Friday, June 24, 2016

Why is support-raising so hard?  Didn’t the Apostle Paul say, “All things work for good…”?

This week has been difficult for a couple of new missionary families seeking to discover their financial support.  Both couples have been challenged to evaluate their motives by family members who do not trust their reasons for leaving the U.S. Others are struggling with the slowness of the process and the challenge to maintain the pace of phone calls and appointments in the face of rejection.  They are tempted to throw in the towel.

I am convinced that support raising is an important character-forming tool in the missionary process.  The combination of hard work, uncertainty, success and rejection is more than faith stretching. It is an important tool for maturity and growth.  After experiencing the reality of long-term missionary life, I can confess that our characters needed a lot of molding (and still do).

Although I did not live my childhood as a missionary, I witnessed this character-shaping process through my family story. I believe that this earlier blog post is still amazingly applicable....and certainly what I need to hear today...

When my older brother, Danny, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, I was just an infant. Mom and Dad must have been crushed. Mom tells me that every few years they would have an appointment at the Duke University Hospital where the finest doctors would inform them of the harsh reality of this cruel disease and lower their expectations. They never imagined that Danny would live past the early teenage years, much less, learn to drive and graduate high school, even study broadcasting.  Danny was twenty-six when he died and he left a tremendous legacy of hope, perseverance and survival. He also suffered in silence and persevered.

So, how do “all things work for good”? Certainly, we cannot be talking about new cars or careers. God is not writing us a blank check for anything that we desire. He is making a much larger and important promise. God is committed to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. Simply put, He is determined to making us better people.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28, 29a)

So, why is God allowing the support-raising process (or any other difficulty for that matter) to be long, slow, difficult and frustrating?  Simply put, He is conforming you to the image of His Son.  He is fulfilling His commitment to take away all that does not reflect Christ and is building up those character attributes that bring Him glory!  He is preparing you for a lifetime of incarnational ministry, being like Christ wherever He leads. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

If God ever calls you to raise support for a mission trip, an educational opportunity or simply the chance to involve others in what God is doing in your is some simple advice...

You’ve already done the hard part.  You made a good list of contacts and you made some phone calls.  You worked up all the bravery that you could muster and you asked for an appointment, an opportunity to share what God is doing in your life.  To your surprise, they agreed to meet over coffee and now you get the privilege of telling your story, your beautiful story!  So, what do you say?

What has God done?  Everyone has a unique narrative about God’s faithfulness.  He is gracious to all of us! Whether you have followed Christ from an early age or have recently been brought out from a life of tragic mistakes, you are a beautiful testament to God’s love and mercy.  Take advantage of the moment and brag on the special way that God has treated you.  He deserves to be praised out loud!

How did God put missions on your heart? Somehow, God has shown you an intimate part of His heart, His passion for the nations.  How did that happen?  Were you involved in a short-term experience, a Bible study or a sermon series, a special missionary friend or a college professor?  How did God change your heart and give you a special mission?  Why are you ready to turn away from the typical pursuits and seek a life of missionary service?

What’s the vision?  Since you have heard from God, you now are seeking to obey His plan for your future.  What does that look like? Where will you be living? Is there a team?  What will you do? How are lives being changed?  When will you be going and for how long?  Is a missionary organization involved?

What has to happen to get there?  Let people know what you need?  Tell them about your need for preparation and training and some of the logistics.  Tell them specifically about your monthly financial need.  Explain the urgent requirement to be fully-funded so that you can experience a healthy, vision-driven, unencumbered ministry that can have long-term results on the field.  Show them the different levels of giving and then…

Ask!   Give them the specific opportunity to invest in what God is doing in and through your life!  Wait for their response.  Allow them to make a decision based upon what God is doing in their own heart.  You will be surprised by God’s willingness to provide through the generosity of His people.  When the answer is “yes”, help them step through the next steps.

Celebrate!  Enjoy the fact that you have been passionate and obedient. You have done your part and now you trust that God is doing His work.  You can rest in the knowledge of His goodness!

Friday, March 6, 2015

“It’s all good?”…Part 2

How much does God love us?  And what does that even mean?

Once again, we must battle the tendency to embrace commercial stereotypes. God, the all-powerful creator and passionate redeemer, has been reduced to a spiritual Santa Claus or at least the rich uncle who is willing to spoil someone else’s child.

