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God Loves A Symphony!

ICOM 2014My dad played the violin–not the fiddle, the violin. He had polio when he was ten, and, fortunately, it didn’t leave him crippled, but he could never really run again, so he couldn’t play sports like the other boys. He chose to play in the orchestra–in the high school orchestra, which was the pride of Glasco, Kansas.

When I was eight and in the third grade, my school offered free violin lessons, so, of course, I started getting out of class one or two days a week and taking violin lessons. I used my dad’s violin.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was the only one who was playing at my level at the Bonnie Brae Elementary School, so my weekly lessons were private lessons–and still free. Because I was pretty good for my age–maybe–my teacher would take me to other schools and we would play short programs together in their assembly, probably trying to get younger children to enroll in the free strings programs at their schools.

In the All-City Elementary school orchestra, I sat on the first row with four or five other kids, so I guess I was decent, but the perk I really liked was that because I was in the violin program, each year I was taken out of school one day with the other kids in strings to attend a special concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I knew nothing about what they played or who the composers were, but I loved the music–the huge blend of all of those different instruments: violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, oboes, bassoons–even the triangle and tympani.

How could all of those different people–maybe 40-50 players–with so many different gifts and playing so many different instruments at the same time produce a result that was so beautiful?

The word symphony comes to English from two Greek words: sun, which means “together,” and phone, which means “sound.” The word is usually translated harmony, harmonious, or harmoniously, when talking about music, but is also commonly used to mean to agree, to be of one mind, or to connect the most literal meaning with the vernacular: to be in unison.

Matthew used a derivative of symphony in chapter 18, verse 19, quoting Jesus he writes, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth are in agreement (symphōnēsōsin) about anything whatever you may ask, it will be done for you by my Father who is in heaven.”

About five years ago, we started attending the National Missionary Convention of the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ. Having been involved with foreign missions our whole life together, Sherrylee and I have been to many, many missions conferences and mission workshops in our branch of the Restoration Movement–and because of our direct involvement we know lots and lots of the people involved.

But just across the aisle at the NMC the first time, our most common feeling was: we don’t know anybody here!

That was five or six years ago. Last week we attended the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which is the new name of the NMC. Over 10,000 people attended the 2-3 day event, held in the Convention Center in Columbus, OH–one of the largest single venues I’ve ever been in. One huge section of the convention center was set aside for “exhibitors,” which at most conventions means businesses which are trying to sell you something, either immediately or after you get home.

At ICOM it was different. Picture an area the size of your nearest Super Wal-Mart or Super Target–not just your neighborhood sized–and then fill that whole area with small booths, each one representing a mission effort of some kind.

There were individual missionaries, like Pino Neglia, missionary to Lecce, Italy and to Albania. We met him three years ago at his booth and in 2014, LST sent him a team to be a part of his efforts. Eric Estrada (not the movie star), missionary to Murcia, Spain, was there. We sent him three teams in 2014.

There were also plenty of mission organizations like us: Pioneer Bible Translators, Open Door Libraries, Holy Land Christian Foundation–and other businesses and organizations that support missions: transportation, security, training ministries, even fund raising ministries.

It was a symphony! So much diversity of talent and interest. Long-term, short-term, house church, mega-church, men and women, social justice and evangelism, academic and common, all these different instruments but all playing their part in the same symphony: the Missio Dei — the Mission of God!

I came home wondering why we in Churches of Christ have so much trouble playing together? Many have already spoken to this question, but one part of the answer is that we are rapidly losing our sense of together. We know the music, we know the director, but too many of us do “what is right in our own eyes,” a phrase from Judges 21:25 that introduces some of the darkest days for God’s chosen people Israel.

Our papers first created a sense of together, but we are down to one, the Christian Chronicle, and it struggles to survive. Then our lectureships held us together–but they are a shadow of what they used to be–perhaps with the exception of Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Even our song books used to keep us together, but we don’t all sing the same songs anymore!

