Being Tested?

ImageReading in John 6, I found myself struck by an interaction between Jesus and His disciples.  Specifically, it was an interaction between Jesus, Phillip, and Andrew.  We find Jesus along the Sea of Galilee with a large crowd gathering around Him.  Going up onto the mountainside Jesus sits down to talk with His disciples.  Let’s take a look at what is said.

John 6:5–9 (NLT)  Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money* to feed them!”

Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”

There was an obvious problem in front of them.  The time of the Passover festival was about to start, and they were entertaining a large crowd.  Who has a party without plenty of food?  So Jesus turns to Phillip for the answer, asking, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”  Think about it.  Why would Jesus ask Phillip such a question?  They all saw the impossibility of the situation.   But this is it isn’t what captured me as I read the text.

What caught hold of me in that moment was verse 6, where it says, He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.”  I’m not sure that I like this thought… Jesus tests us to see what we are going to do.  But it is right there on the page and we, each and every one of us, have to deal with it.

Jesus knew where He was at in this thing; He knew what He was going to do, He knew the answer.  The real question being asked had nothing to do with bread to feed a bunch of people.  In this moment with His disciples (and I think Jesus could have tossed any of their names into the mix) Jesus was asking about where they placed their faith.  He was probing them to see if they could see beyond the circumstances that could serve as blinders or as an opportunity for a miracle.  Which way would they see this situation?

Phillip responds with the impossible; it would take 6 months’ wages to take care of this problem.  Translated, get feeding them out of your mind because we don’t have that kind of money, and even if we did, we couldn’t get that much bread.  It is doubly impossible according to Phillip.

Andrew does a little bit better but then fumbles it in the end.  He notices that there is a boy there with a little bit of food.  But that is the problem for Andrew:  it is a little bit of food, and he can’t see it being of any value.  Andrew doesn’t do any better than Phillip did with the question.

This made me think about the many times in my life where Jesus asks me similar questions… where the circumstances either serve as blinders to my spirit or as opportunity providers.  And as I thought about this for a little bit it struck me that most of the time my answers sound far too much like Phillip and Andrew rather than the one Jesus offered.  Thinking the way that Jesus thinks is not always easy in the context of a real world.  You would think that after observing the many times where we see how circumstances provide opportunity that we would naturally think this way.  But we don’t, and therein lies the problem.

The reality is that this life provides us with just as many examples where Jesus hasn’t intervened in our circumstances, at least not in a way we took notice of or in a way we liked.  These real life situations have a way of eroding all the faith that builds up in those special moments where Christ takes us to the extraordinary.  And so we are left with a dilemma each time circumstances arrive where we are given the choice of blinders or opportunity.  Is this one of those special moments or not?  We ask ourselves over and over, trying to get the answer right.  Wanting to hope but fearful of disappointment.

What if we rested in a faith that is focused on Christ as the object of faith rather than what Christ will do as the object of our faith?  Would that make facing such circumstances a little easier and less stressful?  I propose that it would.  It would make it natural to have the faith of a child, which Jesus calls us to.  We look at the situation, then we look at Jesus, and we leave the answer up to Him.  Instead of trying to figure out how many months’ wages it will take or if the little bit of bread and fish we have can get the job done, we turn our attention to Jesus who doesn’t seem to be limited by these things.

The next time an obvious problem presents itself pause for a moment and remind yourself that this problem can serve to give you blinders or opportunity.  The choice is up to you, while the outcome reaches far beyond you.  Choose well!

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

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Musings from the Great Northwest – Part 2

ImageThere are many things to talk about in this series of blogs, but the purpose of this series is to share about an observation we made. During our time in the Northwest we became increasingly aware how the Holy Spirit is mobilizing and redirecting lives to live out the mission Jesus gave us.  It is about an awakening that creates awareness, which results in purposeful actions of grace and love.

