Monday, February 27, 2006

Go... then send....

"Where did you go on mission trips last year?" I get asked that question a lot. While I do a lot of work with small churches in the US and Canada, I know what the questioner means: "what countries did you go to and did you have any adventures?" Fact is, in the last few years I haven't gone overseas very often. I went from a life hopping from one mission work to another to a life where I send others rather than going myself. Am I wimping out? No -- it's part of a plan.

Before I go on a mission trip I ask myself if that is the best use of the money we have. Wouldn't the missionaries rather just have the money -- which most of them desperately need -- rather than another visit from me? When I ask the mission churches that question they nearly always say "No! We need to see people from back home. We need their on-site encouragement and we need to show others what we are doing." That brings up a completely different question: should that visitor be me? The answer I give myself is "probably not." The reason? I have lived on the mission field a lot of my life. My photo books are full and so are the pages on my latest passport. Our funds are limited so we need to come up with a plan for missions where those few dollars can do the most good. And we think we've found that plan.

We send our members. And their children. And their friends. Kami and I and our kids will always be mission-minded. We will always be global in our view of God at work in His Kingdom. We want to "infect" others with the mission virus. We can't give to everybody -- or even to most -- but when we can scrounge up another $20 or $50 or more, we write a check. The more of us who go on short term missions, the more people there'll be who will support missions the rest of their lives. They will be so changed by the experience they will want to share it with as many as possible.

Take your next vacation in a mission field and serve for that week or two. You will NOT regret it. Then, take that money you were saving for something special and get it into the hands of others, sending them on a short-term mission. This is "paying it forward" in an eternal sense. The love of missions -- which really means the love of God's children -- is infectious but it can only be caught by direct contact. Let's arrange our personal budgets so that this epidemic of love and sacrifice is maximized.

Be creative. Sometimes missions are traditional meetings and campaigns. Other times they are clean-up and repair trips to the Gulf coast or digging wells in Western Africa, or teaching women health care for themselves and their children in Central America. It is doing good in the Name of Jesus. And "doing good" is never, ever a waste of time or money.

This week alone, we have one team returning from the Gulf (you can see photos of them at work at and another one going (this one from Rochester College, next door to us). We have one worker returning from Honduras and a team going to the Bronx. Kami and I don't have much money and we live from check to check, but it gives us more joy than we can express to know that each of these teams went with some of our money and all of our prayers.

Go. Then send. Repeat. And to God be the glory.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Northern Exposure...

God bless the Meaford Church of Christ. Meaford is a tiny town on Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. The church has been there for 150 years, faithfully serving even though geographically and culturally isolated from most of their brethren. Most of the members have gray hair but that doesn't stop them from hosting a wonderful youth weekend every year. This year I was honored by being asked to speak. So, while my son headed for Winterfest in Tennessee (and now is in Mississippi working for Katrina survivors) I went the other direction, crossed the bridge into Canada and headed north. Way, way north.

Snow squalls pounded my car all the way up. Roads were closed in front of me time and time again as I tried to reach Meaford. I knew your prayers were with me so I kept pushing forward and, in time, got to Meaford. I didn't get a count of the kids, but it seems to me that sixty or so teens were there that weekend. A lot of adults were there, too. Most of them were grandparent-aged if not older. Meaford is a faithful, loving congregation that is conservative in its traditions, yet it encouraged the teens to sing as they wanted to sing, the songs they wanted to sing, and the older people didn't cringe at the clapping or 'percussion' that came with some of the more upbeat tunes. They gave the kids homes to sleep in, warm meals, a long list of activities in the afternoon (you know you're not in Gatlinburg anymore when the activities are snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hockey....), and, greater than anything else, their loving approval. I was amazed, impressed, and challenged by their dedication to these teens who must, to them, be a strange species indeed.