Since God really loves us, He is committed to our well-being, our growth, our maturity. Anything less would not be love. Could we say that God was “good” if He allowed us to remain as spiritual infants unable to act responsibly and sacrificially?

Any child would willingly eat a bag of M&Ms and coke for breakfast, but what kind of parent would provide in that way?  We all know that may be a child’s perspective of the perfect breakfast, but it’s not true.  It would be enjoyable and the child may feel “loved”, but it would be a lie.   In the same way, a parent may feel “loving” when they are doing their child’s homework or habitually enabling him or her to avoid difficult tasks. 

C.S. Lewis explained in his classic, The Problem of Pain, “As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any term: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most, tragic, most inexorable sense.”

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;          Romans 8:28, 29  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's all good?

"ALL THINGS WORK TO GOOD".......I have seen this passage beaten and abused beyond recognition. Somehow, the western church has come to believe that Jesus is a good-luck charm that will not let anything bad happen to us; no suffering, no pain and certainly to failure.
Many in conservative circles scoff at the overt prosperity gospel, but the subtle version may be even more damaging.

My Dad lost his father when he was only 15 years old. As the youngest of ten children, he was the only boy who was still living on the family farm. Quitting high school was his only option and the daunting task of running the farm at 15 must have been overwhelming.

After nearly 20 years of working heavy machinery for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Dad had destroyed his back. Surgeons were able to fuse 4 vertebrae together and I never saw my Dad truly bend over. I can only imagine that his back caused him nearly continuous pain, but throughout my childhood and adolescence I never heard a word about it. He pushed through and continued to show us what it meant to work hard without complaining.

When my brother, Danny, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, I was just an infant. Mom and Dad must have been crushed. Mom tells me that every few years they would have an appointment at the Duke University Hospital where the finest doctors would inform them of the harsh reality of this cruel disease and lower their expectations. They never imagined that Danny would live past the early teenage years, much less, learn to drive and graduate high school. Danny was twenty-six when he died and he left a tremendous legacy of hope, perseverance and survival. He also suffered in silence.

Daily, it took Danny about 45 minutes for him to dress himself. Dad would have to stifle the desire to help, choosing to allow Danny to struggle and maintain a certain level of independence. Dad used a towel to muffle his own cries. Danny was a joy and a tremendous example to us all.

So, how do “all things work for good”? Certainly, we cannot be talking about new cars or careers. God is not writing us a blank check for anything that we desire. He is making a much larger and important promise. God is committed to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. Simply put, He is committed to making us better people. As a friend explained to me in the wake of our first ministry disappointment, “God is not concerned about your comfort. He is concerned about your character.”

Was Dad a better person in spite of all of life’s difficulties or was his character a result of all these bad things? 

Would a humble submission to God in the midst of life’s worse suffering produce the strength of character that would begin to resemble our Savior in some small way?

Sunday, February 1, 2015


It has been a little more than 6 months since my Dad passed away.  It feels strange to see it in print. The pause between sentences was uncomfortable. I was unprepared for the intensity of feeling…of loss.
I live a few thousand miles away from my little home town. That has been true for nearly 20 years, but it feels even further today; not because of the actual geography, but rather the way that life has changed me, hopefully for the better.

Dad’s death has made me more contemplative than usual. I may come across as moody and that may be true. My faith in God is real and alive, but only the edge is taken off of the pain. I miss my father and I have for a very long time.

You have never met a more amicable person than Dad. I want to use the word “nice”, but it doesn't really encompass the reality. From all that I've been able to witness, Dad genuinely wanted the best for the people around him, everyone with whom he came in contact. He had a kind word for everyone and that’s impressive. I am not sure when it actually happened, but I know that I had children of my own and Dad was approaching elderly the first time I was able to hold the door open for him and he actually walked ahead of me entering a restaurant first. How does that change me? How does a life time of caring for others influence all of us who still have ample time to serve?
This question has taken a Biblical turn for me as I remember the details. Dad’s life was difficult and I wonder what difference that made…and makes

Dad grew up on a real working farm with a little bit of everything that a family of 12 needs to survive. I envy the resourcefulness, but I like my running water and indoor toilet. Does growing up on a farm in the decades following the “great depression” make you a better person? Would harder work and fewer comforts make us more mature or at the very least more grateful?  Are there not great spiritual benefits in learning to wait and working for the good of the whole family rather than simply seeking personal gain? Can we learn patience without waiting? Can we mature without suffering? Are we truly grateful without the pain of wanting something that we are never able to have?