Conversation after conversation we discuss the same basic message in different ways.  Some may say it is because our story directs the conversation and there is no doubt that it does impact the course our talks will take.  But I think that there is something even greater at work.  In sharing our story we find that others tell us their stories.  We talk about leaving everything familiar behind to follow the call of Jesus to be a missionary to the university district villages of America.  Others tell their exciting stories of great courage and desire to live out the call to the same mission.  Our tales are about different tribes and locations with the familiar aspects of developing community and making disciples.

These conversations revolve around the importance of living out the gospel mission, which starts long before a person ever believes in Jesus and continues for a lifetime once they do believe.  That is discipleship, a word that I have found scares some people because of the abusive ways it has been used.  While at the same time this same word stirs the heart of another who has loving embraced its truth.

Let me tell you about a young man that I meant on our trip.  Sam and I were tracking very well together as we shared about life.  The things we shared resonated within us.  He was amazed at our story of loving Jesus and laying everything down to serve in this mission.  And I was enjoying his story and journey to Jesus.

Then Sam said to me, “I could never do what you are doing.  I could never be a missionary.”  My heart sank; this young man who has an incredible story didn’t understand that he was a missionary.  He didn’t realize that he was living his life as a missionary every single day.  Why do I say this?  This young man was living his faith out in a beautiful way every day where he worked and lived.  Sam prayed with people, shared his faith in Jesus with others when it was appropriate, and most importantly he was loving them by meeting their needs.  But Sam didn’t understand what it meant to be a missionary because he didn’t understand what it meant to be a disciple.

As we continued to talk and I was encouraging him that he was living such a life.  I shared that we have all been given the same mission, to go and make disciples.  At which point Sam interrupted me and said, “That’s it, I can’t do that . . . Make disciples, you can’t make anybody do anything or be anything.  So I can’t live the mission because I can’t do that to people.  I just don’t think it is right to try and make someone do anything.”

Once again my heart sank as I realized this young man was making more disciples than many other Christians do and he didn’t understand that he was doing it.  Why?  Because he didn’t understand what it means to make a disciple.  He just did it, and I think that is cool, but could be even better if he did it with understanding.  So we explored the idea a little bit more and began to discuss about what it means to make disciples.  That it isn’t about forcing people to do anything, but rather creating opportunity for them to make better more informed decisions.

His eyes lit up as we developed a working definition of what it means to make disciples.  Here is what we tooled out in that short bit of time together: Discipleship, the process by which disciples of Jesus are matured as we become more and more like Jesus.  It is about learning the truth of the Gospel and then figuring out how to live the Gospel.  We have been given a purpose that is so much more than making converts to a religious system or institution.  Jesus gave us the job to go the distance with others as we both mature as His disciple, constantly learning, and disciple others to maturity along the journey.

Don’t know if I will ever see Sam again and enjoy some more time with him.  But what I do know if for that brief 2 hours together sitting in a pub in the Northwest we were making disciples as he sharpened my life and I had the privilege to help sharpen his.

Thank you Northwest America for being an encouragement to us as we continue in the journey of faith to the mission Christ has called us to!

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Musings from the Great Northwest – Part 1

ImageThe last 2 weeks have been interesting as we traveled to the Great Northwest region of America.  As candidate missionaries we spend a lot of time traveling and meeting new people as we share the vision God has given us.  At each stop we find people who are interested in what we are doing as they ask questions and share their own hearts with us.  It amazes me how many people have been captured by the same basic call to live the mission of making disciples.

It doesn’t seem to matter if we are talking to people in our home state of Ohio, travel a little north to Michigan, or out here in Washington and Oregon.  God is speaking to people about His mission inviting them to join Him on an incredible journey. Through this we experience the joy of encouragement as others join us as a part of our Support Team.  We are not alone!

The expressions are different in each situation.  Some taking a much more radical approach while others making subtle adjustments to what they are doing.  Either way they are being directed by the Holy Spirit to refocus their attention to the basics of the Gospel.  As we share about identifying and training missionary church planters to reach the marginalized we get to hear wonderful stories.  Stories of support as people tell us about the refocusing of their lives to the call from God.