The teens weren't afraid to sing their songs and pray their prayers with great faith even as they are raised in an aggressively secular culture. Canada is not the friendliest ground for Christians. There isn't any persecution, but the secular state is loud and insistent. But these kids stood firm and proclaime their faith due, in no small part, to the older people around them who 'held up their arms' without judgment and with great sacrifice.

During Saturday night's devotional a man walked in the back. To make a long story short, his name was Wayne and he wanted some food for the next day. I asked him to wait until the devotional was done so that I could talk to some of the members and see what they could provide. He sat next to me and I got him a couple cups of coffee as we waited for the kids to be done. They kept going past the time I thought they would end but Wayne sat there patiently, sipping his coffee, trying to sing or clap with them when songs punctuated the devotional talk. Eventually, I leaned over and asked him if there was anything else I could get for him. He said, "I'd like some peanut butter for tomorrow. It's two ninety nine at the Spar." We had Spar convenience stores in Scotland so I assumed that's what he meant. I looked in my wallet and there were two Canadian five dollar bills. I gave him one. "Will that be enough?" He said yes and thanked me with a smile. I hope he's okay today. I hope he comes back to the Meaford church of Christ. They'll treat him kindly. They are special servants of Christ. I told Wayne he'd come to the right place.

Because of my position and the fact that our congregation is one of the larger ones in the brotherhood -- and maybe the largest in the north -- I get asked to speak at big events and megachurches quite frequently. I enjoy speaking to them, but I spend 90% of my "away time" at smaller churches like Meaford. It is not a sacrifice, for it helps me more than it helps them. I love seeing how God works in churches of ten, fifty, or a hundred. I love seeing His best servants -- the ones on whose faces you can see the Spirit of God's love -- serving so faithfully, but so unnoticed, tucked away in this or that corner of the globe.

Once again, I thank God for the faithful who serve year after year in tiny churches. They get no applause and are never asked to speak at our major events, but they are the heroes of the faith. I am a better man because I know the faithful at Meaford, DeRidder, Jennings, and a hundred other smaller congregations. May God bless them, for they have surely blessed me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

How Many Languages?

I'm often asked how many languages I speak. Fact is, I'm barely coherent in English. I can manage to get my face slapped in several other languages, but the ones I am studying right now are the languages of Jesus. Now HE knew some languages. Let me explain...

There is a street preacher in Glasgow, Scotland. He stands about a block from Queen Street Rail Station and wears a sandwich board. He shouts at passers-by and thrusts pamphlets at them, demanding they repent. Nobody listens to him except those who stop to laugh at him or take a picture to show the folks back home. The thing is -- he has a point: the people in Glasgow -- and every city -- need to repent and they need Jesus. He isn't connecting with any of them, however, because he isn't speaking a language they understand.

The people who followed Jesus in the early days were looking for a Kingdom. He sat down and gave the Sermon on the Mount; a sermon in the language of citizenship in the new kingdom. That is what they needed to hear and he gave it to them in the language they could grasp and accept.

When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus he spoke to her in a language of forgiveness, grace, community, and restoration. She couldn't have held up under a sermon. A lesson on citizenship wouldn't have done her much good. So he spoke to her in the language that reached her in that moment.

When Bartimaeus -- the blind beggar -- cried out "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped doing church, walked down to him, away from the crowd (these actions gave the beggar privacy and maintained his dignity as a human being) the greatest power in the universe, Jesus the Christ, asked "What is it that I can do for you?" He waited to hear the man's language. As it was, Bartimaeus wanted his eyesight so that is the way Jesus dealt with him. He listened, learned, and then spoke.

The Pharisees liked to speak of law, righteousness, and right and wrong so that is the way Jesus went at them. They would have ignored a sweet communication or anything to do with grace and peace. That wasn't their language. They didn't respect those things. What they DID respect was anyone who knew the scriptures and could argue a hard, painful point forcefully; all the while stripping his opponent of any defense. So that is the way Jesus spoke to them.

