Black Friday Prayer

(A brief thought for Grace Fellowship Church and other believers concerned with evangelism)

Last Friday I had an incredibly sobering moment while chasing my wife and daughters through Kohls.  They had all scattered to look for some deals, or stand in line waiting to pay.  I decided to do something instead of just standing in the shoe department waiting for them to check out;  I told them I was going  to check out Christmas tree sales at another big box store.

I wove my way through Kohls in the general direction of the exit.  While dodging displays and people, I began to focus on people’s faces – face, after face, after face.  The store was packed, the parking lot was packed, and the roads were packed. I began to ponder the fact that these were people loved by God.  Each one of them was unique.  Each one had a soul. And Christ had made an enormous sacrifice to bring them to himself.

Of course, I already knew this.  The statistical “fact” of there being so many people who needed Christ wasn’t new.  The theological truth that people need Christ is something I (we) talk about often.

But just seeing the mass of people on the biggest shopping day of the year drove home these truths anew.

God has given us a tremendous responsibility and privilege to be “ministers of reconciliation.”  Not just me but we, the Grace Fellowship body.

On my way out the door, as I passed lines and masses of people, I just began to pray, “Lord…”  I caught myself not really knowing how to finish.  I mean there were SO many people, “Lord, bring the knowledge of your Son to these people and help our GF body to aggressively do our part as you lead.”

As you shop, attend holiday parties, and reconnect with family and friends in the next month would you pray?  Pray for people’s souls.  Pray for opportunities to share.  Pray for believers and churches to represent Christ to a lost and dead world.  We have the real “Hope” for this season and ask God to help us share it.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God”. (2Co 5:20 NKJ)

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GET OUT…of the office

I’m at Bruegger’s Bagels this morning.  Their coffee is great and I’m becoming a bagel connoisseur; but that’s not why I’m here.  My books, computer, and Bible are in front of me and I’m studying for upcoming messages; but that’s not why I’m here.  I could get coffee and something to eat at home.  I could study in the GREAT office some dear people remodeled for me.

So why am I here and not studying in my office or getting something cheaper to eat at home?

I’m here because I’m a church-planter/pastor/Christian.  I need to meet people, be around people, understand the community, and develop relationships through which to share the Gospel.

I could study in my office (and I do).  In fact, I would probably get more done and be more efficient in my office.  However, sitting here reminds me of what I’m called to do.  It reminds me about the many, many people in our area that God loves and for whom Christ died.  What I need is not a quiet place to study; but a sense of urgency for souls (that sounds so old school).  But souls are in the balance. Jesus told his disciples in John 4:35 to, “…lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”

I can’t see the fields from my office or home.

So, this morning I’m at Brueggers…to study, to pray over our body at Grace Fellowship, to remind myself of God’s purpose, to meet people and to maintain a sense of urgency.

Oh yeah…and to enjoy this great Bruegger’s house blend.

Classic Conversion Stories: A.W. Tozer

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“We had a neighbor by the name of Holman.  I do not know his first name or initials.  He was just Mr. Holman.  He lived next door to us. I had heard that he was a Christian, but he never talked to me about Christ.”

“Then one day I was walking up the street with this friendly neighbor.  Suddenly, he put his hand on my shoulder. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I have been wondering about you.  I have been wondering if you are a Christian, if you are converted.  I just wanted the chance to talk it over with you.’”

“‘No, Mr. Holman,’ I answered, ‘I am not converted, but I thank you for saying this to me.  I am going to give it some serious thought.’”

Late one afternoon in 1915 – three years after arriving in Akron-as he walked home from work, Aiden noticed a small crowd of people gathered on the opposite side of the street.  They were clustered around an older man who seemed to be talking to them.  Not being able to hear what the man was saying, Aiden crossed the street to satisfy his curiosity.

At first, the man’s speech did not make any sense to Aiden.  He spoke with a strong German accent, and Aiden had to listen carefully to catch what the man was saying.  Finally, it dawned on Aiden. The man was preaching!  Preaching, right out on the street corner!  ‘Doesn’t this man have a church to preach in?’ Aiden thought to himself. ‘And it isn’t even Sunday! Why is he so excited?’ But as Aiden listened, the words of the elderly street preacher began to find their mark in his young heart.

The preacher startled Aiden. “If you don’t know how to be saved, just call on God, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner,’ and God will hear you.”

Those words burned in Aiden’s heart. He could not get the voice of the preacher out of his mind.  As he slowly walked home, he thought over what the man had said.  Never before had he heard words like those.  They troubled him.  They awakened within him a gnawing hunger for God.

Saved. If you don’t know how to be saved…just call on God…’God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’

When Aiden arrived home, he went straight to the attic, where he could be alone to think this out for himself and to wrestle with God.  No one knows all that transpired in the Tozer attic that afternoon in 1915. But Aiden Wilson Tozer emerged a new creation in Christ Jesus.  His pursuit of God had begun.