This trip has brought the joy of seeing our 2 sons who live in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.  With each friend of theirs we meet our eyes and ears go to work as we learn about the lives they have lived and views they hold.  Wonderful people who experience life in different ways yet hold a similar desire in their heats: a desire for a better way to live that is real, genuine, honest, and worthy of trust.

People like Verlon who are courageous as they lead their church forward in the mission of Jesus.  This group of people has set aside the comforts of worship as usual to establish a different kind of church that is active in feeding those who are hungry.  About 5 times a week they gather in different parts of the city meeting the need of hunger while leading in worship. Their gatherings are filled with a mix of people sitting around tables sharing love as they break bread, sing songs of praise, and listen to a message. It’s an incredible experience to be a part of.  The mission is awake in their hearts and infectious to all who come around them. They are not just meeting the need of the marginalized; they are becoming friends with them.

Wow, what a story!

As we continue our quest to build a Support Team who will stand with us in this missionary venture our hearts are encouraged.  We are encouraged because . . .

  • the people God has called us to train as missionary church planters actually do exist.
  • we have meant them and they have beautiful faces and wonderful names.
  • each place we go we discover others who hear what God has given us to do and choose to go with us as part of our Support Team.

Thank you Northwest America for being an encouragement to us as we continue in the journey of faith to the mission Christ has called us to!

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Questions Asked About Our Mission – Short-Term Help

Is there something we can do to help you in the short term while you are raising support?

This has been and will continue to be a journey of faith as we trust God to provide through people who love and care about us and the work He has given to us to accomplish.  One thing I learned while serving as a pastor: missionaries have a lot of expenses as they raise money to do what God has asked of them.  During this time they have lower incomes as they wait for Faith Promises to come in.  Here are some ways you can help us:

One Time Gifts – It may not seem like a big deal to you, but a one-time gift might be the very thing that meets a particular need or bill that comes up.  While this can always be helpful in this life of faith, it is especially helpful during this time where we are trying to raise funds.  These gifts can help sustain us as we itinerate and have lower incomes because the budget hasn’t been fully raised.  In the future they become a great help to do extra-unexpected projects that come up in any ministry.

Each time this happens the missionary feels the depths of your love; your generous heart humbles us.  Something we never really are looking for, but are always appreciative of, are the gifts that come at just the right time.  So, follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and do what He asks of you.

Prayer – This can sound so cliché, but it is so true.  Not sure I understood how important it is for the missionary until we took the step of faith ourselves.  We literally depend on the prayers of God’s people.  Through prayer we can do things none of us could accomplish on our own when prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray.  Put us on a regular rotation in your prayer time and see what God does to help us out.  Prayer is critical and multiplies the efforts that go forth.

Missions Service – If you can help us get into a church or para-church organization to share in a missions service that would be wonderful.  Your influence can help us get into places we could never have been able to do ourselves.  It would be customary for either a love offering to be received or an honorarium to be shared.  Helping with travel costs is another way to lighten the load of the visiting missionary.

We would love to come to your church or para-church group to share the vision God has given to us.  Talk with your pastor or the leader of your organization you are a part of and then connect them to us.  Then we can schedule to come and share with your church or group.

There are several ways you can give help during the fund raising time.  If you are able to do something please let us know and we will guide you through the process.  Thanks in advance for a generous and loving heart!

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

The Fix

It is rare that I ever do anything with those annoying email forwards that my friends love to send out.  Lest they would feel bad reading this post please know that every once in a while I actually forward one myself to some other friends.  Yes, I am guilty, be it ever so rarely and only to family and a couple of really close friends.