The theif on the cross needed to hear the message of forgiveness. His ears were tuned to hear anything that, in that dreadful moment of pain, fear and embarassment, would bring him peace. So Jesus spoke to him in the language of forgiveness, peace, and hope.

I'm learning. As Paul told us that he was "all things to all men" I see now that he was just taking language lessons from Jesus, and that I should do the same. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz tells of a time when Reed College -- the most secular and libertarian of all colleges in his opinion -- held their annual week of pagan celebrations. Sex, drugs, alcohol and... well, you get the picture. No rules, no cops, nobody to stop them. The few Christians on campus usually went into hiding, but Donald and his friends built a booth in the middle of the quad and labeled it a confessional booth. They assumed they would be destroyed by the fervent anti-Christian crowd, but they had a plan for that, too. When the first fellow came in to see what in the world they were doing (and to mock them for it) he was shocked. He had come with a language that didn't think of much of Christians and their silly games... and that is the language Miller and his friends used with him. They didn't ask him to confess his sins. They confessed theirs to him. They told him that Jesus told us to feed the poor and care for the broken and that they hadn't done a good job of that. On and on it went and each mocker who came in was disarmed when he heard his language... but that language went a different direction than he/she assumed it would.

Like Philip and the Ethiopian -- he started where he was and led him to Jesus.

When someone speaks to me of their troubled marriage, how proud they are of their kids, the wonder of a new engineering process, the weather, the latest movie/TV show, their love of music, or their hopes, fears and dreams, I need to be able to listen to them long enough to hear their language and then, starting where they are, and at whatever speed they are willing to tolerate, lead them to Jesus. It might take minutes. It might take decades. It's my job to keep speaking the language they can hear until they can see Jesus.

So... as I head up to Canada in the morning to speak to teens (the high here tomorrow and Saturday is only going to be around 20... what's it going to be six hours north of here?) some might think that this will be an easy trip since the US and Canada speak the same language. Nope. I will have to hear the teens speak and then join them in their language -- a language shaped with strange TV shows, hockey, Canada's own style of multiculturalism, politics, fashion and music. With God's help, I'll be a quick enough learner to do some good. God already knows I love them. Now I just have to find the right language -- the one they know -- to show them why I love them.

I love them because He first loved me. He spoke my language until I heard Him. And then He said, "Follow me."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Before and After

Holly Beach before Rita. A lovely little resort town. And then Holly Beach after Rita. When I visited there last week there was still nothing standing except for one nearly destroyed building and two portable toilets. Some of you wanted to see a before and after photo. I have others. Bear with me as I learn how to post them. I haven't figured out how to post several in one message yet, so they will be in separate comment areas for now.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Just some quick notes. My son in law wrote a lovely blog about why he loves his wife, my daughter. It would be good for all of us to write and speak more about our husbands and wives. (

I am back in Michigan. Louisiana was wonderful -- if you are referring to the people. The damage from Rita (I was on that side of the State) had to be seen to be believed. And even then... if I knew how to post some photos on my blog I would, but I'm no techie.

After preaching the three morning services tomorrow I will take my family out to lunch, come home, pack, and head out for Columbus where I'm teaching a short course at Ohio State University on Death and Dying. It is just a one day thing and then I should be back home in time for Valentine's Day. Friday, when most of the churches here in the eastern half of the nation, will be sending their kids to Winterfest in Gatlinburg, I'll be driving NORTH to Canada. I'm doing a youth rally in Meaford, Ontario. It is one of the larger youth events in Canada and is very important to them. They told me they had two and a half to three feet of new snow on the ground as of yesterday. Should be an interesting trip and quite a change from Louisiana. I speak on Friday and Saturday, preach Sunday morning and then drive back home (Lord willing). In perfect weather, and with no cranky customs and immigration people, that's a five to six hour drive.

Tomorrow we will be blessing our fourth team to head to the Gulf (three from the church and one from the college). They are leaving next week for Picayune, Mississippi. My sixteen year old son, Duncan, will be with them. He is spending his entire winter break down there helping to repair homes and haul trash. Hoo-ah!

