Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Moving Day!

This blog has moved to AMF’s new website, amfmission.org/burns. Please update your bookmarks. If you are already subscribed to the feed here, you should automatically continue to receive posts from the new feed. Check for the most recent post, “Gettysburg,” in your feed reader or inbox, and let us know if it has not arrived. New readers can subscribe to the current blog feed and to feeds for AMF news and missionaries’ ministry journals at the bottom-right corner of the new homepage (www.amfmission.org). Thanks for reading!

I hope you’ll take the time to become familiar with the new site. It features photos, ministry journals, missionary stories, missionary profiles, and opportunities to donate to the work God is doing through AMF all across the nation. You can also keep up to date with AMF by becoming a Facebook fan.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., Part 2

We had an interesting day in Washington, D.C. The Mall was filled with people with causes. There were people who wanted to protect the animals, who were fighting breast cancer, who were involved in political efforts. There were people representing the inhumane treatment of people in other countries. But there were also spiritual groups. Probably the most noticeable of these were the Hare Krishna groups. Their tents were colorful, and they were giving out free food. They had great music. They were dressed in their Krishna garb, monk-like outfits. Their place was packed. For some reason, they drew everyone in. There was curiosity, and they treated everyone like guests. They treated everyone with a warm, warm welcome.

There were also some Christian groups there, and they were passing out literature. I enjoyed taking the tracts just to read what they were passing out. One was filled with words we take for granted, words like “atonement” and “trinity,” but I wondered whether people walking the Mall, just enjoying the Fourth of July, could really understand what the message was.

Some of the Christian groups were in-grown. They were under a little tent, singing hymns, some of which had words that would make little sense to someone without the backdrop, the theology. It seemed so out of context; it seemed there was no sensitivity to where they were and to what message would be appropriate and relevant in the context in which they were delivering it. For some reason, the Krishna group seemed more attractive than the Christian group.

I realize these are brothers and sisters who love the Lord, who were doing what no doubt God had urged them to do, but it made me think about our mission and whether or not we are relevant to the culture that surrounds us. Is our message is filled with words that need definitions and context, or does the context allow us to share the Gospel in a way that people understand? It reminds me of Jesus talking about the mustard seed and the trees that were visible to the people – he used the context to give an illustration of what faith was about.

It’s my prayer that we at American Missionary Fellowship will not be blind to the cultural context so that the message is easy for people to understand and powerful for people to claim for their lives.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fourth of July, Part I

Our whole family is at the Home Office for the next week or so. Our son, R.W., flew in from Chicago, where he lives and is going to grad school. Our daughter, Barrett, who will start at Westmont College this fall, is also here. They and RobAnne and I are all in our little apartment at the Home Office.

We decided, since we’re so close to Washington, D.C., to go this Fourth of July to the Mall. We knew we would have to fight the crowd and deal with the hassle, but we wanted to spend the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. Let me give you the top ten things I loved about the day:

  1. Being with family – There’s nothing better than just hanging out with your adult kids and having them tell stories of all the shenanigans they did when they were younger. I don’t know why Dad has to be the brunt of every joke, but it’s part of being a dad.
  2. The party – Washington, D.C. was just a big party. There were bands, music, food, dancing, and free museums. I loved the party atmosphere.
  3. Fireworks – This one is interesting because in southern California, fireworks are illegal, but in Pennsylvania, they’re not. We bought, for $15, a bunch of homespun fireworks, and we had a ball putting on our own fireworks display – just for us – on the back porch of the Home Office. But the fireworks with the backdrop of the Washington Monument were amazing. While ours were pretty good, we were surprised by how incredible and how beautiful it was to have fireworks in the context of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, of all the great buildings and monuments of Washington, D.C.
  4. The crowds – I love a crowd. I love being part of a larger group. I really enjoyed all the different types of people – families, younger people, single adults – all kinds of races and ethnicities. It was just great to be part of a crowd.
  5. Energy – You cannot go to the National Mall on the Fourth of July and not get amped up. It is just a lot of energy and a lot of fun.
  6. Aretha Franklin – They had a concert. We sat on the Capitol lawn and listened to Aretha Franklin sing “Respect.” (R-E-S-P-E-C-T. . .) What a deal! She got that crowd so worked up. We were all standing and singing and dancing as she sang songs that reminded us of our growing-up years.
  7. Fighter jets – It was very cool to look up in the sky and see what I believe were two F-15 fighters keeping watch over Washington, D.C. I just felt safe.
  8. Picnics – We took our picnic lunch. We had sandwiches and candy and soda, and there we were – 200 yards from the U.S. Capitol, sitting on the lawn, just enjoying each other’s company, having a picnic. There’s something that’s very right about that.
  9. Remembering those who paid the price – In the midst of all this partying, all this excitement, Aretha Franklin, and all the fun, I could not help but notice the veterans who were there. Some were in wheelchairs, and some obviously had had their lives severely affected by their service to our country. I couldn’t help but remember the cost of freedom.
  10. Flip-Flops – One of the challenges I have, being from the West Coast and working on the East Coast, is how formally people dress. I miss wearing flip-flops to work. I was wearing them all day in Washington, D.C.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Camp Dynamite

Camp Dynamite is a camp run primarily for urban youth in Washington, D.C. by AMF missionaries Bob and Sharon Mathieu. I spent the day with Bob and Sharon recently. It was quite a day! I was presented with a Camp Dynamite t-shirt and was told about this two-week camp that’s run to help young people know who Jesus is. They learn Scripture; they hear messages; they sing together; they play together. They do everything that camp is, and in a very real way, this camp is the place where these kids – many of them for the first time in their lives – will feel accepted and loved by people who care for them.

