It is a Prayer

A Lukewarm coffee sits beside my computer in the bagel shop.

Cars pass by the window, driven by people I only glimpse.

A smell of burnt toast wafts through the air.

A running man passes the shop window.

There’s a quick bang of a pan or two behind me in the kitchen.

A customer in nursing attire stirs creamer into her coffee at the counter. She has a black headband.

The coffee equipment is making an electrical, rattling noise.

An elderly couple graze over their food. They have careful hair; she with thick make up, and him with a shirt buttoned to his neck.

The workers are bantering at the end of their shift.

I have a message and a mandate of which to tell them.  Where do I begin?

It is a prayer.

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)

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.

Using Your Hobby for Evangelism

I like to mess with coins.  Am I a collector?  Not really.  I just enjoy messing around with them.   I buy and sell a few and keep a few that I especially enjoy.

Last year I got the idea to combine this hobby with my passion for telling others about Christ.  So I wrote a tract that incorporated some info about the Mercury Dime AND with each one I actually include a real example of one.

Below is what the tract looks like and the text which is inside.  Any hobby can be used for evangelism if you get creative. 

I’d enjoy hearing from you on how you use your hobby to share the Good News.

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(cover)

tract-cover-merc-dime

(page 1)page-1

 

(page 2)

page-2

(page 3)page-3

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)

 

The Best Message Never Heard

Complaints of undelivered mail came in for over a year in a Middlebury, Indiana neighborhood.  After a tip, postal inspectors investigated a postal carrier’s home.  They found over 20,000 pieces of mail she had accumulated over the prior year dating back to January of 2007. 

When asked, “Why?”  Her explanation was that she would get overwhelmed with how much she had to deliver.  Instead of bringing it back to the post office and possibly getting disciplined, she just took it home.  Probably in hopes of getting it delivered later.  She’s been charged with numerous felonies carrying penalties of 5 years in prison and fines of $250,000 each.

Among the undelivered mail were personal correspondence, packages, bills, licenses and even medicine.  Surely, some of this mail was very important to the people waiting for it; affecting their lives in many ways.

Undelivered news and mail is not only sad, but criminal.

Believers in Christ Continue reading

An Example of Wackiness, Love, and Faith

1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Aunt Lavon would do wacky things.  She was fun-loving, always had a smile, and was a deeply caring person.

For many years as a child I just knew her as the sister of my Dad who was crazy and fun.  She was the aunt who had so much fun playing the game Spoons that the neighbors could hear and would wonder what was going on over at  the Dunkle’s house.  She would dive across the table to get a spoon in this card game.  It was no holds barred. Aunt Lavon on right

Instead of writing letters, she would sometimes record a tape (yes this was before email and YouTube).  She would talk about their family, which cousin was in which sport, how work was going, etc.  She would also sing.  Yes, she would sing some of her favorite songs acapella.  She also would record some her favorite songs and provide commentary on why she loved it so much.  One song I distinctly remember was “Rushing Wind” by Keith Green.  He sang about being cleansed from our sin and the Holy Spirit entering his life after being born again.  It later became a favorite of mine.

When we visited her home, we always went to church.  It was different from our church.  There was more emphasis on looking at the Bible, talking about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and this serious discussion about salvation. People at her church were friendly!  And, man, they loved the Lord.

In my early teens I found out the source of her joy and zest for life.  It was her faith in Christ.  I learned of it slowly through news she would share with us and gifts and cards she would send me.

She took a personal interest in me and my spiritual state.  I was her first nephew and she would tease me that I couldn’t hide anything from her because she used to change my diapers.  Usually this discussion happened in front of others for embarrassment purposes.The Way

On one of my birthdays she sent me a Bible.  It was a “fresh” translation targeted toward the younger generation.  Many remember it as the green, hardback Bible called “The Way.” 

In it she wrote the following:

“Shawn Barr – May you find that peace for your life that only is found in Jesus Christ.  The following I am sharing with you from my Bible – sayings I’ve written in my Bible over the years.  May He bless your life in every way. You are loved. All my Love, Aunt Lavon”

Here are the sayings she shared:

* I have to stand for something or I’ll fall for anything.

* Christians shouldn’t be satisfied to die on 3rd base when they could go on to Home with the Winning Run.

* Responsibility – The response is to come from us, and the ability will come from Him.

* I would rather burn out for Jesus than rust out for Him.

* History – His Story.

* Money is an instrument that can buy you everthing but happiness and pay your fare for every place but Heaven.

* Love is something you “do”!

* If justice was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we’d all be blind and toothless!

*Shawn Barr – You are loved!

She closed with: “My commitment of love to you: to pray for you everyday the rest of my life. Aunt Lavon.”

Her investment of love and prayer in me changed my life.  The example of joyful, Christian living was contagious.  Shortly after receiving this Bible, I found Christ as my own Savior and gained assurance that I was reconciled to God because of Him.

Several years ago her commitment of praying for me ended as she died tragically.  However, her example will never die.  I’ll always remember her great love for Christ and others.

The Church needs more “Aunt Lavons” – people willing to be an example and invest in others.  I pray I can be that person for someone else.  And may I ask, who will be able to point to you in the same way someday? There are people right around you who need you to love them, invest in them, and stand up and be an example.

Decide to become a difference-maker to someone today.