Aiden’s conversion to Christ was a transforming experience in every way.  Inclined to be cynical, he thought nothing of turning to agnostics or even to atheists for counsel.  Suddenly, his entire life as radically and wonderfully redirected.  A whole new world had opened up to this youth with unbounded intellectual curiosity.  It was a world that would take him a lifetime and more to explore fully.

In later years he would say of himself that as a young man he was so ignorant it was a wonder the top of his head did not cave in from sheer emptiness.  From the moment of his conversion, however, Aiden had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a ravenous hunger for God.

The Tozer household was crowded with eight family members plus boarders. Aiden had to find the time and place to get alone with God, time for prayer and Bible reading and study.  In the basement there was a small unused space behind the furnace. Aiden claimed it, cleaned it and made it comfortable.  It was a refuge where he could get away from everything and everyone and literally spend hours in prayer, study and meditation.

Long years later Essie remembered how at first, when she would go down the cellar stairs for canned goods, she could hear frightful groaning coming from behind the furnace.  Soon she came to recognize the sound as that of her younger brother wrestling with God in prayer.  For Aiden, it became a lifetime habit. Nothing would take the place of knowing God firsthand.

Excerpted from, “In Pursuit of God, The Life of A.W. Tozer”, by James L. Snyder, pp 35-38, Christian Publications: Camp Hill, PA, 1991 (with permission)

Mission Trips – More Than a Religous Vacation

“Wouldn’t it be better to give all that money to a missionary instead of taking a mission trip?”

This quote, in a nutshell, sums up a lot of the logic regarding arguments against mission trips.  To be honest it’s hard to argue with.  After all, wouldn’t a missionary be better off getting the $20, $30, or even up to $50 thousand that some mission trips cost?  Wouldn’t it be better to send them the money so they could use it as they see fit?

Some of the other criticisms of mission trips include:

·         Motive – This concerns the motives of the participants.  Are they really going to help the missionary or are they looking for a vacation – albeit one with a holy purpose.

·         Effectiveness – Do mission trips really help with spreading the gospel?  Couldn’t the missionary be more effective by having the money and directing to one of his or her strategic programs?

·         Length – Does a 10-day excursion to a foreign mission do much to help anybody? The missionary, the participant, or even the people being served? Wouldn’t it be better to send people on a 2 to 5 year stint?

·         Sightseeing – Should any part of the mission trip be used in a tourism sense?

·         Education – If part of a trip’s purpose is to educate the participants about missions wouldn’t it be more effective to do this education in the local church setting instead of going overseas?

A recent Wall Street article covers these criticisms plus more (see it at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122359398873721053.html.

So what about it?  Are these trips really as ineffective and wasteful as claimed?  Should churches nix them from their mission program and divert the money to more effective forms of great commission work?  At first glance, it’s hard to argue with this logic.

I think the criticisms come from genuine concerns (for the most part) and from people who would like to see mission work done as effectively as possible. However, I think some very important intangibles are missed by the critics and some of their logic is faulty.  And, I hate to say it, some of the arguments are just plain prudish.   Similar to the person who walked into a church 60 years ago and first saw padded pews and said, “why did we waste money on that, couldn’t we sit on 2 x 10 wooden benches.”  Okay, that example is a little dated, but you get the point.  Some of this criticism is valid and some of it isn’t.

I think mission trips are much more than a holy holiday and in fact, can be a solid component of the mission program at any church. 

Here’s why:

Economics: I don’t think economics can be completely used to judge the value of a mission trip. The article mentions that a home could be built cheaper with local labor. Yes, but then the trip participants wouldn’t get the experience of “seeing” and “helping” a missionary. How do you place a value on this experience?  It’s impossible.

Education:  There is a value to a person standing next to a missionary helping him serve.  While it is expensive, there is value to it.  This is why in the secular world we have study abroad programs and foreign exchange students.  Under the same logic, it could be argued that these programs are a waste of money.  Why not educate via a DVD presentation and taking a foreign language class? Because there is something about “being there.”   
Vision: I believe there is great value in a person being on the field and seeing the possibilities.  How could God use them? What does He want for their life? How can they serve missionaries better stateside?  What more should their church be doing? It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the vision building aspect of a mission trip.  
New Missionaries: Many current missionaries were originally challenged about being one partly through taking a trip.  I can think of at least 5 from our church alone.  Obviously God can direct people to missionary service without a trip.  But it appears trips are at least a part of how many current missionaries became challenged to serve.  How can a value be placed on a person’s decision to follow the Lord into career missionary work?  Imagine if every trip produced a new career missionary? 

·         A person who would spend the next 35 years spreading the gospel in a foreign land (or close to home for that matter.)

·         A person who would win dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of souls to Christ.

·         A person who would plant dozens of churches.

·         A person who would start Bible colleges for training new indigenous Christian workers.

How much is that worth? As one recent commercial would say, I think it’s “priceless.”