Bob knows everyone in Washington, D.C. He’s been there a long time, and it was amazing to watch him interact with everyone we came in contact with, like the school principal. They love Bob. He’s part of the community. He didn’t set up a monastery or a private area where Christians could come. No, he’s out in the community, mixing with the people who struggle to make ends meet in the Anacostia area of the city. A little church meets in a building that the Mathieus own, and the church is a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary for the community. At the same time, the school has integrated Bob into its world. He’s provided free school supplies for teachers to be better teachers, working in partnership with World Vision.

What really impressed me was when we went to a wellness center where Bob has a Bible study for senior citizens. The wellness center has weight machines and massage and aerobics classes, things that help older people become healthier. We went to a small room where five or six older African-American women were waiting for Bob. They love him. They love the fact that he accepts them for who they are. I was more impressed with the fact that these women had asked, “Why should only children get to go to Camp Dynamite?” So for the last couple of years, Bob has invited senior citizens to Camp Dynamite. They come, and they play, and they worship, and they sing, and they meet Jesus.

Bob and Sharon Mathieu have a different style. They’re right with the people. They’re not administrators; they’re doers. They get their hands dirty. What I love about Bob and Sharon is that in a very true sense they are Jesus in that community. They talk about Him, but they don’t just talk about Him or preach about Him. They are Him – they take on characteristics of our Savior.

It was a marvelous day. I’m proud that people like Bob and Sharon Mathieu are part of our ministry at AMF.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bill Pennington

Bill Pennington is the father of our controller, Dave Pennington. He (Bill) passed away a couple of weeks ago. Last Saturday I went to his memorial service at one of our key AMF churches. It was fairly typical of a memorial service, with singing, hymns, Scripture, and a message. All were done really well, but what was amazing was what happened with the grandkids.

You see, Bill Pennington had a Bible, and in the Bible he had underlined or circled or highlighted a series of verses, and they all had the common theme of contentment. He preached a sermon at his own memorial service through the reading of Scripture by his grandkids. David asked each of the grandkids, and I think there were fifteen of them, to read all or part of a passage their grandpa had circled in the Bible. There was something very powerful about this group of young people reading Scripture marked by their grandpa about where he is and the contentment that he had in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think the Pennington family is onto something. I think they’ve learned the power of learning from each generation. Last Sunday night we went to church with the Penningtons, and I learned that for two weeks every year the entire extended family gets together in a big house on the New Jersey shore just to be together. They swim together, they eat together, they play games together, and they interact with each other for two weeks, and so the relationships among cousins and nephews and aunts and uncles and grandparents are cemented by spending time together.

Many of us have lost that. Many of us have lost the fact that we can pass on not only our family heritage but the values of our family and the teachings of our family as the generations interact with each other.

Bill Pennington preached probably the greatest sermon of his life as his grandkids spoke and read the Scriptures that were important to him. It was a good service, and Bill Pennington must have been a good man because his grandkids obviously have learned a great deal from him.


Friday, June 26, 2009


It has been said that the one thing you can count on is that things will change. Nothing stays the same. Our bodies are regenerating cells every three seconds. The weather changes. Our culture is changing. Our country’s demographics are changing.

Sometimes we desire so much to stop the change because we like the safety and the security of the familiar. The unfortunate part is that in ministry we don’t have that option. We are about transformation; we are about change. That’s what Jesus does when he comes into a person’s life. He changes that person from a sinful human being to a redeemed individual. We are, at our core, agents of change within our culture. We are to be agents of righteousness and justice. We are to be people of love who are counter-cultural and therefore change our culture into something that God wants it to be.

I don’t know why we all resist it. I don’t know why we spend time protecting ourselves from change, except because the safe and the comfortable are our security.

As I read the Gospels, Jesus was all about creating problems for the status quo. He was all about creating change within individuals, within systems, within structures, within cities, and within the religious establishment. It is my prayer that we at American Missionary Fellowship will also be the same agents of change that our Lord was while He was ministering here on earth.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time Alone

“You should never make a major decision in your life without sleeping on it overnight,” a good friend told me a few years ago. I’ve thought a lot about that. Sometimes things look different in the morning. I think time alone – time by myself – is critical to getting through the noise of our culture, the busyness of our schedules, and the decision-making process.

We spent the last couple of days here in Villanova, Pennsylvania, working on some critical issues for the mission, issues that will affect the future, affect people, and affect the way the mission runs for the next few years. They’re all related to the economic crisis and require us to be proactive in our thinking.

What is amazing to me is after we spend all day talking and strategizing, I go on a walk, or I sit on a porch and look at the trees, the squirrels, and the birds. I open my Bible, and somehow the quietness allows me to see things more clearly.

Ministry is a lot of work. Ministry is busy. Ministry is overwhelming. But ministry needs to include stillness and quietness. As God told us, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). There’s marvelous victory in being alone.