Our symphony is not in harmony. We try to have a Global Missions Conference every three years–and we hope to have 1000 people attend. The World Missions Workshop for college students is barely hanging on to life. There are lots of small, independent gatherings for missions, nice little quartets, but where is the symphonic chorus?

After the fifth grade, I changed schools. I started attending Fort Worth Christian School, which offered no free violin lessons–so I quit playing the violin. Two years later, when FWC started a band program, I took up the trombone and played through college. My brother Gary was three years behind me in school, but that was not a big gap at FWC in those years. He and I were the whole trombone section of the band for 4-5 years. We didn’t march–we were too few; we did well just to have enough of the required instruments to play at all.

We as a fellowship have been satisfied too long with being a small non-marching band.

Jesus said he wanted a symphony.

We dare not forget how to play in harmony together.

 

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short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.

short term mission globeEvery three years, missions leaders among Churches of Christ stage an event called the Global Missions Conference. In size and scope it is a poor cousin to the International Conference On Missions hosted annually by the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The smaller scale, in my opinion, is more because of greater resistance to central organizations rather than a lesser commitment to missions in Churches of Christ. A comparison of missions history between the two fellowships, however, would be a great dissertation topic for someone.

The Global Missions Conference was held October 16-18 at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. I have not heard an official number of attendees yet, but I would guess it might be near 1000, although I suspect that many local people did not register.

I had the privilege of organizing the Short-Term Missions track for this conference, which consisted of four separate one-hour classes conducted over two days. My concept was to develop a practical topic for each session, then invite highly experienced workers in those areas to form a panel to discuss each particular topic, first among themselves and then with those who were present.

I was quite pleased with the classes, which were all well attended, so I thought I would summarize the content and share it with you as well.

Session One: The Changing Look of Short-Term Mission (Panel Members: Ken Graves–Harding University Director of Global Outreach, Dr. Bob Carpenter–Oklahoma Christian University Professor of Missions, Dr. Gary Green–Abilene Christian University Director of World Wide Witness, and Ben Langford–Oklahoma Christian University Director of Center for Global Missions.)

Without exception, all of the panel members agreed that the emphasis in short-term missions had shifted in the last two decades from evangelism to humanitarian aid/social justice. Some of them saw this shift more as cultural, while others understood it to be a theological shift. The cultural proponents held that the post-modern shift to tolerance as the highest virtue creates an environment where people are no longer willing to “judge” other people’s views, much less feel the need to “correct” them.

Those who argued for a theological shift were divided–which made for a great panel discussion. One argued that students no longer believe in Hell or Judgment Day, so there is no motivation for evangelism. (As moderator, I kept my opinions to myself and just facilitated, but this is my blog, so I’m going to insert myself here to say that I see both the cultural and theological arguments as virtually the same–and in my experience, the portrayal of the current generation of college students especially is absolutely true–sadly!)

One of the panel members, however, argued that the shift from evangelism to social justice activities was nothing to worry about, that, in fact, when we teach a poor farmer how to irrigate that we are participating in God’s plan to save the whole Creation. You’ll recognize this argument perhaps as one that younger preachers typically have juxtaposed against a type of evangelism that was only interested in the soul of a person and not the whole person. I’ve thought a lot about these comments since the conference and will share some of those thoughts with you soon–but they need to ripen a little.

Being academicians, the panel members quoted some disconcerting research that made the following claims:

  • short-term missions do not make a significant difference in the lives of participants
  • short-term missions do not produce long-term workers
  • short-term missions are not cost-effective ways of doing missions.

As I listened to them quote these results as facts, I could no longer keep quiet because not only did these results go against my whole lifetime of experience, but also against some other very good research with which I was familiar, but which was a little older than what they were quoting.