Romans 8:28,29
                And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God fore knew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…

                                                                        (To be continued…)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It was the middle of the summer and a group of churches had come together to host a county-wide crusade.  I remember the strangeness of seeing all of this activity stretched out on the Locust baseball field. You could feel the excitement and I loved the ventriloquist and the story of the little tree who was trying to please God with its sacrifices. I am pretty sure that we still have the Geraldine and Ricky album.

My brother, Danny, suffered from Muscular Dystrophy.  Although I was only 7 years old, I could notice the toll that it was beginning to take.  He was walking with more of a hitch and falling more often.  Our play became much less rambunctious.  Three years later, at 15, he would fall in the bathroom at West Stanly High School while kicking away a toilet roll.  He would never walk again.
But, Danny was not a complainer.  In reality, He was a great big brother and the kindest person I have ever known.  The only semi-bad thing I can remember was the tiddlywink incident.  You see, we lied about that one. 

I was about six, the summer before the crusade.  At a Sunday school picnic, I was finally brave enough to try the monkey bars.  These bars were remarkably high for elementary school, but after one successful trip I was on my way back for a victory lap.  My hand slipped and I tried to cushion my fall.  A trip to the emergency room confirmed two fractured wrists.

It was a couple of weeks later when the incident happened.  Danny and I had just finished taking a bath and we were brushing our teeth getting ready for bed.  I cannot remember the actually board game that provided the tiddlywinks but I can remember their size….and taste.  For some reason, as we were clowning around Danny said, “Hey, why don’t you eat one of these?”  He was joking of course and there was no mal-intent, but as he put the quarter-sized plastic playing piece in my mouth something really strange occurred.  I swallowed it.  Then, the panic was on.  As I struggled to breath, my parents tried everything (except for the Heimlich Maneuver) to dislodge the obstruction.  I can still remember my older brother Joey grabbing me by the feet and shaking me upside down, all to no avail.

Here’s the thing.  Danny and I had a long standing deal.  We didn’t tell on each other.  We might use it as a bargaining chip sometime down the road, but we were certainly not going to rat each other out.  So, we made up a story.  In between gasps for air, we scrambled.  Both of my arms were in casts, so we used that to our advantage.  We made up the most unbelievable story, “I was reaching for the tiddlywink that was on the top shelf and it fell straight into my mouth!”  Here’s the funny part.  People believed us.  And they continued to believe us for the next decade. 

I don’t know what kind of sin must have been on Danny’s mind that rainy summer night at the crusade.  Certainly, it was more serious than tiddlywinks, but for some strange reason, there we were, right in the middle of the baseball field waiting for my brother to finish talking with a counselor.  We all got wet and it made me wonder what the big deal was.

So, the next night I resolved to pay attention.  The hymns were clearer. The ventriloquist made me cry and the preacher spoke straight to me.  Jesus died for me and my seven-year-old heart.

Every life decision and commitment comes down to this very foundational reality.  Jesus loves me immensely and is intimately involved in my life!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Power is out at our house

Power is out at our house, went out some time early this morning.   We awoke to the computer battery backup screaming at us. It's pretty normal.

For some reason our water tank is also empty.  That must mean that we have some kind of leak.  We just spent a small fortune repairing our well….so, who knows?

Almost 20 years ago, we were not adequately warned about this missionary reality.   Most days involve some kind of unexpected twist; power outage, no water, an hour-long line at the bank, a new beggar with a more convincing tale, internet inexplicably down, flat tires, friends with disastrous marital problems, dengue fever, robbery and road blocks for campaigning.  19 years later, nothing is simple.

In the middle of the mess, I often forget the privilege of sharing the love of Christ and the beauty of His gospel.  It’s so easy to fall into a life of complaining and complacency.  If you add a dose of loneliness or self-pity you can become completely paralyzed. Or I can.

My only solution could be thankfulness and generosity.  I could look around and see the wonderful way that God has provided and the ministry opportunities that we have been given.  I could praise God for the crazy difficulties that are somehow forcing me to mature a little.

I could passionately minister to the fledgling flock and give of myself with reckless abandon.  I could be generous without constantly being cynical. The love of Christ compels us…me.

Hey…the power is back on….water comes out of the faucet…Thank you,  Jesus….I wonder where the leak is….?