Today in my inbox was this forwarded email from my friend, Jim Mariotti.  It is so good that I couldn’t help myself and make it the subject of todays blog.  For those who love to check out the validity of such emails, you need to know that I did not even try to find out if this really happened.  Actually, I didn’t even care because it was that good.  At least it was to me.

Enjoy and forward away.  Who knows maybe someone will forward it to our president.  Can you imagine if someone in the White House actually got this?

Happy reading!

David

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There recently was an article in the St. Petersburg , Fl. Times. The Business Section

asked readers for ideas on:

“How Would You Fix the Economy?” I think this guy nailed it!

Dear Mr. President,

Please find below my suggestion for fixing America ‘s economy.

Instead of giving billions of dollars to companies that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan:

You can call it the “Patriotic Retirement Plan”.

There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force. Pay them $1 million a piece severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire. Forty million job openings – Unemployment fixed.

2) They MUST buy a new AMERICAN Car. Forty million cars ordered – Auto Industry fixed.

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage – Housing Crisis fixed.

Take 10,000 people that work for the welfare dept and put one every 100 feet to patrol the Mexican border and give the other 4000 a job with the I.N.S. tracking and deporting illegals.  Should be easy, they already know where the checks are sent.

It can’t get any easier than that!!

P.S. If more money is needed, have all members in Congress pay their taxes.  Mr. President, while you’re at it, make Congress retire on Social Security and Medicare.  I’ll bet both programs would be fixed pronto!

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* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Questions Asked About Our Mission – How to Help

How can we help you get to the mission field that God has called you to?

There are several ways that people can help us get to the mission field.  First there is something everyone can do:  pray for us.  Prayer is powerful and a great help to every missionary.  Here are a few other things you can do that would be a big help.  Let me take a few moments and share what they are.

Monthly Faith Promise – this is the lifeblood of every missionary.  Through monthly support we are able to focus our attention on the mission God has given to us.  When people become a part of our Support Team they catapult us forward in the mission ahead.

Missions Parties – sometimes people want to do more to help than their budgets allow for them to participate.  A great way to multiply your monthly gift is to host a Missions Party for us.  These are events you sponsor and invite some friends that you think would be interested in what we are doing.  At the party we will share the vision to develop missionary church planters to reach places like the university districts of America.  Opportunity will be given to those in attendance to become part of our Support Team through either one-time gifts or monthly Faith Promise support.  Please be sure to let the people know ahead of time that a financial appeal will be made; we want to be up front with what the event is about. 

One Time Gifts – another great way to help us is through a one-time gift.  This is especially helpful during this time where we are trying to raise funds.  These gifts can help sustain us as we itinerate and have lower incomes because the budget hasn’t been fully raised.  In the future they become a great help to do extra-unexpected projects that come up in any ministry.

Annual Gifts – there are ways for us to set up an annual gift for those who are unable to do the monthly Faith Promise.  Often times business people find this advantageous as they do year-end giving based on profits from the previous year.  Talk with us, and we will help you find the way that best accomplishes what you are wanting to do.

Missions Service – we would love to come to your church or para-church group to share the vision God has given to us.  Talk with your pastor or the leader of your organization you are a part of and then connect them to us.  It would be great to talk with your leaders and explain to them what we are trying to accomplish.  Then we can schedule a time to come and share with your church or church group.

As you can see there are a number of different ways you can get involved in helping us move forward.  If you are interested in one or more of them please feel free to contact us so we can discuss more with you about how you can join us.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Questions Asked About Our Mission – Financial Support

Do you have to raise money like foreign missionaries do sometimes?

Yes, together with our U.S. Missions leaders we have put together a budget that is needed to accomplish the job before us. This budget includes the finances necessary to sustain us (myself and Kandy) as we work in areas where no other source of revenue is available. This is part of what makes our ministry fit in the area of Missionary Church Planting & Development with U.S. Missions. Because of this reality we are in need of financial support from those who are willing to help us.