For instance, the research among young people in Churches of Christ that Dr. Carley Dodd and others published in 1995 as The Gospel According to Generation X: The Culture of Adolescent Belief found a significant correlation between a summer mission experience and the retention of faith after leaving high school. Another good example of contradictory statistics is the research published by Dr. Craig Altrock as the result of his dissertation work at Harding School of Theology as The Shaping of God’s People: One Story of How God is Shaping the North American Church Through Short-Term Missions (2007). His study of Let’s Start Talking workers , not only recent but many from years past, confirmed what we in this ministry all know anecdotally, that those who had good short-term experiences were changed significantly, both in their spiritual formation and in their spiritual activity (if one cares to create false dichotomies!)

I think I can offer a possible explanation for why current research may suggest different results from slightly older studies. First, as the whole panel has confirmed, when we examine short-term missions as a category now, we are only looking at service-oriented experiences. For a whole generation of our fellowship, the word missions refers only to caring for physical or social needs of peoples, not seeking and saving the lost.

Painting houses and digging wells, even healing the sick and loving on orphans, while most certainly the purest of Christian ministry, but if absent of the Word, could all be done by good Muslims or good Agnostics. These kinds of activities in and of themselves do not complete the Great Commission. And, if this is true, then why should we expect short-term mission activities that focus on these services to produce the same kinds of impact and results that short-term missions focused on telling the Story of Jesus have had?

And that was just the first panel! I’ll finish the report on the other three panels in the next post.

Foot-washingIn the church blogosphere, church leaders–specifically elders in Churches of Christ–are the target for much criticism.  Yesterday, I happened to be a neutral observer in a elders/members confrontation that will encourage you.

Apparently the worship wars that most big city congregations faced a decade or two ago had just become real at this good-sized church in a small town.  Some of their young people–but not exclusively young people–had been clapping and raising their hands during worship.  The ultimate offense, however, was some “stomping.”  I wasn’t there, so I can’t describe these actions.

Some of the brethren just left for other congregations in the county, but a few didn’t want to give up their pew without a fight so they threatened the elders with their ultimate weapons–withholding their contribution and/or divorce.

You have these options in many counties because there are so many congregations for so few people! I was recently in a Main Street congregation where the preacher told me there were 26 churches in a county with around 30,000 people. Many of the congregations were started in horse-and-buggy days when people didn’t want to be too far away from their cows and chickens–which to me explains adequately why they all started, but not why they still exist today!  My experiences suggest that they continue to exist because of tradition, turf, dynasties, clans, and sectarian feuding.

What this multiplicity of congregations has led to, however, is a consumer mentality among Christians. If I don’t like the price of milk at this store, I just go down the street to their competition. If this church doesn’t give me what I want, do what I want, worship like I want, I just go down the road to one that will.

Our actions suggest that God made a big mistake by describing the church as a family or a body. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if our bodies were built so that if our toes didn’t like where the foot was going, they could just leave!  And we know all too well how destructive abandoning one’s family is!

God hates divorce! But we seem to have created a congregational marketplace which encourages it!

Back to our story:  the elders of this congregation studied and prayed about these worship questions. Their conclusions were not to create laws and limitation where the Bible did not.  They delivered their prayerful decision to the church in a gentle and loving way, which is what brought out the threats of divorce!

So, last Sunday, this general “family meeting” as they described it, was not about worship, rather it was about what it means to be a family!

The elders did so many things right!  The first was to have the open meeting during the Sunday school hour so the maximum number of church members could attend. It says that they really wanted to talk to the family rather than exercising their perogative to “rule” from their board room!

Each of the elders spoke briefly–showing their unity of Spirit and their united commitment to the family.  No doubt they had not all been on the same page when they started praying and studying together, but they were by the end of the process. Majority rule has no place in church leadership.

The first elder who spoke was probably the least eloquent, but he set the tone for the meeting by admitting to how nervous he was. He quoted someone who said that nervousness is the price of being a racehorse instead of a cow!  The laughter–the humility– was good for the family!

