I’m dreaming of a White Christmas

That is so true.  I grew up in a region where we usually had a white Christmas. Where the snow covered the ground for weeks. Where it sparkled in the light of street lights like diamonds.  

It isn’t just about the snow. It is about the traditions.  If I lived in my home culture I would have been shopping on Black Friday, I would have been hearing the Holiday music in all the malls. I would have been attending work parties and family gatherings and school programs. I would have been involved in our church choir or play. My home would be decorated and Christmas cookies in the jar.

But here I am mowing my lawn. I have some lights but no tree. I can barely find Christmas gifts anywhere.  I may gather with other expats in the area to celebrate. My national church will celebrate the holiday in their church all day long. No one makes cookies or knows about Santa Claus. In one way it is better because they remember the true reason – the Birth of Christ our Saviour!

I want to hangout with my family and wrap presents. But I will now adapt to new traditions, church all day, special food, beautiful flowers in bloom at this time of year.

Single and ignorant

  Are you single?  Are you in ministry at your church or an organization, either at home or overseas?  Are you dedicating your time to serving God? Are you involved in your local church?

  We should be all that and more. We need to be part of community. We need to be helping out when we see a need. We need to be dedicating our time to serving God in various ways.

  If you are self-seeking, looking for friends and a good time, then you are ignorant.  As a Christian we need to seek the Lord.  Not only singles but everyone, needs to be seeking the Lord and how to serve Him. 

  There is another ignorance that I want to discuss here.  Are you aware of your surroundings?  Are you aware of who are you influencing?  Are you aware of who you may be hindering? Are you listening to authority in your spiritual walk?

  We sometimes understand the first point and throw ourselves whole-heartedly into serving the Lord. Helping in our churches. But then we forget the second part.  We are blind to the fact that we are hurting families. We are blind to the fact that we are hurting marriages. We will work hard in a ministry right alongside the pastor, youth pastor, associate pastor, worship pastor, or whomever may be in charge of the ministry. We are ignorant to the looks we receive from others. We need to be careful.  We can cause rumors to be spread about these men in leadership. We can even cause them to stumble. We must be aware. 

  Yes, throw yourself into ministry. But don’t be alone in the same office with a man. No matter how old or in love he is with his wife.  Don’t joke with him as a brother, no matter how much you have no intentions for him.  Many ministries are hurt by single women not being aware of how it looks.  They don’t mean to hurt a marriage. They don’t mean to break up a church. They never mean to fall in love with someone else’s husband.  But then it happens.  Being alone together, working on the same goal, you like each other. You depend on each other, and then you fall for each other. 

  Single women: Don’t be ignorant of this potential pitfall.  You may have pure intentions, but in the end it causes pain on so many levels.

  I have seen missionaries leave the field, divorce, church leaders crash, churches split, and families hurt, all because of single women not being careful about boundaries.

Where do you draw the line?

  I’ve seen some recent posts about movies that Christians shouldn’t watch.  They raised a lot of discussions both for and against. Being in Africa, I haven’t seen or heard anything about these movies until the discussions began.  images (2)line

  But it made me think.  What are my standards? Where do I draw the line? What compromises am I willing to make? What things have I allowed to numb my spiritual senses?

  We all know that certain music, tv shows, and movies are sin.  Let me be blunt.  We know that as Christians we are to avoid the appearance of evil. We know that we are to avoid those who promote sin. We know that we are to think about certain things.  These choices of entertainment definitely go against God’s Word.

  You can give me all your excuses, but in the end you and I both know that they are sin.  There are other areas of our lives that are not so cut and dry–areas that seem grey. We know that Scriptures tell us not to cause our brother to stumble. Yet we do it all the time in the name of FREEDOM.

  Are you free to drink alcohol? Yes, but Scripture is clear about not getting drunk.  So we may enjoy a drink or two. Yet we have no concern for the new Christian in the restaurant who is recovering from Alcoholism. For that guy that came out of a sinful life where alcohol was very much a part of that old lifestyle. We ignore policies of organizations or institutions that say no alcohol.  We say we are free and we try to do it on the sly.  But in the end, is it worth it?  Even if you never get caught, was it worth the risk of hurting a brother or being seen as a hypocrite?