Effectiveness: The argument is that a missionary could make better use of the dollars.  Yes, if the only purpose is to get the “work” done.  However, that is only one of the goals of a trip.  The other goal is to challenge people and churches about missions, to connect with their missionary, to encourage their missionary, and also to get some work done.  There’s no arguing that some work does get done.  This argument is just about the cost of it.

It should also be noted that many missionaries ask us to send mission teams. If trips weren’t productive and helpful to a missionary, I doubt they would be asking churches to send teams. Even at our conference this past week, we had a missionary from Hungary ask us to send a team over. I think there are some tangible benefits to the missionary by hosting a team including:

·         Closer connection to a supporting church.

·         Funds provided to the missionary by the team.

·         Labor provided by the team (obviously not efficient economically, but work does get done).

·         Increased evangelism above what the missionary could do on his or her own.

·         Special skills provided by the team that the missionary cannot hire (an evangelistic baseball camp.)

·         The encouragement the missionary receives from the team and its sending church.

Finally, what about the arguments that mission trips are merely religious vacations. 

Is that really so bad? Keep in mind that most of the money for a mission trip comes from the participants and their fund raising efforts. If they want to give and raise the money, is it a bad thing for them to be excited about seeing another country? Not to be sarcastic, but is it better to go lay on a Florida beach for 10 days or spend those 10 days in Kenya doing a soccer camp for kids and sharing Jesus with them?  And while doing it taking in a little safari.  I’ll let you answer that one.

From a personal perspective, I and my son took a mission trip to Peru several years ago.  Each person had some money set aside to see Machu Picchu.  Wow!  What an opportunity.  In the end, after praying about it, everyone gave this portion of their trip money to the missionary instead of seeing this tourist attraction.  It amounted to about $2500.

All this being said, I’m sure there are many mission trips taken that are not effective. To me this doesn’t mean don’t take the trip, but instead do a better job of planning and knowing your objective. 

It also means the question doesn’t have to be an “either/or” question: either take a mission trip or send more money to missionaries.  I say it should be a “both/and” question.  Let’s do both: 

A.    Take mission trips

B.    AND make them the best they can be

C.    AND send more finances to missionaries.

D.    AND educate our churches better about missions work.

So what do you think?      (to respond click on the word, ‘comments’ below)

 

Men’s Activity – 2008 Missions Conf.

 Over a hundred men and their sons ate and prayed at our men’s activity.  It was a great night of fellowship, food and prayer.

We met at one of our Deacon’s homes – in the city, but a small 50 acre farm.  We first of all had some excellent barbecue.  We then took turns on a hayride which transported us to the back of the farm.  Once there we went in groups on a prayer walk through the woods.  There were several stations that had posters with each of our missionaries names and their respective countries.  Each poster had several requests for us to pray for.

Back at the bonfire each missionary shared a little about their field and we gatherered around them to pray with Pastor Bob wrapping up the session.

It was a perfect way to spend some time with these men doing Christ’s work around the world.  And of course, being a Baptist gathering, we had plenty of good food also!

  (Pastor Bob chatting to one of our Deacons, Kevin Phillips.)

 (Pastor Todd giving us some instructions for the evening.) 

(The food line – we devoured 80lbs of Brisket and 100 hotdogs)

(Missionary David Liles sharing a challenge.)

(Prayer Walking)

2008 Missions Conference – Day 1

We had a great opening to our annual Mission Conference on Sunday.  This week we are privileged to have four missionaries from around the world.  Their fields include Hungary, Peru, SE Asia, and Russia. Christ said,

Acts 1:8   8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (nkjv)

These people are carrying out that last part of Jesus’ command – to the end of the earth.  It’s compelling to hear their passion for taking the Gospel to areas God has called them to.

Here are a few pics of the day.  Above each one is a caption.

  (Worship service of opening day) 

 

 (Introduction of Missionary guests) 

  (Kids session with missionaries)  

 

(Missionaries talking with people at their booths in the lobby)  

 

 (Kids examining items from Missionary displays) 

(Presentations to adults)

 (Missionary kids opening their gifts from the “Christmas in October”)

 

(Pastor Bob giving each missionary child $1 bills for each year of their age – They were excited about this part of the day!)

(Evening service – each missionary received a monetary gift toward their work)

Life is a Vapor – “Vapor Sports Ministry”

Sports are a great way to make inroads for sharing Christ.

One of our partners is Vapor Sport’s Ministry. They are located in Nairobi, Kenya and impacting thousands of kids and adults. In addition to sports, they provide Bibles, Christian training, food aid and other human assistance.

We did a trip with them a couple of summer’s ago. What a great organization with a passion for people and the Gospel. Here’s their website: www.vaporsports.org/

Their President is Micah McElveen – one of the most passionate people I know. 

 

 

 

 

Check out one of their soccer ministry video’s…It’s 3 minutes long; but, watch the whole thing.  You’ll be blessed!!