Several of the elders spoke of their longevity in that congregation–through thick and thin, a cliche that was worn out by the end of the meeting.  One elder described the tapestry of experiences that he himself was, mentioning first the people in his life and then the congregations where he had attended.  He was just saying that we all bring a lot of different experiences with us when we become part of a congregation.  He went on to talk about how he had been shocked in 1991 when this congregation had men serve communion without a coat and tie on!

All of the elders spoke of their love for the family, their constant prayers for the members of the body, and their willingness to listen honestly to every concern.

And here is where they really acted as shepherds of the flock, over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). The elders described their prayerful search for a biblical answer to this worship question–and then told the church what they believed God wanted this body to do!  These men lovingly led the church–prayerfully and humbly, not from seats of power–toward unity and freedom.

Unity and freedom–words conjoined over and over again in the statements from each of the elders, instructing the congregation to seek these same values as individual members of the body. Their “oversight” meant seeing what was good for the whole Family, the whole Body, and their word from God was not to bind on anyone what God had not bound, but also to call the members of the family to faithfulness, not divorce.

I understand why churches are moving away from the term elders; most have moved to the synonym shepherd. I don’t think that resonates much with most of us who have never had anything to do with sheep. I’d prefer for elders to be called pastors if we need to use a more modern term.  Theirs is more the pastoral role. But their title is not nearly as important as their hearts.

Thank you, God, for prayerful, humble, and courageous church leaders who live out the unity of the Spirit and the freedom in Christ and who lead their congregations by speaking the truth in love.

Glasco ChristianIn the late 1870s,  my great-grandfather and my and other family members were part of starting a new church in a small Kansas town.  They just called themselves Christians, and so the church was also called a Christian church.  As one reads the history of this small insignificant church in this scarcely populated wheat town in the Solomon River valley, the description inadvertently betrays the post-civil war rift in the Restoration movement.  On some pages, the words introduce former preachers while just a few pages later, a new minister is called a pastor. Pages are periodically silent about the music, then suddenly there is an organist, only to go silent again for a few more years!

Our  family’s conclusion is that this little wheat field town’s church members hardly noticed the differences that other Restoration Christians in larger cities were debating and dividing over.  They were first a community of Christians, living and worshiping  together–with no further adjectives necessary.

By 1906, someone who was somebody decided it was time to differentiate the two groups–that is, the instrumental, mission society Christians from the acapella, non-missionary  society Christians.  I wonder how long it took the Christians in that tiny town in Kansas to know to which group they belonged?  They may have been confused and just thought that they were Christians.

For one hundred years, the two groups operated with few exceptions in completely different circles.  We each developed our own jargon, our own heroes, our own missionaries, our own colleges.  With the exception of a few touch points, we were not talking, certainly not fighting–because we hardly knew the other existed.

The instrumental churches of Christ–not everyone bothered to change their name–later split into two distinct fellowships:  the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ (because not everyone changed their name!) and Disciples of Christ.  The movement which began as a unity movement . . . oh, well!

Some individuals of all three groups continued to keep the hope of unity alive with annual gatherings, some pretty scholarly publications, and an occasional token invitation to a lectureship, but with the exception of this high-level contact, the average members of these churches continued to exist in different worlds, practically oblivious to the others.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the separation of Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches in 2006, several leading preachers and pastors in both groups declared that the 1906 breach was wrong and that the unity of the Restoration Movement should be restored.  At several high-profile gatherings, representatives of both groups repented for participating in division, asked for forgiveness, extended  fellowship to their counterpart, and ceremoniously traded Bibles as peace offerings.

Let me tell you why I am thinking about this.

My personal history is in the acapella Church of Christ. During the last few days, however, I have had the privilege of being on the campuses of two of the Independent Christian Churches larger colleges/universities.  I have been extraordinarily well hosted and extended complete and unreserved cooperation.  I would not have expected it to be any other way between Christians!

What  continues to sadden me, however, is how little either of us really knows about the history and the daily life of the other.  Just today, in casual conversations with colleagues,  I have learned of marvelous missions efforts,  of amazing heroes of faith, both alive and dead, even of Christian colleges/universities–all completely unknown to me.  I know a lot about our side of the aisle, but embarrassingly little about these brothers and sisters.