  What about the movies you watch? We rarely look at the ratings anymore unless it is for our kids.  We just ignore the sex scenes or horrible language and lifestyle choices in the entertainment we watch and listen to.  Once I had a standard. I limited my tv time and reading material and music. Now, I just don’t care.  I am numbing the Spirit. I have too many Christian friends that do it, so why not. I don’t have anyone to judge me. So why not?

  Would you walk out of a theatre? Would you ask someone to change the channel/station?  Would you delete music files?  Would you turn off a show?  Would you throw away the thing that hinders others? Would you change your clothing so as not to offend?

  You see this isn’t about your rights, it is about obey God. It is about pleasing Him versus pleasing the flesh.

Where will you draw the line?

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Visiting Churches

splitOne of the jobs that we have as missionaries is to visit churches in our home countries. Furlough, Home Assignment, Deputation, Support Raising, Ministry Reporting, etc…

We are privileged to travel to many congregations and fellowship with them. We meet so many fellow members or the Body of Christ. We encourage local leaders and saints. We build up a great army of prayer warriors who back us up. We share with kids about being a missionary and ministry.  We eat with different people and encourage them to take that leap of faith toward ministry at home and abroad.

We recruit short and long term missionaries. We build interest in missions which have long-lasting effects.  Many of my fellow missionaries were first interested in missions because of someone visiting their church and sharing a meal with them. Others started the path toward full-time mission work because of short term mission trips they had taken. 

We see the good and bad in so many congregations. We get to see large and small churches, healthy and dying churches. We can encourage or discourage local leaders. We can promote missions or scare people away from them.

Recently I met with someone who had visited an unhealthy church. He was so judgmental and critical of the leadership there. It struck me in a painful way.  I hope that I never judge the local churches I visit. I hope that I never judge the people I meet.

I also remember a Sunday when the church I was visiting split. I stayed with a family who wasn’t going to church that day or any other day after that. I woke up and went to church. I greeted all involved and tried to encourage and not ask questions.  

We pop in briefly can never know all the circumstances. Even if we try to help fix an issue, we can not know the years of history that have lead to such a problem. We must be careful not to take sides and to pray for all involved. 

The False Teachers among us

I have been working in Africa for more than 10 years. A big goal of mine is to teach the Word of God.  Recently I was in a new region and teaching a conference. I was surprised to hear about all the false teachers in the area.  The attendees of the conference were asking some deep theological questions. They wanted real answers. They shared stories of other preachers and evangelists that had come to town.  How they would collect valuables and money from sick people promising to heal them. They would promise that if they did xyz they would suddenly become rich.

These teachers travelled in big fancy cars and wore expensive suits. They stayed in expensive hotels and ate and nice restaurants. They knew how to speak well and entertain the crowd.  They could raise their voices and jump up and down until people began cheering for them. 

They preachers and teachers make a lot of money from offerings. They preach another Gospel and lie to very sick people.  How can we fight against them? How can we show the lies for what they are?

Be Faithful

Be faithful to your God.  He has called you to serve Him. He has called you to live a holy life. He sent His only Son to die for you. He loves you. He gives you mercy instead of the justice you deserve. He gives you grace.

If you are in full time ministry, be faithful. If you are a pastor, be faithful to that call. If you are an elder in the church, be faithful. If you are a Sunday School Teacher, be faithful.  and the list of ministries goes on and on.  We are faithful when we spend the time needed to prepare for these ministries instead of just “winging it”.  We are faithful when we take our ministries seriously and attempt to minister to the Body of Christ rather than just entertain. We are faithful when we genuinely care for those to whom we are sent to minister rather than just going through the motions.

No matter what your job is, as a Christian we are called to be honest in all our dealings. Be honest in word, in deed, in money, in time, in property, etc…  Be a good steward of what God has given you whether it belongs to you or you are overseeing its use.