My father returned home last night from Guyana. I haven't spoken with him yet, but hear that he is fine and that many were baptized and helped during his three weeks there. Thank you for your prayers.

Life is an adventure. And so it continues....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I Went To See What Wasn't There...

I am still in Louisiana. I did a three day youth rally at Jennings, in the south central section of the state. It was a wonderful time spent with wonderful people. Standing room only for Saturday and Sunday. I am still stunned that teens will listen to me. What an honor!

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow I will be speaking in DeRidder, a tiny town in the middle/west of the state. I am speaking for the Community Church of Christ, a small church with a big heart and big dreams.

I spent today and some of yesterday down near the Gulf to see the damage from Hurricane Rita. I have seen lots of photos of Katrina damage; some brought by our teams we've sent into Picayune or Pascagoula, the rest via the media. Seeing it firsthand was different. I started in Lake Charles where almost half the downtown buildings showed serious damage. On the south edge of town one out of three roofs (by my estimate) was broken, covered with blue tarps. Some of the homes were shattered, mixed with tree parts and trash as if placed in a blender.

Further south toward the Gulf... the bayous were not hotbeds of housing developments before the storm. Now they are an empty, ghostly void. I drove an hour and saw no undamaged houses. A large church building had its front half completely ripped off. Trailers had spray paint on them to indicate that they stood where houses and a town used to be: "514 Main Street" or similar. Sometimes it was a pile of trash with a sign painted with a house number on it -- no trailer.

I got down to where Route 27 ends at the Gulf. I was interested in seeing the little town there and how it was doing. It wasn't. It was gone. Not one house stood where a beach resort town once lived. I turned west and drove all the way to Port Arthur, Texas past shattered piles that used to be places like Johnson Bayou. Port Arthur itself was hit hard. Homes, churches, and businesses were torn to shreds. I kept wondering "Where do these people get milk and bread? How far is the nearest store that's open?" Up a bit to Orange and the damage was less severe, but still terrible in the poorest section of town.

I had the scariest flight of my life last week from Memphis to Alexandria as a thunderstorm tossed the tiny plane about. I still have worries and this and that and, oh yes, I had a terrible migraine last Saturday. But I don't think I want to complain about any of that. After what I saw on a seven hour tour today, I think I just want to pray.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Still Tooting That Horn...

As many of you commented -- on and off line -- the Disaster Relief Agency is not our only well run charity. I know of two dozen or more that are very worthy and there have to be many times that number I haven't heard of yet. When it can be so easy to attack our church for this and that (and I have done that a few times) we need to remember that it is the body of Christ and is doing much good.

Give examples from your own personal knowledge. The Rochester church has a warehouse that distributes food and clothing to people all over the Detroit Metro area. Here are a few sentences from their last report, received today:

" In 2005, we assisted 3,389 families (13,274 individuals) and disgtributed 184,690 pounds of food... we had 650 volunteers... 2005 proved to be a year of breaking records and so far in 2006 we are breaking even more records. In January we helped 300 families which is our biggest January ever. We really need to remain focused in 2006. We need to remember why we exist. We are not helping to feed and clothe people for our own glory but for the glory of God."

few other churches help support this work and we are grateful to them. Brian and Lisa Cain, who run this work tirelessly, began it after the loss of their son. He was born with birth defects and they slowly and surely took his life. Rather than retreating, they moved forward and, with their two sons -- one profoundly handicapped -- they serve food, supply groceries, and manage a wearhouse full of good quality clothes, books, toys, and kitchen essentials to give to any who have need.

Brag about your brothers and sisters. Tell each other about God's Helping Hands (the charity I've been talking about here), the Disaster Relief Fund, Predisan and so many other good things done in the Name of Christ. We don't hesitate to point out problems. Let's take some time to rejoice at the good that is being done and at the fact that Jesus is getting the glory for it.

To God be the glory!