Maybe we have reconciled, but not actually restored fellowship.  Let me suggest a few actions that could possibly get us started in the process of really loving the whole brotherhood.

  • Local congregations should begin getting to know other congregations. It might only be a common potluck at first, but perhaps with the goal of getting to know each other.
  • Preachers could swap pulpits and use some of their time to introduce the history and heroes of their congregations.
  • Youth ministers from both groups could plan joint outings/camps/mission trips together.
  • The Christian Chronicle and The Christian Standard could each begin a section that deals with the news and ongoings of the other group.
  • Christian colleges/universities of both groups could include tracks in their lectureships/conferences that introduce both groups to each other.
  • Perhaps somebody needs to start a ministry of fellowship restoration, specifically focused on bringing not just the leaders, but the grassroots of these two groups together until we learn how to love each other again.

I know somebody is going to think that all this talk of getting to know each other and fellowshipping with people that we hardly know and may not entirely agree with is going to be a slippery slope to  . . . you know where!

I’m sure they (the others!)  aren’t perfect–but I’m not either, so I’m not going to be afraid of loving someone who loves God.  Fear makes us do terrible things–like ignore people who belong to the Body of Christ.

Maybe those people in that little church in Kansas knew something about love and fellowship and unity after all!

EDS Byron Nelson ClassicI always think of Byron Nelson, the legendary golfer, during this time of year. I met him eight years ago, just  weeks before he died.  But I’ll finish that story later.

Let’s Start Talking is in the middle of our biggest fund raising activity of the year. Once a year–during August and September–we have what we call our Season of Generous Giving.  Typically, we conclude this season of fund raising with the September Celebration Dinner, this year on September 25.

The activities and emotions of this season are all over the place!  We start with trepidation! Since September 30 is the end of our fiscal year, we need a successful fund raising effort to finish paying for the work that we have already done! The difference between a successful effort and a less successful effort can mean the difference for us of finishing our fiscal year with a positive or negative bank balance! So much is at stake!

But we also start with great faith that our God is rich in mercy and His people have all the resources needed for His kingdom to advance.  Most years, our prayers and efforts are richly blessed, but other years, the same prayers and often greater efforts do not result in all we thought we needed.

In this context, I was thinking about Luke 10 and  the report of Jesus sending out the 72 on their short-term mission.  “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals . . . ” (v.4).  What was he thinking about there–what was he trying to teach them?

If LST put a team on a plane to somewhere, but told them not to carry a suitcase and don’t take any money, we’d be considered irresponsible and negligent.  If a church required missionaries to go without support, they would be used as a negative illustration at every missions conference for the next decade.

So what was Jesus doing?  Teaching?

For those being sent out, perhaps he was trying to teach them total dependence on the Great Commissioner!  If they went out completely self-sufficient,  they would not learn to be content with whatever God provided.  Remember Paul’s words, a missionary who also went out with insufficient support–measured at least by today’s standards–but with absolute trust in the One who sent him: ” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11,12)

But, if the workers had gone out with all they needed, what would those to whom they were going fail to experience or learn? This is what gave me the most pause for thought.

They would not have learned that to be asked for help is an opportunity to participate in the plan of God.  I’m always a little surprised during this Season of Generous Giving at a few people who are somehow offended when we ask them to participate  with us financially.  Some of them are perhaps like Ebenezer Scrooge and simply don’t believe in charity because they believe so strongly that they have earned and deserve everything they have!  What foolishness!

I suspect most, however, just find it awkward, and they don’t like to be put in awkward situations. Either they don’t think money is something you talk about, or they may not be able to say either Yes or No to the request without some embarrassment–and they don’t want to be embarrassed.

So should someone not hear the Gospel because you are embarrassed?  Or maybe this is a place where God can transform our thinking, to refocus us on others rather than ourselves?