Recently I’ve heard of several in ministry who have fallen into sin. Some have mishandled funds. Some have actually stolen church property. Some of had emotional affairs. Some have had physical affairs. Some have lied. Some of been overtaken by pride. Some of taken over a ministry and run it into the ground because they don’t prepare well or manage their help well. 

Some of had difficult situations in life and no one has come to encourage them or to counsel them so they have given up. Some have burned out and left. Some have been pushed out by ungracious boards. Some have not taken time to listen to the needs of those around them, others have ignored truths that are right before them

Oh, how it hurts the Body of Christ. Oh, how it causes immature Christians to fall. Oh, how it hurts the testimony of the entire congregation.  Be careful, be faithful

Faithful in the Little Things

How many times have you heard this phrase, and the story of the talents?  I ran across it a couple times this week in different blogs and devotional studies that I subscribe to. Matthew 25:14-30

It strikes me in few very different ways when I hear the story and today I thought I’d ramble on about it!

My first instinct is to fully agree with the author and to want to be faithful in the little mundane tasks of each day. I laugh, though, when I see them mention being a missionary in Africa as one of those big things!  I am in Africa! Yet, there are still little, everyday things to be faithful about. There are still the important details that I need to pay attention to even when they aren’t the big, fun things I like to do. Yet I know that for most of us on the mission field, it started with little ministries in our home churches—nursery, deacons, helping to clean, set up, serving on an elder board, teaching Sunday School and ladies Bible studies, having missionaries stay in our homes, etc.… 

My second instinct is to make an important point about this passage. The longer I live in this society where corruption is the norm, the greater this point becomes.  Did any of those three servants steal? NO!  Even that third guy that seems unfaithful was honest. He did not lose, or steal that talent that his master gave him. He just didn’t grow it.  We often don’t think of this aspect.  Are you growing the talent that God give you? Are you serving with your whole heart? Are you taking your spiritual gift and using it to serve the Body of Christ?  Or are you hiding in the congregation not willing to get involved?  God called that servant, “wicked and lazy” for not using the talent given him.  I’ve see many with ministries in their church who do not prepare well, thinking they can just “wing it” – that’s being lazy and not using your talent. I’ve seen others afraid to serve in church or speak in public. I’ve seen talented people who will not train the next generation how to serve well. I’ve seen judgmental people who don’t do the work themselves but who are always criticizing how others serve.  I’ve seen others who say they are too old and that the next generation should take over! Can you ever retire from serving the Lord? Maybe we move to other areas of ministry, but never stopping until we meet the Lord face to face! 

My third instinct is to argue the point that today we know that we do not lose our salvation. The end of this parable has this unfaithful servant (who wasn’t a thief) sent to “darkness”.  We know that today we are saved by Grace and not by works. We will not be sent to “hell” because of what we did or didn’t do. We will reach Heaven by the Grace of God who loved us and sent His son to die for our sins and to save us from the wrath to come. We are saved by faith alone.  Once we are saved, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, not even our laziness.

And finally, my thoughts turn to so many faithful saints whom I have known. They taught me Sunday School, they cleaned the church, they faithfully played piano week in and week out, they raised godly children who serve God, they faithfully gave offerings each week, they faithfully attended church, Bible studies mid-week, and prayer-meetings, they gave to the poor, they visited the sick and prisoners, they helped mow the lawn and shovel snow, they did the little things the needed to be done around the church without being asked or noticed, they witnessed to family and friends, they pray for missionaries daily, they take time each day to be in the Word themselves and to pray, they lead worship, they run sound, they sponsor kids for camp each summer, they lead crafts and VBS, … The list can go on and on.

For each of these I could put a name and a face. I can remember many of those that taught me in Sunday School and Youth Group and Jr. Church, many who helped out our family (I’m a pastor’s kid!). I saw them serve God with their lives and their talents.  These people that I think of span many States and at least three continents where I have lived.  The Body of Christ is vast and full of so many wonderful people.  We have a responsibility to serve the Lord and to serve each other.  Let us not be lazy about our service!