the good news of their salvation. But they need you to show them how to do it with finesse and effectiveness. They need you to protect them from the assaults they could sustain for presenting Christ through embarrassing behavior.  

One way to do this is by demonstrating what lives devoted to following Christ—true righteousness—look like, whether we are sitting in church, sitting in a restaurant, or sitting in front of our laptops. Rescue ministry calls us to be bold, to leave a Christian cookie-cutter lifestyle behind, and to reach out with creativity. But while being a Christ-follower certainly in many ways calls us to eschew societal norms, we must be sure we are different because we’re full of the compassion of Christ—and following His will for our lives and ministries—and not because of misguided passion, anger, or arrogance.

So in our call to righteous, let’s be clever and creative, bold and unashamed. But let’s help each other to nix any obnoxious antics.

 
 
   
     
 

AGRM Membership Rates

An across-the-board membership rate increase has not occurred at AGRM since I started back in 2007. (It is true that when we changed the membership structure in 2008, we adjusted the rates to put more equity in the spread. As a result of that adjustment, about a quarter of our members saw their rates go up, about a quarter saw their rates go down, and about a half saw no change.)

As we have looked at the budget for 2013 and the services AGRM is now providing, we have determined that we need to make—and the AGRM board has approved—a six-percent membership increase, starting January 2013. In actual dollars, that ranges from a $25-per-year increase for our smallest mission (with annual operating expenses of $100,000 or less) to a $240-per-year increase for our largest missions (with annual operating expenses of $10 million or more).

None of us like rate increases. (I remember my predecessor, Steve Burger, telling me about the fight that almost broke out on the floor of the convention several decades ago when there was talk of raising the rates $1 per year.) But increases are part of life. From insurance premiums to utility costs, everything goes up eventually. We realize that you don’t charge fees for your primary services, so you don’t have the ability to raise your rates to compensate. That’s why we have made this rate increase minimal.

Some may wonder if the talk about AGRM getting a permanent office in Colorado Springs has anything to do with this. The answer is no. Just last week, AGRM collected its earnest money and walked away from the purchase plan. We will be renting indefinitely.

Our board—made up mostly of rescue mission CEOs—does not believe these new rates are unreasonable, considering the increase in the number of services and the level of services that AGRM is now providing—including a government liaison in Washington, D.C.; an ongoing national marketing initiative that has brought life to Invisible Neighbors, the Disney-Hanes sock drive, and available video productions; and the introduction of important programs like Best Practices.

If you have any questions about this increase and would like to talk to me or an AGRM board member, don’t hesitate to send an email to jashmen@agrm.org. We will send another brief notice of this to you and your mission’s billing contact (if that person is not you) in mid-December.

One way to keep membership rates from increasing in future years is by encouraging non-member missions near you to be part of AGRM. Volume makes a difference. We have seen several new members come into AGRM during the past few months. More members mean more networking and a stronger association. If you want someone from AGRM to talk to a non-member mission near you, contact Selena Hayle at shayle@agrm.org.


 
 
 
 
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