They would not have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive!  We only know that Jesus said this because the great missionary Paul told us so. It’s not recorded in the Gospels.  Those who received the 72 would not know what God would do for them if they had not offered them food, shelter, maybe money, and sandals!

What would God do to bless us if we gave to support those who are going?  I can only imagine good things–and He is able to do more than we can imagine.

They would not have learned that generosity is at the core of the message proclaimed by those who go!  Can you even imagine a person of peace saying, “Well, I totally accept the message from God that you have brought into my home, but I’m not going to give you a bed or share a meal or offer to give you an extra pair of sandals because if I do, I won’t have enough for myself.” Unthinkable!

The 72 took nothing with them because they believed that people of peace would offer them all they needed to accomplish their mission.  My experience with a lifetime in missions is that some are generous if you ask–but almost no one is offering. 

Now back to my memory of Byron Nelson.  One Sunday in August 2006, I was teaching an adult class at church, talking about LST.  After class and after the aisle had cleared, a large elderly man came toward me on his scooter.  He introduced himself to me–but I knew who he was. It was one of the greatest golfers of all times Byron Nelson.

He immediately  asked me a question which I am almost never asked: “How is your ministry doing financially?  Is there something I can do to help?”  I was literally speechless for a second,  managing finally to tell him that we were always in need of support–a pretty lame answer for such a generous question.

He invited us to come to his home that week and present our needs more particularly.  We met him and his wife Peggy, presented our need, then left them to talk and pray about it.  Within days, we received a check in the mail from the Nelsons–not for the amount that we had requested–but for TWICE AS MUCH!

Here was a man of peace who offered  without being asked and who was more generous than “required.”  He will be remembered by many for golf, but he is known by God for his faithfulness and his generosity!

Go out today–and tomorrow–and offer to support someone who needs your help to do the mission of God.  Offer without being asked–and watch that missionary’s  eyes glisten and voice crack–and know that God is smiling.

 

 

Dr. Tim Spivey is my son-in-law, and not just because of that, I have great respect for his work. This particularly insightful post meant much to me today, so I wanted to share it with you. 

DontgiveupWe MUST orient our energies and ministry around health, not pathology. We must spend our focus, time, and missional energy on the spiritually growing rather than those who refuse to accept appropriate responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Let me explain.

It’s easy to spend most of one’s energy worrying about those who aren’t there, virtually forgetting about those God has gathered. It’s easy to spend too much energy focusing on disappointments rather than blessings, or negative feedback over calling and the encouraging voices and signs all around us.

This pulls us off mission as much as anything, because we focus on Satan’s accomplishments rather than God’s provision. It tears down our faith, beats us down, and depletes our passion for ministry. When I’m thinking about what I think God isn’t doing, I’m not thinking about what He is doing–and what He’s doing is far more important than what I perceive He isn’t doing.

At any given point in time, God is doing far more than we realize, and we need to recognize that in our attitudes. We do this by orienting our thoughts around blessings and provision rather than criticism and difficulties.

How do we do that? The same way we change any attitude. We repent, pray, trust God’s work in us, renew our focus and efforts, and do what we need to do to nourish a heart of thanksgiving rather than scarcity. Maybe we need to change up who we spend time with, talk to, listen to, or what we feed our eyes.

Perhaps you’re going through a phase of ministry that is bringing you to the brink of quitting or at least despair. Well, hear this…Getting discouraged doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of being a great leader.

…Moses wanted to die rather than go on with the Israelites another day.
…Elijah thought he was the only one left. He wasn’t.
…David wondered why God was taking so long to deliver Him.
…Even Jesus lamented the hard-headedness and worldly perspective of His followers.

But, in each case, God revealed or did what was needed at just the right time. He usually didn’t change their ministries or solve their problems for them, He fortified their courage and renewed their souls by calling them back to what He was doing, and what He had done in the past.

He can do the same for you.

MW–You can read more of his posts at this regular site: http://www.timspivey.com

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