Our budget not only provides the income that we need, but it also has to cover all our expenses for the work that we will do. Thus, the monthly budget is rather large as we have to cover basic expenses like equipment, rent, utilities, curriculum, and travel. As we train missionary church planters to go out we need to be resourced so that we can do the job well.

In order for us to go to work we need other people to join us through monthly Faith Promises just as our foreign missionaries do. Thus, we have been sent out to grow our Support Team, people who are committed to seeing the vision come to life and grow in the years ahead. God works through individuals like each of us to not only do the work, but to fund it as well.

This is probably one of the hardest parts of this entire venture. We realize how difficult it is to earn an income in this world and are humbled each time a person(s) chooses to share what they have earned with us. It amazes me how generous God’s people are and how committed they are to seeing people like us fulfill His call for our lives. Please know that missionaries, like us, appreciate each gift that is shared and recognize the sacrifice being made by those who give.

If you are interested in joining our Support Team please feel free to contact us so we can share more with you about the vision and how you can go with us.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing. They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

7 things that get in the way of following Jesus

1) not accepting His invitation to come
2) loving others more than Him
3) loving yourself more than Him
4) avoiding the difficult job of carrying your cross
5) foolishness of not considering the cost of the life He calls you to
6) unwilling to give up all you have
7) losing your flavor for life

List based from Luke 14:16-35

Questions Asked About Our Mission – Startup Time

When will you start doing this missions work?

Good question, which provides me with the opportunity to share something with you. We are all missionaries and should be doing the work of a missionary all the time. So, you could say that we already are doing this work (in that as a follower of Jesus Christ this is the life we have been given to live).

Formally, as fully appointed missionaries in partnership with U.S. Missions of the Assemblies of God we are able to start once our full budget is raised. Until then, our job is to raise the funds needed to do the job God has called us to.

While it can, at times, feel somewhat frustrating to put your desire and dream on hold, it is an important process to work through. During this time we are building a Support Team that does much to help us for years to come. Most obvious is that the financial support others provide for us enables us to focus our attention full time to the ministry God has given us. This is such a tremendous help as we are able to move forward undivided in our attention. And just as important is the prayer support that is being grown around us as we share the vision of influencing the influencers. The prayers of others are what will help us in the days ahead as we forge into new areas.

Of course, as we raise funds we are ministering to people along the way as we encourage, challenge, and teach them while we share the plan of God for our lives. It is fun and fulfilling to see people come alive to the mission of Christ as they discover how to live as a community of God’s family. During our itineration time our focus is on the relational convergence, that takes place one person at a time, as we meet people, share our hearts with them, and minister to them.

If you are interested in helping us feel free to contact us so we can share in more detail with you about the vision to impact the university districts of America.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing. They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.

Questions Asked About Our Mission – Mission Explained

Can you describe what you will be doing in missions?

At the heart of our mission is a desire to ignite a fire in others to fulfill the mission Christ gave to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Here is how we see it happening.

We will identify, train, equip, resource, and walk with others who are willing to live as a missionary church planter. Through an apprenticeship type of program we are able to multiply ourselves as we share our 30+ years of ministry experience with others.  Instead of doing one church plant, our hope is to do multiple plants at a time as we work with and through other missionary church planters.

Our desire is to establish multiple churches in difficult situations where people often feel marginalized by the church.  These are people who most likely would never walk into an established church because of various understandings they hold.  They are interested in talking about God, but for different reasons are not interested in attending worship in a local church.  We want to send missionaries to them so that they can discover the love of Christ.

You could say that we will be like a coach or mentor as we help others learn how to live as missionaries in our world.  Then we will send them out to befriend others and experience life with them as they share the gospel message of Christ’s love.

Until we are fully appointed we will be focused for the next year or two primarily on raising funds to do the job we believe God has given to us to do.  If you are interested in helping us feel free to contact us so we can share more with you about the vision.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author at the time of writing.  They do not reflect in any way those of the organizations to which they belong to or affiliated with.